creativity exonerated

“Hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.”

Jericho Brown, The Kenyon Review Conversations

“Let the world we dream about be the world we live in now.”

from “Livin’ It Up On Top”, Hadestown

So, it was a long day. Friday shouldn’t make you earn the weekend the way this day demanded I dig in and persevere. My attitude shift from Monday that brought lightness of being and joy to much of my week wavered under the weight of the stress. I found myself losing my breath again, feeling exhausted.

Yet, in the midst of all of that, the two quotes above flitted about my thoughts lending hope and injecting energy.

Being a creative person and seeing possibilities when other, sometimes more practical, people mostly see roadblocks…being a creative person driven by the hope and the belief that more often than we realize, the impossible can be imbued with the spark of life…can lead to a bit of a frustrating existence. The litany of naysaying often easily exceeds the necessary check of optimistic idealism. The constant defense of what goodness will come when we just try the new seemingly unattainable possibility is exhausting. But the hope that is intertwined with this creativity, even and especially when called into question, rejuvenates and restores the spirit so that intensity of vision remains in focus.

As frustrating as my optimistic creativity can be for those that have to work and live with me, it instills in me the hope that drives me forward…that drives progress at my school and in my home forward. It makes me who I am and is the catalyst of any goodness I might be able to offer this world. I refuse to apologize for it any more in the way I used to feel compelled to. And honestly, on a day like today that is filled with demanding stressors, it is this creative hope-filled vitality that impels me forward and that allows me to continue dreaming. (It also doesn’t hurt that today is Friday…)

~hope~

The college admissions process, if I am being honest, is a destructive force in the life of high school students (I have other language for this but it’s not quite appropriate here). The urgency for students to make the very best grades in only the most challenging courses available hijacks their high school careers, and in many cases their quality of life and mental health. Students feel burdened to focus solely on a journey toward acceptance into college rather than on a course of self discovery; they are trained before they ever venture through the doors of high school that earning the highest grades supersedes learning for the sake of learning; high school becomes a means to an end rather than a place to dive in and truly engage in exploring curiosity. Teachers work hard to battle against this disruption in the educational lives of our kids, one that owns the potential to strip the true value of learning from their high school experience.

As a high school English teacher and principal, I could express concern for days on this subject. And not because my students are delicate flowers who can’t face the challenge–quite honestly, they persevere through it in a way most adults could not manage. My concern comes from the knowledge of what their high school careers could look like and the distorted version they are forced to live.

But this position is not the point of this blog…this is the “positivity project” after all! And the title of this blog is “hope”…so where is the hope, you are wondering? It is with the kids. They are always the hope.

Today, I was working with a senior on her college essay–guiding her through the process of maintaining her voice while revealing the best of herself. It was a delightful conversation–one that allowed her to maintain total control of her words and thoughts so that her essay absolutely represented her. She chose to write about a problem she would like to solve; she chose to write about civil discourse. Okay, so it is a given that anyone choosing the challenge of modeling civil discourse in our divisive and often vitriolic world and anyone willing to encourage others to participate has my attention. But the fact that this 18 year old is so driven by the import of this challenge delivers hope to my heart and reminds me why we do the hard work. It is important to note at this point that civil discourse is a sincere concern of hers and not just some concoction of desperation for admission to college. And her words reveal that:

Before I didn’t grasp how allowing vulnerability and discomfort into a conversation could solve the problem at hand. I didn’t realize that they were valuable and essential things I should embrace. I didn’t realize that what made me uneasy was the fundamental element that makes conversation helpful.”

Hope.

Because if everyone understood this and lived into it, the world would be a far more unified place to exist–people would live in community rather than in polarity. Rather than seeking means to always be in the right, we would spend more time listening, considering, understanding–even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it means sharing in an honest and meaningful way. We would come to conversations in love rather than hate. We would be better humans.

Hope.

Because she will make this world a better place. Because she already has. Because if we listen carefully, this legion of teens we are torturing with a grueling college admissions process will show us the way. They are already leading us in the right direction. Let’s give them the credit they deserve, swallow our pride, listen and act on their guidance.

Hope.

In her words, “ I know that if society wants to reach true productivity there has to be a constant, earnest conversation. No loopholes..can be tolerated so those engaged are dedicated to working for the common good and not their personal interests. 

I don’t know where I will end up after college or what profession I’ll venture into because I am unsure about a great deal of things. However…I recognize that I have a passion and a gift for encouraging other people to listen and for exemplifying how to discuss respectfully, and I have no intention of wasting it.”

 

 

 

Light

Some days are armed with the power of transformation–arriving as ordinary as any other yet abounding with redemptive reminders that distract our gaze from its habitual focus. Some days extinguish the anguish of negativity, doubt, and worry that heavy the burden we shoulder and we walk into a new day renewed.

It has been a difficult few months and my boots have become weighty. I trudge from day to day (with a smile across my face, regardless)  knowing that this sensation, this looming shadow is ephemeral in nature. It is not the end. There will be more. There will be goodness. There is still love. But sometimes, it can be hard to keep my eyes above the waves. Sometimes, it feels easier just to give in to the shadow, to shroud the possibilities of positivity in the obscurity and confusion of doubt.

Today, though, there was a moment that changed all of that. Today was quite possibly the most perfect Jazz Fest day one could experience–the weather, as friendly and laid back as the people, welcomed us serenely as we strolled from stage to stage and from food stand to food stand. It was living into this day, however, rather than simply letting it happen to me that has reformed my vision, my heart, my head. Tonight, I am new. I am ready. I am grateful. Tomorrow will be met with fresh perspective.

This shift ignited with a moment I’ve witnessed countless times in my Jazz Fest experience…the moment when the Economy Hall Jazz tent erupts from seated passivity into the undulating zeal of a Second Line. They marched; they strutted; they sashayed; they paraded; they danced. Some with eyes closed, others with eyes wide; there were smiles stretched wide, yet some others with brows furrowed as music overwhelmed their being; some with open hands waving high, others clasping an umbrella or napkin or hat for flair. I’ve come to expect this scene–honestly, if it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t feel like Jazz Fest at all. Yet today, somehow it appeared differently to me.

Today, the people became the poem—each moving individual a unique line in a much larger piece, creating, contributing to the rhythm of the whole, breathing life into its body. Each moving individual providing some sort of punctuation to guide the reading–a full stop in mid motion for one, a quick pause for another and some, whose fluid movements never ceased, overflowed their line and rolled right to the next. Enjambment made physical. Yet, all together, they composed a singular poem…proverbial poetry in motion…and it was stunning.

As I watched this diverse group parade, I considered that on any given day these people would have absolutely no reason to stand next to each other let alone dance together. These people were so visibly varied that they might not have much in common (or at least they might assume so–we tend to lose sight of the commonality of humanity in the face of obvious differences), they might not agree or see eye to eye. They might argue. They might even fear what they don’t fully understand about each other and never strike up a conversation at all. They might come to dislike each other. They might never have danced with each other.

Sometimes words just complicate a simple existence, you know? We feel they are steering us toward truth when in fact they are simply rearranging facts to make us feel more comfortable with the “truths” we create. We feel we are using them wisely when in fact we might be using them divisively instead. We fail to employ them to build others up because it is simpler to destroy. We fail to ask questions and instead assert assumptions.

Today, in the presence of music, words weren’t necessary and the people moved with unity–uniquely dancing their own Second Line but doing so together…respecting differences, even admiring them and thriving as a result. Today, I saw what the world can be when we tear down language of “them” and “us” and instead, embrace the dialogue of “we” and “us”. Today, I saw a vision of the beauty that arises when we simply let those around us be themselves without judgement because we are too busy being ourselves to find fault. Today, I saw the possibility of living together harmoniously in a world that seems to fight with fervor against such a dream. Today, I saw hope and it overwhelmed my heart.

A single moment taken in, considered. Renewal granted. Replenishment.

Light in the darkness exists, if we simply take the time to seek it out.

endurance

There’s this section in Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Jerusalem,” that lingers…sort of always there, but every so often pronouncing its presence with a sense of passion.

“I’m not interested in

who suffered the most.

I’m interested in

people getting over it.”
There is beauty here that is simple, pure and I think often misunderstood. My students sometimes see these opening lines as insensitive…lacking in sympathy, empathy, human kindness. But what is missed in that interpretation is that she doesn’t write that she isn’t concerned for those who have suffered. She is simply less concerned with the misguided competition for who has endured more and is more intensely intrigued by the human process of getting over it–the ability to move on…without harboring hate. Because in the “getting over it” the substance of the human soul and the intensity of perseverance, the will to not just survive but to flourish becomes evident. The getting over it is the example, right? It is the inspiration to the rest of us, the paragon we look to in the midst of our own suffering. Without that inspiration, it’s hard to believe we can surmount the struggle. The “people getting over it” embody the hope that we need to carry on. (and when we persist toward healing, we in turn become that hope for others…a pretty cool cycle, right?)
Later in the poem she writes, “Each carries a tender spot:/something our lives forgot to give us.” Suffering isn’t unique to the individual, rather it is a quality of humanity. We all suffer to varying degrees (we all carry “a tender spot”), it is what we do with that pain that makes the difference. Do we choose to become bitter? To hate? To live in anger and frustration? Or do we choose to forgive? To extend grace? To live in acceptance and hope?
It isn’t always easy to envision a path that leads to the “getting over it”…and sometimes even once we locate that path, it is rather thorny. And sometimes the path requires more energy than we possess in the moment, so we sit down and rest…not wallow, just rest…so that we can unearth the strength, the courage to continue toward overcoming.
The poem ends with the hopeful line: “It’s late but everything comes next.”
In this world that swells with selfish selections…that swirls with negativity and heartache, fear and hatred…this line fills me up. It is late. But nothing is over. There is more to come. We haven’t seen it yet.
Let’s get over the tender spots and marvel at those around us who do the same. Let’s remember that hate doesn’t have to be our answer when wounded. Let’s keep our eyes on what comes next. Let’s live in community, in forgiveness, in a world where getting over it, healing is more interesting than some strange competition over who hurts more. We all hurt. At some point, we will all hurt. Let’s embrace our humanity and rise above that struggle to live our lives with meaning and intent.
Because that is, after all, the blessing of each new day.
(Day 44…loved revisiting this poem)

empowerment

Words, language, have become a means of survival.

Air, water, food, shelter, words. Sincerely, their necessity has reached this level.

The easy answer here in uncovering the meaning behind this dramatic assertion is that books have saved me…allowed me an escape…or that writing has…but it isn’t that simple or that obvious, because for a long time, when I was sick and dizzy, reading and writing were not the friendliest options. However, there are realizations in life that shine a light to burn off the fog that has settled in around you…the fog that hinders your vision…not allowing you to see anything else until you recognize first the truth of what has blinded you. Sometimes you get lost and can’t see up from down or details of the world around you.  Then the moment arrives when understanding clarifies the rest and the fog becomes mist which becomes transparency.

So, I have come to learn that when my language portrays victimization (whether resulting from life long struggles with anxiety or my more recent struggles with inner ear disability), that I sink swiftly into a self induced chasm of resignation. When my language falters under the weight of whatever ordeal I am suffering, I surrender any power or control I have in the situation and I become nothing more than a sacrifice to my circumstances. However, when I shift the syntax…when I choose words that reflect the strength of a survivor…suddenly, I repossess my strength, my courage, my vibrance. When I look at a situation through the lens of accomplishment rather than through the fog of defeat, it may not change my circumstances, but it certainly alters my perception of them. This isn’t simple stuff. The words, this “survivor speak” may feel hollow at first…futile, for they are just words after all. Eventually, with diligence, the moment arrives when they aren’t just words any more because what once felt empty has not only  become your reality, but transformed your experience of it.

In the same way that words can be employed to tear down and demean or to reconstruct and elevate others in our lives, they can be engaged the same way in our own.

100 word challenge part two

Meet Gingersnap. Nine pounds of Terrier mischief & charm housing nothing but disdain for this blog challenge. Where she once spent her evenings lulled to sleep by scratches behind her ears, a computer has taken up residence. The hands that once offered her comfort, now frenetically strike keys instead. You would think that after 40 days, she would’ve given up…that she wouldn’t still be battering my arms, begging insistently for a redirection of my attention. You would think. Except, I think she is only more fervent now than she was in the beginning. A perfect example of a hope that perseveres.

(Day 40!! If only this were Lent, my challenge would be over!! Still many more blogs to write…hoping next week brings me more time and focus. This week has been tough!)

praise

I would venture to say that I read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day” once a week, without fail. Of all the poems in the world, why read and reread that one in particular, you might ask? And, you know, that is a really valid question. There are so many poems that move my mind or spirit toward thinking and imagining and pushing beyond, but this one is on regular repeat. Always for different reasons, but essentially because in some way or another, it continues to instill in me a sense of hope for humanity. It portrays the strength we can muster when injustice needs to be called out and then Alexander pushes us a bit more and offers up a praise song for it: “Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day./Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,/the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.” This is our responsibility. To be grateful for this gift of being in the struggle and finding ways to speak out against it…even when it is difficult. Even when we feel threatened. Even and especially when we speak out for others, with others, who are struggling more than we are…because we can, and we should. Because that is who we are called to be in the moments when justice fails. Because we are granted the freedom to do so.

And then there is this, “We encounter each other in words, words/spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,/words to consider, reconsider.” This idea of encountering “each other in words” steals my attention with each reading and reminds me that what I say, in every situation, no matter who is around to hear the utterance, bears significance, creates impact. As a teacher, I have to remember that no matter how powerless I may feel, in a room full of kids, I have power. To wield words carelessly can alter the course of a young person’s day, can fray self esteem, but when considered cautiously can instill confidence, encourage perseverance. I can’t make decisions for my kids, but I can select language and words that allow them to feel able to do the work even when it is difficult…I can choose words that respect their humanity. And the truth of this extends beyond the classroom. When I pause to think, to take a moment to empathize even briefly, before issuing words, I can take the time to craft the statements that reflect the kind of person I really want to be. Am I perfect with this? Of course not. Hence, this poem is a regular read because, as I tell my students, I am not above reminders!

But really, it is this that keeps me coming back to this poem…

“What if the mightiest word is love?

 

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.”
Love and light and hope and gratitude swirl in these lines and fill me up with a joy in
and a vision of what can be…if we only remind ourselves to be the people we were
created to be…if we only remind ourselves of the praise song for who we are and who we
have the capacity to become, together.
(Day 29!)

answer

Stress has stolen my sleep, or at least its quality, in recent days. I am incessantly exhausted, running solely on a combination of adrenaline and sugar, as my sleep has been interrupted, disturbed, upset. Stress is a clever thief, often lurking quietly in the shadows until just the moment when I attempt to rest, until just the moment when I am seeking the solace of slumber, the peace and healing offered in sleep. Those are the moments when my stress furtively tiptoes into the forefront of my mind and my brain begins to work harder, ideas and worries and concerns flood in, my heart rate picks up and my eyes open…staring at the ceiling. I don’t want to give in and get up; however, the longer I lay there, the more the stress intensifies. Until I suddenly realize that since I’ve been up worried for so long, I’ll never get enough sleep and then my stress is compounded.

Despite the seeming routine of these events, I never see it coming. Instead, it is just all of a sudden present, and once that occurs, reason and relaxation are out of mind and the swiftness of their eventuality is called into question.

Regular exercise was my greatest outlet for relieving this kind of stress and for deepening my sleep. But since last November when my inner ear decided to throw its own kind of wild party, regular exercise has become more of an intermittent affair. I am just not feeling well enough regularly enough to make a habit of it–to be able to maintain the discipline. That is a true frustration point because I honestly enjoy working out–I honestly enjoy pushing myself and my body to the outer limits of my fitness ability and my body has essentially told me, “Um, no thank you. That time is done.” I am trying to convince myself that walking is a viable fitness plan until more healing has taken place and I am ready to do more. But this all or nothing mentality that I am apt to adopt sees that remedy as circumspect. I don’t  want to just have to walk–I want to be able to do push ups and box jumps and to lift weights. I don’t want to be restricted anymore. I want to be well. I want to be and feel like myself…my best self.

And in that frustration, guilt is born. I know I should just be grateful for being mostly well and not be greedy about what workout I am relegated to. Honestly, I should be grateful for a great many things.

And that has become my newest remedy for stress–I turn in toward my gratitude. When I focus on what I am thankful for, I make a conscious turn away from stress. As I focus on the positivity specific to my life with intentionality, my brain slows down and my heart rate calms. My breathing is more methodical and my gratitude list suddenly becomes a prayer of sorts lulling me into a calm and escorting me toward peaceful sleep.

It doesn’t work every time, this gratitude journey of mine. Sometimes, I just have to work through the stress without avoidance. Sometimes, I have to face it. But sometimes, most often, I can extend myself the grace of recentering my thinking.  And when I am able to do so, I am a better human…and not just because of better sleep, but also because learning to see the world through the lens of a grateful heart is a mind shift that heals and offers hope. And hope, when we work to find it, not only changes our hearts for the better, but also our actions. Where there is hope and gratitude, stress cannot reside.

(Day 19 of this king cake season writing challenge…I for real almost quit tonight after starting three different blogs and getting nowhere with them. Nothing to show for them other than some unfinished saved ramblings. And I was so exhausted and had so many other things to do…but I just felt compelled to prove this one to myself…that I wouldn’t give into the temptation of quitting…that I would honor myself and remain dedicated)

today

Today is a day where I am ever more mindful that speaking out for justice is always necessary, even and especially when it is not easy. Today is a day where I am ever more aware that speaking out for justice is always going to be easier and safer for me than it has been and continues to be for so many others. Today is a day where I am reminded that speaking out for justice runs far deeper than simply posting a quote from a famous(ly assassinated) civil rights leader on social media. Today is a day where I refuse to believe that civil discourse is dead when I have the ability to teach young people just what it looks like and why it is important every day of the school year–the discussions will be difficult but they don’t have to be hateful–they can and should be an opportunity to ask, to listen, to grow. Today is a day where I understand the weight of the world that my privilege allows me to ignore so much of the time, that for others is the absolute heaviness of their constant reality. Today is a day where I call myself into question for nestling into that comfort instead of calling attention to the voices that deserve amplification, instead of fighting every single day. Today is a day where I refuse to be hopeless in a world that seems tilted past repair. Today is a day where I decide that while peace is part of the answer, I cannot wait for it to arrive; I have to live into it loudly and demand it for those who still await its presence (because, quite honestly, what is my peace worth if it is a singular entity, if it is not shared broadly and widely by all–because all deserve the freedom it brings). Today is a day where I am ever more certain that the freedom that allows us to feel triumphant in the world isn’t really freedom until every single one of us is allowed to stand under the protection of its umbrella. Today is a day where I turn my gaze inward with an honest eye to understand  my own bias, to understand my role in recognizing it and in pushing past it because even though that honesty will bring uncomfortable moments, my discomfort pales in the comparison. Today is a day where I recognize the truth of what it means to love my neighbor…to love others because they are a creation of God and because they are human (just like me)…that love is always deserved.

Today is a day where I remember (who I am called to be). Today is a call to action.

(I found this sonnet recently by James Weldon Johnson–I’ve spent some time with it today so I figured I would include it.)

(Day 16 of the king cake season blog a day challenge! This one is short but today was a lot about internal work. This blog speaks to the nature of it–more to write in response in the days to come)

unison

It began with a solitary voice.

She stood in front of the congregation, no music, no accompaniment…just a lone voice singing out, filling the silence.

“As I went down in the river to pray/ Studying about that good old way/ And who shall wear the starry crown/ Good Lord, show me the way!” 

Then suddenly two more voices joined hers and there were three voices singing together, filling the silence. Two by two, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, walked up and joined each other standing side by side singing. As more members of the choir and other church goers joined in and the sound of those beautiful voices singing in unison crescendoed, I found myself overwhelmed, tears welling.

I am easily moved, so tears like this aren’t uncommon. But today was different. Today, it wasn’t the words or even the beautiful voices. Today was a realization.

~~~

We live in a world where voices seem more often to scream out in discord rather than to join together harmoniously. Lone voices would rather be correct than work together to uncover what light and goodness might come from that union. Barriers go up so fast and they are built so solidly that it becomes impossible to even make sense of what is being said on the other side–we don’t hear the song, we just hear the noise…and the noise is loud. It feels unknown and unfamiliar and uncomfortable and what we don’t know frightens us so we fortify the barriers instead of asking questions, instead of seeking to understand. Our barriers are decorated carefully with words, phrases, posts and reposts so others will view them with reverence and maybe even fear. In their reinforcement, our barriers make us feel important. They make us feel right. They convince us that we don’t all have to live in this world together, that we really can separate ourselves and not interact, let alone interact civilly.

~~~ poetic interlude care of Robert Frost~~~

My students are currently conducting a little study on sonnets. One of the greatest common factors in the earliest sonnets is a diligent rhyme scheme. My kids tend to  love this quality because to many of them, rhyming poems feel like “real poems”…don’t get me started on this… Those rhymes echoing the same sound as the end of the line before, adding emphasis, adding rhythm also add a bit of comfort for my students who sometimes find themselves disconcerted by free verse. The earliest poems and stories we come to know in life rhyme, the first poems we write and are praised for often rhyme and so the rhyme in these sonnets brings on nostalgia for what was once deemed proper and correct. Breaking free from this concept that all poetry rhymes kind of terrifies some kids. It calls them to venture into territory they aren’t certain of, begs them to tear down barriers, requires them not to rely on the echo, on the creature comfort, but to create something that resonates with those around them for other reasons–meaningful reasons they must consider and craft. That is difficult work.

~~~a sonnet interlude care of Elizabeth Bishop~~~

I was working with a group of third through sixth graders at church one week and in the middle of a pretty lively conversation about judgments and bias and stereotypes asked them what it really means to love our neighbor. The inevitable eye roll and rote answer came my way. “Treat others the way we want to be treated.” Yes, but what does that look like? If we are truly called to love one another, what does that mean? How can we live into that? They thought for a bit and were hesitant to respond but once they did, the answers rolled in beautifully and honestly–“well, it’s hard because we are supposed to love everyone and not everyone is nice” “it means we are supposed to be kind” “it means that if someone is sitting alone at recess, I should go sit with them” And more…answers and examples unique to their daily experience came pouring in. It was a good reminder conversation with kids who have been taught this idea all of their lives. I ended the class by asking them to think about what specific actions they would really need to take in order to honor this commitment to love our neighbors. I joined in this thinking because I don’t think any of us are ever too old for this kind of intentional living, intentional loving. We all agreed that the things we thought about would be tough, but so is living in a world where people shy away from loving others just because sharing that love, sharing that grace, sharing that kindness feels like a risk. But we also agreed that it would be a risk worth taking.

~~~poetic interlude care of Naomi Shihab Nye-stick with this one, it is worth it~~~

I wasn’t even going to attend church today. I didn’t feel well last week and have so much work to do and so much that I could have gotten done during that time that would have made Monday far easier than it is going to be. But, my husband said the choir would be singing this song and it would be different so I went.

As I sat there in the crowd witnessing the growing number of voices joining in together to sing, my tears welling, I realized that there were no barriers. One lone voice singing out goodness was magnetic, and planned or not, others joined in, and like a light filling a dark room, the joy and goodness in their voices permeated hearts (or maybe just mine, but I’d like to think others felt it too). They weren’t echoing each other–Sure, they were singing together, but each voice sang out its own unique tone in its own unique way. There was no hiding in the choral unison because as voices joined in, they could be heard for who and what they were. Yet they all still made music, beautiful music together. There was love. That group of people, knowing them as I do, represented viewpoints and opinions that span the spectrum. They represented varying ages and identities, varying backgrounds and abilities and they stood together in agreement to sing a song about renewal, welcoming, and prayer. It was a visualization of what we need most in this world today, a visualization of what we could be–of what we were, if only for a moment and not just in a church but anywhere, everywhere.

And it was beautiful.

(Day 8, done. I’ve come to spend my days searching for something to write about since I’ve started this challenge instead of just waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s a good process I think but today was a moment in and of itself and begged me to put words to the emotion. Always the best when that happens!)