My friend was recipient of a most romantic gesture. Her partner built and installed this beautiful poetry post. It is positioned right next to the sidewalk so passersby may read her poetry every time she puts up something new.
On American Idol they gave a new car to two ‘hometown mentors’ on the finale of the show recently! I LOVED this. Each of the final two contestants was asked to name the most influential person back home who helped them succeed. And these two young ladies are not very old! But one cited her grandmother and the other a surrogate big brother, a musician friend.
Both mentors were recognized as the support behind the voice. Being a support to someone for no reason other than you believe in them or you love them or care about them, is reason enough in my book. It is a truth I love that we are supported by unseen faces every day. We carry the voices of our loved ones and those who do us wrong everywhere we go. The idea that these two young ladies were able to point to individuals they value greatly and appreciate for their role is one of the sweet fruits of the earth to me.
Maybe I like this so much because I was surprised to learn what support was once I got some. I thought I was getting it as a kid and I thought I knew what it was, but once I felt actual effort on the part of someone who cared about me, I saw something very different and I liked it. So as a result, I am actively out here trying to support anyone in my path. I am a cheerleader for the students in my classroom at the high school, for my piano students in my home, for my own children, for my nephews whose mom is gone, for my neighbors, the folks at church, you name it, if you are in front of me I might be leading a cheer for you.
being yourself, change, dreams coming true, express feelings, fear, goals, higher power, inspire, Jane Butler, Jane Paffenbarger Butler, listening, mentors, parents, psychotherapy, relationship, teacher, trust
I wish I could have been aware when my children were little, just what it was that we were doing and saying with them that has led to this moment today. This moment today I am sure is connected, because my grown little boy is telling me that others see him in a way that is, I know, so similar to the way others have seen me. I am pretty sure that it is not genetics since change is a real thing and I have certainly made changes in how I act that defy genetics.
So just because he was told on his job evaluation this week, that he is capable and a valued team member but should own that and show less deference to the others, as I had been told many times on my own job evaluations, does not mean that that cannot change.
I have just learned that the very definition of functional includes being able to hear feedback, consider it, and adjust. So when my adult son tells me his story I encourage the possibility of change. I tell him that I paid a professional to help me make changes of this very nature, and that I struggle with the same issue of not recognizing my own abilities still, yet I see progress as I get help and actively work on it. In telling him this I am doing what I urge of my piano students all the time when I say, go home and teach your parents everything I just taught you and get a two-for-one sale on your purchase. What I learn by working with a psychotherapist to face my issues and face my fears about life, I go home and tell my kid so he can NOT be just like me, and instead he can be better.
Who knows, maybe then he will come back and teach me even more.
being yourself, control, Dante's Inferno, express feelings, fear, goals, high school English class, inspire, Jane Butler, Jane Paffenbarger Butler, listening, mentors, passion, teacher, trust, words, writing
Today I got an email from my English teacher asking if I could come in next Tuesday to help in the classroom. It’s midterms and the kids requested me be there during the essay portion of their test. What, you say, help out during the test? Yes. This is precisely what the trained educator in the room and I dreamed of, building enough trust with the kids so they might do something like this…seek out help.
My teacher is so clever as to recognize the value in teaching kids how to take a test by having me present. I sit on the sidelines and students step up one at a time in the middle of writing an essay, and as the spirit moves them, kibitz quietly for a moment or two. I don’t have any answers. Honestly, at the AP level I barely know what the literature is that we are talking about. But I do know how to think, and how to organize and how to help guide a logical progression of ideas. And that’s what we talk about. As a matter of fact, the idea that I do not necessarily read the works we are studying, allows an ignorance the teacher can never get back. She’s read it all, and read it all a lot. So, if kids are not clear enough in their writing to inform me, the average individual, of what their point is by way of specific examples that prove a point, they are not communicating effectively. So, in this way, the less I know about Dante’s Inferno, the better.
I do what I can, and apparently my ignorance is quite helpful.
being yourself, believing in yourself, believing you can do something, change, charcoal drawing, drawing, dreams coming true, force of will, goals, high school art class, higher power, impressive powers, inspire, joy, mentors, self-denial
Would you help me reinvent myself? Right now? All you have to do is keep reading. Go ahead, believe I’m a writer. Besides this being a thrill for my husband who can pretend he’s having an affair with another woman, I’ll be a step closer to the miracle of finally being what I want to be when I grow up.
I’m thinking like this because of the charcoal sketch. The one I run into every five or so years when I’m inspired to sift through a dusty old trunk full of ‘saved stuff’. Since I am supposedly a left-brained scientist and therefore theoretically art-impaired, when I saw the charcoal sketch this time I saw it as an anomaly worth celebrating. Not that I wanted to do anything fancy but I did decide to hang it on the wall.
I went to the frame shop on my birthday to have my first ever published story framed, and figured I’d get a mat for the sketch at the same time. I was going to toss it into a frame I already had that was practically the right size. No need to put any money into the thing.
But when I told the lady behind the counter of my plans she said, “Oh, that’s too special to put in just any frame. I can make this thing look fantastic.” This was her job after all.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I stalled. It was just a little drawing, not real art for Pete’s sake, but it would be nice. She announced she could do it for $45, which was of course, way too much. Was I crazy? Forty-five dollars to frame a scrap of paper?
My husband said, “Why not, go ahead, you want to.”
So I did. I said okay to the lady.
In no time I was crying. This happens sometimes when I do things impulsively, casually granting myself some little perk. That’s when I discover that I actually have greatly wanted this experience without ever letting myself in on the whole struggle. As you can see, I have impressive powers of self-denial. It was like the time I purchased fifty dollars worth of arranged flowers, which we should not have been affording, for our four-month old baby girl. It wasn’t until I stepped out of the florist shop, order form in hand, that I realized celebrating the joy of her joining us with flowers was really a symbol for my intentions to celebrate her always, and I choked back happy tears at my effort. And I guess it was like finally framing a picture I’d held on to for thirty years. The meaning, in the juxtaposition on the counter, of my published story right next to my unlikely artwork, took me by surprise. I had tricked myself into believing the sketch was literally just a sketch, when apparently it symbolized much more.
My education has rarely included art classes but in 1976 to fulfill high school graduation requirements, I took ‘Fashion’, a drawing class. I was quite confident I couldn’t draw, but I was curious about the process. Connie Burkhart, the teacher, would not accept my claim that I wasn’t an artist, but insisted that I could draw if I tried.
She’d coach me, she said, and, “You’ll see, you can do it.”
I doubted seriously whether I could produce anything respectable, but I was there to learn, and I was young and gullible so I went along.
Her first instruction was to believe I could do it. Right. Flatly, obediently, I suggested to myself, I believe I can do it. Day after day in addition to this grandiose idea, I applied her technical direction as well. To get the ‘essence’ on paper, not the literal picture, ‘just get the suggestion’ of the fur coat she told me. We’ll fill in the details later. In this vein I tried to get the ‘essence’ of believing I could do it, ‘just the suggestion’ of believing. We would fill in the details later. I worked hard on my semester-long sketch, and slowly it came to life.
In fact, something absolutely magical happened. One day I noticed that the forces of nature had come together and some how, ideas met physical nature and the force of will, and the whole damn thing emerged as a real drawing that I had personally done. It appeared as if an artist’s hand had sketched the lithe uptown woman posing provocatively in her lavish fur coat, staring from the page in stark black and white shadings, as a direct copy of the newsprint. At least that’s what I saw.
In the end she showed me, she proved to me, she insisted to me that I could draw if I wanted to. More than that of course she was teaching me a life lesson. The point was that if you decided ahead that you couldn’t do it, you would need some serious coaching out of that place. But if you decided ahead you could do it, well with the right coaching, the right help, and with that idea of limitless possibilities, it could be done.
I haven’t done any artwork like my charcoal masterpiece since, but I have been creating other things. For a while now I have been fooling around with words, lining them up in different ways just for the fun of it. The truth is I probably saved my ancient artwork deep in a trunk of childhood papers and journals and reports cards and term papers so I would find it years later. So I’d find it when I needed it most, that is when I needed to be reminded of the lesson it supposedly had already taught me…that with anything in life you just have to believe you can do it and it can happen.
So, since I guess you’re still reading, I’ll say thanks.
When my husband and I were first married and were so young and impressionable, we went to his aunt Maureen’s and his uncle, Meathead’s, every year on Christmas Eve. They lived on Fulton Street in Buffalo, and it was a modest gathering with modest food in a modest house, and I loved it. I loved it because the one thing it had that was not modest at all were the connections between the people who came and went. Folks arrived at the door, both unannounced and expected, and were welcomed like kings. They were offered a drink, some food, a seat, and all the time in the world. I learned from Maureen and Meathead what it is to have relationships. A parade of them passed through the kitchen on Fulton Street before my eyes. There were inside jokes and stories galore, like I never saw. They could go all night laughing about some crazy thing somebody did. It was foreign to me and I was spellbound. These folks cared for each other and you could tell!
Novelty that it was then, I see now it is how it should be for all of us. It is what we should deliver to our children as best we can, this understanding that we are all in this together and sharing time and concern with one another is the way to be.
One of the great benefits of being older is that I feel unselfconscious about telling younger people some of the things I have learned already. Like, that opportunity is present.
My nephew, Jackie’s middle son, came to visit us this holiday weekend and spent three days laughing and playing and working next to us at the beach. I got to know him a little better since before this I’d barely had a chance.
I remember clearly what it was like for me to be twenty-seven, as he is now. And it wasn’t that great. I told him about how I decided to see a psychotherapist and talk about some of the things that bothered me constantly. About how that turned into me understanding that I had the opportunity to be in control of my life even though it felt I had no control.
I told him about how I used a professional to help me sort myself out and come to understand my strengths and desires, and the power I have to direct my own life.
I told him that even though he feels rudderless right now, I am able to see his strengths and his nature, and his interests, just after a few days together, and that I feel confident he can locate them too, and act on them, and direct himself where he wants to go, and not continue to feel as if he is incapable of going somewhere good.
I told him I believe in him.
“Let’s not lie to each other,” is what my teacher said to the student she’d moments before asked me to help. I coach high school kids in writing class and some need encouragement just to consider accepting help. This young man was working overtime finding ways to thwart my efforts but I kept at it. Eventually she’d had enough. “What are you really doing?” she wanted to know. And eventually she took him in the hall to explain the social niceties of accepting help or politely declining it. I give her tons of credit for fighting through such a scene because I think plenty of teachers would throw up their hands, brand him as hopeless and create a classroom of nonlearning. They might not see the decent way to handle this, to try to educate the boy on his own behavior. This lady wears so many hats in a day I cannot keep up.
And she does, with a classroom full of kids, what I struggle to do with just two, at home.
So this leads me to ask, “Are we not all teachers?”
I just started in cataloging all the boys and men I’d ever dated. We were alone in the car with 90 minutes in front of us, just my teenage boy and myself, so I started in. I knew of no other way to impress upon him the concerns I had about his relationship with his current girlfriend. You don’t tell teenagers directly what you want because they in turn, in keeping with their job in life to separate from you after a childhood of deliberate bonding, reject it. So the next best thing is to open myself up and share my personal experiences.
Turns out my litany of boyfriends, and there were not that many really, seemed a little interesting. And I say that not because of anything my son said, instead it was because of what he didn’t say. He didn’t say a word. For over an hour he said nothing as I detailed the reasons why one guy was good and another not, from my perspective as as teen and young adult, back in the day. I explained about the one who dropped cigarette ash on my rug, the one who was a high school dropout but doted on me like I was a queen so I stayed with him for five years, the one who had tons of money and a Porsche but his friends didn’t like him, the one who couldn’t ever find time for me, and those that had only one thing on their minds. I told him the entire experience of meeting his father and how we developed our relationship and why I liked him better than the others even though at first it was not so clear. I told it all minus the sexy parts. And he remained silent. But I could tell he was listening, and he even had a few questions, particularly about his father and me. He said it was cool that Dad really liked me even though I wasn’t that sure at first. He liked that part. The tenacity of his father, in love. Hmmmm.
The point is I needed him to know that staying with a girl for years, because it is easier than breaking up, is not that great an idea, and why. I threw in some examples amidst the smokescreen.
A few months later he broke up with his girlfriend. I was surprised, that is, until he pointed out that it was me who told him to do it.
January is the time I take stock of what I want to accomplish in my life. This year I am committed to figuring out better how I want to offer my abilities and capabilities to others. Disappointment met me last Christmas, a month ago, because I hadn’t a fine place to take myself to be useful in a way that felt right. I can give money and even time to others and it is good, but feeling excited about my giving is important to me. It’s more meaningful if there is passion and joy behind it. So January, for me, is for starting to figure that out.
My daughter and I accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of teen moms this week, to babysit their babes while the girls had a dinner and listened to a speaker talk about literacy. I saw generous, understanding and supportive women offering their help, and I saw a place for myself. The messages I have to share about engaging with children, about investing in the relationship between parent and child, and about being conscious of our ability to change and be who we want are well suited for young mothers potentially surprised by the requirements of parenthood.
This might be the dovetail of my interests in relationships, and change, with my interest in giving with passion.