At a Fork in the Road

Because April is National Poetry Month, I have a story I’d like to share with you this week.

A few months ago, my son and his fifth grade class were instructed to memorize Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Granted, it’s a famous poem with an important message.  But why did my son need to memorize it?  And in the fifth grade?  (I don’t think I read it until high school).  His teacher never explained the reason(s) behind her assignment or why this particular poem was chosen.

I worked with Ryan, as he learned the poem line-by-line.  I tried to take it a step further, talking to him about the poem and asking him questions his teacher wasn’t asking at school.  

“What does it mean to you?”  

“What do you think the poet is saying?”

We had a discussion about the poem and poetry in general – that, like many types of art, there isn’t always just one way to look at, read, or interpret a piece of art.

Ryan wasn’t overly impressed.  The poem became a chore.

And months later, his teacher must have forgotten about it, because Ryan’s class never was asked to recite the poem.

I fear that an experience like this may turn Ryan off from poetry.  Though I hope not.  These early experiences with art really do have so much power and influence over our later choices and our later opinions about what we like and don’t like, what we’re good at, and what we think we’re not-so-good at.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my classroom teacher painted over one of my watercolors-in-progress, and after that, I never wanted to take an art class.  In fact, I never wanted to draw or paint again.  (To read more about it, click here and read my personal essay “Too often, teachers extinguish a student’s spark” that was published in the Christian Science Monitor back in 2004.) 

For now, Ryan and I talk about poetry in terms of song lyrics.  It’s fun and enjoyable and an organic way to learn – the way all learning can be.

 

My Job

As I tell my son, one day my name will be on the spine of a book. For now, my name is inside -these anthologies each include a personal essay I have written.

My now-eleven-year-old son gave me the biggest boost the other day, and he doesn’t even realize it.

Ryan told me that during lunch the other day, kids were talking about their parents’ jobs and some of his friends asked what my job was.  It’s a fair question.  After all, I take my son to school each morning, and I’m there each afternoon to pick him up.  I’ve accompanied his class on a field trip to The Getty Center, and I attend all his class performances.  

“I told them you’re a writer,” Ryan told me.

And I smiled.  A writer is, by definition, one who writes.  And I do.  Nearly every day.  My writing time is divided between assigned posts for MomsLA.com and personal essays for my memoir-in-progress and those I submit for publication. (Update –  I have received word that two of my essays have been accepted and will be publishing sometime in the future.  I’ll keep you posted).

“I told them you’re writing a book,” he continued.

Ryan knows that I have a collection of “stories” (his word for my personal essays) that I am working on compiling into a book.  

“And one of my friends said she’ll buy your book when it comes out,” he said.

I smiled.  

“So, what’s your book going to be about again?”

I told Ryan, “It’s about living with an invisible illness.  What it’s like to do all the things I do but having an illness people can’t see.”

He was satisfied with that answer, but I was curious about something else.

“Ryan, did you tell them I used to be a teacher?”

“No.  Because that was before.  And now you write.”

“Do you even remember when I was a teacher?” I asked him.

“No,” he said.  (I left teaching in March 2013.  Ryan was almost 5 at the time.) 

It’s important to remind myself that if I hadn’t left my teaching career, there’s no way I would be writing as much as I am now.  And I certainly wouldn’t have published as much as I have. 

And my son wouldn’t be telling his friends his mom is a writer.

 

Just Keep Writing

For my birthday, a good friend gave me a book from my wish list – Jennie Nash’s The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat – The 43 Worst Moments in the Writing Life and How to Get Over Them.

Having just turned 43, I thought it would be a good time to read this book.  And,  having an increased blog readership and a growing collection of essays I hope to publish as a memoir, I thought it would be a good time to read this book.

While I didn’t agree with everything Ms. Nash wrote (and felt some of her jokes weren’t that funny), there were a number of takeaways I’d love to share with you.  I think you’ll find they’re insightful and valuable even if you aren’t a writer.

Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.”  – Jessamyn Wes

This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package.  Don’t consider it rejected.  Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘not at this address.’  Just keep looking for the right address.  – Barbara Kingsolver

What we do might be done in solitude and with great desperation, but it tends to produce exactly the opposite.  It tends to produce community and in many people hope and joy.” – Junot Díaz

Ones best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” – Harriet Ward Beecher