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.

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