Input Stan

I had no idea I didn’t know what it meant to be a “stan.” I did not even know the word existed (apart from being the name of Dorothy Zbornak’s ex-husband on Golden Girls).

It is rather refreshing to discover something I never knew I didn’t know. I got a double dose of new knowledge. I know a new thing. And learning the thing even exists for me to know reminds me my knowledge is limited. Somehow the reminder of my limitations expands my way of being in the world. What a gift!

In case you, like me, did not know about stan, I will share. Stan can be used as a noun or verb and is a slang term representing the portmanteau of stalker + fan, denoting an overzealous fanatic. As in, “I am a Bea Arthur stan” or “I stan Bea Arthur” (to stick with my Golden Girls thread).

I learned about stans while attending a ticketed virtual event through Book Soup, an independent bookstore in Los Angeles I patronized while visiting my sister. It was not within my purview of young adult and middle grades author events. Rather, this author encounter consisted of actor Robert Downey, Jr. interviewing Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live about Jost’s new memoir.

RDJ and Jost via my laptop during the virtual event hosted by Book Soup

I had no idea what I might get out of the event other than the refreshing feeling of doing something different and some entertainment. I have felt so compelled to make meaningful use of my time that when Robert Downey, Jr (referred to by youthful stans as “RDJ” in the chat–where I learned about stans) opened by wryly asking Colin Jost if he thought it might be frivolous to be out peddling his memoir right now, I immediately felt relieved. That is exactly how I felt about this guilty pleasure–it was as frivolous a way to spend time as chewing bubble gum or flipping through magazines.

Guilt quickly turned to delight as the conversation unfolded around surprisingly relevant-to-me content including study skills, note taking, and even writers’ notebooks! Jost shared he used to walk around with a small Moleskine notebook in his back pocket and a pen in a front pocket, but now he uses the notes feature in his phone to record things like sketch ideas, inspiration for stand up comedy routines, and even a list of things people suggest he watch.

This idea of keeping a “watchlist” intrigued me. It came up again near the end of the event when RDJ asked Jost, “How have you kept your creative side alive during quarantine?” Jost responded he has spent time watching and reading things that he loves from way back. He went on to explain that he finds inspiration here.

RDJ pointed out that we so often think about creativity in terms of output that it is significant for Jost to share what an important role input plays in creativity. It is so often in the spaces where we are open to receiving input that we are able to generate new ideas.

There is something inspiring about learning how much there is to learn.

Rescue

“I love a metaphor. I don’t know if you know that about me.”

-Karamo Brown, Queer Eye, Season 5, episode 7

I walk through the world, unaware.

Until one day, I notice.

Noticing changes me. Not a grand, flashy sort of change; rather a quiet, seeps deep down into the marrow sort of change. The kind of change that impacts what I see when I walk through the world. I am aware.

I have been walking past this stretch of the woods for years.

Today I admire that branch reaching out over the trail for sunlight. See how it reaches so much farther than the others? I hear it calling to me, “I am here. I matter. See me.”

Today I do more than admire that branch and notice its reach. I pause to better understand it. I lean in to listen to its story.

As I approach, I follow the branch right down to the earth. It is not a branch at all. It is a tree. Imagine that! A whole, solid tree trunk bending and stretching in pursuit of light. The same light surrounding trees have reached with a linear, unobstructed path straight up to the sky.

I see the struggle this tree has gone through in seeking sun. But it is not only the struggle I see.

I also see the beauty.

This tree is not beautiful despite its struggle.

This tree is not beautiful because of its struggle.

It is simply beautiful. And its truth includes struggle.

I see the tree in its individual glory.

I see the tree as a stunning contribution to the collective forest.

I want to protect the tree. I want to rescue the tree.

This tree does not need my protection. It does not need my rescuing. It is not better for my awareness of it.

Instead, I sense that I am better as a result of listening to its truth. Perhaps I am the one in need of rescue.

I continue my walk.

Seeing one sideways tree opens the door to notice others.

It is a big forest. I have a lot of noticing, leaning in, and listening to do.

Gray

This week I participated in a webinar with poet Georgia Heard offered by my state reading council. Heard spoke about wanting students to see the world like poets. Then she shared specific ways to help students find poetry, write using mentors, and revise their poems. The point of revision, she noted, is to match the words you wrote on paper with what’s in your heart.

I have read most of Heard’s books and used her poetry techniques for as long as I have been teaching. However, there was one revision lesson she shared this time that I heard with fresh ears: don’t teach students to use thesaurus dot com, rather teach them to use the thesaurus in their minds.

The example she gave was the word gray. She shared this screenshot of an online search for synonyms:


screenshot from webinar with Georgia Heard

The results of the search through the thesaurus in her mind were very different: wrinkled elephant gray. This is how those words appear in her final draft of “Where Do I Find Poetry?”

“In trees dancing on a windy day,
when sky is wrinkled and elephant gray.”

from “Where Do I Find Poetry?” by Georgia Heard

What a simple revision technique! I have been sifting through the thesaurus in my mind ever since Heard planted this seed.

As I walk, I notice there is finally green on the trees. I wonder, what kind of green? The green of young spring leaves. Young green.

At the food pantry I notice the tidy rows and rows of cans and boxes. They are neatly organized, like soldiers, I think. Orderly rows of canned food waiting for deployment.

I open the back door to let my dog into the yard and hear the white noise of the wind in the trees, now that there are finally leaves to flap around. I have always thought it sounds like waves. Now, I think about what kind of waves because using a thesaurus is always about specificity. It is not a search for a word, but rather a search for just the right word. Wind and leaves dance together like waves rolling over themselves far from shore, like a waterfall spraying stones.

This close attention to word choice walks hand in hand with imagery, and something about Heard’s reference to the thesaurus in our minds makes revision buzz with purpose and heart. I think it might have caused me to see the world a bit more like a poet.