Monday, August 29, 2011
Does Everyone have TBD?
Ellen DeGeneres is not only a remarkably funny comedian and celebrity, she is also a brilliant writer. I have made it my habit in the course I teach to college honors students to screen Ellen's last stand-up performance that was broadcast on HBO, Here and Now. I like to ask my students to slow down and observe the ordinary, the everyday elements of life. The whole course is based on what a concept I learned from Eric Booth, a method of observation he refers to as reading the world. Ellen fits right into my syllabus.
Along her journey from first premise to last line, Ellen spins a seemingly unraveled thread of humor that always leads us over the hills and curves of her narrative, holding our stomachs to cushion the grip of laughter. She gifts us with the satisfying conclusion of her observations, reflections on our humanness and humor. Ellen impresses us through a mastery of language. She leads us skillfully. Then, she draws near the end of her hour, always stunningly funny. Her convoluted story comes full circle. It is close to miracle. I marvel each time I watch either of her stage shows. They are poetry and dance.
Ellen uses the literal nature of language as her diving board. She has a remarkable delivery, brilliant with an aside. As she performs, she pays homage to the storyteller comedians of the 1960s. The tones I notice most are Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley, George Carlin, and Lily Tomlin. I also hear Totie Fields, Godfrey Cambridge, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, Alan King, Flip Wilson, and Phyllis Diller. The story must be equal to the punch line but one cannot suffer for the other.
One curve through Here and Now invites us to recognize the newest societal dis-ease: Too Busy Disorder or TBD.
I self-diagnosed the first time I watched the show and now I have to periodically remember to monitor my TBD. I am trying to remember to take the time to take action in ways aside from utilizing the technology available to me. I am trying to remember to read a book just to read - for pure pleasure or curiosity, much less to read all the research and career building material I have piled around me. I have to also remember that reading is a part of my work, not something to try to fit into the daily planner. I cannot be too busy to read. It is kind of like breathing but sometimes I find myself holding my air without even noticing.
I started making my own cards and notepaper with the stamp collection I have developed. I receive a creative satisfaction each time I sit to design some new cards. They are always limited editions. It is satisfying to select the card from my collection that suits the recipient and occasion, then hand write the note with one of my fountain pens, usually purple or turquoise ink. To prepare and mail a card is such a simple act.
This past school year, I sent thank you cards to the principals of the schools I teach in year after year. My residency season in the district was scheduled during the annual budget meetings and I was fully aware of the challenge that the superintendent was facing, along with his Board of Education and entire district staff. I understand what it takes for a principal and a whole school to welcome me to do my work. Many individuals go out of their way to support my success in classrooms. I also know what it takes from the principal's budget. I am honored when administrators make that choice. There are many programs and resources that they could choose to afford their students and teachers but there are principals who invest in my work, my approach, the pedagogy I hope to share. I am grateful.
It is not any easier a time for our school administrators than our teachers. I generally ask for an appointment to speak with them personally. I don't need long, perhaps a 10-minute meeting just to share what my teaching focus for this visit, which classes seem to be responding well, share new resources that I may have brought for the teachers, a short conversation to inform the principal about what I have developed for the school, based on what we have done years past and are now adding to that foundation. Time to be humans together, both interested in the best for the school. Keeping it short suits their calendars and the TBD they probably have developed over the years.
I should have prefaced that I do not have a "package," which is sometimes difficult in trying to get bookings, to communicate what I can actually offer. I have been in schools at all grade levels long enough now that I do have some processes and activities that I know work, but they will always be tailored to the school's climate and curriculum. Each year I return to a particular school, I add something new, a twist, to what I modeled previously or I find a new approach to the curriculum. It is a creative form of design. It is like making a thank you card. Like making a poem. I can't be too busy for that.