How Quickly We Learn

Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!graphite drawingShow of Proper Respect

The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs

Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—

And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,

So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.digital illustration from a graphite drawingAll frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.

If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink

THE BIG OL’ HOW-TO LIST

for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 7: Love & Happiness

photoIt’s said that Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, and regardless of your beliefs, a clean kitchen is surely going to keep you closer to the desirable state of ideal health and well-being than a slovenly one. A rotten, filthy kitchen, on the contrary, may well send you off to meet your maker (or annihilation) with unwelcome rapidity. In my experience, Good Eating is Next to Perfect Happiness.

Simply eating well–whether of the most esoteric or exotic or splendidly gourmet meals, or of the handful-of-greens with some impeccably ripe apricots, a speck of salt and pepper and a drizzle of lemon-infused honey pristineness–that act of tasting and enjoying is its own reward. Love of good eating and the happiness that accompanies and follows it are worthy sorts of pleasures.photo

The process by which the meal or nibble is achieved can be grand delights, too. Just happening on the desired food serendipitously, even sometimes without having realized there was a desire at all, is lovely. Planning a dish, a menu, an event can be a satisfying challenge and adventure. Hunting (in field, stream or market) can be your surprisingly meditative, endorphin-brewing action sequence to prepare for the meal making itself.

Along with all of this is the primary joy of dining with others: the communal happiness and yes, meaning that can be cultivated in shared eating. The love of good food is magnified, multiplied exponentially, by the reflection of that affection between those at table. With strangers and acquaintances, it is the magnanimity–the largeness of spirit–inherent in hospitality that binds and bonds us. Among friends and loved ones, the food is both expression and enhancement of the finest graces in our connections to one another. And I can think of no lovelier thing to stock in my kitchen than that.

photo

Pull up a chair and have a piece of pear-blackberry pie with me!

A Whisper in Your Ear, My Dear

graphite drawingFriendly Advice to a Feckless Youth

The true Reckless Endangerment

is seldom what you’d guess:

not often quite so obvious

as acting under stress,

thus putting others in harm’s way

for physical duress;

more likely, it’s just saying things

much better left unsaid

about your girlfriend’s hairstyle, or

about great-uncle Fred,

who is your mother’s richest

relative and, shortly, dead.

It’s bad enough your note on Fred

will cut Mom from his will,

and likely keep you from her own

good graces longer still,

but there’s your girlfriend left to calm.

Let’s hope the bitter pill

of your ill-thought hairstyle remark

won’t make her wish you ill.graphite drawingWhen Ladies are Dancing

Patterns of elegance, synchronized moves,

Footsteps as fluid as flowing in grooves

Down sides of a fountain afloat with champagne,

They leap and they glide and they dance the refrain

As though they were ageless and weightless as light,

Each gesture, each pattern, each detail so right,

So proper and grace-filled, expressive of joy—

Intimidate wholly the poor sidelined boy!

How are the Mighty Chopfallen!

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” I like to think I have a healthy ego and positive self-image–but I do hope I’m not quite so full of hubris that I can’t admit when I’ve failed or fumbled or simply that I’m simply a silly buffoon, just like pretty much the whole rest of humanity. Yet maybe believing that is just another sample of my shallow vanity. I don’t expect you to accept my assessment, just that you’ll give me a bit of leeway, considering that there may not be a lot of room in my tiny mind for ordinary wisdom and classiness. Not really sure I can get a completely clear picture from my angle here on the floor. I’ve fallen, but I can get up!digital painting from an oil pastel originalTo be Honest

It’s true that I have fallen down
more often than a chef’s soufflés
(or poor Pierre crashed into town
in air-ballooning’s early days,
before he noticed heat would crown
the heights but cold air caused malaise . . . )
Meanwhile, I stumble, flop and crash,
careening like a loosened wheel,
my dignity thrown out like trash–
but had I grace and nerves of steel,
I’d likely still keep this my fashion–
nothing better proves I’m real.

Whether Discomposed or Decomposing

mixed media + digital imagePardon My Snoring

My lead-lined eyelids will insist it’s time to go to sleep,

So don’t be too insulted if I leave to count some sheep;

I find you fascinating and quite scintillating too,

So please don’t take it wrong if I should conk right out on you.

Your dazzling personality and brilliance are so bright

It pains me to, but go I must, and bid a fond Good-Night!

Pay no attention to the way I’m backing out the door,

And know your super-excellence could never be a bore.

I sigh, I yawn! But, for all that, it can’t be you that tires:

I’m sure it seldom happens that your audience expires!oil pastel on paper