Tag Archives: Creativity

Why I Love Working With Dying Children.

2 Dec

I read an article recently by a woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children. Throughout the article, the author regularly mentioned how a certain little boy’s death would one day prevent her from ever returning to work. That little boy became another little girl who became yet another child. They all faced something we don’t talk enough about: death. Eventually, the author mentioned how this work contains so much sadness and fragility, and yet it is also the work she could never dream of walking away from.

Ever since August of 2013, I have been interning with Arts For Life, a NC-based non-profit organization focused on teaching art to children and families battling serious illnesses and disabilities. Specifically, I work with two populations of children: children undergoing treatment for cancer and other blood disorders and children undergoing physical, occupational, or speech therapy. I began this internship for a variety of reasons. However, the main one was due to my previous hospital experiences. As a child, I had to undergo three intense surgeries, which later included intense physical therapy, and I spent all this time in the hospital. During this time, the one bright spot in all the days of physical pain, tears, and uncertainty was the weekly craft nights. For one hour every week, I got to focus on making an art project rather than dwelling on how much pain I was in, which exercises I needed to do, or an upcoming surgery. Having a chance to put all my energy into something completely outside of myself helped to decrease some of my anxiety. Some of those nights, I dare say I might have even been happy. Due to my enjoyable experiences with art projects in the hospital, I knew I wanted to provide these same opportunities for other kids in the hospital.

Ever since I started teaching art projects to kids in the hospital, I have loved every minute of it. I love seeing the regular kids every week who have finally gotten used to me and will come up and just start talking. I love watching the kids burst with creativity, coming up with an alternative project I hadn’t even considered. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they finish their project and run to show their parents. I love finding new ways to teach the children. However, more than anything, I love being able to take in all the different lessons they’ve ended up teaching me without even knowing it.

They have taught me the true meaning of strength. They have taught me what it means to not let an illness define you. They’ve taught me how “art” and “perfect” are rarely in the same sentence, and that’s perfectly okay. More than anything, they’ve taught me the importance of noticing the small things. One little girl I know is battling cancer, and yet she is one of the happiest little girls I know. She smiles, she laughs, and she plays. Most importantly, she does one thing I believe we often forget. She notices every moment: every smile, every time of laughter, every speck of blue sky. She absorbs every single piece of life, soaking it all in. I try more and more each day to live like her, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Numerous friends have asked me how I am able to be around kids who are dying. And you know what my response is? “How could I not?” These kids need me. They need the chance to be able to fully express themselves. They need a positive person in their lives who can bring something good into their hospital experience. They need someone who cares. A few years ago, I never imagined that person could be me, and yet, here I am.

I have yet to lose one of the children I teach. The more I read the article written by the woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children, the more I’ve begun to understand that we all deal with death in our own way. How I react to losing a child I teach may not be the same way one of the child’s nurses might react. That being said, the important thing to remember is even if I lose I child I teach, there are still tons of other children who need me. Though one day may feel quiet as I mourn the loss of a particular child I cared for, there will be more children coming to clinic the following day, and I need to be the best I can be for them. Being sad around them isn’t my job. If I’m sad, they’ll get sad. That’s why positivity is so important.

Teaching art to children with serious illnesses and disabilities is not easy, but it is the first thing I’ve ever done that’s given me a deep sense of purpose. Seeing the smile on a little boy’s face means I was part of his happiness. Having a little girl cling to my leg begging me not to leave warms my heart more than she will ever know. I just hope one day these children will know how much they have changed my life.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.-Plato

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Own your story.

20 Apr

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.-Brene Brown

When I came across this Brene Brown quote a few days ago, I couldn’t help but realize how much it applied to my certain circumstances. Not just the overall situation of living with Cerebral Palsy, but the more recent circumstances of realizing that I must now face the emotions which resulted from my recent return to physical therapy. Though it would be so much easier to resist thinking about the emotions and memories that returning to physical therapy brought up for me, I know that I must face them if I’m going to be able to move forward.

Throughout my life, I have heard people tell me how awesome it is that I don’t let my CP define me. According to my CP doctor, I “make it look easy.” Though I do understand that most people are trying to compliment me, it’s also hard for me to believe them in the full sense of the phrase. Though I don’t ever introduce myself as “the girl with CP,” I often wonder if that’s what others are thinking, specifically people I have just met. Overall, I try not to let myself focus too much on all of the difficulties it brings, because if I did that, how the heck would I still be able to find joy in the little things? However, at the same time, my CP affects me on a daily basis. Every day is hard, and every day I am reminded of how different I am from those around me. At the same time, I am reminded of how far I’ve come, and that’s where “owning my story” comes in.

Though I began writing my memoir in order to help myself come to terms with what I’ve faced and to help others in similar situations, I have also just wanted to shed a light on just how many of us are struggling in ways people may not truly understand. Putting all the benefits and support aside, “owning my story” through writing about it and essentially saying “Yes, this is who I am, and I am damn proud” has been the most frightening, scariest, most frustrating and overall hardest thing I’ve ever done. In all actuality, it sucks, but it’s helping me. Truthfully, it reminds me of the idea that you’ve got to hit rock bottom before you can truly understand your own strength. It’s cliché, but it’s also true. In many ways though, I feel as if trudging through this first draft of my memoir is similar to hitting rock bottom, over and over again.

Despite the frustrations of “owning my story,” it’s my way of being the voice of so many others who aren’t able to express what it’s like living with a disability. If writing my memoir means I can give a voice to a few of those people, then I will plunge into the darkness of it. Just because there are people who aren’t able to express the emotions connected with what they have experienced doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a chance to still be heard. If anything, all of those people deserve it a little bit more. After all, every one of us has so much to learn from each of the people we come into contact with, so why not start by owning the experiences we’ve faced, no matter how scary and painful?

Wanting to find my niche of writer friends.

12 Dec

Since starting this blog in November of last year and realizing my own need to share my story of living with CP, I think it’s accurate to say there have definitely been days with no words. Days when I would sit at my computer for hours before a memory would find its way into my mind or I’d realize I wanted to share a certain lesson I had learned. However, I think it’s important to realize that we all have days where we get stuck. Though I’m most familiar with it in terms of how it relates to being a writer, I know the concept of being stuck affects people in different ways.

In my experience, I have gotten over many of my ruts by reading. I imagine it has something to do with having the chance to get out of your own head for a little while to enter the world of someone else’s creativity and writing style. Though it doesn’t always act as an immediate jolt, placing myself into the worlds of other writers allows me to gain perspective as well as achieve a better understanding of the message I want to get across through my own writing.

Last month, when I read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, I spent time imagining how things would’ve been different for me now if I had made the decision to major in English instead of Psychology. Though I love Psychology, I have always had a love of words, literature, and the power of writing. However, I think I ended up choosing Psychology because I knew it would hold many more opportunities for me in terms of a future career than English would. Though I am very happy with my decision to study Psychology, I do miss the English courses I took my freshman year of college. In those classes, I flourished. I poured over the short stories we discussed in class, but since my freshman year was a time in which I took a break from my writing, I wasn’t keen on writing my own stories. Though I knew I had the ability, I was fully content to live inside the worlds of the authors I only hoped to one day emulate.

In Ann Patchett’s memoir Truth & Beauty, writer friends Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, to study English. The entire time I was reading of Ann and Lucy’s adventures as English majors in northern Manhattan, I imagined myself in a similar place (not in terms of living in New York, but studying English and being surrounded by others who also had a love for writing). I pictured myself finding my writer friends, forming writer groups and spending hours discussing our own writing projects as well as the works of the authors we hoped to be like. I pictured myself spending hours in bookstores pouring over Flannery O’Connor, only to one day find someone sitting near me pouring over an entirely different book, while finding comfort in the silent conversation we shared. Despite the fact I now live in the artsy city of Asheville, I have not found the writing niche I long for. In some part of my mind, I wonder if I would have found my writer friends easier if I had chosen to be an English major instead, especially since it seems to be an unspoken fact that English majors love to write, read and talk about books. Though I hope to eventually find a group of writer friends my age who are able to fully understand my love of literature and writing, sometimes I just wish I had put myself in a better position to find just that.

Though I know I have a lot of time to “find my niche,” I think each of us longs to be around a group of people who understands us and encourages us to fully embrace the things we love. Though I do have friends my age who fit that mold, none of them are writers. I do remember coming across a Literature Club on my college campus, and that may be a place to start. However, I also know that I’m interested in connecting with others who not only love to read, but have the burning desire to write on a daily basis (and end up doing so, for the most part). So yes, I feel like I would benefit from a niche of writer friends. Maybe all it takes is being willing to go out into the community in search of a writers group. Though stereotypically most writers categorize themselves as introverts and would much rather spend a day inside reading than out socializing with friends (and I definitely categorize myself this way), I think the only way I’m going to find my fellow writers to talk with about books, writing and the deeper complexities of life is just by going out and looking for it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But who has ever said that something worth finding ever is?

Creativity according to Elizabeth Gilbert.

24 Nov

Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk: Your Elusive Creative Genius

“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”

“We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.”

“In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.”

“Your treasure – your perfection – is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”

The finding place of my words.

20 Oct

“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

The above quote is from Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and when I came across it this morning while on GoodReads, it really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I know after reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir that she had a really tough life. Maybe it’s because I am reminded that even though I persevere and trudge on, I have a tough life. Like Jeanette, I have constantly continued to find myself not in other people or places…but in words.

However, I’m not referring to the idea that literature has acted as my only finding place. Although, I do believe that it all began with literature. At a young age, during the days that I would go inside my closet where I had pillows, blankets and a light, I’d close my closet door and pour over the words. I’d lose myself in the words that I thought only I felt: those words that signified loneliness, being different, feeling pain and not feeling like there was a place that I belonged. Over time, I found myself in those words as I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t just confined to my own situation. I saw myself mirrored in others who, though they didn’t have Cerebral Palsy, still felt some of the same emotions that I struggled with from the very beginning. Even though there aren’t necessarily specific literary characters that I remember feeling especially connected with, it never was about making specific connections. In terms of literature, many of us recognize pieces of ourselves in other characters, and the sense that we are able to relate to them on some level acts as a safety net, a blanket that keeps the cold out, even if only for a moment.

As I began experimenting with my own words and realizing that I too could express the emotions that I was feeling, my own words became my safety net. Even though other literature still had the same effect that it always did in terms of helping me to feel less alone, the discovery that I could use my own words to achieve the same effect was life-changing. Rather than immersing myself in literature that had pieces of myself woven throughout it, I created words that held every aspect of me. Instead of just bits and pieces, I was entirely present within my own words. Within my words, all the emotions were there, waiting to be uncovered. The loneliness, the fear, the pain, the tears, the feeling of being so different that there wasn’t a place that I fit. Within my own words, I made all the emotions visible. As I removed them from the dark places that they had been hiding in for so long, they became even more real. Instead of simply residing in my thoughts, they were given a heart, a way to live and breathe in an environment that was separate from me, and yet was an environment that I had completely created.

Today, not much has changed. If anything, my words have become much more authentic and honest. Instead of beating around the bush in terms of the emotions that I have felt and continue to feel, I have plunged right in. I’ve found myself spending hours sitting in the darkness of my emotions, trying to find the perfect way to give them life. Though uncovering every aspect of my emotions has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, my words continue to act as a finding place. I am the truest I have ever been to myself when I am writing. Because with words, I can’t hide. There’s nothing to hide behind. My words still reside in the place that they always have: inside me. Through giving them life and allowing them to breathe on their own, it’s as if I’m living in two places at once. I’m living my current life, but I’m also living in the words that are written down. If one day in the distant future you see a book by me on the bookshelves, I hope you find me there.

Diving below the surface.

6 Oct

I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see. I want writers to plunge through the holes—the holes we try to fill up with all the props. In those holes and in the spaces around them exist all sorts of possibility, including the chance to see who we are and to glimpse the mystery.-Anne Lamott

Today, I finished reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. This quote from the book really stuck with me. Over the past few months, I’ve been drawn more and more to books about writing and what it takes to be a writer. Though I don’t read the books in order to remind myself why I write, I do read them in order to remember that many of the emotions that I feel as a writer don’t enclose me. Rather, they allow me entry into one of the most special worlds I’ve ever known: the world of writers.

I first began to write because I felt like no one understood what I was feeling. Writing was the way that I could be completely myself without having to explain why I felt or didn’t feel certain emotions. As I sat in my childhood bedroom at the age of 8 with a journal and pencil in hand, I realized that I didn’t have to hide. I could pour my entire self into my words, and the only person who had to read those words was me. However, more recently through this blog, I have started to understand the strong sense of community and belonging that I’ve been looking for for so long. It’s been right here, waiting for me to discover it. The world of writers is one that is very hard to explain to those who aren’t writers. However, for those of us who are writers, we know what our world is like. We wake up in it every morning. We plunge into it on a daily basis when we sit down at our computers to write out what is itching to be released. We know what it’s like on the bad days when the words won’t come, when it’s too pretty outside to sit in front of a computer that holds the daunting blank Word document. However, we also know the joy of the little victories: completing a chapter, getting an article published, the sense of relief that comes when another writing project is finished. Even though those little victories can keep us afloat for longer than we imagined, it’s the recognition we want. I don’t mean being the next New York Times Bestselling author or making millions of dollars. I mean being told by one single person that our words have touched them or helped them in some way. That’s the prize, “the big kahuna.” It’s what keeps me coming back to my desk, day after day, to share my story.

I haven’t opened the Word document that houses my memoir in a matter of months. Even though I could use the excuses of college classes, friends, work and other random responsibilities that pop up for juniors in college, I’d just be fooling myself. I’m naturally an introspective person. However, the kind of introspection that my memoir has involved has brought me face to face with memories that I never thought I’d have to experience again. However, for many writers, that’s what writing is. It’s facing our demons and learning to accept them so that we can move on to a better and more fulfilling life. I know from experience that it’s incredibly hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I keep trudging along though. I keep on “diving below the surface” of my life for the chance of impacting just one person, for the chance to be part of the reason that they feel even just a little less alone.

Monday’s Musings: October 1st!

1 Oct

Despite it being Monday, there are numerous things that have made me happy today:

  • Completing my annotated bibliography for my Community Psychology project on the social stigma of physical disabilities. If you’ve ever had to do an annotated bibliography, I’m sure you’re squirming at the thought of it. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky. I wish I could still be uninformed about all the effort and time that goes into making an annotated bibliography. I would explain it, but I’m relieved to be done with it, so that’s that. If you’re really curious, there is always Google.
  • The fact that it finally feels like Fall: complete with cool weather and changing leaves. Despite the rain and relative cloudiness today, it’s felt like the perfect Fall day. A pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks would seal the deal, but when is there time to go to Starbucks when I have so many other things that require my attention? Thankfully, I love college, and I’ve always loved learning.
  • A quick trip to Mr. K’s, my favorite used bookstore. Since I finished my annotated bibliography today (despite it not being due until Wednesday), I decided to treat myself to a quick trip to Mr. K’s. Since I have been wanting to read another book about writing after reading The Spirit of Writing: Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life, I settled for Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. After reading the first sentence of the Introduction, I couldn’t help but realize how much I’m going to love this book:

I grew up around a father and a mother who read every chance they got, who took us to the library every Thursday night to load up on books for the coming week.-Anne Lamott

  • It’s the beginning of a new month. Though this may seem like something small that made my Monday enjoyable, I’m always excited to welcome a new month. A new month means new experiences, new memories to be made, and yet another month that I get to live and breathe among the Blue Ridge Mountains that I love so much. And as the leaves begin to change, I feel even more lucky that I get to call this place home.