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.

Look for the Gift

Do you remember my student, Chante Marie?

She’s leaving in a week to pursue her music career! Needless to say, I’m so proud of her. I know “just going for it” can be a scary venture, but Chante has a beautiful gift and spirit and she’ll be more than okay.

She and her hubby (they’re such a cute couple) dropped by my office yesterday and brought gifts—a lighthouse postcard, which I’ll share later, and a journal. Chante did not give me a journal to fill with words, but she gave me her very own art journal—filled from cover to cover with her art and brief musings!

Dream: Chante’s Art Book

This is such a precious gift. I am speechless.

During the drive to school and work this morning my son and I talked about the importance of looking for the gift in each day. Life can be, well…life. Something might happen during the course of the day that “knocks the wind” out of us—an injustice, an unkindness, a failure, a disappointment. Some days we’re knocked down before we can recover from the last blow, and sometimes we feel like we can’t “catch a break.”

A page from Chante’s Art book

Even on those days when it’s a struggle to lift our heads, there’s a gift waiting for us.

Sometimes the gift is tangible—a flower, a letter, a beautiful art journal, or a hug when needed. Sometimes, it’s intangible—the beauty of another’s soul, the sighting of a hummingbird, a painted sky, the good feeling that comes from doing well, a phone call that comes just when needed, or the sudden appearance of someone who just crossed your mind.

Actively seeking the gift works to rescue us from slipping into a mundane pattern of doing and getting and merely tolerating life. It saves us from cynicism and from fretting over trifles.

Fly Away: A page from Chante’s art book

Chante’s gift provided that for me yesterday and continues to bless me today. She gave me more than a physical journal; she also gave (part of) her soul journey. The intangible expressed through the tangible makes a very powerful gift.


Join me in making a habit of looking for the gift in each day. If you need a little help, check out my penfriend Beckra’s blog: Every Day, One Good Thing.

Be sure to collect a few gifts from Chante’s IG and blog too!


Encore? Let Kindness Bloom!

My little “sister” Brittany of OrdinarilyExtraordinaryMom requested an “encore” of Kindness Week. I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, but maybe, this bit of kindness will satisfy for now.

Chante Marie, one of my (now former) students and recent college graduate, was “inspired” by the kindness week posts too! She posted a time-lapse video of her creation “Let Kindness Bloom” on Instagram.

Here’s the finished product. [Click the image to view the short video].

“Let Kindness Bloom,” by Chante Marie

The message is sweet and to the point.  As we watch the tree blossom and come to life at Chante’s hands, we understand better the import of the words: Kindness grows and enhances life’s color and brilliance. Give it freely. Let it bloom.

Chante is a singer, composer, writer, artist, and minimalist who is on her way to grand places! More importantly, she is “quite simply” an intelligent, witty, beautiful person whom the world needs to know.  If you want to know more about Chante Marie, check out Quite Simply Minimal, her minimalist blog, or her website which provides links to her art, poetry, YouTube channel, Facebook page and more.

Be sure to sow some seeds of kindness this week!

There Came a Wind: An Artist’s Interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s Poem 1593

As usual during summer break, I’ve been taking some time to declutter our home. In one day, I cleared several crates of stuff and found a number of treasures. One such treasure was a beautiful piece of art one of my students completed many, many, many years ago for a literature class.

Response to Emily Dickinson, Poem 1593 by Z. Lott

Students typically have difficulty reading poetry. Gasp! I’m convinced they create a mental block when they hear the word “poetry.” To decrease the pressure and to help them realize their capacity for understanding and interpreting poetry, I have students craft a creative response to a poem.  Students can write another poem, compose a song, create an art piece, etc. in response to a poetic work (from a list of “approved” poems). Through the exercise, students typically learn they understand more than they think and develop confidence to complete the other poetry assignments.

My student chose Poem 1593 by Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite American poets.

There came a Wind like a Bugle –
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost –
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
The very instant passed –
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived – that Day –
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told –
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

The picture does the visual work of the poem. Do you see it?

I like the message of Dickinson’s poem. Whether literal or figurative, storms come. Storms wreak havoc and destruction. Storms go. The world remains. Life is righted again…eventually.

Exactly (almost) three years ago, I “discovered” another student’s artistic rendering of a poem and blogged about it. You can see it here: “The Lamb, The Tyger, and the Lion.”


Happy Spring: Education Outdoors

The weather today was (and is) too gorgeous for indoors.  By afternoon, I couldn’t resist, so a couple of my students and I decided to take education outdoors.

English majors discussing issues they’re examining for their final projects.

How did you celebrate the first day of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere)?