Friday, July 07, 2006

Let your light SHINE!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t save the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to manifest that glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us.
It is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~ Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary man, some would say a hero. After 27 years unjustly incarcerated in prison for challenging apartheid in South Africa, he was elected in the first democratic presidential election in that country's history in 1984. His reversal of fortunes was in stark contrast to the symbolic and doomy notoriety that year had been ascribed in George Orwell's book. I most respect this man because he still was loving and generous despite all he had suffered.
I started teaching writing as an homage to all the really good and generous teachers I have known. I wanted to bring to students the best of what they had demonstrated and leave out the negative and critical techniques that other teachers had used. Teaching has never seemed like work to me, in part because I get such absolute joy from being able to watch a student confront the blank page with new ideas and turn them into an essay or a poem or a story. I get excited when someone manages to learn the rewards of revising work and seeing it improve.
One of the most inspiring books I have ever read is "Grand Central Winter" by Lee Stringer. A homeless man living under Grand Central Station and addicted to crack, Stringer's only motivation was to score his drugs each day. One day while using a pencil to get the dregs out of his crack pipe, he realized the pencil could also be used to write. He sat down to write a story and was so swept up in the writing process that he forgot about getting drugs that day. After publishing short pieces in a local paper, he eventually wrote the book that chronicles his ascent, literally and figuratively, from the bowels of the dark train tunnels to the light of day as a sober writer.
Another favorite book is "Push" by Sapphire. It is the story of an adolescent girl struggling with very adult concerns. She is in eighth grade, pregnant for the second time by her father, and struggling to improve her life condition despite the near impossibility of progress with her limited education. The voice of the narrator is so real that I could see her in my mind's eye as one of the pregnant teen mothers I had coached through delivery at Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital here in Southern California. One in particular stands out for me: she was still sucking her thumb as a means of self-comfort as she went through the very adult rigors of labor.
Once I was sitting in a fast food restaurant and a woman asked me what I enjoyed doing more than anything. Without hesitation, I replied, "Writing." "Oh," she said, "You are lucky. You must have a natural talent to do something like that." I shook my head. I told her about the proverb from Zimbabwe that suggests, "If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing." I added, "And I believe that if you can think, you can write." I am not discounting the importance of talent. I just believe that it can be expanded and developed in anyone with support and encouragement.
I know you have stories to tell. I know that you have crossed paths with interesting and unusual people. I know that you have wishes and dreams that you may have felt too embarrassed to share with anyone. Make up a character who is not afraid to talk about these things, even when she feels like she is making a fool of herself. Fiction is made up but that doesn't mean it can't have its roots in reality. Think about a time when you were so embarrassed you wanted to run and hide. Now write about that event as if it happened to someone else. I'm willing to bet it becomes less painful in the process.

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