New Year’s Surprises

It seems that The Cat, who rarely ventures outdoors – and rarely ventures past the front porch when she does go outside – slipped outside last night, unnoticed by anyone, while The Dog and I were taking our rather short evening walk.  Or maybe she’s developed the ability to walk through walls … but not the ability to walk back through them!  In any case, when The Dog and I went out this morning, there she was, wet and miserable under a bush, crying and hissing.  She was so miserable that, even when I left the door open for her, it took a while for her to rush in.  Some time and some food and some water seemed to help her mood, but I have a feeling she won’t soon forget her New Year’s surprise.

Surprises aren’t always pleasant; just ask The Cat, who is bathing herself – and trying very hard to forget why she’s so wet and dirty – in a favorite bathing spot as I write this sentence.  But they’re almost always memorable, and they sometimes lead to – or flow from – dramatic changes in other parts of your life.  The Cat had been lurking near the front door recently, a stark departure from her usual pattern of avoiding it; we’ll have to see whether her surprise encourages or discourages her from further explorations.

After all, surprises – pleasant or unpleasant – are often a matter of perspective.  If The Cat spent more time outside, she wouldn’t have been surprised by the cold, wet weather – but she also might have avoided going out when the weather was obviously wet and cold.  If she were a different sort of cat, one who loved cold, wet, adventures, she might have had a more positive response to her adventure.  And of course surprises can be as ambiguous for people as they are for The Cat or The Dog (who is always surprised, but not delighted, by one neighbor’s large SUV and by the arrival of loud, potentially troublesome things like school buses and garbage trucks).

I was surprised – and I think it was a pleasant surprise – by a plot twist in the Tres Columnae storyline that started to reveal itself on New Year’s Eve, but became ever more clear, ever more necessary as I wrote more on New Year’s Day.  It’s still too early to reveal the surprise completely, but I hope that readers – and participants in the community of writers and creators – will enjoy the twist and find some fruitful material for back-story and side-stories.  A few of the characters involved had been a surprise, too, an unexpected gift from two friends who “just happened” to think of them, suggest them, offer them – and a cluster of related characters and storylines – a few months ago.  Surprise gifts are like that, too; depending on your attitude, you can welcome them, as I welcomed a beautiful fountain pen and a particularly nice wallet (among other things) on Christmas Day, or you can be not so impressed.  I’m sure we all have our own examples of that, of “lovely gifts” that we thanked the giver for, then promptly put away in a seldom-touched cabinet or even more promptly regifted to someone who might actually appreciate them.

This Google+ thread turned out to be a pleasant surprise, too.  I had enjoyed the underlying article by Michael Feldstein, and I was expecting an intriguing discussion of the issues of large corporations trying to reinvent themselves and common languages and the problem of defining efficacy – but I couldn’t have expected jd’s harrowing personal story (go ahead and read the G+ thread if you haven’t!) or the ideas for building joyful learning communities with folks in her situation that suddenly appeared.  I’m still working my way through David Price’s book Open, too, and as I read his chapter about the implications of openness for learning environments – and his profiles of schools that are taking the idea seriously – I had a few surprises along with a lot of confirmation of things I’ve known, thought, read, believed before.  But as with the surprise of the Tres Columnae plotline, I want to save the details for later.  Sometimes it takes a while to integrate a surprise into your life, to make it part of the new normal – to figure out what the new normal actually is.

And of course joyful learning communities – learning communities of all kinds – can be full of surprises, too.  In fact, if you aren’t surprised pretty regularly, it’s probably a superficial community at best.  Deep, authentic communities – and deep, authentic friendships and relationships of all kinds – are full of surprises.  I’m thinking of two friends in the Christmas Dinner group, two friends I’ve known and valued for many years, who have a particular struggle in common with me that I’d never known until we “just happened” to start talking about it last week after dinner.  Our friendship had been deep and authentic before, but it’s deeper and more authentic now thanks to that surprise.  And so often, just when I’m about to despair over A, B, C, or some other student who’s been labeled “bad and lazy” by Ms. X and Mr. Y, I discover an unexpected surprise – or an unexpected point of commonality – that makes a connection, and that connection makes all the difference.

When the “Latin Family” returns to its routine on Monday, we’ll have five “regular” days of classes before first-semester final exams begin.  Unlike Ms. X’s class or Mr. Y’s, where there’s still too much to cover and not enough time, we’ll have time and space to make student-created videos about the storyline (or storylines) of our choice, time and space to watch, critique, and celebrate them, and plenty of time to work on any troublesome details that need to be worked on.  I’m grateful – but surprised – every year when that happens!

I wonder what other surprises await us today and in the days to come!

Published in: on January 2, 2014 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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