The Happiness Continues

The Art of Happiness – Page 45

My summer vacation is winding down. I’m trying to squeeze every last drop out of it. My to-do list has been fairly well completed, but my want-to-do list never ends– it just gets pushed around.

Yesterday I went to school to interview a woman who has applied to teach a history/English combo for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. It’s a challenging schedule, but her enthusiasm, cheerfulness, and positive attitude about teaching were awe-inspiring. I’m hoping she gets the job and some of her exuberance rubs off on me. After twenty-five years of teaching, I am always looking for new ideas and renewed inspiration.

After the interview, I got my keys and went into my classroom. All the student desks are piled up on one side of the room. I think (hope) they’re getting ready to clean my carpet. I look around, just to get my bearings, and pick up my “First Weeks of School” folder. Time to update my parent/student letter.

The first weeks of school are always exciting. I never fail to get butterflies in my stomach as I begin the first day and see 150 new faces anxiously looking up at me, wondering if my class will be fun and if I will be nice to them. A few years ago I began starting the first day by waiting at the door, shaking hands, and introducing myself to each student. I want them to know that I do care about them and am going to try to make their 7th grade year in English a positive one. When they get into class, I start by reading them the picture book The Teacher from the Black Lagoon. It’s about a boy who dreams that his teacher is a horrible monster, but at the end he wakes up and finds a lovely young teacher there welcoming him. I read it very dramatically (I almost have it memorized!) and I move around the room. I watch to see who laughs and smiles, and who resolves to wear a stony grimace throughout the tale. I know that they are the ones who I will have to work especially hard to win over.

The Art of Happiness – Page 46

The students are on especially good behavior those first two weeks. They’re well-mannered, quiet, attentive. It’s because they don’t know each other yet and are shy about talking. I do everything I can to get them to feel comfortable with each other, and that often becomes my undoing. The more at-ease they feel in my class, the less disciplined they become. They start to talk to each other more, and I find myself having to compete for their focus and attention. I have to start repeating myself and raising my voice to get them to settle down and listen to instructions. The more fun things we do, the more they expect — but we have a lot of serious work to do and I can’t be entertaining all the time. Before I know it, they feel comfortable enough with me to make little comments when something is “boring” (is there anything worse??) I’ve learned that I can’t please 150 twelve year olds all the time, but I do try.

I didn’t plan on writing about school today, I guess I just have some of that start-of-the-year anxiety. What I really wanted to talk about was the fact that I finished eight more pages in my Art of Happiness book.

I’ve been working on this book in spurts for the last four summers. Usually when I start working on it again, I re-read everything I’ve already done. It’s interesting to me to see how my choice of words for the poetry has changed from when I started writing it. I don’t have dates for when I completed the pages, but I can remember events that were occurring at different times while I was working on it. I can get a good idea of when I was feeling blue or when I was feeling more positive. It all comes through in my color and word choices as they unfold on the page.

The Art of Happiness – Page 49

Once school starts, my art has to go on the back-burner again. That’s one of the things that makes returning to work so difficult. I always have to remind myself that I’m lucky that I got so much time to myself in the first place, it’s just that it goes by so fast. Like the last four years working in this book. Four years! Where did they go?

11 thoughts on “The Happiness Continues

  1. Note: I tried to post this on the Alzheimer & Art post but it wouldn’t let me…so I am trying another path…WOW. Happened to wander into your blog via a search. This is an absolutely wonderful tribute to you and your mom. I’ve forwarded it to other folks and posted in on a wiki I share with some friends. Thank you for sharing your heart. The photos are breath-taking. A walk into your mom’s creative spirit. Beautiful work.

  2. Your work is gorgeous! Recently bitten by the treated text book myself, I cannot put away my Sharpies for very long.

    Kudos to you on your art/poetry, AND for teaching those kids. They don’t know how lucky they are. Ever think of letting them “deface” a book page as an in class project?

    I’ll be back to see more, and to visit your gallery pages. Inspiring!

  3. Karen, I have been following your Art of Happiness for a long time and I love it when you add new pages. Each page shows a part of your soul. It relates to us all because it shows the way we are up and down in any given moment.
    My husband has Early onset Alzheimer’s(diagnosed 5 years ago but showed signs at 56 years old) Whenever I feel as though it is more than I can take I check your website to read the Art of Happiness pages.
    Tonite I found your musings about your mom and I thought “okay, that is the draw I have to your wonderful art”…You took what your mom could do and made it an artform. You find what is inside yourself and others and transport it to a visual media!
    Voila! My husband was an artist and musician you have helped inspired me to find a way to keep his spirit alive though his mind is many times somewhere else. Thank you for sharing all that you are.

  4. Mary Ann~
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write. It makes me so happy to know that you are enjoying the Art of Happiness book. You know, when I reread the pages, it amazes me that I am often able to create something that feels so personal from words that were written by someone else! Isn’t that strange? And then to have you, and others, enjoy and relate to the poetry, it helps me to remember the way in which words have the power to connect us together.

    I’m so sorry about your husband. I hope you can find some little fragments of beauty here and there as you struggle with his illness. I know it’s not easy, but I’m sure you’ll find a way.


  5. I came across your blog googling die de los muertos ideas and couldn’t stop looking! As artist and art teacher I love how you incorporate the most random items to make beautiful art! We have a small budget at our school so your altered books sound like a great project for later in the year. Thanks for being so committed to your art but putting it, and your tips, on display for all to see. I can’t even keep up with my blog! Lady, you rock!

  6. In a search for symbols of past cultures I stumbled upon your pages. I found your online collection, but also your altered books. They are fascinating to look through. You are incredibly creative, and I must bookmark your pages to return and continue to read on. Thank you so much for doing all of this.

  7. I happened across your site while looking for pictures of easter bunnies. I love the old postcards and graphics that you have available, they remind me of my Grandmother’s postcards.

    I can see that you have spent a great amount of time selecting the best quality art an I appreciate it.

    I’d like you to visit a site that you might find interesting, it’s This is the home page for Heritage Makers, an online publishing company. You can own your own publishing account and it’s free. If you visit the site, you can find information about me and I’d be happy to tell you more.

    I think you’d enjoy being able to preserve much of what you’ve spent so much time gathering in a hard bound book. It’s a great place to save and share your mother’s story.

    Christie Thomas

  8. I am taking an altered books class and was searching the web for info on altered books when I came across your website. I have spent the last 90 minutes loving your art and musings. Thank you for all the work you have put into creating this website and sharing your art – you have a given me that warm glow of inspiration.

  9. Karen, surely I’m not the first person to say this, it’s so clear to me. Why can’t you somehow incorporate your art into a project or two for the kids? Your ‘Art of Happiness’ is a perfect example,, found poetry, maybe teach them to be grammatically correct even tho they’re restricted to use only words on the page. With art completely disappearing from middle school and you being an ARTIST and TEACHER ,,, I mean how lucky can those kids be! I worked yesterday with 4 boys for history day projects, they don’t know how to paint, stencil, be neat, be creative, how to hold a paint brush, how to problem solve with lines and space and why not learn all that using literature, storytelling and grammar???

    Gosh I’m happy I found your blog! You’ve inspired me today!

  10. Thanks for creating this site. I recently went through a hard time and decided to chronicle it by making a collage. It will be a mixture of my sadness, yet my hope that things will be okay. Creating for me helps me to experience my loss in a healthy way!
    Thank you for all the ideas and inspiration.

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