My students are working through a unit over The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I didn’t want to do the unit…I love the book, but it’s about a young mother who dies from cervical cancer and how the cells from her tumor led to major advancements in medicine. The mother part and cancer part are a little too close to reality for me right now.
But, it’s a great book, I have a great unit on it, so I deal with my personal demons and move on. We read the prologue a couple of class periods ago. My students are hooked. They’re so interested in the story and the science.
Today, we talked about and analyzed the author’s style. In one of the texts we looked at, Skloot stated that there are moments which spark our creativity. We discussed where moments like that come from and how they affect us as writers. We talked about Instagram and filters and hashtags, about Twitter and audience and hashtags, about Snapchat and captions and emojis, about Tumblr and reblogs and tag names. We talked about how those are moments we choose to capture and tell the world about through communication.
My students don’t see themselves as writers even though they write so much. We talked about how their choices on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, YouTube, and texts are moments where they make deliberate choices as writers to produce content for an audience. Something has to spark those moments.
I told them about the day A proposed to me. We were in San Antonio in the courtyard at the Alamo during Spring Break. We’d been in Austin and decided to go to San Antonio because I’d never been there even though I’ve lived in Texas my entire life. I was 22. So, we went to the Riverwalk then the Alamo. We sat on the side of a large planter in the courtyard. There were dozens of people around us. I’d turned my head to look at something, and when I turned back to say something to A, there he knelt with a ring box in his hand.
I burst out laughing. He rolled his eyes. I laughed harder. He glared at me, gave a long suffering sigh, and said, “Stop laughing!” I laughed harder. He rolled his eyes again and asked, “Will you marry me?” I said yes and laughed.
My students found my story (it’s true) funny and felt some sympathy for A. I asked them if the technology existed then that we have today and they were one of those dozens of people standing around who saw this, would they document it and how.
“Totally would’ve Instagrammed it, Mrs. V with #relationshipgoals.”
“Nah…Snapchat with the caption ‘This fool’ and some emojis.”
“Twitter, hashtags, and a picture.”
My point to them was moments we choose to document make us writers who make deliberate choices, and I asked my students to connect back to Skloot and the moment which made her want to learn more and write about Henrietta Lacks. She was 16 in a college biology class and her professor mentioned HeLa cells and not much was known about Lacks. My students connected it and commented curiosity drove Skloot.
Our discussion was really good. Then, my student dove into an analysis of Skloot’s writing. We discussed the use of dashes signaling shifts and the power of one sentence paragraphs and irony and juxtaposition. My students worked hard today. Hopefully, they work hard tonight reading and annotating an article so we can have a good discussion tomorrow.
As we worked today, I found myself thinking of myself…the moments that motivate me to write, to create, to share. Joy, fear, sorrow, pain, pride, success, failure, love, anger. I am so many of those tonight.
My radiation burns are really bad, and a new one formed in the skin crease of my armpit. It’s lovely and goes with the burn down my left side and under my left expander. I have new blisters today. I’ve been in a fair amount of pain all day, and I couldn’t hide it from my students as much as I would have liked. They stepped up and did somethings for me…pass out papers, pick things up from the floor (because bending over hurts horrifically)…just little things, but little things I didn’t ask them to do. Moments of pain drive me to write.
I read on Facebook about a classmate of mine who’s been battling breast cancer for six years. It’s spread. It scared me. I came home and cried on A’s shoulder. I’m so sorry for her…and so scared it could be me next. Moments of sorrow drive me to write.
My students worked really hard today, and I know it’s hard for them to do the type of analysis I want them to do. Today, they tried so hard and said they feel more confident. Teaching is a joy (most of the time) for me. Seeing my students understand difficult concepts or being willing to try knowing they might fail are some reason why I teach. Moments of pride and joy drive me to write.
A had jury duty today and when he was done, he brought me lunch knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to eat today. As I walked him back to the front of the building, he did something he rarely does…he put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me he’s proud of me for doing what I do everyday…for getting out of bed, going to work, dedicating my time and energy to him, our kids, my students and coworkers, my friends, the rest of our family all while feeling like crap, undergoing aggressive treatments, and being in pain, and if I thought for one second I was disappointing anyone, I needed to stop thinking that way. Then, he kissed the top of my head and left. Moments of love and happiness drive me to write.
I’m so angry this happened to me. I’m so fearful I’m entering my last year(s) on this Earth and like Lacks, I’m going to die young and leave behind young children and a man I love. I’m so weary because I can’t catch a break from treatments and side effects. I’m so tired.
All these moments add together to make my story.
Our discussion in class today ended with us reflecting on a claim Skloot makes: “what you imagine the unknown to be is never what it actually is.” A student commented the claim is paradoxical because how can we imagine what we don’t know…if we can imagine it, whatever it is can’t be unknown. I feel like Skloot’s claim is my life since my diagnosis, but I can’t really know what the unknown is because it’s unknown. I fear what may happen, but I don’t know what will happen.
All I can do is be aware of the moments, my moments, I need to capture, to remember. If my fear comes true, my words will be one if the few things I can leave behind for my family, my children, my friends. And moments are all around…happen everyday.
I just have to watch for…feel for the spark.