Category Archives: Laura’s Slices

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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:

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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.

Home Stretch

As the March daily Slice of Life Challenge goes, we’re in the home stretch. Running down that last set of white boards, pouring on the speed even though out of breath.  Hoofs flying, kicking up turf and riders one mind with the finish line.

Well, maybe not that dramatic.

The month came in like a lion (as they say) and I was on a writing roll.  If the proverbial “going out like a lamb” means tottering on wobbly legs, that’s how I’m taking the home stretch, as March exits and makes way for poetry month.

This is the first year since I began doing the March challenge that I didn’t stay with posting daily.  This either means that I cannot force myself to write when I am exhausted or that I have a lot of other things on my mind, and on my plate, so to speak.  Both are true.

I have enjoyed reading teacher blogs and giving them comments and kudus.  I have written a couple things this month I’m not totally embarrassed to put my name on.  But some of the writing has been just to “get to the desk.”  It is writing for the sake of writing, like doing exercises, and really doesn’t give blogging a very good name.

The school year is, in some ways, heading into the home stretch.  Third trimester in progress, testing upon us, and all the end of year special activities.  The kids can feel the weather change.  It’s the part of the year when I start trying to work out how to do it better next year.

Whatever happened to Be Here Now?  It’s hard to stay in the moment when there’s much to do and it all wants to be done right away.

Sigh.

The home stretch, when I used to watch race horses, was a glorious drama, with the fans going wild and the heart and stamina of the horses breath-taking beauty.  Now that I’m tangled up in a mixed metaphor, or two, lambs don’t run for the finish line.  They bounce and frolic, not doing any kind of lines.

I was thinking today of self-compassion. Here’s a good place to start.  I didn’t do the challenge up to my standard of daily, edited writing.  I didn’t handle it.  Breathe in.  Shrug shoulders.  Breathe out…it’s okay.

It’s really all right.

This is the next phase for me — not to be the goal attaining Type A person, but the one who can live with her faults and weakness as well as her talents and accomplishments.  Writing matters to me.  I have been writing.  That’s good.

calla lily bunch

 

Where’s L1?

Everyday, when I check for comment notifications on our blog, I hope that there will be an L1 story.  That’s Lorena, my pd partner in crime and writing partner.

Unlike me, Lorena waits for inspiration and lets stories cook in her mind, so they aren’t chatty daily posts.  She also writes them on squares of paper, in Spanish sometimes, and imagines her stories as pictures books.

Well, at least in April, over Easter break, we will get to collaborate and turn one story into an illustrated book for kids.  I think her little book ideas are hilarious and brilliant, and no, (in response to one of her blog posts) I don’t think the squares of notebook paper are anything short of artistic and writerly.

But maybe it is good L1 isn’t posting because some of her recent posts were survival writing.  That kind of therapeutic getting into words the slam effect of overwork in a madhouse situation in which all of your planning and purposes are thwarted.  This does happen in education,  not in Kansas, Dorothy.

But maybe L1 is writing in her own journals doing that kind of story telling out of her life that is just too private for a blog.  That kind of writing Hemmingway says to do, “long and hard about what hurts.” I don’t post too much of that on our blog, either.

But maybe L1 has great ideas to blog and hilarious stories that are ready to be written, however she is writing pd at night, after her trip to the gym.  She gives 100% to her work and I could post rants and rave about the lack of appreciation her team leaders show her.

Maybe L1 is busy writing her children’s picture books in Spanish and contacting publishers.

But maybe L1 figures that since I am writing, she can lie on the couch and immerse herself in good books.  Did I give her another you-have-to-read-this book when we met to write two weeks ago?  That would explain why she isn’t posting on our blog.

But maybe L1 is out of town, in a spa and doesn’t have to think about professional development for writing and EL students in her district.  Maybe her hotel has a great gym and a pool besides the spa, and she is just being lazy for a change.  What some people call rest and relaxation. a sort of recreation I don’t see L1 practice much.

Sigh.  I will have to be patient.  The wait will be worth it when L1 does write what she’s been wanting to.

L2

Bird of Paradise

Gardener

I fully intended to come home this windy, rainy Friday afternoon to be the backyard gardener, and at least heft the wheelbarrow-full of grass clods to the compost area.  It rained too much today and I feel married to my warmest long black pullover wool sweater as well as to the prospect of settling in for the new episode of Madame Secretary with leftover pulled pork this evening.  I am, like my cat, settling in.

It’s just too wet to get out there and lug clods around.  The grass clumps I piled high in the wheelbarrow a few days ago, when it was sunny and warm, are defiantly growing where they are.  “Watch us,” they leer, “we’ll just be weeds right here.”  And the pile on the ground by the wheelbarrow answers, “Us, too!”  Somehow their attitude comes through — in the spiky way the grass blades perked back up after pulling — radiating out of the root clumps, green and vigorous.

The grass I didn’t get to in the circular garden is smirking.  I can read the thought balloons, “She’ll never get to us.  We’re gonna go to seed…”

Really I shouldn’t care, but I bought two heirloom tomato plants that are eager to get in the ground:  They’re already blooming in their peat pots and don’t make good bonsai.

I will be able to enjoy the buds on the flowering cherry, the onions going to seed and flowers on the Meyer lemon when I can get the piles and pounds (tons?) of sod out of the way, properly composting and giving back the nitrogen and nutrients it took.

Meanwhile, some more blustery chill makes the evening feel wintry.  The weather app claims it will clear up tomorrow morning.

Small Touches

The most personable and actively engaged little people in one of my kindergarten Leveled Literacy Intervention groups really press me to pay attention, stay balanced and teach with empathy.  Today I gave them two take home books, explaining that I will be in a teacher meeting tomorrow and Friday.  One, the most challenging, active little guy came round the horse shoe table after class with him arms open.

I looked at him quizzically.

“Hug?” he said.  I swiveled my chair around and gave him a hug, saying, “Hey, I will miss you guys.”  And the two girls each came round to give and get hugs, too.

A girl I taught last year came in after school, with a big smile, and her girl friend in tow.  “Ms. B., can I have some books?” she asked.  I haven’t talked with A. for quite awhile, so it was a surprise.  “Please?” I prompted and she quickly added it to her request.

I riffled around in the take home books and pulled out a few, giving commercials.  In the midst of my wonder that A. was asking for books (not a confirmed reader), she blurted out, “My Mom is having a baby!”

“Oh!  My, my, you are going to get a baby brother or sister!” I turned to her.  “Then you will definitely like this book…”  I can turn anything into a book commercial.

She left with the books and I asked her to come back Monday and tell me what she thought of them, but I think she was getting access to talk about her news.  Her teacher is out on pregnancy leave — and I know A. much better than the substitute.

I got an email from a bff who totally understood the empath thing when I explained I was flattened yesterday afternoon by a child coming in to tell me the painful memories she couldn’t stop.  I was going to talk about a reading test, but she cried, “I miss my Daddy…” and it went from there.  I drove home, after checking in with the school counselor about the situation, feeling like someone else’s life and pain had been stuffed in my torso.  I felt so flattened that I went to bed at 7 pm to try to rest and read.

The same girl was smiling this morning telling me she camped last night.  It was cold and rainy so I was surprised, but she explained that she made a tent under a table with blankets and slept there.  “My back hurts though,” she said rubbing her hip. I decided I could wait to give her that assessment I’m hoping is going to equal her “graduation” from groups.

Little threads.  Small moments.  I like to turn these scenes over in my mind, like little shells or stones, rather than ponder the enormous, whole work day.