Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tell Him, Tell Her, Tell Them

Good Sunday evening.

Consider yourself fortunate to be reading this. I am in the middle of reading a book I am thoroughly enjoying.  A large part of me wanted to hang a Gone Reading sign on the blog today & finish reading the book instead of typing a blog, but because I strive to be consistent & saw this as an opportunity to exercise the self-discipline I so often lack, well, I put the book aside for a few minutes.

I do hope you enjoy this blog or find it mildly amusing or inspiring or something other than a total waste of time because as I've mentioned, I gave up precious reading time to write it. I don't usually put any kind of pressure on you as a reader, but the book I am not reading while I am writing is thus far (fingers crossed) an extremely enjoyable read (but really it is fine if you get nothing from what I've written because I need to purge some things before we begin yet another grueling five-day school week). It's a pretty safe bet you'll read more about this book at a later date once I've finished reading it; I don't want to delve into it today because I don't know how it ends & also out of respect for the book club members who've yet to read it. The title, if you're considering picking it up, is Cancel the Wedding; its author is Carolyn Dingman.

I have to say this book came into my life at the perfect moment. It is pure, glorious, escapist fiction, & I need the escape at the moment. Between Republicans on Capitol Hill spending other people's money like drunken Democrats & the media slobbering all over the North Korean "cheerleaders" at the Olympics while insisting Donald Trump is just like Hitler, I cannot confront reality right now without a little fiction to buffer the stupid. I don't love Trump, but you know on a scale of one to Hitler, Trump ranks considerably lower than the demonic, murderous North Korean regime.

I am also thankful for the fiction in my life right now because the week ahead will be a hectic one for us. I'm not going to photograph my planner & share all the details with you, but suffice it to say we've got some extracurricular happenings coming up that I won't be sad to see behind me when Friday night rolls around & I tuck myself in the bed for the long weekend (potential title of next week's blog: Why President's Day is Awesome: A teacher explores the depths of Monday despair). 

A handful of things inspired what's on my mind at the moment. The aforementioned book, Cancel the Wedding, a few memories that have shifted to the forefront of my mind, a duet Barbara Streisand & Celine Dion sing, & a blog I wrote a few years ago are fueling today's thought train. So you know, buckle up.

I'm going to invert things today & say what I want to say first rather than leading you through a winding linguistic maze that leaves us both dizzy & indifferent to whatever my original point was. So here it goes: Tell people the things you want to tell them.

A few years ago I wrote a blog titled Grief That Does Not Speak. You can click here if you'd like to read it. The blog was inspired by the book book club was reading at the time, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. Long title, I know, but it's a great read. There's a film coming out later this year, so if you haven't read this book, do that now so you can see the film later this spring.

The blog discusses the importance of giving voice to our feelings, specifically grief in this case. I never know who reads a blog. Trey usually makes a few comments, my mom usually gives me a Like on Facebook, but beyond that, while I know about how many people read a blog thanks to a variety of statistics blogspot (the host site) gives me, I don't know who those statistics represent or what readers thought or why they continue to take the time to read.

I distinctly remember a friend commenting on the particular blog I've linked to above; she knows grief, it is her constant companion, & she said, "Thank you for writing this." Her comment is seared in my memory. I believe I replied with, "You're welcome," but her simple Thank you stayed with me for a long time, obviously. It encouraged me tremendously that I was able to encourage her, to put into words for her the importance of verbalizing grief, because I know she is daily laden with grief I only see glimpses of via social media.

There is a young man who currently has a part-time job sacking groceries at a local grocery store. His name is David. I think I've told you bits & pieces about David over the years. He used to attend Delta Community College. My first-day routine was always the same. On the first day of classes each semester, I called roll. I then asked if there was anyone present whose name I did not call. I was always so, so hopeful no one raised a hand. I met David when he raised his hand. After I dismissed the other students, I spent half an hour with David visiting various offices on campus to discover why David thought he was enrolled in my class when he in fact was not.

We eventually discovered David's schedule had been dropped for non-payment, which is what I suspected. I escorted David to the Financial Aid office so they could sort through the issue. A few days later, he was standing outside my classroom door with an Add slip. While he was working out his payment plan, all of the classes he'd originally scheduled had filled up. He asked me if I would sign an Add slip that would give the registrar permission to overload the section of my speech class he needed, a time slot that would allow him to continue his part-time job. I gladly signed the slip. I knew a handful of students would soon drop the class, leaving me with a manageable number in the class & the added bonus of a student like David, a young man who clearly was desperate to attend college.

As expected, he was a joy throughout the semester. Thank you was always on his lips. I don't frequent the grocery store where he currently works, but I drop in from time to time for bananas or more coffee & admittedly to say Hi to David if he's working. He's a senior at ULM now.

Last fall I was at home one Friday night. I got a text that said, "I love it. It's perfect." For some context: an AP student had finished reading The Awakening. It's a tricky book to teach because you don't want to spill the beans until they've read the ending for themselves, yet you have to discuss the foreshadowing. I mean if you pay attention to what you're reading, the ending should not be a great surprise. I read the text & smiled & smiled & said (yes, probably aloud), It is! It is perfect! I knew you'd love it! Admittedly I was also on a little high because at least one of my AP students was finishing the The Awakening on a Friday night. Kate Chopin would be so proud of me.

When given a lot of latitude in the classroom in terms of what to ask students to read, a teacher feels both empowered & also terrified. I love The Awakening. It was assigned to me as a high school student, it is unquestionably a book of literary merit, but I wasn't sure about teaching it. I like the story, but probably more than anything I appreciate the linguistic masterpiece Chopin weaves. There is a musical quality to her writing; as I read The Awakening there is someone pounding away on the piano in the back of my mind (sometimes a piano, sometimes a violin, depending on the scene).

The text I received stands out in my mind in the same way my friend's Thank you for writing this does. It was enough to know one person benefited, one person walked away somehow better, somehow more enlightened, than they were before they read the blog I wrote, or read the once-banned novel by Kate Chopin I assigned.

I only got the validation I needed because they spoke up. I have penned entire letters (emails) to people in my head, but these thoughts rarely have a life outside my head. I need to heed my own advice & speak up when there is something positive on the tip of my tongue. Via social media, I watch perpetual drama unfold in the lives of people I know - - people nursing a sick child or parent, people navigating a newborn for the first time, people wrestling with their own health & mortality. Rarely do I offer the words that are on my heart; I should do that more often. It is wonderful to pray for someone. It is perhaps more helpful if you pray for them and tell them you are doing so.

You might make someone's day just by saying Thank you, or I understand. You might give them encouragement they need to keep plugging away in a situation where no one offers a Thank you. You might ease their mind about a decision they've made.

I was a little nervous about blasting news of my departure from the high school classroom via this blog. Ultimately it is my decision, obviously, & it was made in consultation with Trey & others who'll be directly impacted by it, but you know you still don't want others to hate you or think you're making a terrible mistake. Thank you to those who've said, I understand.

Thank you, again, for saying I enjoyed your book. That is the linguistic equivalent of handing me one million dollars. Seriously. Thank you to those who read a blog in which I reference Twilight (a habit of mine) & stop me in the hall at school or at church & say, I love Twilight, too, & I love Edward.

Words can encourage. Words can affirm. Words can soothe. Words can empower. Words can build friendship. Words can build community. Words are worth nothing, however, if you don't utter them. Let someone know they are not a one-man army. Type the encouraging note with the rapidity with which you respond to someone who has angered you online. Say Thank you as readily as you snap at your kids. If you don't know what to say, just say, I see you. I hear you. I know you're in pain, & I am sorry. If you can empathize, say, I have been there. It gets better. I've said that to a handful of mothers with newly diagnosed diabetic children; I've said that online to women who are otherwise total strangers to me, but they are walking a path I walked, & I remember how scary it was & how much I needed people who'd been there to tell me it would get better.

I love John Mayer's Say, a snippet of which is quoted above. So often romance novels (such as the one I shall return to shortly) & songs make use of the human tendency to withhold that which we should verbalize. Right now I am in Angst Land in the book I am reading. Things are going well for the couple with whom I have fallen in love, but my dear protagonist isn't being honest with a handful of people in her life, & her dishonesty is certain to blow up in her face (& shatter my heart).

This is why Streisand's duet with Celine is on my mind. Have you heard this song? It's been a long time since I've listened to it, but the ladies repeatedly croon Tell him. Tell him this, tell him that, blah blah blah, TELL HIM. Tell him you love him. Tell him you haven't been honest with him about some things because you only just realized you are engaged to a man you don't love.

Whew. Anyway, it's a good book, & I think I am done here & will now return to it.

I hope you have a great week & an equally wonderful Valentine's Day. If you aren't going to read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society I highly recommend Cancel the Wedding (assuming the ending doesn't crush my soul) or I offer as another alternative a book titled Dear Miss Moreau that I promise features a happy ending, some riveting love letters, & two leads who love words & say all the things.


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