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To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

Free writing… when I think of free writing, I think of the stream of consciousness writing of William Faulkner. Crazy stuff if you don’t realize what is going on right away. I remember my first experience reading Faulkner’s stream of consciousness. It was his novel *The Sound of the Fury*, which is told from the perspective of three different characters– one of them being mentally challenged. Guess which character started the novel. That’s right, the mentally challenged one. I had no idea what was going on– I was lost until I figured out what was wrong with the character. I always share this experience with my high school students when they start complaining about reading *As I Lay Dying*. I tell them to be happy that I didn’t start them out with the same novel that introduced me to Faulkner.  Faulkner is one of those authors that you either love or hate– there is no middle ground. I must admit that I hated Faulkner after my first experience; which as a southerner is sacrilage. However, after teaching *As I Lay Dying* numerous times, I found he grew on me. Each reading of the novel revealed a new appreciation of his writing. I began to find a morbid, dark humor and absurdity in the imagery throughout the novel and in the thoughts of the various characters.  The images of the dead mule turning over and over in the flood waters of the stream, of the buzzards constantly circling over the wagon carrying the casket day after day, of the stench that follows them like a dark cloud…. the hole drilled in the mother’s head by the child drilling a hole in the casket so his mother could “breath” while she was in the casket….  Those ridiculously long sentences–  and that unforgettable line, “My mother is a fish”    

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We have lived in our house fourteen years. It is open, airy and comfortable. Storage, however, is not one of its fortes. The kitchen does not have a pantry for storage, so we use the closet in the front room as a pantry. There’s attic space, but the extreme heat and cold of an attic is not conducive to storing some things. Consequently, I end up using the guest room closet to store the things I don’t want to store in the attic. I have run out of room. I need a closet for our off-season clothes. I need a closet or storage room for the items I don’t want to store in the attic. I need a new house– but like so many others today, I’m stuck in this one for quite a while longer.

Between the junk I have accumulated and the “treasures” my mother brings every time she visits, I have run out of room. I haven’t even mentioned the thirty-six years of “stuff” accumulated in my parent’s basement– it’s a nightmare. So, I am on a mission to clean out the excess in my house and to hopefully get my parents to begin getting rid of their excess before I have to. I’m too lazy for a yard sale; therefore, I did the next best thing. I rented a booth at the local faux flea market: Antiques & Stuff. It’s like an antique mall and flea market in one. All I have to do is keep my booth stocked. They handle the sales, sales tax, etc. in exchange for 12% commission on sales. Not a bad trade-off.

I have been amazed at how much stuff I actually have. If I can sell some of it, I might actually find some room in the house so I can accumulate more stuff…

Obsessive Dog

Every evening my husband takes the dogs for a short walk on our street. The dogs look forward to the walk, especially Missy. Missy is a rescue dog that is supposedly a chihuahua mix– I’m still looking for the chihuahua. I am positive, however, that there is some terrier in Missy. Why? Because she is so much a creature of habit that she is obsessive, which is characteristic of terriers. Case in point… every night at the same time, Missy sits at the front door and stares at my husband until he looks at her. If he ignores her, she then proceeds to periodically “grrrrr” at him much like a person clearing his throat in order to get someone’s attention. Rick will finally surrender in this battle of wills and take the two dogs for a walk. We have tried to convince Missy that the back yard is just as good for an evening walk, but she just won’t have it. It’s the front yard and street or nothing.

The evening walk is not Missy’s only obsession. She is also obsessed with the chipmunk which lives in the hedge next to the front porch. Every time I take the dogs out front during the day, Missy heads at full speed into the hedge determined to get the chipmunk. Pepe has no clue what they are chasing, but he follows along convinced that he and Missy are about to rid the world of some evil. Missy dives head first into the hedge and moves along under it sniffing and hunting. The only way I can tell where she is is by the shaking of the top of the bushes as she moves through the hedge. Pepe, on the other hand, does not feel the need to dive into the hedge like Missy. He sticks his head in and yaps– only his wagging tail sticking out as he assists in the hunt. I doubt either of them will ever catch the chipmunk since both are clueless when he scurries past them to escape around the corner of the house. My two hunters blithely continue snuffling through the hedge in an endless pursuit of the chipmunk.

Last night Missy discovered a new obsession– a cat. We have two cats, which the dogs accept as part of the pack. All other cats, though, are seen as trespassers to be dealt with accordingly. As Rick took the dogs out the front door for their evening walk, Missy immediately perked up and dove into the bushes. Pepe, even though he had no idea what they were pursuing, followed her lead into the bushes as usual. Just as he pokes his head into the bushes and starts yapping, a grey streak flies out of the bushes with Missy close behind it. The grey streak disappeared down the storm drain leaving Missy sniffing around the drain and peering suspiciously down it. Pepe, however, still had his head stuck in the bushes yapping, wagging his tail, and totally clueless that there was nothing left in the bushes to bark at. Now, every time Rick takes the dogs for their evening walk, Missy stops to inspect the storm drain convinced that the cat is still there.

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All of us at one time or another has uttered, “My job is killing me!” Generally we say our job is killing us out of frustration or anger at things we cannot control on the job. What if, though, your job really is killing you? You may not have what you consider to be a dangerous job—you’re not in law enforcement or work in dangerous conditions—yet your job may contribute to silent health issues which can slowly deteriorate your quality of life. My job is killing me. Not literally, but in the deterioration of my health and the decline in the quality of my life due to the health issues. The decline was slow and almost imperceptible, yet the warning signs were there. I ignored the signs and attributed them to stress, long hours, and job burnout. Little did I know that the stress was the trigger that set in motion a cycle of escalating health issues.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a little over a year ago. When I researched the effects of hypothyroidism, many of the health problems I was suffering made sense. An under-active thyroid not only can cause weight gain, it can cause high cholesterol, high blood pressure, dry skin, brittle nails and hair, and constant tiredness– all of which I was experiencing. I had been treated for high cholesterol for several years, but I my blood pressure had recently gone up and I was constantly tired. All of these symptoms began to improve after a month of being on the thyroid medication levothyroxine. I was feeling great again. Little did I know that I had only experienced a minor portion of the health issues hypothyroidism can cause. And little did I know that the stress I experience with my job could exacerbate my hypothyroidism.

A Substitute Education

I graduated with a B.S.Ed. in English in December 1983. Mid-year isn’t the ideal time to graduate when one is looking for a teaching position, but I used the opportunity to hone my teaching skills as a substitute teacher. The school system kept me busy every day. I subbed in the elementary and middle schools as well as in the same high school where I had done my student
teaching. It was an education I did not expect.

Think back to your high school years. Remember the elation you felt when you walked into the classroom to see a sub? Remember how you and your friends would torment the sub? Well, somehow I had forgotten. The time I spent substitute teaching provided me with more lessons on classroom management than I ever received in college or during my student teaching.

Lesson I:  Trust no one, not even the best student.  When given the opportunity, even the best students will take advantage of an opportunity to do something their teacher does not regularly allow the class to do.  “Mrs. M. allows us to eat in class.”  “We are allowed to use our notes on quizzes and tests.”   “Oh, we don’t have to sit in our assigned seats anymore.”  “Mr. S. hasn’t taught us that yet.”   “Our lunch was changed to first lunch, not fourth.”

Lesson II:  All students think that having a sub means a free day to socialize and “play” in class.  “Forget the assignment, Mrs. M. didn’t mean for us to complete it anyway. And the sub, well, she’s not a real teacher and won’t be able to help us.”

Lesson III:  Never turn your back on the students when substitute teaching. Noises will erupt out of nowhere, students will sneak in or out of class, or objects will be propelled across the room.

The three lessons above are only partial exaggerations. I subbed in some classrooms in which it was a constant battle to maintain order and to keep the students on task.  I learned the value of proximity, eye contact, lowering instead of raising my voice, and,
most importantly, the value of keeping students engaged with the lesson or assignment. I also learned that the behavior of students was directly proportional to how effective the teacher I was subbing for was with classroom management. The more effective the teacher was with classroom management, routine, and organization, the better behaved the students would be when a sub was present.  The students knew the classroom routine and knew what their teacher expected of them, and therefore continued to act in the same manner with a substitute teacher.  Additionally, if the teacher had built trusting relationships with her students, the students did not want to do anything that would reflect poorly on their teacher.

Lesson IV:  Teacher-student relationships, organization, and routine are cornerstones of good classroom management.

We leave home with one path in mind yet life has many detours. I began college with the intention of studying marine biology, but discovered quickly that science and math at the next level was not for me. My love of reading, literature, and language drew me to a degree in English. Then it hit me, “What am I going to do with this degree?” So, I decided to become a high school English teacher; thus fulfilling my senior English teacher’s prophecy that I would one day be an English teacher. However, one of life’s detours took me down another path before I could begin my teaching career.

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