Listen

In my classes, I give daily writing prompts, which we usually spend about 15 minutes on. Because I am not only trying to teach essay writing but also the critical thinking skills necessary to do so, I occasionally allow the discussion time to run longer than planned.

Sometimes, the students get so passionate about the subjects covered that the whole period flies by before we know it (though this could be due to strategic planning on their parts to avoid classwork).

This past week, the topic at hand was pulled from a New York Times list of topics for essay writing: Does technology make us more alone? In classes with students from generations new and old, opinions varied and were at times surprising.

Two young men, both no older than twenty, carried the discussion in one class for a while. One was passionately in agreement with the idea that technology isolates us, and the other just as passionately against.

In another class, a young man was staunchly against the idea, while an older lady was hugely for it.

“My brother now has 291 friends on Facebook!”

“But are they really his friends?”

Their ideas and points were well thought and intelligently delivered. I could tell that no matter what side they defended, they felt strongly about it.

In the process of discussing this, though, they seemed to be catching on to and displaying the thing I wanted them to learn most: respect.

Respect for each other and respect for the fact that we all have different opinions.

Yes, I occasionally had to step in and soothe some heightened emotions, but for the most part, they listened to each other.

Some even nodded along as people from the other side made valid points.

As an educator, I couldn’t have been prouder of my students or more pleased that they were absorbing the lesson, whether consciously or not.

As a human being, I secretly shed a few tears of joy (later, in the privacy of my own home—shhh, don’t tell anyone!) at the evidence that there is hope for this world, hope for humanity to get along.

We can disagree but still find common ground.

In today’s political atmosphere in America, if you say you are pro-Trump or pro-Clinton, you may get sneers of disdain.

I’ll admit I’m sometimes guilty in both cases.

What we all need to remember, and what my students demonstrated so beautifully, is that just because a person has views opposite of your own ideas does not mean everything that person believes is wrong or that all of his or her actions are deplorable.

A person can believe in abortion or the death penalty or marriage between homosexuals and still be a good person.

A person can oppose all of the above and still be a good person.

Intelligent, rational human beings hold views and beliefs on both ends of the spectrum and remain intelligent and rational.

Believing in something (or not believing in something) does not mean you are stupid or hateful or bigoted or racist.

It just means that *gasp* you have a different opinion than other people.

I can believe abortion is wrong and that the death penalty is just (or the opposite) and still be a moral and educated person.

Bob can be a Bible-thumping, American-flag-waving, gun-toting, Republican and still have logically sound arguments on which to base his beliefs.

Joe can be a tree-hugging, flag-burning, peace-sign-throwing, Democrat and—you guessed it—still have logically sound arguments on which to base his beliefs.

cartoon
Obviously “Dang Hippie” and “Dang Racist” are not logical arguments, but this is the type of thinking we are led to when we allow stereotypes and closed-mindedness to cloud our reason. (And this is also meant to be a humorous little cartoon to break up a serious topic. How meta.) 

I was on the debate team for several years, and it was one of the best things I ever chose to participate in. Something debate taught me was to look at both sides of an issue and come up with arguments for and against each side.

This left me with an open mind, a bigger heart for the world, and an even bigger faith in that whole “love your neighbor” thing—your gay neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your KKK neighbor (though that is admittedly difficult), and so on.

Here’s the thing: the more we accept others and love on each other rather than hurl verbal grenades at each other, the better place this world is.

I choose to defuse hate with love.

The more I practice this in my own life, the closer to the God I serve I grow (because I fully believe Jesus died on the cross for my gay neighbor, my Muslim neighbor, my KKK neighbor, etc.).

With the anniversary of 9/11 just past and the extremely heated and polarized election season upon us, we can all stand to learn just what my students have been showing me: we CAN agree with each other on some points, even if we don’t agree on whole issues.

The only way we are going to recognize where we agree, though, is to listen.

Just listen.

peace-glasses
My stereotypical, peace-sign throwing self. I tried to avoid the duck lips. 

Much love, my friends. ❤

R

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How a Heart Breaks

Almost twenty-one years ago, my brother Jacob and I were playing outside together, and we heard some noise, so naturally, we decided to go investigate, as any young children would.

Across the street from our house, our neighbor was having a garage sale, and when we got over there, we found, to our delight, free kittens! Of the three available, we both chose one without consideration for our eldest brother who was not at home (unthinking little buggers that we were), and we put them in a box and proudly carried them home to Mom.

“Look Mom, they’re free!” we exclaimed, holding out our find.

She marched us back over there, fully intending to make us return the two fuzz balls, one grey and one tabby.

However, when we got over there, she saw the third little remaining fuzz ball, this one black and orange and so fluffy! There would be one for each of us—Aaron, Jacob, and I. She melted, and Jacob and I smugly returned home with not two but three little monsters as our prize.

Originally, the grey one was Ghost. The tabby one (my very own!) was Tiger. The third little one was Bones. Soon, however, they received names more fitting for them: Gray-bay, Prissy, and Sassy, respectively.

Aaron, who got Sassy, and Jacob, who got Gray-bay, did some swapping not long after, but Prissy was always my baby.

As we grew (children and cat-children) over the years, we experienced love, laughter, and loss together, but Prissy was always mine, and I never had quite the spot in my heart for the other two as I did for her.

Shortly before I moved to Baton Rouge in 2010, Gray-bay passed away, and because he was such a sweet and loving cat, it was a hard loss.

Prissy came with me to Baton Rouge, and Sassy stayed with Mom, but eventually, we decided it was cruel to separate them, so they both lived with me. I still proclaimed Prissy as my favorite, my baby, but Sassy slowly grew her own special place in my heart.

In early 2012, when I moved back to Shreveport, Prissy got sick and passed away. It was a devastating loss, because she was mine. At first, in my grief, I kept a distance from Sassy, because it felt like a betrayal to Prissy to love her so much.

It wasn’t long before I realized I could love each equally without taking away from the importance the one had played in my life up to that point.

When my mom moved away in 2013, Sassy and I became a team of sorts. We kept each other company, and I couldn’t imagine life without her.

A year ago today, I had to make the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my adult life. Sassy was in so much pain, and as much as I wanted to hold on and try anything to make her better, the options were just too limited and full of risk.

She’s not in pain anymore, and I’d like to imagine her in kitty heaven, reunited with her brother and sister, playing as they always did as young cats. Perhaps Jacob will be there for a visit and give her a good ear scratch as she likes so much.

It may seem silly to some, but I’m not ashamed of my grief over “just” a cat, even a year later. God gave us these furry little monsters to love and cherish while they are here, and sure enough, they steal your heart (even if you try to resist) and then break it to pieces when they have to leave.

Time heals all wounds they say, but as with any injury, there are scars that remain that remind you of your original pain.

I love you and am reminded of you every day in a million different ways, Sassy.

Sassy

See you later, my baby.

Much love,

R

*This post originally appeared in a bit of a different version on my personal Facebook page last year.

Images

There are moments I wish that I had camera in hand at all times or that the subjects involved wouldn’t mind having their picture taken. My own mind and the words on this page will have to suffice. (Though fortunately I have other pictures, in some cases, to share!)

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Last night as I drove home from teaching my evening class, I gripped the steering wheel so tightly that when I took a hand away to use my blinker, I could feel an ache deep in my bones. Outside of my windshield, rain poured down. When the thunder rumbled, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. The lightning streaked across the sky in all directions, leaving me blinded for mere seconds, but long enough to cause a slight panic to rise. If I hadn’t been driving, this would have been one of those perfect nights to sit on the porch and just watch. It was both magnificent and terrifying, and my only other wish is that I had been able to capture just a fraction of the show on camera.

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Today as I drove home along that same route, I was struck by the absolute stillness in the sky, which was a beautiful and clear blue. The puffy white clouds looked so soft that I just know if it were possible, they’d make the most comfortable bed ever. Music played softly in the background. My favorite radio station—KLOVE. The sun was a warm, reassuring kiss across my skin. There is light in darkness, as shown the night before, and there is an even greater light that comes after. This, too, made me wish I could have used my camera as I drove.

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My student. She doesn’t look a day over 50 at the most, but her face is calm and slightly amused as she tells me she is not a hop, skip, and jump from 70, but only a hop. The bright red in her stirs a bit of jealousy. I don’t think I could ever pull that off half so well. Her smile is genuine as she responds to today’s writing prompt and tells me that the person she admires most is me, because I explain things. The slight wrinkles in her dark skin, and the black compression sleeve on her arm speak to trials in her long years. The joy in her eyes as she tells about being a foster mom. The deep laugh as I make a fool of myself to make sure she and her classmates are at ease in my classroom. She is glorious in her bearing, and I envy and admire her poised confidence.

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A picture in my “On This Day” feed. My sweet, sweet Sassy, who nearly a year ago, I had to let go, because she was just in too much pain for me to selfishly hold on any longer. Her little chin resting on my hand, her not-so-sleek-anymore fur tickling my skin. I remember taking the picture just as though I’d done it right before writing this post. My heart swelled with love that this creature trusted me so much and loved me so much. What else could explain her need to rest on me at all times?

Sassy

(Luckily, in this case, I had the actual picture to share with you all.)

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Munni, my darling little girl, my fur baby, who came to me at a time when I needed her. A brother’s gift. A little hello from my Sassy in Heaven. She stretched across the table as I ate, even though she knew she shouldn’t be up there. Her round little belly poofed around her, and her soft fur brushed against my outstretched hand as she nuzzled against it, hoping for food, and looking too cute for words as she did so. A bittersweet love in my chest as she unknowingly (or perhaps not?) reminded me of the one I lost a year ago. She has to be AROUND me, but in her fierce independence, it must be on her own terms. I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I couldn’t do without her.

munni moo

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My mother. Y’all, there are hardly words for how much I adore this woman. From the slight tinge of silver at her temples that is a testament to her struggles to her wicked humor as she teases me about a weird phobia of mine. Words just don’t do justice to how absolutely my hero she is. This woman, who made me eggs every single day this week and last for breakfast so that I’d have something warm in my stomach as I headed to work. (Yes, I still live with my mom. So sue me!) This woman, who supports me in all my endeavors, including taking picture after picture for a post last week, even though she was beyond exasperated with me. Her face that is mine in 30 years, full of kindness and laughter and hardship and sacrifice.

mom and me

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I see the world in images. When my memories overwhelm me, the visual details are what stick out the most. When I’m writing a new story, I have to have that picture in my head. I have to be able to direct a mini-movie for the audience of one that is me, so that I know when I share my writing, others can see those images as well.

I hope you enjoyed the world as I see it, this small slice of the day (or maybe day-and-a-half) in the life of me.

Much love,

R

The Power of Showing Up

Hey y’all!

So, I have a bit of a confession.

Well, not so much a confession as just a reiteration of something most people already know:

I am a self-proclaimed weirdo.

PURPLE GLASSES

I’ve even spent the last two weeks convincing my students of that.

I told a student today that I am completely unafraid to make a fool of myself if it means that I keep a student coming back to class just to see me do so.

After all, you can’t help someone who is not there in the first place!

This made me stop and think, though.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about overcoming writer’s block, lack of time (more like poor planning of time), and just sheer exhaustion.

Then I realized that my students deal with the exact. same. problems.

Yet they (thus far) continue to show up.

My problem the last couple of weeks is not so much a product of the above problems but of a lack of consistently showing up.

I talk about the need to show up and participate.

I write about it.

I preach about it to my students.

Yet I have not been showing up to the appointments I make between my desk, my computer keyboard, and myself.

I can talk and write about wanting to write more all day long, but until I start consistently showing up to my desk and getting the words out, I will continue to struggle with this writing thing.

With that said, I HAVE been doing better.

I’ve spent more time writing and producing finished works in the last three months than I have in a good long while.

I’ve kept up a relatively regular pattern of updates on this blog.

As I tell my students, though, there is ALWAYS room for improvement, and I promise to myself and to you all, my readers, to keep on improving.

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Now, back to that being a weirdo thing…

I have acquired props!

You have no idea how excited I am about this.

Over the next few posts, look for more pictures using said props. I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoy playing with all of my new toys!

HAT

Who said adults can’t have fun?

Seriously, though, thank you all for sticking around, and please keep bearing with me.

I am working on it!

Much love,

Rachel

Here we are again…

On days like today, it is nearly impossible for me to write.

I’m not experiencing writer’s block.

I have plenty of time to do so.

I’m just tired.

This week was the first official week of classes at the school where I teach, and even though I had Monday off due to how my schedule worked out this semester, I’m exhausted. It’s only Wednesday, and I am counting the hours and minutes until it is acceptable for me to go to bed.

I knew that if I napped when I got home, I wouldn’t sleep tonight.

I know that if I go to bed too early, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and, unable to go back to sleep, I’ll toss and turn and drift back off five minutes before my alarm goes off, leaving me groggy and grumpy through the day tomorrow.

So faced with hours before sleep, I opened my word processor, and I just…couldn’t.

All the ideas and plans I made for this blog post during the week just would not  cooperate, so to break the standstill, I started typing this.

I think it’s important for those of us who write (or pursue other creative goals) to remember that the most important step is to just start.

Even if the words you wanted won’t come.

Even if what you produce isn’t the most poetic or interesting piece you’ve ever written.

You just have to write, even if it’s only about how you couldn’t write.

When you do this, you’ll begin to find that what you’ve produced has its own charm, its own particular tinge of honesty.

You’ll be able to appreciate it for what it is, not what it could have been.

You’ll find that even when it seems impossible, you CAN do it.

So to all of you (and to myself): just keep writing.

dory drawing

You won’t regret it.

Much love,

R

#Goals

Setting goals is easy.

“I will do this, this, and this.”

I can write them down, type them in my notes on my phone, or put them in my day planner.

I can talk about those goals with mentors and friends.

I can think of them and decide what further steps I need to take.

At the end of the day, though, setting goals is worthless unless I follow through. 

And there’s the difficulty.

Following through is hard.

I get up early for work. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on most days. I rush through the day from work task to work task, errand to errand.

Somehow, there never seems to be enough time, energy, or motivation to do those extra things: exercising, meal planning and prepping, learning a new language, spending time on one creative endeavor or another, writing…

The time slips away, and the goals remain just that: goals.

Little notations on the checklist, unchecked.

A super trendy hashtag on a blog post, unfulfilled.

How do I ever turn those goals into reality? How do I get past the exhaustion, the lack of motivation, the lack of time?

Perseverance. Effort. Sheer stubborness.

When I get fed up enough with my lack of productivity, something almost magical happens.

I decide then and there that enough is enough and that I AM going to exercise for 15 minutes or write that darn blog post or make those language flash cards.

However, I ride that stubborness for a few days, and then I’m back where I started.

It’s a frustrating cycle, and it’s difficult to break out of it completely, but I’m working on it.

I take those days of stubborn productivity, but I want EVERY day to be that way.

Right now, I’m participating in Authors Publish‘s August writing challenge. I’ve modified it a bit, but I figured I needed to start small.

I’m also participating in a 33-day-long writing event, Inspire and Influence, with Becky McCleery, and I’m super pumped about it.

These aren’t HUGE steps, but they’re progress all the same.

Remember: baby steps

So far in the August writing challenge, I’ve only missed two days, but I’m producing more content and more material than I’ve done in a very long time.

Adding Inspire and Influence has really helped me stay motivated to meet those daily goals.

I can’t give you a magical formula or a 10-step checklist on how to absolutely meet your goals (though I can certainly give you some suggestions), but I can tell you this:

What I’ve learned this summer is that you have to decide that your goals are more important than the exhaustion, more important than that two-hour binge of the latest Netflix series, and more important than whatever thing takes up the most of your time (outside of work and family, of course).

You have to prioritize your time, and you have to stick to your schedule, no matter how tired you are or  how difficult it is to tear yourself away from that novel or that TV show.

Even if you take just fifteen minutes to work towards your goal of choice (in my case writing), you will be so far ahead of where you were before.

And once you get started and once you make it a true habit, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier.

You’ll look forward to those fifteen minutes.

Before you know it, you’ll be spending thirty, forty, fifty minutes doing what it is you love to do.

Don’t let the noise of the world rob you of the joy of meeting your goals.

You were made for a purpose, and I firmly believe that your purpose manifests itself in the things that you love the most and the things that have the most potential to help others.

So go. Find your purpose. Make goals. Stick to them.

Believe me, you’ll thank yourself for it a year from now.

hashtagRachel

Much love,

R

**A very special thanks to my mother for going through so much trouble to get JUST the right hashtag picture for me. Love you, Momma!! ❤ ❤ ❤

Odd Tips and Tricks to Get Out of That Writer’s Slump:

Hey all,

So continuing my theme of struggling with writing (because it’s still totally a daily thing), I thought I’d share a few tricks that could potentially break you out of your writer’s block. They’ve all worked for me to various degrees!

  1. Take a shower. No. Really. Go take a shower (or a bath if you prefer). I get my absolute BEST ideas in the shower, because, of course, I have nothing with which to write them down, so I have to hold them in my head until I’m finished. It’s an interesting exercise, because when I DO hold them in my head that long, they tend to take off in a direction all their own.
  1. Speaking of things taking off in a direction of their own, it was Luigi Pirandello who said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that characters jump off the page, fully formed, with lives of their own. Sometimes, though, the characters won’t cooperate and won’t come out of hiding in the recesses of your mind. When I’m having trouble coming up with characters, I use people I know. Yes, yes, yes. I know. This is dangerous territory. Obviously, I don’t LEAVE them that way, but sometimes it helps to get the plot down with people you know, and then the characters see how awesome the story is, and they come right on out of hiding to join in on the fun. For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve used people I know as stand-ins and understudies until the real characters are ready to show themselves. Occasionally this has gotten me into a pickle or two when people have read my stories pre-population of real characters, but oh well. Writers are weird. I’m weird. I’m used to funny looks. So, if you’re having trouble corralling some characters for that end-of-the-world-death-scene, I bet you can think of a few people you wouldn’t mind using as stand-ins, right? Only joking! 😉
  1. Read a boring book. Do you have a textbook handy that you have to read for class? Have you been putting off reading that latest book on investing that your father wants you to read? (Sorry, Dad!) Pick that baby up and read, y’all! What generally happens follows the same principle as when I’m in the shower. I’m reading the boring book. I really need to finish it. However, that is when the characters and ideas come out to play: “She’s busy now! Let’s go have fun!” The key is to keep reading for a while and let those ideas really have time to brew.

BoringBookPhoto

  1. This is another odd one along the lines of number 2, but I like to think about things I’ve been through or people I know have been through and ask, “What if?” “What if I had done this? What if he had done that? How would life be different?” Generally, when I do this, I can come up with three or four interesting alternatives and turn at least one into a good story idea. Of course, you have to be careful with this one as well, because you don’t want someone you know reading your book and going, “Hey, wait a minute…!”
  1. Write fan-fiction. This is something I’ve seen a lot of writers look down on, but I think it’s a legitimate way to practice and hone your writing skills. Now, if something is copyrighted, don’t go thinking you can publish it and make money off of it, but by all means, get yourself a pen name over on fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org, and write all those crossovers you’ve had churning in your mind since you finished reading Harry Potter and moved onto Outlander (Fair Warning: Ms. Gabaldon kindly requests that you do not write fan-fiction about her series. This is completely understandable, and I respect her wishes. I was simply using this as an example.). Do you ship an unconventional pairing in your favorite series? (Harry/Hermione for life! ;-D) Go for it! Unless you tell your friends, family, or fans, no one will eveeeeer know it’s you writing those steamy romances! 😉 (There’s a lot of winking going on in this post!)

HHr4ever

That’s all I have for now. What about y’all? Are there any odd or unconventional habits that help break you out of a writing funk?

Let me know in the comments below!!

As some of you know, I took Authors Publish’s August writing challenge to write every day in August, and so far, I’ve done really well. My goal is a minimum of 700 words and 105 minutes a week, and I will check in on my Facebook  page every Monday starting August 8th. Don’t forget to tune in this coming Monday to read about my stats so far, and don’t forget to look for a new post on here on Wednesday the 10th.

Until next time!

Much love,

R