Each year on October 20th people from all over are invited to write, to share their writing, and to consider the prompt: #whyiwrite. I appreciate a National Day on Writing, a day to celebrate this often unexamined practice that most of us engage in daily. Sometimes we are confused by the word writing, considering only the writing that appears in bookstores, in magazines, or in prestigious online spaces as “real” writing.
Whatever writing we do is real. But fear can keep us from getting those words out of our heads and onto a page. I often find myself writing as I walk, starting a narrative or poem in my head, sparked by something I noticed, overheard, observed. These words are easily lost, blown into the sea breeze if I don’t make a conscious effort to remember long enough to get them written or somehow recorded for later writing and elaboration.
I find that my words take flight when I turn off that internal censor. When I stop worrying about writing the perfect essay, saying the “just right” thing that will dazzle and impress someone else.
But why do I write? I started blogging to hold myself accountable to regular writing. But all I write isn’t reflected in this public space. This space, though, offers me the opportunity to connect, to reflect on my writing, teaching, photography, and life in general. It lets me start small as I wonder and wander through the ideas in my mind.
A writing project meeting yesterday led us to a new room on campus, where this quote was prominent on the walls. I don’t know that it is perfectly true for me, but I like the sentiment. That risk-taking matters. Sometimes we have to approach an old problem in a new way to figure out a solution. I’ve been thinking about that a lot when it comes to teaching. There’s so much talk about how kids are different these days, how they struggle to pay attention (often blamed on our screen-centered society), and how we need to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist. Most of these comments are posed as problems, difficulties to overcome instead of aspirations to reach for. Why would we teach students today the same content in the same ways as we taught that class ten years ago? Why is curriculum more similar to than different from what it was when I was a child oh-so-many year ago? Is this student problem really a teaching problem (or a structures around teaching problem)? It might just be an assessment problem, since the content that is tested is certainly prioritized in our schools!
That ever-moving target can sometimes make us all feel like failures. We keep reaching for THE solution, instead of enjoying each wave as we ride it. Watching surfers from the San Clemente pier yesterday reminds me of the importance of patience, playfulness, and persistence. (And those same traits might just apply to the photographer as well!) I’m sure each surfer out there in the cool, salty water in the slant of light on a late fall afternoon was in search of the perfect wave, the great ride, the most fun… What I loved as I watched was noticing the surfers spot potential waves, start and stop–sometimes bailing out of a waves at the last possible moment; lining themselves up to catch the upcoming wave–paddling, turning, jockeying with other surfers for position; playing with waves that turned out to be less than–swan-diving backwards out of the ride. I’m reminded that there is learning and joy in the process, not just the end product. How do we help students (and teachers and parents and the public) see the learning that happens in the trying rather than in the exam or “final product?”
So why do I write? I write to play with words and ideas. I write to problem-solve, to follow a line of thinking to a place where I can grapple with it. I write to pay attention to the world around me, to inhale the joy and exhale the heaviness. And I persist in writing even when it feels too hard, too time consuming, too frustrating, too messy. Writing matters, each one of us has to find all the reasons why for ourselves (we just may need a little nudge from our friends, teachers, lovers, mentors). Thanks for the nudge National Day on Writing!
Now it’s your turn, why do you write?
I walked out of school with the sun shining brightly on my shoulders. I peeled my lightweight jacket off before getting into the car to head down the hill toward the beach for my after school walk.
In the less than two miles from school to the beach, the sun dimmed, shuttered by a thick veil of fog. Palm trees became shadowy pillars as I steered toward the beach parking lot. As I walked down the long steep ramp to the sandy beach, it was like walking into another world. Colors were swallowed by the damp blanket, the view disappeared, I could see only 20 or 30 yards in front of me.
My mind filled with stories, the stuff of Halloween and horror movies. What was around the corner? What evil might that shadowy figure in front of me bring? What about the sea itself, was the tide actually as low as I expected?
Luckily, my feet know this beach. They followed the path worn by my frequent walks, recognizing the curve of the beach, the squish of the sand under my soles. Familiar birds whistled hello, giant kelp caressed my toes and a huge piece of bull kelp appeared from the shadows.
As I neared the end of my walk, a crowd of children appeared from the mist. And with them, the bubble man, the pied piper of the beach, casting a spell with his magic wand. The thick mist didn’t dampen their spirits, instead the dampness of the air helped them catch bubbles–holding them in their hands and allowing them to slip into the bubble tunnels the bubble man created.
Stories continue to swirl, wrapping me in their damp, shadowy chapters. My imagination is already hard at work, making connections, creating movies in my mind. I can only hope they don’t become the stuff of nightmares as I drift off to sleep.