Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Make a Planet by Cora Bresciano

             I like to say that I can sum up all my life goals in one word: teachwritetravel.
Yep, it’s one word. Because for me, teaching, writing, and traveling are so intertwined that I can’t, I don’t want to, pull them apart. That would be like watching the Two Stooges. Or making an LT. You know, without the B. 
In my pre-MFA days, I loved teaching, writing, and traveling—but I entertained them separately rather than asking them all to move in and pick out furniture with me. After graduation, though, I came up with a plan to combine them all.  I know, I thought to myself. I’ll quit my full-time grantwriting job, shun my subsidized health insurance and my matching 401(k), start a non-profit organization in the worst economic climate of my lifetime, and turn teachwritetravel into my job description!
Really. That was my plan.
I had been spending a lot of time, you see, thinking about how to serve those three masters. Teaching overseas? Teaching here and spending summers overseas? Writing…somewhere? And as I was pondering, Dave Eggers won a TED Prize. I watched his TED Talk online, getting more and more excited as he described 826 Valencia, his writing center in San Francisco, and all the wonderful things he and his team were doing with kids there. This, I thought, is what I want to do. I approached my friend and colleague Susan Hyatt with the idea of creating a writing center here in Florida, and she was as jazzed as I was. We began planning our company.
First, we gave it a ridiculous name: Blue Planet International Explorers’ Bazaar & Writers’ Room. (It quickly became apparent that we needed to call it Blue Planet Writers’ Room for short, if only to save on printer ink.)
Then, we defined our goals. We would integrate the arts, technology, and international collaboration into the teaching of writing. We would have students create e-books and handmade books, monster masks and websites. And we would connect them to their peers in other countries so they could interact and write together.
We incorporated, we applied for non-profit status—and we got a grant to go to San Francisco to learn from Dave and the 826 folks. We opened an office over an Italian restaurant in Lake Worth, and by sharing our goals with teachers, administrators, and anyone else who would listen, we began getting other small grants and contracts to lead our workshops in the schools. Last May we opened an actual Writers’ Room in West Palm Beach—a storefront complete with Moroccan Reading Corner, Computer Oasis, and fish named after writers who, um, drank like fish. (We don’t tell the children why we call the betta fish Papa, Gonzo, and Buk.)
Every day, Susan and I write grants, recruit volunteers, plan fundraisers, negotiate contracts, market classes, and do a million other things to run our non-profit. That’s the arduous part of this adventure. But the exhilarating part is that I get to think up writing workshops that I’d like to teach, and then I teach them. I also get to travel: to Mexico, to teach a workshop and attend a conference; to England, to speak at an international forum; and before long to Japan, to teach professional development workshops to English teachers. And I get to write, too, about how we do what we do. My work with students in the “third spaces” between cultures even informs my fiction writing—my characters continually seem to find themselves in other countries, in all manner of liminal spaces.
And then there’s the terrifying part. My earlier quip about the worst economy of my lifetime is unfortunately true. I’ve been writing grants for twenty years, and I’ve never had such a rough time getting funding. Susan and I don’t have full salaries yet. I pay a fortune for health insurance, and my 401(k) is a distant memory. I laugh at skydivers and bungee jumpers. Living on the edge? I’ll show you living on the edge.
So that’s what it takes to make a Planet. Is the adventure worth it? Are the arduous and terrifying parts worth the exhilaration?
Making a Planet isn’t for everyone—but that’s as it should be. You get your degree, you figure out what you love, you assess your tolerance for risk, and then you create your own adventure. For me it’s been teachwritetravel. And the ability to do that is worth whatever the Planet can throw at me.

Blue Planet is hosting an evening in West Palm Beach with memoirist Beth Raymer on Friday January 27.  Your $25 entry ($20 in advance) will get you a copy of her book (currently being made into a major motion picture) and will go directly to supporting the Planet!  More info here:

Were Cora Bresciano to take a day off from running the Planet, she would like to spend it reading Haruki Murakami in a sidewalk café while drinking a nice red wine. In Barcelona. Read more about Blue Planet Writers’ Room at, check out the American-Mexican student website at, and pop in on her new blog, The Middle of Everywhere, at She received her MFA in fiction from Florida Atlantic University.

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