I was not feeling creative yesterday afternoon.
I’ve had an especially hard time bouncing back from my monthly dose of chemo that I got on Friday. Every month the nausea and vomiting are a little worse, my fever is higher, the fatigue is deeper, the mouths sores are more painful…oh good grief, you get the idea.
I spent almost every minute between Friday’s infusion and Monday afternoon in a coma-like sleep or in the bathroom getting acquainted with the toilet from interesting new angles. On Monday afternoon I was scheduled to lead the second after school creative writing club at my son’s elementary school.
I desperately did not want to leave my bed on Monday. I dragged myself up around noon and scrabbled around to think up fun creative writing prompts that would captivate a group of 10 students, ranging from second to fifth grade. I took a very long shower, dressed in clean clothes, and even applied make-up so that I wouldn’t frighten the dear little ones. The only problem was that cleaning myself up drained the dregs of my energy.
So I swung by Starbucks on my way to the school and ordered a quad latte. It seemed like a good idea. 4 shots of espresso would surely jolt me into creative action. Unfortunately, they also jolted loose a spiteful genie in my stomach. I pulled over a few blocks from the school to discretely hurl up that good idea. Luckily, I lug around a purse the size of Kansas, so I could clean off my face (and all that nice make-up) with a wet-wipe left over from Andrew’s toddler days, and freshen my breath with a stick of gum the consistency of bricks.
The kids filed in after the last bell rang. I doled out string cheese and granola bars. They looked pretty tired too after a full day of school. I decided that even though it sounded like a good idea to me, group napping likely wasn’t why they signed up for this fledgling creative writing club. It was time to get moving and inspire young minds. I was nervous. This was my second week with these kids, and I know several of them from helping out with reading group during the school day. But the post-chemo hangover sapped my confidence. Think of teaching creative writing—or anything else you love, but that is also challenging— when you’ve got a nasty flu.
I’ve taught creative writing to adults before, and I loved every minute of it. Working with kids is an entirely different ballgame, though. My adult students were usually cautious. They were recovering from an educational system that minimizes creativity and maximizes rules. I’m all for grammatical rules, and I value a 5-part essay as much as anyone else. Yet, there also has to be a time to break those rules—to let ideas flow, for the heart to lead and the mind follow, for writing to be fun. It took my adult students a few classes to let go of their anxiety and to trust that they had something to say.
The kids in the creative writing club are young enough that they haven’t been straitjacketed by school English classes. They love writing, and they love reading out loud to the group what they just wrote. They moan when our hour is up and wheedle me to come in twice a week, instead of once. They call out answers to the questions I ask. They write wonderful, whacky, inventive, insightful, poetic little pieces in our group. They bring in poems, excerpts from novels (yes, you read that right, novels), and stories. One kid started a school newspaper on his own. These kids are so amazing. They are brimming with stories—their own and ones they invent. They have voices, and they want to use them.
When the hour was up yesterday, I was drenched with sweat and was dizzy. Plus, the genie in my stomach was back in action. But I also felt like every cell in my being was singing. “You did good, Mama,” my 8-year old son, Andrew said, as we walked out to the car together. (He’s in the club, too). “Everyone had fun writing today.”
I wish that the energy and wonder of creativity had lifted me permanently out of post-chemo sickness. It didn’t. By the time we made it home, I couldn’t stay standing for another minute. I fell into bed, and stayed there until morning. I’m still feeling sick today. In fact, I had to call the doctor a few minutes ago because my fever is disturbingly high, and my stomach is a mess. He told me that it’s just after-effects of the chemo and that I need to rest.
I’m glad that I pushed myself yesterday to share creative sparks with the writing club kids. I brought what energy and spirit I could to them, and they sparkled and popped like fireworks around me. They reminded me of what it’s like to feel your writing. They carried me through that hour—and this tough day.
What are your experiences of finding inspiration when you least expected it?