Come at me…

Here’s another piece that started on Facebook. I feel the guiding hand of Seth Godin as I craft these mini-blogs.

My #3024daily message is, essentially, one. I feel called to say something impactful in a small space. Maybe I’ll stay here for awhile and roam around.

Here’s today’s thinking…

So, we spent 14 months denying scientific evidence related to the virus, but now we want to declare “science”, clinging to nothing actually scientific in these transgender athletic competition bans.

Your hypocrisy is showing. It’s shameful.

If women’s sports were actually that important to you, you’d level the playing field in terms of facilities, coverage, and pay between male and female athletes.

If women’s sports were actually that important to you, you’d attend these events and support them as much as you do men’s athletics.

If women’s sports were that important to you, you would listen when the athletes report sexual assault and misconduct by coaches and team doctors.

If women’s sports were that important to you, you’d listen to Naomi Osaka when she talks about paralyzing depression and anxiety, and try to do something to change the systems that contribute to it.

Instead, you ignore, you dismiss, you make light of, you demean, you demoralize.

These bills are not an attempt to lift up women’s sports, they do not level any playing field.

They are, yet again, an attempt to control women, their bodies, and what you think it means to be one.

And the worst part?

The message they actually send to trans youth is one they hear all too often, that they don’t fit. That too many people think they shouldn’t exist.

You’re trying to legislate them out of existence.

It’s dangerous.

It may well end up costing precious lives because it’s one more message that they don’t belong here, and someone may take that message seriously. To their grave.

Trans youth are beautiful and brave.

If you think young people are “choosing” their gender for an athletic advantage, you really don’t get it. And likely, you never will. Because you don’t want to.

Trans youth should be free to BE who they are, and that includes participation in athletics and on teams that align with who they are, not the body parts they have.

I’ve said it in other cases, and I’ll say it again this time…

Come at me.
I dare you.

Yes, we DO have a gun problem…

10 seconds. 2 dead. 21 injured.

Don’t tell me we don’t have a gun problem in this country.

That we have weapons that can do that damage in 10 seconds IS a gun problem.

And

We also have a humanity problem. I won’t say we’ve lost our way, because if we’re being honest, we never found it.

And if we don’t, we’ll never be free. We’ll never live up to the hope and promise that we say are founding values of this country.

We have a gun problem AND a humanity problem. We do not see the humanity in others, we overlook it, we deny it, we steal it. And though that might not be the case for everyone who reads this, it IS our collective responsibility to do something about it.

For my part, I will walk into my classroom tomorrow and make sure each one of my students is SEEN and LOVED. I will continue to ensure that my classroom is a safe space for tough and necessary conversations. I will encourage them to speak up when they fear for themselves or fear the potential actions of others. When I am concerned, I will speak up.

When will we learn that we cannot be silent. We cannot be frozen in inaction. We cannot keep choosing comfort over courage.

Before you attack me and say that I don’t understand the 2nd amendment, let me assure you, I do. I live and work in a community where responsible gun ownership is a way of life. Where many families raise children who become gun users and owners. Where the value of life and the power and responsibility of fire arm ownership and use are made clear.

But if we really want to parse language, we’re conveniently ignoring that whole “well-regulated militia” idea that is part of the language. Even in the days of the founding fathers, firearm registries existed. They should now too.

And I’d like to believe that when a community realized that a person might do harm with that weapon, someone (or several) might step in and remove it. In fact, the writing of the time tells us that this was the case.

We can be responsible and humane or we can cling to language that is is just vague enough to let us do what we want. Our selfishness has blinded us.

I spent a great deal of time this weekend reading about original intent, the notes of James Madison, and how weapons and firearms were, in fact, regulated, in the time of our country’s inception. I suggest you do too. I knew if I was going to say anything, I had to know something. That’s important too. It’s our responsibility to understand history and context. An ignorance of this is at the core of our nations ills.

In fact, the 2nd Amendment, as currently written, was revised in 1992. I think it’s time we really take a hard look at why. I suspect the answer is one of many inconvenient truths we need to reckon with immediately.

We know better. We can do better. We MUST do better. Our kids deserve so much better.

It’s Always Too Soon

You may not like Andrew Cuomo. You may not believe the particular set of allegations lodged against him.

Hell, maybe you do believe them and hope they are true because you don’t like him that much…which is sick. So sick that it physically pained me to write that sentence. But I know that thinking is out there because I’ve seen it every day since these brave women began to tell their stories.

If proven true, these allegations mean that at least 7 women suffered trauma that will never leave them. And for many, it was repeated. Let the investigation bear that out.

But please, don’t joke about them. Someone you love is watching and listening.

Maybe it’s a friend or family member who has faced a similar situation…or one much worse, and has struggled with coming forward because they worry about how they will be treated. Your words and jokes are showing them.

Maybe it’s a child who will see or hear what you say and be led to believe that this alleged behavior and jokes about it are normal. Something to just live with. Something to do to others and something to just take quietly when it happens to you or someone you love. Your attitude is showing them.

Maybe it’s an aggressor who will see your jokes as an invitation to continue. Your jokes help them feel like this just isn’t a big deal. That it’s just how men are. They are a permission slip to continue.

Let’s stop acting like our words don’t matter.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t laugh and joke about things that are truly funny, but please know, sexual assault and harassment are NEVER funny, but when we laugh about it, we normalize it. What a terrible legacy to continue to pass on. It’s shameful. Disgusting. It’s always too soon.

The effects of sexual assault and harassment are long-lasting. They work through your body like a cancer. They eat you alive and convince you that you deserved it. That your struggle with it means that you’re just not tough enough to cope. That you should be strong enough to “just forget”.

You never “just forget.” That’s not how trauma works.

And when you do find a way through, it still often means that when others talk about it, you laugh with them. Because that’s what makes them comfortable. That’s what makes them feel better about not stepping up, not offering support, not believing you, or worse, believing you did something to deserve it. Their comfort is NOT more important than your feelings. If you’ve been here, please stop laughing with them.

I’ve done it. I will not do it any longer. I’ve laughed with others about an incident in my life. Every laugh feels like a jab to the gut, something you take just to prove you’re okay. It’s been about comfort for others, not healing for me. If they care about your healing, they’ll never expect you to laugh with them.

So, please stop with the Cuomo jokes. Please. Not only do they normalize this despicable behavior, they take survivors right back to the terror and judgment and shame they felt surrounding the incident that changed them.

And it does. It changes you. Forever.

And if it doesn’t, please know that that’s not strength. It’s luck. Remember that we all process our emotions and traumas differently. Give grace rather than making a joke or passing judgment.

I hope you never have to know what it means to be harassed or assaulted, to go, in a split second, from feeling like a human to becoming nothing more than an object. To fear retribution not just from your aggressor, but from people you thought would be in your corner. To know some think it’s funny that it happened to you.

And when victims of assault and harassment speak up, shut up. Listen. Let them speak and don’t tell them they should just get over it. And if you can’t help, help them find the help that you might not be able to offer.

What we say and do and send out into the world in moments like this one matters. Your words, your actions, and your attitude might be the difference between someone you love very much suffering in silence or using their voice, and having your support, in their journey to be free of their trauma.

Be a Beginner

Logging on today, I realized just how long it has been since I published my last post.

There are a million reasons why it’s been so long. Some good, some completely grounded in procrastination, some connected to the fact that December and January have been a struggle to find my voice, my words.

And it’s not like I haven’t been writing, I have. A ton. I write daily in the classroom with my students. I’m currently writing daily as part of Michelle Haseltine’s #100daysof notebooking community. I keep a sentence-a-day journal to make sure that there is never a day without a line.

But writing, just like life lately – life amid a raging pandemic, civil unrest, the question of whether we would have a peaceful transfer of power, and fear and outrage with how fear and outrage are being dealt with at every level – has not felt good. It has felt forced. Like I was just going through the motions.

None of this is really what I’m trying to write about here, though.

Today, I want to nudge you toward something that, if you’ve been feeling like I have, might help you escape all of it, even for short periods of time.

Find a way to be a beginner.

At anything.

In any way.

For me, though reading, writing, cooking, and baking are all activities, that historically, help me to relax and unwind. They weren’t cutting it when the world around me felt like it was on fire.

They were places where expectations were hiding. Where frustrations were playing out when I couldn’t get from Point A to Point B, even though I’m “good” at these things. Nothing sounded, connected, or tasted quite right.

Some of that, I think, was because I was on autopilot.

I was mailing it in.

I wasn’t present because I didn’t really need to be. Over the years I’ve developed muscle memory for these activities. Even when the idea or story or dish is different, the motions play out in much the same way every single time…and they let me stay deeply rooted to the dangerous country that can be my own mind.

I’ve developed the skills to make it “look good,” but truth be told, it wasn’t feeling good.

Enter a new hobby: watercolor painting.

I have never, in my life, considered myself an artist. I didn’t think I had it in me.

It started as a way to create a couple Christmas gifts for family members.

Then, a friend sent me a link to a company that posts free watercolor tutorials each week. I tried the first one, and I was hooked.

Not because I was good at it. I wasn’t. I’m not.

But for the first time in recent memory, being “good” at it didn’t matter to me.

It didn’t matter because being “good” at it was an unrealistic expectation. To date, I’ve only painted with watercolors 13 times.

Who the heck is good at anything after 13 times?

No one.

And I needed that.

I needed a space to grow, to try new things, to step completely out of the role of expert or teacher.

Painting has made me realize that in most of my life, even the non-school moments, I live in that zone. Living in that space for so many of my hours each day is not healthy.

It’s heavy.

There is so much pressure to be polished and get it right all of the time when you live in that expert zone. It’s not sustainable.

It’s not real.

Painting has reminded me why art exists, why the simple act of creating art (YES, even “bad” art) is something that has endured through all of human existence.

Yes, so much art is beautiful. But more than that, the process of creating art is beautiful. It’s meditative, it’s release, it’s escape.

And it is joy. Even when it is a struggle. Even when my painting doesn’t go quite as planned, each time I sit down, I’m doing something new. Until I started painting, I’m not sure I could even tell you the last time I actually did something completely new.

It breaks through my patterns and lets my whole soul take a deep breath.

I don’t watch the clock. I don’t pay attention to the news. I don’t pick up my phone and scroll through social media.

When I paint, I go somewhere else.

We all need escape, and until I started painting, I might have said that, but I’m almost positive that I wouldn’t have meant it…or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t have truly understood it.

But now, I get it. I am a beginner. I mess up. I try new techniques. My paintings are not polished. They are not professional. Each is an opportunity to learn and grow with zero expectations.

That can be both deeply fulfilling and immensely frustrating, but mostly, it feels like liberation.

When you break the chains of expectation, you set yourself free.

If you can find your way to that beginner space, it will change your approach to everything, even the stuff you’ve done forever. You will be more likely to try new things, give yourself grace, live in the messy middle, let go of the drive toward perfection.

You will finally see that allowing yourself to be a beginner might just be the breakthrough you didn’t know you needed.

Find something new. Give it a try. Be a beginner.

Gratitude & Growth

November started with my usual writing goal: to write daily to capture and savor gratitude. I’ve been doing this for a few years, usually with journaling or blog posts. Sometimes I get brave and write a free verse poem here and there, getting extra brave when I share it. While other years, I make a list – either throughout the month or on Thanksgiving day – of 30 things for which I am grateful.

I try to cultivate a regular gratitude practice throughout the year, knowing that it helps keep me focused on the ordinary good that surrounds me in extraordinary ways, but there’s something about this November project each year that feels special.

Maybe it’s because it is entirely focused on gratitude. I don’t stray into journaling or ranting when I’m doing my daily gratitude writing.

I also don’t let myself off the hook. Even if it’s 11:00 p.m. and I wake up (What can I say? I’m an early to bed type of human.) and realize I haven’t written about that day’s gratitude.

November has become the one month each year that reminds me that I can stay focused on a writing project, and that the experience can be one that is transformative.

During my month of gratitude, I always find reasons to be thankful, even if requires hours of examining my day for one tiny ray of light. But each year I’ve taken on an intentional gratitude writing project or practice, I’ve also learned about myself as a writer. I push myself and end each November changed.

This year, I chose to play a little. I chose a form I fell in love with in college as my way to express gratitude each day: haiku.

When I shared my idea with friends in my writing group, my friend Leigh Anne coined the term “gratiku” and, from there, a shared writing challenge was born. I think that’s part of what pushed me too…knowing that there would be others who might join, and because I felt some ownership of the idea, I felt a responsibility to lead.

And that scared me in ways I’ve never been scared as a writer.

You see, I’m a quiet writer. I slide into and out of my blog and post an entry with little to no pomp and circumstance. Sure, I post on my social media profiles to let my tens of followers know when I’ve posted something new, but beyond that, I keep it pretty quiet.

And I certainly never feel a responsibility to lead…not among adult writers.

That feels big. Scary.

The kind of thing someone with far more than tens of followers might undertake.

The kind of thing that November 2019 me never would have considered.

What’s different?

Community. Finding my people. Letting down my walls just enough to let others see my work and help me when I struggle.

And also…letting go.

If this was going to work, if I was going to share a piece of writing every single day for the entire month, I had to let go of the fear and worry and doubt that often paralyzes me and keeps me from sharing.

I had to let go of worrying about what others might think about my haiku skills (or lack thereof).

I had to let go of the push toward perfection and the fear that my words aren’t good enough – that they don’t deserve space.

And here’s the thing, it’s December 1st.

I’ve written 30 gratiku poems.

I’ve shared my work every single day, no matter how late or how messy.

I have thought more about syllable counts and word choice than ever before. I’ve learned about “cutting words” and zooming in to capture single, small moments.

Somewhere along the way I stopped fearing that my words weren’t enough.

And most important of all, I spent every single day focused on and looking for ways to celebrate gratitude.

2020 has taught us so much. It has challenged us and changed us in ways small and large, and in ways we never imagined. It has been brutal.

But November 2020? For me, it has been joy and beauty. Overcoming fear. Challenging boundaries. Finding new and unexpected ways to share my voice and my words.

I will be forever grateful.

Line Gathering: A Way I Feed my Writing Practice

One practice that sustains my writing life is something I call line gathering.

In my head and in my heart, line gathering feels a little like wandering through a meadow full of wildflowers and picking the ones that are the most beautiful. The ones that make me see myself or the world differently. The ones that I want to hold in my heart. The ones I want to share with others.

In reality, it begins with a book, a set of page flags, and a desire to let myself get lost in story…but not so lost that I don’t notice when the words are worth keeping. Nothing fancy. Just reading with attention and intention.

I know reader/writers who read with pen in hand and stop when they see a great line or beautiful combination of words. That’s not me. I don’t like to stop.

So, with book and page flags in hand, I embark. 

When I see a line that takes my breath away with its rhythm or beauty, I mark it.

When I see a line that makes me say, “Man, I wish I wrote that,” I mark it.

When I see a line that shakes my perspective and my balance, my thinking and my beliefs, I mark it.

When I see a line that whispers to my heart, I mark it.

When I see a line that SHOUTS, “LOOK HERE! THIS!” I mark it.

When I see a line that might empower and challenge my students as writers, yep, I think you can see where this is going, I mark it.

And when I’m done with the book, I set it aside. I let myself sit with the story. Consider. Wrestle. And often, move on to the next great book waiting in my never-ending stack of books to be read. 

Once a little time has passed, sometimes a day, others a week or two, I return. I open the book and my notebook. I grab markers, colored pencils, and my favorite felt tip pens. I try to draw the cover or play with the lettering of the title, and once I’m satisfied (or frustrated because what my eyes see and what happens on the page when I draw are never quite the same thing), the line gathering begins.

I revisit each of the flagged passages, doing so only when I have the time to move slowly and deliberately. I savor the words, consider why I flagged them, and how I might use those words in my life as a writer, in the classroom with my students, and often, both. I add them to the pages of my notebook.

Sometimes this sparks more drawing and other times I pause and write beside words to see where they take me.

It’s the bridge between my reading life and my writing life.  A way to notice and savor the words of others so that I can feed and nourish my work as a writer, as a teacher.

A look at my line gathering:

My invitation to you, teacher, writer, reader, (or all three!) is to embark on our own line gathering journey. Keep it simple. Grab a great book, a pack of page flags, and keep your notebook nearby. 

If you prefer to stop and jot or draw as you go, do that. Follow the path that feels best for you.

Find your own way to gather beautiful lines that engage, inspire, and empower you. Then, find ways to share them to engage, inspire, and empower your readers, writers, your own writing, or just hold them close and return to them when you want to savor and remember.

Resisting the Urge

When I began this project, I really hoped to post a new gratiku poem here daily, but like many of my high hopes in these strange times, it just hasn’t played out that way. The best laid plans and all…

Even though I’m not posting here daily, I am writing them. Every. Single. Day.

And I am loving the way this project is pushing me to both be creative and seek moments worth capturing in these word snapshots.

By nature and because of my profession, I am a planner, but I have resisted the urge to do that for this project. I wanted to do something that would push me to really BE in each moment, to focus on presence, to push myself to see the extraordinary in my ordinary days, to SEE things around me I don’t normally notice.

For me, planning would have kept me tethered to what I know and notice regularly.

Planning would have been (for me) safe, and everything I’m trying to do as a writer and a teacher of writers now is about encouraging and taking risks.

If I’m going to teach students that grit, grace, and mess can lead to magic, I have to be willing to model that.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m a woman who LOVES a plan. Plans have saved and helped anchor me more times than I can count. They have helped me navigate difficulty and persevere through hardship. Plans have their place.

But just as important as having a plan is being able to depart from the plan – to cut the cords that hold you in place when you’re ready to risk more, and maybe, allow yourself to fly.

It’s scary, this not planning, but it’s also invigorating. It’s the kind of risk I can take without much damage if I fall, flail, or fail.

It’s a small risk that feels like it’s leading to other, bigger ones.

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I do know this: I’m enjoying the journey.

I’m noticing more.

I’m breathing deeper.

I’m feeling deeply.

I’m more present than I’ve been in months.

Those feel like gifts that are worth the risk of resisting the urge to plan.

My recent #gratikus:

Day 6 #gratiku
Day 7 #gratiku
Day 8 #gratiku

#Gratiku Day 4

I wrote two gratiku poems today, and because they were both inspired by similar sights and sounds, I decided to share them both today, instead of holding one of them for another day (something I’ll probably regret on a day when the words don’t come easily).

After our first snow on Monday, it’s a beautifully warm and sunny November here in my corner of rural Western New York. I needed a day like this after the polarized roller coaster ride we’ve been on and are still riding.

It’s a reminder that we can get off the ride, and that when we do, there are sights, sounds, and sensations that can calm and heal us, even if only for a short time.

I am immensely grateful to live in a part of the world where autumn envelops us in her hug.

And with that, today’s #gratiku offerings:

cool autumn breezes
ebb and flow outside my door
an ocean of breath

bright autumn sun
reminds me that beauty warms
(a) balm for tired* souls

*The interwebs tells me that “tired” is one syllable, hence the (a) at the line’s beginning. That didn’t seem or feel right to me, so depending on how you read the word or your opinion of its syllabic structure, you can leave the (a) or let it go…isn’t that what autumn is about anyway, really?

We let go so we can rest, renew, and heal.

May you find all three in the coming days.

#Gratiku x 2

I’m not sure where yesterday went, but just before I shut down my devices for the evening, I remembered that I hadn’t yet written the day’s #gratiku.

I was snuggled up with a new book, warm blankets, and our baby beast of a boxer, Coco. Since she came into our world almost exactly two years ago, she has brought light, joy, sweetness, and silliness – more than any one family deserves, really.

Her best buddy is our old man Boston Terrier. She has a teddy bear face and the body of a baby walrus. When she runs, she does so with unadulterated joy and the floppiest ears and jowls I’ve ever seen.

She is magic.

Yesterday’s #gratiku is dedicated to our gigantic joy, Coco.

Coco the walrus
sweet, gigantic baby beast
gentle giant love

And now, today, on, quite possibly, the single most important election days in our lifetime, I’m thinking of how grateful I am to live in a country that allows its citizens to vote. A vote is an opportunity to use your voice. In some years it’s an endorsement, and others it’s a hope…a prayer, really, that change may come.

History has its eyes on us tonight.

I am grateful for and proud of every American who took the time to cast a vote. They may not all be like mine, but the overwhelming turnout numbers show me that we all understand the value of the vote.

May we remember it regardless of the outcome. It is my hope that this moment in our history reminds us all that every single voice matters.

Today’s #gratiku

I cast my vote and
hope that my little voice will
join others and make waves