When I was teaching, I used to post reminders to myself around my desk. Some of these were very practical, such as acronyms I made up to remember my data entry password or computer login and others were more philosophical – meant to be used as springboards for lesson plans or guiding principles for educational practice.

One of my favourite statements was by Alfred North Whitehead – an English mathematician and scholar:

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.

When overwhelmed with the press of new concepts in education, I would glance at this saying and imagine how to adapt an old framework (order) to a new idea (change.) Conversely, when I felt myself clinging to old methods,  I would contemplate ways to introduce novelty.

Other random notes that decorated my workspace were messages from students, or snippets from their writing. Some made me laugh through inadvertent misuse of words  –

  • my blood work came back and the doctor thinks I might be amoebic;
  • Simon in Lord of the Flies was a real flossifer;
  • the sealers trapped on the iceberg survived on flubber (Disney meets Canadian poetry.)

Other messages floored me with their beauty: How did I sleep through the floods of diamond rain, a thousand visions shining in the darkness?

Now that I’ve retired, the messages I record have changed somewhat. My desk area is usually clutter free but under the desk pad are several slips of paper with very random statements on them: lists of flowers I saw on a run, reminders of how to win at Scrabble (they don’t work too well), ideas for organizing pictures, notes on topics I need to Google. Even though these memos have changed, there is still a constant mix of common sense and abstraction in them.


At our entry way, there are three etched stones arranged on a table along with other artifacts I’ve gathered. They read, Joy, Welcome and Harmony. I like the idea of being welcomed into my own home each time I enter and the other two messages encourage me to seek balance and to delight in that which is around me. The other items on the table recall excursions and events. They convey messages with no need for words and I find them beautiful.  The table is a handy spot to store the pruners, too.

Also inspirational to me however, are the phrases I finally recorded in the woodshed next to the somewhat neatly coiled extension cord. Halfway through unravelling the cord yet again, I was struck with the idea of writing myself a reminder that I should expect frustration whenever I use a cord or hose or rope. It cheered me up and stopped my cursing as I went in the house to find a felt pen. I even started to laugh while writing the message on the post, especially when the pen ran out part way through the message. There’s a special kind of beauty in this kind of reminder. It seems like Mr Whitehead’s reminder to seek order amid change has stuck with me with regard to the fusion of practicality and philosophy in my life.


One thought on “Signs

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