Engage for Better Results

“Somewhere there’s a score being kept, so you have an obligation to live life as well as you can, be as engaged as you can.” ~Bill Murray

Secret confession time: I adore Bill Murray. Have since the 70s. From what I see from his public persona and his acting, he’s living life the right way. And this quote tells me he “gets it”.

One of the saddest parts of my job is watching students sit in class, totally disengaged with what is happening around them. I never understand how they can stand to waste time like that. They get up, schlep in to school and are there in body, but then they mentally check out. Why? Nothing good can come of this.

I agree with Murray that there is an obligation to be fully engaged in life. We were put here for a reason, and that reason is not to take up space.

Engage! Participate! Be really “there, wherever that there is at the time.

This is one of the secrets not only of professional success, but of a good quality of life, as well. Of course, I don’t measure quality of life in monetary terms, but in satisfaction and joy. Being engaged adds immeasurably to both.

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A Home Truth

“People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people’s families. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.”      ~ Douglas Coupland from All Families are Psychotic

I remember reading this novel, seeing this line, and thinking, “Bingo!”  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an embarrassing family member or six, and when we have friends who are worried about us meeting “those” relatives, none of us even bats an eye, right?  We may not like the crazy family member, but we don’t break up friendships over it, nor do we judge our friends.

But our own families can send us into paroxysms of shame. I remember as a teen being dreadfully embarrassed by my grandmother, who was like no one else’s grandmother. She was opinionated, colorful, artistic, political and an extremely talented singer who might just break into song. People would stare at her in church during hymn singing because it was just so beautiful. But when I was a child, all I saw was the staring.

Just the type of older women young adult women aspire to be. But as a teen who wanted to fit in with other teens? Why couldn’t I have a nice, sedate, quiet grandmother like everyone else?

Honestly? None of my friends judged me because of her, and frankly, many of my friends still speak of her with warmth and affection. And those who did judge her and me for being “weird”? Thankfully, they are the type of people I no longer give a toss about. and have little reason to interact with.

Many people spend a lot of time worrying about how people will view their families. Frankly, I’ve given up caring. Like all families, my family is a collection of very different people. Some are “out there;” some are strait-laced; many are just regular folks; most have quirks. But I always say when shaking a family tree, you’re going to loosen some nuts. It’s all good.

And like most who have extended families, I have some very, very, bad people in the tree. I don’t talk to them. I don’t interact with them (most are dead now anyway). But would I be horrified to learn that a friend had a criminal in the family? No.

All this to say we need to relax when it comes to our families. Remember that in most cases, the only one that is horrified is you. And if your friends are horrified? Think about getting new friends.

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It’s Not the Work; It’s the Worry

“Work is healthy, you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is rust upon the blade.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in The Teachers’ Institute, Vol. 18, No. 1 (September 1895)

I’m one of those people who works on weekends–that’s when the majority of my grading gets done. So work is on my mind today. I saw this quote, and it resonated greatly.

I do love my job, and even the grading doesn’t bother me overly much. I’d rather have fewer classes or the same number of classes with fewer students, and that’s where the worry comes in.

Am I spending enough time on each student’s paper? Will I get it done in time? Will I have time to spend with my son? Will I have time to sleep? Probably similar questions to what others have.

And like all positions, I worry about work related things that have nothing to do with my job.  And Beecher is right. It’s the worry, that’s getting to me. That’s what causes the stress, and this is true for so many of us.

I try not to let the stress bother me, but of course it does. I can feel it. I tell myself it’s temporary, and I know it is, but it’s no fun.

So how do we remove stress from work? I have ideas on a national scale, but this is not the blog for that. Mini-meditations, stretching and breathing help me when I remember to do them.

No real answers today, but just some thoughts to ponder.  Enjoy the weekend!

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Stocking the Attic

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.”~ Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet

I always grin when I read this passage in one of my favorite Holmes stories. It’s so Sherlockian! 

But really, it’s very good advice. I see a worrying trend in our society. We fill our brains with lots of information–we know intimate details of celebrities’ lives; thanks to social media, we can follow the minutiae of our friends’ lives. The 24/7 news cycle needs to be filled, so filled it is with information that becomes “news” but really isn’t all that important on a world scale.  But all of this information is freely available, so we read and absorb it, stocking our attics with junk lumber.

I am not immune to this. Instead of reading something useful and accumulating knowledge that will enrich my life, I get sucked into entertaining but ultimately useless web sites. Does it really matter which Lord of the Rings character I am? And do I need to see the 21 dogs that don’t realize how big they are?

Harmless entertainment, I know. But there have been long, hard days when I’ve planned to unwind with a novel for an hour or so, but then I start clicking through “for a minute” and an hour later, it’s bedtime, I haven’t read, and I feel rather queasy.

I am aware of the problem, so I do try to limit it.  But there are many who don’t. I see this all the time at work, of course. I see far too many students who have stocked their attic with useless bits of furniture and useless odds and ends.

So maybe it would be a good idea to remember Sherlock’s pronouncement the next time we have a choice about what to stock in our attic. Is this something worth storing or is it something we should leave on the curb?


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Happy Walpurgis Night!

Heaven smiles in bright spring evenings,
sun kissed life in the forest and lake.

(Himlen ler i vårens ljusa kvällar,
solen kysser liv i skog och sjö.)

~From the traditional Valborg song Vintern Rasat (“The winter has fallen”)

When I lived in Sweden, I learned to celebrate Valborgsmässoafton, or as it’s known in Germany, Walpurgisnacht, or in English, Walpurgis Night. It’s not something most Americans even know of, but I’m sure somewhere tonight people in the US will be celebrating.

Technically it’s the night before St. Walpurga’s feast day. But there’s more to it than that.

Tradition tells us that this is the night all the witches flew back to the Brocken, the highest peak in the Hartz Mountains. With all those witches flying about, there was a need for big bonfires to scare them away.

This was also considered the start of spring when animals were let out to graze, so the bonfires actually kept away much more mundane predators.

I have fond memories of Swedish friends inviting us for a barbeque before going to the community bonfire. After a long Swedish winter, spring is most welcome! It’s besides the fact that most of the barbeques and bonfires I attended took place with snow in evidence!

But spring is coming! Tomorrow is May Day!  Today’s weather is reminding me of those days in Sweden, but brighter days are coming.




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Hurry. Hurry

“Ther nis no werkman, whatsoevere he be,
That may bothe werke wel and hastily.” ~ Geoffrey Chaucer from “The Merchant’s Tale”

Deadlines loom. I’m rushing, rushing, rushing. Making careless errors, as we all do!

Thought I’d share this wisdom from my friend Chaucer so perhaps others will do as I say and not as I do!

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Why Patience is Good

“We shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, White House Speech, 11 April 1865

What a perfect example of what happens when we lack patience.  It reminded me of childhood gardening. Allowing children to plant carrots is a lesson in patience! How much of the crop was lost to impatient fingers “checking” to see if they are ready?

Such a homey, resonant example of the need for patience. What makes this even more touching is that the speech it comes from was given two days after Lee surrendered to Grant, ending a long and bloody Civil War in America. If there was ever a time for patience and healing, that was it.

All of a sudden, the picture of the smashed eggs takes on a bit more poignancy..

But patience, patience, one of the hardest things to master for those who don’t have it. But try we must lest we spend our life surrounded by smashed eggs and stunted carrots.

Visualization helps me. When I find my patience running thin, I step back, close my eyes, breathe and go to my “happy place” for a moment.  It’s taken practice just to do that effectively. But now I’m wondering if instead of checking out for a moment, I just see a plate of smashed eggs–an image that can be both violent or funny depending on the circumstances.

If my goal is the fowl, I mustn’t, mustn’t smash the eggs or all will be in vain.

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April Showers

I’m just going to let Langston Hughes say it all today.  This is one of his poems:

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

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The Important Thing to Learn

“He that knew all that ever Learning writ,
Knew only this – that he knew nothing yet.” ~ Aphra Behn in The Emperor of the Moon, Act III, sc. iii

Teaching and learning are on my mind today, so a thought on the topic from my role model Behn.

The path is so long and rocky. And that’s all I have to say today!

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Embrace Confidence!

“As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” ~ William Hazlitt in Characteristics

One of the biggest problems I see in students is lack of confidence. So many talented, bright, hard working students think they aren’t good enough. And because of this, they do fail.

Their hearts fail them at the last minute, and they panic. Then an exam is failed. A paper goes off into nonsense.

Often when I asked what happened, the students will tell me they panicked and “blanked”. But as I listen to them, I realize the reason for the panic–they don’t think they are good enough. They also don’t think they are worth the success. No confidence.

I have no easy answers for this one. I don’t know how to help people build their confidence. For myself, I usually look at the fact that I’ve done something similar before, and that makes it easier to do it this time.

I’m also a cantankerous git, and every time someone told me I wasn’t capable of doing something, I worked harder out of sheer spite. My high school guidance counselor told me I wouldn’t get into my first choice college. Did it. Early admissions, too. MA advisor told me I wouldn’t get accepted to my first two choices for a PhD program. Got accepted to both. In fact, I only applied to the two. It was what I wanted or nothing. Doctor told me I couldn’t have a child. Ask my son what he thinks about that statement (okay, even I call that one a miracle, but I do think sheer stubborn will never let me accept the diagnosis).

When I told my college professor that I thought, maybe, some day I’d like to teach at a college, he literally laughed in my face and said, “You?” Six years later I stepped into a classroom. Twenty-five years on, I’m an award winning teacher.

These people in my life weren’t being mean or cruel. They were giving their honest opinion. (Maybe that last example bordered on mean.)

So I worked hard, and I prayed. That’s the secret to my confidence back then. Now, I know I know what I’m doing. I’ve found age a wonderful thing on many levels. That’s one thing my students lack. of course, but if they don’t start having confidence now, they will never be able to gain the experience to enjoy it in old age.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your hard work. Believe in your determination.

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