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Killing a Cockroach with Kindness

8 Jan

Jump into life!

I was walking through the hallway of a local high school where I sometimes substitute teacher, and encountered a teaching standing in the hallway holding a small spray bottle in her hand and staring into a trash can.

“I’m trying to kill a cockroach with essential oils,” she said. She gave it another squirt. “Or at least make it drunk enough that I can step on it and it won’t crawl up my leg.”

“You need a cat,” I commented. My cats make short work of any kinds of varmints that they find.

The teacher continued to stare at the cockroach, giving it an occasional squirt of the essential oils. “We are out in the country. Well, we aren’t in the city. What is a cockroach doing here?”

The encounter made me think about how we react when we find something in an unexpected place. The teacher thought that cockroaches belonged in the city. It surprised me to see someone spraying a cockroach with scented spray. Somehow a discovery like this jolts us out of our everyday routine and forces us to think in a new way, at least for a moment. This is a valuable experience for writers in particular, but it works for anyone. We all need to be prodded every once in a while to just look at life and laugh or cry, or both.

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Look for the Beauty

6 Jan


I was delighted to see this beautiful and innovative way that a high school English teacher had decorated her classroom. The actual windows offered a few a nothing more than the roof of the next wing of the building, and a tiny patch of sky. But the teacher had taken one wall and covered it to look like a view of the sea, complete with filmy curtains tied back with colorful paper chains.

It reminded me of how important it is to include beauty in the places where we live and work. So often we think only of the practical, utilitarian aspects of our home and office, forgetting that a sense of beauty can increase our creativity, productivity, and generally improve our health and well-being.

And while you may not be able to have a fabulous view of the ocean or the mountains, even a patch of sky or a view of some trees can make your work more pleasant.

My desk faces a window, and far from being distracting, I find it restful on my neighborhood.

What beautiful touches can you add to your work areas?

The Importance of Reading Fiction

24 Nov

I read an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday entitled “What Should Children Read?” I am providing the link so you can read it for yourself.

Whatever the “experts” who have written these national standards might think, reading fiction has a value far more than just time-filling entertainment that has no practical use and cannot help in the job market.

We have become obsessed with thinking of education as a road to employment, and have forgotten that education is a road to life. If you do not have the tools to think critically and examine your own life, your potential in any career will be minimal.

Reading fiction allows us to learn about other lives and other times and apply them to our own. It allows us to compare our experiences with the experiences of characters who have been created by writers to make a point. Reading fiction allows us to learn to appreciate the beauty of the language, and to be articulate speakers and writers. And reading fiction is often just plain fun.

To cite just one example, the generation that has grown up reading the Harry Potter books has learned more than just a story about a school for magicians. They have learned about friendship, the struggle between good and evil, bravery, sorrow, disappointment and many other human emotions and circumstances. All of these factors are important for grown-ups as well as children. And they have learned all of this while enjoying that great story of the school for magicians, which I think makes it more meaningful.

For some reason, the English classes in the high school I attended did not assign novels to read as a class. My parents brought me up with weekly visits to the library, so I read anyway. Later as an English teacher, I taught many of the classics, but also encouraged students to read for fun. Instead of cutting back on the reading of fiction, we should encourage students to read more.

Some of my favorites are To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse Five. There are many more, of course, and they teach timeless truths that are so much more meaningful because they are fiction.

Fiction may not be true, but it is the truth.

What novels have meant the most to you?