Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dream Keepers Dreaming

On Monday night, I brought a fun exercise for the Dream Keepers. I gave them a version of the Best Possible Self exercise found in several psychology studies (Laura King, Sonja Lyubomirsky, et. al.): "Imagine yourself a year from now. You have worked hard. Everything has gone as well as possible. Tell me what your life looks like. What have you accomplished? What do you do with your days? What is new in your life?" This was not a new exercise to the group. We had done a variation of this more than a year ago.

The Dream Keepers looked like I'd asked them to eat brussels sprouts. Or write a novel in 30 days. Actually, when I shared with them my wild and crazy dream that we'd write a book together, they embraced it.
"No problem!" one shouted.
"Even if it's long? Like 200 pages?" I asked.
They shrugged, undaunted by the idea.

BUT THIS! Imagine their best possible future selves? Too hard, they whined.

I tried again. I invited the Dream Keepers to create a list of the 50 or 100 things they wanted to do before they died. They asked, "So what do you want on the list?" I told them that I wanted them to put down what THEY wanted to do with their own lives—not what I wanted for them. I gave them a few ideas, "Write about where you want to travel, where you might go to college, what kind of degrees you will earn, what kind of family you want, who you want to connect to, how you might help the community. Stuff like that." They wiggled, got up and walked around, danced a bit to the music I'd brought, and talked about random worries. But then the Dream Keepers wrote long lists of dreams.

Next year, we will work more on writing down dreams and learning how to set goals. I think this is a valuable and essential skill for life--because (as some wise person once said) we have to dream it before we can do it.

Here's the magic in this dreaming exercise. As the Dream Keepers wrote, they shared their ideas with each other. That sharing reminded the rest of us of our own dreams. Me, too. Natalie wrote that she wanted to make a movie. Ahh yes! Me, too! I recorded my desire to become a better swimmer. Maya added it to her list as well.

The Dream Keepers gave me permission to share their lists with you. I hope the lists will dare you to dream, too!

Dream on! Rochelle

Maya's list
Travel to Spain, Travel to Hawaii, have twins, become a medical pathologist, become a millionaire, meet Usher, meet Chris Brown, see my grandkids get married, live until I die, meet the President, be in a movie, go to college, graduate from college, write a book, go scuba diving, swim with fish, learn how to swim, learn how to ice skate, ...

Elisha's list
Go to paris, go to Africa, have a baby in Africa, adopt a baby, go to Disneyland, meet Corbin Bleu, meet Chris Brown, meet lloyd, open a day care, be in a broadway play, be a choreographer, have long hair, lose weight, go sky diving, ...

Natalie's list
Have 10 children, have 6 college degrees, be married to the man of my dreams, travel to Africa, meet Alicia Keyes, have 20 bestselling CDs, act in at least 15 movies, date Chris Brown, lose weight and keep it off, date Tyson, become a vegetarian, have 30 bestselling novels, adopt 6 children, sponsor 20 children, adopt children, become a millionaire, love all my enemies, be an example of love and peace, create a prayer, go to China, go to Europe, direct a film, choreograph, find a cure for AIDS, find a cure for cancer, become the first Black female president, write a play, spoil my mother, be a minister at a church, send my children to college, ...

Word Play

A few weeks ago, I read Sanford Lyne's book, Writing Poetry from the Inside Out. He encourages word play--taking groups of four words and playing with them until you have a poem. I gave the Dream Keepers lists of words, they chose their word groups, and we went to work. Here is what they came up with:

by Maya Montgomery

In my life, I see darkness
and sunlight. When I see
sunlight I see beauty,
bees, and birds. When I
see darkness I see drunkenness,
Death, and loneliness.

Listen Up
by Elisha Branch

Even though we are all God's child
Young boys and girls are going wild.
No one is a star of fame
And we are all filled with shame.
Wise Buddha try to fill heads with knowledge
and make them imagine going to college.
Teaching the boys to be together, to grieve,
all they want to say is that their favorite player is thirty-three.
Trying to teach girls how to get up quick,
all they can say is that they'll survive on WIC.
Learn to stand up when you fall
and stop when your back is against the wall.
Listen up and you'll know the best.
Learn this now, then take a rest.

Before and After
by Natalie Branch

Before I met Christ
I was in such a fright
I didn't know what to do
besides sing the blues.
I dreamed I was a happy mermaid
splashing through the wave
but I realized I could never be happy
not in all my days.
I don't know why I'm so sad
or why I'm so mad.
I guess it's because every night I'm alone
I don't have anyone to love or
those that love me.
I am an adult child crying beside the trees.
When I found Christ
I was in such delight
I never knew I could love
or that someone could love me back.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holding Truth

The Dream Keepers have been reading short stories from the book Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon G. Flake. The books came to us as a gift from Venice Williams, the executive director of Seedfolks Youth Ministry. (THANK YOU!)

Last night, the girls chose titles from the book as a starting point for their writing. Story titles such as, "So I Ain't No Good Girl" and "The Ugly One" allowed the girls to create some edgy rants (my term to describe a spoken-word poem). With the permission of the girls, I've published three of the poems below. I wish you could have heard these poems spoken aloud. They rocked.

Gentle readers, be warned. None of these poems are pretty or nice. I think the girls meant to shock. I like that. As their writing teacher, I want them to be honest. I want their words to reflect what THEY experience, think, and envision. I do not want to censor or shape their ideas—spoken or written—so that their work will be more palatable. When writers have the freedom to write what they want, they are more creative and, according to psychologists, more likely to reap the benefits (increased health and self agency).

When I asked the girls if the poems were true, they laughed at me. I deserved it! If someone had the gall to ask if one of my stories was true, I would laugh, too. All writing holds truth. Perhaps this is one of the best gifts the Dream Keepers offer. In writing and sharing their work, they hold truth for us to learn from. Enjoy!

Don't Be Disrespecting Me
by Elisha Branch

I have crusty lips and crooked teeth
but don't be disrespecting me.
I have scarred legs and chubby feet
but don't be disrespecting me.
I have big thighs and ashy knees
but don't be disrespecting me.
You can talk, say what you please
but don't be disrespecting me.
Go ahead and talk. I'll ignore you three
but don't be disrespecting me.
Don't look if you don't like what you see
but don't be disrespecting me.
I look like I do; that's how it's gonna be
but don't be disrespecting me.
I am who I am; you be who you be
but don't be disrespecting me.
I am Elisha, and that's who I want to be
so don't be disrespecting me!

I Ain't No Good Girl
by Natalie Branch

"I ain't no good girl!"
I don't always go to school.
I don't always follow all the rules.
"I ain't no good girl!"
I've been to jail before.
I curse and scream even more.
"I ain't no good girl!"
I argue, fuss, and fight.
I sneak out of the house at night.
'Cause I ain't no good girl!
I sneak.
I peek.
I cheat.
I beat.
Because I ain't no good girl!

The Ugly One
by Natale Branch

I don't go to school dances.
I don't have any romances.
Because I'm the ugly one.
People don't like me.
They beat and tease me.
Because I'm the ugly one.
They call me rude names.
My face shows shame.
Because I'm the ugly one.
I scream and shout
With a pillow over my mouth.
Because I'm the ugly one.
I laugh.
I cry.
I sometimes want to die.
Because I'm the ugly one.

Introducing the Newest Dream Keepers

Greetings Dream Keeper fans!

We have been busy writing these past months. The Dream Keepers spent a month working on their essays for a local Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay contest. I'll post those essays in January, once the judging is complete. We've also added three new dreamers. Here are the I AM poems of two of our new members.

I AM by Rachel Coney
I am a beautiful child of God
I have a nice smile.
I am short.
I am pretty.
I am goofy.
I am funny.
I am happy.
I am Rachel Coney.

I AM by Maya Montgomery
I am kind.
I am sweet
I am smart.
I am friendly.
I am tall.
I am skinny.
I am light brown.
I am athletic.
I am a daughter.
I am a sister.
I am an auntie.
I am a neice.
I am Maya Noel Montgomery.

Our third new member, Rebecca Coney, has not had time to write her I AM poem. She did participate in an exciting but difficult writing exercise last week. I have been reading the book, Writing Poetry from the inside out by Sanford Lyne. He encourages writers to use clusters of words as a starting point for poetry play. The girls found the exercise interesting but challenging.