Dear High School English Teacher, Don’t Kill My Buzz

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I sat at the old worn oak table and nervously tapped my foot on the linoleum floor, stealing glances at my parents as they sat next to me obviously trying to hide their own anxiety. How many students had awaited the unknown in this very room through the years? How many parents accompanied their children, likely being transported to a time when they were the student awaiting the fate thrust upon them by adults they never imagined becoming?

As the black hands ticked on the unsuspecting clock hanging on the wall, student became teacher, teacher became parent, parent became teacher, entering and exiting a place where respect was demanded, expected, obligatory, instilled in us and drilled into our psyche alongside the alphabet.

You, sir, entered the room without so much as a greeting, never acknowledging us as you took the furthest seat possible, distancing yourself and immediately setting the tone for our meeting. My parents said, “Good afternoon” to which you nodded, shuffled a few papers, and let the silence hang heavy between us. My dad and I made eye contact, the look exchanged between us saying, “this should be interesting” as we sat a little straighter and waited for you to speak.

 

“So, I’m told you want to be in Honors English. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

I looked at my parents and took a deep breath. How could you possibly think it wasn’t a good idea when you had never met me and still hadn’t since you didn’t bother to introduce yourself to us?

 

“I’ve been in Honors English all through high school and would like to continue taking an Honors English course at this school.”

Another deep breath, silence, waiting.

“Well, just because you’ve taken Honors English at your old school doesn’t mean you belong in my class.”

 

Well, this was going splendid. At this rate, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in your class after all.

 

One of my parents spoke, I can’t remember which one, “Her current English teacher here recommended she transfer to your class because she did so well on her first two assignments.”

Red Circle Days

My first book, Red Circle Days, is available through Amazon, Nook, Kindle, Apple iBooks, and Sarah Book Publishing. Click on the photo to buy a copy!

It was then you took the time to look at my parents, almost as though you were surprised to find them in the room. Immediately, I could see the disdain in your eyes because they expressed themselves in English, not their native language, and spoke with an accent. You stared them down as I shifted uncomfortably in the hard, wooden chair. I wanted to tell you I was no longer interested in being in your class. I wanted to tell you I could already tell I would hate it because it was evident to me you were a horrible teacher and even worse human being. Anger bubbled up inside me when you finally responded to my parents. Unfortunately, so did a little something called determination.

“Obviously, English isn’t your first language and while your desire for your daughter’s transcript to reflect four years of Honors English is evident, I don’t believe her past courses have prepared her for my class.”

Looking back, I should have bowed out then, thanked you for your time and not pursued your class. However, I was young and naive, and you made me feel like I had something to prove. I’m not sure what we said to finally convince you to allow me into your class, but you did and so began the year of English hell for me.

It seems you were as determined as I was, except your goal was to tear me down, and constantly remind me I wasn’t good enough for your class. You shot down my creativity, wanting me to follow a set formula for every assignment, going so far as to demand I begin every last paragraph with the word “Thus” and never giving me a grade higher than C. I tried so hard to write the way you demanded, losing my voice in the process, but determined to show you I was a good writer. I approached you for your help since all you offered was critique with no tools to help me on my next assignment.

 

“What can I do to earn more than a C? What am I doing wrong?”

Your response stayed with me for years.

“Nothing really. You’re just not a very good writer.”

And, just like that you extinguished my creative spark. You planted a seed of doubt that grew with each sentence I wrote for many years to come. The sad part is, I let you. I allowed you to convince me that I wasn’t a good writer. I let you strip me of the confidence I had when I took pen to paper and made my words come to life.

I was 18 then, under the impression that teachers always know more than their students, that all teachers want to better their students . I’m now 43 and know better. I now know not all teachers are good teachers, not all teachers have their students’ best interest in mind. Fortunately, I also know teachers like you are the minority.

I don’t know where you are or if you’re still on this earth, but I want you to know something.

My creative spark was reignited. These days, I grow more confident with each sentence I write. I make words come to life and never start my last paragraph with the word “Thus” because to this day that word makes me cringe. However, I’m going to make an exception today because (no thanks to you) I’ve learned I have a way of expressing myself in writing that touches people, that stirs enough emotion for them to come back for more. The beauty is I didn’t have to lose my voice to do so.

Thus, I AM A GOOD WRITER.

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My second book, a collaboration with a group of women writers, is available through Amazon.

My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends is officially released today. My story is on page 69. Click the photo to buy a copy! 

Have you every had a teacher, a boss, a co-worker, a friend, plant a seed of doubt in your mind? How did you handle it? Did you dismiss it or let it grow?

Wheels – Photo Friday

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“Life is like a wheel. Sooner or later, it always comes around to where you started again.” – Stephen King

 

 

When the wheels come down 
When the wheels touch ground 
And you feel like it’s all over
There’s another round for you
When the wheels come down 

- Foo Fighters

A Message to My Children on Their First Day of School

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Some of you may have seen this post over in The Huffington Post this week. I thought I would share it on the blog for all of us who are gearing up for a new school year this week. I hope it’s a smooth transition for kids, parents, and teachers!

Dear Olivia and Evan,

As I opened my eyes this morning, the realization that you will be starting a new school year at a new school today held me hostage for a moment. Today, you embark on yet another new chapter in your young lives, and as we rode the elevator down from the 17th floor I thought of so many things I wanted to say to you. Things I’ve already covered in the many conversations we’ve had leading up to this day, but as a mom can’t help but feel the urge to repeat in case you didn’t hear me the first time.

Floor 16 – I wanted to tell you that I know what it’s like to be the new kid. I understand the butterflies in your stomach and wondering if you’ll make friends. Believe in yourself. I do.

Floor 15 – I wanted to tell you I understand worrying about finding your way both physically and socially. You’ll spend a lifetime finding your way. Never give up.

Floor 14  – I wanted to tell you that sometimes the new kid is at a disadvantage simply because you are new, but the very fact that you are the new kid is sometimes an advantage in and of itself. Embrace the adventure.

Floor 13 – I wanted to tell you that as the new kid other kids will be drawn to you. Some won’t accept you. That’s okay as it will be their loss.

Floor 12 – I wanted to tell you to embrace this new experience with a positive outlook because while it is all strange and a bit scary today, very soon it will all be routine and familiar. It’s the circle of life.

Floor 11 – I wanted to tell you to try not to look so nervous. Sometimes the simple act of smiling can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe a smile is worth at least that much.

Floor 10 – I wanted to tell you if at any moment today you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, just breathe. You’ll be amazed how a couple of deep breaths can help you see things in a whole new light.

Floor 9 – I wanted to tell you to remember you only need one good friend. Quality trumps quantity.

Floor 8 – I wanted to tell you how my heart is torn between wanting to keep you home with me all day where I can love you and protect you and wanting you to go out there and have experiences I can’t provide for you. Don’t grow up too fast okay?

 

Cheerio!

 

 

Floor 7 – I wanted to tell you how I prayed last night that those you cross paths with today will see you as I do…smart, kind, caring, funny, creative. More importantly, I hope you always see yourself as I do.

Floor 6 – I wanted to tell you not everyone will have things in common with you. Embrace the differences. They may pleasantly surprise you.

Floor 5 – I wanted to tell you to be patient with yourself and others. Time has a way of charting our course from the trivial to the really big stuff.

Floor 4 – I wanted to tell you to not be afraid to try something new. That’s the beauty of a clean slate.

Floor 3 – I wanted to tell you to listen when the teacher speaks, when someone new talks about themselves, etc. Listening is one of those skills that will come in handy later in life.

Floor 2 – I wanted to tell you to follow instructions when necessary, but also to make sure you always express yourself. It’s okay to speak up.

Ground – As we exited the building for our short walk to school, I took each of your hands in mine and said, “Just be yourself, and remember how much I love you. I’ll be waiting to hear all about your experiences this afternoon.” I realized that’s really all you needed to hear. Love, Mom

What advice do you give your children on their first day of school?

Slippery When Wet – Photo Friday

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Slippery When Wet – Photo Friday

During our Farewell Tour of Puerto Rico,

we spent a family day fishing in San Juan

with a company called Magic Tarpon.

We had an amazing day and even caught a fish or two!

 

Why Did The Blogger Cross The Road?

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The streets of San Jose are expansive lanes of cars zipping this way and that, each rushing to their individual destination. Standing on the corner, a bit intimidated by this new city, I watched from the safety of the sidewalk as drivers travelled their path. I wondered what their journey entailed on a Friday morning in the middle of summer. Where were they coming from? Where were they going?

I was anxious to cross and make my way to my first ever BlogHer conference yet I was hesitant to step out of my comfort zone as the traffic light changed and the countdown began. I didn’t trust the 14 seconds given to navigate my way across the four lanes of traffic with a track in the middle for public transportation, but each time I found myself being carried in the throng of pedestrians performing a tribal dance of street crossing and floated with them until I was safely on the other side.

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BlogHer was much the same way for me. I entered a sea of bloggers whose energy vibrated the floors and bounced off the walls of the San Jose Convention Center. Wide eyed, heart pumping I stood in the lobby and took it all in, hesitant to take a step in any direction. Bloggers zipped around me and I found myself wondering about each of them as they travelled past me.

How many were here for the first time? Were they all experienced bloggers with a carefully planned out itinerary to their future success? Or, had they been on their journey long enough to be successful already? How would I navigate my way among this group and would three days be enough time for me to make this trip worthwhile? How much progress could I realistically make in a mere seventy-two hours? Did I belong here? Would I find a tribe or spend my hours wandering alone?

As a new countdown began, another wave of conference attendees entered behind me and I was once again caught up in their midst. I let their energy carry me toward the registration desk, stepped out of my comfort zone, and let the adventure begin. I searched for a familiar face in the crowd and found it in the form of an online group I belong to called The Bloppies, a group of bloggers I have interacted with online for months. These women and more experienced bloggers were just as excited to meet me in person as I was to meet them.

And, just like that I found myself breathing a little easier.

Throughout the weekend, I attended sessions on Taking It To The Limit: Screenplay Writing, What a Freelance Career Really Looks Like, and The Future Of Personal Blogging. I listened to keynote speakers and met published authors and famous bloggers. What I learned?

 

1. Networking is just as valuable as attending sessions if not more so. I took away more from the conversations I had with other bloggers than I did most of the sessions.

2. When you’re hesitant to leave your comfort zone, the best thing you can do is leave your comfort zone. You have to put yourself out there…over and over and over.

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In a moment of bravery, I gave Ariana Huffington my card and pitched Red Circle Days. Who am I?

 

 3. Believe in your talent. Believe in your hard work. Believe in yourself.

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I am a BlogHer14 Voice of The Year! Cheers to me!

 

4. There are many similarities in a blogger’s journey, but they are each unique to the individual. Don’t spend so much timing chasing the dream of making it big that you lose your voice in the process.

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5. You can choose to do things alone, but at some point the time will undoubtedly come when you will need others. Reach out to them. Learn from them. Lean on them.

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After a whirlwind weekend of highs and lows, laughter and tears, and my moment in the spotlight as a 2014 VOTY I found myself at the same intersection waiting to cross the street once more. Except, this time it was different. I was no longer intimidated by the fast pace or hesitant of stepping out of my comfort zone and navigating my way across the street. I was leaving San Jose with confidence in myself, my writing, and ready to take on the blogging world. I was not going to take baby steps, but run full force into all the opportunities I had shied away from before and put myself out there. As the sign switched from “talk to the hand” to the walking man, I took action and began my journey across the street. About halfway there I realized I had less time than I thought to get across before the light changed and decided to jog the last few steps. My ankle twisted and I fractured my foot.

It was then I realized why I had crossed that intersection the first time upon my arrival. It wasn’t for the words I would hear from speakers and panelists or the tips of the trade shared in group discussions. I crossed the street in search of my tribe, not knowing I had already met them online. As I leaned on the women around me that last night, I realized every cent I spent on BlogHer was worth being in their presence all weekend as they applauded me, encouraged me and supported me in so many ways.

My best BlogHer swag came in the form of a tribe that may not have fit in my luggage, but I will forever carry close to my heart.

Thank you Bloppies!

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My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories Of Leaving And Losing Friends

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Have you ever lost a friend? Was that loss in some ways more painful than the end of a love affair? Women’s friendships so often come to a crossroads at which time two women can try to hold on to the friendship, staying connected, or the friends can take two completely separate paths without each other. Many of the essays in this book are about this moment in time, when both rupture and new beginnings are possible.

There are so many ways that friendships can end, and this book describes 35 of them, from each 35 talented and accomplished contributors. At the heart of each essay is the recognition from each writer that she has lost something very real and very personal, a connection that will never be forgotten.

I am proud to be one of the contributors to this anthology, alongside 34 very talented women writers. 

Today, I invite you to pre-order the book which I am sure will hit close to home for many readers

by using my special discount code: EX2014LV.

 

 

Pre-order the book and support our mission of sharing women’s voices, one story at a time.

Your autographed copy will be shipped on September 2, 2014, almost two weeks before its official publication date of September 15.

Pre-release sales profits will be spent on publishing and marketing expenses and on building our HerStories Project community.

The Hug That Has Lasted A Lifetime

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I cling to him, feeling the slippery slope of time catching up to me as the ticks on my watch drum in my ears like a tribal rain dance circling round my brain. If only I could freeze time and force it to turn around and head back in the opposite direction, even if it is against oncoming traffic. I know this is a route he is all too familiar with as he has spent his life on a similar road, always heading in the wrong direction, dodging incoming obstacles. It wasn’t always like this for us. There was a time when we traveled a different road, one smoothly paved with stones of hopes and promises. The uphill challenges on that road seem like small bumps compared to the mountainous climb that is his life now. I hold on tight savoring the hug, not knowing when I will have the opportunity to experience it again. My only thought being that it is the kind of lasting hug I will revisit time and again in the future, when he is out of my reach once more. It is the kind of hug that also makes me revisit the day I officially lost him.

Big Sister, Little Brother, First Meeting, Love At First Sight

I found him in his room. The youngest of three, he was the only one left with a room at home. As I approached, trying to connect words of comfort I didn’t believe existed, I realized he was putting on a shield of armor I would find impossible to break through. As he tied his green apron strings and adjusted his name tag, the look in his eyes showed turmoil more akin to a battle weary soldier than a nineteen year old stock boy. As my sister and I carried on with our distant lives in other states, my brother had lived the daily nightmare of slowly losing the man we all thought invincible, our father. He said he wished he could just go to work like normal…like none of this was happening. My heart understood his wish more than he would ever know. Still, I couldn’t let him leave as panic swelled within me and the minute hand ticked on the black cat clock on the wall, left over from our younger years and more innocent times.

I did what I thought was right at the time. I somehow convinced my little brother to stay and face our nightmare with the rest of us, and within a couple of hours of being home our father looked around him and took in each and every face in that room including my brother’s. He asked our mother if all his loved ones were there and when she reassured him they were, he took a deep breath and finally went home. I hugged my brother, grateful he had stayed by our side.

I would like to say that was the end of our nightmare, but for my brother it was the beginning of something much worse. For the next twenty-one years he has lived behind bars with visitation rights that are never long enough, and in a cell that doesn’t often see the light. He is trapped in darkness. Of his own making or mine?

You see, the day my brother stayed and witnessed our father’s death he died along with him. Gone was the nineteen year old stock boy who played basketball with his headphones on because to choose between the two things that gave him the most joy wasn’t possible. Gone was the son who took pride in handing over the earnings of a grocery store employee to help with the bills at home. Gone was the light in his eyes. When I look into his eyes now I still see the turmoil of that fateful day and no medication has ever been able to erase it. So…I find comfort in revisiting these hugs, for it is the only reminder of the person I once knew.

Grandmother's Cross, Faith

The Tiny Gold Cross

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Today, I’m featured over at Our Life Songs  a non-profit organization designed to inspire, heal and motivate women who are struggling with disease, depression, anxiety and other difficult issues. I am honored to be a part of such a worthy mission. Please take a moment to visit them.

 

I sat across from her unable to take my eyes away, entranced by the weathered hands whose long, slender fingers wrapped around the tiny gold cross hanging on her neck. She slid it side to side, left to right, over and over again and I was mesmerized by the repetitive motion. I watched the cross swing on its matching gold chain at times of its own volition, others with a purpose it seemed only she understood. Much time would pass before I understood the meaning of it, not the meaning of the man who died on a much larger scale of the small cross, rather what it meant to the woman who loyally wore it.

Grandmother's Cross, Faith

As a little girl, I found myself looking for the hint of gold against her chest each time I visited. I walked closer to greet her, my eyes searched for it. As she held me at arm’s length, steps before I reached her, commenting on how much I had grown since the last time she saw me, I looked for it. Younger still, I can recall my small hands reaching for it as she held me in her lap and rocked me to sleep. She never pulled it out of my grasp the way other adults yanked things out of reach of a young toddler for fear of destruction. Instead, she let me soothe myself to sleep, my tiny fingers rubbing the gold until I drifted off into peaceful slumber.

Through the years, it was always there. And, as I got older I noticed she not only held onto it during the happiest of times as though thanking the Lord for all he had blessed her with but also in the saddest of times like when we learned of my father’s cancer diagnosis. She held it as she watched her daughter, my mother, absorb the news. And, as she watched my mother I watched her as the pain in my mom’s eyes reflected in her own. I leaned forward a bit as though in so doing I would be able to make out her plea as her lips moved in unison with the motion of the swaying cross. Back and forth, left and right, over and over again she slid the cross, her lips rapidly moving in a whispered prayer.
At those times, she seemed to wrap her fingers around it a little tighter, begging for it to provide more. More what?

Strength?      Hope?      Faith?

I would sense the urgency in the way she held the cross, and desperately slid it back and forth on its chain. By then, the once smooth skin it had rested upon when I was a child, was now etched with line upon line – each representing her walk of faith, her life’s journey. At times, the lines intersected on her wrinkled skin. I sat and wondered if perhaps there were paths that led her to other paths, each presenting a trial she was meant to endure, an experience that would shape the woman she became. Some lines seemed to have no direction, no beginning and no end, as though they consisted of choices left unmade or decisions changed at a certain point in time. However, it was clear to me even then that each line told a bit of her story, perhaps, because I can’t recall an occasion when I didn’t see it on her.

My grandmother always had it on her person, close to her heart and often reached for it. I think it kept her grounded, a constant reminder of her faith and something greater than her in this world.

Years later, as I entered the hospital room and approached the bed in which she was taking her last breath, my eyes immediately searched for the tiny gold cross. At that point, I needed the strength it always seemed to bring her. I needed the feeling of peace I had seen on her face after she held that symbol of faith in her hands time after time. As I looked at her chest where the hospital gown was pushed back a bit to reveal a hint of gold, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The lines were now many, blanketing her body like a road map of sorts and I like to think that’s exactly what they were. A road map of her life, her experiences, but most importantly her undying faith. And as I reached for the tiny gold cross that had become a symbol of comfort in my young eyes, I realized that it was so much more than that. Seeing it now through the eyes of a woman, I understood what it meant to my grandmother and in my times of doubt, during moments of desperation, I find myself holding the tiny cross that sits close to my own heart. I can’t help but pray that in the end my life’s road map is as beautifully etched as hers.

 

Black, White, Straight, Gay…Isn’t There Room For All Of Us?

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

Like a few other English words, Room means two contradictory things. It can be the four walls that enclose us, giving us shelter and comfort but also limiting our movement. It’s also the limitless space into which we can wander and which we can fill — or try to (think about that expression, “room to grow”). – Ben Huberman

This week’s challenge: From the four walls that currently surround you to the infinite potential of space,

this week we’d like you to show us your take on room, rooms, or a room.

Gay Pride Parade in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Her Every Day Hero

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Sitting behind the small wooden desk, she watched the clock…2:20pm. Only ten more minutes and she would hear the sound that brought her closer to spending a few minutes with the man who filled her world with laughter and imagination on a daily basis. She brushed a curl off her face as she stole another glance at the old clock on the wall above the chalkboard whose black surface was covered with the dusty remnants of that day’s lessons. She wondered, how many questions that board had answered through the years? How many equations had been solved? How many teachers had written their name on the board as a form of introduction, their hand flying across its surface with a certain flare that came with the beginning of a new school year? She giggled as she looked up at Mrs. Hudson now. With only a month left in this school year, she had lost that flair, and looked as dusty and worn out as the chalkboard behind her. She better quit daydreaming or Mrs. Hudson would remind her to “join the rest of us in this world” again. Another peek at the clock…

2:25pm – Mrs. Hudson called her row to gather their coats and backpacks out of the closet. This always baffled her. Why did she refer to it as a closet, when in fact it was more like a tunnel with an archway on either end, two walls lined with hooks at just the right height for third graders? Curls bouncing she rushed through the tunnel pretending to be the conductor on a long train, chugging toward faraway lands filled with adventures. She could almost hear the train whistle as she exited the tunnel and took a left turn toward the classroom door, single file behind her classmates.

2:30pm – The sound of her train whistle was drowned out by the ringing of the school bell and it was all she could do not to run out the door. Mrs. Hudson gave her that look again, the one that said, “patience Regina, all in due time.” She hated to be told to slow down as much as she hated to be called Regina. Once out of the building, her little legs pumped as she rushed home to the man who never told her to slow down, encouraged her to dream and who never, ever called her Regina. She sprinted home pretending to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist as she crossed the finish line, flung open the front door and flung her backpack on the floor.

Catching her breath, she quietly tiptoed down the hall, careful not to wake him, knowing he only had a few minutes before his alarm woke him for his night shift at the plant. As she climbed into bed beside him, she carefully placed one tiny knee on the bed, having memorized where the springs of the old mattress would squeak. Unable to resist, she curled up against him, reveling in the strong arms that instinctively reached for her. “Hi Reggie.” She smiled and whispered, “Hi Daddy.” She knew what came next. She would lay beside him as they created stories based on the shapes of the water stains on the ceiling. One day it was a ship at sea, another day a fire-breathing dragon, each a lesson in possibilities. She never tired of it.

She would climb all over him and smother him with kisses, never caring that the stubble on his face would scratch her soft skin. He would laugh as she scrunched up her nose every time his face touched hers, and smile when it didn’t stop her from coming in for another round of kisses before he had to get ready for work.

She would follow him to the bathroom and watch him as he stood before the mirror and shaved. “Shall we pretend I’m a pilot getting ready to fly to Antarctica? How about a high-powered attorney trying a big case? Or a Super Hero about to save the world? What will it be today, Reggie?”

 

 

Reggie sat on the edge of the bathtub mesmerized by each stroke of the razor against his skin. In her eyes, he could take on the world. Suddenly, she stood and opened the linen closet. Her little hands pulled something from behind the towels and as she turned to the man with a recurring leading role in all of her adventures, she said. “No need to pretend Daddy. You are my Super Hero. Happy Father’s Day.” Holding back tears, he took the yearly gift of his favorite after shave and a homemade t-shirt. He never tired of it. He scooped his little girl up in his arms. Happy Father’s Day, indeed.