Learning To Fight What Scares You

Fear is a central fact of my life and my ever-present companion. From the time I noticed that my list for Santa didn’t include the Barbies, makeup or other things the girls in my class wanted,  I knew I was different. No other girl asked for a chemistry set, a BB gun, and walkie-talkies. That, along with the stacks of Spiderman comics in my closet, set me apart and made me afraid that I wasn’t the kind of girl anyone in my family expected.

This led into a pernicious and lingering fear of being judged. When you grow up Southern Baptist, there’s a particular way to gossip about people and still seem godly: the prayer chain. It sounds kind of like this: 

“Lord, we just want to raise up Lorene’s daughter, Father God, and her drinking. Lord Jesus, we grieve that her babies have different daddies, even though all the men she knows are nice…”

For my Meemaw’s sake, I knew a baseline expectation for me was to stay off the prayer chain. Waiting in line at the grocery store in my small town, I heard people talking about my parents. They were one of the first couples to get a divorce – and it was an epic, operatic production involving both those in high standing and those in low places. I learned to achieve to distract away from all the unpleasant truths about my parents and myself.  Continue reading Learning To Fight What Scares You

The Deep Magic

A takeaway from this last month of speaking and traveling is:

We’re saved by what we create, and by who and what we love.

For me, teaching is always triage – an emergency room where I try to apply reading and writing to the wounds my students have. Sometimes, a good story can save your life. Not always, but sometimes, and that’s enough for me. 

Reading aloud is a small thing, but it’s what I love. Creating learning experiences where the clock stops, where I don’t worry about how much weight I’m gaining or how I look when I turn to the side, and where we – whomever I’m with – are transported by story. Either our own stories or those we love by others. 

Nothing gives me energy like reading a really good piece of literature aloud to an audience who really needs it. The photo above is a gift of energy from my former students, Nat and Karen.

About a week ago, I was so exhausted, I thought I would burst into tears in the canned vegetable aisle at the grocery store.

Then I read this:

“Would you come read Skippyjon Jones to our kids in the afterschool program?” Nat messaged me.

At first, I thought: “I’m too tired.” Then I worried: “I have too much to do.”

But what you love pulls you. And so reading pulled me out of my pinched and crabby feelings.

Skippyjon Jones, a masterful series by Judy Schachner about a cat who thinks he’s a chihuahua and imagines epic adventures for himself, is a can’t-miss read aloud if you go all in on it. My juniors and seniors always want me to read it to them. I was a little worried about reading to small people because I don’t normally work with those under age 14.

And, the kids in their after-school class, Karen confided, “think reading is evil. They hate it.”

To read aloud well – to transport both yourself and your audience – you have to be unself-conscious. It’s taken me a long time to get there and even so, I still get shy.

I’ve stood at the back of my classroom because I was afraid to read “The Tell-Tale Heart” like I knew it should be read.

One of my most memorable experiences was reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night of The World” to a group of seventh-grade boys who told me that reading is stupid. The story is mostly dialogue between a husband and wife, but the sense of dread that Bradbury creates chilled those inner-city kids on a hot August morning.

The story’s horror comes from knowing that the end is really coming and there’s nothing you can do. What is there to do, Bradbury asks us, but those last little comforting habits like hugging someone close, washing the dishes, and saying, “I love you” one last time?

“That felt real, Miss,” Anthony said. “It was like a scary ride that stays with you.”

That’s what the best read-alouds and the best lessons feel like to me: a ride that kind of scares me, but also gives me that adrenaline rush from doing something fun.

And we don’t give ourselves or our students enough fun because of so much pressure for “achievement.”

So, I’m giving you permission, just like I always have to give myself, to have fun. Read something you love. Go all in. Do the voices. Sell it. Make it feel real.

In this grinding month, give yourself one day to not worry about “the test.” Give yourself  – and most importantly, your students the gift of energy through the pure joy that comes from deliberately designing a day around a story you love.

Deep magic comes from joy.

Create some today by sharing what you love.