A passed torch

I’ve become the old guys I grew up around.

My youth was filled with a fascinating blend of old timers that I joyfully gleaned much of what I needed to know about life by just hanging around with all of them. They were mostly retired, blue-collar guys; my grandfather worked on an assembly line making gramps-and-his-son-bowling-team-that-went-to-national-tournamentbatteries, and we had close family friends – integral parts of my childhood and life – plumbers, house painters, storekeepers and tractor makers, among them.

I learned about life through their eyes and thick, immigrant-dialect-honed English; specific and pointed advice was given when needed, but most of the lessons learned were implied; eye contact, a raised brow, a nudge or a nod during an event or incident of some sort that I instinctively knew meant I should be paying attention because I just might learn something.

I have now become that nudge-and-nod (though nowhere close to retirement) guy.

The other day I was at the chiropractor getting an adjustment. The doc is a good guy, twenty-six years young, and we chat amiably while I get my treatment. I was lying on my stomach while he worked on my back, and he was having trouble adjusting the exam table. After a moment of struggle, he got it to lock into place where he wanted, then joked, “That’s the most difficult thing I do all day.”

“I suppose a lot of people think that your job is kind of easy – spending your day massaging backs” I replied, as he continued working out my shoulder kinks.

“Yeah, kinda” he chuckled, adding, “They see me for twenty minutes at a time, then leave, and figure that’s what I do all day – wait for people to come in, spend twenty minutes getting them adjusted, then go back to doing whatever else I do.” He cracked a couple of vertebrae into place.

“People don’t realize what goes into a job like yours. You know the story of the guy and furnace1the busted furnace?”

“No, I don’t think so” he replied, bending my spine the other direction.

“It’s winter, and the guy’s furnace goes out. He calls the furnace guy, who comes over, looks around for a minute, then takes a hammer out of his tool box, whacks the furnace, and it starts running again. He puts the hammer back, then hands the guy his bill for a hundred dollars…” I feel a nice, loosening jolt to my neck. “The guy looks at the bill and says ‘a hundred bucks!’ All you did was whack it with a hammer! The furnace guy nods and says, ‘Yeah, that’s ten-bucks for the hammer tap, ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.”

The doc stops. Even though I am face down on the adjustment table, I can see him with my peripheral vision, hands on his hips, thinking. “Wow. That’s a great story” he says with surprise, “I never heard that before.” He starts back in on my neck

“It’s a good analogy for you.” I add.

“All the time I spent in school – yeah, it is. ‘Ninety bucks for knowing where to tap.’ I’ll have to remember that story. I’ll use that.”

“Feel free” I say as another disc gets pushed into place.

Just passing it on.

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Showing some resolve

“When a person is accountable to someone else for doing what they said they would do, they get stuff done. They make changes they’ve been toying with for years. They reach their goals.”

– Shana Montesol Johnson

Accountability. People can’t help you with achieving anything if they don’t know what you dorothy-galeare trying to achieve. Dorothy would still be roaming around Oz if she hadn’t shared her goal of going home with everyone around her, after all.

Some of the items on the list that follows are one-shot deals, others are lifestyle choices I am consciously making that will require sustained effort. And accountability.

The things on this list are obviously personal, some are professionally oriented. Some of them are slam-dunk, one-planned (2)shot deals while others will require stick-to-itiveness and more concerted effort and accountability. Some of the entries are spiritual, many are fairly esoteric.

New Year’s Resolutions? Not in the traditional sense. I think of this as more of an ‘Intention Martini’- positives are the gin while the not-to-dos are the vermouth. And I like my resolve dry, very dry.

Throughout the coming year, feel free to prod, cajole, remind, opine, encourage, support, and reassure me should I stray or simply get lazy from carrying out the objectives set forth below.

Without further ado:

Do’s, Don’ts and ‘Ehhh…I dunnos’ for 2017

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

Coin a new phrase, at least once each fiscal quarter.
Be never enough to be too much of a good thing.

More baseball.

Keep my ‘eyes on the prize.’ Unless I am eating out of a box of Cracker Jack.

Finish at least two major writing projects, submit them for publications.

-.-. — — — ..- -. .. -.-. .- – . -… . – – . .-. .-.-.-

Build a better, quirkier vocabulary.
Utilize said vocabulary.
Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

Insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ with impunity

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more. More or less.

Write a mantra – in Dr. Seuss style rhyming couplets. Use it.Mack

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

Write more.
Read more. For fun.
Blog more.

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

Adopt ‘Do-overs done right’ as a pseudo-credo.

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it. Especially if it is someone else’s.

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.

Sing to grandson Felix via Skype.
Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Don’t say that I’m ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Unless brainstorming with someone who actually lives in a box.

Learn to tie a bow tie.
Wear a bow tie from time to time.

Edit better.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014.
Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

In 2017, I will measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times, on occasion.

Read more books to grandson Felix via Skype, including bedtime stories.
Read bedtime stories via Skype to anybody who asks nicely.

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

Use the word ‘repugnant’ once in a while. As a noun, gently.

Practice succinctitude. With brevity.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

More to come, coming soon. Always.ONLY o.k. sign (2)

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2017 I will endeavor to….

Look both ways before crossing
Close cover before striking
Look before I leap
Think before I speak
Think after I speak.

Check local listings,
Void where prohibited.
‘Serving suggestion.’

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

Procrastinate less. Or at least, less often.
Partake in more rainstorms.

Go camping
2017Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2017

 

Onward

Faded are July’s warmth, summer’s cheers. Supplanted now by sundry, encroaching hints of cooler days; forgotten expectations, procrastinated chores now mothballed, he can only now muse without dwelling on what won’t be. Could-have-beens and maybes aren’t statistically meaningful; they never po2really were, except to others in relation to their expectations and dreams on his behalf.  The math was never his thing – nebulous nature of those with good intentions notwithstanding.  Regret is not something that taints him; he does not feel his talents wasted. He recalls every crucial moment as it was, for what it was.

Unburdened by excuses, unwilling to pass blame. Treasured character trait; a gift not wasted.

It was what it was, nothing more to be read into any of it. Done with. Droll, philosophical meanderings passé. He did what he had to and could – more than expected, less than some feared – and it has all come down to this: seasons of joy, of youth, of expectations – dwindled. He takes energy and solace in their uncertainty of numbers. Youth cannot serve that master. He revels in coming autumn and finds it no burden as winter creeps in to bury and renew. Spring will be welcome, but no more or less than its brethren. Seasons, as is their nature, gladly provide strategic resets.

No, it was not always this clear.

Memories are not sustenance; this he knows for fact. Cheers he once accepted have faded, substitutes and replacements have taken his place on various stages. He knows as many have forgotten as remember him. The field of honor which he once ruled by force and triumphant jousting he now benevolently maintains, in supportive peace. The thought occurs that maybe the soul is autumn grass; wearily vibrant, going wearily dormant by design. Ingrained need of a respite.  The patriarch emeritus he imagines smiles in triumph, allowing for sly winks to various fates.

He zips his coat, turning its collar turned upward against the gathering, refreshing winds of fall. He leans willingly, comfortably into the loving embrace of the breeze, securing  his resolve. The air is quiet, save the wind. He is at peace with the simple knowledge that spring will, someday, for whatever it’s own reasoning, return.

But for now, time is pleasingly in his comfortable grasp; he now understands its tenuous and uncontrollable nature. Time can be tucked safely away like a pocket watch in a vest, allowing him to stroll through the lovely, dark, and deep woods without fear of reprisal from any promises not kept.

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2016
http://lrd.to/sxh9jntSbd

Resolved

A new year. New opportunity. Fresh starts.

January is the elephant graveyard of motivational clichés and good intentions to better one’s self. By February, the carcasses in various stages of resolution decay will litter the place, and by March, the clattering of dried bones will greet visitors – new arrivals, mostly. They will have instinctively come to take their place with their broken-promises-elephant bonesto-self brethren. Like the elephants of myth, changes to how and why we live instinctively know where to go when they die, and die they do.

There will never be a eulogy uttered.

Human beings are a fatalist bunch, especially when it comes to new years and supposed fresh starts. With New Year’s resolutions, you know the end result before you start – they become self-unfulfilling prophecies. Starting over doing things differently trying to better yourself? There are entire industries built on helping you crash and burn every year, and January first is like Black Friday is to the retail community. Ahh, but they will be there again, in force, next December and January, when you can run through the entire exercise again.

Not the exercise regimen you promise to do this year, but…you get the point.

Instead of setting yourself up for certain failure by looking at the new year (and your life, really) as some sort of cosmic Etch-a-Sketch to simply be picked up and shaken heartily, erasing everything you just did so you can ‘draw anew’ try a different, less adamant, etch-it-stone approach.

Treat your life like your laptop or tablet.

Laptop-MistakesYour laptop or tablet is always there, ready at your beck-and-call, calmly waiting for you to put it into use, OS running smoothly in the background.

Much like life in general you really don’t give that much thought until you need to put the thing into action, at which point you simply log on and jump in. You can communicate, catch up, do basic life stuff like pay bills, shop, make appointments, check on things at work, at home, with family, the weather – all without giving the electronic marvel in your hands a second thought. Everything hums along smoothly, does what it is supposed to do…

Until it doesn’t. Kind of like life.

Any computer technician will tell you how to keep your device working smoothly, running without issue, by taking some simple, preventative maintenance steps on a regular basis. The same basic rules apply to life.
Think of this as an addendum to your owner’s manual; you can print it, keep on refrigerator or bulletin board for a periodic reminder throughout 2016.

Do a periodic disc clean up on yourself? Things will run much more quickly and error-free if you free up disk space discclnupon your hard drive; like your laptop, your brain needs space to think. The disc/self-utility first searches and analyzes your hard drive for files that are no longer of any use, and then removes the unnecessary files. Presto less clutter, more room to compute!

There are a number of different file categories that Disk Cleanup targets when performing the initial disk analysis:

• Compression of old files (memories you tend to dwell on rather than savor)

• Temporary Internet files (trivial stuff, mostly, but does NOT include sports statistics; these do not slow down system operation)

• Temporary Windows files (these are usually extraneous pieces of information that at one time had a purpose such as explaining a situation, but are no longer have much validity)

• Downloaded program files (all the stuff you have planned, ideas you intended to try, and things you have seen on Pinterest or some other DIY site, and said “I want to try that”!)

• Recycle Bin (dump the junk)

• Removal of unused applications or optional Windows components (these are, often as not, toxic people and situations you should be avoiding anyway)

• Offline web pages (cached information: things remembered the way you think they should be, not as they really are – sometimes referred to in delusional terms)

While a cleanup of your personal hard drive will help, you need to go a bit deeper into your utility tool bag and run a defrag. Self-defragmentation is the process of consolidating fragmented data so it will be easier to find, allowing you to work more efficiently. Get organized. Use a journal, electronic or bound-paper. Fragmentation happens to a volume over time as you save, change, or delete files, and running period defrags will put everything back in order.

This may be the most crucial point of all: no matter your spiritual bent, update and then run your anti-virus on a antivirusregular basis. Prayer, meditation, self-reflection will all clear out the cobwebs and will overcome the hard drive-slowing qualities of doubt and insecurities, helping your OS run more smoothly and efficiently.

From time to time, you may also want to download separate malware software. How you get infected with such things that’s all on you.

Sure, you can set all of these things to run automatically, but sometimes default settings aren’t all they are cracked up to be: “Yeah, I’ll get to that…later…” is probably not going to cut it. You need to be proactive, run your own diagnostics, take care of what you need to do.

While chucking most everything and starting over might seem to be the thing to do this time of year, don’t give into the self-defeating hype. You may need just a New Year disc clean up and quick reboot.

And while you’re at it, maybe get a few new upgrades for your browser. But skip the damn emoticon downloads.

Happy New Year.
emoticons

Crashing my own party

I’ve canceled the pity party. I returned the decorations and told the caterer it was a no go. She was nonplussed as I wasn’t serving anything, and the party store clerk just shrugged.

Sometimes, we all get a little ahead of ourselves and can’t get a hold of ourselves. The start 2015 year has not been among my best – almost from the get go.

January fifth, first Monday of the year, I returned to school from our two-week Christmas break to greet my colleagues and sit through a day of welcome-back/here-we-go professional development in preparation for the return of our students on Tuesday.

I never saw them. The end of the day saw me handed my walking papers; the dismissal was unexpected and unexplained. A job search – usually something I relish the excitement and challenge of – was now the extent of my list of New Year resolutions. This one was different: it was a challenge, but I was not excited.

As January rolled into February, and as the results started coming in from various applications and resume submissions, and as the ‘TBNT’ (thanks-but-no-thanks) section in my job search ring binder continued to fill, the situation became more frustrating, the opportunities – the potentials – more scarce. My aggravation was growing in inverse proportion to our bank account. My frustration was duly noted by family and friends, though I was also complimented on my optimism. I don’t think I was becoming a total malcontent.

Since moving to New Orleans nearly seven years ago, I had begun to look forward to February, and the onset of Mardi Gras season – a big deal in New Orleans. While we are not among the formal-ball-and-pageantry oriented, socialite crowd, my wife and I have developed some traditions centered on favorite parades, and scoping out comfortable, familiar spots from which to view them. Nothing major, but some couples time that we enjoy. This IMG_20150217_114308season promised a bit of a respite to my employment situation. Figuring correctly that most employers would be putting their hiring practices on the back burner for a few weeks, I would temper my frustration in lack of any new job postings or progress in any processes

The first full weekend of Mardi Gras festivities, my wife and I broke with personal tradition to take in three of the Sunday parades (they run parades back-to-back-to-back on multiple days). The weather was great, we found easy parking, got to our usual curb-watching locale, set up our lawn chairs and settled in. A little journal writing and some reading, plus talking to nearby revelers quickly and amusingly kills off an hour of wait time. The parades themselves were good, the beads plentiful, and floats creatively amusing. All in all, a nice relaxing day.

Yet we headed home with me in something of a funk.

It had been an enjoyable afternoon, with thoughts of my job search temporarily shelved, until two not unexpected encounters with the marching bands from the school I had been let go from and from the school I taught at the bandprevious three years. No big deal, I thought. It was even enjoyable in a way, as I was able to exchange shouted greetings and a high-five with a teaching colleague and a couple of students that I wouldn’t have expected to take notice of my presence. Still, thoughts of what was and what could have been had me frustrated and had me mentally playing the self-pity game.

Then I got home, and hopped on my computer.

Expecting to simply check Facebook and then some email before moving on to other simple, to do list items, I logged on for a late Sunday afternoon, quick perusal of Facebook postings. Not much new, numbers wise, than I had left off at that morning, though one particular post immediately caught my eye in its abrupt casualness: an old friend was passing on the news that his wife had died that morning of breast cancer. She was forty-eight, and they have five kids, the oldest of whom is in college.

I read the string of condolences from various friends –  their fellow church members, mostly, who expressed sympathy and admiration at her strength – noting in many cases at her resolve in that most of them were unaware of just how seriously ill she had been. It was touching, sad, inspiring and thought-provoking. I left my note of condolence for an old friend and moved on.

A few minutes later, checking my email, I noticed one that I had read already, but had left in my inbox; an update frcaringbridge1om the website CaringBridge – an update on the adult son of old friends. His leukemia, thought to be five years in remission, had recently returned and the email was an update on the status of his re-hospitalization and the hope behind an impending bone marrow transplant.

Two shots of perspective is a good prescription for what ailed me, but it didn’t stop there.

I didn’t have to look too hard for other there-but-for-the-grace-of-God examples, they were just sitting there: the multiple, usually lame, emailed jokes from an old friend in his second decade of battling Parkinson’s – the internet provides his solace and socialization these days. There was the Facebook chat transcript from an even older friend, back on the wagon and doing well after a sobriety relapse, and an entry from another friend who periodically shares the inspiring blog posts of her cancer-battling, twenty-something daughter. I also took note of some funny Facebook posts from another old friend – a former college professor of mine – who has inspirationally beaten his cancer back three different times.

More sobering was another post by a friend, commemorating the accident seven years ago that claimed the life of four school kids, including a member of my son’s then-scout troop. And there was also that day’s text message exchange I had with an old friend, during which I was mindful that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of their child’s death.

Perspectives.

Each social media induced realization was like the end of an ophthalmologist’s new-glasses exam: “Which one makes theyechartings clearer? THIS one…or this one? This one…or this one….?” By the time the new week rolled around, I had a new outlook and viewpoint on my job search, and a different take on my life in general.

As humans, we tend to be myopic in our approach to life; sometimes we just need to put on our glasses, sometimes we need to purposely seek out a different set of lenses.

Oh, about that party I mentioned earlier? Don’t hold your breath. I won’t be sending out any ‘save the date’ cards.

The Best Laid Plans…

RobertBurnsBut, Mousie, thou art no thy lane

In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,

Anlea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

  • Robert Burns

The oft-quoted and modernized (‘Gang aft a-gley’ really means ‘go kablooie’) axiom about plans and planning are from Burns’ immortal poem To a Mouse.  It tells of how the great poet Burns, while plowing a field, upturns a mouse’s nest, and he then composes the resulting poem as an apology to the mouse.

toamouseAs a poet myself, I can appreciate Burns’ remorse and assuaging his guilt in displacing the little guy. As a teacher laid off by his school upon returning from Christmas break, I identify quite strongly with Burns’ mouse.

Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Hence the fractured nature of my New Year’s plan of action a month into 2015.  Not to say that the news is all bad; there have been a few, pseudo-positives resulting from my suddenly acquired professional inactivity – financial security not making that list at this time.

Maybe I should backtrack a bit before delving into the whole silver lining aspect, keeping in mind that silver can tarnish rapidly.

Like the majority of Americans, I came up with an annual list of pledges to do some things better, some not at all, calvinandhobbesand some that I had never attempted before. This is hardly unusual, though as a writer, I went to the additional effort to codify my personal improvement plan in the public forum of my blog, asking, tongue only partially in cheek, for loyal readers to help me with the accountability in keeping me on track.  (My original post can be read here: (https://poetluckerate.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/2015-showing-and-telling-some-resolve/)

In the interest of full blogger-disclosure, and keeping in mind that with the arrival of February, the year is only 8.3% complete; I still have time to get back on any tracks I may have jumped or will jump.  With that perspective in hand, here is an update on where things now stand.  Originally ‘resolved to’ items offset in bold, ‘in progress’ status below it.

Write more. Read more.  For fun.

So far, so good – with a few caveats. My cover letter writing skills, while pretty good and getting better, are not being nurtured into Hemmingway territory. However, there is definitely a Kafkaesque nature to much of what I have been reading in terms of position postings. expectations and job descriptions. The ‘fun’ part has yet to crop up.

highlyselective Build a better, quirkier vocabulary. Utilize said vocabulary. Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

As adept as I am in writing cover letters, I am quickly running out of appropriate adjectives and verbs to describe myself while also avoiding clichés. Fortunately, I am a ‘green’ writer and can reuse and recycle at will as I am writing repetitively, but for (a lot of) different, minimalist audiences.

Be inspiring.

Not to my knowledge, but there is always that possibility. I haven’t found a posting for that gig, actually.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’ Unless being sarcastic.

Check. On both counts.

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more.  More or less.

SEE: ‘Cover letters’ (above)

 Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

I am hoping to soon encounter one…a big one, in the form of a new gig.

 blessingsjarMake regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

A bit of a struggle, though knowing what some friends are experiencing with personal and family health issues, this is not as difficult as I might have thought. It’s all about perspective. As an added bonus – job leads from unexpected sources fit this quite nicely.

 “Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

When middle-aged and suddenly unemployed, nothing seems piddly.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

On an unemployed guy’s budget, this becomes ‘two   steps forward  quarters deposited, three  steps back quarters withdrawn.

drumming Felix 01 17 15 Sing to grandson Felix via Skype. Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Actually, Felix sings to me. Or plays his drum set or his guitar.  He is very Dylanesque and his musicianship is extremely therapeutic. Chalk this one up as a big success.

Edit better.

That cover letter thing rears its head again.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014. Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

buzzers3ERRT!!!! Wrong answer.  I have been far too sedentary, rooted to desk chair hour-after-hour while job searching and composing the corresponding correspondence. I am actually up four pounds cumulatively since January first – though that is down two pounds from last week. Sheesh.  I need to walk the dogs more often.

 Take a penny, leave a penny.

Taking these days, mostly. SEE: ‘Fill my spare change bottle’ (above)

More prayer. Less frustration.

Got the first part down. Part two is an ongoing strugggle.

IMG_20140808_191355Yell less.

This one is easy, not having classrooms full of profanely mercurial high school students every day. Unless you count stuff muttered loudly at various websites and the processes encountered therein, anyway.

 Practice succinctitude.

Cover letters, anyone?

Write more. Read more.  Blog more.

Check, check, and….check. Though in ongoing slogging through a plethora of job search, school district, charter school, and company websites, I can say with impunity that it aint all edification and revelation.  The plot lines are derivative, and character development is nil – consisting mostly of bizarre caricatures of laughable expectations and unrealistic qualifications.  These readings do, however, provide ample opportunity to hone one skills in interpretation, reading between the lines, and separating fact from fiction.

More to come, coming soon. Always.

Ever hopeful.  This one is stretching my patience mode.

The-Road-Less-Traveled Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

This current road found me. I am taking it out of necessity, not choice. I have to follow the faceless GPS voice and not stray….too far. I have unwittingly become the anti-Robert Frost.

 In 2015 I will endeavor to….Look before I leap, think before I speak, think after I speak.

This one is fraught with nuance; phone and face-to-face interviews have so far gone very well, I have said nothing glaringly stupid.  Job interviews of any kind are like roadside sobriety tests: slow it down,even though your anxiety is up, try not to be too glib, and follow the officer’s interviewer’s instructions without questioning glances….

Yeah, pretty much the same thing.

 Right some wrongs. Make amends.

IMG_20140607_200720Work in progress.

 Live faithfully.

Always

That is the update, February bound. So far, so good.  There is still 91.7% of the year to go, so I have plenty of time to get things moving back in more advantageous direction on all counts. In the meantime, as Frank Bartles used to say, “Thank you for your support.”

 

 

2015: Showing (and Telling) Some Resolve

“When a person is accountable to someone else for doing what they said they would do, they get stuff DrothyGale (2)done. They make changes they’ve been toying with for years. They reach their goals.”

– Shana Montesol Johnson

Accountability. People can’t help you with achieving anything if they don’t know what you are trying to achieve. Dorothy would still be roaming around Oz if she hadn’t shared her goal of going home with everyone around her, after all.

Some of the items on the list that follows are one-shot deals, others are lifestyle choices I am consciously making that will require sustained effort. And accountability.

The things on this list are obviously personal, some are professionally oriented. Some of them are slam-dunk, one-planned (2)shot deals while others will require stick-to-itiveness and more concerted effort and accountability. Some of the entries are spiritual, many are fairly esoteric.

New Year’s Resolutions? Not in the traditional sense. I think of this as more of an ‘Intention Martini’- positives are the gin while the not-to-dos are the vermouth. And I like my resolve dry. Very dry.

Throughout the coming year, feel free to prod, cajole, remind, opine, encourage, support, and reassure me should I stray or simply get lazy from carrying out the objectives set forth below.

Without further ado:

Do’s, Don’ts and ‘Ehhh…I dunnos’ for 2015

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

Coin a new phrase, at least once each fiscal quarter.
Be never enough to be too much of a good thing.

More baseball.

Keep my ‘eyes on the prize.’ Unless I am eating out of a box of Cracker Jack.

Finish at least two major writing projects, submit them for publications.

-.-. — — — ..- -. .. -.-. .- – . -… . – – . .-. .-.-.-

Build a better, quirkier vocabulary.2015b
Utilize said vocabulary.
Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

Insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ with impunity

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more. More or less.

Write a mantra – in Dr. Seuss style rhyming couplets. Use it.Mack

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

Write more.
Read more. For fun.
Blog more.

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

Adopt ‘Do-overs done right’ as a pseudo-credo.

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it. Especially if it is someone else’s.

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.Feixreading

Sing to grandson Felix via Skype.
Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Don’t say that I’m ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Unless brainstorming with someone who actually lives in a box.

Learn to tie a bow tie.
Wear a bow tie from time to time.

Edit better.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014.
Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

In 2015, I will measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times, on occasion.

Read more books to grandson Felix via Skype, including bedtime stories.
Read bedtime stories via Skype to anybody who asks nicely.

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

Use the word ‘repugnant’ once in a while. As a noun, gently.

Practice succinctitude.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

More to come, coming soon. Always.ONLY o.k. sign (2)

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2015 I will endeavor to….

Look both ways before crossing
Close cover before striking
Look before I leap
Think before I speak
Think after I speak.

Check local listings,
Void where prohibited.
‘Serving suggestion.’

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

Procrastinate less. Or at least, less often.
Partake in more rainstorms.2015a

Go camping
Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2015

Signature2

HiDef

A new year tends to bring life into sharper focus.

Failures and regrets of the year passed, feigned anticipatory enthusiasm for what lies ahead; milestones of various dressingroommirrorilk, things left undone. Reflections in mirrors that are sometimes more fun house than Broadway dressing room predominate, preoccupy, border on and at times become, blind obsession. Metaphors predominate in private thought, public proclamation: blank canvases, clean slates, an empty room.

Then the ball drops at midnight.

Looking ahead to the future with or without a crystal ball or tea leaves is tricky business, as unbridled optimism bests pessimistic reflection in emotional and intellectual new year sumo matches – especially if you like what you crystalballseersee in your self-prognostications. Much lies ahead, and it is all anxiously anticipated with glee, the past notwithstanding, reality an inconvenient, ignored nuisance. You have filed away the flotsam of the year-that-was like an old tax return. Been there, done that; someday distant, you’ll simply throw it away, stuffed in with some other no-longer-needed documentation.

Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

Out with the old, in with the new…lives, relationships, homes will all to be repaired and refurbished. At least, that’s the plan. Personal improvements need to be made, changes that will be to your betterment – that much is certain. You know what needs to be accomplished and so you lay the groundwork, anticipate and minimize potential setbacks, confident in your ability to ‘carry on.’ Loses and gains are planned with haphazard meticulousness. Nice, neat, clean. Hey, you got this.

The best laid plans…

eyechartHindsight is 20/20, presumptive foresight is generally myopic. Honest insight is going through the eye chart methodically, working through and around the cataracts of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence – seeing clearly the differences between the F’s and the P’s.

Its o.k. if you need to stop and focus on the chart, but don’t blindly guess.

Hang all the inspirational posters around you that you want, but know that pictures of cats or long-distance runners grimacing while holding a death-grip on a symbolic baton (what is being passed to whom?) – regardless of the simple, pseudo-inspiring verbiage or font – produces only income for the publisher, not real motivation or revelation for you. You need to change, want to change; always know that you can change. But a list of declarations, pledges and promises tacked to your refrigerator with a magnet are no better than the realistic aspects of what you are trying to accomplish, and a well thought out plan for accomplishing them.

And always have a plan ‘B.’ Just in case.

Set realistic goals and be conspicuous and vocal with your plans to achieve them. Get encouragement when you can, Whackamole2from whoever you can. Don’t succumb to doubt or capitulate to momentary setbacks. They will each rear their ugly heads – play Whack-a-Mole on them with reckless impunity.

New year advice is plentiful; Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, doctor’s office brochures. Fortune cookies, Facebook memes, well-meaning friends. They all have their places, simply as reminders that change is needed, that now is as good a time (but not the only time) as any. They are nothing more than reminders.

But you already knew that.hidefgraphic

‘Practice makes perfect’ has an abysmal success rate as a philosophy, but has found its niche as a notorious catch phrase. Practice perfection? You have to first learn a skill before you can practice it to any degree of success. You can’t rehearse to be flawless, but you can refine your flaws into more typical qualities. Change negatives into positives, know your limitations and don’t obsess perfection.

Ideas and ideals get lost quickly in the shuffle of the ides of any make-myself-better-January.

Use both successes and failures as benchmarks. Become acquainted with both, treat each with healthy respect and ample does of humor. Neither should be taken too seriously or passed off lightly. Contrary to what contemporary society may tell you, every accomplishment is not cause for celebration, every stumble is not a call to go back and start over.

All things in moderation.

Your new year’s resolution needs to be in as many pixels as you can muster, live and in brilliant color. The best a crystal ball can give you is this for your 2014: February will follow January, March will come next…it culminates in December. What you see is what you get.

etchasketchLife is an Etch A Sketch. Don’t like what you’ve drawn? Shake it up, erase the picture, draw it again.

Carpe diem; today is simply tomorrow’s yesterday.

I teach English in an urban high school. A poster with the proverb below hangs in my classroom. I have used it in various forms to prompt reflection for writing, and as a counterpoint to various attitudes in both what we read and what we experience in real life. It is great perspective for a new year.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle between two wolves is inside us all. One wolf is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Columbus Dazed

Mattress Firm Columbus Day sale!

15-to-50 percent savings store wide at Sears!

I can also get (This weekend only!) used cars at cost and deals on new tires, flat screen TVs and home improvement materials – presumably so I can get into the spirit of the holiday by building a settlement somewhere in Chris’ honor. The more upscale Macy’s also has a Columbus Day sale, though at least they are trying to be moderately authentic: this weekend only, the perfume ladies will spray you with your choice of Caribbean spices.

I even received a personal email offer for a Columbus Day mystery offer where you could either shop on-line or use a supplied coupon code to take to a real store. I’ll admit the online aspect was clever: ‘Mystery sail (sic) – You could save up to 75% off this weekend only!’ Click on the animated (ship) compass to find your savings at checkout!

Pretty involved (and dignified) way of selling underwear, methinks.

On the more obscure end of American marketing scale for C-Day are grocery stores: great timing for those ubiquitous Columbus-themed holiday gatherings. (“I know Columbus was big into genocide, but he brought back lots of new spices and stuff that we still use today. Hey! Pass me some more of those ribs, will ya”?) And, of course, liquor stores.

The booze sales I can see as having some sort of actual relationship to ’celebrating’ Columbus as he had to have been heavy into some bad ale to get as off-course and lost as he was, then still thinking he was where he definitely wasn’t when he arrived.

The designated navigator was not en vogue in Columbus’ day.

The reality is, Columbus never even set foot in what is now the United States. Yet, we celebrate him – though to be honest, nobody I know still gets Columbus Day off. To my knowledge, no local schools are off, all banks are open. Mail will still be delivered and the sun will continue to rise in the east.

What was, when I was a kid, a day off from school in commemoration of the guy who ‘discovered’ America is now devoted to big savings on a plethora of consumer goodies. Apropos, in a way, as Christopher Columbus has turned out to be little more than a lost, greedy merchant who would probably be right at home in today’s consumer driven culture. (“Hey, Chris! Great deals at Best Buy on GPS units!”)

Nowadays, it seems like Columbus ‘Discover carded’ America.

I know, we do the same commercialize-it-because-its-what-we-do thing for President’s Day, though in that case, we still, on some level, actually attempt to honor people who had some value to/in American history and culture. Though even that has been diminished. While we used to celebrate the B-days of Washington and Lincoln separately, since the Nixon administration, we have but one holiday that goes by the moniker ‘President’s Day’ and is, technically, ‘to commemorate all past presidents’ which is a lot like the entire senior class as co-valedictorians because none of them got suspended during the year.

Personally, I could never sleep easy on a new mattress I got at a Millard Fillmore sale.

Aside from the Columbus Day orgy of illogical, misplaced retailing I do have a more personal axe to grind here.  Why we ‘honor’ Christopher Columbus, a guy who ‘discovered’ something that was in no need of being discovered (per the peoples that had been there for centuries before white European guys with poofy pants and ill-tempered cruise directors landed on their shores) and not the true first European explorer to show up and say, “Hey, this place is cool. How are you indigenous folks doing?”

I am of course, referring to Leif Erikson.

(In the interest of full disclosure here, I am myself, proudly of Nordic blood and heritage. Am I completely without bias? Yeah, mostly.) So Leif and his band of roaming Scandinavians (‘Vikings’ if you prefer) showed up in North America around the year 1000 – nearly a full half-millennium  before Columbus – in present-day Newfoundland. There, he and his posse poked around a bit in the name of exploration and interacted peacefully with the locals, apparently preferring just hangin’ with his new-found homeys over conquering them and grabbing all their stuff.

Leif is described as a strong man of striking appearance, who was wise and considerate.

Leif was a cool dude. After he chilled for a while in Newfoundland (catch name, eh?) he went back to his home base in Greenland, and then his homeland of Iceland, where his folks settled after leaving Norway, the ancestral land of some of my forefathers. Leif eventually roamed back toward Canada, may or may not have been there again, but he did end up evangelizing, bringing Christianity to Greenland, probably on a hut-to-hut basis, sans fliers.

Subsequent Scandinavian forays into the ‘New World’ by Leif’s son and others did result in some skirmishes with the indigenous folk of the region, but they enslaved nobody and left pretty quietly.

And yet, we have no sales in Leif’s honor, no discounts to be had at haberdasheries or hotels, no deals to be made in his name on electronics or vehicles. Which is probably as it should be. While Leif and the boys certainly engaged in trade, their primary purposes appear to have been simply exploration and subsistence, with no grandiose plans of empire and enslavement. There is no small irony in celebrating Christopher Columbus the way we do, and in remembering Leif Ericson the way we really don’t.

Tuesday, October 9, is Leif Ericson Day. I’ll probably commemorate the day by quaffing a glass of grog in his honor, and I won’t be buying a damn thing.

Even Spongebob Squarepants gets it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBrQ6qNdpKg

Clear View From the Front of the Class

Another interesting week in front of my classroom has come and gone – as have some of my eighty or so students. ‘Interesting’ being such an inadequate word.

This week’s scorecard of notable student activity, per my daily class notes sheet:
• 5 kids in/out of in school suspension
• 1 young man earning 5 days out of school suspension
• 1 young woman transferring to alternative school. Hopefully.
• 6 teen moms/dads with baby and/or baby’s father/mother issues
• 12 sleepers; kids who fall asleep often enough in class that I have to wake them up (I am something of a human alarm clock some days, and my general admonition to awakened students, “If you want to take a nap, get a room at the Days Inn” is not well received.)
• 5 kids who are on daily check in/check out point-system behavioral plans that require daily updates of their written goals. (One girl earned only half of her available points on the one specific goal of ‘refraining from using profanity in classroom.’ Sailors don’t blush in her presence, they check their thesauruses.)

But beyond that, and along with the usual inane student behavior and not getting as much getting done as I would like, I this week encountered something totally unique to my New Orleans teaching experience.

My junior year English class is working on writing persuasive essays – how to convince someone to do or change something – and I always find this particular topic to be either a huge hit or an epic fail, as modern vernacular would have it. The success of this particular unit segment is generally made possible by the generally argumentative ways of teenagers; engage them, give them a chance to vent, and it’s one of those easy sells; get a group of teenagers who are strutting their generally apathetic nature, and this assignment doesn’t fly so well.

My group this semester has a lot to say, and for their initial drafts, are saying it rather well.

This group dived right in (for the most part) and there is a surprisingly wide range of topics being covered. There are the obligatory boy’s arguing their respective cases for ‘best basketball player on the planet’ and a few dealing with fairly mundane family issues, but I also have students arguing against committing suicide, trying to get a parent to quit smoking, the virtues of one local college over the others, and a young woman earnestly and logically trying to convince her mom to help her get a car so she can better assist the family.

Good topics, invested kids, decent results so far. Not my typical experience here with kids and extensive writing assignments.

Thursday we began completing our first drafts, and one table of three girls called me over to look at their papers. The first two girls had fairly informal, family oriented items of note, and I was pleased with their progress. The third young woman hadn’t said much, but asked if I could take a look at her rough draft, by tentatively pushing her paper toward me and sheepishly asking, “If I am writing to a judge, I should start by saying ‘Your Honor’ or something, right? I can’t start mine like Laura did, ‘Hey, judge.” Laura (not her real name) was writing an essay to persuade her mom to help her get a car, and I had approved of the informal opening, ‘Hey, mom.’

I agreed that ‘Your honor’ would be a good start, adding that ‘Dear Judge Whomever’ would also be acceptable.

In my fourth year of teaching here in New Orleans, a student of mine interacting with a judge doesn’t even nudge the needle on the surprise meter; this week alone I had signed two forms from courts acknowledging excused absences for kids because of their court appearances. This kept my doctors notes/court appearance excused absence ratio for the semester at a relatively steady 4:2.

But this was different: the young woman is writing an essay to persuade a judge that she should have full custody of her son. It seems the family of the baby’s father is pushing for full custody over the shared custody arrangement currently in place.

The girl is barely seventeen.

I spent a few minutes with her brainstorming essay thesis statements, and she seemed satisfied and determined as I left to assist other students in the class. As class was nearing an end, I saw her crying softly, the other girls at her table comforting her, telling her ‘It’s good to get this stuff out.’

Day two of the persuasive paper project calls for brainstorming counter-arguments, then incorporating those into a second draft of the paper. The young woman had put in significant effort on the first draft, but was struggling with the counter arguments. In reading what she had on paper as her rationale for persuading the judge, she had outlined her reasoning in a very articulate way, and had avoided bad mouthing the ‘other side’ – not an easy thing to do for a young writer – or a teen mom trying to do the right thing.

I gave her some practical tips, and, informing her that it really wasn’t any of my business, but since she had brought it up, I inquired about whether or not she had an attorney. She smiled, nodded and said “I didn’t at first but I do now.” I suggested once she is finished with the paper, she show it to her attorney. She agreed, smiled, got back to her writing. She spent the rest of the class time writing, smiling more than I had seen.

A catharsis of sorts, I suppose. I was just an essay assignment.

I was relating the experience to a fellow English teacher at school, a woman with twenty-years’ experience that I have gotten to know well. “You know, this doesn’t show up in any manual I have read or any teaching materials I have seen.”

She nodded, chuckled.

“It’s not in the school teacher’s handbook either – I checked. Twice.”

This time she laughed outright, shaking her head. “No, Mister Lucker. I’m sure it isn’t.”

“We just make it up as we go?”

“That’s it. We just roll with it best we can.”

I nodded. It’s just a simple little essay assignment, right?