Build Empathy- Read Stories of “Others”

Reflect on the voices we're sharing, listening to and reading. Christina Torres (Edweek.org 8-14-19) encourages teachers to “build empathy by listening to and studying other people’s stories.” She reminds us that without intentional effort the cultures of our communities aren’t reflected in the books we read or the texts that teachers use in their classrooms . She recommended a favorite online source of mine We Need Diverse Books which provides resources and materials about the importance of diversifying the texts in classrooms. 

But what are you reading? Our society of today could use a good dose of empathy. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was one of my early choices. I learned about Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change through the story of a young boy. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was my most recent. Starting in 18th century Ghana to Jazz Age Harlem the novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy. In between I’ve read memoirs, historical fiction, and cozy mysteries.

Please share books of diversity that you are reading and recommending. I believe we need to include voices from cultures that represent the diversity of the country we live in. Build empathy.

The Reluctant Writer

Writing is my preferred manner of communication. Yet, I share it reluctantly. My fear of revealing who I am goes back to events in high school. Social media in those days were notes passed between friends. I was writing poetry and penned one about a boy I had a crush on. Carolyn betrayed me by giving him the poem and of course it got handed around. I stopped writing poems. I didn’t trust that I could have kept them private in a journal. Another friend’s mother read her diary. As the eldest of five, it’s doubtful that my mother had the time or interest in doing that. But I couldn’t risk anyone reading my deepest feelings.

A writing assignment in my junior year of high school was to create a limerick. To remind you, a limerick should be a humorous poem of five lines that have a verbal rhythm that is easy to remember and fun to repeat. I could do that. I handed in my homework. The next day our teacher wanted to read the best poems from the assignment. He started reading, “There once was a girl from my township,” and I recognized it was mine. It met the required seven to ten syllables for the first line. I thought that would be all he’d read. I wrote three stanzas, not one as required, about this anonymous girl “who gave up toys”. He read the entire poem. “Boys” was the rhyming word further in the limerick and revealed my teenage self once more. It was humorous. “Poignant” was part of the feedback from my teacher. My classmates laughed but I felt it was a bit at my expense. My teacher and friends praised and encouraged me and for awhile I wrote again. But I was never confident because I knew that my writing revealed deeper parts of me that I didn’t openly share. After a disastrous English 101 class in college I stopped writing for pleasure again.

My career as teacher of students with disabilities, and then a supervisor of their teachers, required a lot of writing and i wrote detailed, informative evaluations of students and teachers. My supervisor would caution me about their length and said “every word doesn’t have to be a pearl”. But it did. “Pearls” required cautious writing with descriptive terms that delivered facts and nothing about me.

When I retired I wanted to write for myself. I HAD to write. I needed that outlet. I needed to find my voice, and let it reveal whatever was hidden in my message. I MUST write. Even this post is pushing me to write IT. I am comforted by the communities of writers I have found that understand what I mean. Now that I have written a novel based in part on my own experience as a young teacher I am preparing to deliver myself and my message at book talks and in interviews. It’s time to share my voice.

Finding joy in being my own agent

One year ago I signed my contract with my publisher, Brooke Warner, to achieve my goal and in four months I’ll have a published novel, Freedom Lessons (She Writes Press). I quickly learned that writing The End is NOT the end. Two years ago, I started the search for an agent. In that search I had some interest and a number of requests, some for the first five pages, or the first 50 pages, and even the entire manuscript. But no one believed in my story like I did until I submitted it to She Writes Press. That led to a phone conversation with Brooke and when she offered a Fall November 2019 Publication date I knew I was in the right place. That date is exactly the 50th anniversary of the events in my story. From the start, Brooke and the community of She Writes Press Authors have supported me in every aspect of this publishing journey and then I realized I was and I am my own agent. It is my job to get myself and my book out there. I know I can count on my family and friends. They have been there for me but my job is to find the next circle beyond them. Following the advice of another She Writes Press author, Belle Brett (https://deaddarlings.com/months-publication-tentative-tips-debut-novelist/) here are some of the many actions I’ve taken. I updated my website, got a professional headshot, hired a publicist, set up my book launch, continue taking webinars, upped my game on social media and I’m finding joy in the marketing process.

Joy is more than being happy. It comes from a deep place in me. It rises up and fills me with a glow. I typically reserve “joy” to describe the day I married my husband, the births of our daughters and our grandchildren. But last week I left a local library with a spring in my step and that feeling of joy rising up which carried me through the day. I have bundles of 50 bookmarks to promote my book and a plan to visit every local library around (I have enough for 50 libraries!).

It takes some effort to convince my introverted self to walk in to deliver my pitch and offer a librarian a bundle of bookmarks for patrons. But I’m doing it “bird by bird”. Every time I’ve given my pitch the librarian has been welcoming and receptive. Last week, a librarian who appeared to be twenty-something was VERY interested and asked to look at the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in my hand. Here’s an example of the perennial mindset - we just chatted like girlfriends of the same age. She then encouraged me to contact her supervisor who schedules events in the main library and the two other branches. I did. Today, a librarian I met three months ago, before I had bookmarks or an ARC to offer sent me an invitation to her library for an event for my book. I said yes.

And, this morning before I had the idea to write this blog post, I spoke with a representative of a national technology company for school leaders. They offer free resources to support the professional development of educators. I’ll be doing a podcast! A first person perspective of mandated school integration in the era of Brown v. Board of Education which will share my story to a broader audience than I could have dreamed. My career path as an educator and an administrator is a good match but I didn’t do this alone wearing my '‘agent hat.” One of our daughters made this connection for me and I am grateful for family and friends who are helping me share my story. And thanks to Belle Brett, I’m going “to regularly remind myself that I wrote a novel, for heaven’s sake”, and someone wanted to publish it, and someone wants to help me “make the magic happen.” That magic is bubbling up as joy as I put myself out there.