Facing Storms of Life
Another Either/Or Situation

I have written about my love of teaching for decades. I want all my students to be on the same page about learning. Their view about issues in the world isn’t any of my business. However, helping them to think is my business.

Last week, I posted an announcement in my online class with the title, Just an ordinary week. It was anything other than a typical week. I commented about a couple of movies they watched, which were a part of the class assignment. The films addressed a multitude of topics, including the importance of diversity.

I mentioned a former student who wanted me to write a letter of recommendation to the university to which he wanted to transfer. He chose me to write the letter because I was not a conventional professor and unconventionally taught his class.

Finally, I mentioned a problem: one of my students had a problem with the class’s shell. That student is Ti Ti, my granddaughter, who lives near Inle Lake, Myanmar, and will come to America for her college education and live in my home.

This is a photo of Ti Ti and me at an award assembly where she won best in Shan State in math.

Ti Ti knows that asking me techy questions is a bridge too far. She had posted several replies to her classmates, but when she tried to post more responses, the shell didn’t allow her. My only suggestion was for her to restart her computer. That idea didn’t work, and she sent me a video of her problem, which I forwarded to the help desk where I teach. In the meantime, she sent me the replies that didn’t get through, which I posted for her.

In one of her emails discussing this matter, Ti Ti wrote this one-liner about her situation, “When life throws us a storm, why not play in the puddles or even store water for the next summer?” Her insight is not about the reality of problems emerging in our lives; difficulties are givens. No one, including Ti Ti, can change things like the weather, but we can control how we respond to problems. True, we should all look beyond the looming difficulty.

That said, an eighteen-year-old grasped that reality and could express her insight by imaginatively addressing appropriate responses to the storms of life. Having taught at the college level for a quarter of a century, I never miss an opportunity to teach.

This is a teaching moment for Ti Ti and everyone else. Randy Pausch was in his late forties when he did his dance with death. As he danced, he gave his The Last Lecture. Pausch paralleled Ti Ti’s one-liner, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” My eighteen-year-old granddaughter essentially said the same thing with several decades less time on her yellow brick road of life.

One other item. While I love teaching, my favorite subject matter is art history. But why? I took The Arts in my junior year at Muskingum College. It was a ten-hour required class that could be taken in either a student’s junior or senior year. Fortunately, I took it in my junior year. Grade-wise, I did better than average, but I didn’t ace either semester. However, Professor Louie Palmer saw something I didn’t see in myself. At the end of that year, he asked me to be his teaching assistant the following year.

Talk about a gift from the gods. I sat in on the lectures and subsections during my senior year, taught several subsections each week, and wrote and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. That was a central transformative moment in my life.

Let me give you two of the many mantras I have created. Artistic greatness is derived from pain. Name any artist, whether painter, sculptor, musician, or writer, the single thing they all share is some sort of pain. Interestingly, they also did their artistic expression primarily for themselves. Now, we might not be aware of that pain or who benefits the most. Nonetheless, both are absolutely the truth.

Do you want proof? I watched an interview with Randy Pausch several months after he did the video, The Last Lecture. Watch and listen carefully to Pausch explain The Last Lecture, both the lecture and the video. He ties both to all forms of artistic expression. All artists have an extremely limited number of people that cause them to express themselves. Pausch did The Last Lecture for his three children, who were too young to remember him. He died nine months after the video.

My closing comment is for Ti Ti.

Ti Ti, when you get to the States in a couple of months, we will discuss what drives me. Okay, I know you fully know my main reason for living, but I still need to tell you. We will discuss that matter in your office along with Ginger.