I am a Writer

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself that you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

13 years ago, my son came bounding off the bus and ran to me waiting in the car at the end of the lane. Eagerly, he thrust his black-and-white marbled notebook at me, and announced, “I am a writer! I’m not a great speller, but I AM a writer.”

As a mom, some memories are etched so deeply, they are indelible. This sunny, fall afternoon exchange between mother and son was more than a fleeting moment. For someone who fell in love with reading and writing as a child, this moment felt like a kiss on the forehead, a deep bow to the universal human connection through words.

You see, I, too, am a writer.

Recently, one of my writing mentors invited us to consider ourselves as writers, to describe our writing selves. Immediately, I began to think of the type of writer I am not. Primarily, I am not dedicated and focused. I write in bits and starts, often in the early morning when I first wake up. I have grand intentions of writing essays and books that unveil the beauty of life – the magnificence that exists even in the ugliness and heartache of it all. These grand intentions are reflected in the numerous journals and writing notebooks half-filled and the several unfinished essays and book outlines I have saved on my laptop.

But the invitations asked me to consider the type of writer I am, not my self-defined shortcomings as a writer.

I am a writer of uplifiting posts, for I believe words are better spent lifting and guiding others than wounding and tearing down. I am a writer of intentional tweets sent into the universe – hopeful one human will think a little differently. I am a prolific writer of personal notes – notecards sent to current and former students, left on the doorstep of a friend with a box of her favorite tea, or carefully tucked into a box of cookies and taken to the post office for someone I don’t get to see often.

In my own home, I have boxes of notes my family, friends, and students have written. Cards from long-gone grandparents with their careful handwriting telling me about their days, expressing guinine interest in my own. Handwritten letters from my parents, and numerous one-of-a-kind, handmade cards crafted by my father in his studio. Hundreds of notes, store-bought and handmade cards from students who have learned the power of words.

I am writing because I am a writer. Someday, I may actually write a book or have an article published, but then again, I may not. And whether I write over multiple sittings or whether I ever really finish a piece is not of importance. What matters is that I come bounding into the world eager to announce I AM A WRITER. #MakeRoomForJoy #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. #sosmagic

Be the Person You Needed

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the person you were intended to be.” ~Oprah~

A few months ago, one of the young women I mentor reminded me of something I had told her – something she had taken to heart and had put into practice. I often don’t remember specifically what I say when I’m having coffee or lunch, Facetiming, or walking around campus with a student; instead, I speak from my heart, knowing that when I speak my truth, and use my story to help them navigate their own journeys, I can’t go wrong. After all, when you love someone, you allow yourself to be vulnerable – sincere – real. And love comes easy for me.

In a long, two-part text, my young friend mentioned advice I had previously offered her: “focus on things you CAN control” and “find your yellow,” a reference to seeking and spreading kindness and love. Something else she observed, though, gave me pause. Regardless of whether I was the team mom, she reflected, and regardless of whether or not she was a softball player, she is confident I was put in her life for a reason. The text continued with reminding me that I had told her I try to be the woman I needed when I was a young woman trying to figure out adulthood. She wrote, “you told me to be the person I needed,” and “that hit home. Changed my whole view on my future. I WANT to be that person.”

What this young woman doesn’t realize, though, is that she already IS that woman. She is recognizing her own worth – her own power – her own influence on herself and others. As a rising college sophomore, she takes the time to check on me, someone with whom she had no connection prior to this year, because she understands the need for human connection, for nurturing, for loving people she considers family, for building community.

Mentoring young people, gives me energy, and fills me with such a clear purpose it is palpable. The clarity of my life’s purpose echoes in what I know is my soul. My parents divorced when I was ten, and while I always felt loved and nurtured, I also spent a lot of time seeking answers – affirmation – and connection. With a single father whose focus was on putting food on the table and a mom who lived over 400 miles away, I was pretty much left to my own devices to figure things out. Fortunately, I had an incredible group of friends, adults in my community who nurtured me from the perimeter, and an etermal optimism and grit that have both served me well.

Early in my life, most likely through the countless hours I lost myself in the pages of a compelling novel, I learned the power of words – of creating my own story – of being the author of my life’s adventure. As a reader, I discovered characters who encountered conflict, and sometimes trauma, and emerged slightly or dramatically different. I learned the liberating effect of being a dynamic character. If I keep that realization at the center of my attention, then I can be the woman I need her to be. I am a dynamic character, ever-evolving.

I can truly be the woman I needed when I was twelve, thirty-two, or fifty-three. She is as incredible as I need her to be for myself, and, ultimately, for others. My sweet, young friend is learning that lesson as well. What a gift to realize the cotnrol we have over who we become – what a gift.

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

Seeking a Joy-filled Life

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to learn to love the questions themselves.” Rainer Maria Rilke

The universe has a cruel sense of humor, constantly reminding us we are not in control. To underscore this lesson, life is filled with moments of intense pain – physical pain that reminds us of our own mortality, and emotional pain that aches so badly we can’t breathe. Fear and sadness, anger and frustration, as well as disappointment and angst, weave themselves through our days sometimes so tightly we can’t move.

And yet, as conflicting as it sounds, when we lean into these darkest moments, we have the opportunity to find joy. Yes, find joy. Some spiritual practices believe that when we embrace the gift of suffering, we gain a heightened ability to delight in even the most simple moments in our lives. Within this recognition, joy, in its purest form, occurs.

Arriving to this space, though, and not getting hung up on the suffering or even the joy, requires patience and practice; when we finally achieve this balance, we are truly in the moment. It has taken me quite awhile to figure out this secret, and I certainly have not achieved some sort of euphoric state where I transcend all emotions. Instead, I have shifted my perspective to sincerely seek joy in even the most unimaginable moments of life. It isn’t easy, but it is important.

Search for the lesson: For six years, I have worked on living intentionally, on living an authentic, present life. These six years, as well as the decades that preceded them have been filled with traumatic moments, disquieting moments that have filled me with fear and uncertainty. Since December of 2019, though, some of the darkest moments in my life have occured as I have helped my daughter navigate stage four brain cancer. To say this has been my greatest test as a human is a gross understatement. It has, however, taught me a lot about who I am as a woman.

Sitting by Elizabeth’s bed in the neuro ICU at the Ohio State James Cancer Center, I repeatedly asked, and honestly, I sometimes begged, “What am I supposed to learn from this experience? How will these moments make me a better person?” If I’m not careful, I miss the lesson, distracted by the emotion of the moment: fear, angst, sadness. To live authentically, I have to intentionally seek the lesson.

Understanding often comes in snippets, when I least expect it. I may be talking to a college student working through his or her own journey, and my own experiences offer them solace or steps of action. Sometimes clarity emerges while I’m listening to my pastor deliver his weekly sermon, and my experience connects on a much deeper level. If I focus on the lessons, the difficult moments in life serve a distinct purpose.

Feel the emotion in its purest form: One of the hardest steps in seeking a joy-filled life is recognizing the emotion as it occurs. For someone like me who would rather support others as they experience their own emotions, identifying my feelings, especially in the moment, is hard. For example, if I feel lonely, I often fill that moment by finding people with whom I can connect. Instead of feeling the loneliness and identifying the root of the loneliness or my fear of feeling lonely, I fill it quickly.

Over the last few years, I have made strides in recognizing and feeling my emotions, even the ones that scare me or make me extremely uncomfortable. This has been one of the hardest exercises in my personal journey of untangling myself. Often, the emotion from which I run has a negative memory, or memories, associated with it. However, with practice, I am learning that every emotion is fleeting and based on my perception. Understanding this, and feeling the emotion as a fleeting emotion, is liberating.

Give thanks for the moment: Regardless of what is happening, giving thanks for it is important. Gratitude for even the most difficult moments reflect a life of presence – of living in the moment. As humans, we often don’t stop to think about each moment, and as a result, we end up feeling like life is happening to us. By giving thanks for what is happening, even the moments we wish would simply slip quickly into a bad memory, we are recognizing the power of being alive. Gratitude for each moment allows us to experience the emotion and to see the lesson the universe is teaching us.

Living a joy-filled life is not impossible, but it really takes intentional work. I often fail in this quest. I get caught up in the emotion of the moment. I forget to breathe – to see a purpose – to acknolwedge the natural ebb and flow of life – to embrace the biological rythm the universe offers us. With practice, experiencing joy most of the time, even in the hardest of seasons, is possible. #MakeRoomForJoy

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

Cooking with Purpose

For most of my childhood and adolesence, I spent nearly every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. Besides traipsing around outdoors with Grandpa, hours were spent sitting at the kitchen table talking with my grandmother as she cooked. Often, I would join her in snapping green beans fresh or try my hand at frying hamburger to stir into her chili. On holidays, I would lie in the spare bedroom next to the kitchen and listen to Grandma hum as she stuffed the turkey in the early hours of the day, long before we would sit down as a family around the kitchen table.

I learned a lot from my grandmother, much more than how to cook for a large family on a blue collar budget. Perching on a chair pulled up to the counter was eventually replaced with standing next to her, chopping onions or assembling monkey bread, watching, listening, soaking in her kindness. Her lessons extended beyond knowing when the fried chicken was done. Much later, long after my weekends with her had morphed into raising my own family, I realized the moments in the kitchen were not intended to teach me about food.

As Grandma Mitchell patiently showed me how to cook, often without a recipe, I knew I had a frontrow seat with a master story teller. I held onto the stories that unfolded, stories of growing up in the Great Depression, of tire rations, of outhouses, of working a factory job, of selling crickets for the bait shop in my grandparents’, of my grandfather being stabbed, of burying her third child as a toddler. Through her stories, I learned the joy that accompanies a life well lived, regardless of the circumstance. Her cooking held great purpose.

My grandmother’s feet no longer kiss the earth, but she is always with me. For the last three decades, gatherings, especially around food, have served as a foundation for my home. My siblings and their families often gather around my table for holidays or celebrations, and when my children lived at home Friday nights found the basement filled with basketball or football players, always hungry. In these familiar moments, I draw deeply from Grandma’s genuine love for others.

As my two children have moved into their own adult lives, my house is still filled with young people: first year students, softball players, women’s basketball players, students needing a home for difficult discussions about race, or sometimes just two or three who need someone to listen. Just as it did in my own childhood, food brings people together, and amazing conversations happen long after the meal is removed and the dishes are piled in the sink.

Currently, cooking has a different purpose for me. The purpose has a more immediate need – higher stakes. As my daughter battles stage four brain cancer, part of her speech therapy includes following writen directions. Following recipes feels like a natural way to meet her therapist’s request. Each night this week, we have selected something for Elizabeth to make. I write out the items she needs as well as the steps she must take to assemble the dish. Because of the location of the cancer, language processing is hard, but like my grandmother, she is kind, gracious, and humble.

As the Gautama Buddha says, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” My grandmother filled me with a sense of purpose one dish, one story, one song at a time. Today, my love of cooking offers a physical way through which I can express my purpose: deeply loving others – those who are biologically mine and those who are not. Bellies are filled. Hearts are filled. In my book, that’s a win-win! #MakeRoomForJoy

My suprehero making roasted potatoes. Grandma Mitchell would be so proud.

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

Get Yourself a Square Squad

Throughout the journey of untangling myself – of making meaning of how the ebb and flow of my days impact my life – of understanding my purpose in this world, I have leaned into the uncomfortable act of learning to love myself. I have always had solid self-esteem, and I tend to quickly release negative thoughts. At times, I have observed that I don’t care what people think or their opinion doesn’t impact my decisions.  I have actually said out loud, “My Christmas card list is plenty long” or “love me or leave me.”  The obvious problem with those statements, however, is that I truly DO need people. I need people who allow me to be vulnerable and love me none-the-less. Like everyone else, I need community.

Brené Brown, a social scientist who has spent decades researching shame, vulnerability, and authentic living, believes we need people in our lives whose opinions do matter.  These aren’t the casual acquaintances who like a post on Facebook and with whom you share the occasional cup of coffee. Instead, these are people who truly understand who we are. These are the few people in our lives whose opinions matter in such a way we can be truly vulnerable.

Brown encourages us to identify a few key people we trust, we love, and who don’t need us to be anyone but our authentic selves.  Once we identify these people, we should write their names or initials on a 1” square piece of paper.  The people on this little piece of paper are the people in our Square Squad.  They are the ones who don’t run from our vulnerability, and they are the ones to whom we can turn when we need to process thoughts or ideas. They will offer opinions, but they will not randomly criticize. Instead, they allow us to be brave – to be courageous along this journey.

For me, the people on my square squad also hold me accountable.  They encourage me.  They make me want to be better today than I was yesterday.  They are the ones who show up – repeatedly – even when I don’t realize I need someone.  My square squad has carried me through some pretty dark times in my life including a tumultuous time at work, my daughter’s health battle, and the ending of a 30-year marriage.  Individually, they check in on me, but more importantly, their opinion matters, and when they share it – solicited or unsolicited – I take it seriously.  They offer their opinions, and I’m not offended. If their observation butts up against my own perception, I have to sit with it for a little bit, but the way I process their words is important.  I don’t take their advice as critical.  Because I value their opinion, I step even deeper into being my best self.

The idea of putting names on a 1″ square piece of paper we can tuck in a wallet or other safe place means we don’t need a lot of people in our inner space. We need just a few who love us unconditionally, and who are comfortable with our relationship that they know their opinion matters. Along this untangling, they impact the direction and depth of understanding of our journeys. Ultimately, the members of our square squads reflect the dearest elements of community, love and acceptance. They make all the difference in the world. #MakeRoomForJoy

If you are interested in learning more from Brené Brown, check out her new podcast at https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/

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

My Spiritual Guide

The Universe has its gentle and not-so-gentle ways of speaking to me. On occasion, it offers me signs so incredibly loud, I dare not ignore them. Fortunately, I have a spiritual guide, a woman whose feet kiss this earth as an educator. As a third grade teacher, she helped my daughter navigate the global turmoil on the days that unfolded after that crisp September day in 2001. Instead of fear and revenge, she quickly shifted the focus to action – to peace – to understanding. In those moments, often learned through dinner-time conversations with my impressionable third grader, I felt connected to Anne.

Through her gentle spirit, she not only taught Elizabeth how to hold fear and hope simultaneously, but also, without knowing it, Anne modeled for me how to turn inward to understand the chaos of the world. I needed a friend like Anne, and the Universe knew it as well. Because our children went to school together, I work with her husband, and we had mutual friends, our journeys eventually merged. This relationship is what the Universe intended. The relationship has pushed me into new, vulnerable spaces.

Over the last two decades, I have learned to draw on Anne’s observations – her reflections – her musings long after our visits or phone calls have passed. Unintentionally, but out of necessity, my life has called me to focus on my spiritual journey. I have danced through most of life, often pouring myself into others, ignoring my own emotional needs. I lose myself in serving others, mentoring, loving. However, losing my grandmother, my daughter’s diagnosis with a brain tumor, a divorce, have all called me to turn inward, to spend time excavating who I am, to consider a world I cannot control, to examine my purpose in the world. This is where Anne has helped me, like she did my daughter in 2001, understand the importance of leaning into fear and hope at the same time despite the delicate balancing act it requires.

My spiritual journey has led me to understand the sacred is in every moment – every day – every uncomfortable experience – every instance that fills me with great joy. As I untangle my life – my heart – my purpose, I am realizing so much about this journey. The Universe, when I pause long enough to pay attention and to listen, has offered me important lessons. With help, I am learning to stay awake to the moments as they unfold, and because of that, I see the purpose of the journey.

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

The Morning Walk

A silhouette defines my space on the verdant soybeans,
A tender crop moving gently at the hand of the too still breeze.
She tugs at my wrist, whispering loudly
Look. Pay attention. 
Do you see?
 
I walk alone beside generations of seeking sojourners.
The perfume of the humid soil tickles my nose,
Unnamed birds offer their friendly chatter, and
The rhythmic cadence of insects propose an accompaniment
As nature sings me its anthem.
 
This hymn, this spiritual manifesto for love and life,
Offers a deep melodic thread to the earth – to understanding
A path generations of feet have traveled  
Listen – look – the answers are here.

#sosmagic
The lessons are here. We simply must listen. #MakeRoomForJoy

We Belong Here

“Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to the world.” The wisdom of Joanna Macy, a woman who has lived a lifetime of applying her religious scholarship to six decades of activisim, speaks to my heart – to the spiritual connection I feel with the universe. She doesn’t just whisper her message. Instead, she claims it boldly. Active Hope is waking up. It requires an action – a realization – a call. It demands I listen. My ears, my heart, my soul are hungry for her wisdom.

Because of Active Hope, the vocation of teaching chose me. Because of Active Hope, I build deep freindships with others who also often want to change the world or at least seek to be the best versions of themselves. Because of Active Hope, I mentor young adults outside the classroom. Because of Active Hope, I actively participate in my communities at the local, state, and national levels. Because of Active Hope, I have am deeply connected to and incredibly proud of my adult children.

I AM awake to the beauty of life.

At face value, my interactions with others may seem selfless. I am loyal, and I will do anything to ensure another’s safety, sense of self, and growth. I almost always put my needs aside for another’s. Yet, if one listens carefully, I admit the benefits I receive from these relationships. I often respond to gratitude, “It’s a win-win.” Yes, my familial roots urge me to remain humble, and yet, the “win-win” statement captures the balance received from this Active Hope.

As I lose myself in the service, in acting on behalf of others, life really becomes more beautiful – more joyful. Even amidst the most difficult times of life – the ending of a marriage, the cognitive and physical decline of an aging parent, the magnitutde of the cancer my oldest child battles – Active Hope empowers me with a spiritual understanding. It gently unveils a picture so much larger than myself. In that masterpiece, Active Hope offers me joy in the connections I have with humanity, and ultimately the universe. It reminds me that I belong. It reminds me that we belong to one another.

#MakeRoomForJoy

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

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.