Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

For the past five years or so, I’ve been comparing what my mom had been doing when she was my age. She died about a month after her 55th birthday, hence this preoccupation. This vantage point has given me clarity, and caused me to pursue my interests and beliefs with intensity. Everything has purpose: from a household that supports and nurtures my sons, to traveling near and far, to gain new experiences. I dance – in the words of one of my dance friends – to survive. It provides me with exercise, a social outlet, and it immerses me in arts and culture.

Back in June of this year, many of us here in town walked or ran a charity 5K. The photo taken of me that day turned out to be a qualifier; after the walk, I continued to walk, straight into the Weight Watchers store! Checking myself in again that day ended up changing my lifestyle. Our “The Skinny” writer, the inspirational Amy Brunell deserves credit for sure, but don’t tell: I am not following traditional program guidelines right now! Still, in the months since June, I’ve lost 11 painless pounds. “Painless,” because something clicked and I experienced a paradigm shift. I finally learned how to feel hunger (or lack thereof). I began to eat less, yet be more active.

This is obviously not as easy as eating less and exercising more, however. It’s not even about food, or about eating or exercising at all. It is more about finally setting out on the journey of striving for success.

Just before Back-to-School Night this September, I wrote four things on my white board, to remind myself to bring them up during my presentation to parents. I believe that these steps, if followed in order, will lead to success in anything from weight loss to academics. They are: structure, confidence, creativity, and what I call, “125%.”

“Structure” relates to organization, or form. I am a stickler in the classroom about procedures, and, in “real life,” this is where following laws, from dietary to civil, comes into play to create and maintain a basis for action. If you start by organizing yoruself, clearing your space, knowing where things are, knowing right from wrong, and, most importantly, setting priorities, you can be confident to move forward onto next steps. At the school level, we often start with a syllabus, which tells students what they need in order to be prepared for class. We then establish procedures for entering the room, homework collection, and grading. From the ten commandments, to the Confucian analects, to the United States Constitution, to the “norms” that we are now fond of setting up for teamwork, to building a house, we humans need to start with establishing structure. As Albert Einstein said, “you first have to learn the rules of the game, and then play them better than anyone else.”

Everyone might agree with my first “precept,” but here’s something different: the second element a person needs for success is confidence. I often see people falter in their decision-making. They question themselves, they feel they need more time, that they are not worthy of taking a particular step. a decision. They sometimes end up putting things off…indefinitely. But there is a timing to decision-making. From something as frivolous as deciding to take a trip somewhere; time passes, and the variables change. I recently heard a quote about how baseball is a great sport for learning how to fail. You have lots of individual opportunities up at bat, but most of them do not result in bases loaded home runs, so you take losses in your stride, and you keep going. Nike’s “Just Do It” really says it all. I have some weird sets of rules designed to make students comfortable with making mistakes and stamping out perfectionism. They include: working only in pen, being willing to cross out mistakes (no “White Out” allowed) and keep writing, no crushing or tearing up papers, no “seconds” on handouts when/if they “mess up,” to name a few.

Structure and confidence, in other words, knowing what the rules are, and being willing to make mistakes, gives you the latitude to break them. It’s kind of like poetry. If you learn the relatively strict structure of a sonnet, and you are willing to try to write one, and make mistakes while you’re at it, you could end up creating a beautiful, free verse, poem. When visiting modern art galleries, i’ve often felt like i could have splattered paint all over a canvas, like Jackson Pollack. It looks like a two-year-old can do that artwork, but, a two year old doesn’t have the knowledge of what art was before Jackson Pollack and his contemporaries came along, and you or I might have been able to do what he did, but, we didn’t. Having confidence, or, as is said in Yiddish, chutzpah, is what leads to creativity. And creativity can be defined as the transformation of traditional ideas, patterns, rules or relationships into new and meaningful forms, interpretations and methods.

Finally, what I usually refer to as “125%” is the essence of going over the top. It is what is required to pursue creative ideas into acceptance. At the Los Angeles Music Center this past summer, we learned how Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” created a stir in the arts community of the time, and how it broke the rules of music, dance and theatre.

I was brought up on my father’s favorite quote by Oscar Wilde, “Moderation is a fatal thing; nothing succeeds like excess.” These days, the kids’ slang term calls you “extra,” which is meant to be a criticism, but I take it as a compliment. Obsession for good things is positive, not negative, as the connotation may sound. For example, I was obsessed with Japanese culture from the age of ten, that’s why I’m fluent now. You must have passion for what you do, the energy to pursue it, and the enthusiasm to share it with others. You must commit.

Dance illustrates this beautifully. One dance instructor tells us, “put a foot forward,” and “commit” with that foot. Another dance teacher tells women to hold their arms “like a Barbie doll.” Dancers extend their extremities to the extreme, and hold their bodies taut. Fingers are straight and extended, toes are pointed. You can actually feel 125%. When you dance at 125%, you are communicating devotion, and your energy is felt by your partner(s) or any audience you may have.

Unlike my mother, I do hope to still be alive at 55. Like both my mother and father, however, who pursued their lives with zeal and zest, and taught me to do the same, our “ki” (気) in Japanese, or the more familiar Chinese “chi” or “qi” also known as “the force” in Star Wars, lives on.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

25 Comments

  1. Dear Ms. Morris,
    This was by far my favorite article that I’ve read from you. I can relate to the whole article (especially the part about confidence). If anyone knows me, they know I’m a perfectionist, and feel an immense amount of guilt for not being 100% perfect. In the text you said, “I have some weird sets of rules designed to make students comfortable with making mistakes and stamping out perfectionism.” This shows that you don’t mind us making mistakes, which boosts my confidence and makes me more comfortable in class.

    Also, in the fourth paragraph, you spelled the word yourself as “yoruself.” I hate to point it out, but you mentioned that you like us correcting you.

  2. Dear Ms. Morris,
    I really liked this article that you wrote. you are a great writer. I am very sorry about your mother and i hope too that you will still be alive at 55. One thing I really liked about your article is you put quotes in from famous people. i also like how you encourage the confidence in children that it is alright to make mistakes. I am really enjoying reading your articles. Thank you.

  3. Dear Ms. Morris,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. It is also one of my favorites that you have written. I am so sorry to hear about your mother. I truly believe that structure, confidence, and creativity are very important. I think that establishing class procedures is a very good idea so that the students know what to do right away when they walk into the classroom. It also ties in with organization because when you’re structured it forces you to be organized and tidy. It is good to be organized because you focus and work better. I also really like the expression ” you first have to learn the rules of the game, and then play them better than anyone else.”

    Just a note: I think that in the 7th paragraph you forgot to capitalize two of your eyes.

  4. Dear Ms. Morris,
    This was by far my favorite article that you wrote. I am so sorry about your mom and I wish that you can live a longer life. I like that you encourage me that it is ok if I make a mistake. And I agree with you that us students should be organized and focused to work better. Thank you for making articles for us. Thank you.

  5. Dear Ms. Morris,
    I enjoyed reading this very inspired article. This might have been the most interesting articles that you have ever written and I have ever read. I didn’t quite understand the purpose or reason of writing about something that could be so useless yet useful in life. I also caught the mistake of the non capitalized i’s in the seventh paragraph. I also recall that on your white board at school you had written that structure, confidence, and creativity equals 125%. This makes total sense to me and I hope that one day my structure, confidence, and creativity will pay off and I will earn a 125%. See you on Wednesday.

  6. In the blog Ms. Morris talks about comparing herself with her mother. I think that can be a very good method to help us evaluate ourselves and learn what our parents did at that time so we can either copy or change what they did to help us succeed. Another thing that was mentioned in the blog was that we should put 125% in everything we do. I agree with this statement because when you set your goals high you can achive great things. Thanks Ms Morris for the inspiration.

  7. dear mrs.morris this article was very good, I like how you compare youself to your mother. something else was the methods were very good and useful. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Hi Ms. Morris,

    I really loved your article. The part about your mom reminds me of my mom. She lost her mom early too. Her mom died at 47 and I know my mom also thinks about what her mom would be doing at her age. I wish I could have met her mom. I like where you wrote, “obsession for good things is positive, not negative…” Sometimes I become “obsessed” with things and when they are positive obsessions they help me to get better at whatever it is. I also liked where you wrote, “You must have passion for what you do, the energy to pursue it, and the enthusiasm to share it with others. You must commit.” I know that’s true for me when I do musical theatre at the Morgan Wixson. There’s so many rehearsals and late nights and it’s hard to balance it with school, but having passion for it gives me the “energy and enthusiasm” to keep at it.

    Thank you for sharing this article. I really loved it.

    Ethan Schyman

  9. Dear Ms.Morris,
    Your article was very inspiring to me. I got to learn a lot from it. Paradigm shift in one’s thinking from negative to positive helps achieve goals. The structure and discipline that you enforce in the classroom helps us not only in the classroom, but also in our day to day lives. As you mentioned in this article, “The second element a person needs for success is confidence,” I agree that having confidence helps achieve success. You encourage students to be comfortable with making mistakes, which leads to improvement, when we learn from our mistakes. I also agree with you that passion to achieve a goal eventually leads to success. I’m sorry about your mother’s demise, but I pray that you have a long and healthy life! Thank you for this wonderful article!:)

  10. Hi Ms.Morris,
    I just want to say that this article helped me reflect on how I think about things and the different viewpoints that are all valid. You mentioned In the article that “I have some weird sets of rules designedtomake students comfortable with making mistakes and stamping out perfectionism.” I used to think that I had to do everything perfectly or I would get in trouble. But in your class,I’ve found that making mistakes isn’t so bad after all. I think it’s easier to just cross out mistakes and you would accept them as if there were no marks or crossed out words. I think that has helped me understand that it’s not as bad as I think it is to make mistakes. I thank you for helping me discover that this year.

  11. I think this was a great article it shows me that I should do as much in my life as I can even though my dream is to become a computer designer I won’t be someone who use their life to just play video games even though I love them thank you again for this great article-

  12. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I really enjoyed your article. I agree that you need confidence to do well in life. If you have confidence you can do anything you set your mind to!!! I also agree that going 125% and beyond helps you to be creative because when doing so, you go farther than you ever thought you could. All the words on the board go hand in hand in making yourself more and more creative and doing better in life and school. Regarding your mother, I am terribly sorry about her passing. I feel that with your strong spirit and active lifestyle you will live a long and happy life. I think that it is important to use pens in class so that if we make a mistake we can just cross it out instead of erasing it. I try to do this in all my classes. This is important to do like you said in the article it gets rid of perfectionist ideas. It also makes us feel better about ourselves when we make a mistake, because doing this makes us realize that we are humans and make mistakes and that is okay.

  13. I really like this article. I hope you live way past 55 years old. You are one of the best writers I know. I love how you don’t care if we make mistakes and you still don’t get mad at us. I like how we can be creative in our writing and that helps our confidence.

    In the fourth paragraph you misspelled the word yourself and put “yoruself”.

  14. I really found your article interesting. First, I was sad that your mom died a month after she turned 55. I am very close to my mom and I can identify with learning from mothers. I really like the sentence you talk about having passion for what you do and about committing to your passion. I like to do many things, like swimming, acting, sewing and taking pictures. I love to share these things with my friends and family, and when I do, it gives me greater energy to do them even more. I really liked that sentence. Thank you.

  15. For starters I would like to say that I am sorry about your mother and I too hope that you live to be over 55. To start I have always been low on confidence in a way. I have been afraid to fail. I figured that If I cant do it right the first time why do it at all? But ever since I have been in your class I have found that in order to succeed you have to fail at some point. I have found that your system of only using pen has allowed me to grow in my range of vocabulary. And not only that but other things as well. You have made me realize that we are all human and its okay to make mistakes.

  16. Dear Ms. Morris
    I really like the article that you just made on the fourth of October it is a really nice article and I look forward to seeing some more articles soon. I feel really bad that your mother died a month after her birthday. Ever since I have been in your class I see that I am almost close to failing but after I saw this article I know I needed those extra 15 point so I won’t fail your class. I also liked that in this article you have been comparing you and your mom. Also this article is one of my favorite articles that I have ever read. You also made a typo on this article as well. Thank You.

  17. Dear Ms. Morris,
    This was one of my favorite articals I have read from you. I’m so sorry about hearing about your mothers death.I really got inspired from this artical. You wrote about so many things that I know so many people can relate to. Especially about confidence! So many people don’t have a lot of self confidence but from reading your article it made me realize that you understand everyone is not perfect. In this article you said, ”I have some weird sets of rules designed to make students comfortable with making mistakes and stamping out perfectionism.”’. From reading that line it made me know you don’t mind us making mistakes.

  18. Great story Ms. Morris,
    After reading your story I am more excited to try and give my 125%. I tend to not give my fullest effort. Like you I look up to my parents and I know that it would make them happy to know I’m giving everything I do my 125%. Few errors I found. Paragraph 5 has yourself misspelled. Paragraph 7 has I’ve not capitalized.

  19. Dear Ms. Morris,
    First I want to say this article was one of my favorite articles you have shown us.It was so interesting and made me want to read more and more of it. This article really influenced me. I’m sorry to hear about the lost of your mother. From reading this article it made me realize that not being perfect is okay. In the article you said, “I have some weird sets of rules designed to make students comfortable with making mistakes and stamping out perfectionism”. From this article I learned that it’s okay not to be perfect. I really enjoy the rule you have about only pens because it makes me way more cautious about my writing.

  20. Hi Ms.Morris, I think this article will help people get confidence because they can use 125%. I am not sure what 125% means but I am guessing it means better than 100%. “I believe that these steps, if followed in order, will lead to success in anything from weight loss to academics. They are: structure, confidence, creativity, and what I call, “125%.” I think this will help a lot of students with everyday life.

  21. Hi Ms. Morris,
    This article you wrote is absolutely amazing and inspiring. I think that it is really great that you dance, and anyone can see that you definitely have a true passion for it! After reading this article, I have to say it really motivated and inspired me to always be at “125%!” I really like that concept! Everyday, when I need a little motivation and confidence, I will make sure to push myself to be at 125%. I also love where you said “Obsession for good things is positive, not negative,” because I tend to obsess over good things very often, but they help me along the path to my success. You have reminded me that it is not a bad thing to obsess over those good things because they are not negative. You also have taught me that being imperfect is ok, because every human makes mistakes and making mistakes is okay because they help us learn! All in all, this is is a truly amazing and inspiring article, and I have learned a lot from just reading those paragraphs. You are a phenomenal writer Ms. Morris! Thank you.
    Sincerely, your student Kaija Lopez

  22. dear ms. Morris, I think this article is a really good one. it really relates to me having to be organized like how if you are not prepared for a basketball game it is harder to pay attention to the game if you have to get your shoes on or if you forget your jersey at home you wont be able to play.

  23. Dear Ms. Morris,
    Thank You for sharing your articles with us. This is one of my favorites. I do agree with you that these steps, if followed will lead to success in anything pursued which are: structure, confidence, creativity, and giving more than “100%.”
    This article is very inspiring. Structure and discipline are important in our day to day lives. Having confidence leads to success and creativitiy. Reading about your parents tells me that you have close ties with them and that they are both very special. Thank you for being open and sharing your personal life stories and experiences with us. This article will remind me to always give “125%” in all that I do!

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