Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keepers - Laura's Secret Stash

When I first began teaching music, I went in to observe a friend of mine from college who had been teaching for a few years already. At lunch time (omg, only halfway through the day and we were already exhausted), we sat down at her desk to eat our squares of pizza from the cafeteria and she opened up one of her bottom drawers. There, behind important files having to do with continuing education, IEPs, and emergency procedures, was a thick manila envelope. She tugged it out, tossed it at me and said, "This is the most important thing you can do for yourself as a teacher."

I set aside my cardboard slab of pizza and opened the envelope with no small amount of curiosity. Turns out, the seemingly average envelope was a treasure trove, full of little gems like cards made by students, letters from parents expressing their gratitude, drawings from children, and pictures of my friend with her students on production days.

I raised a brow. "What's this?"

"I call this my Keepers folder," she said through a mouthful of cheese and dough. "Look, some days you're really going to hate this job. The kids are going to act up, the parents are going to bitch about stuff; your principal isn't going to support you. No matter how hard you work and how well you do, your students and their parents will seem whiny and ungrateful, and will ask for more. You're going to go home feeling frustrated and exhausted. You're going to question why the hell you decided to be a teacher."

She leaned over and tapped on the folder in my hands. "This...this will remind you why. Every time a parent writes you a good note, every time a child draws you a picture, every time you receive anything that tells you you're touching lives, put it somewhere safe. Then, on those days when you can't remember why you're a teacher, take it out, open it up, and see all the good you've done."

In my classroom, back behind a bunch of books I don't use, I have a Keepers folder of my own. Every year after the musical, I write a letter to the 8th graders in the cast, telling them how much I enjoyed being their teacher. Some of them write back, and when they do, those letters go in the folder. Drawings from the little ones go in the folder. One I particularly love is a picture a little girl made of me holding her hand that says, "I love you" on it. I have cards from other teachers and parents, telling me how influential the theater program is on their student's/children's lives.

And those hard days, the ones where an angry parent has me in tears or hyper children have worn me out, I pull out that Keepers folder and remind myself exactly why I put myself through this. Not only do I get some perspective, it's a great boost of confidence for when I'm questioning my abilities.

I started a Keepers folder for my writing as well. It's a Google doc, that way I can keep things from online. What do I have in it? You might be surprised. I have emails from friends with their reactions to my novels. One in particular is from my friend Mel, who told me how richly I'd drawn my characters in REFUGE. I have comments from my beta and editor. I have rejection letters. Yes, you read that right. Some of the rejection letters I've received are wonderfully complimentary of my work, though the agents expressed their fear that the books just weren't good fits for them in particular. I have comments from the only fanfiction story I've posted in the last 6 years, a fic that was over 65k long and had an intricate plot that I was very proud of. I also have quotes from other writers that I find especially inspiring.

The crown jewel of my Writing Keepers folder, however, is an email that my favorite author in the world sent me, two years ago. I wrote to Anne Rice, explaining that I used writing as a way to better process my faith and beliefs, as she does, and I asked if she would be willing to look at my work and offer advice. Here is the lovely email she wrote back, which I hold very close to the chest. Enjoy it as I have, and I hope you start your own Keepers folder today, so that on the days when writing seems futile and you think you're never going to be good enough, you can look in that folder and see just how you've already affected those around you.

From Ms. Rice:
I have only just reached your email and you can see, I think, that I am backlogged and overwhelmed.  So please understand when I decline to read your work.  Also you do not need me to read it.  Move on ahead with it.  Have faith in yourself and in your own voice, and move towards getting the book published.  I know nothing about publishing, so there is nothing I can offer there.  But I can urge you to keep the faith in yourself. At some point, every published author was a nobody.  I was certainly a nobody.  I moved ahead. I refused to be stopped.  I wish you every blessing with your work.  Take care, Anne Rice.



PC Wheeler (cillaclare) said...

I love the idea of a Keepers folder and what a great inspiring letter from Anne Rice.

SarahBeth said...

I love this idea.

I have the same thing, only something similar. Its my kudos folder at work. I've been made fun of it before, but man, when I'm having a rough day, reading the emails from clients who really appreciate it make me feel better.