When I received the email from The Book Loft inviting me for a book signing I had to admit I had no idea where Amelia Island was. Although the name was fitting. Amelia is the protagonist in MYSTIC. As soon as I read about the Island I began planning a weekend family vacation around my book signing.
Thank you, Sue and Beth for inviting me to your lovely bookstore. I enjoyed meeting everyone and talking books.
One night while trying to become less of a Twitter twit I stumbled across a video of Mark Duplass’s keynote speech at SXSW. I thought it was fabulous, and ended up watching the entire speech even though I’m not interested in becoming a filmmaker.
The speech was about how the cavalry is not coming. He encouraged filmmakers to start making films with whatever they had. No excuses, just get to work. I thought this was also a great lesson for writers.
It dawned on me that this idea of a cavalry had been a recurring theme in my life.
It began in my late teens when the cavalry was actually one man. I waited on my prince. I used to lie in bed at night, stare at the full moon, and think that somewhere out there was the man I would marry and he was, at that very moment, gazing at the moon too. It was all very romantic, but the underlying feeling was one of needing another person to “complete” me. If I could go back and wake up that dreamer I’d tell her she didn’t need anyone to save her. She was enough.
After graduation, I took off for NYC and later Los Angeles to pursue acting. This time the cavalry was casting directors. Surely they would see something in me and offer me a part, and then I’d be on my way to the movie career I longed for. Again, there was the belief that I needed someone else to bring me happiness. It’s possible this belief stopped me from doing all the work I should have as far as learning the craft of acting. I spent too much time seeking out agents and casting directors and too little time acting.
I think the notion of a cavalry coming is tempting because it involves less vulnerability and less work. Creating films or books requires a lot of courage. First the courage to create and then the courage to put it out in the world for others to see. Having the cavalry behind you feels a lot safer than standing alone. The problem comes when we pull up a chair and wait for the cavalry. When we don’t believe in ourselves enough or allow fear to stop us from doing what it is that brings us joy.
So go out there and make films or write, paint, dance, play music, sing, start a business, whatever it is you know in your heart you must do. Then practice over and over. You will fail. You will have days where you love your work and days where you’ll want to put your manuscript through the paper shredder that sits next to your desk. Perhaps you’ll even want to give up because the work is harder than you ever imagined. But through all the effort comes experience. With time, you will see improvement. Eventually, the cavalry may actually arrive. The good news is, at this point, you will be strong enough to ride with them. You’ll realize they didn’t come to save you; they came because they believe in you.
What a wonderful book launch week! I was overwhelmed with gratitude from everyone’s support. Reading to all the kids was the highlight of my week.
I opened up a discussion on why MYSTIC ends as it does, trying to get them to see deeper into the story. This particular class was a high energy class. A mixture of 6th through eighth graders; the most challenging class I’ve ever taught. They were the class that kept me awake at night wondering how I could do better the next day.
One boy was extremely excitable. I never knew what was going to come out of his mouth next. If I turned my back for a second I could find him across the room initiating an imaginary sword fight with a classmate. He had many behaviors on the surface but underneath there was great understanding.
After finishing Mystic, while the rest of the class completed their assignment, I went over to the boy to keep him on task. I knew getting him to stay focused and write down all his answers could be challenging so I asked him the questions and told him I’d write. He responded. I asked him what a theme of a story was. He knew. I asked him what the theme of MYSTIC was. “It’s that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability. You’re still who you are on the inside. Oh, and to trust.” My heart was dancing a lil jig. He did it!
When I looked up, I saw his classmate next to him, a very sweet, very patient, girl who had been sitting next to him for seven weeks, often the recipient of many of his antics, raise her arms in the air and do a silent cheer for him. The moment will forever be etched in my mind. One student cheering on another’s success. A fleeting moment in my day that reminded me of an important lesson. Find the thread that connects us, despite our differences, lift each other up by that thread. Celebrate each other’s success. It was one of those moments that made me grateful to be a writer and a teacher.
On my last two days….
The students surprised me with many extra credit MYSTIC projects. The optional assignment was to think of what they love to do–choose an art and create something that relates to Mystic. I’m deeply grateful, humbled, touched, and in awe of all they created. Thank you, middle school students at NFMAA. I loved getting to know each and every one of you.
Meeno the eccentric wizard. A black diamond. The wolf on Greg’s Ayer.
From the time I was young there was always this feeling that someone was going to come along and sweep me off my feet, or I’d be discovered by an agent and get a role in a movie, or maybe even win the lottery and become a millionaire. That somehow I’d be saved or offered an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a fun dream that requires little effort. It’s rarely reality.
When I became a teacher I’d watch students jot down two or three sloppy sentences when asked to summarize, hand it in and expect an A. It was then that I began talking about effort. There seemed to be an expectation of a reward without the work. The reality is that if you want to be successful at something, acting, writing, teaching, cooking, parenting, even relationships or marriage, you must put in a lot of effort. Nobody is coming to come along, wave a magic wand and make all your wishes come true. You must make your own wishes come true and that requires dedication, persistence, a belief in yourself, and hard work. It means picking yourself up when you fail and moving on. There is no perfect life, the one in your mind that tells you you’ll be happy when (fill in the blank)__________ happens. There is today, right now. Ask yourself what you can do today to work towards your dreams. Then relax knowing you’ve opened the door and you’re all you need to make your wishes come true.
I’m in the middle of a deep sleep, dreaming I’m riding horseback at sunset or sitting listening to David Gray sing Silver Lining when suddenly blasting sirens interrupt my peace forcing me to open my eyes. I reach through the darkness to stop the horrible honking and will myself awake. It’s 4:45 am. Time to get ready for school.
Before my feet touch the floor I’m thinking of things to be thankful for. This cuts off all thoughts of wanting to climb back under the covers. Coffee! At this moment I’m very thankful for coffee.
It’s been years since I’ve taught full-time. And years since I’ve had the freedom to teach my own lessons, given only the Standards and allowed to create from there. The joy that this brings me is incredible, surpassed only by the joy that I feel being around the students. They’re independent, curious, searching to understand themselves, leaving their elementary years behind and becoming young adults. Sixth graders can go from perfectly peaceful to screeching laughter in two seconds reminding me of my own days in sixth grade when my math teacher, Mr. Jones, would tease the quietest of kids (me) just to bring them out of their shell to have fun with everyone else.
I’ve only been in the classroom for three days. There are over one hundred names to learn and personalities to understand. I’ve been called Ms. R., Ms. Raisin, “What’s your name again?” and K.D. I’ve given eight author presentations and next week we will begin reading MYSTIC. We’ve discussed disability, what it means to be paralyzed, wheelchairs, racing wheelchairs, inner strength, and treating others as we wish to be treated. I’ve introduced my favorite books and encouraged them to learn about the authors who’ve written their favorite books. We’ve journaled and practiced vocabulary words on Quizlet. I’ve been handed four stories created by students to read over the weekend. Never before have my two worlds, teaching and writing, come together so perfectly.
I’m excited for this two-month journey in middle school. I hope I can teach the six graders as much as they’ll teach me.
Here are some more of my posts on teaching:Bad Teacher or Bad Parent Teaching Students About Disability
K.D. Rausin is a former teacher living in sunny Cape Coral, Florida. MYSTIC, her middle grade fantasy, and Elle & Buddy, her picture book, both feature strong female protagonists who use wheelchairs. Both books were inspired by her daughter, Arielle Rausin.
K.D. Rausin is a former teacher living in sunny Cape Coral, Florida. MYSTIC, her middle grade fantasy, and Elle & Buddy, her picture book, feature strong female protagonists who use wheelchairs. Both books were inspired by her daughter, Arielle Rausin.
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.