Welcome to This Is Me Thursdays! To read other posts in this series, click here. If you want to be involved, please email me for more details! Today, learn more about Ellen Orr, someone I connected with from one of the Facebook groups I was in years ago.
I can’t quite remember exactly when Ellen and I got connected, but we’ve been following each other on Facebook and Instagram for a few years now. I love how she talks so openly about self-love, emotions and real life, as well as what books she’s reading and what places she’s traveled to. She’s so honest, vulnerable, smart and witty, and I know you’ll appreciate her candidness as well. I’m really honored to have her be a part of this series, so check out her answers below and then go figure out your enneagram type like she says! It really can tell you so much about yourself, I’m just sayin. Visit her blog, and let her know you saw her post here!
This Is Me: Ellen Orr
Share a little about yourself and what you’re up to these days.
Professionally, I’m a teacher and administrator at a tutoring centre in Toronto. I’m responsible for ensuring all ~180 of my students are having their needs met, being challenged, and know they’re cared for. Their wellbeing is my top priority.
I’m also a freelance writer and activist. My professional writing is mostly human-interest and editorial, but I most enjoy writing formal poetry and essays. My activism relies heavily on intersectional feminism and critical disability theory. Both my writing and activism are inextricably tied up in my own journey of personal growth; whether its through poetry, protest, therapy, or ritual, I’m really just trying to turn my own bullshit into something good for the world.
What does life purpose mean to you? Does it really exist for you/all of us, or is it just some pipe dream?
I don’t think life has to have a purpose—not any one individual life, nor capital-L Life. I do know that I get to decide every day “what it is [I] want to do with [my] one precious life,” and I take that responsibility seriously. For me, that means intentionally living with my values at the helm. Among those values is the imperative to act on behalf of the most vulnerable among us—and I kind of think that’s my life’s purpose: to care for my students, to one day care for my own children, to fight alongside oppressed populations for liberation and wellbeing.
What motivates and inspires you in your life?
This season of my life has been largely about coming to terms with the reality that I, like everyone, am largely motivated by my trauma. As a kid, I didn’t get the protection I needed or the love I deserved from certain adults (though I was certainly cared for by my mom and others), and that wound (which I’m slowly but surely healing) drives me to be the best grownup I can be to my students, and to children everywhere. Similarly, I have been inspired by the amazing teachers I’ve known, who were invaluable to me when I was young and now serve as models and mentors.
Is what you do now what you always imagined doing? Why or why not, and what have you learned because of that?
Honestly, I haven’t “always imagined” myself doing anything. My life thus far has moved really quickly; there hasn’t been much time for imagining my future. And, I tend to operate less from a place of imagination and more from my gut (#enneagram8). In my gut, I’ve always known that I would teach, write, study, advocate, move away from home (I’m originally from Texas). Trusting my gut is one of my superpowers; it’s when I stop listening (or stop hearing altogether) that I make mistakes.
But, when it comes to specifics: I could never have imagined the bounty of the life I get to lead. As my friend Jason Russell said, “Our lives are bigger than our best dreams for them.” Mistakes, happenstance, intuition, impeccable guidance, big love—they all alchemized to bring me here, and to wherever I go next. Never could’ve imagined it.
What’s something you desperately want other people to know or realize that may help them in their lives?
Their enneagram types (beyond the memes, y’all).
How do you define belonging and connection, and how have your definitions changed over time?
I don’t know, honestly. I was raised to believe that family comes first, but I early on learned that our common definition of family (biological and/or legal connection) is harmful and reductive; it includes abusive relationships and excludes loving ones. As a single 20-something living far from my hometown, I am most focused these days on my friendships and my teacher-student relationships. Dr. Gordon Neufeld wrote, “Children must never work for our love; they must rest in it.” Resting in, not working for, love—that’s probably as close to a definition as I’ve got. It’s what I’m trying to provide for my students and my friends (and myself).
What’s something you make sure to do every day/week/month that helps you practice self-care and self-love?
My morning routine is the most significant element of my daily self-care practice. I wake up at 5 a.m. to do the normal morning things (make bed, shower, coffee, etc), walk my dog, exercise, meditate, and read.
Weekly, I go to therapy. My relationship with my therapist (a wise, witchy woman whose practice is rooted in sensorimotor and psychodynamic theories) is invaluable; within that relationship, I am learning, growing, and healing in ways I still don’t really believe are possible.
Also weekly, I attend my local Unitarian Universalist church (which I lovingly call “hippie church” or “fake church”).
How do you define success in your life and/or business?
In formal education, success is often understood in terms of measurable achievements, like test scores, graduation rates, and so forth. Practically, these things are important, but they aren’t the most important. Others might say that success in formal education is education—that is, student learning. This is important—and much more important than any other metric—but I still don’t think we’re getting at the whole point. I believe that a good and great formal education is valuable beyond a degree, beyond content mastery, beyond transferrable skills. Teachers are uniquely situated to nurture community, inspire personal growth, grow knowledge, and facilitate liberation. I won’t try to distill “educational success” down to a one-liner, but I know it has to do with these things.
At our tutoring centre specifically, I feel successful when my teachers, my students, and “my” parents are taken care of, intellectually, socially, and emotionally (and physically: I love to feed them all).
I don’t really want to define “success” in my life. I don’t want to think of my life as a means to an end. But, if I must, I turn to A. J. Stanley’s (unfortunately gendered) definition:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
Photo courtesy of Ellen Orr