Inkwell

In the age of reading on a Kindle and spelling out your life in 140 characters, I still love pen and paper.

Watching black ink seep into the grooves of a fresh clean page is pure art. 

I even like the term long-hand. A term meaning that every word is written full-out. It implies that what you’re reading took  time to write and will in turn take time to read.  

Which is fine by me.

I romanticize writing; imagine a golden nib dipped delicately into blue-black ink then swirled beautifully along golden parchment. This is the image I call up when I find myself thumbing through pieces of poems or old journals and a line has caught my attention, drawn me in. Demanded to be revived.

In no time I am surrounded by a pile of  journals, a collection of worn composition notebooks and yellowing sheets of poetry  — excited by old tales that inspire new insight.

Perusing these pages is like bumping into my old self and I find myself seated at my kitchen island, or desk or sprawled on the livingroom floor with pen in hand and inspiration my guide.

This is the inkwell I dip into to make art. 

I tap my calligrapher’s nib on the edge to release the excess and take my time to say something powerful.

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When Teachers Dream

September first starts my fifteenth year as a teacher and I find myself — after so many years — tossing and turning in fitful sleep as the first day of school approaches.

The other night it was the frantic search for enough chairs to fit my students in a classroom that was really a dining room. Why was I trying to hold class in someone’s dining room? It was illogical, but I found myself trying to welcome my class and appear cool, calm and collected though the tight space was throwing off my lesson plan.

Even in my dreams, I struggle with striking the right chord the very moment my students enter my classroom. Achieving balance between discipline and creativity is no easy feat. You want the young people placed in your care to feel safe enough to share their dreams as well as brave enough to attempt new ideas and practices. 

Respect is at the foundation.

My respect for who they are and who they are growing into, their respect for one another and their respect for all that I offer them, wholeheartedly.

Fifteen years later, I am glad that I dream misplaced lesson plans or desks full of sticky kindergarteners instead of my middle schoolers because the dreaming lets me know that I am very much dedicated to my role as educator.  These haunting dreams reflect passion, committment and urgency.  

Wonder what I will dream tonight…

The Eye of the Tiger

No. This is not quite a Rocky tribute, I think.

It is a look at motivation — or the lack thereof.

Did you always know what you wanted to do? Who you would grow up to be?

Once you felt it coursing through your veins, did you get to work immediately — commandeering the Block Area of your kindergarten class for your future Architectural Digest cover or forcing cousins and playmates to sit through another shrill rendition of Whitney Houston’s  “Saving All My Love for youuuu?”  Rehearsal for super stardom.  

And once you honed in on your calling, did you map out each step that would get you there? Trust me, I’m not knocking it. I’m in awe of the high school classmates, college roommates and colleagues who operate this way.  They are charged up, bouncing around in chucks and a track suit, towel wound around their neck ready to catch the sweat from the hard-won victory that is theirs for the taking.

I watched from the sidelines wondering where I could get some of that fire, that never-say-die committment.

I can’t even manage to work-out more than five weeks of my eight-week summer break.  And it’s not even consecutive, mind you. And after that stint you’ll find me avoiding eye contact with my work-out bag for the remaining forty-seven weeks of the year. I really do mean well and try to keep focused on — Well, therein lies the problem.

I have no yellow, polka-dotted bikini hanging on the back of my closet door or some nude European beach I just have to look flawless for. [I’d love to say good health would be sufficient motivation, but let’s be real.]

You have to set your sights on something and in all of these years — more than I care to mention — I have had no set goal: No magazine cover I see myself smiling on or Oscar-acceptance speech I rehearse in the shower.

In the tenth grade I seemed to have it figured out. The back of the chapbook published as part of our creative writing class still says, “I want to tell stories from the perspective of Black and Latino kids so our voices are heard.” 

I will admit that with all of the stories and poems and school yard cheers I wrote, it wasn’t until Mr. Barkan’s tenth grade creative writing class that I had someone reveal to me that writing was a  talent. And even more importantly, my talent. I had used it to express myself, to cope with crippling shyness, but a talent? I still have the home work assignment on which he scrawled, “Maybe you’re going to be the next Maya Angelou or Gwendolyn Brooks.”

He was so excited when he returned my paper and I was truly moved by his words and enthusiasm, but all I really wondered was, Does this mean I got an ‘A?’ It was an A+ by the way.  His words propelled me to begin sharing my words in poetry contests — okay, his words and the fact that he would drive me to the venues. I was only there because he signed me up and transported me.

I did not have the fire on my own.

You didn’t catch me on street corners kicking freshly made rhymes or getting into impromptu m.c. battles with kids sitting on the back of park benches. And I could have. It was the eighties and my world was hip-hop. There was room for another female m.c., especially one who wrote her own rhymes.

No, I focused on writing novels in composition notebooks donated by friends. Filled all the pages — back and front— with teenage angst in shell top Adidas and v-neck bubble gooses.  Need I remind you? It was the eighties.

And it would be years before I entered another poetry contest — this time as a college student with the spoken word phenomena beginning to take shape, the stage allowing me to add my love of music to my poetic voice.

I stopped hiding my words in black, speckled notebooks and put myself out there. Along the way, I have been blessed to sock away wisdom and encouragement from established wordsmiths like Cornelius Eady, E. Ethelbert Miller, Dolores Kendrick, Ras Baraka and Patricia Smith. But just like my work-outs, this has been in stints. Sudden bursts of energy that propel me forward to find that mentor or create the poem that will help me break from complacency. Somehow reminded that it is a blessing to create worlds with mere words, I get up, revise poems, look up open mics, submit work for publication and get out of my head and into the world.

Then somewhere along the line, I go from running to walking to sitting and then I just peel out of my work-out gear and wait around for the next burst of inspiration.

So this morning, the song “Eye of the Tiger” popped into my head. Probably because my sister and I have been talking about not having the eye of the tiger recently, so there it was on repeat as I got my morning started. Then came these thoughts and now this blog entry.

Then I had to look up the infamous scene with Rocky Balboa running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Have you seen the work-out footage recently? The run before he even hits the steps? Seriously, I would have opted for a Philly cheese steak somewhere along the way or at least stopped by one of the neighborhood cafes where an Italian aunt would have serve up tiramisu, espresso and great conversation.

But I guess that’s why I am here huh.

A writer going live and dedicating myself to the one thing I have always been–a writer. But not the fleeting committment I make while making breakfast and forget as soon as I hit traffic on I-75. This time I write out loud, out in the open — my blog hanging on the back of my closet door like  promise. The next phase in a life-long dream.

I’m lacing up my chucks as we speak.

Theme song, please! It’s time to fly.