Selecting your pallet

Bird Droppings December 30, 2009
Selecting your pallet

I wrote the basics of this article nearly five years ago and at the time was thinking of an artist friend who was trying to define her art as well as searching for her own meaning in life. My friend often reflects her political views and emotions through her art. Just the other night my family that was in town had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games and eat of course. It seems in all family gatherings eating is an integral part and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Perhaps one day I will write on the socializing aspects of family get togethers and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just prior to committing suicide?”

“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others” Vincent Van Gogh

By chance the answer was Van Gogh. When I first read this I started to think about an ear coming in a box, and how unromantic that is. Perhaps sending body parts while you are alive is an art form. But trying not to be sarcastic, many aspects of our lives could be construed as an art form, such as love, teaching, and caring. Each goes beyond a simple definition. Within each are pieces that you do not learn in class. I am sure if Vincent Van Gogh showed a picture he drew or painted during one of his manic spells, the art teacher would have told him to take art lessons. Today those same paintings are considered classics of impressionism. I am sure Picasso was laughed at, some where along the line for drawing women in cube form or simply as a splash of color upon his canvas.
What defines an art form versus simply reality? I would not pay millions to have a Picasso or Van Gogh even if I had the money lying around. Perhaps for me I would prefer to see and experience rather than to own. It seems those who pay millions are often more about the publicity than the art.

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” William Faulkner

Defining the moment in words, paint or sculpture, perhaps even a bit of broken glass can be art. I saw a chapel of stained glass windows many years ago created by an artist, an elderly Trappist monk from Conyers. This was his last work at the age of ninety two. The brilliant abstracts in the windows were in reds and purple depicting the Christian sacraments. The windows were literally alive as you sat in the chapel bathed in the brilliant light from the windows.

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” Henry James

I was thinking about Faulkner’s idea of art. How we can take a piece of life and preserve it. Artists are in many ways taxidermists each working within their own medium so to speak. Is love simply that special moment carried further as a reminder of what once was? Could teaching simply be a passing of pieces of reality to another who will have those pieces at some point in time? Even in the painting of Van Gogh is his art just the capturing of an image. Interesting how we do so easily now with digital cameras, scanners and computers.

“Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.” James Joyce

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” John F. Kennedy

“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” Henri Matisse

Last night watching briefly as Mel Brooks was honored at the Kennedy Art Center for his contributions. I found myself drawn to these writers’ quotes today especially as I read this statement by Henry Matisse. There is a secret hidden within Matisse’s words, for all forms of art. We are so often limited by our history and previous experiences, be it love or an art form, for Matisse then each love, each new piece of art should be new. Each should be special. It is in trying to categorize and synthesize that we loose the true essence and aspect of love, and of art. When we try to define and label the box of love do we lose pieces as we can in art? Teaching is in a very similar situation. Far too often teachers try and teach each lesson as they taught the last. First you have to forget all the classes that were ever taught, a difficult task for any teacher.

“If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.” Grandma Moses

“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors.” Pablo Picasso

It has been nearly six years ago that a student brought in several dozen photos she and her sister had taken of each other. One of the photos caught my eye. Neither of the girls saw any significance as do very few others when I see things in photos. But for me that one photo caught the personality of the student and I put it on my wall in my class room. That is art for me. Recently one of the sisters came bay to visit and noticed the picture was still there and how much that meant to her. Where and how does it become art for everyone? How does teaching become energized to a point that it is art?
It has been some time since I wrote a rather long email to a dear friend who is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I used the word empathy several times. An artist in what ever medium they choose has to have empathy. A pastor is an artist dealing with the spirituality of parishioners and so much more. As I researched art many paradoxes seemed to crop up even within the definition.

“A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.” “A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer. “

Art is non scientific yet it is also very specific in other ways. I find art perhaps more scientific than science. It is interesting in art we attach theory to reality and in science we try to attach reality to theory. Teaching in and of itself is taking reality and attaching theory to it. We have a block of information that by various means we have to interpret to a student and hopefully they will come close to what we are actually trying to teach.

“To impart knowledge”

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man’s nature.” Ayn Rand

I was thinking back several years to a teacher searching the closet for teacher’s manuals and transparencies to teach a subject they had taught for forty years. I was a bit taken back. How do you teach a subject for forty years and now get stressed over a manual and transparencies. You should know the material and it should not be the exact same for every class. The delivering of the material is the key issue here. I was curious as I watched and observed the mounting stress for this teacher as no teacher’s manual and transparencies could be found. Forunately for the students their regular teacher made it back in time.

“There has to be one how did anyone teach this class before me.” A former teacher

That same week I watched a teacher take the same subject and walk into class dressed as a knight, maybe it was a goat herder, with literally a virtual reality game. This was in a history class and it came alive. The teacher divided the room and each team was given various attributes such as being near water, having fertile soil, possessing seeds or goats etc. One group was given a gold mine and nothing else. There was a bit of reflection and a bit of thinking for the students. Then the essential question was asked, how are you going to develop your civilization? I am curious which group learned more about the start of world civilization, from the forty year experienced teacher or the lowly goat herder. Art is an interpretation. In teaching we often interpret ideas and events. It is also providing the opportunity for the student to interpret and learn from that thinking process.

“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Augusto Rodin

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.” Jahal-Uddin Rumi

“Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith.” Salman Rushdie

We each can be artists in our own field, and perhaps empathy is the key. It is being able to reach that inner spark in others so they can feel what you feel what you see and hear and understand what it was that inspired you.

“Great art is never produced for its own sake. It is too difficult to be worth the effort.” George Bernard Shaw

“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” John Ruskin

Ruskin has perhaps defined what constitutes a great artist, be it in what ever field, whatever pallet you choose. I wish we could as easily declare peace throughout the world. I wonder if we can bottle and sell empathy then maybe peace could be a reality. I worked a bit in my herb garden yesterday when I came home trimming dead branches and stems. Watching the sky and sun setting, as I was listening to the quiet of my back yard walking about was very soothing. I wonder can growing herbs be considered an art form. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Pondering more as always

Bird Droppings December 29, 2009
Pondering more as always

I was reading an old Sunday Atlanta Journal Constitution article I found an editorial entitled “A one-word explanation? Try greed”, by Editor Joe Bookman. Several lines bothered me and seriously got me pondering after a holiday weekend. Perhaps it is appropriate to consider greed at this time of year when the focus is on giving and yet the underlying focus is truly on how much we have spent which is where greed under lies.

“The secret to capitalism’s success is its ability to take one of mankind’s most powerful emotions – greed – and harness that emotion to drive economic progress. By greedily pursuing our own individual self interests, the theory goes; each of us contributes almost accidentally to greater prosperity for all.” Jay Bookman, AJC

As I read further and thought seriously about how it is our own selfishness that drives capitalism and the economy it concerned me. Thinking back to Karl Marx’s writing of eventually those at the bottom will rise up and take over and yesterday various stars were showing off their new Bentley coupes, jewels and trappings they received for Christmas. Perhaps it is the excess that bothers me.

“Capitalism works by getting the best out of greed; it fails when we let greed get the best of us.” Jay Bookman, AJC

As I thought further about economics it made sense someone near the top of the economic ladder simply pushes till the envelope is full and then either finds another envelope or allows the first one to implode. I was thinking of all of the financiers on Wall Street who paid themselves huge bonuses for failing companies and we the American tax payers bailed them out so they can get their bonuses again. I wonder could I do without all of the conveniences of the modern world and the capitalism. Perhaps it has been seeing Avatar and Jeremiah Johnson all in a week and wondering if a simpler life might be better. However being in a government position it might be hard since taxes essentially pay my salary as a teacher as well. So I had room for thought this morning.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso

“Everywhere is the treasury of endless capacities …. Everywhere is not everywhere; it is called everywhere.” Hui-k’ung

“I urge you not to throw away time, for it’s swift as an arrow, fast as a stream. Distraction is entirely due to lack of concentration; stupidity and blindness are caused by lack of true knowledge.” Yung-Ming

“Let all thoughts be thoughts of noble progress, for then even failing cannot be called a failure.” Tirukkural

“It is important not to have the unrealistic expectation that we will find a magic key to help get rid of all suffering. It takes determination, patience, and more than one week. “Dalai Llama

Today being lazy from the holiday, way too much food, sleeping later than normal and concerned I borrowed a few thoughts from my files indirectly similar and deep so I could ponder a few more moments. Over the past few years I have been really quite intrigued with the writings of The Dalai Llama and his thoughts. His ideas circumvent religion and go toward humanity in that we are so often seeking solutions to life’s trials now as he says it will take, “more than one week”. Perhaps I am too anxious to see solutions to issues that have been within mankind for thousands of years and still are being resolved. I ponder and wonder and I may take a walk since I still have a few days left in my holiday break. Please as you go about your day think a little beyond yourself and have a great rest of this new week and keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Naughty or Nice

Bird Droppings December 28, 2009
Naughty or Nice

“The best portion of a good man’s life: they are his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.” William Wordsworth

One day when you look back and try and remember what was that act or when, you may not remember but the person to whom that small act of kindness was paid will. A few nights back Santa Claus as he does every year visited my house. Coincidently a letter came with a naughty and nice list. At the tope of the naughty list of course was Uncle Frank along with several other Uncles and my grand niece’s daddy. At the top of the Really Nice list was my six year old grand niece. I had her come over and we looked at all the names as I read them to her. She was so excited about two of them. Of course she ran around the room showing everyone. What was so funny was it was her daddy’s name on the naughty list that intrigued her. She knew why exactly, her daddy scolded her a few days ago. It is funny the list was a total after thought yet my niece took it home.
Every once in a while I will run into to someone in person or on line who had met my father over the years. It has been a number of years since he last spoke publicly, back in the day as my youngest son says. He taught numerous Red Cross courses along with his actually teaching, as a profession in the field of Industrial Safety and Loss Control. Many people mentioned how his Red Cross first aid class saved a live here and there or some interaction with another where he did this or that changed there life.
Occasionally he would remember the event but often it was simply his way of living how he went about the day. A favorite story I recall is one from South Africa about thirty years ago. He was there teaching and lecturing for the Chamber of Mines and one of the senior officers of The Chamber lent his personal driver and car to Dad while he was there. A young black South African, a member of one of South Africa’s many distinct tribes; this young man had come into the city to earn money so he could marry. Many young men would leave their homes some for as long as twenty years to earn enough money to go back to their villages and marry.
Dad spent eight weeks in South Africa this trip, traveling to many of the mines around Johannesburg and in the back country. This young man was always ready always on time and kept Dad on time many times getting him to numerous meetings and functions in this foreign country all in a day. When it was time to head home Dad had really had come to like this young man and as he dropped him off at the airport Dad tipped him the remaining South African money he had, about $500.00 US in their currency. He came later to find out that was equivalent to three years of work or so for this young man.
Dad got a telegram as soon as he got home from his good friend in South Africa asking what my father did to his driver. As soon as he got back from the airport he quit his job and went back to his tribe. It seems Dad had given him enough money to go home and be married; a seemingly small act of kindness, a tip to this young man changed his life.

“Once in a century a man may be ruined or made insufferable by praise. But surely once in a minute something generous dies for want of it.” John Masefeild

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

Scattered about in our lives are the bits and pieces events we often do not remember but that person to whom we responded kindly or in a way that helped them will remember for ever.

“The flower of kindness will grow. Maybe not now, but it will some day. And in kind that kindness will flow, for kindness grows in this way.” Robert Allan

“Is there any one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life? Surely the maxim of loving kindness is such: Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you.” Confucius, from the Analects

Interesting this statement sounds so familiar it was first written nearly 500 BCE by Confucius in China in his Analects, a series of statements and stories, repeated many times then in other cultures and religions and even prior in words of others.

“Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” Fredrick W. Faber

“If you were busy being kind, before you knew it, you would find you’d soon forget to think ’twas true that someone was unkind to you. If you were busy being glad, and cheering people who are sad, although your heart might ache a bit, you’d soon forget to notice it.” R. Foreman

Far too few cheerleaders in the world although there are days I would say too many, especially with all the drama in cheerleaders in high school. At school many times the cheerleaders come by my room, it seems I am the one taking photos at events and Mr. Bird’s wall of fame is a focal point for many students coming to see who has been added. One cheerleader in particular has never once had a frown; she is always excited and happy. She is always saying a good word to friends. I have never seen her gossip or speaking badly of another person and amazing I have never heard a bad word about her. So often in the morning as I observe the hallways her personality is contagious. When she is walking down the hallways with others soon all are laughing. She is a true cheerleader in life.

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.” Washington Irving

“He was so benevolent, so merciful a man that, in his mistaken passion, he would have held an umbrella over a duck in a shower of rain.” Douglas William Jerrod

“To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.” Samuel Johnson

It is seldom that someone will complain about another person being nice to them. Maybe Dr. Seuss’s character the Grinch, but even he fell sway to the little Who, Cindy Loo Who. Kindness can win battles. Kindness can win a war, or prevent a war. Random acts of kindness can provide the catalyst for world change.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” Mother Theresa

“If someone were to pay you $.10 for every kind word you ever spoke and collect $.05 for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor?” Nonpareil

Many times as I sit and write each morning I wonder if anyone is reading or hearing what is said. Daily I get notes and emails; I know today this word or that word touched someone. How many words need to be spoken or need to be emailed to have world peace? If it is a hundred million lets start now if it is a hundred billion then again let’s start now. We all know there is a number and we all know one day we will attain that goal. One day maybe I will never have to end Bird Droppings ever again this way, please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

Silenced remembered

Bird Droppings December 27, 2009
Silence remembered

Yesterday was a long day driving to South Georgia and having Christmas again gifts, food and all the family fun. It was a great day and a tiring one with over five hours of driving and perhaps the drive back was the most fun with my sons and wife literally laughing nonstop at various humorous family stories for the entire journey. Although getting home after a wonderful day with family still felt good and it was the laying my head down and stopping when I went to bed that was even better. I took a moment last night after the car was unloaded and dogs had been taken out to gaze out into the night. A shooting star crossed my path zipping through the lace work of pines and pecan trees. But it was the listening that caught my attention. I was standing in my back yard listening and there was silence. As I stood how easy is it to find fear and or solace in silence. Many horror movies over the years and of course books for those of us who still read feature silence in all the build up. It always amazes me at how difficult is it to find silence? It was a clear night last night and not overcast which so often helps muffle the sounds of nature.

“Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality can disturb us.” Thoreau, Henry David

Sitting here in near silence at my writing table working at my computer is relaxing and somewhat peaceful. The chill of the morning brought and a sunrise woke me from a silent slumber. I seem to have forgotten too put shoes on and my bare feet were getting frost bitten as I stepped out briefly into a cold morning. I took my dogs advice as he ran for the door. I have always enjoyed the calming effect of silence. But in a paradoxical way silence for some can be an effective torture. Taking away that sensation and limiting to only ones thoughts can for some be overwhelming.

“The Pause; that impressive silence, that eloquent silence, that geometrically progressive silence which often achieves a desired effect where no combination of words, however so felicitous, could accomplish it.” Twain, Mark
Silence is a mighty sword in the hands of a warrior or poet. Yet why do we seek silence why do we try and find a place to rest away from the hustle and bustle of today’s world? Perhaps it is a contrast we seek. An exact opposite to our daily lives of running around, as if there were no tomorrow. Perhaps silence allows us to see beyond the wrapping of sensual awareness?
“Silence is the true friend that never betrays.” Confucius

“Silence is the genius of fools and one of the virtues of the wise” Pope Boniface VIII

“Under all speech that is good for anything three lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as time” Thomas Carlisle

I do find rest in the quiet of a forest or field. Often I will try and get away from everything put it all aside to have a few minutes without the trappings of our cluttered world. I often wonder at the loud bellowing booming music often spilling from cars as they vibrate with bass so loud the cars are shaking. A joke around the house was a movie featuring a rock band only known for being loud. They were asked how they could be so much louder than all the others and responded they turned up to eleven on the volume, no one else can do that. I thought my son was joking and should have known better as he has had his band experience much more than I. I was in a large music store outside Atlanta and I checked the Marshall Amps, traditionally the biggest and baddest of all amps. They only went to ten.
So I wonder can I find that place where sound and noise is reversed and find a negative one where all is calm and without sound, perhaps an amp where on the dial there is less than zero and a very silent moment. I would seriously applaud a really silent amp or rock band. Well maybe parents and folks parked next to those cars with fifty inch woofers would also appreciate the sound of silence. Could that place of ultimate silence be where you can truly find solace and peace?

“Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.” Thomas Carlisle

For many seeking spiritual boundaries and finding doorways past where we are silence has always been a key. The great mystics of days gone by would retreat in silence often for days. Shamans and holy men seeking visions to guide their people would seclude themselves and find silence in order to delve deeper into their own existence. All through mans history silence has been a place of spiritual findings. Yet it too is one of fear for so many.

“A horrid stillness first invades the ear, And in that silence we the tempest fear.” John Dryden

Perhaps when we encounter something we are not accustomed to it is when we fear the most. Those seeking silence are on their own trying to find answers. Most people are content with the noise of the world the clutter and disarray. Being thrust into silence could be confusing for many sort of like going into unchartered lands. As I stood listening to see if the morning was truly silent after that quite moment last evening about ten minutes into my stillness or so a rooster cut loose and I knew I would open my eyes to the world I left briefly in the quiet of the morning. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

you never win getting even

Bird Droppings December 26, 2009
You never win getting even!

“Everything that has happened in your life to this minute is unchangeable. It’s history. The greatest waste of energy is in looking back at missed opportunities, lamenting past events, grudge collecting, getting even, harboring ill will, and any vengeful thinking. Success is the only acceptable form of revenge. By forgiving your trespassers, you become free to concentrate on going forward with your life and succeeding in spite of your detractors. You will live a rewarding and fulfilling life.” Dr. Denis Waitley

Everyday I talk with students who should heed this advice. In reality not just students but parents as well as I read through a second and third time. Dr. Waitley is a Naval Academy graduate and has received a PhD in Behavioral Psychology. He is known for his work on the psychology of winning, and has been the psychologist to the US Olympic team. His CD on “The psychology of winning has sold over 10 million copies.

“Thou must be emptied of that wherewith thou art full, that thou mayest be filled with that whereof thou art empty.” St. Augustine

“This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” Francis Bacon

Within the microcosm of a high school the similarities to a larger system of humanity are interesting. Various hierarchies abound and social structures and separate orders are evidenced on every corner and in each hallway. Within the constraints of agendas and teachers views an entire ecosystem unfolds, there are predators, prey and beyond. The aspect that seems so often to creep out or up is revenge, usually based on he said she said sort of trivial incidents, and then a fight. The retaliation after the fact and this person is in trouble then that one. It has been a few months since a situation happened outside my door, so quickly I was told after the fact and I am usually sitting at my door. Two girls were at each others throats in a matter of seconds over one of their boyfriends who was actually the culprit in the whole fiasco he cheated on the one girl with the other one.

”Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Paul Boese

“Forgive yourself for your faults and your mistakes and move on.” Les Brown

What makes it so difficult to forgive to put aside differences? I had an experience several days ago with a student before the holiday break. The school policy in dress code rule number six or so, states that students can not wear “Dixie Outfitter shirts”, which is a popular T-shirt among high school students in the south or I should say among “rednecks”. Generally they are emblazoned with a confederate flag. This is perhaps the hardest image of revenge and retaliation in existence, in this southern culture.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi

The other day walking around a near by mall, I noticed a Kiosk was solely devoted to Confederate flags and motifs, situated between Verizon wireless and terry cloth slippers. Not only is the concept engrained in the culture but in the profit margin as well.

“If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury; but if you injure him you will always remember.” Kahlil Gibran

“If a good person does you wrong, act as though you had not noticed it. They will make note of this and not remain in your debt long.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

In some communities the wearing of a particular shirt or not to wear has literally created turmoil. In my instance a few days back it is with a student who uses his disability to mask hatred and underlying resentment. In a student parent meeting nearly seven years ago a parent made a comment that has stuck with me. He was sitting across the table; the father was defending his sons fighting. However it was an attitude and a statement about his work that stuck with me. He said he was an unemployed framer, and it was because those (blankety, blank, his words were a bit too vulgar to repeat here, Hispanics) work to hard and get all the jobs. He was bitter about somebody working too hard and getting all the work. There was never a comment about him not working hard. I sat thinking as a former employer, I really found that interesting. Do not hire hard workers that really made sense. The next week he was in a fight and jailed along with his son.

“A winner rebukes and forgives; a loser is too timid to rebuke and too petty to forgive” Sidney J. Harris

“Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet.” Kim Hubbard

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Nearly seven years ago I wrote a paragraph or two about the sixteen hour syndrome I called it. How students are home for sixteen hours and in school eight and teachers are expected to retrain and re-teach what was taught in sixteen hours at home, in eight hours in school. Those habits and issues gathered at home are hard to replace. This is becoming more an issue as parents expect teachers to teach morality, manners, and all other aspects of humanity in the brief window we see children.

“It is a very delicate job to forgive a man, without lowering him in his own estimation, and yours too.” Henry Wheeler Shaw

On my journeys each day somehow I manage to stop by my favorite place, the local Quick Trip. As I went in yesterday, “hey Mr. Bird”, a former student who has dropped out and now has earned a GED called over to me. I noticed a City ID badge, he went on to tell me he was working for the city doing water quality checks, a really good job. Funny thing is this is a kid who wouldn’t take off a T-Shirt with inappropriate logos on it and went home suspended back in the day. He now works under a stricter dress code with rules that same shirt is not allowed to be worn either. I wonder if he wears it in defiance of his pay check.

“Only the brave know how to forgive; it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at.” Laurence Sterne

“Forget and forgive. This is not difficult when properly understood. It means forget inconvenient duties, and then forgive yourself for forgetting. By rigid practice and stern determination, it comes easy.” Mark Twain

If only people could forgive, would we have war, would we have fights in high schools, would we have racism or would we have divorce? But in the confusion of human nature these events cause, this event and this then causes that, and soon revenge and retaliation take over. So I sit back writing and thinking pondering this morning what if? It seems I always come to this sort of outlook on holiday breaks away from students and parents. It is easier to ponder perhaps when the only real thinking is to cheer for your favorite bowl teams. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Finding our piece or purpose in the puzzle of life

Bird Droppings December 23, 2009
Finding our piece and or purpose in the puzzle of life

“We are not all called to be great. But we are called to reach out our hands to our brothers and sisters, and to care for the earth in the time we are given” Kent Nerburn, Small Graces

It has been so many years ago since I was walking along “the path” leading from my neighbor’s home down to our house. The path as we called it was worn from many others walking along the way each person thinking perhaps as I did as I walked. I came to realize back so many years ago as I thought walking along while gazing at sassafras and dogwood trees we are all here with purpose. This was just an isolated thought walking as I did everyday after school or if by chance I had walked up to my friends house on the path.
On one side were fruit trees and a large patch of pines planted on an area of an oil pipe line generally the trick was a tax write off as once every so many years a new line would come through and the pipelines paid for cutting down trees. One fellow actually was taken to court after planting pines a third time on the right of way. On the other side were the sassafras and dogwoods, so come spring time the path would be covered with flowers as I walked.
This thought of purpose was a random thought at the time one of a child walking along and one that over the years has filled my mind, we all have purpose. For nearly fifty years since my journey on that pathway it has been about understanding that purpose.

“Each of our acts makes a statement as to our purpose.” Leo Buscaglia

“The purpose of man is in action not thought.” Thomas Carlyle

I have talked often of the journey as I think of mine personally it often is thinking back to criss-crossing the path in Coatesville Pennsylvania, walking between fruit trees and dogwoods as I would think. As I think back to Kent Nerburn’s passage our calling is reaching out and caring for in our time. For so many years as I was growing up I thought purpose was something great, some noble act perhaps, the slaying of a dragon.

“Men achieve certain greatness unawares, when working to another aim.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose in life is to collaborate for a common cause; the problem is nobody seems to know what it is.” Gerhard Gschwandtner

We often do not know and are unaware of what it is we are looking for. Too often we search so diligently we miss what is right in front of us.

“Multitudes of people, drifting aimlessly to and fro without a set purpose, deny themselves such fulfillment of their capacities, and the satisfying happiness which attends it. They are not wicked, they are only shallow. They are not mean or vicious; they simply are empty — shake them and they would rattle like gourds. They lack range, depth, and conviction. Without purpose their lives ultimately wander into the morass of dissatisfaction. As we harness our abilities to a steady purpose and undertake the long pull toward its accomplishment, rich compensations reward us. A sense of purpose simplifies life and therefore concentrates our abilities; and concentration adds power.” Kenneth Hildebrand

For many people purpose is a mote point they choose to simply exist and drift aimlessly wandering about lost and perplexed.

“It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted.” Mary O’Connor

“To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.” Friedrich Nietzsche

As I look even those who seek no purpose in life, they have purpose unbeknownst to them and it is integral with all others surrounding them. This took many years for me to break away from being a central focus of purpose to understanding we all are integral all are pieces in the puzzle and each facet does fit together

“Why do I not seek some real good; one which I could feel, not one which I could display?” Seneca

“Be not simply good; be good for something.” Henry David Thoreau

Many years ago I recall on a field trip in a class on Human Development that I took in a small college in Plano Texas. We went on a field trip to a state hospital and in those days, circa 1968 many disabled children and adults spent their entire lives in residential centers. They were wards of the state. We went through units of children with Downs Syndrome and brain injuries, children and adults that really did not look different than us.
We eventually came to a unit that was filled with clear plastic containers much like you see in a nursery in a hospital, each container had tubes going to it and IV bottles hung along side. As we walked through, I was 17 at the time, observing as I have always done, looking at people, some only infant size. I was told all in this unit were near adult in age. These children and adults were here but, all had significant brain dysfunction, were non-mobile and were turned every few hours to keep from getting bed sores. The tubes of nutrition and fluids kept them alive. What was their purpose in life?
Years later as I attended seminary and visited again a state hospital this time in Georgia and a similar room except this time three young pastors to be were the ones in attendance as they walked through. I went to a meeting shortly thereafter and the focus was on the child in the clear plastic tub. The pastors to be were concerned about how they couldn’t do anything for them and they were over whelmed, these children were lost.

“It is the wise person who sees near and far as the same, does not despise the small or value the great” Chuang Tzu

Perhaps the easiest explanation as I see is my late brother John who was born with severe brain injury. He was born with CP cerebral Palsy and at a few years of age suffered an attack of encephalitis on top of everything else. He never attained academics, language, and even potty training was not in his realm of learning. So John really never accomplished much that is what some would say. When you pull an individual piece from the puzzle it is simply a piece but connected with its facets and other pieces and it makes a whole. Because of working with John many young people went on into Special Education and the teaching field. One good friend went into prison psychology and is currently a school psychologist in an alternative school in a near by county. Each person that came into contact was moved in one way or another.
As I look back on my seminary group and those guys who found nothing around them, there were nurses, doctors, and family that were in need. The piece that they missed was the child in the tub touched many people each day and it was the connections that they did not see. All they saw was that one tiny piece. Finding purpose is seeing the facets and the interconnections and that we are all pieces in a puzzle still coming together. My dear friends please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Sometimes we need to clean out our ears

Bird Droppings December 18, 2009
Sometimes we need to clean our ears

Kind of sort of gross to ponder ear wax and all, but I was thinking more symbolically as I sat here this quiet cold morning. So often in life we hear within our own perception and really do not hear what is actually being said. We formulate and postulate the answers and comments from others before they even finish so we can respond or get on our way. Time is always a factor please speak faster I need to be so and so in a minute. Sometimes we need to listen more careful and unbiased not letting our own perceptions color what is being said, a difficult task in the least. Sometimes we need to let a person finish what is being said and focus on the heart of the matter.
Just about every day Kenna would come by my room at the high school to talk about what was troubling her or to tell me about her successes as well. Somewhere on my wall of photos is a picture from when she was in ninth grade smiling and happy. I have seen Kenna cry and giggle and about every emotion that we as humans are capable of. I considered Kenna a dear friend. I received several calls while in class at Georgia Southern and felt I needed to call and find out what was going on. My son informed me Kenna had been killed in a car wreck. It had only been a week since I received a call about my sons and a car wreck in South Georgia. They were banged up, bruised but ok. That first moment is something as a parent you never want to hear.
I last talked to Kenna about going to college and she told me about plans for an apartment and was so excited just prior to her graduation. I borrow from Carlos Castaneda periodically and he writes often of choosing the path of the heart, Kenna was about heart, ask those who knew her. Carlos Castaneda in his journeys through the series of books discusses as he learns the ancient ways of a warrior. Some will say he fictionalized his mentor Don Juan, a Yagui Medicine man but his words of seeking heart are so true.

“A warrior must learn to make every act count, since he is going to be here in this world for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.” Carlos Castaneda, 20th century mystic and Toltec warrior, Journey to Ixtlan

As I read so many years ago Carlos learned to not be limited by his own perception and to try and understand the other persons view of what was here. As I teach so often we limit our responses to our view as a teacher never taking into account the students and how they see this reality. Maybe Kenna came to talk and often listen because I tried to see her view not just mine. When I read this passage from Castaneda I thought of how teenagers live life so often. “A warrior must learn to make every act count”, few of us live this way. I only knew Kenna ever so briefly but I do think she tried to make every moment of her life, literally every act count. One of my last glimpses of Kenna was from behind a camera lens. I was taking photos at graduation and was grabbed on the arm “come on Mr. Bird”. Kenna took me from person to person getting me to take pictures one a time with her friends.
Many times we as parents see only our window on life and not our children’s. Speaking as a teacher and parent there are sixteen hours of another world a child lives in we do not see. It is in those minutes much of what happens in our eight hours of school is scripted by, arguments with boyfriends/girlfriends, fights with parents, drugs, drinking, and not all is bad. There are children who are deeply loved and who have parents who are concerned about them but we see only the reflections and we respond with our own biases and perception of that world. So many times we are wrong.
Today is the last day of a semester and still there are children who are not heard and may never be heard. I will do what I can as I walk through the doors of the high school and today I will try and do my best to hear unbiased and as carefully as I can. We adults need to clean out our ears listen more attentively as to why is this student or child upset, acting out and seeking attention. Could be we heard but our ears were plugged. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and please keep also the friends and families of all in your thoughts this holiday season.

Seeing gray in a world of color

Bird Droppings December 15, 2009
Seeing a gray world in color

“Stress is the body and mind’s response to any pressure that disrupts its normal balance. It occurs when our perceptions of events don’t meet our expectations and we don’t manage our reaction to the disappointment. As a response, stress expresses itself as resistance, tension, strain or frustration that throws off our physiological and psychological equilibrium, keeping us out-of-sync.” Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution

By chance I got into a discussion on perception yesterday amazing how we all seem to see the same world differently. What my years of experience and learning see and what eighteen years old limited years and even another person of my own age see can be vastly different. Parents see their offspring differently than do teachers and peers. As we go into the world we each perceive based on what we know and have experienced. Each of us has been different places, seen different things, and learned different methods and strategies that provide us with a means to view the world.

“Cancer is my secret because none of my rivals has been that close to death and it makes you look at the world in a different light and that is a huge advantage.” Lance Armstrong

I remember waiting to hear after my father was wheeled into surgery for stomach cancer we had been given the grim future by the surgeon just before and were waiting as a family for news after. Amazing how death offers new perspective to life, it seems each second becomes precious.

“Do not say,” it is morning,” and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.” Rabindranath Tagore

When the surgeon walked out and said this was the smallest tumor he had ever removed from a patient’s stomach and still paraphrased with but, it was a relief. Life though had been redefined. Meaning to each moment had been altered.

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.” C. S. Lewis

Our experiences and understandings and beliefs do have input and effect our perception of each instant in our lives. This is sort of the filters we see and hear through and conversely understand through. I have a student who is extremely conservative and views everything as being altered to be politically correct. My student sees each item in their life as having been spun by liberal spinners. Many of us do as we watch news biased by opinion of the news broadcaster but I am amazed as I see one thing and my student’s view is nearly opposite.

“The solution to stress management lies in how we perceive the stresses in our lives. It’s not really the events taking place in our lives that cause stress. Stress depends entirely on how we perceive the events that happen to us. The good news is that since stress is a response—not the event that triggers the response—we can control it. Once we shift our perception of a situation and see it with more clarity, the stressful reaction can be reduced or released.” Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution

The difficult aspect however is changing perception, it has taken time and effort to come to the world view that we have each second of our lifetime has contributed.

“You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” Ziggy

“You have to ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“The appearance of things changes according to the emotions and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.” Kahlil Gibran

A cartoon character, a philosopher and a mystic poet would see a world differently perhaps yet there is an understanding among these three that the world has varying and differing views. Is the glass half full or half empty even though the amount of water is the same?

“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien

“It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals.” Charles Kuralt

Amazing how a linguist and newscaster see so similar, though one is famous for realism and one for fantasy. Kuralt has been known for his to the point clarity in news casting and Tolkien for his brilliance in creating a world where fantasy and magic are real.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” Anais Nin

“No life is so hard that you can’t make it easier by the way you take it.” Ellen Glasgow

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend” Henri Bergson

I often wonder as I go about each day as to how people see and hear what they do. What biases and prejudices make their world appear as it does? So many people allow hatred and negativity into their lives through their perception of existence. I sat with a young man last week helping him calm down; he was stressed by the actions of another student. He was stressed to a point of wringing his hands till there were red. The other student walked away I am sure laughing how he had pushed this other fellow to near the breaking point, “all in fun”. He was a big man on campus and it was part of his image.

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances.” Martha Washington

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” Epictetus

One student sees humor another sees ridicule and shame, one walks away laughing and another sits in severe pain.

“Miracles seem to rest, not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from far off, but upon our perceptions being made finer so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear that which is about us always.” Willa Cather

It is so difficult to pass judgment when perception is involved, yet life should be about doing no harm and doing no harm means not finding humor in another’s pain. When someone asks to stop, whether you do or do not see the issue stopping is the only alternative. We have to learn our perception is not the sole perception in this reality. I have seen to many tears this week walking through the halls, Wal-Mart, Kroger and back a few months’ even years officiating at weddings. I have seen far too many clenched fists.

“Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.” Hans Margolius

So often emotion tints the glass of our vision anger allows us to see color only in grays or grays in vivid color

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” George Bernard Shaw

If only we could provide free Windex to all what a world we would have when each person could see clearly. Thinking to the commercial for Windex and how Windex maybe could clean the perceptions of the world, to help clear the grime off so many windows and souls. I really do not want everybody seeing the world alike that would be boring but somehow leveling the playing field perhaps as I drove home last night from a tutoring hospital homebound student an idea the sacred spirit of man. Maybe just providing corrective lenses to others so they can see my way, and I am legally color blind. If only? Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Do we demand or earn respect?

Bird Droppings December 14, 2009
Do we demand or earn respect?

Nearing the middle of a month and a with a New Year coming, it seems spring is only a few days away. A few Saturday’s back was an interesting day as I ran my errands. As it happens often, I ended up at a Barnes and Nobles bookstore and got caught up in looking about for books, several caught my attention. A relatively new book by Dr. Temple Grantin, a small book entitled Listening with your heart by Dr. Wayne Peate, and a book by Dr. William Glasser, The Quality School. Three doctors was one similarity as I look for other tie ins and why these particular books caught my attention.
In the Introduction to Listening with your heart, which is an inspirational book a comment is made as he is asked a question. “Dr. Peate, which do you think is best for my husband, alternative or modern medicine?” this being asked by the wife of one of my patients. My answer was, “Whatever works”. As I look at the words coming from this man who is a trained physician, trained in modern medicine and yet willing to allow an alternative if it works. “Whatever works”
Dr. Glasser looks and analyzes education in his book The Quality School with perhaps a more definitive outlook, yet still trying to find what works in that particular school. In his criteria for a quality school Dr. Glasser starts with point one.

“Relationships are based upon trust and respect, and all discipline problems, not incidents have been eliminated.” Dr. William Glasser

Going a step further in 2002, Dr. Bradley Greene describes what this first point looks like in a rubric.

“Students and staff can learn both independently and cooperatively, have strong relationships built on trust and respect, contributing through community service, peer tutoring, mentoring, and various forms of group process. Students will learn to get along in a variety of learning experiences. Teams, cooperative learning, and classroom meetings…..and primary belief of school is that every student can improve” Dr. Bradley Green, Quality School Rubric

As I look at my own relationships with students I have found students relate to teachers who trust them and have respect for them. I have been in situations as a case manger where even though I was the one who had to refer a student because I did respect and trust them, they understood why I had to refer them or initiate proceedings against them. When a teacher operates out of distrust and little or no respect it is difficult to teach and or even walk in a room or even down a hallway. So often I hear teachers and even substitutes, want a class to respect them because they are the teacher. Respect is a word that we tend to throw around very easily.

“To feel or show deferential regard for, esteem. To avoid violation of or interference with: To relate to or refer to: A feeling of deferential regard: The state of being regarded with honor or esteem. A willingness to show consideration or appreciation.”

I was trying to find where in the respect handbook it says teachers by nature of the word demand respect. I hear that often, I demand respect from my students. That is like wearing a sign that says you will respect me. Many years ago I recall a TV show, Kung Fu, starring David Carridine. Often during the course of the show it would flash back to his teacher an old blind man who called him grasshopper. The young apprentice had tremendous respect for the old man for his wisdom of the world and his skills in martial arts. Many times as we travel in life people want respect that others have gained, earned such as all teachers should be respected. I have always had a difficult time with this statement, partly because there are sorry teachers and how can a student be expected to respect them. I have always been one to believe you earn respect not demand it. Then the issue becomes how does a teacher earn respect?

“Fools take to themselves the respect that is given there office” Aesop

“Respect commands itself and it can neither be given or withheld when it is do” Eldridge Cleaver

So often people expect respect and demand respect because they are insecure. They themselves are unsure of who they are and where their place is in society. Being in a position of respect albeit a teaching position which is associated with respect has paradoxes affiliated with it often. There may be rules to back up being respected and referrals slips and consequences for disrespect. You can be suspended for disrespecting a teacher or adult figure in many schools. In effect there are written rules that demand respect for teachers.
I wonder how many students write up teachers for disrespect. I wonder what would happen if teachers were under a referral system and had consequences. If students learned by referral as teachers seem to believe as many times they teach by referral. If you disrespect me I can write you up or if you use foul language or are inappropriate in class. I wonder what sort of anarchy would occur within a school; say a democratic school when all are held accountable for learning and understanding. I find Dewey’s idea intriguing of a Democratic school and the Foxfire Approach to teaching which is the basis of my dissertation, is done in this manner.
Another program using this approach is the Sudbury school that I have mentioned over the years which is totally a democratic school and perhaps a bit more so that John Dewey speaks of in his writings. Could schools bear more student involvement in a large public school forum, or is that issue one of more teachers being aware of students. Could it be we need more student directed learning, or more student interaction in the learning process rather than purely a top down teacher to students. It could be a balancing of teachers and students in a symbiotic relationship, or possibly an osmotic relationship where both students and teachers are teaching and learning.

“Motivation to learn derives from the learners estimates of the usefulness of the task and the probability of success.” “For faculty, as for students, trust necessarily precedes the risk of learning something new” Dr.Marilla D. Svinicki,

When do teachers become learners? Sitting here this morning wondering about the direction of where I am going myself. Could students learn more and could teachers learn more, absolutely yes on both counts. Could we have quality schools as discussed in Glasser’s books? Absolutely we could. So why is we do not? Why is it we do not embrace this wealth of research and knowledge and proceed to make every school a school of quality a school of learning and of wonder?
I think Dr. Svinicki hits the nail on the head “trust precedes the risk of learning something new”. If we do not trust one another as teacher student and administration it is difficult to move beyond where you are. A lack of trust in our society hurts us, and we ourselves perpetuate that distrust. Think about daily life, with speed limits, tax loop holes, and the list goes on. We demand respect yet in turn have little ourselves. I am opening up quite a window with that idea. Please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.

One more try

Bird Droppings December 11, 2009
One more Try

“You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you gotta suit up for them all.” J. Askenberg

Sitting here this morning after walking one of the dogs out into one of the coldest nights and mornings of this year and trying to warm my toes you would think I would learn to put shoes on before going out. My herb garden is nearly gone as all of the salvias took a beating yesterday with cold. My angel trumpet plants have finally gone by the wayside although after literally thousands of blooms they had a good run. I am ready for summer and officially it is not winter yet. As I thought sitting here I liked this quote to start my day today. Often when I stumble on a quote I try and find who this person is. J. Askenberg proved a bit difficult, I found this quote 160 times in sermons and lectures and various quote engines but not who this person was other than a writer. One day maybe I will stumble on more details and elaborate as to the persona of the individual.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas A. Edison

It has been some time since I had the chance to ride into Atlanta with my middle son; we were comparing football games from the previous weekend. Now he and several other Georgia Tech fans and graduates have a running blog site of course featuring Tech’s various athletic teams. My son is graduate and a very big Georgia Tech fan having been a past driver of the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech and a former avid member of the swarm, and Ramblin Wreck clubs. Many months ago we got talking about a young man who went to The University of Georgia from the Air Force Academy, I recall our conversation. This young man walked on in football and became the starting Fullback. This young man perseveres and many the stories at our high school. One my son brought up was how in Calculus it would take him 45 minutes to get problems others got in 10 minutes or less. The interesting thing was he was Salutatorian of his graduating class, he never quit.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” Walter Elliot

“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” B. C. Forbes

“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.” Herodotus

Each step we take in life can be difficult; each new pathway we face as we plod a long can have more bumps than the last. It is through effort we reach that place we are going. What if life were so simple and there were never difficulties? What if the road was straight and clear and only forward momentum was needed? I remember many road trips out west and roads that were perfectly smooth no pot holes and straight as an arrow for many miles, it was all I could do to stay awake. Life would be so boring without a bump or a curve in the road, or perhaps a fork to choose from as we go.

“We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough.” Helen Keller

Most folks will not remember Helen Keller and may have seen the many different versions of “the Miracle Worker”. Annie Sylvan was a teacher who wouldn’t give up on her student Helen. Helen was blind and deaf and Annie found a spark and hope, and with Annie’s help Helen would go on to address leaders of the world in her public life.

“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” H. Ross Perot

“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.” John Wooden

If you ask who was the greatest coach in basketball of all time at my house John Wooden will be a unanimous pick. As I read this Woodenism, it is so true, so many students and teachers start out but at the first difficulty quit. It could be a difficult student that does not conform to a set pattern and way of doing things or a new teacher who comes to a class of students who are all ready to quit. There are answers; there are solutions if we choose to look. Edison had a barrel of failed light bulbs as a reminder as he proceeded to find a workable light bulb. It is about not quitting, the answers are there when you give it one more try. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.