Re-written

I sit uncomfortably on a leather sofa staring down at my feet. Despite having to visit the room twice a day, I have no memory of what it looks like or how it is decorated. What I can recall is the cold hard, leather against my legs, and the heaviness in my chest. My court ordered psychiatrist sits across from me in a wing-backed chair that matches the distressed leather of the couch.

I crouch on the sofa in my instinctive position, arms hugging my knees. I squeeze myself tightly. Holding it all together. Holding myself together.

I know I am supposed to talk to this man, to speak to him about all the things that had landed me in there. The things that encouraged me to find solitude in a handful of pills and a bottle of vodka. The things that any 15-year-old would lack the coping skills to handle. Despite knowing this, I am unable to say anything. I want to open up and tell him everything he wants to hear, but my body won’t cooperate. My mouth stays locked. I hug myself even tighter.

“Well, you’re currently on a 72 hour suicide watch. Those 72 hours are up soon, but unless you talk to me, I can get another court order to hold you in the hospital longer.” I cringe hearing that last part. I don’t want to stay here.

I don’t want to stay in the sterile white bedroom they assigned me. The walls seem to glow, making it hard to sleep. I don’t want to be checked on every hour.  The familiar sound of the door unlocking in the middle of the night always causes me to tremble.  I eventually realize it is only the nurse, so no risk of her trying to slide in beside me. I don’t want to stay in this place where everyone looks at me with pity and fear. Where everyone thinks at any moment I might try to kill myself again.

My throat tightens as I think about the possibility of being here another day, or even another week. I don’t want to be here.

Even so, I can’t will myself to speak.  I twiddle my thumbs, and my eyes dart round the room avoiding contact with this man before me. Unwilling to enable my silence, he continues, “Now, your other counselors have told me that you enjoy writing. Instead of talking, why don’t you write about what has been bothering you?” I nod coldly, weary of his request.

During my free time, I lounge in my room and scribble furiously in my journal. I write what I cannot say. I write the truth. The truth that I could never speak. The story that I wished was only fiction. Somehow writing it down feels ok. I can pretend it is just a story, not my life.

When I finish, I close the notebook hoping to never look at it again.

Walking to the group room, I protectively clutch my journal against my chest. I sit down in a chair in the corner, shoving my secrets behind my back, guarding them from prying eyes.

“Hey, what you got there?” one of the nurses taps on my shoulder. “Is that what you wrote for the Doctor?” I shrug and stare at the floor, immediately hugging my knees to my chest. “Let me take a look.” She hastily thumbs through the pages, while a voice in my head tells me to rip the notebook from the bitch’s hands. But I sit there frozen, terrified of she might find.

She stops on a page, her eyes widening. She gasps and points to a single phrase.  The pages tumble out of her hand and splash on the ground. My mind tells me to reach for them. To take them from her. But my body is still frozen.

She looks down at me, trying to compose herself. “Hmm…” she sighs, now forcing a smile. “I’ll be right back.” And with that she disappears down the hallway.

I panic knowing that my thoughts are in the hands of a stranger, but the day’s schedule forces me to move onto other things. I am rushed on to the art therapy room, and after an hour there, I am lead to a group therapy session. I sit in a chair in the circle with my legs coiled in my arms. I try to fall asleep as everyone else shared stories of their past.

My mind wanders back to my journal. I’d already shared enough of my story today, I thought. And when it came time for me to address the group, I look down at the floor. No one else could force me to give it up again.

A different nurse taps me on the shoulder, “Can you please come with us? We have a few people that would like to ask you some questions.” Grasping my arm, he quietly pulls me down the hallway and stops before an unfamiliar door.

Entering the room I see two middle-aged women sitting along a round table with an empty chair beside them. In the center of the table lays my defiled notebook.

A woman wearing a uniform speaks first, “Hi, I’m Officer Ramirez, and this is Mrs. Carter. She is a social worker. We wanted to ask you a few questions about what you wrote here.” As she talks, the nurse sneaks out of the room closing the door tightly behind him, leaving me helpless.

I reluctantly answered their questions, unaware of the turmoil it will cause, the years of lawyers, court dates and therapy sessions. I didn’t know that by writing the truth I had re-written my family’s future.

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A Eulogy for my Father’s Father

I walk slowly up the alley and through the garage. Slinking past the chain-link gate, I see everyone in a circle on the deck in the backyard, the sunlight beating down on the unlucky few who are not covered by the umbrella that stands up from the table. As I meander up the stone path, I hear the conversation taking place. Everyone is telling stories.

I sit down in an empty chair closest to the stairs, and the Rabbi introduces himself to me while someone else, who I assume is somehow related to me, continues to speak. Leaning on the table, I rock uneasily in my chair.

My mother and father sit at opposite ends of the circle from me. Looking around at everyone, I count the familiar faces on my hand—my parents and my three aunts. The rest of the group are strangers to me, mere names I have perhaps heard once but never known as real people.

I look at the person speaking, who I soon find out is my grandfather’s niece. She has a long, ghostly face and tightly clutches a tissue. Her eyes are red and puffy from crying.

I’m not really listening to what she says. I distract myself with other things—looking at the hummingbird in the tree, getting the dog to sit by me, going into the house to get someone a chair. She keeps talking.

I finally tune back in when my aunt Margaret shares her story.  Barton, my grandfather, was her father-in-law. She had been helping her wife Penny take care of him since he moved back to Saint Louis. And she describes what he was like the past year or so, and how wonderful he was to her personally. How he treated them to dinner, took them to the symphony, got breakfast with them on weekends.

Those are the hardest stories to listen to. To hear how wonderful, involved and generous he had been to other people, but never to me. As I look up, Margaret addresses me directly, “You know, your grandfather made you a scrapbook.” I stare back at her blankly, unsure of how to respond.

Luckily, I don’t have to because Margaret continues, “It was really sweet. It had your high school graduation, and your wedding. There were lots of other pages. I think he was planning on being around for a lot longer so he could put in, you know, his great-grandchildren.”

I don’t remember what she says after that. I again am not listening. Instead, I think about what she said: “Your grandfather made you a scrapbook.”

I don’t think she meant this to be some profound revelation. It was merely a statement of fact; he had been making a scrapbook for me, of the events in my life. I go inside and find it among his many other photo albums. And sure enough, there I am.

I start thumbing through the pages. It has my high school graduation materials with my senior picture and my graduation announcement, but not any pictures from the actual day; he wasn’t there for that. And then there is my wedding. He had kept everything from it: the save the date, the invitations, place cards, and every paper material given to guests. Most tellingly, though, there are no pictures from the actual wedding. No pictures of us together. Just things.

I know Margaret thinks it’s sweet, but really it’s just sad. He had relegated me to a set of papers. He had made me an artifact.

But she in the end is right; Barton indeed did make me a scrapbook. That’s all I was to him. And really, that’s all he had ever been to me. A story, a set of pictures, not an actual person. Stories. I guess those are the only thing he left me. And the only thing he was to me

White Privilege

Lori Ungemah on readwriteteach shared this blog post about White Privilege. I know this is an issue that I have talked with my aunt about extensively (in addition to male privilege). Do you find that most people are oblivious to this idea?

As a teacher I am curious about what kind of conversations we can have concerning these issues. I know that in the district I worked at last year taught To Kill a Mockingbird (from which Lori quotes) in 8th grade, yet most of the conversation in class was very base and centered on the idea of courage. I think that issues of race and privilege would be much more engaging and interesting to discuss. But perhaps this is too uncomfortable for most teachers. And maybe these notions and ideas are outside the grasp of many of my students who were mostly white and from an extremely wealthy/privileged community. But wouldn’t that make them all the more important to discuss?

readwriteteach

White privilege is a very hard concept for many White folks to get.

It was hard for me, too. For years and years as a young adult, I refused to believe that the color of my skin had privileged me. I felt the opposite of privileged–I felt my life had been one freakin’ long-ass struggle: I was in a ridiculous amount of debt from my undergraduate education which I had paid for; I had a dad who had been sick my entire life and had died of diabetes complications; my sister had done many an illegal act, had two kids in high school, and had married a crack head who had threatened to kill us; my mom was a religious zealot who constantly belabored the fact that I was going to hell. I grew up as barely middle class, feeling poor by comparison to neighbors and friends, eating hot dogs…

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Finding a Job: Prospecting Letters/Letters of Interest/Inquiry Letters

Cover Letters: Letter of INterest (creative commons)

Cover Letters: Letter of Interest (creative commons)

Alright continuing on my job search series. Previously I wrote about writing effective cover letters, and I analyzed one of my own cover letters. What I had written about before only discussed cover letters that were in reference to a specific job posting. Here, I am going to talk about Prospecting Letter AKA Letters of Interest or Inquiry Letters.

So I already told you what a cover letter is:

A cover letter is a letter that precedes your resume. It is the first thing a potential employer sees. So it’s your first impression, and you most certainly want to make a good one. A cover letter should (ideally) not only make you sound like a talented writer, but it also needs to explain to the reader exactly why you are a perfect fit for the position. Even though a cover letter is not required by many job applications, it is a mistake not to write one. Your resume contains a lot of information about you, but it will not adequately show employers yours writing skills, nor does it perfectly detail how you fit their job. Yes, whenever you apply for a job you should edit your  resume to cater to the job posting as well. But you should also include a fabulous cover letter.

A prospecting letter/ letter of interest/ inquiry letter is still a cover letter. It precedes your resume; it’s your first impression; it should be catered specific to the company you want to work for. The main difference between this kind of letter and the cover letters I previously discussed is that prospecting letters are used when the company is not advertising a specific position. So it’s a letter that basically says “I love your company (as opposed to I’m perfect for this job), and I would be a perfect fit for it (here is why). If are looking to hire, please consider me.” Granted, it should be much longer than that, and more specific. But that’s the general gist.

Prospecting letter should still follow the same guidelines I outlined earlier. But notice I order the list differently because certain steps are more important to these kinds of letters.

Tips for Writing Prospecting Letters:

  1. Do your research. This is the most important tip concerning prospecting letters. Because there is no job posting, you need to do lots of research about the company. Look at their website; talk to former/current employees; research news articles about the company. Look anywhere that will find you pertinent information about them.
  2. Be as specific as possible.  You still need to include specific details in this letter. It, however, is going to be harder to determine what specific things to respond to since you will not be referring to an actual job posting. This is why research is extremely important. What you pull up in your research is how you will find things to specifically refer to, and show how you would be a best fit for the company. My favorite things to refer to are examples of the company’s current work, and their mission statement.
  3. Edit, edit, edit. Once again, the letter needs to be edited perfectly. Have a friend look over it, or use a web-based software such as Paper Rater.
  4. Be concise. Short and sweet is the way to go. Get to the point. Delete anything unnecessary.
  5. Write to an actual person. It’s much more important to follow-up after sending a prospecting letter, so writing to an actual person is going to help you determine who to follow-up with. Also, it shows you’ve done research.

Ok, concerning the actual content of the Letter. In most cover letters your opening line states how you found the job ad. In this letter your opening line should indicate how you came to know about the company, and particularly what area of the company would like work in. Some examples:

  • I first because acquainted with your company’s writing center after reading about it in The English Journal.
  • I heard about (Insert Company’s Name Here)’s after meeting your Saint Louis Branch Manager at the (Insert Convention Name Here).
  • I learned about your district’s inspiring curriculum after taking a graduate class at the University of Missouri with (insert teacher’s name here) who works at (Insert school’s name here).

Notice that these openings are specific, and they allow you to further elaborate on the item that you mentioned (such as the writing center, the curriculum, your graduate schooling, etc.).

The letter should again outline your qualifications (hopefully by mentioning things that are not otherwise implied or stated in your resume). These could be in reference to the information you gathered in your research. For education jobs, I sometimes include a very brief description of my teaching philosophy and classroom management style in order to show how it aligns with their district’s work/mission statement/etc.

The closing in this letter should indicate how you will  follow-up.  I don’t like doing this in cover letters that respond to job posts because I feel too pushy, but I would absolutely do this in a letter of interest. If you don’t follow-up, you are hurting yourself. Here are some examples of how to close the letter:

  • Whether or not you have a current opening in your organization, I would love to meet with one of your high school English teachers in order to set up a classroom observation. I know that I would learn a lot. I will call you next week to determine the best time and date.
  • I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how my skills could benefit your company. I will call you on Wednesday to see when we can meet.
  • I would appreciate the opportunity to further discuss your company’s training program, and to provide further information on my qualifications. I will call you the week of August 12 to discuss possible employment opportunities.

Stay tuned for a sample letter of interest that I have used before, and a break down of it. Still to come in the job search series: Thank You Letters, Rejection/Acceptance Letters, Portfolios, and Letters of Resignation.

photo credit: Tax Credits via photopin cc