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So sweet and so cold

May 10, 2010

Well, one of the people who yelled at me called and more or less apologized to me this morning. And the upshot of that part of the story is that they are going to be changing the way they do things to make sure they get their version of information out more quickly to the entire community and that they now realize that relying on a once a month meeting for communication is not working when things are changing much faster than that. Which is all pretty awesome. It’s better for the school district, and also better for me — less reporting for me to do. So at least the stress I’ve been suffering through this weekend was productive. Plus this is someone I really like and respect even when we don’t see eye to eye, so even though I think I did the right thing, I also felt bad about causing her trouble, even inadvertently. So I’m glad I haven’t entirely burned that bridge. The other person who was upset I was able to placate for the moment, as the thing that set her off was actually not true the way she’d heard it. But ultimately she’s probably going to be upset, because I think some of what bothered her is that things are happening without her control and given all that’s going on, that’s likely to get worse. But that’s less of a concern to me for a number of reasons. Part of it is that I think she wants to maintain control over some things that I don’t think she actually has the right to control. And part of it is that I know that I am not alone in disagreeing with her approach.

This probably all sounds very cryptic. Sorry about that. I’m a little nervous about writing about too much here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all this in the last week, it’s that my words sometimes matter. I’ve been incredibly careful about the words I’ve been using, and that’s the thing that’s made things work in the end. It’s why I got that phone call this morning — she had gone back and looked at the message and talked about it with her boss and they realized just how careful I had been to give accurate information, not spin, and to keep my own interpretations out of it as much as possible and carefully labeled as opinion when present.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking in all of this is about how incredibly important it is to write well. I learned to write before I went to school — I don’t just mean the physical activity of putting pencil to paper, but of putting together words to say something. But in school, I learned to love the business of saying something on paper. I’ve had some really amazing teachers and editors over the years. I’ve learned a lot and I feel very lucky. As a teacher — yes, even a music teacher — I have always emphasized writing in my classes. I assign a lot of essays, both short and long. It kills me when I have to grade, but I see my students make progress in the way they put together an argument, the way they learn to use once unfamiliar vocabulary to state a case. I know that even if they walk out of my class never thinking about twelve tones or opera gain, they have learned something that they will carry with them. I feel like that and research skills are the two most important things I can teach in my non-major classes.

I am glad someone — many someones — too the time to hold me accountable for the words I used, for instilling in me the moral values of accuracy and responsibility in writing, for taking my words seriously so that I learned to take them seriously too. Words matter. Use them wisely. I am grateful that I can. I hope I can help instill those values in my students. If that would the only legacy I leave to the world, I will feel like it’s been a job well done.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is how important it is to know who you are and where you stand. If you act according to your own beliefs, you may still sometimes feel bad about things that happen, but you will never truly regret your actions. Putting yourself out there is hard — terrifying, even — but if you do it with honesty and integrity, I do believe it will all come out okay. Which is not to say that some people won’t still get upset. It just means that usually the people who really matter will forgive you.

Enough of that. Can I talk about the garden? Lilacs and honeysuckles and cherry trees, oh my! It smells amazing out there. My tomatoes are happy, even though we’ve had frost warnings twice this week. More asparagus keeps appearing out of nowhere. My spinach is almost ready to harvest. And I did join that CSA. I can hardly wait for the vegetables to start coming.

Thee will be a post up at AJ’s Clubhouse a little later. Keep your eyes peeled. And thanks for letting me vent. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming soon. I hope.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    May 10, 2010 1:38 pm

    I pulled all the rest of my spinach for meals this past weekend. Now I wish I’d planted more. Much more. It did so well this spring. I’m glad you joined a CSA. I’m really looking forward to all the vegetables, etc. I’ll be able to get through my co-op this summer. If my garden fails, I can still eat well. 🙂

  2. May 10, 2010 1:42 pm

    I agree with you 100% that words matter and that choosing words is extremely important. Some of the most enlightening discussions I have ever had have come out of examining what is meant by something – something I said, something someone I love said, something a person of importance in the world has said.

    However, I also think that far too often we fail to ask and to give the benefit of the doubt. Words are slippery creatures and meaning sometimes comes in the space in between. So the all-too-frequent instance of someone immediately going on the attack instead of seeking to understand… I have to say I hate that. It’s ugly and it creates needless stress and pain.

    While it sounds like the person in question was able to climb down and apologize, and that is a great thing, it also doesn’t make their initial reaction disappear. The hurt is lessened, but it is still there.

  3. May 10, 2010 2:29 pm

    I do agree with you. Although in fairness to this person, she is in a really impossible job at the moment and is under a tremendous amount of stress. So while I was hurt that she leapt to assume the worst of me, I think it happened because she really has been under fire from a lot of other people. I think her strong reaction happened in part because she has always been able to trust me and for a moment she thought that she couldn’t. It wasn’t right, but it was also understandable and I don’t hold it against her. But that is the interesting flip side, isn’t it? It’s so easy to misinterpret words. Writing well helps keep it from happening, but there’s no explaining the individual experience a reader brings to the page. And it is, I think, a fallacy to for a writer to think he or she can control that completely. Part of what makes writing interesting is the space between author and reader, that moment when communication happens and you are sailing off the trapeze without a net, trusting only that your experience and diligent practice will allow you to land safely.

  4. May 10, 2010 2:32 pm

    And Claudia, I have a system, now with my greens. I grow them in window boxes on the deck, where I have better control of their sunlight than in the ground. I plant one row of one kind of green in each pot and I rotate them. For lettuces, I cut them to the ground and reseed. I start a batch in a different box every week and that usually keeps me going through the summer. But with spinach, I find that if I leave a few leaves, they keep replenishing themselves, so I usually plant a 2-3 boxes so I don’t have to wait too long between crops. It helps that I usually eat my spinach raw — it lasts longer that way, It takes so much more when you cook it down.

  5. May 10, 2010 6:31 pm

    Too hot here for summer greens. But! my CSA starts Wednesday!

    Btw, I’m very impressed with all you’re doing. I, too, give credit to some great teachers who insisted that I write a legible, coherent sentence. And sometimes I still do it!

  6. May 10, 2010 6:38 pm

    Jill, you probably don’t want to hear that I can grow greens all summer long here. But in fairness, I do move them into shady spots during the heat of the day. Our CSA doesn’t start for another month, but I can hardly wait. As for the great teachers, I suspect one, at least, was the same for both of us. Why do I have absolutely no idea whose English class I took junior year when I feel like I remember every detail of our senior year class? And who advised us at the newspaper? Why can’t I remember that either? I know why: too many high schools.

  7. freshhell permalink
    May 10, 2010 8:28 pm

    It’s too hot here for year-round spinach and greens. I’ll do plant some more in the fall and get one more good crop. I’ve considered cold frames but I’m simply too lazy during the winter to go those lengths. That’s what my co-ops for. But, I usually eat the spinach raw – in the pesto I mentioned in my post today or slightly steamed for inclusion in other dishes. I do occasionally make a good spinach pecan salad where it’s just wilted. Yum. I love spinach. I just don’t love the way schools make it – dead and stringy.

  8. May 11, 2010 10:32 am

    I think her strong reaction happened in part because she has always been able to trust me and for a moment she thought that she couldn’t. It wasn’t right, but it was also understandable and I don’t hold it against her.

    I know where you’re coming from here, but isn’t it interesting that some people will be in a stressful situation such as you describe and get opposition from someone they trust and think, “Wait – what’s going on here: this is a person who generally has my back. Something else must be going on or I’m misunderstanding this,” and some will go on the attack, seeing a great betrayal by a once-trusted ally.

    I am always made wary by that second reaction, because it usually says something about how that person sees the world and how fast they might unthinkingly throw me under the bus.

  9. May 11, 2010 11:33 am

    I think you’re absolutely right that no matter how well you write something, there’s always a space between what you write and what someone else understands from reading it. (You said this in a different context about the rude poet’s remarks, and I agreed then, too.) It’s another thing we have to work on and then let go.

  10. May 11, 2010 1:53 pm

    I wish I had room for an asparagus bed.

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