More than a year and a half ago I did this for the first time: sat on my front porch with a glass of red wine and a laptop and wrote from the top of my head. On the other end of my long-distance relationship then was a younger guy who wasn’t ready for marriage. Eighty-two weeks of writing and revelation later finds me entangled in another cross-state commute with an older guy who still isn’t ready.
That first night, what drove me to what would become my weekly writing perch was a desire to uncover some grand epiphany the way writing used to do for me when I was younger. Dial it back to half my lifetime ago, and I was writing my way through Mr. Bugaj’s class during the entire unit for geometry proofs. If I had something to work through, and this glutton for drama usually did, then I wrote about it.
In those days, it was a poem or a song lyric. If the former, I’d evolve a half dozen drafts and take it to the school’s creative writing teacher, Mrs. Shelton. If the latter, I’d sneak into the silent chorus room on lunch and generate the accompaniment on Mrs. Quackenbush’s baby grand. In college, my Advanced Writing class encouraged a non-fiction gene, largely inspired by the anecdotal collection style of Anne Lamott’s Travelling Mercies.
I wrote the bones and meat of a book in my twenties, an anecdotal collection of significant moments in my life and those around me, each explored in a chapter illustrating my primary theme; there’s no such thing as a dead-end street. When you reach the end, it becomes a turning point, and the view is different as you find your way back on course. You see the signs you missed that led you astray. I wrote about those classmates whose lives had been cut short and seemingly dead-end relationships, and I attempted to make positive conclusions.
That book died with the dawn of my own career pursuits. After five years in the classroom, I was growing bored of the same routine and pursued my master’s in instructional technology. My writing took a collegiate turn, falling in love with research and analysis in APA style. I began publishing my educational online journal with tips, strategies, lessons, and tools for utilizing media to enrich teaching and learning.
With grad school behind me, I took to creating multi-media presentations as tutorials for engaging educational platforms to supplement the myriad professional development opportunities I encountered back in Nashville before I resigned to save my marriage. Before I failed to save it. Before I left and started over. Before I stopped writing altogether. But for 80% of my life, I would have identified myself as a writer.
Even in middle school, Mrs. Lacava commented on every journal entry I wrote, even ones about the two-day romance that ended with a note in the hallway before class. I had a biological instinct to write through my pain, and I appreciate her humoring my dramatic dribble. She taught me how to freewrite, and as a teacher, it’s one of my favorite indulgences to get my kids writing without concern for punctuation, handwriting, spelling, or grammar. I value it because the world stops for a few minutes. Some of them fear it for the same reason. Alone in the silence with just their own thoughts is a rare five minute occurrence for adolescents in 2016.
As a teen like my students are now, I knew I had to hone my writing craft, practice and seek out instruction. Each influential English teacher handed me off to the next with a new set of techniques to incorporate, and I grew as a writer of poetry, song lyrics, personal narrative, analytical research, and technological professional development. As a teacher, I find my students now help me hone a different craft, instruction, and I gain confidence when I see a new strategy has been successful.
Mrs. Shelton taught me about line breaks in poetry and freed me from the need to rhyme endlessly. It took multiple attempts for her to demonstrate this with red ink on subsequent drafts, but eventually I got it. We both knew I got it when I did it on my own with a new poem. She had to find what worked. In my last block class, my third attempt at the same lesson on subject-verb agreement last week, I had figured out a way to explain some rules as mathematical equations.
One of my football players was more active in this lesson than he has been in the past month. I’d ask what “and” between my subjects meant for my verb, and he chimed in without hesitation that 1+1=2. Two singular subjects necessitate a plural noun. I’d put up another sentence, and he’d call out, “Negation,” meaning that if you put the word each or every before the previous rule, it negates it and you need a singular verb. I am not very good at math, but for a class of sophomores in the STEM Academy, equating subject-verb agreement with mathematical representation was like Mrs. Shelton’s fifth attempt with my poem about my grandfather’s death. It clicked, for them and for me.
See, freewriting is another strategy that I believe works. After seeing it with my football player, I have confidence in this mathematical subject-verb agreement method. After seeing it with myself and thousands of students over the past decade, I believe that freewriting can help you target the things that you need to write about the most.
Since it was Homecoming last week, I thought that a freewrite on the word “Fun” would be appropriate for my yearbook kids. They know the rule is that if four of them share, I will share. Eight shares later, and they looked to me. I hadn’t done it. I didn’t want to write about that word. I agreed to share an old freewrite instead, and the significance of my avoidance technique was lost on all but me.
It should have been a fun weekend. Charming got in to town early on Friday night, so we had extra time together. On Saturday, we started with my nephew’s soccer game, grabbed snap dogs at the Barking Dog, revisited the pumpkin patch we trampled last year, and dressed up Roaring Twenties style for dinner with friends at an Italian restaurant and a Halloween party to conclude the festivities. So much fun, right?
I kept waiting to feel the “fun”. Seeing my friend Angel in my borrowed red flapper dress. Authentic lasagna fork-fed with black opera gloves draped in pearls. Taking Charming’s arm as we floated in to the party, every inch of him handsome from fedora to felt spats. I had a drink to loosen up, but I didn’t loosen, and I didn’t want another one. It seemed that no matter what I imagined might have brought me joy or pleasure in the past just didn’t satisfy.
Why? I didn’t want to write about “fun” with my kids because I didn’t want to lose myself in my awareness of the absence of it. It is biologically instinctually for me to write through a crisis, and I’m convinced my maternal instinct operates in much the same way. It might be a clear night sky above me, but there is a cloud in the silence between the cricket’s chirps. The chill from last week is gone, and it accomplished its aim: to make me confront the cause for a persistent, depressing nagging.
Earlier today, my gym mentor Chuck played me a Lauren Dagle song with the disclaimer that this was his prayer for me. My pace on the elliptical was unaffected through the verse and the chorus. The bridge, however, had me practically weeping on the machine. “You are more than enough. You are here. You are love. You are hope. You are grace. You’re all I have. You’re everything.”
And if that “You” were lowercase, I could try to make the same statements about Charming, but they wouldn’t mathematically compute. Even if he marries me and we make a couple of incredible tiny Christian humans to build a family with, it wouldn’t be enough. I cried because I knew this was the answer. I couldn’t have fun because those things which have typically satisfied me in the past have come up lacking.
When I was struggling with monotonous rhyming poetry, Mrs. Shelton tried different strategies until I got it. When my kids were struggling with subject-verb agreement, I tried new strategies with them until they got it. Charming told me fight the loneliness by getting involved in more hobbies. That strategy won’t work for me anymore. The loneliness has a purpose, like the silent five minutes of a freewrite.
That loneliness softens me to the bridge of a Lauren Dagle song, such that I can feel the whisper of encouragement that God would be enough if only I looked to Him instead of Charming or family or teaching or writing. Filling up all the empty spaces in our lives will find us achieving, attaining, and acquiring. Nevertheless, idle hands don’t have to be the devil’s playground.
Here, where the silence is cut only by passing cars and crickets, I sit every week with a glass of red wine and my laptop like I did for the first time a year and a half ago. If I didn’t do this weekly self-analysis and evaluation, I might look at the similar circumstances of advancing from an ex-boyfriend to a current boyfriend who aren’t ready for marriage and fail to see any progress at all.
The progress is in the true subject of the sentence. “You are more than enough… all I have… everything.” It’s not about me or my circumstances, not about an ex-boyfriend or Prince Charming. This is why I write. To get past the stories with all the other subjects. To get me to You.