Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

For Susie

When my friend Susan (Chamberlin) Brachna was born, her mother looked into her very dark eyes and was reminded of the flower called the brown-eyed Susan or (sometimes) black-eyed Susan. That’s how she got her name. These have always been among my favorite flowers; they look like golden daisies and are in the sunflower family. As I think of Susie, I think of a beautiful flower growing toward the sun.

I greatly appreciate the friendship we shared for four and a half years. Compared to some, I did not know Susie that long. But in that time, we both lost our mothers. No matter our age, the loss of a mother is devastating. And we were in graduate school studying counseling together. No matter our age, graduate school is a tough time, full of obstacles. But it also brings the joy of learning, and I will never forget the image of Susie studying in the campus library. We would encounter each other quite often as I also teach part-time at John Carroll University.

When Susie was reading, she was really reading. She was like a laser beam in her powers of concentration. When she was writing, she was really writing – and some of you know, she was a solid freelance writer for quite a few publications. Did you know that an article she wrote in 2000 shows up in Easy Bib, an online citation tool sometimes used by students? It’s called "Incorporating Individuals with Disabilities in Everyday Work Force” and appeared in Plastics News 11.49 (2000): 24. Print. Skillful as she was at writing, Susie wanted to set freelancing aside. She did not want to be in a room alone, writing, with the door shut, as she put it. She wanted to be among people, helping.

I loved every conversation I had with her, the questions she asked, her laughter. She had a very reassuring way of saying good-bye – with an upbeat tone. It was as if she had a smile in her good-bye.               

Susie and I have sons of about the same age, and she often said that being a wife and mom was her proudest achievement. Knowing what she was like as a graduate student, I can imagine that her parenting was done with zest and creativity and precision. She told me of a phase with her young sons when she wanted to both support their interest in science and “keep them busy and occupied.” If I heard this right, at that time their stately home had a secret in the basement … something to do with amazing living creatures – even a reptile (?) in a tank … not standard in a colonial. Susie said “I didn’t go down there.” From this I learn: Give people what they need. Then step back.

One winter holiday, Susie gave me a beautiful vase made in Israel with a colorful rendering of Jerusalem on it. I brought it to one internship site where I taught relaxation; I filled it with dried roses to try to create a meditative atmosphere for recovering addicts. The vase drew many compliments. Susie had excellent taste. I told her she was doing therapeutic things even when she didn’t realize it. From her example I learn: Cherish what is beautiful.

The evening of her presentation in multicultural education she had worked so hard on learning PowerPoint, but as often happens: the projector wasn’t working. “I’ll just skip that,” she said, sliding the mouse away and not missing a beat. She spoke eloquently without bells and whistles but never thought of herself as a public speaker even when leading five therapeutic groups at a community agency. So from her I learned: Get rid of what doesn’t work and Share your wisdom.

Susie characteristically downplayed her own talents but her article on parallels between her battle with cancer and her client’s battles is one of the best I have read. It is in the July 2013 Counseling Today online. Her skills as a writer and a counselor converged in that essay.

From her I learned lessons perhaps more powerful than the whole counseling curriculum combined.

Some people think of the world beyond as eternal rest. Somehow my heart tells me Susie may be busy as usual, using her compassion to help the world from a new vantage point.

I will always remember the way she blossomed – with beauty, dignity, humor, and grace.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Counselor advocacy helps others and ourselves

Professional counselors might accept a larger advocacy role in representing clients’ interests on public policy initiatives with enthusiasm.  Benefits can accrue not only to individuals but also to families, schools, neighborhoods, and the workplace. Counselors can promote stigma reduction, improve health care outcomes, shape healthier institutions, and enjoy a sense of joint purpose with likeminded professionals. In addition, reaching out actively can help counselors themselves live more meaningful lives.

Stigma reduction has far to go. Some mental health consumers – high profile celebrities or otherwise – take risks when sharing their personal stories. Counselors might do more to help demystify mental health issues and treatment, demonstrate listening and coaching skills in public forums. They can advocate to reduce fears and prejudices about mental illness further. It should not take tragedies to get mental health promotion in the popular consciousness. Therapy can work and transform lives. The stigma of seeking counseling can be further reduced, and its benefits more clearly explained. With greater awareness, legislators and others may then draft more comprehensive policies better able to serve all.

Health of mind and body are integrated. Sadly, statistics have shown that the lives of those with schizophrenia and other emotional conditions are often shortened. Some clients lack medical help or self-care -- or may be underemployed or unemployed. Many could benefit from a team-approach to treatment for emotional and physical problems. President Obama’s call for greater access to health care can prompt counselors to join forces with legislators, administrators, insurers, and the public to create programs and policies supporting disease prevention, not just treatment. By speaking up within the community, writing op-eds, and being visible, counselors can stimulate a healthier society -- head to toe -- across the lifespan.

Interdisciplinary training of counselors positions the profession well to work within cities, counties, states, the nation, and the global community for wise stewardship of public funds. Active within schools, law enforcement, and government, counselors can speak to the power of communication, pro-social behavior, and dimensions of emotional intelligence. Good policies need clear vision. There is relevant research about how to reduce crime and recidivism and build bridges between generations. Elders, mature adults, teens, and children can blossom with healthier agencies and institutions; fiscal diligence plus counselor creativity can, together, yield sound policies.

Counselors working shoulder-to-shoulder on advocacy with peers in social work, medicine, nursing, psychology, and psychiatry can bring down walls of misunderstanding among the professions and build powerful common ground. Though professional learning or career trajectories may differ, shared values in the public good can prevail. Counselor advocacy can promote collegiality.

What difference can one voice make? That voice might encourage others to speak up. Trained advocates for personal change, counselors can espouse ethical and inspired policies. They can take on advocacy roles to infuse the profession with a new sense of collective purpose along with a deepened source of personal meaning. In helping others, counselors ultimately help themselves and those who will follow.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Farewell to the William Telling Mansion as Library?

I pulled out some “Forever” stamps today, remembering how little in life lasts forever -- or even as long as we would like. Stimulated by a recent Facebook post by a friend, I began thinking again of the future fate of the William Telling mansion, the once-and-current … but not-forever home … of the South Euclid-Lyndhurst library, one branch within our impressive Cuyahoga County Public Library system.

“Just a building,” you might be thinking. “So, Maria, with all the books you own, what do you need a library for, anyway?”

Well, I did not always own many books. As a little girl, the child of immigrants with few material goods but who possessed the strategic thinking to live walking distance from a library, my wealth was access to library books. One of my earliest and joyous memories was cracking the code of reading. And my self expression was, from very early years, writing. At the solid oak tables of my childhood library, I read and wrote. That was the Coventry library on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and I’m pleased that it is still there as a library. (Not without twists and turns I remember quite well.) It is a jewel within the Cleveland Heights-University Heights library system. In fact, improving access to public libraries is the reason that our county system was born in Ohio, I also learned today.

My elementary school (since demolished and replaced with another facility) was across the street from the library; stops there after school were convenient. Books were in a structure that respectfully housed them--and, more than that, celebrated them. And a certain decorum was expected in the library…a hush that I barely sense even in houses of worship any more. And I learned at a young age that it is ok to quiet one’s mind and mouth to prepare for a journey within. Today's kids--and adults, too--might be noisier; expectations for libraries to double as community centers prevail. That's all right for part of a library's mission, but the ability to reflect is important. Just as audience behavior for a ballgame is not that of an orchestra concert, e-books and videos are not all there is to literacy. Even if people "demand" that now. The whole picture is important, andability to handle a book with respect and curiosity should not become an arcane art for fewer and fewer people.

For me, the fate of libraries, academic or otherwise, is somehow tied to books. Yes, even in this e- era. We had best be cautious about devaluing them and always trading in new for old.

My childhood library was a far-finer place than I could ever hope to live in – just as the William Telling mansion I knew is beyond my reach but in memory now. In recent years, the collection seemed to be dwindling...I did not frequent it often. Yes, entering even as a stranger one can feel wonder (as did my concerned friend from Lakewood upon learning of the building's unknown fate).

Reading several times in my life -- and almost memorizing -- the story of William Telling, an entrepreneur whose dream home construction began in 1928 and whose immense professional success was derailed by circumstances of the Great Depression, I am always saddened. Yet I felt connected to his aesthetic sense and aspirations. I strive to foster in my students creativity; he was an innovator knocked down (like some of my own ancestors) by history. Yet, his building remained.

The library now (with some brave protests) symbolizes to me planning decisions over which I feel absolutely no control despite my deep sense of connection with -- even reverence for -- the site. Who really cares whether I'm disappointed at another Cleveland landmark abandoned, demolished, or replaced? I should be used to that by now.

If you have not been there: The William Edward Telling Mansion (French Chateau, pitched roof, leaded windows, stone and brick, cone-shaped towers, marble floors, arches, abundant designs of birds and flowers inside, carving-laden fireplaces, tiled fountain on sun porch) drew its share of patrons despite parking challenges.

I described it as best I could to my sister out of state: "It sounds like a healing spot," she said.

Yes, magical -- and the art of reading can lift us up like a building's arches, I think.

Thanks to a Cleveland Memory Project resource, I learned that March 4, 2013 will mark 90 years since the county public library board first met. Those of us who might take venerable institutions for granted should reflect on historical origins. How an organizational mission plays out is often up to interpretation. As citizens, we might keep our eyes and ears open before such huge decisions are made.

We are stewards of land and property. A green building is a noble venture. So is creatively revamping a building that already stands. An update of the William Edward Telling mansion would have been a great addition to any architect's portfolio. The venerable building's "flaws" -- like its remarkable traits -- could have provided a springboard for innovation.

Literacy means personal power. I was not the only little girl that had few books at home but whose mind and heart and imagination extended in an elegant library within walking distance. Perhaps Telling meant so much to me because it reminds me of the extraordinary public library almost in my backyard growing up.

Some kids might lack books because computers reign supreme. But no matter what side of the digital divide one is on, books and libraries matter. New patrons, at whatever library, will form their own memories -- just as parishioners at whatever house of worship or students at whatever school will adapt. Yes, we all  move on -- regardless of the wonder of certain rare places in our heart. My own indelible memories of the library at this site linger:
  • Before buying a home in South Euclid where we have lived for many years, my husband and I rented within the city. The grace of the library was a draw for both decisions.
  • One of my college students, seeking me out for reference help off campus, said: “I’ve driven by this building so many times but never stopped here. This is great…I’m going to bring my children here
  • My mother, now deceased, pointed out that from my home in South Euclid, we could cover the one-plus miles to get there on foot, a cherished destination. We relished the fountain inside, the high ceilings, the windows shedding light.
  • My senior citizen memoir students had some special writing sessions there … able to reflect on their past juxtaposed with a trip to the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Historical Society.
  • One staffer was my point of contact when my child was very ill; skillful searching led to books ordered from other branches to promptly arrive. That reassurance helped me have hope. Personal attention meant a lot.
  • When I created my first community workshop, Poets Place, in Telling Mansion, the seeds had been planted right there one decade before (and the site was once farm land). The first community writing workshop I ever participated in, shyly and very young, was under the tutelage of a former library employee. I learned from him to show hospitality to bewildered, aspiring writers. 
Kindness is caught not taught -- and so is appreciation of community treasures. The magic of our structures does count. Perhaps William Telling himself, a man of dreams, would agree that life is change, and we must be prepared to let go. Setbacks near the end of his career were vast. What he ultimately and inadvertently created was a place of inspiration for others. A steady, stately building symbolizes more than great architecture. It  is a haven for personal discovery. The aquarium. Well-planned children's rooms, on the scale of a child. Periodicals beautifully housed. An aviary. Mystical symbols stretching back into time...

We are in an online era. Libraries cull collections for computers that will soon be obsolete. Books are green, and one can serve many. Printing of articles at homes creates a mess I have not yet learned how to battle; print magazines were a pretty good invention after all. But technology gets smaller and smaller in size even while increasing itself in range. Soon we may wonder what to do with our empty bookshelves from abandoned bookstores and blank spaces in our minds.

The South Euclid-Lyndhurst library will be in a new, to-be-built location. I am aware that the library lacked an elevator and needed accommodations. While in a multi-year recovery from an auto accident that affected my neck and shoulders, I still went to the Telling Mansion and used library computers for some typing as I was on the don't-have-it side of the digital divide at that time.

My son and I went to several libraries as he grew up; yet Telling Mansion/South Euclid-Lyndhurst library was our special place. Perhaps my best memory is when he sat in on a memoir workshop. It was a privilege to facilitate that group and to listen to elders sharing their stories in a beautiful room.

This past summer, the day a Plain Dealer article ran, I decided to say goodbye to the facility. I saw two friends from a neighboring suburb in the parking lot, coincidentally, with their grade school son skipping at their side.

“We loved coming to this library,” they said sadly. “But soon it will be gone.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

#etmooc Reflections on IHE Intellectual Affairs "Before the E-Text"

"...squiggles into meaning..." is a lovely phrase in Scott McLemee’s thoughtful Intellectual Affairs contribution to Inside Higher Ed on 1/23/13.

It’s at the end of paragraph four – for you rapid skimmers out there! The phrase perfectly describes how I wanted to write even before I knew how. School papers of my older siblings were strewn around the oak dining room table, our collective desk, and I wanted to decode and create that wavelike motion. I was likewise bonded to books, like glue. A family story has me bursting into tears as a neighbor attempted to take her book back home.

Early today, I read a student's essay describing how he wanted to create a book even before he was able to read much.

All our tools – past, present, and future -- for capturing meaning are intriguing. What we feel wonder for is very important. But we shouldn’t always give away the “old” hammer for the old one. My dad had some great tools in the basement. I learned early that there’s power in the old tools, too.

Our danger as a digital-hooked-culture is losing something gained rather than adding tools on. One can lose the rapidity, immediacy, and self-expressive capability of cursive writing, for example…despite real struggles those of us who remember learning it with some pains despite our desire. Fewer than one third of my current students opt to write in cursive; their challenge to read it, too, reminds me of my struggle to read what-I-called Gothic script of my European forbears. Will my script marginalia to them be unread? I can’t risk that. I suspect that soon only one or two will be able to write cursive at all.

Andrew Piper's Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (University of Chicago Press) sounds worthwhile, as McLemee described it. (And wow: the reviews.)

Since toddlerhood, I have been hooked on the sensory/emotional/intellectual experience of books. I keep stuffing/packing them wherever they fit, not as disciplined as McLemee in dusting and arranging them and even turning the shelves. I just figured they'd bend and buckle indefinitely.
They must support all that comes back when I handle the books. "This one! I remember when I bought it!” “That one: Used the first time I taught freshman comp!" "That one! Lifted my spirits at a difficult time...."

Today’s "engagement with text" takes many forms; I'm thrilled to access text on a phone ... quite some time after others got that magical power. Technology drives the culture, and it does feel like magic. That’s the part I think we might strive to note, balance, straddle, control. Each day I wake up behind (in my eyes? in your eyes?) even as I try to advance.

In #etmooc I have felt profoundly overloaded. Everyone I access seems exhilarated and really into the groove (old slang). I asked a MOOC "dropout" question on Twitter and learned there is no such thing! So there's the joy that participants (well, those I click on) are feeling. And their quickness at pressing buttons (after all...it's educational technology...which I do use, but perhaps with a steeper initial learning curve).

I do want to grasp it all  in a course -- not just a segment of the sky through the window. Of course that vastness is impossible to grasp. I know that as a counseling student now, as a writing teacher, as a lifelong student. The context of the whole is impossible.

To help me span the then of the old tools and the now of the new ones: I have taken to keeping paper near the computer so I can write a bit by hand and use those muscles…just as I keep the phone near a book in case I want to stop to text a friend, preferably about the book – but maybe not, maybe just to say hello. Few people in my age group text at all. What will today's teens be doing to connect with others in their 50s? I wonder.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Favorite #etmooc mooc jokes

Teaching community memoir writing
 I was reading that now is already a good time to show some evidence of  #etmooc learning. I'm afraid to reveal how far behind I am. With the beginning of the semester teaching and taking classes ... on ground ... and then wrenching my neck and back: I'm swamped. In some ways, I'm such a private learner. I'm reminded of the trouble I had learning to swim. For some reason, in my once-thin body, I could not float. And all the others in the class were reveling in the deep end, having so much fun in the pool! And the
teacher, more or less, gave up on me.
I learn through asking questions and making silent connections in my head.

And when all else fails, I wrap my mind around humor. That does loosen some of my knots, and I've noticed that it helps students, too.

Q. Why did the blogger cross the road?

A. Because his server crashed and he had to make a friend fast!

Q. How many bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?

A. What’s a light bulb?

A blog, a wiki, and a hashtag walk into a nightclub. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” asked the chat. (I have no snappy comeback.)

If a blog is created in the blogosphere and is removed by its owner, does it make a sound?

Two trolls met on the information highway. They took out their thumbs and began to duel violently. This sad tale ends when they both suffered tendonitis and had to stop.

For more, see my confessions of a digital immigrant at Inside Higher Ed, 16 December 2008, "Sighing in Cyberspace." Or, if you are divided on the issue, consider reading, "Thumbs Up for a Balanced Life, " 21 October 2011. Or even the meditation, "Netiquette, Shmetiquette" published 13 April 2012.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who am I? Hello etmooc and others ...


You can get a half-way recognizable picture of me if you click on the above. You will also learn about some topics I am passionate about.

If you get any ideas for future columns by skimming or reading, please share with me!

I make mistakes when I take a course; that is worrisome. Read about the "sprite" of technology here:




Thursday, January 10, 2013

Professional Practices in Online Education

Session #794 at #MLA13 on Sunday, January 6 (2013) in Boston was exciting for me for many reasons, not the least of which was serving as a respondent on an academic panel on a hot and timely topic: Professional Practices in Online Education. It was among the last panels in a whirlwind of great events, and I hope it went well in the eyes of those who attended. You can offer your views at www.mla.org, by the way, of this panel or any others. I was very grateful for the panelists and attendees, particularly those who stayed afterwards to share their thoughts. The discussion spilled over into coffee at Starbucks for a few of us.

Thank you, Sandra Baringer of the University of California, Riverside, for coordinating and planning --and a tip of the hat to the Modern Language Association's CLIP (Contingent Labor in the Profession) committee for hosting it.

Here are my remarks with a few likely editorial changes, as the introduction and conclusion were written ahead of time and the rest was reconstructed from notes and memory.

Online teaching offers promise and peril, as our panelists have so well described. On the one hand, there is freedom from the constraints of classes gathered in a particular time and place. On the other hand, there is the possible loss of academic freedom and that delightful thing I call chemistry, which we can experience in real time, problems and all.

In a Dec. 21, 2012 article by Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed, online learning pioneer Ann Kirschner was quoted as using the word “magical” as a common occurrence in the face-to-face classroom. And as I like to play with words, perhaps education can become e-ducation too, with the right magic.

Adding to the ambiguity of a brave new e-world is the role of the teacher. What is an online teacher? Merely a mechanic offering a quick skills-fix, as Batya Weinbaum suggested…or an intellectual traversing new ground as Cynthia Eaton and Joshua Fenton described…or in Aaron Plasek’s darker envisioning: a mere servant of sinister, mouse-pushing administrators? I wonder about it all.

And wonder is a start. And curiosity. Curiosity led feminist literary scholar, dean emerita and former MLA leader Catharine Stimpson to “become” a Phoenix for a time. Stimpson affirms in that same IHE article that teaching requires "dignity." We don't want to risk losing that.

So dignity was a word that reverberated as I listened to these papers. And creativity. And parity. And peril$, with a dollar sign struck through that final S.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the sixth and seventh letters of the word “humanities” are “I.T.” And it is part of our mission as scholars and educators to make sure that the unique human needs and strengths (of both student and teacher) are not lost under the many demands of it.

Let me move from last to first panelist in summarizing.

“Academic” and “freedom” should not be at separate ends of a continuum, as Aaron warned in his “hypothetical villain administrator.” My colleague Mike Piero gave me permission to quote from an email in which he shared that the online world “embodies the same problem of academic freedom that every adjunct faces when teaching with a semester-to-semester contract, the only difference being that web-based courses leave ‘the evidence’ of the so-called ‘offensive’ material…[T]he humanities, in particular, should guard against this kind of conservatism and extremism.” Aaron first offered the word “complacent” and then “silent” to describe adjunct faculty facing online demands. I will add a word: “stunned.” Aaron said he could ad lib if he tired of reading his paper here; that is a liberty not given to online teachers. Can moments of such flexibility be woven in? Isn’t the creative ad lib a time when we learn, too?

Cynthia, with two decades of online and onground experience, has created an impressive website that I looked at over the weekend, and I encourage you to do so. Ten contract dimensions are clearly delineated, and whether or not your institution is unionized, these dimensions are worth examining. I’ll read them again: Methods of delivery? Intellectual property ownership? Compensation? Course development? Class size? Course assignment? Training and technical support? Online office hours? Privacy and surveillance? Course observation and evaluation? These areas are all so important … and can be formulated as questions to ask ourselves and our institutions. The word that echoes again is “parity” and from Cynthia’s comments I also value the wonderful suggestion of peer mentors for distant educators – for best practices, for guidance. “Both FT and PT faculty and [if applicable] their unions need to carefully monitor the spread of MOOCs, interrogate their effectiveness carefully, and resist efforts at displacing faculty with technology,” Cynthia advised.

Josh’s intricate paper of a “pilot project” – anecdotal, yes, but we learn from creative risks like this – took place at UCR, University of California, Riverside. I’m struck by the letters in common of UCR and the word “uncertainty.” There is a lot of uncertainty in this new form of education. Is hybrid better? It certainly isn’t less complicated, from Josh’s detailed description. Intricate technological interface, intricate planning – all so important. And it’s crucial that institutions make the requisite investment in faculty training, not just covering technical costs. Josh said: “Watch out for a techno-fantasy of cyborg subjectivity in learning, where information is accessed from a database and ‘stored on human minds.’” I wish I had a model of the brain in here! Learning takes place in creating new, delicate connections between neurons! It’s not a linear process! The fantasy that just developing a course and having students follow it without emotional engagement and somehow that yields learning is just that, a fantasy. Learning is magical and multifaceted. It is multisensory and involves our whole body and brain. Let’s hope that online learning movements do not forget that.

Batya lives the life of a “true interdisciplinary scholar”; she is a creative person who “lives a life of passionate engagement.” I first wrote down that creative people are especially hamstrung by rigid policies but reconsidered: All people are hindered by such policies despite our need for some routine. Teaching is an art, and outreach to a worldwide audience for someone with global consciousness is great. My thought upon hearing Batya speak: We should use what teachers have to give. She describes the downside of e-ducation: “I have a white space that used to be my mind…” That shouldn’t have to happen. Yes, there is often a discrepancy between educational theory and practice; there is the potential of an online brave new e-world and its peril. If something is not working for students online and there is a lock-step curriculum in place, she may feel stuck whereas in her own classroom, she would change what wasn't working and adapt to suit the students in each situation.

In conclusion: If we can keep online teaching human, if we can keep it fair, if we can compensate it adequately, foster creativity, and not erode further the tenuous working conditions of adjuncts, online education may offer the potential to keep the ripples of knowledge reverberating ever outward and that rare gift, wisdom, swirling inward.

Revised 1/10/13