What’s in a word

Perhaps you have taken part in the “one little word” tradition for the New Year as a means of living more intentionally and reflectively, maybe letting it guide your writing. At the beginning of 2020, I had a word in mind for the year.

Reclamation.

Here’s what I wrote, ten weeks before COVID-19 shut us down:

Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Whether life is suspended, or stagnant, or spinning out of control, we still have choices. Maybe it’s resting more. Writing more. Reading more, singing more. Praying more. Maybe it’s seeking help. Maybe it’s restoring relationships, or releasing them. Or creating something beautiful, meaningful. What we want to do and what we’re actually able to do in a day, a week, a month, a year, may be vastly different, but reclamation doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in determined, consistent bits by bits. It is deliberate and intentional.

At the end of 2020, I have to reflect on what my original vision of reclamation was, and what it became.

Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control. At the time, those words were mirroring 2019, when my husband was recovering from cardiac arrest and two heart surgeries. We spent weeks at the hospital in late summer. I never imagined the pandemic lying just ahead…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Caring for my husband took precedence over returning to work when school resumed that fall. When I did return, I fought a daily battle to catch up, to hit any kind of stride, as 2020 dawned. In February I broke my foot. In mid-March, the governor closed our schools due to COVID. In May, George Floyd was killed. America erupted. COVID continued erupting across the world. The election…really, one runs out of words. Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to to what you can, what’s most important, for that given day.

Reclamation, I wrote, involves choices. Both large and small. Every day.

One of my original intents for the year resembled a true environmental reclamation project: repairs and improvements around the house. Did I succeed? As I was home a lot more than ever before, thanks to the pandemic, yes, I accomplished a good bit. There’s just always more to do. One thing (don’t we know) often leads to another.

In 2020 I meant to write more. Did I? Most definitely. It wasn’t the type of writing I envisioned. I thought I would finally complete some things I started in years past. My blog post productivity increased. I ended up writing a lot more poetry than I have in decades. What does that say about the power of poetry in coping with powerlessness, inertia, darkness, even despair? Psychologists avow its therapeutic benefits. Poetry-writing invokes calmness, healing, strength. It calls to the spirit in a unique way. There’s something about the rhythms and breaks, something in the metaphor and imagery, in the cadence, the musicality, that soothes the soul and brings release. Not to mention the good old-fashioned value of hard work in trying to hammer a thing out, especially if there’s a desire to create something beautiful, meaningful.

Perhaps the most interesting take I had on “reclamation” in January 2020 had to do with teaching—before the scramble of completely reinventing it:

I write this not only for myself, but for other educators and instructional coaches struggling for clarity and a foothold in an ever-changing, shifting field: Beware the great chasm between theory and application, between programs that are packaged as “the magic bullet” and cost a pretty penny, but fail to deliver. Be aware of the great gulf between data that’s visible and the stories of human children, not so visible. Push back all that encroaches on growing the children, that which would inhibit their love of learning. Reclaim that for them. Know them and their families and their stories. Know your colleagues and their stories.

—I bolded the part I find most haunting, in retrospect. When I wrote those words I had no clue that children would be learning from home for months, that families would be scrambling to manage it, that devices and hotspots would have to be distributed on a massive scale, that people would lose jobs and loved ones to COVID, that food insecurity would become so widespread, that crisis and survival would keep some students from their learning, let alone a love of it.

What remains true, more so than ever, is that data can’t capture it all. We do need to know families and their stories. We need to know each other’s. From what else are compassion and empathy born? How else will we move forward, together? Reclamation in this sense involves pushing away whatever encroaches and consumes. It involves building something new, taking back what is being lost, reasserting rights…I am thinking of teachers now as much as of students, submerged by systems, structures, checklists, machinery. Of reclaiming a sense of humanity from processes, protocols, and programming which are, in the end punitive. When, if not now? Was a time ever “riper”? I wrote: It’s hard daily work, reclamation. Progress is slow to see for a time. The point being, start.

I also wrote: We reclaim the very heart of our humanity when we share our stories.

I have never been more grateful for the outlet of writing and the writing communities that feel like home to me. Writing taps an inner strength we may not realize is there; sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings. In a time of distance, isolation, stress and anxiety, with spiking mental health issues, connection is ever more vital. Therapists say that one of the best things a person can do to reduce stress is to write or journal (writing therapy and poetry therapy are real things). In the action of framing thoughts, or facing fears, we collect emotional resources, resilience, and creativity lying dormant or hidden as we wormhole our way through. One more line from my pre-COVID January 2020 vision of reclamation: In this day of restorative practices and social-emotional wellness, why are people not writing more? Here’s a point to ponder: a study by the National Literacy Trust in the UK (June 2020) says that children are turning to imaginative writing more than ever as an outlet for self-expression, creativity, and well-being, now that they have time and freedom to do so…

Life is, after all, writing us. In the words of Albert S. Rossi, clinical psychologist and Christian educator, which I’ve read before and rediscovered this week: We don’t live life. Life lives us.

As the page turns from 2020 to 2021, we’ll see where life leads. It may be in charge of the story, but we are in charge of the craftsmanship.

On that note, I am thinking twice about choosing a word for the new year. Maybe I’ll just see what it wants to say for itself.

In the meantime, resting more, reading more, singing more, praying more absolutely helps. Seek more help when needed. Be more gentle with yourself (a lesson I am still trying to learn).

Keep on writing alongside life.

*******

with a debt of gratitude to Two Writing Teachers and the ongoing Slice of Life Story Challenge which is, above all, a joy

and to the gathering at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, a divining rod of inspiration

44 thoughts on “What’s in a word

  1. I like the idea that in 2021 maybe you let the word reveal itself. I couldn’t help but look back at my own and realized I never made a post about my word. To be quite honest I’m not sure if I even chose one.
    2020 certainly was a roller coaster combined with the tilt-o-whirl. Just as we thought we had it figured out SWERVE and we were left with another gut punch and feeling of utter nausea. I found myself doing exactly as you wrote: reading more, singing more, praying more. This last one became so important to me. May 2021 show us all a little more love and grace because healing from this year is going to take awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those descriptions of 2020 – roller coaster/Tilt-o-Whirl – are spot on, Anna Maria. I’m usually a pretty calm person but I am recognizing the insidious toll all of it has taken on me. Wondering if it’s mostly a sense of being encroached upon, or maybe trapped, as in when will this “roller coaster-o-whirl” stop and let us off to reorient ourselves? Perhaps I am already reorienting. “One little word” can help provide a valuable lens for filtering it all, and it could even serve as a meditation or mantra, but at the present time, for me, the big idea of freedom is more alluring. “Freedom” might be a word to choose for 2021 if I were going to decide. Lots of layers to that. Even more so is a word I love in the last line of your response: healing. It IS going to take awhile, and if I could be given any power on earth, it would be to grant healing. Lots of layers to that as well. Thank you so much for the gift of your words.

      Like

  2. Beautiful, poignant reflection on your OLW and what it meant when you picked it and what it became in 2020. I love your last line and I am grateful that you keep on writing- I love to read every word. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this beautiful reflection on your one little word. Reclamation is such an interesting word to consider in a time that has felt beyond our control. I appreciate how you tie reclamation to stories and to writing. I love that children are doing more imaginative writing (thanks for sharing that) and I will be thinking about your line that life “may be in charge of the story, but we are in charge of the craftsmanship.” Reclamation. It’s a good word. Even for 2020. Maybe for many times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amanda, thank you for seizing that line on life being in charge of the story while we are in charge of the craftsmanship. It’s one of my favorites in the post. I believe it. We can’t control what happens to us but we can control our responses and what we make of it all… thank you also for picking up on the imaginative writing that children are doing during the pandemic. I have been lamenting the loss of writing workshop in my district, its having fallen out of favor and being replaced by a curriculum which embeds it, with less personal choices for kids, less opportunity to write about authentic, personally meaningful things. So, to know that kids are choosing to write in the way that kids love best, now that they are home so much, lifts layers of my veil of repair and proves to me (yet again) that they really DO love to write, when school doesn’t mess it up for them. That is a worthy reclamation project to me, worth fighting for, and one of the good things to come from these times. I’m holding onto it. 🙂

      Like

  4. I love the way you reflected on how your word ended up working for you in different ways. Words have such meaning and always it is the personal schema that sets us up. Your words always make me feel like I am in the room with you listening to you intently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That personal schema is definitely key – well-said! Words DO have such meaning, and I am deeply grateful for yours here, especially knowing that you feel “in the room with me” when you read mine. That means a lot to me.

      Like

    • A well-chosen word makes all the difference. You’re right about the interpretation and application of OLW. It opens doors and windows in the mind; it becomes a lens through which to view the world as well as our actions and interactions within it. It sparks deep reflection and often leads to new understandings along the fascinating journey of life… in this way, writing is always a North Star for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Your post is powerful. You unknowingly foreshadowed 2020 events and the effects of those events on our lives. Thank you for sharing your observations.
    I just wrote a comment on another Slicer’s life about OLW. Last year was the first year I actually picked a word. I think I felt some “peer pressure” to do it. Regardless, despite giving the choice of my word much thought, I now cannot recall what it was. Obviously, I did not have a strong connection to it. I’m not sure I’ll pick another word for this coming year. I’m trying to go with the flow more, and not be so “intentional” so, going without might be better for me.
    That said, you obviously, picked a good word for 2020. Kudos to you! And, Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • At moments I wondered if my OLW was having a laugh at me, that my idea of reclamation was a superficial joke in the face of 2020’s turbulence. Only in rereading my words from last January do I see a providence in it, a needed determination, even a (haunting) foreshadowing, as you mention. I am now thinking of what we have reclaimed in the face of such change and loss…and where my own reclamation projects might better be focused. The OLW can be a powerful visionary and reflective tool. It opens additional windows and doors in your mind and invites interesting perspectives. I think that recognizing the “peer pressure” factor is critical: choose a word only if you feel a pull to do so, or if you really want to test where a word can lead. I think I have just landed in a little solid spot where I want to freely explore what a new, unnamed island has to offer. Happy New Year – and happy writing – to you as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Isn’t writing wonderful? We document so we can go back and see our thoughts and then where life has led us. I am so glad you’ve landed in a solid spot that is unnamed…you’ll find a word to fit if you choose and one presents itself. Maybe, that is the way we should all approach OLW. I intend to go back and see what my word was. I might be surprised, too! Thanks for your comments….always appreciated!

        Like

  6. “Keep on writing alongside life” — This was very powerful to me as I wrote today for the first time in months! Thinking that it was this March that I started blogging and tried and completed the March Slice of Life challenge with you and other writers, at that time at least, writing was life to me and I was truly grateful for connecting with others like you by reading and learning from their writings. It helped me calm and balance my emotional health. Your post encouraged me to write more, thank you, Fran!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You cannot know how glad I am to see you back at writing again, and to know I have encouraged it in any way. Writing can be such a lifeline – it kept many of us going through the March challenge, for sure. I wrote when I felt I had nothing to say, nothing to offer… the act of it alone brings calm and balance. I’ve learned if I just show up and try, the words come (show up for the writing and the writing will show up for you). I am grateful for your words, Mari, and for this response to the post. Also grateful for your beautiful artwork. Keep painting life as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fran, there are so many reflective lines in your post that make me ponder. This one touched me: “Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to to what you can, what’s most important, for that given day.” This is how I felt so many days during 2020. Reclamation is a strong word and a magical one because it denotes what is to come while pondering what preceded that needs restoring. You are ready for 2021 and I am so eager to hear your one word.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for reflecting on your word for last year. I’m working on my 2021 word, too. I understand why it feels hard to choose one! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love these lines: “I ended up writing a lot more poetry than I have in decades. What does that say about the power of poetry in coping with powerlessness, inertia, darkness, even despair?”
    I, too, became more involved in writing communities, and it has been an absolute gift in 2020. Thank you for sharing such beautiful, intimate, and rhythmic writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am delighted that those lines on poetry spoke to you. 2020 stretched us in so many ways – but not all were hurtful. It WAS a gift to have more time to write, to connect with each other through writing, to carve out little pockets of calm in the chaos… here’s to keeping that momentum and those connections going! Thank you for this lovely response and the gift of your words.

      Like

  10. Your blog post is beautiful and thought-provoking (and somewhat of a prophetic read) –and your blog itself is gorgeous to look at. I love the image of writing (as we jog) alongside life. I am intrigued by the word ‘reclamation’ as OLW. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your words, your thoughts, and your process. And for helping us “turn the page.”

    Liked by 1 person

      • I am delighted to “meet” Annie – and savored every word of her rich post on seeing gratitude and beauty. I am grateful to know you both and to be a recipient of such beautifully scattered light – and so honored by your words. Thank you, Ruth. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

    • I so appreciate your words, Annie, regarding my post and the blog itself. It’s a little haven for me and I am always kind of awestruck when something strikes chords in others. These connections matter and remind me to keep on writing… thank you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Fran, this is such a beautiful, heartfelt reflective essay. So many lines reached out and touched me: Your words about writing communities knitting us together “by our heartstrings”, your thoughts about the power of poetry and the idea that we’re in charge of the craftsmanship of our lives. I’ve been reading a book by Lynda Barry and she writes “We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.” There’s such power in writing and in sharing our stories. Thank you for the gift of your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “Writing taps an inner strength we may not realize is there; sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings.” I felt this so much this year.

    I love the way you reflect on your word, and the strange, interesting, and beautiful ways life takes us.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. These lines, “Be aware of the great gulf between data that’s visible and the stories of human children, not so visible. Push back all that encroaches on growing the children, that which would inhibit their love of learning. Reclaim that for them. Know them and their families and their stories. Know your colleagues and their stories.” I think these are even more true in our COVID world. Children need their teachers to help them mind meaning and play when so much “encroaches on growing.’

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow – your word and year and reflection gave me goosebumps. I appreciate that we share our stories. Your sentence “sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings” is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.”
    Thank you! 😀 Love this.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s