Tag Archives: Self Expression

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

Tuesday’s Tunes: A Closer Look At The Art Of Missing.

29 May

 

Yesterday I listened to this song on repeat for over an hour, letting the lyrics sink in and waiting for the painful memories that I knew would surface in time. That’s the special thing about music. Each song is unique in its power to allow all kinds of memories to rise up, ranging from childhood moments to moments that only lasted a split second in the scheme of your life, yet moments that seemed to have a stronger hold on you than you seem to have on the current life that you’re living.

While listening to this song, I thought of the art of missing. It’s been an idea that has rolled around in my head for the past few days. However, I’ve been unsure as to how to bring life to it through my words. However, putting off writing just because we are stuck is not what true writers do. We move forward, muddling through the words that we know we yearn to say, waiting for the moment when they decide to allow themselves to be seen by someone other than ourselves. Anyway, the art of missing has been on my mind lately. Isn’t it a bit of a funny concept? It’s almost like a hunger for something that can only be satisfied by some kind of contact. Often times, I find myself missing people who I’ve just talked to or just seen. I think that’s probably because I
have had a habit of getting attached to people and then I have always hated any kind of goodbye. Whether it’s goodbye for a few days or a few months or even a year, it’s never any easier. However, by some miraculous twist of fate, we move forward. We place one foot in front of the other, knowing that walking ahead is our only option.

I believe that one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the art of missing is when you miss someone who may not be missing you in return. Not because they have told you that they don’t miss you, but because you no longer have the kind of relationship where it would be okay to ask that kind of question. In that instance, I’m missing someone who I used to know. Though that person is still around, they are not the same person that is etched into my childhood memories so precisely. Maybe, deep down, that person is still there. The person that I put so much trust in and looked up to for so long. The person who taught me to believe in myself and reminded me to never stop smiling. But truthfully, I probably will never know if that person from my memories still exists. That’s the tricky thing about time and the art of missing. Even though people say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, is time factored into that equation? To me, it seems like time is often the polar opposite of distance, causing the heart to ever so slowly forget the faces in one’s mind that were etched there so many years ago.

Through some recent introspection, I’ve realized that missing someone is like a hunger, but in another sense, it’s also like a sickness. A sickness that fills you internally, causing you to stop and wonder if there was ever a time that was spent not missing someone. Even though the art of missing does reflect the strong amount of love that people are able to show to one another, it’s almost as if the love is just never quite enough. The love is present, it has taken your hand. However, instead of simply having it take your hand, you want it to surround you, fill you up…and not leave you standing at a window looking out into a world that you are part of and yet isolated from. Even though missing someone shows that you care about someone and that you love them, it can also pull you under its current, leaving you to wave your hands frantically, waiting for someone to realize that you are, in fact, struggling to simply stay above water.

How Do You Deal With Criticism, Writer’s Block And Burnout?

2 May

This past Friday, I met up with one of my writing mentors, Mike, that I hadn’t seen in over 2 years. It was great to see him, and we had a great hour and a half conversation about writing, life, struggles, etc. Since Mike is one of those people who is a writer himself and will tell me the honest truth, sometimes I’m a bit hesitant to share what I’ve written with him.

I have yet to share any part of my book with him because I feel like I’m still in the early stage of writing my memoir. I only started writing at the end of January, and I’ve only written about 12 pages (which I’m not exactly proud of. However, I was dealing with schoolwork up until a little less than a week ago, so what can you do?). Though I’ve only written 12 pages, at this point, I’m still very close to those 12 pages of my life, my heart, and ultimately, my soul. Those 12 pages are memories that I’ve pulled directly from my heart and written down. They aren’t changed in any way. They are as close to the actual truth that I have been able to get (since I’ve realized that I’ve blocked out a good chunk of memories due to their degree of pain). Deep down, I’m not ready to share anything yet. I still feel so emotionally close to what I’ve written so far. I mean, it’s my life. It’s what I felt, not just physically, but emotionally too. How can I turn it over to someone to critique just yet? I understand that dealing with criticism is a huge part of being a writer. I also understand that I’m going to get good and bad criticism, and it’s important to focus on the good criticism since that is the advice that will propel me forward. However, I just feel like it’s too soon. Does that make sense?

Now that I’m done with academics until the fall semester (or until I study abroad in Ireland in June), I have the time to sit down with my memoir and try to sort through as many memories as I can that I have yet to write down. However, at this point, I’m just not sure where to go. I sit down to write, and nothing comes out. I think it’s primarily because I’m not in the right mindset for the memories to surface. The things that I want to share aren’t particularly happy, so sitting down to write when I’m in a relatively cheerful mood doesn’t get me anywhere. Though I understand that the writing process isn’t something that occurs overnight, it’s hard to wait when I just want to finally get all the painful memories out. They’ve been buried inside for so long. We all have to face our demons eventually. I may as well start now.

When I talked with Mike on Friday, he made the comment that my memoir is something that I shouldn’t force, and since it is such a delicate topic for me, it’s something that I should try to not get too frustrated over. However, since the process of writing is frustrating anyway, some frustration is normal. I think the best advice Mike gave me was to start another writing project (as well as working on my memoir). He pointed out that since my memoir is such an emotionally heavy project, it’d be good to work on something light on the side. Whether it’s poetry or a short story, working on another project is good when I’m stuck on my memoir. Mike said “Even if you write a short story about bunnies, you’re writing. That’s all that matters.” Mike has made a point to tell me that writing every day is an important part of writing. Even though I’ve seen the benefits of that (through this blog, mainly), I guess I didn’t consider starting another writing project.

I didn’t consider starting to write something other than my memoir because my memoir was taking up so much of my emotional energy. However, now that I take a second look at it, I guess that’s why people take on multiple writing projects….to give their mind a break from focusing on the same writing project day in and day out. I know that since I’ve started my memoir, there have been days that I just don’t feel like working on it. However, in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve got to work on something if I want my writing spark to stay alive. There have been previous times in my life when I’ve taken breaks from writing, but not just a break from a particular writing project, but a break from writing altogether. Even though in those instances I’ve eventually returned to writing, the breaks from writing have made it even harder to get back into the swing of things.

So, moral of the story: Write every day (no matter what), don’t let a certain writing project burn you out (start something else to keep your writing juices flowing, while also allowing yourself to have a break from the first writing project), and don’t give up (I know writing is frustrating, but for the few of us who love it, writing is our passion, our love, and the only way we can accurately portray ourselves).

Are you ever hesitant to share something you’ve written because you’re too emotionally close to it? How do you deal with criticism? Would you rather focus on one writing project at a time or split your time between two different writing projects and why? I’d love feedback from you fellow writers! 

Getting Published For The Third Time?!

30 Apr

A little over two weeks ago, I wrote a Photo Friday post about the Holstee Manifesto poster and the fact that it has impacted my life, which can be read here. Four days later, I received a blog comment from Mary Shouvlin, a member of the Holstee team. She mentioned that Holstee is putting together a website that is made up of people’s’ stories of how the poster has impacted their life, and she asked me to include my story and a photo of myself to include on the website when it goes live.

I was truly shocked at this amazing opportunity. Since beginning blogging, I never imagined that it could be such a wonderful way to connect with people and allow my writing to be recognized by so many people. The same day I received the blog comment from Mary, I sent her my story. I was so excited to finally get “published” again that I simply couldn’t wait even a day to express how the Holstee Manifesto has impacted my life.

When I interned with the Columbia Star newspaper in January of 2009, I had 2 articles published. The first is basically my life story, and the article that I’m most proud of. The second, a commentary, was an article I wrote as if I was the SC Superintendent of Education. Though the second article wasn’t as personal, it taught me how to research a topic that I’d need to write about, which is much different from researching a topic that you’ve got to write a paper on for school. Anyway, both of the articles that I wrote for the Columbia star can be found here. It was an amazing feeling when I was first published. There’s something magical about seeing my words in print and being recognized for them.

Even though what I’ve written for the Holstee site won’t be in print, it will still be connected with my name, and it’ll still be “published” since my name will be connected to what I’ve written, which will also include the picture of me that is on my “About Me” page on this blog. Anyway, I’m excited to be published for a third time, and I will be sure to let all of you know when the site goes live so that you can read what I’ve written.

For information on how you can write your own story on how the Holstee Manifesto has impacted you, go here.

Share Your Passion: Alison Krauss and Union Station.

28 Apr

Tonight, in approximately 4 hours, I’ll be with my mom in Columbia about to hear Alison Krauss and Union Station perform live! As I’ve said in previous posts, my parents listened to Alison Krauss and Union Station a lot as I was growing up (as well as Shawn Colvin and Emmylou Harris), so her music has a strong connection to my childhood. I’ve wanted to hear Alison Krauss perform live for a long time, and I’m really glad that I’m finally getting the opportunity.

I’ve always been drawn to bluegrass. Since I’ve lived in the mountains since August, I’ve gotten an even broader view of “mountain music.” However, for me, bluegrass will always be its defining feature for me. In general, I love music. I think Alison’s voice is what draws me most to her music though. It’s simple, but at the same time, it’s so deeply beautiful (at least that is my opinion of it).

I can’t wait to experience her music live. I talked to a friend a few months back who’s seen her live, and she said that the concert was simply magical. However, I’d expect no less from Alison Krauss. I was watching an interview she had with PBS last December, and I never realized that entered the music scene at such an early age. She recorded for the first time when she was 14! That blows my mind, but at the same time, I’m not all that surprised.

She has a true gift for music. Anyone can see that. And whether you’re a gifted musician or a gifted writer, you’ve got to share your passion. It took me a long time to understand that concept. However, when I realized how much I wanted to share my own story, I guess the concept was easier to grasp. In terms of being an artist or a writer, it’s not that we want to make money (though that is definitely important when you’re trying to make a living). It’s the fact that we express ourselves through our music or words. It’s what gives us meaning in our lives. And when you’ve got the need the express that passion or dream with others, you find a way to do it.

Middle Of The Night Writing.

19 Apr

Sometimes I feel stuck in my writing. There are so many aspects of my past that I want to let out, but then I sit down to type, and nothing comes out…which just seems ridiculous when I know of so many things inside me that need to be released.

I’ve been told for as long as I’ve been writing that I have a way with words. I take pride in that compliment. I take pride in it because writing is the one thing that I never, ever feel limited by…and that is a truly awesome feeling. However, the fact that I have a way with words can be damaging at times because it leads to me wanting to have things sound just right, and when they don’t, I’m not satisfied. However, I’ve learned to write through the dissatisfaction. That writing usually isn’t my best, but it gets me out of my writing slumps. But you know, sometimes a slump is a slump, and there’s not really much you can do but wait for a new day.

There’s a quote I read somewhere that goes something like this: “Writers never have to change the things they got up in the middle of the night to write.” I used to not really understand this phrase, but as I’ve delved deeper into writing my book, I see the connection. Before writing my memoir, I didn’t understand the concept of literally being woken up by something that’s so vivid in your mind that you’ve just got to write it. However, over the past few months, I’ve had many nights where I’ve gotten in bed to go to sleep, and about 15 minutes later, memories pop into my head. But not just random, vague memories. Strong, vivid emotional memories that have on more than one occasion caused me to sit up in bed to take a breath in order to let some of the emotional shock wear off. However, not once have I gotten up to write those thoughts and memories. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because I knew that if I did I probably wouldn’t be up the next morning in time to go to class.

That’s what’s hard about choosing to start this book when I have. Not only do I have my book on my mind, but I’m 19, I’m a sophomore in college, and I’m still trying to piece together who I truly am. Granted, I’ve discovered a few key pieces over the last year: like my love of writing and photography (and psychology…definitely can’t forget that one!), the realization that I am and will always be the biggest book nerd that I know (HA. No…really), and the understanding that every person I have met in my life thus far is here to teach me something about myself, whether it be good or bad. The last part is an understanding that I haven’t come to lightly. I like to think that I can hypothetically have a genuinely good relationship/friendship with the majority of people who I come into contact with. However, we all know from life experiences that that is not always the case….which is sad, but it also can be a learning experience (especially in connection with those people who we may not see eye to eye with). Then again, there are some people that we’ll just never be able to win against, but that’s okay. We can just keep walking…because there will always be other people further on down the road that we’ll feel glad we crossed paths with.

Once I’m done with this semester, I’ll be happy to have a little bit more time for the middle of the night writing. The writing that wakes you up…and forces you to get out of bed and start typing. I haven’t fully experienced it yet, but I can’t wait to see what it’s like. Even now, when I’m woken up by things that I know I want to write down, I tell myself that I’ll remember in the morning. I talk myself into staying under the covers…and eventually I do drift back to sleep. However, all of you writers know as well as I do that things that wake you up in the middle of the night are never as vivid the next morning. Even if the memories are vaguely still there, you rack your brain wondering what it was that had you itching to write it all down at such a precise moment. I find it fascinating that something can seem so vivid and clear in your head one moment, and then the next moment it can be covered in haze and doubt….reaching the point where you are unsure whether you should try to write it down or not. My theory, though I haven’t tried it yet, is that if something you want to write wakes you up in the middle of the night, it’s got to be good. After all, despite what we say about living and breathing words every day, even writers need sleep.

A New Blog Look And My Writing Journey.

31 Mar

“Everything you’re ashamed of, all the parts of yourself that you keep secret, everything you want to change about yourself – it’s who you are. That’s your power. Deny it and you’re nothing.”-Fame

Last night after I watched Fame (the 2003 version…sorry to disappoint), I was messing around on WordPress and decided to change the look of my blog, while also adding a few widgets (or the various things located along my sidebar). I added a countdown to Ireland. As many of you know, I’m studying abroad in Ireland this summer, and I just had to have a countdown. I’ve also got one on my computer that’s broken down in days (it’s 87 days, by the way). That seems so crazy. 87 days until I’m in Galway, Ireland. WHAT?! Ah, so so cool.

Anyway, I’m happy for a new look on here, and I hope you all enjoy it as well. I figured it was time for some change, especially since it’s Spring. Also, in terms of change, I feel like I have changed a lot since beginning this blog back in November. As crazy as it seems, I began this blog 5 months ago. I’ve blogged every single day for the past 5 months. How cool! However, I owe it to all of my amazing followers who’ve given me nothing but support and encouragement. Really, all of you are so awesome!

I feel like I’m a very different person than I was back in November. When I began this blog, I didn’t really know where it would lead. At the time, I didn’t know that in 5 short months I would have established “Tuesday’s Tunes,” “Photo Fridays,” and above all, the beginning of my first novel, a memoir of sorts. I was thinking today about the journey my writing has taken. I haven’t ever been in touch with my own writing as I have since beginning my novel at the end of January. Though I’ve always had a love of writing (despite a 2 year hiatus when I was trying to figure out what I wanted out of life…which I still don’t quite know the answer to), it hasn’t always been this raw, this natural, this true. A lot of what I wrote growing up was fiction: mostly short stories and some poetry too. There were a few times I attempted writing about my own struggles when I was younger, but back then, I didn’t fully understand everything. I still had so many more questions to answer and tons of obstacles to work through. Also, I wasn’t mature enough yet to attempt to understand the reasoning behind my own emotions that I felt as I was going through all my surgeries and physical therapy sessions. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve got it all figured out now. I definitely don’t. Writing this book is a journey. A journey filled with pain, fear, love, hope, and dreams. And it’s a journey I finally want to take (which has not always been the case).

It’s exciting to know that I’ve reached this point. Yes, the entire process of writing this book will have its ups and downs, but right now, during one of the high points, I’m finding happiness in the fact that I’ve finally found my voice. I’ve found my voice in the sense of finally knowing how I want to share my story. Through writing, yes. But for a while I didn’t know what I wanted my voice to sound like for future readers. However, I’ve begun to understand that there’s only one thing I want my voice to be: authentic. If I’m writing about a memory that’s sad or emotionally hard, I’ll cry through it. If I’m writing about a memory that makes me angry, I’ll be angry. The only way my readers are going to be able to feel all the emotions I went through is if I shed every tear and let out the anger right along with them.