The Writing Class

When I retired, I thought I would spend a lot of time writing.  I planned that finally get that memoir written. I had grandiose plans for myself whenever I thought about retirement.  Perhaps, the most grandiose idea of all was that I would spend a lot of time writing.

Since I retired, most of the writing I have done has consisted of writing in this blog.  I took up blogging in 2008 in order to have an outlet for all the writing I envisioned myself doing. It is hard to believe that I have published 372 posts over the past seven years. Blogging  has provided a great platform for writing.  Along the way, blogging gave me a bonus I never expected:  I made many friends through blogging. My life has also been so enriched by learning of so many new and different topics through reading blogs.  News around the world and nation has a new relevance to me because I  have blogging friends living in places where the news event is taking place.  My life has been broadened more than I imagined through my writing.

Even though I have written all those blog posts, I just never seem to get down to the real practice of writing that I envisioned I would do during my retirement years.  I write most days, but if I don't blog,  my writing mostly consists of journaling.  Journaling has become an important part of my writing journey as my journals have been the place where I worked through the grief I have experienced over the past five years after the death of my daughter Julie.

 Several of my dear friends are gifted writers and share a desire to get some serious writing done.  We have met on occasion over the years.  We always make promises to keep meeting to write, but then, life gets in the way and we cancel our next get together and don't meet to write.

In October, five of my blogging friends and I, the Vashionistas, as we call ourselves met for five days
 on Vashon Island in Washington to write.  It was dream come true for me.  I had often thought how wonderful it would be to spend a week writing with these great ladies, and it was great in many ways.  I guess you can say that the experience stimulated that desire to get serious about getting some serious writing done.

When I got home from my time with my blogging friends at the wonderful Lavender Hill on Vashon Island, I immediately began to search for a writing class.  I found that one was being offered through a local writing community that would be taught by Kathryn Eastburn.  I knew of Kathryn because of the writing that she had done as editor and co-founder of the Colorado Springs Independent, a local newspaper.  I also had taken a class several years ago with a woman who spoke highly of all she had learned from Kathryn when she had taken a class in creative nonfiction from her at Colorado College.
I knew that opportunities to take a class from such a great instructor are rare. so I paid my money and signed up for the class.

The timing for the class was not the best in that it would go from October 22 until December 17.  That is right during the holidays, I thought as I pondered whether or not I should sign up for the class that was limited to ten participants.  The timing of the class was difficult.  It certainly added to the stress of the season, but it is also good to have deadlines so that writing gets done.  We met once a week on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:30.  The class ended just before Christmas.  I felt a big hole in my life when I no longer had the mental stimulation and inspiration the class provided.

I so enjoyed the class.  Kathryn is the best.  She gave me so much insight into reading and writing creative non-fiction.  We had the best reading assignments that have given me great insight into how others have gone about writing memoir.  It was great being introduced to new authors I had never read before.  I wondered at times what rock I have been under that I have missed the work by these authors.  I most enjoyed reading selection from Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, and a selection by JoAnn Beard from her book, Cousins.  An essay that appeared in the New York Times by JoAnn Beard entitled, The Fourth State of Matter, blew me away.  Blogging friends, take the time to read this essay.  It is an amazing piece of work, and a story that won't be forgotten.

Not only did I enjoy some great reading time because of the selections that Kathryn assigned for the class, but I also greatly enjoyed, and learned much, from the discussions we had in class about what we had read.

Every week, we would receive two or three pieces of writing from our fellow classmates to read.  As we read, we were to annotate the piece of writing so that we could workshop the piece in class the following week.  Some of you readers may not be familiar with the term "workshop" as it is used in the context of writing.  Think of writing an essay and then submitting it to several readers for feedback.  The reader is not acting as the grammar police looking for mistakes.  The reader is instead reading to give the writer or author feedback that speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of the writing.  What works?  What doesn't work?  Where should the writer give more detail?

It may seem scary to submit writing to be workshopped, and to be honest, it is.  A very safe and supportive environment must be established in order for this type of writing experience to work for all of the participants.  It is really up to the instructor or facilitator to create this type of learning environment.  Kathryn is an excellent facilitator/instructor.  She creates a stimulating, welcoming, safe, and instructive place where I personally felt very free to create and learn.

Stephen Krashen, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, my hero when it comes to teaching and learning in the area of linguistics and second language learning,  teaches teachers about of the affective filter.  Many students in the literacy classroom come equipped with a well constructed affective filters through which they pass the instruction being delivered by the teacher.  This filter must be lowered by the teacher by creating a safe learning environment before the student is able to comprehend the input coming from the teacher.  This theory hold true for me as an adult learner.  If I don't feel safe in a writing community, or in the environment in which I write, I am not able to write if I don't feel safe and supported.  I am grateful that Kathryn created such a community and environment and restored my confidence in writing for others.
Over the course of the weeks I took the writing class, I was able to produce quite a bit of writing.  The feedback I received from the pieces I submitted was very positive.  As a writer, I am my own worst critic.  I think the things that just won't work in a piece of writing are surprisingly the things that my readers liked best.

After the class ended, and after the holidays were over, my fellow writing group ladies and I began to email each other about how much we missed our Thursday nights together.  After a bit of discussion on where and when to meet, we settled on a plan to continue to hold writing workshops on Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8:30.

Last night five of us met at the appointed time in the upstairs room of a wonderful coffee shop in Old Colorado City.  Each of us armed with a pot of tea, our notebooks, pens, and books, ascended the staircase to sit in an inviting private room around a large round oak table.  We are reserving the room for a month on Thursday nights at a rate of $25 a night which can be covered by our tea or food purchases and a bit more.

We will follow the same format as before.  Work will be submitted on Sunday nights for the others to read and annotate.  We will produce writings twice during our month together.  We shared the books we have been reading.  We share personal stories of the storytellers in our life.   We determined our plan and process.

The writing group continues.  Perhaps, this month I will actually get  a chapter written on my WIP (Work in Progress).  The group has really helped me find a focus and the work is seeming less scattered.  I am so looking forward to seeing what we all will produce.

Vashonista Celebration

On the first of October, I flew to Seattle, Washington to spend five days with blogging friends that I first met in October of 2012 when we rented an old farmhouse on Vashon Island.  Since that first meeting, this time together at Lavender Hill has become a yearly event.  This year, since all of us are now retired, we decided to spend five days together rather than three.  We also decided that we would spend the time writing.  Deb from Cat Bird Scout was our facilitator for our writing.

During our writing time we worked from Pat Snider's model of workshop writing. We wrote eleven prompt writing during our time together.  We all agreed to share our last prompt writing on our blogs.

The Prompt

Deb read to us Mary Oliver's Poem The Summer Day.  If you have never read this wonderful poem, I am included it here:

Once Deb had finished reading the poem, she gave us the last line of this poem as our writing prompt:

What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

A Reflection on The Prompt

Sometime assigned writing prompts bring up feelings which the writer wishes to not address in writing.  Such was the case for me that day.  This particular poem had been used on the funeral program of one lost too soon, of one I had loved and admired greatly.  I cut the poem from the funeral program and framed it as a reminder of the importance of that last line when considering the days we have left in this life.  

On this particular day when we were given this particular writing prompt, I had just received word that two men I had gone to school with had just passed away.  One had been married to a friend from my high school group before her untimely passing five years ago.  The other I had not know well, but my husband had, and he was the much loved older brother of a friend of mine.  Needless to say, the poem, the last line, and the prompt hit a very somber note with me.  The deaths of two from my school days seemed to prompt a reminder that I have fewer day before me than I do behind me.  

I decided to look back to my youth and see how I had used the days I have been given up until this point.  Had I used my time wisely?  What were my early goals for life?  How did the goals I had from my early days influence the decisions I have made through seven decades of living?  

The Writing Piece

Trees lined the sidewalks that led from the college dorms to the main campus.  Those canopy covered walks lead to the future for which I am preparing, I thought as I headed out that first day towards my very first college class.  Reality has hit.  I'm here for real.  Frosh orientation is thankfully over.  It seemed so silly.  I guess we are stuck with wearing these horrible beanies for a few days yet. I really hated the silly games we had to play during orientation.  Who thought we would like to play "Pass the orange under your chin to the guy behind you."  That, and high school, are all behind me now.  I have actually matriculated.  How's that for using a real college word?  I have my college map, and I know where Bru-Inn is.  I'll get a coke there after class.  Maybe I will make a new friend or two at the student center, but it is a bit scary to walk in by myself.  Maybe my roommate will meet me.  Thankfully, she and I are walking to our first classes together.

I belong here.  It took some doing.  I won the scholarship which is paying my tuition.  I convinced my father that I would make good on the investment he is making in my future.  Seventy dollars a quarter is covered by the tuition scholarship I won.  The board and room of $150 a quarter will partially be paid by the salary I will make working in the dining hall two meals a day.  I worked all summer to buy my clothes and help pay for books.  I know this is a sacrifice for my parents, but I am working and helping all I can.  

I will be a teacher.  I am here to prepare for that profession.  I'm not in any hurry to get married.  I will someday, but not now.  I want to be independent.  I want to rely on my own ability to make my way in this life.  

Later, when the preparation for a profession is done, and I have met the right person, I want to marry. I want to teach after I am married, but I also want five kids.  That means I hope to also have house, a garden, a place where my children and children after them will come for family dinners when they are grown.  I have my future all planned out.

The vision from those long ago days wasn't too far off.
The vision served as a blueprint for the decisions I made as I moved into the future.
I accomplished those goals.
Life has sent me many curves along the way.
Certainly, I never saw many of them coming, 
in the end,
if today were the end,
I'm happy with my life.
I've lived this wild and precious life well.

Read the posts from other Vashonistas at:
DJan at D-Janity
Jann at Benchmark 60

Seeking Stillness ~ Creating Community

Seeking Stillness

Do you have a sanctuary?  Do you have a place where you can be still?  Do you have a place where you feel safe?  For me, my physical sanctuary is my study, which is also the guest room.  I have carved out two little corners for myself in this sanctuary.  One corner contains my small desk where I write.

The other corner contains my reading chair.

Throughout my life, I have always had to have my solitude.  Along with that solitude, I've always needed a place where I could go to close out the world and connect with my inner world.  I connect best to that inner world through reading and writing.  Without stillness, and that place where I can just "be," I would never be able to function in the world at large.

Despite my need for solitude, and stillness, I also thrive on the energy created by other people around me.  I could not be happy if I were not a part of community.  In my need for solitude, I am not a loner.  I am a "people person," yet, I cannot always be surrounded by people.   Ironically, while I re-energize and heal through solitude and stillness, I find that I am also building community through the reading and writing that I do in that solitude.

This morning, I had a Bible study to attend.  That meant that I needed to up no later than 7:30.  I planned on getting up at 7:00.  My husband also needed to get up early, so he had set an alarm for 7:00.  I had a rough night.  Late in the day yesterday, my gallbladder had acted up. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by nausea.  I heard the alarm at 7:00, but I ignored it.  At 7:20, my husband came into the bedroom to gently wake me.  I appreciated his nudge.  I then asked if it had snowed as was predicted.  "Yes, but there are no school closures yet," he said.  So, I pulled myself out of bed and made my way to the shower as my husband checked the church website and the church school website to see if anything was posted saying that the school was closed due to the snow.  If this had been true, our Bible study would have been cancelled.

I know it is the third day of April, but we had snow today, lots of it.  After my shower, I walked into the kitchen to get my coffee that my sweet husband had already made for me and looked out of my kitchen window.  This was my view:

My decision for my day was made as soon as I put together a few factors:  it had snowed quite a bit; I still was feeling quite nauseous; I had not slept well; and, I am having surgery tomorrow.  Tomorrow, after a year of quite a few gallbladder attacks, and more testing than one would ever imagine, I am finally having gallbladder surgery. I decided today was a day to stay home.  

"I need to just be still today,"  I told my husband.  "I need to take the time to rest up and prepare for tomorrow."  My husband fully agreed with my decision to take the day to rest.

And so, today, instead of building community with the lovely ladies in my Bible study, and instead of being able to spend some time with one of my best friends, I chose to take the time to do some reading and some writing.  I chose to connect with the community that I find in books.  I chose to connect with the community that I find through blogging.  

Today, I chose Mary Pipher's book, Writing to Change the World, for my reflective text.  This book was on my bedside table because I had recently retrieved it from a bookshelf downstairs to use in preparing for a writing prompt for the monthly writing time I have with my writing partner, Iris.  From my notes in the margin of the book, I learned I had first purchased this book in July of 2007.  Mary Pipher, a favorite non-fiction writer of mine, and author The Middle of Everywhere:  Helping Refugees Enter the American Community, had through her excellent book on how to be a cultural broker provided me with one of the great texts I had used when I was teaching in the area of linguistically and culturally diverse education at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  Just after I retired, I found the book she had written in 2006 on writing and decided it could become a great text for my retirement years which I hoped would be filled with time for writing.  The inspiration I used in writing today's blog post, came from a portion of a chapter title in Writing to Change the World: "Seeking Stillness/Inspiring Action."

I've been mostly retired for nearly seven years now.  At times, I can't believe it has been that long.  I truly did hope to spend a large portion of my retirement days writing.  I thought I would be able to sustain the discipline of having a schedule similar to that which while I had while working when I began retirement.  Knowing my personality, this was really a very preposterous idea, but I did have hope that I would do so.

Today's Reflection:  Creating Community through Reading, Writing, and Blogging

Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes.  One enlarges and enhances one's world by reading.  One creates an community of character's in one's mind through reading.  One visits other countries, centuries, and cultures through reading.  Reading, just for reading's sake, has never been the driving force in my reading life.  I read to connect to the author, and to the characters in the story.  I think much of my life is about building connection; therefore, I read to build connection to myself and others.  

Blogging, when was the first time you heard that term?  For me, I have a very distinct memory of when I had first heard the terms blog and blogging.  I must admit that I had no idea what either word meant.  I was meeting with the English Department Chair at CSU-Pueblo when he spoke of blogging.  I would imagine that the year was 2005.  As a program coordinator in the Education Department, I was hired to write the curriculum and develop the program where teachers and pre-service teachers could take the classes necessary to add an endorsement to their teaching certificates that would enable them to teach  linguistically diverse (ESL) students.  The process of writing the curriculum and creating the endorsement involved, among other things, building a strong relationship with other departments.  During my meeting with him, Dr. S, almost as a side note, mentioned how he was quite fascinated by blogs and was thinking about how to build them into the English curriculum.  I smiled, tried to act as if I knew what he was talking about, wrote the word "blog" in my notes, and said, "Yes, that is an interesting idea."  When I got back to my office, I did a Google search of the word, read a bit about blogging, decided it made no sense to me, and filed the idea away in the back of my mind.  I had no intention of building blogging into the curriculum I was writing.

In 2007, I read more about blogs in Pipher's book Writing to Change the World.  Chapter Fourteen, "Blogs - A Revolutionary New Tool,"  gives the reader a short summary of the history of blogging and includes a brief assessment of blogging and how people all over the world were using blogs to give voice to all sorts of social and political concerns.  She also speaks of blog  "building communities, sometimes international ones, of people who do similar work."  (p. 221)

It is interesting to note that in the margin of the book next to a paragraph about how blogs provide instant self-publication opportunities that seem to "emphasize self-reflection and social commentary," I drew a * in the margin and re-wrote the words:  self-reflection and social commentary."  (A * in the margin has always served as an indicator to me that this is an important point to remember from my reading.)  At this point in my life, blogging was purely textbook knowledge.  I saw its value as a way to connect to the world.  I even saw its value as a writing tool, but I had not made it a part of my life.

As I initially intended when I began my day today,  I have spent time in my sanctuary where I came seeking stillness.  I have rested, and I have read.  In my stillness, my inner being has been been at work.  My thoughts have given way to expression through writing.  This is the natural process for me.  It is one I have followed for many years.  But now, I write not only for me in my journal, I also write on my blog.

I first began blogging in response to becoming a part of our family blog in June of 2008. This private, family only, blog was created my daughter Keicha, who now writes her own blog at O-townramblings.  Our family blog was an active, happy part of our lives through much of 2008.  Soon, our exchanges on Blogger were replaced by exchanges on Facebook.  I miss our family blog.  I wish we would resurrect it and use it again.   Like many other things in the life of our family, our family blog died a quiet death after the death of our daughter and sister Julie in 2010.  The header of our family blog contained this quote:  "AMONG THOSE WHOM I LIKE OR ADMIRE, I CAN FIND NO COMMON DENOMINATOR, BUT AMONG THOSE WHOM I LOVE, I CAN: ALL OF THEM MAKE ME LAUGH." W.H. AUDEN  Perhaps, after Julie's death we just could not find ourselves able to tell each other our funny stories.  I don't know when we began to have funny stories again.  Did we ever have them again?  There was just too much sadness, heartbreak, and unfortunately, we soon found ourselves isolated from each other when we needed each other the most.

I began my own blog on June 28, 2008 in response to a class assignment when I was taking a semester long class through the Southern Colorado Writing Project.  I did not post another entry until November 4, 2008.  (Click to read that post.)  It is clear from my writing, that my target audience was my family.

Today, April 3, 2014, I am writing my 299th blog post.  Today marks a milestone of sorts.

I have not only spent my day seeking stillness through reading, I am sharing my day via my blog.  Through blogging, I have welcomed others into my inner and outer world.  I did this quite by accident.  I could not have created this special community to which I belong through any sort of design of my own.  In some miraculous, serendipitous way, I have found myself a participatory member of the larger community.  When I seek stillness, or healing, or laughter, or support, or new insight, or friendship, I do so by sitting in the corner of my sanctuary at my desk.  Here, I connect to myself and to others across several continents by writing and by joining in the blogging community conversation.  How would I ever imagined all of this when I first heard the word blog?

And, so, as I prepare myself mentally for tomorrow's gallbladder surgery, and for the recovery time that I will have after the surgery, I find it interesting that I not only feel it necessary to tell my closest friends about the procedure, but I also find it important to share this information with my blogging community.  I hope to be back reading and writing soon.  In the meantime, know that your friendships have sustained me and enriched my life more than any of you could ever imagine.

A Trip Down South ~ Just What This Old Girl Needed

This has not been the best week.  Medical issues and medical tests continue to consume my days.  I had some more bad news from the doctor.  After a pulse oximeter test, it was determined I have to wear oxygen at night.  My doctor had ordered the oximeter test because of my continued light headedness and chest pain.  It just so happened that I was scheduled to wear the holter monitor at the same time as the oximeter test was taking place.   The results of the pulse oximeter were not good at all.  I won't go into details because it needs to be compared to the holter monitor results by my cardiologist before we will really know for sure what is going on.  My internist says the oxygen will help me, help my heart, but it is not the fix I may ultimately need.  Needless to say, I was discouraged, but decided until I have a better picture of what is going on, I would not completely freak out stay calm and wait for further test results.

I won't go into more details on my health, let's just say, the continual bad news was beginning to really get me down.  I told my husband last night that I don't know when I have been more discouraged.  The winter has just been too long and too hard this year.

After a down and depressing Friday, I was so glad to know I had a plan for today.  A month ago, a dear high school friend and I met for the first time to write together.  We'd talked of setting a date once a month to write together for over a year.  Finally, last month we actually met at a coffee shop and worked on our writing together for over several satisfying and happy hours.  Our time together was inspiring and gave me a renewed desire to write. Before we parted last month, we set our next writing date for today, February 22.

Since my friend IC lives forty miles south of here in my old stomping grounds of Pueblo, I decided to book a manicure and pedicure before our meeting time for writing.  My dear friend Kerri, has done my nails for years.  Since I've moved, I really have not found anyone to give me a manicure or a pedicure.  I've visited a few different places.  All were nice, but none were Kerri.  I missed her!  No one could replace her.  In fact, I'd stopped getting manicures and pedicures since we moved. (I wrote about Kerri in a blog post two years ago.  Click here to read about her.)

Before I left town, I dressed in some brighter, more springlike colors.  I'm tired of wearing black and brown and blue and red and all those winter colors!  I am ready for some color in my wardrobe again.  After dressing,  I threw together a bag for the day.  It contained:  my journal, my iPad mini, my yellow pad for writing ideas, my favorite pen, and my flip flops.  The flip flops came out when I arrived at Kerri's.  I'd need them after my pedicure.  As soon as I walked in the door, an old friend whom I usually meet at Kerri's because she gets her hair done on Saturdays was there.  We hugged and caught up on life.  I then hugged Kerri.  I then settled my feet into the waiting warm water.  Ahhh.  I was home again surrounded by my friends.  Do you remember that old song we learned in Girl Scouts?  Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other's gold.  It felt good to be back with my old friend.

I used to joke that Kerri was my therapist.  Now, I know that she probably knows and understands me as much as anyone does.  She's heard my deepest griefs, joys, dramas, and frustrations for at least ten years.  We've laughed, cried, and moaned, and groaned on a monthly basis about so much over the years.

As she massaged my feet and exfoliated my dry, cracked heels, I felt as it wasn't just dead skin that was being sloughed off of my winter and illness weary body.  I felt pampered, cared for, listened to, and renewed.  A coat of pink polish applied to my nails  added another lift to my spirit.  Two and a half hours later, I left Kerri's shop with a lighter step to my walk and with a much brighter outlook on life.  Thanks Kerri.  How I've missed you.
My feet are ready for spring.

The weather was absolutely beautiful forty miles south of here.  It was sunny and warm.  Already feeling like I'd been on a mini-vacation, I drove to my friend's house for lunch and writing time.  I was met at the door with a warm hug and the words, "You are a welcome sight for sore eyes."  I responded with, "You are a healing sight for a weary heart and soul."  From there, we proceeded to eat the wonderfully healthy lunch IC had prepared.  Chatting as we ate, we caught up on our news.

Then, it was down to work.  We started the writing session by our free write.  IC read great selection from the New Yorker written by Dave Berry.  We responded to the reading by writing for ten minutes.  It was so fun and interesting to see what each of us had written.

From there we shifted to talking about writing goals.  I love IC's great business minded approach to writing.  She is such a successful grant writer, and she is so successful at helping others begin new business ventures through her work with SCORE, so it was no surprise when she brought out the white board so we could use Venn diagrams to work out our personal writing goals.

I walked away from our time together with new clarity for my writing goals.  I was energized, and I was buoyed up by the positive feedback I was able to receive from her, and that I was able to give to her in return.  I felt like the teacher again.  I also felt like the student.  Heaven only knows that nothing builds passion in me more than being in a learning environment where I feel free to express and develop ideas.

Before I knew it, the afternoon was gone.  I'd left home early in the morning.  My day had been full.  I'd driven an hour south to where I'd been pampered,  reconnected with a primary relationship,  had lunch with a friend, and had time to write, to think, to plan.

As I left for my hour's drive home, for the life of me, I could not imagine why I had felt so used up and down the day before.  All I needed was a trip down south and a little a lot  of help from my friends to get myself back on track.  What a difference a day can make when it is filled with time with friends.  I think today was just what the doctor ordered.

To Blog or Not To Blog?

In December of 2008, I posted the following blog post.  I was new to blogging.  I had not one follower.  I wasn't sure if I should continue to blog or not.  Thankfully, I did continue to blog, but I find it interesting to read what I was thinking at that time.  Perhaps, you will too.

Reflection on Blogging from December, 2008

Of course that is the question...I started this blog, and sometimes I wonder why I continue to keep it. Do I write for an audience? That is a question that just appeared on Jim Burke's ning. It is a question that I am asking myself as I write this blog post. It is a question that does not have just one answer.

I have always enjoyed writing and have kept various types of journals over the years. I kept sporatic journals when my children were small as an attempt to just try and keep some sort of record of what life was like during that period of my life. I didn't really have an audience in mind when I kept those journals, but they were often more than just some sort of daily log of experiences. I wish I had been more disciplined in my journal attempts during those days because now I do have an audience for what I wrote during those busy, hectic times: myself and possibly my children.

Many young moms are blogging these days. They create fabulous blogs full of wonderful pictures of their children. They are pretty blogs filled with flowers and flowing designs. They represent the technological gifts that this generation of moms have developed. I envy these young moms and their blogs because they will have a precious record of their lives with their children. What a gift and a blessing. What I wouldn't give to have the same type of archive of my childrens' activities when they were young. I think these moms must have a permanent camera in their hands to capture all those adorable photos. They also must be incredibly organized to be able to produce these wonderful blogs, cook the meals, do the laundry and clean the house.

When one writes, the audience does not always present itself immediately. We wrtie because we have a need to record our lives. We write to express our dreams, our needs, our disappointments, our heartbreak, our insights, or even as a means of trying to make sense out of what is going on around us. Writing is intensely personal, and for that reason, we are sometimes hesitant to put down our most intimate thoughts and emotions on paper because we fear an unknown or known audience. Audience can intimidate us and cause us not to write or not to write well.

As a teacher, I now see I might have confused my students when I taught about audience and writing. I would tell my students that they did not need to consider audience when they wrote in their journals. In fact, I encouraged them not to think about the reader while writing. I told them that they were just to write. They did not have to worry about punctuation or spelling or any other grammatical rules as they wrote in their journals. I just wanted them to feel free to write without being intimidated by feeling that they must write perfectly if they were to write at all. I told them to focus on developing voice.

Many of my students would write stunning journal entries. They would amaze me with the uniqueness of their individual voices. I would get glimpses into their true selves through their journal writing. Sometimes, I would be heartbroken by what they had to share. Sometimes I would be alarmed. Always, I was grateful that they trusted me enough to write transparently and honestly when they knew I would read what they wrote. I was their audience, and they trusted me enough to write honestly.

Othertimes, when the students had a writing assignment, I would teach about audience. I would remind them that they should consider their audience when they wrote. Unfortunately, many times, these formal writings lacked an ability to touch any type of audience. They became stilted, boring, and seemed to only represent some sort of stylized writing that came about from trying to follow the form style writing that they had been taught in previous years of schooling. This writing would lack life. It might be perfectly representative of a five paragrah essay, but it lacked true meaning. The concept of writing for an audience was difficult for many students to grasp.

When my father became very ill and was hospitalized just days before he died, my students took a quarterly essay test that I had to grade before I could leave to drive over to Grand Junction to be with him. They had to respond to Li-Young Lee's poem, "The Grandfather." They knew they were writing for me - their teacher. They wrote mostly to get a grade. They clearly understood their audience. Interestingly, after all the responses were read, the grades were assigned, and I had left my role as teacher to drive to my father's bedside to become a daughter who only had a few more days to spend with her father, I found that my focus as an audience who had read assigned poetry responses shifted. I found myself recalling the poem, and even more importantly, I recalled the responses my students had shared with me about the poem in their tests. Their words began to comfort me. They gave me strength.  They allowed me to peacefully surrender myself to the moment I found myself in. I realized the power of the written word in a unique way. The freshness of my students' youthful responses that spoke of the value of caring for the elderly grandfather while treasuring his final stories spoke to me. We don't always know what response our audience will have to our writing.

Now, I find that I question the appropriateness and usefullness of my own attempts to write by using a blog. One of the most freeing lessons I embraced during this summer's writing project, was the concept that "there are not final drafts; there are only due dates." I can hear Katherine Frank's voice in my head whenever I repeat this saying to myself. I also embrace Anne Lamott's quote about some writing being a "shitty rough draft." The problem with a blog is that those types of drafts are immediately published! Horrors! What was I thinking???

Blogging is certainly the new "in thing" to do. I have so enjoyed our family blog. It has kept me smiling when I read the funny responses my children post. It has been a place where we can share our pictures and update our lives with each other. In today's world, so many of us have children spread all over the place, so it is nice to have a place where we can connect. The blog has been that place for us. It almost reminds me of the old round robin letters that my grandmother's family would circulate.

Blogs that are successful, seems to require audience. One would not continue to blog very long if one did not have some sort of audience. The beauty of the blog is the ability to have a place where one can post something that can generate an immedite response.

As of today, the jury is still out. I am not sure of the benefit of this blog except for serving as a place where I can create a bit of a history of what is going on in my life at the moment. I am newly retired. I struggle with my new status at times. I miss the academic life, and yet I am also happy to leave the daily demands of it behind. I miss my students. I miss the interaction. I miss my audience. That is one thing a teacher always has - an audience. As I used to say, "Just give me a stage!" But, I also like to think that my classroom was a place where we were all learning together. I like to think that I created a more generative, constructivist type of classroom. It wasn't just like the classrooms where I went to school most of the time. It was interactive and interesting. Certainly, if a blog is going to be successful, it must be all of those things too. At the moment, I think my blog mostly serves as a place where I can contemplate and explore where I want to go with my life as as a retired teacher. I don't necessarily need an audience to do that. I only need a place where I can record my thoughts and activities so I don't get lost. So, for now the blog continues.

A Short Reflection on Blogging from 2013:

And, now in November of 2013, I wonder what my life would be like if I had not taken up blogging.  I am grateful for the richness that blogging has brought to my life.   What are your thoughts about blogging?  Why do you blog?  Has blogging opened new doors in your life you did not even realize were there?

Loss and Grief in The Technological Age

Over the past few years, I have loved how technology has kept my family connected.    When cell phones first became the norm in our family, many of us soon decided to stay connected more economically by either making sure we were all using the same provider, or by  having a family plan that allowed us to call each other out of a "free bucket of minutes."  Even though my children were all grown and had left home when we first became connected by cell phone use, suddenly, Mom was always available, even when she was away from home.  I was ok with this new phenomena.  I love being connected to my kids.

When texting came into vogue, my daughters reacted quite strongly to my first few texts.  They said it  was "just wrong" for a mom to be texting.  That didn't last long.  We were soon texting each other regularly.

Then, along came facebook.  My oldest daughter got me started on that social networking system.  Before long, it seemed the entire extended family was connected.  Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, even my 94 year old mother, were all sharing memories, experiences and daily status updates with each other via facebook.  It was great.

Then, my youngest daughter died in May.  The unthinkable happened.  She ended her life.  By doing this, all communication with her stopped suddenly, and without warning.  I never got to say good-bye.  Even worse, she did not call me, text me, or try to talk to me before her fateful last action.  In a time when I thought we could all communicate so readily and easily, communication with my fourth child stopped.  No matter how amazing technology has become,  I will never hear from her again.

Not long after Julie's death, my oldest daughter set up a "Memorial Page" on my youngest daughter's facebook page.  She writes to her sister often.  She expresses some of her sorrow, her grief, and even her anger, on this memorial page.  Sometimes, my daughter's friends will post to her memorial page.  When I read these posts, I sometimes cry as if my heart will break.  Even though these public expressions of grief often greatly upset me, I also find that they are also very comforting and healing.  Julie's friends and I are now all connected in a new way:  we are connected via the internet in our experience and expression of grief.

I never write to my now deceased daughter on her memorial page.  I may make comments to other postings.  I seldom mention my grief on my facebook status update.  I have not devoted much blog space to my loss.  Instead, I have mostly expressed my grief and loss through a more private modality.  I have not felt comfortable expressing the depth of my emotions in the public arena.  

After the death of my daughter, I turned to my handwritten journal to express all that I was experiencing and thinking.  My journal has always been where I have recorded my private thoughts, fears, dreams, disappointment, frustrations, deepest longings and most wonderful joys.  Writing seemed to be the most logical action to take when I found myself stripped of everything that made sense.  

I have filled nearly an entire journal with pages and pages of writing since my daughter's death.  This writing has been for me, and me alone.  It is through writing, with pen and paper, that I have been able to pour out my heart.  I have not wanted my expressions of grief to be in the public eye.  I may change how I feel about this someday, but for now, I find my private, hand-written journal to be my source of comfort and healing.

I do believe I am on the road to healing, whatever that means.  At least, I know that I am not as overwhelmed with grief, shock and unbelief as I was in the early days of summer.  I am grateful for that.  I must also acknowledge that technology has been an important part of my healing.  Through technology, I am able to connect with my daughter's many wonderful friends.  They have been a source of comfort to me.  I laugh at their posts about daily life.  I admire the pictures of their children.  I cry over their expressions of grief.  I am amazed at how compassionate and supportive they have been to me and my entire family.  We are connected because of technology.

I am able to chat and text my other children.  We cry with each other and express our sorrow via cell phones and texts.  We try to support each other as much as we can since miles separate us.  Through technology, I am able to Skype my youngest son in Bangladesh.  When a mom has a son and his family so far away, I often find myself thinking, "Thank God for Skype and instant messaging." Technology keeps my family connected in wonderful ways as we deal with our incredible loss.  The other night, I was texting with a daughter, while she texted with her sister, and I was at the very same time instant messaging with my son in Bangladesh.  Technology is really very amazing. It certainly plays an important role in the way I am dealing with my own personal loss and grief.

Blogging - what is it all about?

In what seems a lifetime ago now, I taught high school English and ESL.  I loved teaching English.  I especially loved teaching English as a second language.  About six years ago, an opportunity came along that allowed me to expand my professional experience by going to the local University to create a program to train teachers to become ESL teachers.  While this meant that I would have to leave the secondary classroom, a place where I dearly loved being, I changed the course of my professional life and began writing curriculum that would lead to an endorsement in Linguistically Diverse Education.  I loved the diversity of my new position.  I researched. I wrote. I recruited students. I taught classes.  I became a part of the larger community of others across the state who worked in the LDE field.  It was all a wonderful experience.  Then, I retired.

I began this blog as a way to keep me writing as I began retirement.  I had no idea what direction the blog would go.  I even had a hard time naming my blog because at the time the only identity I could come up with was that of a retired English teacher.

I had visions of using the blog as a place to record my thoughts as I launched into a new phase of my life.  I established a consulting business and began to do a bit of professional development in the area of helping content area teachers teach English language learners.  That was my passion at the time.  Even in retirement, I did not think I would ever want to give up working with teachers who wanted to learn how to best serve their linguistically diverse students.  I hoped my blog would reflect my passion for my field of professional experience and expertise that I hoped to continue throughout my years of retirement.

A funny thing happened on my way to working after retirement.  After a few years of doing that, I didn't want to do it anymore.  I wanted to spend more time with family.  I didn't want commitments.  I wanted to read, to write, to garden, and I wanted to do all of that in my own way on my own time schedule.

My blog became a place where I wrote about random thoughts, memories, and experiences.  It had no focus.  That seemed to be just fine with me.

Now, because of the recent loss of my daughter, I am at a crossroads in my blogging experience.  I have thought of even renaming my blog.  I no longer relate well to the title of "retired English teacher."  Plus, that title puts a lot of pressure on me when I write in a more public format.  After all, now I really have to focus on my grammar, my punctuation, my sentence structure and all of that.  I guess I remain someone who can't read anything without editing it or "correcting it."  While this is true when I read the writing of others, I promise you it is not a judgmental thing, it is just ingrained in me.  When it comes to my own writing, I miss my mistakes because I seem to see only what I meant to say.

If you are a reader, I value your comments and support more than ever.  You all have been a strength to me.  I love reading the posts of my other blogging friends.  They keep me interested because they are all so  interesting.  Blogging opens up a new world that many of us never knew was out there.

Perhaps, blogging, as one form of writing, is important to me because of the reflective piece that goes with it.  As teachers, as learners, as writers, we find that we are most effective when we practice reflection.  I recently came across Peter Pappas' work on what he calls the Taxonomy of Reflection.
His model really speaks to me as I think about how this blog will proceed.  For now, most of my writing is taking place in my journal.  This blog will likely serve as a place where I can explore the public expression of my private writing.


My friend and I meet once a month on Monday nights to write. The two of us form our own little writing group. We begin our writing group by writing about a one word prompt. I always shutter in anticipation to see what word Lynette will come up with for me at our monthly writing time.

A few months ago, she gave me the word: inspiration. By definition, inspiration means: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, do something creative.

I love inspiration, but can also be led astray by it. I can start down an inspired path and then discover that I have lost the vision that led my down a particular path, or worse yet, I am bored by what once had inspired me.

I mostly find inspiration in the garden. It is there where I create wonderful visions and ideas in my head as I dig and dream. In the garden, when I've had the inspiration to create a vision that I thought would work, I find that I am also forgiving of my failures. I accept that nature may have had other ideas, or perhaps, I did not consider nature's rules when I first created my vision. It is freeing for me to accept that my inspiration was incomplete.

In the garden, I am forgiving for my lack of foresight. Thinking that I have accounted for potential growth, I've planted shrubs or perennials too close to each other or too close to a walkway. When a plant just doesn't work out where I thought it would, I just get a shovel and move things around. Oh, if only life were like this!

Basically, I'm just a dig in the dirt kind of gardener who is led by the vision in my mind. I don't have that freedom in my writing. I wish I could follow that same wild, colorful and unplanned kind of inspiration in my writing that I have found in gardening. Perhaps, it is in the garden that I most able to create voice. I am working on being able to bring that same voice to my writing.

Acclimatizing to Becoming the Sole Mistress of My Time

"Acclimatizing to becoming the sole mistress of my time" is a repeated theme in my life since retirement. This phrase, discovered in the book I am currently reading, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, rang very true to describing my own on-going struggle. The quote was actually used to describe Fanny Burney following her retirement from the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte where she had served as Second Keeper of the Queen's Robes. She obviously eventually became "accustomed" to her retirement because she went on to write novels, plays, and a biography. Her many diaries and journals were published after her death. It is important to note that her readership included Jane Austin and Dr. Samuel Johnson.

I loved this quote because it so accurately describes some of the frustrations experienced by those of who have always had so many demands on our time. As stay-at-home moms, we have jam-packed days that are dictated by chores, crying babies, curious toddlers and demanding pre-schoolers. We dream of the day when our little ones will begin school only to discover that our time is still not our own.

In my case, I went from being a stay-at-home wife and mother to becoming a single working mom overnight. My time had an entirely new set of demands. I had to continue to raise my children, keep house and provide meals, and I had the sudden and unexpected burden of becoming gainfully employed and educated. Somehow, I lived through those days and was able to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table while working at a very low paying job while I worked on finishing a college degree at night.

Between 1989 and 2002, I worked full-time and earned three degrees: a BS in Business Administration, a BA in English, and a MA in Teaching the Linguistically Diverse. Believe me, I was not "the mistress of my time" during those years. In 1992, I married my husband. In 1996, he became the principal of a large high school. So, I added the duties of being the wife of a high school principal to my long list of "things that keep me very busy."

As they say, "it was all good" during those years. I loved my multiple roles of wife, mother, daughter, teacher, and wife of a principal. I had little time to spare. It seemed that we were always on the go, and I had multiple demands for my time.

I've learned that I am motivated and become more productive when I am surrounded by others or when I participate in discussions or conversations. That is one area of my life that is missing right now. I don't have enough interactions with other people. So, in order to feel more energized and productive, I will need to mix with people more often. I must guard again becoming isolated. I've found that when I don't have a job to go to, it is way to easy to get lazy and isolated.

Productivity still remains a value that I wish to see reflected in my life. I don't want to be on the shelf, but I find that I now struggle knowing exactly what I wish to produce. I know I don't want to create lesson plans, educational design plans or curriculum maps. I am certain that I want that part of my life behind me. However, education still remains a passion in my life. I am concerned about the direction of the current educational system, I am just unsure what, or if, I want to do anything about my concerns.

For now, my blog, does keep me writing. I don't write much, but I do have place where I can write. I also have my writing group (of one other person) which serves as a place where I can exchange writing ideas, get feedback, and give support. This exercise in meeting to write and share ideas and thoughts on writing serves an important role in helping acclimate to this stage in life.

The part about retirement that I don't have down is believing that I have the right to be the "sole mistress of my time." That is what I will continue to work on now that I don't have the needs of children or demands of the school bell to dictate my time and direction.