Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Vision+Voice 2019 / Why Poetry Matters

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice reception this year.

Teaching all day + Writing Club + grading + trying to perfect that PowerPoint for Monday, and suddenly it was 6:30PM, and I was still in my classroom, and the Vision+Voice reception was starting across town in half an hour. For a quarter of a second, I considered not going. Then I dropped everything and jumped in the car.

Traffic was not in my favor as I made my way from south Austin to the ACC Highland campus. Once, my uninformed GPS even routed me through a construction zone. (Hello, men in hard hats! Sorry! Don’t mind me!) By the time I arrived at the community college, my shoulders were stiff, and I was calculating what time I might finally be home. 9:00PM? 9:30? 10:00? I felt the weight of my day bearing down on me as I walked across the parking lot.

Then I stepped inside, and all my stress lifted away. I couldn’t believe I considered missing this event for even a quarter of a second.

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Vision+Voice is everything I love in one place. It’s students, dressed up and looking happy and nervous at the same time. It’s families, beaming and hugging and taking pictures. It’s teachers, nodding and saying how proud they are. It’s music, art, and good food. And it’s poetry.

The program was launched by Austin Community College in 2013. It’s an annual contest for students in Austin to submit poetry on any topic, in any language. ACC Creative Writing students and published poets judge the poems. One winner and a number of honorable mentions are selected from every grade level. The poems are published in a beautiful anthology, and the poets are invited to record a video reading their poems at KLRU. In addition, the first place poems are paired with a piece of art created by an ACC student and made into posters to be displayed in homes, schools, and libraries across the city.

This year, my school was honored to have three young poets recognized for their poems: Harper J (sixth grade honorable mention), Noah L (seventh grade winner), and Hadley S (seventh grade honorable mention). Hadley wrote a tritina poem called “Shooting Stars” during our class’s poetry unit. Noah wrote “Cactus Poem” (about cacti who need a break from posing for pictures all the time) based on another student’s creative writing prompt during our school’s Writing Club. And Harper, who also recently joined the Writing Club, wrote a poem called “Love Letter” which reads the same forward and backward. So cool.

I walked in to the beautifully decorated atrium where the reception was being held. I met my students’ families and congratulated the poets. I got some food, sat down, listened to speeches, watched videos of young poets reading their words, and didn’t stop smiling for the next two hours.

Seeing these young writers, ages 5 to 18, stand in front of a camera with their poems in their hands, sharing their creativity with the world brought tears to my eyes. They were articulate and vulnerable and proud and passionate and confident and true and beautiful. They give me hope for our future.

A few of my favorite lines and moments…

The second grade winner, Maple W, wrote a song called “I am still me.” It begins, “I am a monster in my tomb/ singing with the tune,” and it ends, “be nice to me,/ because I am still me.”

The beginning of fifth grader Beatrix L’s poem “The Sapling” gave me shivers:

“The spirit inside the tree
Is full of unrest.
She thinks I have come
To take away her host.”

Sixth grader Didion C’s poem “Coral” addressed environmental concerns, saying, “Fate may be inevitable/ But we can help.”

The last lines of these poets’ poems all stayed with me:

“You must ask questions of all sizes.” – Nicole P, 7th grade
“I am alive” – Andrea H, 9th grade (She was my student two years ago!)
“These streets could belong to me.” – Amy S, 12th grade

I can’t help it. I get chills when I hear these lines.

Brad Richard, the keynote speaker at the reception, gave a speech titled “Why Poetry Matters.” His words were true and inspiring and thoughtful, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were also unnecessary. I challenge anyone to listen to children read poems about life, love, nature, the earth, freedom, home, truth, and monsters without understanding—immediately and inherently—why poetry matters to our world.

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice Reception this year, but I’m SO GLAD I DID.

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Note: The poems mentioned in this post are only a few of the incredible pieces of writing in this year’s anthology. And there were so many more poems that weren’t recognized with awards, but which are also beautiful and thought-provoking. All of the poems entered this year can be found on the Vision+Voice website. I recommend getting a cup of coffee and spending an hour or so immersing yourself in them. Start with “My Home” by my student Rayaan H about his beloved Pakistan. It put a lump in my throat when he read it in front of my class earlier this year.

Links to All Poems Mentioned in This Post:

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Posted in Lists, Writing

No Joke

I’m posting this tonight rather than tomorrow morning because I don’t want anyone to think anything in here is a joke. I also don’t want anyone to avoid reading my post because they’re worried it might be a joke. I also don’t want to post it and then become suspicious of all the comments because I’m concerned they might be jokes.

If you think I’m being way too paranoid about April Fool’s Day, that’s because you didn’t grow up in my family. We celebrated every holiday. We dressed up on Halloween, watched fireworks on the 4th of July, pinched people who weren’t wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, and lied, joked, and pranked on April 1st. I walk backwards looking over my shoulder on April Fool’s Day and treat every story, message, and plea for help with suspicion. It’s the way I was raised.

[Click here to read about the time my cats pranked me on April 1st.]

I don’t devote much time to April Fools anymore– call it maturity, call it wisdom, call it laziness– but last year when April 1st fell on Easter, and I was visiting my parents for the weekend, I put googly eyes on everything in my mom’s kitchen. That was fun.

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But I digress…

The reason I’m writing is to share three pieces of news with you which are not jokes. I promise.

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 1.54.06 AMFirst, earlier this year, my story “Phoenix” was selected as a runner-up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall 2018 Flash Fiction Contest, and Sue Bradford Edwards was kind enough to interview me about my writing process for WOW’s blog, The Muffin. You can read my answers to her questions and see a cool picture of a cicada here.

Also, I’m excited to announce that my story “The Girl in the Attic,” which was originally published in Growing Pains by Sinister Saints Press, will be reprinted next month in Allegory. So, if you haven’t had the chance to read this creepy tale, soon you’ll be able to enjoy it for free.

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Finally, I’m happy to share that my good friend Susan Rooke, author of The Space Between and its sequel, The Realm Below, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. The VBA is a way for bloggers to acknowledge fellow writers and recognize them for their content. I’m honored to be chosen by Susan, because her blog is awesome. It’s equal parts writing, humor, and delicious food and drinks. Her stories about her family and her life in the country always make me smile, and her recipe for sweet batter bread is now one of my favorite things to bring to potlucks. It’s always a big hit. So, thank you, Susan!

The rules of the Versatile Blogger Award are…

1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog. (Done)
2. Tell your nominator and readers 7 things about you. (See below)
3. Choose up to 15 bloggers whom you admire for their content (writing and/or images) and creativity. Nominate them in turn. (Comin’ up next)
4. Inform your nominees. (Will do)

Since some of my favorite bloggers have already been nominated, I’ll just add four: Ashley B. Davis, The Bohemian Freethinker, Annie Neugebauer, and Love, Teach.

Ashley Davis is my writing buddy, critique partner, and a very persuasive recommender of good books. She’s also a mom of twins and a blogger. We’ve only met once in person (what? how is that possible?) but we meet almost every Sunday morning online to write and talk about writing and talk about books and drink coffee together through the interwebs. Ashley’s blog is awesome because she thinks deeply about things. Whether she’s writing about a book she loves or an event she went to or about the writing process itself, her post is going to be honest and genuine and deep. She really puts herself on the page, and I love that about her. Go listen to her read her poem “Time Consuming” and try not to get chills.

Penny R. Pierce, author of The Bohemian Freethinker, is a good friend I’ve never met. We found each other through our blogs and bonded over our love of pets and teaching and poetry. Penny is a musician and a teacher and a thinker, and she has such a big heart. Our virtual friendship has moved beyond the screen into snail mail. We send each other postcards and letters every few months. Anyone who still communicates by snail mail is alright in my book. Go read her post “When Time Stands Still” to understand her unique outlook on the world.

I owe so much to Annie Neugebauer. I met Annie at a Poetry Society of Texas Summer Conference when I was first starting out as a blogger, and I learned so much about creating an online presence from her great example. Annie’s blog is professional, organized, and informative, while also being beautiful and whimsical and inviting. Annie writes for other sites as well, such as LitReactor and Writer Unboxed, but the hauntingly poignant posts at her home page are still the ones I like best. Check out her latest post and be sure to congratulate her on being a Bram Stoker Award Nominee!

Ah, Love, Teach. I love Love, Teach. She gives me teacher tingles (which is a phrase that makes my students giggle and blush out of embarrassment for me). She makes me laugh and cry and drop my jaw in awe that she can read my mind so specifically. And I am SOOOOOOOOOO excited about her recent announcement that she is writing a book! (Note: If you are a teacher, Love, Teach’s book is what I’m giving you for your birthday in 2020. There. Shopping done.) I can’t possibly pick a favorite post from her blog, but here’s one about teacher memes that cracks me up.

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Ok, I’m almost done with this post. When I started writing, my dog was awake, and I was rambling about April Fool’s Day and how I didn’t want to post this tomorrow. But if I don’t finish soon, it will BE tomorrow. So here, in no particular order and without thinking too hard, are 7 things you might not know about me.

  1. I have hazel eyes.
  2. I make yummy cookies.
  3. I love the song “Roam” by the B-52s, but I don’t know any of the words. That doesn’t stop me from singing it.
  4. I can recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service from memory.
  5. I have watched this video of a mama raccoon trying to teach her baby raccoon to climb a tree 14 times this weekend. Make that 15.
  6. I am childfree by choice. I don’t want to be a mom.
  7. I love it, love it, love it when my dog wags his tail in his sleep.

Ok, that’s it. Good night, and good luck tomorrow.

Posted in Writing

How to Write a Journal Entry When You Have “Nothing” to Write About

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Thinking small now will have a big impact later.

A couple of years ago, I shared my 10 Tips for Keeping a Journal, and today I want to elaborate on Tip #3: Think Small.

As I said in my previous post, “If you wait until you have ‘good stuff’ to write about, your journal may stay closed for months. The truth is, there’s good stuff happening all around us almost every day. Consider this—who’s this journal for? You, right? What will YOU want to look back on in ten years? What you’ll crave are the little things. The tiny little slices of life that you’ve forgotten about. So your job when journaling is to master the mundane.”

It’s true. I’ve been rereading some of my old journals (a favorite summer habit) and want to scream at my college-age self, “Stop babbling about boy troubles, and tell me what’s in your pockets!” (Somewhere, in another universe, college-age me just had a very strange dream.) Really though, there are plenty of pages about my feelings (which are important, yes) but not enough about my world. When I look back on that time, I’m not interested in reliving all my relationship angst. I’d much rather see my former surroundings—where I spent my Thursday afternoons and which t-shirt was my favorite and what I ate for breakfast. Even after college, I still sometimes went through phases of vague melancholy or (worse) vague bliss where I described my deep feelings of unease or contentment without ever really pinpointing where they came from. That’s why I’m thrilled when I stumble upon entries like this one from February 18, 2007:

I am sitting in my purple chair wearing the new jeans I got at Buffalo Exchange tonight (that I love) with the green sweater that I rescued from the Goodwill bag (that I now really like) and the flip flops from Kelley’s wedding and a black head band wrap. I look totally funky stylin’ (in my not so fashionable opinion).

Note #1: Sweater and flip flops in Austin in February sounds about right.
Note #2: I am such a hoarder of clothes. I used to be SO BAD about putting things in a bag to take to Goodwill and then “rescuing” them a couple of days later, only to wear them once and then send them back to my closet for another year. I’ve learned my lesson. Now I take the bag to Goodwill immediately. Usually.
Note #3: I feel like I was quoting a friend when I used the phrase “funky stylin'” but I don’t remember who. Also, I hope I was being sarcastic.

Or this one from January 31, 2011:

I am sitting in my backyard writing by the light of the campfire I just made for myself (with the help of a firestarter log from HEB). My plan is to sit here and write in my journal and drink some High Life and read Lolita and enjoy the evening for as long as I like, no matter the time. I hear something barking off in the distance– maybe a coyote. Oh, and now I hear the muted but unmistakable caterwauling of Gink…

Note #1: High Life? Seriously? My guess is someone left them at my house.
Note #2: High Life and Lolita is a classy combination.
Note #3: I just Googled January 31, 2011, and it was a Monday, so I was enjoying this late-night campfire on a school night. How scandalous!
Note #4: You have no idea how loud my cat’s caterwauling can be. Someday, when he’s gone, this journal entry will remind me of the crazy sounds he used to make, and it will make me smile.

Those are the kinds of journal entries I can sink my nostalgic teeth into.

So if you’re keeping a journal, and you’re worried that nothing you write is exciting enough, fret not. Some of the most mundane tidbits today may be the lines that give you the biggest smiles ten years from now.

When in doubt, follow these simple instructions:

HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRYDownload a PDF of this diagram here:
HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRY.

Here’s an entry I wrote based on this format, without taking any of the optional tangents:

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See? Until the robot swung the baseball bat and uncovered the hidden scorpion, there was nothing earth-shattering about this entry, but someday I’ll be glad I mentioned how Gabby used to insist on laying in my lap, and I’ll probably laugh about how excited I was over my first Roomba when I see what the robots of the future can do.

So give it a try. Grab a favorite pen and find a comfy spot and write something that future you will enjoy reading. Most importantly, have fun.

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One last thing: Don’t ever feel like you have to fill up a whole page. Even short entries can have a lasting effect.

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Terrible handwriting aside, that’s quite a nice little nugget. 🙂