By Laura Moore
For the last four weeks, I've been busy creating my own world: carefully crafting characters, civically engineering neighborhoods and inventing all sorts of problems for my lovely young adults to solve.
I spent roughly 240 hours (probably more, but I rounded down) over the course of a month, swirling around in the clouds of my imagination, running my fingers through thoughts as if they were sculpting clay, turning them into sentences and paragraphs and metaphors in an effort to make something that would get my high school kids to think and talk about big things, things they've inspired me to write about, things like life and death, things like dealing with the pressure to succeed, things like being too scared to step out of boxes, things like seeing the value of slowing down, of realizing there is no finish line in life where the challenges go away and everything suddenly gets easier.
The process was awesome.
It was all of those things because the journey mimics life. The journey to create anything is about hope and then confidence and then doubt and then fear and then confidence and then hope all over again.
Sometimes the path is clear and easy and the weather is perfect; at other times, the storm clouds cluster the moment you hit the steepest part of the mountain. And as easy as it would have been to turn back and hide under the cover of shelter, I couldn't pull myself away from the challenge. I couldn't rightfully give up because deep down I knew that trudging through the mud and testing my grip was all part of the experience if I wanted to understand what I was made of.
And so I kept going.
For the first four days it was sunshine and rainbows. My fingers danced. My ideas were pouring out just like they appeared in my head, and because of that, despite hearing expert advice to the contrary, I felt like I had ample time to edit as well as write. In fact, I started each day by editing the previous day's writing. Then, several hours later, once I felt good about what I had, I launched into the new stuff.
My first draft is going to be polished, I said to myself each day as I went down for my third cup of coffee.
But then, on day five, the editing demon (and a massive headache) swarmed my body, and I found myself paralyzed with panic. Despite earlier editing efforts that added words to the word count, on that day, my three hours of revision cut out almost 320 words, which, unfortunately, meant that I now had to write 2,720 words rather than 2,400, and I had three fewer hours to do it.
Upon realizing this, I pounded the heel of my hand to my forehead, and right then and there--in the wake of a self-inflicted headache--I vowed to shut down my compulsive desire to nit-pick, to edit, to revise, to fiddle and fiddle and fiddle until my words sounded good in my ears. While other writers suggested this action as a vital mechanism for success, until I squared up with just how hard it was to move with an inner critic holding my feet in the mud, I couldn't shut him down, I couldn't bear to see what I created without him looking over my shoulder.
The minute I was at risk for failing my daily word count though, I knew that I had no choice: if I wanted to keep going, I had to rip off a strip of duct tape and slap it across his mouth.
And so I did.
"If you keep making me turn back," I told him sternly, "we are never going to get anywhere."
He struggled briefly with my retaliation, but he ultimately acquiesced, deciding to give me a chance to prove myself, deciding to give me the chance to write, to move without handcuffs and a three ton weight strapped to my back.
He stayed silent for three days, and for three whole days my fingers lifted ideas from my brain without any care or worry in the world. For three whole days I moved the story forward and I enjoyed the ride my fingers took across the keyboard. I could see the storm clouds up ahead, I could smell the rain, and I could hear the thunder, but I didn't want to believe it; I just wanted to keep going--I just wanted to keep joyriding--until I couldn't go any further, until something physically made me stop.
Maybe it'll miss me, I thought as the sky grew darker. But all along, I knew there was something brewing. All along, I knew it would eventually collapse on top of me. All along, I knew I would find myself beneath massive amounts of angry precipitation without any rain gear or shelter to dull the severity of the attack.
And just as my gut predicted, this happened on day ten.
When I sat down to write that Monday, my stomach churned the entire time my fingers pounded the keys. I kept going to see if I could fix the problem, but by the time I got to the end of my word count, I knew there was no fixing it. I hated what was happening to my characters. It didn't feel right, and even worse, the more I thought about the way my plot was unfolding, the more I realized the entire manuscript was headed toward the dreaded land of contrivedville (yes, I just made up that word).
I wanted to throw up.
In fact, the night the storm clouds dumped pounds of hail on my head, I laid in bed staring at the back of my eyelids for a good four hours before the nausea made me get up and sprawl out on the bathroom floor.
I can't keep writing something so stupid, I told myself over and over. You're 15,000 words in and this is absolutely, pathetically dumb.
Twisting and turning my ideas, I grasped for straws, hoping to figure something out so I wouldn't have to abandon my project and start over, but my mind could not move past the negative voices. I could not get the inner critic to shut up so the problem solver could swoop in and fix things. I could not stop doubt from swimming through my intestinal tract, jostling things up inside of me, and taunting me with his I-told-you-this-was-going-to-be-dumb mantra.
So I stared up at the bathroom vent and gritted my teeth.
Then our baby cried.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I rubbed my temples, picked up my body and made my way to his crib. I rocked him until he fell back to sleep and I lost myself in his sweet face. Ten minutes later, I leaned down to set him softly on the mattress, but the minute I let go, he woke up again and screamed. We tried the process twice more, and after the third melt down, I carried him back to the kitchen, prepared a bottle and decided to feed him. Six ounces later, he fell into such a deep sleep he didn't mind returning to the crib.
It was now three o'clock in the morning.
Now what? I thought, staring at the clock. Too frantic to sleep and too tired to write, I sifted through a pile of books beside my desk and picked up Anne Lamont. Two paragraphs in, everything clicked. I pulled out my journal, and let my mind do its thing. Jotting down a revised game plan, I made notes about how to fix what I had already written, what I needed to delete and where I needed to go next. As I wrote, the nausea faded, and once I captured my epiphany, I decided to sleep on it.
The next morning, I deleted almost 5,000 words, revised the ones that stayed, and then set out on my new course. That process eliminated 1/3 of the work I had done up to that point, but once I cut the excess, I could see the fog lifting and the problems untangling. Ideas began forming again and I let myself follow their lead. My work was venturing off of my original plan, but it was exciting to see where it went. The entire experience was sort of like an out of body movie unfolding before me, and sometimes the plot would make me gasp: Woah. I didn't know that was going to happen to HIM! I'd say to myself, shocked. Or That's what she was trying to get him to see?
When I'd explain the developments to my husband, he'd always smile at my reports. "How are you surprising yourself?" he'd ask. "Aren't you the one making it up?"
"It's magic," I would say back to him, and in a totally nerdy sort of way, that's exactly what it felt like.
This magic continued through the end, even when I realized my book still had problems, even when I realized there were plot gaps and point of view issues and two characters that needed to be merged. And I think that magic continued simply because I allowed myself to accept the fact that what I was writing could be fixed later. I think it continued because I resigned myself to just keep going, to just keep plugging away, to just get out the story so I could figure out what I had to work with when I had the time to dig in my fingers and rework the clay.
When I uploaded it to the word counter for validation, I felt good about my imperfect manuscript. It wasn't pretty, boxed up or "finished" in any sort of way that would make sense to another human being, but buried in mountains of prose that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes messy, lies the promise of an idea I brought to life, lies a world that I made, a world stuffed with questions and fears and hopes and dreams. And even if no one else sees it, that world will always be alive, that world will always change the way I see mine, that world will always be something that exists because somewhere along the line I silenced my inner doubter, my inner criticizer, my inner voice that says you can't do it, and I filled the silence with a heart that says, you can.
By Laura Moore
Glancing at my social media pages this morning, I couldn't help but be inspired as I gazed at the beaming mugs of children posing for first day pictures, showing off spiffed up threads, eager grins and signs bearing the name of their teacher and the grade they are about to enter.
Those images always wet my eyes when I consider the significance of the moment they capture, when I think about what the next 186 school days will hold for the children smiling for the camera.
As those kids stand on their front porch, or in the hallway, or on the lawn of their school, each of them is hovering on the precipice of a new beginning, a new chance, a new set of rules, a new batch of challenges and a new well of opportunities. They are poised for adventure--for the next leg of their journey--toes propped and ready to carry them forward where they will engage in work and play that will help them build, rebuild, create and recreate.
Over 186 school days, they will embrace new skills as they learn how to assign words to ideas, manipulate numbers, ask questions, create beauty, generate sounds or connect their present to the past. And their experiences will press them to widen and deepen both their minds and their hearts each time they are called to unearth their sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering, sometimes strangled conviction to stand up for what is right. They will grow through their experiences, they will learn the bounds of their own strength, and they will discover how courageous and powerful they are each time they make themselves vulnerable.
Though they certainly arrive with the baggage of previous years: an armful of mistakes, a handful of doubters, and a stretch of road littered with bumps, the fact remains that on this day, their slate is strikingly clean. The grade card is clear, the sketchbook is blank, the pencils are full of graphite, the call lists and team rosters are empty and the possibilities are endless. When they stand for that picture, they have no idea who might cross their path, which future thoughts might fill them with wonder, or who they might become. They have no idea which adventures will shape their hearts or which challenges will make them shine.
All they know is that today is the beginning. The scary, exciting, highly anticipated beginning. The line in the sand, the start of the race, the dawn of a new chapter. The date on the calendar they don't want to think about until it is finally here, waiting for them, begging for them to arrive.
But once it comes, they do too.
And so should we.
See, in my opinion, we should all arrive--figuratively, of course--and celebrate on the first day of school. Regardless of how many years have passed since we stood smiling on our front porch, once a year, we should all dig down deep and discover the same courage we ask our kids to find. In honor of them, we should open our arms and embrace our fears. We should hype up our hopes and wonder what's possible. We should set new goals, anticipate new joys, meet new people, inspire new dreams, explore new opportunities, defend justice, reset, re-begin and re-imagine.
Today, we should bare our teeth, hold up our chins, dance to our own little tune, swim within a fresh wave of optimism, and tell our feet to march forward, onward, upward toward a renewed, reinvigorated version of ourselves. Today, we should try--just like them--to learn how we can make the world just a little bit better, how we can sift through the injustice and sadness, the oppression, violence and despair, and push through to the other side. How we can crack open our hearts, steady our voice, and brace our legs to stand up, to reach out, and to reach in.
Happy first day of school, everyone. Go get 'em.
By Laura Moore
The thing I love most about teaching has nothing to do with my subject matter. While I enjoy discussing rhetorical devices, narrative voice and characterization, I cherish my life conversations above and beyond anything imbedded in the curriculum.
This year, I'm taking a year off of teaching and devoting myself to writing. Unfortunately, that means I will miss out on the privileged opportunity to engage with a new group of kids and play some small part in their growth as human beings. Since I won't be there to pass along my advice, I wanted to share it with you.
Here are my top nine tips for cultivating happy, independent and successful kids:
1. Encourage Your Child to Get Involved
Extra curricular involvement often opens a thousand new doors for students. It boosts confidence, it exposes kids to new friendships, it gives them purpose, it teaches them life skills and it often makes for happier kids. That all said, it's important for students to find balance in their lives. They shouldn't get so involved that they don't have time to fulfill their commitments, do their homework or sleep, but they need to be involved enough that they learn time management skills. If your son or daughter isn't interested in athletics, music or the arts, encourage him or her to join clubs, to volunteer in the community, to get a job or to participate in a cause he or she cares about. As an English teacher, I'd like to believe reading and writing skills will make the biggest difference in their lives, but I know that outside experiences often shake them up, fill them up and lift them up more than anything else.
2. Support Your Child as He or She Takes Risks
School is the perfect place for kids to learn how to take good risks, the kind of risks that expose them to healthy activities they never knew existed, talents they never knew they had and/or people they never knew went to school with them. Good risks are empowering because they require students to face insecurities, fear or doubt head on, and this confrontation teaches them that they are capable of overcoming challenges throughout their lives. Encourage your son or daughter to submit artwork, publish his/her writing, audition for plays, try out for teams, run for office or advocate for an important cause. Challenge him or her to push boundaries, but be sure to create a safe place for your child to retreat if plans go awry or efforts fall a bit short of success. No matter how tough teenagers might seem, they all want to know their parents are still proud of them regardless of what they do or do not achieve (I know this because I read their journals!).
3. Help Your Child Develop Responsibility
While it is important for us to support our kids, we need to make sure we are not enabling them. Now that I have my own child, I understand how tempting it is to swoop in and tidy up problems in an effort to minimize drama, but the kids who seem to be the most successful in school are the ones who have embraced some level of autonomy. These kids have learned how to advocate for themselves, and they assume responsibility for their commitments, actions and words. They know Mom and Dad will not come swooping in to fix things, so they tend to make better decisions to avoid the problems in the first place. When they do make a mistake, they own it, and because of that, many teachers tend to cut them some slack. When kids constantly get bailouts, they never learn why responsibility is important, and by persistently denying them the chance to learn, we are setting them up for failure later.
4. Ensure Your Child Honors His or Her Commitments
I try my best every year to talk to kids about the importance of honoring their commitments. If kids are part of a group they need to complete their portion of the work. If kids sign up to do something, they need to follow through. If they schedule a meeting with a teacher, it is important for them to show up. When they don't, their disregard makes every one else's life difficult. When they do, the world just seems to work a little bit better.
5. Facilitate Discussions That Promote Resourcefulness
As a society, we no longer have the patience to sit and figure things out. We want immediate gratification, and we find it easier to move on, buy something quicker, ask someone else to fix our problem, or make an excuse about why we couldn't accomplish our goal. These tendencies have trickled down to our kids. Year after year, I notice a large concentration of students who hit a wall when their Plan A goes awry. Instead of thinking through backup solutions, a lot of kids ask their parents to write notes and many times, parents write them without giving it a second thought.
We all have busy lives, and I realize it is so much faster for adults to fix problems rather than facilitate discussions, but when we persistently solve dilemmas ourselves, we deny our children the opportunity to learn how to problem solve on their own. With a little bit of prodding, most students can easily develop perfectly acceptable Plans B, C or D. And figuring out how to navigate game-time, adrenaline pumping moments when they're faced with an impending consequence teaches them how to respond and improvise under pressure. This will not only benefit them throughout their school years, it will come in handy when they're out in the work force and have a boss who will not find a parent note laden with excuses as an acceptable substitute for a job well done.
6. Choose Positive Positive Language
This is hard. No matter how good any of us try to be, we are bound to run into people who like to pick fights, who are passionately against our beliefs, or who respond to situations in ways that do not mesh with how we think human beings should respond. We need to remember that the same is true for our kids.
It is easy to bad mouth those who have wronged us or our kids, those who are unnecessarily difficult, or those who have created obstacles, but negative words tend to stick around a lot longer than positive ones. Kids learn how to talk to others, and how to talk about others, by listening to people they respect. If they hear loved ones badmouthing bosses, neighbors, relatives, teachers, classmates or coaches, they will feel entitled to do the same. While venting can sometimes be therapeutic, doing it in front of kids--even if those kids are in high school--carries long term consequences: kids learn that they only need to be respectful to some people. As hard as it might be, the more we can model appropriate ways to respond to difficult people, the easier it will be for our children to learn language that will help them overcome and not exacerbate problems in their lives.
7. Encourage Your Child to Embrace Kindness and Respect
It is easy to get caught up in gossip and drama, but the kids who rise above it seem to be the happiest. They respect adults, they empathize with peers and they see the best in people. They consistently treat others with respect and they generally err on the side of kindness. When life ushers in a challenge, they are level-headed in their analysis, they are proactive in finding solutions, and regardless of the temptation to do otherwise, they are unwavering in their determination to maintain integrity. This tends to inspire less regret, and often helps to avoid he-said/she-said banter intended to cast them in the center of an enormous controversy. High school drama is inevitable, but learning how to rise above the pettiness tends to make that drama much less destructive.
8. Look for Opportunities to Learn
No matter how boring a teacher might seem or how pointless a class might appear, students have the opportunity to learn every time they take a seat, every time they open a book, and every time they put their thoughts on paper. School, just like life, is as interesting as we decide to make it. While teachers try to light their subject matter on fire, even the most engaging educators have off days, or days when they must tackle curriculum that is not quite as exciting. When this happens, challenge kids to find some nugget in the blob of boringness. In an ideal world, the school day would teem with excitement, but even if we could pull that off, eventually, our kids would enter the real world, a space where they will have to do things they don't want to do, and endure interactions they don't want to have. At some point, successful people decide to bare down, make the most of their situation and do what they need to do so they can have the opportunity to do what they want to do later.
9. Get to Know Your Teacher
Encourage your child to get to know his or her teacher. Despite the fact that educators have a variety of methods for gauging where are kids are academically, emotionally and socially, they can sometimes miss the discreet struggles that hover beneath the surface. It is much harder to know the student who dashes toward his seat the second the starting bell rings, or runs out of the room the moment the ending bell sounds. The students who engage with us between classes, during office hours, before or after school or during lunch tend to get much more out of our classes than the kids we track down during our planning period every couple of weeks when we have a few spare minutes. Teachers love helping kids, so encourage your sons and daughters to take advantage of the opportunity to get extra help, advice or support.
The same goes for parents. If you ever have a concern about your child, please reach out and communicate with teachers. After all, we have the same goal: to help your son or daughter grow into the best human being he or she can be.