McEachen’s Motto

:: the post before the post ::
I wrote an earlier version of this post over a year ago, when I came thisclose to starting this blog but never pulled the trigger…mostly out of fear. Then a couple days ago I had a brief email exchange with a college friend and brand-new mom about how she was trying to figure out what “normal poop consistency” meant for her week-old son. Yes, that is a totally normal topic of correspondence why are you asking? Then yesterday a dear childhood friend, who is as big a literature geek as I am only who has put her brain to good use and is getting her Ph.D. at Columbia while I write about wiping bottoms, mentioned McEachen’s motto on her blog and I decided It Must Be Meant To Be! and that I should dust off this post and let it see the light of day.

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My high school English teacher had a class motto. Learning and memorizing it was the first order of business for every new class and whenever prompted we were expected to recite it as a group like a mismatched little army of literature geeks.

If anything is odd, inappropriate, confusing or boring,
it’s probably important.

Applied to 11th grade literature, the motto means you’re not supposed to skip the boring parts or assume the confusing parts are just some old white dude using big words. It means that the odd, inappropriate, confusing and boring stuff is where great literature lies waiting to be unraveled by those patient enough to wrestle through it. If you get stuck in it, you’re probably supposed to be stuck in it, and getting un-stuck is where that juicy, satisfying, triumphant stuff we call learning happens.

But I also love this motto as a mom. Isn’t that really what “mommy instinct” is? The ability to sort through the unending pieces of data we are given (every possible shade and consistency of poop, for example) and identify the outliers? When something just doesn’t seem right – with behavior, appetite, temperament, the sound of a cry, or the color of snot/poop/puke – our radar goes off. We slow down. We pay closer attention. We interpret, hypothesize, look for connections and comparisons, over-analyze and, yes, worry. We ask ourselves, our spouses, our girlfriends: what does it mean?

For me, parenting my children is no different than reading a book. You can skim and get the basic plot and chances are you won’t bomb the quiz (unless you have McEach, of course), or you can commit to the real meat of it – the parts that make your brow furrow and your brain hurt and your heart skip a beat – and, I believe, reap the rewards of a higher level of understanding and (perhaps?) the true meaning of love.

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:: the post after the post ::
So like I said, I wrote this over a year ago, in May 2010. Had I had the guts to start blogging then, I might also have thought to send this post to Mr. McEachen and let him know that not only did I still remember his class motto, but that I had applied it to parenting. I might have told him that I still ask “So what?” when I’m writing something that doesn’t feel pointed or persuasive enough, and that I’m still analyzing literature. Just before Thanksgiving last year, Mr. McEachen died suddenly of a heart attack, so unfortunately I did none of those things in time. Not to get all “seize the day” or anything, but … yeah. Seize the day.

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5 Responses to McEachen’s Motto

  1. Nicole Callahan July 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I think the beauty of the writing on this blog is great evidence that you are using your brain plenty, my friend! And I’m sure McEach knows how much he (and his motto) shaped our lives. Incidentally, he was studied at length by a researcher at UCSB… if you want to really revisit your inner nerd and read one of the articles, let me know and I’ll send you the pdf. And thanks for the blog-mention!

    • Sarah July 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

      Thanks, Nic! Would love to read the article, and I’m loving reading all your stuff too. xo

  2. Joe July 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Great Post. I don’t know much about about literature and I have no idea who McEachem is, but his motto stretches far beyond the former. It’s a great lesson no matter who or what you are.

    • Sarah July 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

      Thanks, Joe! I appreciate it! :)

  3. Dan Weber July 27, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Man, you writes good. As a parent and a reader, I am moved and impressed. As a writer, I am peevishly jealous.

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