A Written Word: A Small Thing

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.

Psalm 34:18 MSG

Among the precious notes written to me by my colleagues and students is a touching letter and beautiful tulip sculpted by my multi-talented student Tyhara Rain.

I’ve read the letter many times in the quiet of the night and when I pause during the day. Tyhara’s soothing words remind me into Whose arms I can fall when the darkest despair descends:

When you feel too emotionally worn out to get through the day, when your heart aches too much to let you fall asleep, I encourage you to close your eyes…breathe…imagine yourself cradled in the loving arms of our Savior. Feel free to bury your face in His chest, and feel free to feel the ache and sorrow of loss.  Sob if you have to. He understands. Feel his arms wrap tightly and protectively around you in your broken state. Listen to His whisper as He reminds you of His promises of life eternal, everlasting joy, comfort during trials, and His nearness to you always. Stay in His embrace as long as you need. When you’re ready, open your eyes, know God is always with you, and claim the power of God through Jesus to get you through…

I carry Tyhara’s letter with me throughout the day. It remains in my “pouch of pretties,” available when I need to refer to it. The tulip, Lori’s favorite flower, rests on the mantel. In Tyhara’s words, “a small thing to bring comfort […].”

Reclaiming “the Grind”

Today was my first day (back) at work.

Last night, I had inexplicable anxiety about facing today. With the way I was feeling, one would think I absolutely hate my job or hate working. But I don’t. After almost 24 years in the university classroom, I’m happy to say that I still thoroughly enjoy most aspects of my work. I dislike meetings, grading marathons, and end-of-semester madness. But I enjoy crafting information and creating content. I love facilitating discussions and watching students evolve, find their voices, and exercise their agency. I love engaging with students, tracking their progress, and keeping in touch with them as they move on from the university and develop their personal and professional lives.

So WHY? Why was I inwardly responding with such trepidation to the “first day back.” I’ve had a productive summer of writing, lots of reading, plenty of relaxation, and completion of a few projects. Then, it dawned on me. That’s the problem with returning to work–the rigid schedule that forces me up and out of the house and “doing” constantly until I fall exhausted into bed each night only to wake up the next morning with too little sleep to do it all over again and never, ever finding time for my own intellectual pursuits. Until next summer, gone are the slow, quiet mornings of sipping tea, spending time with God and watching day break. Until next summer, no playing board games with the guys and binge-watching Scott and Bailey (or some other British drama) with my hubby in the middle of the week.

Summers make me feel invincible, like I can accomplish any and all things. This summer has been particularly productive, so I don’t want to disrupt that productivity. Although I’m excited by the prospect of returning to a routine for my son, I realize that returning to a routine for me means less productivity. Less creativity. Less giving of my time in ways I choose, instead of ways that are mandated or expected.

By the time I drove down the driveway this morning, I was okay. I have two more weeks left before students return and classes actually begin, and in that time, I will be implementing ways to take care of my intellectual and creative self and continue to get my own work done. I’ll also work on getting more sleep. I don’t ever want to feel like the classroom is a trap and a killer of dreams (literally and figuratively).

Postcard from Raven: Boston’s Historic Freedom Trail

My [now former] student Raven sent me a postcard! I can’t tell how much it brightened my day!

Recently liberated from college (Bachelor of Arts in English, of course), this sweet, quiet soul has stepped out and is making her way in the world. First stop, Boston.

“The Freedom Trail in Historical Boston.” Photos by Jonathan Klein and Alan Klein.

Raven mused about how coincidental it was for her to write to me on a postcard referencing freedom:

Here I am in Boston, independent, in my own skin, making my own decisions, in my own time. His time. [Christ’s] sacrifice freed me to be who I am. And where I am has much to do, also, with who I met. You.

Isn’t she sweet?

Thanks, Raven. You made a really challenging day tolerable. Hugs, Ladybug!

Note: The postcard features: Old South Meeting House, Old State House, King’s Chapel, State Capitol, Old North Church, and Paul Revere Statue (top); Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s House (center); Old Corner Bookstore, U.S.S. Constitution, Old Granary Burying Ground, Park Street Church, and Bunker Hill Monument (bottom).

Happy Weekend, Y’all!

Sunflower Story: The Sacred Joy of Creating

Detail of Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

If you looked closely at the sunflower wall photo in my previous blog post, you might have noticed a sunflower sculpture adorning the space.

Tyhara Rain, a student whom I introduced on the blog a few months ago, created the sunflower for me. Isn’t she the best? Initially, she painted a sunflower, but even though I thought it was beautiful, she refused to give it to me because she was not satisfied with it.

Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

Before I give you an “up close and personal” view of the sunflower sculpture, I thought I’d share Tyhara’s words regarding her journey:

I’ve been doing art since I was 6. I dabbled in pencil/charcoal sketches, oil paints, even photography, but I felt I lacked passion and inspiration for it. I never considered myself an artist because I literally didn’t even enjoy doing art! It was something I could do because I practiced so much. This year, I begged God to help me find a medium I enjoyed. Even if I didn’t believe this was a talent, I understood that God expected me to use any abilities I had for His honor and glory. One of my favorite professors had a wall full of sunflower themed art and I really wanted my piece for her to be special. I remembered how much I enjoyed the process of trying to sculpt a tree last year–but it broke and I totally gave up–and since I had an idea in my head for a clay sculpture of a hand holding a sunflower, I decided to go for it!

Before Painting: Tyhara and the Sunflower

Tyhara shared much of the creative process via Instagram stories–very late at night. Sometimes during sleepless nights, I’d tune in and listen to her chat and watch her create for a few minutes:

When she finished the piece, Tyhara carefully walked through campus to deliver the sunflower to me before a Shakespeare class session. When she unveiled it, she learned that one of the petals had tragically fallen off during transport.

Two more petals followed. It sat in my office while waiting to be repaired:

Then, she visited one afternoon and repaired the sunflower while we chatted:

After a little artist magic…um skill…the sunflower emerged stronger than ever!

In her words–

[Creating this sunflower] was the beginning of a wonderful journey I’ve decided to embark on as an artist. (I finally feel comfortable calling myself that). I’m incredibly thankful for this talent God gave me. Not only did He help me find a medium I enjoy but He pushed me so far outside my comfort zone and far from the mediums I grew up using that I could never again deny that God blessed me with a talent to create as an artist and desired for me to find joy in creating just as He does.

Tyhara has created many, many sculptures since making the sunflower for me–each one more intricate, more detailed. Here are a couple. The vintage album piece is absolutely stunning–and I’m not just saying that because of the sunflowers. [Click an image for a closer look].

Tyhara’s inspiring “journey to the sunflower” underscores an innate desire to create that resides in all of us. Made in the image of the Divine Creator, we are drawn to the creative process and have an almost sacred urge to make our creative mark in the world–no matter how big or small. It takes different forms–art, music, a poem, a story, dance, food, a theory, a lesson plan–but the act of creation involves and allows us to share beauty, love, and light. Joy is the precious outcome.

Guest Post: When I Fell in Love with Words

One of the things I absolutely love about being an English professor is the regularity of my encounters with students who love language and literature as much as I do. I enjoy the connections we make over literature and the animated discussions that result from our (often divergent) readings of the same texts. Today’s post is written by Tyhara Rain, one of the brilliant students I’ve connected with over the last couple of years. Tyhara is a talented writer and artist with a sweet spirit and bubbly personality that draw people to her. She always has a lot to say, and here, she writes about where her love for words began.

Tyhara Rain. Photo Credit: Amanda Pitt

My family and I moved to the United States from Paraguay a year before I was old enough to begin kindergarten. At the time, my sister, Taleah, was six-years-old, so as in most things, she pioneered the way to school in the U.S. As a first grader, she learned the English language quickly, as did I, but she was taught something I could only dream of for two more years.  She learned to read.  I watched as my sister would become engrossed in small books and envied her age and her ability to read.

Although many children learn to read even before attending school, with a working father and a non-English speaking mother, reading before entering the first grade did not happen for me.

Though learning to read was a life changing experience, I cannot pretend to recall the process. It seemed as if I were reborn after the move to this different country. I have very few memories of the first three or four years of living in America, but I do recall my fifth grade year vividly.

With all the initial expenses of our move to the United States, there simply wasn’t enough money for lavish things such as televisions or computers in our tiny apartment. Even as we became more established in the U.S., my parents still did not purchase a television for our home. Therefore, I found my source of entertainment in books. I had a wild imagination and every adjective, noun, and verb written by the author helped me paint the most detailed illustrations in my head as I delved deeper and deeper into the pages of mystery or science fiction novels.

Because of all the reading I did at home, during class free time, and–if the book was really good–during lunch and recess as well, it was no surprise that I had an extremely well developed vocabulary and high reading level.

I remember begging my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Clark, to allow me to go upstairs where the high schoolers were to pick out a book from their much larger and more diverse selection of books. For the first few months Mr. Clark denied my request and told me to read the books that were in his library. It was incredibly irritating; we both knew that I had been reading his books since I was in the third grade, and there were very few books in his small library that I hadn’t read that interested me. To make matters worse, my sister had become less tolerant of my reading books she’d checked out for herself, so she returned them immediately after finishing them, not giving me time to finish the chapters I still had left to read.

Finally in the beginning of the third quarter Mr. Clark allowed me to go upstairs to Mr. Mugane’s English classroom to check out a book. I was thrilled. Mr. Mugane welcomed me, recognized me as a sibling of one of his best students, and ushered me into his classroom lined with endless shelves of books and a thousand different worlds I could enter simply by opening them.

Reading higher level books had its challenges, especially the frequency with which I would come across new and difficult words. It was much easier to simply ask what the words mean, but my dad was adamant about sending me to look words up for myself if I did not know the meaning. I began to read higher level books with a dictionary at my side, just in case I came across an unfamiliar word. As a result, my vocabulary continued to increase exponentially throughout the next years. Whenever I discovered new words, I found ways to incorporate them into everyday conversations to remember them in the future.

Reading a broad base of authors helped me tremendously with presenting proper sentence structures, correctly spelled words, and different writing styles. As a result, I excelled in English classes. What had once been a simple hobby, morphed into a wonderful passion for words, reading, and writing.

As a thirteen-year-old eighth grader I decided that I wanted to become an English professor. Mr.  Paul Mugane, my incredibly brilliant and dedicated English teacher from Kenya, inspired me. I wanted to verbalize my thoughts like him, compose my sentences as he did, and express myself with the same eloquence. I fell in love with his mind and expressiveness. He had such a way with words I would sit in the front row of class enchanted, like a schoolgirl in love with the classmate giving a presentation, as he taught. I soaked up everything he had to teach from Greek and Latin roots to the different connotations of words.

Mr. Mugane doted on me, as I was one of the most attentive and passionate students he had. He rarely reprimanded me for talking too much–which I always did–and took extra time to grade my papers, writing lengthy notes on the margins and even letting me review my paper with him after class.

In that classroom I truly fell in love with the English language and after sharing this with him, Mr. Mugane told me that to follow in his footsteps I would need to become an English major in college. I kept that information with me as well as my passion for English throughout the rest of my high school years.

Five years later, I messaged him from college, thanking him for the work he invested in me and for nurturing the seed of passion I had for English and for helping me reach a milestone.

As an English major, I am one step closer to reaching my dream.

*Book photos from Pixabay.

The Twilight Zone: 5 AM Thoughts

Recently, after much encouragement, one of my students started a blog. She has a deep inner life that needed expression, and I felt through blogging she could exercise her voice and practice the discipline of writing. I just caught up on the posts that I missed. Many had me “laughing out loud” in my “too quiet” office. I particularly love the “Twilight Zone” post in which she talks about the “weird” realm English majors enter during the final exams period. If I had the energy, I would respond to her post with the “twilight zone” period from the English professor’s experience—days that begin too early and end too late, face buried in papers, and deep sleep falling in the middle of typing comments on students’ papers. We live for the day we hit submit on the final grade for the final course. And then…we sleep. No time to expound on that now, but since we’re all in that zone somewhere, I thought I’d share this piece. Enjoy!

The Yellow Nook

Good early morning all. Thanks to the God above, my eyes are rested well enough to stay open this time around. Hopefully my mind is as well rested as my eyes.

Thought: I and everyone on this campus has entered the twilight zone of finals.

Its absolutely hilarious.

If you dont know what it is, I recommend watching A Different World. They have an episode dedicated to this very thing. It was never my favorite episode, but once I realized that this specific twilight zone was very real, I immediately appreciated it a lot more than I did before.

Yesterday I went to my Descriptive Grammar class, which is taught by the amazing Dr. Prigg. I walked in the classroom, wearing shoes I never wear on the regular school day, with hair that could have passed as “done”, but in reality was actually not. A classmate that rarely ever comes…

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“We Need a Little Silence”

We have had far too much tossed at us the last several days–natural disasters, the escalating rhetoric on race in the U.S., the criticism of peaceful protest while validating violent protest, the invalidation of one the most basic rights of U.S. citizenry, dangerous political venom spewing from heads of state. In response to all of this, Larry K, one of my former students, wrote in the middle of a semi-lengthy Facebook post–

The world needs a little silence.

I feel this need with every fiber of my being as I am struggling to navigate the chaos.

We are assaulted with a barrage of traditional media and social media commentary all day long and we are not filtering and processing. This leaves us burdened. And weary. And (maybe) cowering in a corner.

In my writing courses, I tell my students that whenever we read an article, a social media post, a work of fiction–anything–we are entering a conversation, and with all conversations we must hear/listen, ask questions, respond, and add to the conversation. Conversations should be healthy and productive and should lead to growth in some way, no matter how small. The problem lately is that there’s been a lot of noise but little listening. We’re all talking at the same time and few are hearing the unspoken. And we’re just becoming more and more angry and frustrated. We’re screaming at each other. And the earth is mad and screaming too–through hurricanes, earthquakes , wildfires, and everything else.

We “need a little silence,” Larry says, “like when you’re angry at your mate and you just retreat to your corner.”

We do. We need to walk away from the fight. Retreat–in both senses of the word.

I urge you to take care of your mind and spirit and tune out the noise, regroup, and take strategic steps to filter what is unnecessary, what is not beneficial to your soul.