The Elegance of Airplane Etiquette

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently confirmed 2021 set a record for unruly passengers with nearly 6,000 reports of, shall we say, inelegant behavior. The good news is so far this year, the number of reports is on track to drop by 50 percent. This improvement may be partly due to the agency’s new Zero Tolerance Policy which includes an initiative to educate passengers on safe and responsible airplane behavior.

Maybe knowing passengers can be prosecuted and fined by the FAA up to $37,000 per violation is improving behavior, but it’s possible the educational press releases, videos, and digital graphics are making a difference. It’s hard to believe adults really don’t know how to behave on an airplane, but maybe they were simply never taught.

When my children were young, I required them to read a book on good manners for young ladies and gentlemen. The book contained a detailed chapter on appropriate behavior when traveling on an airplane. Tips included following the instructions of security personnel and flight attendants, being considerate of other passengers, and not joking about bombs or plane crashes.

Understanding proper etiquette in any situation can make us more comfortable and put us in a better position. Charles Blow, one of my favorite newspaper columnists, tells the story of leaving home and flying on an airplane for the first time to attend an international science fair. “I went to the local library, and checked out every single etiquette book, and I read those books like I was uncovering some sort of treasure.”

While appropriate conduct may seem obvious, sometimes even adults have to be reminded what good behavior looks like, especially if a culture of bad behavior has taken root. Sara Nelson, international president for the Association of Flight Attendants, said the most remarkable change she has seen since the Zero Tolerance Policy began is widespread awareness of the problem.

She said, “The vast majority of people who come on the planes want to just have a safe, uneventful flight, and that continues to be true.” She added that extra kindness and appreciation from some passengers has been a welcome by-product of the new policy.

As a teacher and mother, I know behavior expectations have to be modeled, taught, and consistently enforced. “Straighten up and fly right,” my parents used to say to me and I, in turn, said to my own children. Who knew some airline passengers would literally need to be taught this old idiom to bring a little more everyday elegance to the friendly skies?

“Come fly with me. Let’s fly. Let’s fly away!”
~Frank Sinatra

The Elegance of Showing Up

One gorgeous morning this fall, I found myself gathered with a handful of like-minded souls to write and illustrate poetry at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts. I couldn’t help but think how many other things we could have done that Saturday morning, but we each decided to show up. Brené Brown said, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Showing up at all can feel vulnerable, but showing up creatively takes guts. Our creativity can be expressed in many forms including art, music, writing, dance, performance, and innovation. On this morning, I taught a lesson on haiku poetry and Shrode Art Center director Carrie Gibbs taught sumi ink drawing, but we were all there to create.

Golden sunlight flooded through the windows magnifying the creative energy in the studio classroom. After three hours, I felt more alive than I have in a long time. I shared another quote by Brown with my fellow workshop participants, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

Here’s a sample of participants’ fall haikus, each contributing beauty, peace, and elegance to our world. §

mushrooms grow from the floor
their hats like umbrellas
covering them from the downpour
by Avery

black, white, red crouched low
hop, extend, push down, lift up
whooping crane takes flight
by Cindy

crows caw a greeting
among yellow crimson leaves
autumn morning song
by Debbie

a tree lit by the sun
a gush of wind blows by
whoosh! the tree is peaceful again
by Allie

in my reflection
my thoughts return to my roots
leaving soul to bare
by Brian

“Show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there.”
~Marie Forleo

The Elegance of Practice

For most of my childhood, a plastic kitchen timer sat on top of our living room piano. Every day after school, my sisters and I took turns carefully setting the timer for exactly thirty minutes. While two of us hung out in the basement watching The Brady Bunch and devouring handfuls of Honeycomb cereal right out of the box, the third would practice the pieces our piano teacher, Mrs. Hicks, assigned us that week.

None of us became great pianists, but we did learn the value of practice. In our case, practice didn’t make perfect, but rather practice made progress. Whether it was sports, hobbies or schoolwork, we understood any endeavor required a commitment of time and effort. I’m grateful our parents instilled in us the elegance of practice.

We like to believe extraordinary athletes, musicians and artists possess a natural talent that makes it easy for them. Musician Kenny G said, “I practice my saxophone three hours a day. I’m not saying I’m particularly special, but if you do something three hours a day for forty years, you get pretty good at it.”

Recently, nearly five million people watched Serena Williams play what was billed as the last match of her amazing 27-year tennis career. At the height of her success, the winner of 23 Grand Slam titles said, “Luck has nothing to do with it, I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time not knowing when it would come.”

In American English, the word practice is used as a verb and a noun. As a noun, we might establish a practice of exercise, yoga or meditation. Interestingly, in Australian and British English, practise is the verb and practice is the noun. For example, one would practise free-throws but go to basketball practice.

As a retired couple, my husband and I find ourselves spending hours a day at opposite ends of the house practicing our individual hobbies. We chuckle at the thought of being artists, but while I sit at my laptop hammering thoughts into words and sentences, Mike is at his workbench cutting, grinding and soldering stained glass. We both know the only way to get better at our craft is practice.

My dad was a dentist for almost fifty years. When people asked him if he was still practicing, he’d always say, “Yep, and some day I’m gonna get the hang of it!” It was a dad joke that drove home the connection between practice and success. He would have liked this quote by Stephen King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” §

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.
It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
~ Malcolm Gladwell

The Elegance of Cats ~ a poem about simplicity

Simple As Cat
by Alicia Woodward

keep it simple
purred my cat
life is easy
when you live like that

plenty of water
and some food
a yummy treat
that tastes so good

a cozy place
to take a nap
a cushion, a basket
or a lap

a little piece
of bright red string
we don’t need
too many things

a sunny spot
here in the hall
chasing shadows
on the wall

a gentle rub
behind the ears
kisses and snuggles
make everything clear

keep it simple
purred my cat
life is easy
when you live like that §

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The Elegance of Live Music

It’s a fall afternoon and pianist Brian Woods fills the small performance hall with soul-stirring classical music that beckons autumn leaves to dance and transports the audience to another time and place. For a brief magical time, we are lifted above our everyday lives and united in the joy and elegance of music. 

The pianist from St. Louis ushered in the first of four concerts at our local cultural arts center, each of which I look forward to attending. I am no music expert; I just know how it makes me feel. Experiencing live music is different than listening to it at home or in the car. There’s something special about joining an audience of diverse people who come together specifically to experience the emotion and awe of a live performance. 

In a world fraught with conflict and division, music can bring us together in a delightful way. This summer, my daughter and her husband took us to a popular piano bar after a baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. People of all ages, sporting Cardinals and Cubs gear, belted out Elton John’s Benny and the Jets at the top of their lungs. If those die-hard rivals can put aside their differences to sing together, there is hope for harmony. 

“Music has a great power for bringing people together,” said media mogul Ted Turner. “With so many forces in the world acting to drive wedges between people, it’s important to preserve those things that help us experience our common humanity.” Music genres can be diverse as people, but with an open mind, lovers of jazz or rock may discover they also enjoy Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. 

Opportunities to experience live musical performances can be found at regional schools, churches, universities, libraries, bars and restaurants, and cultural centers like Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in my hometown.*

According to Americans for the Arts, there are many good reasons to support the arts, including boosting local economies, strengthening communities, and improving academic performance among students. The organization points to research that shows participation in the arts reduces depression and anxiety and increases life satisfaction. In the 1700s, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter said, “Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” 

On the sunny afternoon the pianist swept his audience away with stunning musicianship and stage presence, I took a moment to notice the expressions on the faces around me and knew we were  experiencing something significant. As composer Aaron Copeland said, “So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” §

“In the presence of great music we have no alternative but to live nobly.”
~ Sean O. Faolain

*If you are in southern Illinois, tickets for the 2022-2023 music series at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts are available online at cedarhurst.org/music-series/. This year’s line up includes a Brazilian father-daughter duo Oct. 15, a standards-singing trio in March, and a dynamic flutist, pianist and educator in April. You won’t be disappointed! 

The Elegance (and Poetry) of Space Clearing

The beautiful change in the weather energized, motivated, and inspired me to take care of two projects on my list ~ refresh our home for fall and prepare for a haiku workshop I’m teaching this weekend. I didn’t expect the separate to-do items to intermingle, but that they did.

As part of my seasonal cleaning routine, I did some space clearing. Space clearing is the art of removing stagnant, negative energy from a building. It’s not as woo-woo as it sounds. There are many techniques, but it can be as simple as opening all the windows with the intention of releasing stale, heavy air and replacing it with bright, positive energy.

After cleaning, decluttering, and opening all the windows for a couple of hours, our home was absolutely sparkling with clarity and good vibes. I felt a boost of creativity, and planning for my poetry workshop was a breeze.

Here’s a simple haiku I wrote to express the feeling ~

open window day
breeze floats in on angel wings
heart and home renewed

“And the sunsets of autumn – are they not gorgeous beyond description?
More so that the brightest dreams of poetry?
~Charles Lanman

The Elegance of Changing Seasons

As summer turns to fall, I feel an equal sense of sadness and anticipation. I will miss warm sunny days spent outdoors but look forward to cozy chilly evenings curled up by a glowing fire. Similar mixed emotions can appear when we say goodbye to one season of life and step into another.

As we travel through our lives, we are like tourists passing through towns and villages with names like childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood, empty nest, retirement, and old age. As much as we may wish to permanently settle in any one of those places, we must move on.

Do you find the journey through each season of life speeds up as we get older? Looking back, my first twenty years or so seem to take up the most space on my personal timeline. The same number of years spent raising my children was a blink of an eye. Thirty years as a teacher was a snap of my fingers. It’s as if I’m looking at life through a car window and watching it pass by in a blur.

When I’m not quite ready for the next season, I think of a favorite Bible verse, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Its author, King Solomon, was known as an elegant seeker on a quest for the meaning and purpose of life.

He  employs the poetic device of repetition to illustrate the ceaseless, often antithetical, changes in life. “A time to break down, and a time to build up…A time to weep, and a time to laugh…A time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

King Solomon reminds us there are good times and bad, and just like the meteorological seasons, we are not in control. The verse encourages us to enjoy each season of life, no matter what it brings, and rejoice in all of our days.

On my personal journey, I know I spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror. Doing so can fill me with a deep sense of longing and regret that keeps me from paying attention to the road I’m on. I suspect I’m not alone in this struggle. Perhaps that’s why Ecclesiastes 3 is a compass for so many of us sojourners.

The seasons of life pass so quickly. The carefree, verdant spring and summer of our youth fade to a season when daily responsibilities, chores, and chaos scatter endlessly like falling leaves. Suddenly, we are older and days can stretch before us as empty as winter’s bare branches.

It’s fine to warm ourselves with yesterday’s memories and look forward to the future, but we are wise to show acceptance, gratitude and enthusiasm for each and every day of the season in which we find ourselves. George Santayana so elegantly said, “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” §

“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be
are full of trees and changing leaves.”

~Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

The Elegance of Knowing Your Learning Style

Even though I’m retired from teaching, I still get excited about the back-to-school season. Whether or not we are headed to a traditional classroom this fall, we should all think of ourselves as lifelong learners. Discovering our individual learning style can help us elegantly continue our education throughout our lives.

In one of my earliest teacher education classes, I was fascinated to find out we don’t all learn the same way, and that’s okay! Learning style refers to the way a person processes information. Some of us find it easier to learn something new by hearing about it, others need to see it, and some need to physically interact with it. Understanding our unique learning style can help us enjoy learning and be more successful.

It should be noted that education, like most fields, is prone to an abundance of research that is sometimes contradictory and confusing. While there are many different theories about learning styles, most research confirms we all have preferred ways of learning based on our individual interests and talents.

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Let’s take a look at the most common learning styles.

  • Verbal (linguistic) – You learn best by using words in both speech and writing. You want to read and write about it.
  • Visual (spatial) – You prefer to use pictures, diagrams, images, and spatial understanding to help you learn. You want to see it.
  • Musical/Auditory (aural) – You like using music, rhymes, and rhythms to help you learn.  You benefit from listening to new information repeatedly. You want to hear about it.
  • Physical (kinesthetic) – You like to use your hands, body, and sense of touch to help you learn. You might like to act things out and enjoy a hands-on experience. You want to touch it.
  • Logical (mathematical) – Learning is easier for you if you use logic, reasoning, systems, patterns, and sequences. You want to prove it.
  • Social (interpersonal) – You like to learn new things as part of a group. Talking things out with a group helps you learn. You want to work with others.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal) – You like to work alone. You use self-study and prefer your own company when learning. You want to do it by yourself.

Do you see yourself, or your children, leaning towards one of these learning styles? Many people find a combination of approaches works for them, and some research indicates that being presented new information in a variety of ways increases longterm retention. Knowing our learning style can steer us toward our best learning environment.

Let’s say you want to learn a new hobby, such as knitting. You might want to read a book on the subject, watch YouTube videos, go to a group class, take a private lesson, or just dive-in and learn by doing. By honoring your own learning style, you will likely be wrapped in a cozy handmade scarf just in time for winter.

Even when our school days are behind us, we can still join in the back-to-school fun. Armed with a little self-knowledge and a couple of freshly sharpened pencils, we’ll be on our way to learning with style.§

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
~ Albert Einstein

The Elegance of Queen Elizabeth II

As I reflect on Queen Elizabeth’s death this week, I recall a story my mother loved to tell about a time when I was about ten. Apparently I was displaying less than desirable table manners at dinner one evening. My mom asked, “Is that how you are going to eat when you dine with the queen?” To which I replied with all the audacity and seriousness only a ten-year-old girl can possess, “What makes you think I won’t be the queen?”

While I do admire the spunk of that little girl, she clearly had much to learn about ascension to the throne as well as dining etiquette. It’s hard to imagine fifty years later I would have become a bit of a royal watcher and big fan of Queen Elizabeth.

There’s little I can add to the conversation about the queen’s life and how beloved she was by those close to her as well as those who watched her from afar. To say she was elegant is an understatement. While she did not coin the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On, it does seem to embody Queen Elizabeth’s fortitude, composure, and self-discipline.

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The now famous British phrase was one of three posters the Ministry of Information created in 1939 in the event of war. On September 3, 1939, in response to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Only a small number of original posters survived as most of them were recycled in 1940 to help the British government face a desperate paper shortage.

In 2000, a copy of the poster was discovered in a bookshop in Northumberland, England and reproductions began to sell a year later. The poster and its message has since become ubiquitous with many imitations and parodies.

As a student of Stoic philosophy, I find the British stiff-upper-lip attitude admirable. Not everyone appreciates the sentiment of the poster as I do, but it has helped me get through many life challenges with a bit of the queen’s strong spirit.

Were my mother still living, I know she would be glued to the television this week and mourning along with the rest of the world. She would retell stories about growing up and living during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. I also know she would still be laughing about when I was ten and actually thought I had a shot at wearing the Crown. §

“When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat;
instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.”

~ Queen Elizabeth II

The Elegance of Being Woke

I am a sixty-year-old white woman who lives in a small midwest town. I don’t have any social media accounts. My idea of pop music is the Macarena. I don’t know who is on Hollywood’s A-list, and I couldn’t care less about the latest fashion trends. I don’t try to be cool, but I do try to be woke.

I can hear the collective groans of people who think I shouldn’t be, or can’t be, woke. I am nervous about broaching a subject that is clearly out of my lane, and I am sensitive to the cultural appropriation of a term that is firmly rooted in African-American Vernacular English. However, unless you’ve been asleep, you’ve been hearing this word used and misused more and more in political, cultural, and social conversations.  

As a concerned and active citizen, I feel a responsibility to understand the origins of the word and its implicit and explicit meanings. To this retired English teacher, the word woke is the past-tense of wake, as in to wake-up or be awake. It’s easy to see how it could evolve to mean something more metaphorical and important.

According to several sources, the term woke emerged in the United States by at least the 1940s as slang within the black culture. A 1943 article in the Atlantic quoted a black mining official using woke related to social justice. By the 1960s, woke meant to be well-informed and politically aware, especially in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, the term was used in a New York Times article titled If You’re Woke You Dig It. In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a commencement address at Oberlin College called Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.

While the term continued to be used, it hit mainstream vocabulary in 2012 after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a young unarmed black man. The social media hashtag #staywoke appeared in 2014 and became associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In 2017, an additional meaning of woke was officially added to the dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary defines woke as, “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” Merriam-Webster similarly defines the concept as, “Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice.” I don’t know about you, but I find ideas of equality and justice the ultimate in elegance. 

There are those who may be right in thinking I’m a wide-eyed Pollyanna who is oversimplifying a complicated issue. I will never know what it’s like to be a black person. I’m not in the minority by race, religion, or sexual orientation. However, I know these people as my relatives, my friends, my neighbors, and my brothers and sisters in humanity. How can I possibly close my eyes to injustices they face? Should I stop caring in fear of doing it wrong? 

I admit it’s my nature to strip down words and ideas to their simplest, most elegant, terms. By understanding woke’s history and meaning, I am more aware of those who conflate, politicize, and weaponize the word and more attentive to issues of racial and social justice. Unless someone convinces me otherwise, this retired, middle-class white lady will continue to do her best to stay woke. §

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
~ John 15:12, New International Version