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.

 

Apprehension

About a week ago, my composed, mindful life hit a barrier that catapulted me into anxiety.  Insecurity and misgiving clamped me shut when my supervisor went back on his word about my teaching location.  I’m not a fan of betrayal.  I moved right into counter action, but it took over a week to resolve.

Anxiety plays me by nervousness, sleeplessness, and difficulty focusing.  I’m watching my diet and exercise, and even though they were good, I gained two pounds the first two days in stress mode.

Sleepless didn’t mean I stayed up late watching Netflix.  I went to bed early and on time since I get up at 5:00 a.m.  I tossed, fiddled with my phone, read a chapter of Truly, Madly Guilty and flopped around to the point where my cat got annoyed and jumped off the bed. Sleepless meant I’d doze into a light trance and then jerk awake, to have to start the cycle over.  I don’t know how many times I did this.  I decided to sit up and meditate in my spa room where I have a candle.  The sputtering of the birch scented candle matched my mental field and I sat, recrossed and uncrossed my legs and tried to say aum.  It was really futile, which panicked me.  “Did I accidentally drink caffeine this afternoon? I was tempted to go on FB, but I have signed off and quit Words with Friends for my creative time.

My return from that unsupported tunnel of mental disharmony came in two levels.  In the real world, real time, my real boss finally met with me after two calendar postponements and decided to move me to a different campus. I will teach reading in a real room with walls and a door – at a school with a greater need for intervention.  Plus, I not only got a transfer, but I also got an invite to coach writing and offer Moonlight Universities in writing. Did you see me do a little happy dance when I returned to my “room” in the open pod?

The next evening after the fortunate meeting, I was driving home from Whole Foods through downtown San Jose, heading east on Santa Clara. I had the top down and the air was balmy.  Time slowed as I people-watched at the frequent stoplights.  I’d tuned into KDFC playing a contemporary classical piece, Peter Boyer’s Symphony #1 [2012].  The symphony had a motif that got into my brain.  Soon I was singing along with it.  I remember having the thought that one doesn’t hum symphonic melodies, but I did.  Meanwhile I was noticing the light play on building facades, the cloud piles over the east foothills, and sliding deeply into the musical meditation.

Yes, I was driving, that easy, stop and go 25 mph downtown rate.  Each block I drove seemed a ride on another wave of peace and visual pleasure.  As I turned into my driveway, stopping at the gate, the symphony was ending in slow, descending crescendos like a mountain range melts into foothills.  So I sat there in my car.

Before me, massive Bird of Paradise flowers were catching the setting sun.  They became electric in the music and air, charged with life.  I saw them shooting up into a connected, live atmosphere that was pouring life back into them.  I could feel the active, ongoing flowering and I was enrapt in the light, air, and flaming orange.

As the music ended with a long, satisfied exhale, I was back.  Alive and well.

Bird of Paradise

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.

 

 

 

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write