“bird by bird,” word by word


Teaching is terrifying.

I taught my class at the library this week – ©The Writer’s Shed: Everyone Has a Story.

The night before, I woke up mid-dream, and mid-excuse with a top ten list of why I wouldn’t be able to teach in the morning. Here it is:

1) Couldn’t sleep
2) Too tired
3) Too terrified
4) What if no one shows?
5) What if everyone shows?
6) What if I talk too much?
7) What if I don’t talk enough?
8) What if someone asks me something I don’t know?
9) What do I know? ‘Cause the more I learn, the less I think I know.
10) What if someone leaves in the middle of it? Will I chase them? Will I tackle them; wrestle them to the ground, drag them back inside and bang a book over their head?

Or, will I just leave with them?

Clearly, I dream irrationally, using subconscious logic to persuade myself into believing that what I perceive as an imminent threat is as real to me as the danger itself, which probably doesn’t speak well for my conscious logic.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I thought, “As I Lay Dying” by James Faulkner.

Can I be arrested for overdue books?

Assaulting someone in a library?

(Mental Note: Regardless of due dates, return all library books and donate all personal books for good karma credit.)

Then I found the best book on writing that I’ve ever been given, Ann LaMott’s, “bird by bird.”

I flipped it open to a page I had dog-eared – page nineteen.

“Thirty years ago,” she writes, “[her] older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. [They] were out at their family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then [her] father sat down beside him, put his around [her] brother’s shoulder, and said, “bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.””

That’s it – “bird by bird!”

I’ll take it bird by bird, and word by word.

And that’s what I’ll tell my students to do too.

But I sensed an old familiar feeling creeping into my body, or maybe more accurately I hope – it was creeping out.

Either way, I felt slightly paralyzed with Fear.

Disguised as a Saboteur, it settled quietly and comfortably in the commonplaces of my body – the way it used to in the past.

The more I resist it, the more it surges and swells inside of me.

I tried to calm the storm that was brewing, repeating my new mantra: “bird by bird, word by word,” but it was too late.

Like a sudden tsunami, I became violently ill.

Old habits die hard.

My fear, no matter how irrational, can still overcome me physically, but where I used to succumb to it completely, I embrace it now – even after it makes me physically sick.

Fear will never get the best of me; not anymore.

Splashing cold water on my face and chewing on a wad of spearmint “Chicklets,” I started repeating LaMott’s mantra again, “bird by bird, bird by bird,” and then…

…”Bird by bird, word by word, one foot in front of the other.”

I showed up to teach my class because my students were going to be showing up for me.

I wish I could tell you that it was an awesome experience, but if I tell you that, I might have to admit that I like teaching and I have sworn up and down until Tuesday, that I would never, ever teach.

What was awesome?

My students.

Listening to their stories.

And realizing that no matter where our stories begin, they all lead us back home – to the heart.

Those are the stories that move us, inspire us, change us, and connect us.

Everyone has a story. Who’s going to tell yours?

Until next time…

…Cheers to “Chicklets,” devoted teachers, sharing stories of the heart, and finding a little bit of humor in our day.

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14 Responses to ““bird by bird,” word by word”

  1. RoxNovember 12, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

    Way to go Mo! Proud of you- hope it becomes easier and easier for you…. You are very talented.

    • MO VEARNovember 13, 2016 at 4:23 am #

      Hiiiii Rox!!!! So happy to see you here. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! 🙂

  2. KarynNovember 12, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    I was downstairs at the library after Mo’s class, listening to 2 women that attended. They were talking how they enjoyed the class and people’s stories, although one of them was feeling a little overwhelmed with the writing. The women continued talking and walked over to a little cafe to keep the dialogue going. Mo, I think you engaged the class in a wonderful way and have nothing to worry about next week. Enjoy the stories you are bringing out of students, word by word!

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks for the insight, Karyn. That’s helpful to know, and of course, I can relate! Thanks for reading and commenting, and for all of your support at the library. Librarians rock! 🙂

  3. MomNovember 12, 2016 at 8:49 am #

    I can feel your pain.

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

      I know you can! Thanks for sharing the pain; hopefully the sharing it, cuts it in half and doubles our joy! LOL Thank you for reading and commenting here. xoxo

  4. BevieNovember 11, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    Another wonderful ditty on the realness in life. I so enjoy how you put into words what’s going on in your head… The exact things that I feel but would never even think to write about them… So thank you for writing! I love how you pushed through your fear and showed up … Why??? Because your students were showing up for you.
    It’s always when get our focus off our favorite subject, (self) we grow. When I feel a pity party comin on, I go visit the nursing home or someone sick so my focus is off poor pitiful me and on to others. Then and only then, I am powerful not pitiful !!!

    Another quote if yours: And realizing that no matter where our stories begin, they all lead us back home – to the heart. Those are the stories that move us, inspire us, change us, and connect us.

    Everyone has a story. Thanks for connecting, championing through and sharing yours!!! Xxoo

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

      Thanks, Bev. ‘Preciate your comment about getting our ego out of the way. Mom used to tell me all the time – it doesn’t matter the medium, if I was delivering a message through any art form, get my ego out of the way – it’s the last think I prayed on just before delivering her eulogy – “this is not about me – it’s about mom and spreading her message,” which as you know, was always about love, and more of it!!!! Thanks again for your continuous support and comments and all that YOU do to carry that message of love and hope. xoxox 🙂

  5. Maria MaganaNovember 11, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    I am now a retired teacher but I do remember the fear of facing a new group of students at the beginning of each school year. But it did get better and I do agree, the students and their stories were the best part and what I still miss. One thing I have to say there was lots of humor and never a dull moment.

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

      I can’t believe you felt like that EVERY year, Maria, even though it did get better, that’s thirty years or more, if I remember correctly! Wow. I feel much better – at your expense! LOLOLOL 🙂

  6. SherieNovember 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Ha! Congrats teach! Here’s to many more classes taught….without barf.

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      Ha, is right! I almost called you before I went, but then I heard your laugh in my brain, which made me laugh before I walked in. Thanks for getting in my head when I need it most. xoxoxoxox

  7. bethNovember 11, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    So what I wanna know — did your brother write that paper?? On another note, I think it’s so important to know when your body is psyching you out. This happens at our house all the time. It is fairly common for me to get this text from my 15-year old daughter: Mom, I’m sick, I’m on the couch in the nurse’s office. Come get me. Me: Why? Her: cuz I’m sick. Me: Eat something, lay there for a little longer, and then go back to class, I’m working.
    It never fails — and never becomes anything either. The nurse never calls me to say she’s really sick. I never feel guilty. My daughter never mentions the episode, ever. I never go to pick up my “sick” kid in the nurse’s office. Am I a bad parent? I think not.

    • MO VEARNovember 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

      Right? It took me so long to recognize and separate that feeling – that my body was psyching me out – such an engrained behavior – learned behavior that was reenforced. Thanks for sharing this story about your daughter – such a great reminder for me with my kids. It’s never about the given reason, but more about some underlying fear they have, isn’t it? Thanks for reading and commenting, Beth.

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