Friday, September 26, 2014

Proud to be from Whitehall: Ohio's Most Dangerous City

So my hometown of Whitehall, Ohio was recently ranked #1 on a list of Ohio's Most Dangerous Cities. I'm not sure if it was that dangerous when I grew up there or not. I do know that my mom still lives there, and when I visit, things seem about the same to me. So maybe it was. But let me share my thoughts on growing up there...

This is not going to be an "I made it out of there" story.
I do not think I am where I am today despite growing up in Whitehall, OH.
I think I am who I am today because I grew up in Whitehall, OH.

I learned that the quality of your house or apartment has nothing to do with your character. I loved growing up in a duplex rental community. Loved my friends being so close we could play 10 houses down until dark because my parents could always reach me by yelling loudly out the door. Most of the adults I knew had not attended college. Some of my friends were raised by single parents. Some by grandparents. Many (including me) with a step-parent. But from what I saw, most of the adults worked hard and made the best lives they could for their families whatever their structure.

I developed a sense of independence that has served me well my whole life. My friends and I walked all over the neighborhood. We walked to school, and we walked through the Beer Dock on the way home for candy. In junior high, I would take a bus with my friends to the mall and other places. I know I was able to do some of that because 30 years ago it was a safer, simpler time. However the ease of getting around town, and the independence that fostered, was enabled by the lower-income nature of Whitehall. We had public transportation for one thing. And we had a mixed-use urban community. Unlike my friends who lived in more affluent suburbs of Columbus. Those friends had nothing but nice houses on large lots near them. There were no stores to walk to and no bus to take anywhere.
I had fantastic teachers who instilled in me a love of learning.  Our schools may not have been the best equipped, but we had some really great teachers. After taking Dr. Bradshaw's History Seminar, I was honestly over-prepared for college the first year! And I learned first hand that a great education is not about money. It is about great teachers.

I experienced the power of community.  I knew my neighbors. I knew my friends' parents. I felt supported and loved at Eastview United Methodist Church. I was part of the Ram Band with all the Ram Pride that came with it. I took class trips to DC, NYC and Chicago. I performed in plays and sang in choirs. And I honestly never felt limited by resources. Our community found ways. Our parents found ways.

Since growing up and moving away, I have traveled the world with little fear and with confidence in my ability to use public transportation. Naive or not, I do not let worry about potential crime stop me from living my life to the fullest.  I know that bad things can happen anywhere. But I also know that good things can happen anywhere.

Now I'm not saying that raising children in a lower income area is the right place to raise them. But I am saying, that it is not the wrong place. Among the friends I grew up with, there are now teachers, and lawyers, and business executives, and Phds, and great parents, and even greater human beings. I can think of way more success stories off the top of my head than I can of failures.

So yes, I am proud of where I came from and proud of the lessons I learned there. They have served me well. So thank you Whitehall, Ohio.

Monday, September 22, 2014

10 books that changed me

My friend Lynsie posted on Facebook: “I was tagged by Mario to list ten books I care about. I included some epic poems and essays, cause I'm grown, and I do what I want. I tag Jane, Brittany, and Angel to tell me ten books that changed you.”

I’m grown too, so I also choose poems and collections of essays. And one play. And a textbook. And a business book. And a humor/religion book. Cause I’m really rebellious like that.  And when I started thinking about books that have changed me, it brought so much to mind that I decided to answer here on this blog where I have more room. Told you- rebellious.

1.     Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This book is the earliest novel I have clear memory of reading and loving. And so I honor it for starting a life long love of books.

There are only two other novels on this list of 10. But that’s not because I don’t love reading novels. I do. And I have loved too many to really pick favorites. It would be like choosing favorite students. Well, to be fair, we all choose favorite students, but it isn’t polite to name them. So instead of favorites, I’ve picked 3 that inspired me to read more.  And the first of those is Where the Red Fern Grows.

2.     A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
I read this sad, sad book over and over as a pre-teen. And every time I would cry and cry. I remember my mom asking, “Why do you keep reading that book when it makes you cry like that?” And I would say through tears, “because I love it.” And I really did.

And I continue to love books and movies that make me cry.  I prefer fiction that makes me cry actually. Non-fiction, I want to make me laugh. But fiction, I’ll take the cathartic experience of crying over a fictional character’s pain any day of the week.

     3.  “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy
Not sure if Mr. Geyer or Mrs. Farry at Whitehall-Yearling High School introduced me to this poem. But they both introduced me to so many things I am eternally grateful to them for, so I’ll just thank them both.

This poem absolutely changed me. It awoke a feminist consciousness in me. Taught me the power of poetry. And introduced me to the work of Marge Piercy. All three things I have drawn from in my life.

    4. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Ok this one I'm sure I read in Mrs. Farry's class. I chose it from a list for my senior project. And I loved everything about it. I loved the post-modern techniques in a novel from the 1600's. I loved the theme and the characters. I loved the original plot and all the variations in work inspired by it. It is not my favorite book of all time, but it is my favorite story of all time. To dream the impossible dream. And you know I live to charge windmills...

    5. It was on fire when I lay down on it by Robert Fulghum 
Like Marge Piercy, once I was introduced to Fulghum, I read everything he wrote. He's been like my personal adviser for living a good life. The title essay from this collection has always stayed with me as a cautionary tale. He tells the true anecdote of a fireman who asks someone how the fire started on the bed they were laying on. Answer- I don't know it was on fire when I lay down on it. Fulghum reminds us that before we get too smug, we should remember we all lay down in burning beds. "I knew he was trouble when I started dating him."

    6. Language Files Fifth Edition Department of Linguistics/The Ohio State University
Ok, this book really did change my life. Literally. You need a little background to understand how. So when I was a freshman in college I took a sociology course. One day we read about a girl who had been locked in a closet for most of her childhood and the effects that had on her. One of course being a lack of language abilities. This got me thinking about how one could even think without language. I became slightly obsessed with this question for about a month. I would argue both sides with myself because my friends quickly tired of the debate. And I tried to find psychology or sociology books that would help answer my question. All without satisfaction. Some of the books would get close to the issues I was trying to examine, but none ever honed exactly in on what I wanted to know. So eventually I dropped it. 

Fast forward a couple years and I was a junior in another college and an International Studies student. I decided to get a certificate to Teach English as a Second Language just as an add-on to my degree. My thinking was I could travel the world teaching English. The first required class was "Introduction to Linguistics." I had no idea really what linguistics was. I suspected it was like grammar.

I showed up the first day and opened my textbook. There was a heading in the table of contents- "Language and the Brain." It was like a light bulb went off over my head. I can still feel the joy of that discovery. Armed with the word linguistics, I immediately went to the Used Bookstore and bought like 10 books and read them all. Suddenly everything I had wanted to talk about years before was possible.  I immediately changed my major to English with a concentration in TESOL so that I could take every class the University offered in Linguistics. And thus altered my life. As an English major I decided to apply for a job at the Writing Center. Where I met a physics student... But that's another story.

    7. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (allegedly)
Lynsie put books she likes teaching on her list, and that reminded me of my love of teaching Julius Caesar.  I only taught American High School students for 2 years while Jason was in graduate school in Virginia. But the experience of teaching High School will change anyone! My sophomore students were required to read this play. And I was so thankful to be teaching great political speeches and intrigue and betrayal instead of Romeo and Juliet...

     8. First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
This is the best management book I've ever read. And I've read a lot to be honest. More than necessary really.  But more than a management book, this book is a philosophy for how to value and maximize the strengths of people in all areas of your life. And the Strengthfinders stuff to come out of this book is fantastic. I live my life by it.

      9.  Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
Readers of my blog, and friends of mine offline know I adore AJ Jacobs. This book is why. It tackles serious issues with humor and heart. I read it at the exact moment in my life when I needed to hear the answers he found. I know I said I wasn't going to name favorite novels, but when asked what my favorite book is- this is always the answer I give.

     10. “I Dwell in Possibility" by Emily Dickinson 
This poem doesn't just speak to me. It speaks for me. Across time and space I found a kindred spirit.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I dwell in possibility

My 7-year-old got in the car after school the other day and announced, "I still believe in Santa, but I'm getting kind of suspicious of those Elves on the Shelf." Not much gets past her.

This revelation got me thinking about a blog post I've been writing off and on in my mind for the last 20 years or so. You can see at that pace why this blog only has a handful of entries...

The year was 1992. I was in college watching one of my then all-time favorite movies "The Lost Boys" with a friend who shockingly had never seen it. When the vampires in the movie fly around, the camera angle is from their perspective. So my friend asks, "Are they flying as bats or men?" "I don't know, men I guess." To which she says, "oh that's ridiculous. I don't believe that." Still makes me laugh. Vampires- fine. Vampires turning into bats- fine. Vampires flying around like Superman- ridiculous.

And so through the years I've been mentally collecting these lines people draw in what they are willing to believe. One of my favorites was when my then 4-year-old cousin was watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. He looks up from the tv and calmly says, "Squirrels can't talk." Yep. There you have it. The only logical flaw in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show...

These lines come up at my The Little Gym often too. Just recently I walked into a 3-year-old class just in time to hear a girl tell her teacher, "those snakes aren't real." True. Because the "snakes" were actually just scarves tied around the beam. But notice she didn't say, "those scarves aren't snakes." She said, "those snakes aren't real." So part of me thinks she entertained the idea of them being snakes in her head just long enough to draw her line. And even as she made her statement, she was looking for reassurance...

What also amuses me is the flip side- the leaps we'll make to justify a belief. (And now I'm just speaking about kids here, so no one extrapolate this to apply to any adult beliefs...) Back to my daughter and Santa. So last year for Christmas my older daughter asked for a robot toy from Santa. She received a blue penguin robot. Blue being her favorite color and penguins her favorite animal. When her younger sister saw this miraculous gift, she said, "see sissy! Now do you believe in Santa? Who else would know you liked blue and penguins? I told you Santa was real!" Indeed. Who else....

A couple of weeks ago my 7-year-old Elf skeptic came home and announced she had "scientifically proven fairies existed." She added, "My friend saw one. And you know, if you see something you can believe it. And if your friend sees something you can believe it. Right, mom?" I had a small moral crisis about how to answer her. Wasn't sure if I I wanted to crush her belief in eye witness testimony. My husband however, had no such crisis. He told her that wasn't scientific proof. He explained that was the least reliable kind of evidence. Then he listed for her reliable "hard" evidence she would need to prove their existence. The best being capturing a live fairy, but they decided that if she found a piece of a wing or some pixie dust, that would be good enough. So the hunt continues... at least till her belief line in fairies moves... 

As for me, I like my lines widely drawn. I leave room for lots of things to fit. I dwell in possibility...

I dwell in Possibility – (466)
By Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Monday, September 8, 2014

I literally learned something new...

I speak in hyperbole. I exaggerate and over emphasize for effect. I adore figurative language, and I live in metaphors. And I yet I thought I had a good grasp of reality. Even thought my mastery of metaphor gave me a leg up on understanding people and the world.

And since my children were young, I've been teaching them that we are part of an interdependent web of life, and I've worked to make sure they know we are all connected on this great big world of ours. And I've felt proud of how I'm intentionally raising tolerant children who are comfortable with diversity and respectful of the earth.  And then recently, I learned something that blew me away. It was as if I had been struck by lightning.

Guess what I learned? We are part of an interdependent web of life. Everything is connected! And not just in some metaphorical way. Literally.

Apparently, everything is made of atoms. And not just any atoms, the same atoms that have always been making things! Aside from meteorites, everything on earth has been recycled out of
the same atoms for 4.5 billion years. The same atoms! How awesome is that? So you could be made of atoms that used to hold Joan of Arc together. Literally. I cannot stress that point enough. And these atoms just keep changing configuration to form new parts of our interdependent web.

I am certain that for some of you, this information is not new. I know this in part from the reaction of my own scientifically minded husband when I asked him to confirm the validity of this information about atoms. I continually present new cause for him to shake his head and sigh... (thankfully love is patient)

So anyway, laugh at me if you must, but even when I said, "we are all connected"  I didn’t mean literally. Except for maybe in the sense of how a weather  or economic event on one side of the world will affect the other. It never occurred to me the same atoms that were once in ancient people are now in me. But they are.

Add this to all the new found information I've been gleaning on my pursuit to join the Global Family Reunion , and I can safely say I have a new sense of belonging to the interdependent web of life. And a new gratitude for everything and everyone that I am connected to- which again- is everything and everyone.

Learning has always been joyful for me, but learning something new that I thought I knew, has been awesome. Literally.  So I'd like to offer up that you take a new look at something you thought you knew. Be open to discovering an entirely new perspective. And then share it with the rest of us. Because our web could use a bit of stretching now and then. So says this one random angel...