My Picnic Table and the Head of the Table

I’ve never shied away from volunteering for an opportunity that I’ll later regret. As I read “Structure: Beyond the picnic-table crisis” I had an exact idea of how one of my experiences related. I do enjoy taking on new challenges. While I’m not always comfortable in the moment, I let my ambition get ahead. This could be considered a character flaw, but I see it as character building. I’ve provided myself with plenty of chances to fail, but I’ve also found opportunities to succeed.

I’ll provide a little back story to my story. My father was the youngest of six siblings and I was his youngest of six children. My father was fifty when I was born. My cousins all had children older than myself. My dad died of cancer when I was a teenager and I lost contact with that entire side of my family. We never had much in common and we were never really close. Sometime after I was married in 2001, I came across his sister, my aunt, while shopping. It took us both a minute to recognize each other. We began to chat and exchanged information. She was nearing eighty, her husband had just passed away and she had moved into a retirement community.

We started to talk quite often and both enjoyed catching up. She provided me with stories about my dad and I provided her with company. This had been going on for about a year when she announced she was having an elaborate eightieth birthday party. I was invited to attend. I still hadn’t seen her children and her many relatives in a long time. I was apprehensive about going, knowing it would be awkward. Shortly after I committed to go I was asked to speak and provide a blurb about her in the program. I said I would. In the months that followed I was in full regret.

I gathered all the information on her that I could. I reached out to people of which I had no memory. I was taking notes and was going to prove I was justified to sit next to her at the head table. I was going to stand, speak and remove all my personal doubt. Finally I sat and looked at what I’d gathered and I had no idea how to formulate it all into something meaningful.

It was hard to write a speech and a summation that didn’t come across as a timeline. I had to look through the information and be willing to discard things that would take away from the narrative. I had to come up with a theme and follow that. I tied in plenty of the information new to me, but only if it supported what the celebration was about. This experience will help me navigate what goes into my literacy narrative. It will help provide a filtering process that provides a clear result.

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My Personal Sponsors of Literacy

I’m aware of several sponsors of literacy in my life. In elementary school I had a teacher that really encouraged me to do well in reading so that I could check out the more difficult books in the library. During this time in school each student could only check out books that matched their skill level. I remember setting a goal with my fourth grade teacher that by the end of that year I’d be able to check out any of the books in the library. She was able to help me believe that I had the capability and was willing to provide encouragement and praise every step of the way.

As I entered junior high and into high school I lost that ambition. Reading was an assignment that I put off as often as I could. I’d lost my personal drive and lacked a positive sponsor of literacy. This led to me writing book reports that were merely sufficient. I believe that this also caused me to turn away from writing. I was doing well in my other classes. English was the class that I was always being told I needed to improve.

Luckily, during my senior year I had a group of friends that were avid readers. They would discuss the latest books they’ve read and share their new finds. They would tell me about a book that I just had to read. I started to read to keep up with the group. They were great friends and genuine. As I started reading I found that it was enjoyable to have even more in common with them. I didn’t always like what they liked. But, as I started to read more I was able to find what I enjoyed. These friends were the sponsors of literacy that helped me to enjoy reading. They helped me discover the types of reading that I enjoyed. Because of this experience I still look for people to provide book recommendations and friends and family even ask me, “Have you read anything good lately?”

The Value of Reading & Writing

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It wasn’t until after high school that I learned to appreciate a good book. There was a couple that I enjoyed reading, but overall I found it to be a chore. Writing was generally the same. I was given assignments and I completed them with a desire for decent grades. I connected to other forms of expression and had no problem waiting for the movie to come out.

It was a desire to learn more about certain topics that led me to start reading. I started reading a lot of non fiction. I enjoyed learning about things that interested me personally. As I began to find that I could actually enjoy reading I started asking friends and relatives about books they liked and I found authors and genres that where engaging. I looked back and wondered if I had changed or if I wasn’t properly introduced. I decided years later that I wanted to teach secondary education. I have a love for history, but I debated teaching English because I wanted to give kids at that age an enthusiasm that a few of my teachers lacked.

Today I still read quite often. I read a lot of books on history, politics and biographies. I do also read a lot of fiction. Every vacation begins by finding a good book to read. Audio books and podcasts have started to chip away my time with a book in my hands. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I’m still taking in information and finding pleasure in an author’s ability to captivate my imagination. I still cringe a little when after seeing a movie and somebody says, “The book was way better.” But, I do that as well. I’ve left theaters near anger at the changes the movie made as compared to the book it was based upon.

Writing is something I wish I was better with. I’m amazed at the ability some people have to write and express themselves. It’s a talent I wish I could capture. I’ve tried writing a journal as a way to get a better feel for it. This often lasts only for short periods of time.

The value I see in reading is an ability to connect with an author or an idea. Our ideas can also be challenged, which I believe we should all be willing to do. Reading gives us access to our imagination in a way that no other medium can achieve. For me, I find the most value  that reading provides is information and understanding.

The value in writing is the ability to provide those things to the reader. We all have something to share. Writing is a way to share ourselves and our imagination. There is an untold value in that!

Early Memories of Reading & Writing

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I’m the youngest of six siblings. From my earliest memories my siblings and my role as the youngest has played a major role in my life. As I look back on my learning to read my older brothers and sisters first come to my mind. Part of my mind immediately wanted my memories to be of my parents reading to me, but I can only remember one instance. I don’t think that my mother or father were neglectful. We had plenty of children’s books and all learned to read at early ages. Maybe my path was unique to that of my siblings.

The setting for my first memory was all of us kids, the neighbors and their kids gathered in our family room. I recall being the youngest one of the bunch. School was starting back and I was heading to kindergarten. One of the neighbors was asking if I was excited and if I was ready to learn to read. I insisted that I already knew how to read. After hearing this, my siblings immediately started teasing me and calling me a “liar”. I started crying and ran downstairs to get a book and prove them wrong. The problem was that they were right. I couldn’t actually read.

I grabbed the book, “Ten Little Indians”. I had this book memorized and I of course planned to fake it. I went back upstairs and got everyone’s attention. I wanted to “read” to them. I distinctly remember getting about a page in before all the kids called my bluff. My siblings and the neighbor kids quickly started demanding that I read this or that. I went to bed humiliated.

My first real victory that I remember was while I was lying in bed. I shared a room with my much older brother and I was waiting for him to turn out the lights. I had been learning how to sound out letters and the vowel sounds. My brother had posters hanging on his side of the room. One of those posters was a chimp in a brightly colored sweater, holding a pencil, and sitting at a desk with an open notebook. The letters on the poster spelled out, “Genius at Work!” I remember using everything I knew to try to figure out what those letters actually said. When I figured it out I was ecstatic! I told my brother and he gave me a mix of “Congratulations.”, “How did I not already know?” and “Why didn’t I just ask?” This may sound like a small and underwhelming moment, but it’s when I knew that I had the ability. Not necessarily¬†the ability to read, but the ability to learn to read.

Looking a little further down the road, I remember bringing home short books from school. I had to read them to an adult and have them sign a sheet once I had done each reading. I loved this! I was passing off books to my teacher and getting praise for how quickly I was able to advance. Not only was I getting accolades from my teacher, I was getting time with my siblings. For some reason, my sisters usually got the job of me reading to them, and they actually signed off my sheet. I think that I knew that they often felt it a chore, but I have fond memories of that time.

As far as learning to write, I have very little positive memories. I don’t have painful memories, but memories of indifference. My hand writing was generally acceptable for most teachers. Occasionally they did ask for improvement. I succeeded at learning cursive but still write just as quickly and neatly in print. Filling out those sheets of repeatedly writing the same letter was something I just wanted done in a hurry. My handwriting is merely adequate. I occasionally wish I had better penmanship, but I haven’t felt it has ever held me back.

I can defiantly see how both positive and negative experiences shaped my learning. In the end the negatives became wins and a way to find strength in my abilities. I never would have made it on my own. I had help all along the way. I should recognize my teachers, especially those in my early education. Looking back has given me a lot of things to think about. Maybe I’ll bring it up at the next family gathering!