Editors and signposts

“Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing because you have omitted every word that he can spare.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
C. S. Lewis

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(tools of a trade / Julie Cook / 2015)

Many years ago when I was early on in my college career, I can vividly remember telling
my mother that I thought something was wrong with me–with the way I learned, or better yet,
the way I didn’t / couldn’t learn–that which today is referred to as a learning disability.

Often frustrated that learning, which seemed to come so easily to others,
did not come easy for me.
By all outward appearances I was quite bright and articulate, excelling in some areas,
struggling to merely get by in others.

Nevertheless, I mustered on often battling extreme frustration and disappointment.
Constantly studying, seeking out tutors, practicing, staying after class for help…
only to come up frustratingly short–
failing or nearly failing tests I just was certain I could pass.

We now know that not all learners process information the same as others.
It often takes a keen educator, who constantly observes and accesses their students,
to be able to present material, using a variety of delivery methods,
while hoping to tap into each students strengths.

I can still remember Mother simply shrugging, telling me that I was fine.
Yet today as I have watched my now grown son struggle throughout his entire life with an
early diagnosed Learning Disability and Dyslexia…
as I’m pretty certain I know from whence his troubles originated…

Math was my nemesis, as it remains so much to this day–
I made certain that I would pursue a career path which did not require Algebra or Geometry,
let alone something as obscure as Calculus.
Science, although I was intrigued by Science,
did not fair much better in my brain.
The Biology side of the Science world was more readily digested then that of Physics or Chemistry.
There were formulas, numbers, symbols and equations–
all things my brain just wouldn’t or couldn’t seem to unwrap.

Thriving however in the study of History and the study of the social sciences,
otherwise known as social studies,
I found myself enthralled by the endless stories which make history History.
Not necessarily with each and every aspect of history,
nor of the history of each and every culture,
yet for the majority of study,
history was the area in which I became a sponge.
I was equally intrigued with the political aspect of human history.
Throw in Theology and the history of the ancient faith of Judaism,
as well as that of the later emergence of Christianity,
and I was all ears.

English was ok but there were problems there as well.
Spelling was an issue, as those of you who read this blog well know.
Between spellcheck, autocorrect and my brain,
not all words in the blog posts are correct—
of which I greatly apologize.
And to my defense I never received a good foundation in sentence structure or grammar.
For whatever reason,
I never had a class or teacher who really taught grammar usage and writing as it
should have been taught.
It seemed that I usually ended up in a class where it was a given that all learners
had already been steeped in the basic foundations.
Sadly, I was the one learner in the lot who was not so versed.
Yet I did enjoy the literature aspect of English—with myself,
yearning one day, to be able to express my thoughts and ideas through writing as well.

Being able to express myself was always important. I found that writing,
first in a journal / diary form as a young girl, then as I grew older,
through the writing of letters.
It was in the writing of letters where I was finally allowed to fully express my thoughts.
It was a place my often frustrated brain could and would freely soar.

In the days before computers, word documents, pdf files, jpg images…
I alone helped to sustain the United States Postal Service by keeping them busily in business.
I loved buying and sending cards.
I would spend hours writing letters–especially letters that I would write,
more like epistles, to my godfather–
who is now 92 and a long retired Episcopal priest.
I have often referenced him and his influence in my life in previous posts.

The letters were often written with a myriad of misspelled words despite the large
dictionary by my side.
There were gaping gaps in the written thought as I thought much faster than I wrote.
The letters were laced with outrageous sentence structure,
which in turn would make any english teacher cringe,…
yet they were letters written with passion, honesty and humility.
And despite the holes, the poor sentence structure or the youthful angst,
my godfather would receive each letter expectantly, happily, and lovingly…
all without judgement of content or the editing of grammatical structure–
this from a man who made a living writing and speaking.

Our correspondence began when I was around the age of 15.
My early letters were laced with the pangs of innocence and adolescence.
Yet as I aged and matured those letters became more complex,
even troubling, as I fought my way, often with fraught emotion,
through the often tangled jungle of life.
I wrestled with my faith and beliefs.
Life was not always easy nor kind.
There were obstacles, illnesses, deaths, disappointments, poor choices, grave mistakes,
coupled with a few triumphs, glimpses of joy and moments of contentment.

Always with love and often, no doubt, with great frustration,
he would offer words of either encouragement, warning, or mere advice…
yet his words were always laced with love.
It was here, within the correspondence of a young girl, now grown woman, where I learned about unconditional love.

I never filtered my words or emotions yet perhaps today, looking back,
I see that it would have behooved me to have used a bit more restraint—
yet he never faltered or expressed disappointment.
My Godpoppa, the busy world at large Anglican leader,
would never specifically tell me what to do,
despite my often desperate queries.
He never would say yes or no but rather he’d offer wisdom woven with advice all of
which he hoped would allow me to eventually find my own way.
He was a signpost of guidance, of the miles thus traveled and of miles yet to be traveled.

So on this new day of this new week, in the early days of a brand new year—
do you need an editor or do you need a signpost?
Are you in need of direction or correction on this journey of yours known simply as life?
Or are you like most of us, simply indeed of both—
sometimes needing to be pointed in the right direction while receiving a bit of
much needed revision to your plots and plans…
May you make the most of the guidance, advice, love,
direction and assistance you receive along the way and may you be blessed,
as I have been,
with more signposts than editors.

A small thank you to Bono in a growing world of ingratitude

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
G.K. Chesterton

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(Black eyed Susan / Seaside, Florida / Julie Cook / 2014)

If you don’t already know this little fact about me by now, let me just remind you—- I am not the most “digital” oriented individual in this age of electronic technological wonderment. I am happily, rather, a much more simpler person really. Perhaps considered old fashioned by some standards. Appreciating the straddling of two worlds–that of the “that was then”–“this is now” best of both worlds.

I had recently caught a glimpse somewhere, on some commercial, something about U2 offering some sort of free iTunes download. As this seemed to coincide with Apple unveiling their latest must have device, my most uninterested brain thought there was a correlation—thinking that if you got a new phone, a free download followed suit. I don’t know, like I said, I wasn’t really paying attention and it wasn’t really on my radar because I’m happy with my older version phone as I continue figuring out how it works—plus I’m just not an ardent music fan.

Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly like music. I actually love Jazz, Motown, Classical and contemporary Christian. I like some R and B, some top 40, but I just don’t cleave to it as I once did when I was much younger. I no longer listen to music when I’m in the car—preferring the sounds of quiet and silence—or perhaps more like the sounds of a rather raging world. That might have something to do with 31 years I spent in a classroom filled with the never ending deafening din of teenagers chattering, arguing, screaming, laughing, fighting, and never ever shutting their mouths.

So imagine my surprise the other morning when I journeyed downstairs to the basement for my morning ritual of bonding with my emotionless nemesis—aka my time on the elliptical, when there was a change of tune, literally on my playlist. I have a small selection of tunes downloaded to my phone which I turn to during my morning “workout”– aka death march, which helps to drown out my suffering, huffing, puffing and snorting.

I have 4 little classic U2 songs which pretty much sum up my routine. I know exactly which one and at what place I should be on my daily death march, aka workout, with the playing of each song. Two rounds get me near the end of my time of servitude and torture, aka workout, closing out with the finale of a rousing rendition of triumph from the band Macklemore.

Yesterday morning, suddenly following “Beautiful day” came a most unfamiliar tune–something about being raised by wolves. “What in the world” I could be heard uttering with breathless concern. Fumbling for my glasses, as I worked to balance keeping up my endless rhythm of stepping, I grabbed my phone to investigate what had taken control of my playlist.

Low and behold, it appeared that my playlist somehow connected to that invisible “cloud” of which seems to be the latest technological otherworldly invisible hangout, and I received the “free” U2 download.
Hummmm.
How’d that happen I wondered.
I don’t even know how to “go to the Cloud!!”
And what in the heck is the Cloud?
Where is it?
Why is it?
and really. . .
How in the heck does something invisible work for everyone on the planet?!
It’s all so, otherworldly. . .perhaps even alienesque, but I digress.

So as I continued my workout,my act of homage to health, listening to this new album (here is not the place nor time for a critique but I do find it all to be a bit dark and melodious but we must remember that Bono and the boys did grow up in Ireland during the height of a very sad chapter in Irish history known as “the Troubles”, but I digress as usual), it dawned on me that I needed to tell Bono and the boys “thank you”

In a day and time when a rather youthful society has grown accustomed to the ubiquitous BOGO (buy one get one), the free this and that attached to purchases of everything from food to clothes from electronics to even cars—all of which I call the marvelous marketing hook, the simple act of saying a proper “thank you” has been all but forgotten.

If, you the consumer, come in for a “free” test drive, we, the dealer will give you a new iPad. If you the consumer sign up for our insurance, we the company will give you a “free” cruise. If you the consumer sign up for our phone service, we the company will give you, not one, but two, free phones. And of course there are the department stores with their mega 70% off sales. . . Really? Do we honestly think we’re getting something next for nothing? Do we really think these mega department stores, with their crushing percentage sales, are giving away their profit margin without making money. . .woe to the naive.

Consumers are sadly being duped into thinking they save and gain, which leads to an unrealistic inflated sense of buying power— this false sense of power is produced by a frighteningly slick and savvy Product Marketing, super sales, economic selling engine. Nothing, and I mean nothing in our economy comes for free–despite that incentive cash loaded gift card Wally world just gave you for spending your money with them. There must be give and take—it’s just that the need to feed the proverbial consumer machine comes with a growing ravenous appetite in order to keep our accustomed sense of well being in tact–it is a vicious economic cycle that continues to spiral out of control.

And sadly, all of this economic game of cat and mouse comes with a jaded consumer market left ungrateful and simply wanting and hungry for more. Give us more glitz, glamorous goodies, shiny and slick tricks and baubles all in order to get us to buy–more.
The enticement has become expected.
We have created our very own ravenous consumer monster—a monster of expectation and assumption.
There is no gratitude, rather only ungraciousness and a hunger of wanting more.
If we, the consumer, do not receive our incentive of something for nothing, we rile against the
provider of service and goods.

All of which in turn has lead to a generation that has either forgotten how or never knew how to properly say “Thank You”

I grew up in a place and time when it was expected that if I, as a child, received any sort of present or even the slightest act of kindness, I was expected to offer a hand written thank you.
And don’t think I can’t see you. . . I see you rolling those eyes and I certainly can hear the snide asides of “how archaic” and “who in the world sends a thank you note, let alone actually writes anymore? Who needs to write when all we do is peck on keyboards. . .”

Yes I know, this blog is produced via a keyboard—but trust me I have stationary, I write and I love snail mail! My early years of conditioning and acknowledging the need to offer thanks, leads me to a constant stream of written cards, notes and hopefully an obvious gracious heart.

And as it now appears that I have received a small gift, a free download of a new album by the Boys of Belfast, I need, I want to send a proper Thank You.

And whereas I’m not quite certain as to where I would need to write Bono, or to whether or not he would ever see such a note, I shall use my tiny platform in the blogosphere to offer a heartfelt “thank you” for the “free” album that has mysteriously descended from the proverbial Cloud into my most humble little playlist.

Now whether or not there is an “alternative” reason behind this suddenly “free” kindness, I don’t know nor do I wish to sound ungrateful or assumptive as to motives. As my grandmother would tell me, you just need to write the Thank You note, end of sentence.
so. . .

Dear Mr Bono,
I wish to express here, in this small blog of mine, a humble offering of gratitude. . .
I wish to offer you a heartfelt thank you for. . .
Firstly making music—music which offers hope, joy, soulful examination, lessons of history and most importantly for the assistance of aiding a middle aged woman, who is working her way to the goal of better health, the incentive to simply keep plugging at it. You do all of this by offering the gifts and talents of self by setting your time and skills to the writing and creating the rhythms and beats of a talented music making machine.
Secondly I wish to thank you for the acts of kindness and compassion I know you offer to an ailing world. You unselfishly use your platform to bring recognition and awareness to causes and concerns, as well as a voice to many of the voiceless, in this often tragic and sad world.
And Thirdly Mr Bono, thank you for the album you just gave me for simply turning in. . .
Blessings for many more productive years. . .
Sincerely, Cookie

To Paris with Gratitude

I really don’t think I can continue my daily posts until I stop for a moment and recognize someone very important. I happen to have a very special friend who is not only physically beautiful but also perhaps even more so within her soul and very being. I say all of that with the need of letting you to know that she and I have never had the opportunity of sharing a coffee, a glass of wine, or a laugh together, as we have never been face to face with one another.
Her name is Cristina and I met her much by chance about a year ago even though I had known about her for the past couple of years. I had found myself in a place of extreme reflection, a bit of loss and transition, topped off with a dose of loneliness. It was at that moment that a sympathetic ear and wise counsel came my way via a love of cooking. One thing I continue to marvel over is how God, a loving Father, will bring the right person into our lives just when we are in the most need.
While researching a recipe a few years back, coupled by my general interest in cooking, I just happened upon Cristina. As you see, Cristina is a renowned “cook” in her corner of the world– with a passion for pastries. She has a website, a beautiful site I might add as her lovely creations and the photography that show case the labor of her hands, is a wonder in itself—very visually stunning. Her commentary is in both Spanish and English, as she is a native Spanish speaker living in France. But it is her warmth and “realness” that is most apparent. In a world gone mad over reality TV, Hollywood and all that is glamorous and glitzy, the false and the unauthentic— Cristina is grounded by a strong sense of self along with a deep humility. She is authentic.
Cristina is, however, more than a good cook/chef. She is a wife and mom just like me. She is a daughter and a friend. She has experienced joy and sorrow. She has lived through transition and loneliness. She is much like me, as well as countless other women “out there”, who get up each morning and greet each new day with wonder and sometimes dread.
It was Cristina who told me that I must write. And I must say that doing so is proving to be most cathartic, as well as enjoyable, as it has allowed me to find the voice I thought somewhat silenced. It has “reunited” me with former students and friends who I have truly missed. I was a teacher who had always wanted to write as I just felt the need to communicate. I envisioned a book one day, and who knows, maybe there will be one— but for now I will be content writing here—offering a bit of my heart to others. It is my hope that my musings may offer, for anyone “out there”, a place where one can find a little cheer, reflection, inspiration or a like-minded soul…so here’s to sharing, authenticity, and genuineness, but most of all here is to gratitude– gratitude to all who offer others a kind word, a sympathetic ear and a piece of their heart. Here is to you my friend, Cristina.

http://www.frombatoparis.com/

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