I very deliberately didn’t write a blog post on Friday, because Friday was a particularly special family day. When you’re building joyful communities on any level, it’s important not to neglect the smallest, but most important community you belong to – the one that shares your address and your DNA. Families can be complex, of course, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good one or to be on good terms with the one(s) they do have. But as we spent our time well on Friday and over the weekend, as we talked and explored Christmas presents and ate together and, at times, conducted our lives together but in parallel because we needed the space, I kept thinking about what it means to spend time well in different situations and circumstances.
For part of the together, but parallel time, I was busy writing Tres Columnae Project stories for Lectiōnēs XLIV and XLV, stories that are almost but not quite ready to be published. There’s a good bit of time before my spring-semester Latin IV students will reach these stories, especially since we’ll be alternating reading (and creating) sets of Tres Columnae Project stories with reading selections from Caesar (for sure) and possibly some other “real” authors (and probably creating simplified versions to “embed” at appropriate points, too). But when you have time – and when you have energy and will and purpose – for writing and creating, it’s important to seize that time and spend it well. I’ve learned that lesson many times over the years, but it really hit home for me in the fall of 2012. My Latin III class was almost, but not quite, running out of story-line at one point, and I couldn’t find the time or the energy or the motivation and will and purpose to write any more until the last possible minute. I’m glad we’ve avoided that problem this year, even though the Latin III group was considerably more efficient and speedy than its counterparts a year ago! Somehow, I was able to find the time and spend it well when I needed it, and it’s exciting to think about the new stories, new storylines, and new characters we’ll be able to play with in the spring.
Spending time well in a joyful learning community can be a challenge, especially when that community is embedded in a larger system with lots of conflicting, unexpressed priorities. I think of That One Ms. X, who “had to give notes” about some concept a few weeks ago even though she was suffering from laryngitis, and I wonder how she’d define spending time well in That Particular Class. I think of B, B, and U, who “are really, really sorry” when they spend time playing with their phones or talking about Unrelated Stuff, but whose words of apology never translate into different actions. What definition of spending time well have they developed or inherited from the factory-school routines of hurry up and wait that they’ve internalized over the thirteen years of their school experience? For that matter, how clear have I been about my own definition of spending time well, and how well have I communicated that vision to “Latin Family” members? Have we spent time well in defining spending time well, or have we all “just assumed” we understood each other, the way Ms. X “just assumed” (or, if you asked her, probably “just knew”) that “giving notes” in a hoarse, inaudible whisper – and risking permanent harm to her voice in the process – was the only way or the best way to spend time well with that class, that day, on that concept?
Spending time well isn’t as easy to do – or to define – as it seems!
I had a call from a good friend on Sunday afternoon, a friend who needed to vent about a complex project with a short, difficult timeline. As we were talking, I kept thinking about what spending time well looks like in different situations. My friend’s project is vast, and it involves coordinating the schedules of several extremely busy people in three different parts of the country – a much more difficult task than my process of finding time and finding the story. But as we talked, we could feel common themes and common threads. I hope my listening ear and not-so-great suggestions were able to help her as much as thinking about her project helped me! I’ve found that when friends ask for advice or suggestions, one way to spend the time well is to remind them, up front, that my thinking-out-loud style will begin with some pretty terrible suggestions … but as we discard those (and I have absolutely no investment in them!), better ideas will emerge. If I forget to do that, we tend to waste time for obvious reasons!
When people come together in joyful learning communities or communities of practice or communities of any kind, spending time well is important because the time is necessarily limited and there’s some kind of goal or purpose you want to accomplish together. Sometimes, if you know each other well, you agree on how to spend the time – there wasn’t any need for my family to discuss and negotiate our schedule on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, because we all had similar priorities for the time and the space. But if you’re building a community, it’s important to bring those priorities and assumptions to the surface, to talk about them, to ask and not just assume.
I wonder what new discoveries await us all, today and in the days to come, as we use our time well – or not so well – in our various communities!