Flush, flush, flush

Years, years, seriously we are talking YEARS ago, I sat on some fancy committee that did “walkthroughs” at my school.  At the time I was fresh to teaching and was learning how best to teach 5th graders, an endeavor that I am still trying to master.

One day when this committee was together and waiting for the next class visit so we could all walk in (all 8 of us) and surprise the teacher in such a way that the words she was speaking stuck in her throat while we stood around awkwardly not knowing whether to sit or stand or even just smile and we fumbled around with these stupid clipboards that only made us feel important but really we were not important and just wanted to tell the teacher to breathe that we were not there to condemn her to teacher hell… so this one old guy starts telling the story of his younger years.

It turns out that the moral of his story was that the older you get, the faster time passes.  I remember his story because it is damn true.  You know it is. I look back on these years when I was younger and I swear a day was actually a DAY.  There was time for me to read, to exercise, to be with friends, to daydream, to go to the library, to call my mom, to see the sun rising, to feel life, to cook, to laugh, to enjoy my heartbeat.  But NOW, a day is like only 6 hours and 5 of them are spent at work.  There is not enough time to do anything and this freaking day called Tuesday seems to have duplicated itself so it pops up more often than Thursday or Friday!!

An hour is not an hour but more like just 30 minutes and you think it is only going to take you a few minutes to go to the grocery store, but the truth is you will have lost HOURS just going to get your potatoes and mayonnaise.  Forget enjoyment, forget smelling roses, forget staring at nothing, there isn’t time for that (unless you do it for 5 minutes) because there are dishes to wash, floors to be cleaned, lunch to be prepared, getting ready for bed routines that seem to just suck the last hour of the day and so much more… pant, pant, pant.

So it comes down to this, according to that old guy from the committee, life is like the water in the toilet bowl.  It starts off slow, just starting to circle around and spinning ever so gently, then right before your very eyes, without you even noticing or feeling it, it begins to pick up speed.  Next thing you know as you get closer to that epicenter, it really kicks it up into high velocity and now every spin comes around so QUICK, oh and now you are really spinning, a ride faster than anything you can experience at a carnival, whir, whir, whir, don’t close your eyes because this is your life passing right before you!! And then eventually that spinning cyclone just flushes you right into the drain – there. GONE. The last bits of you trailing and gurgling and leaving silence.

Sigh. We better enjoy our 6 or 4 hours of day and even if we spend it washing dishes, to make the most of it because soon we will just get flushed, flushed, flushed.

Annie

I probably don’t qualify as being able to call Anne Lamott “Annie” but I really savored her words this past Saturday.

My heart leapt with joy when she said, “a page a day, that is fantastic, fantastic.” The way the word rolled out from her was just delicious.  It didn’t come out too fast, but just perfectly “that is FANTAS-TIC.”  The manner in which she said it made me feel like I could do it.  That my meager writings were fantas-tic.

Then she talked about “just get it down.”  Oh how I suddenly connected with the writer that is inside all of us! I knew exactly what she meant when she said that.  So many times a spark of an idea hits and I tell myself: I will write it down later.  I can remember that.  Hell no! I can’t remember diddly! The moment I get a pencil in my hand, that brilliant idea is forgotten.  I hate that I have allowed those crumbs of amazing thinking to slip through my fingers. Never again, thanks to Annie!!

“Spew and chew.” What a phrase! I need more spewing in my life.  She said to lay it out and then once you have it, you can see the bones of the story and will have a better idea of what to cut and what to add.  Such a smart one, that Annie! Can’t wait to put this tip into practice more often.

Then her talk ended.  At the closing she gave a percentage of a very big number, was it 98%?  ending it with that is how many will not get their story written down.  Hard facts from Annie.  I shuddered to think that I could contribute to that percentage.  I don’t want to, I have a lot to write about.  I refuse to not get my story written down.  I will do my best to write a page a day, get it down and spew and chew.

And maybe by following Annie’s advice, I can get published, make loads of money, become famous and stop parading as a coach.

 

Story Telling Advice

Notes from Anne Lamott’s workshop, these on story telling, which is advice from her friend Terri Tate.  Book Passages, Corte Madera last Saturday May 13, 2017.

From my new lime green notebook, a Fabriano with tiny grey dot grids on every page, I’m sharing Anne’s lead in on story telling.  If I shared all the notes I took during the almost three hours Anne talked, this blog would go on and on.  If I boil down all her writing advice to what I really HEARD this time I attend her workshop, it would come down to get a habit.  Writing, like your diet, your exercise, your health, your teaching runs on routines…make it a 5-day a week daily habit and stick to it.

So, my reader might see why I’d rather focus on advice for storytelling.  Making another good habit stick in my day is challenging, and that’s not an excuse not to do it.  Another thought about storytelling is that I see how kids long to tell and hear stories and less and less time is allowed for that.  Thanks to David Coleman and other trolls, narrative is considered baby stuff that has to be tolerated in primary age children, but otherwise ignored.  Writing to learn is where it’s at.  Ugh, the boring stepchild of close reading. (Real close reading does not confine one to the four corners of the page,) And, don’t get me started on his weird triangulation of the text types, two of which are purposes, not even genres.

Story Telling

  1. Trust that you’re loaded with stories waiting to be told
  2. Don’t think the story onto the page — let it flow.
  3. Blocked?  That’s KFuck Radio (or The Vile Bitch Upstairs).  Do what you can to clear the blockage. Like, give your inner critic something to do – for example, “Go sort those photos, please” and then get back to your story.
  4. Start IN the story.  Don’t start with “I’m going to tell you” and don’t explain why.  Jump in.
  5. Don’t force humor.  If you are honest and descriptive it’ll probably be humorous, but you annoy your reader if you are Trying.
  6. Even heartbreak in a story, if it is told with sensory detail, can carry humor.
  7. Sometimes you’re too close to a story to tell it yet.  Get some distance.

 

Now I’ve gotten to read through all those notes I took last Saturday.  Anne is so quotable.  Honest and witty.  And I have to believe that I have stories, bunches of stories inside me, all wanting and waiting to be told.

 

 

 

I’m writing to write

It is Tuesday and if I don’t put some words on the page, I will feel miserable tomorrow.  Like I didn’t visit a sick friend when I was supposed to or like I went to a party but I didn’t tell my friend that I went because I went without her.  That kind of feeling.  So I would rather torture myself now and just put some words on the page so tomorrow I can have a better day. And yes, it will be worth it.

I am feeling like that kid in class who always has to ask, “how many sentences?  How many pages does it have to be?”  How long does this need to be to satisfy me and guarantee I don’t feel so awful tomorrow?  Does this suffice?  What if I add another paragraph, would that qualify it as an actual piece of writing?

And now I feel like that other kid in class who every single day just has to say, “but I don’t know what to write about…” Exactly! I mined my mind for some nuggets that could be swindled for some kind of writing, but I came out empty handed.  “Nothing ever happens to me.  I don’t have anything to write about.  My life is not interesting.” That is me.  Right now.

I wonder if I can pull off that move by kids when they spend so much time just getting their notebook ready and looking for that perfect pencil to write with.  Procrastination.  Putting off writing for as long as possible. Damnit! I should have hidden my laptop from myself and spent a good hour just searching for it.  And then once found, should have washed the dishes.

“Is writing time over yet?” Yup I have heard those questions from kids too.  And I am asking that seriously at this very moment. “How much longer?” As if writing is so torturous that I just can’t take it.  But it is!! It is agony.  Why do words hurt so much?

“Do I really have to?” Yes, it is good for you.  Not sure how, but it’s good.  Well I think I have had enough goodness to last me a while, at least until next Tuesday.

Ok class, you can put your pencils down, writing time is over. “But, teacher I just started writing and I want to finish my story!” AHHHHH!!

Guilt

Did I tell you about the time when I ran away from my father?  I was at a casino with my mom, visiting her for the weekend and mom just loves to feast on the casino buffet, so I took one for the team and accompanied her.

On our way out, she suddenly exclaimed, “There’s your dad!”

And sure enough there he was.  Seated at a slot machine, alone, staring into the screen.  His back was to me, but the dirty old baseball cap and dark gray hooded sweater gave him away.  Seconds went by and I didn’t know what to do.  I found my legs walking the other way, moving back.

“You have to say hi to him, ” my mother hissed.

My legs didn’t want to say hi. They took me in the other direction. Dad would not be happy with me visiting mom and not even telling him I would be in town.  I could already see his angry face, deep frown, harsh cold words spewing forth, “you should tell me when you come…look at you, you’re here and you didn’t even tell me…”  I swallowed and headed out the door, my mom racing to keep up with me.

And then the guilt.  Had he seen me?  Maybe my bright sweater gave me away and he saw my reflection on the screen.  Maybe he had turned in time to see me racing out the door.  How would he feel?  Why didn’t I just say hi?

Oh and then it really started pouring.  Pouring guilt, GUILT.  I could see my day of reckoning and the sky would be a television playing all the awful things I had ever done and there would be the image of my poor dad playing a slot machine and my cruel self running away from him.  And he would be seated next to me, seeing the same things I was seeing.  He would witness how I scampered away, away from my own father.  Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilteeeeeeeeee.

The next day as soon as I left work I called him.  I told him how much I thought of him and that no matter how busy I was, that I always thought of him and I wanted him to know that he was always on my mind.  And then for bonus points I told him I would send him money, that I just wanted to make sure I still had the correct address.  I mailed him a fat check and slept really well that night.

Several days later I called him again. Robot voice telling me he had not set up his message service. Great.  Typical dad thing to do.  I called again 30 minutes later. Same robot voice.  Not able to leave a message.  I called again in an hour.  Same. I texted my brother and asked if he had visited him.

“Dad’s in Mexico, he took off Friday.” BAM! The pieces came together.  Dad cashed my check and without a word to me, left the country.  Not even a warning that he would be out traveling, simply took the money and sent himself on a trip.

Hmmmmm did he get a glimpse of me that day at the casino and played me like a violin to get money?

I gave guilt a fat kick out the door.

Cat Nap

I was lying on my bed recuperating from bronchitis, staring dully at the sunlight and branches playing across the windows, but not feeling up to being vertical or going outside. 

 

“Meow, meow….meow!” My black and white kitty’s voice finally entered my half sleep state.  “Meow!  Meow!”  I knew this was not ordinary pestering, but an invitation to look.  I could see from my covers that Mickey was in my closet, so I guessed he brought in a critter.

I got a glimpse of coil, something reptilian and largish. I also watched the cat now turn his attention to the bookcase next to the closet.

“Ugh!  You let it go, Mickey!”  I was climbing to the foot of the bed for a better look.  He was pawing under the book case.  So I got up and pulled it a bit away from the wall. A large, fat lizard slithered behind my dresser.  Mickey was excited for a few moments, but with no access, lost interest.

Now I had a big lizard under my dresser. I shored up the exits, one side with an old portable sewing machine and the other side with a typewriter case.  I still expected the thing to slide out from under and wrap around my bare feet.  I climbed back to my sick bed.

I thought perhaps I could interest Mickey in getting the lizard if I took out the two bottom drawers, but by now the cat was sleeping in the dining room.  Very likely he had forgotten the entire thing, but I was keenly aware there was a reptile in my room.

Later in the afternoon, I took out the drawers and got Mickey to sniff around and peer in. There wasn’t a lizard.

I don’t know if he went back to living behind the bookcase, or if he made a run for it. It is a long way through the house to the back door.  Maybe he’s earning an honest lizard living by catching bugs under my desk.

Funny how, even though we never recovered him, I don’t cringe when I go near my dresser.

IMG_4620

Pendulum

Outside: What the hell?? Doesn’t this look like a 3? This is a proficient writer! Just read this!!

Inside: Goddamn, none of my kids passed the district writing test…Jeez not even Leonard…my best writer…do I dare share this with parents?

Outside: Where is that coach? Maybe she can explain some of this nonsense.  Just ridiculous. In my twenty years of teaching, this has never happened.  We need to let admin know about this too! Absolutely ridiculous!!

Inside: If I show this to parents, they might ask questions…stuff like what am I doing to help their kid… Writing is on my schedule.  I make time for it, I tell them what to write about and I show them how to get started, then I let them write, for long stretches of time, just like we’ve been told.

Outside: I still can’t believe this! Just look at this! This kid got a 2 for focus, how do you get a 2? Read it!

Inside: This is always how I taught writing.  This is exactly how I told kids to start their opinion essay.  They always got proficient on these tests.  Why are these not 3 anymore? What did I miss? 

Outside: Just because they don’t have a hook? A 2 in focus?? Get the reader’s attention? Show me where it says that!! Is that part of the standard??

Inside: Gulp! I never taught my kids to grab the reader’s attention…why is that necessary with opinion writing?  I always taught them to say, “In my opinion…” and the stronger writers learned to write, “In my strong opinion…”  That’s what I always did…

Outside: Part of our curriculum!! What? Of course I’m using the Calkins stuff!

Inside: Uh-oh, no I am not…

Outside: I do have writers workshop, it’s on my schedule!

Inside: What the hell is workshop?  Tired of hearing that word!!

Outside: Look, you need to go and tell the district that this is nonsense! The bar is being set too high!! I always get 3s every year!! Every year!!

Inside: Dammit!! I need to figure out what is workshop…

Outside: (waving papers in the air) I know these deserve a 3!! I want them rescored!!

Inside: Because I am afraid that it will get found out that maybe I just don’t teach writing…

Outside: These are top students and they deserve 3s!! Look at how much they wrote!!

Inside: How can this be? These kids are smart, they come from affluent families, there is no way that none of them passed this writing baloney of a test…

Outside: (trudging to classroom, shaking head from side to side) How dare they say my kids are not proficient!!

Inside: (deep sigh) This is their fault…my teaching is just fine…will need to find that Calkins stuff…

Outside: (Slams door to classroom, sits at desk.  Stares at student writing)

Inside: What do I do now?

 

Hello, Messy Desk

The more orderly my overall lifestyle becomes, the more chaotic my writing desk.  I am looking at this non-writing stuff with the same eye I give the weeds in the yard, which are still rampant in spite of recent efforts.

So, there are drawing pencils, and a book, Crafting the Personal Essay, which I have a better chance of reading if it moves over to the nightstand pile.  My recent Omada health program materials need to be filed:  a paper book Daily Food Tracker which is never going to work, because I can do this on my phone, always knowing where my phone is located.  A paintbrush I used doing doors at my daughters.  How did it get back in my room?  A pile of handouts from Instructional Coaching training.  Uh oh, where did I put the original pile –in the armoire or back to school?  The property tax bill (paid) and a request for Partners in Health for annual support, which I intend to do.

Some items are so random they don’t deserve mention, but the point is — what happened to my lovely, clear writing desk?  I used to use the kitchen fold down table for “business” and avoided doing chore type work at my desk, because, it is a writing desk.

Even the windowsill that has little objects has gotten full and obscures the view of the Chinese Lantern bush, blooming in spite of my very thorough pruning.  This is where hummingbirds come right up to the window for the orange flowers’ nectar.

And how can I make an extravagant claim to a generally more orderly life?  I guess I should say rather a more purposeful life.  I am settled in a morning routine of yoga stretches and meditation before getting ready to go to work, or before the weekend day starts.  This practice of super conscious meditation is connecting me.  I am finding moments of wisdom bubbling up.  Definitely more peaceful.  And of course, the yoga stretches not only support the meditation, but they also make it possible to walk without pain after injuring myself several months back.

Another point of more purpose is in getting my household things done on the weekend and planning for my week’s needs ahead of time.  This hasn’t always been the case.  “What?  I need clean laundry?” I’d sound querulous as I stared into my closet at 5:30 a.m. on a Thursday.

More health purpose, too, is making me feel connected and balanced.  Managing my eating and activity to support my energy levels.  The point is to have something left over when I come home from school, not only to tend the household, but also for my creative endeavors.  Less numbing and more waking up.  I may be getting old, but I don’t want to be frazzled all the time.

Overall, I attribute some of this life purpose wake up to participating in the Dharma365 course online since January 1, and also to reading the book Designing Your Life, and sharing with my writing partner, as well as making some wise changes to my teaching situation.

This, to my ears, sounds like bragging.  Another might think it is positive self-talk.  I am acknowledging growth and motivating myself to stay with it.  I seldom give myself kudus, so if that’s what this desk post is about, then, good job, L2.

I think I’ll post and straighten up this desk.  I do love a clear, orderly space to slide into to write.

chinese lantern in b:w

 

When My Heart is So Full

That I can’t sleep, even though I should.

The hum scrub scrub of the dishwasher is like the house purring, and the cat has curled up next to me with a sigh, to sleep.  D. turned out her lights awhile back.

It’s been a good evening.  While A. was commuting down from work to stay over tonight, I was rummaging around the garage and basement for parts to make a water bottle rocket launcher.  I printed out the NASA (kid you not) instructions and found them unexpectedly detailed and technical.  I needed a certain kind of valve from a bicycle tire tube, so I drove over to the local bike shop.  The two guys behind the counter were amused and interested by the plans so they poked around and found things on this counter and that and gave me valves to try out.  So nice.  Another reason I love my neighborhood.

Back at home, I got to cook out, making a marinade for the chicken I grilled on skewers. A. arrived and got comfy so I went out to the backyard.  A. can make her grandmother laugh like no one I know, and she hung out in D.’s room putting on a pain patch for her and then reminiscing about their school days at SF City College, a couple decades apart but some of the same teachers.  I enjoyed the backyard being relatively tamed after my hard labor this weekend.  (see wild iris)

I finally got an idea for A.’s birthday present and tried it out on her.  She’s formerly a chef, now managing palliative care at a Kaiser.  The week after she gets back from her birthday trip to NoLA, I will “cater” her dinners for coming home from work.  Meaning, like Blue Ribbon, I’ll have all the ingredients for each prepped and packed up so she can just make it.  Good stuff, like what we call girl food, so that she can come home without having to think about shopping and use her new grill, or just heat up her choice.  I gave her my first draft and a red pen and she edited it, which was super helpful input.  I’d thought to do a menu and have her pre-order, but didn’t get one made up.

Wild iris bloomed under my window in the backyard:

IMG_0404

Dinner was easy going and it was fun to talk.  With grilled teriyaki chicken and fresh tomatoes in basil, and a small glass of wine, it started to feel like the weekend.

I continued to chat with A. while I made up the futon in the living room, telling her about my new online course for healthy weight starting Sunday. And thanking her for the nursling advice to D. to get out and take a walk and prioritize what she does now that she feels better.  D. goes for chores instead of getting out and walking.  Oh, that work ethic is so deeply ingrained.

I said goodnight to A. asking how early she’s getting up to commute to work, uber early like me.  I showed her the grilled leftovers in the fridge, one for her lunch and one for mine and she leaned on my shoulder for a hug and stayed.  “Hey, are those tears?” I asked and held her again.  She had one of those tough management days. It’s good to be a mom.

And when I cleaned up the kitchen and brushed my teeth I fully expected to crash.  It was a typically busy day at school today.  I should be out by now.  Instead, I was lying on pillows in the dark, with a snoring cat, but wide awake.

It seemed that if I could write about how much love I felt then perhaps I could sleep.

Life

Every time I drive home and it’s dark enough to see inside people’s lit homes, I sneak a peek.  Doesn’t everyone do that?  The lights are on and you can see what is happening inside the home.  I can’t help it.  I try to imagine what the people inside are doing, what their day was like, what their talking about.  I want to know their story.

Sitting in the passenger seat today, heading home, I gazed out the car window into the house windows.  I saw the same in each.  Soft light.  A lamp.  The kitchen.  TV glowing.  And I could imagine a person or people seated on the sofa nearby, watching, losing themselves in the TV show.

And I wondered if this is how they wanted to live.  They worked 8 hour jobs, came home, ate, and then surrendered themselves to the TV.  Relief.  Fantasy.  Not reality. Maybe they needed the TV to forget the torture of the real life they were living.  Maybe it was a distraction so that they wouldn’t overthink life and create an uprising of sorts.

And then I thought, isn’t this such a weird way to live?  Everyone inside their boxes, looking at  a screen…day after day after day?  What about the real life that is here?  What about the real life that is passing by each and every day?  Life doesn’t just happen on the weekends, but on Monday and on Wednesday and Thursday even!

I don’t want to live my life in a TV show.  I want to feel every moment, every breath so that when I am 80 and about to finally kick the bucket I can say that I felt life, that I was present in every second of it.  And sometimes this thought overwhelms me because this is all we have, we won’t get a do over, there is no encore, there are not repeat performances here.  It is final clearance, everything must go.

And then it brings me to ask, is this how we want to live?  The more I think about this question, the more I see that I don’t want to live with an 8 hour commitment that doesn’t make me happy, I don’t want to go home and lose myself in other lives because my own is too painful, I don’t want to just look forward to the weekend (“Good morning!” “Happy Wednesday!” “Yeah, one day closer to the weekend!”).

I want to know that when it is my time to go, that I didn’t live life, but rather lived.

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write