Visions for my 40s: to dream up, plan, and help facilitate creative expression in community spaces that emphasize authentic connections.
Last week, I attended three days in a row of professional development for my position as an Educational Coach. The first day was from 6-9pm and it was chock-full of discussion, activities, and sharing with partners. I was exhausted by the time I got home and had to get up at 5:30am to travel for the second day.
The second day was a full day of learning about educational equity, which is something I am passionate about, but, in the last few hours, we were asked to role-play difficult conversations with a partner and I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the table for a nap. Immediately after this workshop, I drove myself and my co-worker to the hotel we were staying in for the evening. I continued to engage in conversation right up to bedtime.
On the third day, I awoke with a mild headache and the need to coordinate schedules with my co-worker before I was fully functioning. She and I arrived at day three in plenty of time to find a small table for two people instead of a table for six. I thought I was protected from too much interaction, but, as the workshop kicked off, we were given instructions to number off, get into groups of strangers, and rotate through a line of fellow coaches, interviewing them about what we had learned the day before. As the others began counting, I began crying.
Professional development for educators means very extroverted workshops. They are fast-paced, action-oriented, and require a lot of talking to others. Over the years, I've been able to desensitize myself a bit, but on this particular morning, after having zero downtime and waking up with a headache, I was unable to hold in my sensitivities.
Before it became my turn to shout out a number, I snuck out of the room. I sat down at a table and let the tears come. Once my emotions got a chance to say what they needed to say, I went back into the room, told the organizers my situation, and we came up with options. I chose to be led to a quiet room where I could take a timeout and decide what to do next. I laid down on the couch and passed out hard for a solid 45 minutes. When I woke up, my headache was almost gone. I was able to return to the workshop for the rest of the day, but this experience got me thinking about how often I have to act extroverted in this career choice.
During this past decade of being an educator, I've had many experiences with other educators appearing incredulous when I've attempted to describe my sensitivities, my struggles with anxiety/overwhelm and the impact on my physical health, my need for quiet, and my challenges with attending professional development/social events. I even had an administrator "diagnose" me with antisocial personality disorder. But here's the deal, I'm not antisocial.
Thinking about how I most enjoy being around others, I keep coming back to an experience I had in Glasgow, Scotland, right after the lessons I learned in Edinburgh. During the train ride back from Edinburgh, I planned a trip to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Upon entry, I was drawn into a grand room that had open floor space in the middle, which was scattered with paper flowers, and tables set up around the outside. On the tables were paper, scissors, glue, pencils, wooden sticks, putty, and guests from all over the world making their own paper flowers to add to the collection.
I chose to join a table with two Asian women who I quickly learned were from China and spoke a little English, but mostly spoke Mandarin. After a few basic pleasantries, the three of us settled into joyful creativity - passing supplies to one another, showing each other our flowers, giving each other encouragement, and taking photos - mostly in silence. It felt good to be at this table, in a situation which felt so familiar and comfortable after a decade of being a beginning-level English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. It felt uplifting to once again be creating in community and connecting with others through shared experience rather than forced conversation.
When we were finished with our flowers, we added them to the collective exhibit and went our separate ways. We spent no more than 30 minutes together and we exchanged no more than 30 words, but this memory has stood out in my mind as momentous and magical, as it embodies my love for Glasgow, the city whose motto is "People Make Glasgow," and reminds me that I love being around people, I just don't love being forced into interactions with people and I get overwhelmed by staying engaged for extended periods of time.
I do love writing in coffee shops, contributing to community art projects, listening to music at small venues, riding public transportation (though often with headphones), eating at restaurants, having one-on-one discussions, attending lectures, and visiting museums/galleries.
Now that I’m more aware of, confident in, and practiced at honoring my own needs, I’ve begun to envision new ways for using my skills as an educator, planner, curriculum designer, storyteller, and coach to bring forth the next phase of my career in a way that allows me to be me more of the time...and still be stretched by trying new things...so I can serve my community and still have time and energy for my own creative writing projects.
While my future vision is still a bit hazy, I am considering how to create opportunities for people to engage in creative expression in a community setting, how to create a learning environment that is rejuvenating for introverts, and how to create spaces where people feel connected to both themselves and others.
I trust that over the next decade, the right opportunities and partnerships will help bring more clarity to this vision and, eventually, allow me to dream up, plan, and help facilitate creative expression in community spaces that emphasize authentic connections.
In addition to the experience in Glasgow and my years as an adult ESL classroom teacher, here are a few more places and events that have served as inspiration:
Kinship of Rivers
St. Paul Art Crawl
Stills Center for Photography
Le Voyage à Nantes
Wreath Building w/ Ediflorial
Turn the ache of failure into growth, creativity, compassion.
In 2016, a failed attempt at living with another human meant moving away from the Twin Cities, where I had lived for nearly twenty years, and back to my hometown of Mantorville, MN after being away over half of my life. In the last two years, I have created a situation in which I have a safe, secure, affordable home and a job which is challenging, rewarding, and well paying. I'm secure and stable again, and also still very much homesick for my friends and the hum of the Cities. As with most things, "good" and "bad" coexist.
For "good" and "bad," I've been telling stories my whole life. My creative storytelling began in here in Mantorville and my poetry writing began here 30+ years later. Over the years, I've used journaling to navigate challenging periods of life. I've always kept those journal entries private and have multiple plans in place for their disposal upon my death! This winter, as the days got shorter, I started writing in a new way. I took all the "bad" emotions I had and started writing notes to communicate and heal past failures.
Writing journals, short stories, essays, grants, budgets, plans, and emails had always come quite naturally to me. Poetry, on the other hand, had been on my list of failures.
Even so, as 2018 and my 30s came to a close, at a point where I felt both inspired and isolated at the same time, those notes about failure turned into poems. I wrote poems not really by my own choosing, but by something outside of me, guiding me through one, two, three, and then twelve poems. And, after the third, I was guided to stop writing about failure and instead write about promise and possibility.
I never knew how I was going to share these poems, or if I even would.
When I did share with those close to me, it felt so natural and I saw that people were impacted by reading them - they started discussion, they created connections, they reduced isolation, they inspired creativity. So, now, after years of keeping my writing private, I'm ready to share. I'm willing to risk another failure in order to tell my story, allow my longing for home to have a purpose, and, hopefully, inspire others to take risks, too.
I've always written when the ache has been great, but being dedicated to this writing project has encouraged me to write a new story about my failures. It also reminded me that failure is not permanent - sometimes things fail because it's just not the right time, sometimes things fail because it's not the right project, sometimes things fail because more perspective needs to be gained, and sometimes things fail because more skills need to be learned.
Failures are things/actions that haven't gone as planned - beings/people are not failures. In fact, if we can take the ache of failure and turn it into growth, creativity, compassion, our humanity expands.
A creative vision grounded in forgiveness, acceptance,
I'd been on a personal journey toward forgiveness for years, but the road became more intense this past fall (a.k.a. The Fall of the Supreme Court through the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh) as I started talking about my own stories of being mistreated, dominated, and exploited by boys and men. I admit, I had grown a bit cynical and distrustful of the entire male gender.
But, as a white woman working through my own internalized racism over the past few years, I’ve begun to see how systems of oppression also damage the oppressor. So, in the age of #MeToo, (thank you for your leadership, Tarana Burke!) I began to get curious about what it would take for me to fully embrace a shared humanity while also honoring my story, and I embarked on a journey toward forgiveness.
My vision became more intentional and actionable when I started a writing project I titled “12 Note Forgiveness.” This project was inspired by an OnBeing podcast called "#MeToo Through a Solutions Lens." Click here to listen. Upon hearing that episode, I planned to write a note of forgiveness for every abuse. I started writing on December 6th, 2018 and right around the Winter Solstice something started to unexpectedly shift. I found myself in a new place where I could fully accept, and even embrace, my past trauma and fears around masculinity.
As I wrote “Note Five: I Am,” I knew I was done with the past and that I was ready to explore a new future, whole and free from resentment. The second half of “12 Notes” began on January 10th, 2019 while celebrating my 40th Birthday in Savannah, GA with my best friend, Alison. I wrote the second act whole and free from resentment, but not without anxiety. It’s been a wild ride and lots of additional fears have came up along the way. Even so, I actually finished writing Note 12 on February 7th, 2019!
Through this writing project, I have taken full ownership of my story and I’ve learned to stand in confidence around my writing skills. I’ve forgiven those who have been careless with my heart, the culture that created and skillfully upholds systems of oppression, and I’ve forgiven myself, too.
“12 Note Forgiveness” was a truly a labor of love and hard work, not only emotionally and creatively, but also technically. In all my prior Creative Writing classes, I struggled the most with poetry and never imagined I would be writing poetry or calling myself a poet. In fact, I called every piece a “note” right until the very end. It wasn’t until I started another project that I started to use the words poem and poet!
I'm not sure I would have finished if it weren’t for the encouragement, validation, interest, and input of a few particularly brave souls who read my poems and provided feedback as I navigated this emotional endeavor. Thank you Patti Phillips, Jodi Versaw, and Michele Perry.
These twelve poems, all grounded in a vision of forgiveness, acceptance, and transformation have carried me into deeper love, hope, and joy. It is my hope that anyone who reads them will feel more connected, more seen, more free to be themselves, more loved, and more loving.
Thanks for reading and joining me here for 12 Note Forgiveness!