Role Model

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On remembering and being thankful.

Published December 29, 2014 by mandileighbean

“Death ends life, not a relationship.”

– Robert Benchley

A beautiful and brilliant man once asked me if I knew what the poet Robert Frost said about life.  Embarrassed, I had to admit that no, I did not.  He told me that Robert Frost said that it goes on; life goes on.  I could only agree because it is a fact and who am I to argue with Robert Frost?  The conversation continued as both he and I commiserated about those minor tragedies and somewhat larger frustrations that so often plague humans as time passes and as life goes on.  I did not give his words much thought.

Until today.

A year ago today, I wrote a blog post which was viewed over 1,000 times, which seems impressive when one considers my average views rarely top 20.  However, that statistic becomes decidedly less impressive when one realizes the views came from mourners and I did nothing creative or noble or bold or entertaining.  I lamented the loss of a wonderful woman and inspiring colleague.  I am glad, and I supposed I could even say proud, that those words offered comfort and empathy to those who were suffering the pangs of such a shocking and brutal kind of grief.  But time steadily marched on, as it always has and always will, and the post, those words were forgotten as acceptance and healing and coping began.  I thought about the absence of my colleague nearly every day since then, rubbing the charm on the Alex & Ani bracelets we purchased in memory of her, but the post and what I had written never really crossed my mind.

And that realization particularly strikes me because since her passing, I have been able to understand her in ways I never thought I would, or even could.  I now teach in her classroom, two sections of the Honors program she built and perfected.  The task is daunting and I constantly worry that I’ll disappoint.  There’s always a special kind of pressure for an alumna who returns to her alma mater to teach, and that is excruciatingly increased when that same teacher is asked to fill the shoes of a beloved, intelligent teacher who passed suddenly.  On the bad days, when the lesson plan goes awry and I feel stupid and small and incompetent, I sometimes silently curse her because I childishly wish she were still here for the selfish, awful reason of relieving me of a burden.  Luckily, those selfish, bad days that I am greatly ashamed of are few and far between.

More often than not, I raise my eyes to the sky and send her a prayer of thanks.  This woman, who is no longer with us, is continuing to make her presence felt – is continuing to teach and inspire.  This year, I am taxed with teaching works I have not read nor studied, the first of which was Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  I should tell you that Charles Dickens was never a favorite of mine.  I considered him overrated, tediously verbose and a generally uninspired writer.  I shared in my students’ misery as we began to read and analyze the prose together, but then something wonderful happened.  We all grew to love the work; our seminars were intellectual and passionate.  The students became more cultured with such a staggering work under their belts, and I became a better teacher – I discovered that I could be an example for my students and that I could not groan nor complain when faced with an unfamiliar work, but had to persevere and connect with it to entice myself to analyze and interpret all it had to offer.  And I only learned this because my dearly departed colleague added the novel to the curriculum.  In true teacher fashion, she challenged a student to rise to the occasion.

Being in her room and sharing some of her experiences, I am seeing life in a new way and for the most part, doing so has made me extremely happy, has made me extremely appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to work in a field which I treasure, and to do so with people who are kind and generous and patient and enjoyable.  I am finally beginning to feel more like a woman instead of an insecure teenager who would much rather run into her bedroom and cry into her pillow while blasting melodramatic music when things get rough and the road gets rocky.  All of this I owe to Tara Gardner, and so this is not a weepy, “in memorial” piece.  This is a thank you letter to a woman who passed a year ago, but whose life was so full and vibrant and inspiring that her legacy is very much alive and those who care to will absolutely benefit from it.

I think back to the beautiful, brilliant man and what he told me.  And I suppose that yes, life does go on.  But I don’t think it does so thoughtlessly, marching like a cold solider across a barren burning field of battle.  Life goes on because it has to, because there are things to be learned, experiences to be valued, love to be lost and won and shared and forgotten, people to hold and scold and remember fondly.  And, I think, because those we have loved and lost wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you, Tara Gardner.  You are loved and missed, but please know that you are still teaching and that you are still doing so with amazing skill.

On belonging to the cult of popular culture.

Published July 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

I really delved into my popular culture universe today. I started watching “Hearts in Atlantis,” which is a film based on the novel of the same name by my idol Stephen King, and it also stars Anthony Hopkins, David Morse and my new celebrity crush, Anton Yelchin. I got distracted by the pool and the incredibly – albeit dangerously – warm weather, so I’ll have to finish watching it sometime tomorrow. I read A LOT of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; it has to be the hundredth time that I am reading that glorious masterpiece of a novel. I watched “Weekend at Bernie’s,” solely because I will always love Andrew McCarthy, caught part of “The Fan” because Robert DeNiro is an absolute genius and debated who was the better actor with my sister: Leonardo DiCaprio or Edward Norton? It’s a total “Sophie’s Choice” because it’s nearly possible to claim one over the other. Also, I engaged in reality television with my mom and sister – some of it trashy, but mostly dealing with Gordon Ramsay and cooking. I also found out that the actor Christopher Meloni may return to “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” as Detective Eliot Stabler, and the Backstreet Boys have reunited with all five members and are recording a new album (this is especially exciting because Kevin Richardson has returned and he has always been my favorite. He was a Backstreet MAN).

Why am I bothering to immortalize all of this in print on the internet? Am I not just really wasting space with trivial matters?

Maybe.

 

But I believe that popular culture can be an incredibly effective and easily manipulated tool. It is a great way for humans to relate to one another. To offer a specific example, in the classroom, I try to make the literature being studied and analyzed applicable to the popular culture of the students. If the material is made relevant to their culture, it not only offers a solid opportunity for emotional investment, but also highlights inter-media connections which employ higher-level thinking skills. I also believe that if a celebrity – be it an actor, an artist, a writer, a dancer, what have you – expresses interest in popular culture and remains a fan, it endears him or her to his or her own fans, and creates a more intimate relationship which can prove extremely valuable in a number of different ways. It could be a great public relations move, in my humble opinion.

Whenever my mind wanders – and it does so quite often – and I daydream, I think about being on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and being teased about my many, many celebrity crushes and dream that Ellen would bring out … let’s say Robert Pattinson, and I would be awkward yet charming and thereby endearing not only to Robert Pattinson, but to the audience. I’d be acting like a “normal” person meeting a celebrity rather than a celebrity meeting a celebrity; the population able to relate to the latter is frankly miniscule. I understand there is most certainly a flipside to such behavior (it could be misconstrued as unprofessional and immature and even embarrassing), but we’ve already discussed how life is a series of navigating fine lines.

This is why I can’t do math. My brain is filled with stuff like this – so much so, that there is simply no room for numbers or computations.

PROMPT: A man is given the ability to go back in time and change one event in his life.

PIECE:

“When you open your eyes,” a female voice, which was surprisingly stern, began, “you will be transported back in time to a moment of your choice.  Mr. Wallace, you are being given the ability to go back in time and change one moment in your life.  Choose wisely and do your best to anticipate all ramifications – some could be disastrous.  God speed, Mr. Wallace,” the voice concluded.

Lucas opened his eyes slowly, still totally bewildered by the wealth of just utterly bizarre information he was being forced to swallow.  If Lucas were to be absolutely honest, he would also have to confess that he was not even sure he could physically, emotionally, and/or intellectually accomplish such a daunting feat; he doubted doing so was even possible.  One moment, Lucas was stepping out of the shower and the next, everything went black and now, here he was ….

Where was that, exactly?  Heartbeat quickening, Lucas frantically turned his head from side to side as he was desperate for some context clues.  His eyes were taking in familiar surroundings, but they were surroundings that had not been familiar in about a decade.  He was in Maine, just outside of Ellsworth.  Lucas was surprised he even remembered the place because he had only been there for a week on vacation during college.  The place was significant not because it was a beautiful getaway location, but because it was where he had first met his wife.  He had been leaving the adorable, charmingly tiny motel and crossing the street to the roadside lobster stand that had the water at its back, and boasted an entire lobster dinner for only $15.00.  As he jogged across the primarily dormant two-lane highway, his future wife was just leaving, climbing into the back of a generic station wagon.  So impressed by her beauty and grace, Lucas made a slight correction in his navigation and arrived at her side just in time, just before she shut the door and drove back home with her parents.

What could he possibly want to change about that moment?

Lucas realized that technically, he was inside the cramped front lobby of the motel.  He had been signing something at the desk, making small conversation with the matronly owner and her young daughter.  They had just wandered off to tend to some business and he was getting ready to head out the door.  Lucas believed everything was right on schedule.  Why this moment?  He looked down at the desk and found his answer.  Upon the wooden laminate desktop was his grandfather’s fountain pen, given to Lucas just a month before he passed.  He had left it on the desk in the motel in Maine, and he had never seen it again.  Here was his chance to get it back!  Beaming, Lucas grabbed the pen and headed outside into the radiant sunshine.  It seemed like such a silly thing, but Lucas had always kicked himself in the ass for leaving the pen there.  The gravel of the parking lot crunched under his feet as he hurried towards the lobster stand across the highway, but his pace slowed considerably when he did not see a station wagon.

Had the moment of hesitation in grabbing the pen slammed shut the window of opportunity for meeting his wife?  Lucas felt very, very sick.

 

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