The Power of the Written Word

Thirty-six weeks ago, I snuggled up in a blanket and my ex-boyfriend’s hoodie on my front porch and wrote about all my used-to-be’s. There were no “maybe someday’s”, only questions and uncertainties. There was no hope, only a fear that my best was behind me. Tonight, I’m curled up in the same blanket and Charming’s hoodie, and the world is my oyster. Well, mine, and seventy-three tenth graders.

At the end of my first blog entry, I wrote that I hadn’t made any epiphanies or freed myself from an existential life crisis, but I wondered if I was “reclaiming some integral part of what used to define me” by writing again. Two-hundred and forty-five days, a painful break-up, a summer of online dating, a garden make-over times two, and thirty-five nights recording the narrative, and existentialist meanderings have been replaced by bucket lists with a timeline.

Reclaiming writing ultimately profited me several epiphanies, the first coming as the realization that I could still weave meaning into words. Each Tuesday night finds me here, processing the events of everyday life, exposing the realities of failures, successes, fears, and hopes while growing with my garden. I’ve never gone back to re-read the entries. The culmination of weeks one through thirty-five is this reality, and I don’t need to re-read them to know that I’ve made progress.

On a whim last week, I started a blogging club after school with nine of my girls from English and yearbook classes. It shouldn’t have surprised me that some of my students had googled my blog. Over the course of a week, three girls had approached me asking for help starting their own blogs, and Wednesday, our blogging club was born. Two of the girls created their own sites during the meeting, modeling the process from conception to publication, covering topics like purpose, branding, titles, widgets, and internet safety.

These girls want to share their voices. They want to impact society. They want to analyze the world and contribute to its narrative. And unlike me, they’re not starting their blogs with used-to-be’s. They call it Sweet Sixteen for a reason. One wants to emulate the richness and complexity of classical literature in her own writing filtering her perception of the world through literary comparison. This blog is her “maybe someday”.

When I turned out the light on my nightstand after that meeting, my mind was consumed with the exponential potential for the future growth of my budding bloggers and their readers. The therapeutic nature of self-reflective writing is a gift to its investors. If these girls write their way through their teens and twenties, they too will have the tools they need to write their way out of an existential life crisis in their thirties.

They might discover, as I did, that the most powerful posts are wrought from confronting failure as equally as from owning hope. My writing holds me accountable, guided me by a simple principle of honestly in conveying my current perspective. I’ll be a faithful mentor to these young bloggers, hoping to instill in them a sense of the responsibility that comes with the power of the written word.

I can say that I’ll learn Italian someday, but if I write it down on a list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties, I commit to it. In my English 10 classes this week, we had our first quarter award ceremonies, complete with certificates and prizes and treats. After my students wrote and shared their freewrites on “Success”, I curbed the celebratory tone with a personal anecdote about my greatest failure: my divorce.

Of course, I used discretion, as I remember clearly my own tenth grade English teacher stepping out in the hall during class, the phone cord running under the door, arguing with her husband who she would divorce later that year. I told them only what I felt was essential to the mission on which they were about to embark. I recounted moving home afterward and waking up in my childhood canopy bed, daily remembering that this was my life now. I offered them some insight into a mind that’s so scared to dream that it fails to hope. In a few minutes, I summed up my own journey of thirty-six weeks.

Then I told them about Charming’s list and my subsequent epiphany that I had not been living when I realized that while I was playing games on my smartphone, he was scuba diving and jumping out of planes and getting his pilot’s license and visiting Machu Picchu. Finally, I shared with them my list; the written words had power.

You could have heard a pin drop.   “Now, think about all the things you want to do, the times you’ve said that someday you’ll do this or go here, the things you’re afraid to do, the things that money or time or circumstance might prevent you from doing today.” Heads down, pencils poised over colored note cards, excited murmurs evidenced my students understood the task at hand.

“Write your own list. Fifteen Things to Do in My Teen Years, Twenty by Twenty, it doesn’t matter. Dream big. Plan big. Hope big. Just commit to your future,” and pulling a card from Sleeping Beauty, I added, “with at least five items on your list.” These kids really do have their whole lives in front of them. The best is yet to come, I would claim emphatically.

But I can’t help wondering how much I would have accomplished by thirty-two if I’d made a bucket list with a deadline at Sweet Sixteen. I had a conscious awareness of goals, but I never wrote them down. I never committed to them. As I walked up and down the aisles, looking over their shoulders, I’m certain I was beaming. Go to Virginia Tech on an academic scholarship. Swim with dolphins. Buy a finger monkey. Streak with friends at a football game. Become a psychologist.

When I started writing again, I reclaimed an integral part of myself. I found power in the written words to move and to change. Only nine of my students might be engaging with it in blogging form, but seventy-three of them committed to their futures this week. Apart from a brief discussion on the idiomatic expression and euphemism, “Kick the bucket,” this lesson had little to do with English class. Yet, somehow as I type these words, I know it was my best lesson ever. My mind is consumed with the exponential potential for the future growth of these dreamers.

Charming didn’t know what he set into motion that fated first encounter when he shared his post-divorce bucket list. I’m grateful for the inspiration… and the hoodie. They both keep me warm as I write my way back to Sweet Sixteen dreams.

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