I’ll Be Okay

Not long ago, my routine mammogram came back suspicious. I examined myself repeatedly and found nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a certain sensitivity I somehow hadn’t noticed. Was it in my head? I distracted myself with a mantra: I am fearless and therefore powerful.  

Two weeks later, I endured a repeat procedure, a more thorough and painful flattening of my left boob, followed by an ultrasound, performed by a technician, and again by a doctor. The doctor told me to come back for a biopsy the following day. He scrunched his mouth to the side and locked eyes with me. He said, “I’m sorry. We caught this early. It’s tiny.”  

He didn’t say cancer. I reasoned with myself. I’ll be okayI’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…

At home, I told my husband about the biopsy and failed to mention the rest.

Kody drove me to my appointment the next day and waited. In a back room, they took the tissue they needed with a needle and inserted a tiny titanium post to mark the spot of the tiny tumor.

On the way home, I said, “It’s cancer.” There was silence in the pause. “I mean, I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know.” All of this happened on a Thursday.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. I waited for the official word.

On Tuesday, the second day of school, I received a call that went to voicemail. A call from a voice who requested a return call.  

I knew.

It’s cancer, confirmed, tiny, and we caught it early.

At my first appointment for repeat testing and a second opinion, I met a woman, three years cancer-free. Similar diagnosis and situation caught early. She had flown to Houston from South Carolina for a follow-up. I have a quick drive across town.

And I have treatment options. Not all include surgery. One of my doctors, I can’t remember which one, said, “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one.”

So, I feel lucky.

I’m waiting for my next appointment and thinking good thoughts.

I’m thankful every day is a new day, and I’ll be okay.

Thinking Good Thoughts

Last week started with a recurring thought from Maya Angelou’s mother. She was always…

I want to be like that. Unfazed by whatever happens.

Another thought came from the Book of Proverbs…

I want to be like that. Strong and Dignified. Fearless and Joyful.

Meanwhile, I’ll name it and claim it.

When Saturday rolled around, I mindlessly scrolled Facebook when a book caught my eye:  

The post said, “Found this book in our move. Everyone could use a little more positive in their life! Ready to apply this with my family, friends, and students! If you’ve read this, what was your biggest take away?”

I read the book about five years ago and remembered the part about energy vampires. I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to that chapter. These words jumped off the page: “If you want to be successful you have to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy…Your job is to do your best to eliminate any negativity on your bus and this includes negative people.” Noted.

Charles Dickens once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What a paradox! Our times can be both the best and the worst. Let’s choose our focus.

Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The storms of life happen—bad weather, catastrophes, flat tires, politics, rude people, illness, death—and when storms happen, I protect my energy.

I seek out good. I redirect my thoughts. I choose faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

There’s energetic power in the thoughts we carry. And energy, good or bad, travels. It transfers into our cells and to our loved ones. I don’t know about you, but my molecular make-up, my loved ones, too, could use some good energy. So, today I’m thinking good thoughts—for you and me—strong, dignified, fearless, joyful thoughts. Pass it on.

Every Day Is a New Day

I don’t know how many people have jobs with built-in opportunities for do-overs. I teach school, therefore, this past Monday was a new beginning for me—in so many ways.

On my first day of school, I opted for the stairs vs. the elevator, from the lower level of the parking garage to my fourth-floor classroom. 71 steps from the garage to the second floor, 98 to the third floor, 125 to the fourth floor. But who’s counting?

One thing I’ve noticed about my co-workers who take the stairs—they’re fit. What if the stairs are their not-so-secret secret? Game on, Stairs. Game on.

Students at the performing and visual arts high school started the day in their art areas—theater, dance, instrumental, vocal, creative writing, or visual arts. Academic teachers, like me, joined one of the art areas for crowd control, so I went to the theater department. Theater, however, had everything under control, so I simply stood by in awe.

The senior thespians, thirty or so, stood center stage, one by one, in the Black Box Theater. Each offered their advice to the underclassmen, and their words were sheer power. “Be kind and easy to work with. It will open doors for you.” And so many more I can’t recount, but what I heard set the tone for my day.

And my students—each class period—were quite possibly the loveliest ever in my twenty-two new beginnings. No one complained about sitting in alphabetical order, which is my strategy for memorizing 192 new names. They folded printer paper into thirds like a brochure and wrote their name on one side where I could see and call on them. On the inside, they wrote a goal for themselves before they graduate and one piece of advice for me. Then, they worked together on a poem puzzle, fill-in-the-blank with cut-out pieces of words and phrases. (By the way, not my original idea. I borrowed the lesson from a generous giver found here.)  I had kids who pulled it off. Here’s the key to the puzzle:

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Students annotated the text, and then we discussed the importance of certain words and phrases and clauses. They liked Maggie Smith’s poem and the freedom to say “shithole.”

“Good,” I said. “But what’s this poem about?”  

“It’s about a mother protecting her child from the dark side of life,” they said.

“Yes,” I said, “but what’s it really about?”

“It ends on a note of hope,” they said. “It’s about the duality of life…She believes her child can make the world beautiful—We can all make life more beautiful.”

And like that, my students analyzed poetry on Day One.

“And we all bring our own experiences to our reading,” I said. “Could the speaker be a teacher? Could her children be students? Life is short and half terrible, but we have the power, especially as artists, to make it beautiful.”

At the end of my school day, I read their advice to me. One said, “Just love us. We love you already.” My heart burst a bit, broke a bit, and I breathed a prayer of gratitude. From my classroom, I walked down the hallway to the stairwell, took six flights down to the parking garage, and hopped in my car to drive home—to wait for another brand-new day.

I Am Fearless and Therefore Powerful

I love a good affirmation.

I was home on the couch on a Saturday. While watching Anne with an “E,” I tapped affirmation after affirmation into my phone. The whole series radiates girl power, especially Season 3, Episode 5, “I Am Fearless and Therefore Powerful.”

In this episode, the kids practice for the upcoming barn dance at school. It reminded me of the time in fifth grade when we learned to square dance for a hoe down in the gym with parents invited. I was mortified about touching the boys’ hands and refused to dance. Then, my music teacher sent me to the principal’s office for invoking my right to choose. But wait, I had no rights. Click here for that story. In the same way, while dancing with boys as part of school, the girls in Anne with an “E” are plagued with fears about becoming pregnant via touching the boys. During a secret, moonlit bonfire ceremony, Anne and her friends meet and invoke the Goddess of Beltane (representative of fertility), Sacred Mother, Queen of May, Wild Lady of the Woods, and Guardian of Love and Life. Wearing white nightgowns and floral wreaths atop their heads, the girls dance around the fire, proclaim their affirmations, and release their fears:

“We shall choose whom to love and with whom to share trust.”

“We shall walk upon this earth with grace and respect.”

“We’ll always take pride in our great intellect.”

“We’ll honor our emotions so our spirits may soar!”

“And should any man belittle us, we’ll show him the door!”

“Our spirits are unbreakable, our imaginations free!”

“Walk with us, Goddess, so blessed are we!”

The Netflix series is based on the Anne of Green Gables book series, set on Prince Edward Island in Canada, 1899. I haven’t read the books, but now I’m curious. Did L. M. Montgomery write with this feminist spin? Or is this a modern retelling? Either way, I love how Anne appreciates the little things and lives in the moment. Of course, she is human and feisty and has her bad days. Don’t we all?

More great quotes from the show:

“Grace is perennial like the green, green grass.”

“No one but you is allowed to dictate what you’re worth.”

I am fearless and therefore powerful.

No Feeling Is Final

June has been my least fruitful writing month in years. With bigger priorities, I didn’t care to write about bleh and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for fluff.

Then, a week ago, I attended an online workshop led by my former student Monique Mitchell.

Monique was my student in sophomore English back in 2007. I’m not sure I realized at the time that she had moved from California to Texas to live with her aunt, but I remember her as a gifted writer. We just connected and stayed connected. I never suspected she almost failed her freshman year.  

Three years ago, Monique was living in LA, working for a literary organization, freelancing, and teaching writing workshops. She invited me to lunch at the airport Marriott in Houston, where she was guest speaking at a conference. In the hotel lobby, she oozed good vibes and embraced me with love. In the hotel restaurant, she told me how a job opportunity had presented itself in Ghana. She planned on moving soon. We spoke about our wildest dreams, the power of words, and self-limiting beliefs.

As we parted ways that day, she said, “The world needs your voice,” and she told me she loved me. I said it back. Speaking of powerful words and wildest dreams, I suddenly found myself pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.  

While scrolling Instagram not long ago, I saw that Monique has returned to LA. She had created an online workshop called “Into Existence,” a beginner’s course to speaking your dream life into being. Needing inspiration for my dream life, I signed up.

Within the first six minutes of the course, Monique said so much that resonated. I wrote down these words:

“Life is a reflection of my beliefs. It’s a reflection of my language, and it’s a reflection of my choices.”

Monique Mitchell

This idea isn’t new to me. My dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” And sometime along the way I discovered Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teaching.

For years, I’ve said, “You can choose hope or choose despair, and who would choose despair?” Then that time after a hurricane flooded my home, I settled on a formula for life:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

But for the last year or so, after watching several of my loved ones suffer, I’ve felt justified in my anger toward God. Yes, things have gone my way, but I had chosen to wallow in worry and fear and anger and sadness. At the end of the workshop, I realized the need to uproot my toxic thoughts and plant some healthy ones—like a renewed faith and gratitude and peace and hope.  

A week passed and so did my father-in-law. He was the best dad and grandpa, kind and generous, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. Tommy fought the good fight and finished the race. Cancer sucks, and of course, I’m sad, especially for my family. Still, I’m thankful he no longer suffers. That feeling in my heart, the one that catches in my throat, means I loved him. And love is life, life is love, if we’re lucky.

Anyway, God, I’m sorry about being so angry for so long. Please forgive me and help me with that. And thanks for welcoming Tommy home. ❤️ P. S. Thanks also for your words in Jeremiah 29:11. “‘I have plans to prosper you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I’m open to receiving miracles beyond my wildest imagination.

My Grandmother’s Legacy

Grandma had a ninth or tenth grade education. Even so, she had a gift for words. Sometime in her mid-fifties, she wrote out her memoirs, long hand. Somewhere along the way, my mother made copies of those pages that mean more to me than anything else Grandma left behind. She has been gone for thirty years this December. The 11th. 1991. One month later, I would give birth to a baby girl. My grandmother’s legacy and love would live.

My Legacy by Catherine Savage

“I’ve never really enjoyed anything written in the first person—a primary rule about writing, and one of the few I know. Even in a letter is the abhorrence of the word or letter I. But just how do you begin or end or even put anything in the middle of this title without its use.

Money is such a transient thing, even more than life, that I haven’t considered it of great value. Possibly because I never had much money, I have just had a sour grapes attitude about it.

Love is the greatest commodity, and the giving of it always begets it. The thing I have to leave my children are their own lives. James Edward, Carol Rose, Sharon Sue, Joed Cleve, John Paul, each a lovely and loving person—all made possible by Edward Tony Savage.”

From l-r, my mother Sharon, aunt Carol, grandmother Catherine, uncles, Johnny, Joed, and Jimmy. Photo taken for a Wonder Bread campaign and missing my grandfather Ed, whom I’m sure was hard at work on an Oklahoma oil rig that day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie
Thankful for new candles and the reminder on my Hobby Lobby paper placemats. Oh, and for the champagne. Cheers!

Thanksgiving in School

‘Twas Wednesday the week before Thanksgiving. An English IV student volunteered to read Gwendolyn Brooks 1959 poem…

We Real Cool

THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

(Courtesy of poets.org)

“What do you notice?” I say.

Crickets.

“What makes this a poem?”

Here they speak of the rhymes, the structure, the alliteration, the repetition of “we.”

“Who is the ‘we’?”

They speculate.

“Why do they think they’re cool?”

They provide examples from the text. 

When there’s not much more to say, we read Andrew Spacey’s article, “Analysis of Poem ‘We Real Cool’ by Gwendolyn Brooks.” Spacey takes some of our beginning ideas about the poem to the next level with sophisticated sounding words about the enjambment, ambiguity, and monosyllables along with insight on the anti-establishment and a miniature tragedy in eight-lines.

“I would love to see you all write like this,” I say. But on this day, I don’t make them write. Instead, we listen to an audio of Gwendolyn Brooks explaining her inspiration behind this poem and giving a reading. The words from her mouth and rhythms of her speech sound different than how my student had read.

Then we watch a video. Same poem another person’s thoughts. The ending goes straight to my heart. I might have seen students wiping their eyes. Students in a class later that day laughed, a contagious laugh. I’ve learned I can’t control anyone else’s reactions, only my own. 

I move on to another poet for comparison, United States poet laureate Joy Harjo. We read an NPR article: “In ‘An American Sunrise,’ Joy Harjo Speaks With A Timeless Compassion.” The article reviews Harjo’s 2019 poetry collection. Then we read along to Joy Harjo’s audio of “An American Sunrise,” a poem within the collection of the same name.

An American Sunrise

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars. Sin

was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We

were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them — thin

chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin

will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We

had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz

I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,

forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We

know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die

soon.

 

(Courtesy of poetryfoundation.org)

 

We speak of the first Thanksgiving and how the Native Americans were later robbed. The lesson is heavy, but thought-provoking, and the students quite like the two poems side-by-side. I’m posting from my phone today and unable to format this poem as intended. Otherwise, you would clearly see that each line ends with the following words consecutively: We strike straight. We sing Sin We thin gin We Jazz June, We die soon). The students minds are blown.

“Now I want you to create something as a celebration of Thanksgiving—maybe a poem, a song, or art—and give a mini presentation. This is how it works. You entertain me, and I give you a 100. I would be so happy if someone would sing me a song. You have thirty minutes. Go.”

5th period dances to “Beans, Greens, Potatoes, Tomatoes,” also known as the Grandma Thanksgiving Rap.
These images include endangered species. The text says, “To all animals and plants: Thank you for your time spent on this earth. From all humanity: our condolences and apologies for what has been brought upon this earth. May your spirits find a peaceful life after they leave this one. To all humanity: The time has passed to repair for our crimes. Now we are obligated to make the earth comfortable in these times of strife, conflict, loss, and change.
Thanksgiving, a day we spend with family

We eat and munch like an abnormality

We sit around and argue with each other

It never stops, but we love one another.

—1st Period Mariachi

November Gratitude, Or Not

This November, I hoped to focus on gratitude. I’ve done it before. Gratitude is good.

In recent years I’ve kept a journal in celebration of Thanksgiving, listing three reasons to be grateful a day, large or small. But this year—though good things happen every day, though I still admire beauty in this world, though I love so much about this life—I’m on an emotional roller coaster, riding the highs straight into my lows, unable to maintain my attitude of gratitude or my focus on this ride. Of course, I could make myself journal. Sometimes I think I might try. Honestly, that seems painful. And a little fake. So why?

Last year on November 19, COVID-19 found its way to my mother. She suffered alone in her nursing home, closed to visitors due to the pandemic. Ten days later, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she went to the hospital. Eight days after that she was released to come home, not to the nursing home but to her home since 1976. For hospice. I was there with my sister and brother and dad to welcome her. Mom’s smile lit up the entire room. Her decline was swift. On Christmas Eve, she breathed her last breath. Of course, I’m thankful to have spent those final days with my mother.

I’m not one to let the little things get me down. But losing my mother wasn’t a little thing.

I’m typing these words in solidarity with those (who for whatever reason may be) in a similar frame of mind—an acknowledgement of holiday heartbreak. If you happen to relate, I see you.

God bless.

A reminder from me to me. Maybe it’s good for you, too.

Let’s Have Fun with Jane Eyre

I teach high school English. Can I say how much I hate multiple-choice tests over literature? I never took a multiple-choice test in my college English classes. Instead, I wrote.

In a perfect world, I would teach books I love, and the kids would experience the love of story and language. Then again, the world isn’t perfect. Students have obligations and jobs, and I would be naïve to believe they’re all reading. Let me take a stab and say 50% of them, give or take, are not. Most classic pieces of literature have been made into movies. Take for instance, Jane Eyre. How many of my students watched the movie and called  it a day? Should I give up on the classics? Should I give up on reading checks?

I’m locked into this year’s general plan, but I’m rethinking for next year, my how and my what. Meanwhile, I endeavor to pull my students through a novel I love. In my classroom, I have seven table groups of four or five, thirty-two students total in my largest classes. I have a few go-to activities for literature re-cap: reader’s theatre (students act out a chapter or passage with books in hand, narrating and acting out the dialogue) and ShrinkLits (shrinking the literature or a chapter down to a rhyming summary, a concept developed by Maurice Sagoff in a book by the same title). Of course, there are times I assign specific passages to be read (hopefully re-read) closely for discussion and analysis. And of course, there are writing assignments, too. For the activities, I assign table groups  a specific chapter, as a summary (or a preview for those who have fallen behind), and they present to the class. At a performing and visual arts high school, they take their acting seriously. Our reader’s theatre was quite outstanding. However, as with anything, overdoing it loses the magic. This year when I had used all my best tricks for Jane Eyre, I confessed: “I’m out of ideas. I’m going to give your table a chapter, and you can decide how to present it. You have thirty minutes.”  

And so today I’m thankful for white board space and students with ideas. Some students presented in news reporting format, others did interviews, one group played charades, which actually happens in the novel, and my dancers danced to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” for Chapter XVI, where Mr. Rochester tries to make Jane jealous through a feigned relationship with Blanche Ingram. (The lyrics go like this: “Hey, Hey, hey, you, you, I don’t like your girlfriend / No way, no way, I think you need a new one / Hey, hey, you, you, I could be your girlfriend…)

And you know what? Some of my students love Jane Eyre as much as I do. That makes me happy.