Narrate the Story Well

I put off reading Where the Crawdads Sing for far too long. I’m not sure why. Everyone said I would love it. Everyone was reading it. But I put it off and put it off. When I finally did read it, I loved it. Just like everyone said I would.

It appears I have done it again. I started reading The Book Thief this week. It’s hardly new. In fact the movie based on it came out in 2013. (I haven’t seen that either.) And I am smitten. It is beautiful.

I will likely watch the movie once I finish the book, but I cannot imagine the story without the narrator. To me, the beauty in the story lies completely and totally with the narrator. His skill with language. His ability to talk right to me. His recognition that “the people left behind” have stories worth telling. And his love for the girl.

Did I mention that the narrator is Death? And again I am smitten.

There is something about a really good story that moves me. But there is something about a really good narrator, the ability to share someone else’s story, that moves me even more.

It got me thinking about our own stories.

I am a passionate advocate for telling your story. It’s hard to imagine someone who blogs who isn’t. Each of us has experiences and perspectives and stories that need to be told. Sometimes we share our stories ourself, but sometimes we get the joy and the honor and the responsibility to tell someone else’s story.

Tell it well.

I want to be the kind of person that shines a light on others. I want to be the kind of person who is looking for stories to be told. I want to be the kind of person who others trust with their ideas and their perspectives, and I want to put those things out there for the world to see.

I have a long way to go, but Death reminded me this week that narrating a story well is a worthy goal.

Looking in the Mirror

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, it’s not Christmas. It’s October. Pumpkin spice, rustic leaves, sweatshirt and shorts weather.

I’ve written every year about October. There is this feeling of warmth and of settling in to cozy things. Hot drinks replace lemonade, and the leaves catch fire.

But there has also been a stress in schools every year at this time. Wrapping up a quarter, conferences, and an end to the honeymoon that comes at the start of every year adds stress. I’ve written about it so many times.

But this year is different.

This year we are mired down by a virus and an election and unrest. This year has been hard…

and I went quiet.

I have not posted a blog since June. Honestly I have been nervous to post. I’ve been worried that my voice in the world would just add to the sometimes angry discourse happening on social media. But writing is how I process the world. This blog is where I am my most vulnerable and my most transparent. Without it, I’ve lost a little piece of myself.

No more.

Has this year been a challenge? Without question. But it has also been filled with weddings and babies and music and laughter.  I have watched Netflix and camped and even saw a play outside with my parents.  I will no longer quiet my voice.

Every single day is a gift…even in 2020.  If we spend our time focused on what we can’t do or what we have to do or what has changed or what we’re missing because of COVID, then we will miss all of the good happening around us.  None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  We need to live today to its fullest!

For me, that has always meant a pumpkin pie blizzard in my favorite month of the year…and this blog.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Anne of Green Gables


There’s Nothing New to Say

I read two articles this week in a magazine that I enjoy. They were spot on. One talked about the power of movement and exercise in helping people heal from trauma and PTSD. The other spoke powerfully about the need we all have to carve out time for our health and well-being. They were well written, and they resonated with me.

But they were not new ideas.

Far from it.

I’ve read countless articles and books and blogs about the same ideas. I’ve written plenty of them, so what struck me the most was the idea that there is just nothing new to say.

So why write? Why put our voices out into the world if we are simply restating ideas that have been shared time and time again?

Be kind. There’s nothing new about that message.

Take care of yourself. Nothing new there.

Respect people.

Respect yourself.

Work hard at things you love.

Spend time with the people who are important to you.

Nope. Not new.

And yet still worthy of thought and voice. We forget. We hear something new based on what’s happening in our life. We are reminded that the simple ideas are often not simple to live.

Do I hope that someday I will have something to share that leaves an impact long after I’m gone? Do I hope that someday I will find a way to craft a message that inspires others in a way they have not been before?

Of course. I think anyone who writes does.

But in the meantime, I am just happy to share my voice as it is.

And I am especially grateful for all of you who put your voices out into the world over and over again. You have meaningful, purposeful, impactful things to say. Even if someone else has said them before.

And so do I.

Someone asked me recently why I’m still blogging after all these years. It’s been almost 5 years now. That’s a lot of blogs. I haven’t gotten famous. I’ve never had anything “go viral.” So what’s the point?

The point is that each and every one of us has a voice, has a story, and those stories are worthy of taking flight.

The Climb

There’s a reason I stop blogging for the summer. Our minds need time to rest and reflect in order to do their best thinking. Part of what I enjoy the most about working in education is the cycle of the school year. I love the excitement of a new year, and I love the renewal of the summer season.

It also helps that summer vacations are ripe with ideas for the blogging mind.

This summer I got to go back to Estes Park in Colorado. It’s one of my favorite places but getting there (especially when you are pulling a 5th wheel) is quite a climb.

You’ve no doubt heard the expression. You’ve seen it on motivational posters. You’ve probably even said it from time to time.

It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

It’s not about reaching the mountain top. It’s about the climb.

Great thought. Learning, training, improving at anything is truly a journey worthy in its own right. The value lies in how we grow and change and get better as human beings, not in the kudos or in the win. (Although the win feels pretty good when you’ve worked hard for it.)

I do believe that life is about the journey.

But sometimes, it is also about the destination.

I don’t really like travel days. I like to travel; I just don’t like the drive or the flight. Not many do I suppose. It is the price we pay to explore new places, to re-visit old favorites, and to look at the world through new eyes.

And it is totally worth it.

Life is that way. Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t a lot of fun. At work, at home, we have to run errands and do paperwork and spend countless hours on seemingly endless tasks. It is not fun. But the job, the home, the life is worth every second of it.

Yes, many times it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

But sometimes, it really is about the reward for the effort.

I know that the end of summer can be hard. Hopefully you have been relaxing and playing and spending time with the people you love. Rest is a gift.

I also know that work with purpose and meaning done with like-minded people who you truly enjoy is also a gift. At least it is for me.

Embrace the journey, and embrace the destination. Remember your why and the rest tends to take care of itself.

October Again

Last week I made a decision. I was not going to write about October for the 4th year in a row. I posted a past blog and was going to take the month off. But all week October was on my mind, and all week I felt like I wanted to write. Writing is something I truly enjoy, and it has become one of the ways I process the world.

During the week when fun things happen and when hard things happen, I listen for a blog.

I long ago stopped looking at the stats. I write for myself, and I write in the hope that in any given week there may be a message that resonates with someone else the way it has resonated with me.

So once again I am writing about October. I am writing about how I am overcome by the beauty. I visited my sister this week. She lives in the house where we grew up. As soon as I pulled into her driveway, I was reminded why Halloween is my favorite holiday. Her house is amazing. Images of the season are everywhere. It was that way growing up as well.

There is always a week in October when the leaves suddenly shift and begin to change color and fall to the ground. This was that week. It was cold and rainy for much of the week, but yesterday was beautiful. I started writing this outside in our backyard.

Of course today is a different story. Such is October. Such is life.

This month is busy. Always has been in our schools, so it always has been for me. But this month is also state championships and concerts and pumpkin patches and campfires. It is warm and cool and colorful and full of transitions. Embrace them.

It’s conference week. Teachers are finalizing grades and making preparations. There will be staff development, and there will be a long and well-deserved weekend.

This week when I noticed the leaves and when I noticed the stress, I listened for a blog.

And I heard the reminder that the earth is beautiful and that life is good and that while I know that stress and sadness are real, I also know that hope and help are real. October is my month, and I am once again happy to share that in a blog.

Thank You

For the last 2 1/2 years I have been putting my thoughts out into the world in this blog, and it has been life-changing.  I truly see the world in a different way.  I find myself looking for stories, for lessons, for moments that capture my heart.  I find myself saying, “Now that would make a great blog.”  And I am never at a loss for ideas…because of you.

Thank you for being amazing people.  Thank you for modeling grace and kindness and perseverance.  Thank you for teaching me how to be a better person.  Each day, each hour of each day,  I find someone who is serving children, working to make life better for others , fighting for what is right.  People are capable of incredible good.  I am overwhelmed by it.  Thank you!

I am taking a short break from the blog, as I do every summer.  But I will not be taking a break from the search for good in the world.    It is all around us, and we are better when we focus our time on that.

Are you living in vaporware?


Last fall I realized that I had many goals left to achieve in my life.  I have some pretty big dreams, and those dreams are not going to fulfill themselves without some work on my part.

“An unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates), and honest questioning and self-reflection is essential for personal growth.  It can be hard to pause to look in the mirror and reflect on whether or not you are living the life you imagined.  But it is worth the time.

We were meant for great things.

Kristin Chenoweth has a beautiful anthem called I Was Here about this desire to do something big.  It’s worth a listen.  It pretty much sums up my own feelings.

I Was Here

I wanna do something that matters

Say something different

Something that sets the whole world on its ear

I wanna do something better

With the time I was given

I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life

Leave nothing less than something that says

I was here

I think this desire to leave a mark, to do something big, is universal.

In 1962 at Rice University, President Kennedy announced that we would land a man on the moon years before we knew how to do it.  President Kennedy’s Speech

Alan Turing envisioned a machine that would revolutionize cryptanalysis and computer science long before he was able to actually make it functional.

They had big dreams.

In the world of technology, companies frequently announce spectacular, almost unimaginable, advances long before they have made them a reality.  And some of them never see the light of day.

We call that vaporware.

Last fall I realized that I was living in vaporware.  One of my biggest dreams, publishing a book, was nowhere.  I needed to do something, anything, to take the first step in making it a reality.

Set Goals

I chose blogging as a tangible step.  I decided the goal would be to publish once a week during the school year.

Make a Plan

I set time aside on Saturday mornings to write.  More often, of course, is better, but I always write on Saturday mornings. That gives me 24 hours to reread and revise.  My daughter creates the artwork for the blog every Saturday after I’m done writing.  My husband proofs it and offers feedback.  Then I publish Sunday mornings.

Revise the Goals

I know my next step is to determine how to move from a blog to a book.  That’s the next goal.

Are you living in vaporware?  When you examine your life, are you living your dreams?

None of this is easy.  It is sometimes incredibly hard.  But it is always worth it.

“We choose to do it not because it is easy but because it is hard.” John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Join the Conversation

imageI’ve been writing for most of my life, but not until January of this year did I ever let anyone read it.  It’s risky to put yourself out there.  You feel vulnerable…at least I do.  This blog has been a wild ride.  People have been incredibly supportive.  I’m not sure I can describe the feeling when someone tells me that they enjoy reading my writing.

But blogging has some dangerous side effects.  It’s much too easy to pull up the stats and see how many people are reading it.  It’s much too easy to get caught up in the number of likes and comments and how many countries I’ve reached.  This blogging adventure was meant to challenge me and to model what I’ve been asking students to do for years.  It was not meant to be an exercise in vanity.

The number of shares I have on Facebook or retweets on Twitter is not the measure of my success.  I’ve committed to writing each week, and it makes sense that some blogs will resonate strongly with others and some will not.  I have a story to tell…and so do you!

Each person has a story.  Everyone has a voice.  I want to encourage others to share their stories.

I am not the only educator blogging.  I am not the only educator on Twitter (@hcphipps).  What I appreciate about social media is the professional network of people lifting each other up.  We are willing to learn from each other and share with each other.  Shares and retweets are a way to affirm ideas.  People have been amazing about supporting me in this journey. My job is to be that same support for others!

Jen Hatmaker (@JenHatmaker) is a funny and thoughtful writer.  I’ve never met her, but I feel like I know her from Facebook.  That’s the power of social media.  This past week when promoting her friend’s online class for bloggers, she said that there was always more room at the table.  Her success is not threatened by other writers; it is enhanced.  My job is to welcome other voices to the party.

If I were to be totally honest (and what’s the point of this if I’m not), there have been too many Sundays spent checking my stats on this journey.  I’m working on that. There have been too many times I’ve compared my number of followers to other people’s followers.  Dangerous!

I have not “gone viral”.  My Twitter followers have not multiplied exponentially.  I am still just Heather, and I’m okay with that.

I am grateful to those of you who have read what I have written.  Your kind words and support have meant more than you’ll ever know!  I can’t promise that I won’t check the stats on this blog too.  It’s part of the fun I have with the process.  But like I’ve said before, it’s about reflecting on my motives.  I want to get better than I was last week.  I don’t need to be better than anyone else.

Many of you have stories that need to be shared.  A few of you should be writing a book.  (You know who you are.)  If any of you feel safer to share your voice because I have shared mine, this grand experiment has been a success.