Clearing a pathway

Bird Droppings November 11, 2009
Clearing a pathway

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Elwyn Brooks White

Often I reflect on the journey of life. The many directions I myself have traveled and as I travel I watch others step by step along the way. I listen as some stumbled and are lifted up when pebbles and or boulders are in the way. There are choices at times which pathway to take as a fork approaches and we have to choose. As I have read over the years it is so much better to help others and clear the way if an obstacle is on the trail.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” Christopher Morley, Thunder on the Left

“Life is a cement trampoline.” Howard Nordberg

Wondering why so many of us each day think, perhaps too much obsessing over reasons and rationale tripping over our own inadequacies and imperfections. Are we truly desperate or is this a façade to cover up are lack of enthusiasm and desire. I wonder when I see a young person acting as a mime standing still facing an empty wall and unable to move forward or back, simply immobile dressed in funeral attire waiting for an end.
What has slowed their journey to this point? What is it they have missed along their own pathway as we cross? Why has the enthusiasm for life dwindled to this point?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” Erich Fromm

“To live remains an art which everyone must learn, and which no one can teach.” Havelock Ellis

There really is no road map and no specific travel itinerary as we journey along each day being totally unique for me and for you. Nietzsche offers a that if we have a why we have a reason to live. Fromm simplifies further only a happy moment or a bright morning is all that is needed. Ellis states living an art form, life is an art form perhaps it is the wielding of the brushes and what colors we utilize as we paint. Several years ago a movie starring Robin Williams was out “What Dreams may come”. The author of the book researched extensively on the afterlife, nearly six pages of references in the back of the book. But a scene that caught my attention was as Robin Williams realized that he was painting the world around him as he thought.It was his attitudes and concerns that altered the surroundings, the colors would change and hues fluctuated as he walked about.
“You cannot discover the purpose of life by asking someone else – the only way you’ll ever get the right answer is by asking yourself.” Terri Guillemets

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

“Following straight lines shortens distances, and also life.” Antonio Portia, Voices, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merlin

We set the boulders in our own pathway; and yet we throw out the pebbles that force us to stumble. We end up creating the forks in the road that force us to choose. I would not have it any other way as I step along the path. But as well we need to be aware than we must also clear the pathway so others do not stumble or trip on what we leave behind. We also must make the choices as to which road to follow. I see my life’s map as a series of zigs and zags, what might have been an easy journey constantly side tracked. Once it was a straight line between A and B now the page is covered in this way or that in back tracking and circumventing in over stepping and under stepping. It is in climbing boulders and in pushing some out of the way. In the past I have used at the end of Bird Droppings a saying by a Native American Orator from back in the day as my youngest son says.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

For many this may not mean anything it has been years now since I could hear a buffalo snort and walk across the pasture and see the breath blown in the cool of winter. It has been years since I have seen fireflies dance across my front field now covered in houses and roads. But I still see the little shadow as the sunsets and I still hear the breeze in the morning, our scenery changes but life does go on. With a new wet morning ahead of me please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

A searcher myself

Bird Droppings November 10, 2009
A searcher myself

“I will probably be a searcher until I die and hopefully death itself will only be another adventure. To live any other way seems impossible. If anything has changed over the years, and it has, I only feel more confident now about what I wrote then. I am far more aware of the power that guides each of us along the way, and provides us with the insights and people we need for our journey. There are, indeed, men and women too gentle to live among wolves and only when joined with them will life offer the searcher, step by step, all that is good and beautiful. Life becomes not a confused struggle or pointless pain, but an evolving mosaic masterpiece of the person we were destined to become.” James Kavanaugh, Preface from Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

It has been several years so since I was reintroduced to James Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was a former priest though as I find myself you can not say former. The church may use former but it is difficult to shed the inner light that took you to that point in your life’s journey. I was standing in line at the county tag office trying to put finality on my old Isuzu Trooper and get a tag for my wife’s car. Our tags ran out on my birthday a week ago and living in our county I do not need an emissions check although I am sure it is coming.
I recall a county over a few years back when I had to get a tune up and such to finally get had a clean bill of health although I wonder at times about how that works when a garage says you are approved and recommends new plugs wires etc. So I am standing in line and in front of me a woman is standing waiting as well. This woman is holding a three ring binder and chapter seventeen is open which I tend to read anything I see and so here I am in line reading over this unknown persons shoulder. Medieval Monasticism and Mysticism was the chapter, a bit deep for a tag line in my county even though it is a somewhat educated county. At some point I raise the question, a bit deep for a tag line and she turns around saying she is studying church history.
We begin a short discussion I mention I had been to seminary probably why the reading intrigued me. Turns out she is a church organist for an Episcopal church and she knows my former boss and former Arch Bishop of Atlanta. She is searching and comments on how the church developed its thought. I commented on how seminary pushed me further from religion than drew me in. A comment was made about how man created religion and I recommended an author to her William Edelen. She offered Bishop Sprong a very controversial Episcopal pastor and one I had read several books previously.
As I thought of the poet James Kavanaugh came to mind as I drove home legal now with a current tag. It has been many years since a psychic yes somewhere along the way I ran into a psychic of all things. The comment was made to me that I am a searcher and an explorer. Then I reread this passage from James Kavanaugh and realized so often in my discontent it is a just a piece of a greater picture, a journey, a searching for the trail as I go through life.
Many years ago when hiking along the Appalachian trail in North Carolina we were walking late at night and wanted to get off the road a bit before we settled in and the trail was crystal clear as we walked leading us deeper into the mountains to where we needed to be. So often life is this way we are where we need to be at this moment. About six years ago I met a fellow actually quite a fellow by the way, Dr. James Sutton. Dr. Sutton is a psychologist who specializing in Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD and Conduct Disorder, CD. These are labels given to children who seem to not get along very well with anybody and most often adults.
When I met Dr. Sutton at that time this was only a piece in my puzzle although if and when my first book gets published Dr. Sutton has done the forward for me. However that is not the point I was getting too. A few years back one of our para-pros came up to me excited and smiling ear to ear. She was returning several of Dr. Suttons books she had borrowed it seems her son is ODD and I had emailed Dr. Sutton and he offered his personal email for communication. However my friend sent for another book detailing how to work with her son literally and miracle of miracles it was working. She said their lives had been changed.
I often write about the journey not that meeting Dr. Sutton several years ago and further communications many times since has not been meaningful to me personally but it has offered hope now to another person and family. The pieces fall in place my meeting Dr. Sutton may have been for this family not just for me. The journey continues as the mosaic pieces each unique each sometimes meaningless without the whole fall into place piece by piece and come together.
I am a searcher and a wanderer always looking for answers in a world full of questions. I received an email yesterday from a dear friend passing along a forwarded sign from a store. “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy”. I thought to my own M&M machine or skittles feeding sugar to all of my students before they go to other teachers. Sort of juicing up the ADHD so to say. My friend offered a piece of a favorite of mine although I wonder at times who would name there child Ralph Waldo.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we work with our mosaic that is our life we should use restickable cement so pieces can be changed if need be. It may be that one day what is real today is not real tomorrow. Although I do like the Emerson thought; maybe to be done with it and move on might work as well. So many journeys and pieces as I wander today. Peace my friends and hopefully one day soon it will be. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and so I continue my searching, looking, wondering, and pondering another day.

Is it what we see?

Bird Droppings November 9, 2009
Is it what we see?

“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.” Richard Bach

Bach’s quote is a simple analogy in life yet so true. Looking at this little illustration of how a caterpillar might view his demise just before becoming a butterfly. Bach so often is off the wall making us if we even try to read his tales think beyond where we are. Years ago I recall reading “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and in that day discussed the book and ideas with youth groups and college classes. Today few youth and adults even know of its existence.

“The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while and watch your answers change.” Richard Bach

“You are always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.” Richard Bach

Bach wrote often and much about freedom of being able to choose in a world where parameters were seemingly solidified. He wrote of a seagull that chose to fly higher and of whimsical ferrets saving lives along the coast line. But always it is about freedom, and of choice.

“You don’t want a million answers as much as you want a few forever questions. The questions are diamonds you hold in the light. Study a lifetime and you see different colors from the same jewel.” Richard Bach

“You teach best what you most need to learn.” Richard Bach

I often wondered where Richard Bach found his ideas. Maybe he stood in my kitchen as our old rainbow maker about ten o-clock each morning scattered rainbows about the kitchen. Several years ago my wife received this little gift from a friend, a solar powered little toy; a tiny motor spins a prism crystal slowly when the sun hits the solar panel just right. Of course when the beam of sunlight hits the prism it emanates hundreds of rainbows that scatter about the room. Many were the days that I would stand awash in rainbows letting that light bounce all over me as I thought about life.
Bach talks of questions that too reflect like that prism in different lights. But it as you learn and gain wisdom it seems the light changes and the different colors appear. So many times I refer back to a statement by Henry David Thoreau. “In order to teach one must be a learner first”. He gave up teaching to be a learner. I was thinking back to my sons and their childhood and teaching them through and of various aspects of life. I learned as much with each lesson, if not more than they did.

“Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.” “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” Richard Bach

Each day as the semester winds down towards winter break, students seem to find their way to my room drawn by curiosity perhaps and often that in their own class learning has stopped as students are excited about the break. Many teachers are cleaning up and getting files in order with all of the AYP, annual yearly Performance. Lately I have been offering shadaku puzzles along with various assundery wooden puzzles and always Stevie the wonder snake and all the questions a live snake can conjure.
Usually the first question is what do you teach? I always refer to the sign on my door, the philosophy of education and why we are even trying to learn about what it is we are here for, and usually they do not ask again. I saw an article on the Japanese number puzzles and now have a file of various levels in my laptop. I offer a simple prize for solving puzzles a pack of m&m’s. This sounds silly but when students who would be just sitting around sleeping or talking are spending hours solving a simple number puzzle it is infectious and you know what learning continues.
Often Stevie will illicit questions as we sit holding a five foot python. A dear friend from the Georgia coast has made most of my wooden puzzles ranging in difficulty from a few simple pieces to a series of wooden swords inserted into a block of wood with only one way of getting them all in. Each involves thinking and eye hand coordination. Learning occurs in often the most mundane settings.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” “Happiness is the reward we get for living to the highest right we know.” Richard Bach

Seems each question has an answer when needed, each answer then has questions to ponder, each pondering another pathway and each pathway another life to live. We all need to look to find that rainbow maker and bathe in the rainbows, to solve the puzzles, or to hold a snake. We need to wonder and think and learn and live. Life is far too short to fret over what we do and why. Perhaps I need to take my own advice and step beyond where I am, step over to the other side of the stream as it would seem. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Is age a point of maturity

Bird Droppings November 6, 2009
Is age a point of maturity

“Maturity is the ability to do a job whether or not you are supervised, to carry money without spending it, and to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.” Ann Landers

Since the beginning of my returning to teaching nearly nine years ago this has been an issue. Several of my students are not mature in any way; others see their antics and immediately comment “you are so immature”. It has become nearly a joke each day with some students. Of course I don’t help doing my Mr. Rodgers act as I start class on some days. I used to listen to his show while my own kids watched and as many times as he was spoofed on Saturday Night Live he was awarded by various children’s group for his impact on kids.

“Ok children lets talk about acting like children. Well of course you are all children” now you have to do this in a Mr. Rodgers voice as well for effect

I go on till my really redneck buddy in class will declare that Mr. Bird has lost it again. But as I look at Anne Landers definition of maturity, it is not about being silly or joking around or acting like Mr. Rodgers. Three items make up the case for maturity.

“I believe the sign of maturity is accepting deferred gratification.” Peggy Cahn

“Maturity is often more absurd than youth and very frequently is most unjust to youth.” Thomas A. Edison

“Maturity is the capacity to endure uncertainty.” John Huston Finley

Looking at how others define or shape the idea of maturity often opens doors to other ideas or concepts, such as deferred gratification, able to endure uncertainty and interestingly enough, I have seen children who can do this in both cases. Edison often has a good grasp on reality “maturity is more absurd than youth”. I was talking with several students yesterday about relationships and what makes a friend, interesting answers for children, all dealt with relationships between people except for one fellow who wanted to be friends with his car, and that is whole other issue.

“If boyhood and youth are but vanity, must it not be our ambition to become men?” Vincent Van Gogh

“Maturity is knowing when to be immature.” Randall Hall

Is timing an aspect of maturity? I am sure if someone came in while I am Mr. Rodgers in class they would assume that I was one immature teacher. Right now I may have the lead in immaturity for some.

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.” John Macnaighton

“True maturity is only reached when a man realizes he has become a father figure to his girlfriend’s boyfriends, and he accepts it.” Larry McMurtry

I fond this as an interesting comparison as I read. On one hand maturity is a sense of self and understanding and again age as a factor in looking at how people respond to you. Maybe gray hair adds maturity. But then I think of comedian Steve Martin who has always had gray hair.

“Maturity consists in no longer being taken in by oneself.” Kajetan Von Schlaggenberg

“One does not get better but different and older and that is always a pleasure.” Gertrude Stein

Many look at maturity as that escape or break from self centeredness or from selfishness. There are many immature people in the world if that is the case, “different and older” an easy suggestion and one that is easy to except. Life does get different as we move along our journey. Often our rational for doing something changes as we get older. As children we tend to survive, as adults often it is our children’s survival we think of and that shift from self to others is a significant aspect of maturity. It may be friends or family, I keep thinking back to conversations with various students’ parents over the years. About four years ago in a meeting a father told me he would allow his daughter to miss school all week to make a point, on responsibility. In another meeting a father who in a parent conference made the statement, “The reason I can not get a job is because Mexicans work to hard”.
I sit back take notes and wonder ok we have problems with these kids and we wonder if there are other factors, outside of school maybe just maybe the antecedents for the behaviors are from home and or in that sixteen hours the kids are not in school.

“Judge not others; judge only yourself. What appear to be faults in others may actually be reflections of our own emotional afflictions.” Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey

“Selfishness may be sweet only for oneself, but no harmony of the whole can come from it.” Tenrikyo Osashizu

From ancient teachings often little bits and pieces of wisdom, both of these come from Zen teachings and Buddhism from several thousands of years ago. This idea of self centeredness as a focal point of immaturity has been a round for a long time. As I am listening to conversations in the hallways so often the students complain about the very things that they see in themselves. I love it when students complain about gossiping of others as they gossip themselves she said, and he said or she said.

“Dare to err and to dream. Deep meaning often lies in childish plays.” Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

“I am a part of all that I have met.” Lord Alfred Tennyson

“The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.” Yuan- Sou

Chronological age is not the issue. As I think immaturity is a point of awareness of whom and where you are in the scheme of things in life. Does the world revolve around you or are you simply a piece in the puzzle of life. Trying to put a finger on that point where one becomes mature is difficult. It is far easier to say a horse is mature when that animal becomes reproductively sound and can procreate. With humans that may never happen, and many happen sadly when they are not mature far too often. There also are many parents who should have never procreated. That is of course my opinion.
I used to think that and even joke about it as I tried to figure out what to do with a particular student or students. But you know what, had it not been for some of those students many ideas and thoughts that have lead me to today would have never happened. It is those very situations and issues that mold and make us who we are. I would like to share a short note from a dear friend in Pennsylvania I received many years ago. She was at that time an assistant pastor in a church in Wilmington, Delaware. This was in reference to my thoughts in a Bird Dropping on friendship but it is as applicable today as then. This came from her heart thinking about her friend who helped her as she sat by her son’s bedside as he lay dying from a serious illness.

“I love to come home from work, (I clean my church), on an autumn afternoon, put my feet up, and enjoy the sun’s last blaze of glory for that day. Ovals of colored glass, amethyst, amber, and azure, etched with celestial figures, hang in my window facing to the west. Shimmering, as if delighted to be touched by the warm light, the angels fly their colors across my room to take as their partners, crystal dishes, reindeer and angels, patently waiting the last dance of the day. The soft light pine of the china cupboard soaks in the light, gleaming with pride to be housing such an orchestra of color. Gifts from a dear friend, the glass angels remind me of the light she has brought into my life, especially on dark days. I read somewhere that we humans are angels with one wing; to fly we must embrace one another. The light that comes in my window knows.” Rev. Beth Engel

A new morning as the moon was peeking through the sparse clouds in my back yard earlier as I took one dog out. My oldest dog was snoring on our bed and of course as every morning follows me upstairs as I write although I do think it is more the leftover Cherrios in my bowl and a bit of milk he comes for. Today is a day to view carefully our place in life, how mature or immature are we really and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Individulaity can be a lonely journey

Bird Droppings November 5, 2009
Individuality can be a lonely journey

I walked out about 1:30 AM this morning taking my westie for her constitutional and off in the pines that are within a hundred feet of my house, several hundred acres of dense pines, a barred owl was calling. I am used to the great horned owls and screech owls that periodically abound in our area but this was a first. Could be that my jimson weed, moon flowers are blooming now except they really never got started this year for some reason? They have trumpet shaped white blooms, and were imported from Pennsylvania on my last trip north. I am generally not one to import weeds but it is a unique plant. Jimson weed, datura is a relative of the belladonna family and very toxic. It is considered a medicinal plant and has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years. The plant was generally used to lead to a vision quest on an individual basis.

“The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson

Does the end justify the means? I have wondered about this for as long as I can remember. Daily thinking about what I do or what others do justifying based on what may be at a later date or may not be than all that is done was not justified. Sometimes it is much easier to simply live in the moment alone.

“The price for independence is often isolation and solitude.” Steve Schmidt

“Independence I have long considered as the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue; and independence I will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I were to live on a barren heath.” Mary Wollstonecraft

Living to the tune of a different drummer, following that beat, so often within the context you find you are alone in your journey. Mankind as a whole is a herding animal and prefers to be with their group or in a group whether they agree or disagree with the philosophical meanderings of that group. I started thinking back to my shepherding days and working large groups of sheep. The herding instinct is stronger in various breeds and in effect makes some easier and or harder to work. Most traditional British breeds will herd instinctively which is actually a defense mechanism. The weaker sheep tend to fall to the outside and are devoured; stronger sheep healthier sheep physically flock and stay tight.
But what of that one who dares to leave the confines of the flock the Mary Wollstonecraft’s of life, who was one of the most independent thinkers of her time.

“Each man must have his “I”; it is more necessary to him than bread; and if he does not find scope for it within the existing institutions he will be likely to make trouble.” Charles Horton Cooley

“Individuality is either the mark of genius or the reverse. Mediocrity finds safety in standardization.” Frederick E. Crane

So often in the world we can see where people tend to want to be part of a group for the ease of existence. An effort to let others make the choices and we will simply live existence out following along, makes thinking so much easier. I recall the stress of the teacher of forty years who could not function without the prepackaged lessons and transparencies of the text book author. It was in a subject that she had taught so many times before. In today’s educational standardization so often it is simply following the group mentality. In the business world so often workers simply plow along staying in the groove. Students find being part of a group so much easier than being unique thinking on their own because the examples are provided by teachers.

“We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do.” Ethel Barrett

“A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I find it so amusing that in high school I can not remember reading Emerson yet I found a report I had done in tenth or eleventh grade on Emerson in my boxes. We strive so hard to maintain image yet are torn within. Watching students, so often those that have a different drum beat than the “norm” are the ones who get into trouble. Their life strategy is different than most. I know of one fellow in particular who is always outside the realm of what many call normalcy.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel

“My mother said to me, “If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.” Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso. Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.” Pablo Picasso

I listened in a meeting to a statement of research; research shows that teachers who care about their students and amazingly their students do better, “duhhhhh!” Ok so we are going to have you caring more about your students by doing this or this and the sheep follow. It is interesting how we know answers to questions and answer so often with the opposite answer and actually know it is wrong. Maybe no one else will know it or maybe it is the answer someone else wants to hear.

“A happy life is one which is in accordance with its own nature.” Seneca

“Those who talk about individuality the most are the ones who most object to deviation, and in a few years it may be the other way around. Some day everybody will just think what they want to think, and then everybody will probably be thinking alike;” Andy Warhol

I wonder if sheep are just trying to fit in or does mankind have a herding instinct as well. Years ago my father wanted some exotics and one of those was a breed of sheep called Jacob four horned. The story goes that these were the sheep Jacob picked out with spots from the bible stories. They are a breed with black and white wool in large spots, but they also have four horns or five or six sometimes and they grow no wherein any particular order and often rams have to have their horns trimmed as they grow back into their heads.
Actually most of this is true except for biblical part they originated in Scandinavia. So why would I interject a story of Jacob sheep? These sheep have there own unique defense mechanism. When ewes have lambs and a predator attacks the flock they all explode in different directions and then flock again later. I have watched herding dogs try and chase Jacob sheep or herd Jacob sheep and become frustrated. Only experienced dogs can handle these crazy sheep.

“I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquility, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.” Samuel Johnson

“The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, its indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, its indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, its indifference.” Ellie Wiesel

Several years ago a local reporter did an article on me in terms of shepherding I had started a program working with indigent families, The Shepherd’s Staff Ministry. It just so happens they are still going and still feeding families and yesterday was United Way day at our high school and Shepherds Staff is a part of United Way. I had at one point in time also been one of the larger producers of sheep in Georgia, an interesting parallel for the story. As I think now back as a teacher we are shepherds but that effort should be a guiding effort not a leading and perhaps that is the difference I am trying to find today. We should guide rather than lead. We should point in the direction instead of pull to. So for today peace my friends and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

Bird Droppings November 4, 2009
2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu

I began the day thinking back to a song one of my students chose to write about several years ago, Live like you were dying by Tim McGraw. The assignment was to pick a favorite song and find the lyrics then explain the song. There is some thing about country music and lyrics and emotions that hit you. It was humorous to me since most of the day yesterday I was humming or singing a Neil Young song and always a Neil Young fan I got up this morning thinking country. Amazing as I think back how with all the various music genre that came forth on my lyrics assignment that one song stood out among all the rest that day. Maybe it is old age sinking in. Maybe it was the email of a friend recently would is being treated for cancer. Although also added I was stuck with him for a while yet.

“You have to do what you love to do, not get stuck in that comfort zone of a regular job. Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.” Lucinda Basset

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

Searching for words midst a deluge of thought I got caught up in Tim McGraw’s words from that assignment so many years back. It is actually a rather interesting song.

“I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about” Tim McGraw

We take life so often for granted, wasting precious moments, missing bits and pieces as we go hurriedly to the next event of the day. So many of the teenagers I meet are living one moment to the next not savoring and getting the most simply there, whatever and it is gone.

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” Josh Billings

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

“I went Rocky Mountain climbing I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu and then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I watched an eagle as it was flying and he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Tim McGraw

Yesterday morning I walked out as I do so many mornings early in the day, to my right clearing the pines a great circle of a moon almost a full moon but so close and literally lighting up the morning. The stars added to the effect and surrounding me that great chorus of crickets and tree frogs was due to the chill only a handful but still powerful in the total setting, it was literally over whelming. I have yet to figure how crickets in our neighborhood can harmonize.

“The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, and passion.” Nadia Boulanger

“On life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.” Buddha

We each search and try to find the pathway that is best for us as we journey through life. How and why we go the direction we do is our choice and the attitude that we have again is our choice. As I am reading again the words from Tom McGraw’s song and reading a teenagers response is interesting, living each day to the fullest is not just about riding a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds or climbing in the Rockies. It is more about loving deeper and speaking sweeter, it is the moments not the events, it is extracting as much as possible and giving as much as possible in each second of each day. If only we could do this on a regular basis as a part of our existence.

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t and I became a friend a friend would like to have” Tim McGraw

It was again as I was thinking back another incident struck me, my middle son had called from school and sounded upset there was uneasiness in his voice. A female student had killed herself in the dorm; several of his friends were peer leaders on that hall. In another situation I was informed two students I have been talking with and counseling with for three years were both pregnant distant events to each other yet encompassing in its own, a life ended and lives starting. One of the girls came by to tell me personally shortly after I had heard rumors.

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

It has been many years since I would walk out into the pastures at night and hear the snorting of our buffalo. It is so hard to explain seeing a bull buffalo’s breath blowing across the grass in the wee hours of the morning on a cool day, or watching fireflies skirt the kudzu and sumac of our back yard. Going back to a young lady taking her own life, she had a plan with a stopping point I wonder if she lived as if she were dying or was she dying so she could live? What a paradox we set in motion as we journey each day.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end how’s it hit you when you get that kinda news man what’d you do…….live like you were dying. Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about what’d you do with it what did you do with it” Tim McGraw

I won’t be riding bulls or skydiving but I will be smiling and I will love and I will be living each moment that I have got. So my dear friends take a moment and truly think about it, live your moments to the fullest, love deeper, love sweeter and please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Turning an ugly face jug

Bird Droppings November 3, 2009
Turning an ugly face jug

It has been a few years since the last time I talked with and watched the late Cleater Meadors turn a jug on the potter’s wheel at Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts fair in Perry Georgia. A simple lump of clay in a skilled artist’s hands can become a work of art as each moment passes. In today’s world of folk art collecting, Cleater Meador’s pots and jugs fetch many thousands of dollars. He learned the family trade as he was the nephew of the world renowned folk potter Lanier Meadors and the son of Cheever Meadors also a renowned potter, and Lanier’s brother. That is if you are looking up folk potting in Brothers in clay by Burrison, 1983.
As I thought about Mr. Meadors and the many fond memories of days gone by I saw a similarity to education. How do we see our students that come into our rooms each day? Do we see them as unique, like the ugly face jugs of mountain potters that have no restraints in size or shape or do the current legislative policies limit us to seeing them as a just a commodity, research based, or a standard much like the graduated cylinder with a very specific and fixed amount of space that we are required to fill?
My middle son by chance graduated from Georgia Tech and when he was eight years of age had the opportunity to be hands on with Mr. Meadors at his wheel making a small pot. I asked my son recently if he remembered that time and he recalled each step in the process. I asked him if he remembered his third grade teacher and how she taught and he did not recall her name let alone what he was taught. A few moments spent working with an artist is long remembered in minute detail and yet his third grade year in school somehow escapes him. Are we missing something in this standardized system that is becoming education? As I watch within my own school system piece by piece we are losing art, creativity, imagination in classes and in our children.

“When we say that a work of art is an experiment in living, we mean exactly that it presents to us the pros and cons, what it feels like to be a murderer or the victim as a result of which you feel somehow that you have entered into the lives of other people.” J. Bronowski, The Visionary Eye

Maybe we should consider our students as works of art rather than commodities. As I tried and understand how my son recalled that moment with Mr. Meadors so clearly, and yet his class-work and teacher seemed forgotten I wondered about our educational system and Bronowski statements. Bronowski was a teacher and he said “you have to touch people” in his television series, it is about emotions and feelings and living. I use the phrase from my Dewey studies of giving context to content and I thought to my own classroom. I try to provide to my students all of whom all are classified as being in special education and many are emotionally behaviorally disturbed, opportunities for discovery. My room is a cornucopia of things from a 1955 Tonka truck, photos every where, posters, daily quotes from famous authors, to Stevie, the ball python and the rest of our zoo. It is by no means a sterile environment. I try and put context in the content. I try and instill imagination and creativity.

“How strange should curriculum become? Unless one can see the possible in or beyond the actual, they can not frame a moral ideal of what ought to be; they are slaves to the actual. Imagination acquires moral import in the effort to unite the real and the ideal. Imagination is the chief instrument of the good…the ideal factors in every moral outlook and human loyalty are imaginative. In the active relation between ideal and actual imaginative art may become more religious than religions. Dewey concludes that “art is more moral than moralities. Spirituality involves expanded perception; therefore, education in all fields must involve educating the creative imagination.” John Dewey

We need to go beyond content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and we are losing this. Dewey continued this idea of as he discussed the idea of spiritual in reference to art and expanding creative imagination. There is so much more to curriculum for teaches to consider.

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

Can we come back to imagination, context, and creativity, and the individual? How do we try and rekindle that desire in teachers and most importantly in students? Please my friends keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and let us look inward.

Thinking about compassion

Bird Dropping November 2, 2009
Thinking about compassion

It is quiet at school on a Sunday during fall break since I was alone yesterday for the last day of our break. Here in Georgia at least in our county we have not gone the route of year around school and have a few extra weeks of breaks scattered around. I actually think I came back to teaching from industry for the summers off. As I think about it does seem like we have vacations all the time summer break, fall break, Thanksgiving break, Winter break, spring break, intercessions, National Holidays and even a few days of personal time if needed. This fall break between rain drops I have been doing a lot of gardening around the house as well as my obsession with my herb garden which includes a lot of time sitting looking at and thinking about what I did that day, reflection to borrow from John Dewey. It is in reflection we find answers and often new questions which I wrote about yesterday. Sitting here this morning the word compassion struck me. In various discussions in graduate school and with faculty members at my own school recently the word compassion has been used in describing and even in defining a good teacher.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Albert Einstein

Thinking to myself as I read again this quote by Albert Einstein and to a night or two ago as I walked about my back yard later one evening there is a sense of being a part of all that is. A few nights back I was outside after dark and by chance had our Westie with me and went into our front yard. My wife was due home and the dog wanted to run in circles as I had her on a lead when an owl started in calling. Within a second or two another was calling several hundred yards further down and at first I thought the bird had simply moved. Shortly thereafter a third bird joined in a sort of dueling owls as it was. I had not heard three at one time before each distinct and separate, as several times they were over lapping in their calls and each was several hundred yards apart calling in the darkness. It truly does give a sense of being a part of rather than the focus of our world.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” Albert Schopenhauer

I wonder as I am sitting here what is compassion. The great philosopher Schopenhauer who became the guide for many of later philosophers going into the twentieth century saw compassion as basis for morality. The doing or not doing, of what is right or wrong is compassion perhaps? The Dalai Lam who is the spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists, approaches compassion in a similar yet slightly different view, compassion is to be lived and practiced.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

In the world of today so often compassion is overlooked as an attribute. A person who is compassionate is considered soft and weak and not up to the toughness needed in today’s society of ruthlessness and profit. I go back a day or two to a thought from Ken Nerburn’s latest book of handshakes being soft or hard. I was reviewing a curriculum format yesterday and what was amusing it was not a curriculum but a way or method of viewing education more so. The program was about looking at the wellbeing of the entire person or child. Dr. Comer a psychiatrist developed the idea in the late 1960’s, he was probably a hippie. The concept is that we need to address the entire child, psychologically, physically, emotionally and cognitively in education. A rather broad view of how we should be teaching and or educating children. I was thinking about Dr. Comer’s dream as I found this quote.

“I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For it is through compassion that we see others as a part of the whole and not just separate people. It is through compassion we go beyond the curriculum maps and guides and paperwork. It is through compassion that we care and want to do more for others. Over the years I have always been impressed when reading from Thomas Aquinas and today I found a piece that is a defining piece of the idea of compassion.

“I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it.” Thomas Aquinas

Far too often we want to be simply on the receiving end of compassion but it is in the doing that compassion is found. As I think to my monastic moments in recent days as everyone else at the house has been working and I am home tending my garden and reading, writing, and pondering. I find solace in solitude almost as much as in talking with friends at the store which happens quite a bit as I wander about Quick Trip, Kroger, hardware store and or Barnes and Noble, my favorite store.

“It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.” Thomas Merton

I have for many years enjoyed the writings of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who was against war and died in a Saigon Hotel protesting the Viet Nam war back in the late 1960’s when protesting the war was not a good thing according to most societal models. Merton was allowed a certain freedom in his views often not permitted within the Catholic Church. He believed and wrote what he believed and many today think he dies for those beliefs. According to local law enforcement he died of an accidental electrocution in his hotel room.

“No matter how you seem to fatten on a crime, there can never be good for the bee which is bad for the hive.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

To end today’s reflection a word or two from one of my favorites, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It took several readings to catch the meaning of this passage. We are social creatures and it is about the whole that compassion is truly about. Much like Emerson’s bee, if we are too good to ourselves the hive will suffer. As I look at teaching is this not true as well. Far too often a teacher becomes absorbed in their own little world of a classroom and their needs and their goals, and the students the children suffer. So much to think about and ponder on for today. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Searching for answers on a birthday in reflection and thought

Bird Droppings November 1, 2009
Searching for answers on a birthday in reflection and thought

As I look forward to being another year older and with that many more moments for reflection and thoughts the past week especially being out of school for fall break. I went out to the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds last weekend and climbed to the top of the great temple mound. There is something about standing facing to each direction on such a sacred site. For the last ten thousand years this spot has been sacred and a special place to Native Americans of many tribes.
As I sat in my class room at school earlier doing some paper work I was thinking about a mason jar of good Georgia sweet tea from Momma Jean’s over on Cherry Street and a couple of Advil for a sore back from digging and planting in my herb garden the past few days. It has been an interesting week and as always I had conversations with different people, people I never met before. A lady at the mounds at the cash register as I bought a book and T-shirt and I started talking about the CCC and job corps of FDR. Her brother had worked for CCC back in the 1930’s or so working for the archeological digging at the mounds. While I was there an obnoxious man started arguing carbon dating with her and complaining how the labels should say theorized instead of actual dates on artifacts. Everyday at the corner store someone new and interesting.
I went out much earlier yesterday than I do normally maybe I was thinking it was daylight savings yesterday perhaps. A few sprigs of sweet grass and a sage leave or two help bolster the senses as the smoke rises and wanders across the darkness. Watching a bit of smoke curl up in the morning is an interesting sight. It was cool but not cold as I walked out into the backyard. The grass was wet from the steady drizzle we have had for several days. My cricket chorus while subdued in the chill was doing their best maybe two or three were chirping still.
As I went through the day today it is always a good feeling to receive birthday wishes from friends and family. I was thinking earlier yesterday as I lay in my bed about what direction to go but there were so many thoughts circulating in my head, I was thinking about numerous points of impact in sixty years of life. I thought back to one I ponder on quite a bit, especially as recently I found on Facebook someone from the same small town in Pennsylvania that I lived in. The one point that continues to pop up is poking a fellow in the butt with a pencil in East Fallowfeild Elementary school in first grade. While not an inspiring event it has stuck with me for some reason from fifty five years ago, might be getting hit in the head by my teacher that reminds me.
I remember being carried through the polio wards in West Chester Hospital when I was three years old or so and seeing kids one day and they are were gone the next. I recall meeting a little autistic boy Artie Cohen in 1970 or so his photo still hangs in my current classroom. I have so many very fond memories of “The JUNGLE”, a small patch of sassafras, honeysuckle and sumac that a few of us literally lived in for so many years. There are many good friends from my graduating class in high school who I still communicate with daily if not weekly. I recall having home made root beer at a good friend’s house on Caln Meeting house road so many years ago.
I t was over thirty years ago I met my wife to be and all of those thoughts and memories of the births of my three kids are with me always. There are so many moments special to me going through my head. I recall very easily my first day back teaching on September 11, 2001. I have so many folks I have met along the way in teaching and grad school and each a memory worth saving. As I think I have found out how critical it is to reflect and ponder and really seeing as I get older how important this is to the journey we embark on in life.

“Before undertaking a project, ponder what will be gained, lost and ultimately achieved. There is nothing too difficult for a man who, before he acts, deliberates with chosen friends and reflects privately.” Tirukkural 47: 461-462

This particular thought was written nearly 2000 years ago by a master weaver, a member of the lowest caste in Hindu culture and life. Pondering is an old art I found out. Many of you who have taken courses at Piedmont College and or read John Dewey’s work understand the concept of reflection and how it is engrained in further thinking.

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

As I read these two views to start today having read Dewey numerous times he too advocates’s reflection for teachers and students. As I read his view here is one of frustration in dealing with mankind, for far too often it is too difficult for men to climb out of that rut and to even consider true reflection.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Henry David Thoreau

“The poet’s, commonly, is not the logger’s path, but a woodman’s … there are spirits … to whom no simplicity is barren. There are not only stately pines, but fragile flowers, like the orchids, commonly described as too delicate for cultivation, which derive their nutriment from the crudest mass of peat. These remind us, that, not only for strength, but for beauty, the poet must, from time to time, travel the logger’s path and the Indian trail, to drink at some new and more bracing fountain of the Muses, far in the recesses of the wilderness.” Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods

It has been a few mornings although today as I took out our westie it was a star filled sky and I was remembering back when very close friend Dr. Harold Sweetman, was showing me Cassiopeia for the first time as a high school student in Boy Scouts. It was over my head this morning as I headed out. It is difficult for me to not ponder and reflect on what life presents to me each day. For me each morning as I write it is a clearing, a meditation of sorts, it is reading, finding pieces to my own puzzle to share and meditate upon with others as I can. It is looking at that rut we travel or seeking anew along the Indian trail of Thoreau.

“The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” John Dewey

Knowing and understanding are keys to democracy and to life and moving beyond the rut, looking for the loggers trail or for the pathway of the Indian requires learning and knowledge and that is education.

“I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals.” “I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” John Dewey

Wondering about the direction of the flow of my thoughts as I read, and pondered I find Thoreau similar to John Dewey both wanting experience to be more than simply taking up time. They both want it to be meaningful learning and for it to move each of us a step ahead. Dewey wants education to be about now as well as providing tools for later. He offers that it should be meaningful, that it has to affect life immediately and currently as well in the future. This is what Thoreau was all about as well. Thoreau quit teaching to become a learner as the story goes and in doing so became a better teacher. The reflections of the master weaver help many to ponder even today and show that rather than simply doing something we need to see the now and then of an effort.
Dewey argued that far too often we in society today only look at the then. Thoreau offered the now and Dewey argued against simply educating for later that there has to be an impact now as well to be meaning and long lasting. Learning has to become part of the life experience of the child.

“It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own. He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before him. His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was connected with Nature, — and the meaning of Nature was never attempted to be defined by him. … His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as with a microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole. His poetry might be good or bad; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility and technical skill, but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual perception.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, a eulogy for Henry David Thoreau

I am sorry I am wandering today but it is my birthday so I can do whatever I want maybe it is because I am getting old, between the simple thoughts of HDT and the planned thinking of Dewey. I want you to ponder yourself as the day goes on and the weekend winds down. Where in among the shade of the tress do you see your thoughts going? Is it following the path of the logger or the Indian or is it seeing life as a rut in your journey or is it as a trail blazer seeing for the first time the trail and leaving a path for the next person to see as new. I have for so long been writing that life is about the journey we take. I always seem to find my way to this simple quote.

“And how high can you fly with broken wings? Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

For many years I have been using a line from this song by Aerosmith, taken from the context of the song. “Life is a journey not a destination”, and I think back to when I first saw it posted on my computer after spending the night at The Athens Regional Hospital in Athens Georgia, holding the hand of a sixteen year old young man who had been hit by a semi after doing a u turn on a back road. My oldest son and his band played Aerosmith tunes quite a bit. But this was a line from a song that in and of itself was significant. It was for him and for me at that moment very significant and life altering for me.
It evolved for me as I saw how my own life was a journey. As I looked at each aspect of my own life and see each is crucial to the next. In days prior I had been reading numerous books on the purpose in life or finding Meaning in life trying to find a focus for myself. I was floundering in business and trying to get a foothold back on the day I first saw this quote, a yellow post it note on a computer after sitting with a dying teenager. A life changing or life refocusing moment it would seem. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how profound for my son barely older than the young man who was killed to have found this concept and I had been searching for nearly fifty years and still had not seen. My own life started to focus and clear and ideas thoughts seemed to flow and make sense.
Earlier today I was answering an email from someone I have never met. I was talking with several people yesterday about how we can in today’s electronic age communicate with so many people all in a touch of a computer keyboard. Often with photos and such attached, multimedia is an understatement. Actually we addressed this in graduate school over the past few conversations. But the message is still clear. It is about the journey.
A key element to me is the example we set, the picture we paint for others to see that has significance and meaning as we go through the day. What would a child learn from a teacher who yells at an extremely high decibel other than to cover their ears? What does a child learn from a parent who abuses them other than abuse? What does a friend learn from a friend when they betray them other than distrust? Within the fragility of our experiences we need examples of direction of positive journeying. Each day I wonder why kids come by my room just to smile and say hi. At other times it is to ask for a word or two of advice. Life is about the journey, may we all be cleaning the pathway rather than dropping boulders for others to trip on. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and you know each new day is another step along the way. May peace be with you.