On the Plus Side…

See that little image of a road there on the right? (Scroll down a little if you need to.)

It links to Paypal and says you can buy me a drink or something.

I don’t know why I put it there but the good news is….

I got a donation!!!!!!!

You know who you are – THANK YOU!

 

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Hiding out in Southwestern Arizona (like Billy the Kid or something…)

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I had a wonderful time in Tucson. I stayed with an interesting and delightful woman named Lauren. I found her place on Airbnb.
Not only did she have great advice for how to spend my time, but she was also fun to talk with. As an artist and a spiritually aware person, I enjoyed her stories, her art, and her perspectives.
She gave me some good insight into myself and what exactly this journey might be about. I appreciated that greatly.
When I left Tucson I wanted some down time, some me alone time. So I did some surfing for ideas.
Good Goddess I love the intertubes!
I found a resort offering a deal whereby you pay the first night at full price and then subsequent nights at the price of the year of your birth.
So for the same price as a Super 8, or a bad Best Western, I stayed in a grand room with an inspiring view of mountains, sunsets, and a horse ranch off in the distance.
I stayed longer then I planned to, and I wrote less than I planned to, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Especially the horse ride through the desert on January 1st. My riding partner and guide Sylvia told me ancient legends as we rode, of chiefs and witches, coyotes and quails, jackrabbits and little children.

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I spoiled myself here. I went for a massage in their spa on the 31st.
This seemed to release a good amount of toxins and got me a little bit sick for the next couple of days. Enough so that I just stayed put a while longer and rested and relaxed. It’s not often I lounge around resort grounds soaking up the sun and chatting with persons from around the globe.

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The weather has been warmer than usual, even for southern Arizona. No complaints here. Back home in Connecticut it has just finished snowing yet again and the next 48 hours will bring sub zero temps and vicious wind chills.
I’m very pleased to be right where I am and every day I thank the Universe for letting things flow in such a way as to make this journey possible.
Now… Off to Phoenix…

Ode to a Teacher

I have a friend who pays an inordinate amount of attention to obituaries.

It’s not like he’s of an age where one would watch to be aware of the passing of friends. He’s always been like this.

He’s the one who tells me when a friend’s parent has passed, or perhaps the untimely death of an old acquaintance in our age group, or an important yet little known person who influenced our chosen brand of American culture.

Earlier this week I got a text from him that said “Mrs. Sokolowski died. 89 years old.”

Wow.

Chesterlyn Sokolowski. Eighth grade? Seventh grade?

It seems some of my best teachers came from that time of my schooling. Anthony Dyer was middle school too.

These are the teachers who pushed me. These are the teachers who knew I could do better than what I did.

Mrs. Sokolowski was a hard-ass. No excuses were good enough. She insisted on work done well. She scoffed at efforts less than 110%. She scowled and growled and hissed and snapped. Right now my mind pictures a viper.

She was the matriarch of Memorial Middle school, possibly I have that impression because her daughter worked there too. Miss Sokolowski taught French which I took two years of (and passed) but with which I was completely lost and decidedly unfluent in, when I was in France. Mrs. Sokolowski taught English and writing. (Not that this is any of my best writing but it’s just coming off the top of my head – and yes, I see the awkwardness of some of the previous sentences.)

Along with the babysitter of all my young years, Mrs. Bostock, Mrs. Sokolowski was very important to the shaping of my writer-brain. And Mr. Dyer was there to teach me how to think, how to see the big picture as well as the details and comprehend the nuances to the shaping of civilization.

I was an excellent student in Middle school. Hungry for the knowledge these people could give me, rebellious slightly and always a bit of a lazy student, they drew out the best in me.

When asked most of my life who was my best teacher ever, I was always inclined to point the finger at Mr. Dyer. A large man with piercing blue eyes, a shock of yellow blond hair, and the voice of a Viking, he was flamboyant, loud, intimidating and endlessly entertaining. Mrs. Sokolowski was old even then, with her curled grey old-lady hair and glasses. And she was a little mean. She was the kind of teacher who might have a ruler in her hand to slap loudly on a student’s desk. She was relentless and maybe not so well liked. She may not have been as entertaining, and it may have been harder to sit in her class, but she was without doubt a force to be reckoned with and a remarkable teacher.

Beyond Middle school my thirst for schoolwork waned considerably.

My teachers were less interesting, less motivating. They seemed to be sort of bumbling and ineffectual.

This may have been due to my own lifestyle changes, it was the start of high school where I met a whole new crew of fascinating long-haired boys. Boys more interested in music and marijuana than in schoolwork or knowledge. But it seems to me, when I look back on it, that part of the problem was that I had come up against teachers who were not as smart as me. I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but I felt then as if they had little to teach me. Certainly I was learning new things in circles I hadn’t even known existed and school didn’t afford me opportunities that interested me as much as watching ‘the band’ learn new songs, hanging out in sand lots on mountain tops having keg parties and learning to know a whole new crowd of people, and a whole new introduction to music.

It’s probably wrong of me to blame this disinterest and this turning from school on my teachers, there were other factors in my life that precipitated these changes in me.

Certainly there were a few memorable teachers in high school, including Mr. Adams and Mr. Seibal(?) but this post isn’t about them.

When I was in my early 40s I went to the post office one random day and Mrs. Sokolowski recognized me. Many people from my past recognize me because somehow I look just the same now as I did when I was 8, and 25. It took a moment for me to place her, then I smiled. A few moments of chit chat and she got serious and said “May I ask you something?”

She asked me – “Did we do right by you? In school? I know we did okay with the average students, but I always worried about you smart kids. Did we challenge you? Did we set you on the right path? Did we do okay?”

It seemed such a burning question inside her, I was surprised.

I was moved by her query. I guess I’d never thought about a teacher’s perspective on someone like me. I guess I didn’t know, that back then, they knew I was smart. Isn’t that silly? I knew. I knew they treated me differently, placed me in advanced classes and whatnot. And I knew they worried about me in high school when my grades began to drop, (when they pulled me into the guidance office and told me I was hanging with the wrong crowd,) but I didn’t know I mattered to any of them. Not really.

I saw it though, that day, in her eyes. She truly cared to know if she’d done a good job. Not for her sake, but for mine. I mattered to her. This was literally stunning.

I didn’t know, other than theoretically, that a teacher truly cared about the trajectory of a single student, like an arrow she’d had a part in aiming.

I told her the truth.

She’d done the best she could with me. She engaged me and taught me well. I told her I’d lost interest through high school, perhaps because I didn’t have teachers of her caliber. I’d not gone to college, instead I traveled the country for nearly a decade, then I’d opened my own successful business (which I was 12 or 13 years into owning at the time) and that I’d have to say yes, she had, they had, done okay by me. They’d taught me to think and learn and I couldn’t have asked for better.

We parted happily and I thought of that encounter often. I related it to friends many times through the past bunch of years, with awe at her concern, and honor that she thought of me at all.

Before I relate what it was like when I went to her wake (which is the point of this post) I’d like to tell how after the wake, I went to dinner with a teacher friend. He assured me that teachers do indeed think often of individual students and lay awake at night wondering if they’ve done right by these kids. And when talk turned to other areas of our lives, and an idea came forward that he could utilize in his teaching, and I watched his eyes light up with the possibilities of this new idea and how it could and will affect the experience his students will have; I thought of her.

I felt compelled to go to the wake. The point of a wake is to pay one’s respects to the departed. I didn’t expect to know anyone there, unless Miss Sokolowski, who was surely no longer Miss Sokolowski might be there, and I hoped she was.

I walked in to a mostly empty funeral home. The emptiest wake I’d ever attended. There were a few people looking at the photo board. There were pictures of her in the 40s, a glamorous looking woman with  perfect 40s hair. There were pictures of her as a young girl, grainy sepia toned photos, a little girl on a red wagon, a little girl looking into a stream. There were pictures of her as an old woman, smiling around a table with other old women. None of them looked like my Mrs. Sokolowski. But then, there was one small photo, from an instamatic camera, with film color that’s not holding up well, of her accepting an award or something at a podium among diners. Ah! There she was.

I looked around – I wanted to tell someone – look! There she is – my teacher!

There was no one to tell.

It was an open casket.

I walked over and stood before her. Her skin was grey and she was old and didn’t look like anyone I knew. But I looked past that, I looked through to the woman I saw in the photos, to the woman who waggled her finger at me and INSISTED I do as well as I could.

I thanked her for caring. About me and about all the many students whose lives she had undoubtedly touched as much as she did my own. I thanked her for our encounter at the post office. I thanked her for all that she gave of herself. I told her I hoped her life had been satisfying in all those realms a kid never imagines for a teacher. I told her that I hoped her journeys beyond this planet would afford her heart and soul much peace. I told her she had mattered.

And when I turned from her, I wanted to tell this important information to someone else. I wanted to tell someone that she mattered. There were chairs there for the family, but no one was in them. There were a couple of small groups of people talking amongst themselves. I looked for Karen – Miss Sokolowski. She was not there.

I stood not knowing what to do.

I wanted to shout to the room – hey! This lady over here! She mattered! Do you know that?!

I looked back at her for one final Thank You, and then I left.

Goodbye Mrs. Chesterlyn Sokolowski. Thank you, you did good. You mattered.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Don’t we all want to be happy?

Aren’t all our motives for doing anything to reach some level of happiness?

 

Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions.

 

Happiness isn’t a destination, you won’t be happier when you’re thinner, or when you make more money, or when you get that big screen tv.

You’ll be happier by having more positive emotions than negative emotions on a daily basis.

 

Here’s three very effective ways to do that.

Simple things anyone can do. Scientifically proven to alter our brain chemistry to produce positive emotions.

 

One – Gratitude.

Without a doubt, gratitude is one of the most important traits one can nurture to increase happiness.

 

You probably woke up this morning with a few aches and pains, but you woke up.

Maybe you’ve seen better days, but you’ve also seen worse.

Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is good.

 

Acknowledging that makes you happier. That’s just a fact.

Looking at something and saying “I’m so pleased that that’s in my life!” Makes you happier.

 

Feeling gratitude is a choice we can make every single day in a hundred situations.

 

The only parking place is at the back of the lot? Instead of feeling inconvenienced, I try to be grateful that I have healthy legs and that I’m able to walk all that way without too much effort or thought.

 

Next time something is inconvenient, find something spectacular about it all and give yourself a big “woohooo! Life is good!”

 

That’s gratitude.

 

Too often though, we forget to acknowledge what is good in our lives.

 

Some people espouse the benefits of a Gratitude Journal, whereby you take a few moments each day to write a short list of things you are grateful for. Keeping a Gratitude Journal forces you to acknowledge the good in your life.

I’m grateful the puppy didn’t get into the trash while I was at work today.

I’m grateful for my new computer.

I’m grateful that my significant other is a good cook.

I’m thankful my boss was in a good mood today.

 

All of us CAN find things we are grateful for each and every day.

 

Two – Attitude.

Another important factor in your personal happiness is your attitude.

So what is attitude anyway? On the surface, it is the way you transmit your mood to others. But attitude is more than that actually, it’s the way you see the world, so to speak.

 

That means attitude is everything.

Attitude is more important than facts, appearance, giftedness or skill. It is more important than the past, your education, the money you have or don’t have, more important than your circumstances.

 

And we get to choose our attitude.

No matter what life throws at you, you can decide what these events mean to you, how you choose to feel about them, and how you will react. That’s attitude.

 

It was Charles Swindoll who said – life is about 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to those events.

 

Granted this is not the easiest task on my list.

Attitude doesn’t stand still; it is an ongoing perceptual process. There’s always negativity around you that can easily alter your perspective and affect your disposition.

A constant focus on burdens and complaints makes the world a rather annoying place.

 

The big trick is to choose to see the best that any situation provides.

If negativity creeps in, you have to consciously substitute something positive in its place.

Consciously…

Like that parking place at the back of the lot – wooohoo – I got legs! It’s all good!

 

That’s how to be keep a positive attitude.

 

Three – Awareness.

 

There’s a one-in-two chance your mind is on something else as you sit here right now. Are you thinking of what you have to do when the meeting is over? Wondering when you’ll have time to schedule that oil change you know you need? Thinking about the argument you had with your kid this morning?

 

Harvard psychologists found that we spend 46.9% of our time doing one thing while thinking about another.

 

If you’re stuck on tomorrow or yesterday, today, right now, trickles away like water down a drain.

Today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today is the main event.

 

Do not get caught up in the lie that happiness only exits in the future, the possibility for it exists in every instant of your life, if you’ll consciously acknowledge it.

 

In a world of abundant stimuli and incessant movement it’s so easy to overlook seemingly minor joys.

If you want to be happier, appreciate as many moments as you can manage every day.

 

Next time it’s sunny outside, turn your face up to it and really feel that early springtime warmth.

I bet you’ll smile.

 

As you walk to your car tonight, notice the feel of the steps you take, notice the grace of your body as you shift weight from one foot to the next, smell the springtime air, listen to the sound of your shoes on the pavement. Look at the moss in the sidewalk cracks.

 

Sometimes I’ll even take it so far as to marvel at the engineering feat represented by the tiny sound of the snick of my door lock when I press the fob.

 

Life, and time, go by very very quickly. Grab at those chances to cultivate positive emotions.

 

Savor the moment is almost cliché, but do you know that if you savor each bite of food you put in your mouth you’re almost guaranteed to lose weight? Have a craving for potato chips? Try eating them one at a time.

Notice the delicious salty crunch. The way a thin chip practically melts on your tongue.

It’s highly unlikely you’d eat half a bag this way, 10 or 12 chips would be plenty.

 

Our minds are amazing. Brains perform calisthenics and perceptual twists that science hasn’t  fully explored yet. We know that choosing to practice gratitude, consciously altering our attitudes and appreciating the moment changes the chemical makeup of our brains and makes us feel and experience more positivity.

 

While the studies are out we can use this rudimentary information to shape our days and our lives into a vast collection of positive emotions.

 

Because even when we have reached our goals and succeeded in our dreams, we can only experience true happiness if we really notice and absorb the beauty and joy of the little moments and the wonderful world that surrounds us.

And it’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.