Monthly Archives: September 2015

CONTEXT: Becoming Who You Are

Desk image for online  When I was in sixth grade, the primary social media tool was a stenographer’s pad with spiral wire at the top that we called a “Slan” book.  I don’t know if I was misunderstanding that and it was actually “Slam,” as in “slam shut,” or if, perhaps, “slan” was actually short for “slander,” which I now realize actually describes a lot of what was written in the books. ;-D Each page had one question at the top, with the innocuous “What is your name?” on the first page, and numbers down the left side.  Each person who signed it kept the same line number throughout the book. As one flipped through the pages, the questions became more and more personal, ultimately seeking the revelation of the “deepest thoughts” about the most important issues to us 11- and 12-year-olds at the time: our own appearances and the opposite sex.  We added questions all the time, as social situations changed, each at the top of its own page, and continually passed them around, getting our classmates, friends, and enemies, to comment. (Adding a Comment isn’t new ;-D)  It was a big coup to get a BOY to sign your book, but often the boy just did it to write the most shocking things he could. (The owner was then properly mortified. :-D)

Even then, my own life context included being a writer. To the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I wrote, “Write and illustrate books.”

In junior high, I won a writing contest that included a cash prize. In high school, my poems were published in a “literary magazine.”  (In college I wrote course papers, and little else.) After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in history and in comprehensive social studies education, I became a teacher. Writing lesson plans soon morphed into writing curriculum.  I liked writing lesson plans, and I LOVED writing curriculum. Soon it was used by other teachers in my school, then adopted at the district level. When I chose a field for my master’s degree, it was educational leadership: curriculum and supervision.

In succeeding years, I taught every grade from fifth through college, and continued to write curriculum. I conducted and published research in education. Some of my non-fiction articles were also published in magazines. I went back to school and earned a doctorate in teaching and learning. That process included a dissertation that was published.  In the past few years, I started taking turns writing a column for the local newspaper. I started a business helping people write dissertations and books. In the past few months, I started several blogs. I even get to illustrate, in a sense, because I help my doctoral scholar clients design the charts and graphs they use to display their data. I think of myself as a writer–well, sort of.

Sometimes I feel like I’m still waiting to “write and illustrate my own books when I grow up,” because NONE of the seven or eight books I’ve written, including the two that I illustrated at a publisher’s request, has actually been published. The publisher that committed to purchase and publish two of them backed out, so nope, not one in print.

But as I wrote this post today, I found that at this point, I needed to take the narrative in a completely different direction from the one I had planned. I actually had to delete a paragraph and go back!  I realized that in the context truest to my deepest values, “Grammie” may have replaced both “Writer” and “Author”  as the most meaningful literary title I have.  Who knew???  I remembered that I did write and illustrate one more complete book, and printed it myself.  It is in a ring binder that sits on the bed shelf of my oldest granddaughter, and it was my very personal gift to her.  It is entitled, Two Kinds of Mommies, and I wrote it several years ago to explain her birth and adoption process to her in a way that would help her young mind understand and reinforce what her parents had always been so open about.  I wanted to help her tender heart be warmed and feel the deepest sense of belonging in her/our family, because we all prayed for her, and in a completely illogical and totally inexplicable chain of circumstances on two continents and several states, God placed her–only and exactly her–in our arms and hearts in His perfect time. Her experience of being adopted into our family is a picture of how all of us who believe get adopted into God’s family.  I guess I have accomplished the “when I grow up” goal after all!

What do you think makes a person a “writer” or an “author”–writing, or having what you’ve written published, or something else?  When and how did YOU know when you had become what YOU are now?

CONTEXT: Blue in the Eye of the Beholder

Carriage House from South (2) 9-5-15

Behind our 1892 red brick house and back yard, we have a two story, three-bay building I have usually called the carriage house, and sometimes called the barn. There weren’t any stalls in it when we bought it, and it had a wide, red brick driveway under the concrete one. The bricks extend from the street to all the way across the front of the three big doors, then on out under the fence and under the vegetable garden. A long, strong metal rail runs across the front where large doors once hung and slid. The wide doorways on the front–now filled in with overhead garage doors hung slightly off-line from each other, and a set of tall, original, hinged, double doors facing the alley on the back, indicated to me that horse-drawn vehicles came and went on all that brick in the 1890s, rather than farm animals, on this corner in the city.

The outside of the carriage house has always been a well-weathered gray–both the exposed wood and the remnants of paint left on them. I liked how it looked. But decade after decade of weathering takes a toll on wood, and we finally decided it had to be painted. It’s the custom in our neighborhood to paint the wooden outbuildings red to match the big old brick houses; but it was easy to see that our carriage house had never been red. So I brought home paint swatches until I matched the remnants of the original paint, and bought that dark, slate gray for the carriage house. The color was called “Silent Night.”  I liked the color and its name.

The painters finished the job yesterday.  As I watched their progress, first scraping down to bare wood, then brushing on the tinted light gray primer, then painting on the Silent Night, I was soon alarmed to notice that all the sides of the building were not the same color.  I double checked the paint cans, then I went back to the paint store with a just-taken photo, and pointed out that while the west-facing wall virtually always in full shadow was exactly the color I had chosen–the deep slate gray, the east and south sides appeared to be a color that could only be described as blue–and quite an assertive blue!  The paint man wasn’t a bit surprised.  He said that grays ALWAYS tend toward either blue or green in bright sunlight.  Obviously Silent Night tends toward blue!

One  neighbor who only sees the south and east sides from her house told me she liked the color of the light gray primer better than the dark blue paint. Another on the east and south side told me she did not like that blue on the barn–her garage was red, like everyone else’s. Me?  I love the Silent Night. 🙂 The color is perfect for that building in that context:  It’s the color it’s always been.  And I’m guessing that in all the years since 1892 in which there was much paint on that building, the four sides of our carriage house have always appeared to be completely different colors, depending on the direction they faced, whether it was sunny or not, and if there was shade from that overhanging maple tree on the west side.

I think there’s a good chance that I appear to be different when viewed from different sides, too.  It doesn’t mean that I am, it just means that observers have different vantage points: Some see primer, some see gray in the shade, and in the sunshine, some see bright blue. I’m not necessarily changing–their contexts are.  My job isn’t to work at appearing to be the same on all sides all the time, or convincing others that I am, in spite of appearances.  My job is to be true to the integrity of who I am.  I need to be just as content if that’s a nice, rich gray that sort of melts in to the surroundings sometimes, as I would be if it were a just-like-everyone-else red, or an intense bright blue that shouts, “I’m different, and I’m here!” Silent Night. Yep. I can live with that. What do you think?