because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Lessons From A New York Vagrant

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Creepy Rooster Gonna Get You!

This month’s guest blogger is Daniel Friedland, author of Down Aisle Ten, a fictional history of Universal Simultaneous Anxiety Collapse Disorder, an incapacitating disease that arises from the abundant fears that surround us in the modern world.

So what’s with the cock rooster on the front cover? Doesn’t he look like he wants to poke your eyes out? (It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.)

But I digress.

Dan is offering a copy of his book to one lucky commenter. Read his piece here today, and check out what you need to do to win below.

Oh! And you can follow Daniel on Twitter at @djfriedland or via his Facebook page.

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SoWrong
Click on the eyeball to see who else is contributing to this series! 

 

Lessons From a New York Vagrant by Daniel Friedland

Times Square wasn’t always Disneyland. There were no shrimp-themed restaurants or toy stores and it was nothing like the family friendly carnival scene it is today. In the Times Square of my youth, vagrants greeted you with alcohol breath, strip club promoters offered dirty flyers, and litter collected on the curbs. It was the heart of New York’s seedy side, a hub of ill repute, and when I was seventeen years old and wanted a fake I.D., Times Square was where I went.

I can’t recall how I ended up in that Wendy’s.

The man must have whispered something about fake I.D.s as I walked down the sidewalk. Now inside the restaurant, he leaned over the table and promised he could get me what I wanted. But there was one important question he needed to ask first.

Was I a cop?

This idea was ludicrous. I had fluffy hair, string bracelets around my wrist, and a telltale suburban naiveté. I was about to deny working at 21 Jump Street when the man extended his hand to my face and instructed me to sniff his fingers. It was an odd and unexpected development, but I was forced to agree with the stated proposition. Yes – his hand did smell like pot. This olfactory evidence, he explained, proved he wasn’t an undercover officer. I accepted this conclusion.

Now that his bona fides were established, my new acquaintance began asking me questions. Where did I go to school? Was I related to anyone in the police department? Did I have a recording device on me? Would I tell anyone about him? Withering under his interrogation, I discarded all sense entirely. He had me right where he wanted me.

When he said he needed to check the bills in my wallet to make sure the serial numbers weren’t traceable, I handed him all of my money.

Let me repeat that one more time – I handed him all of my money so he could check the serial numbers.

Give it a moment to waft over you. Feel the full breadth of my humiliation.

I feel compelled to note that I am not generally a stupid person. I sometimes make witty conversation, I can solve a Wednesday crossword puzzle in the New York Times, (I’m working toward Sunday!) and I have never mailed cash to help out a Nigerian prince. Yet on that fateful day, I fell prey to a classic trick of misdirection, duped by an unexpected turn and a narrative I could not control. My folly became clear to me when the door to Wendy’s closed and the man disappeared into the crowd.

It was a good lesson for a modest price – stay focused.

And if there’s a secondary moral to be gleaned, perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking for that fake I.D.

Of course, nowadays my wallet stays in my front pocket, and it has been years since I’ve stepped foot inside a Wendy’s. Yet no matter how much time passes, I’ll always be just another victim of the old Times Square. Long live its seedy memory.

To enter to win a copy of Down Aisle Ten, leave a comment about a time when you were absolutely humiliated by someone else. That’s right, spill your own #SoWrong moment. Either that or confess your favorite fast food restaurant and what you like to eat there.

Tweet us @rasjacobson & @djfriedland

Pushing Through, a Lesson Learned by Elena Aitken

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Click on the teacher lady's nose to find links to other people who posted in this series.
Click on the teacher lady’s nose to find links to other people who posted in the #LessonLearned Series.

I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am to all the writers who wrote posts as part of my Lessons Learned series this year. Each post has been beautiful; each lesson, unique.

Isn't she purty-ful? Yeah, well she's a great writer, too.
Isn’t she purty-ful? Yeah, well she’s a great writer, too.

Author Elena Aitken is the last writer in this series. And her piece arrived at precisely the right time for me. Because I am struggling with some serious writer’s block. Elena’s words are the greatest gift I could have ever asked for this holiday season.

If you don’t know Elena, you should. A busy mom, Elena is also a wonderful blogging friend and a prolific writer. I was fortunate to interview her when her book Sugar Crash was hot off the press, and she’s written a new book since then!

After you read her piece below, you will want to follow Elena on Facebook or on Twitter. Take a peek at her website if you’d like to subscribe to her blog. Her newest book, Hidden Gifts, would make a great present. Just like your words were to me today, Elena.

• • •
Pushing Through by Elena Aitken
When Renée asked me to write a piece for her Lessons Learned series, I said yes without hesitation because sure, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years. I mean, I must have something to offer. No problem, right?
Then it came to write it.And nothing.

A gentle nudge from Renée, “Don’t forget. You promised. Um, can I get that soon?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it. No problem.”

But…it was a problem. The thing is, ever since Renée asked me months ago, I’ve been thinking about what I would write about. I read all the other posts, and…I worried. I mean, what on earth was I going to say? What could I offer that this talented list of writers and bloggers hasn’t already said with more skill and grace then I could hope for?

I made notes. I stared at my computer screen. I started writing five different posts. I deleted five different posts.

And then, I worried some more.

I couldn’t think of a thing. Was it possible that I haven’t learned any lessons at all?

I was moments away from emailing Renée to tell her I’d changed my mind, and I couldn’t do it after all.

And then, there it was.

That voice in my head.

“Trust yourself,” the voice said.

Hearing voices in my head isn’t unusual for me. After all, I’m a writer. I hear voices all the time.

But, I’ve heard those two words before.

A lot.

• My dad said them when I was learning how to ride a bike.

• Ms. Montgomery, my junior high drama teacher, said them before I went on stage to perform my monologue.

• My mother said them when my twins were newborns, and I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom.

• My writing partners scribble them in the margins of my work when I’m wrestling with a scene, or a character that just won’t cooperate.

• My friend and training partner will say them to me when I’m nervous about a race and doubting my training.

• My husband says them to me when I’m struggling with a tough decision.

That voice in my head is a beautiful medley of all the voices from my life and its tune is constantly changing. But the message remains the same. And every time I hear those words, “Trust yourself.” Whether they are spoken aloud or quietly in my mind—I do.

Because I might not have the right answer, I could make the wrong decision, say something stupid, trip and fall, or make a mistake. But I might not. And when I shut out all the noise telling me what I should say/do/believe, and actually trust myself; it turns out that I know myself a whole lot better than I thought I did.

So, maybe I’m a slow learner, or maybe it’s a lesson worth learning over and over again, but it’s the most important lesson that I continue to learn.

What helps you push through to complete a project?

tweet us at @elenaaitken and @rasjacobson

Losing My Gourd: A #LessonLearned by Amy Stevens

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When you see the teacher, you know it’s a #LessonLearned!

I first “met” Amy Stevens 18 months ago at Life From The Trenches. Amy’s blog commonly features stories about her life with her husband and their children. Amy has lofty goals of growing a garden, frequently uses sarcasm as a coping mechanism, always wears socks in hotel rooms, sometimes says “Amen” at the end of The Pledge of Allegiance, and pretends to eat peas in front of her children.

Amy lives in Joplin, Missouri, and it is an understatement to say that her life was rocked in a major way when those tornadoes hit last May. Since then, Amy has been posting intermittently as she has worked tirelessly to rebuild her family home while assisting in rebuilding her community. She continues to provide her children with a sense of faith in a world where nothing is solid. Amy writes about beautiful, messy, and chaotic moments that make ordinary life magic. And she’s hoping to get back into her writing — starting now.

I urge you to follow Amy on Twitter @AmyStevens_ or, if you prefer via her Facebook page. I feel fortunate to have Amy here today to share this month’s #LessonLearned.

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Photo by Craig Newsom at Flickr.com

I don’t know what led me to become a hospice social worker, but it’s been an amazing journey.

I could write about the patients: how they teach me about grace, compassion, gratitude, and provide powerful doses of perspective.

But I’m not going to write about the patients.

I could write about my colleagues.

You want to see radical compassion? Watch a hospice nurse work furiously to ease the pain of a patient. You want to experience mercy? Watch an aide provide care with patience and gentleness. Want to soak in real faith? Watch a chaplain offer a prayer that helps our patients find solid ground to cling to in grief.

But I’m not going to write about my colleagues.

I am going to write about a spaghetti squash.

One of the nurses gave me the squash, a giant one. Leaving the squash on my desk, I went to a meeting debating if this squash called for marinara, sweet sugar and cinnamon, or maybe just some Parmesan. There are so many options when it comes to spaghetti squash.

Fast forward to an hour later. My meeting ended and I walked out to my desk to find that the squash was gone. In its place was this note:

“You’ll never see your gourd again.”

In addition to all the things I said above about my coworkers, they also have sticky fingers.

They also think they’re funny.

And so it began.

I threw out reasonable accusations.

Everyone was a suspect, and everyone looked a bit shady.

They are, in fact, a tad shady.

No one came forward.

Because they’re good. Really good.

I went home and, as any top-notch investigator would, I turned to Facebook.

I posted this completely authentic picture of my poor children with no supper. (Guilt can lead to confessions, and this was no time for mercy.)

Look at those starving children!

My photo was posted along with the following Status Update:

Someone at work stole my spaghetti squash leaving behind the note: “You’ll never see your gourd again.” Tonight my children go hungry: victims of a cold, calculated crime.

Forty-three comments later, I learned my colleagues are not only shady but also willing to throw each other under the bus.

Still, no one came forward with a confession.

I was not surprised.

The following morning, I entered the office to this:

Squashy looks like he had a rough night.

Apparently, my squash had been stolen and passed around the office like some kind of contraband sex toy. The main culprit was a nurse, but no one was innocent in this game — except for my poor, hungry children.

(I wouldn’t feed them dinner until they posed for the Facebook picture. I wanted authentic.)

From the moment I discovered the theft, to the discovery of wide-eyed squash, to my apology over the intercom for accusing innocent people of a heinous crime, there was laughter.

Life hasn’t always been easy in Joplin, Missouri. As a community, we’ve struggled to rebuild ourselves after last year’s tornadoes. And, of course, working in hospice is not easy.

And yet.

My life has led me to a place where I’m surrounded by people who leave in their wake physical relief and soothed souls. There are no better people to teach how to comfort and how to be comforted through understanding words, soothing touch, and the simple presence of someone not scared away by suffering.

There are many lessons to be found in this tale. Obviously, the first lesson being that one should always secure her squash. But also that life is gritty – often devastating and heartbreaking – so it is important to find joy in the ridiculous, share comfort in a little squash vandalism, and heal through humor.

What’s making you laugh these days? What’s your favorite fall vegetable? How do you like your spaghetti squash? Anyone else have a playful office climate & culture? What kind of fun little pranks have you played at work?

Twit these Twits @rasjacobson & @AmyStevens_

For The Slow Readers Out There: A #LessonLearned by Christine Wolf

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Christine Wolf is a big time blogger. I cannot believe she is even here today. Her blog, Riding The Waves, follows the life of a woman embracing life’s transitions: changing careers, helping children to grow up, keeping a 20-year marriage alive — all while enduring Chicago’s ever-changing weather patterns.

Christine has written a middle-aged novel for readers 8-12 years old called My Life Afloat, about a 12-year-old girl from the affluent suburb of Illinois whose parents both lose their jobs in the economic crisis. After their home is sold to avoid foreclosure, they must live on a sailboat in Chicago’s Monroe Harbor. She hopes to see her book published in 2013.

It probably will happen.

And here’s why.

Not too long ago, Christine was 1 of 5 Americans to interview President Obama live during the first streaming Google+ Hangout from The White House on January 30, 2012. She asked the President how we, as a country, should speak to children about the current economic situation. The President provided some interesting answers and, at the end of the interview, he asked for a copy of her book. You know, when it comes out. How cool is that? Here’s the interview.

(Christine appears at minutes 2:15, 17:15 and 48:40):

Christine writes a weekly opinion column about happenings in Evanston, Illinois for AOL Huffpost Media’s Patch.com and you can check out her awesome website! You can LIKE her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @tinywolf1

Click on the teacher lady’s stick to see other folks who posted in this series!

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For The Slow Readers Out There

My 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Carolyn Leece will forever be my all-time favorite teacher. It helped that she looked just like Carol Brady without the flippity-do-dah shoulder curls from those later Brady Bunch episodes, but Mrs. Leece’s most notable contribution to my overall development was teaching me how it is acceptable to be a slow reader.

I must have always read slowly, but in the 1970s, it never really mattered how fast the kids read in elementary school. For God’s sake, no one timed us or tracked Reading Recovery logs on us. The educational highlights of my elementary school years were mastering the Dewey Decimal system, making a mobile of the planets (including Pluto), and winning first place in the Multiplication Competition for the number eight.  Before junior high, I read all my Nancy Drew books at my own pace, lingered on every article in Seventeen Magazine (wasn’t my mom so cool to let me read that?), and lovingly absorbed my Judy Blume books without a glance at a clock.

Once I hit junior high, though, it came to light that a) I used way more Love’s Baby Soft Musky Jasmine Scent than human lungs could filter and b) my silent reading was soooooo much slower than that of my peers.

Instead of reading in small groups as we’d always done in elementary school, our 7th grade Language Arts classroom was set up in a much more “mature” fashion with orderly rows of desks facing the front of the room. A grown-up classroom for grown-up kids! In my head, I pretended I was a college girl, and I loved it.

Look how cute she is when she isn’t freaking out about talking to the President of the USA!

That is, until the day I realized how different I was from everyone else.

Mrs. Leece had pulled down the white, overhead projection screen, covering her perfectly looped, chalky script on the blackboard. “Today,” she said, smoothing her platinum bangs to the side, “we’ll be discussing the elements of the front page of a newspaper.” She laid a clear transparency over the projector’s light, displaying a smudgy image of The Chicago Tribune. Every feature was slowly circled and labeled with overhead markers in a splash of colors: The Masthead – blue. The Ears – red. Headlines – green. Bylines – black.

Then, Mrs. Leece asked us all to silently read the first five paragraphs of the first article, then raise our hands once we’d finished

When I raised my hand, I realized I was the last one to do so…by far. Kids around me rolled their eyes and snickered. Who knows how long I’d been staring, slack-jawed, at the black letters on the white screen.

As my face burned and panic rose, Mrs. Leece put her pen on the transparency.

She looked directly at me and switched off the projector’s light (leaving the fan on, of course).  Everyone was riveted. And then she said, directly to me, in front of the entire class, “You know what? I’m just like you.”

I stared.

“I savor every word.”

I blinked.

“We both appreciate lingering on words, don’t we?”

I remembered to breathe.

“Good for you,” she concluded, then went back to the lesson.

One week later, Mrs. Leece asked me if I’d like to babysit for her son.

I was stunned. If the Language Arts teacher thought enough of me to leave me in charge of her own child, she’d probably meant what she’d said. She didn’t just use words to boost my self-esteem; she reinforced her message from an entirely different angle. Her multidimensional approach didn’t have modern-day monikers like Whole Language or Multiple Intelligence Theory, but she left a lasting impression on me. She gave me the message in 1980 that it’s okay to be who you are, and I’ve been sharing that message ever since with anyone who, like me, does things just a little bit differently.

Have you ever had a panicky moment that was quickly and magically transformed?

Falling Down: a #LessonLearned by Katie Sluiter

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Today I have Katie Sluiter at my place, you guys! You have no idea how long I’ve been following, KT! I’ve been reading Sluiter Nation like… forever. And as soon as I learned what Twitter was I found Katie at @ksluiter. I fell in love with Katie because she was a teacher. And then I learned she struggled with postpartum depression, which I am pretty sure I had after Tech was born. I just didn’t ever get a formal diagnosis. Way back at the end of last year, Katie asked me to write something for her — which was super exciting, especially because Katie is a Big Blogger. (Even if she denies it.) Oh, if you prefer, you can follow her on Facebook.

Click on the teacher lady’s butt to read posts by other people who have written in this series.
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Falling Down
• • •

As a little kid, my dad was the one who taught me how to do a lot of things: ride my bike, change a car tire, fish.

Katie learned a lot from falling down.

He also taught me to ice skate.

I remember being out on our frozen pond, bundled up in my winter coat and snow pants with my scarf covering my entire mouth so that when I talked…or breathed…it became moist and warm.

My dad had helped me lace up my mom’s old skates, took my mittened hand, and pulled me out to the open ice.

I don’t remember much of the logistics of the lesson, but I do remember falling down.

A lot.

Finally I got frustrated and whined that I was no good at skating and I didn’t want to do it anymore.

My dad pulled me up and said, “But every time you fall, you are learning. Just think of how much more you know now than you did when we started.”

I gave him the hairy eyeball, assuming he meant I knew a lot more now because I had fallen so many zillions of times.

“No, really,” he continued. “Every time you fall, you learn what not to do next time. Or at least you should.”

This lesson comes back to me every single time I “fall” in life.

But not until I pout a lot and whine about how I want to quit.

I have tripped, stumbled, and flat-out fallen as a mom. Especially when I was a new, first-time mom.

But it’s something I can’t quit. I can’t just say, “Man, I suck at this. I am done.”

Don’t think I didn’t try.

My older son, Eddie, was a difficult baby.

Ok, actually, “difficult” is putting it mildly.

He was a colicky, digestive mess.

This is Eddie being a colicky mess.

It was totally him. Not his fault, but it was him.

But I didn’t know that. Not at the time.

At the time, it was me. I was stumbling…not able to soothe him, not able to provide him with food that wouldn’t upset his tummy, not able to know what his cries meant.

I was sliding all over that iced pond not knowing what to do to keep myself off my ass and skating straight.

Every time he cried, I wanted to figure out what was wrong and fix it.

I didn’t know that sometimes? Babies just cry.

So I fell down over and over.

And I beat myself up for it. Which really, was another mistake. Another stumble.

This became a pattern with my son.

He is now almost three, and I have fallen down millions of times in my education on becoming a mother.

He has not always been the most patient teacher, but he is very forgiving.

Sometimes, my mistakes…my stumbles…are hard enough that we both fall. We both sit and cry and tend to our bruised bottoms.

But we are learning.

We are making it through.

I had no idea how awesome of a teacher he was until my second son was born in March.

Suddenly all those things that caused me to trip and fall–the crying, the spit up, the time management, the anxiety and depression–they were easier. In fact, some of them were non-existent. I skated right through them.

In fact, I am still up on my skates.

Oh, I have tripped here and there, but I have pretty much mastered the basics.

Now I am able to move on to learning fancier moves: taking both kids to Target, bringing them both to birthday parties, showering daily.
Two kids? I think I can.

(What? That was difficult the first time around!)

I still fall down from time to time.

But that’s okay.

I’m in this for the long haul.

I’m a life-long learner.

What are you still figuring out? What are some of the best lessons you have learned as a parent that you wish you had known earlier?

• • •

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson & @ksluiter

Lessons From A Disney Princess: A #LessonLearned by Ellie Ann Soderstrom

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Ellie Ann Soderstrom is positively magical. Besides being madly in love with her husband and three children, she writes fairy tales, tall tales, and is interested in transmedia storytelling. Her content is consistently fabulous. I recommend subscribing to her blog, Ellie Ann Navigates the Week. Follow her on Twitter at @elliesoderstrom and LIKE her Facebook page: Ellie Soderstrom.

Thanks for being here today, EA. {You know I adore your Tall Tale Tuesdays.}

Click on the teacher lady’s bottom to read other posts in this series.

I’m thrilled to be here to talk about MY FAVORITE PRINCESS EVER: POCAHONTAS. Because I’ve learned everything there is to know about life about her. (Slight exaggeration. She didn’t teach me not to wash new red sweaters with new white sweaters). I’ve watched her movie countless times, rapt with awe at her grace and oneness with nature. She’s my favorite Disney princess by far, Jasmine ain’t got nothin’ on her. No one can do a swan dive like she can except Captain Jack Sparrow, and even that is up for debate.

But I’m not here to talk about swan dives  — although they were helpful for my pirating career. I’m here to talk about the most important song of Pocahontas’ career: Colors of the Wind.

First of all, the unspoken lesson to be learned from this song is if you see the colors of the wind, or especially if they’re thick enough to paint with, you should probably run.

This is, I assume, why Pocahontas runs so much in the music video.

photo by Lydia White

Second of all, she says:

“You think I’m an ignorant savage. And you’ve been so many places, I guess it might be so.”

Let me tell ya, these words have saved me a laundry load of vanity and sorrow. I’m an ignoramus. Every time I think I know something about the solar system, Galileo goes and tells me the earth revolves around the sun! That’s my allegorical way of saying that I can spout all the important words that I want to with conviction, but if they aren’t said in humility then it’ll all be in vain the day someone comes along and tears down my pretty little soapbox I’ve been standing on.

So now, thanks to Pocahontas’ viewpoint, I accept that others might think I’m ignorant. I’ll cling to the few beliefs I hold fast to about God and Man and the Universe, but the rest . . . I’ll try to speak humbly with a big dose of humor because just when you teach that dinosaurs are extinct JURASSIC PARK II happens and you have a Tyrannosaurus Rex in New York.

Pocahontas speaks of walking two moons. “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” as the old Irish saying goes. (At least, I think it’s Irish). As John Smith raises his gun to shoot a grizzly, Pocahontas stops him and sings:

“You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger; you’ll learn things you never knew you never knewwwww!”

And then they get to cuddle a bear cub.

So the lesson is: don’t shoot grizzlies! Be kind to grizzlies, even if they are hairy and smelly and smell weird, even if they want to eat all your honey, and even if they growl when you approach. As long as you are kind and cuddle with their children they will love you! That is my metaphorical example of being kind to people even if they’re ugly or weird or look scary. (Seriously though, you can’t take that advice literally! Do you know what would happen if you tried to cuddle a cub? Mama Bear Death Claw Attack!)

Charging Bears

But walking, feeling, living someone else’s life is a noble way to live.

Sometimes when I’m peeved at a woman who cuts in line, or a friend says something rude, or a family member cancels unexpectedly, or a car takes forever to turn left, I’ll try to think about what they might be going through. Sometimes it helps me calm down. Sometimes it just helps me come up with stories. But it always ensures I don’t take out a rifle like John Smith did.

That’s the way I want to live. By trying to walk, feel, and live in other people’s shoes. (Not literally, I am no shoe thief). Also, to walk with humility and grace . . . not willing to fight and hurt people for what I “think” is right. It’s not a lesson I’ve learned. It’s a lesson I’m learning. And maybe by the time I’m eighty I’ll have the lesson learned. And then perhaps my swan dive will be as perfect as Pocahontas’.

Have you learned any life lessons from a favorite Disney princess?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson & @elliesoderstrom

Lessons From a Tiger Teacher by Deborah Bryan

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She doesn't look like a Monster? Does she?

My guest writer today is Deborah Bryan from The Monster in Your Closet. I met Deb when she was Freshly Pressed. She posted this powerful, personal piece, and I thought she was so brave. Then we got to tweeting.

Later, I won a contest she was running and she sent me a book of poetry and an autographed copy of her own book, The Monster’s Daughter. Then we got to emailing and calling.

Deb has an awesome life. Sometimes she’s a mom, and sometimes she dresses up like a zombie. And sometimes she lands guest spots on reality television shows. And that is why I hate her. I mean I adore her, but I’m jealous. I mean, where is my camera crew? 😉

Read Deb’s beautiful piece about her Lesson Learned. Check out her blog, and follow her on Twitter at @deb_bryan.

• • •

Click here to see the schedule!

Lessons From a Tiger Teacher

I spent most of my early life assuming I’d make a mess of my later life. I was poor and headstrong, both of which seemed to be cons that outweighed pros such as intelligence, writing skill and my dastardly ability to flex the second knuckle of each finger.

I went through the motions of school, but I invested myself only minimally. Why on earth would I want to forego reading time to do homework whose long-term benefit I couldn’t really grasp? I’d plow through my assignments at the last moment just to avoid my mom’s not-quiet lectures on the importance of education, but my effort was strictly “just enough.” I didn’t see the point of doing more.

Mrs. Stamm changed that.

At first, I knew her as the personable, quirky teacher of my high school’s Asian Arts class. Her unique perspective on just about everything left me laughing more often than not. Over the first couple of weeks of the course, I came to enjoy classes with her so much that I approached her about taking her Chinese class as well. She was ecstatic about the inquiry, rightly seeing it as a compliment to her teaching. She approved my joining first-year Chinese late in the term.

It was a little disconcerting jumping into Chinese three weeks late, but I caught up pretty quickly. Within a few days, Mrs. Stamm started returning my quizzes with “A+++” scrawled across the top.

After class, I’d ask her questions about what we had just studied. She relished these questions and encouraged me to keep on asking them.

Within a few weeks, she concluded one such Q&A session with the surprising words: “I hope you keep studying Chinese in college!”

I laughed and said, “You mean, if I go to college.”

When I said this, she gave me a look of such complete incredulity I laughed even harder.

When you go to college, Deborah. When you go to college.”

Virtually every day after that, she’d tell me something she loved about college. She’d daydream for me about the adventures I’d have as a college student. At first, I smiled and nodded, allowing myself only briefly to enjoy the fantasy with her.

Thanks to Mrs. Stamm’s persistence, what started out as my humoring her slowly transformed to actually seeing college as the mandatory next step following high school.

It was only right and natural that I should go to college! It seemed impossible that I could ever have thought otherwise.

Sure, my mom had been trying to pound the importance of higher education through my iron-plated skull since before I understood what college was, but the words felt empty to me without the substance of clear experience to support them.

My class schedule was too full to allow me to continue studying Chinese for long. Those months that I did impacted me far more profoundly than I could ever have guessed when I first walked into Mrs. Stamm’s classroom. I learned not only a smattering of Chinese, but also about Mrs. Stamm’s youth in China. I learned about some of her struggles as she made her way to the quieter — but by no means dull — life she lived when I was her student.

It’s been more than half my life ago that Mrs. Stamm taught me at least as much about hope and having faith in myself as she did about China and Chinese.

I don’t remember much Chinese anymore, but I’ll never forget the warmth of Mrs. Stamm’s unwavering belief I could and would be whatever I dreamed for myself.

Who was I to look at the truths she told me and call her a liar?

Who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself?