Opening Scene

FADE IN:

EXT. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – DAY

The surrounding hills make Warbler Elementary School seem like a beacon of hope, a place to breathe fresh air and embrace young children.  Its sign glows like an invitation to come learn.

DISSOLVE  TO:

INT. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – ROOM B2 – DAY

Teachers sit in table groups.  The lights are off.  Only the glow of the Powerpoint on the SMART board illuminates their faces.

LORENA, fizzling out instructional coach,  desiring nothing else but a writer’s life, blindly staggers into the room like a drunk.

LORENA

Is this an empty..?

SCHOOL SECRETARY, 47, closes the door behind Lorena, its heavy thud announces Lorena’s arrival and indicates there is no escape.

SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, 52, bitter, struggling to stay above water, doesn’t check emails, drives home and bathes in vodka, only glances at the door.

SCHOOL PRINCIPAL

SST process will help us in finding support for students.  If you go back to the timeline, you can see that the process starts early, not too early, but early, it could be earlier, but it is early enough.  This early detection is going to be great, just great.

5TH GRADE TEACHER, 46, more bitter than the principal, scores every damn piece of paper her students produce.

5TH GRADE TEACHER

Why doesn’t THE distriiiiicct make the SST process start earlier?  This is a disservice to the kids.  By the time they get to me, they are soooooo LOW.

SCHOOL PRINCIPAL

So I said, that the process starts early, yes it could be earlier, but this early is early enough. Go back to the timeline and you see it is early.

KINDER TEACHER, nearing death in age, head full of thick, dry hair, the bitterest of the group.

KINDER TEACHER

This is just toooooo much work.  THE district is asking for too much.  I fill out the forms and then what? I sit and wait! No! No! No! I won’t do that.  Kids need help now!

5TH GRADE TEACHER

What? Did no one hear what I said? By the time THOSE kids get to me, they are so far, far, far below grade level.  They can’t add, they can’t read, and they can’t write!

KINDER TEACHER

That doesn’t just apply to you, that goes for all of us! We have too many kids who can’t do anything!

SCHOOL PRINCIPAL

And the district didn’t send anyone out to talk to us.

ALL, 28 teachers, sitting in a dark room in the late afternoon of a bright, sunny day, dreaming of making die cut pumpkins.

ALL

Hahahahahaha!!! (several snorts)

TO BE CONTINUED…

Life on Vacation

I spent the last few days away from work, an early October break.  Here is how it went:

I confided in a friend that I was secretly going to seek a position with the U.S. Post Office and that way, I could A.) leave my current position B.) focus on my writing life C.) still manage to make the house payment D.) have benefits.  That idea came burning down like a house of straw on fire as she confided in me that her boyfriend had read the works of a famous poet who had once been a part of the USPS.  Apparently he had referred to it as a “life sucking, trauma inducing, soulless place” or something like that.

I rented a car to  drive up two hours north of San Jose and visit my mom.  After all the paperwork, I was ushered upstairs to get the car.  I walked out of the elevator, handed over the papers from downstairs and was told, “you pick. Either the black one or silver one.  Keys are inside. Someone will help you on your way out.  The exit is that way.” Friendly. Real friendly.  I gazed at the two cars and chose the black Ford Fusion.  I got inside, grabbed the keys and…there was no key.  I looked around the steering wheel and saw it: a black button that said Push to Start. I did, the car then told me to step on the brake, I did and all the lights came on.  I didn’t hear an engine, but the blinking light indicated the car was ready.  Great. I tried to turn on the radio.  And could not figure it out.  All those damn buttons and knobs.  I turned up the volume loud, nothing, I adjusted the Tune knob, nothing. This car was too complicated for me.  I finally figured out how get the spaceship into Drive and began exiting the parking garage.  On the way out, I asked the attendant how to get the radio to work.  She didn’t answer me and instead requested to see my driver’s license.  Then just before sending me away, she mumbled, annoyed, “push the power button.”

I went to visit my very sick and elderly uncle with my mom.  It was early in the morning and as we walked into his hospital room, his eyes looked me over. I saw it.  He didn’t know who I was until my mom yelled out, “Look who came to visit you! Lorena!” Even then I am not sure that he fully understood I was the girl that he had teased so often.  I hung back, watching the way my mom cut up his french toast in little pieces and prepared his coffee then fed him.  I wondered if I would ever be able to do the same for my older brother.  I watched my uncle take little sips of coffee from the mug held by my mom. I saw how little he ate.  I decided to have a talk with my older brother just to make sure he was watching his health.

I saw Old Faithful for the first time.  As we walked into the park, Pete,  my mom and I saw the geyser blowing.  Jets of water squirted into the October sky.  Vapor came off it to show that this was HOT water.  We stood watching it for a good two minutes before it just sputtered off and went silent. We fed the smelly goats, lounged in practically all the cabanas, swings and patio chairs there were and read everything in the geology museum. We gazed at the water when it came squirting out and I decided that I had let too much life pass me by.

I took a long afternoon nap on my mother’s couch.  I hadn’t even realized how it had snuck up on me, but it happened.  The TV was talking softly in the background, my older brother was playing with his dog and the air carried that perfect warmth that just murmurs, “close your eyes, close your eyes, close your eyes.” So I did.

I made my own breakfast and then checked the mail.  Only four items in the mailbox.  One I could already see was some invitation to refinance the house.  I sighed and ripped it then tossed it into the recycle bin, refinance THAT.  The next one was an update about my retirement funds.  Woo-hoo, let’s see how that’s going! I couldn’t make sense of the summary.  I tried turning the paper upside down, thinking it would help, but it looked the same.  Anyway, I figured it probably was saying I did not have enough to retire.  On to envelope number three: an offer for a credit line.  I held it for a moment, then tossed it in the recycle bin too.  The last item left was a postcard sized invitation.  A workshop on Saturday from 9 – 11am and I would walk away with: knowledge about how to apply online, job descriptions to make sure this was the place for me, and job opportunities. I clipped it to my fridge magnets, it had to be a sign.  The invitation came from the USPS.

You are a Writer

You are a writer if…

5.) You think the characters you write about are real

You are sadly mistaken. MINE are real.  I eat breakfast with them everyday and they cheer me up when I get home from work. At night, we sip tea together and when I fall asleep with my laptop in bed, they tuck me in.

4.) All you see are stories.  And all the people you meet are like characters from a book or you think about them as potential characters for your stories/books

Hmmmm, this one is tough… Are you telling me that when I sit outside the coffee shop and “people watch” that I am actually looking at them as characters for a story? Or that I am thinking of stories to put these people into?  You mean that I am constantly humming up stories as life passes me by?  Are you actually indicating that I pay attention to the world around me and that I notice all the stuff going on like the way that lady’s hair bobs up and down as she walks or the way that old guy has a funny little limp cuz maybe he had a door slammed on his ankle when he was a child..?  What the hell are you getting at?  This is some freaky shit! No way in hell is my mind as convoluted as THAT!! Oh hell no, you did not just insinuate that my mind is a freak show!! The circus did not come into my town!! (Deep breaths, shake off some shivers, close eyes and rub temples, lots of sighs) But, yes, that does, happen, sometimes, here and there…on occasion, possibly… EVERY DAY, ALL DAY!!

3.) You read more than the average human being

Like how much more?  Can you please quantify that for me?

Like you don’t shower, eat, or get out of bed just cuz you wanna keep reading! You don’t cook, clean, or even leave the damn house so as not to interrupt your reading! You stay in your damn pajamas all day, barely even getting up to use the bathroom and that’s only because nature has really got a hold of you then!! You don’t answer the door, you don’t pick up the phone, you don’t text back, you don’t even click on the TV! You stay up hella late, reading, reading, reading and then you DREAM about it!  You go so far as if to feel like you are LIVING in the damn book! You neglect the world around you, you don’t think about your loved ones…(whimpers)

Mmmm, I see…well, I guess with that kind of description…CHECK!

2.) You have stories inside you

Ha, ha, ha, ha! Nope, you are not getting me on this one! All I have in me right now is my breakfast: one egg, fake bacon, and a slice of whole wheat with peanut butter.  I drank some hot tea, but it warmed up me too much that I started sweatin’, feeling like I was starting to cook from the inside.  I thought the sweat coming out of me was like little tea drops, jasmine flavor because that is what I was drinking.  One of them slid down my forehead, like going down a slide and probably yelled, “Yippeee!” as it cruised off my nose and splashed on to my hands.  Then it waved at me with its little tea drop fingers curling up and down, a big tea smile on its face…Oh…FUCK…

1.) You neglect your hygiene when THE writing has a hold on you

Just so you know, you are really creeping me out right now

Oh, how’s that?

Neglect hygiene? REALLY?

Yes, really

I am a very clean person, you know that.  I can’t go without brushing my teeth

Have you brushed them today?

No, not yet, I just ate, remember?

Uh-huh, so when did you shower?

…I will get to it…today for sure

Did you know it’s almost afternoon and you are still in PJs?

They’re comfortable dammit! You think I wanna be all up in here wearing a suit?  A freakin’ power suit right now?  You gotta be kiddin’ me!!

Sure, so how’s your hair?  When did you last put on makeup? Have you thought about jewelry? Got a bra on? Are you still wearing yesterday’s underwear?

FUUUUUUUCK! How you bug!! Who the hell are you??

Only the voice inside your head

Well, get the fuck out! What the hell are you doing in there?

Just being the other sign that you are a writer

No, I am not! Get outta here! Take all your crap and get outta here!

You really want that?  You know what will happen if I go…

Yeah, I know exactly what will happen! It’ll be QUIET!!!

…Oh I guess it really left.  Wow, this is nice.  Silence. Now I can enjoy my own thoughts… Uh, hello, brain?  Are you there brain? Total silence, weird…Wow, can’t remember the last time it was like this…blank page on the screen…Hmmm, I wonder what I …

Should write about??

AAAHHHHHHH!!! You again!! Dammit, dammit, dammit!!

Accept it, you are a writer.

Born for It

There are people who live and breathe principalship. They wear the position as if they were born for it, which they probably were. I always admire them from afar, wondering if they like waking up early in the morning (which I hear happens around 4am) and then staying late for all those school events.  I always wonder how they keep up the energy to flutter around the school and deal with all the crap that lands on their laps.  How do they  resume a “normal” life after the school day has ended…doesn’t the position just consume them?

Anyway, I compiled a top ten list of why I admire school administrators:

10.) They can sleep at night, even though they know that they are in charge of hundreds of lives

9.) The complaints. From. Everyone. Students. Parents. Guardians. Aunts. Grandpas. Teachers. Teacher Assistants. Staff members. Community. Volunteers. District Office Personnel.

8.) The ongoing investigations of who hit who

7.) Managing the school budget

6.) Hard conversations with teachers (about their instruction)

5.) There’s no Administrator’s How-To Manual

4.) Sub shortage

3.) The real lock down

2.) They have to be great…EVERY DAY

1.) They don’t get a break or a lunch (and if they do, it’s the same stuff the kids ate earlier that day) and they never get to use the bathroom when they need it…

With that said, kudos to all you school admins, I am a big fan of yours and admire your spirit.  Keep at it, because if you don’t, there won’t be people like me to write about it.

Needs

I have written about why I write, but today I saw that it is not about why, but the need to write.  I have all kinds of reasons to satisfy why I write, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I NEED to write.

I need to write because:

  1. I am alive
  2. It is typically the only way that my voice gets heard
  3. A therapist is too expensive, but writing is free and in my world, I need all the therapy I can get
  4. The thoughts in my head deserve to live on paper.  They are precious and as unique as me.  I owe it to them to get them on the page
  5. Life is confusing and it doesn’t make sense until I write
  6. One day I will not be here, but my writing will
  7. No one else has my life so I must share it
  8. When I don’t, I can feel God’s hot breath on my neck and I feel guilty
  9. A child, somewhere, must know that I feel what they feel and that there is hope
  10. I am Mexican and others have to know that I am as human as them

Writing is life.

Letter of Recommendation

To Whom It May Concern,

It is a pleasure to be writing a letter on behalf of my student self. I have known myself in the capacity of student for the past 13 years.  During this time I have developed outstanding skills that have allowed me to demonstrate that I am ready for a real writing life.

As a young student, in my early years of education, I was taught to be quiet and quickly hushed by my teachers any time I blurted out an idea that was entirely my own.  And if I dared ask questions that were not reflected on the daily schedule, I was given the ever frightening “teacher look.”  This resulted in my learning to not think too much and to be more of a listener.  I believe that a writing life would encourage me to do more of my own deep thinking and possibly even ponder some of those questions that still come to my mind.

Middle school proved to be an even more delightful experience as I learned about writing for purposes that exist only within the insides of a school.  I never looked forward to writing those cumbersome essays about the theme in a book or what current social problem is undermining society or proving my point about how the characters were similar in blah blah book.  These assignments taught me to not care and just do minimal work.  I was further enlightened by these assigned essays as I learned that an audience doesn’t exist.  The only person who read this crap was the teacher who then gave it back to me with half hearted suggestions of how to fix it. I never got  to see if my words had any power.  I am most ready for a writing life.

Then the shit hit the fan in high school.  This was truly the place where I saw that writing is a lockstep process and you shall not be creative or step out of the one damn genre you are writing in for if you do, the wrath of hell will come upon you and your writing will be scored harshly.  Don’t use creative ways to engage your reader in the opening, that is gibberish just get on with it and state the damn thesis.  Don’t put in anything like dialogue or a Yelp review because the teacher has to score all these bloody papers and adding extra stuff makes it hard to grade.  Just keep it simple.  Don’t mix genres. Don’t be creative. Don’t think. Don’t be a writer.

My student self is now ready to apply for a real writing life so that the mysteries of what real writers do can be revealed.  All these years of not thinking while I wrote in a robotic fashion has shown that I am yearning to master this skill of writing because I can’t even produce this letter (my older brother is typing it for me as I say it out loud – why didn’t anyone tell me about how I can rehearse my writing by saying it first?).  I highly recommend my student self for a position in the real writing life.  If you have any questions, I can be contacted at the number below.

Sincerely,

Deesmaid Stoodent

Why my Jeans don’t Fit in the Summer

Is it just me or do jeans get a little too snug in the summer?  I attempted to put on a pair of my jeans and I could not get them on! But I had worn them all throughout the previous months – what happened?  In order to make myself feel better, I compiled 10 reasons to convince myself of why the jeans no longer fit…

10. The dryer shrunk them

9. I was bloated that day, getting close to mother nature’s visit, you know?

8. The lotion I had slathered on my legs to prevent dry summer skin, created a barrier that prevented the jeans from easily sliding over my thighs

7. The recent heat wave that sent temperatures over 100º shrunk my jeans as they lay folded up in the closet

6. My boyfriend most likely washed them in warm water and now they have gotten smaller by an entire size!

5. I made fun of one of my friend’s workout routines and she snuck into my closet for revenge, switched my jeans for a size too small and is now laughing wildly while reading my post

4. Those were not my jeans actually.  They probably got left behind from when the girl scouts hosted a camp retreat in my backyard

3. If you don’t stick to the recommended daily dose on the label of the fiber gummies, they really do cause you to bloat up

2.  The dryer shrunk them dammit!!

1. As a mature woman I can accept the fact that I don’t have a problem, the jeans have a problem!! They probably got worn out so much, that the fabric just got super tight and I can untighten them by tying one leg to the back of my car and the other to an elephant so we can tug of war it until they stretch back to their original size!

There! I feel better now.  And I will keep in mind that in the future, should any clothes suddenly not fit as before, it is their fault, not mine!!

 

On Being a Woman…

I wrote this piece in response to a colleague’s response to Tom Romano’s Fearless Writing.  Her response had been trying out Romano’s approach to the multi genre paper.  My dear colleague then revealed through her writing that all was not well in her relationship.  Her illustration of this led to the response below.

Being a woman is always so difficult. We have far more things to think about than men.  Clothing options for example. Jeans: skinny, boyfriend, relaxed fit, ankle boot, low rise, high rise, snug, jeggings, or slacks. Skirts: mini, pencil, flouncy, pleats. Shorts: tiny, knee length, hits at the thigh…or capris or skorts or a dress…and this is just the beginning.

But it is our time to rise up and say what we want, what we deserve and belongs to us in the first place. That we will not put up with uncertainties or man drama of any kind. That we are more than just pretty faces to be looked at or companions meant for the good times. We are heart, mind, and soul and hear us roar. We have a right to seek our own happiness whether it be accompanied or single is not a concern of ours for we have learned to be strong, independent and very capable of setting up our own cable and hammering in a few nails.

Age only makes us better; all the more desirable whereas with men it makes them senile, smelly, and awkward. With age we grow into ourselves, becoming all the more comfortable with who we are, more confident with what we want and how to get it and more familiar with our bodies so that we know exactly how to care for ourselves. It is fact that a married man gets additional years of life for being married – imagine what that says about us! We are the bearers of life. We know how to live and live well. Men need us for without a female, they die.

Embrace all parts of living a woman’s life – even the downward ones, for it is these moments that define us, shape us, and make us stronger.

Not on Any Planet

So I hugged my former teacher colleagues, the ones who had been there to witness my first years of teaching.  We were all smiles and formalities, playing it safe with asking about summer plans and how the year had gone.

Then we sat down, I going off to sit at the designated “coach” table and they took their seats at the tables in front of the room. I checked emails and began perusing through a project that had been started last week and had to be finished by this Friday.  The presenter’s voice went over my head for most of the day.

At lunch, it was obvious that the teachers were really enjoying their professional development day and were chatting up a storm of all the things they were going to change for the coming school year.  I just nibbled away at some peanut butter cookies, glad to be present in the room, but not needing to engage fully with the teachers.  These are the types of days that I really like.  I am present, but not required to talk to anyone.

The afternoon hour brought on planning time as I continued to peruse the project and began to work just a bit faster to try to get it done.  Just as I was trying to figure out how much explanation to include on my document, the presenter came to my side and said, “adult learners.  Here is something I learned right now.” She had my full attention.  She was brilliant and engaging and the teachers were eating up all her words.  What could she possibly have more to learn?

“I wasn’t clear about the teaching point.  In the 3 think aloud demonstrations, I was not explicit about the teaching point.” A bit of a giggle escapes her.  I must have had a confused look, as she then explained more.  “That group near the wall, they don’t have a teaching point! I went over and sat with them and they were planning using the model, but when I asked what they were teaching, they said, ‘oh we’re just following the structure of I go, practice, they go.'” More giggles from her.

I tried to imagine how you could plan anything without knowing what you were trying to teach.  How does that work? Then I joined her in giggling.  Oh jeez, the group had just really missed the point about planning with an objective in mind!

At the end of the day, when all the teachers had left, the presenter debriefed the day with the district team.  I sat nearby, annoyed that I still hadn’t completed the project and now biting my nails to figure it out so I could send it off.  I caught some of their discussion.

“The demo lesson went really well.” “They asked great questions about the instruction.” “Were ready to dig in and plan.” “This group is going to need a lot of support.” At that my head whipped around to see the presenter pointing to the table nearest the wall. “They are so lost.” “What school are they from?” “Ohhhhh, I coached her and it was so hard.” “I am telling you, they will need lots of help.  They were looking at me with confused expressions all day.” “They weren’t able to plan.” “They need to get on a planet.  Right now, their not even on one!”

I thought back to the beginning of the day.  Who had been at that table? Then the memory of hugs came back.  My former colleagues.

Anticipation

While at work, it was all I could think about.  I just kept watching the clock, waiting for it to hit my hour of freedom.  The minutes just seemed to move ever so sluggishly in that way that makes you think they know you’re dying for the day to end.

No onslaught of emails or last minute projects could jerk my thoughts away.  And certainly not even that one email from a bitter colleague who was upset from yesterday because I made her write and told her that no PD session could ever teach her what she wanted to know in the way that simply writing would help her.  I didn’t even flinch when I got called in to the manager’s office to go over some prickly details for next week’s work. I knew that today was the day.  Today I would go home and I would be so so so so happy.

Lunch took forever to arrive.  And while I ate my boring chicken with boring edamame and stinky tofu, my joyful thoughts swirled in my head.  I was closer! Just had to get through the afternoon.

Jeez that afternoon was painful.  If the morning had been sluggish, the afternoon was dragging on like a relentless angry wife who just must have the last word. I tried not to look at the clock, but I swear the minutes at times spiraled back instead of forward.  At one point I said hell with it and adjusted the clock on my phone so it was five minutes ahead.  No one would notice if I ditched work five minutes early.

At 3 o’clock I ate my snack super slow, licking every bite of blueberry yogurt. Plus when I had finished it, I grazed the spoon over the edges and grabbed every bit.  That ate up a good four minutes.  But I was closer to the finish line!

Nail biting now began as I tapped my foot anxiously.  30 minutes left, 20, 10, 5, 3, OMG!! I jumped out of my chair, stuffed all my belongings in my bag and declared I was leaving.  I sprinted out of there, threw my bag and myself into the car and speeded home.

Once I arrived, I lost all abandon and changed into pajamas.  I shuffled my pillows and arranged them to support my head.  I plopped down amongst them.  I was home.  I was home to do the one thing that I had been dying to do all day.  I picked up my book from the library and began reading.

 

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write