A Few Questions

I am reading Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss. He submitted a group of eleven questions to more than 100 people whom he admired for their brilliance, questions whose answers he believed would help move him forward to being a better person. As I read the compelling replies, it occurs to me that I also have answers to some (but not all) of these questions that might be helpful to someone.

If you’re interested, here is the complete list of questions.

And here are my answers to three of them:

What are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Two books I’ve read in the last couple of years have given me a clue to what “white privilege” is. I didn’t think I had it; don’t you have to be rich to have privilege? I’ve struggled financially for most of my life.

But when I read the nonfiction book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, I realized how much I take for granted, and how many obstacles to success people of color face. It opened my eyes and broke my heart.

I read Angie Thomas’ YA novel, The Hate U Give, to find out what all the fuss was about. I was prepared not to like it. But again, it opened my eyes.

All white people should read these books or some of the many other good books about the Black experience in the United States. These two books, and an article in my denomination’s magazine, changed my life. I still have much to learn, but I am humbled by trials of my Black brothers and sisters. We must fight racism.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I graduated from college in 1974 with a degree in music education. I taught elementary general music in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, for four years while I completed my Masters in music education. It was a hard job, and I left it to start a family and raise our five children.

Starting in 2000, I eased back into the work force as a part-time procurement clerk for the Bureau of Land Management. When that ceased to be fun, I worked on my novel and took on a string of part- and full-time, low-paying jobs, until I decided to go back to teaching after 27 years out of the classroom. I picked up a balance-of-term substitute job teaching elementary general music. It was a tough school, with some behavior problems; but I hoped I would land a permanent position. At the end of the year, a different teacher was awarded the contract for my job.

I knew the new teacher, and she was awesome. I couldn’t fault the vice principal for hiring her, but I felt like a failure. Then she said, “I hear the Chandler district is hiring music teachers. Why don’t you apply there?” So I did.

My interview at the school in Chandler was one of the most positive meetings of my life. The principal, dean, another music teacher, and I chatted about my experience and music education philosophy and what the climate was like at the school. No one posed awkward questions to put me on the spot; we were just four colleagues talking about working with kids. Afterward, I called my husband from the parking lot and told him this was the school where I wanted to work.

I got the job and I thrived there. The kids were great, the staff was friendly, creative, and collaborative, and the principal advocated for his students and teachers. It was a great place to work for the next five years; then it wasn’t. I stayed an additional three years and then retired. But I would never have had this idyllic experience if I had succeeded in keeping the previous teaching job.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

This is a poem I wrote a few years ago entitled “Commencement” that says it all:

Welcome to the next stage of your life.
No matter what you’ve planned,
be prepared to go with the flow.
Not everything will go the way you hoped.
Stuff happens.
Practice resiliency.
Sometimes your best experiences will be the ones you didn’t choose
but were thrust upon you by circumstances beyond your control.
Hang on and enjoy the ride.

Now it’s your turn. Answer one or more of these questions, or any from the original list. Cut and paste your reply in the comments below. Or post it on your own blog, and share a link in the comments.

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Flower of the Day: Poppies with Visitor

More FOTD.

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Mockingbird Blues

This article was originally published on ARHtistic License in May, 2020.

I’ve now experienced everything.

Last week I was bullied by a bird.

I was minding my own business, walking Ralph, when a bird started trash-talking me. I tried whistling at her, but that just made her hopping mad. I continued on my way—and she dive-bombed me!

From the marking on her wings, I guessed she must be a mockingbird. (Thank you, Hunger Games movies, for giving me that bird-identification frame of reference.) I know birds can get aggressively protective of their nests when they have little ones, but there are lots of trees in my neighborhood, and I have no idea which one she calls home.

There she is, in my neighbor’s tree, bad-mouthing me.

On the way back from our walk, we navigated the entire cul-de-sac. Bad idea. Mrs. Bird snuck behind me and whomped me on the back. (All right, she weighs two ounces, but I felt that!)

Every day for an entire week, that birdie terrorized me. I tried talking tough to her (“Don’t you dare bother me!”), I shook my keys at her, I wore a floppy hat. Nothing stopped her from swooping at me from behind.

There were two mornings when my plans included doing yardwork. I couldn’t—I was too afraid.

Yeah, she looks innocent, but she’s terrifying.

I haven’t seen her this week. Maybe her eggs hatched and she’s busy feeding her babies? Maybe her babies died because she spent so much time chasing me that the babies starved? I don’t know what changed. It’s a mystery of life.

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In the Meme Time: Moving Forward

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Lemon Surprise

A few years ago we had our yard landscaped, and we acquired three citrus trees: an orange, a grapefruit, and a lemon. These last two years we had a a huge yield of lemons. I still have lemons on the tree. We love to squeeze fresh lemon juice into our drinking water—so refreshing!

One day I picked a doubled-brown-paper grocery bagful of lemons. These are Meyer lemons, and they grow to the size of little Nerf footballs, with knobby little protuberances on them. My friends have told me to freeze fresh lemon juice in ice cube trays, then store the cubes in baggies in the freezer and use them as you need them. Sounds like a good idea!

I bought a bunch of plastic ice cube trays at the dollar store, got out my 40-year-old electric juicer, and squoze away. I’d been grabbing the lemons one at a time out of the bag.

When I was down to my last tray, I peeked into the bag to see how many lemons were still in there.

The good news: only three left.

The bad news: there was also a scorpion wiggling around in the bag.

No, this is not my scorpion, but he looked alot like this. Photo by janeb13 on Pixabay.

We live in Arizona. We are no strangers to scorpions. We go for months without seeing any, and then one will tour the bathroom. We have flyswatters hanging on nails throughout the house; they are my weapon of choice against scorpions.

I took the bag outside and dumped it out on the patio. The scorpion, a common tan bark scorpion, and a big one at that, about four inches, lifted his enormous claws, stuck his powerful tail up in the air, and marched right toward me. I could have just stepped on him, but he was huge—what if I missed? He looked like he could hold a grudge.

Not seeing anything good to whack him with, I ran into the house to get my flyswatter. When I came out, he was nowhere to be found.

The next morning, I let Ralph outside, and I noticed all the water had evaporated from his bowl on the patio. So I picked it up to refill it. . .

. . . and there, underneath, was the scorpion. He took one look at me, said, “What?! You again?!” and brandished his claws and stinger at me.

I ran inside for my flyswatter, and when I returned—he was gone again.

I haven’t seen him since.

But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.

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Watermelon Poem

Watermelon
by ARHuelsenbeck

it takes both arms to carry you
my green-striped beauty
I can’t wait to plunge my long knife
into your bright red flesh

but first I clear an entire shelf
in the fridge
because you are best when icy cold

while waiting I remember
my childhood end-of-summer ritual
celebrating with green-white-red smiles
juice running down our chins
soaking our t-shirts
and bombarding each other with
seeds fired from our deadly lips
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Imposter Grandmother

Starting with a line from Sylvia
by ARHuelsenbeck

they stand about in grandmotherly disguise
these imposters
they have no grandchildren
so they acquire others’ by deceit
luring them with cookies and other forbidden sweets
knitting them scratchy sweaters in colors so 1970

they wander the neighborhood and
patronize lemonade stands and
pontificate how in their day the
sweet nectar of the sour tree cost only 5 cents
but buy today’s cup of crystal lite
for a dollar

how dare they send birthday and Halloween cards
to my little sweeties
how dare they call them punkin and cupcake
and take selfies with them
hands off, geezerettes

they’re mine
I earned them the hard way
by raising up my children
and waiting for them to do the same

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Wisdom from Thomas Edison

Wisdom from the mind of the great inventor, Thomas Alva Edison:

  • Opportunity is missed by most people, because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
  • To have a great idea, have a lot of them.
  • The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.
  • Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.
  • The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.
  • I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.
  • The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet, and the cause and prevention of disease.
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Pandemic Prayer

More than a year ago, I wrote this poem. It’s encouraging to think that we’re finally getting close to the end of this pandemic.

Pandemic Prayer
by ARHuelsenbeck

Lord, I pray for an end to this pandemic
and yet, as the words leave my heart
I wonder if it’s even good to ask for
an end to the dying
an end to the pain
an end to economic chaos
an end to inconvenience
an end to isolation

what if this is Your way
of welcoming people to eternity
with You, an exodus from pain to paradise
or of reconnecting parents with children
and workers with their neighborhoods
what if this disease is accomplishing Your purpose

I still want to hang on to the way things were
when I could go to rehearsals
or out to dinner and a movie
when I could hug my friends
or even be in the same room with them

Your will be done
please strengthen me for what’s to come

My church reopened for in-person worship this week. We haven’t attended yet, but hope to soon.

Here’s a video of the last time our bell choir played. The song is “My Jesus, I love You.” I’m the short one in the back row.

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In the Meme Time: Where Are You Going?

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