March 25 was my father’s birthday. He would have been 99! Schaje Fuhrer (you can call him by his nickname—Isi) was a kind, gentle person, with a round tummy and a hearty laugh. Dad had a wonderful sense of humor, loved being a father, and was a feminist—back in the day. He also was a voracious reader.
I remember waking up early on weekend mornings to find Dad in the living room reading the newspaper—newspapers, actually—and most often with a book by his side. We would read together quietly. It was our own sacred parallel play.
I remember the first book that made me cry—Charlotte’s Web—and trying to hide my tears from Dad. I finally broke down and told him the story of unlikely friendships and sacrifice and, above all, the story of love. While little else was stable in my home growing up, I could always count on my father—and books.
My Day Job
Many of you know that in my day job, I tutor high school students in English. Most of what I do, for most of the year, is college test prep—SAT and ACT. I really enjoy this work—especially seeing kids’ confidence rise as scores go up (and scores go up as confidence rises—classic chicken and egg).
But my very favorite part of the gig begins in the summer months and lasts throughout the fall—helping kids craft their college essays. Why do I love this part of the job so much? Because through the experience of writing a strong college essay, kids learn about themselves and learn that their stories and lives have meaning. I think of this process as a miraculous unfolding—yes miraculous—and a beautiful exercise in coming of age.
Writing has always been my best therapy. As a lonely child, I would write poem after poem. Third grade was an extremely prolific year. I may have written many pieces but there was little variation in text. Most of them went something like this:
There was a baby deer in the forest.
Her mother died.
She was all alone.
The was a baby elephant in the jungle.
Her mother died.
She was all alone.
While my own mother hadn’t died, it’s pretty clear I did not feel she was all that available during this time. So, I worked out my loneliness on the page.
Fourth grade poems were about being picked last in gym. Fifth grade, much of the same.
You get the picture. Throughout my young school years, I can honestly say that reading—and writing—saved me.
Writing Is a Superpower!
I fully realized that writing was a healing superpower after my first husband died. Over time, I filled notebooks and notebooks and notebook. While I may not have gotten up from my desk feeling wonderful after writing, I always felt stronger than when I sat down.
I started taking classes and workshops, the first one I will always remember. It was led by Nancy Slonim Aronie and was called Writing from the Heart.
This writing superpower was too great to keep to myself. I absolutely needed to share, so I went back to school to become an English teacher. I wanted to inspire kids to fall in love with stories by reading other people’s and by sitting down and writing their own.
When I was a student teacher in a high-needs school district in Nassau County, New York, I volunteered to teach a memoir writing class for at-risk middle schoolers in need of extra support. All of these kids struggled with academics; many had struggles at home. But for that one period each day, they learned they were not alone. We read The House on Mango Street and the poems of Langston Hughes and then they wrote small vignettes from their lives.
In our small class—there were 10 students—we often brainstormed topics. One girl, whom I’ll call Eliza, decided to write about the first time she rode a two-wheeler: “I felt like a stallion running in the wind.”
Their Stories Mattered—They Mattered
This led to a discussion of metaphors and how they applied to our lives—and how they sometimes made writing the hard stuff less hard. Paulie wrote about his father who “cut people’s grass” and how he wanted to have his own landscaping company one day. James wrote about his dream to become a Marine like his cousin. Sharon wrote about her grandmother’s shoes.
One boy, whom I’ll call Robert was stuck. “I don’t know if I should write about the time I broke my leg on the school bus or the time the police came to our house in the middle of the night and took away my brother.” Robert hadn’t seen his brother in five years and hardly remembered him, but that night was still fresh in his brain.
Writing their stories did not take away their pain, did not transform them into A students, or make them love school. But … I can say with confidence that every kid in that class learned that they had a story, a story that mattered, and that they mattered too.
The kids wrote and they shared; they were heard by their peers, and, just as important, they listened. Bearing witness is an honor each kid took seriously. Writing their stories and sharing was scary! But these brave young souls felt the fear and did it anyway! I was incredibly proud of this wonderful group.
Looking Back and Looking Forward
Sharing—and bearing witness. Those are two goals I have for WomanPause and for all my work in the world.
It’s been two and a half years since I began writing WomanPause. In that time, through the blog, I’ve met and connected with so many wonderful women over 50 and of all ages (even with some of the men who love them too)! I have learned so much on this journey and I hope you have gotten something from reading.
Looking to the future, I’m excited about so many things for blog! In May 3’s post I’m taking a deep dive into another superpower—curiosity—and I’ll be inviting you to take a curiosity challenge along with me. (More to come on Instagram/Facebook and Twitter.)
And I’m very excited about another opportunity coming up on May 18. I’ve partnered with Stephanie Steinberg and the New York Writing Room to offer an evening of memoir writing. The program is called “Everybody Has a Story. What’s Yours?” We will be writing in short bursts in response to several prompts—one of which is inspired by my dad. All prompts will get to your heart—where all our best stories live. Sharing will be completely optional. Caring is a given. I hope to see some of you there. (Use this link to sign up!)
Looking back and looking forward! Thank you all for joining me on this wonderful journey!
As always, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your experience with the writing superpower? Please leave a comment or send me an email.
See you April 19th!
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