I started out, like any writer, with a nifty pen and a phone pad of perfectly good paper. I got the attention of my parents and expressing myself to my readers was empowering. I kept scribbling, eventually those marks started to take shape and I would get a gig as a high school senior writing human interest stories for local newspaper, The Times Free Press. I had my own Polaroid and I knew I could count on my best friend, Steve, who had a car, to give me a lift when I needed to get the scoop.
I went off to college as a first generation student with my favorite pen tucked in my back pocket. I studied dance, English, history, and education. Steve proposed and I accepted, but I still had two more semesters to go. Everyone thought we were crazy! I guess we were. But there is nothing like real life to get you really moving. I worked hard because I wanted the will to keep on learning to be the legacy I would leave my children. Two years later, our first baby daughter would wave her chubby little hand with the help of daddy as I walked up and onto the Fitchburg State College stage to receive my Bachelor’s in Education. In the early years, when there were books and dogs and Legos and piles of laundry everywhere, we raised our four children and ran a small business. I taught as a substitute teacher at the public schools in our hometown of Pepperell and continued to work with children teaching dance. I put my studies to good use, combining my education, interests and expertise and founded Middlesex Ballet Academy. I became certified and registered under the Royal Academy of Dancing, earning credentials allowing me to teach the RAD classical syllabi across the disciplines of ballet, contemporary and character, preparing all levels of students for formal examinations with international examiners who were sanctioned by the RAD.
Being around and working so closely with children for decades taught me the importance of honest inquiry, children are such natural interviewers, (see me at four unabashedly interviewing Santa!) and more so, the intrinsic value of curiosity. I have always been interested in how children perceive the world around them, particularly how learning shapes them, and so running a ballet school was a wonderful place to put theory into practice whilst getting to do the thing I love most: tell a story.
As my children grew into adults, I decided to trade my ballet slippers in for a really cool set of pens, complete with a thing called a PC, and once again, I began to express myself, this time through writing. It started out as way to share the strange and wonderful stories of my childhood with my own children. Then one draft led to another and I published my first poem, A Nap with You featured in The Penwood Review. In 2010 a story for new moms and their moms about the culture of breast-feeding called Breast is Best was featured in Baystateparent Magazine. Soon another work was accepted, you can see a recent poem or two here, and I began pitching lots of stories to Bsp magazine and to a larger regional newspaper. Almost eight years and hundreds of published stories later, this fun tech tale falls as one weekly column in The Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise and can be seen here.
I see every day how stories can work to bring people together and build lasting connections. I’m all about that!
So, I had come full circle, this time getting a gig as a Sunday columnist for Parent Forward at FS&E, also taking on new projects with Baystateparent Parent Magazine writing monthly features and developing Finally Forever, a year-long series following adoption after the Earthquake in Haiti.
In 2013, I embarked on another quest, this time entering a graduate program in education focusing on literacy and writing at Plymouth State University. As a working writer, I was invited to teach composition. It’s exciting and rewarding to watch young scholars revise the negative scripts in their heads toward writing, and begin to refer to themselves as writers who truly have something to say. Each semester I have also been humbled by the stellar student work submitted and accepted into the PSU Comp Journal. After I completed my capstone research which explored the connections between movement and writing, I had once again taken my life experience and cache of knowledge into qualitative research, drilling down into people’s stories, and ruminating over an area of learning that had fascinated me all along. I wanted to know more about the relationship between movement and learning and attitude and how those things work to shape us as communicators. Every student writer I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing, regardless of embedded positive or negative attitudes toward writing, wants to be a more effective writer. As educators, our attitudes toward our students are a key component to the way they perceive themselves as learners and communicators.
Three years after setting out on a quest to earn my Masters I would walk in a flowing black robe and tasseled cap on a May morning while my whole family, including three grandsons, waved and cheered me on!
I continue to learn, teach writing workshops, pitch stories, and meet weekly deadlines. My work allows me the privilege of meeting and collaborating with all kinds of people from all walks of life doing all kinds of interesting things. As a writer I am always learning something new.
So, this storyteller teaches on, this spring working with senior scholars in Interdisciplinary Studies at PSU, a brilliant group who are crossing the bridge from university to the world “out there.” I enjoy teaching people how to effectively express themselves, after all, we’re all social animals! We want to communicate, not only that, we need to do so in order to survive. I believe each of us has something worthy to say, and these days I spend much of my time listening to and observing the ways in which our stories can bring us closer together, urge us to stay curious, and help us to realize we are not alone. Scribble onward!
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter @bonniejtoomey at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey. Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com