The power of the human voice

StoryCorps Logo
For as long as I can remember, I've loved stories. I loved writing stories, telling stories, and reading stories. Like many writers, as a kid, I often spent my days and nights reading; about the age of 8, I became car sick each time I tried to read in the car...it was devastating for me. How would I pass the time driving the two hours to my grandparents' house each weekend?! I realize this isn't the greatest quality, but as a kid, I could craft these amazing lies rife with details and color. Having an audience to listen to my stories filled me with the same kind of adrenaline I now feel when competing in athletic events. Telling stories has often been one of my gifts in the classroom--it's how I've captivated so many of my own students. And now, as a more reserved adult, I tell stories by writing them down. I still love stories and storytelling--which is why I look forward to listening to Story Corps (a program that seeks to capture people's stories and present them in audio format) every Friday morning on my local public radio station.

My love affair with Story Corps began about five years ago. I don't remember which story initiated this relationship, but I remember the emotion that each story pulls from me. I've cried far too often while listening to my car radio. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview my son, Jon, via Story Corps while they were parked in Omaha, and last week, a friend and I attended the listening party to celebrate the end of Story Corps' time in Omaha. Since that event, I've been thinking a lot about the power of the human voice. These stories recorded by the folks at Story Corps preserve something unique, something that books can't preserve: the human voice and all its nuances--the timbre, the cracks, each unique laugh, the pauses, and the sentiment we can portray through tone. Many of the stories I've heard on Story Corps are the last archived legacy of a person. This video (the first one posted on this website) is a special animated version of a Story Corps interview between a husband and wife that captures their relationship; he died a week after the interview was aired. If you aren't moved to tears by knowing this, then check your pulse to see if you're still alive.

I've listened to the recording of my 40 minute conversation with Jon several times since we recorded, and while it's not particularly interesting or evocative, I still love listening to it because it captures his voice. Literally, it captures his tiny, six year old voice, but on a more abstract level, it captures his personality, his interests. It's a great snapshot of who he is now. As a mother, I've come to learn that these snapshots will be so important to me when his voice is no longer so little and when his interests move beyond my reach.

If you haven't listened to Story Corps yet, click here to get started. I listen for my own pleasure and have used it in the classroom as well to teach about asking good questions of people or to study specific movements in history. There's even an app you can download to your phone or tablet to record your own stories.

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Acts 2: 42-47

About a year ago, Nate and I found our way to a new church we're glad to call home here in Omaha. Since being a part of CityLight, we've been challenged and encouraged to grow. The word of God has come alive for me, and I've been challenged to rededicate myself to having a rich prayer life, to be in the Word on a regular basis, and to be in community with others. This week one of our pastors preached on five of my favorite verses--Acts 2: 42-47. When I first accepted Christ during my freshman year of college, I was drawn to these verses. They show what the first Christian church was like, and it was a generous, God-filled church that valued community. My experiences with churches prior to my first year of college left a sour taste in my mouth, so these five verses were refreshing to me. Here's the sermon from this week; for me, it was penetrating and a good reminder of my responsibilities as a believer. Enjoy...

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Bathroom Fears

It's been too long since I last posted here. I've been consumed with kids and another writing project that's kept me from posting on this blog. This morning I found a few spare minutes before I head to a sub job, so I thought I'd break the silence today with a poem I wrote a few weeks ago--it's not great, but it's different from anything I've written before, so I kind of like it.

Bathroom Fears

Every time I use a public restroom
I search closely for the sign--
the one with the silhouette  of a human figure in a dress
to affirm that I am, in fact, headed into the restroom assigned to my gender.
I fear accidentally walking into the wrong restroom
and awkwardly confronting a man when I am expecting a woman.
I fear embarrassment.
And even when firmly planted on the toilet’s seat,
the thought of accidentally squatting in the wrong bathroom
sends me to panic,
so I listen to each foot step
praying to hear the click-clack of high heels on tile.
I strain my ears to hear the sound of a woman's voice--
I have never longed to hear the sound of a woman's voice
like I do in this moment.
I peer under the stalls hoping to catch a glimpse
of a woman's bare ankle
to reassure me that I am in the right restroom.
This sense of fear sends me to a downward spiral
as I question whether or not I remembered to put on deodorant this morning,
and then I think of the stove in my house--I’m sure I left it on
and my house will start on fire swallowing my dog in flames;
I don’t remember shutting the garage door either after leaving for work,
a black masked robber is sure to steal my computer and guitar
and TV, the only valuable possessions I have.
Were my kids wearing underwear to school today? I wonder.
And just when fear has gripped my thoughts I
suddenly remember the absence of urinals in this bathroom
and from behind the locked stall door
I realize my fears, like most of my fears, are irrational.

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From haggard to happy

I've almost made it through two weeks without a full time teaching gig. And I gotta say...it's awesome. I've been able to pick up somewhere between 15-20 hours each week of shifts at the Writing Center at various Omaha Metro Community College campuses, I'm being added to sub lists at Millard, Bennington, and Fort Calhoun, so hopefully I'll be able to sub in a few weeks. I'm even judging a speech meet (like the good ole days of my first two years of teaching) on Friday night for some extra cash.

I've had time to clean my house, grocery shop, make meals, write, run, play guitar, make bread (yeah...I'm making my own bread now...Sara Lee can shove it up her butt), read, run errands, and visit the kids' classrooms, and after I pick the kids up from school I'm physically free and mentally ready to spend time with them. I'm even able to keep the kids at home longer in the mornings. When I was teaching, I dropped them off at 7 AM each morning to make it to work in time (they don't start school until 9). Today they slept in until 6:15, and I kept them home until 8:20 and dropped them off on my way to work this morning. Until the end of February, Nate's schedule is busy with musical rehearsals in the evenings and honor choirs on the weekends, and I haven't been stressed about it because I'm not juggling kids, maintaining a home, and grading over 300 things each week.

It has taken me a few weeks to escape panic mode--I wasn't panicking about not having a job, I just always felt like I was forgetting something. My adult life has never been this free before..hell, even when I was in high school, I was stretched thin. Training my brain to calm down and chill out has been difficult, but I think I'm finally "settled" in my new routine. I love being able to serve my family and put their needs first. Perhaps I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but I haven't been this happy in a long time...

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Warning: Cliche metaphor up ahead

A blank screen waiting to be filled with typface seems fitting for a few cliche reasons: 1) It's a new year and B) I'm at a new point in my life. I am a blank screen waiting to be filled with a new story....GAG. What a cliche....but...it's sorta true. I've reached a new point in life that is both freeing and frightening. For all of my adult life (all 8 years of it) I've been either moving towards teaching or teaching. While my recent move away from teaching full time is necessary, I'm nervous. My brain is naturally inclined towards thinking of unit plans and lessons and writing ideas and journal prompts. Most of what I talk about with just about everyone revolves around my job. I found myself today with a few spare hours kid free, and normally I'd fill that time with grading or planning or emailing, but today---nothing. Should I nap? Read? Watch multiple episodes of Gilmore Girls? Play guitar? My options were open for the first time in quite a while. It was freaky and unsettling and very refreshing. It's going to feel even more weird when Nate goes back to school on Monday and I don't. All this nonsense aside, I have noticed that without the commitment of full time teaching, I have more patience for my children. I've wanted to actually play with them, and I've been willing and able to take them to two public places that crawl with children (a place filled with bouncy inflatable obstacle type contraptions AND the children's museum) all within 24 hours. I've noticed that I've yelled less at my kids; I'm well-rested, and I've made actual meals for dinner and not frozen, pre-made junk. While this new identity thing is a bit uncomfortable and will take some getting used to, I'm looking forward to attacking the cliche blank screen metaphor.

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Recognizing color

In my experience, the most meaningful, revelatory conversations happen while we're washing our kids up in the bath. Maybe it's because it's the only time they get to themselves free of stimulus so they are more apt to ponder. Maybe it's the proverbial washing away of the day's worries--whatever it is, I appreciate hearing their insights during bath time. This time as Nate washed K up, I busied myself in the kids' rooms putting clothes away and arranging their books while I listened to Nate and K's conversation unfold.

"I wish my skin was white," she told Nate.

"Why do you wish that?" Nate inquired.

"I don't know," she responded.

To be honest, I didn't hear the rest of the conversation because I immediately began taking inventory of all we did or didn't do to make her wish this. She only has one brown Barbie among a sea of white Barbies; she has one brown baby and two white babies. Characters in the books she has: all white. I immediately felt terrible. All of the stuff we have for her has been acquired in the form of gifts from others--which has been a huge blessing, but it finally occurred to me this weekend that these gifts scream of whiteness. There are only few times in my life where I have been the minority, and each time was uncomfortable. Moving into a new home in a new part of town with a new family of a new skin color...I cannot imagine how awkward she must feel at times. I feel terrible that we didn't think and plan for this.

On Friday I showed my sophomores this TED Talk video from a Nigerian writer (it's embedded below) as they begin to identify the single stories they think people assume about them so they can write pieces that speak back to those stories and reveal who they really are. In the beginning of the lecture Adichie explains that all of the stories she wrote when she was a small girl featured white characters drinking ginger beer playing in the snow and talking about the weather--none of which she actually knew of but had learned about through all the books she read since most of the books she had access to were British. She mentioned that she did not ever see herself in literature as a young child. Sandra Cisneros (one of my favorite writers) also talks about this very concept which is why she wrote The House on Mango Street so she could finally see people like her in books. I don't want K to ever feel inferior because of her skin color...I want her to love her deep chocolate skin and her kinky hair...I've got some work to do.

So, today I spent a good chunk of time online researching the best books for African-American girls and made a trip to the library to find books with main characters that looked like K. I brought home a stack for both kids to read through. After the holidays, I think I will swap out some of her white dolls for darker skinned dolls and invest in more books with kids like her. It's not huge, but at least it's a starting point.

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Adjusting to a new identity

I've debated whether or not to write about this or not, but I figured that writing always helps me process things (and this "thing" needs processing) and my writing could help others process similar situations. So...here goes:

I'm done teaching at Burke on December 19th. After lots of praying, I resigned from my teaching contract so I can be more available to my family. It was obviously a hard decision. For too many years I've let my identity be my career (which is very exhausting by the way), so adjusting to my new identity as a mom has been tough. I wish I was one of those people who could do her job, be a loving wife, and parent well. When I come home from school, I'm wiped and have little left to give to my family. So instead of being stressed out for the rest of the year or complaining about it, I just resigned. My teaching certificate was not negatively impacted since I'm not leaving to teach in another district. Instead, I will sub in the Writing Center at Metro Community College until I can get on regularly in March. I am planning on subbing in two districts here in Omaha, and I might adjunct a class in the spring to keep my resume from becoming stagnant. Finances will be tight, but we'll make it work.

I told my kids today at Burke and will tell another group tomorrow--my kids tomorrow will likely not bat an eye, but I had a group of kids today that was pretty upset :( It's hard to leave kids--as much as I want to say that teaching is just a job, it's really not. Teaching is so much more.

I have 14 days left in the classroom. I'm actually feeling pretty good about the decision; I'm sure it will be different when I start packing my boxes, but for now--I'm at peace because it's one we made with great care. Until December 19th, I'll be going gangbusters grading kids' work and packing boxes looking forward to a more free schedule...

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