Last night, I submitted my last set of grades for this semester, my final semester (I expect) of full-time teaching, and of course, it was beautiful and hard. But in that moment, as I read my creative writing students’ analyses of their experience in the class, I found affirmation and guidance again.

Each student in that class is asked to submit a portfolio of their best work over the course of the semester. They include two shorter collections of two genres and then a larger collection of one genre (poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.) Then, they write a letter to me explaining what they have learned over the semester about writing, about the creative process, and about themselves.

As I read through the portfolios last night, I was absolutely blessed by what was there. Over and over again I heard students say that our course had opened them up to themselves and to other people in ways that they had never expected. They talked about how writing had helped them move through some of the most painful experiences of their lives – pregnancy, coming out to their family and friends, growing into acceptance of their complex ethnic backgrounds, understanding themselves as people and writers – I was blown away. Here it was – the power of art to change lives. And here I was witnessing it at the end of a long few days of grading papers, some good and some awful, and at the end of a long three years where I was left disillusioned by the academic life. Here, in that space, I saw, again, that this writing thing, this thing I love, makes a difference.

And so today, my full-time teaching behind me (I still have meetings and interviews and graduation and training to do in the next month before I’m officially done), I can say even more solidly that writing – the creation of it and the teaching of it – are where I am supposed to be. Now to move forward in that.

I am trying to figure out exactly how to develop a series of writing workshops for people – kids, teens, adults – that help them understand elements of craft but also begin to open up to themselves more fully. I’ll be spending the next few weeks pondering that part of the journey, so if you have any wisdom there, please let me know. I’ll have to figure out the course ideas, decide how to describe them, find a place to hold them, and then figure out marketing. I’m so excited.

But meanwhile, I must finish up the details of this part of life, which includes – of course – handling grade questions and filling out paper work. Pray for me.

And may you find yourself, today, even more aware of the beauty that is you.