Leaving Job City
by Sondra Hall
Looking back now, at 55, I realize that I felt landlocked for most of my professional life. For years, I did “good work” for nonprofits, producing conferences and fundraisers. I earned a living, but part of me was desperate to get to the seaside, so to speak, to inhale and exhale deeply, watch the rhythm of the waves and feel the expanse of sea and sky.
To continue the metaphor, it was like being stuck in the middle of Job City without a car. Life was fine, I had what I needed, but on the rare occasions when I would get out to the beach I was reminded that there was another horizon; I remembered how to breathe.
Eventually, I decided to quit working in Job City and leave my landlocked life behind. I packed all of my stuff and moved permanently to an entirely different place where I could really breathe. I call that place Creativity and I’ve lived there ever since.
You have to take a lot of air into your lungs to breathe deeply and even more to let out a roar.
Now that I’m allowing myself to breathe more deeply, I roar quite a bit.
One of the things that I believe in wholeheartedly is the power of writing to transform. Writing has been a conduit for my frustrations and fears, aspirations and anger since I can remember. I’ve got several shelves filled with journals where I mused and questioned, proclaimed and confessed from high school, through my twenties, and into my thirties. It’s always felt good to express my feelings on paper, as well as to write stories and poems.
Because writing creatively has always been so important to me, I wanted my two children to have the opportunity to have adventure with words as well. By the time they were in elementary school George W. Bush had signed the “No Child Left Behind Act” that started the obsession with testing and assessments. Art, music, dance and creative writing got the short end of the stick and my children weren’t getting much time during school to explore their author-selves.
It upset me tremendously that public school kids weren’t being encouraged or supported to explore their creativity because it couldn’t be measured and tested.
This state of affairs made me roar.
One day (and I still remember the moment, sitting up in bed that morning) I woke up and decided that I was going to do something about this. I wanted to create a place where elementary school kids could use their imaginations and be encouraged to “color outside the lines.” I called it, “Take My Word For It!” and seven years later we’re going strong with 20 plus programs throughout the Bay area, outside of D.C., in Cambridge, MA and in Chicago. Our aim is to create an environment where kids feel supported and safe in expressing themselves and are free to dive into their imaginations.
Our curricula are designed to let them stretch their creative muscles, the ones that have been too dormant in school all day. They write about reaching into their pockets to find polar bears and portals to other worlds, and compose odes to calamari and chocolate mousse. They embrace metaphor and simile, personification and alliteration and are thrilled to discover the places they can go with words.
They learn that what they have to say is valid and important. They learn to R O A R.
At the end of each session of classes we put on a reading where the kids have the chance to share their work with family and friends. I’ve attended countless readings over the years and have never ceased to be bowled over by the power, poignancy and inventiveness of their writing. Here’s an example of a Question Poem, written by one of our students, Patrick, who was in fourth grade at the time. (His spelling has not been corrected.)
Is rain the tears of god?
And why hasn’t god been crying lately, there is so much to cry about?
Why don’t fish go to preeschool,
and learn how to share?
Why do some kids hate preeschool?
And why do some of the smartest people on the planet have few friends?
Why is there so much discrimination in the world?
Why can’t people that are so much the same yet so different be friends?
Why do people be unkind to people only slightly different than themselves?
Why can’t people be friends?
Why can’t I spell freainds right?
Why do people have to yell to be heard as a whisper?
If I were to ask the man on the moon why he is so silent would he answer?
Why do I say what I write in my head as I write it?
Why Is the world so complex yet so simple?
What trigered the big bang?
What is Luck?
Why does the human race have such a major sweet-tooth?
Why is the human race never satisfied nor content?
Why does the earth grieve when the sun goes down and dawns its black cloak?
Why do people get sick?
Why is it when I ask a question I get the answer no, more than yes?
Pretty amazing, right?
So, since I moved and set up my professional life in the town called Creativity, I’ve never looked back. Actually, that’s not quite true. I have looked back and when I do, I know I made the right choice when I got out of Job City. I’m doing something I believe in, that has purpose and meaning and, I love it. I’ll roar about it to anyone who’ll listen.
Sondra Hall founded “Take My Word For It!” in 2005 (takemywordforit.net). They offer after-school classes, summer camps, in-school residencies as well as a program specially designed for very young writers in Pre-K and Kindergarten called, “Tiny Tales.”
You can find them in the S.F. Bay area, northern Virginia, Chicago and Cambridge, or join their online writing club for kids from any city called, “The Next Chapter Club.”
Sondra and her team of dedicated and talented teachers lead kids on word expeditions where they dive into their imaginations, and learn to discover the joys of language and self-expression.
You can read examples of students’ writing here.