Monthly Archives: June 2015

End of the Year

Published / by Tim

Today, for a few hours, I was the only one at work.

I could hear the machinery of the building running. It’s like the mechanical heartbeat of the school The heartbeat that I rarely ever hear. But there it was, strong and even.

I could smell the grass seed harvest in the air. The barely visible dust will have blanketed the entire building in its hazy gray fluff within the week.

I could see the new paint freshening up the walls, making the place feel a little bit brighter and a little bit lighter and a lot more welcoming than it was a week ago.

i could feel the stillness of each empty classroom, and the quiet anticipation of what is yet to come.

I could taste the bygone year in my coffee mug. The one I rarely wash with soap, but always rinse with boiling water in the morning.

The end of the school year is great. It’s good to have some time away. It’s good being alone in an empty building reflecting on the past year. Successes and challenges alike. Bittersweet is the life of a principal. We need the time to step back, reflect and evaluate.

Today, more than anything, I realized I am already looking forward to the children returning. The noise of children learning is really where my energy comes from.

It is done…

Published / by Tim

There are things that have to be done and you do them and you never talk about them. You don’t try to justify them. They can’t be justified. You just do them. Then you forget it. – from The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I’ll return next week.

Thinking About Writing and Audience…

Published / by Tim / 3 Comments on Thinking About Writing and Audience…

Well, this little weekly blog is now a part of my story. It’s a very small part and it is usually pretty sanitized for public consumption. Somewhere along the way I realized that I’ve never really thought about HOW I pick the words that I share with you though.

“Who cares?” is the first question that I imagine popped into your head when you read that. It is the question I would have been thinking if you’d have written the first paragraph.

Well, I didn’t… until recently.

I regularly get letters, notes, e-mails and such from friends and colleagues. I normally get the impression that they are impromptu. Yet, as I consider my writing, I bet a lot more effort goes into these “personal” bits of writing than I ever see.

When writing to friends and family members, I realized that I have never written anything in just one draft. I wondered if that makes me weird. I read those “letters of note” websites and every letter on there is handwritten and error free. It’s like I’m the only one in the world who can’t put a complete thought together without thinking it through a half-dozen times. Handwriting a letter, for me, takes the better part of a legal pad and a good measure of ink.

As a result of all this thinking, I started reading personal communications a little more critically. Not just my writing, also the writing I receive. Not critical to find fault, but to consider word choice and usage; also to consider what might be left out or perhaps edited out and why.

As I was writing an e-mail to a friend this week I did something that I found interesting. Every time I deleted something from the e-mail I copied the deleted bit to a new file and made a quick note about why I was deleting it. I learned two things. I delete A LOT and there is always a pretty good reason for doing so.

I am terrible about writing a complete first draft before editing. I will probably force myself to practice this in the future but it bothers me to know that there are things I don’t like in the paragraph above or two pages ago. In the e-mail I mentioned above, I was responding to a story the friend had told me about their childhood and I began to tell my story. I realized my story was self-aggrandizing, perhaps even arrogant, and would likely come across as obnoxious. I deleted 475 words. Like I said, obnoxious. If that story ever needs to be told to my friend, I’ll tell it another time and in an appropriate context. In the e-mail I really wanted to show appreciation for my friend sharing and to communicate gratitude. I felt a lot better about the product without my story cluttering things up.

I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I read that an author said, “All writing is about the author, anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or lying”, or something close to that. I didn’t write it down. I’m not sure that I agree, which probably makes me a fool because I really am being honest here. All writing is about someone and sometimes it’s the author, but just as often it’s about the reader.

I think what makes a good writer is someone who knows the difference. It’s the person who know’s how to pick the right words to communicate what is necessary in the moment.

I am still not always sure how I pick the words I do but thinking about it hasn’t made me worse at writing. It may seem like a small thing but I think considering the small things will pay dividends in the long run. Sometimes we should indeed “sweat the small stuff”. What do you think?

Something fishy is going on here….

Published / by Tim

I am having issues with my intended post so I thought I’d share a story I wrote a long time ago. I never published this story anywhere and may wish I hadn’t now, but here goes nothing…

A Fish Story

The air was heavy as dawn arrived. The sun had been up barely an hour and already heat waves rose from the pavement. Droning insects and waking songbirds were the only living things to be heard. The rest of the world was still asleep.

It’s a two mile walk to Miller’s pond. I left early to beat the heat packing a peanut butter sandwich in waxed paper and my canteen.  If I were going to catch anything I’d need to have a line on the water soon. It was shaping up to be another scorcher and I wanted to get in an hour of fishing before the sun hit the water.

Miller’s pond is an abandoned gravel pit that connects to the Whisky river by a short channel. It’s one of the best warm water fisheries in the area. When the gravel company quit using the pit, they bulldozed the sides to eliminate steep drop-offs. In the bulldozing aftermath several large trees were left submerged in the water. The result was a superb habitat for bass.

Gigantic largemouth bass were believed to exist down there. My cousin claimed to have caught a five pounder there the previous summer. According to him, It was a fight to remember. For nearly twenty minutes he played the bruiser, managing to avoid the underwater hazards that could have easily snapped his line. As he told the story, I was inspired.

I was armed with a 4 weight fly rod given to me by my grandfather for my sixteenth birthday. The rod was assembled and finished by grandpa in a class he had taken before he died. He had never used the rod, but it was beautiful. The blanks were matte black and the line guides were wrapped with red and silver thread. It had a dark brown, marbled wood reel seat with a flawless cork grip, and stainless steel hardware. He had inscribed his initials in the reel seat. He’d been proud of his first attempt at rod building. At first, I felt guilty about using it but grandpa would have expected me to fish the rod and not just sit and look at it.  I was counting on a big fish to put the rod through it’s paces. I picked out a frog pattern fly and a couple chartreuse poppers along with an assortment of terrestrial flies to complete my arsenal. With all my gear I set out. My vest felt good on my shoulders as I walked.

Miller’s pond is one of the best kept secrets in the valley. It’s a great place if you’re the only one there. It is crowded if more than three people try to fish it. It’s not a tiny pond, but there isn’t much access to the water. Having been a gravel pit, it is a remote place that has become wild and overgrown with curly maple, cottonwood and blackberry vines. The best way to fish the pond is to take a float tube down there and get out in the middle. As for me, part-time work at Smith’s IGA doesn’t buy float tubes. I had to do without and play the game the best I could from shore.

When I arrived, John Worrel was already camped out in my favorite spot. Worrel is not one you want to crowd while fishing. He’s territorial like a grouchy old dog. He makes a lot of noise if you disturb him.  I climbed down the bank to a spot about 15 yards away from John, he nodded in my direction and went back to snoozing. It was cooler in the cottonwoods down by the pond. The sun was now above the horizon, but it was not yet on the water. There were clouds over the hills to the west.

I stripped 20 feet of line from my reel and laid a roll cast down along the bank just beside a submerged log. The frog hit the water and began to do it’s work. Seconds later a hit.  The smaller fish in this water attack their meals, coming out of the water as they slam into their prey. It is always a spectacular sight to behold. I lifted the rod and the hook was set. The fight that ensued was dramatic but short-lived. I landed a nice little bass. I released that fish and cast toward the submerged log once again.

A minute or two passed before I began stripping in the line. Slowly the fly moved among the light weeds and nothing happened. Another cast , again nothing. The next cast laid out closer to the shore in a patch of dense weeds. Almost immediately I hooked another nice bass. This fella fought with a little more energy and  flair, a couple of good jumps and runs from the feisty fish.  During the fight I spotted what seemed to be a larger fish just past the submerged log feeding in the shallow water about 40 feet down the shore on the edge of a dense float of lily pads.

Having successfully landed and released my second fish I moved down to the edge of the brush to shorten my casting distance to the far side of the submerged log. I flipped my frog to the lily pads. It landed on top. I left it lay until all traces of line movement stopped then lightly tugged the frog into the water. With short, quick strips of the line my frog was swimming through the lily pads. I repeated this several times with no luck. I decided to try one last time.

The hit was a slightly more than a bump followed by a firm tug. I lifted the tip of the rod to set the hook. The largest bass I had seen exploded out of the lily pads and danced briefly across the water. For just a moment I stood there slack-jawed.  This was quite possibly a five or six pound fish. Reality hit as my rod tip bent and strained under the weight of the fish. My reel came to life and I knew this monster was headed for cover. If I let him go he’d probably end up winding around some unseen debris and break off. I had to take control.

Taking control in this situation was more than a matter of simply yanking the fish around. A degree of finesse would be required to firmly steer the fish where I wanted him to go. I began to wonder about my knots, would they hold? What about my tackle? The idea of being in control began to seem silly.

My line went slack. I reeled in line as fast as I could; nothing. I continued to take in slack line and the big fish ran once again, taking all of the slack and bending the rod almost double. The hook was holding in his jaw. I knew if I didn’t play it right, it could all be over as suddenly as it began.

Worrell was awake now and watching. It took something fairly significant to get his attention, and I had it now.  I put as much pressure on the fish as I dared without busting something. From time to time the fish would dance across the surface of the water. He was enormous and beautiful. He would run deep, trying to escape, trying to hide. My rod strained at the weight of the fish.

The air was dense with humidity and the sky had grown dark. Clouds were moving in from the west. It was strange how the clear sky could go cloudy so fast. I had always felt  that fishing is better when it is overcast. This was a welcome turn of events.

Each time I would take line the fish would rip it away again. It was a tug-of-war that seemed to go on and on. I was feeling a creeping fatigue sprawling up into my shoulders. I knew the fish had to be tiring. A light drizzle began to fall. It was warm rain and uncomfortable. I became angry.  Angry at the fish, angry at the weather, and angry at myself for not using heavier gear. This could all be over if I’d had the sense to use heavy tackle.

As the battle wore on, the rain fell faster and harder. I was drenched from rain and perspiration and the fish clung to the bottom of Miller’s pond as though he were tied there. I hauled on the rod and reeled in the line. I was putting my tackle to the ultimate test. Soon, I realized I was gaining on the fish; the rain was pounding me. Worrel had moved into the shelter of some nearby trees to watch.

I could see the outline of the fish close now. I could taste victory. The fish would surrender to me. I was now his master. Just seconds from claiming my prize there was an unexpected flash and a boom. The lightning dazzled over the field across the highway. The boom was deafening and the air was electrified. The charge energized the fish. In a last effort he broke the surface and shook his massive head, throwing my fly. I watched him move away slowly into the deep water. His seemed to have an attitude of nonchalance, as though there was nothing to concern to him here. The fish had won and he knew it.

I stood in the driving rain, stunned, defeated, soaked to the skin. Worrel chuckled quietly to himself, a man who knew what I was feeling. I collected my fly and hung it in its keeper. I sat down on a stump and took out my sandwich.  As I ate the soggy, sticky sandwich, I knew there would be other days and other fish. I was unconsoled. The rod had held up and that was good. I think grandpa would have been happy. I remembered him and smiled. The rain stopped. Sweat began beading on my neck and forehead. In the distance I heard rolling thunder and I knew it was time to go. I finished my sandwich and trudged the long way home.

Oh the joy…

Published / by Tim / 2 Comments on Oh the joy…

Joy sometimes seems like it’s in short supply. I admit… I often let the pessimist who lives in the back left part of my brain come out and have a few minutes to mess with the rest of my head. He reminds me that  the world is coming to and end and everything is just horrible. He rants and raves and colors my outlook. When I let that little jerk out of his cage he steals my joy and probably even the joy of anyone else who is around at the time.

Pessimism is easy. It requires no thought and gets a lot of attention. It’s amazing how many people will stop and listen to a tale of woe. We often feel sorry for the sad story-teller. We honestly feel like that woeful soul is probably more miserable than anyone in the world and they deserve our sympathy. Which is kind of funny, because sympathy isn’t usually very helpful. Sympathy is kind of like saying, “Man, that sucks! Glad I’m not you!” Pessimism is often attention seeking and it will take sympathy as it’s payment, regardless of what that currency is actually worth.

Optimism is harder. It requires one to look objectively at the world and to say, “Yeah, it’s a dark and lonely place, but I’m going to take the best I can find and run with it”. Optimism is difficult but it seems to be fueled by empathy. I didn’t realize this until I identified a few really optimistic people who live and work in my community. By watching them I have discovered that empathy (both giving and receiving) makes a difference in their lives and helps drive their optimism.

For a long time I didn’t really get the difference between sympathy and empathy. They both seemed really touchy-feely and to be avoided entirely. I now think that, for the most part, sympathy could be avoided. However, I kind of dig empathy. Empathy is like saying, “Man, that sucks! I know how that feels! I’m here if you need help.” It’s a connection.

Sympathy leaves us feeling lonely and kind of like something is wrong with us. Empathy leaves us feeling supported by a knowing and caring friend. Sympathy promotes isolation in that you are kind of on your own to figure your stuff out. Empathy promotes community in that you have others who understand you and who stand with you.

I think optimism is fueled by empathy. Having and empathic person in your corner promotes a sense of community and security that helps strengthen an overall sense of well-being. That sense of well being leads to an attitude of optimism.

Optimism is a catalyst of joy.

Joy may be in short supply, but it doesn’t have to be. I think empathy is a two-way street. If I practice empathy toward others… I can’t help but think it will come back to me. That has been true in all of my experience. I also think that the more we practice empathy toward each other, the stronger our relationships will be. As our relationships grow stronger we will experience a greater sense of community, support and well-being. As we feel more connected we will likely be more optimistic about things in general and if I’m right and optimism is a catalyst for joy… well… there you go.

It seems simple, right? Maybe it is, but it takes a decision to practice empathy. And that is not as easy as it sounds. To better practice empathy I think we can do the following five things:

Be present – Put the cell phone away. Make eye contact.

Listen actively – Give your full attention and be able to summarize in your head what the other person is saying.

Judge ye not – Empathy means putting yourself in the other persons shoes. If you do this, it’s a lot harder to judge them.

Don’t try to “fix” others – If someone is telling you their story they don’t usually want advice unless they ask for it.

Keep it quiet – Empathy is only as good as the trusting relationship in which it occurs. If someone is telling their story, it is not yours to tell to someone else.

I think there’s a lot of joy in the world, sometimes it just needs to be found out. Empathy in relationships can help surface real joy.