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let the revolution begin


At 9:45 sharp, I stood in front of 25 students, all undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, welcoming them to their first “Personal Leadership in the University,” class this semester.  Aside from the three things they each chose to tell the class about themselves, things like, “I like sports,” or “I love to cook, and I make a mean cheesecake,” or “I’m a small-town girl at heart,” I know nothing of these students.


I know they have worked hard to get to where they are, in these seats facing me, in this room, at this R1 university that accepts a fraction of the students that apply.  I know that I am meeting them at a critical juncture of their lives, when they have left the nests of familiarity, of what they have known, into a future that is yet unknown, yet to be created.  I know that they have dreams and friends and families and struggles and fears and desires and anger and happiness and hurt and courage and hope. I know they each have a story, stories full of possibility and power to change the world.

And when I stand in front of them and share my story, I spare none of my failures.  I tell them that when I was in a student like them, sitting in my chair on my first day of college, I could hear the walls I had built around myself begin to rumble. I could feel a falling apart, a cluelessness about who I was and what I wanted, a feeling of aloneness, of being the only one who had no idea what I was doing with my life.  I tell them I was so riddled with uncertainty and depression, I rarely made it to my classes, graduating five years later with a mediocre GPA, a blank slate, and enough desperation and determination to create a life that resonated with the thrum of my soul’s longing.

I share these things in part because I know mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are epidemic in universities today.  But mostly I share these things because I have a deep belief that sometimes we need to fall apart, obliterate what we have known and think we know in favor of what we may discover, about life and about ourselves, about what we have to give, about our unique talents, and about the profound gifts that can come from profound struggle.

I invite them to be human, to not know. Because in this space of not knowing, in the blank spaces of our lives, we have an opportunity to innovate, to create an idea or thought or solution that has yet to be created.  In my classroom, we begin each day entering the pages of our journals, where I invite them to create the greatest art they will ever create–their lives.

Let the revolution begin.



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giving voice



She walked in class, mascara smeared sideways across her face, “I am having a horrible day.”

Though this wasn’t the plan for our writing that day, the school social worker suggested she write about boundaries. I told her to write about whatever she needs to write about.  Because if there is something on our minds, something painful and pressing and full of energy, we need to go there and attend to that thing.  Because in that moment, there is no room for anything else.

Because, most of all, when we make space for our students to listen to their thoughts and to express what it feels like to be a human being in this world, we allow for the poetry of their souls to emerge.


I put my heart on my sleeve
but to you it was off-brand.

I put a good head on my shoulders
but I tend to crash, not land.

You said to cry you a river
I did so you could sail

But I ended up drowning and going off the rails.

I wonder who you are, who you were, who you want to be
but lord knows I’m an open book with no mystery

I was your rock but you needed a boulder
no matter how you treat me
I’ll let you cry on my shoulder

I’ll let you hit me before I ever fall
for you I’ll always call

But will you be there?
When I’m drowning in my tears?
When my life’s defined by fear?

I put my heart on my sleeve
I cried you a river
I tried to be your rock

Either way I’m going to
always be here.


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deface the page (and save your brain)


Here’s the problem with thinking: thoughts build upon each other and begin ricocheting against the walls of my brain, creating pure chaos and a cacophony that distracts me from the very life I’m living.  Often, too often, the thoughts I wake up begin with the words “I should…”  I should have woken up earlier.  I shouldn’t have stayed up so late.  I should be more organized.  I should relax more.  I should do more….

The sun comes up, the gloves come on, and I begin beating the crap out of myself for all of my failings and shortcomings.  Yippee!

Lucky for me, I have been gifted with a malfunctioning brain that tends more to negative, self-defeating thoughts than fresh, wind-blown inspirations. Even so, I’ve come to believe most of us humans are susceptible to these unkind thoughts about ourselves, and we all must find a way to live and thrive, in spite of the asshole within.

This is why I write. To change my mind. To move it from a negative to a positive state, so I can air out the stale thoughts and get on with things.  I neuroplasticize baby.  I move, I should have woken up this morning at 6:00 to I want to wake up at 6:00 each morning so I have time alone with my thoughts and steaming cup of coffee.  One contains punishment while the other contains positive intention and inspiration.

So I make time for this.  I make time to change my mind, to feed it positivity and power.  Because it really comes down to choosing the thoughts we want to think.  Therefore, I deface the page to save my brain.


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i was the girl…

me atop a mountain along the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand, December 1996

me atop a mountain along the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand, December 1996

I was the girl with grass-stained jeans and a bad perm that smelled like her parents’ Camel cigarettes; the girl who wandered along Minnehaha Creek pretending she was an orphaned explorer in the wilderness.

I was the girl who sat next to the girl with the tan that she got during her trip to Florida over spring break with her family.

I was the girl who drank Snappy Toms with maraschino cherries on her first plane trip when she was ten, the only girl at Venice Beach that December day, leaping in the waves of the salty water she met for the first time.

I was the girl who dreamed big dreams, who wondered what it was like in faraway places.

I was the girl who got into Madison by the skin of her teeth where she overheard a conversation in a locker room one day about a post-college work-abroad program.

I was the girl who then sat down and wrote, I want to travel… and later, I want to travel to the other side of the world… and later, I want to travel to Australia and learn to surf…

I was the girl who listened to people say, “How are you going to do that?” and “What are you going to do when you get back?”

I was the girl who didn’t know the answer to any of these questions.  But.

I was the girl who fed dreams to my journals where they grew real.

I was the girl who worked double-shifts at Rock Bottom, rode her bike home late in the evening, and stashed her cash in the top drawer.

I was the girl who found herself sitting on a Qantas flight headed for Melbourne, Australia at the end of December, 1995 in an old pair of Levi’s with $500 cash in her back pocket and no plans upon arrival,

the girl who meant to stay for three months but stayed a year,

the girl who picked flowers in the Dandenong Mountains and mandarin oranges in sweet-smelling groves next to a Dutch girl named Free.

I was the girl who hitchhiked and ran out of money and worked in a tomato-packing shed, the girl who got yelled at by a short, toothless Aussie woman because she put a #2 tomato in the #1 box.

I was the girl who traveled across the world, to Australia, and then New Zealand, to learn how to surf.

I was the girl who lived a dream impossible,

the girl who planted the seed of that dream, where it grew in the pages of her journal,

and spilled out, into her life.


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teaching kids the power of their stories


There is a power that exists in every chair in every school across the world.  The power is within us all, but remains untapped.  While we are busy teaching kids about the world outside of them, we rarely, if ever, give them time to understand the vast and rich world within.  Though mental health is a major determinant of success in life and school, curricula for social/emotional development has been absent from schools.


The truth is, our greatest power resides within the power of our story.  When we teach kids to grab a hold of theirs and own it–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the magic–we show them the way to their strength, resilience, talent, compassion, and creativity.  When we teach kids to ask themselves questions like, “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” and “What do I believe?” we point them to the power within.

It is not high math and reading scores, STEM curricula, or a heavy load of extracurricular achievements that we need to face this complex world where, through technology, we are globally connected. It is through deep understanding of ourselves and our shared humanity that will ultimately bridge the great divides.


When students are given time and space to write about their thoughts, feelings, and lives on a regular, sustained basis, they not only become elegant writers, they discover the wide-open landscape of their own possibilities.  This is the place of their greatest power.  This is the place where internal motivation takes over.  When we give students space and time to listen to their hearts and discover who they are and what they want from life, we empower them.

Every human being is spiritually driven to grow toward their greatest hopes and deepest dreams.  Our job as educators is to help students find theirs.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” -Benjamin Disraeli

This is the philosophy and assumption I bring with me to each classroom in which I teach.

I am honored to be part of a panel discussion at St. Catherine University hosting Richard Gold of Pongo Teen Writing, moderated by Mary Tinucci on The Healing Power of Poetry: Empowering Disenfranchised Youth through Self-Expression Wednesday, April 8th from 5:00-6:30.  This event is free and open to the public.  We would love to see you there.

(photos by Wing Young Huie, taken of my class at Homewood Studios. More photos of this class are displayed at North Central Regional Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota).


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hold on


When I started writing 20 or so years ago, it began as an act of survival.  It was a pen across a blank page that held me to this earth, grounding me during a time I was groundless.

As I slowly regained my footing and strengthened myself through reflection, hard truth, and responsibility, writing became an art of life, a workbook where I dreamed into a future I could not see, where I planted seeds that became the garden of my life now.

I continue write for many reasons at different times in my life.  Sometimes I write to remember.  Sometimes to let go.  Sometimes I write to identify, revise, and clarify my dreams and hopes; other times I write to hear the voice of my soul.

When the waves of Life get wild and I feel untethered, I write simply to hold on.  During times of emotional upheaval, when I am mired in my own darkness, flailing and full of fear, I allow myself to unleash on the page, give voice to my furious and ugly and sad and swearing self.  Because in honoring the darkest parts of myself, I am honoring my whole self.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Though I am well-acquainted with my darkness, sometimes I don’t want it to live in my journals.  So I tear it up into tiny bits, reorganizing it, turning pain into art.

The art of life is not denying that we are both dark and light.  It is in our darkest moments that we have an opportunity to gain insight, wisdom, and strength.

So write with wild and ugly abandon.  Then destroy it and turn it into art. Make your life your art.


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