The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest: Honorable Mention

canstockphoto14284461An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.

He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.

 The Expectations of Joy

By Bill at pinklightsabre

Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.

There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked the post office, dressed in camo vests and khakis, bright orange hunter’s caps. I saw him maybe once a year growing up and the last time, a couple years ago when he was too old to drive, when Dawn and I had to give him a ride home, a good hour and a half through the folds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, eastern Pennsylvania.

It was Eastertime and there was a lot of food and drinking, and we decided around 9 it was time to go. My dad and his brother warned me not to listen to Frank give advice about the route. The route was pretty clear, but Frank would try to tell us otherwise.

canstockphoto15356468We got in the car and put Frank in the back, who was maybe early 80s then. Dawn drove, and we started small talk with Frank. It was about the towns and roads and interstate, the past construction projects, what had changed. Frank started deviating from the route as expected, and I went to hush him, to tamp him down, but Dawn agreed to follow his direction. It occurred to us in the front seat that this was about all Frank had left, his memory of how to get home, and could we allow him some bit of control over that.

The family was worried about Frank but not in an actionable sense. They said his plumbing had gone out so he was using a coffee can to pee in and going to the grocery store to do the rest. There was a sinkhole in his front yard they had taped off (all the houses were built on or near mining excavations, it seemed).

When we neared his house it was pushing 10:30 but Frank offered we could stop for a pizza, he’d buy, they were open another half an hour still. But we’d eaten all day and really just wanted to get home, and declined. We waited for Frank to make his way into the house and turn on some lights and off we went back to the interstate, the way we intended to go, that saved us about 15 minutes.

It had gotten so that I saw Frank about once every five years now. He was the same, a bit knobby with big, marbly eyes and whiskers, balding, but a good smile, still the same. I remembered him as a kid around Christmas, he would show up with presents he’d wrapped himself, a lot of Scotch tape, and it seemed strange receiving gifts from him, we were so disjointed, we weren’t really close.

The gifts were always practical things he’d gotten at Sears or Penney’s (tube socks, underwear, sometimes a belt), and I’d catch Frank flushing up and looking away, smiling, when I opened them. I think it was a bit of joy he felt then, though small. I thought about it and wished we had stopped for pizza maybe, but joy is like that too, it can’t be manufactured or revised, it comes and goes.

canstockphoto6034965I was on the beach at the lake near our house with my dog throwing the ball, watching her waggle her tail, stretch, how the digits in her paws extend in the pebbles, how dogs seem to smile. There was the time when I was working my boss asked in a mid-year review what brought me joy in my job (it was a popular word at the time), and the silence became lifelike between us, I filled it with half-truths, and what followed felt like dread but it’s true, once you go down that far it’s like touching the bottom of a pool, and maybe then you can work your way up.

We were in a conference room no bigger than a telephone booth, with just a phone, a clock, a table and two chairs, and it had the feel of whatever vagueness or tension preceded us the meeting before. And we left our own for the next occupants.

My joy comes from writing, payback for all the wonder I see in the world, a way of honoring it. Like joy, it feels best when you expect less, to not put too much on it. And maybe that’s why it feels so good, once it’s revealed, joy turns its back to visit someone else.

Congratulations Bill!

Enjoy a little pinklightsabre sampler:

That Last Christmas in Cork

Closure, cynosure

How the Rock Bands Formed the Alps 

Congratulations! You Barely Met My Expectations

Michelle, we’d like you to know how much we’ve appreciated your presence and to let you know that we’ve come up with a new review and salary plan for your role here.

I am intrigued. Please sir, continue.

We’ve noticed that Bob is doing great at his job and you are sucking eggs at yours. In order for you to keep your job, we’ve decided to lower our minimum expectations of your work performance.

I am astonished. I protest.

But Bob was mentored into his role. He received extra training and hand holding. How can I compare when you just stuck me at a computer and left me alone for three years?

Your smile is magnanimous and you try to speak in small words.

This is the boo-boo we’re addressing. Don’t you see? You only have to show up and the next raise is yours!

He waits for my grunt of enthusiasm, but I continue to stare dumbly, as is my wont to do.

The next day, I come into the office wearing my pajamas, load up Netflix and microwave some popcorn. No point in doing much else.

I’ve been listening to the news and reading articles regarding the latest move by the state of Virginia’s education board. To address testing disparities among specific races (yes, let’s use that term), they’ve set different minimal standards for kids, depending on whether or not they are Asian (highest standards), White, Hispanic, Black or kids with disabilities. Before I jump in with a political correctness knee-jerk response, I want to say that I recognize the difficulty and expense of addressing the education gap. It seems nearly intractable, but not impossible.

We heard very little talk about the decimation of our country’s education system during this election cycle. Like infrastructure, it cannot be treated like a short term budget trick, trimming and cutting a little here and here and here. This will truly bite us all in the ass. For people without kids, your ass will be bitten too, because these kids are the economic crystal ball that determines quality of life in your dotage. It says a lot about our country that our war machine is well-oiled and maintained, while the machinery that educates our offspring lies rusting away under benign budgetary neglect.

What Virginia has decided to do is to take the most expeditious and least expensive route towards making their state education’s report card look good, in order to receive funding from the federal government. They, like 32 other states, get money while being exempt from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind program. Regardless of how you feel about the NCLB law, Virgina has lowered their expectations of the children in their state. They are focusing on a forward-looking goal by walking backwards.

I am not an educator, so I can only look at this issue from a personal and parental perspective. What impact does it have on a person’s psyche when they are told that the expectations for their performance is lower than that of the person next to them, because that is all they can manage? I would feel defeated before I even began.

Here’s the deal. It’s okay for Asians to have dumb ass kids and okay for blacks to have geniuses. Don’t institutionalize your inability to problem solve by telling kids that the baseline expectations for their performance are dependent on their race. We’ve been there, done that. We have some brilliant minds in this country, many of whom are products of a public education system. Time to put our creative minds, our imaginations and our money to work to realize a bright, intelligent future for our nation. We should expect nothing less of ourselves or of our children.