Today’s local newspaper had an article about how cursive writing in grammar school seems to be going by the wayside. Oh kids, say it isn’t so! You have no idea what you are missing!

I hate to think that young students won’t get to experience the same camaraderie I shared in penmanship class back in 2nd grade. Like soldiers in the trenches, my classmates and I sat, ammunition ready, when the little hand was on the ten and the big hand was on the twelve. Armed with sharpened No. 2 pencils and black and white marble notebooks, we went to battle every morning, ferociously attacking one letter at a time in the hopes that we might someday be able to write in cursive (or dare I say “script”) the way our beloved teacher, Sister Angela, could.

Wearing a mysterious black and white habit (was it coincidence that our notebooks were the same color), Sister Angela stood in front of the class. Behind her, facing out at us, was a huge blackboard filled with gorgeous swirls and curves which created the sampling of letters, words and sentences she wanted us to try to copy during class that day. Every one of her letters, impeccably spaced, met up with the next, to form a perfectly even, balanced word. There was something both soothing and exciting about the precision of it all and I really wanted to know how to do that.

We all worked as hard as we could, tiny beads of perspiration shining on our young foreheads, to re-create the chalked words before us. I think we did so because we believed that once we mastered this type of grown-up writing we would sort of be grown-up. Well, at least that’s what I thought. But, try as I might, even with my tongue habitually peeking outside my lips to rest steadily on the right side of my cheek in concentration, I never could quite get it. (I have long since mastered the swirls and curves, and even created a few original twists to them over the years.)

Every night at home, in the safety of the non-compliant spiral notebook my mother had bought me, I’d practice my squiggles.  I’d sit at the dining room table and pretend I was filling the pages with beautifully written letters and documents, instead of what actually resembled a whole bunch of EKG readings.  I kept on trying though, so that the next morning at school I might finally get a shiny gold or silver star on the top of one of my pages.

I can picture my penmanship composition book right now. The cover resembled a slab of marble and was attached to the pages by woven thread.  Every once in awhile, I found myself wanting to pull at a piece of that thread to see what would happen.  And when I finally did one day, not realizing that it was binding the book together, the pages started tearing out one by one and I had to get a new book.  Anyway, there were five or six groupings on each page. Each one had two solid lines, one above the other, with a dashed line in between. The idea was that lower case letters were to stay below the dotted line, but upper case ones and special letters with tops like b, d, f, h, k, l, and t could sneak above it. But, even though they could, their tops were only allowed to rise up as far as the solid border allowed.  You had to stay within the lines of course.

Day after day we practiced. Some letters were easier than others, but I remember Q and Z as being especially brutal. No matter what, we were never allowed to erase our mistakes, even though we wrote in pencil. I really hated that, because that meant that Sister Angela was privy to my every misstep. She would be able to see every dare of my pencil to sneak outside the lines. I remember once, I tried to secretly erase a mistake, but the mess the eraser shavings were leaving on the page made it just too obvious. Since I didn’t want to get in trouble or go to hell, I never did that again.

Ah, earning gold stars and writing between the lines. Somehow, doing all of those exercises helped me to learn how “not” to need the stars as I grew up. They gave me courage to risk coloring outside the lines when it would serve me later. There was something truly profound about mastering these basics back then, something that reached far beyond learning how to write in cursive. Don’t schools these days think children need those lessons? I guess not. Actually, I wonder what would replace the gold star reward at the top of the page now anyway. Probably a new I-phone.

“Once You Know, You Can’t Pretend You Don’t” (MLD)

As a writer I find quotes sexy. Really, I do. Maybe it’s the way the quotation marks outside of them curve or the graceful slant of the font when italicized inside of a document. Perhaps it’s because someone was able to put the exact right thought together to make them. Maybe the sexiness lies in the power that once they are laid claim to, they are forever more out there by the quotee as theirs. That they will live on forever out there in the world of readers, of quoters, of quote gatherers like myself, people looking for a spark of information to propel them to action or to hold them back from it. Maybe it’s because those of us who are looking to be hit between the eyes, figuratively, gently with some idea, some feeling, some thought to inspire or to soothe can find it within a message from some long ago thinker in an instant after a quick quotation search on the internet these days.

I can’t explain it, but I just love how quickly a simple thought can inspire me. On my computer’s desktop there are folders filled with documents filled with quotes. Profound utterances of lessons learned and important life messages that have been amassed along my way and as I was writing this piece I thought of a few of my favorites…interpreted…

Rumi – “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”… (and there we will finally find Grace)

Shakespeare – “to be or not to be, that is the question”… (and the answer is, YES, be a writer, so start writing!!)

Descartes – “I think therefore I am”… (in big trouble)

JFK – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” … (and be willing to start small, really, really small)

Coco Chanel – “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”… (yep, I’ve always got my 3.4oz/100ml bottle of Chanel in the medicine cabinet)

Wayne Dyer – “Don’t die with your music still inside of you”… (and don’t worry that you can’t hit some of the high notes)

And then I thought of an original one that I had written a few years back. As far as I know it’s original anyway:
“Once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t.”

Once you know that your actions have consequences, once you know that what you do has the capacity to affect others, once you know that your choices are not always just about you, you can’t continue to hurt people or not continue to help them. Once you know that you are being selfish or childish in the midst of a reaction you can’t be mad at someone else for treating you as such. Once you know that you will not settle for less you can’t look to what you have settled for in dismay. Once you know that people are counting on you, you can’t hide in fear that you don’t matter. Once you know that someone loves you, you can’t wonder if they do. Once you know that you can’t drink a day at a time you can’t listen to someone who says you can. And once you know that you are a good writer you don’t have to look to anyone else to tell you whether or not you are. You already know, so stop pretending you don’t.

Once you know what you know, what you have gathered along life’s way, the responsibility for what you do with it is all yours and nobody else’s. It is all up to you.

Now I’m not suggesting that I have always gotten to this place of “knowing and not pretending I don’t” immediately. I can’t say that I have always gathered information and used it utterly or that once I knew something was not working, or was working, that I stopped doing it or continued as the case may have been. I can’t deny that I’ve sometimes done things without my own permission or that I’ve made the same mistake twice. I admit that I’ve broken more than one heart with the same doubt and would be lying if I said I was a quick study.

I have not always been open minded to the information, the self knowledge, I’ve gathered along the way throughout my journey. In fact at times I’ve needed the equivalent of a bitch slap upside the head, a crack or two with a two by four and a bolt of lightning directed at me from above to get my attention, but today, I am willing to look for the lesson. To review a situation and look at past experiences to determine how to handle something today. To reflect on situations and be willing to work if necessary towards different outcomes because of what I “know” now.

I have actually figured out that instead of looking at experiences from the perspective of:
“Oh God, I can’t believe I did that again!” or
“What the hell is wrong with me that I didn’t get it the first time?” or
“They told me so!”
“I knew it!” or

I can look at any and all experiences, the things that are my life, from the vantage point of what they have taught me. Being in the habit of asking what lessons have arisen from any given situation changes everything. Ah, that brings me to another favorite quote: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” this by Wayne Dyer. Learning how to look at life as a training ground, as a place where we try and fail and try again and succeed and try again and miss the mark and try again and hit the bullseye makes all the difference.

Within every day there are so many opportunities to learn, to grow to look at things differently that it is awe inspiring. Life’s journey is about learning and then about knowing. Learning about what works, what doesn’t work, who stays, who goes, where we are comfortable, where we aren’t, what to hold onto, what to let go of and then knowing all of it is what it’s all about. I was reminded of this while watching Oprah’s OWN network the other day and I heard her say: “When you know better … you DO better!”

I realized “Yep, I have!” I have “done better now that I know better.” And “now that I know better I am not pretending I don’t,” and that is good stuff! Sometimes the knowledge has come in tiny baby spoonfuls. At other times it has come in wheelbarrows. But the constant has been in grasping it, in striving, in reaching for it, for more of it. I always thought I was really “trying” but that word is for wimps, really. The fact is, when you are “TRYING” you have an out. You can pretend you aren’t sure. You can fail and be a victim living in, ”I was trying,” even believing that you were. You can pretend that “you didn’t know.” But doing is different.

When you are doing your life – with purpose and focusing on what you are learning as the gift…when you are looking for the information in all of it to bring you closer to what you are intended to be…when you are looking for it – really looking for it – you find the Grace that is your life. Your awareness shifts and you notice your accomplishments instead of your failures. Suddenly, instead of needing to check the box you become OK with living outside of it. You feel different inside.

You know deep down that you know that you don’t know what you don’t know and that you know that you do know what you do.

And by admitting all of it, you know better. You DO better. You don’t pretend that it’s up to anyone else to create the life that you want to lay claim to. You know going forward that it will all be about what you learn and what you do with it. With all of it.

And so, this writer, this seeker, this learner, signs off with another quote:

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

And now I know only what I know. Tomorrow, I hope I know a little bit more. But either way I won’t pretend I don’t.