Common Ground to Start From

Day Three in my Daily Post attempt and my head wants to explode from headache and fatigue and the weight of my hair gathered in a top knot because I went to bed with wet hair and didn’t want to lay on it. Maybe my tense shoulders are just telling me to chop off my hair. Also, I am keeping my goal for the number of days on this challenge to something realistic. My current goal is three days.

Today is Ms. Hayes’ birthday. She was my high school history teacher during my freshman and senior years. I hold a special place in my heart for people with an October birthday. In fact, I cashed in all my on-time chips when I arrived six weeks early to the world just so I could be an October baby (and to keep my parents on their toes). Which means my twin had to do the same thing. We will never be early to anything ever again.

No one knows this sad fact better than my teacher, Ms. Hayes. She kept a sign-in at the door so tardy students could list their reason for arriving late. She then used this “paper trail” for a senior gag to divine the futures that awaited my classmates and me. There were only 33 of us in the graduating class that year in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. You can read more about my experience here, but I think she was completely, and fortunately, wrong about all of us. I was destined to land in a mental institution, and I have made it 20 years so far in the uncommitted world, somehow.

It helped that she taught us “primal scream therapy” as a means of stress relief and that she had minored in psychology, so she could attend to our concerns–both petty and heart-wrenching–when we broke down at school, as some of us were wont to do. And like many before and after her, she had studied psychology to gain insight into her own family’s foibles. I could relate.

Ms. Hayes also helped her students do a lot of growing up. I remember working on a research essay for my entire freshman year about the colonization of North Africa. I still have nightmares about it. I had to go to the nearby university library to do research, and I was only 14. I felt like an impostor. But when Ms. Hays assessed my progress in the early stages, she told me that my planned essay structure would be “sophisticated.” I got goosebumps at those words. Me? Sophisticated?

I read what felt like so many books during my four years in the IB program. I wrote so many essay papers and essay responses and essay excuses for why I hadn’t written my essay on time. I don’t love writing just to write, and I want to write novels even though I rarely read any, so somewhere in all that writing, I must have discovered a love for thinking in written form.

Prior to beginning in the IB program, I had written only a single essay. (I had to type it in the school computer lab as I did not yet own a computer, and walking home late from school that November evening, my twin and I saw a full moon rising, which aided my youngest sister in also avoiding a December birthday. She, it turns out, just gave birth to her first daughter last week. And, believe it or not, she also teaches history and helps young people grow up a bit.)

Teachers for years before then had been equipping me with the tools for writing: grammar, punctuation, style, spelling, vocabulary, but when I was a kid, we weren’t expected to write more than the occasional story or journal entry. My first kid to attend school was writing brief essays in first grade. She is currently writing a book just for fun, and I might learn about the whole publication process because of her.

I may have received very specific praise and instruction from my teachers, but they only nurtured a seed planted long ago by my mom. She would tell us stories and she wrote letters about our goings-on for as long as I could remember. She has this remarkable gift for taking the ordinary occurrences and making them into compelling sagas, comedic commentaries, awe-inspiring miracles, and celebrations of courage. She taught us that any challenging moment could be improved by imagining what a great story it would make for later. We have collected a trove of stories; most of them are even true.

My mom learned from her own mother and other family members. I now share stories with my children. They get to suggest a topic, and after scanning my files, my brain chooses one or two that fit the moment. I have begun to lose a few of those details that used to feel so ready. I hope that in heaven there is a story repository (and a dalmatian plantation) for even those stories I didn’t get to write down but that my children can now recount to me because they’ve asked for them so many times.

I write to keep my story alive, to help it adapt and grow and move with me. I don’t want a story that keeps me stuck or asks anyone but me to choose my path. I write this blog not only to share my story but to include you in it. Hearing from friends and family, especially when you share some of your story with me, brings joy to the journey and relief when I’m weary. Our stories can hold us together at times when we think we have nothing in common. [Spare yourself the pain of watching the video. I chose this song because it was on the radio all of the time when I started high school.]

3 thoughts on “Common Ground to Start From

  1. I can corroborate all that you’ve written as true! And I love October birthdays too! Did my painting get that song stuck in your head? I’d never watched the video and now my life feels perfect.


    • It didn’t get the song stuck, but when I was searching my brain for a song that highlights why we need to share our stories, I began thinking of common ground. And then that song sunk into my consciousness like a 5AM wake-up for the early morning seminary carpool. I can’t imagine how your life was incomplete without that video. But thank you for the corroboration!


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