Category Archives: Writing

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.





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.


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.

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.


Bird of Paradise

Journey of Thought

The San Jose Area Writing Project

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March 18, 2017
Saturday Seminar
San Jose State University | Teachers K-12 | When: 9:00AM – 12:30PM

Writing Lively Reviews (Grades K-6)

In Living Between the Lines, author and teacher trainer Lucy M. Calkins writes, “I needed to listen to the life force I felt…when children had energy for writing….to find ways to help more writers have the intensity and urgency that would lead them to write not only more developed pieces, but also more alive pieces.”

Come write about reading you love. This writing genre incorporates a perfect combination of reading, opinion writing, and interpretative thinking. During this session, we will practice the ways skilled readers and reviewers think about familiar forms and craft in literature. Original thinking in thesis development will be highly encouraged, which will then be expressed within a cohesive, structured argument. If you haven’t written a literary essay before, this is the place to try it out. If you’re experienced with the genre, here you can fine-tune your skills for reviewing articles, blogs, books, film, etc.

Coherence in Argumentation: Incidents and Accidents, Hints and Allegations (Grades 6-12)

Clear, coherent arguments are never as straightforward as our outlines and graphic organizers make them out to be. The truth is that when we write an argument, we create multiple needs and expectations for our reader, which we must address if we are to argue coherently. In this workshop, we will discuss how the messy struggle to achieve coherence is actually a good thing, and examine ways to encourage our students to embrace the challenge.

For more details: visit | Register online: visit our online registration form

Earn units for participating: visit


I made an elaborate salad this evening — after cleaning up the kitchen — and I grilled for the first time in the season. Mickey came out to the patio in appreciation, his little thought bubble clearly reading, “I know this.  I approve.”

Alice decided to drive down from the East Bay after work which means in-the-traffic to see D and me.  Both my daughters love their grandmother and have cool friendships with D.  I had gotten so eager about the plan to have Alice take D to a consultation for a pacemaker that somehow I mentally moved the Thursday appointment for next week up to today.

So, we had a late dinner together, with grilled asparagus and pork chops, romaine lettuce salad with goodies like watercress, and a glass of nice Pinot from Uncorked.

Alice was excited to talk about the film on palliative care she’s making for doctors.  D. was just happy for the company since she didn’t get to go out today for the consultation.  For me, having a nice dinner and good conversation made it feel like the weekend.

I love my daughters.  I don’t know if they have any idea how much, really.

Usually, during this March challenge with TwoWritingTeachers, I blog much earlier, but see above:  I was cleaning up the kitchen. And I usually have some time to unravel so that a topic is revealed.  Tonight, it’ll just be a brief account of making dinner and enjoying a visit from one of my two lovely daughters who warm my heart with how much they love their grandmother.  D. never let anyone refer to her as “Grandma,” so there’s no use starting now.

So this is what it is like to try to write when I’m up past my bedtime and haven’t had evening reflection time.  There’s always tomorrow.






Funny how getting some teachers and students together to write and learn from each other can be so enlivening. 
That is, after the hard work of planning, coordinating, and communicating is done.

Like Donald Graves said –along with Thomas Newkirk as editor of the historical book on origins of writing workshop — Children Want to Write.

This morning I thought about some of the reasons again why writing matters. Why expression and committing thoughts to paper is important. But that’s been written in books by the giants.

Taking photos and visiting workshops this morning at SJAWP what I felt the most affected by was the way our seminars nurtured teachers and parents. Teacher leaders and new teachers and students were working together in such a warm, collaborative setting. Kids love having the teachers sit in small groups to talk and write with them.

Parents were trying out essays in another room, on their feet choosing sides in an argument, paralleling work their children were doing in their workshop.

Now I’ve stopped in Campbell for lunch, having delivered summer writing flyers to the library. A Parisian sandwich is coming.

Next I will visit Hicklebee’s bookstore to leave more flyers, and enjoy the latest picture books.

There’s a reason “work” is in workshop, and today I am aware of how worth the work it is.

Anything – think of anything else


When you’re climbing two blocks of steep steps, like these stairs in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco, if you happen to be a teensy bit out of shape, then you will likely want to think of anything except your breathing and the twinges in your calves or thighs.  You might think about that speck of light at the top, the opening onto the street that marks where you will no longer be climbing.  Or, you might not think, but just keep putting another foot up and hauling the bod on up the hill.

There are times in my life that are like this stair climb.  Getting through the medical HMO morass and arriving at doctor appointments with my aging mother is sometimes a climb. Figuring out what prescriptions to order by phone or mail and when.  How to answer refused authorizations.  And, worst, my mom wanting to talk to me about these things at dinner after a very long week.  She will not remember anything we’ve said, and I can’t do a thing about any doctor stuff at 6:30 in the evening.  So I just don’t want to think about it until I can do something.

Another time is when I get my schedule straight and all the kids in the right intervention groups, and then the school calendar pulls a whammy.  An assembly here, a field trip there, collaborations, SST meetings, plus absences.  This year I have begun to look at the calendar as a continuous uphill climb.  At least stairs don’t move.  I can’t really think about it until I have enough records, get through enough lessons and notice a change in reading behaviors.  It is just one book in front of the other, huff, huff, huff…

Admittedly, there is a thrill when you make it to the top.  And the view is gorgeous.  It is only one more stair climb to the old water tank where you can get a 265 degree view of SF, including the Golden Gate.  So, when another medical appointment brings relief, or better treatment, or fixes an issue, then the arduous climb doesn’t seem like a big deal.  And, when kids have lights go on and get self-confident and start reading, rereading and self-correcting, then there’s a big sigh and I catch my breath.

And some days are easier than others.  That’s another good thing.



OLW [one little word] Update

Love.   We can almost say that love is everything that touches on eternity, that gives us a sense of something good and greater than the sum total of what we are, that points to what is best in the human spirit, and maybe what animates the glorious teeming life we enjoy on this little blue planet.  We can almost say what it is, but not quite.

This morning I wrote a spiritual leader a short story to explain why I do not need to meet with her now.  We had agreed to talk sometime in February about the pains I was experiencing connected to years in a “church” that became an oppressive cult.  [Are there any which are not oppressive?]

I attended the New Year’s service at CSE (Center for Spiritual Enlightenment)  to set our intentions for Dharma 365, which is a daily practice of meditation and a reflective journal for the year.  I placed the pinch of incense on the burning coal and then stood as we were invited to experience the fulfillment of our intention.

My intention was to manifest a primary love partner.  I could completely create the experience the joy, oneness, and thrill of being in love with a partner who was my best friend and lover.  Yep, it’s going to happen.  I believed.

So, I set out from New Years in the online course, Dharma365, with purpose and curiosity.  Early a.m. meditation had become a kind of life line for me, as a busy educator who was also caring for an 88 year old mother living with me who suffered heart failure over New Years.

Two years ago, when I took the Tuesday night class two month class on meditation, I had enjoyed about eight months of uninterrupted daily meditating.  At that time, I had heard the teaching, the claim,  that super conscious meditation can change the brain maps, or the force of the habits of mind we carry.  And I frankly could not believe that.  I told a close girl friend so, and she challenged me with, “And so, what if it does?”

Somewhere in the first 40 days of this year, my love candle I had purchased from the CSE bookstore was almost spent.  I have a little altar, a small table where I sit in the predawn to meditate.  I went to the book store to get a replacement and — what?  Out of love candles?  Surely there can be no shortage of love!  And so I chose the “Confidence” candle – because I knew by now that I needed to place my confidence somewhere other than my lower case e ego.

What had happened, as the love candle burned into February, was that one morning the entire love joy/suffering I carried for my husband of 16 years whom I divorced about 16 years ago — the love I felt for James, that I didn’t realize was in my heart — was lit up in my full consciousness — the entire map.  And I just sat there being with it.  All of it. It was enlightening to realize that the relationship was not closed in my heart and that what I was intending in 2017 was somehow a version of having the ex husband back.

I also had bought Yogacharya’s book, The Moon Reminded Me, and there’s a line from the woman who wrote the preface in which she explained that her her spirituality was entangled with the pain of missing her deceased lover.  Her words confirmed what I sensed had happened to me.

My relationship with that second husband had began in spiritual quest, in seeking God and rearranging our lives to serve Jesus in a small Christian community.  (Yes, some things went terribly wrong in time there, but that’s another story.)

My morning meditation, when my heart was open by grace, had not only healed me of a lingering pain of attachment to a long gone relationship,  but also showed me the triggers I was experiencing in Sunday services at CSE were not really about previous cult leader abuses.  They were reactivation of my loss of love.  Think I was giving this person a little too much power, or what?? 🙂

Needless to say, my recent visits to commune and meditate at CSE have not been fraught with those old maps from my brain.  I hope not to underestimate the power of super conscious meditation again. If I do, the Universe will be happy to instruct me.

Staying open to love, and realizing that I meditate because I do love myself.  And confident that I have much to learn.