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Pleasures of life

I linger 

under the covers, feeling the warmth and safety of my bed

over a cup of coffee each morning, preparing for the demands of the day

over a glass of wine with my beloved, savoring each moment together

over my baby’s crib, watching her breath and smelling her sweet scent

over a book, enthralled with character and story, unaware of time passing

over a sunset, enjoying the beauty of creation

in the sun-warmed sand on a salty beach

in the arms of my beloved

I linger.

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Daily Prompt: Linger

 

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Kindergarten Memories

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In the spirit of Anne Lamott, I asked my students to do a version of her “school lunch” writing exercise.* Instead of school lunch, we wrote about kindergarten. In the exercise, she asks her students to write down everything they can remember about school lunch and then see what stands out that could be turned into its own story. In her example it was the ‘boy against the fence’ who popped out of nowhere. In mine, it was Dennis. 

Dennis.

I don’t even remember his last name, but with his dark brown hair and deep blues eyes, he was the man – at least in kindergarten. In games of kissing tag, he was always my intended conquest.

You can imagine my thrill when we were made milk-buddies for the week. Everyday I walked to the lunch room with Dennis, entered the giant, dark, metal refrigerator, filled the milk crate with enough cartons for our class and carried it back to our classroom hand in hand….except for the milk crate between us. Our week together was bliss until the incident. The incident that scarred my kindergarten memories.

My teacher was only trying to keep us safe. Earlier in the week, a student, who had been running, collided with someone else and was badly hurt. She made a new rule: absolutely no running in the classroom.

In my exuberance to meet my milk buddy for our daily walk together, I scooted across the floor. I’m not sure you could really call it running….maybe more like race-walking. Either way, the teacher called it running and paddled me in front of everyone. Then sent me off in shame with my milk buddy, Dennis.

I was quiet as we walked down the hall that day. Then Dennis said the only three words I ever remember him saying to me, “did it hurt?”

“Did it hurt?” Not, “are you ok?” or “I’m sorry that happened to you. You most certainly weren’t running!” But, “did it hurt.” Like he was doing research to weigh the pros and cons of acting up in the future.

I told him that it embarrassed me more than hurt me, and we went on with our task.

I don’t remember pursuing Dennis much after our week as milk buddies.

I do remember the puffy alphabet letters….maybe a topic for another post.

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*Anne Lamott: Bird by Bird c.1994

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Memoir

 

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I didn’t learn to write in school

Are we failing students in the way we teach writing?

We have the new Common Core with a stronger emphasis on writing. We have more options than I can count on how to teach the Five Paragraph Essay. We assign creative essays, literary responses, and research papers, but are the students really learning how to write and what the writing process requires?

Let me show you how I approached writing assignments in school:

  • Essay assigned – due in two weeks
  • Ugh! I have to write a paper. At least I have two weeks
  • 1 week later a fellow student asks if I have started my paper…I haven’t
  • 5 days before due date…I better start thinking about that paper
  • 4 days before due date…if research is required, make trip to library and gather required sources
  • 3 days before due date…pull out assignment and look it over
  • 2 days before due date….read/skim whatever material is required in order to write paper.
  • night before due date…commence writing paper, pull all-nighter if necessary.
  • Due date…read/edit paper and fix obvious mistakes
  • Turn in paper
  • Receive grade
  • never look at essay again

78a728fbf134373ba398c69128fdd25aThis worked fairly well for me and got me through high school and college with respectable GPA’s but it didn’t teach me how to write. It taught me how to compile sources and arrange thoughts in paragraphs in order to earn a grade.

The more I study eloquent writers and their writing processes and the more time I spend writing, I realize there are many things I never learned about writing. My procrastination driven college writing process only ever produced a first draft that was turned in and graded.

Here is the sad truth: I don’t know how to go about the tedious work of revision. The act of taking a machete to what I have written and chopping it up until only the best bits remain. Of then taking those best bits and reaching into the depths of my creativity to add to the manuscript using those as my foundation. This is possibly the most important part of the writing process that I entirely skipped over under the false pretense that my first finished draft was good enough.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) it was good enough to earn a respectable grade and move on, but it didn’t teach me how to write. Now granted, there are certain types of academic writing that once you learn the formula, you plug in the information and voila! Instant essay! But as far as publishable creative essays or fiction writing? Not even close.

How do I not fail my students in this area? I have them write frequently because we all know that to be a better writer you need to write all the time. But, as is common with curriculum, we complete a writing assignment for a unit of study and move on. Should I assign fewer writing assignments and spend more time on them going through the whole writing and revising process with my students?

I would love to hear from other writers and teachers regarding how you approach this in your classrooms.

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Stories: From the Outside Looking in

Sometimes when I am traveling and lost in my thoughts I look in the windows of passing houses and cars and think, ‘There are people in there I do not and probably will never know, living lives that I know nothing about.’ It is a humbling thought about my small place in the universe and the many strangers who occupy it living mundane or possibly fascinating lives. There is a curious part of me that wants to know them. To know what is going on behind the brightly lit window. Is it a happy family just sitting down to dinner? Or a family torn apart by tragedy wondering if they will ever smile again.

The man driving the car next to me while his wife rests her head against the window: who is he? Have they had a long trip or is she weighed down with weariness? I wonder what the anchor tattoo on his shoulder means and when and where he got it.

If I had one superpower, it would be to look into a person’s eyes and know their life’s story. Maybe I’m too curious for my own good; I suppose some would call it nosy. Maybe it is my love of story and wanting to know where people are coming from and what makes them who they are.

There are billions of people on this planet with their own lives and fascinating stories. Every once in a while we hear about one of them through an uplifting or tragic news piece. It is just a blip on the continuum of time and then we go about our business returning to the rhythm of our ordinary days. As I pass by the windows, my imagination takes over and creates the story of the family who lives there or the destination of the car beside me.

I imagine the man with the anchor tattoo celebrating with his former Navy buddies when Seal Team 6 took out Bin Laden. In their revelry they agree to matching tattoos. Right now he and his wife are on their way to the graduation of their oldest son from the Naval Academy. She is reminiscing about her boy’s childhood and wondering how they got here so fast as she rests her head against the window.

I imagine an elderly couple in the 1940’s bungalow we just passed. She is slowly clearing rose patterned dishes from the table while he sips his coffee from a dainty chipped cup: the last remaining piece of their wedding china. She joins him at the table as they comfortably chat about news of the kids and grandkids.

I have no way of knowing if these stories are true. The characters don’t even know I exist. I am merely someone passing by in the car. An outsider.

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Daily Prompt: The Outsiders

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Process

There is never enough time for reading and writing. Maybe someday I will sit in my study, no scratch that, I prefer a wood-paneled two-story library with a skylight and rolling ladder. Someday I will sit in my library surrounded by books, magazines, papers and a laptop and read and write to my heart’s content (or until my husband feels severely neglected). Maybe someday I will even pursue a Master’s degree. But today is not that day….

Today I teach two courses, raise four children, and support my husband in his ministry. When I do find the occasional day to read and write, I’m continually reminded by my growing stack of books to read and magazines to peruse that this is not that day. And yet I still try. Because when that day comes, I want to be ready. I want to have spent enough time on the process that I am ready for the next step.

Sometimes that process is painful. I actually wrote a blog last week and never published it. Why? Because I decided that my writing wasn’t good enough to be “published.” Well, of course, my writing isn’t good enough to be published! That’s why I started this blog. To practice writing. And yet I can’t get out of my own way enough to follow through.

Art is like that, and we are our own worst critics. I’ve yet to meet a musician (and I know many) who after a performance would say, “Yep, that was perfect! Went exactly as I’d hoped.” No, there are numerous aspects to critique and improve on for next performance. And so it is with writing. Even a published author when rereading his work is not always completely satisfied with the end result.

I recently read Ender’s Game. I enjoyed the introduction almost as much as the story. Orson Scott Card takes us on a journey of his imagination and shows how he created the world in which Ender Wiggin lives. But he admits early in the introduction that this new release of the novel needed, “something besides the minor changes as I fix the errors and internal contradictions and stylistic excesses that have bothered me ever since the novel first appeared.” An author continues to revise even after publication.

As I am in this day of my life I will enjoy the process both of loving my family and of writing when I have the chance. I will get out of my own way, hit publish, and be done with it knowing that right now the process is more important than the end result.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Blogging as Personal Discipline

Why have I started this blog? You may ask. There are blogs out there too numerous to count. What could I possibly add of value to the blogosphere? Good question. Why would I think that my ideas are worth reading and would make a difference among the insane amount of information and reading material we have available to us? As Julie says in Julie and Julia, “I could write a blog. I have thoughts!”

But, no, that is not the reason I chose to start this blog. The reason is simple, whether anyone reads my blog or not: I started this blog to discipline myself as a writer. How’s that working for you? You may ask. Well, since I have posted three times in more than two weeks, I would say I have some growing room – but I will keep at it. And three blogs in two weeks is more than I wrote last month, or the month before that, or the month before that.  Baby steps to writing….

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Want to Understand others? Read Literary Fiction

This links to an interesting article in USA Today. Not only do I agree with this assessment, I want to add to it. Reading great literature (and good writers in general) also helps you think like the author. I tell my writing students all the time, that if you are immersing yourself in great writing you will be tempted to emulate great writers. Just like when I finish rereading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, I’m compelled to ask all my friends, “Are your parents in good health?”

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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