Why Write? A Reflection on Writing vs. Talking

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with a few students who wanted the opportunity to revise their midterm take-home essay exams because they were not satisfied with their grades.  As I sat down with each one to go over their paper, I realized that, for the most part, they understood the material and could express their ideas clearly when talking to me about them. The problem came when they tried to put their words in writing. They simply cannot express themselves as clearly or logically in a written form.

After talking to these students, I returned home to my 9-year-old daughter who moans, groans and complains every time she has to write a paragraph–and she has a lot of paragraphs to write this year. “I don’t know what to say,” she says. “Can you help me?”

“What do you have to write about?”

Sometimes it is a response to a reading, or a prompt to use her imagination and tell a creative story. I will ask her questions, and she can (usually) answer them. If she can’t answer them, I tell her to reread the passage, and then she is able to answer well. In terms of creativity I’ve heard her make up stories inspired by something small, and sat through endless puppet shows created by her and her friends. She has also written numerous poems that you can find sprinkled throughout my blog posts. But, when it comes to assignments for school, she struggles. Her topic sentences are often vague. Her supporting details are sometimes weak. Her concluding sentences non-existent.

Like the college students, she struggles with conveying ideas in a written form.

As a teacher, I’ve often struggled with my own inability to understand why people have difficulty writing. I know, it sounds naive, because everyone has skills that differ from each other. But expressing myself in words has always come naturally to me. When talking to these students or my daughter, they express themselves in words. So why, I wonder, is it so difficult to put those words onto the page?

It’s possible, I suppose, that the difference lies in how people use their brains. The students that I have been working with are predominantly business majors, so I am sure their comfort with numbers, statistics, and graphs is much higher than my own.

But still, that doesn’t explain the gap between the ability to talk fluently about something and the ability to write eloquently and logically about the same topic.

Perhaps the difference lies in how we perceive writing. To me writing is part of my thought process. When I need to work through a problem or an issue, I write. When I am frustrated or angry about something, I write. At times I have even written letters or e-mails to explain an important issue to someone. I am more confident in my ability to express myself in writing than I am in my ability to talk.

Why? Well, as a talker I have a few habits that I have never successfully broken, especially if I am nervous:

  • I giggle
  • I talk with my hands
  • I pace.

In other words, I do all the things I shouldn’t do if I want to be a great speaker. Somehow these habits in addition to my short stature makes me seem less authoritative even when I am the expert in the room.

However, when I write nobody knows what I look like. Nobody hears the giggles or sees the talking hands. Nobody notices my quirks and my pacing.

When I write, I become the speaker I wish I could be.

For me writing is my language of comfort. For my students they communicate in other ways. In Introductory Theater courses I usually give an option for my projects which allows for any type of presentation; including written papers, performed scenes, artistic projects, etc. I try to leave it open-ended to allow for the variety of learners that come to my classes.  For this upper-division course, however, which is filled with seniors, I am requiring written research/analysis papers as their final project.

Am I doing them an injustice by demanding that they express themselves in writing?

These are students who will soon walk out into the world. Most of them will enter the world of business. Most of them will never have to write another long paper. They’ ll never have to do library research. They’ll never have to turn in a written document with a well-thought out argument.

But then again, maybe they will. If they want to move up in the business world, they need to be able to express themselves clearly. They need to be able to write  well-constructed letters; develop well-thought out and researched reports. They need to be able to express themselves in ways beyond the numbers and graphs.

In other words, they need to be able to write.

And I need to be able to speak the words I write.

We all have something to learn.

 

 

In Absence: Wisdom Learned from the Gaps

When I was in college I had a crush on a girl.

No . . . not that kind of crush. 😉 I had a crush on a group of women who would have been the popular kids in high school–the girls with brains, beauty, and all the guys. Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect bodies, but also intelligent. They would have been the presidents of their classes, or the head of important committees. They were the people who traveled in the center while I remained on the fringe.

I admit, in what I now perceive as pathetic puppydom, I clamored for the attention of all of them, but of one person in particular. She gave it to me, while trying encourage me to perfect myself–to lose weight, to be less shy, to exercise more, to take risks. I lapped up her attention like a dog eats treats. I was there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on, or when a boyfriend broke up with her, even sometimes when she needed a little extra spending money.

Truly pathetic.

It’s only now, years later, that I am able to see through the blinders of who they were and the thrall they cast on me. I was willing to do anything to spend time with them, and I tried to improve myself to be worthy of their attention.

Of course, eventually someone would cut me down, telling me that nobody would really want to spend time with someone who was not confident or came of depressed a lot of the time. I was working on that, seeing a counselor, trying to become a better me-0 but now I realize that they, perhaps unintentionally, kept my doubts and dismay alive. By having someone like me follow them around, glorifying their existence, it made them shine all the brighter.

I wasn’t completely stupid. When they truly cut me apart I would say “I don’t need them.” I had other friends, I had the theatre, I had really difficult major and an extremely challenging school. I focused on work and projects, making sure I never ate at the same time as them and was always busy.

If I did that long enough they would come looking for me. She would come looking for me.

Many of them went to different programs during Junior year, but I didn’t for numerous reasons. That year I thrived, I expanded new (healthier) friendships, I grew in confidence.  When they returned they didn’t have me as completely ensnared any more. I didn’t need them as much. But She in particular, still needed me.

When a woman in a position of power started harassing Her in the hopes of forming a relationship, She would run to me for help. I gave her advice, I played the middle man to try to soothe tensions, I helped solve the problem.

I thought we were best friends, but learned the truth after college when She never kept in touch. She didn’t even invite me to her wedding, when she invited everyone else.

Sometimes that still hurts.

But, looking back on that time from so many years ago, I learned something important. I learned that in absence, I am strong. I grew in strength when I allowed myself time alone, time away, time absent.

I’ve never allowed myself to be sucked in by the sheen of popularity again. I built walls around myself, entering friendships cautiously and carefully, tired of being used and hurt.

Then I started blogging.

In this strange world of the blogosphere, friendships form on the basis of words. We can only trust our instincts and the words written by people to find and form connections. We never know if someone is representing themselves in complete honesty, or creating a character which they share on-line.

That hasn’t stopped me. I’ve tried to make connections anyway, meeting people, in a virtual sense, who fascinate me even if we don’t agree on everything. I’ve connected outside of the blogs as well, a couple of times in person, but mostly over e-mail and/or Facebook. I admit to being seduced by some of the glitter of the popular kids here, the ones who have followings well beyond mine and manage to maintain their momentum. I made efforts to connect with some of them, but only maintained those connections if I felt they were real.

But how does one know its real, unless you meet in person?

As you know, a few weeks ago I decided to take a little time off from the regular blogging. I needed to re-evaluate everything in my life. I am at a crossroads and have yet to decide which direction I am heading. So I’ve only written a few posts. I have read some (although I admit not many–I apologize if you feel neglected) and commented here and there.

As should be expected, my numbers dropped.  A part of me felt saddened by the drop, but recognized that people don’t have time to read through the archive of my work if I am not producing new works. My absence did not, does not, change the fabric of the blogosphere–and I should not expect it would.

However, the longer I didn’t write, the more I began to wonder if my blogging even mattered to any of the people I’ve met here.

I know the answer. A few people have dropped in for comments, or said hi on Facebook. A few people have reached out through e-mails. And yesterday, the fabulous Victoria from Victoria-writes reached out to me when she had a little Wobble starting with the words, “How are you? I miss your blog posts!”

Magic words that made me realize that I have indeed created friendships with my words.

I know that someday, perhaps far in the future but someday, I will take the trip to England that I have always wanted to take. I will wander into a lovely coffee shop with decadent pastries and I will meet my long-time friend and blogging buddy, Victoria.  She will, of course, by then be a famous author, but she will make time in her busy schedule to meet with me. Offer our delicious treats we will discuss the trials and tribulations of writing, as well as our lives and our families, and the other things that connect us. I can see it now, and it makes me smile.

Her note made me realize that despite distance, I still have wonderful friends out there. As I was typing this, I got a message from a college friend (not one of the golden girls, a true friend) asking if I would like to try to get together sometime (she lives about 1 1/2 hours from me).

In absence I am learning what kind of friends I really want, and really need. In silence I am slowly discovering where I want to take my life, even if I am still unclear of the path. In not writing, I am writing, as I find new ways to form my words and new reasons to write them.

I still have a long way to go, but I am no longer the girl blinded by blonde hair and fairy dust.

I am present in my absence.

I realize now I may never be the center of the popular crowd, but I am content on the fringe, with the small group of friends who support, question, challenge and inspire.

There are many of them.

A fabulous couple!

I Am the Best . . . But

Do you ever do that? Do you ever try to list your accomplishments or say something good about yourself, only to qualify it five seconds later? I realized yesterday that I do it all the time and it needs to stop. It is affecting my ability to create the life I want, as I discuss in this post about writing resumes.

What do I mean by qualifying? Well, here are a few examples from my own life and warped brain:

  • I wrote a complete young adult novel . . . but no publisher has picked it up, so of course it can’t be good enough.
  • I finished my doctoral program in three years . . . but I don’t have a tenure track job or a title, so I must be a failure. I am just not good enough.
  • I am a talented writer . . . but there are so many bloggers who get more hits than I do. I have never been Freshly Pressed. I must be doing something wrong. I am not good enough.
  • I am a creative and talented director . . . but I don’t have the right attitude or that mysterious drive to make a huge success in the professional theater world. (This one is more a justification of myself, when in reality I am simply scared). You guessed it . . . I am not good enough.

ENOUGH! I’m driving myself insane. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I want to be able to embrace my accomplishments and be proud of the person I am, without caring how it looks to the rest of the world. I want to feel and believe that I AM GOOD ENOUGH!!!

Ultimately, my denigration of self really comes down to my concern about how others might judge me. When I went for my doctorate, I had no real intention of entering the academic world and becoming a star professor. As a matter of fact, I really got the doctorate kind of as a fluke (not to diminish the hard work or commitment that it takes, but the choice to pursue the degree had less to do with the degree and more to do with my stubborn pursuit of education and achievement). So why, if that is true, do I care that I don’t have the job or title?  Or, to quote from Fortytude “Why do I . . . allow myself to be undermined by the very values I choose not to ascribe to?” (Brokaw 7)

The answer lies in the assumptions I make about what other people expect of me. I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I want to live up to expectations. Yet, I constantly demean myself and perceive myself as a failure because I cannot claim the exact picture of “success” as dictated by society. I don’t have a title. I don’t have the money. I have a few awards, but nothing “big.” I don’t even have a real job at the moment.

Here is a reality I don’t often admit: I am the only person who has the right to be disappointed in anything I have done. I am the only one who should judge whether or not I have accomplished the goals I have for my life and myself. Have I disappointed myself in some areas? Of course. Who hasn’t? But, I have also surprised myself in others and achieved many things that I never imagined I could. Why can’t I simply say that without any qualifications?

So today, I hereby declare. I am, indeed, GOOD ENOUGH !!!

I want you to believe you are good enough too. I want everybody who reads this to list below something about yourself that you have every right to be proud of . . . no qualifications. Let’s celebrate ourselves for a change, and not diminish ourselves. Are you with me? Well then, share your victories below! I can’t wait to read them.

One more thing, as I was driving to meet with someone who could help me embrace my accomplishments on the page at least, I heard this song and really listened to the lyrics. I am writing the story of my life as we speak, and that life is more than just good enough, it is fantabulous!

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