Month: December 2015

HEALTH CARE

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In the last few weeks I have had occasion to make use of health care facilities and people to an incredible degree—even for someone in his or her eighth decade! I am here to deliver a huge THANK YOU to those folks and to the system in general.

First of all, as many of you know, I wear a prosthesis (because I lost my right hand after being hit by car when I was eight years old). Occasionally the thing just wears out and must be replaced. The most recent replacement was something of a struggle for Bob, the prosthetist at Hanger in Carson City, but he diligently kept at it, and I now have a device that may well serve me for the rest of my life.

I have also been in physical therapy in an effort to stave off knee surgery and more back surgery. The therapists at Carson Physical Therapy are absolutely wonderful—tough, mind you, but ever-so-helpful. Marty, I adore you!

At the moment, I am especially appreciative of my primary care doctor, Cara Fox of Carson Medical Group, whose attention to detail caught a potential problem in a routine CAT-scan: an aneurysm in my brain. The aneurysm was dealt with successfully at Renown Hospital in Reno where Dr. Rajesh Rangaswamy performed what he assured me was for him a routine procedure, but seemed absolutely miraculous to me. I am certain he forestalled a possible stroke.

Sometimes one hears of medical people who have become jaded and contemptuous of the public they must deal with. I have seen absolutely nothing resembling such an attitude. To a person, I have been treated with kindness and understanding—and even given credit for a degree of intelligence in being able to comprehend what they were doing.

Now, the best thing about all this—besides the wonderful people, that is? Medicare and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan are picking up the tab. I have precisely the sort of coverage that the original writers of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) must have intended. (I think it is also the sort of coverage that members of Congress have.) I know my situation is somewhat unique, that not everyone is so lucky. And I think that is really sad.

Whether you live or die in America should not be dependent on the amount of money you can fork over . . .

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‘TIS THE SEASON . . .

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Merry Christmas!

Season’s Greetings!

Happy Holidays!

So long as the sentiment is sincere—or even merely casually polite—what possible difference can the phrasing make in how a speaker projects his or her good wishes to another? This made-up controversy over who says what how is just that: made up. Frankly, the controversy, which comes largely from the so-called Christian right, is slightly disgusting. So-called because the attitude really is not very “Christian” at all, stemming as it does from petty intolerance.

I was vastly amused by one of these types who posted on Facebook—in a militantly belligerent tone—something to the effect that he or she “would continue to show proper religious devotion by taking care always to use the phrase ‘Merry Christmas.’” OK. Can’t fault that. ‘Tis the speaker’s prerogative. But the message was accompanied by an image of an elaborately decorated fir tree—a seasonal tradition that has its roots in a decidedly pagan celebration of the winter equinox!

That made-up controversy has a rather insidious side to it: It diverts attention away from serious issues such the homeless coping with cold; millions of American children (not to mention countless others) who go to bed every night hungry; the thousands of folks who are having a less-than-merry holiday season because they have lost a loved one in a totally senseless shooting; and, of course, the ever-present threat of terrorism.

This made-up controversy is also disgusting because it seems to come from people who feel they have to make an ostentatious show of their religious fervor. You know the types: those who make a great production of praying in strictly secular settings. I doubt Jesus cares very much about who wins a high school football game! Nor do I think He pays that showy public display any more attention than He does a quiet, private prayer!

Regardless of how you might wish it phrased, may I wish you all the joys and hopes of the season? (My personal favorite is “Happy Holidays” because I love the alliteration and because it is so inclusive of all our winter holidays.)

ON BEING AN OUTCAST

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An image recently appeared on my Facebook “Home” page that showed two men in a passionate kiss. The accompanying message was something like “Post this on your timeline and see how many people unfriend you.” I was not offended by the photo, but I was offended by the brazen “in your face” attitude of whoever posted it!

Though I am perfectly willing to discuss such things, I did not share that post because I saw no reason to draw any of my friends into a discussion in which they would be comfortable if they do not share my views of the LGBT community.

They have their opinions. I have mine.

I like to think mine have evolved over the years from rejection and contempt (born of ignorance, I might add) to tolerance and acceptance. I grew up in an environment where people simply did not talk about homosexuality openly. I barely knew it existed before I went away to college. (Yes. I know that statement seems utterly incredible seen from the perspective of the 21st Century.) Even then—and still later—I held the view that “those people” were the way they were because they just wanted to be. They could change, but they liked being on the outside, liked being able to tell society to go to hell, much as the hippies were doing.

Knowledge—some from books and magazines, some from personal acquaintances—has made me much sympathetic to the plight of LGBT people in our society. I use the word plight deliberately, for it is sad, and awkward, and often downright dangerous to go against the norms of society. The situation is especially poignant because the person had no choice from the get-go. DNA can be very demanding.

And there is pain—yes, very real, very debilitating PAIN—that extends beyond the one dealing with his or her own sexuality. Imagine as someone in your early teens discovering that you are a person your peers will make fun of, that you will be shut out of all the fun activities of growing up. You’d try to hide it—right? You’d become an introvert, or maybe, in denial, you’d become a gay-basher, rejecting your own inner self. Talk about low self-esteem! Nowadays (thank goodness) young people can, in many instances, be more open. Some schools even recognize the existence of LGBT youth in their midst and offer help.

Then, imagine that you are the parent or sibling of that young person. How do you react to people making disparaging remarks or asking pointed questions about your child, your brother or your sister? Do you hang your head and try to ignore the issue? Do you blame the son or daughter or sibling and shout nasty things about their being able to change if they’d only try? Or—worse—do you reject that person you are supposed to love and throw him or her out of your life?

The more compassionate family members will, of course, seek help, join support groups to help them understand. Unfortunately, many young people, already struggling with that monumental issue of sexuality itself (you know: that issue that causes all of us such turmoil) meet with rejection when their own proclivities become known. My heart goes out to them in their struggle. (See? I have evolved.)

So, no. I am not “sharing” that photo to satisfy someone’s smug self-righteousness and perhaps reopen only barely healing wounds.

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

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As I look back on a teaching career that lasted nearly 40 years, I see many things I did right—and a many more that could have done with some improvement (or elimination). Bear in mind that I worked entirely with secondary students. Here are some random observations that might or might not prove useful to someone just starting out today. (God help you! I and others like me had it a lot easier than you will/are.)

LESSON PLANS are that: plans. And plans change. Sometimes a spontaneous “teaching moment” occurs and you’d be a fool to lose it just because it does not fit the plan of the day. You are scheduled to teach “The Masque of the Red Death” but the first snowfall of the season has just occurred? Switch to Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Or channel the excitement that a major change in the weather always brings to the classroom by having students write about their own experiences/memories. Share them. Poe will still be there.

DISCIPLINE is always a major concern with new teachers. We shake in our boots at the thought of losing control. The most effective discipline technique I know of is this: Keep students busy with meaningful work. The key word there is meaningful. If you think “busy work” will keep them occupied, you are in for a sad struggle. Students will see right through that in a heartbeat! And, no, I am not suggesting that all drill work (as in using the German articles—der, die, das—in a number of phrases) is meaningless. Planning effective activities takes more work on the part of the teacher. It is much harder to come up with hypothetical cases for mock debates when studying the Bill of Rights than it is to “answer question 2, 3, 5, 11, and 17 at the end of the chapter.” But your students will probably learn more.

And when you do encounter a fractious student? Trust me, it truly is when, not if! Use the big guns—counselors or the principal—as a last resort. Try reasoning with the little ba—uh—student first. But do remember to have him or her seated. I learned the hard way that it is very difficult to chastise someone when you have to crane your neck to look up at him!

BUY THE YEARBOOKS at least every other year. I kick myself at least twice a week for not having done this more consistently. I see something on Facebook or get an email out of the blue and I want to see who that person was in my previous life. Alas . . . Buy the yearbooks.

There’s more. Much more.

Maybe I’ll write a book someday . . .

THE CRAFT OF WRITING

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Some people seem to think a great novel or painting or piece of music just springs fully developed out of the artist’s head like Athena in full armor from the head of Zeus. Nor do those make any distinction between the works of, say, William Faulkner and Jane Austen and those of John D. MacDonald and Nora Roberts.

For years I had the occasional student (or parent) who accused me of being an intellectual snob because I refused to teach the books they were enjoying so much on their own. I think I finally did convince some of them (by no means all of them!) that, indeed, there are many kinds of novels available to us and we may enjoy all of them for what are and for the pleasure they give us, either momentarily or repeatedly. (I always tried to avoid terms like levels of appreciation or meaning.)

Meanwhile, I continued to teach works that merited the class time for discussion and the students’ time and effort in writing papers delineating their own views of a given text. Even as I was teaching Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare, I would go home and read Georgette Heyer. And I make no apology for what may seem a double standard (if not hypocrisy!). I think occasionally we need to just lose ourselves in pure entertainment. As Francis Bacon said before the novel as we know it was even invented: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested . . .”

Nor do I make any apology for the fact that the books I write offer only a few hours of entertainments. (I would like to write a book like The Scarlet Letter or For Whom the Bell Tolls, but so far such work eludes me.) Nevertheless, I and thousands of others work hard at honing our craft. I think I have written in this space before that when I first started writing fiction, I had been teaching expository writing for an eon or two. I thought I knew it all about putting words into sentences and paragraphs, etc. Well, I did—so far as it went. Which wasn’t nearly far enough! Fiction is a whole different game (to resort to cliché).

So I devoured (and still do) “how to” books on writing fiction. Books on creating believable characters, on plotting, on the use of setting to establish mood, on writing dialogue, and so on. I read (and reread) John Gardner and E.M.Forster and Christopher Vogler and, later, Stephen King on writing fiction. I read Anne Lamott and Eudora Welty. I have learned hugely from these and many others, but mostly I have learned (over and over) from just doing it—that is, from just writing and then submitting my work to the crucible of critiques from other writers. For me, these were/are the members of Lone Mountain Writers in Carson City, Nevada. They never fail to help me make my work better!

The Jackson Pollack image aside, painters don’t just toss bits of color onto a canvas and hope it will turn out to be something. That is not the way we got the Mona Lisa or Guernica. Nor did Mozart or Copeland just effortlessly produce those sounds that move us so. Rodin made image after image before he had what he wanted in sculpture. Jane Smiley and Tony Morrison struggle to produce those award-winning novels. And I am here to say that so do those who are producing the who-done-its and the romance novels so many find purely entertaining!