You Can Talk to Me

When I was growing up, there were still the vestiges of “a child should be seen and not heard.” Despite this, my parents did try to talk to me, with me, and involve me in the realities of life. Lately there seems to be this weird trend to keep children free of worry and hardship.

“I want my child to feel happy and free and enjoy his childhood.”

“I don’t want my child bogged down by the realities of adulthood, that will happen soon enough.”

“I don’t want to crush their spirit.”

It seems as if there is a lot of mollycoddling going on.

And while I do believe that childhood is, and should be, filled with magic, fun and learning, I also firmly believe in preparing mine for the inevitable realities of adulthood. That starts early, with activities that are within her ability to accomplish, and with many, many moments spent talking with her – explaining life, listening to her questions and concerns, and helping her make sense of a confusing world.

I thought that it went without saying that she could come and talk to me about everything – but then I realized she is young, and easily confused by my reactions. She might come along when I’m in the moment of composing a story line, or trying to sort out a multitude of priorities. I try to stay open and approachable, I really do, but when inundated with dozens of self-imposed projects (and their accompanying deadlines) I can be an intimidating force of nature. Or so my husband and eldest tell me.

Also I recently was reminded of her when reading a memory on Facebook where I had posted about her endless questions. The post was four years ago, and I’ve noticed that she doesn’t ask as many questions now as she did then. Had my responses discouraged her? Had she decided they weren’t worth asking? That she wasn’t worth my time?

So yesterday, as we were driving to meet her dad at Barnes & Noble on the Plaza, I said to her, “You know you can talk to me, right? About anything. I know that sometimes I’m distracted, or busy with projects or thoughts and I can be rather abrupt with you. Even when I’m that way, you know you can ask me anything, right?”

Em said she did, but I think that she has been in her own world for the past few months, watching way too many Minecraft videos and barely interacting with us at all. And I need to do something about that.

While a good deal of it is age-related, she is nine years old now and peer relationships are becoming more and more important, in some cases taking precedence over familial relationships, I know that I tend to go off on my projects and not spend enough time with her.

My solution to this is to include her in more of our daily tasks – cooking or some basic cleaning, for example. Increase our time spent together – nature walks in temperate weather, crafts indoors during the winter, and add in some date nights with each of the adult members of the family.

I want to talk more with her, and less at her.

In the end, I want her to know that she can always count on me to be there – to listen, to give advice, to answer questions, to guide, and to simply be a companion as she grows into an independent, resourceful young woman.

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December Homeschool Plans

Em had a great month creating her own homeschool curriculum in November. As we enter the last week of the month, it is time for reassessing for December.

December homeschool will be short by one week – I plan to only school for three weeks, and then we will take the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s off.

Her schedule is a pretty simple one, but I have added in a new workbook – Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer. I’ll let you all know how it goes. It looks as if the workbook has a gentle lead-in to writing and is probably designed for slightly younger students. That’s okay, I want Em to feel comfortable with the basics. I’ve also noticed that, if it starts out hard, she is discouraged and fights it. If it starts out easy and gradually increases in complexity, she responds far better.

Then again, don’t we all?

Here is her schedule for 11/30 – 12/19:

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays:

  • Read for at least 15 minutes
  • Writing with Ease exercise
  • Story of the World
  • TWO sets of Khan Academy questions
  • Practice typing
  • Practice assigned cello lesson for 20 minutes

Tuesdays and Thursdays:

Read for at least 15 minutes

  • Writing with Ease exercise
  • Life of Fred
  • Practice typing
  • Learn multiplication tables (she has 1-3 down, and currently struggling on the 4s)
  • Harmony Project

It isn’t all down time for those two weeks off, however, I’ve scheduled a homeschool assessment for the 28th of December!

It will be time to get a solid look at where Em is falling on the scale. It will give me a better idea for what to plan for January and beyond.

I do not plan on suspending homeschool for the summer, but there will be several week-long breaks – time she will spend at day camp or traveling to California to see her grandparents. It is so nice to have the ability to plan her learning schedule and curriculum according to her needs, interests, and activities!


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Feeling Good About It

I realized yesterday that I was feeling really good – about the parents I know, about the community of homeschoolers I know, my relationships, just a whole bunch of things. When I woke up feeling it again, I had to share it, because it isn’t just ONE thing, it’s a lot of different things that combine to make life really good.

Yapping Working Mommy Playdates

At least two Mondays a month, my writer friend Kerrie and I meet at her house. The kids play and we write – we have named these Yapping Working Mommy Playdates.

In truth, we spend far more time talking than we do working. But that is okay. We exchange ideas, dive down rabbit holes, and provide each other with much-needed comic relief, a shoulder to cry on, and an understanding ear.

I relish these moments. I never thought I would. I never had female friendships before and they are magical and wonderful and very, very human.

Lending Libraries and Smiles

I brought in a bunch of books, nearly all children’s books, into my LEARN co-op yesterday. I arranged them on the cafeteria counter for passersby to see and hopefully take, and I asked one of the directors of the co-op, “Do you have a piece of paper that I could write ‘Free Books’ on? My notepaper is way too small for this.

She said, reaching for the books, “I have a better idea. I’ve got this lending library in front of my house and the kids books are in high demand. Is it okay if I take all of them?”

Relief washed over me. I had been afraid she disapproved of me bringing the books and cluttering up the place! Silly but true. “That sounds great!”

I love the idea of kids in neighborhoods having a place to go that has books, with no strings attached. Libraries are wonderful, but sometimes kids don’t have access to them, or have trouble remembering to bring books back.

Sexuality and Acceptance

A woman I consider a good friend and I talked about sexuality yesterday – and I am constantly amazed and gratified to know such a diverse number of people. I love that I’m part of a community that is so accepting of all faiths (or lack thereof), racial diversity, and sexual orientation. It feels like I have spent a great deal of my life tiptoeing around folks with extreme judgment, only to find a world where I can breathe deep.

We don’t always agree, and we don’t have to, but it feels as if everyone is keenly aware that accepting that we will be different is key to cooperative living. I look forward to spending hours with each of them!

LEARN Writer’s Group

Yesterday one of my students’ moms asked if I would be teaching the writer’s group next semester. I answered her honestly, “No, probably not. I just don’t feel like I’ve done a very good job. Planning a class is always a bit of a crap shoot – what do you teach, what do the kids want, what do they need to learn to move forward? And I thought I had a decent outline, a decent plan, but I feel like it hasn’t worked. I assumed others would be self-motivated, and I think that takes time, it takes guided writing for some, and I don’t know that I can explain it as well as I thought I could.”

One of the kids who has been the most challenging in class this semester said, “I think you did a good job.”

The kid drives me crazy in class – that’s a fact – but I could have hugged him, my heart was so full at that moment.

Talking About Autism

After class, the same mom stayed after and we talked autism. Her son is autistic – I had guessed at Asperger’s, but mine is far from an educated guess, I had only known something was different. She spoke of her two eldest children and how she had taken great pride in the compliments from others for their polite behavior. How it had been difficult at first, dealing with autism and how she had learned to laugh, a lot.

When your choices are cry/get mad or laugh, sometimes laughter can be best. It reminded me of how often I had the following conversation with my eldest as she was growing up:

Dee: Stop laughing at me!

Me: I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you.

Dee: I’m not laughing.

Me. But you should be.

When we can’t change a situation. When our world is turned on its ear. When life deals us an especially hard hand.

Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.

It occurs to me that I know a host of amazing, kind, intelligent, wonderful people. And that I am the lucky one in all of this. What a community of possibility I have within my reach!

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The Good and the Bad

Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days, and so does Em.

Yesterday kind of felt like both.

First thing in the morning I had to be at a cleaning, my eldest Dee had to be an appointment of her own, and so with some preparation, I left Em by herself. I knew I would be close, and that the cleaning wasn’t for very long, it was one of the rare moments (compared to how I and many of my generation grew up) when she was home alone.

When I returned from the cleaning, slightly hungry and a little grouchy (my writer friend Kerrie refers to that state as “hangry”), here was Em bouncing and excited. She had managed much of her homeschool work already, she told me and was telling me all about it.

And I, worried about a host of miscellany that does not involve homeschool but definitely falls in the money and time realm, immediately questioned her on several things. The conversation ended with me telling her she had to do better, her sad, lip quivering, retreating to her room.

It was mere seconds before I realized what a complete shit I was being. Her happy, proud little face when I had come home and she had run down the stairs to tell me how much she had done – and how I had shut her down, immediately expecting her to have finished everything and latching on to what she hadn’t remembered.

I realized that she had done all that she had done under her own impetus. I hadn’t told her before I left to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush her hair, or start on her homeschool. Despite this, she had done these things, and came down excited and proud of her accomplishments.

Only to be shot down by the person she need approval from the most.

The fact that I was “hangry” is beside the point. I had an opportunity to acknowledge her efforts and I failed miserably. Instead I pointed out what she hadn’t done, told her that saying she had forgotten something was unacceptable since she had a checklist to refer to, and generally been a grouchy old shit.

I went upstairs, saw that her door was closed, and knocked on it. She told me to come in and I apologized, deeply. I acknowledged that she had worked hard and that I had ignored all of her hard work, and the fact that she did it completely unprompted, and told her I was very sorry for how I had acted.

It is something I struggle with every day – this desire for perfection. I put it on everyone around me too. Although I do expect more from myself, I do hold up those I love most to the scrutiny of that perfection magnifier, expecting a great deal, and I can be rather cutting when I feel they have come up short.

Em accepted my apology, tears in her eyes, and hugged me. Just writing this reminds me of how good, how kind of a girl she is – both of my girls have such huge hearts and they try so hard.

Later, as talk shifted to Em’s daily cello practice, tears came to her eyes once more. She was stressed out by an upcoming performance she will be doing in front of her small class of five cellists. I hugged her and said, “Wow, you have got a lot on your mind right now, don’t you?” She snuggled closer and really started to cry and I realized that my happy-go-lucky little girl has some real fears and concerns – and I have been adding to them. Instead of adding, I needed to find a way to help her resolve or reduce them.

Next came our review of her studies in Khan Academy. Last year I had started her on the Early Math section – which is technically K-2 math. I wanted to make sure she was solid on that before we progressed to 3rd Grade math.

We had a few setbacks, including her forgetting her username/password combo and there not being any way to retrieve it. So she had to re-start the process and at this point, here is where she is on K-2 Early Math…

khan academy111715

75% progress is reasonably good. I pointed out to her that she is in 3rd grade now, however, and we are nearly halfway through the school year. “We will need to do something different to get you up to speed on this.”

I’m not sure what I will do, probably double up on the math practice starting in December and see how that goes.

And lastly there were tears over her creative writing – something she had asked to do as part of her curriculum design for November homeschool. “I want to write a story, but I don’t know how,” She said, tears once again in her eyes.

I smiled at her, “I can totally related to that, my dear. Story writing can be quite difficult. Why don’t we start out a little simpler?”


“Why don’t I give you a writing assignment each week?” She watched as I typed one up and emailed it to her. “Okay, so you need to answer those questions by Friday and send them back in an email, okay?”

She smiled, tears forgotten, “Okay Mama!”

I love this child so much. It hurts though, feeling so insufficient some days, wishing I were more – kinder, more patient, more balanced. And less – less frazzled, less “hangry,” less of a perfectionist.

Parenting isn’t all sunshine and roses. The love is there, though, a deep well of it, a thousand feet deep.



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A Lesson Learned

I mentioned in an earlier post that for November, Emily would be designing her own curriculum. And here is what she chose…


  • Read
  • Learn how to use Microsoft Word
  • One set of Khan Academy questions
  • Practice typing
  • Practice assigned cello lesson


  • Read
  • One set of Khan Academy questions
  • Practice typing
  • Learn multiplication tables
  • Harmony Project


  • LEARN classes
  • Read
  • Practice assigned cello lesson


  • Read
  • One set of Khan Academy questions
  • Practice typing
  • Learn multiplication tables
  • Harmony Project


  • LEARN Science and Math
  • Read
  • One set of Khan Academy questions
  • Type a book or poem
  • Practice assigned cello lesson

I guess it had to happen sooner or later, but today I received the weekly progress report from Khan Academy and it painted a picture of a very different study schedule than what shows above. According to the daily curriculum, Emily should have done four sets of questions in total for the week.

Instead, this is what I received:

khan academy

So instead of sets of five questions, four times in the week, Em answered two questions.

Several times during the week when she seemingly finished with her studies in ten minutes or less, I questioned her. She assured me she had done everything on her checklist.

Uh-huh, sure you did.

The lesson I learned came next. And it is not what you might imagine.

The kiddo was still asleep in her room, so I headed upstairs and told my husband.

He surprised me by laughing, “Well, we have all done it at one time or another.”

Here I had been formulating a plan to catch her in the lie. I had figured I would ask her about Khan Academy and get her to lie more about what she was learning last week so that I could pounce and say, “Really? Because that’s not what the weekly report says at all.”

Dave’s response, and his following actions, gave me time to pause and reflect. Instead of catching her in the lie, he woke her up gently and then let her know that the weekly report showed she had spent one minute solving two problems last week. “You’ll need to make those up this week,” he said and reassured her she wasn’t in trouble when she began to get upset.

What a different way of doing things. How different from how I had been raised!

And it made me question everything. What purpose did it serve to manipulate Em into lying to me? How would this help our relationship in any way? In fact, wasn’t my plan of catching her in a lie a form of lying in and of itself? By pretending I didn’t know how little she had done in her assigned work, I would encourage her to lie even more, and then promote shame and embarrassment by then “catching” her in the lie.

For the first time I wondered, How would that make Em feel? There wouldn’t just be shame or guilt or embarrassment – there would also be betrayal. I knew she hadn’t done her work, yet I cornered her and manipulated her to lie even further about it. What would this do to her self-esteem?

I had a neighbor back in Belton who let her kids act like complete jerks, all the time, because she “didn’t want to crush their spirit.” I used to joke to my family that really, they needed some spirit-crushing, really needed it.

But self-esteem has always been a battle for me – and remains so to this day – in no small part thanks to the parenting techniques that were used on me (which were used on them, and which I used on my eldest, Danielle).

We repeat what we have learned.

My husband showed me a better way today. One that chooses to be up front, matter of fact, and shies away from the need for shaming or embarrassment. As it turns out, Em felt ashamed of her actions all on her own, she didn’t need me to school her in shame, not at all.

In her hurry to get done with school so that she could play Minecraft, she created a situation where Minecraft will not happen this week, at all, until the weekend. Logical consequences in action.

And I learned a great lesson – one that I hope I remember for a long time.

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If You Could Learn Whatever You Wanted…


This morning Em wasn’t feeling well. She listed a litany of ailments, but her eyes told a different story – one way or another, a day off of homeschooling was in order.

We don’t typically break for summer, and rarely even for the smaller holidays, so a day off here or there isn’t a big deal. My eldest and I used to call the occasional rare absence from her public school “mental health days.”

So let’s just call today a mental health day. My only codicil was that she could not spend her day playing Minecraft, Skype her friends or mess with the computer in general. I did allow her to watch some television, but a good part of her day she spent reading and playing with her Legos.

After dinner we drove to her evening Monday class, Peacequest, which for this semester was all about loving the Earth. Previous semesters have included studying the middle ages, Native American culture, and more.

“Mama, what is 11 plus 11?”

“It’s 22,” I said. “Close your eyes and imagine the 11s stacked one on top of the other, like the math problems in Life of Fred. 1+1=2 and 1+1=2, so 22. You could also consider it 11 times 2.”

“Okay,” she said nodding. “So why does 9+9=18?”

“Because it doesn’t equal 17, or 19, or some other number, I guess. 9+9 could also be expressed as 9 times 2.”

“So two times two is four, right?” she asked.


“And 3×3 is 6?”

“No. 3 times three is the same as saying 3+3+3.”

“Ohhh! So 3×2 is 6!”


“And 2×3 is also 6, right?”

“Yes, it is. Do you remember the word that describes that concept?” She shook her head, so I answered it for her…”Commutative. It means you get the same answer no matter the order.”

All of this was cool and she was very animated and interested in it. I told her about my difficulty with learning times tables when I was around her age. I eventually conquered it by playing made up little math games, which I still engage in to this day out of sheer habit. Weird but true.

“Mama, I want to learn my times tables.” Emily said excitedly, and began describing how she was going to review the times tables chart on the back of her bedroom door until she had memorized all of them.

And suddenly inspiration struck. Each month, in the last week of the month, we have a discussion. Are there any changes we need to make to the homeschool schedule? Anything that needs more attention or less? I make recommendations, but so does she, and together we come to a basic agreement on what her study schedule will be.

And this is the last week in the month.

I found myself wondering, if she were able to create a study schedule, all on her own, without any expectations or requirements from me, what would it look like?

“Em, for the month of November I want you to make the homeschool schedule. If you had all the control, and you could study whatever you wanted, what would you want to learn this next month?” I told her she didn’t have to answer it all right now, to take her time. But she already had three things she really wanted to do…

  • Learn how to type a story on the computer (I’ll show her around Microsoft Word and show her how to save her files)
  • Memorize her multiplication tables
  • Write an actual story (I guess hanging around two authors day in and day out has its side effects)

So that’s just the result of a ten-minute conversation in the car. I’ll post updates on how next month’s homeschool schedule ends up.

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - Choosing A Curriculum Series | Leave a comment

What Tomorrow Brings

A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the Oklahoma Department of Family Services. It was informing us that there was a child currently in state care, a little girl. We knew little else, other than the child was not related to us and our names were part of a large outer circle of people who were considered family or non-family relations.

After studying, and re-reading the letter several times, we both looked at it and said, “We have to call them and tell her we will take her.”

Where that response came from, I cannot completely understand or explain. I only know that we were all on board, instantly.

This happened on a weekend, followed by a holiday that fell on a Monday, so it was several days until I was able to get through to a social worker. There I found out the rest of the story – that the little girl had been in foster care for over a year, who her mother was (an ex-wife of a family member), and that the little girl was bonded with, safe, and well-loved by her foster family.

The letter, as it turns out, was part of the last of the process to terminate parental rights and allow the child to be adopted by this family who wanted and loved her.

We have good friends who have gone the foster to adopt route – and I have watched the past year unfold for them as they have loved and cared for one very lucky little boy. I imagined what it would be like to lose him, especially after all of this time, and knew that we needed to allow this other foster family to continue with their process of adoption. The child was in a good place and the family intended to adopt. I only had to look as far as our friends to know how that must feel.

Despite knowing that this child, someone I had never met and knew little about, was in a good place, I still felt bereft. As if I had lost something…or perhaps the dream of something…

During that long weekend, when we had allowed ourselves to imagine a little one in the house, I had questioned my husband, who I had never imagined would be interested in becoming a foster parent, why he was so obviously willing. He said, “If we aren’t part of the solution, than we are part of the problem.”

Yeah…well he has a point there…and those words have stuck with me…

Later, a week or so later, we talked again about fostering, specifically fostering to adopt. We are a couple of years out on this, Dave wants to be more financially stable, and I can’t help but agree with that. Whether that will mean starting over with a newborn to preschool-age child, or choosing a child who is around the age that Em is now, I don’t know. Will it be a boy? A girl? I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is room in our hearts for another child. So we will see what tomorrow may bring….

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The Perfect Book…


I have been put on a book buying freeze by my husband. This translates to a reduction on book buying on my part, since I am terrible at listening/obeying such edicts.

This weekend we stopped by Cargo Largo, an anything goes kind of hodge podge store, and I found three books for Em, plus one for me. And then on Sunday we had 45 minutes to spare and ended up browsing through Barnes & Noble on the Plaza. I bought two more there – one an art book (well, coloring book that will provide inspiration when I’m working on the Zendala on the front hood of the van) and a prepper’s guidebook.

The three books that I bought for Em, however, were the real score. Especially one of them.

There was a shark adventure book that is for older tweens – she’ll be ready for it in about a year. There was also a Dory Fantasmagory book that I think she will enjoy reading now that she is dipping her toe into chapter books.


The final book, however, was the big score. I picked it up, thumbed through it, and knew she would love it.

Roller Girl is a graphic novel about a girl who goes to a roller derby and is captivated. So captivated that she joins a roller derby summer camp. I knew this would be a book that Em would enjoy and I can’t wait to hear how things goes for Roller Girl.

roller girl

Em was absolutely over the moon seeing her first roller derby this summer. Although her excitement quickly turned to indignance when she found out she had to be eleven years old to attend roller derby camp. Meanwhile we are taking her roller skating as often as possible.

This book will feed the flames and get her skating even more, of that I am sure!




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There Are No Straight Lines

Shall I describe my morning to you?

It started with…

  • researching commissary medical care with a doctor in Topeka,
  • then delved into opossum etymology and behaviors (we caught one in the chicken coop last night),
  • checking the score on the Royals game after seeing Melissa A.’s post on FB, which
  • morphed into rain barrels for watering chickens and researching sheds for chickens,
  • made notes on a story idea involving a serial killer and body parts (what is it with that dark, dark part of my writing mind, why can’t I write about sunshine and rainbows????)
  • to finally addressing (hopefully well in advance this time) my class lesson for next week’s LEARN Writer’s class.

Ah, the information age…filled with way too much information.

It gets worse.

I then checked out the lesson plan for next week…Canon/Rules of the Universe. I thought, Hmmm, I bet there are some great articles on this that I could neatly sum up for writing group. So of course I did a search and was distracted by this article, and specifically this book, which sent me to MCPL to do a book search and see about ordering the book.

Somehow this led to me realizing that my feet were cold, it was time to get dressed, and as I looked in the mirror and took in my unkempt overgrown curly mess “boogie wig” hair, realized I needed a haircut.

As I was waiting for the picture below to load I checked out a timeline post from an FB friend showing me Sharpie decorated pumpkins and set up a play date for Em for this weekend.

I’m still looking for good articles on establishing canon or the rules of a universe in writing. So far I’m striking out. Nothing runs in a straight line around here.

And seriously…check out this crazy hair!!!!


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The LEARN Writers Group

I’m learning a lot from the writing class I’m teaching. I’m learning not to panic because I’m pretty sure that children are like sharks, they can smell fear like sharks smell blood, and then really, you are done for.

I’m also learning that, unless I get real frickin’ creative, my LEARN book is going to more like a pamphlet.

I, Uh, Know Stuff

This may sound silly, but it strikes me at odd times. I mentioned Faust on Wednesday and they all just looked at me like I had grown a second head. No, strike that, I was probably on my third head by that point. Faust, however, is a fascinating subject if I do say so myself.

The questions they ask, the statements they make, take us in the wildest of directions. And I sort of love it. It reminded me of some of the cool discussions I had with Dee when she was this age.

Corralling Kids…Sort Of

I may be down to three kids, possibly a 4th returning this next Wednesday (oh Cade, of Roscoe and Greg fame, I haven’t forgotten you, I don’t think I ever could), and honestly, I cannot imagine how a teacher can manage to corral/manage/hold back et cetera a room full of kids.

Now granted, most of these kids have never had to sit still and raise their hands, but still, I was hard pressed to keep up with them. I adore you Jack, but damn kid, you are a handful!

An Argument for Better Grammar

As I worked my way around to looking at some of the things they had written, I could see we had some rules to discuss. “Okay, so you need to capitalize the first letter of a sentence. And whenever someone speaks, that’s a new paragraph. And I see that everything is underlined.”

“I like the way it looks when it is underlined.”

“Well, I can understand that, however, if you want others to read it, you need to follow some basic rules. Otherwise, it’s too hard for the reader and then they never make it to the end of your story. We want them to keep reading!”

Poor dear, she looked so sad.

There is No Original Ideas, Only YOUR Take on it

As I showed them how outlines work, Jack said to me, “You stole my idea!”

He pointed out the similarities in my story and I didn’t bother to mention that I had thought of a big part of the story around 18 years ago, long before he was even a twinkle in his father’s eye. Instead, I quoted from Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview with Marie Forleo in which she points out that, after 40,000 years of humanity there are no original ideas – there is only the story that we as an individual has not told.

So it can have the same parameters – space travel, alien worlds, even a world-killing virus – but the story itself will be completely different when it comes from another person.

There is Also GOOD News!

They all seem to love the class. Every single one of them has said it now in different variations…

“Your class is my favorite class.”

“I love your class.”

And so on.

And considering that my abilities to understand/have patience with/comprehend/tolerate children that are not mine are severely limited and ridiculously atrophied – this is really amazing feedback.

I like them too, and that strikes me as supercool.

Now if I can only get them to write about 100 pages each of fiction, poetry, non-fiction…whatever…we will have it made!


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