Professor J's Place

28 June, 2012

Writing Workshop

This morning at Upward Bound, we were doing revision workshops on the personal statements my students are writing. One of the young women began to read her essay.

I stopped her.

You need to speak louder and read slower. Your words are gold.

She looked at me quizzically.

You need to read as though what you have to say is important, precious--not "this is just some shit I wrote."

And then I remembered.

High School. 

These kids are in high school and I'm talking like a sailor. Of course, R--, the boy who wants to become a writer, giggled and said, "I love you Miss Jensen." But I should behave.

Back to the girl. Her words were gold. Her story inspiring. And she could barely read for the fear and the shame.

Gah! The return of the fear! I don't know how to teach against the fear. Except to keep saying, "your words are gold, they are precious; you have something to say."

Lucy Calkins is talking to children in this video. Let's sit cross-legged on the floor and listen in.

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27 June, 2012


617 N. St. Mary's Ave

Yesterday, the wonderful Joy Harjo posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday I hosted my fears. I allowed them to eat everything in the house, fart and burp and take over the tv control. When I finally saw them for who they were, I told them to get out. They blew into nothing, disappeared.

Joy Harjo

Today, my wonderful friend Bluebird posted this on her blog:

Before you start climbing down that first hill, I want you to halt, sit down and listen.
I know you have jobs/responsibilities/children/health issues/money problems and I know that you aren’t sure what to do next/are feeling as though you’re shirking your “real” responsibilities/are hitting that point where self-doubt has got you by the neck and is asking you, with stinky cheese breath— “How DARE you?”
And you’re tired.
And you don’t know where this leads.
And it was more work than you thought it would be.
And you don’t know if your stuff is any good.

I have been writing on and off since I was sixteen. 

More off than on. 

More fear than work. 

The other day I ran into an old friend. She is both a friend I have known for many years, and an old woman—I don’t think she’d mind me saying. 

This woman is a firebrand. A radical. An inspiration. But the other day? 

Her skin had the translucent glow of the old. Her frame looked especially delicate.

I asked, “How are you?” And like the friend she is, S— did not say “fine.” And “Hot enough for you?” 

She said, “I’m okay. I mean, things happen.”

 I thought, oh no, S— is ill, or her husband is ill. Somebody has died.

“It’s just, I’m worried about this world. I’m trying not to let it ruin my life, but it is hard. I’m glad to see you, though,” she said, “I’ll save you a seat inside.”

She walked away, still old and frail.

These are hard times. 


My friends the poets acknowledge my fear. And they ask, “How dare you give in? Who are you to not write? To not take photos? To refuse to shine a light on what you know and feel and see?”
Okay, sisters. Okay. 

 (photo from


Come here, Fear, 
I am alive!
And you are so afraid
of Dying.

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