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Why Teachers Who Teach Writing Should Write

1.) Writing Is Hard

Writing has always been my favorite form of expression.  Some people paint, draw, sculpt, sew, do crafts, take pictures but I write.  I’m honest about my skills, which means I’m a hair above average.  However, writing every day or even three times a week is challenging.  At times it is down right hard. The pain felt when staring at a blank page or the anxiety of not knowing what to write about is a feeling that a composition teacher should always be familiar.

2.) Writing Is A Skill

Like any other hobby writing requires constant practice.  The less you do the worse you get. I used to be able to rattle off a thirty second radio ad in twenty minutes but now my creative writing skills have grown rusty as I have spent more time writing academically and professionally. If I’m going to preach practice then I had better be practicing myself.

3.) Know Thyself

Part of the skill of writing is understanding where you struggle.  I’m not a grammarian. I’m okay with this. The basic rules of grammar are tedious and boring to me. I couldn’t quote the rule for semi-colon usage or dangling modifiers if my life depended on it. Yuck. I love books. I love words. I love writing. I don’t love grammar. However, knowing my weakness allows me to compensate for it. It is important to know where your strengths and weakness lie and therefore also important that my students gain that same self-awareness.

4.) Don’t Lose The Wonder

I love to write. I truly do love it. I’ve written in some form or fashion everyday of my life since I was in fifth grade and started my first journal. I still love it. I love how writing forces me to be introspective. I love how writing challenges me to accurately communicate my thoughts and feelings. I love that sometimes when I write things it affects people and they tell me. If I ever lose sight of that love I’m going to quit teaching.

The act of writing is a craft and it is impossible to teach and inspire somebody to pursue the same craft if you yourself do not practice.  When I tell my students about the importance of having a writing process or why organization is important it is coming from the voice of experience and not from a textbook. A lecture rings hollow when it is presented with no passion and little context.


David quit his job.

Just like that.

No new job lined up.  No security blanket of independent financing.

He quit.

He quit because after a year of 50+ hours a week and an hour long commute and a job that was stressful and never ending in its demands it was time.

Nothing can force you to clarify your values and your life like a new baby.  A new baby is all encompassing in its demands and there is no ignoring the impact.  And so David found himself with a new baby, a wife crippled with postpartum depression and a job that was demanding his heart and soul.  Something had to give.

I wish I could say that the decision seemed clear to us but it didn’t.  We struggled with the overwhelming aspect of our lives and felt lost and trapped. What were we to do? We just bought a house, had a baby, how could we survive without an income? And yet, it was a simple phone call from my mother that put us straight.  She simply said, “Stop playing scared”.

Life gets like that when you start having kids – when you grow up.  The consequences of your decisions have far-reaching impact and you start to drive through your life white-knuckled and scared of the “what-ifs”.  However, life should never be lived from behind a rock – from the point of safety and when my mother so clearly told us that we were being cowards we knew what we needed to do.  You can either own life or life can own you but either way it is a choice.  So David and I chose.

The truth is that I’m not that worried. David is very talented and well liked. I’m sure he will land a job soon and indeed he’s been rather busy interviewing and fielding a variety of opportunities.  That isn’t the best part of this story though – the best part has been seeing him smile again. The best part has been waking up everyday with a husband who is present, relaxed and excited about his own life again.  We’ve gone to the lake, seen movies in the middle of the day, had family dinners EVERY night and generally enjoyed being a family again.

At the end of the day it is the choices we make everyday that determines what is important to us – where our values sit.  I’m proud of the fact that my husband had the courage to stand up and choose his family above all other obligations.  Now then, anybody looking for a great creative director?

Sacred Space

During a world religion class in college my professor talked about the difference between sacred and profane space, sacred and profane time, and how we as a society mark certain things, times, dates and locations as being sacred.  I loved this concept and I remember becoming acutely aware of my own sacred space.  Recently this idea has found its way back into my consciousness.

This past week our wireless internet connection got corrupted and I lost my internet access at home.  At first this seemed dire, frustrating and desperate.  However, by the end of the day I realized how much I had gotten done because I wasn’t distracted by the insignificant minutia that seems to constantly be demanding my attention on the internet.  This led me to consider the idea of consciously disconnecting during certain times of the day or week. What would happen?

My first experiment came Saturday night.  David and I were attending a “grown-up” party with alcohol and music and no children or even people who also had kids so there would be no swapping of kid stories. I turned my iPhone off and left it at home.  Think about that people. I TURNED MY PHONE OFF AND LEFT IT AT HOME. I WENT SOMEWHERE WITHOUT MY PHONE. MY PHONE WAS NOT NEAR MY BODY. Do you recognize the enormity of this ? Do you recognize the sheer craziness of me making that decision? Well, I did it. I went a total of four hours without access to the internet, facebook, email or text messaging.  And you know what happened? The world did not end and for once I wasn’t distracted by things that were peripheral to my activity but I was actually able to exist in the “now”. I made eye-contact, I talked with people, my mind settled and I focused on what I was doing.

This first experiment went so well that the next morning I decided to not bring my phone with me to church. Although at times I felt a small tug of disappointment that I couldn’t “check-in” with the world I overall was pleased at my ability to keep my attention on the people and things around me versus the “others”.

I like this idea of sacred space and have decided to start consciously marking sacred times in my life when I disconnect.  I don’t want to be checking my email while I’m trying to spend time with my husband, or playing a board game with my kids. I don’t want to hear the chime of a text message while I’m trying to have a conversation with a good friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I still am madly in love with my iPhone and I will not be giving it up any time soon.  But I’ve decided to reclaim my sacred space. I’ve decided to try harder at living in the now and not the later.

I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke

I’m not a person who likes drama.  I’m not a person who likes change or turmoil or chaos.  On the contrary, I’m a planner, a plotter, a person of routine.  We’ve moved, we’ve had a baby and now that baby is asleep in a hospital bed next to me.  The lack of routine and order makes me twitchy and itchy and makes me dream about running away to Costa Rica. Although Harper is beautiful and appears to fart rainbows she has contracted the RSV virus, which although not serious is a royal pain in my butt.  She is wheezing, and coughing and vomiting.

When I talk to my friends I feel as if I have turned into a drama queen.  Every conversation seems to start with me sharing some life-altering news.; “we sold our house”, “we bought a house”, “we moved”, “we had a baby”, “we’re in the hospital”.  I never thought I would long for the days when my conversation would revolve around whether or not I should be forcing Lucy to eat hot lunch at school.  I actually dread talking to my friends right now because I feel as if all I’m doing is lamenting the chaos, anxiety and stress that surrounds me.  And yet, in this most crazy time I have never felt so supported and loved.  I cannot think of a single moment before that I have had more people rally to my side to lift me up, carry me along and ease my burden.  I’m feeling the need to take a moment and acknowledge that help and support.

My Students

Over the years I’ve made some dear friends out of former students.  Young men and women who have grown up, moved on and become amazing people.  Many of them have sent me messages and notes of encouragement over the past six months but a few have made a real difference:

Lindsey: Thank you for your prayers, visits, care, and encouragement. Your unabashed love and kindness has been a soft cushion during a hard time

Taryn: As always, thank you for feeding me, but also for your open-hand of help.

Micah: I appreciate you moving heavy furniture for me, but also for making me realize that asking for help (and taking it) is not a sign of weakness.

Micki: We couldn’t have survived without you.  You have dropped everything to run to our house to watch our kids, and care for them as if they were your own.  Every mother dreams of a babysitter who loves her children as much as she does and I am so blessed to have found that in you.  Words don’t go far enough

My Friends:

Like so many people I have reconnected with dozens of my old high school pals through Facebook.  It has been amazing to see how the people I liked in high school, I still like.  Some friendships have grown stronger and some have felt like no time has passed at all.  The numerous notes and messages of encouragement have meant everything to me during these past six months.

Laura:  It is nice to know that I still have a friend with whom I can make tasteless jokes during the most trying of times and who doesn’t think I’m a bad person.  God bless you.

Tim: Your words of encouragement over a long distance brought me more comfort than you can imagine.

Kym: You have always been one of my biggest cheerleaders, and supporters.  Thank you for all that you do, which is more than I can acknowledge here.

My Church Family:

I’ve never gone to a church long enough, or been involved enough to ever truly understand what people meant by the term “church family” but now I do.  I get it.  At a minimum I haven’t had to cook for weeks but the best part has been feeling the love of so many people praying for me.  FOR ME?  So many people from our church have called, written, stopped by, sent notes to tell us that they are thinking about us, praying for us and offering to help.  People we barely know – people we have just met.  I have never been the recipient of such charity and kindness and although at times it was hard to humbly accept I couldn’t have survived without it.

My Family:

There truly is not enough space.  To thank my family properly would take an entire blog post.  However, I need to give the biggest thank you to my in-laws, Carolyn & Max, who have  basically lived with us for the past three weeks and without whom my family would have surely fallen into crisis.  They have done dishes, bathed kids, unpacked, cooked meals, assembled furniture, done car pool, gone grocery shopping, babysat, dressed kids, moved furniture, hauled trash, etc, etc – you get the idea. They have been angels supporting David and I and letting us know every step of the way that we are not alone.

My Partner, My Friend, My Love

Stress like this can either bring a couple together or tear them apart.  When faced with a heart-crushing, mind-boggling amount of stress David has a tendency to take that out on the person closest to him — me.  When I’m stressed and feeling the weight of the world I get stubborn, prideful and controlling.  We’re lovely.  So you can only imagine how conversations have been going in our house. Let’s just say that far too many of them ended with me saying “you’re an ass” and David saying “why are you being so stubborn?”

There was something rather cathartic about my unexpected natural childbirth.  The physical pain, screaming and my complete dependence on David allowed us to release all the stress, anxiety and frustration that had been swirling around us for months.  When labor was finished and Harper was welcomed into the world David and I stood there once again united.  Look at what we had done? We knew that this past six months was going to be hard and even though it ended up being more stressful than we anticipated we did it and we now stand on the other side.

A strength of a marriage is not measured when times are good but when they are bad – not in health but in sickness.  I cannot imagine facing the trials and challenges of life with anybody else by my side.  The greatest gift David and I have for each other is forgiveness.  All the mean things said and hurtful actions over the past six months I forgive, and I know David forgives me.  None of it matters. What matters now is that we have a family of five, a new home that our children can grow up in and my best friend is standing by my side sharing it with me.

This Old House

The house is sold. The new house bought. The closing date is set (Jan. 21st). Movers hired. All that is left to do is pack and prepare myself for leaving my home for the past nine years.  I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to become emotionally attached to a location and so this is a new experience for me. This is what our house looked like when we first bought it:

This Old House

When David and I bought that house we had $10,000 in savings and thought we were rich.  We were young newlyweds and this house seemed HUGE.  David was so excited about home ownership that the day we closed on the house he immediately ran to Home Depot, bought a lawn mower and mowed the yard.  People assume that I’m sentimental about the memories we made here with our kids, but honestly, I’m more misty eyed about David and I being young and married without kids.

It was during the first six months of our marriage that I stood in our bedroom folding laundry.  I don’t remember what started the fight and indeed I don’t even remember what the fight was about.  What I do know is that it was heated and we were shouting at each other and I was folding socks with noticeable passion.  David let out a loud “AAAARRGHH!! YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY!!” and stomped off down the hall towards the front door. I then heard a loud BAM! And then David exclaimed “OH SHIT!” Feeling absolutely no sympathy for whatever problem he created for himself I shouted back, “WHAT? WHAT HAPPENED?” David paused and then sheepishly responded, “I punched a hole in the wall.”  David is the least violent person I know. As a matter of fact one of the things that attracted me to David was his gentle, calm spirit even in the face of adversity.  This sudden outburst of violence was so uncharacteristic of him that I thought he was joking.  As I started to walk down the hall towards him I shouted, “ARE YOU JOKING?” and at this he started laughing.   When I arrived where he was standing there was about a 5-inch diameter hole in the wall.

The wall in our brand new house.

The wall that was right by the front door.

The door through which our 8 dinner guests were going to be walking through in about 5 hours.

We looked at each other and I muttered, “you’re an idiot. You know you have to fix that now?” David quietly nodded.  We both stood in silence looking at the hole for a moment and then started giggling.  David turned to me and said “please don’t tell anybody tonight that I punched a hole in the wall.” I instantly understood his embarrassment.  David is not at all the kind of guy known for violent or angry outbursts and he knew what he had done was childish.  He didn’t want any of his friends to know.  I understood.

Our first guests arrived for dinner and as they stood in the foyer Chris, the husband, said “hey, what happened to your wall?” David and I hadn’t discussed an alibi and so I stood silent.  David jumped in and said “oh, I was hanging some pictures and the ladder went into the wall.” We all stood looking at each other. Chris smirked, nodded and said “dude, you punched a hole in the wall.”  Busted.

David patched the wall. His first drywall patch job and it was beautiful. To this day you can’t tell where the hole had been.  And yet, I can’t walk past that spot without thinking about that hole. The hole that the new owners know nothing about. The hole that was symbolic of that first year of marriage. The hole that taught David and I that sometimes laughing at your argument is far more productive than fighting in the first place.

When I think about leaving this house it is those memories that I will be the most sad about leaving behind. Lazy Sundays watching football together. Collapsing on the couch together after a party.  Laying in bed worried about living without an income or not getting pregnant. David and I spent the first nine years of our marriage in this house – laying the foundation that one needs to weather the storms of life. It is these early years of navigating our differences, our strengths, our love that I will be sad to leave behind.

Welcome To Hell

I don’t understand women who love being pregnant.   I can understand being so-so with it, or being resigned to it but loving it? Yeah, who are these people?  Overall I have pretty normal, uneventful pregnancies and for a woman of my “advanced maternal age” I’m grateful for that.  I experience the usual spectrum of uncomfortable symptoms; indigestion, a little nausea, some back aches, etc.  Usually my ailments are manageable, non-dangerous and uneventful.  That is, until now.

Last Wednesday the baby “dropped”.  I know she dropped because I had an entire day of painful contractions followed by the feeling that a little person was sitting on my rectum.  When considering the possibilities of where a child could place itself in your body the rectum is not a “happy” place.  After three or four days I began to notice that something didn’t “feel” right.  It became painful to stand, sit, walk.  I chalked this up to late pregnancy discomfort and marched on with my daily activities. By Sunday I was in P-A-I-N and discovered that my sweet little girl had given me hemorrhoids.  I’ve NEVER in my entire life had a hemorrhoid. Why? Why would God do this to me? Why?

I sheepishly divulged my discovery to David who responded by laughing for ten minutes and telling me to not be such a baby. I punished his insensitive remarks by making him go to the drugstore to buy hemorrhoid cream and NOTHING else. Thus drawing acute attention to the embarrassing product he was purchasing.  Having never experienced this particular ailment before I consulted “Dr. Google” who assured me that I would be fine in a couple of days with rest and warm baths.  Except it wasn’t getting better it was getting worse.  And every time I complained about the pain David seemed exasperated and would utter; “it is just hemorrhoids. Lots of people get them”.  I’m sure many people do have them but how do they function?

On Tuesday I woke up to the sight of a lot of blood.  I instantly wanted to do a victory lap around the house screaming to David “SEE! I WAS NOT EXAGGERATING! I WAS IN REAL PAIN AND THERE IS THE PROOF! I’M DYING!”  However, the acute pain and the ax-murder-esque scene in our bathroom was a bit distracting.  I called the doctor with the announcement that something was “WRONG” and how did I know that? Dr. Google told me.  My doctor though, being the professionally trained medical person that she is, was not worried.

What happened at the doctor’s office can only be classified in the department of both horrifying AND embarrassing.  Just when you think your children can no longer embarrass you any longer the one within your womb finds a new low to pull you down to. Both frustrated and frightened I made David come into the examining room with me.  I’m afraid he may never touch me ever again.  Of course David found this to be a great opportunity to make jokes at my expense and the doctor, sensing his jovial nature, joined in. I, on the other hand, being naked from the waist down and feeling a whole new type of physical violation just focused on not throwing up.

And this, this combination of pain, disgust, embarrassment and physical horribleness – do these women who LOOOOVVEE being pregnant never experience this? Or do they find this as a great way to get attention.  Because honestly, right now, while I type this, I have both children climbing on the couch I’m resting on whining and hitting each other.  There are more dirty dishes than clean dishes in the house.  There are more toys on the floor than on the shelves. My children are living off of goldfish crackers and juice boxes (and I can’t promise they haven’t shared the kitty food with the cat). And this is supposed to be a “magical” time in my life?  This is supposed to make me feel beautiful and wonderful and a vessel for God’s miracle of life? Because the only miracle happening in my life right now is the fact that David and I haven’t killed each other or the kids. Or possibly that the health department hasn’t condemned our house.

David promises me that some day – some day soon – I will look back on this and laugh.  Maybe I will, but right now all the laughing is happening through tears.

Tips to Writing a Great Holiday Newsletter (a rereun)

Well, it is that time of year when holiday letters and family Christmas notes start pouring into my mailbox.  Although I look forward to seeing the little shiny cards with news of friends far away, I can’t help but notice some disturbing grammatical problems with these letters.  I thought I would feature one of the most popular posts I have ever written; Tips to Writing a Great Holiday Newsletter.  I’ve re-posted the entire article here for your convenience.

TIPS TO WRITING A GREAT HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER (originally posted on November 28, 2008)

As we plow into the holiday season I feel a desire to provide some helpful tips when it comes to writing that Christmas letter. As an English teacher I find these little treasures to actually be time bombs of irritation awaiting me in my mailbox. This year I plan to circumvent this problem by telling you the things you absolutely should NEVER do.

#1 (and this is a biggie) DO NOT WRITE IN THIRD PERSON
Let me give you an example; “Bob is so excited at his new job and Sally is involved in the PTA this year”. Who the hell is writing the letter? The cat? Obviously somebody is writing and if it isn’t the two adults in the house than who is it? And don’t switch back and forth. For example; “I’m so proud of Bob’s new promotion this year and I know he will be happy. Sally is heavily involved in the PTA and I’m glad she has found an outlet for her creativity.” So now you are taking turns typing? Of course not. Somebody is writing this letter so decide who it is and stick with it.

#2 How To Share Good News and Not Brag
Let’s just pretend your son really did win the Nobel Peace Prize.Of course you are proud of him – any mother would be. However, you don’t want to make everybody else reading this either hate you or resent you for telling them. When sharing some piece of amazing news humble this news with some mundane thing that the person fails miserably at. For example, “We are so proud of John winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year but we sure wish he would learn how to pick up the phone and call once in awhile” or “Steve has been lucky to discover the cure for Cancer this year but too bad he can’t also cure his chronic flatulence problem”. See where I’m going with this? This is also true when talking about yourself. You might say something like, “I’ve really enjoyed feeding the homeless this year. Unfortunately my family has taken to showing up in the soup line because I’m never home long enough to feed them.” This will put your reader at ease and allow them to both respect your accomplishment and to know that you aren’t trying to compete

#3 Including Photographs
Unless the person is related or is close enough to be considered a relation a photograph of your growing child is not necessary. Truly, what am I supposed to do with these photos? Save them forever? What is the appropriate amount of time to hold on to said picture prior to disposal? 1 month? 1 year? 1 day? Don’t put that kind of guilt on me.

#4 Keep It Brief
No more than one page in a 11 point font or larger. Unless you have traveled to the moon, solved World Peace, or discovered a new country, one page is more than sufficient space. I would love to know how your family is doing but I’m not really interested in a 2008 recap that rivals a PBS documentary. This means stick to the highlights; births, deaths, graduations, new jobs/loss of job, new house/loss of house, pets, major childhood accomplishments (this can be anything from walking to rehab), divorce or marriage. If ALL of these things happened in your life in one year well – take a Prozac and then focus on the good stuff. It’s Christmas man, don’t bring me down.

I hope this helps you and guides you as you try to communicate the events of 2008 to your friends and family. Honestly, I really am looking forward to your Christmas letter so please send it soon.

Woman Overboard!

Have I mentioned that I’m having a baby? Because suddenly as I enter the third trimester I’m reaching the “oh shit” moment in my pregnancy.  What having two other children teaches you is that having a baby is like inviting a nuclear bomb to explode into your life. It doesn’t get easier or smoother it just gets exponentially more challenging. So now as I stare down the barrel of this new baby’s arrival I can’t believe I thought this was a good idea. My anxiety level has reached epic proportions and outside of planning my own wedding this is the only time I can remember having panic attacks.

If you’ve never had a panic attack let me enlighten you on the feeling.  First, your heart starts racing for apparently no reason at all. Then, you feel as if you can’t breathe.  This is quickly followed by the emotional reaction of wanting to run away. On top of this I can’t sleep (which is why I’m writing this at 5 in the morning).  It would be easy to blame all of this on the baby but there is so much more to this picture. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and review how I ended up in this situation:

1.) Two weeks before this semester started in August I lost my nanny and quickly had to make the decision to put Max in preschool. This put me in the position of having had both kids home to both kids in school and with it the cascade of parties, homework, fund-raisers, etc that I never saw coming.

2.) Ten days before the beginning of class I was given a new textbook to use.  A textbook I had never seen before and would now need to write an entirely new syllabus around.  A textbook that I would later realize had little to no actual content in it and put me in a position of having to be constantly re-writing my syllabus, schedule and homework assignments.

3.) I lost the benefit of having a part-time nanny at home who could help with things like laundry and dishes. Instead I gained the additional responsibilities of homework time with the kids, and making sure uniforms were cleaned on time and packing lunches.

4.) Being pregnant I lost my ability to grade late into the evening because of my sheer physical exhaustion and so I quickly fell behind in grading.

5.) A student population this semester who seemed to need more hand-holding, more care, more time, more tutoring, etc, etc


Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, as I slide into finals week we put a bid on a new house which was accepted.  That is right, we’re moving over the holidays (well, as soon as we sell our house).  And we all know what the holidays entail; presents and cards and cookie making and an avalanche of school projects and parties for the kids.

And at night, as I collapse into bed the drama really begins. My sleep is plagued with vivid pregnancy dreams of early labor, forgetting my lecture notes or even worse, forgetting my baby.  The dreams are merely nighttime symptoms of the anxiety I feel during the day.  The dreams fade and I’m left tired and awake at 3:00 in the morning after only 5 hours of sleep.  I complain to my doctor who tells me I’m doing too much. But how do you scale back life? And it is not as if I can ask for help. I mean, it is not as if somebody can come in and do my kids’ homework assignments, or take them to the eye doctor for me, or schedule Max’s tonsillectomy or pack my house.

I’m drowning — in responsibilities, in fear, in anxiety, in excitement, in anticipation, in life.