Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reflecting on the year

As the new year approaches I eagerly look forward to a fresh start. I know there is no magic in a date set by human wisdom but I enjoy the symbol of a new beginning. There are three main facets of the ritual that I enjoy:
-This year I am especially grateful for this blog. We went around our table at Christmas and talked about people who had shaped our lives in the past 12 months. My readers were most definitely high up on the list. Blogging has been a transforming experience, as much from reading as from writing.
-Something I also cherish about the new year is leaving the past behind. I feel like January 1st is a line of demarkation upon which I shrug off my regret and pain from the year and move on into a fresh start. I like to remember that you have to breath out all the toxins before you can take in the fresh air.
-Of course there are the infamous New Year’s resolutions. I hate that for many people these resolutions become shackles or emblems of hopelessness when they are not attained. So, I offer my own aspirations with trepidation. I do not claim to know if we shape our own destiny or if we have little control over the events which unexpectedly carve our lives. Either way my prayers and hopes for the year ahead dance around the following concepts:
*To complete at least one if not two or three works in progress.
*To continue with this blog and become more involved with other blogs.
*To know my own mind better and to be able to write, speak and act more boldly.

What are you grateful for, leaving behind or looking forward to?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Writing is a Gift

I don’t mean to say that the ability to write is a gift to the writer. Although, that too is often true. No, I mean that the act of writing is parallel to the act of giving. It is a joyful emptying of oneself.
Here are a few things I have discovered about writing and giving this holiday season:
  1. Giving takes time. Procrastination leads only to regret. I think every writer and gift giver realizes the tricks of time. You may find perfection the first time around the mall or the fiftieth. You may experience a moment of insight into just what that person would want or you might slog through various choices dissatisfied with them all until the very end. Whatever the case you’ve got to get to it and stick with it. Allow yourself enough time...Don’t rush...Enjoy the process.
  2. Giving requires bold decision making. You are emptying your pockets and your heart, stop second guessing whether the gesture will be appreciated. As my husband oft quotes, “Give what you have. To someone it may be better than you dare to think.” -Longfellow
  3. Giving is better than receiving. Pouring out your resources, time, love and energy is worth all of the sacrifice. It blesses both you and those who receive your gift.
So, I challenge you to give someone the gift of your writing this holiday season. Be bold, they will love it and you will be blessed as well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I have to take a moment to share a personal triumph- one that is unrelated to writing or to publishing but is dear to my heart.
Usually teaching in an urban middle school is as unlike the inspirational movies as water is unlike oil. I weep sometimes when I see the hopeless cycle of poverty at work in the lives of my students each day. My triumphs are usually invisible. I am forced to walk by faith and not by sight.
However, today I saw something wonderful. Today was the Winter Middle School Speech Meet. Schools from across the state came and watched as their students showcased their rhetorical and dramatic skills. I entered 5 students from my school. Most of the schools are affluent and their teams are 25-75 students strong. They practice everyday in and out of school. My students come before and after school but we are by no means a well-oiled powerhouse. Still, the league has welcomed us with open arms and my principal and co-workers are beyond supportive. The parents pull together to get the kids to the meets since we cannot afford transportation.
My students love the experience of competing. They love to see the beautiful schools we get to compete at. They love that they get to eat doughnuts for breakfast. They love meeting new friends and discovering that they are not as different as they had imagined. They love to speak their minds and be really heard.
One student, who I will call Mona, is exceptionally gifted. Her event is impromptu, which means she has 7 minutes to write and perform a speech on a subject she pulls randomly from an envelope. Her ability to do this amazes me,. Today alone she performed 3 times which means that in a span of several hours she composed and delivered 3 different speeches.
There is little need to point out that the day was long and exhausting. By the end of it judges, coaches and competitors all seemed sapped of energy. By the awards ceremony at 4pm I was just happy that my students had made it there, stood up and delivered their speeches, regardless of their scores. After all for a pre-teen to dedicate hours of free time and subject themselves to hard work and possible humiliation is no small victory.
At the end of the day we sat in the auditorium experiencing the emotional stress of the awards ceremony. I felt an ache bruising my heart as I watched the disappointment on my students’ faces. I had not really prepared them well. I had not told them that this is not elementary school, not everyone gets a ribbon, not everybody wins. Still, it mended my heart a little to see their excitement endure despite their lack of visible reward.
And then, the finalists for impromptu were called up. I heard Mona’s name. That sound illuminated the faces of each and every one of my students and my heart began to pound in my chest. I watched her up their as honorable mention was announced, 6th place, 5th place and tears began to well in my eyes. The winners of 4th place and 3rd place were also announced and dismissed. On the stage stood only two students: Mona and a boy from a rival school. (A school, I might add, that is known for its prowess in impromptu.) I was so proud my heart began to ache again, this time with joy.
And then they announced the winner, and it was her! It was Mona, and for that moment I felt my eyes, heart, soul and mind fill with hope and gratitude. I was cheering with my whole being. I was so proud. And her mom was there, she had made it just in time, and the other students celebrated like we had all won... because in a way we had.
I suppose in the end this does have something to do with writing for it is some of the richest food for thought I have tasted. I can ask for no better holiday tale than one so full of triumph, hope, courage and love. It was an undeserved gift and I wanted to share it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter White

When I teach symbolism to my students I always use the classic examples. Sunshine often represents hope. Water means cleansing. White stands for purity. I taught the lesson on symbolism last week to my night class and I began to think about how highly cultural and personal symbolism can be.
Then, last night it snowed. The first snow of the winter. Usually this event represents the hope of school closings, days spent at home in my pajamas, or outdoor adventures with my husband. But this year, the white felt like a heavy blanket, covering me with the weight of things not yet accomplished and the increasing difficulty of accomplishing them in the oncoming bleak weather.
As I contemplated these feelings and my lesson on symbolism I found that winter white is a good symbol for who I have been (and not, I think, for who I would like to become).
I was born in the cold. I grew up clearing the ice to skate, stacking the wood for warmth, bundling myself up before bed. The white of winter reminds me of my own cold heart, my icy independence, my perfectionism like snow killing the grass below.
The winter white is blank, it causes blindness, it shimmers and cracks. I, too, feel blank. I attempt to keep my personality that way in order to complement the expectations of others, never to clash. This emotional whiteout has blinded me to who I am, who I was created to be. I may shimmer with talent and promise but I crack upon closer inspection.
My life is like winter white, and I am waiting for the warmth of Christmas, of Christ, my Messiah to arrive.
What are some symbols that run through your writing? Or perhaps more importantly, through your life?