Guest Blogger: Letter to President-elect Trump

For their Critical Thinking final, my students had to write a letter to President-elect Trump or to their generation. CJ’s Letter to President-elect Trump is insightful and unbiased (in my biased opinion?). He eloquently expresses what is at the heart of our fears and hopes with Trump’s election. I think the most beautiful part of this letter is where he is drawing a line in the sand. May we all have such lines we are unwilling to cross, and positions we are willing to defend.

trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

My name is Charles Dixon and I am not just a concerned citizen, but a soldier who will soon be calling you my Commander-In-Chief. While I have the utmost respect for the position that you will be occupying, I will be completely honest and say that my respect for you personally is extended hesitantly. I have observed your interviews and debates, which to me are downright concerning, specifically, in that you consistently feed and amplify the fears of a sizeable portion of the American people. Any American can look around and tell you that America is in a sad state, which is why we need a leader who will inspire and lead us to be better people to our neighbors, friends, and family. However, the fear-mongering that you’ve become known for has to stop, as it will only divide us as a country further than we already are.

Now, I understand that you, similar to President Obama, are inheriting a myriad of complex problems from the administration which preceded you. In no way are you ever going to make the entire population happy. This is the realistic truth of the American people: We are a vast and diverse group of people, whose interests, political stances, and religious viewpoints differ drastically. We may be a fickle people sometimes, but we are an amazing group whose very diversity is the foundation for our strength as a country. Please understand that you will be a representative of us all, not just a small group of Americans.

The most troubling thing that I’ve heard you say in your debates is regarding the committing of war crimes against the families of terrorists (Morton http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/3/donald-trump-says-hed-force-us-military-commit-war/). Because I am a soldier of the United States Army, this hurt me to my soul. What you suggested regarding this matter would tarnish everything that uniform stands for. Yes, we are sworn to protect the people of the United States, but we are a direct symbol of what America is supposed to be: a bastion of hope for those who are beaten down and brutalized. What is it that we then symbolize if we turn to brutalizing the family members of those who are threats to us? Do we not become the very thing that we are fighting against? As a soldier, your proclamation that “they will follow my orders” sounds more like a dictator, than a leader. I can tell you with the utmost faith, that while there may be a small number who will obey these orders unquestioningly, the majority of my brothers and sisters in arms will stand against you with a resounding NO. We are not a barbaric horde who just looks to destroy any trace of opposition or enemy resistance. We are members of the greatest armed force in the world. We are the ones who will stand up for what is right, and not because it is easy. We do so because if we don’t, then who will?

Initially, your campaign promises and general direction worried me because they appeared to validate the fears of a large section of America that is quite racist. The fact that you have recently distanced yourself from those ideologies is a welcome relief. That is the type of leadership that we need from you in these coming days. A leader who strongly promotes healing and tolerance, not one who seems to encourage destructive and divisive behavior either directly or through his own actions.

All in all, we the people of the United States (those who voted for you and who didn’t) are anxious to see what your course of action will be. You can go down in history for numerous reasons. I, for one, am hoping that you go down in history as the one who helped our country realize many of its flaws and corrected them. This in itself can be done in various ways, some of which you have already done simply by winning the election. But from here on out, it is not just the people of the United States watching you with hesitant hope, but the entire world. Please don’t disappoint us.

Sincerely,

Charles Dixon

Anxiety’s Guide to Public Speaking

By guest blogger: Mirade Leigh

Public Speaking          Some people have no problem speaking publicly. They can get up in front of a group of people, large or small, with confidence, without breaking a sweat; their hands do not shake; their face will not flush; they do not so much as stutter. If you are one of these people who can confidently breeze through any kind of presentation, performance, recitation, or speech, then this essay is not for you. I am not one of those people and can only write about what I know: fear, humiliation, and crippling anxiety.

Opportunity. Your teacher or professor has assigned a presentation. It could be anything from a personal narrative, an informative speech, a persuasive speech, to a PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of what your assignment is, you must stand up in front of a group of people, and that is terrifying. For me, it started in senior English. One innocent afternoon when I thought the world was working in my favor, I walked into class to hear my teacher assign a poem recitation. This was a class I did not so much as whisper in. I could not speak in this class without fear ripping any tiny amount confidence I had to shreds. Now, I was being asked to stand up, all eyes on me, and recite poetry? With no dramatics, I believed this to be the worst news I had ever received; this assignment would be the end of me. If you have had this “opportunity” in your life, then you know what I am talking about.

Denial. The “opportunity” has now forcibly made its way into your life and you will create any excuse possible not to participate in this assignment. There may be many absences involved. You might even flat out tell your teacher you are not doing it–that you cannot do it. The word “cannot” will not benefit you and will only get you into trouble. It is important to understand in the early stages of the public speaking journey that you are not unable. If you can walk, talk, crawl, or mumble, you are in fact able. Questioning your ability will only set you up for failure. Now, with all that said, you will still attempt to tell your teacher or professor that you cannot do it. You might say it through stifled tears, avoiding eye contact. You might be wearing the saddest puppy dogface this world has ever seen, but I am telling you with 100% certainty that they will respond with, “Yes you can.” This will feel like a punch in the gut. You will leave feeling defeated and misunderstood with no compassion or sympathy within miles of you, that the world is out to get you and nobody seems to care. Push aside all feelings of self-pity. I understand being nervous and I understand fear, but you will not move forward until you give up this idea that you are unable to do something. Remove the word “cannot” from your vocabulary, immediately.

Acceptance. Sometime after your somewhat emotional breakdown, you will realize the assignment is necessary, you will not be taking a zero, and you must go through with it. I would like to tell you that your nerves will soon settle, but that would make me a liar. The fear you were experiencing when you first heard of the assignment is most likely the same, if not worse. This time there is no avoiding involved. Instead, day-by-day your anxiety will build. The only way it will stop is when you say that last word in front of your class and step down from the humiliation. You might as well take your coat off and stay a while because you have a ways to go.

Thoughtful decisionmaking. Before you can begin the actual presentation process, you must have the written piece you plan to present. Whether it is a speech or poem, your specific assignment might require it to be a personal piece you have written or plan to write. For my poem recitation, I had to choose from a variety of poems written by others. Regardless, if it is your writing or someone else’s, the subject you choose to go with must be something you are passionate about. You cannot expect to speak about just anything in a monotone voice with no feelings toward the subject at all; if you do not enjoy it, neither will your audience. What you say has to mean something to you, make you feel something, so in turn you can make your audience feel something. Anybody can say an assortment of words in front of a group of people and consider it public speaking; however, it is not public speaking done well.

Memorization. It is not only important if it is required for your assignment, but memorization helps calm your nerves. Do not focus on how you present until you understand and have memorized what you are presenting. You may or may not have a paper template with you for your presentation. If you are presenting a speech, of course you will have it in front of you for your presentation. This does not mean you should not have almost every word memorized. You should have read through it enough times that each sentence comes out with ease and flows so you can make eye contact with your audience rather than looking down at a piece of paper reading word for word. You will only have it with you as a guide. Your assignment may also require complete memorization, with no paper template, for example, a poem recitation. Do not become overwhelmed by this. Memorize line by line. Read each line repeatedly. When you have it down, add the next line, and recite them together. Repeat for each paragraph or stanza until you no longer have to read; you can just recite. From the moment you know what you are reciting until you step up on stage, you should be, either aloud or in your head, reciting every chance you get. Knowing that you have every single word memorized can take away the anxiety of forgetting a line while you are presenting.

Expression. When it comes to what and how, sometimes the how can be more important than the what. This is where the present in presentation comes in; it is how you express, articulate, and gesture. When speaking publicly, your hand gestures, your articulation of words, and your expressions not only help your audience understand what you are talking about but also make them feel what it is you are talking about. Get rid of this preconceived idea that judgment will follow your expression. This is how good public speakers get their message across. The reality is that those who do not care, will not remember your presentation even an hour later, and those who do care, will remember the positive influence it had on them and how you made them feel. Twenty years from now, people are not going to be ranting about how much they disliked your presentation and how they still experience second-hand embarrassment. Once you stop flattering yourself with the fear that people care that much about what you do and how you do it, you ease the fear of judgment. You will be practicing a lot in front of the mirror. You might even have to research certain things to understand fully the meaning, so you can present it with confidence. Good presentations do not come easy; they take time.

Final Product. The day is here. You are up on stage with the lights beating down on you. You might be sweating; you are probably shaking; and you still are not sure if you can do this. I would suggest you just go through with it because running off stage will cause you far more humiliation than a couple of stuttered paragraphs. You might become so overwhelmed that right smack in the middle you forget the next line. Do not sigh. Do not roll your eyes. Do not make an awkward comment followed by an awkward laugh. Pause. Your mouth is working faster than your brain can form coherent thoughts; you know this inside and out. Continue. Nobody noticed; it was just a dramatic pause. Also, talk slower. Look out at the audience. Notice people nodding, closing their eyes with their heads raised, soaking in every word. Right at the end of my poem recitation I noticed one of the judges reciting the poem with me, nodding, absorbing the meaning. Look for those people; the reassurance will calm you. When you are done, take a deep breath. It is over; you did it.

Your first mistake on this journey was seeing public speaking as a dreaded task instead of an opportunity. Any chance given to you to face a fear is not one you want to give up. After my poem recitation, I ended up going to the school wide competition. I placed second. For the first time in my life, I could see my fears sprawled out on the road ahead of me, and excelled despite it. You do not have to perfect the art of public speaking. You do not have to become a professional public speaker. You do not even have to overcome the fear. Just be afraid, and do it anyway.

 

Mirade is a current student and rising star. Her process analysis essay about public speaking shared such great advice about life in general, that I had to share it on my blog (with her permission, of course). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If you are fearful about anything, follow Mirade’s advice: Be afraid, and do it anyway.

You can judge me if you want to

You can judge me if you want to, but before you do, know that I primarily stayed in my marriage because of my son.

Ian has been through so much in his nine years: He battled a cancerous brain tumor at four-years-old with his father right by his side, giving Ian the strength and courage to fight. Ian has battled children (and some adults) calling him names because they just don’t understand why he is different. At school, as his brain slowly heals, Ian struggles to keep up with a curriculum that is moving too fast for him.

Add to that the tears and arguing that would fill our house during the past two and a half years. Even though he didn’t know the reason behind it, he knew something was wrong. Ian would beg me: “Mommy, please don’t get a divorce. That would make me really sad.” My heart crumbled. How could I add more sadness when I knew the truth would eventually cause him immeasurable pain?

So when you judge me for staying in this marriage, know that I couldn’t separate Ian from his father until the foreseeable future did it for us.

You can judge me for standing by my husband, but before you do, know that I took my vows seriously.

When I got married, I wanted it to be forever, through good times and bad. I envisioned growing old with him and weathering the inevitable storms of life together. I have forgiven much over the years because I was holding onto forever. When this came up, I merely forgave again.

You may think I’m a fool for believing in forever. You may think I’m pathetic for forgiving a man who admittedly wouldn’t have done the same if the roles were reversed. You may think that I have displayed weakness through and through.

Even though there were times I let your labels cling to me, and I felt like a weak, pathetic fool, the truth of the matter is that my choices came from strength and conviction: I wanted to do what was right by my son because of the love I have for Ian; I wanted to support a man whom everyone else abandoned, no matter how many times I wanted to run away. Staying was anything but easy. Staying challenged every moral fiber of my being. I had my moments of weakness, but, for the most part, I stayed the course, following the path of love, forgiveness, and compassion.

I knew by staying, some of you would think I was in on it, even though what he did went against every philosophy of life I have.

However, what I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on me because of it–because you hated him for what he did; because it was easier to cut me out of your life than stand by me; because you didn’t want your names associated with mine in case people did to you what you are doing to me.

What I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on Ian because of it–because you thought my sweet, innocent boy must be ruined because of the choices his father made; because you thought Ian must not be raised correctly in such a home as ours; because you didn’t want your children to be treated the way you are treating mine.

What I did know is that some of you would callously talk about Ian and me because it gave you something interesting to talk about–because it made you feel better about your own lives; because you’d rather talk about me than to me; because you didn’t want people adding your name to the gossip you shared about my life. That’s why I sheltered myself from your shallow presence.

All of this has just made me appreciate the few who did stand by me from the very beginning, without judgment, even more than I already did. I am truly blessed by those beautiful few and their unconditional love.

So you can judge me if you want to for making the choices I made; you can add more pain to our already difficult lives. I can’t stop you. But before you do, know that you are being judged by the same measure.

 

The Alchemist: #4-6 The Obstacle of Fear

The Alchemist Posts

Paulo Coelho’s words about the third obstacle we encounter when pursuing our dreams helped me stay strong during my own struggles.

The Alchemist“Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse: ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.’ We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” (vi-vii)

It’s not just fear, but the fear of defeat that prevents us from moving forward. I know this fear too well. What if what I write doesn’t matter to anyone? What if no one reads my blog? I’m just fooling myself; no one cares what I have to say. I am a nobody who will only experience a painful rejection if I put myself out there.

If those fears aren’t enough to stop us from moving towards our dreams, it seems obstacles are thrown in our path constantly, seemingly to stop us from moving forward, but in reality to build the stamina we will need to persevere, and, in some ways, to test our passions for the dream.

I have encountered many obstacles attempting to block my writing goals over the past seven months.

First, we canceled our baseball trip. I’ve written about this vaguely, which will have to do for now, but my travel blog’s URL, 32in32.com, became meaningless. The money I spent on the domain name, the name that represented our great baseball journey across the country became null and void. I almost quit before even starting my dream to become a writer over this fact alone. But I remember sitting with my dear friends, Jamie, Sandy, and Brittni, and they encouraged me to persevere, to not let this stop me. They helped me refocus my blog for a new purpose, appropriately christened 32in32: Keeping the Dream Alive. They helped me see that it didn’t matter what the URL said; what mattered was that I wasn’t giving up on my dream.

While my vision of our future was shattering back in December, my laptop was stolen by strangers who crashed a party my daughter had while we were out of town. As foolish as it sounds, my life was on that computer. It had pictures from Ian’s baby years on up that are now lost forever. All of my notes, thoughts, and drafts of future posts that I never printed out were on that laptop. I was devastated. In the midst of that pain, I was able to let go of it, thanking God that my daughter was safe. I started using our home computer, refusing to give up.

On the day I was going to publish my first post, a beloved student committed suicide. My world was turned upside down. I didn’t want to pursue my dreams anymore. I felt like a failure; obviously, I couldn’t impact my physical world with optimism, how could I dare to think I could influence the blogosphere? Instead of publishing on January 17, Ian’s birthday, a day that marked the celebration of Ian’s life, I published my first post the next day. With Jenny’s death an invisible current through that post, I published, not giving into my fears, but pushing forward, hoping to spread optimism through my sphere of influence. It worked with me first. I could not change the past; I could not prevent Jenny’s death. But I could work to prevent sadness and depression in others; counting my blessings pulled me out of the depths of despair. I hoped my posts would inspire others to count their blessings and feel the release of pain through choosing thankfulness over pain and regret.

Unbelievably, in the midst of an outpouring of ideas and writing bursts, I lost my home computer a few weeks later. At this point, I couldn’t believe that the universe was conspiring in my favor. How could it be? Everything that I needed to be a writer was being attacked or taken away. I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat and walk away. But then, I was reminded of this Alchemist quote, and my resolve returned. All of the obstacles that I overcame up to this point made me stronger than I had ever been. I borrowed a laptop and continued to write. I was learning “to have patience in difficult times.”

Over Spring Break, I did a seemingly innocent activity that lead to months of unbearable pain: I went roller skating and fell hard, resulting in compressed and turned vertebrae in my neck. Essentially I had whiplash, leaving me unable to hold my head up for any length of time. I was in excruciating pain by the end of my teaching day, which left me unable to write or do anything when I got home. I went into physical therapy for two months. After a few adjustments, I was able to sit at my computer with a neck brace for short bursts of time. What did I choose to do, even while in pain, with these borrowed moments? Write. It was a clear indication that writing was my passion.

“Well, necessary or not, [defeats] happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (vii).

No matter the circumstance, I pursued my dream. The obstacles, the fear, the defeats all lead to a greater conviction to pursue my dream. I fell five times, but I’ve gotten up six times. I won’t quit because I know I’m making a difference; even if it’s in my life only and no one else cares what I have to say, I have changed a life.

“Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure.” (vii)

I know I am “worthy of the miracle of life.” I’ve never had more confidence than I do now. I’ve found my voice, and I like how it sounds. I’m excited about every day and look forward to the joy it will bring. I continue to stumble and struggle, but I am not afraid of what my future holds. I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way.

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.” (vii)

I have seen and lived with people who are entrapped by that bitterness. I will never become one of them because I have freed myself from the “bearable” suffering of pushing my dreams aside. Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I am happy to say that I am no longer deferring my dream. I am free from the “what ifs” that once burdened me.

How about you? Look around you. Do you see the bitterness? Do you feel the pain of a generation who has deferred its dreams? When you look in a mirror, do you see it in your eyes? When you sit in the silence, do you feel it in your heart? It’s not too late; but be ready to conquer your fears of defeat. It is truly worth it!

Are you ready to follow your dream?
Photo by Carol Linn Hawkins