A Jet Soars Above

Sunlight behind clouds with airplane jet trail on blue sky. (c) ComStock Photo, Inc. KerdaZz csp 6017009

Viewed from an untended backyard, the straight, white ribbons streaming from the jet give a sense of order, calm protection. Maybe because the sound of the jet opens a memory two decades old when scores of military planes crisscrossed the Virginia sky in the weeks after September 11. Today the circumstances are different. But once again fewer civilian planes appear as Americans stick to home during the coronavirus, which makes each jet citing distinctive.

Today due to the coronavirus many parents have little time to focus on the sky or much else outside their own abode. Multi-tasking rules the day as parents are concerned about their family’s physical and financial health while elements of the economy shut down for how long no one is certain. Some can work online. Others may share electronics and/or precious internet resources with their children.  Professional needs compete with schoolwork, Zoom-meetups with family and friends, children’s videos, and video gaming. Digital homeschooling provides links to organized educational resources and possibly a way to view school buddies while schools are closed. As schooling moves online, an even heavier burden falls on those parents who don’t work online, need to be out of the house, and have not learned Zoom or the education software required for their child’s school.   

Soaring in the sky or the classroom is not the first thing that comes to mind today. But by utilizing the imagination of our children, new projects could open unexpected areas of learning that could excite students for years to come. Taking time to daydream can be a productive use of this unexpected block of time. Doing a bit of that myself, I wandered into book sites and opened a chapter of a well-written memoir (More Myself: A Journey, with Michelle Burford, Flatiron Books) by songstress, songwriter, and pianist Alicia Keys. Serendipity.

Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen around the corner from Times Square when it was “an X-rated cesspool open for business,” she went the other direction, taking advantage of every activity her paralegal single mother struggled to afford to keep her only child busy. Alvin Ailey summer dance classes, gymnastics, and ballet ran up against classes to hone her one-of-a-kind voice. When Alicia turned six, a neighbor offered her mother a “well-seasoned” piano, a little out of tune, provided she could get it moved. In stepped two hefty guys from Beethoven Pianos, who made the move for fifty dollars.

Building a Career: Beethoven to Ellington to Prince, Back to Chopin

 Once the piano belonged to her, Alicia’s mother found a piano teacher–Margaret Pine—who stayed to mold and encourage her talented prodigy through high school. Alicia stuck with it, though at eleven, she negotiated a summer break, promising diligence during the school year. Soon she was back at it practicing Beethoven’s sonatas, Mozart’s concertos and Satie’s preludes, then moving onto Joplin and jazz greats Ellington, Waller, and McPartland. Wasn’t long before her personal fusion included Tupac, Salt-N-Pepe and Prince. All the while continuing to marvel as she played Chopin.

It’s not necessary to be the multi-talented Ms. Keys to find a bliss that can last, maybe a lifetime. In eighth grade, Sister Theolea, wrote just one line across the top of my autobiography: “You have a newsy way of writing.” Who knows what triggered her to write that note? But that wee bit of encouragement carried me through journalism school and decades of writing—from reporting for a Midwestern newspaper to Capitol Hill, then twenty years as a national transportation safety communicator.

That makes this week’s news more wrenching. As of April 8, 14,700 people who have died in America. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded us, “Every number is a face.”  Two of those faces belong to people who have offered guidance and encouragement to students throughout their careers have died of the coronavirus. Joseph Lowinger, 42, principal of the Mary Louis Academy in New York was one of the 776 who have died in New York this week (by April 8). He’d worked at the school for twenty years, his entire career, according to his wife.

The second, Dwight Jones, served the Detroit Public School as basketball coach at Mumford High, also died of the disease this week. A Detroit TV reporter had calls from former students and players who told him Coach Jones would always make time to talk, even after they graduated.

Guidance works best with open minds and willingness to move forward. Developing a skill requires persistence, as we see with Alicia. This paired with her talent and the shaping from her piano teacher, who sparked her to push on. For the rest of us, that little spark from a middle school or high school teacher or a coach can work wonders and offer encouragement that pushes a teen off the ledge into the pond, where their interest could last a lifetime. Now think for a minute about a teacher who made a difference in your life or your child’s progress. Someone who noticed a talent that others missed.  Someone who helped you figure out a personal or classroom problem. How about we each send a few words of gratitude to a teacher or mentor who made a difference in our life?                                  

Believe You Can

My beloved Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains never failed to help me revive my belief in myself.

Take stock now that a year has turned. It’s not so easy I know as I recalculate the completion date for my book. Disappointment in myself could be an easy response. But this creative process, whether with books, frying chicken, or basketball takes time. Sometimes it takes more time than we want to allow and we give up. Not yet in my case because I saw what the people noted below were able to accomplish when they stuck with it.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

I’m not recommending that you wallow in failure, but that you consider it a steppingstone. What can you learn from it to take away to project 2.0, 3.0, or 500.0? Failing today can build a foundation for a successful tomorrow, if you embrace what you’ve learned and moved it forward.

Extraordinary belief yields amazing results

That’s what Thomas Edison did when creating the light bulb. It took 10,000 experiments with different materials and timing to create the perfect GE light bulb. As a boy, he finished his schooling at home with his mother, who believed in him, after his schoolteacher found him “stupid” and beyond learning. Maybe he was just resting his mind so he could later create 9,000 U.S. Patented inventions  and found a laboratory to mold scientific minds following in his path. Edison never gave up and when he hit his stride very few could keep up or meet his success.

J.K. believed and Stephen had a believer

The writer J.K. Rowlings, known today as the creator of the internationally renown Harry Potter series, which has captivated my grandson and millions around the world, hatched the idea for the books on a train in England in 1990. Not until 1997, after the loss of her mother and her marriage and with a child to raise, did Rowlings publish the first novel. She believed in the idea and with each publication more rolled from her fingers. Now financially secure, she doesn’t stop but keeps creating new ideas to play with our imagination—that’s what she does.

Stephen King, who has 50 spooky novels to his international credit, received 30 rejections for Carrie, his first novel that was later made into a movie. When he placed that manuscript in the trash ready to give up, his wife pulled it out and gave it another try. Having someone who believes in you can be a blessing, but sometimes you need to rely on yourself to keep on.

Harlan believed into his 60s and beyond

No doubt you’ve heard of Colonel Sanders, the fried chicken magnet. It’s shocking to know that his recipe has traveled around the world—something about salty that translates well. Well enough that Col. Sanders stores are ubiquitous in Beijing and Shanghai, popping up on many corners in the business district. But do you know the backstory? Harlan Davis Sanders submitted his special recipe for fried chicken using a faster pressurized method to 1,009 restaurants before one in Salt Lake City, Utah brought it in 1952.

Born in Indians, Sanders originally developed the recipe when he was 50 in 1939, but he didn’t take it around until he used a $105 social security check to help fund the trip when he was 65. He built his brand as the white-suited, mustache-wearing, Kentucky colonel, and the company grew to become internationally recognized. When Sanders turned 74, he sold the company for $2 million, retaining rights to the Canadian market and becoming a goodwill ambassador. Not a billionaire, but comfortable until his death at 90, when bhis body laid at the Kentucky State Capitol for viewing before burial.

Michael wasn’t always a superstar, but he practiced

Not all successful people are inventors or whip up a lip-smacking recipe, some enjoy a game and play it so well the world takes notice. Take Michael Jordan, an athlete born in Brooklyn, but raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, a small town the parents of five thought would be a better influence. Michael wanted to follow in the footsteps of his athletic brother, but being much shorter, he stuck with baseball, where he was an MVP pitcher and outfielder.

When a position on the varsity basketball squad opened, he thought the position would automatically be his, though he was 5’11.” Another player, 6’5” grabbed the spot. That got Michael’s attention and his lazy approach to practice evaporated. By the time he was a high school junior, Michael had grown to 6’3,” taller than any family member, and continued to perfect  his skills.  He made the varsity squad and scored the winning point for the University of North Carolina in the 1982 NCAA Championship against Georgetown. He played on the gold medal-winning 1984 and 1992 Olympic teams. For the Chicago Bulls, Jordan led the way to becoming an NBA All-Star 14 times, six times the NBA champion, and five times the NBA MVP. The official NBA website proclaimed him “the greatest basketball player of all time.” Quite a feat for someone who struggled to make the team as a sophomore.

Keep on keeping on!

There are days, many days, when it’s easy to question my progress on the book and I’m briefly tempted to hang it up. But I still believe I have a story worth telling. So in 2020 I’m vowing to keep at it, set goals, limit distractions, and move to the finish to get ‘er done. Join me in your quest, whatever it is, so we can be satisfied when 2021 rolls around!