Posted in Throwback Thursday, Neal’s Post from the Past

Neal’s Post from the Past: “Mama — Tell Her Now!”

Since we’re nearing Mother’s Day 2022, here’s an old post from back in 2012 about the power of motherhood. Both my parents have since passed away.

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“Mama.”  Perhaps no other word in our language evokes such tender and loving feelings.

My mom turned 85 on May 2.  Here she is with my dad (88).  They have been married for 65 years!

Geneva Mae Reavis Saye and Harold Hulon Saye Sr.

If I had to answer the question, “Neal, what’s the greatest lesson your mother has taught you in life?” I would have NO problem at all answering.  I learned the lesson so, so early: the power and authority of humor and laughter.  Some of my greatest memories growing up consist of roaring with giggles and laughter at some of the silliest things.  My mother is a master at seeing the lightness in situations. 

The Christmas when I was about six, I asked for a real juke box, and FOUND IT it my parents’ bedroom closet on Christmas Eve. Mama thought it was hilarious when I started yelling in confusion, “WHY is my juke box in your closet??!!” She said, through fits of unrestrained laughs, “Santa wanted your dad and me to try it out first.” (That Christmas began my distrust of Santa.)

Or the time when I asked for (and finally got) a rocking chair for my sixteenth birthday (don’t judge me), and she (like you probably) laughed and said, “WHO wants a rocking chair on their birthday?!” I still get teased about that very practical and emotionally calming gift.

Or her ongoing confusion with the words “veterinarian” and “vegetarian.”

Or the Christmas when I was about eight and had this obsession with making sure the ornaments were placed perfectly (in my opinion) on the live tree branches. I had gone to bed, but thought that maybe I should check the tree one more time for spatial accuracy of the bulbs and tinsel. A big round glass ornament on a limb just out of my reach needed attention. Reaching up, I grabbed the branch, too hard, and pulled the ENTIRE tree on top of me, electric lights and all. Screaming in holiday terror, I flailed at the evergreen monster till my mom and dad ran into the living room. I distinctly remember my dear mother hooting with laughter and saying to my dad (far too loudly), “Just look at what Neal’s done now!”

Or her ongoing advice throughout the decades:  “It’s really not that important, Neal.  You’ll laugh about it soon.”  And I usually did.  (Except for early Christmas memories.)

What an incredible privilege and joy to have a mother who taught me when I was younger and who continues to teach me to this day that happiness is a choice. That laughter is an answer, a solution, a medicine. That humor is a gift to get and to give.

My advice on this glorious Mother’s Day:  Don’t wait till your mom and dad walk out of your lives forever to tell them, show them, how very much they mean to you and how much you love them.

HAPPY, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY 2012!

I dedicate this beautiful version of the song “Mama” by Il Divo to my mom and to yours.  And remember to tell her now!

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Neal’s Post from the Past

Neal’s Post from the Past: “Remembering Peter on this Teacher Appreciation Week”

Here’s a post from back when I was still teaching at Georgia Southern University. It’s about the appreciation of … a life.

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It never fails. And I’m glad it doesn’t. Whenever I see yellow gladioli, I think of Peter. I saw some today.

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Peter Christopher taught creative writing in the Department of Writing and Linguistics up at Georgia Southern University (where I taught for twenty-four years).  He was a colleague and a friend and the fiction person on my dissertation committee when I got my doctorate.

And Peter died far too early in 2008 of liver cancer.

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After his passing, I reminisced about Peter’s impact on my life.  Here’s that remembrance:

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Peter, “Something Blooming, Something Found” and the Glorious Gladioli

Somehow, yin-yangishly I suppose, Peter’s smile carries both playful humor and serious authority as he says to me, “Here’s what I want you to do, Neal.”

“Take all that,”  Peter points at the pages and pages of text I have been rather proudly producing for weeks before asking/begging him to be the fiction person on my dissertation committee, “and put it aside–or throw it away.”

My dissertation is going to be an examination of how fiction can be used as a type of educational research, as a way of knowing.  And as part of my work, I want to write a novella which illustrates, through the characters and plot, various educational stances I have studied and enjoyed.  But I’m not a fiction writer, and I don’t really know how to get there.  I want Peter to sort of help quickly guide me through the process, tell me I can do it, be a cheerleader of sorts.

“Uh, well, you mean I’m not going to be able to use this?”

“Maybe.  We’ll see.  But for now I want you to forget everything you’ve written and have planned so far.  Here’s your homework.”  Again the smile–the smile that is beginning to get on my nerves just a little.  “For two weeks and for about an hour or so a day, I want you to freewrite.”

“You mean, just write about this novella idea I have?”

“No, Neal, freewrite about you.  About your life, what’s going on, what’s been, what’s to come.  About your inside life.  Your outside life.  Your family.  Work.  Friends.  Faith.  Anything that comes to mind.  Don’t stop for an hour–just write.”

My thoughts at this moment:  “Peter, are you CRAZY?  I am teaching full time.  I am on a deadline.  I do not have the time or interest to play your little freewriting game.  I just want to get this thing finished.  So no, I CAN’T and I WON’T do that.  And by the way, you’re supposed to just ENCOURAGE me, be my CHEERLEADER.”

My words at this moment:  “Oh, okay.”

After the frustratingly productive freewriting, which ends up changing in wonderful ways the entire story I will tell, Peter and I begin three months of tortuous joy.  I learn from a master.  Our weekly schedule goes something like this:

1.  Neal spends hours and hours and hours writing for a week.  Usually trying to get one scene done.
2.  Neal puts his folder of work (pretty good work in Neal’s mind) into Peter’s mailbox at the end of the day.
3.  The next afternoon Neal gets up from his desk and walks halfway across the hall towards Peter’s office, changes his mind and walks back to his own office and sits down.
4.  Neal feels silly at this childish behavior, gets up again and walks three-forths the way to Peter’s office, then returns to his own office once again.
5.  Neal calls himself all sorts of shaming names and finally walks all the way into Peter’s office, often simply because Peter has seen him walking back and forth, and tells him to COME IN.
6.  Peter smiles.
7.  Peter speaks:  “I can tell you put a lot of work into this, Neal.  But….”
8.  Neal revises.  And revises.  And revises.
9.  Neal realizes Peter is gifted beyond measure.

When we approach the end of the novella work, and I am fretting over a title for it, Peter tells me with a laugh, “Don’t worry about that.  I’m good with titles.  I’ll come up with one.  My gift.”

One of the young characters in my story, Kellie, LOVES flowers, grows them everywhere she can.  Her favorite is the yellow gladiolus.  (“It stands up in a garden.  It’s not afraid to be seen.”)  And since my tale shows a small group of high school students who come to realize that they have viable voices which are important and should/must be heard, Peter names my novella, “Something Blooming, Something Found.”

I am nervous as the dissertation defense begins.  I have foolishly invited folks from across campus to attend and quite a few are here.  Days before, when I asked Peter his advice about defending, he said that I should forget the negative concept of defense and just let my novella’s characters speak.  So that’s what I do.

I look at all those gathered in the Dean’s Conference Room in the College of Ed, take a deep breath, and begin my defenseless defense.  As I start, I see and sense Peter (“rock” in Greek) confer upon me three things: his trademark encouraging smile; a subtle and hidden to all but me “you-can-do-it!” thumbs up; and the realization, as my characters begin to breathe and speak, that something is blooming in me, and I am finding something, something I have not really grasped or undertsood until this moment in this room: I am a writer, not just a teacher of writing.

The next day, I walk into Peter’s office (without the ridiculous false starts) and present him with a bouquet of proud yellow gladioli.  He hoots in delight.  Hours later I hear a tap on my door, look up, and there he stands.

“Neal, I have been sitting at my desk looking at your flowers.  Really looking at them.  Seeing them.  They’re lovely.  They are so intricate, the way they turn and twist,” he says as he makes a circular gesture with one hand.

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“And there’s really only one word to describe them: GLORIOUS. They are glorious. Thank You.”

We chat and laugh a while.  Then Peter leaves.

But that’s okay.  He’s just across the hall.

[I write this in present tense for two reasons:  One, Peter has me write my novella in present tense.  And two, in ways that are important, perhaps most important, transcendent, eternal, Peter is with us.  Ever will be.  His smile that you and I came to appreciate so so much.  His always gentle spirit.  His instruction he gave to so many.  His embodiment of encouragement.  His model of living.  And His beautiful closing for each email and note he penned–“All thrive!”]

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Here we are after I defended my dissertation:

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On a whim, right before I published this post a few moments ago, I typed “GSU + Peter Christopher” in a search engine.  A Rate My Professor link from 2008 popped up.  One student wrote:

PC was my mentor.  I took every writing class he taught.  Writing was only a minor when I went to GSU… I would have majored if I could have.  He was a dear friend.  He taught me more than just how to be a good writer, he taught me how to love life — to have a passion for life.  He is gone from this earth, but never from my heart.

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Rest peacefully, Peter.  We remember you with appreciation and love.

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Related Post:  The Viewing & the Circle of Life

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Neal’s Post from the Past

Neal’s Post from the Past: “A Label-Free World”

Hello out there. I did this blog post quite a while ago, but thought in today’s adversarial political and cultural environment, it might be relevant. We (okay, I!) judge others much too quickly.

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Let’s try, in this new year with relatively few mistakes in it so far, to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to refuse to label somebody or some thing based on initial interactions or our preconceived notions.

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What an incredible truth!  (And, oh gosh, how it indicts me.)

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I LOVE this short video about labeling:

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Let’s try to make it a label-free year (at least for you and me).

Posted in Humor

I Wanna Hyber from Cyber!

I’m sure you have NO CLUE, but it’s CYBER MONDAY!

Here’s a quick look at some of my obviously urgent emails from this morning …

Seriously? They’re hawking Mushrooms and Walking Sticks at incredible Cyber Monday “savings” today?!

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about ready to do some hybernating from all this cybernating.

Posted in Hello, Anxiety.

Hello, Anxiety: “Introduction”

Spanning the past year or two, a Perfect Storm of sorts has swirled around my life, mind and body, making direct hits from time to time. The storm was/is created by the following major factors (among others):

* The pandemic’s upheaval of “normal” life as I/we knew it. Causing, at the very least, worry and unease. Affecting everything from family dynamics to personal health concerns.

* The deaths of my dad and brother, as well as husband Robert’s father, stepmother and grandmother, all within the last couple of years.

* The angry and dangerously hateful climate of divisiveness within our communities, states, country and political systems. And the constant, sometimes difficult-to-ignore media coverage.

* Realizing and coming to terms with my life as an older married-to-a-guy (!) gay man, closely connected to my two daughters and their families, as well as my loving ex-wife.

* Being married to a wonderful black man and taking a serious and difficult (often very painful) look at issues of racism and social injustices in our nation and world.

* Even the seemingly silly fact that I’m getting older (I’ll reach the milestone of 70 next January!) and dealing with aging issues, which can seem both unfriendly and foreign.

So a few months back, I came to realize I needed some help. (Duh.) After reading Lori Gottlieb‘s encouraging and often hilarious Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (for the second time), I started looking for a therapist.

It took me a while to narrow the offerings down. Have you ever googled “Therapist near me”?! After all, I stand in the produce aisle, taking forever to decide on the “best” tomatoes, based on color, size, texture, aroma and how-do-they-compare-to-my-childhood-memories-of-homegrown?

What was I looking for? I guess this …

… even though at that point, I had not thought about or considered the word “anxiety” itself. I was experiencing it but not naming it.

I finally found him, and it only took a few sessions for him to gently say one day, “Neal, I think it’s pretty clear that you have generalized anxiety disorder.”

I was a tiny bit insulted. I think what I desired to hear was somewhere along the lines of, “Oh my goodness, Neal, you are a terrifically well adjusted man. Now go and BE that. You can do it. You ARE it!”

When I could breathe easier, I realized he was right.

This new blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to be able to say “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the Perfect Storm. I invite you to join me.

But I’ll supply the tomatoes.