Looking for Creative Inspiration in Chronic Town

January 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm (Uncategorized)

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?


  1. Carrie Daws (@CarrieDaws) said,

    Wow! I’m so…..in awe! It seems that integrity is sincerely lacking in so many today, yet what you fought through to reach out to children around you is inspiring! I’ve taught pre-teens to write, and I love the look on their faces when I start the class with “We’re going to break some grammar rules!” This was a great post! Incredible, considering what you’re dealing with in the process!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks for the kind words, Carrie,

      As a teacher you know how motivating kids can be–how they push us to push ourselves. I’m glad my post resonated with you today and really appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment.


  2. MSMillerAU said,

    Most of my inspiration comes from things I see or hear – somehow seeing in a new light – fairly traditional I suppose. But you are inspiring – to get up and go to your class given how you were feeling, and then to still be able to feel the wonder of working with young people. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      And thanks for such nice feedback!

      I didn’t feel particularly inspiring. I was more in a “let’s get through this” mode and then the energy from the kids came over. Still, I’m glad that what I wrote resonated with you. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Stop by Chronic Town again some time soon.


  3. Sara Walpert Foster (@SaraWFoster) said,

    I least expected to find inspiration when I clicked on this link, knowing full well that I was so tired I might fall asleep sitting in my desk chair. But, you’ve inspired me in a big way. It isn’t that you went to teach despite the way you were feeling. It isn’t even that you wrote this blog post with a high fever. Although both of those things are impressive. It is the way you described those kids as being the best medicine, temporary but true. I sometimes forget to see what is right in front of me because I am so caught up in my own head. For you to be able to do that, in your current physical state, is truly inspirational.

    I hope you recover quickly. I don’t want to miss out on hearing more of your voice.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thank you, Sara! Your amazingly kind and supportive words were inspiration to me. It’s so rewarding to get such positive feedback.

      It is easy to get caught up in the minutia of life–to the point we lose sight of what’s in front of this. This is an ongoing struggle for, to stay tuned into all the good things I have going on.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. And please stop by Chronic Town again.


  4. Barbara Barnes said,

    Oh My! I am sure those kids were blessed by you, and the effort you made to be there. I so know the boost from holding a hand or looking down at your child’s face when they are Proud of you, and glad YOU are their parent. It is earned. Inspiration? Lately, I’ve been using each moment… yesterday my plans were not at all what happened so I just started saying, “oh, look what I am doing now!” or, “hmmm I seem to be going to Urgent Care now, for Maggie to get stitches”, or, “wow, not at the barn, I seem to be pushing my neighbor out of an ice jam”…lol. I’m getting it from humor, reading blogs like yours… and now and again, Merlot.

    I love your Mothering Rebecca… sending good whammies your way with loads of love and a reminder… spoons of liquid stay down.

    Love you… B

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      I love your perspective Barb–on taking each moment as it comes and seeing the humor or, at least, the “wow, this is interesting” potential, rather than getting all caught up in this not being what I planned, expected, wanted, deserve. Not that I would ever get caught up in expectations. (cough, cough. Look there’s the pope!)

      I appreciate your pride in my parenting. And for commenting and always reading my stuff.


  5. Julie Kenner (@juliekenner) said,

    Oh, man. This post in and of itself is inspirational. I have a friend who recently started chemo, so I have to thank you for the snapshot into what she must be going through. She’s 1500 miles away, so I only get the “doing fine!” updates from her and her husband. But I worry, and know there must be more…

    As for inspiration regarding my own writing, that’s so hard to say. Sometimes it’s in the big things. Sometimes it’s the little ones. Both can lead to moments of pure inspiration.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Hi Julie,

      I’m so glad I could provide some insight into your friend’s experiences with chemo. To be fair, though, I have often told my long-distance friends that I’m “doing fine” too. And it’s been true. I think living through chemo is, like so much else in life, requires dealing with dualities. I am doing fine. And then, I’m not. I’ve been lucky to have friends near and far who let both of these realities be true for me–who cheer for me when everything feels manageable and who let me fall apart when it feels impossible to keep going. I think that is what you can do for your friend. Just keep checking in and letting her know you are there for her, no matter what.

      I so appreciate your kind and supportive feedback. I can tell from how good you made me feel how good a friend you must be. So, thank you!

      Hoping you stop by Chronic Town again soon.


  6. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    You inspire me. So does Andrew. And those kids. And my students too. Trite though it may be: Get well soon. 🙂

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      And getting your thoughtful and supportive comments inspires me. Thank you for being such a loyal reader.

      It’s not trite. I am feeling a little better today. I’m trying not to go gangbusters. but let myself recover from the latest round at a sustainable pace.

      Thanks, Leanne.


  7. Marianne said,

    I want to take your class! I want to teach a class like yours. And friends who write inspire me!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Well I could open it up to 2nd graders through almost 40-year olds, though that could make finding a cohesive curriculum somewhat more challenging.

      Thanks for being such a loyal reader and friend. I appreciate your comments.

  8. hmcmullin said,

    I’ve been browsing blogs, and after reading yours I’d like to nominate you for The Versatile Blogger award. Check out my blog post http://www.conantstation.com/ to see the award and read some instructions that go with it. Happy Blogging! Helen

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thank you, Helen! I am honored!! It will take me a few days to follow the instructions. I am just recovering from chemo and then yesterday splatted myself on the ice and nicely damaged my ankle. But I’ll get there! Again, thank you!

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