I've been thinking about blogging for at least a year. I hemmed. I hawed. Life is so busy; did I really want to add another task to my plate? And yet, I was feeling the urge to write on a regular basis. Not for paid publication, but just for the joy of creating.
It's been a guiding theme of my life that when I'm ready to read it, the book appears. This summer, I read Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist.
I bought it because I've realized that I need to relearn how to be creative. I've buried that part of myself for a long time, or ignored it, or just let other things become priorities. I know that to feel whole and balanced, I need to spend ample time each week creating, just for the hell of it.
I expected that I'd learn some ideas about how to be more creative. I didn't realize I'd get some much-needed advice on how to approach blogging.
Here's what I learned:
WAIT WAIT WAIT. You mean I can just do good work and then share it? It's that simple? I don't have to completely overanalyze the blogging experience, trying to map it out twenty years into the future, anticipating every possible outcome? I don't have to take a class on SEO, or even know what SEO is?
Yeah, I do the analysis paralysis thing quite a bit.
I love step-by-step instructions.
I also love to wonder. I wonder about everything. I love to learn. So many things fascinate me. Could this be the way forward with my blog? Could I simply wonder about things and share that wonder with others?
I can put things on the internet. I can do that.
Ah, here we are at a piece of advice that feels a little bit more challenging. How to find my people?
I think we can all agree that we are being bombarded with information and personalities online. How do I find my little school of fish in this big ocean of the internet?
I'm working on it. I'm trying to be a bit more intentional about investing my energy in people who love what I love: books, brains, introversion, teaching, learning, trauma-informed practices, self-exploration, big ideas, and purpose. If you're one of those people, know that I'm also one of those people. Maybe we can be those people together?
I've had a lot of questions about why I bought a vintage typewriter. I've also done a lot of self-reflection about why I wanted to buy her (yes, it's a her, and her name is Rita), why I resisted it for so long, and how freaking glad I am to have overcome that resistance.
To get there, I have to back up a bit.
This past spring, my husband, son, and I went to our local craft story after lunch one day. As I wandered the aisles, I wanted things. I wanted big cardboard letters (maybe I can spell LOVE and decorate them, I thought). I wanted to make something with my hands. I wanted to play.
But then, a voice came into my head: "What are you going to DO with those letters?"
We'd just done the whole Marie Kondo thing in our house, and it felt really good to release clutter. I wasn't too keen on adding more stuff to our lives. Then I thought, "And no one's going to want to buy those, if you were to try to sell them."
Those were the options that I presented myself with: hang my art on the walls or sell it.
I left the store empty-handed. My husband and son, not so much. Over the next few weeks, I watched them create. They started making artist trading cards, and they had so much fun with them. They were spending hours creating while I watched from the sidelines. I wanted in, but those same arguments played on repeat: if you aren't going to hang it up or sell it, what's the point?
One night, my husband and I were talking, and I told him about that internal battle I'd been having, of wanting to create but not feeling like it was worth it. I told him about my vision of decorating those letters.
"I don't know what I'll do with them once they're done."
He nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. I have those thoughts too. But I think that's sort of the point of making art. You don't need a reason."
"Yeah," I said. "I think I'm starting to grasp that idea."
Talking it through with him and getting that inner voice out into the light exposed my mindset. I was thinking only in terms of productivity. I was ignoring the innate value of play, joy, and creating.
We went back to the store. I bought paper, paint, glue, and an artist's notebook. I started to make art, on my own terms. Collage, watercolor, doodles. Not to be productive. Just because. Because colors make me happy. Because I feel grounded when I create. Because every once in a while, I make something that I'm just a little bit proud of, and surprising myself like that feels really good.
Of course, everything takes practice, including the art of because.
After a few months of integrating creativity into my life, I found myself stalking vintage typewriters on Instagram. Blue ones, like Rita, were calling my name. As I started searching for one on eBay, I could envision it becoming part of my morning practice, something that I've built over the past few years that sustains and inspires me. I could see myself typing up meaningful words and quotes and sharing those words and pictures with people who might also dig blue, vintage typewriters.
"But do I really need this?" I wondered. "Aren't there a million other things, more important things, that I could be spending my money on?"
I would find the perfect typewriter, only to get cold feet at the last minute. Over and over for weeks.
Until one day, I must've gotten tired of myself, because I saw a typewriter that looked pretty good, and clicked "Buy Now." Rita arrived a week later. As soon as I put eyes on her, I fell in love. I had no regrets. Not one. Not even a little.
Now, after about a month of living with Rita, I'm happy to report that she's a regular part of my morning practice. Most mornings, I type up words or phrases that feel important in that moment, I snap a few pictures, and I share them with the world.
Some people have asked me why I bought a typewriter, or looked at me funny when I say that I did. My ten-year-old son said, "Why did you buy a typewriter when we have computers?" Of course, a few seconds later, after watching me type and hearing that satisfying key-clacking, he said, "Can I try?"
Why did I buy Rita? Because. Because she's blue. Because of that perfectly imperfect font. Because she has told secret stories that she'll never reveal to me. Because you really have to push on those keys, and that extra effort feels like it's solidifying the words that I type into my brain. Because she brings me joy. Because no matter what kind of mood I'm in, when I look at her, I feel a little bit happier.
Last week, Rita got sick. I had changed her ribbon, and I must've pushed the wrong button somewhere, because when I typed, no letters would appear. The eBay seller was willing to take her back, but instead, I wrote to a typewriter repair shop about an hour from me. In the meantime, I managed to diagnose her online. Luckily, I was able to nurse her back to health, but when it was touch and go, I knew that no matter what happened, I was in it with her for the long haul, cost and time be damned. She's mine, and I'm hers. It's not practical, productive, or logical. It's just...because.
I took a vacation this summer. A real one. My first real one in many years. It was amazing. I spent a lot of time with family, and I read great books, mostly fiction. I decided that pretty much my favorite thing to do is to sit outside in the summer, or somewhere cozy in the winter, and read a novel. That's living.
One of the things that I hope to share regularly on this blog is my love of books. I'm thinking that will show up as a "The Last 5 Books I Read" type of post. For now, I'm going to start off by sharing my summer reading.
I'm going to highlight a few of my favorites, but I should mention that I don't finish a book if I'm not enjoying it. I used to, but then I had a kid. Time is too precious, and there are too many books in the world waiting to be read. If it's on this list, that means I liked it enough to finish it.
A Few Favorites
Thanks for reading about reading.
I know I'm not the only pedagogy geek who went bananas over seeing the art and science of teaching reach the masses via this article in The Cut last week.
If you haven't read it, it's well worth your time. For those of you who want to zone in directly on Warren's teaching tips and insights, I took the liberty of compiling them here.
In the words of Austin Kleon, "Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you." Here goes the wondering.
Warren's Teaching Tips
1. Don't do all the talking. Ask questions. Create space for your students to speak and think.
A couple of caveats I want to attach to this tip:
2. Simplify and clarify.
Patient and plainspoken. I love this. Ditch the academic speak. We know you're smart. But can you convey complex ideas in a simple manner? That's the mark of an expert teacher.
3. Respect your students (a.k.a. your fellow human beings).
They are human beings first, students second. Treat them with respect. We can be experts without denying our students' own expertise. My students know a lot of things that I don't know. I always identify myself as both a teacher and a student in our classroom. I am always learning too.
4. Meet students where they are, and then nudge them outside of those comfort zones.
Find that magical balance between challenge and support. Get to know your students. Believe in them.
P.S. Someone has read her Vygotsky and I'm #hereforit.
5. Learning takes place in the brain, but it involves a hell of a lot of heart.
The brain is the primary organ of learning. We, as teachers, should have a basic understanding of how the brain works. This brain-based awareness should not strip our work of its heart, however. The best teachers capitalize on the power of emotions to support teaching and learning.
6. Partner well.
If you're planning on doing this thing called life with a partner who's a teacher, a teaching observation should precede any long-term commitments. Obviously.
7. Declare your teaching mission statement.
How do you define great teaching? I think it's important that we speak that aloud, write it down, and share it with others.
8. Teach all students how to participate.
We have to get creative about getting all students to participate. If we rely on those who raise their hand when we ask questions, we're going to hear from the most confident voices. This only serves to reinforce existing inequalities. Use small groups or one-on-one partner exercises to build students' confidence, and then, over time, challenge the quieter voices to speak in larger groups.
9. It's not rocket science.
The best teaching tips that I've ever heard have been simple and not terribly time-consuming. I love this strategy of Warren's. Compile frequently asked questions, whether from office hours or student emails, and distribute to the class.
10. Great teaching is a journey, not a destination.
A cliche? Absolutely. Also true.
Lecturing at students can often feel safer at first — easier. To me, the willingness to try new strategies is the mark of a great teacher. And then to try again. And again. And again.
Last night on Twitter, I saw this post:
I have been meaning to write more about trauma-informed teaching and the impact of trauma on how the brain learns. That post inspired me to do so.
As I sat down to write this morning, I saw this:
A timely reminder for me and for those of us who choose to write, teach, and talk about trauma.
Before I get to some thoughts on how educators can utilize trauma-informed practices, I also want to mention that there are people working tirelessly to end gun violence in all of our communities. Many of them are calling for widespread protests and school walkouts. I can anticipate a critique of this post that argues that we should use our energy, not on becoming trauma-informed, but on protesting the people and policies that allow trauma to happen in the first place.
I think we need to do both.
Finally, before I get to some recommended strategies, I want to acknowledge that trauma isn't new. What is new is that we know now, more than ever, about how trauma impacts the brain and about how we can best support individuals who've lived through traumatic experiences.
As a new academic year begins, these are my thoughts on how educators in the field of higher ed can integrate more trauma-informed teaching practices into their classrooms.
There is so much outside of our control, but I know that how I choose to teach and treat my students is well within my control. I can choose to become trauma-informed and to use that information in my teaching and my daily life.
One of my hopes for the coming year is that as a community, higher education steps up and begins to take trauma more seriously. Having spoken to several trauma-informed education leaders over the past few months, it is my sense that this work is happening in pockets in our industry, often coming out of schools of social work or counseling at individual institutions. This is good, grassroots work being built from the bottom up. We now need to build on that on a national level. That conversation is taking place right now, so if you're interested, send me an email or tweet and I can add you to that loop.
Thanks for reading.
I'm committed to blogging once a week for this academic year. Thanks for joining me on that journey. Check back Monday-ish for new posts.