Writers write.

“I sure hope you write today,” said the text from my friend, and a wave of guilt washed over me, an emotion I am sure she never dreamed her quick message might summon.

I AM a writer. Since my earliest memories, I have loved writing. As a child, I created short story after short story. In high school and college, I thrived on drafting, writing, editing, and rewriting essays. Today, I make lists. I journal. I send letters. I post on Facebook. I leave Post-it notes with affirmations for students or colleagues. I write editorials on occasion. I send motivational emails. For years, I have taught young adults to write, often challenging even the best writers to write better. Why wouldn’t someone who believed in my ability urge me to write?

I AM a writer, so why did the invitation to participate in a public sharing of ideas excite me – inspire me – but panic me – fill me with fear? Weeks before, I had jumped at the opportunity to join fellow writers, quickly saying yes to a writing project in a public forum. My friend’s words carried a positive intention; she meant to encourage me to share my words with the world. Little did she know my emotional response was deeply rooted in my own decades-long fear of rejection. What if my words didn’t make sense? What if my thoughts rambled? What if no one read my heart’s message?

For years, students, colleagues, and family have encouraged me to write – to share my stories – to mentor through the written word. Emilee occasionally asks me how my book is coming along. Laurel, often in the middle of our conversations, exclaims, “You need to write!” Darvoni even asks when I’m going to produce my TedTalk. The invitation to join an online group of writers vulnerable enough to share their craft came at the right time, right at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic when I found myself with a more flexible schedule, and still I found myself overthinking the format of the blog, making excuses to not step fully into the project, to protect myself from opinions of others.

Ruth’s five simple words “I hope you write today” echoed those of one of my favorite fictional teachers, Miss Pointy. In Sahara Special, this brilliant teacher simply pens “Writers write” in Sahara’s writer’s notebook. Through the relationship between Miss Pointy and Sahara, a fifth grader struggling with her own abandonment issues created by her parents’ divorce, readers watch Miss Pointy masterfully nurture Sahara as a writer, as a student, as a human. With patience, Miss Pointy grows this young writer’s confidence, and in the end, Sahara realizes writers do write.

Like everyone else on this planet, sometimes, all I need is a little nudge; a few words often carry more weight than the writer intended. Sometimes, all I need is the patient observations of someone who believes in me. Sometimes, all I need is to just begin.

After all, I AM a writer, and writers write. #sosmagic

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us.

Defining the Emotional Self

As I continue to evolve, I am keenly aware of the importance of emotions.  If I’m not careful, emotions drive my response or my reaction to a situation, and typically, these emotional responses do not represent my best self.  Once, when my son played youth league baseball, my frustration and disappointment in the umpire, just a college student, as well as the heightened emotions of other verbal parents in the stands, led me to angrily call the person in charge of hiring umpires for our small town’s summer leagues.  Fortunately, this man was also a friend, one capable of forgiving me for my tirade over something so inconsequential to the world.  It was definitely not one of my finer moments.  Emotions, as I have experienced time and again, have incredible influence on behavior.

What exactly are emotions, and what role do they play in my life?  Within the category of emotions, great differences exist.  Some, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, are occurrences while others are dispositions.  Some emotions, like my anger over apparent errors of an umpire, are short-lived; others, though, like grief, linger or are long-lived.  Sometimes, we are aware of our emotions, but at other times, we are completely unaware or unconscious of the emotions.  At times, our facial expressions reflect our emotion such as surprise, and then at other times, such as with regret, our faces do not.

As I start to dig into emotions – the role they play in my healing – my understanding of the universe – my untangling of myself, I need to consider what researchers have determined as the three traditions:  emotions as feelings, emotions as evaluations, and emotions as motivations. What I have found at this point in my research, though, is a lot of disagreement among those who study emotions.  And, as I suspected, the study of emotion is quite complicated, but so incredibly important.

In order to understand emotions, I must recognize that they are (1) a key “part of core consciousness;” (2) reflect my “core goals and needs;” (3) categorized into negative and positive systems which either spur me to avoid a threat or indicate a chance for opportunity; (4) a way to “prepare and individual for action;” and (4) different for individuals base on their trait neuroticism (“Understanding Emotions and How to Process Them” at http://www.psychologytoday.com).   With this insight, I will be able to create a better framework for evaluating my own emotions as well as develop a deeper comprehension of how these emotions influence my behavior towards and my reactions to others as well as to myself.

My journey in untangling who I am as a human being has been long, but it has not always been intentional.  In fact, for most of my life, I ignored my emotions.  Today, I understand that I either self-medicate with food or I lose myself in taking care of others.  Five years ago, though, I promised to love myself enough to dig into or self-excavate who I am – to ask myself the hard life questions: what motivates me? How can I be the best version of myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually?  This quest has led me to the realization that I must understand my emotions, and often, I must sit with them, even when that requires me to sit with the most uncomfortable of emotions. 

And, as I define emotions in general, and more importantly, as I recognize my emotions, especially as they are occurring – as I explore the roots of my emotions – as I lean deeply into the emotions that hurt the most, then, and only then, I will be able to define myself.

Towards a Moral Revolution

I’ve never been one to listen to podcasts, and yet, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic this spring, I have lost myself in conversations on Unlocking Us, On Being, and the Happy Place. From these raw, often vulnerable conversations, I have begun to uncover myself – finding others who think like I do – whose experiences reflect my own – whose thoughts affirm my own. I have been pleasantly surprised by my sheer joy in hearing these discussions between important people. This joy springs from understanding that no matter our lot in life, our stories are often hold similar threads.

On a more recent episode of One Being, Krista Tippett interviewed entrepreneur Jacqueline Novogratz, and their discussion included her recent work Manifesto for a Moral Revolution. The podcast is one I have listened to multiple times, so many times because I felt like was listening to a friend – someone who truly understands my heart – my desire to leave this world a better place than I found it, not just at the end of my life, but every day – every day I should leave the world a better place with my footprint.

At points in my life, I’ve wondered if I’m too idealistic – if my dreams are too big. And yet, I am an eternal optimist, and I am an idealist. Even when I misplace my rose-colored glasses, I usually find them within a few days. In the interview, Novogratz reflects on realizing that we should dream dreams so big they cannot be accomplished in our lifetime. Along the way, though, we should intentionally empower others around us to not only fulfill our dreams but imagine their own larger than life dreams.

This idea of creating dreams so large they cannot be realized in my lifetime is liberating. My dreams typically envision a radically different K-12 public education system – one that is truly student-centered – one that draws on the natural curiosity of children and offers them ownership of their knowledge through inquiry, discovery, failure, collaboration, and celebration. Occasionally, I have felt like I am beating my head against a wall – change is so incredibly slow.

Yet, Novogratz’s observation reminds me of the power of my work. While many of the preservice teachers with whom I have the privilege to work will continue the status quo, slipping into the expectations of their administrators and colleagues – afraid to push back too much. In many ways, I understand this fear; I don’t blame them. It’s hard to shift a system as deeply rooted as the American public education system.

While my dream of a transformed educational system may not be fulfilled in my lifetime, for nearly two decades, I have worked with pre-service teachers who embrace their potential for unlocking the fetters of the standardized world of 21st century schools. A few understand the agency of children and young adults, educators who see themselves as side-by-side learners with their students.One, two, or several of these young educators will eventually push my dream even further. If I do it right, several will be so empowered they will create change within their own classrooms – their own schools – their own school corporations – and perhaps even the state or nation.

But this my dream. In fact, it is just one of many of my dreams. Ultimately, though, it is important that I dream. For these dreams inspire me to seek understanding – to finetune my discussion points – to find ways to make my vision palpable for others so I’m not just a dreamer.

In the end, it is important that each of us dreams so magnificently that we cannot fulfill them in this lifetime, but we can chase after them, taking others with us, empowering them by whatever means to carry out those visions as well as dream their own. After all, that is how change happens isn’t it?

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Silence of Compliance

Quietly, ever so quietly, walk single file down the hall.  Don’t marvel at the colorful artwork on the walls.  Put your hands behind your back, and please, do not get excited by the electricity of the other 8-year-olds standing near you.  Do not give in to the desire to be silly – to smile brightly – to ask the question tickling your tongue.  Put a bubble in your mouth, and maintain level zero.  Absolute silence, demands the gentle teacher, the one you’ve been asked to trust – the one with the gentle voice – the one who taught you how to unlock the magic of letters and words.  And so, you bite your tongue and choke back the questions about the posters on the walls – or the poem hanging outside the library door, or the maintenance happening on the water fountain.  You lock your eyes on the back of the head just in front of you, and you do as you are asked.  You walk silently down the hallway.

Regardless of their backgrounds, children enter schools with decades-long, well-constructed parameters or rules for acceptable behavior.  Children, sometimes still sucking their thumbs and needing naps, quickly learn to abide by these deeply rules.  If they desire to please the adults with whom they spend six – seven hours with every day, they become fluent in the language of compliance.  From their first introduction to school, children learn the importance of rules – of not rocking the boat – of maintaining the status quo.  As long as they do their work, sit quietly in their seats, raise their hands and wait to be acknowledged, they find success; their “good” behavior is affirmed time and time again.  They learn not to question authority, for if they do – even for a good cause – they face consequences – they are branded with a label that follows them from grade-level to grade-level.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people find themselves silent, even when the burgeoning sound of revolution pounds at their doors?  To speak out, even when they are sickened by the systemic shackles placed on their friends, elicits the shame they felt early in childhood  when they chose to follow their childlike instinct and  laughed out loud – swayed back and forth while standing in line – or whispered excitedly to a friend.  From the earliest moments in most American schools, children are indoctrinated into compliance.  As institutions, schools silences children and demand they not question authority; after all, the rules have always been in place, and after all, the rules are there to protect children.

This country is screaming – begging – urging- even shaming its people to find their voices – to rock the boat – to say loudly to those who create the systems “enough is enough.”  And they are.  Despite the childhood immersion into silent compliance, young Americans are finding the courage to use their voices.  Many are still caught in the grips of knowing their voice matter and the years of conditioning to comply.  Challenging their parents’ beliefs – or questioning their friend’s racist nuances – or asking institutions why they have antiquated policies – takes courage – takes a deep sense of self.

Is it any wonder, then, that it is time to nurture the inquisitive, excited, collaborative nature of children – to teach them the joys of discussion – the benefit of asking why?  If schools desire to fully educate critically thinking citizen who will shatter and reconstruct systems, then they must begin with a close inspection of their own practices – of their own immersion into compliance. Now is not the time for level zero.  Now is not the time for silence and straight lines.  Now is not the time to wait for the nod of the teacher’s head before uniformly stepping forward through the hall.  Now is the time for action.  Now is the time for hard questions.  Now is the time for voice.

Isolation through Labor

Two weeks ago, fourteen days of isolation evoked anxiety, an emotion so powerful I physically felt its strangling fingers around my throat and its clenched fist in my stomach.  And yet, the unequivocal love of a mother stirred loudly.  If I wanted to spend time with my child who has a chemo-induced compromised immune system, I could handle a fortnight of no quick trips to the Market Place for fresh eggs – of no popping into CVS for a Diet Coke – of no social distanced gatherings.  If I wanted to spend time with my child, I could handle the 288 hours of time alone. 

I also knew that to confront my anxiety head on, I would need a plan of action, one intent on the excavation of myself.  The plan not only included reading and writing, but it included hours of manual labor, hours of time with hands in the dirt, hands on a wheelbarrow, hands on a shovel.

Two projects awaited me, the finishing of the dog run installed this spring and the planting of a garden.  Both projects involved working the earth, breaking up clumps of soil, transplanting perennials, and hauling wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow loads of stone – 114 loads, in fact. 

Working the earth with my hands – dividing overgrown plants – pruning bushes – moving stone – kneeling to plant the vegetables left me happily exhausted, rejuvenated, and accomplished.  The anxiety gripping me on day one quietly retreated, and after the third day, I settled into a rhythm of working during the cooler morning hours outside in the humidity and searing sun before turning my attention to Zoom meetings and academic projects. 

I often lost myself in thought, envisioning what could be instead of ruminating of what wasn’t.  Hours slipped into days, and days slipped quickly into two weeks.  I no longer feared being alone.  I felt connected to the universe as I watched the wriggling worms or tiny toads find solace under untouched leaves or grass as I uncovered their hiding places. I explored parts of my yard neglected for two years, and I emerged more whole.  I am more aware of my strength – physical, mental, and emotional.

And at the end of two weeks, I realized everything is just as it should be.

The beginning stages
The finished project