Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In the Moment

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." (Viktor Frankl)

This spring, I'm teaching a positive psychology course. I first taught it two years ago, and haven't had the opportunity to teach it since. While it'd be easy to pull out the old syllabus, dust it off, and add a few updates, I rarely do things the easy way.

The truth is, I will most likely use the same structure and a lot of the same materials, but I also want to change things up a little. In the process of looking into new materials, I came across the quote at the top of this post.

I remember reading it before and liking it. Now, however, when worry is a constant companion, triggering immediate and often impatient responses to even small setbacks, it seems really important. 

Pausing is essential. Taking the time to breathe, to assess, to be mindful of where we are in the moment pays dividends much larger than the time or effort expended in the pause. But, when we're tired and overwhelmed, our natural inclination is to keep powering forward, checking things off the list and collapsing at the end of the day with a new list to tackle tomorrow.

I've written about pausing and self-care before, but finding this quote again in the context of our current circumstances put a slightly new spin on it. Thinking about the space between stimulus and response reminded me that it's in those small moments -- those milliseconds -- that we can take charge of our responses, even when so much else feels out of our control. And, when we do that, the echoes can be endless.

And this has the potential to be a very positive thing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Zooming Along

Pexel via Pixabay

Last Thursday, I wore shorts and flip flops to class. Okay, it was a Zoom class, I didn't leave my house, and I was appropriately attired from the waist up, but still.  

Shorts and flip flops? In October? 

Without getting into climate change and the ridiculousness of 79 degree weather in the northeastern US in October, let's just say it was a fringe benefit of this crazy semester.

With four weeks remaining in the semester and everyone on Zoom overload, it's nice to focus on the benefits of Zoom days in my current hybrid learning situation.

  • The aforementioned easy wardrobe. I like getting dressed for work on the days I go to campus, but Zoom days are a nice, easy (not to mention comfortable) change of pace.
  • No commute, which means I can sleep a little later, get a little more prep work in before class and not only have a beverage during class, but even refill my iced tea between classes
  • Everyone in the same place -- kinda. I thought I wanted to go fully online, but I do really enjoy getting to see my students in person. Still, I've grown rather fond of our our Zoom days, when I can see all their faces in one place.
  • Breakout rooms. I love how easy it is to assign -- and re-assign -- people to small groups. We spent one whole class doing musical breakout rooms, re-convening briefly in between to synthesize material. It was lively, it was fun and we got to remind ourselves how to have actual conversations, even if they were online. 
October weather has returned to Central Pennsylvania norms, so today's outfit was leggings, a flowy blouse and a cardigan. I'm pretty sure my shorts days are behind me but I haven't ruled out discovering something new on Zoom.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday Feature: Grit

One Friday at the beginning of the month, I duly wrote my Friday Feature and then proceeded to post it on the wrong page, something I didn't notice until last weekend. Here's the missing piece, which I am determined to share. 

This week, I assigned my freshmen Angela Duckworth's TED Talk on grit. This morning, as I got ready to teach, I took the grit test in her book and discovered what I usually do. According to the test, I'm much less gritty than I thought. As a matter of fact, 70% of test takers are grittier than I am.

This bugged me a bit, and also seemed at odds with what I believe to be true about me. Trust me, there are plenty of low scores I'd accept without argument. Athletic ability. Advanced mathematical concepts. Theoretical physics.

But grit? Duckworth defines it as passion + perseverance, both things I think I have at least an average amount of.

So, I went back and looked at the items where I'd rated myself low, and all of them had to do with sticking to one stated purpose. No deviation. Pushing forward to meet that goal no matter what. 

And that's not me. 

I set goals, and I reach them. But I also value new roads and directions that open up along the way. Sometimes I take them, sometimes I don't but, when I do, I'm usually glad I did. The other day, for example, I was grading papers when a friend I haven't spoken with in ages called me. I dropped everything and settled in for a chat. 

Gritty? No. But I haven't a tinge of regret.

All of this got me thinking about the relationship between creativity and grit. As it turned out, I was on to something. 

Creativity and grit often don't go together. There's a level of openness necessary to creative pursuits that can make grit counterproductive. Sure, it's important to put in the time, to sit down and just do it, but what we end up doing might not be what we thought we were going to do when we sat down.

And that's not always a bad thing. It can lead a character down a new path, break us out of a creative rut, or lead to a whole new piece of writing, artwork or music. 

I have tremendous respect for Angela Duckworth's work, and I certainly think there are aspects of grit that are key to success.

But, as is so often the case, it's complicated.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Back to Class

Tumisu via Pixabay
Today, I spent some time in the classroom. That doesn't sound like such a big deal for an educator but this particular educator has spent the past few Wednesdays on Zoom listening to student presentations. It was kind of nice to eliminate travel time and I was proud of the work my freshman presenters were doing.

 It wasn't until this past Monday that I felt weary of the online life as I headed for my computer at home for the usual Monday Zoom sessions. The timing was perfect; it was the last day of presentations.

I was back in the classroom yesterday, but today's classes were different. I'd been seeing my Tuesday/Thursday class in person, one half at a time, even during my recent Zoom run and it wasn't until today that I realized how much I missed having that opportunity lately with my MWF groups.

I'm sure this all sounds rather mundane but it's one of those little things that's worth appreciating in a semester that's been weird and, quite honestly, a bit scary. If you'd asked me in August I'd have told you that I preferred a fully online semester to one where desks are six feet apart, masks are required and hand sanitizer and cleaning products grace every classroom. But, that wasn't an option, so it was time to make the best of things.

Time in the classroom now in nos way resembles anything I've ever known but, as it turns out, I'm still  glad to be there. One of my fears (on the low end of the spectrum) was that I wouldn't be able to learn the names of students I saw in person only in masks.

And today proved that I can, I did, and I have. Those unmasked Zoom sessions probably helped (even if it took me longer than usual). I'm grateful for every opportunity to socially distance and still teach, but there's still something special about being in a classroom, even now.


Monday, October 19, 2020

A Writing Connection

skeeze via Pixabay

Last Saturday, my writing accountability partner and I met for the first time in more than six months. We met over Zoom (of course), after briefly debating the merits of Zoom over FaceTime, and it was wonderful! We did no actual writing this time -- just lots of catching up and sharing of goals -- much as my critique group did the first time we met (via Zoom) after our COVID-driven hiatus.

You'd think that writing would be a lonely and competitive profession and I suppose it can be, but my experience has been very different. More than two decades ago, my writing mentor invited me to a critique group meeting. I resisted at first but, once I started going...well, I've been going ever since. From there, I discovered Pennwriters and now, of course, there's social media. If we choose whom we follow carefully, we can end up extending our network of colleagues in a very positive and supportive way. 

And my writing accountability partner? Once upon a time, we had the same agent...and we live in the same geographical area. In the end, it was a Starbucks connection that fostered the writing accountability partnership. We started meeting to talk writing, then to actual do writing and nudge each other forward in our projects. A shared love for writing, despite its ups and downs, has grown into a cherished friendship.

It's really easy to find negativity but one thing the writing community has taught me is that, if you look for it, it's easy to find support, too.

And that's definitely something we all can use right now.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Feature: Don't Let "Murder Hornets" Bug You

I don't usually write -- or read -- about insects. I'm just not that interested and, to be honest, I'm a little creeped out as well. But, when I saw the "Don't Buy the 'Murder Hornet' Hype" headline, I had to check it out.

I'm glad I did. 

In a time when new worries seem to multiply faster than rabbits (See what I did? I went for cute and furry instead of six-legged and creepy), it's always nice to be able to shed a little light on misinformation that can get under our skin and leave us in a tizzy.

So, what's the truth about these insects?

Yes, they're here (a small number of them in Washington state), but their "real name" is Asian Giant Hornets. "Murder" implies not only an intent they don't have, but an unlikely outcome as well.

No, I don't want to run across them.

Yes they sting. But, frankly, they're just not that into us. 

As with many insects, if we don't bug them, they won't bug us. And, amazingly enough, entomologists speak fondly of them, while still encouraging us to give them a wide berth. Their stingers (the hornets, not the entomologists) can penetrate thick clothing and they don't fall out, so they can live to sting again . But, unless you're allergic to insect stings, you'll live to swat at them again, too.

But I wouldn't advise it. 

While I'm unlikely to wax poetic about these (or any other) insects, I am nevertheless happy to know that the name Asian Giant Hornet is both descriptive and accurate while the moniker "murder hornet" is not.

One less thing to worry about. Even if you live in Washington. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dishing on the Porch Swing

Hello, readers! I thought I had one more installment of the first draft of the Casting the First Stone sequel to share with you but, when I went over the remaining pages, they were pretty unimpressive. So, instead, I've invited Jim's sister Nicoletta to the porch swing to dish about brothers, mothers and why Jim's not really a bad guy.

Bets: Not really a bad guy? You've got be kidding me!

Marita: Shh! Bets --

Bets: Aw, c'mon Ri-Ri! Good guys don't just walk out when the test stick turns positive.

Marita: Yeah, but...(she nods toward first Nicoletta, then Angel)

Nicoletta: Oh, I'm right there with you. But that was all Mama.

Bets: No offense, but if he's old enough to do the deed....

Marita: Have you met Jim's mother? She's--

Nicoletta: "Let me finish that for you. A force to be reckoned with. Don't get me wrong, she's my mother and I love her, but she's not a warm-and-fuzzy, milk-and-cookies kind of parent. She makes the law and if you live in her house, you abide by it. She had big plans for Jimmy."

Marita: (chuckles) It's funny to hear you refer to him as "Jimmy." Angel, do you ever call him that?

Angel: (shakes her head) I've only ever known him as Jim. But you're right about the plans, Nicoletta. Jim told me all about it when we dating.

Nicoletta: My brother is the only boy in an Italian household. He was raised to be a prince. 

Angel: Didn't that bother you and Alessi?

Nicoletta: Sometimes. But we also had less pressure than he did. We had to help out at the restaurant -- we all did -- but at home, the rules were very traditionally male and female. There was never a thought of Alessi or me going to college, unless there was money left over after Jimmy made his choice. 

Bets: That's so unfair!

Nicoletta: (shrugs) I always wanted a husband and babies. School was never my thing. I was too outspoken for our private Christian school --

Marita: I can identify with that!

Nicoletta: Not that it stopped me. But I wanted to be somewhere where I could be myself and be in charge. Like Mama, only softer.

Bets: What would your brother have done if your mother --

Marita: Stop! I don't want to know.

Nicoletta: I couldn't tell you if I wanted to -- I really don't know. I know Jimmy was scared but I only ever heard fragments of discussion  -- mostly Mama yelling. I don't know whether he was scared because you were pregnant or just scared of Mama. I don't think Mama gave him a chance to have any feelings about it. 

Angel: But you're so different! I mean, I've seen you with your kids. You are the milk-and-cookies mom.

Nicoletta: But I'm also the disciplinarian -- just like how I grew up. I have Mama's sass and Dad's ability to keep the peace. It's a good combination most days, honed by working as a waitress. I know just how far I can go before I cross a line -- most of the time.

Bets: You're on the right porch swing!

Angel: So, tell me. I'm surrounded by moms. What advice do you have for me?

Nicoletta: Spare the rod -- and make sure Jimmy does, too. Mama was quick to smack or swat. Didn't shut me up, but it definitely kept Alessi in her shell. She's still afraid to speak up about anything.

Angel: I can't even imagine --

Marita: Me either. But Charli has always been so easy. My mother had the icy glare.

Bets: Oh, don't lie. You have the evil eye down.

Marita: Yep. But I've never raised a hand to Charli. My voice plenty of times....

Nicoletta: Angel, you'll find your way, and you'll be just fine. You are so full of love. Just make sure you draw the line and don't let that little girl wrap you around her finger. 

Angel: Marita, you and Charli seem to be more like friends than mother and daughter.

Marita: It's a fine line. A lot of that is because I was not much more than a kid when I had her. But my father gave me the same advice Nicoletta just gave you -- make sure she knows where the line is. 

Bets: If that advice had come from Rosemarie --

Marita: Can you imagine? 

Bets: Sounds like you and Nicoletta had the same goal -- not to be your mothers.

Angel: Something else we have in common. But that's a story for another time.