Reading. Out Loud. To My Colleagues. Gulp.

A few days ago my principal asked me to speak to the staff at my school about the National Writing Project conference I attended in Philly.  I thought about what to share.  At first I thought I’d share the hilarious genius of the poet Billy Collins.  Then I thought I’d share about a workshop I attended on writing across subject areas.  Both of those sounded just fine to me, except that another idea kept poking at me, whispering into my ear, disrupting my dreams even.

I felt compelled to share about the LOVE Statue.

I wanted to talk about something bigger than the conventions of writing and instead address the purpose of writing.  To present writing as an expression of feeling, as a call to action, as a response to an experience that changed me.

Oh man, that is not even close to what many people consider in the box of “writing instruction”.  Thankfully my principal is an out of the box kind of guy and when I pitched him my idea, he gave me the okay.

I was honored.  I was excited.  I was terrified.  Talking to my colleagues about my experience would mean reading them something I wrote.  Like, out loud, at the front of the room and stuff.

Gulp.

After fighting back the urge to hurl, I summoned my bravery from the pit of my rolling stomach.  Being a writer means taking the risk to share.  At least that’s what I told myself.

The staff meeting was today and I sat listening to my principal talk about copy machines and new phone systems and all the nuts and bolts that make a school run smoothly.  I tried to listen attentively, but my stomach was aflutter and my heart was hammering.  Then it came time for me to share.  I begged for God to have mercy and take me to Heaven right now.

He did not.  So I stood up and took a deep breath.

I talked a teensy bit about an upcoming writing series I’m co-facilitating and I talked a smidge about the conference and then I read my piece.

My voice shook.  My eyes welled up when I came to the part about being ashamed.  I pushed to the finish and waited for an accordion of groans and a slew of pencils flung at my eyes.  Instead they clapped.  And smiled.  And wiped their eyes.

I talked about the discussion Terry and I had about what it means to act in love, to seek out opportunities to show empathy.  Then, we wrote about what it means to love, about big and small ways we can show love.

That’s right, we wrote as a staff at a staff meeting.  It was a quick write and then I asked for volunteers to share out.  And people actually volunteered.  What they shared was moving and brought a fresh run of tears pricking my eyelashes.

In a time of standards and testing and budget cuts, it was water to my soul hearing about the heart my colleagues have for each other and our students.

At the end of the meeting, seven colleagues signed up for the writing series I’m co-facilitating.  Seven teachers willing to give up time on a Saturday to better themselves as teachers of writing, to better themselves as writers.  I have a beautiful opportunity to discuss within my teaching community the importance and power of writing.

Between now and then, I’m going to dig out my brave face and quell my squeamish stomach in hope that come January we will all be reading our writing out loud to each other.  And I couldn’t be more excited, more honored or more terrified.

Cake Or Something Like It

After witnessing a particularly awkward/seething with rage wedding ceremony, I found myself thinking “At least the cake will be good.  I could really go for a tasty little slice right about now.” The cake was a small three-tiered affair with white icing and blue accents.  It wasn’t beautiful, nor was it hideous.  It looked like it would hit the spot just fine.

I sat down and took a forkful of cake.  As I lifted it to my mouth, I had my reservations because it was an odd color.  Really there are only three acceptable cake colors: white, yellow, and dark brown.  The only exception to this is Funfetti cake, which is white with happy sprinkles embedded like delicious little treasures.

This cake was sort of beige-ish, almost the color of spice cake.  I don’t care for spice cake.  Why would you make spice cake when chocolate cake mix is readily available?  It’s a mystery worth pondering another time.  But it’s hard to totally mess up cake, so I took a bite.  It tasted like…it tasted like…it didn’t taste like any food product I’d ever eaten.  It looked like cake.  It felt like cake.  But that’s where the similarities ended.

I couldn’t put my finger on what flavor it was and so assuming I’d gotten an off bite, I took a second bite.  It was just as awful, maybe even more so because now I had impostor cake in my belly and my mouth and, let me tell you, neither location was pleased.  Had I been at home or even in a restaurant or anywhere but in the direct line of sight of the cake baker, I would have spit it out right onto the silvery names monogrammed on the napkin.  As this was not an option, I swallowed it and chased it with three cups of strawberry lemonade.

The weird thing was nobody else at the table could identify the cake flavor either.  I looked around the room and saw people pushing cake around on their plates to give the appearance they’d eaten it.  I felt terrible for having handed out such a poor excuse for a cake.  These people didn’t do anything to deserve that.  Okay, maybe some of them did, but as a whole this crowd was being severely punished.  With cake.

It reminded me of a scene from Better Off Ted.  Two scientists have created a meatless beef product and it’s up to the taste tester to determine exactly what it is.  The scene went something like this:

“It tastes familiar.”

“Like beef?”

“No.”

“Like chicken?”

“No.  It tastes like…it tastes like…despair.  Yes, that’s it.  Despair.”

I never did figure out what flavor this wedding cake was supposed to be, but it was a dead ringer for despair.

Interpretation of a Rejection Letter

It happened.

My first rejection letter darkened my inbox this week.

I submitted an article to a journal and truly, truly, truly I did it to get over the fear of actually sending something off for consideration.

Well, let me tell you, I am exquisitely good at lying to myself.  When I saw the message in my inbox, my heart flipped and fluttered at the sheer prospect of my piece being published.  I opened the e-mail and as quickly as it flipped and fluttered, my little heart sank.  I swear I felt it drop down to my stomach.  I didn’t know how badly I wanted to be accepted.

Until I wasn’t.

I have included my rejection letter sans identifying information because I love this journal even though it doesn’t love me back.

After you read it, don’t go firing off comments about how rejection is part of being a writer.  I know that.  Being stung is part of being a beekeeper, but it still hurts a little bit.

For your benefit, I have translated editor speak into regular people language.

Ms. McCauley,
Thank you for your submission.  We’d run out of toilet paper and it was the perfect substitute. The editors have read and considered your piece and, unfortunately, will not be able to publish it.  Because you are a ghastly writer and your overzealous use of sentence fragments made the editors want to claw their eyes out. The current editorial team is currently coming to the end of its tenure and the few remaining slots have all been filled with other pieces.  No way in hell were the current editors going to publish drivel like that in their swan song issue.  Seriously, no way. We are sorry we can’t offer you better news, but we just can’t because your writing is that bad, and we are sorry for the significant delay in getting you this decision as the editors made their difficult choices, but we had to allow enough time to pass it around the office so that everyone including the UPS man could mock both you and your article, but we wish you all the best as you continue your writing, if that’s what you’re calling it.  And please stop calling it that. Thank you for your interest in our journal. We hope you will enjoy reading pieces by writers who are by far your superior.

Kind Regards,

Editorial Assistant, the one who drew the short straw and had to figure out a polite way to tell you that your writing is dreadful.  Maybe you should consider a career at Safeway.  By the way, your outfit sucks, too.  I haven’t seen it, but I’m confident that it does.

So there you have it, the first in what I’m sure will be a long line of rejection letters.  I’m heading to Safeway today to pick up a job application.

LOVE, Part 2

Last night after I wrote about the LOVE Statue in Philly, Terry and I had a conversation about the value of small vs. global acts of love.  Giving someone a coat or supporting the mission that gives away hundreds of thousands of coats-which is the better way to act in love?

In my mind, both are important and actually I’m not sure you can have one without the other.  I think about the Gap’s RED campaign against AIDS, and Nicholas Kristof’s continued work to expand gender equality, and Youth to Youth’s dedication to creating dynamic young leaders.  They all started as a seed of an idea in someone’s heart and mind.  One person decided they could make a difference, that they indeed would make a difference.

So, the niggling question is this?  What am I going to do?  What is my part in this life I’ve been given?  For now, this is what I’ve decided.  I will continue to seek out small opportunities to show love in my own circles, but I will also support people who took their seed of an idea and grew it into an operation that helps people in places I’ve never been, people living in circumstances I cannot fathom, people I could not otherwise reach.

My photo of the LOVE statue was far from perfect.  It was everything I didn’t want it to be.  It was a glimpse into the gaunt face of homelessness.  In response, I choose to commit small acts of kindness in conjunction with using my resources to support organizations that embody what it means to love.  If my money becomes their money, if my time becomes their time, and in turn if their arms become my arms then my reach knows no bounds.  And to me, that’s a perfect picture.

LOVE

 

The famous LOVE statue in Philadelphia was not what I’d expected.  The fountain was dried up and the corners of its mouth overflowed with wads of garbage.  I went to see the love piece three different times during my stay in Philadelphia, hoping each time to glimpse the fountain fanning cool sheets of water behind the crimson letters, hoping my meager photographic skills would capture just the right angle, just the right light.

Each click of the camera left me struck by the clusters of homeless men and the occasional homeless woman living in the park so known for its proclamation of love.  They were huddled in masses of faded grays and browns on the park benches and against the corners of statues of somebody historic, I’m sure.  It was not the background I’d hoped for my storybook photo of love.  Some men zipped themselves into sleeping bag cocoons and others flung their words at each other, their anger knifing the air and making me quicken my pace as I walked by.

Writing those words I’m ashamed because that’s what I did.

I just walked by.

I, the pious seeker of the perfect picture of love, just walked by, sometimes with a prickle of fear shimmying down my spine and a look of pity angling down my nose.  Not once did I stop to offer my gloves, or the few dollars wrinkled in my wallet, or the coat that usually hangs stuffed amongst many in my closet.  I went looking for love and I missed it.  I missed it completely.

I dream about the LOVE statue and in my dreams I am the kinder, more compassionate version of myself, the version I wish I was in my waking hours.  In my dreams I cock my head at the same angle as the crooked O atop the E.  I tilt my head and ponder the statue, ponder what it means to really love.  I wake and my neck twinges with pain from all my dreaming.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and desperately hope I don’t miss the opportunity to love again today.