Kelli Reno’s beliefs

Kelli Reno's "still believing" (photograph courtesy of Kelli Reno)

Kelli Reno’s “still believing” (photograph courtesy of Kelli Reno)

Here is the narrative Kelli sent us:

“I am an optimist. An idealist. Someone who sincerely believes that if you try your hardest, you can make good things happen.

Too bad others don’t always feel the same.

I’m a teacher. An English teacher at that. Try putting that on your resume and not receiving copious, well-meaning inquiries about why would you want to pursue such an esoteric, outdated career path.

Books? Books are great, but shouldn’t kids be getting ready for real careers? How many English majors do you know that actually have real jobs? Why aren’t you teaching more technical writing? Spending a month on Shakespeare is all well and good, but really, when is anyone going to need to know about that?

On top of that, when I went back for my second round of graduate studies, I earned a certification in School Library Media. I know, I know. Crazy!

Do libraries still exist? I heard that schools are getting rid of librarians left and right—are you really going to be able to get a job? Why do you need a library when you have the Internet? Can’t the kids just use the public libraries? So you just want to sit behind a counter and check out books all day?


For much of my life, I’ve let those well-meaning, but ultimately defeatist questions get to me. I’ve given my energy over to struggling against myself and other people’s opinions. Am I doing the right thing? Have I thrown away my 20’s and half of my 30’s on a naive lark? Why did I ever decide not to go to medical school? I probably should have taken my dad’s advice and been an engineer. What am I doing with my life? How have I managed to throw away so much of my potential?

And then last year, after starting what I consider to be the hardest (and best) teaching job I’ve ever had, I realized, enough.

Enough second-guessing myself. Enough questioning my decisions. Enough of listening to what other people have to say over what I know to be my truth.

This was not realized overnight. There was therapy involved. Long conversations with my family, my husband, my friends, and my colleagues. There were tears. Lots of tears. Anxiety attacks. Days when it was all I could do to pull myself out of bed, get in my car, and walk in the doors to face another eight hours of 130 kids looking to me for the answers, when I felt I didn’t have any.

But by November of last year, even if I didn’t have all the answers, I had figured out enough to know that regardless of other people’s opinions, I was doing what I was meant to be doing. I was doing good, hard work.

I began to believe in myself again, and I am still believing.

I still believe that literature helps us know ourselves and others more perfectly—or rather, through our imperfections.

I still believe that part of being ready for the ‘real world’ (whatever that means) is being able to think critically, not only in terms of hard facts and problems of logic, but also about who we are, what we want, and the roles we play in our communities.

I still believe that as our world turns increasingly digital, global, and interconnected, we need to be able to find space for our own thoughts and identities through reading, writing, and thoughtful contemplation.

I still believe that schools need libraries to help provide a safe space to foster self-reflection, research, and individual inquiry—not to mention the skills needed to wade through increasing amounts of specious “information” presented as fact and truth by anyone (everyone) who has access to a computer and a WiFi connection.

I still believe that communication and authentic connection with each other—the ability to talk through our differences, prejudices, -isms, and the misinformation that comes along with those—will be what saves us from ourselves.

I still believe in being an idealist.

I still believe in being an optimist.

I still believe that working hard and doing what I love will pay off in the end for myself, my family, and my community.

In ‘Love Letta to de Worl’’ I found that others still believe this, too.

And so, in honor of these beliefs, I did the last thing anyone (myself included) would have expected—I got a tattoo.

Believing is a beautiful thing.”

Kelli emailed us her story on the day we left Reno, NV to drive to Black Rock City. She knew about our trip and she added the following:

“Incidentally, I just read Neda’s post after completing mine and was, once again, awed (but not surprised) to find a kindred spirit through LLTW. When you meet her, give her my love as a ‘still believing’ sister.”

We did convey Kelli’s love to Neda. In fact, Burning Man helped us realize that there are many of us “still believing” that love, kindness, and compassion matter, even if we don’t have these words inked on our bodies.

(If you want to see another beautiful photograph of Kelli’s tattoo, watch the 1-min promotional video for Love Letter To the World. Pay special attention to the end.)