English Teachers Are Full of Poop · 3 October 2015

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English teachers are full of poop.

Okay. Not really. I just wanted to use “poop” and “English teachers” in the same sentence. (Okay. That is not true either, but I had to say something to disarm the English teachers I know and love.)

When I say that English teachers are full of poop, it is not because they all have brown eyes, but because I think that sometimes they are. Sure, they teach us how to write and how to analyze literature and how to write about analyzing literature, but they do not always tell us why we need to write. Especially, when it comes to writing about analyzing literature.

Personally, I actually liked to write about analyzing literature, even if most people would not admit that those were their favorite assignments in school. After all, that would mean that they actually enjoyed reading literature. Including Shakespeare. (Which, by the way, I like too.) But those essays helped me learn to write well. Or at least passably.

I must admit though that my passion for writing did not come from writing about analyzing literature. (Yes, I know that I could just call it literary analysis, but it is more fun using the same words over and over again. I am not sure what they call that, but it is some sort of literary device that good writers sometimes use, so I figure it could not hurt me to do so.) However, my passion for writing did come from an English teacher.

Okay. (See, there is that unnamed literary device again.) You cannot really gain a passion from anybody else. It must come from within. But the catalyst for finding that passion was one of my high school English teachers. Actually, two.

One of those English teachers is the source of constant aggravation for me today as my wife brings him up whenever she thinks I am aggravating the kids. She does not even know his name, but she remembers the story I told her long ago when I got a B in Mr. Deniston’s class. So when I aggravate the children, she mocks me like a parrot stuck on a phrase, “What’d you get the B in? What’d you get the B in? Braaaaaaaack!” (But that is a completely different story.) I learned much about writing and the logic of a story in that class. And over the years, I have learned that Lincoln, Mark Twain, Maurice Switzer, Proverbs (or whoever else we might like to quote or misquote) was right. It certainly is better to remain silent and appear the fool than to speak and remove all doubt. I never should have told my wife the story about my grades.

But back to English teachers.

One of my favorite teachers, Ms. Reid, helped me find my passion for writing when she told me that I could write. (For those of you who do not agree, do not send her any nastygrams.) She encouraged both my writing ability and my writing process. As high school students, we were told over and over and over and over again that we had to write and rewrite and rewrite to get things right when we wrote. I never liked to do that on paper and Ms. Reid was the first one who ever told me that it was okay to do the writing and rewriting process in my head. Even if it meant that it appeared I only did one final draft right at the deadline. Today, I still use that process. Or at least if I have the time, I do. If not, I just throw stuff on the internet and hope somebody reads. Okay. Pray somebody reads. But Ms. Reid helped me understand that words have power and that the written word is a beautiful means of communication. Or at least it can be when done right.

Despite my love of Mr. Deniston and Ms. Reid, the years have taught me that some of my English teachers were wrong. They told us that we should never begin sentences with “because” or conjunctions or prepositional phrases. I remember a phase I went through when I started many sentences with prepositional phrases. I also liked to start sentences with “because” just to show that it could be done effectively. Because I could. And I still like to start sentences with conjunctions.

The other things that I believe English teachers were wrong to tell me was that we should always use complete sentences and that one sentence does not a paragraph make. I do not do those things now because I am trying to defy my English teachers as I once did with “because.” I just do them now because they are part of my style. They are part of who I am as a writer. I write incomplete sentences and use one sentence paragraphs because it is how I write, not to break the rules. (But that is fun too.)

Which brings me back to my original thesis. English teachers are not really full of poop. (Even if they do have brown eyes.) They give us the rules of writing as absolutes not because they are genuinely absolute, but because those rules give us firm guidelines on how to write effectively. Those absolutes teach us the proper way to write when we know not how to write. And the teachers teach those tenets not because they truly believe them to be absolutes, but because they know that those who truly have a passion for the written word will find their styles and break the absolutes when they are ready. When they are writers.

I have a fond place in my heart for English teachers. Two of my favorites helped me become the writer I am today. (Again, do not send them any nastygrams.) Part of my esteem for English teachers comes from my respect for my old teachers. Part of it comes from the fact that English teachers have enough of a hard time teaching students how to write well. So when those English teachers are assigning papers for you to write and expounding on rules of good writing, give them a break. Do not tell them that they are full of poop. Or at least do not tell them that I said they are.

© 2015 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Life Is Fragile · 26 September 2015

Life is fragile and we should handle it with care.

Actually, even though life can be fragile, the truth is that relationships are fragile and we ought to handle each other’s hearts with care. We need to treasure each person’s heart.

I was reminded of this thought when one of my uncles died recently.

Family is a funny thing. When you have a strong one, you want to be near them. I know because I have this draw to be near my parents and siblings. And yet this same draw is what keeps me where I am. When the family ties we have to our own parents and siblings is strong, the ties to our children become even stronger. We want to be near our parents and siblings, the ones who have always given us strength and encouragement, but we have an even greater need to be near those who draw strength and encouragement from us. Which is what I thought about when Uncle Wes died. He could have been around his brothers and sisters to give him strength when he needed it, but he chose not to do so. I am pretty sure I know why.

Uncle Wes was the seventh of eight children and the youngest of the five boys. He was fiercely proud and loved his family. But for much of his life, he lived far from his brothers and sisters. I am not sure if he was like many of us and wanted to move far away when he struck out on his own. I do not know whether he wanted to be far from security and walk the tightrope without a safety net or if the circumstances of his life just put him where he ended. Regardless of the reason, Uncle Wes was far from most of his siblings for much of his life.

While I am not sure why Uncle Wes landed so far from the nest, I do know why he stayed. He knew that his siblings were always there and would help him in any way they were able. He knew that they loved and supported him. He knew that they were his anchor in any storm. But he never went back to his hometown near half of his siblings because he wanted to be those same things to his son. He wanted to be near Charles.

Uncle Wes named his son Charles after his own father. And even though all of our family members usually call my cousin Charlie, Uncle Wes always called him Charles. I even remember him scolding me one time for calling him Charlie. Charles was not even there at the time, but Uncle Wes made a point to tell me that his name was not Charlie, but Charles. After all, he was becoming a man and Charlie was a boy’s name. Or something like that. I do not know that I ever heard Uncle Wes call him Charlie except maybe when he was very young. So to honor Uncle Wes (especially after the scolding) and Charles, I started thinking of my cousin as Charles and trying to call him by his given name.

That special name and that special boy were what kept Uncle Wes from being near to his siblings even though they were where he drew his strength from. He wanted to be that same source of strength to his son. Even when cancer and other physical ailments had taken his health and made his body frail, he remained strong and resolute. Even as he lay dying, he wanted to be that rock for his son. And even though I was not there, I am sure that when the end came, Uncle Wes was happy to know that the strength he had given his son just by being there was flowing the other way. In the end, Charles was surely the strength for Uncle Wes.

Photo courtesy Judi Miyoshi

I worry a little about Charles now that Uncle Wes is gone. I worry that he does not have that rock any more. I worry that he does not have relatives around. But I know that he has friends and loved ones who care for him. And I know that Charles knows he has family he can turn to. He knows that if he wants to, he can go back to a place where his father could not. Because he was taught that family is important. Because he was given a bright example of love from his father. And his father passed the responsibility of being the rock to his son. So he can be there for others.

Uncle Wes may have died frail in body, but he stayed strong in his commitment to his family. He drew strength from his brothers and sisters. In fact, they all commented on how happy he was when they were all together for what ended up being the last time. He even gave them hope when he seemed to rally at the end. And he gave that hope and strength to his son throughout his life.

Uncle Wes knew how fragile relationships can be. He knew how the heart could crumble when left alone. Which is why he never left Charles. And why I am sure Charles will survive and even thrive even though his father is gone.

We will miss you Uncle Wes. Thank you for showing us how to treasure each other and care for the tender heart. Thank you for showing us that life and relationships are fragile and we need to handle each other’s hearts with care.

© 2015 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Do NOT Watch Documentaries · 19 September 2015

Photo courtesy Angela Sun

Ignorance is bliss. So you might want to stop reading if you want to stay blissful.

I probably should have realized it before but I should not watch documentaries. At least if I want to stay ignorant. After all, I was happy being ignorant about eating myself to death before I watched Forks Over Knives a few years ago. And I was happy being ignorant about plastic before I watched Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The end result of watching both of these two documentaries is that I had to change my mind. And my body.

I watched Forks Over Knives three years ago at the suggestion of my doctor during a physical examination. I needed to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides because I was pre-diabetic and I did not want to go down that path any farther. After all, I have seen my parents and one grandparent have to give themselves injections all the time. Not that I hate needles or anything (I always watch when my blood is drawn), I just figured that there was a way to avoid diabetes with diet and exercise. So I listened to my doctor and watched the movie.

Three years later, I am still not eating meat or dairy. (I still eat a little seafood and eggs.) But I am no longer pre-diabetic. Not even close according to my doctor (who eats the same way). To be sure, the documentary was not the only thing that changed my mind and body, but it helped me get educated.

Unlike the task of taking care of my own body, I did not really want to be more educated about plastic. Even after watching Angela Sun’s movie, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I do not really want to know more. It seems I already know too much. After all, who really wants to know that his or her own actions affect everybody else on the planet? Who really wants to know that the choices he or she makes affect people for generations to come? Not me. I was happy being in ignorance of the facts. I was happy not knowing that plastic is just piling up on our planet. And in our bodies.

I have known for a long time that plastic does degrade with sunlight. You can see a piece of plastic get brittle and break up over time and exposure to the sun. What I did not know is that the plastic does not get broken down into its component parts, carbon and whatever else make it up. Instead, it just gets broken down into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces. It never goes away or gets absorbed into the earth as fertilizer or anything. That is appalling to me. Even though I may never see it, I know that each piece of plastic I ever use will never go away. Ever.

That is a scary thought.

The more scary thought though is that some of that plastic may get into my own body and stay there. The grossest parts of the Plastic Paradise documentary were seeing a dead albatross with plastic in its stomach and dead fish with plastic in their bodies. I cannot even imagine swallowing plastic (actually I can, but that is a different, more humorous story), but I can imagine eating fish which have tiny bits of plastic in them, which puts tiny bits of plastic in me. Gross. And scary.

There were other parts of both documentaries that made me think, but when it comes right down to it, I know that the choices I make affect the earth and the people around me. Using one-time-use plastic containers is not a choice I like to make and after watching the documentary will now try to keep away from. But plastic is with us forever. At least the stuff that is already made.

It is funny, but the thought that keeps going through my mind as I think of both Forks Over Knives and Plastic Paradise comes from Genesis. God told us to take care of the earth and be good stewards of it and each other. Today, we cannot even take care of our own bodies, much less the whole earth.

When it comes right down to it, we need to take care of ourselves, each other, and this planet we call home. We need to look at the choices we make and know that each of those choices could potentially affect generations of people to come. I knew this before I watched the documentaries. But sometimes we need to be reminded. Even if it would be easier to stay ignorant. And in bliss.

Photo courtesy Angela Sun

© 2015 Michael T. Miyoshi

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