In 9th grade biology, I learned about mitosis. Cell division isn’t something that typically sticks in anyone’s mind (unless you’re a biologist), much less that of a hormonal 15-year-old worried about student council elections and acne. The stages are so similar-sounding that they’re easily chased from memory when, say, an upperclassman asks you to Prom.
But I still remember the phases of mitosis: interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. (You’ll have to take my word for it that I didn’t look that up.)
And a decade later and a whole country away from high school, as I visit the bathroom for the fourth time in two hours, I remember why I know that tiny, now-useless piece of information, despite not remembering much from, say, Calculus or Missouri History.
Our teacher, Ms. Watts*, was young, had a big laugh, stood all of five feet tall, had school-marm style, and used unorthodox methods to get us to love biology as much as she did. I distinctly remember being bribed with Tootsie Rolls for being the first person to shout out that ATP is “energy a cell can use,” for example.
The first day of the mitosis chapter, Ms. Watts stood in front of the class with her ubiquitous purple coffee mug in hand, waving it for emphasis as she talked. She laid out the five stages of the process, and you could see the class’ confusion mirrored in her eyes. Even the air seemed to glaze over with boredom.
And then, in a flash of insight that separates average teachers from great ones, she burst out with, “I pee more after ten.”
There was dead silence for a good five seconds. Then everyone burst out laughing. Of course we laughed (I bet you did, too) – she just said “pee” to a roomful of teenagers.
After the giggling died down, she explained it to us.
“Every day, I drink two cups of coffee before school starts, then I hit it again around 10 when I start to get sleepy. But every cup of coffee after that sends me to the bathroom because of all the caffeine. I take the coffee in; my body breaks it down, divides it up, and gets rid of it.
“Kind of like the phases of mitosis: IPMAT is interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase, but it’s also ‘I pee more after ten.’ If you can link that acronym to my coffee addiction, it might help you guys remember for your test.”
And it did. I’m 33 years old and still remember this little factoid because my teacher told me she drinks so much coffee she had to pee every hour on the hour after 10am.
* I swear that’s her real name. How much more perfect could a science teacher be?
I’m telling you that so I can tell you this: Your stories are important.
If Ms. Watts hadn’t revealed that smidgen of insight into her personal life, the less eggheaded students likely wouldn’t have passed mitosis. Because she told us this silly (true) story, we absorbed knowledge and got to know our teacher. When we found out she was leaving at the end of the year, students cried because they’d connected with her and didn’t want her to go. All because she told us her bathroom schedule.
Life is a series of interrelated stories, and sharing them helps us connect with each other. That’s why we talk about ourselves so much – we’re trying to connect with other people who get it, who share our experience, who can supplement our growth with their own insights. And we’re awesome at learning that way. We see ourselves in someone else’s story and use it to learn about our own lives. The more stories we tell, the more stories we hear, the more we grow, the more we connect, the more stories we have to tell. It’s an incredible cycle of opening and learning.
So don’t hide what you have to say. No matter how silly, how embarrassing, how scary, how mundane, how boring you think your experience is, there is someone out there who needs to hear it said in your words. That someone could even be you.
Tell your stories – whether in writing, in painting, in dance, or in casual conversation – because they must be told. You never know whose life you’ll touch forever.
I originally published this post in 2011, and it was removed from the archives in 2014. It’s been refreshed and reshared here for your enjoyment.