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.

 

 

 

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?

 

Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write