Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself


Last night you were so lucky. You didn’t have to worry about your grumpy, tired teacher going through hours of journals ands doling out poor grades for what I am sure qualifies for good efforts by all of you. For every brief gust of frustration, there was an equal and mitigating breeze that kept my sails in trim and my mood as calm and beautiful as the moon in the night sky.  Sometimes I hoped for more. Sometimes I smiled at my good fortune to have such awesome students, and I always had hope that the next post, the next journal, the next page in someone’s portfolio would show a perfect mirror in a perfect sky.  And because you embraced the moment and at least tried to be “reflective,” your grades were pretty perfect, too.

The bravery of a writer is measured by that writer’s willingness to lay his or her thoughts onto a page and find some way to make sense, sound, and beauty out of those words. It is throughout he continual culling and parsing of our language that we create a voice that becomes our own.  It is through reflecting (if we are honest and real) that we discover this writer’s voice; we discover that if we write enough, our writing takes on our unique personality. Sometimes that personality reflects who we are in our public lives. Sometimes it is a very different voice; sometimes our writing voice explores that part of us that your friends rarely see. I know that is true with me.  Nurture that voice that springs from you like a rare flower in the garden of life.

For most of my writing life, (which started my junior year in highschool) I kept my writing mostly to myself—different entirely from the more public writing we do in our blogs. When I published my first book of poetry, even my closest friends seemed surprised that I wrote as much poetry as I did. But I know that when I started to prepare my poems for publication I also prepared for them to be “public.” It did affect and shape the way I wrote when I realized there were actually people that wanted to read what I wrote. It both energized and scared me.

In my early days U-mass (my father always said, “U-Mass or U-Pay) I wanted to write, but I hit a classic writer’s block. I lost my confidence. I had never written “for” other people. It was my private little world and I wasn’t sure what part of it—if any—that I wanted to share. I kept imagining people’s reaction to my writing. I didn’t write for the sheer joy of writing. It wasn’t until I joined a creative writing class that I was freed from my fear. And all it took was a few of my classmates saying, “Hey, that was a great poem you read in class,” or someone else saying, “You put words into something I feel everyday.” In short, I realized that I was part of a greater community of people trying to find beauty, meaning and purpose in life through words: poems, songs, stories, ramblings, histories, novels, essays, and every other way that words are put to print. 

You guys are that kind of community, and if you embrace the opportunity you have right now, amazing things can happen.

I also realized that I had—and still have—a lot to learn. Writers learn by reading and readers learn by writing. It is almost as if one can’t exist without the other. This is probably why I push you guys as hard as I do with reading and writing—because I know there is no cheap and easy way to develop the gift of true reading and meaningful writing. All progress is a bit of a slog through the mud of life.  It’s why I want you to write from the heart with the skill of a craftsman. I don’t want to only teach you to recognize words, write sentences and organize essays. I want you to experience the joy of being a true writer. I want you to get to the place I can only point to. 

I never sit around and scheme up ways to just keep you busy. I sit and think; I walk and reflect, and I try to help you find what you already have.


There it is…

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