Sometimes Something Magical Happens

 

After a crazy, busy, two-week whirlwind, I’m back at my laptop pecking out some thoughts.  It’s not that I’ve taken a complete hiatus from writing. It’s just that it’s been scribbled in a notebook, several notebooks actually. Sure hope I can find the ones I need today.

Since my last two posts were about the SCWW conference in Myrtle Beach, I’m going to wrap that up first and then move on to Christmas thoughts and memories. Just like everyone else in the Christian world, I too have my reflections to share, the saddest of which occurred yesterday when I went through a McDonald’s drive-thru. I asked the young woman at the window if she’d had a nice Christmas, and she gave me a sad, bored expression and flatly stated that it had been just another day. I’ll get back to this. For now, let’s wrap up the conference.

One afternoon, I went to a session about travel writing that was led by Bill Starr. Since I’m always taking notes when I see new sights, I think this is something I’d like to do. Interesting and informative, Starr said that the keys to successful travel writing are good writing and keen powers of observation. He also suggested talking to the “natives” and asking them questions.                                                   

Andrew Gross, author of Eyes Wide Open and several other best sellers, was the keynote speaker. In addition to his own books, Gross co-wrote six books with author James Patterson. Personable and inspiring, Gross talked about the importance of believing in your ability to write and then sticking to your work. “Sometimes some magical happens when you sit down in front of a screen,” he said. From his website, I picked up one of Gross’ favorite quotes from Henry Ford that seems to summarize his philosophy: “Some people think they can and some think they can’t and they’re probably both right.”

Gross’s statement about digital sales is so important that I’m putting it in a paragraph by itself. For would-be writers who are still a little gun shy of the digital format, Gross shared that 50 percent of his sales are digital. This information left me wondering about the future of “real” books, the kind of book you can hold in your hands, turn its pages, write in its margins, turn down its corners, and “sense” its essence.

Before the award winners were announced, Brenda Remmes, author of The Quaker Cafe and member of our Camden chapter, told an inspiring story about a parachute packer. Without going into a lot of detail (hoping Brenda will do that on our chapter blog), the gist of the story was that we all need to be there for each other. We need to be the encouragers and parachute packers for our fellow writers. No one, repeat NO ONE, makes it alone.

After my three days in Myrtle Beach, I came home with lots of useful information and a more “can-do” attitude. If I had to choose just one idea that has stayed with me after all these weeks, it’s this one: writing is work. Just like any other endeavor, if you want to be successful at it, you’re going to have to do the time. Hmmm. I think I just got the idea for my next post!

Crossing Over

“You’re a crazy woman, you know that?” he asked.

“Yes Dear. You’ve told me about a thousand times,” I replied. “Just let me out of the car and meet me on the other side.”

“But it’s noon…and hot as blazes. You’ll have a heat stroke,” my husband added, thinking that his words would dissuade me from walking across the Cooper River Bridge yesterday.

From my perspective, the only thing crazy about it was that I didn’t have the proper shoes. I was wearing Teva flip-flops, and although I was a bit concerned about chafing, I was determined to cross that bridge. Walking across it was symbolic, and what better time to do it than the day after my birthday and the beginning of the first week of my retirement.

As I began the first incline, I heard a horn beep, and to the right, I caught a glimpse of my Highlander crossing the bridge.  Already hot, I began to wonder at the folly of the venture, but it was too late to turn back. I had lots of company, mostly walkers, and I entertained myself by observing them and taking pictures of the scenery. One man who was descending the bridge assured me that it was a “teeny tiny” bit cooler at the top. One young woman wearing hospital scrubs walked towards me carrying her shoes, her bare feet walking on the scalding concrete. A few yards later I stopped to take a picture, and when I looked back towards the Mt. Pleasant side, I saw her taking a break, sitting down with her legs drawn up. I thought about her off and on all day and hoped she was okay.

As I neared the top of the second crest, a man zoomed by me. “Show off,” I thought, a little envious of someone who could move so quickly in the sweltering heat. My running days are over. I’m a walker now. Still, once in a while I feel a little twinge of regret or envy or something whenever I see a zoomer, especially when I’m moving about as fast as I can move.

I consoled myself by saying, “What’s the hurry? It’s the journey, not the destination,” and that worked pretty well. By the time I crested the second incline and started down again, I saw him. He was standing by the railing, breathing hard and wiping his head, face, and neck with a towel. I felt fine as I breezed right by him, thinking of Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable.

I snapped two pictures of scripture verses that someone had etched into one of the concrete structures on the bridge. I didn’t know whether to be amused or angered. How can a person who’s serious about spreading “the Word” go around defacing property?

Near the end of the crossing, a young man sporting a pony tail, numerous tattoos, and a finely-toned body flew by me. Moments later, a young woman wearing yellow shorts and a black sports bra did the same. “Ah, youth,” I thought.

I’ve always loved bridges, and the Cooper River Bridge (don’t bother telling me that it’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge) has always been a favorite. My mother once told me that I cried and begged to take it home with me when I was a toddler. I didn’t understand about bridges then, how they took you from one place to another. I do now. Crossing the 2.5 miles awesome bridge yesterday symbolized another crossing over for me.  There’s the obvious one, the birthday thing, but then there’s the retirement transition too. I can’t get to what’s next without leaving the shore and crossing over.

It was hot. I had to work hard. There was a gentle breeze near the top, and a friendly soul encouraged me by telling me about it before hand. Some people fell by the wayside, especially if they were ill-equipped for the journey (improper shoes) or they went too fast and burned out. Some who were young and fit zoomed by me.

Hmmm. Am I describing yesterday or the working world in general? In both cases, moving at my own pace, I made it to the other side…of the bridge and to retirement.  I hope the young woman with the painful feet takes better care of herself on her journey. And that the speedster slows down and enjoys the trip.

Making a Place

Today’s my last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life.

I’ve heard it said many times that if you want something to happen in your life, something new or exciting, you have to make a place for it. I think that “place” (I hope my friend Joey will overlook those quotation marks if they’re used incorrectly) could refer to both physical and psychological space. It could even mean time and energy.

That said, today is a most exciting day. It’s the last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life. Then there were the moments of laughter and pure unadulterated fun. Yes, that’s allowed in a classroom, at least in mine.

I’m not going to walk down Memory Lane this afternoon. I’ll save that stroll for another day. Today I just want to emphasize that it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and the only way for me to get there is to make some room. Hence, I’m freeing up some time to pursue other interests and explore different opportunities.

Yes, I’ll miss my work buds. I’ll miss my little office too. What I won’t miss is leaving home every single workday at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Sumter or Bishopville for an early morning class. Nor will I miss those night classes. Like Oprah said in her farewell show, “Been there, done that.” My husband and I have plans for Monday morning. We’re going to have breakfast at the local Huddle House, and I plan to sit by the front window so that I can have a good view of all the working stiffs racing by on their way to schools, banks, hospitals, and offices. 

Then I’m coming home to read, write, walk, and put some of my dreams into action. I might even take a real estate course. Yes, I know it’s not a good time to do that. I don’t care about getting rich; I just like looking at houses, and I think I might be pretty good at matching people with just the right home. I might help my sister-in-law Karen in her new business, and she won’t even have to pay me! I’m going to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. Atlanta, Conway, and Rincon (alphabetical order), here I come!

 We’re also going to do some traveling, and Otis has begun a travel fund for us. Alaska is first on our list. Maybe this fall we’ll go on a road trip to New England just to see the leaves. Why not? I’m making a space for it. Some of my friends and I love NYC, and I’ve started a little fund for that too. On my next trip, I’m going to see/hear the Brooklyn Gospel Choir. I’d also like to see where Abraham Maslow grew up. And I never tire of visiting Ellis Island, the MoMA, or the Museum of Natural History.

Between all the goings-on, I’m making a space for writing. I’m having a couple of pieces published in the next few months, and I have a half a dozen books on the back burner. I can’t get to any of those projects, however, unless I make a space for them. That’s why today is my last day.

Okay, let’s back up. It’s my last day of full-time employment, not the last day of employment period. When classes start again in a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching a couple for CCTC and one for HGTC (online).  I’m excited about that and have already been collecting material. For instance, I just learned that obesity is the second cause of premature preventable death in America. Smoking is number one.  Can’t wait to share that with my Human Growth and Development classes.

In the meantime, my husband just stomped upstairs where I’m working and told me that I needed to make some space to walk around up here. All the office “stuff” is scattered about and is driving him crazy.

Gambaru Pablo!

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something. It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”

One of the gifts my children gave me for Mother’s day is a photograph book from Shutterfly. I love it! It’s a compilation of pictures of the three of them along some “Momisms” that I’ve preached (oops, taught) them over the years. When I was leafing through it again yesterday, I noticed that Paul is the only one of the three who mentioned “Never give up.” I’m sure my lovely daughters heard, “Keep on keeping on” in a variety of ways, just like their brother, but it just didn’t make their top ten.

Never give up is on my mind this morning because Paul is finishing graduate school this summer and has begun a serious job search.  He knows all of the social networking “stuff” and has tweaked his resume (can’t get the punctuation marks to come up) to a tee. It’s a tough market out there, but I’m confident that with his looks, intelligence, perseverance, competence, charm, human relations skills, and attitude, he’ll find just the right position. Yes, I’m a little biased, but that’s a mother’s prerogative.

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something.  It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”  Raised as a  Buddhist, Curry’s mother Hiroe couldn’t find a temple in America when she needed spiritual sustenance. She couldn’t speak English very well either and was often ridiculed. A tough lady, she had battled tuberculosis earlier in her life and won. This is the kind of mother Ann Curry had.

Her father Bob Curry was a tough cookie too, a strong man who instilled the values of family, love, hard work, and loyalty in his children.  A  Navy man, he met Hiroe when he was stationed in Japan after World War. Life as a mixed-race child in a poor family was hard for Ann and her siblings, and he often told Ann that trials and tribulations would make her stronger. It bugged him when his children whined, and one day he told them that from then on, whoever whined would have to drop and do ten push-ups no matter where they were. His kids quickly learned that whining didn’t accomplish anything.

Her father was a man who practiced what he preached. Once they were on a crowded bus, and all five of the children jumped into the empty seats before he could snag one. When her father said, “That’s not fair,” Curry and her siblings gave him “the look,” and he dropped down in the aisle and did ten push-ups. What a lesson in character!

Curry’s father encouraged her to do something of service with her life, and she decided that journalism would broaden her choices. She and her father went to college at the same time, he with the GI Bill and she with small scholarships and all kinds of work from bookstore clerk to hotel maid.

So to Paul and all the other job seekers, if you ever get discouraged and  feel like throwing in the towel, think Gambaru! Think of a young, frail Japanese woman recovering from tuberculosis living in a new land struggling to learn the language and customs. Imagine her rising above taunts and ridicule and prejudice to practice what she preached: Never give up. Never. The next time you think about whining or complaining about how hard  or unfair your life is, think of Bob Curry doing push-ups in a crowded bus.

I’ve never met Bob and Hiroe Curry, but I’ve seen their daughter on television many times. I saw her on the Today set one May morning two years ago. She’s a winner. She never gives up, she works hard, and she serves other people. She doesn’t whine either. Gambaru!

John Marlon

He was a handsome devil, my dad.  Smart too. His granddaughter Elizabeth has often said, “Mama, Granny and Granddaddy looked like movie stars when they were young!” Maybe I’m a little biased, but I always agreed with her. While disillusionment, disappointment, and disease (not to mention Father Time) robbed him of “some” of his handsomeness, they didn’t take away his bearing, his essence. We all loved him and yearned for his approval. I think we were a little awed by him, and a steely look could bring us back in line on the double!

It’s impossible to sum up a person’s character and influence in a couple of paragraphs, so I’ll just share a few of my “Daddy thoughts” this afternoon. A quiet person, he could turn on the charm when he wanted to. Most of the time, however, he stayed in the background while my mother gadded about the house, the neighborhood, the church, the community. She was the social butterfly; he was the observer. While our mother was actively involved in all of our lives (four kids and the grandchildren), he always seemed to have the finger on the pulse. Observing from the sidelines, he knew our quirks, dispositions, and strengths, and yes, weaknesses too. (Sure wish he’d told me that he thought I was as smart as Ann before I was nearly 50! It could  have salvaged my damaged psyche.) This ability to read and understand the ones he loved pertained to his grandchildren too.

My father was a hard worker. I didn’t learn the value of working hard from hearing him talk about it. I learned from watching him. (My mother wasn’t a slacker either, but this is about him.) They both sacrificed time, money, and lots of material goodies they could have had if they hadn’t been so intent on providing shelter, clothing, and education for the four of us. And did they complain? Never! My brother Mike and I often speak of how they never ever even hinted that they minded the numerous sacrifices they made for our sakes.

I visited my parents’ graves after church today, and when I looked at his birth and death dates, I realized that he was one month shy of his 19th birthday when I was born. I stood staring at this grave stone in the hot sun and let that fact sink in. David, his fourth child,was born seven years later when Daddy was a week from 26! How did they do it? And what has happened to the sacred role of fatherhood in today’s society? I won’t go there today. I’ll just say how glad I am that John Padgett was my father, a man who took his parenting responsibilities seriously.  His children still miss him dearly.

Good Stuff

When my hubby left for work yesterday morning, I walked him to the door and went through the usual morning routine, including a quick kiss and “I love you” reminder. As he walked out into the frigid morning, I felt prompted to add, “Hey, I hope some good things happen to you today.” “Me too,” he said as he walked down the steps.

As I turned to walk back into the warm house, I thought about how several good things had already happened for both of us:

  • We woke up. Some people don’t; some are in comas or in drug or alcohol induced states…or perhaps they died during the night. In that case, one can hope that they’re in a better place, but that’s a subject for another day.
  • When we woke up, we were able to get ourselves up out of bed and start our day. My friend Joan Ella is a nurse who made me realize that some people wake up in hospitals or perhaps even in their own homes and they literally cannot get up. It could be their legs, but it could also be some other problem such as recovery from surgery, a stroke, or problems associated with advanced age. Those people have to wait for someone else to help them with going to the bathroom, bathing, brushing their teeth, dressing, and sometimes even feeding themselves.
  • While we sometimes whine about the proverbial 9-to-5 that we’ve done all of our adult lives, it’s great to have jobs, especially at this time when so many people don’t. It’s also great to be able to get in our cars and drive somewhere as opposed to being stuck in a hospital room or a recliner.
  • Speaking of jobs, we like them…another great blessing. It’d be horrible to live a life of quiet desperation that Thoreau described.
  • We like our vehicles and are grateful for reliable transportation.

The above are just things I thought of while DH was leaving the driveway. Here’s some more good stuff that happened:

  • Jim and I got to work early enough to fully get our ducks in a row before class.
  • Driving to Sumter, we saw the huge orange sun as it rose on the horizon.
  • As I was sitting in my office looking over some material, a young woman stopped and said, “Ma’am, I just stopped to say how pretty you look today. That’s a gorgeous coat and scarf.”  Nice, huh? I returned the compliment and told her how much I appreciated her sweet words. I also vowed to pass it on to someone else during the day. Just so you’ll know, I personally think the combination of the white coat and pink scarf is what turned her head.
  • The above mentioned attire kept me warm. I’ve been thinking of ways to help people who are cold without making a big deal over it…something simple like leaving gloves or scarves accidently on purpose where they can be found.
  • I met a new person, an psychology adjunct who’s bubbly and smart and interested in the psychology blog. Yay!
  • I got to see my sister for a few minutes. Love her lots.
  • Enjoyed Taco Bell for lunch. Variety’s nice.
  • I watched Whitney and Allie play with their new hula hoops.

Time to go to work. I hope lots of good things happened to you yesterday too. Let me rephrase that: I hope you paid attention to the good things that happened to you yesterday. I hope you took the time to realize that no matter what’s going on in your life, there’s always some good stuff too. Mmmm. I’m getting ready to take a warm shower, a treat that many don’t enjoy. I’ve got a feeling that today is going to be another day with blessings galore.

Working

When I was about 25 or 26, a couple of my co-workers were moaning and groaning about their jobs, how unfair the dean was, how unreasonable the job expectations were, how “needy” the students were, and on  and on and on. Finally, I blurted out, “If you hate working here so much, why don’t you quit?” 

One of them glared at me in disgust and disbelief (I was the new kid on the block) and demanded, “Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life????”

 

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I haven’t really thought about it.” And that was the truth. I hadn’t really thought about it that much at all. I was in a DINK (Double Income No Kids) marriage. We were saving money for a down payment on a house and planned someday to have children, but my career goals were hazy.

 

One of those gals stayed the course and retired from teaching after 30 years; I’m not sure what happened to the one who was doing most of the whining. I’m still in the classroom, and what I’ve learned from reading, observation, and personal experience is that the right vocation can be the difference between happiness and misery, fulfillment and disappointment, and employment and unemployment.

 

In no particular order, here are a few ways that a career choice can affect a person:

  • It can determine how much money you make and consequently your lifestyle. A lifestyle comprises a person’ whole way of life, from the food eaten and the clothes worn to the trips taken and interests pursued. Will you vacation with distant relatives and travel in the family car, or will you vacation at a resort and travel by air? Speaking of the family car, will it be luxury automobile, a gas guzzling SUV, a more practical model, or a clunker?
  • It can determine the neighborhood you live in and the type of dwelling you inhabit. Will you live in a McMansion, an apartment in an upscale neighborhood, or a nice modest home in the suburbs? There are lots of in-between options; naturally I can’t list them all. DH would love a little cabin in the woods, while I’d like nothing better than a bungalow by the sea. Can we afford three homes? HaHa.
  • For those of you who are in the child bearing years, your neighborhood can determine where your children go to school and consequently the education they receive. Throw their friends and teachers into the mix, and you can see that those interactions could impact their future.
  • A job can influence your physical and mental health. Work related stress can play havoc with a person’s overall feeling of health and well-being, especially if insomnia creeps into the picture. Some jobs are physically more demanding that others, and there are some that are downright dangerous.
  • Since the workplace puts us into such close proximity with others, it can be the ideal setting for the development of friendship. Just think about the 168 hours we’re each granted per week. How many of those hours do you spend with your work mates and how many with your family and friends?
  • A job can affect your self esteem. How a person views himself is tied in with what he does for a living since his job as programmer, electrician, or accountant is one of his primary life roles. I’m still amazed that one of the first questions I get asked is, “What do you do?” Plus, doing well or poorly, being a success or failure can easily evolve into a sense of personal worthiness…or not.
  • It can determine whether or not you’re employed. As an example, the medical field is exploding with job opportunities, and many people choose careers in nursing because of future potential earnings. And let’s don’t forget computers. Computer technology affects almost every job and every aspect of work.
  • A job can influence what you do with your time, how your day is structured. When you’re off for a few days, it soon becomes evident that work can help create the regularity of life, its basic rhythms and cyclical patterns of the day, week, month, and even year. More times that I can count, I’ve heard someone say something like, “I can’t remember what day it is,” when on vacation.
  • Work can also determine the quality of your retirement years. Will they be bleak or beautiful? Although I couldn’t see it at 25, it wasn’t long beforfe I saw the ultra importance of a good benefits package, including healthcare and retirement.
  • I keep thinking that I’m forgetting something, and I just realized what it was, the most important reason of all:  A job can give you the opportunity to use some of your God-given gifts and live a more fulfilling life. More on this one later.

I can’t remember who said that most people die with their music still in them (Oliver Wendell Holmes maybe??), but I hope you’re not going to be one of them  Think long and hard about your career choice and save yourself a lot of grief.