Feet and Heart

   Prologue: I have feet with hyper extended ankle joints, yet they are feet that have and will continue to walk the world with a forceful will.

  These feet helped a young girl be a good dancer, stand at the front of the stage, lead the other girls in their steps.  She glided across the stage like a swan, strong and confident, still graceful. Yet these feet eventually failed the dancer girl, as she had to wear a cup in her shoe as joints separated.  This girl, with an artist’s heart, would never be a dancer, in spite of her potential, because the joints couldn’t hold her feet quite well enough.  Her heart would break for the first of many times, this time because of a passion unfulfilled. Yet these feet would not let this girl down completely.  She would go on to be a distance track runner, a swimmer, and a world traveler.  These feet helped a shy middle school girl, new to the south, gain confidence as a winning mile runner.  These feet later walked to the Uffizi museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Cathedral.  The girl learned that she couldn’t paint art, but loved to write about it and the places it took her imagination.  These feet also went to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the market place of Florence, and the arts festival of Edinburgh.  These feet later helped the girl stand for hours as she taught classes, her feet becoming dirty from the not always clean public school.  These feet later took her to Australia and New Zealand, to China to teach seminary students.  Her joints would bend, even break, but still, her feet would ultimately recover.  She would at times think how unfair it was that the slightest misstep would sprain the ankle, inhibit her from doing whatever she wanted to do.  Yet, her feet were fighters, just like her soul, and they kept recovering.

   These feet, in some ways, were like the girl’s heart: wanting to travel, perhaps too loose and too open.  The poor girl’s heart seemed to break as easily as the ligaments in her feet.  A broken heart, like a sprained ankle, heals, but never completely.  It’s never quite the same.  Eventually, it gets harder to risk breaking the heart, just like it gets harder to have the courage to do an adventurous hike, or anything else that could risk the ankle’s stability.  The feet and the heart are fragile, but they still want to live life. 

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Vignettes

The Red Clay of Georgia

I still remember the first time I saw Red Clay. It was July 1993, the summer we were moving to Georgia. My sister Patty and I went down with Mom to look at houses because she wanted our input. I was already nervous about the move because I knew I was leaving my friends in Michigan, along with the small private school I had attended for eight years. Looking at the clay that was Red like blood made me even more afraid. There was something foreboding about it, almost as though it wanted to swallow my soul whole. As it turns out, my fear was not unfounded, at least at first. 1993 was by far the hardest year of my life. Earlier that year, a good friend of mine had passed away in a car accident, and I was still in the process of grieving her loss. By the time I left Michigan, I had found a certain amount of closure in the situation. My friends and I had left roses in Bekki’s locker as a sign of friendship, and I had written her a farewell letter. Yet, the wound was still fresh. The fall of 1993 was a lonely time of me. Making friends was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, and I felt lost in my very large, very homogenous northeast Cobb County middle school after I was used to a small, very diverse school in Flint, Michigan. I felt like my heart was bleeding, red like the Georgia clay. Over time, though, the red from my bleeding heart turned to passion. I figured out that I was a good distance runner and won blue ribbons in races against girls who were much taller than me. I also realized that I was a good writer and that I could write to get in better touch with my emotions. When I felt lonely, I ran, or I read a book to get lost in the world of the imagination. I can no longer run because of ankle joint issues, but as an adult, I have re-discovered my dance passion that I had as a younger child. I also bike and ride the elliptical machine, both endurance activities very much like distance running. To this day, exercise, books, and writing are my emotional outlets when I feel lonely or when life doesn’t go the way I wanted it to. Even though 1993 was the hardest year of my life, it taught me that I cannot always change my life circumstances, but I can change how I cope with them. In Michigan, I was fortunate enough to have good friends to lean on when things did not go well. It took me a very long time, but I eventually made friends in Georgia who are strong support systems for me.

The Day of Snow

It was early January, 2011. New Year’s was over. I had spent New Year’s Eve with my college friends and with a more recent friend of mine and his band. Although I had a great time at the New Year’s Eve 80s concert and with my friends, my drummer friend was starting to act weird around me. In retrospect, I think it’s because he realized that I wanted more out of our relationship than he did, and that’s always difficult to handle. I was starting to feel down. The good news, though, was that my cousin Cindy was coming to Atlanta to take her Psychiatry boards test at Emory University. That meant she was coming to Atlanta to stay with me. My cousin and I were like sisters growing up and had always understood each other without words. With age and time, though, we had grown apart somewhat. Therefore, I was looking forward to spending time with her and rekindling our friendship.
That is, until I heard about the coming of the Snowpocalypse.
Snow in Georgia is like rain in the desert, a rare occurence. So when it does snow here, everyone goes into a pseudo-panic. I figured I should warn Cindy when I talked to her on the phone.
“I’m so excited to see you,” she exclaimed over the phone.
“Me too, and I’m glad you are coming. I think I should warn you, though: It is forecasted to snow starting on Sunday night, just a few hours after you get here. If it does snow as much as they say it’s going to, this entire city is going to shut down. I still want you to come, but I thought you should know. Snow is not as rare here as it is for you in Miami, but we’re still not used to it here because we don’t have the equipment.
“Well, I’m still going to come and just hope the weather isn’t bad, since I’m not sure whether or not they’d cancel my test. Plus, worse case scenario, we’ll just play together in the snow.
“I like that plan.”
That Sunday morning, I picked Cindy up from the airport and dropped her off at my apartment because she wasn’t feeling well and needed a rest. Then, I went to church and lunch with my friends. Afterwards, the more I heard the weather reports on the radio, the more I felt like this snow storm was for real. I stopped for gas and for some additional groceries. When I got home, my cousin and I caught up over dinner.
Sure enough, the flurries started to fall at approximately 9:00 p.m. Not long after, I got a text message from my grade level chair that school was cancelled for the next day.
Cindy and I cheered and did a snow dance. In that moment, the fact that she would possibly have to reschedule her test was overshadowed by the fact that she got to see snow. Being from Florida, the salt sprinkles and white blanket on the ground was a special treat for her.
The next day, we bundled up in my old ski jackets and Michigan gloves for a day outside. We made snow angels and a snow man; it was just like we were little kids again. I had three unexpected days off work. She had to reschedule her test and could not fly out of Atlanta until Wednesday late afternoon, even though she had planned on Tuesday. Yes, there were some frustrations involved. But just like the fact that some people we love aren’t going to love us back, we can’t control the weather. So, we figured we might as well make the best of the situation.
In addition to playing in the snow, Cindy and I got to catch up on life in general, in addition to our favorite cheesy TV shows. We found creative ways to make the best of the food options in my refrigerator, including ice cream sandwiches and leftover champagne from a recent special occasion. We watched Eclipse, the most recent Twilight movie, huddled on my couch with blankets. Two southern girls got to enjoy the art of hibernation. We knew we would eventually have to go back to our real world jobs and our relationships, some steady, some confusing. But for now, we could pretend we were in our own little world, amid a sparkling blanket of white snow.

The Writer’s Room:

I think of writers as artists because both of my parents are writers, along with yours truly. We are storytellers and creaters, therefore artists of another kind. Therefore, my perception of a writer’s room is partially based on my personal experiences.
I picture an office with a white macbook laptop, basically neat to avoid distractions, but a few pieces of paper or flyers stray on the desk. I picture a bed, since the office is also a guestroom, since us writers/artists can’t usually afford a house big enough for an office, a guestroom, and a sun room. Usually, one serves as all three. There are two or three bookshelves, all overflowing with books, some of which this writer has read, some of which she has full intention of reading, but wonders if she will ever have time to between writing stories, teaching classes, and attempting to have a social life in the midst of all of this. I picture photos of this writer’s family and friends, since she loves them dearly, and they are the inspiration for many of her favorite characters, whether or not they want to be. When the macbook is in use, there are several open windows on it: Microsoft word, for the story she is writing for graduate school. Power point, for the slide show she is working on for her sister’s wedding and/or lessons she is composing for her classes Monday morning. Facebook, because she loves to read one-sentence stories about the lives of her friends and acquaintances. (Well, most of these stories at least; just not the annoying and/or overly revealing ones.) Gmail, because she likes to email more so than talk on the phone. You can get to the point in email, and she’s a busy lady. Plus, a long phone conversation requires her to take her head out of the clouds for far too long :), unless it is from a family member or a close friend from college whom she does not get to see regularly. Then, it’s worth it. Blog sites because she has to blog for graduate school and loves to blog in her free time, especially when friends or strangers comment upon her stories. She feels like her work is worthwhile, whether or not she’s getting paid for it.
This woman has many windows on her computer and fewer into her soul. She is outgoing and shy at the same time, and only the people who really get to know her see a side of her that she does not include in her public blogs. 🙂

Where I’m From Poem

I am from a dogwood tree in our back yard that could not survive the Michigan climate. 

I am from the affluent south and the blue collar north. 

I am from golf balls that flew into our back yard, summer swim team mornings, and softball afternoons. 

I am from straight A’s, taunts from cruel children, a passion for books, and parents who tucked me in every night. 

I am from creative writing stories, the lead role in school plays, piano music sheets, and the sounds my violin bow created 

I am from winning distance track races, against girls who were much taller than me

I am from ballet, tap, jazz, swollen ankles, physical therapy, and dance lessons returned 

I am from long hours spent rehearsing and preparing for The Sound of Music and the friends I made because of it. 

I am from summer writing programs where I made lifelong friends.  

I am from the “magic square”, the palm trees and dry heat of Valdosta, Georgia, during Summer 1997. 

I am from graduating with high honors, white and yellow cords against my black robe 

I am from a college hall filled with eating disorders, fighting the urge to stick my own finger down my own throat.  I am from the friends who saved me from that fate. 

I am from college Rho Gamma “sisters”, late nights at concerts, theater classes that changed my life, and published newspaper articles. 

I am from late nights on the Myers quad and late morning breakfasts in Snelling and O-House dining halls. 

I am from my students of the past and the present, those who care about school and those who I have to encourage. 

I am from journeys to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, and China, and the stories I tell because of those trips. 

I am from studying the Bible with a group of women who have taught me so much. 

I am from a father who survived a tumor, a grandmother who survived alcoholism, and ancestors who survived Dachau.  I am from survivors. 

I am from love found, love lost, love found again, love twisted, love lost, a heart broken, a heart revived, a heart broken, and a heart revived again. 

I am from an uncle who played music for money and two parents who have published books. 

I am from a family of artists and scholars, survivors of loss and turmoil, who see light amid a sometimes foggy sky. 

Faking It Until I Make It: My Attempt at Writing Poetry

Today, as I prepare to teach a middle school writing camp this upcoming week, I’ve been pulling up poetry templates to use with the students.  Along the way, I’ve found examples of my own poetry.  I love to READ poetry, and I can appreciate its depth.  However, writing poetry has never been my forte.  I have been told my whole life that I’m a talented writer, but I’m not a poet; at least I know it.  It’s too precise and regimented for my right brain.  In spite of my fear of writing poetry, I know I need to follow the Writing Project’s philosophy of writing along with the students.  I will, after all, be working with the Writing Project as part of my Ph.D. assistantship this fall, and I’ve been involved with Kennesaw State’s Writing Project for several years.  So last year, I attempted to write a Rambling Biography, one of the poetry assignments we gave the students at camp last year and will give them again tomorrow.  This assignment is truly part poetry, part memoir, a prose poem of sorts.  Perhaps that’s why I gravitate toward it, as I’m much better at writing memoir than I am at writing poetry.  Below is my Rambling Biography.  If you want a copy of it to do with your students, let me know and I’ll send it to you:

Margaret Ann’s Rambling Autobiography

I was born in Flint, Michigan, in the early 1980s, when girls still played with barbie dolls, my little ponies, and Rainbow Brite. Even when I was a college student at the turn of the
century, I wore my Rainbow Brite t-shirt. Rainbow Brite still reminds me that the world sparkles and that there is such a place as somewhere over the rainbow, at least in my imagination. Even now, as I enter my early 30s, I wear my Rainbow Brite costume to parties. People think that Shira and GI Jane are the strong women, but I think there’s power
in making the world sparkle and other people smile. I am from a family of intellectuals, but really, I am the daughter of Imagination and Emotion. That’s why I like to write stories about both my world and the imaginary world, in hopes that I can teach others that we need
sparkles and rainbows in a world of black and white. Willy Wonka was right when he told Charlie that there’s no better life than the world of the imagination. Sometimes, I wish I could stay in that world, but really, I need to bring Imagination to the real world to show the
world of black and white its colors, beauty, and love.

No, my poem does not have line breaks, or rhyme, or any kind of meter or rhythm.  It is more free spirited, like the person who wrote it.  But, I think it says a lot about who I am and what makes me tick.  My friend Annie once told me that I have a poet’s soul, and I think she’s right.  I think I will just write poems my own way, just like I do a lot of other things in my life.  I really don’t care if it doesn’t have as much structure to it, so long as it makes the point.  Maybe it’s not really about faking it until you make it; maybe it’s about making it work for you.

There are many other things in this world that I’m not naturally good at, besides writing poetry.  I am not, and have never been, an athlete.  The athletic genes that went to my grandfathers and to my dad mostly skipped me, unfortunately.  However, I did find that I was actually a pretty good distance runner.  I used to win races, until I eventually messed up my ankle joints.  Even though I don’t run as much as I used to, I still use my endurance to take spin classes, to swim, and to pound away at the elliptical machine.  Maybe it’s not about faking it until I make it.  I know I am not good at team sports and that I am going to miss most baseball pitches thrown at me.  So, I’ve found the athletic activities that work for me.

I’ve always liked being around people, but I am horribly, horribly shy in new situations.  Even when I was a young child, I was a paradox.  When I was on vacation with my parents, I used to go up to random people and wave at them.  My parents said my friendliness made them proud.  It probably helped that I had them there as a security blanket.  However, my mom also loves to tell the story about the first day she took me to gym and swim at the YWCA.  Apparently, I cried the whole time the first day, even though everyone around us was very encouraging of me climbing the stairs, swimming in the water, and kicking the baby ball.  Later on in my gym and swim career, though, Mom is holding my hand while I happily dance and swim.  It wasn’t about me faking it until I made it because frankly, I’m just not the sort of person who can fake emotions.  It was about me having the support I needed to push through, even when I was afraid to try something new, cross into a new territory, so to say.  Even today, as a young adult professional, formal dinners and big parties of people I don’t know terrify me. To copy a friend’s description of herself, “I’m ADHD and a total nerd,” so I worry about how I come off to people I have just met. Yet I’ve learned to look for the friendly face, the soul with whom for some unspoken reason, I can form a connection.  Also, it helps that I’ve gotten involved with several writers’ communities.  Those folks and their friends seem to speak my language. The more I’ve learned to talk to people I don’t know, the better I’ve gotten at it, even though it still doesn’t come naturally to me.  Instead of faking it until I made it, I learned strategies that worked for me.

Perhaps you’re a person who has always wanted to write, yet you haven’t had the courage to try.  Believe me, I of all people know how scary it can be to try something new, be vulnerable, cross into a new territory.  It isn’t easy for me either; a part of me is still the shy middle school girl who didn’t like to ask new people if she could sit with them at lunch.  My chorus and theater years helped me overcome some of that, but it’s still there.  However, while a new challenge can be scary, it’s also very rewarding.  And if one form of writing doesn’t work for you, try another.  The only “B” I got the first semester of junior year in college was in my poetry class.  I was mad at the time because if it hadn’t been for a poetry class taught by a well-meaning, but sometimes arrogant young man of khakis and pretentious sweaters, I would have made president’s list that semester rather than dean’s list.  However, now I’m glad I had that experience because it helped me to improve my poetry writing skills and to realize that I have the imagination to be a good writer; I just needed to work on the form and craft.  I eventually took more classes in nonfiction and fiction and fared much better, in part because my poetry teacher and classmates pushed me to be better.  Sometimes, the people you get the most angry with in a present situation are the ones you will later realize pushed you to be better.  Therefore, don’t be afraid to try it, stumble and fall, and try again.  At the very least, you’ll find a new way to express your emotions and to get to know yourself better.