ONE. DUMB. CLASS.

This is the story of the day I began to believe I was not a writer.

I was 21 years old, and almost halfway through my junior year in college. I went to a small, private college with less than a thousand students. On this particular day, I walked across the student union, my footsteps echoing behind me. 

The thing I liked best about the union were the echoes of my feet shuffling and the reverberating voices of friends you could hear as you walked through. I have a memory of a day my mom and I walked through the union during winter break when no one was around, and we sang the hymn, “Trust and Obey,” acapella. She sang soprano and I sang alto. Our echoing song gave me chills. 

But, I digress. On this particular day that I formed my belief that I wasn’t a writer, there were no songs and no happy voices that I remember. All I remember was walking over to my mailbox in the union, turning the key, and anxiously pulling out the paper I had written for British Literature, Second Survey. 

This paper had a big, fat, ugly, red C written on it at the top. 

My heart began to race. This was my third C on a paper in this English class, AND I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR FOR GOD’S SAKE! I was an honor roll student–NOT a C student, and I couldn’t bear the thought of committing myself to a field where I was not excelling. I felt a mix of anxiety and anger, as I clutched the paper close to me. 

I decided to do what I always did in college when I was freaking out:  I RAN. 

I didn’t even know where the heck I was running to. I just carelessly sprinted across campus, becoming more winded by the second, as I breathed in the blustery air of Northern Indiana. 

As I reached the other end of campus, I looked up and saw Shoup House. 

Shoup House was not my campus house. But it was a house where a few of my friends lived. One of those friends was an English major. 

“Becca!” I shouted. “I’m going to see Becca,” as if my subconscious knew where I was headed all along.

I ran in, sped up the wooden stairway, where I was greeted at the top by Becca and two of my friends. They quickly noticed I was not there for just a friendly chat. I was there because I was having a moment

“Damn that son of a bitch!! 😡” I yelled, throwing my paper on the floor. 

The girls quickly realized the “son of a bitch” I was referring to was Professor Tom David. Professor David was young, cool, and some girls even thought he was hot. (Gag.) His muscles and boyish good looks appeared fake to me, just like his neatly coifed hair.  During my sophomore and junior years of college, Tom was unfortunately teaching a larger number of classes than normal for the English department, since two other professors were on sabbatical, as I remember. 

Every English class with Professor David was PAINFUL. My upper level English classes typically had anywhere from 15-20 students in them. Tom displayed an obvious favoritism for the outspoken hipster students in the class from day 1. He would start anecdotes with, “Last night I was at the Electric Brew, having coffee with Caitlin and Brad, and we got into this really interesting conversation about the use of imagery in William Carlos Williams’ poetry…” And I would be forced to listen to him name drop the names of the “cool kids” throughout a story that had NOTHING to do with William Carlos Williams.

I simply could not compete with the Caitlins and the Brads. They were badass,  cool, confident, highly-favored hipsters. They loved Tom, despite his preppy cardigans and argyle sweaters, and he loved them.

The non-hipsters in the class, me and my friend, Michelle, sat off to the side in class, furiously taking notes. Todd never called on us, and may have even forgotten we were there, until one of us had the courage to timidly raise our hand, with our voice shaking, heart palpitating, and finally saying, “Um, I think that T.S. Eliot’s use of the objective correlative in British literature is actually used by a lot of screenwriters nowadays,” and mid-sentence we would suddenly realize that Tom David DIDN’T EVEN GIVE A SHIT, and wasn’t listening to what we were saying. And so we would suddenly forget the very important, courageous thing we were trying to say, and end up stuttering as we looked around the room at people who refused to make eye contact. 

And then, eventually, we stopped speaking in his classes. Like totally. We became selective mutes, since we grew  tired of his disdain for us. 

We were also tired of feeling knocked down. Tired of feeling not enough. I was doing everything I could to write a good English paper, but I continued to receive Cs that were covered with negative, red slashes all over my paper. 

I felt like my identity as a writer was being stripped away. 

I had been working as the student manager/director of the writing center at my college. I was responsible for tutoring several students to write papers. I was helping them succeed. Yet, I couldn’t seem to catch a break myself. I felt like a fraud

And this feeling was enough to cause me  to withdraw from my English classes at college and drop my English major, even though I was one class away from completing it. ONE. DUMB. CLASS. With dumb Tom David. And I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

Not only that, I stopped writing completely. I didn’t write anything substantial for sixteen years. And for sixteen years I felt a certain degree of emptiness–an emptiness that haunts you when you aren’t fully doing what you were meant to do. 

You guys, 

that.

is.

scary. 

It’s scary because I let one person–one teacher–have that kind of effect on my life. And it shows how we, as teachers, play a major role in how our students view themselves.

Tom David (as far as I could assess in my 21 year old brain) thought I couldn’t do it–I couldn’t write a paper worthy of his intellectual time or a decent grade. He showed me through his body language that my comments in class were not worthy of even being acknowledged. 

And I believed him. Even though he was ONE PERSON. 

He was my teacher. And now that I’m a teacher myself, I try to remind myself of this experience as much as possible, because it keeps me focused on the task at hand: teaching my students to BELIEVE they can GROW academically in their abilities.

If I don’t believe that, how will they?

I have the opportunity to show my students that the most important part of learning is growth. I modify instruction and student work, while looking at students’ data over time. Each child is unique and has a specific set of challenges and abilities. As they grow and improve through hard work and practice, they gain self confidence. 
Oh my god, I think I need to say that again. 

As they grow and improve through hard work and practice, they gain self confidence. 

That, right there, ⬆️ was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I dropped my English major when it got difficult, because I didn’t know that I could improve anymore. 

Anyone will quit something he thinks he sucks at, if he doesn’t believe he can improve. Anyone–adult or child.

Now, I don’t blame Tom David for my decision to quit my English classes. I was the quitter. I was the one who gave up. I was so intimidated by him that I didn’t ask for help, nor did I get a tutor, because I was too proud. That was my choice, and I learned from it. 

And what I learned is actually invaluable–I learned that I have INCREDIBLE power as an educator to help my students develop beliefs about themselves–beliefs that can set them on a positive trajectory for life. And the first belief I want to instill is that it is through hard work–not just being smart, that one accomplishes the work that he or she was born to do. ❤️

Me (in the red) and a bunch of other non-English major college peeps, doing our non-English major thing.

Good Enough

Do you know what it’s like to be a perfectionist? 

Sometimes perfectionists are not who you think they are. They may look like they have their sh** together OR they may look like very unproductive people; when in fact, they are just stuck.  This is one of the truest things I’ve ever written about that: 

https://ohcrapitstomorrow.com/2015/02/10/it-sucks-to-be-a-perfectionist/

You know why it sucks so bad? Because you just get this debilitating feeling like you can’t freaking do something right, so you just don’t do it.

For example, tonight I wanted to sit down and write this on my blog:

I suck. I suck. I suck. I suck. I suck. I stink. I suck at everything. I stink. I suck. I suck. I suck. I have so much to say, but can’t figure it out, so I suck. I suck. 

Because OMG that’s TOTALLY HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW. 

I am working so hard at eating clean but I ate two servings today of junk food and now I suck. 

I am working so hard to be better at Crossfit and yoga, but I haven’t made it to the gym in a few days, so I suck. 

I am working so hard at being firmer and more consistent in my discipline with Aliana, but I let her stay up 30 minutes past her bedtime last night, so I suck.

I suck I suck I suck I suck.

That has been my mantra. Wow. Would you want to live inside my head now? Probably not. 

But here’s the thing. I’ve been struggling with this crap for years. And if there’s one thing I noticed, it’s this: the only constant is change. 

Right now I feel crappy and unproductive, but next week will be better. There will be good weeks and bad weeks. There will be times when I need to meditate, pray, and rest, and times that I need to hit the pavement like a badass and just churn out tasks like nobody’s business. There will be times I am so productive that nobody can match how efficient I am, and there will be other times that I will simply stumble around like a bumblebee with a low IQ. 

And that’s just how I’m wired. It’s the very nature of WHO I am. I am a dichotomy-productive, yet sputtering; hardworking, yet idle; classy, yet disheveled. 

And I know, as a wise friend once told me, “Emily… What if doing something ‘good enough,’ ACTUALLY REALLY IS GOOD ENOUGH?”

That’s ⬆️⬆️ the lesson right there. Sometimes doing something half assed–with the intent to love yourself or others–is actually okay. If I’m really not wanting to go for a run, but I go for a run and end up running kind of half assed, IT’S STILL GOOD THAT I WENT FOR A RUN. 

So tonight, I’m going to replace the “I suck” with “Good enough is good enough.” And please don’t mistake my message for saying that I’m against self discipline. Self discipline is very important to me and it’s the reason why I’m frequently re-evaluating my goals. What I’m against is self loathing–all because we had a bad day or week and didn’t do things as we wanted to. 

And I’m also going to keep watching this ten second video footage from the field trip I went on today with a bunch of second graders. Because I LOVE this one kid’s reaction to learning that he may see wild animals. We need to be like this kid–alive with curiosity and joy. ❤️

I Remember

Tonight I did something I wasn’t quite sure I could handle. I went to volunteer at a counseling center for victims of domestic violence. 

There is a group of writers who are running a workshop at the counseling center. The objective of the workshop is to encourage the participants to tell their stories.  They can write about anything they want–meaning, they have the power to decide if they want to write about the trauma they have experienced or something else. I decided to volunteer specifically as an interpreter and writing tutor for the women in the group whose first language is Spanish. 

But I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wanted to do this. I have been wanting desperately to give back. My memories of expressing my creativity as a way to recover from trauma are some of the most powerful reminders of the beauty you can find within pain.

But I wasn’t sure I could do it.

What if I cried as someone told me her story?

What if I started to remember awful things and wanted to leave the room?

What if I couldn’t help the women I wanted to help, because my own memories got in the way? 

What if I wasn’t strong enough to lead them in their writing? 

These were the questions that raced through my brain as I pondered the potentiality of this opportunity.

And I decided that since those were all questions that began with “what if…,” that I wouldn’t have the answers until I decided to do the very thing I wasn’t sure I could do. 

And so I JUST SHOWED UP. I showed up and sat down next to some brave women. I observed them writing. The other workshop volunteers and I wrote alongside the participants when the instructor gave them a prompt. I watched the women seated next to me let the words flow out onto the pages without any hesitation. 

A woman I was interpreting for wrote about how she wanted to be an eagle. She began to cry as she was reading her story outloud to the group in Spanish. She stopped and froze. I handed her tissues and touched her arm. 

“You are so brave!” I whispered to her in Spanish. 

She nodded and continued to read. She has always loved eagles because they are strong and free. She said she used to be free like them once. But then something happened. And now she hasn’t been free for several years but she KNOWS she will be free again just like she once was. 

I looked at her, feeling a mixture of wonderment and empathy and pride. “Your writing will help so many people,” I told her. She nodded. She was so sincere and so real to me. She knew there was power in her pain.

You see, I had been so afraid of feeling weak, BUT THE OPPOSITE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I felt the strength and the energy in the room–strength and energy and power.

Sometimes we doubt that we are ready to do emotionally hard things. And so many of those times we just don’t give ourselves enough credit. 

In honor of doing hard things, I am sharing with you an excerpt of my writing tonight. As I mentioned, we wrote in silence with the participants, as a form of solidarity. But also because writing is good for the soul. 

The writing prompt was a simple one. It was, “I remember…”

I Remember (by me)

I remember, now, that there were good things. I remember the sound of your laugh. So boisterous and loud. I remember how when you were filled with joy, everyone else was, too! I remember the smell of your cologne–so grossly strong, yet so good. I remember watching you play the piano. I remember how you slammed those ivory keys in a way that was over the top. I remember the first time I saw you play, I laughed outloud, thinking you were being funny, until I realized you were actually serious. THIS WAS YOUR ART. I remember how we laughed so hard at our inside jokes that we rolled on the floor, tears seeping out of our eyes. I remember how you lovingly touched the small of my back, and my nerve endings felt excitement. I remember how I wanted to be yours and how that simultaneously worried me. 

I remember how when I left, I couldn’t remember these things because that would have created confusion. I remember that the pain of you gripping my throat on the closet floor clouded all the good memories of you. 

I remember how the pain of loving you was my addiction. I remember how as I became stuck in this addiction that I had dreams of running away. Sometimes even flying away to a place you couldn’t find me.

I remember how much of a dichotomy you are. How all of it–all of you and all of us–couldn’t survive. I remember the day I realized how dangerous it was. 

I remember all of this. But I don’t remember sometimes, because if I did, it would be hard to watch our child hop into your arms for safety.

But I remember. I do. 

   

Haters Gonna Hate

Back in October, I went to a local writers’ conference. During the conference, we were encouraged to meet with book agents to “pitch” a book idea.

But prior to that, there was a seminar in which the agents sat on stage and listened to excerpts of people’s manuscripts read aloud. A manuscript was read, and each agent was instructed to raise his or her hand when a point was reached in the reading where he lost interest in hearing the story.

Each author had a choice, of course, as to whether or not to participate in this activity. I chose not to submit my writing, because the idea of it scared the crap out of me.  About 12 minutes into the seminar, I turned to the woman next to me, and I saw an intensity in her eyes that looked like anger and fear. I realized it was her manuscript that had just been read and criticized and dismantled by a bunch of book agents who didn’t know that this story was her creative BABY. They didn’t know it had been growing inside her brain for years, and they were strangers to the yearning that she’s had to get it out. They were just sitting up on stage, getting paid to say all the reasons they had NO interest in reading her writing.

Another woman was sitting on the opposite side of her. “It’s okay, they are just like that. Don’t take it personally,” she consoled her.

But I took it personally, AND IT WASN’T EVEN MY MANUSCRIPT.  I wanted to stand up and say, “Oh, just stop being mean!!! This is her BABY. Her creative BABY. Please stop.”

But instead, I bit my tongue and walked out.

Later in the day, I was scheduled to give a pitch for my writing with an agent. After what I saw the book agents do to people’s manuscripts inside the pitch seminar session, I really was considering bolting out of there and running home to hide under my covers and eat chips and salsa.

I told the other writers there that I was 99.9% sure I was going to back out of the bitch–I mean, pitch.

“Oh don’t!” They all said. “It will be a good experience for you, no matter what happens.”

Me: Okay. 😐

So I went to the pitch session. I sat across from the book agent at a small desk, and started to tell her about my blog. As I  began to speak, I could see her eyes bolting in another direction. Like, the thought instantly occurred to me that she was actually BORED, and I had barely spoken five sentences.

The best way I can portray what the experience was like to you, is to reinact the pitch session with my cat acting as the book agent. Because my cat and this book agent seem to be kindred spirits. So here goes:


The agent’s response:


My response to the agent’s response:


And then the agent, who, once again CLEARLY doesn’t give a sh*t.

Which finally caused me to go into my, “Oh my gosh , this is awkward” soliloquy, which I usually reserve for first dates:

 So, yeah. That didn’t turn out so well. Not that it should have, because it’s pretty clear to me that a book deal with this publisher wasn’t in the cards.

But here’s the big thing, you guys: we are creative beings. We are born to create. You–yes, you! I believe that every single person on this planet was created TO create. And only YOU can figure out what that thing is you are supposed to create.

But here’s the terrible thing that sometimes happens: someone tells us somewhere along the way that something we created wasn’t good enough. (This happens frequently in childhood.) And that memory sticks like glue to our brains. And it seems like these memories are some of the most POWERFUL ones that affect our development into adulthood.  

These memories are what cause us to stop creating. And it’s time for us to tell those memories to get the heck out of our heads because they aren’t paying rent to reside there anymore.

Brene Brown is a shame researcher, speaker, and one of my heroes. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she sums up what she’s learned about creativity:

“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”

In an interview, Brene further expounds on the subject: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, and shame.”

Do you hear that? IT METASTASIZES. (And I know this to be true, because it is not uncommon for those who are not using their creativity to resent those who are.)

That is why, going back to my agent pitch story, it is important for us to be cautious about whose feedback we take seriously.

And you wanna know whose feedback I take seriously?  It’s the people who are in the shared fight with me, getting their asses kicked everyday alongside of me. As my hero, Brene says, “If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

If you’re not fighting to protect the same things that I am, how can I know that your feedback is coming from a helpful place?

And feedback IS important from the RIGHT people.  Feedback can be life changing from those who truly care.

So my wish is for everyone who has made the brave choice to create something to know this truth I’m about to share. And yes, I’m on a Brene Brown kick here folks, because if it weren’t for her research and writing, I wouldn’t know this truth, which lies in a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, that was the impetus for her book, Daring Greatly.

image

It’s time to dare greatly. Will you join me in the arena?

We can leave our book agents and cats behind.