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.