(60) Don’t Force It


Today I have really not been in the mood to write.

Here I am on Day 60, with over 300 more days to fill these pages. I cannot help but take a close look at the process and then I remember: Do the next write thing!

I knew I had to write, so I considered many different topics.  I have things I want to write about.


I am reading Nick Hornby’s Songbook, which is his collection of essays on various songs. I have already produced a rather large collection of essays about songs, and even a couple of albums. It is one of my favorite things to write. In fact, I have a backlog of songs I want to write about:

“And When I Die” (Laura Nyro)

“Me and Bobby McGee”  (Kris Kristofferson)

“Mystic Highway” and “Wrote a Song for Everyone”  (John Fogerty)

But not today.

We started planning our vacation.  I briefly considered writing about it.


Then I picked up the Creative Whack Pack — the cards that give helpful creative advice — and I pulled a card that said Don’t Force It.

Truly the best advice I could have gotten today.  The card has a little story on it, of an architect who created a cluster of office buildings, but provided for no walkway between them. He just put in a large green grassy space.  A year later, the paths were put in, based on how the grass was worn down by walkers.

The questions on this card:  What are you forcing? Where can you ease off?

Today I would have forced myself to write about one of the songs, or would have bored everyone with my vacation plans. Instead I decided that this is the process of blogging — not forcing.  By the way, it is the process of teaching as well. I have already decided that after a few weeks of “forcing” writing practice, tomorrow is going to be much more relaxed in my class.  I have my students’ essays here from last Thursday.  I haven’t even begun to look at them.  Yes, they need a grade. But there is no more forcing the issue on this writing test coming up.  They are as ready as they will be.

This is where I ease off, and we go back to discovering incredible stories, meaningful novels, the poetry of Langston Hughes and the musical traditions it evokes, and lots of joyful writing.

I listened to an interview with my mentor Michael Meade yesterday morning.  It was 45 minutes of remembering what teaching is through his wise words. (Yes, whenever we feel the pressures of test prep, we forget what it means to really teach.)

Michael said:

A teacher is one who slows the flood of knowledge down. A teacher stands in the waterfall and slows it down so those not familiar with that knowledge can drink it in and receive that knowledge. This is worth knowing. Knowledge is pouring into the world and is always at our fingertips.

When standing in a waterfall, there is simply nothing to force. It is all around us, soaking us, and making us enter its spirit.

I am easing off.  With the 60-some days I have left with my students, I will be the teacher they need.  That will be the one who stops the surrounding noise long enough for them to hear something — that something being just exactly what they need to hear. We will enter the spirit of the story, the song, the poem, the words on the notebook page. We will discover the knowledge right there at our fingertips, free for the taking.

And that, readers, is what I needed to hear today.


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