Monday, April 30, 2012

You are...

See, TV can teach you something

“The rest of your life is a long time and whether you know it or not, it's being shaped right now. You can choose to blame your circumstances on fate, or bad luck, or bad choices, or you can fight back. Things aren't always gonna be fair in the real world, that's just the way it is. But for the most part you get what you give.”
I recently took a trip back into the world of One Tree Hill, and although I’ve been ridiculed for years for watching a “teen drama,” I have always stood by this show. Two weeks ago was the series finale, and was reminded of a lot of the things that made this show great; things that inspired me as I was working my way through high school and college. The quote above is from Bethany Joy Lenz, who played Haley James Scott on the show. She was a teacher, and she makes this speech to her English class on one of her first days at Tree Hill High. So yeah, One Tree Hill is a teen drama, and it’s from the same network that spawned The Vampire Diaries (which I love, but not because it’s inspiring), but One Tree Hill made some good points. Most of all, it was about a group of kids who made bad decisions, and then took responsibility for them (eventually). I think that all teens should have to watch at least the first four seasons of OTH, if for no other reason than it is about a teenage boy who READS.

The rest of your life is being shaped right now. I took today to introduce this idea to my students, who, on a good day, are hard to handle. I teach at a school where bad choices are not only a daily occurrence, they’re expected by teachers and administrators, and all of the people who are supposed to believe in our students. If my kids take nothing else away from this school year, I want it to be the knowledge that every decision they make is having an effect on the rest of their lives. I want them to be able to give others a chance, not because they want to necessarily, but because it’s the right thing to do.

So today we wrote lists, and not just any lists, we wrote self-reflective lists. I had come across a MySpace post that I had made when I was a senior in high school called “50 Things I Don’t Care if You Know.” When I re-read it, I was reminded of all of the craziness that accompanied my high school journey, and also how much just creating and posting that list helped me get through that difficult year. So I told my students that the best way to start fighting back against all the naysayers and doubters was to get to know what was rattling around in their heads. So I gave them a modified version of Haley’s speech, my list (which they of course found hysterical) and asked them to create their own. It went over well for the most part, and many of the kids really enjoyed it. If my assignment reached even one or two, I consider this a success.

My kids are dreamers, whether they realize it or not. They are poets and philosophers and one day, the rest of the world will see the things that I see in each of them. They are the Lucases and Peytons and Nathans and Haleys of this life, and they have the strength to overcome the obstacles that life has thrown at them. Our lives are being shaped right now, our choices, right or wrong, are in the past, and we are fighting back.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thoughts awaken us

I have always been a reader. I wish that I could remember the first book that ever touched me, the first characters that ever inspired me to be a better version of myself, but I can't. What I do remember is begging my mom to take me to the library in the summer, and coming home with a bag full of books. I would stack them neatly on the floor next to my bed, and over the next two weeks, I would devour them, line by line, page by page. I remember once being so frightened of a book that it kept me awake for the whole night (no small feat for a fifth grader), but you know what? I finished that book anyway, because I had discovered that books could be more than interesting; they could be gripping and powerful.

The catalyst for me, the moment when reading became more than a hobby, when reading became a passion, was in my ninth grade English class. My teacher, Mr. Frey, told us "Thoughts awaken us to the journey of life," and since that moment, I have known that books and poems and essays are all thoughts, carefully constructed and deeply felt, that lead us through our lives. As a writer now myself, I know that writing is an act of hope. Hope that someday, someone will read the words that a writer has laid down and be inspired.

I can't remember every book I've ever read, and this isn't the first time that I've wished for a list, but I can remember the ones that meant something. I can remember struggling and laughing and above all, loving with Laura Ingalls Wilder on the prairie. I can feel the breeze coming in the windows of Anne's Green Gables. Most of all, I remember yearning and working and learning with Christy in the Appalachian Mountains. Catherine Marshall's epic novel, "Christy," fictionalized her own mother's time teaching in a remote, backward village. "Christy" changed my life, and has continued to change it since the first time I read it. I am not a teacher because I read that novel. I have no doubt that had my grandmother never given it to me, I would be a teacher anyway. I don't think, however, that I would teach with the same level of compassion and caring if it weren't for the tenacity and inspiration that was lent to me through "Christy". I can't even count the number of times that I picked up that worn paperback during college, desperate for some hope and relief. "Christy" always reminded me why I was working so hard.

I encourage the students that I work with to find the words that lift them up, that teach them how to be better versions of themselves, and to read because reading is eternal. It connects us to the past and helps us to understand ourselves in the present. It is meaningful, and permanent, and all children should be given the same opportunity that I was; the opportunity to find themselves in literature. In fact, I encourage everyone to do that: if you don't like to read, you probably haven't found the right book. That may sound silly, but I promise you that somewhere, between the pages of a book, is a world that you want to be a part of.

Welcome to Changing the Beat

It took me an hour of staring at the computer screen, walking away, coming back and staring some more, and so on to figure out a title for this blog. It needed to be exactly right because I'm counting on this to be not only an outlet for me, but a place where I can rediscover the writer that I used to be. After thinking and pondering and tapping my fingers, I finally decided to look for inspiration in the one place that I can always be sure to find it: my quote books.

In 2002 I was a freshman and just getting a taste of the trials and tensions of high school. One day, for no reason at all, my mom gave me a book. I love books, and I always have, but this book, purple with a verse on the front, was filled with the best kind of pages: blank ones. The epithet on the cover is over-used, and I've seen it on countless posters in high schools and offices. You know, places where they are trying to inspire people. So would I use it today? Probably not. But that day, when my mother handed me that purple book, this verse was poetic gold:

"Only as high as I reach can I grow,
Only as far as I seek can I go,
Only as deep as I look can I see,
Only as much as I dream can I be."

Beyond the words on the front, there was a song in the back, lyrics written in my mother's careful hand.  "I'll be" by Reba McEntire is a song about trust and a bond so strong that nothing can break it. I'm glad that I can say that I still share that kind of relationship with my mom, and that I've copied the same song into cards for friends as I grew older. I try to give others the same support my mother has always given me.

The book was mine, to do with what I would, and the freedom was exhilarating. This was a safe place for me to put down my hopes, dreams and convictions. I've never been much of a journaler, so I put those hopes and dreams and convictions down on those blank pages using the words of others. Thus, the quote book was born, and four books later, they chronicle my growth and give me a place to look for inspiration when it seems like I have none.

So I felt silly when I didn't think of looking to my quote books for my blog's title. It seemed oddly fitting, because although I am still writing quotes and songs in that fourth book, this blog gives me the same sense of freedom that those blank pages gave me way back in the ninth grade. So, I flipped through the pages, and relived some moments, as I always do. And then, alongside a giraffe sticker and some seriously ill-thought out quotes that are written in spirals, I found this....and a blog was born:

"On a small planet, where minute follows minute, day follows day, year follows year, where tradition marches on with a deafening, orderly beat--sometimes the order is disturbed by a dreamer, an artist, a scribbler--sometimes the beat is changed one person at a time..." -Mary E. Pearson, "Scribbler of Dreams"