A Bit About Believing

My creative writing students are required to write in composition books every day. Often, I find notes to me: “Sorry this is boring,” or, “You don’t want to read this,” or, “I’m lame!”

They’re wrong, but I have to laugh because of what I’m thinking when words won’t flow: “I’m a hack. This will never happen.” It’s hard to maintain belief in your dreams when the road is so long and curvy and filled with pot-holes of disappointment.

That’s what made my latest birthday present from my husband so amazing.

He’d asked a friend of ours–a photographer–to make mock-up book covers for my two novels. Mind you, neither has been published (the second isn’t finished). But the book covers are so gorgeous, one guest at my surprise party asked where he could buy the books!

What’s truly incredible is what they represent: my husband believes. That there will be real book covers one day, covering real books, filled with words that I wrote in those impossible-feeling moments. When I can’t believe in myself, I look at those book covers and let his belief take over.

My students can’t wait to open their composition books when I return them. I write notes like, “You’re not lame,” and, “This isn’t boring–I wish you’d kept going.”

Find someone who believes in you; and find someone to believe in. It makes a difference–believe me.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Pikes Peak Writers NewMag.

Photos by Sandi Evans
Note: The Gathering Summer is now titled The Things We Leave Behind.

Living the Life

Yesterday I was in my all-too-usual state of barely suppressed frustration.  I was thinking of all the tasks on my to-do list, and how most of those tasks will only need to be redone in a matter of hours, days, or a week at most.  Dishes, laundry, bill-paying, cleaning the floor that looks streaky and attracts footprints the instant it’s dry.  Not to mention the tongue-marks that our puppy leaves, since apparently the floor is quite tasty.

Minor annoyance at life’s tediousness isn’t an enormous problem.  But too often, I find myself letting it balloon into frustration at life in general.  That’s when I start grumbling to myself — audibly if I’m alone.  And I wind up cranky, snappish, and not much fun to be around.

But yesterday, my normal progression of thoughts was interrupted somehow.  I don’t know why, but just before I got to the point of frowning and huffing, I remembered something.

When I was four years old, a bright, shiny dream took shape in my imagination and became a persistent, life-long goal.  That goal stayed with me all through school, college, early marriage, early motherhood, and even to this day.  That goal was to be a published writer.

So the thought that stood me upright yesterday, letting the steam mop do the huffing for me for a minute, was that I have reached that goal.  Five times over.  My name isn’t on the binding of any library books.  And that would be some kind of wonderful, to be sure.  But on five separate occasions in the past two years, editors have found my words to be worth paying for–worth printing and sharing with their readers.

Not only that, but I am living in a quiet, beautiful rural area–another dream I have nurtured for years, along with my husband.  Everybody in my little family likes one another at least 90% of the time.  I get to hang out with teenagers a couple of times a week, which is its own special sort of crazy, surprising joy.  And I’ve recently been dubbed the Editor of the Pikes Peak Writer NewsMag, which is as fun for me as playing video games is for my sweet husband and our girls.  (Yes, I really am that odd.)

I have an expandable file folder that I use in my Creative Writing Class, helping me organize assignments and notes for my lesson plans.  I customized it a bit with favorite quotes, and the one that I wrote on the front, with thick black permanent Sharpie, is by Henry David Thoreau.  It reads, “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Even when I’m mopping, fluffing and folding, or filling a sink with hot soapy water for the second or third time in one day, I can remind myself that those tasks do not define my life.  They’re a small, necessary part of it, but they’re more like the salt and pepper, not the meat.  The core of my life, thanks be to God, is what I always imagined it ought to be.

I resolve to be grateful for the dreams I’m already living.  And then, to keep on dreaming.

No Cure for Apathy

I have a bright, articulate student whose ability to think abstractly and express his opinions has occasionally left me speechless.

He is failing my class.

He has no less than five zeros in my gradebook for this past quarter alone. The assignments he has turned in lately have been way below par (one was less than half of the minimum required length).

I do not know what to do.  Nobody does.  His father has tried to motivate him.  The principal has personally met with him.  I have appealed to him to step up and do what he is capable of doing.  But the problem is apathy, and there is no external cure.

It is painful to step back and let him fail, but that is all that I can do at this point.  I will pour my restless energy into praying for him.  I will continue to encourage him when he does well (those opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between).  Ultimately, his success or failure relies not on me (nor his father, nor the principal), but on his own attitude and his own free will.

In the meantime, I am interested to know: if you were an apathetic teenager who came out of it at some point, what was the motivating factor for you?