Monthly Archives: August 2012

Teaching in the Sixties, One Regret

I don’t really regret much in my life. I’ve always believed I had a strong moral compass that led me in the right direction. And I almost always try to do the right thing. But today, my confidence in the belief that I have known what the right thing is was shaken.

I was in my workout class doing crunches to the Marcels singing Blue Moon when I was hit with a hammer of regret. I remembered back to the late Sixties when I was Talent Show director at Meany Junior High in Seattle.


Meany Middle School location.

It was a crazy time period—rapid social change fueled by good intention and bad, resulting in a lot of chaos. Just doing a talent show was unusual. Some of the kids had gotten up acts lip-syncing to the music of that era.

“No,” I said. “Lip syncing is not a talent. You have to sing the song with your own voices. Then you can be in the talent show.”

What stupidity on my part! Now I know it would have been so beneficial for these kids to just have participated in a show. So what if they lip-synced (ask Madonna, etc.)? They would have had fun doing something positive in school.

But, oh, no! Judgmental little twenty-one-year-old me showed them the door. Was “True Art” so almighty important to me?

I don’t remember the acts that were in the show. I do remember that my husband came, and he was one of the only people to stand for the flag salute. And roving bands of kids overturned a lot of cars in the parking lot. (Ours was untouched so I don’t think it was a Lip-Sync Vendetta.) It was just that kind of era.

I was pretty rigid in my standards back then. Things were right or things were wrong—black or white. I hadn’t had the life experiences to know that there are many shades of gray having validity. I gained some of that insight in the next few years. By the time I left teaching at Meany, there weren’t talent shows anymore. Instead there were lock-downs and riots, and kids coming to class stoned. I was happy if I could get people to just put their name in the top left-hand corner of the paper. I was grateful that the Obey Tate decided to pull his gun on Mr. Wilson’s class instead of mine the next period. (Funny how you never forget some names.)

The Year Book.

I know I cared about my students, and believed in them. (except for the guy who scared me spit-less when he did show up. Usually he didn’t because he had taken over his brother’s job while he was in Vietnam. The brother was a pimp so Virgil worked all nighters and didn’t come to school much.) I know I wanted to teach my students how to read and write and speak. I felt these were tools to success for everyone. I still do. I know I encouraged people to think for themselves. I think I did a good job. But I do wish I’d let those kids lip-sync. My apologies to any of them reading this.

There’s a blue moon on August 31.


The Theory of Relativity: Time Travel

I never understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity until I got older. Yesterday brought its relevance back in focus for me.

In the morning, I had a phone conference with a group who work for Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that has guided my writing into many literary magazines. It was a strategic planning meeting. I was telling them I am working on “Radio Days”, a group of stories, each featuring a radio.

“So far, the stories are mostly memoir. I’m working on one now about Bobby Kennedy being shot,” I said. “I woke up to my alarm clock radio broadcasting the news.”

There was a loud silence from the other end. I’m not sure if they were awe struck by talking to someone who was actually old enough to remember the day Bobby Kennedy was shot or they felt sympathy for me, but I felt compelled to fill the silence.

“It was a terrible time in our history. Martin Luther King had only been killed two months before. I was teaching in an inner city school in Seattle that was probably 65% African American. There’d been riots then,” I continued.

I realized that to my quiet “audience”, it was U.S. History. To me, who had lived through it, it was part of the fabric of my life. I’ve never forgotten the shock of being awakened with the words, “Bobby Kennedy has been assassinated.”

I remember going to school that day in June. I was in mourning for another of our fallen leaders. Would it ever end? Bobby Kennedy had campaigned in Seattle that March. I was downtown with my mother and we went to see him as his cavalcade drove down the street.

“What a handsome young man,” Mother said. She was usually so serious and I thought it a frivolous comment. I was going to say, “We don’t elect our leaders by their looks,” but the moment passed.

Two months later Bobby Kennedy was dead just like Martin Luther King. I expected the kids to be upset, but I was wrong. These same people who’d wanted to burn the school down when MLK was shot, didn’t really care about Bobby Kennedy. It was June—time for school to be out. Time to have fun.

Forty-four years later, I went on the Facebook Group of many of my former students. It’s weird communicating with them, seeing how they thought of me. My memories have been cemented by my perceptions. I wondered how they perceived that day in June.

Thinking about it all day, I remembered it seemed a long time period between JFK’s assassination and Bobby Kennedy’s. It was only five years. As a teenager and a twenty-two-year-old, those five years had taken me from high school to college to marriage to a teaching career. I had evolved from a child to an adult. That time period was an eon for me.

Today, five years is gone in a flash. What was I even doing five years ago? A whole season of the year seems like a month to me now. Didn’t summer just start? How can the kids be going back to school? That can’t be a yellowed leaf on the ground, can it? But it is.

So I understand the Theory of Relativity now. Time is not a constant. The seconds may tick by constantly on the Master Clock at the Greenwich Observatory in England, but it gives us only numerical data. It is life that gives Time truth.

Worry, Worry Go Away!

It’s August 13 at 12:58 PM. I am sitting in my daughter-in-law’s kitchen in Chicago wearing borrowed sweats—it’s 63 degrees outside and the rain is bringing a chill to the air. Why is this significant? Because I’ve been worrying for two months about how I would endure the heat and humidity of Chicago in August. And guess what? I’ve been here almost two weeks and we haven’t had any. The temperatures have been mild and the humidity non-existent unless you count the two days of rain we’ve had. I guess that could be counted as 100%. If it were hot, that is.

Why is this significant? I ask again. Because it’s such a good lesson in the futility of worrying, which, I admit, is one of my best honed skills. I can worry about anything–I can worry about not worrying!

I spent several nights recently not being able to fall asleep because I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to handle being outside while I was in Chicago in August, and that I’d disappoint my grandkids in some way. They might have wanted to go to the park, go to a Cubs game, go to the lake and I might have had to opt out.

This was a groundless worry as it turns out, but a worry based on past experience. I don’t do well in heat and humidity. I wilt faster than a Hibiscus flower out of water. I become dehydrated. I become a somnambulist, bleary-eyed and dragging through the day. I become non-functioning. I know this because it’s happened to me in Chicago before. I barely made it through one visit when Dave was in grad school. If I sat down, I’d fall asleep. If I stood up, I wanted to fall down. Come to think of it, that was 15 years ago, and they lived in a 3-story walk-up with no air conditioning. Things have changed. Might be time to move on.

Now, what I can learn from all this? To stop worrying would be good, but it may be to difficult a habit to give up cold turkey. I’m sure I’d have withdrawal. Hopefully I will remember this experience and bring it up in my mind every time I start to worry. What if I used that technique on the golf course? I could stop worrying about the sand traps and water hazards waiting to entrap my ball. Then I could just hit away with a relaxed confidence. The ball might fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

What a thought! I might just have found a life-changer, here. Now, if I could just warm up a little.