Writing with a view

Elyssa Shalla, National Park Ranger and typewriter enthusiast, placed a vintage typewriter six miles into the Grand Canyon for several days, inviting hikers to record what that moment meant to them. Seventy-six hikers typed notes. Some reported their condition. Many wrote love letters to the Canyon. One reported a marriage proposal and its acceptance.

Elyssa said, “We need to provide more opportunities to give people the chance to stop and think and feel at the same time and then give them a platform to share their experiences,” she says. “That’s one of the greatest things we could do in our national parks.”

Her pop-up project was temporary. You’ll need to pack in your own writing instrument–paper or electronic.

Enjoy the NPR interview and her site, with the typewritten notes.

Learn a new language, gain a new soul

Czech proverb, “Learn a new language, gain a new soul,” is so beautifully illustrated by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s practicing her ancestor’s language, Potawatomi. She is even more fluent in botany.

I loved Krista Tippett’s interview with her:

On Being: “The Intelligence in All Kinds of Life”

The Daily Good reposted her essay from The Moon Magazine:

Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Learning the Grammar of Anomacy”

Robin inspires me. In her own struggle to learn a language with nine remaining speakers, she is helping keep that language alive. Even her beginning, broken Potawatomi is deeply meaningful. Every new word counts. Every attempt to view of the world through a new language enriches our souls and our world.

She says, “I remember the words of Bill Tall Bull, a Cheyenne elder. As a young person, I spoke to him with a heavy heart, lamenting that I had no native language with which to speak to the plants and the places that I love. ‘They love to hear the old language,’ he said, ‘it’s true.’ But, he said, with fingers on his lips, ‘You don’t have to speak it here, if you speak it here,’ he said, patting his chest. ‘They will hear you.'”

Tree in sunlight copyright_ooyoo_iStock_5889617
Photo © ooyoo, iStockPhoto #5889617

Gwyn Nichols


Why we should put the little people first

It’s state budget time! And Arizona is into a budget surplus, and out of excuses. We could fund education. We could even begin to “restore the years the locusts have eaten.” Here’s the letter I sent:

Dear Governor Ducey, and Arizona Legislature,

What if all our children grew up to contribute their full potential in the world? What if we provided the education they needed, all the way through college or technical training?

Cultures who honor teachers (and parents) understand that children are our future.

Education spending is the most selfish way to tax ourselves. We improve the critical thinking of fellow voters and the emotional intelligence of our neighbors, spark innovation, train our workforce, expand our economy, raise property values, reduce crime, and raise the most taxable salaries. It’s a tax hike in disguise.

If we prefer to pay for more police, prisons, blight, recession, that’s an option.

My 27-year-old son is the successful product of a great Arizona education—elementary through ASU. His brother, attending the same elementary school, had to navigate a dismantled system. Thanks to No Child Left Behind and the AZ legislators’ response to that (omnipresent testing), immigration and legislators’ counterproductive response to that (ending bilingual education), my younger son struggled in his early years: filling out boring AIMS worksheets, waiting for English Language Learners to catch up, and surviving playground gangs. It took research, effort, patience, and winning an enrollment lottery to move him into schools that work, the kind all of our children deserve to attend.

After what our federal and state governments have done to education, it is amazing we have any teachers left, or that anyone majors in Education. We are beginning to understand how brains work and people learn, and we are training marvelous teachers to capitalize on that. Then we don’t let them use what they know. We legislate stupidity, teachers struggle to teach the best they can, and we can’t even pay them a livable wage.

Teachers should not have to live in poverty, inherit money, or marry a “real’ breadwinner.

Let’s do something revolutionary: fund education, pay teachers a competitive wage, and educate ALL our children.

A+ image from WritersResort blog

Gwyn Nichols

A few of you readers also live in Arizona. I’d love to hear your stories. Here’s how to stay informed on Arizona education funding (including the upcoming Proposition 123), and send your own thoughts: http://www.expectmorearizona.org/blog/2016/04/27/first-look-whats-inside-proposed-arizona-budget-education/

And for the rest of you across the country, around the globe, I’d love to hear about your educational system with its trials and triumphs. (I wrote a college paper on education in rural Tunisia, so I kid you not: I want to know.)

It’s Harriet Tubman for the 20!

My childhood hero! Why do I love her so much?

In second grade, I was a white Yankee girl in Louisiana, bused to a Black school under Supreme Court order.

Desegregation, the sequel: where it was not enough to merely allow students to attend the nearest school. That order combined our two neighboring towns and school districts, added other districts, and affected the nation. I became a racial minority in a separate and not equal facility, with experiences ranging from terror to delight. (Will I ever finish my novel inspired by it?)

We had dedicated teachers of both races, and a small but potent library, where Black history was richly represented.

Harriet Tubman Library of Congress

We could not discuss race at school–the Klan’s invisible presence was a palpable threat–but I could read on the sly. I also read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle–I was 7, 8, and 9–but Harriet was real-life magical. Battle scarred warrior, escape artist, master of disguises, brilliant strategist, wilderness survivor, spy, and savior. She led 300 passengers through her line of the Underground Railroad, and never lost one. Her story gave me courage, and a passion for freedom.

Abraham Lincoln owned a whole shelf in that library, and Miss Harriet starred in a half-dozen biographies nearby. Now they will be neighbors in our currency.

I am glad Hamilton’s fans fought to keep him on the 10, because the 20 is even better and worth the wait. The 20 is the mother of currency: the one counterfeiters covet, cash machines dispense, and any establishment is willing to break. Ironically, Harriet Tubman does not completely replace that slave-holding, Native American-destroying Jackson. Instead, she bumps him to the back of the bill. He will be sent to the back of the train, to ride the coattails of an ultimate Freedom Rider, while we reflect on his part in history as well, and let Harriet be our face forward.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s Open Letter


Gwyn Nichols, WritersResort.com

Have you left your dream in the case for a while?

I was touched by this story of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Academy Week, where amateur musicians are invited in, especially when music teacher Tanesha Mitchell, who contributes so beautifully to her neighborhood, said, “There were times when that violin stayed in the case for a year. But then that means you open it back up, and new things begin.”

Have you left your dream in the case for a while? How do you open it back up? What happens?

Tanesha Mitchell - NPR Ravenna Koenig reporting on BSO Academy Week
Tanesha Mitchell – NPR – Ravenna Koenig reporting on BSO Academy Week


Everyone has a reason to live

Jacques Lusseyran went blind at age 8. When he was twice as old, in 1941, he founded one of the key organizations of the French Resistance. His memoir, And There Was Light, has been on my wish list for years! (Kathy Brown mentioned it in a Brain Gym course, Vision Circles, and I finally ordered New World Library’s beautiful new edition. Bless you all for bringing me this book.)

I fell in love with this book from the first paragraph: “When you said to me: ‘Tell me the story of your life,’ I was not eager to begin. But when you added, ‘What I care most about is learning your reasons for loving life,’ then I became eager, for that was a real subject.”

I knew I would tell you about this book, and encourage you to write about loving life, especially if you have ever found that difficult. I came to my computer and found two of you offering the same message.

Josie Thompson battles bipolar symptoms to get out of bed, and she has traveled the US and Italy to ask people what gets them out of bed, what brings them joy. Now she is going to the Philippines with the goal of bringing joy through humanitarian service. She says she discovered long ago that she does not have to be healed to help, and she wants everyone to know, “Everyone has a reason to live.”

Josie Thompson, the 444 Project
Josie Thompson, the 444 Project

Exuberant performer Shaun Parry founded Promethean Spark to teach life skills through dance in developing nations, including the leprosy colonies of India. Did you know we could eradicate leprosy in one generation by overcoming the cultural stigma, seeing it as a treatable disease instead of a curse? I was especially touched to see beautiful young dancers from these colonies represent, in one of their dances, their loved ones’ experience with leprosy.

LIFEDANCE performance
LIFEDANCE performance

There’s your assignment. Love your life, write it, film it, dance it. Share your light.


Gwyn Nichols, WritersResort.com 2015

Don’t think of a purple giraffe (and what else not to say)

giraffe-skin-background-purpleA company I admire allowed an employee to blog, “You probably don’t want to come to our conference, but here’s why I think you should.” Really? I don’t want to come to your conference? Now that you mention it–I guess I don’t!

Are you telling people what you don’t want them to think, or don’t want them do? And then are you surprised when they (your customers and clients, your children, the general public) think and do the opposite of what you wanted?

When we tell a child, “Don’t touch!” what does the child do? And at lightning speed?

Toddlers hear our command as “Touch!” The “Don’t” does not register. Grammatically, that is the imperative. And our tone makes it an urgent command. To negate what we commanded–do NOT do what we forcefully said–is linguistically sophisticated, over their tiny heads.

Even mature brains take longer to process a negative, thinking, “This–no, NOT this.” And even if ignored, negative words retain subliminal impact: “You probably don’t want to come to our conference.” “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

If we want people to understand us, possibly even do our bidding, then tell them what we want them to do, not what we don’t want.

Say your cat or your antique vase are endangered by tiny hands. Guide the tiny hand as you say and demonstrate, “Touch it gently. Gently.” You might want to supervise and remind, “Gently,” or remove the object of interest, but the child’s joy and cooperation will amaze you.

Sometimes we need to warn. If it is a hot stove, we can say, “Hot! Owie!”

ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) used to warn, “Don’t drive drunk!” That message includes “Drive Drunk!” That is like telling a toddler, “Don’t touch that stove!” I wanted to scream, “No! Tell them what TO do–like Designate a Driver!”

Not long ago, ADOT switched to “Drive hammered, get nailed,” which prompted at least one attorney to post billboards: “Got nailed? Call us!”

And finally this week, ADOT got it right. The signs now read, “Designate a Driver. Avoid a DUI.” YES! Give that reviser a raise! I expect the revision to prove more effective than checkpoints alone.

It’s easy to write, “Don’t think of a purple giraffe,” and forget what happens in the reader’s brain. What’s your favorite Purple Giraffe?