Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Remembering Lessons from Maya Angelou...

Today, the world lost a voice that often exuded calm strength in the middle of chaos, Dr. Maya Angelou. Thank you Dr. Angelou for inspiring us and for sharing your insights with the world.

I had the great privilege of attending a talk presented by Dr. Maya Angelou in 2010. It was a wonderful evening, and she was a delightful speaker. I wrote about my impressions of her talk the next day.

Here is that blog post. (typos corrected because, well, I just couldn't not, but otherwise it is just as I wrote it on June 4, 2010.)

Lessons from Maya Angelou

Last night I attended a lecture by Maya Angelou.  She spoke at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon.  State Senator, Jackie Winters, introduced Dr. Angelou with heartfelt words.

When the curtain rose to reveal Dr. Angelou sitting in a chair on the stage in a long cream colored dress and a beautiful necklace, I was struck by the energy that emanates from her.  She looked frailer than I expected, but at eighty-two she has the right to look a bit frail.  As soon as she began to speak, the strength of her character, her words, and her convictions displaced the initial frailty I noticed.

I’ve long wanted to hear Dr. Angelou speak in person.  I missed her years ago when she was in Boise because I was silly enough to think attending by myself would make me look like I didn’t have any friends.  This time, I guess I’ve matured because I really don’t care about that anymore.  I attended by myself though a friend who also attended met me for dinner before and a coffee after.  Plans we made after we found out we were both attending.

When Maya began to speak - or rather sing ”When it lookd like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God made a rainbow in the clouds” a tear threatened the corner of my eye.  I blinked it back and concentrated on her words.  After the song, she spoke of her life experience and of accepting others.  She spoke of helping others and loving those unlike what we see in the mirror.  She spoke of the humanness of all of humanity.  She quoted others’ poetry and read/recited her own.  She encouraged the audience to read and memorize poetry that means something to us.  She injected funny moments, comments, and anecdotes at just the right moments to keep my tears from actually falling.  She never forgot her appearance was part of a fundraiser for the 50+ Center in Salem seamlessly working comments about the organization into her talk.  She told an audience full of people they matter in a way that made each individual feel she spoke directly to him/her.  She opened, reiterated, and closed with the idea that we all have the potential to be rainbows in other people’s lives.

I thought about people from my own life.  I thought about moments of acceptance and love I’ve witnessed.  I thought about moments of absolute rudeness and cruelty I’ve witnessed.  I thought about the excuses I’ve heard for people’s racism.  I thought about misconceptions I’ve held that have been disproven.  I thought about people I’ve admired and loved.  I thought about people who’ve influenced me throughout my life.  I listened to her honesty about events in her life and wondered when I’ll be able to be so honest about events from my past.  It’s not that I’m dishonest now, it’s more that I’m not comfortable to talk openly in a public setting about certain events from my life.  I understand those events have helped create the person I am today, but I hesitate to share them with strangers.  Perhaps I still fear judgment or pity though I’m loathe to admit that even to myself, so I fight even writing it as a possibility.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening sitting only a few feet away from the stage as Dr. Angelou spoke.  I walked away inspired to continue writing about issues that are important to me in a way that will both entertain and provoke conversation.  I feel encouraged to continue living the life I’ve chosen for myself - one based on love, understanding, and acceptance.  I am invigorated to tackle projects that require me to delve into that sense of honesty that makes me feel too vulnerable.

Dr. Angelou spoke the words I needed to hear.  Often when we open ourselves to listen we hear exactly what we need to hear even when the same words are spoken to a room full of people who will each come away with their own interpretation of the words based on their own individual needs.

The only thing that would have improved an already perfect evening is if she’d read her poem, Human Family.  It is my favorite poem.  To that end, I’m going to take her advice that poetry belongs to us all and quote the beginning and the end of the poem.  It begins “I note the obvious differences/in the human family./Some of us are serious,/some thrive on comedy” and ends “We are more alike, my friends,/than we are unalike.”

I request you find the poem and read the middle because it really is the best part.

Wishing to hear Human Family live is a selfish conceit after such an uplifting and beautiful talk.  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dr. Angelou speak in person.

And, don’t forget, you can be a rainbow in someone’s life because in the end we really are more alike than unalike.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mentored by Mentoring

"Me? Mentor? Can I mentor someone? Am I qualified?" When Kelsie Manley contacted me via email with a request I mentor her for her Senior Class Project at Calvary Chapel Christian High School (now Watersprings), these thoughts battled in my mind with thoughts that it might be fun and interesting, perhaps I could even make a difference in someone's life.

I thought about it for a little while and looked up the school online. Her request seemed simple enough and the requirements seemed reasonable, so I responded in the affirmative.

I signed the "Mentor Agreement" and emailed it to her teacher. Then Kelsie and I planned how to implement the mentoring long distance. We opted for email and Skype. We set our first meeting for just after Thanksgiving, and she emailed me what she'd written to that point.

I had no idea what to expect. She'd sent me what she'd written and her plans for rest of the story. I immediately realized her story line would overflow from a novella to a book and could likely be turned into a series. Her story idea was solid and interesting and her writing showed promise. Her writing intrigued me.

Our first meeting, we chatted for a few minutes and then dove right into the work. She listened intently and answered my questions. She asked me a few questions. We discussed what she hoped to get out of the experience and how to achieve her goals while staying within the guidelines of her assignment.

She wrote. I read what she wrote. We met and discussed her work as well as her struggles to find time to write. Her deadline loomed in front of me and stressed me as much as her mainly because having experience writing I knew the project would likely take longer than she anticipated, especially if she tried to fit her full idea into the book. At one point, I asked her to email me her daily word count for a week to get her in the habit of scheduling time to write. I encouraged her to try different methods of writing to complete the project. She tried writing without editing, editing as she went, the aforementioned daily word count accountability, etc. I pushed her to explore what worked for her and discussed not only what worked for me but what worked for my writer friends. It's easy for us to think our way is the only way or at least the best way. Sometimes when something didn't work for her, I had to step back, look at it, and think about other options to recommend she try. Everyone is different, and writing is an individual undertaking.

We discussed issues with grammar, typos, timeline, and plot. I pushed her on a couple of plot points to see if she would stand up for her work. She did!

After each meeting, I felt energized, encouraged, and inspired. I often found the advice I gave her applied to something I was working on. For example, a few days after a discussion about the importance of describing her characters, I edited a short story and realized I'd completely forgotten to describe my main characters but had described a minor character! When I confessed this to her during our next meeting, she smiled. Sometimes showing our mistakes is as important as showing our successes.

Mentoring Kelsie reminded me why I write and to embrace the joy I find in writing. It awakened the intoxicating feeling of a new story taking shape as the words move across the page. I've been editing and delving through some of my older work for quite a while. I find sometimes in the process I'm harder on myself than I should be. Encouraging Kelsie reminded me to see the work where it is and move forward rather than getting mired in where it began even as I paid homage to its origins.

I looked forward to each installment of her novella, The Planet Jumper (later Escape), in which a young girl who can travel between planets and the journalist who befriends her try to outrun the government who intends to exploit the girl's ability.

As we neared the end of the time allotted for the project, I edited the first part of Kelsie's manuscript reminiscent of the way a professional editor would. I must admit I felt a bit nervous, and I think it showed, as we went over the pages with my comments that I had emailed her. I know professional writers who don't don't react well to having their work dissected line by line. As we discussed my comments, criticisms, and suggestions, I watched her face closely to see how she reacted. To my surprise, she handled the intense editing like a professional. She listened intently, asked questions, and seemed to actually welcome the feedback. At one point she even reassured me that my feedback was helpful and not too harsh.

When she went into hyper-drive mode to finish the project on time, I encouraged her via email but we didn't meet again during that time.

There were times throughout the process when I wondered if I was doing enough or if I was giving her what she needed. I encouraged her to tell me what she needed from me throughout the process, and I often asked her if there was something more she needed. I thought about what I would've have wanted someone to say to me when I wrote my first novella and used that to inspire what I told her. Often though what I planned to say fell to the wayside as I responded in the moment of our meetings. Eventually, I realized that my role as a mentor was as much about hearing what she was saying as it was about guiding her.

I attended her Senior Class Presentation via Skype. She gave a great presentation. Her teacher and the panel who listened to her presentation asked me to stay for a few minutes after the presentation to answer some questions. I did. We discussed the mentoring process and how I perceived Kelsie's performance and attitude throughout the process. It felt so final.

The rewards of mentoring Kelsie far outweighed the time commitment it involved. I worked with her and often asked her what she needed from me rather than just telling her what she needed to do because I wanted to make sure she was getting what she needed out of the process. I hope she did.

Mentoring is about empowering someone else. When we empower others, we empower ourselves. Give yourself permission to mentor someone, and you just might find the experience mentors you in some unexpected way.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

PAD Challenge - Wrap Up - Lessons in the Journey

Last month I participated in the Writer's Digest 2014 April PAD Challenge in my own way, but still I participated. I used their prompts to write poems and posted several of those poems on my blog - a minimum of one per day. I turned the poetry prompt into my own blog every day for a month challenge, and I did it. The poems for the April PAD Challenge can be found under the label Poem-a-Day Challenge.

I've been writing a poem every day for quite a while. The thing I've discovered about writing a poem a day is that some days it's easier than others. Some days what I write is better than others. After a while, writing a poem a day became a part of my day that gives me joy but that I sometimes take for granted or even feel pressured to fulfill. Yet, I'm always glad when I finish a poem even if it's not perfect or even all that good.

As someone who fights perfectionist tendencies, I have found writing a poem a day a way to let good enough be good enough...

And, oddly, that liberates my other writing in ways I hadn't expected. My life is therefore liberated. My heart becomes liberated. I am liberated.

Life is a discovery of how to live and we learn each day how to live a little better if we allow ourselves, and writers learn to write a little better each day if we allow ourselves.

As someone on a constant journey to be the best me I can be, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the love and joy that fill my heart on a daily basis. I look at things that would have broken me at one time and see a challenge to grow. I look at failures and see a lesson. I look at successes and feel humbled by my truth. I look at people who come into my life or leave it and I see connection. I look at beliefs I once held so rigidly they almost broke me and see them dissipate in front of me as I accept reality. And through it all, I see the words I use to share my experience take form. My words may not be any more perfect than my life, but they are mine, for better or worse, and that is enough...

Writing a poem a day has released something inside of me that makes my journey that much more fulfilling and allows me to see myself a bit more clearly as I also see the world around me a bit more clearly.

How long will I continue a to write a poem a day? The only answer I have for that at this moment is... until I don't...