Truth vs. Transparency

The Phantoms and the Hurricanes battle it out at Darling a couple of blocks south.  The stadium lights illuminate the treetops between us; though I can’t see the football game, a familiar voice announces the plays; though it won’t be quiet on my street tonight, the loudspeaker is drowned out by the devil on my shoulder, with a still more familiar voice.  My insecurities perk up when it heckles me, and the potential inspiration in my blossoming evening glories is subsequently vanquished.

My juniors explored a released writing prompt today asking them to form an argument supporting or defending the statement, “Failure is not the worst thing in the world.  The very worst is not to try.”  So far, this topic has been the most popular.  When asked to take a position about raising the driving age, these students struggle to move beyond the juvenile it’s-just-not-fair support that lends itself to ranting rather than arguing.  Failure and trying, however, teenagers have an opinion, and supporting their position comes more naturally when they’re convicted by reason and experience, not just required task.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to church.  Our discussions today left me marveling at the power of a young person’s shared voice, the collective sum of three classes weighted like a weekend retreat.  Some students offered age old adages like, “You never know what you can do until you try.”  Others supplemented diction, volunteering personal claims such as: “Failure can be a good thing because…”  Is trying and failing worse than having tried at all?  Year after year, Michael Jordan is provided as an example.  No one ventured to disagree with the statement about not trying being worse than failing, at least not out loud.  This discussion was the best all year in my lunch block class, and I am smiling into the eerie twilight and drum line’s solo because the crowd’s cheers from afar coincide with the previous sentence on my screen.

Of course, my students were inspiring.  It’s far more acceptable to try and fail when you’re a teenager than it is when you’re in your mid-thirties, or at least the world’s response is safer, cutting you slack as you learn to navigate with a new mindset.  I’ve come to expect a fair amount of anxiety surrounding writing nights these days, primarily because the things I most need to figure out aren’t fodder for public engagement.  My fingers try to type while bound.  I write honestly, week after week, and I’m discouraged because while I approached these writing nights with a priority for speaking truthfully, the personal details absent in my public narrative can be misconstrued.  I’ve been authentic about the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that I own.  Limiting my blogging topics might amount to a lack of total transparency, but I haven’t lied.  I’ve been as honest as I am free to be without violating others’ privacy or damaging reputations.

So, last week, I identified my flirtation with taking a sabbatical.  I’ve been doing community service at the library across from Darling Stadium a few hours a week, and the change of pace from a high school classroom is refreshing.  On Saturday, it would have been warm enough to walk home after close, just before the sun set.  I’d spent the last hour restocking books, marveling at all the thoughts people published that I hadn’t thought about before.  The abundance of knowledge, the power of print, and Dewey’s master plan ordered my footsteps as a tiptoed through the stacks, looking always to the top or bottom shelf when pulling items for a hold request.  People can be predictable.  Themes apply everywhere.

I thought I would fail at blogging if I stopped these Tuesday night writing ventures.  But I also thought I would write my way back to life again, so if no good can come from words typed by bound fingers, then why I am here?  If I take the risk to share always more than I should, and that is not enough, and I’m not able to violate others’ privacy, then not sharing anything at all would certainly please the devil on my shoulder, the one taunting me as accompanied by a distant drum line echoing into the night, reminding me of past transgressions as though they are in present tense, and I try to fight the message that no good can come from me, that no amount of true words can ever change false ones in the past.

I love working in the library.  It’s slow and quiet.  The smell of the books welcomes me.  It used to be that I felt most at peace and in God’s presence here on writing nights.  I’m not sure if God is here or anywhere.  The confession attached to judgment of my eternal soul should illustrate a willingness to be authentic about what actually matters, and even as I strike at the letters on the keypad, I chide myself for being more aware of the devil on my shoulder than the evening glories blooming beside me.

I didn’t plant them this year, didn’t water or feed or trim them, and yet I enjoy their unexpected arrival.  The evening glories are, perhaps, the opposite of trying and failing: somehow not trying and succeeding.  I appreciate the existence of a single white blossom because it’s rare such life and beauty comes without effort.  There’s still an angel on the other shoulder, and it shows up in the stillness of the library, when I’m quiet, and I’m at peace, and I finger the spines of books published by writers who believed they had figured out the meaning of life.

I haven’t, but maybe I should be writing the story of figuring it out instead of weekly blog installments, treading carefully not to offend, condemn, or incriminate.  I used to sense a brightness to the darkest of Tuesday nights, like the sunset beyond the library walls when I reconvened with the real world Saturday evening.  Inside the locked doors behind me, books full of claims and thoughts slept in darkness, myriad opposing viewpoints lining the same shelves, contradictory truths side by side.

And I, tasting the sunset warm my skin after an autumn breeze, saw truth as it is instead of as we try to make it be.  Black and white is easy, like the Dewey system; everything has a place… until you hit the CD collection, and you have evidence that even Dewey didn’t have it all figured out.  My kids spent all day convincing me that trying and failing is better in the long run, and learning from my failures starts with writer’s growth, which would mean writing a story that makes others uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s time for a sabbatical, after all.

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Should I Stop Blogging?

I invited the rain to accompany me for writing night.  It declined.  Instead, I type into the calm comfort of an October in Hampton Roads.  The stillness is punctuated only by the scent of my neighbor’s cigar and his R&B mix drifting over from next door.  I crave the quiet.  I prefer it, certainly.  Yet, I consider it writer’s growth that I’m not camping out on the back steps wishing things were different.

I’ve spent a lot of time wishing things were different, but I’ve never changed a moment in history.  My life stands full of new beginnings that were preceded by drastic failures.  I’m alive.  I’m here.  I’m waking up.  I’m working. I exist, and that requires survival, so I keep going through the daily routine.  It would be easier to still my soul if I could rest in the assurances my childhood faith provided.  Absent that foundation, everything feels like it’s falling apart.

Granted, that’s just a feeling.  Hating the drive to work didn’t make it any shorter.  It’s actually quite beautiful crossing the water after sunrise.  Often, I’ll leave Hampton, and by the time I’ve emerged from the bridge tunnel on the other side, the weather is completely different.  I think I remember learning that it takes thirty days for something to become a habit.  I don’t hate the drive to work anymore.  I stopped wishing things were different.  I accepted the interruption to my preferred plan before or after it became a part of my new normal.  It really doesn’t matter when.

Six months ago, it wasn’t just my relationship with Charming that fell apart.  I imploded.  I never returned to a normal routine.  There was no normal to return to.  Since then, I have been, essentially, rebuilding my life from the ground up.  The major problem there is that I haven’t found another foundation to replace the one I surrendered.  There were “Why’s?” before… but they were fewer in number.  I am quite certain I was the only one at my grandmother’s funeral who was mourning the loss of the coping strategy heaven used to be.

It’s never been safe to ask: What if there is no heaven?  Even in June, I couldn’t have asked it. I was still too programmed into protecting myself from shame or embarrassment. I teach teenagers to follow certain guidelines in what they choose to publish on the internet; would I be so reckless as to blog about my life or someone else’s if the public, permanent presence could do damage?  Yes, even in June, I was too scared to be myself, too scared to ask the what if’s?  I don’t know what to believe about heaven or hell.  I can’t change history.  I wake up and work, and I’ll do it again next week.  I share this, publically, because it is my story and my truth.  I can be most honest about events which concern me.

I’ve been trying to focus there in recent weeks in an attempt to fight the self-imposed writer’s block of avoiding telling other people’s stories. Over the years, I’ve written honestly about experiences where eight different people were involved and eight corresponding versions of the truth.  Recently, I’ve respected confidentiality when people in my actual life don’t wish to enter the annals of blogs, and thought it’s been difficult to navigate, I’ve experienced tremendous growth as a writer plowing through blocks that exist because what I write should promote growth, not disparage or expose.  It didn’t happen right away, but I’m finding a new normal in my weekly blog as well.

Don’t be distracted by the cute pictures of me with babies or food or nature.  You’re reading along on my journey to find my way back to life again.  You might miss the confidence, the faith, the hope, the story of falling in love and a promise of happily ever after… but you’re getting a deposit of authenticity each week.  I’m living.  I have it better than a lot of people.  I don’t expect or deserve more.  I wake up five days a week and focus on living my life now, seeing the sea of young people in front of me, and finding comfort in the reality that they are growing as writers and thinkers.

Much of my free time this past week has been devoted to grading personal narratives.  One of my AP kids chronicled succinctly within page requirements about how she came to terms with death’s inevitability.  I’d been grading for hours when I got to this one, and as she described attending her uncle’s funeral, I was standing in the cemetery across from Shoppingtown Mall in Syracuse before I realized my eyes were closed.  This young woman had selected just the right words and experiences to connect with me, and while I’m sure many others can relate, again, that’s not the point.

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The point is that when I do what I have to do, I grow. Just as driving to work every morning has given me the time to reflect quietly about my life while the sun rises and Mother Nature provides an inspiring setting, grading narratives reminds me of the individuals filling the seats in my college-level class.  They will likely encounter the question about whether or not there is a heaven, and I want them to ask it.  This year is about bravery.  Take the right risks.   Be intentional. I stopped grading the girl’s essay and let sleep come.  That’s a compromise I wouldn’t have made six months ago.  Sleep comes easier this fall than it has in ten years.

Maybe because I’ve been able to be honest about some, starting with tonight’s deposit.  I’m not happy and untouched by the broken road that led me here.  I’m not much to speak of, actually.  Just a high school teacher trying to make a difference in a small town with an inspiring drive, waiting for life to have meaning without a family legacy.

I’m not trying to convince myself that work and Pokémon Go are enough.  They fill the empty spaces, but they don’t fill in the blanks.  I don’t have it all together, and I’m learning to express that.  As it should be, I live my current life in the shadow of what was planned, but that’s not the point.  The point is I keep waking up and doing what I know to do, hoping the answers will somehow come to me without bringing me to my knees, though even Grams would have been praying for that at this point.  Life will bring what it will bring; like the music changing my trajectory tonight, I’m open.

Firsts, Lasts, and Always

The brisk air, nocturnal melodies, and charcoal smoke carried by a breeze from down the street make fall’s arrival undeniable.  Summer heat finally surrendered, having hung on far too long already, and autumn’s reign sees the colors changing.  Changing like I’m changing as I remember falling in love with fall three years ago while I fell in love with Charming.  Will carving pumpkins always remind me of our first date in Hampton?

It’s been nearly six months since I surrendered a certain future, an always and forever with him that was supposed to be the fulfillment of childhood dreams.  Like the smoke that appears from a chimney stack then disappears into the overcast, grey sky, I know that we were and that we no longer are, and in light of three and a half decades, three years might make for a handful of puffs of smoke.  Still, vivid recollections of moments when Charming and I first started dating seize me unexpectedly, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with the memories.

Is it strange that I’m simultaneously warmed and chilled when the breeze of Memory Lane settles on me?  I still smile in spite of myself when I’m reminded of bringing Charming to watch my nephew play soccer at Gosnold’s park or sitting on my front porch together reading G.K. Chesterton.  Though I tried to collect all the knick knacks from our courtship after everything fell apart, I still uncover some persistent reminder every time I clean the house.  We lived intentionally.  We crammed adventure after bucket list adventure into every weekend, making memories all along the East Coast from the Outer Banks to Upstate New York.  Now that it’s over, what should I feel when I think of the years we shared?

I don’t feel regret or disappointment.  There’s no anger or shame.  If I was going to experience that range of negative emotions at some point, it would have been with fall’s onset.  Maybe Charming will sneak into autumn winds for years to come, and I’m okay with that.  He certainly laid claim to all my best dates, and albeit the best of two proposals.  I remember keeping track of our dates the first few months on a worn receipt in my purse because there were so many amazing outings that I couldn’t keep track in my head anymore. The crumpled paper is in a box now, nestled between what remains of our three years doing life together.

The pitter patter of rain began moments ago, but it’s grown to a soft percussion band.  The weather is changing with my mood, or more likely, I with it.  The steady beat of raindrops on the treetops casts a net around my yard.  There is only this moment, this house, this laptop.  This life.  I’m still here, six months after Charming.  Fall still came, and it still inspires me.  I loathed this season all my life as summer’s kidnapper and winter’s promise.  Then, three years ago, it brought with it a man I would fall in love with and served as a stage to host the start of our relationship.

I bought bales of hay and welcoming pumpkins and scarecrows with smiling faces, arranging them beside this white wicker love seat.  An autumn wreath had seemed lonely on the red door once Charming came knocking, so I suppose I hoped it won me some good will to honor this budding relationship with some holiday décor.  With all our wedding plans and travel last year, I don’t think I even bought a pumpkin.  He agreed it would be wise not to decorate for Christmas given how many weekends I’d be away.  I should have realized then that something wasn’t right.

The best version of me couldn’t have compromised on Christmas, not even if I’d only be home one weekend out of five.  Eventually, I wound up decorating the yearbook hall with my staff as a winter snowman sales campaign.  I lost myself somewhere on I-64, driving back and forth from Hampton, the good life I’d built always in the rear view mirror, GPS drifting between the people I loved and those I would grow to.  Three years of cramming adult responsibilities into four days and enjoying the company of an incredible man on the weekends before and after one of us drove four hours… well, it took its toll.

I was living in Hampton, but I wasn’t mentally here.  It wasn’t visible – more like the transition of seasons where subtle changes collectively mark time’s passing. I gradually unplugged from my routine before Charming, typically declining invites because we had plans in DC.  After we got engaged, I stopped spending so much time with my brother’s kids.  I’d leave the soccer field and burst into tears as soon as my car door would muffle the sobs.  Every occasion was another “last”, and they collectively took their toll as well.

When I fell in love with Charming, I had everything I wanted right here within fifteen minutes of this white wicker love seat.  The rain had stopped, but the pitter patter is starting again.  On Saturday when I poked my head out the back door, the fresh scent of fall energized me for a cleaning spree.  While in the shed, the plastic bin of autumn décor caught my eye.  I pushed aside forlorn wedding decorations and, with them, the guilty tug of them collecting dust in the humid shed, discarded in disuse. There is always some reminder of him when I’m cleaning.  It was to be expected.  Path clear, I hoisted the tub up onto my hip and bolstered myself for the task ahead.

With every movement of my body, I was fighting a wave of nostalgia.  Surprisingly, though, the flood of memories wasn’t just the Hallmark movie type.  My nephew’s not playing soccer this year, and I was just chatting with a friend who coaches his kids’ teams about how much I miss watching him and playing with the twins.  It was good family fun.  While I positioned bales of hay and fake pumpkins, the loudspeakers declared from across the neighborhood that my old school’s team was playing, and I smiled recalling all the times I’d walked the two blocks with a camera in hand to snap pictures for the yearbook at Darling Stadium.  It was the way things had been before Charming in this good life I had built.

By the time I had propped up the smiling scarecrow to stand on its own, I recognized the merit of the fact that I was incredibly happy with who I was and where I was throughout the summer of online dating that preceded Charming’s introduction to my weekly normal.  While I wanted to find the right guy, get married, and start a family before my biological clock gives up, I hadn’t anticipated the fragmented mindset I’d develop when that guy wasn’t in Hampton.  I never really wanted to leave, but I had convinced myself and everyone else (a little too early on) that I was ready to start over with Charming wherever that would be.

I don’t want to leave Hampton; maybe someday I’ll have a desire to be somewhere else, but I’m not as young as I used to be.  I feel it more responsible to fall apart and face the disappointment than move across state lines.  I want to be there for as many of my brother’s kids’ “firsts” as circumstances allow.  I want to decorate for Christmas and be home every weekend to make the most of those lights.  It would have truly been a disappointment if last year was really a collection of “lasts” in Hampton.  I’d straddled cities for so long that I split, and I couldn’t get excited about leaving town… even if it was to marry Prince Charming.

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The rain stopped again, some time ago, I think.  The veil lifted.  I hear crickets.  The air is cooler now, too.  The sky is lighter having unburdened itself, and I along with it, where the setting and tone serve as unseen forces mutually acting upon each other as my narrative unfolds, driving me toward the peace of an honest, autumn night at home, alone on my white wicker love seat recalling memories with a smile.  Nothing lasts forever…. not relationships, not soccer games, not perfectly carved pumpkins.

And certainly not fall.  But another will be back next year, and it’s okay if it always makes me think of Charming.  The winds have stilled, and my front porch and I settle into the peace of another Tuesday night in Hampton.

Maybe Half Full

Writing nights don’t beckon me like they used to.  The ache to arrange words that manipulate my mind to self-discover still tempts me to settle back into this front porch cushion like 187 Tuesdays before; I’m just guarded, I suppose, and writing is most natural for me when I don’t have to avoid topics.  There’s a lot I can’t write about these days, though I estimate this challenge of balancing a respect for others’ privacy and a commitment to write authentically is not unique to me.

I get to write my story.  I own my thoughts and ideas.  I use a machine to transfer those ideas to a computer in the form of carefully arranged words and phrases, syntactically pleasing and wrought from repetitive practice.  I broadcast the product over the internet, and some keep flipping channels while others tune in.  From their unique corners of the world, my story takes on new lives as each reader brings his or her perception and personal application.  My most broken moments have been the fodder for my most popular blog posts.  When I stopped recognizing the names of new followers, I felt legitimized as a blogger; people relate to the real moments – the raw messiness of human relationships.

So, this reticence to sit still for a couple of hours and initiate this transfer of ideas shouldn’t surprise me.  I’m bound by obligation and plain good sense to avoid publicly writing about certain things.  Composing here centers me in a way little else does.  A lazy beach day at Fort Monroe is a strong competitor, but even the endorphin release of a sweaty session with the elliptical doesn’t reinvigorate my spirit like three and a half years dating this white wicker love seat.

There is this undercurrent narrative, concealed beneath weekly confessionals, that’s begging for time, pretense, feelings, and circumstances to realign and let it rise to the surface.  I’ve been told my most recent life experiences would make for a great novel, but it’s not a quality read or entertainment value that urges me to face my personal demons with an audience looking on.  When I write, I grow.  The things I can’t put on the page weigh on me daily, shelved out of reach as I go through the motions, but always there, neglected during Tuesday night writing binges to maintain status quo.

And the simple existence of things I can’t blog about serves as a giant red flag that reminds me how far from perfect I’ll ever be.  I’m learning to be okay with that, it’s just not happening out here.  The kitchen still greets me warmly, I’ve discovered it’s as solid a life instructor as the garden beds were.  This weekend, I was craving triple berry pie, so I searched online for a few recipes to satisfy my sweet tooth.  The first pie I made from scratch a few weeks ago was good.  I didn’t expect it to be perfect.  It was my first pie.  Maybe I expect perfection because I’m in my mid-thirties and I shouldn’t need to follow a recipe to get things right.

No, the first pie wasn’t going to be as good as this one because I didn’t know a month ago what I know now.  I could marry three recipes for the filling with confidence and substitute a lattice crust so I could tackle working with dough again.  As I prepared the ingredients, I was pleased at how functional my kitchen has become.  There was free counter space if I needed to set something down.  My most used tools and spices were within arm’s reach.  I don’t expect myself to be perfect in the kitchen, and after six months courting the hobby, I don’t expect anyone to be.  In fact, I dare say that I wouldn’t want them to be.  Missteps and stumbles in the kitchen have resulted in some of my favorite mostly-original dishes.

I’d like to see success in my attempts to follow a recipe, but missteps beyond the kitchen walls yield consequences and injury more critical than charred chicken.  I’m stunting myself by storing up secrets, accepting the necessary chains that encompass me like two commas encasing an appositive phrase when the meaning of the sentence would utterly change where they eliminated.  There was a basic recipe that kept me sane.  I lived and made choices, then I reflected and blogged, then I realized and grew.  I progressed through the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy somewhat out of sequence, but I grew.

This is not to say that I’m not growing now, it’s just much of the current growth I’m making isn’t measured by events, adventures, or bucket list achievements.  It’s more subtle, like the moon flower climbing up my front porch slats toward the roof that I didn’t plant this year.  It grew anyway, trained itself upward, climbed the fishing line I strung last summer, and bloomed for me last night though I never tamed or watered it.  It was just there, this white blossom that evidences one season of neglect couldn’t eradicate two years of tending the soil.

There isn’t one thing I can point out that made this triple berry pie superior to the first.  There’s a cumulative curve I’m working with, application of a collection of tips and tricks incorporated from other recipes.  I’ve relied on internet sources as much for cooking with what’s in my cabinets in the last two months as I did during two years of grad school.  If we assessed my pie based on a grading rubric like my graduate course work, it might not score well because it deviates from the recipe, but it’s the best triple berry pie I’ve had in years.  Cultural norms enforce similar grading rubrics.   I tend to score better when measured with category weights rather than holistically, these days.

When I write I grow, but I grew in the garden and I grow in the kitchen.  I’m finding new ways to process the latent storms, and all the ways I am not perfect seem to point to specific tweaks and modifications that, collectively, can still turn this creation into something good and pleasing like this triple berry pie in a pan, half full.

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On Caribbean Rum Cake and Composition

My legs finally still, and the ground beneath them, too.  The dimly lit street fights blackness earlier each week, though I notice it only when I collapse into the worn, wicker love seat.  The mellow hum of neighborhood insects hypnotizes, urging the teacher to forget about Homecoming festivities and picture week long enough for the writer to emerge.

It’s getting harder to distinguish between my career and my passion; the two complement each other like lettuce wraps with the Korean beef I fixed this weekend.  When I taste-tested the ginger and spices marrying with sautéed garlic and onions, my taste buds were please.  It wasn’t until I served the ground beef on a crispy, green shell garnished with sesame seeds and scallions that my taste buds took it back.  The cool, bland lettuce consoled the spicy Korean beef, like rice and peas with Jamaican curry chicken or some dairy ingredient to top every Mexican recipe.

The writer’s voice is breaking free, but I can barely type a sentence without dismissing the grammatical lesson or figurative technique it would illustrate for my AP Language and Composition students.  AP kids carry high expectations, and either their acting careers will be successful or they’ve bought into my ability to shepherd them toward their writing goals.  I began our year with a game plan and a calendar like I’ve done for eleven prior years of teaching.  When a hurricane shifted the dates, I told the kids I’d make a new calendar.  The Type A student that typically scores a seat in that class likes the order, structure, and consistency as much as I do.  The winds settled two weeks ago, and I’m not sure there is going to be a new calendar.

We’re not just surviving the ebb and flow of an authentic learning community – we’re experiencing an awakening.  When I faced my first AP class in Nashville so early in my career, my thorough syllabus and rigorous coursework compensated for my lack of experience.  Teaching the same class with a new batch of analytical thinkers after three and a half years of writing nights and longer still shuffling students toward the finish line with passing scores on the end of course test is the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t know I had.  Every other day, these nineteen students share ninety minutes with me, and when they leave, I am confident of these two things: I am a writer, and I am a teacher.

That’s why, with every varied sentence combining technique I employed in the last four paragraphs, I was thinking about how I would explain the choices I’d made to budding seventeen year olds.  On the first day of school, their sea of stoic faces only wanted to believe that I wouldn’t waste their time or give them busywork.  A month in, the on-task chatter and myriad “light bulb” moments remind me that my AP kids now enter my room expecting to take something away.  Sure, a few might be flying comfortably below the radar allowing me to hope in the generalization, but even if it’s majority rule, I feel like these seventeen minds were appointed to challenge me, and I to deliver on my promise to equip them to write powerfully, persuasively, and passionately for any purpose.

Eight years ago, I was striving to be an AP teacher, and my curriculum was engaging and standards-based with valid, reliable assessments featuring a dozen types of rubrics to reduce subjectivity.  Even sitting in my teacher chair in Nashville, I stood ready to defend my plan and my grades.  The hunger of teenage motivation is almost palpable, and the discernible climate change in Virginian classroom reflects an unmistakable desire to be better writers.  Two to three times a week, we meet together to talk about reading and writing about reading and writing, and it’s sufficient to me that the class has a binder with the material we’ll cover this quarter.  It’s sufficient to them, too, because they’ll complete a lesson for homework that we didn’t get to in class because authentic, unscripted learning was happening.

Forcing myself teach in a different way puts me outside my comfort zone.  Cooking entrees is where I clocked the most training hours, so while my curry and rice meal simmered confidently on the stove, I slapped about at flour and sugar hoping that with some divine intervention and about an hour in the oven, my efforts with the food processor would satisfy my craving for the Caribbean rum cake my family used to buy from vendors outside a Walmart in the Adirondack mountains a lifetime ago.  The messy undertaking and dish duty were well worth the effort. The first bite was heaven, and I’m not sure how many bites I’ll share.  I surprised myself, perhaps because I’d been expecting failure.

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When I click “Publish” on this post tonight, picture me closing my laptop lid and scurrying into the kitchen to remove the lid from the cake pan and cut into the rum-soaked delight.  With gardening and with writing, I’ve improved in successive measure equal to my consistency in practicing the craft.  I didn’t really know I was a gardener until I had seen enough small gains to start taking big risks.  I started with a garden bed in the front yard, and then I built the vegetable garden out back the next spring.  Granted, I still cook with more confidence than I bake, but like the two different gardens, taking the risks means greater rewards, too.  It was needier than the flowering plants, but my back yard fills my dinner table for months at a time.

And, had I not gained confidence tending a simpler garden, I would have never imagined the possibilities if I were actually a gardener.  If I were a cook.  If I were teacher.  If I were a writer.  A year ago, I baked boxed brownies and was pleased if they weren’t visibly burned.  Last week, I made my imitation recipe for Otis Spunkmeyer’s chocolate chip cookies for the third time this month, and I’m inching ever closer.  The rum cake was a personal challenge, and the session warmed my mixing bowls for last night when I made German chocolate cupcakes for my department chair’s birthday.

If I were a good cook, I would try to make the things that are just out of reach.  Not everything took root in my vegetable garden, but I learned from the failures as much as I benefitted from the harvest.  My AP students might not all genuinely believe we’ll be better writers together by the end of the year, but the sentiment is irrelevant.  I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t more to self-fulfilling prophecy than doom and gloom.  I’ve taught in public education for more than a decade in three school districts in two states, and every class I see every other day, year after first days of school… the teacher my AP kids experienced in Nashville was a good teacher who loved writing.

The magic in my room every other day happens when nineteen disparate minds find intersect within the art of rhetoric, where light bulbs illuminate the room because language conventions are no longer a set of antiquated rules but rather arrangements of words just waiting to be manipulated for the author’s intended effect.  For their effect, as in my students’ to make the pronoun reference clear, because they aren’t just writing about writers like they were during their summer reading projects.  I think they’re starting to get that they can be great writers, that they already are writers if they know they could be great.

It seems to me that those things at which I’ve excelled and come to identify began as things I wanted to be able to do well, even if I wasn’t sure I would pull it off.  It was that way with my garden, it was that way with the rum cake, and if the irreplaceable investment of time mounts in tandem with mastery of craft, then it makes sense that I feel like the best writing teacher I’ve ever been, so much so that I’m willing to throw my calendar out and let the students drive the content forward.  As it is, I haven’t seen them in thirty-six hours, and their still inspiring me to write well… while taking correctly punctuated risks in language convention.

Maybe it’s because I believe I can take them to the next level that they believe me, but I’m grateful that they keep coming in and out of my classroom, challenging me to deliver on my promise to make them better writers.  I hadn’t anticipated this bunch of brainy teens would do the same for me, week after week, as the night settles in earlier, and I write.