Category Archives: society

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Carpe Diem

In the past, I’ve written Father’s Day pieces for and about Dad. In fact, I shared one of those old pieces with Mid-Michigan Writers at our last meeting. Through that process, I realized that I have a series of stories about my father, not a simple post of memories. That post contains kernels of several stories. In fact, as I read the piece Monday evening, other stories came to mind. It is now a piece I need to dissect, rework, and reorganize – among many other things. It might make a nice companion piece to Dad’s hunting stories when I finally get around to writing them.

So, today, I am not going to share stories about Dad. No. Instead, I am going to share the greatest lesson he ever taught me. My entire life, he taught me that life is short and that you must go after whatever it is you seek. He always did exactly what he wanted to do. It is time for me to do the same. I am not quite there yet, but I am on my way. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

Father's Day Canoe

Creativity

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I am a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet.  It may take some time to find what works for you, but it is so worth it in the end.  I discovered writing as my creative outlet at an early age, but then life got in the way, as it always does.  I hope this time I can make time for what matters.

As I have spent the last several weeks as a substitute teacher in a 4th grade classroom, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how passionate kids are about their hobbies.  I have budding writers, musicians, artists, and athletes in the classroom, not to mention scientists.  We had the best discussions about the US space shuttle program, astronauts, and basic animal genetics.  They are not afraid to ask great questions.  After a science lesson on the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity on astronauts, one student asked me why we never returned to the moon after the 1969 moon landing.  A quick Google search later, we had our answers, which included the facts that politics largely got in the way and that NASA recently announced possible commercialization of space travel, including a possible return to the moon.  See article here.

I am left with just one question:  What do we do as educators between 4th grade and senior year of high school to suck the creativity out of students?  I like to believe things are changing for the better, but I still see way too much “busy,” mindless work being assigned, especially in middle school.  STEM programs are on the right track, but I do believe they need to include art, or STEAM, as well.  Still, that doesn’t cut it for everyone.  What about students who have no idea how to stick with something long enough to enjoy it?  How do we recognize and deal with the fact that many students are resistant to the idea that failure can help us learn and grow?  We inadvertently teach students that failure is to be avoided at all cost.  For better or worse, it is ingrained in our culture.  High stakes standardized testing anyone?  We need to teach students how to fail effectively:  how to move on and learn from our mistakes.  They need to know on a gut level that failure is inevitable.  We are meant to learn from it.

I am deeply grateful that I found a creative outlet that works for me.  I adored art classes as a child, but I have no ability to draw animals or people.  I am no painter either.  One of my greatest wishes is to have some musical ability.  Sadly, as much as I love music, I have none.  In searching for my creative outlet, I overlooked the obvious:  I am meant to be a writer.  Unfortunately, as a child, I always wanted to be more instead of embracing what I love and can reasonably do without embarrassing myself.  In fact, that is one of my greatest wishes for any of my students past, present, or future:  Find a creative outlet that makes you happy through good times and bad.

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Book Club

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Read It Forward – 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World

What is it about a book club that makes it so irresistible? Personally, I believe it is the structured discussion of a set topic. It is nice, neat, orderly; we all know exactly what to expect. And yet, we don’t. Book club discussions often lead to interesting places. I’ve formally been a member of a book for the last five years. During that time, I’ve read books I never would have picked up otherwise and had discussions I never dreamed I would have all thanks to book club.

The Standish-Sterling Book Club, however, is not my first. I like to think that Grandma Buttrick and I had our own little book club of two for a few years. Every time I visited, usually weekly, she never failed to ask me what I was reading. I loved sitting with her in the den, cold drinks in hand, talking books. I clearly remember both of us reading Malcolm Gladwell’s books and discussing them at length. Even when poor eyesight and memory issues made reading difficult for her, she still loved to talk books. I wouldn’t leave until I told her about the latest book I read.

When Grandma passed away in 2014, I saw it as no coincidence that I soon discovered the Standish-Sterling Book Club. The fact that they were discussing The Fault in Our Stars at the time captured my imagination. I’d read it as well, and due to the loss of an old childhood friend, that book will stay with me for the rest of my life. I wrote about the connection here and even quoted part of the book. On some level, I like to think that Grandma knows all about book club and that our family still shares books.

Regardless, book club will always be a part of my life, even if one day I must start one myself. I get too much out of it – as a reader, a writer, and a human being. This article nails it when it comes to the importance of book clubs and their resurgence. I hope the trend continues. I don’t see myself giving up book club any time soon. I enjoy it far too much.

As a teacher, I wish I could impart my love of books on all students. I truly believe that everyone can learn to love reading. Those who supposedly hate reading just haven’t found the right books yet – or they equate reading with reading in school. In school, students often have little or no choice as to reading material – although that is changing for the better and one of many reasons why I love Donnalyn Miller’s work. You can find more information on her work here. She stresses how important it is for teachers to help students discover good books and learn how to make solid reading choices on their own. I hope one day book clubs – and more importantly, the love of reading – will become so pervasive that students will want to create their own. There is so much to be gained through reading and too many good books to allow a hatred of reading to grow.

The Fault in Our Stars

I’m a Fighter Not a Lover

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“I’m a fighter not a lover.” Well, that isn’t the case – I’m both, which I will get to in a minute – but there is a story behind this twisted saying that I wanted to share. It’s been on my mind lately. When Grandma Reid passed away in January 2017, an old childhood friend stopped by the funeral home to pay her respects. The two of us grew up together, and she worked with me and Grandma at the canoe livery for a summer or two. As we talked about Grandma, Melanie told me a story about her I’d never heard before. According to Mel, Grandma once said “I’m a fighter not a lover.” It struck Mel as so funny and out of character that she remembered it all those years later and thought to tell me. Knowing Grandma, a slip of the tongue became a memorable line.

What strikes me so funny and makes the entire thing so memorable is that I can easily see it going either way. It wouldn’t surprise me If Grandma intended to say she’s a fighter just to get a rise out of someone. She could tease mercilessly. Anyone who knew her knows she loved everyone. I am heavily biased, of course, but I cannot remember one instance in which she picked a fight. Instead, she loved on kids of all ages. Whether it putt-putt golf, a movie, or a trip to the mall arcade, she included everyone.

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But Grandma did fight too. She stuck up for herself when needed and forged her way as a business woman at a time when most women stayed at home. I consider that fighting. Some of her best advice included stick up for yourself. I think that is why this comes to mind now.

In fact, if I think about it for a minute, I can take it one step further: All of us – every one of us – needs to fight for the life we want to live. We need to fight for happiness and what we want out of life. I continue to struggle doing just that, but I am fighting. As much as I would love to give up, I won’t. I am made of sterner stuff – and I am far too stubborn.

Yellow Crocus

Columbine: Before and After

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Just over twenty years ago, school changed forever – April 20th, 1999 to be exact. Prior to that date, school shootings simply did not happen – or at least not with the frequency they do now. I am old enough to remember life before Columbine. In fact, the spring of 1999 marked the last semester of my senior year of high school. In that pre-Columbine world, we did not have active shooter or lockdown drills. School doors were not always locked. In fact, even during my early high school years at the rural Michigan high school I attended, boys and girls who loved to hunt and had their own vehicles could lock their rifles in their trucks during deer season. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up and attended school in a different world.

This became frighteningly clear to me when I began substitute teaching several years ago. In fact, one experience put it all in perspective. As a substitute teacher, I’ve experienced countless fire, tornado, and lockdown drills. One, however, left me speechless. Subbing for a middle school music teacher in a suburban school district, the lockdown drill itself proved uneventful. However, the conversation I overheard between two young female students as we resumed class left me gutted. The conversation itself appeared casual enough. They were recalling some funny incident that took place during a lockdown drill years ago in 1st grade and laughing about it all over again as only 6th grade girls can. That simple fact – that the students before me, now middle schoolers, never knew school life before lockdown drills – stays with me. They know nothing else.

When I was in 1st grade, my biggest worries were getting picked last in gym class and deciding what to play during recess. Books, learning to read well, drawing and writing, and play all made up my world in 1st grade. Lockdown drills and the thought that someone would want to harm me and my classmates at school never crossed my mind or the mind of anyone else for that matter. When did everything change so drastically? Personally, I believe things began to change April 20th, 1999.

Not all the changes are negative. I do think there is a heightened awareness of the effects bullying can have on anyone. I also believe students today have many more opportunities at all levels than they did twenty or thirty years ago – as it should be.

And then there is kindness. When I first started subbing at my alma mater, Standish-Sterling Central High School, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I continue to be pleasantly surprised. Daily I witness a genuine kindness among students that I found largely lacking during my school years. There appears to be a greater awareness of personal differences of all types. Does that mean bullying doesn’t exist? No. In fact, social media adds a whole new factor into the equation – and it isn’t pretty. Despite that fact, I find students today more accepting and more willing to entertain new ideas. That may not be the case everywhere, but I see it enough in a variety of school settings that I have hope for this generation.

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Libraries

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Palaces for the People – 99% Invisible

If you love libraries and haven’t checked out this podcast yet, you need to do so.  Personally, I believe libraries are more important than ever.

I’m not quite sure when I first fell in love with libraries, but it did happen at an early age. In kindergarten and first grade, I remember Mrs. Mosley, the Sterling Elementary librarian with a wonderful British accent and the personality of everyone’s favorite grandmother, reading books such as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day aloud.  What’s not to like?

As I grew older, I devoured mysteries, especially the Nancy Drew series.  In second and third grade, I scoured the shelves for ghost stories and the latest Choose Your Own Adventure book.  Time spent browsing the library shelves are among my favorite memories of my years at Sterling Elementary.

My love of libraries and reading grew as I grew.  In junior high and high school, I started my day off in the library readying myself for the day or reading.  Later in high school, that same school library served as workplace as I tutored younger students after school.  Now as a teacher, I still believe that school libraries are a crucial part of the fabric of any school.

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Of course, the same is true – or maybe even more true – of community libraries.  Whenever I need a quiet place to work without the distraction of everything I need to do at home, I head to the library.  College libraries such as the library at Delta College or Saginaw Valley State University are among my favorites.  Smaller community libraries have so much to offer.  For example, Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc. meets in the community room of the West Branch Public LibraryHuron Shores Genealogical Society (HSGS) has its own room at the Robert J. Parks Library in Oscoda.  In fact, HSGS hosts their fall and spring programs at the library too.  Where else could such groups meet publicly?

In rural communities, libraries, and to a certain extent schools, are often the only places where people can come together freely.  Personally, I love reading and writing in independent coffee shops and cafes, but I always order something.  Even book stores eventually expect you to purchase something.  Businesses count on it.  Libraries are one place where everyone is welcome and there is space to just be.

There is a great case to be made that libraries are an important part of our social infrastructure.  The idea didn’t even cross my mind until I discovered this podcast.  You can listen here.

Not long ago, many felt that libraries were becoming obsolete.  I understand the thinking behind that statement; however, just a simple glimpse beneath the surface would prove the exact opposite.  Libraries are needed now more than ever.

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Place

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There is no escaping it.  This topic keeps rearing its ugly head.  Last night, we discussed it in book club.  Are people meant to be in a certain place?  You can find my take on the topic here. That question keeps haunting me.  What if somehow I missed my chance to be wherever it is I am supposed to be?

Am I supposed to live in Omer the rest of my life?  I wish there were a simple answer.  The reality is that there isn’t.  I love my family, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the canoe livery, and I enjoy spending my summers working there.  Yet, do I have what I need?  Frankly, the answer is no.  There are few people my age around, and those who are around are in a different stage of life.  With one notable exception, all are married and/or have families of their own.  It would be nice to at least have the possibility of dating in my future.

What are my alternatives?  None of them are good.  Either I deal with the issues before me and continue on this path, or I start over someplace new.  If I stay, a part of me will always be someplace else.  If I go, I would miss my family and the canoe livery.  At least in Omer I am needed and loved.

The truth is I am going nowhere.  The canoe livery and the Rifle River itself are too much a part of who I am.  I want to watch my niece and nephews grow up firsthand, and I want to be there for my parents as they get older.  None of that means that there aren’t sacrifices and complications that come with that decision.  None of it changes the love/hate relationship I have with Omer and Arenac County in general.

What saddens me is the reality of where I live.  Over the last two decades, so many people left not only Arenac County, but Michigan as well.  Many were left with no choice thanks to a one-state recession followed by the Great Recession.  I graduated in 1999, and due to the fact that so many classmates moved out of state, I doubt we will ever have a true class reunion.  Most Michigan State business students I graduated with in 2004 headed to Arizona or Texas, including me.  No one seems to care.  Few planned on helping their children create a life for themselves here during that time frame and the years that followed.

While we may be on the path to recovery, we are not there yet.  What bothers me is a general aura of denial that stubbornly resists any change.  Yes, I agree we need change, but we also need to keep what is working – and there are things that are working.  Unfortunately, we do not support those things.  So many people seem to want to change nothing or change everything at once.  Neither approach will work, but no one seems to address this.

What about businesses?  What are we doing to attract new ones?  Absolutely nothing I can see.  No, instead we keep piling on more unnecessary regulations that do nothing except add costs. Instead of making it easier for those just starting out to get started in a career, we make it next to impossible.  Today, we still tell high school seniors that a four year college degree should be the norm when we are setting them up for tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start their career.  It is wrong and needs to stop.  We need to attract more businesses and encourage trades. What about entrepreneurship?  Again, we do little to support those who wish to start their own business.  New businesses and new growth are exactly what we need, but they cannot survive if not supported.

I am angry.  I want to believe in my hometown and live here, but many times, it feels next to impossible.  If it weren’t for my family, I would have never looked back.  I am tired of feeling torn, and I am fed up with everything else about the area pushing me away.

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