Category Archives: Lorena’s Chunks

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.

 

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!!

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?

 

The Best Day Ever!

I will admit I am an overuser of “best ___ ever.”  If I eat a damn good cookie I will shout, “best cookie ever!” If I spark an idea it is “the best idea ever!” So yes, there have been quite a few “best days ever!”  But what is wrong with that?  I’d rather proclaim best evers at whatever whim than to go without ever saying any.

So the other day happened to be one of the many best days ever.  Laura met me at Peet’s.  I took her my drafty little books – seriously, imagine cut up pages from regular paper clipped together to look like a book.  Oh, by the way, this is recycled paper that I was writing on. I swear Laura probably bit back laughter or a proclamation such as, “Are you kidding me? Really? This is how you’re drafting your books? (slaps her knee and has a fit of giggles so hard that tears come out of her eyes)”

But no, she didn’t do any of that, instead she asked me to read them to her.  In Spanish. And then translate.  So I did.  And magic happened.  Laura took my drafty pencil book on recycled paper and practically transformed it into a real children’s book.

At one point I was so mesmerized by what she was doing that I stared. And I found myself doing what I always do with picture books that I love.  I gazed at the tomato and chili hanging out in the hot tub.  I could hear their sighs of relief as they settled into the bubbling warmth of the tub.  I believed them into life and imagined they had a conversation about how good it felt to be on vacation and to be in the simmering waters of the hot tub.

Then when Laura drew the pestle (hope I have that right, it is the thing that you use to grind something on mortar – ok I quit, do your best to  figure out what this English Learner is trying to say…) circling about and grinding the garlic, I was reminded of myself.  As a child I would have spent hours just staring at that page; imagining how the pestle would go around and around and wondering how the garlic felt as it was ground into smears on the mortar.  That is the page that I would return to over and over simply because I would want to reimagine the scene and make sense of it.  How did the pestle feel grinding away at the garlic and dissolving it? Did the garlic really enjoy that pestle? About how much work did it take to mash up the garlic? Did the garlic know what was coming to it once it was thrown on the mortar?

The icing came when Laura drew another copy.  She gave it to me and said, “something to keep you writing.” I couldn’t believe it! I had a copy! Smart as I am, I had her date it and sign it.  I haven’t stopped staring at the drawings since.  They feel real to me.  They feel like a real picture book (even though there are only 4 images).  And what makes it so incredible is that the accompanying text is in Spanish. A beautiful, precious, silly, fun story told in Spanish.

Best Day Ever!

Tah-Dah!

It is the day before I deliver a PD to a group of about 30 teachers.  It is raining outside, pouring hard so that I can hear thousands of raindrops hitting the window and creating that sound that we readers love: it is time to curl up in bed or on a corner of the sofa and read a book…

But I will not have such pleasure today.  My stomach is lurching, refusing food because it is the day before I deliver a PD.  My head hurts from the anxiety that my stomach continuously spouts like a broken fire hydrant.  I am restless, unable to just sit and relax to be calm to be at peace because it is the day before I deliver a PD.  My eyes already yearn to close to sleep to rest, but my eyes will have none of that, they already know this.  I will stay up late, I will read, I will write, I will fine tune the PPT until I feel that it is “good” enough.  Because it is the day before I deliver a PD.

The difference between today and all the other days that I went through just before delivering a PD is because I finally know what causes all that discomfort.  It is not because I hate delivering PD – no, that is not true.  There is something about it that is exhilarating, that fires me up, that gets my heart pumping.  It is like a moment where you must give the best that you can and that moment is short so you have to give yourself to it.

It is not the amount of participants.  All the pairs of eyes looking at me and that special group of teachers that must be present at any PD, that group that sits in the back, arms crossed, huffing and puffing with the might to BLOOOOOWWWW your house of sticks down, no it is not that which causes this torture the day before a PD.

Surprise! It is the fact that I will not settle for being just an inch ahead of my audience, I must be a mile in front.  I expect myself to know the content better than I know myself.  I demand that I stay up until I have learned as much as I can about the crumbs of the topic that I will present because I will not be satisfied with only knowing about the crust.  I over read, over prepare, over work simply to feel confident that I can stand in front of a group of my peers and know what the hell I am talking about.  And even after all that preparation that keeps me burning the midnight oil, I still have the humility to stand in front and to respond with, “Let me get back to you on that as I want to make sure that I get the best response to you,” when I am asked a question to which I don’t feel comfortable answering. TAH-DAH! There it is, that is why I feel like vomiting on the day before delivering a PD.

One time at band camp

So this one time at band camp, I had to play the drums.  Well, no, let me start again.  I wasn’t in a band and I wasn’t at camp, BUT I was in the 4th grade and required to endure what seemed like an hour’s time of learning to play an instrument.  It started off simply enough with everyone learning to play that plastic like thing called a recorder.  I could manage it and was ok at making noise with it.

Then the music teacher let us pick another instrument from the many available such as trombone, flute, tuba, and drums. Because I was a kid and hadn’t yet learned to think through things yet or to forecast that since I wasn’t so hot with the recorder that perhaps I should select an instrument that was easy to “hide” in, instead I chose what I thought would be super cool to play: the snare drums.

And so began a series of torture sessions.  Every single day just before music class started, my heart lodged itself in my throat and made breathing hard and painful for me.  My stomach did more than just get butterflies, it ached, it screamed, it burned and twisted with the nerves that said it was almost time to go play that hideous instrument of which I was absolutely clueless about when to tap it or rap it or double pound it.  There was nowhere to hide when it came to playing those damn drums.

My problem was not made any easier when the teacher had explained that all I needed to do was look at the notes to tell my fingers what to do with the sticks.  Sure, but those notes indicated nothing to me, so most of the time I just awkwardly beat the thing and then the teacher, in front of the whole class would make me do it again because my drum wasn’t “meshing” with the sound of the music we were trying to make.  So then, with all eyes on me and nowhere to hide, I would focus my eyes hard on the notes (yeah as if staring at those things would help) and would hesitantly beat the drum at the times and with the right taps that I thought the notes suggested.  I would be sweating in places that I did not know my body could sweat and that damn heart of mine would be pounding in my throat, denying any fresh air to my screaming stomach. Torture.  Ache. Cruelty.

One day my head nearly exploded when my friend told me I “sucked” at music.  She dug the knife further into me when she admitted that she sucked at it too, but when we had to pick the instruments, she chose the trombone because there were like five of them.  Then to make sure the knife was wedged deeply in me, she then said, “There are so many of them, that most of the time I just move it around with my fingers going wherever and I don’t even bother to blow into it. But the teacher thinks I am playing!” She laughed hysterically.  My jaw dropped. Lesson learned.

My drum playing lasted about another two weeks and then I was demoted to the flutes I think (I can’t exactly remember, but it was a wind instrument, you know the kind that you blow into). I didn’t make any effort to play it, just moved my fingers around, imitating the others and puffing my cheeks like I was blowing air. I think the teacher was impressed.

Into the New Year

I promise that this year I will write more.  And it will be writing for me.  Writing about my skeletons in the closet, childhood memories both painful and joyful, portraits of people who have crossed my path and silly stories of things that make all of us smile. I will not count emails or PD designing as writing.

I promise to read more.  I will finish reading Don Graves’ book Children Want to Write and after that I will have another book ready.  I have forgotten that I am a voracious reader and that I love getting lost in the worlds created from books.  I will return to reading 5th grade novels because they are absolutely the best to read.  How can we say no to a book like Tuck Everlasting or Lassie? And my heart just skipped a beat as I remembered Where the Red Fern Grows…

I promise to call or visit more often with my mom and dad. I will stop making excuses and just do it. No, I don’t have THAT much work to do that I cannot set aside a few minutes to call or arrange a quick weekend trip.  What’s the point of having a car if I don’t use it to see my family?  And what will I do when my parents reach their peak and I don’t have them anymore?  Now is the time to spend life with them.

I promise to not get so stressed out from work that I cannot sleep or think of anything else other than it.  I will remember that this is my only life, I don’t get do overs, so I better start to enjoy every moment of it. Besides, it’s not good for my health to get all frazzled over work.

And I promise to say thank you more often because I am truly thankful for what I have and for the wonderful people that surround me.

Create a Life Worth Living

Finally! Time to write, for me, for my soul, and about what I want to say.  Sadly, it’s not rainbows and puppies writing.

For a while now, I have had a pestering feeling that makes me question whether I am happy with my job or not.  Yes, it sounds like mid life crisis, but I don’t think I am near that age when that happens.  I notice that there are highs in my work when I say, “YES! This feels fabulous, this is why I get up in the morning! This is why I give it all that I have!”

But there are also plenty of moments when I wonder if I am getting the satisfaction from my work that I once felt.  There are times when I would much rather hide under a blanket or just leave suddenly and get yogurt instead.  So for now I am paying close attention to the highs and lows at work. What about that moment made me feel so great? What was it that I didn’t like?

Sounds like a big fat mid life crisis. Oh, how I will hate myself if I turn into  that person who doesn’t know what to do with their life.  Then I will never get invited out with friends.  My life has always had direction, jeez quite often it was actually ahead of me and I was plodding behind it.  What I mean is that the door opened for me before I had ever considered walking through it. Which leads me to see that I have never been the one to choose where my life is going.  I am simply following along, my hands in my pockets whistling some winn-dixie tune. Where would I be if I had been more assertive and had made real choices of where I wanted to go? Would I have ever stepped foot into a classroom as a teacher?  Would I have followed my dream of being a politician (yeah, really I wanted to get in to politics…)? OR would I have ended up as a waitress in a restaurant?

Oh my, oh my, oh my – can I be trusted with my own life?  I mean this is my only shot at it! What if I get it wrong? What if I try to do something that I’m not good at? What if I fail?  What if I keep my hands in my pockets and just let life lead me as usual – I mean it has all gone so well so far.  But will that truly make me happy?  Will I one day be 90 years old and will I say, “So glad I never made an active choice of what I was going to do with my life! Cheers to it!”

I think I am standing on the edge of the plank and considering whether or not to jump ship.  I could stay in the safety of the boat with everything I need and where I know I have security or I could dive into the uncertain waters…

For now, I am going to heat up a cinnamon roll and practice decision making by choosing to stay home or go to the gym.

 

It’s Been A While…

I think this is my first post in October.  And the month is practically over.  Today I was gazing at a colleague’s well manicured nails.  I hid mine beneath my books and wondered how she found the time to get her nails done, while I barely took time to eat lunch.

I think one of my other colleagues showed up in a new outfit.  Nice boots, crisp pants and a sweater that revealed it was fall by its orange color.  I wondered why I never seemed to have time to shop.

A coach shared with us that it was “hell week” at her gym.  This meant something about hard workouts and harder diets.  I asked myself why I hadn’t made it to the gym in over a week.

Why is it the tail end of October and I can’t seem to recollect when it ever even started? Pumpkins just sprung out of the ground I guess. The costumes at stores? I thought those were just kids fancy dinner clothes…

Perhaps by the time I come up for air again, we will be well past Thanksgiving and careening towards Christmas.  Suppose I should sit back and enjoy the ride.