|Books are beautiful gifts… but you can write words to improve other's lives too.|
“No man is an island…”
These words were penned by John Donne as he thought he lay dying from the plague. Masterful words as he pondered the meaning of life and death ‘for whom the bell tolls.”
Truly, some of the most heart wrenching, agonizing circumstances, squeeze from the pen of great authors words full of meaning that distill rich drops of life onto the pages of history.
“Never, never, never give up.”
said Winston Churchill to a people who were pondering just that. The words meant so much because the nights were, quite literally, so black, punctuated by fiery death dropped from the sky and sirens that kept sleep at bay. Who could understand a sleep deprived people with tear encrusted eyes working through the day to live to face another unfaced foe again that night?
Yet, the words became immortal when uttered at the darkest moment. They gave hope and stay written because they are repeated – this one is even on the magnet on my fridge as I teach my children to face the giants of their lives with pitiful stones and slings and a God who sees.
But as I ponder the words of so many great authors. The things written that we remember… and I wonder if all such words must be penned in some sort of prison – a prison of circumstance or solitude. If one hopes to write well, are we also wishing upon ourselves such a prison? Are the walls we erect around ourselves in order to observe the world, also separating us from the mankind upon which we ponder and reflect.
Writing is a gift and yet, there are times when I am deprived of her sweet release – stuck checking email or grading papers – I feel like my love of writing is a curse just because I can't do it. There are other times that things are so personal, that they are only suitable for journal — indeed, that is what John Donne was writing.
Yet, his words and conclusions as he traveled through the darkest days of his life have taught me so much. He eventually concluded that one must either fear God or everything else. Such a conclusion, perhaps, could only happen from days of torment, although as one who aspires to write, I wish it wasn't so.
My own mortality raises her head at me as my body ages and small things happen… the little pop in my knee. The need to get progressive lenses and write everything down are reminders that I am at least changing in some way.
Yet, the passion I feel for my students as they walk in my room is stronger than ever. The thing is, I am also a writer too. And I feel passion for anyone who chooses to read my meager words upon the cybersphere. I am not a John Donne lifting my head to write upon a creased page as I sweat and am bled of my life's marrow by physicians ill informed and even unable to properly diagnose my malady. No GK Chesterton writing tomes of ponderings for newspapers and ready to debate and captivate audiences or Winston Churchill laying out words late into the night to secretaries who will type and return the first draft the next day as he travels to state events and insults Lady Astor. I'm no Emily Browning writing her words alone or one of the Bronte geniuses writing of love and insanity. I'm no Hemingway, getting up at 3 am to write until heading out to fish around noon – although I have to admit that his existence is one that makes me most envious. I love to fish…and write.
And yet, I realize, that the new form of writing – one which allows me to write and ponder in near real-time allows certain opportunities. While not truly a journal – surely my inner thoughts are not worthy of anyone but me and my Maker — it is still somewhat a pondering of the current state of my life.
I write as I am living through a turmoil and lava hot level of stress that no one could truly understand as I seek to be and remain a teacher. I type as I try to balance and keep those Baskerville Hounds that seek to voraciously gobble up my positive attitude so that the marrow of my being is consumed. I scribble down thoughts I attempt to stave off the pendulum that sometimes swings overhead as I alone detect its subtle lowering of the blade upon my ability to thrive amidst the chaos.
As these struggles surround me – the network of cables tentacling through the campus like the demon beast in 20,000 leagues under the sea – or the extra curricular activities that scream into my brain like the locked up bride of Heathcliff when I'm trying to sleep. Or the precious children that I ponder daily as I plan lessons, teach, and assess and try to provide feedback that not only teaches my subject but will shape their lives.
As I work to parent the three beautiful children in my care and feed them good, healthy food. As I climb Mt. Laundry feeling as lost as the passengers in “Alive” -a book that I read as a child and made me afraid to fly over snow capped mountains. As I work to juggle an online life that would easily choke me like the tentacles of the sea that wrapped around Jonah's throat when he was thrown overboard by a crew anxious to stave off an angry God.
I watch for the threats to my peace of mind like the family in Swiss Family Robinson watched for the pirates they knew would come, and invariably, like them, those pirates come when I'm not looking.
So, while I'm not all those other masterful authors – those men and women I admire. It is easy to forget that they were flesh and blood, just like me and you, writing admist the struggles and pressures of life. They didn't always want to write, but like the prophet Jeremiah perhaps the words were “shut up like fire in my bones, I tried to hold them back but I could not.” I think of Peter Marshall, the amazing Irish pastor who settled in DC, perfectly formatting sermons that would live long after him, and his grieving young widow, Catherine, who would first write “A Man Called Peter” but proceed to have a career of her own writing such novels as “Christy.” I think of Philip Yancey's long struggle with God and pain and penning the book “Soul Survivor” about how he reconciled his faith in God amidst a church that falls short that has helped me with my own heartache over my childhood church's departing from the Truth.
As I ponder these great authors who have punctuated my own life with their beautiful words and prose. These people who reach through time and space like Dale Carnegie did for me as a child reading his book in the bathtub trying to figure out how to win that student government election in high school.
These authors were great because they wrote from experience and had a somewhat creative genius of seeing the world. Indeed some of them got along better with the characters in their writing than with the humans in their lives (i.e. Tolstoy).
Truthfully, my heroes have most often been speakers and authors – with a focus on the latter. From the author and finisher of my faith to the great authors of the ages – I just don't think there's enough time to read all of them. I'm so thankful that so many of the great works of the ages are converted and put on the amazon store for free so I can absorb their words as I absorb my hot bubble bath every night. Oh such mastery! Oh such beauty and such heartwrenching sadness.
This has truly been a meandering piece and one I'm not sure I'll ever publish but one I write as I grapple with my small tiny place in this scene. For writers can write, but they truly become alive when readers read. While I write nonfiction, I'm no less tenacious about the words I choose and the stories I tell. I read the manuscripts I draft for publishers and when I tire, I mark red through the page and write “boring” in the margin and rework the page.
I dream of writing and yet I write now. Even this, these are words. They are here for you to read or for you to ignore. For me, writing is a joy. As I sit here and type on my ipad and watch these letters appear upon my Blogsy app, I'm spellbound and captivated by the joy of expressing something to another person in the hopes that one person will read it.
It makes it worth it to endure the criticism of the typos and run on sentences and fragments that I intentionally allow in blog posts. This blog is a conversation of types – albeit somewhat onesided, until I get the kind comment or email – or sometimes the irate comment or email — who do I think I am, after all – a normal, average teacher in a very small town in a very tiny school on a very large globe? Really, who am I?
It matters not who I am, but rather, what I do with what I have. My words are a love affair with other teachers who need encouragement and perhaps this post is a love affair with other writers — anyone who writes a paragraph online in the hope that another will like, retweet, comment, or be inspired by. As for me, I live for those who send me messages that their lives are changed.
A while back a woman wrote me a note that it had been since 2011 that she had been to school without being kicked or hit or bit by her special needs students. Struggling with an unsupportive admin, she came across a blog post that I wrote one day and saw the words “All you have is enough.” She wrote it in sharpie and put it on her desk — then soon replaced it with a paraphrase of “the Lord is my shepherd…” that related to the same thought. She said it got her through November and December.
I want people to write things to help me get through February, March, April, and May this year. So, if that is what I want, that is what I'll try to be for you. You might need that encouragement too. You might need that glimmer of hope.
Writing is such a powerful medium. The pen may be mightier than the sword but enough keyboards can defeat an army. We now have the ability to escalate and elevate the great writing among us faster than ever in the history of mankind. It is a dream that we will escalate good writing, I'm not sure that it is the case, but we can dream such a dream. And right now, with the embattled educators whose hearts and minds are cast aside by a society that has lost the art of respecting educators, we need keyboards to write the encouraging words that can transform this generation.
Writing is a beautiful thing, but good writing is surreal. It lifts us from our struggles and helps us rise above the trials of life. I'm so grateful to live in an age when books are so accessible and little people like me can write and share with the world our thoughts, until, eventually, perhaps, we can become better writers worthy of a larger audience. Yet, just one improved and helped person is enough of an audience for any person. The first three months of my blog I had 7 readers, I loved those readers – they meant so much to me. I still think of them and wonder who they were.
While the authors mentioned here are truly some of the greats, it is great to be an author of any kind in any place.
Remember your noble calling, writer. I'm glad to be among you. Your words are very important and make a difference. Be the writer you want to see in the world, you live in a day where you can do that.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Tips for minimizing teacher stress
- Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
- Simple advice for coping with stress at work.
- Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)