Friday, November 20, 2020

The Good of a Bad Story

T. is a good kid, but like many good kids, he still gets himself into a little bit of trouble now and again. Today, T. was challenging a substitute teacher, nothing major, but enough that the narrative found its way back to me. I pulled him aside on his way back from lunch.

"Hey, T. Can we talk for a minute?" His eyebrow raised as he tried to figure out what might justify a conversation with the principal.

"Sure," he answered timidly.

"T., can I tell you a story?"

"Yeah. I guess."

"Once upon a time . . . " I began, giving myself a moment to gather my thoughts. I was making the story up on the fly. I knew what I wanted to say, but not exactly how. It wasn't going to be a great story, but I pushed forward anyway. ". . . there were two backpackers climbing a mountain. They walked side-by-side, their backpacks filled with a lot of heavy objects. As they climbed, one of the backpackers tired more than the other. He began to take objects out of his own pack and place them in the pack of his companion. Soon his companion's pack was so heavy that he could barely continue and struggled to reach their destination. The end."

T. looked at me as if to say, "that wasn't a very good story."

I smiled and said, "T., can I tell you another story?"

"Um, yes," he said.

"Once upon a time there were two backpackers climbing a mountain . . ."

"Hey, that's the same story," he interjected.

". . . They walked side-by-side, their backpacks filled with a lot of heavy objects. As they climbed, one of the backpackers tired more than the other. The stronger of the two, seeing his friend's struggle, began to take some of the heavy objects out of companion's pack and place them in his own. Together they reached their destination. The end," I concluded. "T, what's the difference in these two stories?"

"Well, in the first one, the backpacker put heavy objects in the other's backpack and made it harder for his companion. In the second story, one backpacker made it easier for the other."

"That's right," I said. "Which type of backpacker do you want to be?"

Recognizing where the conversation was headed, he dropped his head slightly and said, "the one who helps the other."

"T., you have a substitute teacher in your classroom who is doing her best. COVID-19 is placing a heavy burden on our teachers and these substitute teachers are jumping in and trying to help us out. Are you increasing her burden or trying to reduce it?"

He knew the answer.

I followed up with the substitute teacher the next day and was informed that T. had done much better the remainder of the day and into the next.

Obviously, I'm not a great story-teller, but what I want to share from this experience is this: as teachers and administrators, we need to remember that every opportunity to punish is actually an opportunity to teach.

I believe our students, almost without exception, want to do what is right, but sometimes they just need a gentle reminder.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Painting Goals

I've had to be kind to myself as I have tried to find time to draw and paint more.  I set the goal of completing 25 acrylic paintings by the end of June.  It was a good goal, but, with only 10 paintings currently completed, I have little hope of achieving my objective.  Still, the effort has been beneficial.  I have seen improvement--perhaps I'm not close to the same skill I was developing a decade ago, but I can see growth, even when my practice has been greatly limited.  Below are some of the paintings I have created in pursuit of my goal:

Common Cuckoo (second draft)

Common Cuckoo
by Kevin Wasden
© June 2020

I am a common cuckoo
     Destructive and deceitful,
          Blameless by nature.

My father and his family
     They think me theirs
         In spite of my stature,
              In spite of my paleness,
                  Despite the prudence in my eyes.

The truth in my blood
     Disconnects me--
          Twice a bastard child.
That which I hold is not mine,
And that which is mine I’ve never known.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

John Haines

I wish I had discovered John Haines sooner.

I am nearly 50 years old and only stumbled onto his writings a few months ago. I wish I had found  "The Tree" or "Poem of the Wintry Fisherman" twenty-five years ago. I want to think I would have been just as inspired by his writing then as I am now.  I want to think I would have felt the same connection and been inspired to greater works.  However, I am sure his words would not have had the same meaning for me. I was immature and felt unrooted.  I wasn't ready.  What I have now, that I lacked then, is a greater connection to "place."  I understand better how place--the small towns and big cities, the people and the land--have shaped me and my perspectives.

I love this excerpt from Haines' Living Off the Country:

"Poetry seems to have been a natural response to my living there [Alaska].  My first winter in the cabin at Richardson, unable for some reason to paint, I began attempting poems in which I could express some of my feeling for this place I was coming to know, amazed at all I was seeing and learning.  The poems were not, of course, very good.  They were hardly poems at all.  I had a lot to learn, about writing and about myself.  To really know the place, I had to live here, build here, become intimate with it and know it for a long time, before I could say anything about it that would be personal and distinctive.  It was nearly ten years before I wrote anything that satisfied me" (Haines, Living Off the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place, 1981, p. 11).

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I discovered John Haines at just the right time.  I have lived in my current home for the past 13 years.  Prior to that, I averaged a move every two years of my life.  I struggled to identify myself with the places I had lived.  It's not that I wasn't shaped by them, but I felt my identity wasn't connected to them.  Now, I have watched my children grow in the same home for the past 13 years.  I have made contributions to my community and made connections to the people around me and been supported by them in times of need.  This connection to place has awakened in me a greater awareness of other places from my past that, although fleeting, have shaped me.  So much of my life can be best understood within the context of the places I have lived, and more particularly the spaces I connected to.

Rediscovering Art

In 2016, I became the Dean of Students at Venture High School and in 2018 I moved into a principal position at Venture Academy.  The move into administration brought with it an increase in responsibility and work hours.  I still tried to maintain a sketchbook and draw or paint when I could, however, art was relegated to a lesser role in my life.  I don't regret the decision to move into educational administration.  It feels right and I hope and believe there is purpose for my service.  However, I've realized that I still need a creative outlet in my life, so I've made a more concerted effort to make time to draw and paint.  That means I've had to sacrifice time I used to spend on other things, but mostly that means I spend more time with a sketchbook and less time time watching Netflix or movies.  No, I still don't have time to complete any major works of art, but it feels good to sketch and to share my art with a larger community via social media.  Following are some of the drawings/paintings I've done over the past month or so.  I post new art more regularly on Instagram at @Wasden_art.  Feel free to follow.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Time for Edification

I don't normally share my personal views online, but today, the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak have compelled me to reflect on what is most important in life.

When I was young, I always thought there would be enough time . . . time to spend with the people who mattered most, to learn the things I wanted to learn, and to become the person I wanted to be. I thought there was time for me to postpone what was important in order to do things that didn't matter so much. However, here I am, almost 50 years old, and I realize there wasn't enough time then and there isn't enough time now.

In only a few short months, COVID-19 has killed over 80,000 people (and counting). That’s over 80,000 people who thought they had more time, and even more people who thought they had more time with those who have died.

Three years ago, my mom passed away in her early 70s from liver disease, and trust me, there wasn't enough time to talk with her the last few weeks of her life and to ask the questions I wanted to ask and to tell her the things I wanted her to know

In the past three weeks my cousin and my aunt both passed away due to chronic health issues. My uncle and another cousin had already passed away a number of years ago. Their family of seven has been reduced to only three remaining brothers. I know that those who remain will tell you, there was never enough time.

In my own life, as I get older, age is slowing me down and making it harder to achieve some of my goals. It's harder to stay active. Soccer games have been replaced with slow walks while I listen to podcasts. The mountain hikes I used to long for are becoming intimidating and I wonder if I am even capable of completing many of them. I've been lucky. My health has held up pretty well for most of my life. But I have loved ones who's health hasn't been so kind and medical issues have limited many aspects of their lives. Again, I know they will tell you, there wasn't enough time.

If, in my nearly 50 years of life, I have gained even a whit of wisdom that I can share with my family and friends, it is this: please do not squander the time that is given to you. Don't postpone that which is important in order to do that which is of no worth to you or anyone.

So, how do we measure that which is most valuable? Where should we spend our time? I say invest it where you will be the greatest benefit to yourself, to your family, and to your community.

Believe me, I know it's hard to turn off the video games or to stop binging on the latest series on Netflix--I have been as guilty as anyone--but we need to be willing to turn off the screens more often. We need to reduce the amount of muck we take in and worry more about the good that we give to others. We need to spend more time doing those things which edify ourselves and others.

"Edify” is an old word.  It originated around 1300 AD. It means to instruct, benefit, or uplift—to build up yourself and others. Personally I think that "edification" is the purpose of life. To me, it means we should strengthen ourselves—get an education, stay fit, develop good habits, etc.—so that we can use our talents and learning to benefit others. We humans are interdependent creatures. It is through collaboration and service that we achieve greatness and the only way we can do that is discover our own talents and strengths and use them for good purposes.

If you were to track all your activities throughout an average week, where would your time be used?  What purposes will you have served?  Two hours of video games per day (fourteen hours per week or 728 hours per year)? Two hours of TV each day? Twenty minutes of reading daily (maybe two hours per week or so)? Thirty minutes of service for someone else weekly? Maybe sixty? I don't think those are unrealistic numbers for many of us. But what do those numbers reveal? Where are our priorities? The way you use your time reveals clearly what is most important to you and what you desire most in your life.

As this awareness has become clearer in my own life, I have sought to make some changes in my own habits. In particular, I have focused on renewing my efforts to improve as an artist and to share my art with others. When I became a principal, I set aside drawing and painting in order to focus on my new job. I believed there wasn't enough time for the important activity of creating art, but the truth is, there was plenty of time. I just had filled it with not-so-important things like staring at Facebook or watching Netflix. Over the past couple months I have set aside more time to practice drawing, and I have been happy to see my skills return and improve. I still make time to watch a movie with my kids and to interact with friends and colleagues through social media, but that time is more focused and supportive of my goals, and I don't regret it. There's no part of me that is currently thinking, "I should draw less and spend more time on Facebook." They say it takes 10,000 hours, or about 10 years, to become an expert at something. Ten years from now, I hope I am an expert artist, an expert principal, and an expert husband and father.

So, let me restate my point: we do not have time to waste. We should strive each day to edify ourselves and each other. We should make sure that at the conclusion of each day we can evaluate the time we have been given and know assuredly that we have dedicated it to those people and those things that are truly important.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show

Between 2005 and 2013, I had the privelege of contributing art to twenty-two issues of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Sadly, the online magazine printed its final issue in 2019. It will be missed. Below are a few of the illustrations I created for the magazine. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of such a great project.

From the story Aim for the Stars by Tom Pendergrass - Issue 15

From the story The Vicksburg Dead by Jens Rushing - Issue 20
Intergalactic Honor, 3rd place, Best Interior Art, 2010

From the story This Is My Corporation, Eat, by Lon Prater - Issue 23

From the story Story with Pictures and Conversation by Brontops Baruq - Issue 26

From the story Winning Veronica's Heart by Ian Creasey - Issue 32

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Common Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo (First Draft)
By Kevin Wasden © 2020

I am a common cuckoo,
      destructive and deceitful,
         blameless by nature.

My father and his family,
      they think me theirs,
          in spite of my stature,
               in spite of my paleness,
                    despite the prudence in my eyes.

Survival restrains my guilt, but,
     it is only a matter of time, before
          it escapes.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Beskar Vader

© 2020 Kevin Wasden

What if Vader wore Beskar armor?  And, what if Vader wielded the Dark Saber and led the Mandalorians?  That, I believe, would be an interesting story.

One More Cast

© 2019 Kevin Wasden

One More Cast
By Kevin Wasden © 2020

I am addicted,
as any gambler
who petitions,
“Just one more hand.”

Beneath the river’s flow
glides my prize,
     silver and gold,
     spotted and scaled.
And even though
      I can scarcely see
      in the waning light,
and my line locks
     in the eyelet ice,
and my wife is home
     wondering where I am,
I lie to myself
     again and again,
      “Just one more cast.”