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Put down the camera and engage

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Dear friends,

It’s become a common sight at concerts, events, celebrity appearances – even kids’ recitals.  Expect to see it a lot at holiday plays and pageants.  I’m talking about this:

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I’m “old school” – a member of the last generation who will remember life before the internet – but this particular social phenomenon dismays me.

I remember attending “Skate America” prior to the Sochi Olympics, and “Stars on Ice” later that year.  Many audience members chose to watch the performances through the viewfinders on their phones, rather than directly with their eyes.  I understand the desire to capture the moment so you can relive it later, but I’m sure many of these folks also wanted to record the performances to show to friends – “I was there.  I was in the room.”

What troubles me is how this removes us from the moment when it’s happening.  Not only are we one step removed from the experience when watching it through a viewfinder, but we’re objectifying the performance and the person, rather than enjoying a feeling of connection.  There’s an element of humanity we’re missing here.

(I should note that I have similar feelings about autographs and “me with celebrity” selfies.  I’d much rather have a handshake, a hug, a conversation).

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It’s fun to be “in the room” and to be able to relive that moment and share it with others.  But for me, it’s much more gratifying to be “in the moment,” and to feel it all – a connection with the artist, an appreciation of their work, a sense of wonder.

I encourage you to be “in the moment” during the upcoming holiday season.  Connect with people.  Life authentically.

Blessings,

Annette

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Book review: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

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Dear friends,

I gave this one three stars (out of five) – it was just ok for me, but it served its purpose as a fun, light, chick-lit palate cleanser between some of the heavier books I’ve been reading lately.

Josh and Hazel first met in college, and run into each other again a few years later in the “early career” stage of life.  Josh was very handsome (and, to Hazel, unattainable) in college, and when they meet again, he still takes her breath away.  Hazel is a quirky, bumbling, “Bridget Jones” type character who embarrasses herself all the time and doesn’t have a very good handle on her life.  She calls herself “undateable” for those reasons.

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Josh and Hazel become good friends, but agree they aren’t romantically suited to one another.  However, they’re both single and looking, so they make an agreement to set each other up on dates, and then to go out as a foursome.  These blind “double dates” are meant to ease the pressure of going out with a stranger for the first time … but they don’t work very well for Josh and Hazel.  Neither of them can seem to connect with the partners the other has chosen for them.

I’m sure you can imagine where this is going.

Aside from the predictable plot, my other issues with the book were:

1 – Hazel – the “manic pixie dreamgirl” stereotype.  Her bumbling is cute for a while, but there came a point where I just found her annoying.  Nobody is THAT far off her game, and she became unlikeable to me.

2 – The ending – which I won’t spoil here – has a “twist” that I wasn’t wild about.

I seem to be in the minority here – the book got lots of rave reviews on Goodreads.  For me, it was a fun bit of fluff, rather like having cotton candy at the fair – okay for a “treat” although it’s a lot of empty calories, and might leave you feeling a little bit unsatisfied afterwards.

Blessings,

Annette

Follow me on Goodreads.com

Books for review can be sent to P.O. Box 19252, Kalamazoo, MI  49018-0252

Life update 11/14/18

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Dear friends,

It’s been a while!  Most teachers would probably agree that the middle of the semester is crazy with advising, grading, and other academic shenanigans.  At the end of the day, though, I always feel massively blessed that I get to do this for my job.  Sure, it has its discouraging days, but I only get discouraged because I care so much and want to do it all well.  This means keeping a lot of balls in the air.

But first, the fun stuff!  Saw “Spamalot” last week, and it was hilarious fun.  Highly recommended.

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“We are the knights of Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spamalot …”

Also saw the new Nutcracker movie.  Visually stunning, but the plot is rather thin in places.  No matter, it’s a pretty movie filled with pretty people, and put me in a holiday mood.

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Clara and the Nutcracker.  Also …

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Misty Copeland!  Always love seeing her dance.  Stay through the end credits for more of Misty’s magnificence.

I’ll be attending a holiday tea with friends at the Kellogg mansion again this year … the house is beautifully decorated, the food is delicious, and last year I drank gallons of the hot cinnamon tea they served.  It’s a very “ladies who lunch” thing to do, and lots of fun.

Still teaching, lesson planning, grading, writing, attending meetings, and all the other stuff that goes along with the academic life.  Looking forward to Thanksgiving break.

What are your holiday plans?

Blessings,

Annette

Thoughts and prayers

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Dear friends,

I’m aware that a lot of people scoff at the idea of sending “thoughts and prayers” when others are in need – but I’m not one of them.  I pray all the time.  I don’t believe prayer persuades God to do this or that, but rather, that prayer forces me to quiet my spirit, to listen, and to draw close to the Creator and to my fellow humans.  It opens me up to allow God to work in me, and through me.

If you, too, are a pray-er, I invite you to welcome the following people into your heart today:

The family of B, an elderly woman who is transitioning into nursing home care.  This is a very stressful time for her children and loved ones;

The family of S, who have been stunned both emotionally and financially when a loved one was recently jailed.

Please keep them in your heart today.

Blessings,

Annette

 

Book review: My Oxford Year

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Dear friends,

I rarely say it – this one is magical!

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My Oxford Year, though fiction, reads like a memoir.  It’s told from the point of view of a young American woman named Ella, who wins a Rhodes scholarship to spend a year at Oxford studying literature.  Just as she’s about to fly to England, she gets the job offer of her dreams for a position in Washington, D.C.  Her new employer agrees to defer until spring, so she can have her “Oxford year,” on the condition that she will be available to consult by phone.

Once Ella lands in Oxford, we get to share in her wonderful sense of culture shock at the juxtaposition of old and new, and the adventure of making new friends.  These friends run the gamut from hipsters to chip shop owners to the social elite, and each character is fully drawn and appealing.  Along with these new people in her life, Ella’s world is populated by U.S. characters who keep in touch by phone, particularly Ella’s mom and her new employer.

It’s not just your typical “fish out of water” story, though, and Ella’s cultural adjustments are not the focal point of the book.  The primary focus is navigating relationships, and living up to our expectations of others and of ourselves.  Ella’s mother (present via phone from the U.S.), and a possible new romance (centered at Oxford) provide deeper challenges she must face and resolve.

Every time I thought the plot was getting predictable, there was a twist.  The ending was unexpected and bittersweet.

I highly recommend this one.  I’ve just finished it and restarted it, because I want to experience its charm again.

Cheers –

Annette

For more book reviews, follow me on Goodreads.com

 

 

Give yourself grace

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Dear friends,

The other day, I was watching a Youtuber talk about books she plans to read.  She gave a brief synopsis of each, and explained why it appealed to her.  One book was about a couple who had fertility issues, an experience the Youtuber herself had gone through in the past few years.

She stated that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to read the book, although she’d heard it was good, and it might be healing for her.  So, she said, “I’ve decided to give myself grace” in approaching this subject matter – the grace to bail out at any time, the grace to decide she wasn’t ready after all, the grace to start the journey with permission to not finish.

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I was struck by her words.  We often talk about showing grace to others, but showing grace to ourselves is an important part of self-care.  We need to give ourselves permission to fail, permission to decide that we’re not ready after all, permission to back out of our choices if the time comes when they don’t seem right for us anymore.

Look, I’m all for “seeing things through.”  Perseverance – what my mom calls “stick-to-it-ive-ness” – is essential for completing many of our life journeys.  But just as we would be gentle and understanding with others, we should show ourselves the same consideration when it comes to challenges that may be – just for a moment – more than we can bear.

We talk about falling down and getting back up, but sometimes getting up takes time.  Healing and recovery take time.

Be gentle with yourself today.  Show grace to the person in the mirror.

Blessings,

Annette

 

Make it your own

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Dear friends,

One of the challenges of teaching college students is that they arrive in my classroom with some ingrained academic habits.  I’ll ask them to give an example of something, or react to what an author wrote, and they’ll *tell* me what the author says.  I’ll tell them, “Don’t tell me what the author says … I know what the author says.  I’ve read this about 47 times.  What I want to know is, what do *you* say?  How do you apply these ideas in your own life?”  They are often stumped, because they are used to summarizing what others have written, rather than expressing their own interpretation of it.

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I also find that college students often struggle with the idea of “studying.”  Young people often have not been taught how to engage with ideas in a way that leads to recall and deep understanding.  They’re good at memorizing, but that’s not what critical thinking is about.  So my challenge is to help them think more deeply, and to make the classroom a safe place to do that.

My mantra has always been, “I’m not here to teach you what to think, but HOW to think.”  I stand by those words.  I once had a student who seemed very angry about one of the readings for class, and he sat with his arms crossed and a stormy expression on his face.  When I invited him to speak, he revealed that he disagreed with the author’s contentions.  “That’s fair,” I said.  “Tell us why.”  It took him awhile to articulate his position, but he seemed to feel better after he did.

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Later, he told me he’d been upset because he thought I was advocating for the author’s point of view by assigning the reading.  I explained that I assigned that particular reading because it was a good foundation for discussion of our particular topics that day, but that it was okay to disagree with it.  In fact, it was more than okay, because it showed a level of deep engagement with, and critical thinking about, the material.

I want my students to get every ounce of good out of the college experience.  In my classroom, it’s not about memorizing lists or summarizing what others have written.  Yes, we need to work from a shared vocabulary, but that’s just the beginning of learning to be an engaged citizen of the world.

I hope I can bring them a step closer to that.

Blessings,

Annette

Making your mark

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“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”

– Barack Obama

Focus on the negative

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Dear friends,

If I gave you ninety-nine compliments, and one criticism, would you focus on the criticism?  Many of us would (I know I would).

I always hold off on reading my teaching evaluations each semester, because I know those negative comments will crush me, no matter how many positive comments I get.  You’d think they’d offset each other, but no.

So the next question is, why do we make the negative stuff bigger than it is?

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I think it boils down to two main reasons:

One:  As humans, we’re hard-wired this way.  We live in community with others, and the approval of the community is essential to our survival – at some base, animal level, we fear being abandoned by our tribe.  Negativity feels like attack, and triggers a mental and physical reaction.  We won’t overcome it unless we learn to recognize it and realize this is what’s happening.

And two:  Criticism can make us hearken back to childhood insecurities, and the child inside us reacts with hurt.  If we were told we weren’t good enough, or would never amount to anything, critics can take us back there and make us wonder if those things were really true after all.  Again, I think the key to breaking this cycle is to recognize when this is happening to us.

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Our tendency to notice the negative is part of the self-protective instinct, but many of us allow it to overtake us.  Let’s strive to notice it without feeling defeated, to realize we’re not going to succeed 100% of the time – and that’s okay.  Let’s remember there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth, and they’re not all going to like or appreciate us.

Let’s value ourselves enough to take criticism for what it’s worth, and not a penny more.

Blessings,

Annette