Month: April 2021

Closer Than We Think

I am not sure if schools, churches, and other entities know how incredibly powerful the words they choose to put on their signs and marquees are, but they have a powerful platform. Aside from the humorous puns and hilarious grammar errors they sometimes provide, their messages are potentially life-changing. 

My First Meaningful Encounter with a Church Sign

It seems like a lifetime ago now, and in a way, it was, but thirty years ago, I was in Moncks Corner visiting relatives, and saw a church sign that read: 

“We Don’t See The World as it is; We See It as We Are.” 

The opposite side of the sign read, 

“The heart would hold no rainbow if the eyes held no tears.” 

I know what the opposite side of the sign said because I insisted that my fellow traveler turn the car around so that I could write the sign’s message down. I wanted to ponder it and knew I’d forget it if I didn’t write it down. (Remember, thirty years ago, cell phone cameras were non-existent; we had to have pictures developed, so paper and pencil was always handy.)

The point, though, is that words matter. Through the years, I have used the first quote on that church sign in nearly every classroom I have had the privilege of teaching. 

It is hard to determine the originator of the quote. Although Steven Covey is often given credit for it, from what I’ve been able to determine, the quote originated with Anias Nin, which is interesting because she was a French/Cuban/America essayist who wrote erotica. How her words ended up on that church sign is food for fodder, but the church’s intent was well-received. The fact that comments were selected from someone other than a Biblical scholar to promote their message is even more enlightening. Regardless, those words changed my view of the world and sent me into a mode of self-reflection that has lasted for thirty years.

Before They Understand

My classroom requires critical thinking, and discussions abound. Sources are necessary with controversial topics, and respect is a must. Sometimes I believe the kids think I’m not prepared with a lesson and just want to “talk” to pass the time. While many discussions happen organically, I almost always have a quote, artwork, news article, or novel that prompts discussion, but boy can those topics change on a dime.

The commonality of most discussions is when students disagree on any topic (currently, that list includes vaccines, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, police officers, and anything else they don’t feel safe discussing anywhere else ), but the conversation ends with a reminder from me, “We don’t see the world as it is, Class; we see it as we are.”

What They Don’t Know

Frankly many of my students have no clue who they are or who they want to become, and we have all been in that state. Further, they do not yet realize that if they are blessed with a long life, what they believe will change drastically as the world turns. 

Therefore, when we hold discussions, I realize that much of what I am hearing comes from their home environment. The rest comes from their friend groups. Sooner than students know, though, what they believe will come from the very core of their being, and then they will understand what it means to see the world as they are, not necessarily as it is. 

Because of my close relationships with youth in America, I often ask adults if we are sure that we are helping our children become people who can sustain America. Are we helping them become adults who see the world and various situations through compassion and empathy, or do we shelter them so that they see the world only as we do?

How I See The World

A dear friend of mine reminded me just today of how I see the world. She said, “You always consider the humanity of all viewpoints – even wrong ones – and try to love everyone and listen to everyone even if you don’t agree with them.” That’s quite an accolade. (Thank you, my friend. May I grow into that person!) 

This view will be hard for me to live up to, but she is right in this: I know that people do not come to believe something without having been through experiences that cause them to feel the way they do. Perhaps more importantly, they don’t hold onto “wrong” beliefs without having reinforcements to do so. 

This statement is true regardless of the topic. However, if we could ever learn empathy for the other person and communicate with genuine compassion and curiosity, we would be able to fix a lot that is wrong in America. 

Where Is this Coming from, Nonnie?

I’ve been stuck in a mode of pondering since I started reading my students’ inquiry projects last week. One student chose Totalitarianism for the semester project. This student had read books like 1984 and The Girl with Seven Names that prompted this topic. Further, during the inquiry conference, my student revealed a suspected connection between America’s current race relations, cancel culture, protests, cell phone usage, cameras, and responses to protests with a turning point in America. Determining the possibility of a connection was the inquiry. 

To my student, that turning point may end in Totalitarianism. This fear was not motivated by a political party or a religious belief. It was inspired by similarities found during the research portion of the project.

I did not assign that topic. I did not assign ANY topic. I gave students parameters, mainly concerning research requirements and documentation format, but they were free to choose anything they’d like to spend the semester learning more about. We spent time learning to “vet” sources and learning how to provide room for counterarguments, but the research topic was theirs to choose.

It was this student’s paper that reminded me of the church sign.

I don’t believe my student wants America to be a Totalitarian government. Quite the contrary. Instead, I see this student as an American who loves America – the good, the bad, and the indifferent — and wants it to remain free.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I came of age during the end of the Cold War. As such, I see conspiracy theories everywhere and have a healthy distrust for authority. But I cannot imagine who I would be if I came of age during this pandemic, this social unrest, and the prevalent “me mentality.” That is what concerns me most about most my students. If something doesn’t impact them personally, they see no reason to get involved. 

The problem is that at some point, if we all believe that way, there will be no one left to get involved, which reminds me of Martin Niemöller, the German Protestant preacher who also spoke words that changed my life when I first read his poem, “First They Came for the Socialists.” 

Niemöller, had a fascinating life and was the epitome of a “complicated character.” You can read more about why this matters in this Washington Post article, from 2016, but he is a perfect example of how life changes us – and how we see the world as WE are rather than how it is.

So, where do we go from here? It depends on where we want to end up. We cannot sustain this current environment of discounting anyone who doesn’t look like us, love like us, or believe like us – whether those beliefs are religious or political. Divided, we fall.

Surely there is something we agree on and can start building towards. If not, the forces that have always wanted to destroy America may be closer than we think. 


On Camping, Politics, and Learning

A Memory

Austin and I have not been camping a lot since the pandemic began. We are gearing up for an active camping season, but I reviewed some of the camping blogs I started through the years and never finished, searching for ideas for this week’s post, and came upon one from when we camped in a stock trailer. 

Now camping in a stock trailer (minus the horses) is an experience all by itself and perhaps why I’m not really picky about accommodations. Still, since I never published this memory, I thought readers might enjoy it now. It was written back in 2014, and the similarities to 2021 are uncanny. Enjoy.

Background for This Story

Camping in a state park is a fun experience that all Americans should try at least once. People from all walks of life frequent state parks making these parks a microcosm of society. I observe and learn a lot during any weekend spent camping.

This weekend, for instance, I learned that flies have a way of bonding people. I’ve been to Lee State Park before to camp and ride horses and never had an issue with flies. However, this time, we must have hit breeding season this weekend because when I say flies were an issue, I mean flies in biblical proportions descended upon us, making outside activities, well, miserable.

To be clear, I live in a rural part of South Carolina. My next-door neighbors are cows, and I have horses in my backyard. I’m used to flies. I’m used to getting rid of flies too. I’m not, however, accustomed to swarms of flies being everywhere I turn. I have never seen so many flies in my life as I did at Lee State Park this weekend. Those flies, however, created many relationships.

My “camper” is a 4-horse bumper pull that has been converted to a sleep-in, two-horse bumper pull. We have a bed and an air conditioner in the “sleeping quarters.” The bed is a metal frame with an air mattress on it. We cook and entertain ourselves outside and are usually quite happy with this setup. 

The people camping across from me had a $500,000 bus/RV for their accommodations. They were in their 60s/70s and camping with grandchildren. My husband and I are in our 40s/50s, and we were camping with our youngest daughter. There was not a lot in common between us, and it wasn’t just the age or accommodations. Our fellow campers were Clemson fans and worked at a Clemson Extension Office while we are diehard Gamecock fans. If you are from South Carolina, this fact alone explains the differences. But those flies, boy, did they brought us together.

Our fellow camper walked over to see if we were having the same fly issue that he was having, and when he learned that we were, the bond was instantaneous. He outfitted his rig with house fly spray, a fogger, and some flypaper. (It seemed he’d done this before.) I’m a seasoned camper and have NEVER experienced flies of this magnitude, so we had many provisions for any number of possible mishaps. Still, a biblical plague of flies had never made my list of things to prepare for.

A Friendship is Forged

After our camping neighbor got his site prepared for battle, he brought us some of his fly remedies, and a friendship was forged. I’m not naive. I know that he was fully aware that if he could help us keep flies away from our property, he benefited as well, but these flies were EVERYWHERE, so his reason for coming to our aide did not matter.

We learned a lot from this 71-year-old man. It’s amazing what you can learn when you engage in conversation with people. While I didn’t share all of his political views, I sure appreciated how he came to have them. We talked as his grandchildren bonded with Valerie, and that is how we were able to stay for the weekend. Valerie was invited to stay in their camper, so my “city girl” was no longer begging to go home.

Where We Are Today

I don’t know where this man is today, or even if he is still alive. His granddaughter and Valerie remained friends for a few years and are still “Facebook” friends, but I’m not sure if they ever really talk to each other anymore. But the lessons this man taught me that weekend are worth revisiting today – during this pandemic.

The Haves and the Have Nots

There is no question that the United States is in a crisis. The middle class seems to be eradicated; in terms of politics, we are polarized; authority is met with distrust. The right side won’t listen to the left, people are judged as worthy (or not) by their political affiliations, and maintaining friendships has become complex – and it’s not because of the Covid. The pandemic was just the catalyst. America has been headed in this direction for many years.

The only question is, do we love America enough to turn this thing around, or are we hellbent on becoming the thing we hate? I fear the latter.

Another Microcosm

My fear for what can happen to America if we don’t find a way to unite was heightened this week when I returned to the face-to-face classroom. The landscape is vastly different. People I once held in high esteem are different, as am I. We are cordial to one another but guarded. 

Just like the communities we represent, schools everywhere have the maskers and the anti-maskers, the “covid is real,” verses, “everyone dies of something” group, and we have the vaccinated and those who are either convinced the vaccine is a conspiracy of some kind, or waiting to see if the rest of us are adversely affected before protecting themselves.

Like the campground, high school is a microcosm of society, and the thing is, on some level, we could all be right. That is what makes this so scary.

Students seem defeated. If my classes are any barometer, most believe that America has seen the best days it will ever see. For them, the Roaring Twenties that followed the Spanish Flu cannot be repeated. Economic destruction is imminent.

There is a level of disrespect in the hallways that I have never before encountered, and support is divided because no one seems to know the right thing to do. 

I can’t blame the kids; the adults in the building follow vastly different policies. To be sure, we have one district policy, but as with everything else in life, that policy is interpreted more loosely by some than others. 

So Teacher A allows students to remain maskless in the classroom, but Teacher B requires masks. The policy states that this difference in classroom mask policy is ok. Face covers can be removed when social distancing is possible, and the teacher decides if social distancing is possible.

Masks are required in the hallways, but students without masks or with masks worn incorrectly walk by teacher A without comment, but the same student encounters Teacher B and gets reminded to wear the mask correctly. The problem is that the students are angry. Their right of passage – high school parties, football games, concerts, competitions, etc., — has been canceled or vastly changed. 

Therefore, many respond to anyone who corrects them with disrespect by either pulling up the mask until passing said teacher or saying something disrespectful and refusing to wear the mask. Their compliance or noncompliance is, after all, the only thing they can control. 

Again, I don’t blame the student. The adults, the district, parents, and even the state disagree on what needs to be done to defeat this virus, and there are still a handful of people who believe the whole thing is just political.

The Hope

All is not lost. There are sparks of hope in my classroom when we discuss the future, and while those sparks are often quickly dashed by classmates whose conviction that America is doomed is stronger than the hope of others, their teacher has always found the good in things when the good was not around. 

So we keep talking. We keep digging. We keep asking questions. Sometimes they respond in incredibly insightful ways. Other times they sit and stare, but they know they have a voice.

My class requires critical thinking, compelling argument, and diligent research strategies. Sources are vetted, and this requirement and lessons on how to vet sources are probably their most valuable lesson.

Most things are open for discussion, and all participants are required to treat each other with respect no matter how vehemently they may disagree. If I teach them nothing else, I want them to learn to discuss complex topics with the aim of coming to an agreeable outcome where neither party wins all, but everyone compromises and walks away with a better understanding of the other side. Only then will they learn to develop the tools it takes to find solutions that benefit all.

Even though I have no answers for them, and even fewer answers for myself on how to handle the disrespect and disregard for others that seems to be a common thread in all of America today, I’m reminded of the 71-one-year-old man that we met at Lee State Park. I laugh at how we fought a common enemy – those flies. At that point, our political beliefs didn’t matter. The sports team we pulled for was a non-issue, and the fact that we were from different parts of the state was of little consequence. We had flies to get rid of.

I hate to admit that seven years later, I have no idea how we dealt with those flies, but I still remember my seventy-one-year-old camping friend. 

I hope that is what happens with America. Years from now, we’ll look back and forget the pain, remember the lesson, and rise stronger, more empathetic, and more united than before.


“Lee State Park, SC 1” by Mzuriana is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When My Husband and I Disagree

There are occasions when even the most compatible couples find themselves enthralled in a massive disagreement. It does not matter if those couples have been together for two months or 70 years; if the relationship is healthy, there will be disagreements. 

I say this because while we all want to live in complete harmony, we do not operate with one brain, and as close as couples are, no one fully understands another person’s thoughts. If there are no disagreements, it is likely that one person is just saying whatever it takes to keep the peace.

So, it’s a good thing that Austin has never been threaten by a strong woman with her own opinions, and it is equally good that I cherish examining the “other side” of situations. Otherwise, we’d have never made it to almost twenty-three years because in many ways, Austin and I see the world through VASTLY different lenses.

However, Austin allows me to be myself, and I respect his need to have his thoughts as well – even when he’s wrong – and he affords me the same respect.

I say that with a smile because the fact is that I almost always get his point, just as he often gets mine. Sadly, though, this isn’t a post about keeping open lines of communication in a marriage.

This post is my attempt at coming to grips with the fact that my hometown is in the midst of grieving over a massacre that changed the face of families and the town for generations to come. I did not know Dr. Robert Lesslie and his family, the Shook family, or the Lewis family, nor did I know Philip Adams, the alleged gunman or his family. 

But I am a daughter, a mother, an aunt, a friend, and a neighbor. I am shocked that events like this happen anywhere, especially in Rock Hill, SC, and like many here, I’m forced to enter the realm of asking Why? I’m forced to grapple with God’s plan. I’m forced to try to reckon with the fragility of life.

From what I can understand based on statements in news reports, comments made by friends, and from social media posts, everyone involved in this tragedy was good – and that is where Austin and I disagree. It is also where many of my readers will disagree with me. No one can kill five people and leave one holding on to life and be called “good.” That is the very definition of “evil.” And I agree. The act was pure evil. 

A husband and a wife woke up on April 8, 2021, dealing with the loss of not only their parents but of their children as well. My mind cannot go to the depths of grief they are trapped in. The entire Lesslie family is forever changed, and there is no answer to the heart-piercing question: why?

Parents of James Lewis, a single father who was working to support his three children, lost their son and are now forced to simultaneously deal with the unimaginable grief of losing a child and their enormous responsibility of helping their grandchildren understand a world in which this could happen. Yet we know as well as they do that this loss is something that can never be explained. 

Robert Shook’s wife and three children are likely holding a vigil at the hospital, praying that at least one be allowed to survive–that one person might provide the slightest hint of an answer. That one family may be left whole, even if forever changed.

Two other parents woke up to another life as well. Their son, Phillip Adams, is the only suspect named in the massacre, and he killed himself, taking any answer anyone might provide with him. The baby Mrs. Adams brought home from the hospital and nurtured into a man who a friend of the family told the Charlotte Observer had plans in motion to give back to Rock Hill by starting a business to provide healthy food to families who can’t afford it, instead left a small town forever changed, families forever broken, and children perpetually confused.

So, I understand when my husband says that Philip Adams was evil, and I readily admit that I do not know how I would respond if this were my family. Would I grant forgiveness and compassion, or would I seek vengeance? 

Austin, well, he’s a good man, but he would seek vengeance because there is no justice to be found here. And that is where we disagree. Austin will never understand how I can be so angry at a situation, so confused by an action, and so grieved for my hometown and still say that I also hurt for the gunman and his family.

But isn’t that what the Lesslie family has asked us to do? To “….honor all of those involved in this story with prayers and compassion specifically for the Shook family, the Lewis family, and the Adams family”? 

The world this family speaks to is the world I want to live in. I know I couldn’t be as strong as to seek prayers and compassion for someone who took so much from me, but I am thankful to live in a world where others can be that strong.

On April 7, Evil manifested itself. On April 8, Good answered in a statement from the family and an outpouring of love and support for everyone involved. So, while I understand Austin’s outrage, I pray one day, he’ll understand my compassion. 

We need someone to blame for this, and there is no one left to blame. We need answers for this tragedy, and no one is left to provide them. We need to know that this was something that will never happen again, and no one can give us that reassurance. We are hurting, and if we will admit it, we are scared. If this tragedy can happen to them, it can happen to us. There seems little that we can do other than pray and hope.

But there is more we can do. We can listen to Dr. Lesslie’s words from an interview he did in 2009 concerning his book series, Angels in the ER. In that interview, he had said, “We’re all God’s children. If you lose that belief in the ER, you can become cynical, disenchanted, and mean-spirited. For me, that’s where faith comes in.” We can fight against becoming cynical, disenchanted, and mean-spirited and instead become the good that we want to see in the world.

I do not understand any of this. But I hope that we can live in a world that is as Dr. Lesslie knew it could be, a world where we love each other, take care of one another, and find the good in others.

What is a Ghostwriter?


A Student’s Question

My students and I were talking during our online class session about ways to make money with writing. This question is often asked, primarily by students who want to show me that freshman composition is yet another class they have to take that they will never use again. I give them the standard answer: You never stop needing to write, and money is often at stake with everything you write. Think about the following:

  • Scholarship letters
  • Demands for payment
  • Requests for refunds
  • Resumes
  • Cover Letters
  • Advertising
  • Short Stories
  • Blogs
  • Ghostwriting

The last one intrigues students nearly every time they throw this “How can I make money doing this” question at me. This class’s answer, though, had me wondering what I’ve gotten myself into with my recent ghostwriting gig.

One of my more challenging students said, “Mrs. Dawkins, um, is that plagiarism?”

The English teacher in me soared. He GOT IT!!! All of these weeks that we’ve spent researching and writing papers while adhering to MLA formatting rules were not in vain. He knows what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. But his innocent question caught me off guard, so I had to determine if I’m aiding and abetting plagiarists with this new, fun, and profitable side gig I have going on.

So What Is A Ghostwriter?

In short, it is when freelance writers pour their heart and soul into a piece of writing and allow another person to receive all of the credit for it.

Freelance Writing defines a ghostwriter as “writers for hire who are paid but receive none of the credit for the work produced.”

As many as three parties may be involved in the working relationship: the freelance writer, or the “ghost,” the author, who hires the ghost and receives all credit for the work, and sometimes a company plays the middle man between the ghost and author. 

It is more profitable to work directly with authors. Still, many freelancers start out working for companies Like Kevin Anderson & Associates for books and ContentFly or We Write Blog Posts for blogs. It’s not the most glamorous writing job, but it does pay, and it helps writers learn the trade.

Is Ghostwriting Plagiarism?

This question led me to write this post, and I had to do some research to get the answer myself. While I am enjoying this ghostwriting side gig, I would not continue it if I learned it was plagiarism. How could I and still teach college writing? Thankfully, the answer is no. Ghostwriting is not plagiarism, and here’s why:

  • Although the ghostwriter does the work without receiving credit, the ghostwriter knowingly writes the text to appear as some else’s writing. 
  • The “author,” for whom the ghostwriter works, is concealing the actual author’s name, as a plagiarist does, but this author does not harm the ghostwriter; in fact, the author pays the ghostwriter an upfront agreed-upon price for the work.
  • Ghostwriting does not violate any laws
  • The ghostwriter does not dictate how the work is used.

Is Ghostwriting Ethical?

This question is where the line gets blurred for me. On the one hand, someone else is making money off of my work. The authors have a monetized blog with a huge following. I provide the links for potential purchases, and I provide the words the author needs. And I do this for a following of readers who believe their blog writer is a wordsmith when nothing is farther from the truth.

However, that author has valuable information to share with the world, from “Beginner Guides to Owning Pet Fish,” to “Which Catamaran is the Safest to Sail in the Caribbean.” I know very little about either of those topics, but the authors I ghostwrite for do. They just can’t put their knowledge into written form without my help. 

I write for these authors knowing that I make a mere fraction of what they do from their monetized page, but I’m also helping readers receive accurate messages. I am also gaining experience and references for future writing assignments.

How Much do Ghostwriters Earn?

Earning power depends on what you’re writing and where you are writing it. According to Author Bridge Media, US ghostwriters who write books can receive from $20,000 to $80,000 for a 250-page book. There are tiers to ghostwriting, so someone like a former president will pay ghostwriters much more to write their memoirs than someone would pay me to write a blog about growing cucumbers, but writers can make money ghostwriting.

In general, ghostwriters charge in various ways, but most charge by the word or by the project. Most ghostwriting companies hire ghostwriters for pennies per word, but freelance ghostwriters can earn between $.50 and $3.00 per word.

Overall Assessment

My student did what my students always do, which is why I continue to teach. He forced me to consider multiple sides of the argument, learn more about what I’m teaching, and consider that I might be wrong. This critical thinking exercise is precisely what I teach them to do. 

As is most often the case in my classes, the student taught the teacher, and I learned something about myself in the process. One day I want to write my own book. I’ve been working on the same story (inconsistently) for ten years, but until now have lacked the confidence in myself that it takes to finish it.

Ghostwriting has provided evidence that my writing connects with people and that evidence both humbles and inspires me. It’s also taught me that though my message is important, I don’t know what I don’t know; however, others can fill in those gaps. Sometimes, they just need to hire the person with the right words to do it. 

So no, dear student, ghostwriting is neither plagiarism nor is it unethical. Many things come down to intent, and my intention with ghostwriting is to help blog writers, storytellers, veterinarians, doctors, small business owners, etc., tell their stories and share their knowledge. They pay me for my creation and then reap the benefits of combining their expertise with my talent. 

They have the expertise, and I have the right words, so we all benefit – especially the reader.


Author Bridge Media
Ghostwriter Image by reKittson
The Ethics of Authorship