A Case for Second Place

Anyone who knows me will be surprised by the title of this essay. Second place? Am I actually suggesting that good enough is, well, good enough?

No.

Well, yes.

Let me explain.

I believe in striving for excellence. And I will never stop pushing myself, my children, my students and anyone else who crosses my sphere of influence to be the very best that they can be and to, of course, strive for FIRST PLACE!

But, suppose our very best efforts don’t earn us the coveted award and honors for which we’re competing? The reality is only one student gets “Student of the Year.” Only a handful get to be in the top ten.  Only a fraction will be in the highest percentile. So what about the rest of us? Are we failures?

As I listen to parents and grandparents brag about their prodigies who’ve snagged the precious few scholarships set aside for the deserving few and smugly imply that “those other poor kids who didn’t make it will have to just fend for themselves,” I can’t help but think about all those “other poor kids” who fall within that broad spectrum called “second place.” Now, mind you, I’m not talking about the barely-getting-by C students, the I-don’t-really-want-to-be-in-college-anyway company. I’m talking about the better-than-average assembly. The hard As-maybe-an-occasional-B bunch. The, no-it-doesn’t-come-easy-but-I’m-disciplined-focused-and-hard-working crew. Or the no-it-doesn’t-come-easy-but-I-study-cause-mom-and-dad-are-always-on-my-case cadre! What do these groups get? A pat on the back and a handshake? A “nice job, but sorry you’re not good enough”? Do you only deserve accolades if you’re brilliant beyond words? Are you only worthy of note if your GPA is off the charts and your standardized test scores are record-breaking? Does it count for anything if you’re articulate, personable, make friends easily and not too bad at solving equations?

I certainly don’t have anything against the brilliant and beautiful minds, I just think we’ve spent so much time trying to make our kids into the crème de la crème that we haven’t given them any credit for being a hearty cup of milk! But, according to the dairy industry “milk does a body good!” My point is, why not give the better-than-average second place a little more credit–even praise!? How about an “A” for their effort? Why should we praise the kid who can do algorithims in his sleep and not praise the kid who puts in extra work, maybe even hires a tutor and practices tirelessly to get it right? But rather than acknowledge the hard work that went into the B+ we only honor the easy A.

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Well, I’m here to make a case for second place. I’m here to vouch for the hard-earned B, to give a shout-out to all those who have other gifts–the gift of gab, the gift of personality, the gift of diligence, consistency and hard work.  These gifts are not measured by SATs or GREs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value, and you can be sure that not everyone has these gifts.  Did you know that some of the most “brilliant” people are not so fun to be around? Often they are quite the opposite, but no one wants to talk about that. We hail them for their brilliance and ignore the fact that they are socially-awkward or devoid of basic personal skills. I’m not throwing shade, I’m making a point. My point is, let’s stop with the hierarchies–acting as if the brilliant ones are better than the rest of us, or even as if we are better than them! How about they have their strengths and we have ours?

Let’s stop putting pressure on our kids to be what they’re not. Let them be who they are. Let them be the best that they are.

And stop bragging about how your kid made the highest score on the SAT. Whoopee! He’s a great test-taker! My kid knows how to make people feel good about themselves and they like to be around her. Whoopee! She’s a great people-person! Which one should be in first place?

I’m making a case for second place.

Mayhem Monday: Why the Source of your Problems isn’t Who You Think!

I want to speak on something that may not win me any popularity contests, but it’s truth: quite simply, too many of us are focused on the wrong thing. We think our problems are the result of who when in actuality they have more to do with how! We think that it’s people who cause us grief when in reality it’s how we respond to them that determines that grief.

In addition, we’re unwilling to own our stuff and as long as we don’t own it, we will continue to be plagued by it.

What do I mean?  I’m talking about our focus:

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  • Rather than focus on your child’s misbehavior or academic deficiencies, you focus on everything that’s wrong with the school, the teachers or the administration…
  • Rather than focus on your insecurities or low self-esteem, you focus on how everybody’s doing you wrong, treating you badly and not giving you your due…
  • Rather than focus on your academic short-comings, you focus on your professors’ unwillingness to grade on the curve…
  • Rather than focus on your poor work ethic, you focus on your boss’ unwillingness to promote you…
  • Rather than focus on your bad habits, you focus on your friends’ unwillingness to be around you!

At what point do you turn the lens onto yourself? At what point does it become less about them and more about YOU?  When does it become your responsibility to improve the situation?

When is it time to own your stuff?

Maybe it’s  all the CNN and Fox News headlines that are starting to get to me. Maybe it’s the social media I’ve been seeing lately, but this blame game is ridiculous! Who’s at fault? Who cares? Pointing fingers is getting us NOWHERE!

Who do you blame for the problems that you’re dealing with? Is it all on the other guys? Are you sure about that?  Rarely are issues one-sided, but it’s so easy to project our shortcomings onto others.  How easy is it, though, to face criticism that is directed at us when it’s true?

Maybe, just maybe,  it’s time to look in the mirror. Nobody’s perfect, so why not figure out how to work through the imperfections rather than being so quick to attack? Why not try extending grace to others so that they may be willing to extend grace to us when (not if) we need it?  To solve our conflicts or fix our problems, why not try something different?

Why not change our focus?

Focus What will that look like for you, this focus on solutions? That’s a question you’ll have to answer, but I can tell you what it won’t look like. It won’t look like blaming or  pointing fingers. It won’t be about other people at all. It will begin with you.

What do you need to improve in yourself? In your children? In your habits? In your work ethic? Before you look outward, look inward.

Happy Monday!

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Don’t forget our Cityscape Challenge! Share pics of your favorite spots in the city or town where you live. Also, why not kickstart your day with my Green Tea Smoothie and a Tabata?

 

Books & Coffee Cityscape Challenge!

Do you love your city? Are there special places where you always hang out, take a stroll or take in some incredible views?

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Are you like me? Don’t really love where you live–kind of got stuck here because of school or circumstance? Well, you’re here now, might as well make the best of it, right?

Spring and summer are my favorite time of year.  It’s the weather. The warmth of the sun beckons me to believe that anything is possible! And now that summer is (almost) here I have more time to focus on writing, that always makes me happy!  So, I’ve decided to kick off the summer with a Books & Coffee photo challenge!  And, as we already learned with our ekphrastic poetry, images conjure words and ideas that can inspire limitless creations, so why not take advantage of the blooms and balmy vistas all around us during this season?

Grab your iPhone or Canon and trek over to your favorite place, or if you don’t have a favorite place, try looking around with fresh eyes. Find a forgotten corner of town and let it inspire you to see it in a new way. Take a photo–of a landmark, an odd-shaped stone, or a four-leaf clover, whatever catches your eye!–then tell us what makes this place special or significance in some way. Some spaces may be significant because of their history–whether personal or political. Some may be significant because of their impact–either personal or political.

As I mentioned, I’m not a big fan of the southern town where I live, but I do love being outside, and I particularly love my backyard! One of my favorite places to be on warm days is on my back porch looking out at the trees and up at the sky, listening to the birds and the wind.

BackyardIt just puts me at ease and clears my mind of the clutter. When I’m in this space it’s like I’m not in Alabama. In fact, where I am doesn’t matter because here I can just be. Nature has a way of being boundless like that, doesn’t it? When you’re surrounded by it, the artificial borders of property and ownership melt away. The wide expanse invites freedom and that’s what this space offers me: freedom.

So, what about you? Where’s your happy space? Where’s your space that inspires?  If you don’t already have one, maybe it’s time to go in search of one! My backyard was an easy find. I think I’ll venture a little further from home and share another inspiring place or space this week…stay tuned!

P.S. Leave a comment about your favorite place and put a link to your blog or social media so we can what it looks like! I’m anxious to see your inspiring places! I know my fellow blogger, Chandra Lynn, will have something to share! What about you?

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Mayhem Monday: Dreams & Determination!

My niece and nephew graduated this weekend and, of course, I’m super proud of them! They each chose a different path, but both tore through the academic wilderness and emerged unscathed–well, they survived anyway. After all, what’s a war without a few batttle scars?

Victory is the child of preparation and determination.

(Sean Hampton, actor)

They were priveleged with great parents who prepared them for their successes, who equipped them with all of the necessary tools–private schools, summer camps, extra curriculars–as well as the intangibles like love and security.  Yet, Tyler and Greg had to find their own way in college. Mom and Dad couldn’t study for them or finish their assignments. Once the foundation was laid, the building was up to them.

The “Different World” can be a scary place when you’re facing it all alone…

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Funny thing is, a different world is where Greg and Tyler are NOW!

Kids often think that preparation is the time at home.  To an extent that’s true, but what my niece and nephew are about to discover is that they’ve actually been in a safe haven all this time. College is just an extention of home. It’s still a place of preparation as professors and administrators dictate courses and curfews (especially when you attend, as they did, a parochial school affiliated with a highly conservative religious organization.)

Oh yes, the real world is still waiting…

But I’m proud of them, nonetheless.  I know they’ll make it.

We’ve done all we can to prepare them–we, the parents, the aunties, the professors, the surrogates.  Now we’ll watch as they spread their wings, and we’ll hope that the determination that brought them this far will carry them the rest of the way!

And for all the other Tylers and Gregs out there, setting out on your own, just know that life is full of surprises. Your future may or may not turn out the way you envisioned it, but you can be sure that success is possible if you stay open to the many ways it may be manifested. For our Mayhem Monday motiviation, check out Laura Berman Fortgang’s TED Talk on “Finding Your Dream Without Looking at Your Resume!” And I wish you all Godspeed!

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Monday Mayhem: Get Motivated!

I am FIRED UP!

The semester is wrapping up and the summer is almost here! But before we get to the graduations, recitals and weddings that this month promises, I want to talk about the kind of heat that comes–not from the sun–but from within…

I’m fired up about the passion that I’ve seen in my students this semester. They are proving that the pen is, indeed, mightier than the sword as they tackle the serious issues that concern them. You may remember that I challenged them to do research projects on topics of their own choosing. My only requirement was that it be a topic for which they are passionate!

I must say, that for the most part these have been the most interesting end-of-the year essays I’ve ever read in a Freshman Composition class! These students took thier jobs seriously and charged ahead into issues they cared about:

  • improving the athletics program at our school
  • questioning the relevance of HBCUs
  • challenging contentions within a religious organization
  • calling for better waste management in the Bahamas
  • and appealing to the officials at Rykers Island to reconsider their use of solitary confinement.

These are just a few of the problems that they tackled and even as they understood the limitations of their power, they also felt the excitement that comes with the possibility that somebody might actually listen to them! Imagine if something they’ve said reaches the ears of someone who can do something?

That is the power of the pen. The power to transform words to life. That’s what motivates me and I’m excited to see the light in their eyes as it seems to have motivated them as well.

There’s another issue that one of my students wrote about and, by coincidence, I discovered this movie short that addresses it.  Watch this powerful performance, then let’s all get FIRED UP! Because words mean nothing if they don’t lead to action.

I’m motivated to do something, how about you?

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Revamp Monday: God is in the Gym!

Every year Writer’s Digest comes out with their “101 Best Websites for Writers” and I LOVE flipping through the pages of those issues then surfing the web for the latest sites and resources. There’s just so much fantastic stuff out there for writers! There’s the traditional stuff like critique or discussion forums and “everything agents,” job listings and writers’ conferences.  But then there’s the non-traditional, inspirational, stuff, like the creativity portal which offers a slew of brain teasers and visual prompts to spark the imagination, or coffitivity.com, a site that provides the background noise you would hear in a coffee shop–you know, in case you can’t get to an actual coffee shop to do your work!

My point is that Writer’s Digest has the same idea that I do.  We recognize that writers need all kinds of resources. Yes, we need to talk about writing, but we also need inspiration that will motivate us to write! That’s what Mayhem Mondays are all about! I’m trying to get us motivated to do the work that we were meant to do!  That’s also why I’m glad to have Tanzy back again to inspire us to keep pushing–whether it’s pencils or power squats!

GOD IS IN THE GYM

 In my experience, I’ve found that physical activity has the ability to mimic many of my personal spiritual experiences. My intangible journey of faith suddenly takes on shape, form and weight, when I’m in the gym.

The heaviness of the bars I press, remind me of the heaviness I feel at times when raising my arms to praise God. Struggling against the burden of complacency to honor Him through worship.

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Running miles, up and down hills on the treadmill as my heart aches in my chest. Step after step in agonizing fatigue, mirroring the deliverance I’ve been desperately pursuing. Pleading for the finish line to come into view.

The rope I grasp to pull my body vertically against gravity, is not unfamiliar to the ditch of depression I’ve tried to pull myself out of, time and time again. Muscles of hope burning as I grip tighter and pray harder that I can make it out this time.

The delicate yoga poses I hold are identical to the moments that I am expected to be still, and know that HE IS GOD.  Breathing deep and slow, as I patiently wait for God to instruct me to change position.  But until then I am forced to make still my anxious thoughts and trust in my creator.

For me, physical movement is capable of materializing my walk with Christ. God is indeed present with me in the gym.

Speaking to me on the bike trail.

Whispering to me with each lap in the pool.

Lifting with me rep after rep.

He helps me as I battle against the voice that says, “You can’t do this”. The spirit reminds me, “I can do all things”. In my world, he resides not only in the church, but also in the gym and Exercise is my reasonable act of worship. It’s my way of giving God praise for the gift of my body. It’s His way of  teaching me that I can overcome any challenge he calls me to face.

Physical fitness is the language God uses to save my soul.  A strong body is simply a side effect.

Tanzy Chandler

Founder of REVAMP FITNESS

Thanks, Tanzy!

Tanzy Chandler joins us on the first Monday of every month. Check out her article “Demote the Scale” and her YouTube channel! Also, for more Mayhem Monday Madness, check back every Monday and throughout the week for writing and word play.  Also, check out my  recipes  (I have a new kale salad that’s yum!) and energizers, ’cause you can’t write–or exercise–on an empty stomach!

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Irene Latham: Live Your Poem!

Well, April is National Poetry Month so we should be writing poetry! I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t write poetry!” I used to think the same thing. But the more I learn about this beautiful art, the more I think, well, maybe…

I had the pleasure of meeting the most delightful poet a couple of weeks ago, her name is Irene Latham. Irene has written two award-winning novels for children, Leaving Gee’s Bend and Don’t Feed the Boy and she has a slew of poetry collections that have earned her a small mountain of metals.  They are colorful and happy collections of poetic phrases.  I admire the way poets are able to artfully string words together to make meaning, seemingly without effort.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that!

Irene came and talked to my Creative Writing class about “Living Your Poem” and what great advice she gave! One way to “live your poem”, she says, is to use art as inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry that “reflects on the action of a piece of art and adds to or expands upon its meaning.” Basically, it’s studying a piece of artwork—a painting or a sculpture—then writing a poem about it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you shouldn’t run out of things to say!

 

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She came with a little vintage trunk full of postcards with intriguing images and striking colors and the students chose whatever captured their imagination.  Then they followed her guidelines and set to work on their poems—or at least made a start. Her guidelines:

  1. Any kind of art can be used for ekphrastic poetry, including painting, sculpture, wood carving, play, dance, movie, etc.
  2. Choose a piece that speaks to you. Sit with it. Perhaps carry a photo of it.
  3. Strive to carry the poem beyond description. Add to the artwork.
  4. Tap into the senses not evident in the art; enter the scene.
  5. Don’t worry about whether your poem matches the artists’ intention. Write about what it means to your life, memories, experiences, you.
  6. Don’t miss the details. Deconstruct the piece, then put it back together again in your own unique way.
  7. Use words in your poem that reflect the mood of the artwork.
  8. Ask questions of each character in the artwork.
  9. Speak to the artist? What do you want to ask? Address these issues in your poem.
  10. Surprise the reader by making leaps in your poem by connecting the artwork to big thoughts and ideas.

I chose several vintage postcards that reminded me of my childhood. The first was this one.

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The roller skates immediately took me back to my ten year old self in the summertime. Houston, TX. I won’t dare tell the year, but you can look at the picture and tell it was a long time ago! And here’s another one that conjures memories of my grandmother’s living room.

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I’ve been beating my head against the keyboard trying to get some words to come out that would capture these images and memories in a way that would be worthy of sharing, but I haven’t quite gotten them together yet. Over the next few days, though, I will be sharing more postcard images and some of the beautiful words that my students came up with from this assignment.

In the meantime, if you have some ideas or want to try your hand at some Ekphrastic poetry, put them in the comment box! I’d love to hear from you!

For inspiration and more great poetry check out Irene Latham’s blog: Irene Latham

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