Poetry Therapy: Morgan Harper Nichols

For nearly two months now, I’ve been reeling in change and adjusting poorly. To go from one job where you were such an expert that you felt bored, to another that is totally new to you is intimidating. I have felt completely lost for about 5 weeks now, and I am just beginning to see through the haze.

Discovering the visual poetry of Morgan Harper Nichols helped me feel less alone in my failure. I first heard her over a podcast, and her voice is so soothing and reassuring… It is sometimes the only thing that can overpower the inner voice that keeps tearing me down.

In case you’re feeling lost or a little bit like a failure like I am, here are a few of her pieces.

You can find more of her pieces on Instagram @morganharpernichols. If you have another artist that inspires you, comment and share!

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Special

Copy of Shitty

This is part of an occasional series in which I practice my fiction writing skills. Read more information on this project here.

Helena Fair of Smithton, Ohio always thought she would be special. As a child, she had read so many stories of extraordinary children born in ordinary circumstances that she waited for a miracle at the end of each boring day of her life.

She waited until she was forty-six.

By then, her life had been a checklist of ordinary milestones:

  1. College.
  2. Marriage.
  3. Children.
  4. An acceptable career that worked around Steps 2 & 3.

On the night of her forty-sixth birthday, after a pleasant meal with her family, Jenny took a walk–an excuse to reflect upon her life. As she tallied her accomplishments, a firefly floated toward her. Though she swatted at it, it persisted… and landed on her shoulder.

She squinted to find a tiny glowing person with wings–a fairy!

“Please,” it begged, “Help me! Hide me from my father’s guards–please!”

Helena tilted her head to consider the offer, then straightened her neck to look down upon the creature.

“No thank you,” she said. “I am content.”

The fairy, rather confused at this response to its distress, lifted off to find someone a bit more special than Helena Fair of Smithton, Ohio.

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The Return of Sh***y Short Stories!

I’m about to let you in on a deep, dark secret.

I’ve always wanted to write fiction.

GASP

I know. Imagine, a blogger who dreamed of writing.

But really, it’s not something I talk about. There’s something about childhood dreams that, when revealed, makes one feel silly and self-conscious. It makes you vulnerable; it reminds you that you gave up.

My problem is that I lack stamina and confidence. I can come up with some decent ideas, but if it’s longer than a blog post, I run out of juice. I can critique the terrible writing in my students’ favorite YA books, but the second I start writing a story, my brain farts. I panic, wonder what I’m doing pretending to be a writer, then stare at my screen until Netflix beckons.

It took me until now to remember basic writing advice: Practice. Writing is a skill. You’re going to suck at first. That’s why you have to practice. I tell my students this all the time, but never applied it to myself. Now, I will.

A while ago, I wrote “Shitty Short Stories” just for fun:

I’m bringing the concept back so I can get comfortable with creative fiction writing. It’s practice. I still want to exercise brevity, so I’ll aim to keep it under 250 words.

Please know that they will be shitty. I’m sharing them not because they are so great, but because blogging my creative journey motivates me. It’s my introverted form of bravery. So, ahead of time, I apologize for the shitty stories. I promise they will be short and the pain won’t last long.

First one coming tomorrow!

Shitty

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New Teacher Orientation Agenda

I’ve been a new teacher in a new district 4 times in the past 7 years. Principals and superintendents, allow me to write your new teacher orientation agenda for you:

 

Day 1:

  1. Awkward Small Talk Until 15 Minutes Past the Start Time
  2. Welcome: You Made the Right Decision by Joining Our Team. This is the best school in the district.
  3. Introductions: Pretend You Will Remember All Those Names
  4. Activity: In which we all do something in a team because we are a collaborative work environment. See?
  5. Awkward Small Talk Because #4 Ended Earlier Than We Predicted. Thank God For Smartphones.
  6. LUNCH! Pretend to Be Best Buds With The People in #3. Also, a Speech Guaranteeing That You Made the Right Choice.
  7. Technology Crash Course: Something Won’t Work.
  8. Farewell Address: You Made the Right Decision.

 

Day 2:

  1. Repeat Day 1, #1-2
  2. Teacher Evaluations: When We Come to 8th Period on a Friday And Judge Your Teaching Abilities
  3. Hey, Did We Tell You That You Made the Right Decision? We are, seriously, the best district in the state. Nay, the country.
  4. Awkward Small Talk Because The Projector Isn’t Working.
  5. LUNCH! “On Your Own” AKA “Awkwardly Stand Around and Hope Someone Invites You to Jimmy John’s in 5 Minutes, or You’ll Eat in Your Car and Listen to Podcasts”
  6. The Afternoon is Yours! Here Are 6 Hours of Mindless Training Videos That No One Listens To Anyway.

 

Day 3: DISTRICT DAY – Wherein You Go To Another Campus to Meet All the People In Your Department Across the District

  1. Repeat Day 1, #1-2. We are the best district in the world.
  2. Introduce the Former Teachers Who Are Now Your Bosses in Central Office.
  3. Grade Level Breakout Sessions. Listen to First Year Teachers’ Grand Ideas For The Next Year, and Veteran Teachers’ Veiled Bitching About Their Last District. Also, Here’s Your Curriculum For the Year. Creativity is Not Encouraged.
  4. Guys! We are THE BEST. You made the right decision by joining us.
  5. LUNCH. Figure It Out!
  6. Let’s Sit in Small Group Tables and Unpack This Masterful Curriculum That We Wrote.
  7. First Year Teachers Get to Raise Their Hands and Share Some Awesome Ideas.
  8. Veteran Teachers Get to Say Why This Will Never Work.

 

Day 4: DISTRICT DAY

  1. Repeat Day 3.
  2. Praise Yourself For Charging Your Phone Because Today Would Have Been Useless Without Instagram.

 

Day 5: Back on Your Home Campus.

  1. Welcome! You Made the Right Choice by Joining Us. We are the best school in the entire universe. Some would even call us the–heh, heh–Guardians of the Galaxy. (leave time for laughs)
  2. Meet Your Department Head and Your Teaching Team.
  3. They tell you the real shit.
  4. You panic.
  5. Then you figure it out.
  6. Because OMG school is starting in one week.

 

Good luck, new teachers! YOU MADE THE RIGHT DECISION.

 

How close was this agenda to your actual new teacher orientation?!

Kitchen Timer Writing

60-minutes-kitchen-timer-mechanical-reminder-alarm-clock-manual-timer-kitchen-tools_640x640

I recently devoured Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can on audiobook. I firmly believe that’s the only way to read that book. Or at least, the best way. Lauren Graham reads it herself, and it sounds like one delicious monologue by Lorelai Gilmore.

lg_goodreads_selfie

Along with sharing the story of her career, Lauren* gives some pretty solid writing advice. The basics: set a kitchen timer for 60 minutes, unplug, and write. The goal is to habitually devote time to writing.

I’ll vouch for this practice with my handlettering hobby. Daily practice cleared my mind and built up my new favorite skill. Now it’s time to try it with my first favorite skill. I’m editing it to one hour of creating, be it art or writing… because I’m a teacher-mom with so very little time for all that I want to do.

And this was my first Kitchen Timer entry.**

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Because I’m talking about Lauren Graham here, can I please go over 150 words for footnotes? I’m going to say I can because, duh, I’m the boss here.

And yes, I may be using my inner Lorelai voice as I’m writing this.

* I always tell my students to use only last names when referring back to writers. But. I just listened to Lauren Graham’s voice for 4 hours — we know each other right? I feel like I should use Lauren here.

** I totally did other things besides this one entry during my hour. My one hour of productive creation time included: editing a blog post that will go on The Nerd Lady tomorrow morning, writing the caption for my Instagram image, and OK, I cheated and I read an email.

 

What mind tricks do you play with yourself to accomplish your goals?

Because Dogs That Are Donated To Science Don’t Get Funerals

I love the smell of dissections in the morning. The sweet, stinging stench of formaldehyde floating down a science corridor signals memories of labs in high school and college, of reciting the names of wrist bones and leg muscles with friends as my professor nodded approvingly.

Dissection was a days-long lab, consisting of carefully opening the animal (a rat, a cat, a pig, whatever the school could afford), studying it until the last 10 minutes of class, then closing it back up in a bag full of preservatives, just to be opened and studied again at the next lab. The professor milled about the room, advising students on proper cutting techniques so as not to ruin the delicate muscles under the skin and answering questions on how to identify each of the major glands, vessels, bones, and organs. We shared chuckles at the lab teams that named their specimens, gave them a backstory, even clothed them. If a rare medical situation turned up–a cancer or a pregnancy–the class would gather around the animal’s tray and gaze in wonder as the professor extracted the anomaly from its body.

I remember asking my professor, once, how our school obtained the animals. (I think we were working with cats at the time.) Without much thought, he shrugged, “Ah, they’re probably just strays from the shelter.” With the same nonchalance, I nodded and returned to poking at the opened animal before me. To me, this was not a pet. It was a tool for learning. I may have named it and handled it with care, but it was not the same kind of creature as the living ones that waited for me at home.

Perhaps this was why I paused when I was asked if I wanted to donate my chihuahua’s body to science. As a former student of science, the rational side of my brain told me this was the right thing to do. This was how discoveries were made, and diseases cured.

But I remembered the high school students who were cruel to their dissection animals, who had to be reprimanded by my teacher because they treated their specimens like meaningless toys.

I didn’t want my Henry in the hands of those monsters.

I remembered my own experience in the lab, of looking forward to cutting up an animal to peer inside it, without considering that it was once a living thing.

For a brief moment, I understood the family members who refuse to donate their loved ones’ organs after they passed. I even questioned my own status as an organ donor. It’s easy to check a box and get a heart stamp on your license, but an entirely different thing to be grieving and thinking of your loved one getting cut up moments after their death.

My rational side took over my voice and my mouth so I could say, “Yes. Yes, just do it before I change my mind.” My emotional side shut my eyes tight, willing away the image of Henry—in a tray, on a lab table. He’ll help future vets, I keep telling myself. Maybe they’ll be able to help future dogs.

I was with Henry as he was euthanized. I held him as he went to sleep and passed. But I won’t be there when he gets passed to a student in a lab far, far away. I write this partly as a eulogy for him, partly as a prayer that his future veterinary student will see this.

Henry joined our family in 2012. He was 1.5 year old, past the prime adoption age, and still looking for a family. We were running our Saturday errands, thinking about our whining pup at home. He was begging for a playmate. We knew of Petsmart’s weekend adoption events, and my then-boyfriend-now-husband did something uncharacteristic: a spontaneous proposal to look at puppies.

When I walked through the sad aisle of dogs in crates, “Puppy G” stood out to me. He was eager to meet strangers, eager to lick us, eager to wag his tail and show us just how big his heart was. I asked to see him in a private playroom.

The first thing he did was lift his leg and pee on the wall. I should have known then. But what my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I noticed was that he immediately jumped on our laps, wagged his tail so hard his body shook, and proceeded to lick us all over.

“We have to get him,” my then-boyfriend-now-husband said.

And that was that.

Henry was named after Indiana Jones. I thought it was clever because his birth name was Henry, but he named himself Indiana after his dog, so why not name my dog after Indiana’s birth name? You get it.

I’ve already said that the first time he peed on that Petsmart wall should have been a sign—but I’ll say it again. Because as loving and sweet as that little ten-pound chihuahua mix could be, the first thing on my mind when it came to him was his terrible marking habit.

I could not break him of it. He peed on everything. And even though my other dogs—yes, I adopted another after Henry, creating a family of three dogs—would yap and snap at my guests, I was plagued by the knowledge of my marking pup. He made my furniture and my house smell. He made my blood boil. Every time I awoke and sleepily stepped into a puddle, I would see red.

In those moments, I couldn’t see the pup that only wanted to cuddle. I couldn’t see the dog that couldn’t stop licking my hand. I couldn’t see the tail that wagged so hard that it shook his whole body. I couldn’t see that he was the only one of my three chihuahua mixes who knew how to be kind to strangers—because so much of his early life was devoted to trying to impress the strangers that passed by his Petsmart kennel.

I only saw the stain.

I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for uttering the words, “I hate that he makes me wish that he would die. I hate that he would make me think that of a dog.”

I could try to justify myself. I could explain that we were renting our home, that we had an infant, that we had few options to change out carpet or furniture during a time that we were just trying to survive. But I cannot deny that I said such harsh words about a dog who loved so hard that he couldn’t eat if he didn’t get a minimal amount of attention.

On July 17, 2018, I opened the dogs’ kennels in the morning as I always do. Henry tried to wriggle out with the strength of his neck. I thought he was caught in his blankets. I pulled him out. He lay on his side.

He couldn’t move.

It was a terrible day to lose a dog. My husband had to work. I had to attend professional development. We were handing off responsibilities based on our schedules. Before we could arrange it in our calendars, it was time. After talking to doctors and running tests, it was clear that it was time for goodbye.

But he was only eight

and it was Tuesday

and we weren’t ready.

The last doctor said, we could run an MRI to diagnose it. But even with that, it may be incurable or he may only have a 50/50 survival rate after treatment and physical therapy.

50/50 sounds good for humans. But how do you explain that to a dog?

Henry loved cuddles and sunshine and peeing on every vertical thing in sight. He would have hated weeks, even months, of time in a hospital kennel, watching the warm summer days slide by.

Through texts and phone calls, my husband and I made a fateful decision that Tuesday.

We said goodbye to the most under-appreciated dog in the world.

Henry lived for love. He couldn’t stop licking. He couldn’t stop wagging. He wanted everyone to be his friend. (Except cats. He hated cats.)

He hated disappointing his friends. He felt deep remorse when he did, even if he didn’t fully understand why. He just wanted things to be OK again so he could be back on his favorite lap. (And EVERYONE was his favorite lap.)

I don’t think I showed him how much I loved him then.

But I miss him so much now.

It hurts my heart, thinking of him in a sealed bag, drenched in preservatives. Just a body on a tray on a lab table. A learning tool for a student.

So to that student, and every veterinary student and medical student who meets a cadaver: I hope that you take a minute—even a second would be fine—to know that this little one was loved. This little ten-pound dog who only lived eight short years has shown me to hug tighter and love deeper. Please be kind to him. Please be gentle with him. Please let him show you how to help others like him.

He was my friend.

My stinky, yappy, sweet little friend.