Ingrid Cummings

Over the course of my twenty year teaching career, I was subject to many a learning trend. Never did a trend arrive unaccompanied by innumerable in-service opportunities. Each sparkly new theory had a guru who had at the very least mounds of handouts to share and at the very worst – a book to sell. One of the middle schools I worked at even based its reason for existing on a teaching model called Multiple Intelligences. And yes, we all had quite the chuckle over the misuse of the plural, even those of us who weren’t English teachers. Well, maybe not the P.E. teachers, but everyone else anyway.

The idea behind M.I was a simple one. In fact I’d seen it a couple of times before by this point in my career albeit under other aliases. M.I. asserted that everyone had a learning style or preference, but that it was possible to train children to effectively use learning styles they were weak in by building lessons that incorporated multiple ways of learning.

The logical leap from this was, of course, team teaching and cross curriculum lessons. For example, as a Language Arts teacher I built the weekly spelling list around vocabulary the students needed for science, math, and geography. When I could get them to cooperate, I even used word lists from the P.E. department and the art specials. But even before this I had built units in conjunction with the science teachers because they were the most open to the idea that we could double team the kids and coerce them into making connections and finding the relationships between our subject areas.

So what does this have to do with Ingrid Cummings book, The Vigorous Mind?

Ms. Cummings believes in cross-training our minds. Through cultivating an attitude that learning is a life long process and actively seeking out new experiences and areas of interest to develop through reading, active study or simply puttering about, we can go happily into the good night years rather than trudging towards our graves like the good little automatons that our consumer driven society would prefer us to be.

And I won’t argue against her idea or her theories. She is spot on when she talks about the benefits that cultivating numerous and diverse interests throughout the course of one’s life. It’s beneficial to be a generalist or Renaissance person which is another way of saying, “Jack of many trades.”

The book was a slow read and a repetitious one. She followed the teaching model that all really good teachers use which is to continually make the main points of the lesson over and over again using different examples. My brighter students were always pointing out to me that I repeated myself, but my average and slower learners never noticed because of the human tendency to not listen. In book form, however, that isn’t the case. At least I don’t think it is.

I skipped over the prologue. Fiction writers are instructed to never, ever, ever start with a prologue. Of course, all writing rules are subject to interpretation, but there is a good reason why a writer shouldn’t have a lengthy prologue – at some point the writer will start writing the actual book and not just be leading into it.

The first chapter was like a continuation of the prologue and the second chapter threatened to repeat the first, so I skipped it and read the third, which is where the book should have started.

After that I headed into part two of the book, which is divided into three parts. In part two there are seven imperatives for a generalist or life long learner. And again, part two was way too long. I ended up reading each imperative and a paragraph or two following it before heading into part three.

Part three is probably the best part of the book and by this time I was pretty sure that The Vigorous Mind was a text book or reference that in conjunction with a seminar would be a very good buy. Easier by far than taking notes.

Cummings has a plan for helping those who would like to mentally cross train.It’s based on a Japanese philosophy known as Kaizen. Basically it is not much different from the idea that one must devote a specific amount of time to a new activity every day – like a new exercise program for example – and commit to doing this until it becomes an ingrained habit or new skill set.

She provides exercises at the end of chapters or sections to help a person select new areas of interest to pursue that will enhance existing interests, skills or careers even.

I wanted to like this book. There is nothing about the idea or the methods that I don’t agree with. I whole-heartedly believe in life-long learning. I think that intellectual curiosity and the pursuit of new skills and pushing oneself into areas of expertise that are challenging and fun will do nothing but good for anyone who decides to go there.

But there were so many examples of so many people continually thrown at me throughout the reading that after a while I couldn’t sort one from another, and the celebrity examples made the whole thing seem Oprah trendy. I much preferred when the author used real people whose faces you wouldn’t see when you were checking out your groceries. And honestly, the public school teacher in me was offended by the continual put-downs against the education system. It seems to me that people, who are not actual classroom teachers of real children, too quickly dismiss what is really going on in classrooms today. There is far more good than bad and the critics seem to be basing their dim views on what they remember about their own education rather than on today’s schools. Education is in a state of evolution to be sure, but it’s not as dire as it’s being painted and failure has far more to do with socio-economic issues than on the quality or even the quantity of what exists right now.

New writers are told to “show” more than they “tell” their readers. There is a lot more telling than showing here and for me, it smothered the author’s main intent, but a reader who is able to use the index in conjunction with the exercises (which are valid) and not need to read from start to finish might be able to come up with a cross-training regime for his/her self.

Ingrid Cummings TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, January 20th: A Garden Carried In My Pocket

Wednesday, January 21st: 8Asians

Monday, January 26th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 27th: Anniegirl1138

Wednesday, January 28th: She is Too Fond of Books

Thursday, January 29th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement

Friday, January 30th: So Not Zen

Monday, February 2nd: Simply Forties

Tuesday, February 3rd: life@work

Wednesday, Februarty 4th:

I am still in the thick of plotting my first quarter but so far the following are on the books:

January 16 is y review of Kirk Curnutt’s Breathing the Ghost Out. I am about a quarter of the way through and have to say that this is an author who knows how to breath life into his characters. They are very real though uncomfortable.

On January 21st I will be guesting blogging here, and writing about my favorite bookstore in my old West Des Moines stomping grounds.

Another TLC book tour review of Ingrid Cummings The Vigorous Mind is scheduled here on January 27th. This book hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t tell you much about it first hand, but I am excited. Essentially she writes about cross training the mind to health and happiness through diversity of activities.

Finally, another book giveaway! On Monday, January 12 I will host a week long chance for my dear readers to win a copy of Wendy Tokunaga‘s Midori By Moonlight. I haven’t yet gotten my copy, but I was intrigued by the synopsis. Young Japanese woman with a dream and a pending wedding to an American arrives in San Francisco, but things don’t work out the way she’s envisioned them. I don’t read this type of book a lot, rom-com-ish women’s lit, but I like the genre and wish I had a talent for it. Very excited to have the opportunity for another giveaway. I love giving books away. Come February I hope to have a few more giveaways in the works.

I am still weaving my quarterly web of writing tasks. I am finding that breaking my time into 90ish day increments to be most helpful, but I have still not discovered my John Deere tractor in terms of a project. One that will grab hold and not let go. And no, the memoir is not in that category. The memoir is an Ahab thing. What I am talking about is that one idea that fires the creative neurons and swamps you with the need to write. And yes, I know too well a writer cannot live off divine inspiration alone. The grind of writing is the norm. But I know the lightening strikes are out there. The readiness is all.

Stay tuned.

Monday night was Parent Watch Night for BabyD’s ballet class. I took her out of the other dance school in town this fall because I was tired of the last minute expectations, nickel & diming, and the fact that there were a couple of girls in BabyD’s age group who were – um – destined to be the kind of teens I regularly mowed down as a middle school teacher. Uppity little girls either learned to be respectful of others or to keep their yippy mouths shut in my classroom. 

After a shaky start, I find I made the right decision. The new instructor is very well-organized, knowledgeable and has a grasp of classroom management that keeps things moving and the focus on dance. The class is also much smaller and BabyD is thriving.

I am not big on watching her every movement. I am a bad mother who does not find every activity my child enthuses on equally enthralling, nor do I care to gaze adoringly at her all the time. So during swim lessons I brought a book or a notebook for writing, glancing up to watch here and there but I certainly wasn’t rapt for 45 minutes.

Watching the dance class required not just watching things I have watched her do through the observation peep hole many times over the last few months, but I had to sit on the hardwood floor. Even during yoga, I get a mat. 

So I took a few photos and then pulled out my notebook (I always carry a tiny one in my purse) and began to write a piece I have in mind to submit to the Globe and Mail. I would write a bit and watch a bit and take another photo. But the last ten minutes or so were long and I succumbed to the lure of the pen and paper and got lost. Until I heard,

“Mom, are you ever watching?”

I looked up to see BabyD and her little friend doing their stretches and watching me write.

“Of course,” I replied quickly, guiltily stuffing the notebook into my purse and quickly snapping a photo.

BabyD then turned to her friend and said with a sigh,

“She’s a writer.”

Which marks, I think, the first time she has acknowledged my new profession.

My 50 Something Moms piece, In Praise of Teachers, was in syndication this week. I managed to pick up most of the news outlets I have on my last two outings in syndication. It wasn’t a humorous piece however so it didn’t do quite as well. I have three new pieces there as well. Here, here and here. And I hope to have another one next week.

The memoir inches along. I did complete NaNoWriMo but have found that the pressure of the deadline made it easier to generate a high daily word count. I need to tie a reward to completing my goal on my timeline to ensure it does not become a chore, I think.

The problem is there isn’t much I covet these days aside from perhaps my own weekly column in a newspaper or on a news site and an agent. Writers need agents I am told. I already have a trusted beta reader and I met a publisher at a workshop my writing group held last month who runs an agency on the side which helps writers shape manuscripts and find publishing outlets that fit their work. I am planning to contact her at some point in the new year. Coincidentally, I met a local author of children’s novels who also does editing and manuscript reading/polishing as a side business. I took her information. She might be my first contact.

The memoir itself has just left Idaho Falls and will detail Arkansas and our engagement this weekend. Then it will be about the emigration and wedding and then…I don’t know. I have been thinking about something I read in a book review of Abigail Carter’s The Alchemy of Loss. I am part of the TLC Blog Tour her memoir is on right now and my review will be up on December 10th. Another woman, also a widow, wrote her review this week and brought up a point I hadn’t consciously thought of though it is something I began to feel soon after Will died. What happens after the dust settles, but it still covers everything? After the one or two or three year mark? When grieving becomes something else entirely?

Like her, I found plenty of books to to tell me how I should act in the moment, but I was tired of the moment. I had lived there since Will’s illness began. It was time to move. No one however could, or was able, to show/tell me what came next or how to get there if they knew. And I know everyone’s road is different, but I didn’t, and still don’t, buy the idea that grief is a stumbling process over which you have no control at all. You most certainly do have control over your own actions and reactions regardless, and I am a firm believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy of life.

I don’t have any plans for changing the course of the memoir right now. It is easier to write chronologically – for the most part – but I think the story lies in my beyond. Beyond that first year and into Canada and a new life will likely be the ultimate focus. There will be a lot of editing and rewriting. This is the first major piece I have written where I didn’t edit as I went along. It’s a milestone for me as a writer regardless of what becomes of it.

My mother is doing okay. I talk to her just often enough to not make her feel as though I am hovering. It’s odd to be able to talk widow with her now. It’s strange to be the veteran too. She is attending grief groups and has joined the widow social group her friend Nan started. She’s lonely though and as she put it once,

“It’s not like your dad and I did anything together anymore but he was always around.”

She finds herself wanting to tell him things and thinking,

“Don would love this.”

I assured her about the normalcy of it, and that it would change over time but never completely go away.

Although living life does displace things. I spent some of last week trying to remember the date of Will’s death. The date completely slipped my mind and I refused to look it up because what kind of person forgets the date? It eventually came back to me, but it wouldn’t surprise me if – like his birthday last month – the day comes and goes before it occurs to me again.

Oh and two final things – well three – the review of Abigail Carter’s book is next Wednesday. On Monday, December 22nd, I will be hosting the giveaway of an autograhped copy of Joshua Henkin’s book Matrimony in advance of a review of the book in January. I am also going to be hosting another TLC Book Tour for Ingrid Cummings, author of A Vigorous Mind: Cross Train Your Brain to Break Through Mental, Emotional, and Professional Boundaries and an additional TLC tour of Breathing Out the Ghost by Kirk Curnutt.