The students in my Social Media Strategy class are required to create a blog and post on it at least four times during the semester. I’m always amazed at their interests and how they want to present themselves. Last semester, one student began a blog about, of all things, letter writing!
A woman after my own heart.
I have long been a fan of letters — pretty stationery, matching envelopes, a return address, an address, a colorful stamp. In my junior-high days, I even had a kit where I could melt a little bit of wax on the back of the envelope and press it with a brass monogram to create a seal (so very royal of me, I know). Letters were how I stayed in touch, how I let people know I was remembering them. And I wanted to do that. It was important to me.
As a college student in the 1970s, seeing that diagonal line of a leaning envelope through the window of my college mailbox meant — YAY! — mail! It meant a card from a high school friend, an update from my parents or grandparents or numerous aunts and cousins. Once in a while I received thick updates from my high school friends. They usually wrote on notebook paper, pages and pages (I recall one 17-page tome), front and back, numbered pages, with their familiar handwriting. They were the friends who had scattered to the winds after high school in Bonn, Germany. Some came back to the States, others stayed on in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, or if they were ambassadors’ kids they often went back to their home country for college. We missed one another and were hungry for news. We’d been deep in one another’s lives for years — formative years — and we cared about where life was taking us in our various corners of the world.
Later, after college, by far the BEST mail was another thick envelope, a round-robin letter. Two sets of my college friends started these letters to keep us in touch. Instead of writing separate letters to the other three in a group, we could write one letter, pop it in an envelope, and send it to the next person on the list. Then each person put in a letter.
When the round-robin envelope came back, I sat for an entire evening reading three thick letters overflowing with news from my dearest friends. Then I pulled out my old letter, re-read it, and wrote a new one with news picking up from where the last one left off. I added my new letter to theirs and sent the whole batch on. Sometimes it took a few months for the envelope to arrive back. Sometimes photos were included — an engagement ring, a wedding, a new baby. We hugged one another from afar, again caring about lives who had become so much a part of our own.
Then along came email and Facebook and our letters went out of style. With a click we could upload pictures. We could follow one another’s lives. We could email and copy everyone else and not have to wait for months.
As nice as that is, I miss those thick letters. Probably for the same reason that I love books over e-books, I love letters over e-mail.
But if it means communication, I’m happy for anything.
Yet there IS something about a letter. As it says in this post from The Pen Company, “8 reasons to send snail mail today,” sending a letter shows you care, it’s “on a whole other level.”
I am a sucker for stationery and note cards. I try to send handwritten thank-yous at least. But I’d like to get back to taking the time to connect with the people who matter most to me. The ones who shaped my life in one way or another.
Because a letter shows a whole other level of caring. And that’s what I want to show as well.
When we moved from a city in Chicagoland that boasted a “Top Ten Library,” I somewhat despaired. That was the library where I diligently took my children a couple times a month. We routinely checked out and returned and checked out and returned piles of children’s books. This library did indeed have a stellar selection, the latest technologies, and wonderful ambiance.
We have since lived in two small towns in Indiana, both boasting libraries. I was thrilled to locate the first town’s library. I paid my twenty-dollar fee to be a member, only to look around and find rows and rows of romantic paperbacks. “We take donations,” the elderly volunteer behind the desk informed me.
This was not the “Top Ten” library I had made use of for the last 26 years of my life. This was a little town library with just enough money to keep going. That’s okay, I told myself. There were a few biographies and memoirs here I could read. I checked out Stephen King’s On Writing, returned it on time, went to check out another, and a new elderly volunteer asked me if I still had On Writing at home and would I please return it.
“I did, last week,” I told her. I had dropped it off across the street in the plastic box under the desk by the entrance to the video store—the after-hours drop box. “Look, it’s here, on the shelf.” I didn’t want her to exert herself, so I walked over, pulled the book from the shelf and brought it to her. “See? Returned and back on the shelf.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, as she clicked around with the mouse on the computer and tried to find the screen she needed. I didn’t want to start out my sojourn in this little town as the lady who didn’t return library books!
We’ve since moved to another small town that boasts a library as well. Again, mostly donations, but this one I could join for free — just needed to prove my town address. “Do I need a library card?” I asked naively.
“No, we’ll recognize you.”
The library is in a repurposed brick two-story building that appears to have once been a church. (The bricked-in arches above what are now square windows give me that impression.) The library has been serving this and the surrounding communities for almost a century.
My grandsons and I recently walked the two blocks from our home to visit on a chilly Saturday afternoon. They enjoyed the large Lego blocks and the plastic car track. I wandered the stacks, excited to find many actual readable books (sorry, paperback romances do not translate into my world as “readable”). There are enough current books, memoirs, and reference books to keep me busy.
“We’re not fully computerized yet, but we’re working on it,” one of the volunteers told me.
The library is a gathering place — offering a knitting and crocheting circle, activities for elementary children, and various and sundry lessons.
On a shelf beside the front door are “free” books. (Isn’t that sort of like offering candy to a baby?) The librarian told me they were mostly duplicates among donations. I found a memoir to add to my reading collection. My grandsons each found a book to take home as well.
I love this little library. It’s clean and bright, and the folks are friendly. People drop in to make use of the free WiFi, pick up and return videos, send a fax, or read a magazine. While I was readying my grandsons to leave at closing time, the librarian kindly told me to take my time. “Someone just called and needs to use the Internet. I’m waiting for him.”
Yes, I have access to three huge university libraries, and I use them diligently for research and the love of my life: “inter-library loan.” Yes, there are websites that show me the “most beautiful libraries in the world” (swoon!).
But I think when I want to simply wander smaller stacks to find a new book to read, or when I want to repeat my earlier process and now take grandchildren to check out piles of books, we’ll walk the two blocks to our little local library.
<Note from author: I wrote this in 2016, reposted in 2017, and am sharing again on Veterans Day 2020. As of this date, November 11, 2020, our nation is struggling with an undecided election because of allegations of voter fraud. We all should care so much about this that any kind of fraud is unacceptable–whether we’re on the winning side or not. If we cannot trust our voting system, we are destroying the very foundation of our nation and the freedom that our veterans fought for and our military protects. To me, that’s what matters most.>
Today is Veterans Day. Today we honor the men and women who are part of our American military.
I know that so many people wish that we just didn’t need you—that there were no wars to be fought. That we could all just get along.
One day, yes. But that’s a description of heaven. That’s not what we have here on this imperfect planet. Have there been unjust wars? Yes. Have wars been fought for stupid reasons? Yes. Is war terrible? Yes.
We could get into a big discussion about that here. But I’m not going to.
I’m also not here to talk about the merits of various wars. I’m not here to honor or condemn any particular commander-in-chief.
I’m here to thank the men and women who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank the men and women who, answerable to their commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what they are called to do. I’m here to honor the men and women who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when they need to be and deadly when they need to be. I’m here to thank the people who fight for freedom.
I wish that we didn’t need you, that everyone in the world could just get along. Unfortunately, that is just not a reality. The best way to preserve freedom is for our country to have a strong enough military that says, “Don’t mess with us.” You who go into harm’s way to help preserve that freedom, who protect us, who help the rest of the world know that to mess with us is to bring the greatest nation in the world down on them—thank you.
I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, in families uprooted and moved to new places; in facing enemy fire; in PTSD and things you can’t unsee when you close your eyes to sleep; in doing all of this for pathetic pay.
You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.
We just came out of a very divisive election. The country is split. But you know what? That’s what voting is all about. Some win; some lose. I have cried my eyes out over a few elections; I’ve sighed with relief at others. To those of you out there protesting that the new president is not yours, look around for two seconds and realize that you are allowed to do this. You are allowed to feel this way. No one’s going to put you in jail for your opinion (unless you start doing something illegal). You live in the greatest country in the world. You’re FREE!
And here’s the bottom line: One election cannot destroy a free people.
Take a look at our history to see what we’ve survived.
This is what you thank a veteran for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.
But here’s the other side of the coin. With freedom comes a huge amount of responsibility. We’re free—but not to hurt one another. Not to make fun of one another. Not to badmouth those who disagree with us. We’re free to express opinions, but we must always do so respectfully, realizing that the person across from us with a very different opinion came to that opinion in his or her own reasoned way just as we did.
Has America had some very bad policies? Oh yeah. Have some presidents made some really bad decisions? Heck yes. Does America have some really big problems to work on? You bet.
But it has always been that way. Always. No country is perfect just as no person is perfect. We are all fallible and the best we can do is, when we see a problem, decide that we need to fix it. And we start to figure out how to do that.
We need all of the voices in the conversation—but there is no conversation if everyone is offended or upset or name-calling. The way we get to the best decisions is when we sit down and hear one another.
And for everyone upset about this election, realize that for the rest of your life, you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Also, realize that most voters look at a way larger picture and take into account way more things—especially those of us who are older and try to look at the office and the nation and the future, which are way bigger than a single man or woman. And take a quick look at history. This country swings back and forth between Democrat and Republican presidents and Congress. If we don’t like what we have, we are able to vote them out next time around.
That’s what you thank a vet for. Helping preserve that freedom for the last 240 years.
Many of the greatest changes that happened in our country have not been top-down decisions from a president. That’s the genius of our system of government—a system people have fought and died for. Change happens when FREE people voice their opinions and work for change and vote in the lawmakers who could make the changes happen. In at least one case in particular, we fought a horrifying war on our own soil because of those differing opinions.
And if those lawmakers don’t win? Then stand strong on your principles, keep your respectful voice being heard, and keep working for the change you feel needs to happen.
Thank a vet for that.
Thank a vet that we are still a free country where we can have vastly different opinions and live together, work together, serve together, worship together.
The best way we can honor our veterans is being worthy of their sacrifices.
So instead of letting our opinions divide us, instead of being angry that there are actually people who think differently than we do, why don’t we instead find ways to make positive change—in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities and workplaces, in our world? Why don’t we now take a deep breath, listen to one another, learn from one another, understand the very deep feelings on both sides, and work together to make whatever needs to be improved better?
Our country has made a lot of mistakes, but I can say without hesitation that the United States is the greatest country in the world. But FREEDOM is a privilege that must be handled with great appreciation and great care. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. There will always be huge new problems to face. But we won’t face them down by refusing to listen to one another or refusing to learn from our own history.
Today, I thank my Uncle Howard (who has passed away) for his sacrifice in World War II, and I thank my dad, who bravely flew a hundred missions over North Vietnam and faced enemy fire.
Thank you, Dad, for serving our country. Thank you, Mom, for providing a haven wherever we moved, for making each new house a home.
So why should you thank a vet? Because these men and women sacrifice for an ideal—the ideal of freedom.
So you can be FREE.
Thank you, veterans, for serving and preserving this great country. May the rest of us learn from your example.
Okay readers, who are you out there? A few of you I know personally; many of you follow me (thank you!) even though we’ve never met.
Remember when we used to do those “25 Things about Me” lists on Facebook? I retrieved mine recently and updated it a bit. So here are 25 things about me. Does anything resonate with you? Then tell me more about YOU in the comments.
I am for standing for the National Anthem. Hand over heart. Men with hats off.
Military saluting. Always. Every time. Everywhere.
I’m a born again Christian who loves Jesus and am trying to learn to love as Jesus loves.
I enjoy singing old hymns. What poetry! What amazing theology embedded in those works of art. They fill my soul.
Politics—be involved but don’t let the antics of politicians ruin your day. Don’t let your mood be determined by them. The beauty of the American system is that we have a chance to vote out the people we don’t like and vote in the people we do. In the meantime, enjoy life. I’ve seen enough politicians come and go in my lifetime to know that nothing is permanent.
I like living in a place where the seasons change. Each has its own magic.
I love pecan pie.
There really is nothing like an excellent cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream.
I am blessed to have a loving family and have prayed to build a loving home where family and friends can visit and feel comfortable and cared for.
I am blessed to have a job I love and freelance work that I find just as exciting.
I feel strongly about grammar mistakes, but not enough to be annoying.
I love words—how they look, how they sound, how they go together. I’m constantly astounded that a finite number of words can be combined to create masterpieces or drivel. And I’m constantly attempting to make my writing better so mine isn’t drivel. Good books fuel me. Writing calms my anxious heart.
I enjoy organizing . . . anything. I feel good when it (whatever it is) is organized. I hyperventilate in office supply stores.
One of my favorite movies is Napoleon Dynamite. And give me Mystery Science Theater any day of the week.
Memes. Funny memes.
I got engaged to my husband in a hot air balloon.
I’m completely craft impaired. I don’t get the point of cross stitching or scrapbooking or card stamping. But I love it when other people do it. I’m amazed, frankly.
I am also sports impaired. I never made a sports team I tried out for. I stopped trying after I knocked out my dad’s front tooth with my elbow practicing for the girls’ basketball team tryouts. (And no, didn’t make that team either.)
I love public speaking. I hear it’s the #1 fear of most people, so what’s wrong with this picture?
Pets have a huge place in my heart. We have a Shih Tzu and a few cats who found us in the country — willing suckers who fed them and soon housed them.
I’ve been all over Europe (Germany [lived there for my 4 high school years], Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Monaco, England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Iceland, even Liechtenstein) and also to China. I still want to visit Scotland, Ireland, and Greece.
I’m an MK—military kid, specifically an Air Force brat. When people ask me where I grew up, I say “everywhere.” I am proud of my amazing parents.
I love my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces (and their various significant others). She’s 11 years younger than me (and we’re the only two), so it’s awesome that we’re friends.
I like to do laundry.
I think my kids are awesome—interesting, talented, self-confident. They’re miles ahead of where I was at their age.
Oh, and did I mention my grandkids?
So now tell me about you! One thing, five things, 25 things! I want to get to know you.
My mug is courtesy of my son, and I think my sister gave me the little tea guy. Just put loose-leaf tea in his pants, set him into the teacup hot tub and voila! Tea. Right now I’m drinking some loose leaf India black tea called Assam House Blend. It’s delightful!
In the interest of sharing a bit more about myself here–I’m ready to ‘fess up about my cats, because, yes, my son may be right. I just might be “one cat short of crazy.”
Yes, we have too many cats.
I’ll be the first to admit it.
No, we don’t live in a house of squalor with a hundred furrballs. I like to think our house is in pretty good shape, all things considered. See, here’s the deal. We moved to the country from the suburbs. I had never owned a cat in my life.
We were dog people. Small dog people. We have our little Shih Tzu named Snickers who moved with us to the country and was our only pet.
That is, until I sat on our three-season porch one summer evening and heard a distinct mewing. With a flashlight and careful step, we located the little culprit—a black kitten with neon green eyes.
Finally, with a little string for enticement, my husband knelt down beside her and made friends. We allowed her on the porch “but not in the house.” Then, she was in the house. And in our hearts. We named her Kit Kat. Here’s a link to that story. We had her spayed and got her the shots she needed.
So we had a cat and a dog. Nice combo platter.
Next, my husband was working in the barn when a full-grown black and white cat jumped up on his workbench and rubbed her head against his arm. “Hello sweetheart,” he said gently, and she purred. When he left the barn, she followed. When he got to the porch and entered, she followed. When he came into the living room, she made herself at home.
Two cats and one dog. He calls her Sweet Pea.
We took her in to have her spayed, only to find she already had been. So she had belonged to someone. Had she been left? Had she run away or gotten lost? How had she found her way to us? No matter. She apparently was here to stay.
Then my husband saw in town a mama cat and three kittens, all in a cage on the front porch with the weather changing to cold. He knocked on the door and asked if he could rescue them.
Six cats and one dog.
The kittens grew, mama wandered, papas in the area learned of some hot chicks (kits?) new to the area. Pregnant cats.
Kittens. Too many kittens.
Kittens given away. We took one set to a farm where kids come to play with the animals. Several got taken by a few acquaintances. More spaying appointments.
One more set of kittens.
We put out a sign offering “Free Kittens,” but in the Indiana countryside that’s like an Eskimo offering free snow in Alaska. So that set ended up staying around. A couple of those surprised us with having one kitten before we could get them spayed. One had kittens that we tried desperately to save, but they were just born too soon.
My husband rescued yet another kitten from the side of a country road. Mama and another kitten crossed over, but this one was nearly blind from gunky eyes and full of fleas. He took this little one to the vet to get him all cleaned up. We call him Little Bit—and he’s now our biggest and heaviest cat.
The numbers have fluctuated over the years as some have just disappeared—either victims of getting lost amongst the stalks of corn in the field across the way, or in the woods, or perhaps killed by a predator or a vehicle. That’s the sad part. I don’t like to think about it. But then, new ones arrive – twice we’ve had skinny, malnourished cats find their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Both Mike and Molly are now healthy and well fed. At current count, we have eight cats. They come and go, but this is home.
So there you have it. These cats sit on my lap as I try to work, sit beside me on my desk waiting for me to put my face close for a nuzzle, lay beside me on the bed wrapped around my legs.
I wouldn’t trade these little inspirations for anything.
So sure, maybe too many cats, but all of these have found their way to us and decided to stay. So am I a crazy cat lady? Perhaps. We take care of them. We love them.
Oh, and they are all currently spayed or neutered.
Because really, eight is enough. Because more than that? Well, that would be crazy!
I love to haunt old bookstores. Even at Goodwill or the local resale shop, you’ll always find me, head turned sideways, scanning the titles of those used and lonely books.
There’s just something about used books. Our shelves at home are groaning under the weight of books because, when my husband and I want to go “shopping,” we both know that we’re heading to a place where we can look for books.
We bring them home, often wondering why we thought we needed more and, more importantly, where we’re going to put them. But that’s just a minor issue for us book lovers. We always find a way.
This past summer I came across this wonderful little textbook that I must share with you. It’s titled Language Etiquette, copyright 1949. From what I can tell, it’s an elementary school grammar text.
Here’s the cover. First, I have to say that I just love this snotty girl being rude to the friendly red-haired guy, tipping his hat at her. What is that about?
Then, as I work my way through the book, I’m treated to rules of grammar and usage laid out in numbered lists, quizzes, and several poems to, you know, drive home the point. Like this gem titled “Etiquette”
You wouldn’t tolerate “B.O.”;
You dread the stigma that it lends;
But one thing you seem not to know;
That sloppy, careless speech offends.
You preen yourself to make a show;
You’re most meticulous in dress;
Though outwardly you’re all aglow,
Your slouchy words make you a mess.
You check your etiquette each day;
You guard with care your ev’ry act;
You’re sure your manners rate okay;
You pride yourself that you have tact.
But keep in mind there’s danger yet
Your fine impression to impeach,
For there’s no law of etiquette
That sanctions careless, sloppy speech.
Or this one, titled “Super ‘Guy'” (I really don’t know why “guy” is in quotation marks):
You know that you’re a super “guy”–
Your mom has often told you so;
In looks and brains you rate so high
No triumph that you may not know.
Though you’re so sure you’re “on the beam”
To high performance that you’d reach,
He seen and knowed may spoil a dream–
There’s sabotage in vulgar speech.
Though you possess a super mind
And strut in fashion ev’ry day,
If speech you use is unrefined,
You’re still considered just a “jay.”
Of highest triumph you’ve no doubt;
You’re sure you look like Robert Young;
But you’ll be rated super lout
While you’ve a careless, sloppy tongue.
Well, if that doesn’t convince you not to be a lout, I don’t know what will!
But I have to say one good thing about this little book. Several pages have lists with guidelines for having good manners in conversation. So this was more than just a textbook about grammar and grammar usage, it was also offering to those elementary-aged minds advice on being decent human beings when it comes to speaking and having conversations.
Some of the points are a bit dated (i.e. “A lady keeps her voice low and quiet”), yet overall, I find a few pieces of etiquette advice that we ought to take to heart. Today, some of my students were sharing in class about various other social media sites that writers might want to use as they build their platforms. We were warned about a couple of them because of “frequent vulgarity” or just plain “meanness” by users.
What is wrong with our world? What happened to decency, niceness, etiquette? So for our edification (and maybe a few politicians might take heart, along with the “mean” folks on social media), I offer a few chosen language etiquette rules circa 1949 yet so needed today:
You are judged by your conversational manners.
He who talks most loudly is not necessarily he who talks best.
No gentleman enjoys talking smut with a girl. (Is this not priceless?)
Your conversation shows what you are–regardless of exterior signs.
Don’t be an overwise, know-all.
Always congratulate your successful rival.
Malicious gossip appeals only to little minds.
It is difficult to be a good listener, but it pays to try.
It is much better to be silent than to say too much.
Use tact and common sense–lest you hurt someone.
Don’t interrupt or contradict without a very good reason.
Try to say that which gives pleasure–don’t cause pain to others.
A little etiquette might go a long way. And I think today, in our social media world where we can say whatever we want either anonymously or without having to deal with a person face to face, we have become far too “vulgar” and “mean.”
I may think the poetry is hilarious, but many things in this little book are on the mark.
If you could create language etiquette rules for today, what might you include?
It’s the end of the year, always a time to look back at the past year and look ahead to the future. I believe a few thank-yous are in order.
Thanks to my family for supporting me in my crazy schedule when at times a week or more would go by and I barely came up for air, much less cogent conversation. My husband for standing behind me and being my sounding board. My children, I will always worry about you even though you’re off on your own with jobs, marriages, children, but thank you for being so resourceful, happy, hard-working, and faithful. I miss you like crazy and wish I could see you more often, but you have to be off doing what God has called you to do. My five grandchildren are adding a new dimension to my life. Again, I wish we lived closer, but the times I get to see you are full of so much joy that it carries me along — at least for a little while. In the in-between times I send you lots of prayers. My family is there when I need them, providing a safe harbor in life’s storms.
Thanks to my students. You give me a reason to get up in the morning and joy in my work that I never knew I could have. I love opening my office door every morning, planning my lessons, and trying to give you tools that will carry you into awesome writing and publishing careers. Your enthusiasm in the classroom, your hard work on the assignments, and your willingness to cut me some slack (I’m still new, after all, and learning the ropes) keep me fulfilled and happy and constantly trying to improve.
Thanks to my fellow students and mentors in my MFA program. I love being a student again, and I am so thrilled to be getting to know you. You amaze me with your writing and your insights into my writing. You’re helping me to write better and encouraging me in the daily grind. You’re giving me tools to use in my writing. You inspire me. I love how different we all are yet how much we love the art of writing.
Thanks to my friends past and present who encourage me with your Facebook posts and your blogs about your lives. You’re raising amazing families and doing amazing things. Sure, we may have our differences spiritually or politically, but we have made great memories and I’m so glad we’re still in touch.
So going into 2016, I have a few goals:
Call my various family members once a week. Life is all about relationships, and my family means the world to me.
Write to my grandchildren those old-fashioned things called “letters.” I started this last year but didn’t keep it up very well. I need to do this at least twice a month to all of them.
Write every day–for publication, for my MFA thesis, for myself. I have gotten lazy in this area, discouraged at times. But if I make it a goal in front of all of you, I will be more inclined to do it. My goal is 500 words a day.
Read at least two books a month. I’d really like to do more, but I don’t want to overextend myself.
Blog twice a month.
Continue to be a good literary citizen sharing others’ work and encouraging fellow writers and writing teachers.
Run a 5K. I’m working with my trainer to prepare for this. It’s sort of a bucket list thing, but I plan to be ready in May.
Thanks to all of you who check in and read. I appreciate you. Wishing you a wonderful new year!
When I signed on to teach at the college level–first as an adjunct and now as a full-time instructor–no one told me that every year in May I was going to experience the heart-throbbing pain of good-byes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve said a lot of good-byes in my life. I grew up as a military kid and we moved a lot, so good-byes were pretty standard fare. I went to high school in Bonn, Germany, at what was then Bonn American High School (Go Crusaders!). After our class of fifty-some students moved the tassel in 1976, we scattered all over the globe (literally–and I am using literally correctly).
Then, after college, I said good-bye again to dear people who had been my roommates, my suitemates, fellow residence staff, professors, and friends.
Good-byes are never easy.
So no one warned me that now every year I would have to say good-bye to an entire group of students that I had come to love–literally. Students I had watched grow into great writers. Students I had talked to about their future dreams and plans. Students I had prayed for and with, cried with, laughed with. Students who, each year, taught me a little more about myself.
This evening we had a dinner to honor our seniors. Yesterday one of them asked that each of the profs in the department provide a letter to all of them, a “last lecture” of sorts. We wrote those letters, and she put them into a packet for each senior.
I thought long and hard about my letter. Writing should be easy, right? I’m a writer, right? But what do I say? What words of advice can I possibly give to these young people moving the tassel and scattering to the winds?
I told them to expect bittersweet. Graduation has been in their sights for years–but when it comes, it also means good-bye. And that’s hard. It means for the first time in four years they may not know where they will be come August. That can be frightening.
I told them to expect loneliness and confusion. Even if life is mapped out, even if there’s a job or grad program waiting and a wedding in the works, there will be times when they will miss the craziness that is dorm life. They’ll wonder if they’re making the right decisions. If they’re still job hunting and spouse hunting, at times the loneliness can be overwhelming.
But lest you think I’m Negative Nellie (or maybe just Realistic Rachel), let me assure you, I am all about the positive. I just want them to not think they’re alone when those feelings hit.
I also told them to keep the faith. Follow their path and stay close to the God who brought them this far and has a plan.
I told them to live this crazy adventure called life to the fullest.
I told them to keep writing and to expect rejection (yes, Realistic Rachel, it happens all the time) but to keep writing anyway.
I told them to stay in touch with one another and to continue to encourage one another in life and in writing.
I told them to find their tribes “out there” and to go to writing conferences just to remember what it’s like to be around a writing community.
I told them that they have a gift–the gift of words. Open it, enjoy it, share it, use it.
Good-bye, dear seniors. Thanks for being part of my life.
It’s an odd experience to get published and not know it.
I suppose I should be glad, but it wasn’t something I ever submitted, nor did I write it for publication.
Let me explain.
Over Christmas I was visiting with family in Corry, a small town in western Pennsylvania. My sister happens to be quite the photographer and recently had two of her large photographs on display at the Painted Finch Gallery in Corry (displayed, that is, until both sold at a juried art show!). Anyway, several of us made a stop in at the gallery on Christmas eve. The gallery is an eclectic mix of wildlife oil paintings, flowers and scenery in watercolors, color and black-and-white photography, pottery, jewelry, and work in other types of mediums that I, as a non-artsy person, can’t name but can appreciate.
While the others chatted with the proprietors, I wandered. In the back, near a glass case holding jewelry and pens, was a small holder with some greeting cards and a couple of paperback books.
Of course, I picked up the books.
One was a little paperback history of the town of Wattsburg, Pennsylvania. The little borough of Wattsburg, nestled about fourteen miles northwest of Corry, happens to have been my dad’s hometown. My grandfather had lived there most of his life–even was the mail carrier for many years (I talked about that in this post). We visited nearly every summer with him and cousins who lived nearby.
Some of my fondest memories have to do with the Erie County Fair held annually at the Wattsburg fairgrounds. Gramps was in charge of the concessions at the fair for many years. As a young child, walking through the midway with gramps was magical. Everyone knew him. I remember him motioning to one concessioner after I had spotted among his prizes a Barbie-type doll in a beautiful lace wedding gown. Next thing I knew, the doll was in my hands. (I’m sure he settled up later.)
Many years passed and, either in high school or college, I wrote an essay about the fair and grandpa. Later, I mailed it to him, thinking he would enjoy my reflections. He passed away not many years later.
So at the art gallery, I thumbed through the book about Wattsburg’s history filled with quirky stories, anecdotes, and people’s memories. I went to the spine and copyright page (hey, I’m in publishing–it’s a habit) and saw that it was self-published. The introduction stated that the material in the book had been gleaned from the Wattsburg Historical Society. Flipping pages revealed an index in the back. I wonder if gramps is in here, I thought. Chaffee, Chaffee–there he was!
And, to my surprise, so was I.
Page 49. What’s on page 49?
And there, to my astonishment, was my little essay about gramps and the Wattsburg fair.
I’m guessing that gramps received my essay in the mail and stored it among his fair papers, most of which apparently ended up in the historical society. The editors of this collection must have discovered the typewritten pages (or maybe they were handwritten, I can’t remember) among the papers and decided to publish it in this collection.
It’s a little embarrassing to read the musings of my early life (not to mention my immature writing style) from so many years ago. In the midst of my article, the editors had put a black-and-white photo of the fair committee, and among them is my dear grandfather.
So as odd as it is to be published without knowing it, I suppose for the audience of this particular book (one being my dad, who received that book the next day as a Christmas present), my little essay might bring back some good memories.
If my writing can do that, I suppose that’s all I can ask.
Just as, over three decades ago, I entered college with fear and trembling, I did the same when I decided to go back to continue my education. When I graduated with my BA in 1980, I swore I would never go back to school. I am a perfectionist and I put myself under so much pressure. When I got out, I couldn’t wait to just have a normal life. And, to be honest, an advanced degree probably would not have made a whole lot of difference on the path I chose since experience has been my trump card.
However, when I decided three years ago that I wanted to teach at the college level, the doors were closed without an MA. And so, I once again entered the academic setting as a student with classmates as old as my children. Here are my words of advice to you if you’re middle-aged (or older) and considering going back to school.
(1) Scope out all the options.
Depending, of course, on what you’re studying and what degree you’re pursuing, there are technical programs, low-residency programs, online programs, and traditional on-campus programs (full and part time). Online may be right for you given your job and other life circumstances. Low-residency means that most of the coursework is done online and then you travel to the school for an intensive class time. Schools are different–it might be two weeks twice a year or four weeks in the summer, etc. The point is, as you consider continued schooling, think about how you might work best.
If you’re near a campus that has a terrific on-campus program, don’t be afraid to try it because you’re “too old.” Yes, it’s a little scary but the amazing folks I have met, the new friendships I’ve made, and the new connections I’ve forged have made it all worthwhile. (And I’m an introvert!)
By the way, if you do this, you’re called a “non-traditional” student.
(2) Know your reasons and be ready to commit.
In this economy, many folks are heading back to school to get that extra edge they hope will help them get a job. You have to carefully weigh the cost of school versus what the outcome may be. It’s an expensive endeavor and should be entered into wisely. You can get loans if you go at least half time (most places). One good thing about being our age and heading back to school is that we often do have a pretty specific picture of who we are with a lot of years and experience under our belts. I had a specific goal in mind when I started and a reason to be there. That helped me keep going when the going got tough.
And you have to think about being a student–it’s a different mindset. This article (and the accompanying links) has tips for remembering how to be a student when you’re older. At least, at this point, you probably know that pulling an all-nighter is not a good idea . . .
Getting through any program will take some time. Are you ready to commit to one, two, three years? Are you prepared to plod through a class at a time? Can you set aside several hours a week to study and do homework? If you decide to do an online program, are you self-disciplined enough to stay with it?
(3) Let your life experience work for you.
Chances are you’re contemplating a particular program because you want to finish something you started or because, over the course of your lifetime, you’ve discovered a gift or desire that you never saw before and you want to see where the study can take you. You’ll be in classes with younger people who are still trying to figure out what life holds for them. You’ve been there. In one sense, you’re still in the process of discovery by going back to school, but in another sense you’re bringing loads of life experiences to inform your studies. No one is a blank slate, but your slate is probably really full. Don’t apologize for that. Embrace it. This article discusses some of the advantages you have as an older student–and they’re good ones.
My friend, L. Marie, writer and blogger, went back for her MFA later in life. She says, “I was a little intimidated at the thought of returning to grad school after so many years. But at Vermont College, I didn’t have to feel that way. In my program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, there were many students my age and even older. I love that!”
(4) Get to know your professors.
I said this in last week’s post for young students, but it’s no less true for you. Many of those professors may be younger than you, but place yourself in their classroom as a sponge ready to soak up whatever you can. I find that I am so ready to learn because going back to school is a very intentional choice for me and I want to get everything out of it that I can. You’ll find that as well.
(5) Get to know your classmates.
No, you probably won’t hang out together, but do your best to make them comfortable with you and you’ll be more comfortable with them. No, you’re not a kid anymore, but learn what you can from this next generation. To me it’s fascinating to be in a classroom with students who have always had computers and who have worldviews shaped by the fact that they can access so much information at any moment.
Besides, they help me figure out my Twitter account . . .