Category Archives: teaching

WASHING AWAY THE DUST OF EVERYDAY LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom,

Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” When Molly visited you and Dad the summer she was six, the art project you set up that week required washing away the dust of the garage. For “the marble village” your grandchildren created, marbles became the people who lived in the papier mâché town built and painted on a big piece of plywood on the garage floor. (The French term made the result even grander.)

You were also the grandmother who discovered a safe-to-eat recipe for play dough. You wrapped the colorful wads in plastic, tied them with ribbon and shared them with children in the neighborhood and at Sunday school. For a long time, play-dough rings, bracelets and necklaces were local gifts-of-choice, with painted snakes and rolled paper-clip holders a close second.

Encouraging art projects was always your trademark with me, Mom. I added to the projects and passed them on to Molly, and now your great-grandchildren have joined the adventures. Recently, Grace and Gannon both made portraits of me–in the style of Picasso–and proudly presented them for framing and hanging. In our family, creativity is the result of both nature and nurture. We’ve created with sidewalk chalk, puff paints, clay, old socks and T-shirts, watercolors, sand and glass, pen and paper, and computers. It’s all good. Sometimes surprising and open to interpretation, but still good.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” (Or, in my case, figuring out how I inspired two Picasso-style portraits.)

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging our creativity.

With love from your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren

(Above: Gannon’s and Grace’s Picasso pictures of Mor Mor)

(Below: Molly’s 3rd grade Indian Art sculpture with yarn)

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Filed under art projects, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren, neighbors, teaching

Thanks, Mom

Dear Mom,

Before I post my newspaper op-ed, I want to thank you. All my life, you’ve supported, encouraged, and sometimes gently questioned, my writing. When I was working on the article about Notre Dame vs. Chapman, Kansas, you listened as I explained it, but you fell asleep twice. Dementia and 93-years have made you a fast drop-off napper, and I wasn’t offended. You slept, and I kept writing. This was only my second newspaper article since my days at McPherson College, and it was slow going.

When I cleaned out the house where David and I grew up and you and Dad had lived for more than 50 years, I found a wonderful gift tucked in folders on a closet shelf. You had saved copies of my published stories, essays and articles through the years. Some of them I know you enjoyed and approved of more than others, but you celebrated each acceptance letter with me, and encouraged me to keep trying when there were rejection letters. I doubt you remember that now, but I will remember.

After “Notre Dame’s Missed Opportunity” was published in the Chapman Times News last week, I learned that a wrestling coach read it to her team, and readers were talking about it all over town. One long-time resident of Chapman posted a note on this blog (see ABOUT US, the last comment) and he closed by saying this:

“…You wrote like you had grown up in Chapman and had the pride of the town that I haven’t seen for a long while. It seems we feel it but it is not expressed as you did. Very good of you to take the time, hope you do more of it.”

THAT is one of the reasons we write, Mom, to make a difference. You taught me that by your example, and supported it with your encouragement and support.

Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, teaching, writing

BY GEORGE

Dear Mom,

Last week was about Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING, and the afternoon you and I tried “dime writing” in the library.

This week is inspired by George Eliot. No, this writer was not a man, but a woman. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) was an important English novelist and journalist of the Victorian era. Two of her best known novels are SILAS MARNER and MIDDLEMARCH. She used a male pen name to be sure that her work would be taken seriously.

In the past decade one of her quotes has become very popular. “It is never too late to be what you might have been” appears on posters, tee-shirts and greeting cards, and is referred to in inspirational books and sermons.

At this stage in my life, I’m in the uniquely wonderful position of simultaneously learning from my mother, my daughter, and my grandchildren. If I ask your great-grandchildren what they want to do and be, the answer will vary from day to day, from school days to weekends, and will depend on the season and which sports they’re playing. When you’re a pair of busy, happy children, one in third grade and the other in second grade, anything is possible. Life if full of dreams and opportunities. The world is your oyster, though you’d scrunch up your face and make gagging noises at the word oyster.

Years ago, when I read you the quote ”It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” you gave a little shrug and smiled. You said that being old wasn’t holding you back; you were being what you wanted to be.

That is a wonderful attitude, Mom. If I thought you’d wear it, I’d have a tee-shirt made for you: “I’m Who I Want To Be.” Or, to sum up who you’ve always been and the loving influence you’ve had on me, I’d have another of George Eliot’s quotes printed for you: “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.”

Thank you, Mom.

Love, Marylin

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren, teaching, writing

WRITING ON A DIME

Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises

RULES, PONIES AND SMILES

Good morning, Mom,

Remember when we used to argue about candidates and issues around the dinner table…even before I was old enough to vote?  Sometimes I think Dad and I just had fun arguing.  You would mostly listen, smile, shake your head, and ask who wanted more vegetables.

I read something today that would make you really shake your head.  Tomorrow 44 people will be on the New Hampshire ballot, including one candidate called Ver Supreme.  He is campaigning to give free ponies to all Americans (as a kid I would have LOVED that–too bad kids can’t vote!)  His other issues include mandatory tooth brushing (for people, I think, or maybe it could be ponies…), and zombie preparedness.

Hmmm, what do you think of that, Mom?

When I was going through boxes of pictures, I found one of you as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City before David and I were born.  I remember the stories you used to tell, especially about one little boy who was intent on learning to tie his shoes.  He worked and worked, but his success came at an awkward time.  One afternoon as the children sat in their little chairs while you read them a story, the school fire alarm went off.  Immediately your young students lined up to march out the door, the way they’d practiced. All except one.  The little guy who’d tied his shoe–in a knot–around the leg of his chair, couldn’t stand up.  Since you couldn’t untie the knot, you carried the chair, with the boy in it, out the door and down the stairs.

When you told me that story, I asked if after that you made a rule that students couldn’t tie their shoes to chairs.  You smiled and said you didn’t make a lot of rules, but tried to guide your students by showing them the right way to live and treat others.  The main rule you lived by was The Golden Rule.

You guided us the same way, Mom.

I never got the pony I wanted while I was growing up, but I had everything I really needed.

Thank you.

Love, Marylin

(teacher Mary Elizabeth Shepherd is third from left in the back row)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren, teaching