Words of Wisdom from Jean Ackerson Asher

One year ago Thursday, my friend Jean, passed away at the age of 87, days shy of her 88th birthday.   I hear her voice within me all the time and wanted to share some of her wisdom.

As a little back story, her daughter, Marianne Asher Cain, Ash, and I grew up together and we lived within two blocks of each other.  It was Jean and my friend who I cried to when I was dumped by my boyfriend and when office politics were just over the top for me.  It was Jean who supported our little escapades, whether funding our chocolate chip cookie bake off or giving Ash the car for us to go out at night, always Jean gently threw her head back and laughed, saying, “You Girls,” trusting that in the end Ash and I would be fine.

One summer in my early adult years, we were both off, I as a teacher, Jean as a retiree, and we had many conversations.  I am especially grateful for that time because I can see now that it refreshed the meaning of  all of the conversations we had earlier in my youth.  Jean has popped up in blogs before, but this is dedicated totally to her.

Here is a smattering of Jean Ackerson Asher’s wit and wisdom.

1. Life is coping with your problems.

No matter what we presented to Jean, this is what she told my friend and I. It was such a relief, I didn’t have to solve everything right then and there, all I had to do was cope. It was also a relief because, I grew up in the fairy tale land of the 1960s where people didn’t talk about problems. Jean normalized the concept of problems.

2. Girls, I’m gonna tell you, Monday morning always rolls around.

Jean would tell us this when we needed a pep talk, when we saw people who seemed to be dodging all of life’s bullets and having it “easier.” I can’t remember the specifics, but basically, it is the concept of Monday. Monday is reality, Monday is when you have to go to work because you have to pay your bills and because you have to be responsible. Jean  seemed to me to be saying, no one can escape Monday.

3. There is no accounting for people.

This response was uttered by Jean after many a story when Ash, or I, would discuss some blatant misdeeds of our peers or people we knew. Today, one might call it the WTF moment…you are standing there, a scene is set, people interact, and much to your dismay, you are completely dumbstruck by the absurdity of what you are witnessing. Either some ridiculous utterance has just passed a person’s lips or they have done something just unexpected, and outside the range of normal.

We could analyze all we want, pull out Freud and The Ennegram, but in the end, there “is just no accounting for people.”

4. What happened to helping people in your own sphere of influence?

Jean and I talked at length about the cruelties of the world.  We went one summer to a lecture series given by a Russian academic visiting our town, perhaps some of our conversations emanated from the stark reality this academic painted for us between Russia and the US.

Jean believed, I think, that you had to look around you and help your neighbor, literally.  It was the little things we do to help one another that made all the difference.  We weren’t going to Russia anytime soon, but we could help the people we came into contact with on a daily basis.

As evidence of this and to really show what I mean, this was left on Jean’s remembrance page.  I am sure there are many, many more examples of her true kindness, Jean’s sense of giving and reaching out:

David, John, Marianne, & Connie…so sorry for your loss. I have such fond memories of many times spent with your mother many years ago. But most of all, I am so grateful to her for giving me the first book that I actually read from cover to cover. If she hadn’t given that to me, I would not be the avid reader that I am today. My thoughts & prayers…
Joseph Zawko, Bear River, NS

5.  Oh Claire, come on in, but don’t look at this house

First of all Jean’s house was immaculate.  Second of all, it was beautiful. I remember bringing my husband over for a visit in circa 2003 and saying, “Wow everything is just as I remember it.”  There were touches of blue everywhere and it was set among large trees and a beautiful garden.  At Christmas, every window had a candle.  It truly enchanted me and nothing was ever out-of-place.

But the best part of those words were Come on in.  Jean was exuberant with her enthusiasm for seeing people and she always welcomed me, and many others, into her lovely home…it was wonderful.  Every time my husband and I left her company, my husband would say, something “She is really a joyful person, what a great spirit.”

6.  Oh, don’t worry about it, you have just had a cat fight.

One day, I burst into Jean’s house after a fight at work, and she just put it all in perspective.  Cats…lots of snarling, not much damage, usually.

7.  Come on in and let me get you some Tea or something…

When Jean died last year, I felt sucker punched when I got home from her funeral. The funeral was just beautiful and yet I felt so sad.  I put on my pjs and went to bed at 3 in the afternoon.  But, as I drifted off to sleep, I kept seeing her, standing over a bin of Country Living magazines, saying, “Oh, come on, its ok, have a cup of Tea.”  Unlike, other passages I have experienced, I felt so much peace.

8. Well, think about it, I’m 60 plus, my whole life, it was about what is next:  marriage, kids, grand-kids, and now, the next phase, the end.  Think about it!

Jean actually told me this the summer of our many talks, circa 1990.  She had a long time to prepare but when she was 80, she wrote me and said, I am not slowing down and I don’t intend to either.  Well into her 80s, I remember her saying in a phone conversation, “Well I’m so mad, I wanted to make a St. Patty’s Day dinner for Mike and Marianne and I can’t do it!”

9. What about you?

Yes, what about me…I was always worried about everyone…such a girl thing, and I must admit, a Claire thing.  Often, in the center of some long diatribe where I would be going on about one thing or another, and this person’s needs and that person’s feelings, Jean would interrupt and say, “Well, what about you?”

I know I was raised during the Me generation, but honestly, it was a good lesson.  And still is, for any woman who thinks the world just might fall apart without her.

10.  It is very sad and very bad, but, you can not, you must not, let this ruin your life.

This was in response to a break up of sorts, a parting of the ways shall we say.  But words I have chosen to live by and hear more frequently than I can say to anyone.

So here is to you Jean, to the wisdom you passed on to me, and to whatever we can all do to make someone’s life a little brighter.  It may make all the difference!

Jean loved Blue, so here is a photo Jean just for you!

 

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Long hair ~ it is a WOMEN thing!

Yesterday, it arrived, a picture of me with very short hair.  My friend

is cleaning out her Mom’s house and she sent it to me, this picture.  I remember that bike, a source of much joy as I  roamed where ever I wanted, and the jeans….I”ll never fit into those puppies again. And of course, I remember that awful haircut.  Ugh…I look like a boy.

Sunday, I went to a sermon by a historian on feminism.  I couldn’t help thinking with the arrival of both of these items into my universe, that for for me,  ironically, feminism symbolically boiled down to my hair.

Feminism is defined online by Merriam Webster as the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.  The sermon discussed the  the myths of Feminism.  Feminists as angry, bra burning, and a group exclusive to women.  I do not fit into that mythology.  But I do believe we women should have the right to grow our hair out.

I grew up in an Italian family with some old world constructs about the role of women.  At about thirty, I decided I was not going to stay in that role and as a symbol of it, grew my hair out.

For years I had wanted to grow my hair out, but as soon as it looked like it might actually reach below my chin, I’d go to the hair dresser, ask for a trim, and she would say after 8 years of knowing me, “You’ll never grow your hair out.”  I was trapped in a story about my hair, that began when I was nine.

It went like this, my hair was shoulder length one day.  I loved it.  I told my Aunt, my second mother, how one day, I would work in an office and have shoulder-length hair, “ok,” she said.  And I practiced for my fourth grade picture where my hair is shoulder length.  And then, one day, something happened.  It was the early 70s and I think pixies were in style.

My mother took me to our hairdresser for a hair cut.  I went to the chair, and the beautician asked my Mother, “how do you want this cut?”

“Short,” she said. “He (meaning my father) wants it all off.”

In my early thirties, somewhere between the hair dresser’s comment and my self-reflection, I made the click between my behavior and the words I heard as an over-pleasing young child.  I grew my hair out 25 years ago, for the most part, it has remained, long or longish.  Betraying a construct isn’t easy, but in the end, loyalty to something that binds  your hair, or your soul, isn’t balanced.  So, I guess, I became a feminist.

I recently asked my husband, as I’m aging now, when he thought I should get my hair cut real short again so I don’t look witchy? “when your 90” he said.  He knows the story, of course, and he too, is a feminist.

 

©claireaperez@gmail.com

 

 

Bullying in the eyes of the beholders

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alone

I worked once, over 30 years ago, with a tragic character.  Her name, fictionalized, was Sephina.  I thought of her whenI watched Charley based on  Flowers for Algernon. A story about bullies ~ adult bullying exists and Sephina was my first introduction to this behavior.

Sephina was the daughter of first-generation Italians raised in an Italian working-class community during the 1930s.  She was odd and she was justifiably paranoid.   Her behavior did not fit the norm; she talked to herself, in between answering phones.  She was the receptionist at an office where I held a temporary job, and the butt of humor for the adults behind the glass door that separated the reception area from the offices.

It seemed Sephina’s fear that people were talking about her increased with their talking about her and that is where, as I recall, her paranoia became evident.  As she sat down at her station, her eyes would become big and bigger with each person that grazed past her desk.  Individuals spoke a casual, “Hello,” then turned to one another and giggled as they opened the glass door and went to their cubicles and desks. Many times I heard small groups whisper to each other, “Oh, there is Sephina, talking to herself, she is so crazy.”

My Aunt, the daughter of Italian immigrants herself, knew Sephina and told me that her husband was a brute.  He controlled her every waking moment, rarely let her out of his sight, and demanded much in the way of household chores. I imagined how after being outwardly shunned all day, never invited to Chicken and Biscuit lunches, and climbing into her husband’s car, Sephina went home to more abuse and labor:  fixing dinner, cleaning, and making her husband’s lunch for the next day, all the while hearing:  “You f____  c ___!”

Sephina dressed in tailored skirts, matching sweaters, and carried a plaid handbag.  I watched her leave the office one day, head bowed, staring at the ground as she opened her husband’s car door and slid into the passenger side.  He looked like one of those guys in life who never smiled, harsh, grumpy.

One day my Aunt invited Sephina over to her house because we both wanted to see how she made homemade noodles.  She taught us step-by-step this arduous process, which I have never done again.  She and my Aunt talked about the old days, the kindness of people back then, and some of their mutual acquaintances.  Sephina acted perfectly fine and made delicious homemade pasta.

Then she went back to work the next day and to the role she was cast in by that small little world she had grown to inhabit.  The role, which her husband  solidified (as my aunt told me) when she was told repeatedly, “you are no good.”   It is natural to assume the part and become the victim of the role cast in:  the unsuspecting person believes it and acts on it.  I learned Sephina was not crazy; she was encased in a socially cemented part that her husband and co-workers reinforced.

It is our social nature to want to belong.  Groupthink is when individuals follow the thinking of the group even when it causes cognitive dissonance.  People with power get away with bullying, not because they are right, but because the individuals around them who comprise the immediate group, do not have the courage to question the behavior of someone in authority.  Things will change, when individuals within groups stop supporting the erroneous myths and behaviors of those around them.  Children will learn from that example as they replicate the behavior of their adult caretakers.

I never saw Sephina again but in my mind, she still sits alone, isolated from the group behind the glass door.  A person with more courage than most.

 

For further reading, Ode to Bucky Goad will break your heart.

©claireaperez@gmail.com

Reflections on Teaching 1987, circa 1996

 

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Looking through the windows of a one room school house:  June 9 2016…reflections on the window and through the window

I went back in 1987 to my old high school, no longer in existence, to teach social studies.  As I turn the magic number this week of 55, I can now collect my monthly pension. My ten year payout is paltry compared to what thirty years in gives retirees, but I have worked with people who lived on that amount. I am grateful and my life is simple.
Today I will reflect on the one room school house. There I was with 130 or so faces passing through my classroom daily and I was ill equipped to discipline in the late 20th century, when an older English teacher told me: ‘the best way to discipline: pretend you are in a one room school house.’

This picture above is a one room school house.  His advice sounded good and sometimes it worked.  Most of the time, it did not.

It worked when I taught a college level Macro-Economics course to 17 well-behaved, motivated, curious students.  I loved what I was teaching and the students and I gelled.  Throughout my lectures, discussions arose that made me think that I was connecting to humanity in a profound way.  Teaching at its best: those moments when everybody gets it and falls silent at the weight of the knowledge.

 

The students wanted to learn from me and I believe I did a good job.  It was the parent of one of these students who sent me the greatest thank you note in my teaching career. I have it somewhere among my things: she left a message with the school secretary who wrote it out and  to the effect, it read ‘Dan loves your class and cant wait to get there everyday.’

Most of the time, my one room school house was a wreck, or close to it.  To be fair, I weighed 40 pounds less than I do now, was ill prepared for coping with the illnesses and drugs that coursed through the veins of my students, and was evaluated at the time by my aunt’s hard core divorce friend as, ‘too nice for this world.’

My disclaimer however, should not substitute for the lack of support I received from parents, colleagues in the department, and administrators, to run my one room school house.  Nor should it negate, the expectations placed on me to bring out the best in all 130 souls that passed my way. For me, the weight of the conflict was extraordinary…I knew after my first year, I could give public school teaching 10 years but that a lifetime of it would drain my soul.

In the same one room, circa 1996, thirty-three hormonal fourteen year olds barreled into my Global Studies class for ninth period, the last class of the day.  Thirty-three students is a number at which you just pray to keep them all alive without melting down yourself.  The end of the day…always a bad class time, thats why it is assigned to new teachers. Students at fourteen have been trapped for about 7 hours, they want out, jumping beans come to mind.  I delivered the material but I was really in survivor mode.

At a parent teacher conference, a parent of a shy young man from that class took me to task. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘You’ve got a bright kid here, I would think that you would pull him aside, nurture him, encourage him, get him to his personal best. Not come home with Cs.’

I literally was speechless. He had a point, but what I wanted to yell back at him was, 168 students (we were in an over enroll year) pass through that door everyday.  You have one – you do the job!

Now I say: Sir, I would of if I could of!

@claireaperez@gmail.com

Claire Anne Perez

Beavers in the Gloaming

imageIt had been a slow day, neither good or bad, just there, rainy.

Moby, our little happy dog, loves to walk, so I buckled him in and there we went. Watching him makes me want to break out in song, Zippity do dah, Zippity day. He is so oblivious to his own might at 80 pounds and so enthusiastic, as measured my the speed and rhythm  of his tail.

Rain in spring is marvelous…the greens and white apple tree blooms scream life through the grey monochrome and as we reached the bottom of the trail, my friend and I, and turned north to go home, we veered off to visit the beaver pond.

In the drenched grey, the wood ducks heard us and flew off. I looked around for other signs of life…could it be? I thought, as I saw a head across the way…a beaver?

It was not one beaver but 4….4 heads swimming…I braced, would Moby see?
No, he continued sniffing and I continued watching, hoping they wouldn’t cross over to our side.

As they came around the curve of the pond I whistled, either my whistle or their directive turned them around. I watched as they approached the embankment that leads to a second pond below.

The beavers emerged up onto the land, one by one they paired up.Their long swimming tails appearing like magic from the dark water:two  beavers in front, two in back. They proceeded, their backs to me, over their beaver-made dike, like some soldiers on a mission.

Their reality so concrete in the same burst  of time as mine…
so unaware of some forces far greater that
could simply bulldoze their world down.

Macadew…

Macadew is a big powerful dog.  He weights 80 plus pounds and his spirit is stronger than the body that contains him.  We picked him and his brother Moby out at the SPCA four years ago.  The night we brought them home, two rambunctious pups with two middle-aged “parents,” my husband looked at each other and said, “What have we done?  Maybe they were right, those people at the SPCA, when they saw us leave with two pit bull mix puppies and said, really, both of them?”

My husband said, “the brindle’s ok, but that little black & white (Moby) one might have to go…he seems a bit high strung.”  The next day began a routine that my husband has really been in charge of…I’m good with the love part and the walk part, he is great with the training.  The first thing he taught them was  Sleepy Time treat…from their first month with us, as soon as he said Sleepy Time, they stopped what they were doing and marched into their little cages.  Here is a glimpse.

As time wore on, we realized that the little Moby, was the more docile creature of the two. He is also, like a little Buddha.  He watches things, he follows us around, he watches more things, he sighs, and his walk is a little zig zaggy.  We thought he was going to have hip problems.  But, as time has demonstrated, he zips along happy as can be and gets plenty of rest.

Its Macadew who is a handful.  Not in a bad sense, but in a, oh my gosh, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of his teeth when your playing with him; and he needs to run and jump a lot!  One day, as a pup, he ran away, like a gazelle leaping over bushes and small trees on a bright sunlit winter morning…he moved faster than my eyes could track.  Suddenly, he was across the pond…his bronzed shape running like a beam of light under the green pines and against the white snow.

We worry when we take him on long woods walks that he will pick up a scent and disappear forever.  It gives us pause when we look up and see no sign of the boy. Then with great relief, we hear him charging through the bramble and Radames says to me, “Look at him jump, here he comes.”

A strong dog, I did not expect at 4.5 months to look over at Macadew last Thursday night and see a creature shriveled up in pain.  His back was arching and he had a look of an old man on his face.  I panicked.  We thought maybe it was a bug and it would go away in an hour or two.  The next day, things weren’t getting better.  We took him to the vet and to the animal hospital.

Macadew has disc disease…apparently all the jumping caused it, or perhaps, it was one moment of play with Moby. At this point he is healing…completely in his crate with leash walks to eat and go outside and then back in the crate.  We see him making progress but the whole family is down.  Moby doesn’t understand when he is outside Mac’s cage, why Mac won’t engage in play.  My husband and I are worried that Macadew won’t get better and/or we will be faced with a 7000 surgery or wheel cart.  But mostly, we are in shock that our beautiful, robust creature is down.  We hope the next 7 weeks show healing and we hope that when he does get better, his little spirit can soar through the woods he loves.

@claireaperez@gmail.com

 

My Aunt, her TV and Communication Theory

My Aunt lives in a nursing home where she is very content. Since getting her own room, I noticed she never had the TV on when I visited.

My aunt is 92, she spent her life watching soap operas, beauty pageants, the Late Show, Wheel of Fortune and cooking shows. How did she become so disinterested in TV? I wondered and I occasionally asked her, to which she replied, “There’s nothing on.”

“I read alot. ” Read, I thought. I never saw her read a book but I in her room there were many romance novels on her dresser.

Time went on, she complained of boredom but made sure to say how grateful she was to be where people were so kind to her.

Now and then, I said to my Mother or one of the care team, curious and clueless, “Its strange, Aunt Claire never watches TV.”
“Well, she says there is nothing on.” They replied. She never has her TV on.

Along about last September, after the upteenth boredom comment, I asked again “Why don’t you watch TV, you use to love the cooking shows.”

“There is nothing on. Cooking shows, what channel are they on?”

I looked over at the TV handed down to my Aunt from a resident…its old I thought, maybe she needs a new one.

I mentioned this to my brother who visits weekly and he replied, “I dont think her TV works.”

Next trip down, my husband checks it out in detail. The TV turned on but he could not coonect to the cable stations.There was nothing on but broadcast fuzz.

I decided it might be the TV so we arranged to get my aunt a television. I then told the staff and my mom I was getting  my aunt a TV. “Why,” they seemed surprised, “she never watches it. She says there is nothing on.”

At Christmas, we brought a new digital TV down and a lovely young man helped us connect it. We immediately found the cooking shows. Aunt Claire has been reportedly watching a lot more TV lately.

The problem is that we had all coordinated the meaning of my Aunt’s words, there is nothing on, to mean nothing that she wanted to watch.

This is a common complaint and common way to express that complaint.

But, in this case, all of the people involved with my aunt, including myself, missed her literal point. There was nothing on her TV.

When I inquired further, I learned that the switch from analog to digital, involved a conversion box, a second remote, and too much complexity in operation for a 92-year old gal.

In conclusion, the meaning of There’s nothing on was coordinated by most of the people involved in this piece to mean, the non-literal use of the term, There is nothing on worth watching. But the most important source of information, my aunt, was using the term literally, she told us There’s nothing on and meant what she  said.

Coordinated management of meaning…description from the source
Overview (7th Edition)
Persons-in-conversation co-construct their own social realities and are simultaneously shaped by the worlds they create. They can achieve coherence through common interpretation of their stories told. They can achieve coordination by meshing their stories lived. Dialogic communication, which is learnable, teachable, and contagious, improves the quality of life for everyone. (Socio-cultural and phenomenological traditions)
– See more at: http://www.afirstlook.com/edition_7/theory_resources/by_theory/Coordinated_Management_of_Meaning#.dpuf

 

Pancake Moments … everybody has a pancake story

Wednesday night I attended a fund-raiser for the The History Center in Tompkins County called Encouraging Connections through Variations on Pancakes.The presenter, Paula Younger, gave us a glimpse into how one thing, pancakes, can spark a conversation across generations and cultures.  The event itself was a kick off for the The History Centers Generation to Generation series.

At the center of the talk was what the presenter called a pancake moment.  I don’t know how to define it except to say that it is a moment associated with a memory of pancakes in a historical/personal context that teaches you something, marks something, or leads to some type of transformation, even if just in your thinking.  (Click on Ms. Younger’s site, pancakemoments TM to find out more information.)

Here is my pancake moment.

In October 1995, my now husband invited me over for breakfast with his twin boys.  He routinely made the round trip to Syracuse every other weekend  and bring them to their home here, the home that he wanted to be their forever home.

I had tasted some of my husband’s cooking but was not prepared for his specialty, blueberry pancakes.  While the boys slept, he brought out the ingredients, mixed them finishing with a big handful of blueberries thrown into the batter.  The pancakes on the griddle fluffed up to the best  cakes I have ever tasted…not too high and airy, but high enough so that the pancake does not drop into your stomach like a round of lead.

Calling the fifteen year olds to breakfast, he prepared their plates and let them pour as much syrup as they wanted onto their pancakes.My husband then made sure they had a juice or something to drink, fussing over them as he does with people he holds dear…like a mother hen.

The boys gobbled up their pancakes as if it was the most routine thing in the world.

At that moment I could feel the love.  The contented feeling of soul food like delicious blueberry pancakes set in a scene  laced with its own brand of heart ache, transformed into that routine place that never leaves you…that place you carry in your heart forever, that place where you are unconditionally loved.

And I saw the soul of my husband, Radames: when life gives you cracked eggs put them in a rich mix and then throw in a lot of color and sweetness to make it whole and beautiful for yourself, and for those who must continue.

Fall home
home

©claire anne perez

Nuns on Keuka Lake, 1930 Blimp, & OLD AGE is HELL poem…artificats

I found the artifacts, photographed and uploaded here, among my aunts things years ago.  Its all we have left in the end, artifacts of those former generations.  That and wonder:  if the dead could speak, what would they tell us?

The blimp?  Goodyear, 1930s…who took that picture in Miami where my Uncle lived?Goodyear blimp Dec 1930

who are these nuns?  when was the photograph taken?  is that, as I suspect, Keuka Lake?  was it a hot day?  good Lord, who made up those costumes?

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And this poem, OLD AGE IS HELL?  who typed this up?  it is found on the Internet, but did the typist make up the last two lines here?

Old Age is Hell
The body gets stiff, you get cramps in your legs Corns on your feet as big as hens eggs,
Gas in your stomach, elimination is poor, Take ex-lax at night, but then you’re not sure,
You soak in the tub, or the body will smell
OLD AGE IS HELL

The teeth start decaying, eyesight is poor,
Hair falling out, all over the floor,

Sex life is shot, its the thing of the past,
Don’t kid yourself friend, even that doesn’t last.

Can’t go to parties, don’t dance anymore,
just putting it mildly, you’re a hell of a bore.old age is hell 2
Liquor is out, can’t take a chance,
bladder is weak, might pee in your pants.

Nothing to plan for, nothing to expect,
Just the mailman, bringing your social security check!!!

Now be sure your affairs are in order and your will is just right,
or on the way to your grave there’ll be a hell of a fight.

So if this New Years Eve, if you feel fairly well,
THANK GOD YOUR ALIVE ALTHO. OLD AGE IS HELL.

 

 

 

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