You Were Gone?

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Student desk and dictionary at the Hines Creek Museum.

Hi there everyone! I hope you’re having a good start to a fresh, new week. I’m re-posting this post today because as another school year approaches, I’m missing my identity as a teacher again! When will this let up? I’ve got a ton of other interests and a lot of things to keep me occupied, and yet I cling and cling to this image of myself.

I examine my teaching years through a realistic lens, I remember the stress that led to the soul-sucking insomnia. I remember the fear of criticism from self and others. I see clearly the hours of pointless meetings and the children that I didn’t know how to reach.

Teaching was hard, but letting go of a long-held identity has its challenges, too.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider following my blog right here on WordPress or signing up to have my posts show up directly in your email’s inbox. Either way, I’d love to have your support! Take care and have a great Tuesday. ~ Lori

Recently I contacted someone I’d worked with for years to let him know that I’m available as a substitute teacher. My ego was deflated when he said, “I wasn’t aware that you weren’t teaching full time.”

Really? Wasn’t aware? To me, it seemed that this guy and I were at every meeting and at every conference together. I saw him often.

I’ve been out of the local school system for over a year now and this former colleague never even noticed. I would’ve been happier if his response had been, “I wondered where you were!”

Listen to me read this post:

IMG_5287
The one-room schoolhouse in the community of Green Island.

But he didn’t wonder. My presence or absence didn’t affect him much. Most of the time, we don’t notice what our passing acquaintances are doing. We’re happy to see them or to hear from them when we do, but beyond those moments, we don’t give others much thought.

It can be a bit of a letdown, realizing how infrequently others notice us. On the other hand, this realization can be very freeing. Over the course of my life I’ve spent way too much time worrying about what others might think of me and my actions. In a way it’s nice to discover that they barely think of me at all.

When I decided to resign from my teaching position in December of 2016 to attend university for a year, I was concerned about how people might react. In the end, people simply congratulated me or thanked me or said nothing, and then very quickly, we all moved on. It’s what we do. We keep on going.

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Another desk at the museum in Hines Creek north of Fairview, Alberta where I grew up.

A skilled young teacher stepped into my former position to start her own career, and I began studying writing and editing. Surprise, surprise. I’d made a change and the world didn’t stop turning. In fact, my decision to change benefited two lives, mine and the new teacher’s.

Change is scary because we don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable. That’s why we plan and try to control the things yet to happen. But no matter how much we schedule or plot or analyze, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome of anything we do. We can chart and graph until our eyes dry up and fall out of our heads. All our planning won’t stop the rain from raining or the snow from falling.

Life is uncertain. That’s its nature, and we’re forced to work with this uncertainty in which we exist. That’s reality.

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I had a desk like this in Grade One! I remember that heavy drawer.

Now that I’ve just returned to the classroom as a sub, I realize that my big career change was no big deal. I can tell this by the reactions that span, “Oh, you were gone?” to “Welcome back!” Neither of these reactions indicates an earth-shattering event.

This career change and its consequences have shifted the way I view making larger life changes. Big decisions aren’t as daunting now. I worry less about what others will think because I’ve got proof that they won’t think much about what I decide either way.

And if they do consider my actions, their considerations will be brief, like the shadow of a flying bird passing over the ground. “That’s dumb” or “That’s smart” or “Maybe I should try that.”

Others’ reactions to our actions don’t last long and they sure don’t matter much. What does matter is our acceptance of uncertainty and our willingness to change, to take a risk. We can’t know where any path will lead us. All I know for sure is that the view from the bottom of my deep rut was way less open than the wider view I got when I climbed out.

 

Back in the Classroom

Today in class the topic of my age came up as it sometimes does. The students were saying that I am still pretty young.

“Well,” I told them, “I’m not so young anymore,” to which one young man replied, “Nope. You’re not young or old. You’re just mediocre!”

I hope he meant middle-aged. Either way, he’s probably right.

Cute Not Rich

Yesterday, a student was sharpening a pencil endlessly. I told him, “That’s enough. Take it out and check to see if it’s sharp.”

He pulled it out of the electric sharpener. I watched as he peered at the point, looked astonished, flipped the pencil around and looked at the eraseless base.

The student held the pencil as he would a telescope and pointed it in my direction. “There’s no lead in this pencil!” he called out. We all found this extraordinarily amusing. Especially me.

Thanks to those of you who, since my departure from Facebook, have started following me here on WordPress. I sure appreciate it. And, as always, I appreciate the support of all my readers. I left Facebook for a few reasons and soon I’ll tell you all about why I made this choice. If you care to share my post on Facebook, that would be great! It is still one of the best vehicles for getting blog posts noticed and read.

mark-twain-on-education

I’m back in the classroom on a temporary, full-time contract. It’s going just fine, but I am challenged and tired! I haven’t had it in me to write much, but I couldn’t resist sharing these couple of recent classroom stories.

Take care, everyone, and if you’re in my neck of the woods or anywhere cold, keep warm!

No Mosquitoes

If you haven’t already, please follow me here on WordPress. That would be so nice.

The Long and Lonely Road

WW1 Proganda 1
I found some interesting war posters while researching my new novel.

As I write this new novel, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written something this long. I’ve written lots of shorter pieces in between this work and my novel Denby Jullsen, Hughenden. These were non-fiction pieces, articles and blogposts.

It’s easier to write non-fiction.

For me, it’s way easier to write non-fiction than fiction. Writing about my life is easy because I’m living my life. I like to share my experiences with readers and I like to hear them respond, “Hey! I had a similar experience.” Getting this audience feedback is great, and it confirms what I’ve always thought to be true: telling our stories brings us together.

Listen to me read this post:

When I write a post or an article, I can count on some almost-immediate feedback. These shorter pieces generate interest and conversation. It doesn’t take long to read and listen to what I post, and social media and my WordPress blog make it quick to comment on posts. I do get a few letters from readers of my newspaper articles and I really appreciate these, as well. Letters take a little more time in this rushing world of ours.

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My big scrapbook for planning novels and a local history book for research.

Inventing fictional characters and scenarios to involve them in is much harder than writing about true events. It helps that some of my characters and some of their situations are based loosely in local history. This, at least, gives me some solid ground to stand on.

Writing a book is lonely work!

I forgot how lonely writing a book is. These summer months, I wake up each morning and the day stretches out long and peaceful before me. I prepare to write and I hope that the characters will reveal themselves to me. Usually they do, but it takes a lot of coaxing for them to emerge from the shadows of my distracted mind. Sometimes I have to write pages of what amount to nothing before those fictional folks finally agree to fully form.

I plot out my novels now. I didn’t used to as much, but that’s a harder way to write, just diving in and hoping that you land on that creative shore on the other side before you drown in a sea of disjointed ideas.

WW1 Propaganda 2

A directionless plot means more wasted pages.

Talk about wasted pages of writing! Back when I didn’t set out plots or roughly sketch characters, my imagination ran like crazy. This is only good if your imagination knows where the heck it’s going. Mine didn’t always.

When I started composing Denby Jullsen (about twenty years prior to its publication) my imagination had no destination. The Ghost of Northumberland Strait, my first young adult novel, didn’t know where it was going either. This is probably why both manuscripts sat gathering dust for many years before they saw the light of day. Both books needed to have full chapters removed before they were ready to be published. Painful! These days, that kind of literary amputation isn’t necessary because I try to write only what needs to be written.

Researching and planning pays off in better writing.

Nowadays, I do my research. I pore over history books and old newspapers. I have a large scrapbook with manila pages, and in it I create timelines and floorplans. Then I handwrite large sections of the manuscript before I type it. I got this idea from Peter Elbow and his book Writing with Power. This allows me to get some of the “garbage” I inevitably write out of my pen and onto paper so it never has to be on a computer screen.

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Usually and ideally, I handwrite before I type.

I’ve done both. I’ve typed my fresh thoughts straight into a Word document, and I’ve sat down and handwritten my work before touching the keyboard. It is a rare exception when a composition I’ve only typed – not handwritten – turns out smoother and clearer than one I’ve written out longhand and then word processed.

It’s typed, it must be done…

It’s tempting once I’ve typed something to convince myself that it’s publishable. It might look like it’s ready, but most times writing at this stage has a mighty long way to go. It just seems finished because it’s all dressed up in that neat font. Upon closer examination, you’ll find it hasn’t brushed its teeth or washed its hair, and there’s dirt behind its ears.

I took several solid writing courses while studying for my editing certificate through Simon Fraser University. The coursework and the course instructors guided me in understanding the writing process. Essentially I was given a writing map so I wouldn’t need to get lost and backtrack all the time. To say that this training improved my writing would be an understatement.

It feels like a longer road, but I’ll follow the map.

Right now I’m handwriting this post at my kitchen table. When I think I’m done this part, I’ll take my pad of paper down the hall to my office and rework this piece of writing. When this is published, I’ll continue the more difficult and lonelier job of writing my new novel. I’m half way through the first draft. I handwrite each chapter, following an outline, and then I type each chapter.

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This is a very helpful book if you want a writing map to follow.

Don’t get me wrong. It is solitary, this task of writing another book, but I choose to do it. No one is forcing me. This is what I want to create, and I’m grateful to have the chance to do it.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Light of Kindness

Plato Quote

Every once in a long while, a random act of love touches us.

A long time ago, I was substitute teaching in a rural area of Alberta and had the unique opportunity to often sub in for teachers who served Hutterite colony schools. These school buildings were also the church, the hall, and the place where children attended German school.

Listen to me read this post:

I enjoyed working on these colonies. Never sequestered to the little schoolhouse, I was asked to join the women for wonderfully nap-inducing lunches in the dining hall. Or if I chose to work through lunch (an age-old teacher tradition), an obliging student brought lunch to me from the kitchen. At more than one colony, students and parents invited me to come see chickens, gardens, and baby lambs. I felt very welcomed.

Henry James Quote

The children on Hutterite colonies are refreshingly curious. I think because I was so young then and looked near the same age as some of the older girls, I was asked about my mother. My mom had died three years before this. My grief was something I’d been ignoring. It would cry out for attention, and I would smother it with a pillow or lock it in a closet or drown it in a well. But like the cat that came back, my grief consistently found its way home.

A surprised jolt shot through me at the question. Still, I answered simply, “My mother died.”

A little boy with big glasses and a serious face asked me, “How old was she?”

“She was 43. It happens that way sometimes.”

The boy shook his head slowly. “That is very young.”

“Yes, it is. But lots of people die younger than that.” At my feeble explanation of tragedy, he just looked at me sadly. I wonder now if my sorrow was more visible than I’d believed. Perhaps it was like I was wearing one of those tiny plastic Lone Ranger masks, trying to hide my feelings behind it while, directly behind me, lumbered a towering, weeping monster.

Tutu Quote

The school day went on and finally ended. The students left and I marked some of their assignments, and then packed up my teacher bag. I was retrieving my coat from the entrance and looked up when I heard the exterior door open. There stood my wise young friend with the big glasses. He held out a pie.

“My mother baked this for you because your mother died.”

Driving home from work the other day, I remembered this story and how that woman’s kindness touched me and how it’s stayed with me. That pie came from either the colony kitchen or from that mother’s own oven. I suspect that the dessert was not originally intended for me. I imagine that upon hearing my story brought home by that little old soul in black suspenders, a mother felt compassion for me and sent me their family’s sweet evening treat.

I’m deeply moved by this event, more now that I’m a lot older and a teeny bit wiser. The kind action of that student’s mother was sweet and sympathetic, and for the first time I felt like it was okay to grieve. I remember this as the moment that I removed the pillow, unlocked the closet, and fished my grief out from the depths of the well.

Lao Tzu Quote

In the light of this stranger’s kindness, I finally felt that it was acceptable to grieve.

Did you like what you read here? Consider following my blog either right here on WordPress or through email. See the right sidebar to follow me. It’s easy and it’s free. This way, you won’t miss any of my posts. Thanks for reading! ~ Lori

You Were Gone?

DIGITAL CAMERA
Student desk and dictionary at the Hines Creek Museum.

Hi there everyone! I hope you’re having a good start to a fresh, new week. I’m re-posting this post today because as another school year approaches, I’m missing my identity as a teacher again! When will this let up? I’ve got a ton of other interests and a lot of things to keep me occupied, and yet I cling and cling to this image of myself.

I examine my teaching years through a realistic lens, I remember the stress that led to the soul-sucking insomnia. I remember the fear of criticism from self and others. I see clearly the hours of pointless meetings and the children that I didn’t know how to reach.

Teaching was hard, but letting go of a long-held identity has its challenges, too.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider following my blog right here on WordPress or signing up to have my posts show up directly in your email’s inbox. Either way, I’d love to have your support! Take care and have a great Tuesday. ~ Lori

Recently I contacted someone I’d worked with for years to let him know that I’m available as a substitute teacher. My ego was deflated when he said, “I wasn’t aware that you weren’t teaching full time.”

Really? Wasn’t aware? To me, it seemed that this guy and I were at every meeting and at every conference together. I saw him often.

I’ve been out of the local school system for over a year now and this former colleague never even noticed. I would’ve been happier if his response had been, “I wondered where you were!”

Listen to me read this post:

IMG_5287
The one-room schoolhouse in the community of Green Island.

But he didn’t wonder. My presence or absence didn’t affect him much. Most of the time, we don’t notice what our passing acquaintances are doing. We’re happy to see them or to hear from them when we do, but beyond those moments, we don’t give others much thought.

It can be a bit of a letdown, realizing how infrequently others notice us. On the other hand, this realization can be very freeing. Over the course of my life I’ve spent way too much time worrying about what others might think of me and my actions. In a way it’s nice to discover that they barely think of me at all.

When I decided to resign from my teaching position in December of 2016 to attend university for a year, I was concerned about how people might react. In the end, people simply congratulated me or thanked me or said nothing, and then very quickly, we all moved on. It’s what we do. We keep on going.

DIGITAL CAMERA
Another desk at the museum in Hines Creek north of Fairview, Alberta where I grew up.

A skilled young teacher stepped into my former position to start her own career, and I began studying writing and editing. Surprise, surprise. I’d made a change and the world didn’t stop turning. In fact, my decision to change benefited two lives, mine and the new teacher’s.

Change is scary because we don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable. That’s why we plan and try to control the things yet to happen. But no matter how much we schedule or plot or analyze, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome of anything we do. We can chart and graph until our eyes dry up and fall out of our heads. All our planning won’t stop the rain from raining or the snow from falling.

Life is uncertain. That’s its nature, and we’re forced to work with this uncertainty in which we exist. That’s reality.

DIGITAL CAMERA
I had a desk like this in Grade One! I remember that heavy drawer.

Now that I’ve just returned to the classroom as a sub, I realize that my big career change was no big deal. I can tell this by the reactions that span, “Oh, you were gone?” to “Welcome back!” Neither of these reactions indicates an earth-shattering event.

This career change and its consequences have shifted the way I view making larger life changes. Big decisions aren’t as daunting now. I worry less about what others will think because I’ve got proof that they won’t think much about what I decide either way.

And if they do consider my actions, their considerations will be brief, like the shadow of a flying bird passing over the ground. “That’s dumb” or “That’s smart” or “Maybe I should try that.”

Others’ reactions to our actions don’t last long and they sure don’t matter much. What does matter is our acceptance of uncertainty and our willingness to change, to take a risk. We can’t know where any path will lead us. All I know for sure is that the view from the bottom of my deep rut was way less open than the wider view I got when I climbed out.

 

Decisions, Decisions

Listening to Lori

You can hear me read this post or read it below. You decide.

Decisions ImageDecisions, Decisions

Right now, I’ve got a lot of decisions to make. When I think about it, though, I’d way rather have decisions to make than limited choices in life. Making decisions is hard, but it’s better to have choices than not.

For the past year I attended Simon Fraser University, taking their online Editing Certificate program. My courses were very challenging and very interesting. The year flew by, and soon I’ll be a certified editor.

Finishing up one thing and starting another means more decisions to make. But isn’t that the point of getting an education? An education should ideally provide more choices and open more doors. I hope mine will. We’ll see.

Choice is a privilege.

Because I’m privileged I have so many choices. I’m fortunate to have an education that I could afford to get. Nowadays, young students are typically guaranteed to be in debt for a very long time to get a post-secondary education.

I remember meeting a young lawyer back in Grande Prairie. She was about three years younger than me. But in that short span between our ages, the cost of a university education in Canada had sky rocketed. This professional woman, well employed within a local law office, was living with her parents so that she could pay down her student debt.

It’s possible she enjoyed living with her folks. It wasn’t my dream to live with my parents at 28 years old, and so I viewed her experience through my own bias, of course. To me, she seemed trapped by debt. Still, that debt gave her a fulfilling career and a good way to make a living.

She chose to shoulder debt to obtain the education she wanted, and that choice is a privilege.

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An old Remington typewriter. Makes me glad for my keyboard!

Hard times mean limited choices.

From here my choices all look pretty good. I’m not between a rock and a hard place. “Lori, leap off this cliff or leap off that cliff. And, no, you can’t have a parachute, so stop asking.”

I’ve been in that uncomfortable place where I just had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. At times, I’ve had no choice. I’ve done jobs I didn’t want to do and lived in less-than-ideal conditions so that I could escape situations I couldn’t stay in. Those were hard times. Everyone has them. Hard times show up differently in everyone’s lives, but if you’re born, you have them. That’s how it goes.

My choices are all good.

Going forward, I’ve got a lot of choices. My problem isn’t that I have no direction; my problem is that I have too many directions!

Now that I’m nearly finished my editing program, I’d like to work as an editor and writer. I want to help people make their projects the best they can be. I’d love this, but it means that I’ll need to start a business. That enterprise is chockfull of decisions.

I also miss being in the classroom and plan to substitute teach after Christmas. It will be fun to be with students again, but every job opportunity comes with decisions: whether or not to accept the offer, what to wear, what to pack for lunch.

Lunch and clothes might seem like small considerations, but I haven’t had to decide what to pack for lunch or what to wear to work for nearly a year! I can’t bring a gallon of jasmine tea and a handful of cashews for lunch, and I can’t wear yoga pants to work. Things will have to change.

Editing Books 2
Textbooks for school.

Focus and quiet are wonderful.

As my life changes again, I’ll have to be careful not to get distracted by too many projects and too many activities. Over the last year I’ve come to appreciate focus and quiet. I’d like to maintain focus and quiet at least in some corners of my life.

That’s another choice. I can choose to work frantically, bouncing from one project to another, or I can choose to focus on one or two things and do them very well. But I have to decide to do it and be disciplined.

Given the choice, I’d choose choice.

There’s so much we can’t choose, so many decisions we’re not allowed to make. The chance to make decisions is a golden opportunity in a universe that decides much for us, from our place of birth to our genetic code. These are huge factors in determining how life will go, and we have no control over either of them.

I’ve been forced to make decisions because I’ve had the opportunity to make decisions. With freedom comes choice.

I was born into positive circumstances and in a war-free, wealthy country. I was born to parents who cared about education and born late enough in the world’s timeline to be allowed to get an education. The more I sit here and write, the more grateful I am for all the decisions I’ve made and all the ones I’ll need to make.

All this decision-making has led me to this conclusion: It’s hard to make choices, but it’s sure nice to have them.