When it’s the right person, sometimes you just know. I wouldn’t call it love at first sight. It’s more like at first knowing, after witty banter and candid conversation reveal a steady foundation where you’d like to build your home. It’s like a garden bed fertilized and ready for planting. You see the potential for growth, and you want to see what will bloom.
Charming and I met with an experienced psychologist this weekend down in Virginia Beach. His credentials were impressive, but that wasn’t what piqued my interest. I’d read deep into his qualifications and zeroed in on his background in both secondary schools and the military. He’d also led the married couple’s Bible study at his church for thirty years. If I was looking for rich soil to zero in on improving communication, this was promising ground.
And when it’s the right person, sometimes you just know. We’d been fortunate my persistence had been deemed endearing rather than high-maintenance. Though I got the distinct impression as the president and founder he did not typically see clients on Saturdays, he agreed to a morning appointment. I’d already decided how we’d spend the rest of the day, eating lunch at an Italian place nearby and then lying out on the beach and walking the Boardwalk.
When we left his office, I had hope. The session was somewhat formulaic, and Charming and I took turns answering questions. There was an order that resonated with me. I trusted his method. I think he’s the right person at the right time for the right purpose… just what I’d been praying for. Charming might need a little more time to come to that conclusion, but he’s usually a few steps behind.
I imagine that might make it hard to lead in a relationship.
I should write that one down in my new journal with the butterflies, selected specifically to track the course of transformation in my relationship with Charming. What I didn’t realize is how much writing about us would teach me about myself. When we debriefed over pizza after the session, I wished I hadn’t forgotten that journal at home. And later at the beach, since I’d forgotten my book as well, I laid back, closed my eyes, and thought of the progress I had made in the last week.
This wasn’t my beach. Fort Monroe is my beach. Two years ago, my friends Angel and Kyle and I went there every week all summer long. Since then, more often than not, I go alone. Spring brought with it warm temperatures and glistening waters with longer days that let me sneak off three nights last week to climb out on the rocks and write. In my favorite spot, the sun sets behind me until I can no longer read the Prom-posal spray painted on a boulder, potentially by a former student of mine.
One of my best tips for my kids this week in our “How to Write Poetry” lesson was to go outside where you can see and hear and feel and be inspired. At the end of the lesson, I put my money where my mouth was and took them outside to Warrior Park to try writing a new poem. Though I circulated throughout the students perched at picnic tables or beneath the shade of trees, few really needed me. I’d pumped them with a myriad of potential strategies. The heat of the sun on my skin matched the glow in my proud smile as I saw that same sun turned into a metaphor of the angry ex-girlfriend in one of my student’s budding poem.
One of my suggestions for inspiration was that these adolescents identify and name their three biggest struggles. Which one, if they could overcome it, would most improve their lives? A mature young man in my last block class responded to this by sharing a poem he had just written. His classmates and I were on the edges of our seats. We could relate to his personal struggle, and we could mutually appreciate the intentionality in diction and phrasing that put it on par with the poets in our textbooks.
His brave willingness to be vulnerable with the rest of us built the confidence of his peers in equal measure to my lesson on how to write poetry. I wasn’t stingy with my own vulnerability, either. Modeling is essentially. Halfway through this lesson, I always share the story of how I became a writer. It’s not supposed to be expository or entertaining. It’s supposed to be inspiring.
I was sixteen, a sophomore, just like them. I’d had my heart broken for the first time. A teacher found me who was the right person at the right time for the right purpose, and she built my confidence. Mrs. Shelton saw a foundation she was willing to invest in because she saw rich soil that, with the right combination of modeling, instruction, and time would potentially yield a harvest. She challenged me to write about that break-up from every perspective, using my raw teenage emotion to unveil the most significant truth: I was a writer.
And a writer is something you can be no matter what career you pursue. Today, I had three students seek me out to show me what they’d worked on since our last class. I know I have to prepare them for their end of course testing and ensure they meet all standards, but my discipline affords me the freedom to encase those reading and writing goals within a framework that aims to shape their identity and their perceptions of the world around them.
The majority of my students this year are writing about real, raw issues in surprisingly good verse. I think of poetry as a weight loss aid that boasts in bold print: “Most effective with proper diet and exercise.” Kids can arrange some words in rhyming stanzas, and we tolerate it as poetry because they tried. For me, if that’s the kind of writing my students are producing a month into this unit, then I haven’t done my job.
If poetry is going to be effective at helping my kids shed their mis-perceptions and chip away at the weight of their emotional baggage, they need diet and exercise. In essence, I fully believe in a sixteen-year-old’s ability to write good poetry, even if he wasn’t a writer before this unit. Before me. Like I wasn’t a writer before Mrs. Shelton. Simply telling them to write a poem is like handing them seeds without a shovel. They need the tools to do something creative with poetry, blooming potential exponential. They need to grapple with published authors, analyze and reflect, discuss it, throw the terms around. These kids in my last block class took this seriously, and now they’re surprising themselves at the way alliteration and similes are easily forming alongside their thoughts.
I think for me, I need to view counseling as a similar weight loss aid, not meant to replace independent efforts, but rather to help Charming and I shed some of the weight of our own emotional baggage and see results faster; I think there’s fine print that it’s also most effective when paired with diet and exercise. The work we’ll do in those sessions will lead to strategies, change, and improvement.
But for me, it was the time at Fort Monroe beach while the sun was setting that seemed the best tool to make the counseling yield a higher potential for success for us and for me. After attempting to summarize our first session objectively, I read over the freshly inked pages. I was able to identify four issues. I named each, one at a time, following the recognition with action steps that I could take on my own. Six pages in and I could see how even at thirty-four, the act of owning a problem still strips it of its power. I’ve even got a bullet-point game plan for tackling my temper.
We chip away at the unwanted parts of our lives so often unproductively, simply fashioning our thoughts into rhyming quatrains and calling it poetry when there are tools at our disposal – teachers, counselors, and our own willingness to dig deep and get dirty – that can bring a sixteen-year-old boy to find he’d battled his demon in the written world. He’s more than blooming. He’s blossoming.
Those same tools brought a sixteen-year-old girl to discover there was power in the written word, and for her, it would become her most cherished companion. And that companion seems inspired by Fort Monroe beach, too. There’s fertile soil in that sunset, and we grow there.