Starting Writing Boot Camp

Taking Necessary Steps to Hone My Writing Skills

                I recently enrolled in a writing boot camp hosted by a local author, pastor, and friend, Dr. Kris Erskine.  I have been writing most of my life, but I have never taken a class specifically focused on writing as a skill.  The first night of the course involved itself with conceptualizing the writing process.  As a group activity, we each told what we had to eat that day.  Then we retold using descriptors to paint a picture of what we had eaten in such a way that it “draws the reader into our world,” making them a part of the experience.  The first session concluded with a homework assignment consisting of three questions designed to strengthen the conceptualization process and dig deep into our motivation, intents, and messaging.   The questions were, “Why are you really writing?” “Why should anyone read it?” and “What tools are you using?”

Elaboration on the third question explained the terms “personal pin,” “pacifying pencil,” and “pseudo marker,” all methods of messaging that are catalysts for assisting the writer in find their voice.  The personal pin is writing that tells of the author’s personal experience. Autobiographies and stories of personal experiences are examples of the personal pen. It is transparent and can be scary because it invites possible judgment and engages the reader in an intimate relationship with the writer.  The pacifying pencil utilizes inspiration, enlightenment, and encouragement to assist the reader move through difficult times, situations, or circumstances.  Guided journals, self-help books, and devotionals fall into this group. The pseudo marker writing style is fictional.  Whether based on facts or solely dependent on the writer’s imagination, the pseudo marker is writing that requires the ability to paint a word picture with broad strokes.  Historical fiction, generational fiction, and fantasy come to mind.

Why Are You Really Writing?

My first memory of writing is a message to my first-grade teacher Mrs. Jordan.  She was my teacher in the newly established summer program in my area known as Head Start the summer before entering first grade.   Then in the fall, I was assigned to her class. I had fallen in love with her and had a swelling sensation in my heart to let her know how I felt.  One day, while some of the other children were playing outside the classroom during recess, Mrs. Jordan and her aide stood by the window to watch.  I decided to stay inside and practice my handwriting.   I remember a couple of other students were in the classroom, but I don’t know what they were doing.  My chance to express to Mrs. Jordan how I felt had arrived.   I couldn’t hold it any longer.  I put pencil to paper and wrote, “I love Mrs. Jordan.” I was so proud of myself and knew Mrs. Jordan would be proud of me too.  The page appeared to need some more sentences on it, so I continued. “I love my Mother.” “I love my Daddy.” Okay, now let me see if I can write two more sentences to fill the page. “I love my Grandmother.” “I love my Granddaddy.”

With the entire page full with my first-grade handwriting, neat and every letter between the appropriate lines with the correct punctuation, I rose from my desk and gave the message to Mrs. Jordan. She was astonished that I could spell such  big words.  She showed the page to her classroom aid and bragged about how I spelled “grandmother” and “granddaddy.” She looked down at me and said, “I love you too.” I was walking on air.  Mrs. Jordan loved me too, she was proud of me, and I could write!   Then I knew that writing was something special inside me.

Throughout my childhood, when I had something important to say, I would write it.  My parents often received letters from me when I had something pressing I needed to express but was afraid of how they would react.  These letters were expressions of how I felt when parents did not spend much time deliberating children’s feelings.  I was a member of the “children are to be seen but not heard” generation.  Even as a youngster, I reasoned that that was foolishness and was determined to be seen and heard.  Letters were how I kept in contact with my cousin Connie who lived in Detroit. There’s a certain exhilaration that accompanies the completion of a heartfelt letter to a loved one, placing a stamp on the envelope, placing it in the mailbox, lifting the red flag, and coming later to find the flag down.  Your letter is on a journey, and the thought of the excitement the receiver will experience upon opening it causes the corners of your mouth to turn upward.  For weeks, every moment of every day is filled with joyful anticipation as you await your recipient’s reply.

Throughout my life, letters, poems, and prose have served as a release valve for feelings and thoughts that would otherwise cause me to burst.  Words have become my closest friends.  Books that express the ideas and views of others surround me. Pieces of paper, large and small, bound and loose that express my mind’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions also encircle me.  Whether or not others read anything that I write, which I hope they do, I must place the words that overflow from my heart and mind onto paper.  To do otherwise is torment.

Why Should Anyone Read What I Write?

                 Human beings are connected and have an insatiable need to express themselves, be seen and heard, and have their thoughts and expression respected.  Reading enriches our lives and provokes our thoughts.  My newest writing project targets teachers.  Once again, thoughts and feelings about the role of teachers in the lives of children in general and Black children, in particular, have pushed me to pin a book that offers insight, encouragement, and inspiration as they endeavor to engage one of the most difficult tasks known to humanity.  Being a teacher/administrator for twenty-five years, I have gleaned some insight and collected some experiences that might be useful to teachers.  Much of what teachers learn in professional development centers on instruction and learning outcomes.  Since teaching consists of more than instruction, someone must share insight concerning its other aspects.  The complexity of education makes it necessary for encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration to come from a colleague.  We are confronting the COVID-19 pandemic,  social discord, and economic distress during this time of global unrest. Teachers find themselves in uncharted waters trying to navigate students to understand the world in which we find ourselves. Students look to teachers for answers to upcoming exams and information and insight that assists them in discovering life solutions.  I hope that my newest project will serve to support teachers in their journey.

What Tools Am I Using?

                Endeavoring in my public writing to inspire humans towards continued greatness, I write with a pacifying pencil.  I do not attempt to provide all the answers to a particular problem or question.  Instead, I offer my insight and experiences to encourage others who may find themselves in a similar position while attempting to navigate efficaciously through life.  I strive to push people to think and think again and move forward.  Years ago, I took a test that revealed what is known as strength strands.  These are areas in a person’s life from which they lead.  The examination revealed that one of my major strength strands is maximizer.  A maximizer influence people to move from a position of “good” to “great.” One of the most challenging leadership tasks is to get someone who has moved from “bad” to “good” to continue the course to greatness.  This leader must wield their influence to encourage, inspire, and provide specific support so that followers chart their unique course to success.  The pacifying pencil writes nothing indelible; instead, it provides information and insight that can be adjusted and personalized for the reader’s benefit.

                Ten weeks is the timeframe dedicated to this writing course.  I am excited to learn specific writing methods and develop skill sets to enhance my writing ability.  I am equally looking forward to interacting with the other participants in this class.  Something extraordinary is about to happen.  New writers are immerging, and the world is about to be transformed. 

Rainy Day Writing

                 While looking through some papers of things I had written in the past, I discovered a piece of notebook paper dated 6/25/2019.  On it was the description of a dream.  The page underneath it was a dream I recorded on 6/28/2019.  It read, “I had a dream. Oscar was whole, and we were happy.”  I burst into tears.  I remember this dream vividly.  I thought it was a message of hope that although my husband appeared to be debilitating, he would somehow miraculously recover.  Six months and two days after recording this dream, my husband died in a hospital ICU on a ventilator.  He had contracted pneumonia again and, with his other health conditions, would not recover.  A part of me believes it was COVID-19 related even though COVID-19 was not yet an identified diagnosis.  At any rate, my husband left me that day.  I am grateful that the night before coming to the hospital, our last words to each other were, “I love you,” the last words I would ever hear him say.

                I held out every hope that by some miracle, my husband would fully recover from every ailment and raise from his sickbed whole and complete, a testimony to the power of our God.  Alas, that was not our reality.  On December 26, 2019, I said goodbye to my husband and partner of twenty-six years.  He had fought long and hard, and the toil was evident.  I believe in Jesus, who raised people from the dead, yet my husband died.  I also believe in a Christ who welcomes those who wish to return to their true home of origin after completing their earthly assignment. 

                Oscar lived a vibrant life.  One of the doctors who treated him in the ICU during his final days explained that although his chronological age was sixty-seven, his body showed the age of someone over age one-hundred.  All of that was not the result of sickness and disease.  It resulted from a man determined to accomplish all he was sent to earth to do and believed that he only had a short time to do it.  I am amazed how he extracted one hundred years worth of life out of sixty-seven.  I imagine he was tired.

                As I reflect on some of our conversations regarding the goals and desires my husband wanted for his life, I can honestly attest that he saw them come to pass.  He wanted to join the army and be a hero.  He joined the military and received a commendation for service and an honorable discharge.  He wanted to be what he described as a “good man” and be a husband and father.  He accomplished that twice, even raising children that were not biologically his.   Being a believer in God and serving Jesus was not something Oscar bragged about but demonstrated in his willingness to help others and his refusal to turn a blind eye to injustice.  When his mother refused to allow him to march with other students in downtown Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement,  he worked to register people to vote.  In a former coal mining community where many people were renovating the houses they rented from the coal company, Oscar built his own home from the ground.  He endeavored to seek higher education and graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education.  With this degree, he served the students of several Birmingham City Schools as an art teacher.  Full of life and faith, Oscar made others laugh, see life for the joy that it could be, and counseled many to stay the course. He often recounted how he believed God had called him to preach, but he did not want to do that.  Never donning a pulpit, Oscar delivered a message of faith in God through his love for people and his desire to see everyone do well.   I imagine that in his final days as he lay in that hospital bed, Oscar recounted the events of his life and was satisfied with what he had accomplished.  And with that and God’s inviting approval, he left.

                Now Oscar is whole and happy.  His life on earth was complete, and he took up a great deal of space in mine.  I miss him dearly.  When I think of him, I remember how he loved life and lived it to the full, true to his authenticity; his only competition was himself.  Each stage of his life saw him evolve into a glorious human being.  He elevated others, and God promoted him.  Today and for all eternity, Oscar is whole and happy.  Although we are not together today and for all eternity, I am complete and determined to be happy.