Sunday, March 29

Random Thoughts on a Snowy Spring Day

It's March 29 and we got about 4" of snow. Not much compared to other parts of the country, but it is funny to look out and see heavy wet snow bending the branches of trees. My friend talked about sprinkling grass seed on top of the snow, but the robins and other birds might think it is feed meant for them. Still, I appreciate the idea of trying to seed and water at the same time.

Today's Frazz comic strip made me laugh out loud. March weather in like a lion, but out like a lab. . . as in golden lab or labrador retriever. Anyone who knows or has owned a lab knows what that's like: wanting to be in, wanting to be out, wanting to be in, wanting to be out.

March Madness is all about basketball? I think not. March Madness. Ides of March (that became significant only because of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar). Snow in March. March is mad as in "crazy" (erratic, askew) or maybe even "madcap" (capricious, reckless, foolish). It's a transition from winter to spring. It is the month during which most of Lent is observed: the 40-day Christian observation of prayer and fasting prior to Easter. And St. Patrick's Day.

Treehouses. There was an article in the March 9 Chicago Tribune about the danger of treehouses. Apparently about 2,800 children are injured because of accidents linked to treehouses; of course those injuries range from bruises to broken bones and there is no breakdown on the statistics. Shoot. If bruises are part of national injury surveys, then I need to wear a helmet and body armor wherever I go. Those door facings are always jumping out to body check me! And what is up with those coffee tables repositioning themselves to try to tackle me at shin level.

I don't mean to minimize the possible injuries that are associated with children at play. . . in treehouses, swing sets, playgrounds in general, forts made of giant boxes, etc. And I did appreciate that the author of the article, James Janega, was not being strident or suggesting an anti-treehouse movement. There are some practical suggestions about the height of the treehouse and potential reasonable safety measures parents can take. And I loved this sentence: "And then just accept the idea of risk."

That's a great motto for life: Just accept the idea of risk. For all of the risk management parents may take to safeguard their children for any possibility in life, there will always be something else. And it's good for kids to learn how to handle the consequences of risk.

When I was a kid (I think I was in 2nd or 3rd grade) there were some houses being built in the neighborhood. There is something very compelling about the interior frame of a house. We felt the need, of course, to climb the framing. And then we discovered a ladder to the roof of the house. The temptation was too great. I'm not sure we thought about it for more than a few milliseconds before climbing up that ladder. There we were on the roof! We could see for miles! Well, okay, a few houses in each direction, but that was pretty amazing for us. We sat up there for quite a while. Then it was time for each of us to go home for supper. But someone had moved the ladder. Uh-oh. We raced around the edges of the roof looking for it, but it was GONE.

We were far enough away from anyone's house that we couldn't shout for help and then we remembered we weren't supposed to be climbing in the houses anyway. Each of us had some dulled and distant recollection of being told to stay away from, out of, something about the houses being built. None of us could remember that admonishment exactly, but we were pretty sure that if we got caught, we were likely to be in trouble.

But we had no choice but to jump. It was a one-story house, but suddenly the distance to the ground looked really, really far. I distinctly remember thinking that my mother would kill me if I broke my leg. But you know how many times we'd jumped off the swings after making them go as high as we could? Lots. Or jumped out of a tree because that was easier than trying to climb back down? A bunch. Somehow this seemed more daring and more dangerous.

One of the boys went first. Dropped and rolled. Grinned broadly. Didn't get hurt. Another boy went next. Landed a little awkwardly. Might have sprained his ankle, but that was nothing new for any of us. I went next. Managed to drop and roll like the first boy. Got a few bruises and a scrape from some gravel. Not a big deal. The last two kids jumped at the same time. One of the girls landed on a hidden branch and got poked; drew a little blood. The other was fine. We were relieved and exhilirated. We jumped off the roof of a house! We didn't get hurt! It worked out to be a good consequence of accepting risk though every one of us knew it could have turned out much differently. Lesson learned? Maybe. I've never forgotten the experience though.

Friday, March 6

Part of the problem or part of the solution?

I have a piece of paper on my bulletin board on which I've carefully typed the words: "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."

As I've looked at it recently, I've reflected on the times I've been part of the problem and those during which I've tried to be part of the solution. Over the past few weeks, I fear the balance has been more in favor of being part of the problem rather than solution. So then I found myself wondering why that may be.

The company I work for has been going through some organizational changes, some of which have not made me happy for reasons that really aren't important and that really aren't very good. At the end of the day, I still have a job (so far). I'm luckier than many. So my recent problem-oriented behavior suggests that I've mostly been petty, which is unusual for me. That's not to say I can't be petty because I can be, but I tend to try to keep that thinking in my head rather than act on it.

What I've had the disquieting opportunity to see is the ripple effect of my pettiness and how it smacks of that junior high behavior I so often disdain, but also how it can be hurtful to people with whom I have to continue to work.

As I have witnessed or experienced the error of my ways, I've been able to redirect with those people I've hurt or offended. That process is not particularly pleasant, but it is restorative. Perhaps those individuals will, over time, forget my clumsy behavior. I think I need to behave as though they have, but keep in mind that perhaps they have not.

Like many, it's easy for me to focus on the negative of any situation, though I've become more adept at processing the information, learning from it, and moving on. I used to anguish over the negative comments in my course evaluations. Now I read them, consider the negative comments in balance with the positive ones, consider the context and weigh the likely motivation of the student(s) to determine if there is something I can do the next time, and move on.

In some meetings with some people now, I am often acutely aware of a little voice in my head reminding me of my more negative behavior and even more aware of how that voice influences how I behave in the meeting and how I respond to some questions or comments. I don't always know if that is me still attempting to do penance or if that is me trying to be part of the solution.

I really do prefer to be part of the solution. Not only is there less mental self-flagellation, but it's a more positive effort in general that can genuinely help others feel good about themselves and their work.

I suppose I could get a tiny balance and drop something in one tray each time I'm part of the problem and drop something in the other tray each time I'm part of the solution, but I think it's dangerous to keep score like that, at least for me. And I think I know when I've been naughty or nice; something in my psyche seems to be aware of that behavioral and attitudinal imbalance.

Just now I seem to be working more on the solution side. I'm hoping I can continue that streak for a while. It's just a much pleasanter perspective on my work world and a much nicer view of my colleagues.

Here's to being a useful and collaborative part of the solution.

Sunday, March 1

The Art of Writing

I confess that I have not read any of the Twilight book by Stephanie Meyer and I'm not sure that I will. My stack of books I really want to read grows higher and higher, so I'm being selective.

Ms. Meyer moved a little lower on my list after the recent smackdown by Stephen King, an author who has produced quite a number of books, though I think I've read only a couple by him. Mark Flanagan reported on Stephen King calling out Stephanie Meyer as did The Guardian, but quite likely because King seems to admire the writing abilities of one J.K. Rowling. The blogosphere rumbled a bit with the Meyer loyalists lining up to call King petty and jealous, which I found quite amusing, and suggesting King can't write very well either. So very junior high, but then the audience for which Meyer writes is of the pre-teen/teen demographic.

There was another Meyer smackdown by someone who posted to a blog. The writer basically said that Meyer fans shouldn't get too excited because Meyer writes books for teens that are written at a 5th grade level. I'd heard that before and I'm not surprised, but I'll follow-up on the reading level crisis in my other blog. But I also read that Meyer has stopped work on her current manuscript because someone leaked a draft to the 'net; that seems a little pouty to me, but perhaps she's feeling wounded because Stephen King essentially called her a hack. A fairly successful hack, of course, given that her book was made into a movie and the movie seemed to do well and kids can't seem to get enough of her books.

I was thinking about that as I settled into English Creek by Ivan Doig. I love the work of Ivan Doig. Every once in a while I just have to stop and re-read a sentence, sometimes read it out loud to really hear how it sounds and get a clearer sense of the images in the words. I recently found one such paragraph is in English Creek and one such sentence is the last one in the paragraph. Enjoy.
My brother and my father. I am hard put to know how to describe them as they seemed to me then, in that time when I was looking up at them from fourteen years of age. How to lay each onto paper, for a map is never the country itself, only some ink suggesting the way to get there (p. 30).