An educator’s world is a bubble, far-removed from other career paths. In my first years of teaching, my classroom was project-based and thrived on creativity and ingenuity. About five years into my teaching career, I jumped at the opportunity to teach the Gifted and Talented 7th grade English class. The room was filled with the brightest students from all over our district. They challenged me with their perspectives and passions. I gained as much from them as they did from me.
I remember two specific assignments very clearly – because I miss them. In an effort to provide more rigorous reading material, I assigned the short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” to these bright-eyed 12-year-olds. The story was a struggle for them. They had to look up new words with every sentence. They had to break down those sentences in chunks marked by multiple commas and semicolons. At the end of the story, we discussed symbolism and theme, just as we do now. Then, towards the end of the unit, one of the top students in the class came to me and asked “Do you know what a doppelganger is?” Having been intrigued by the story, she researched more about it and presented me with an explanation of her discoveries. We spent the lunch break sharing our thoughts on the deeper meanings of the story.
The other assignment began as a simple book report. I gave the class a list of recommended classics; however, instead of requesting a plot summary or a report of the story elements, I allowed them freedom to create. The directions were simple: design a project that represents an important aspect of the novel. Students brought in models, sculptures, posters, music…their creativity sparked incredible work: a gray clay sculpture of Mrs. Which from A Wrinkle in Time, a pot of tissue-paper flowers from Mary’s Secret Garden, a map of travels from Around the World in 80 Days, and a montage of music as a soundtrack for The Call of the Wild.
The classroom has changed, not just with this season of distance-learning, but with technology and time and new state standards. I’ve changed, too, and it hasn’t always been for the better. When I was 12, in my own 7th-grade GATE English class, my teacher challenged my creativity by requiring us to write a 45-page novella. At the time, I was reading a Babysitters Club book every day, so you can imagine just what my pre-teen mind turned out. I still have that novella, typed on an old PC desktop and printed with a dot-matrix printer.
The following year, I developed a love for writing poetry in my 8th grade English class and news features for the school paper. I graduated from reading The Babysitters Club to Gone with the Wind. In a journal at age 15, I wrote that the heroines in my books were my best friends because they understood me and never judged me. I could daydream my day away with Anne of Green Gables and pour out my ideas in rhyme with Emily of New Moon. There was just one downside to this: in each circle of friends I entered over the years, no one seemed to truly understand the thrill of creating a story or poem. I had best friends who made up dance numbers with me, ones who played basketball and ran track with me, but never one who created stories with me.
In a world of educators, I know only two others in my area who write for pleasure. I was a writer long before I was a teacher. Somehow, over the years of lesson-planning and grading, I lost that “soul on fire” that stays alight when I am writing.
When I finally developed the courage to break out of the education world, I sent a quick message to an acquaintance.
“Teaching is a bubble,” I wrote, “How do I do what I really love? How do I start a career as a writer?” I have to say, I was so nervous that I almost didn’t hit send. Opening doors you’ve thought were shut for years is terrifying. Doing it when you are married and have two young kids, as well as a stable career is maybe a bit crazy. I sent the message anyway.
He replied, “That’s a loaded question. Let’s chat.” The conversations have continued for two years. Each time we talk, I discover an idea that’s been lurking in my mind and find the courage to chase it.
A year ago, I flew to Washington to meet up with two other writer-friends. We met a third for coffee. In our conversations of story arcs, walks through picturesque scenery, and remembrances of lifetimes pursuing various dreams, my spirit burned with the beauty of it all.
Two other dear, sweet friends of mine recently reminded me of very important truths – ones that go beyond a career and a paycheck: we have God-given desires to be seen and to be known. I have a close circle of friends and family who know me. They are my solid foundation in this ever-shifting world. My husband is beside me, no matter where life takes us. My boys are daily sources of joy. But until recently, there was one aspect of me that, all my life, set me apart. I was different – weird – because I fall in love with stories.
After months of urging from a few close friends, I began binge-watching the series Heartland, set in scenic Alberta, Canada. I watched eight seasons in eight weeks! My mind is so involved in the characters’ journeys that I can’t sleep if an episode ends on a cliffhanger. I try to close my eyes and force my mind to shut down, but I lay wide awake, dreaming up the possibilities for resolution to the conflict. And that resolution always includes a happy ending. I can’t rest until I know what happens between characters Ty and Amy or Lou and Peter.
Ironically, it is this deep passion I have for shows like Heartland, When Calls the Heart, and Chesapeake Shores, that led me to the community I needed and the people who see the one aspect of me that made me different: my Kindred Creatives.
Those projects I gave my 7th grade English students fed a well in my spirit that had come up dry time after time. But their creativity was simply a splash of water that temporarily appeased a deeper thirst. Now, I have found those ones who set my soul afire with a “deep-calls-to-deep” connection. We share ideas, inspirations, and projects. We trade chapters and drafts. We celebrate our writing successes and encourage each other through the valleys of waiting and rejection. These are my Kindred Creatives: the writers, the story-tellers, and the dreamers. And I am no longer different – I am known.