On Writing Inspired

Writing is a strange process. I’ve been writing my entire life, and I’ve only recently realized the art of writing inspired, which is to say that I’ve realized the struggle of wanting to say something and knowing what you want to say, but not being able to put that into words until one day, randomly, divinely, it seems, you just know. The words come, one after another, seamlessly, flawlessly, and you almost can’t believe that you’re writing them. And then you wonder: Am I writing them? Or am I piecing these words together only because I’ve been divinely tapped on the head?

Allow me to share two such moments with you. The first happened after I got married. My wedding day was one of the best days of my life, and I wanted to capture it, all of it. Not just the play-by-play of moments, but the unmatched feeling of happiness I felt from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep that night.

The day after the wedding, on our way from Birmingham to our cabin in the Smokies, my new husband and I stopped by Barnes and Noble for coffee, and I bought a journal. I tried writing as we drove, but nothing came. Days later, I tried writing again, sitting on the porch of our cabin in the midst of crisp mountain air and the ambient glow of nightfall, and still, nothing happened. I kept trying—the Saturday we returned home, a few weekends later at the lake. But eventually, I gave up. I knew how I felt, but I didn’t know what to say.

My moment of inspiration came while I was lying in bed one night more than three months after the wedding. Wide awake, husband asleep, the wedding not even on my mind, and all of sudden, word-by-word, the story just started appearing. Inside my head, a paragraph formed, then two. I was awestruck. I jumped out of bed and wrote the whole story I had wanted to write for months, from start to finish, in about 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning.

My second moment of inspired writing came just a few weeks ago, although it was even longer in the making. I’d wanted to write this story for so long, in fact, that I even wrote about not being able to write it. When I finished writing, I shook. My dimples ached. I was overcome. I had finally drawn forth a handful of words that, despite their brevity, seemed to sum up nearly a year (a year!) of my life.

This second story, the story of my year as a teacher, I’ve included below. You’ll notice that very little of it is about teaching, but that’s because very little of my year as a teacher was actually about teaching. I’d tell you what that means, but you have an entire story waiting to explain it to you. Besides, it ends with a message I couldn’t possibly attempt to reword.

tornado

How Tornadoes and Teaching Helped Me Rediscover My Calling

I was standing outside the student media building getting ready to produce my first newspaper as an editor when I got the news.

Our house was gone. As in, my roommate survived the tornado by covering herself with a mattress in the only room of our house left standing.

You see, I lived, and still live, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In April 2011, my junior year of college, I lived on the corner of Forest Lake Drive and 16th Street in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house that became woodchips as one of the biggest tornadoes in state history tore through our city. It was a little more than a week before the end of finals, a little more than a week before graduation, a little more than a week before I would officially become a senior.

…read the rest at Literally, Darling.

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Greensboro

A Transition

Well folks, that’s it. I’ve been living in the charming town of Greensboro, Alabama, for about a year now, and here I am, packing up and moving again. I am moving because I have accepted a job in Birmingham as a writer for a local newspaper, which means that, for various reasons, I will not be returning to teach a second year with Teach For America. After much distance – spending weeks agonizing over the decision, struggling between the idea of fulfilling a commitment and the idea of being happy – I have an incredible amount of peace about where I landed. As I look back at the reasons why I joined Teach For America, I realize that so much and yet so little has changed. My passion for education and my desire to be a leader haven’t changed; my career path and outlook on life have. I joined Teach For America as a way to jump-start a new career in teaching, something that, at the time, I thought I would want to do forever. Now, I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I have gained so much from my last year of teaching – a new appreciation for teachers, an even stronger passion and anger at the senseless lack of opportunity that exists in many of America’s schools, a greater understanding of my skills and how I may use them for the benefit of myself and others, a better understanding about where America’s education system fails and what needs to be done in order to fix it, and, most importantly, a new outlook on life that will make me forever grateful for each and every opportunity that I receive.

In many ways, it feels strange to be writing this post. I’m talking about leaving Teach For America, and I never even wrote anything about my experience as a corps member. Part of that stems from the fact that, frankly, I just didn’t have time. I worked, on average, 80 hours a week for an entire school year, and I still felt like I was drowning.

The other reason I never wrote anything is that I just didn’t know what to say. Even now, I’m at a complete loss for words, and I’m afraid to put words on paper – or even let words slip from my lips – for fear that any story I tell will not wholly represent my experience as a corps member. I’m afraid that any one story would either perpetuate the stereotypes that exist about America’s education system and the communities struggling within it, or it would misrepresent the work that corps members across the country are doing on a daily basis. How does one convey the gravity, the difficulty, the complexity of the situation through a story with a finite amount of words? I’m afraid such a task may only be accomplished with a book.

I’ll also be the first to admit that it’s much easier to block this past year from my memory rather than write or talk about it. It’s easy to forget about those mornings when I drove to work in tears and employed every bit of strength I had not to turn around, just like it’s easy to forget those afternoon tutoring sessions when three or four students would tell me, “This has been so helpful. You’re a really good teacher,” when I had heard the exact opposite message for nearly five hours earlier that day.

But as I think about how easy it would be to forget these things, it scares me. I think about everything I have learned this year – about my new home, about my country, about myself – and I know that I do not want to forget any of it. Not the funny moments, not the good moments, not the eye-opening moments, not even the breathtakingly bad moments, as these were the moments when I think I learned the most. I say all of this, yet I have done nothing to make these memories permanent. I’m sure other corps members would agree with me when I say, “I wanted to write about my experience as it happened, but I just didn’t have the time between lesson planning and attending meetings and (sometimes) eating and (sometimes) sleeping…”

This past year has been a whirlwind. A difficult whirlwind, but I will be forever grateful for it. In one-word answers, it has taught me patience, strength, faithfulness, gratitude, humility, and joy in ways I never would have imagined. As I sort through it all, bear with me. Some thoughts and stories I will share here. Others will only surface in conversations over coffee and in my own journal for safe-keeping. In the meantime, I would love to hear about yours. I would love for you to ask me more about mine. Like I said, there is so, so much to tell.

leaves

The Game of the Century

It’s Friday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, the day before Alabama plays LSU in what has become known as “The Game of the Century,” and what am I doing? As a current Alabama student, you’d think that I’d be out in the sunshine enjoying the festivities. But, by choice, I’m not. While Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews, Urban Meyer, and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew entertain a live audience just a few hundred feet away from my apartment, I am sitting on my couch…reading.

But I’m not just reading anything. I’m sitting here (perfectly content, I might add) reading about achievement gaps in education and ways of turning public education’s failures into student success stories. Why am I reading about these things? Because last week I did something I never thought I would do – I submitted my application to become a Teach For America corps member. If I’m accepted, I will spend the next two years teaching in low-income schools. I became one step closer yesterday when I received an invitation via email to a final interview, scheduled for the last week of November.

As I read these articles that are a required part of the application process, I am reminded of two things. The first is an extra-credit paper I wrote for a class I took last spring. There was no required length, format, or topic for the paper, and I didn’t even need to write it to boost my grade…but I chose to write it anyway, and what I chose to write about was education. After reading nine books about topics as varied as technology, elitism, multiculturalism, childhood, and competition, education was the thread I saw running through each and every one of them, education as not only one of America’s great problems, but also as one of America’s great solutions. As I read these articles now, I feel as if I am reading my term paper, which, by the way, was a whopping 10 pages long.

The other thing I am reminded of when I read these articles is that there are waaaaay more important things than college football, just like there are waaaaay more important things than seeing your name in print, which is one reason I’ve recently decided to leave journalism behind and pursue teaching as a career path.

Oddly enough, I turned in the paper described above on April 27, or what I like to call “tornado day.” It was with my professor, who had our papers in his satchel, and the rest of my classmates that I sat on the floor of one the academic buildings on campus, listening to the ever-present tornado sirens and crouching in the kitchen as we watched video footage of a big, gray cloud making its way our direction. I’m not saying the tornado changed my career path. I was obviously thinking a lot about education beforehand. I’m just saying it’s funny how interrelated the tornado and my new life plan seem to be. Everything I ever wrote – papers, creative pieces, journalism articles – everything was destroyed by the tornado. But I don’t even care. They were pieces of paper with my name on them, and though I enjoyed writing them, I doubt anyone will ever remember them except for me.

With all of that said, I will be in Bryant-Denny Stadium tomorrow no later than 4 p.m., as I paid only $5 for my ticket and love college football more than anyone. Accidentally wore a purple scarf today, but no big. Wearing red tomorrow. Roll tide.