Snow, Anger, and Peace

Snow in western North Carolina
photo by Katie Winkler

It is snowing here in Western North Carolina. Our first big snow in a while and so beautiful. My husband and I have made preparations: I went to get what groceries I needed and tried not to go crazy (come on guys, even if we get snowed in, it’s not like we are going to starve in the day, maybe two, it will take to dig out). We ran the dishwasher and washed a couple of loads of laundry just in case our power goes out, which is possible with the high winds that are predicted for later in the day. John didn’t forget the birds either. He wiped off the five inches of snow on the tops and refilled them this morning, so now I’m watching the cardinals, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, juncos, and rufous-sided towhees as they take turns at the well-stocked feeders.

All is at peace.

So what’s the anger all about, Mrs. Winkler, you may ask.

It’s the title of a book many of you no doubt have already read but is totally new to me–Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master and Buddhist monk. The book is a Christmas gift from a dear friend, inspired by a long debate we had a couple of months ago about the “value” of anger. He didn’t see any positive effects of the emotion, and I recognized its destructive nature but argued that feelings of anger, correctly channeled, can have powerfully positive effects.

After reading the book, I am convinced that our friendly argument (I know–an oxymoron, especially these days) was more a semantic one than anything else. Anger, written from a Buddhist perspective but aligning with my own Christian worldview, seems to address both our points of view.

The first thing I noticed and had to get used to was the simple and repetitive nature of the writing. Having just read Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk (see my review in my last post), I appreciated the simple nature of the language, but the repetition distracted me at first, until I moved into the rhythm of the work and realized its purpose as a meditation on anger.

Throughout my first reading of the work, I noticed that Thich Nhat Hanh tends to emphasize the following:

  • Acknowledging the anger you or someone else feels
  • Recognizing that it springs from suffering
  • Taking “good care” of your own anger as much as you can
  • Asking for help

Throughout the book, the author repeats these basic ideas, explaining it in different words and contexts while offering many real-world examples. This will be a book that I’ll read again. I’m sure I will glean even more wisdom from it next time around.

One of my favorite parts is “Chapter Two: Putting out the Fires of Anger,” where Thich Nhat Hanh discusses how dealing with your own suffering and anger can help other people dispel any anger they have with you: “A transformation will take place in the other person…just by your behavior” (42).

Another chapter that speaks to me is “Chapter Seven: No Enemies.” In this part, the author speaks about the effect of alleviating anger on a community, even a nation. One section of the chapter is entitled “Compassion is Intelligent.” He writes: “If you think compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don’t know what compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors” (130).

I love this. Reading it and meditating on it has been invaluable to me because I have always seen my so-called “righteous anger” as the thing that makes me a courageous fighter. Now I see things differently. Perhaps my anger towards injustice lights a flame, but the results will only be positive if, if I dissect that anger and channel it, developing compassion for those with whom I am angry by trying to understand their suffering as well as my own.

Much of what Thich Nhat Hanh says resonates with my own Christian beliefs:

  • Matthew (7:12): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .”
  • Mark (12:31): “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Ephesians (4:26): “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”

You see, my friend and I are not so far apart after all. None of us are. So my wish for all of us in 2022 is that we would find that peace that passes all understanding in our hears and our minds (Phillipians 4:7).

Stay tuned for next blog post when I review the unusual but wonderful little book that my daughter gave me for Christmas, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.

*************

Just a few updates:

I am now accepting submissions for the Spring~Summer 2022 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. For complete information se my submission guidelines.

My podcasting studio–photo by Katie Winkler

Also, drumroll please, I will be resurrecting my podel (podcasted novel) called CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical sometime this month!!! It has been a long time, but last semester was just too intense (sooooooo much grading). I had little time for any of my passion projects, but I’m itching to get back in the saddle with some new material. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I hope you will listen to the first 12 episodes. You can find the podel on most podcast platforms, but here’s a link, too: CAMPUS.

Booking in the New Year

At work, in our faculty work room, is a white board, left over from the days when the long, thin room was an awkward and undesirable classroom. After much complaining, the room was repurposed for its current, much more appropriate purpose.

I think it was my late friend and colleague who first started writing fun questions on the board for her fellow teachers to answer. She was like that–trying to find ways to bring us together, reveling in her new found profession, interacting with faculty in the room where she had been a student, my student, and then become an adjunct, using the room as an office and meeting room amidst the sound of copier, shredder, refrigerator, and ice maker.

But she loved it because she had become a teacher, something she never knew she wanted to be and found out she was born for. When she received her master’s, now qualified to teach more than developmental classes, my friend left the faculty workroom for her own office at the college, now a full-time instructor who became the faculty advisor for the writing club and school newspaper, one of the most innovative instructors I’ve ever known.

My friend left us much too soon, succumbing to the effects of an aneurism she experienced at the college right before her class was about to start. But her friends continued to write questions on the board, the faculty, most who never knew her, continue to post their answers, sometimes half-heartedly, though, as more responsibilities are piled on us, as we are forced to learn more systems that are supposed to help make our work, or someone’s, easier, and as morale sinks lower and lower.

When I returned to work after the holidays, someone had written a new question on the board: What is your New Year’s resolution? Trite perhaps, but I was the first one to answer it–Read more good books.

So, my dear student, colleague, friend whom I miss so much, I will try to stay true to my resolution for your sake, knowing that your spirit remains in the faculty workroom and meanders down the halls and into the classrooms.

Here are descriptions of two books I have read so far in 2022 (pictured above):

Leavings by Wendell Berry–This collection of poems is amazing. Published in 2010, the book speaks of Berry’s personal and our global place, of what its like to grow old and feel hopeless, yet strangely grateful, of continuing to fight the good fight–rescuing our planet from the greed that threatens to destroy it. Listen to his words from Sabbath Poems: 2007, VI:

“Those who use the world assuming/their knowledge is sufficient/destroy the world. The forest/is mangled for the sale/of a few sticks, or is bulldozed/into a stream and covered over/with the earth it once stood upon” (90).

“It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,/for hope must not depend on feeling good/and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight./…The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?/…Because we have not made our lives to fit/our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,/the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope/then to belong to your place by your own knowledge/of what it is that no other place is,/ and by your caring for it as you care for no other place, this/place that you belong to though it is not yours, for it was from the beginning and will be to the end”(91).

Leavings left me with hope–nevertheless. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because my place is good and true and holds me close, safe from a world that does not value it, or me.

The Art of Plain Talk by Rudolf Flesch–The 1946 classic instructs how to create clear, concise prose. I came to the deserted campus during the break to pack up some of the many books in my office as we prepare to move to our shiny new building and I begin my divestiture as I prepare for my retirement. I found Flesch’s book and realized that although I may have read it years ago, I couldn’t recall anything about it. So I brought it home to read before I give it away.

Although the book is a bit dated, the points Flesch makes about the importance of clarity and conciseness are well-taken One of the biggest issues I see in student writing is wordiness and the author offers many examples of ways to cut down on the verbiage.

Here is one statement that reflects the essence of the book: “Plain and simple speech appeals to everyone because it indicates clear thought and honest motives. Here is the point: Anyone who is thinking clearly and honestly can express his thoughts in words which are understandable, and in very few of them. Let’s write for the reader and not for ourselves. Make the writing do what it is intended to” (130).

Good advice to share with my students.

Next post, I will write about the books I’m reading now:

Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, given to me by a dear friend following a long conversation about this troubling emotion. Hanh, a Buddhist monk, gives practical advice on dealing with anger–not denying it, but embracing it and changing its destructive energy so that it can do good in the world.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, a special Christmas gift from my dear daughter. It is an unusual book, a collection of invented words and definitions to describe feelings for which English has no words–some short, some essay length. Very cool. My daughter knows me well.

Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South by Ed Southern–Ed is the executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, a terrific writer, and my friend. I am enjoying his interesting work, written during the pandemic.

At the Door of the School

At the Door of the School by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky (1897),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Who am I?

Am I one of the students, my head bowed over my books, not looking up, only intent on myself and what I must see and read and learn?

Who am I?

Am I the old teacher, standing before the blackboard, not even seeing him as he waits patiently in his tattered rags with all he has?

Who am I?

Am I the stern pedant patrolling the hall, who will shoo him away, tell him to come back another day, when he looks more the part?

Or, am I the one who opened the door? Do I stand behind him now, whispering, “Go on in, boy. You belong there, just as you are.”?

I DID IT!

My Official NANOWRIMO Certificate

On November 28, I completed National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) by writing 50, 453 words. I exceeded my goal with two days to spare!! Now, I didn’t write a novel, and it isn’t a complete rough draft, but it is quite a leap forward on my newest major writing project–a book about some of my travels and how they have affected my teaching.

So, I’m not nearly finished, but I must say that I’m allowed to take some pride in this accomplishment I think because I have also been grading like no tomorrow, and organizing, and traveling to see family, and attending the North Carolina Writers’ Network conference in Raleigh, and enjoying Thanksgiving with family and friends.

50, 453 words.

Not bad, Mrs. Winkler.

Not bad at all.

NANOWRIMO–DAY THREE

Today’s tally is 1,782 words for a total of 5,591. Not bad for three days of writing after a full day of crafting responses to students, grading British literature exams, and putting out various fires. Doesn’t make for much time to blog.

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

However, I can’t let the day go by without saying this: Academic freedom for faculty is not an option for any institution of higher learning. It is an absolute necessity. As the people hired due to our expertise in different subjects, we have an obligation to prepare our students for the rigors of the academic world if they are transfer students and the industry standards for our students that will go immediately into the workforce.

Furthermore, we should maintain that standard for ALL students regardless of their program of study, age, background, or obstacles. One standard for all student groups–regardless of their situation. We must also help ALL students reach that standard without regard to those factors; nevertheless, the standard must remain. It is in the classroom where that standard is supported, so it should be the ones who manage those learning environments, be they virtual or seated, who should decide, within the bounds of the course description established by the state, of course, how that standard is maintained.

Our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) seems to agree. In Section Six of the Principles of Accreditation, it states:

Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs…. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.


Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish (p.17).

Shared governance and academic freedom for faculty are not rights or privileges–they are basic principles essential to the health of any institution of higher learning.

Okay, enough writing for today, Mrs. Winkler.

You got some teaching to do tomorrow. You need your sleep!

NANOWRIMO–DAY ONE

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month and November is it!! I have participated in NANOWRIMO for the past few years. Last year I produced the first rough draft of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical that I am now producing as a podcast. No, I haven’t forgotten. I hope to do another episode in the next few days. Before that I wrote 50,000 words on my still unfinished novel FLOOD, which I WILL finish one of these days. Think retirement, Katie.

This year, however, I’m not writing a novel. I’m working on a non-fiction book (it’s allowed) about how my travels have impacted my teaching. My mother said this summer, as I was telling her about some of my ideas for my classes this fall, that I should write a book about teaching. I was touched and flattered, I mean I don’t think she was being sarcastic, and I decided to do it. No time like National Novel (Book) Writing Month.

At first the book was going to be more about some of my thoughts on education and explanation of my teaching methods, but when I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network Squire Summer Workshops this summer and received some positive comments about the travel essay I submitted for critique, I settled on my current focus.

I am excited to have an excuse to write everyday for the next 30 days. I hope you will follow me on this latest adventure as Mrs. Winkler writes a book!

TODAY’S TALLY–1,895 WORDS

To find out more about NANOWRIMO, go to nanowrimo.org

HAUNTED HENDO: ADD SOME SPOOKINESS AND HALLOWEEN FUN TO YOUR WEEKEND

Haunted Hendo: An Anthology of Short Films Featuring Mountain Mysteries and Local Lore premiered last night on YouTube. Some of the 50, yes 50, cast and crew gathered at the college for a pot luck supper. We enjoyed watching the films and seeing all our hard work come together. We kept saying over and over again, “I can’t believe we pulled it off.”

It’s been a wild ride.

At the end of the spring semester last year, Jennifer Treadway, the head of the theater department, and I conceived of a series of short films focusing on local ghost stories and legends. In the summer, the director called together a core group of faculty, students, alumni, community members, and actor/producer/writer Z. Joseph Guice, our artist-in-residence, to write the scripts for the films to be included in the series. By the end of the summer, the scripts were written.

Early in the semester, Jennifer held group auditions for all films, casting students and community members, as well as assigning people to various filmmaking roles, including directors, assistant directors, cinematographers, editors, and general crew. With limited resources, including film equipment, the schedule for filming was carefully planned and all took on multiple roles. The schedule was tight and sometimes we didn’t think we would make it, but we did.

Although sometimes frustrating and difficult, what a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us, especially the students in the Acting for Film class and those in the Film and Video Production program. The end result is eight short films connected by some ghostly introductions.

Below is a link to the BRCC Theatre YouTube Page. There, you will find the playlist for Haunted Hendo. I wrote the screenplays for Boojum: The Musical and The Tourist. I directed the film my daughter wrote and edited called The Siren of the French Broad.

Enjoy!

AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

HAUNTED HENDO

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.com

HAUNTED HENDO Is Coming!! Print Version of Teach. Write. Is Here!

Haunted Hendo Premieres October 28 at 7 PM

COVID-19 can’t keep a good theater department down! At my college, the intrepid head of the department managed to produce nine short films for the Halloween season, coming to YouTube for your viewing pleasure this Thursday, October 28. The films are intended to celebrate mountain mysteries and local lore, including the Siren of the French Broad, a ghostly presence at the Hendersonville Historic Court House, the legend of the Boojum (an Appalachian version of Sasquatch) and more!

The films, featuring a variety of genres like horror, suspense, comedy, music video, documentary, and musical, are the end product of many hours of hard work by over 50 cast and crew, including not only faculty and students, but also alumni and community members as well as professional actors and filmmakers.

I was happy to contribute by writing two scripts for the anthology and directing one. It was great fun and a wonderful, engaging experience for everyone involved, especially the students.

The films will premiere at 7:00pm Eastern Time at the BRCC Theatre Channel

Hope you will join us for some Halloween fun.

It took me a while, but I finally found time between getting my second eight-week classes going and all of the grading. My Lord, the grading, to make the print version of Teach. Write. You can find it by clicking here.

Newest Edition of “Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal” is Now Available

Once again I pushed things to the limit, but I am publishing the Fall~Winter 2021 edition of Teach. Write. on October 1, as promised. Wonderful work by frequent contributors and new writers as well. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the quality of the work that is sent my way and honored to publish the work of these fine writers, most of them teachers.

I started Teach. Write. because I know how much teaching composition has helped me improve as a writer and how writing for publication has helped me become a better teacher. I am so glad to offer opportunities for writing teachers, and students too, to see their work in print. So satisfying.

Click below to see the edition!

FALL~WINTER 2021

I will be talking about Teach. Write., my blog, podcast, and more during my workshop for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. It is an online workshop taking place Tuesday, October 19. Click here to see more information: The Big Share.

Another writing opportunity I have enjoyed is writing two screenplays for the anthology of short films being produced at my college–one comedy and one musical. The premiere of Haunted Hendo will be October 28 and afterwards the films will be streaming online. Don’t worry. I will be sure you all get the link!

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?

My vision.

I have a vision that every community college board of trustees member and administrator, from the president on down, would take a freshman composition class from a master teacher who has been at the same college for ten years or more. The board member or administrator could choose a seated or online class, but they should take it in its entirety, complete the work by the due dates, and submit their work for evaluation. Of course, the faculty member should be informed and agree to the process. There should be agreement that there will be no retaliation if the administrator does not receive an A. (That last line was a joke–I think so, anyway.)

To get the full experience, each individual should agree to be evaluated by the instructor and receive non-degree seeking credit, but auditing would at least help administrators see what the course is like and what the demands are on the English instructors as well as the students. Imagine if every board member and administrator had on their official transcripts an A or B in an English class at the college where they serve!

I have a vision.

If those in power see what truly happens in a college English composition classroom conducted by a veteran instructor, perhaps they would become partners with the English faculty, smoothing out so many of the adversarial relationships that have developed during these difficult times that have divided us so much along socio-political lines. For this to work, however, the instructors must be allowed the academic freedom to conduct the courses as they see fit within the parameters of each college’s academic freedom policy and the guidelines of national organizations such as the American Association of University Professors. In return, the instructors must treat all members of the class honestly and with the respect that all students are due.

If we, all of us, believe what we say, that we are tired of the division and that we want what is best for the students, all students, not just those who believe the way we do, then don’t we need to start understanding what it is that students and the faculty who teach them are actually doing in their classes? Relying on hearsay, no matter where it comes from, is not the best way to gain that knowledge, is it?

I have a vision.

Imagine what could happen if board members and administrators were able to express their own opinions about topics important to their own lives and their important work at the colleges through their writing assignments. I have been teaching at my college for over 26 years, if you count my adjunct years. In that time, I have rarely been given an opportunity to share my work with board members or administrators or to find out what they do, what it is important to them, how they feel about education, or how we could work together to better serve our students, school and its employees, local businesses, the community at large, as well as the colleges and universities our transfer students will go to. I want to know what the board and the administrators think, so I can support them in their important work. I admit, I haven’t always wanted this, but I have repented my past attitudes, and now I truly want to know.

I have a vision.

I see me getting a chance to talk to those in power, to put aside the things that divide us and let them know how much I care about all my students, no matter what their career goals or lack thereof, that caring, as an English instructor, means not accepting work or behavior that is non-standard or inappropriate, that there are consequences at school and in the real work world for tardiness, absences, not following directions, sub-standard performance, negligence, sloppiness, and most of all, not submitting to the authority in the classroom or at the workplace.

But I also want to show them that there are real rewards, going beyond a pat on the back and a “good job,” when students work hard to improve their writing by revising and editing their work, leaving behind the “wait to the last minute, one and done” mentality so many of them have when it comes to writing academic essays and professional reports. My students, the ones who are teachable, truly do become better writers and communicators in school and in the workplace, and they know it. They know that it is largely their effort bringing them there, and it empowers them. Isn’t that our collective goal?

I want so much to let the board members and administrators understand the passion that I have for my work, that it is not just a job for me–as a devout Christian, I consider it my calling–a sacred honor to help my students communicate better, even those, maybe especially those, who malign me or do not go through the college’s grievance policies to lodge complaints about me and other instructors. These students need me, and I want to help them. I want the administrators to know that if they will only send the students back to the faculty members, or at least talk to us before instantly believing an upset or angry student, that many problems might be resolved before any escalation can occur.

I pledge that at my college, if any board member or administrator reads this, that I will be the first volunteer. I invite you to take one of my classes and actually complete the assignments by the due dates, bravely subject your writing to be evaluated, just as my courageous students do. Then, at the end, let’s talk, as equals, just two people who want what is best for our students.

It’s good to have a vision, I think, even for old English teachers like me.