The Four Seasons Pen – SOL Day 27

When I was clearing off the motley of stuff on our bar — really relocating stuff that had been dumped on my daughter’s 1,000-piece puzzle, the same puzzle she threatened to put away because, well, there was just too much junk on it and it couldn’t be seen and valued — our pewter mug appeared, there, beneath mounds of school papers and staplers and books and receipts and church bulletins.  There, still full of random pens, highlighters and whatnot.  There, safe in it’s hidden spot, as though it were playing peek-a-boo beneath freshly raked leaves, where it’s been since .. I relocated it from another clutter-prone spot in the kitchen.

I pulled out a pen I hadn’t held in quite awhile.  It’s a skinny-sliver of a silver pen, weighty like a Cross pen, scripted with “Four Seasons” and a nice little etching of a leaf on the pen’s top edge.  I stole it [!] from a pew at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Austin, several years ago.

The story is this:  when I first saw it, I imagined some fancy tourist, a fancy gentleman who decided to jaunt over to St. Mary’s from the Four Seasons, donate some of his wealth, and leave the fancy free pen from the Four Seasons in the little peg-for-pencils to the poor person who was going to sit there next (me).  Oh, it was so intended!

I was surprised when I first found it — it fit perfectly in the little peghole, and fit perfectly in my little hand.  This “perfect,” for me, translated into, “Oh, it’s perfect FOR me.  I like it, therefore I shall take it.  It’s no dole off this person’s rich back, since it’s obviously one of those hotel pens you’d happen to find in a bedside table drawer in a hotel room.  Hotel pens, as I know, are usually cheap Bic pens, but this nice, silver pen just happens to be fancy because it comes from a fancy hotel.  Oh, it’s just a throwaway.  And it’s here, just for me!  How lucky I am!”

Bah.

I wanted to taste Ferrari, that’s what it was.

So many times, as I’ve drifted through life, I’ve kept my eye open for a talisman of what could be, a wish I couldn’t quite define or pursue, and if it happened to come my way, well, I was entitled to it.  Maybe it was an attitudinal thing toward the wealthy.  They have so much.  If I could find a Ferrari hubcap, well, hey!  Pretty cool!  Let me rub it and hopefully a genie will pop out and I can be rich, too!

I must’ve grown up.  Or given up.  … I like to think the former.

I will take this pen, tomorrow.. and release it into the world, instead of keep it here in this pewter mug that’s been it’s armored protector all these years — so much so, that I hardly ever used it when I came across it.  I’d merely write “This is a nice pen” on a random scrap of paper nearby.  What was the point of even keeping it?

I would return it to St. Mary’s — I can probably think of a day I can make it out there — but, more than likely, I will just carry the dang thing around and use it for awhile, and let it accept the fate of every other pen I’ve ever possessed:  it will get lost.

It will get lost and float out into the world for someone else to find and consider.

Hopefully, it will be a witness to a conversion like mine.

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I Will Teach What I Don’t Know – SOL Day 26

I just finished reading Murray while on the treadmill.  As I stepped off — with urgent, tight focus on what I know I have to do (type up my SOL in less than 10, again.) — I came to a conclusion that my husband absolutely hates me saying every once in awhile:  I don’t know what I’m doing.

Sometimes it’s not true in some contexts, sometimes in true in others. but it’s a saying I want to wear on my sleeve, but my husband has taught me to wear pinned to my chest — because of possible consequences.  How credible would it be for a teacher to be saying this all the time?

I don’t know what I”m doing.

     “That’s okay, I can show you.”

OR

“Wow.. what you accomplished was absolutely incredible!!”

BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!

..seriously, it’s my secret mantra.

And Don Murray, Godfather of the Writing Process in the Classroom says that’s okay:

“The knowing that we call craft — how to find the right word, how to rub two words together in a phrase that gives off more meaning than either word alone, the skill of allowing a sentence to find its own flowing course, the placing of emphasis within the paragraph, all the techniques I practice, all my knowing, allows me to come face to fact with not knowing.  I am released by the knowing of craft into the unknowing that allows me to write what I do not — and my reader does not — expect.  Together we are allowed to connect, to explore, to astonish, to discover what we didn’t know we knew.

This stimulaxxting ignorance expands the longer I extend my apprenticeship.  It is my comfort and my delight.  Completing my sixth decade of making meaning with words, I look forward to years of increased not knowing.  I will write what I do not yet know in ways I have not yet written.”

Tonight, I eseentially realized 3 things about myself:

  1. I teach like a writer.
  2. I am thereby a writer through and through., and have been for years, even though I have no published work to show for it, because this is exactly how I think.
  3.  I ain’t half bad, I just gotta keep truckin’.

The 4th think I learned is that this would make a really good essay.  Time to pick up a manual on revision (one of the several I have on my shelf), and flesh this out with anecdotes and whatnot.

Time to think about what else I don’t know.

The Garage, the Tahoe and Remembering — SOL Day 25

We gutted the garage so we could put our old Tahoe in — it’s been sitting out front for years, getting a little weathered.  Dad wanted to sell it, but it’s the truck we all kind of grew up in.  When we got our house some 13 years go, very soon after we got the Tahoe, with several in our extended family saying we didn’t need it with only 3 kids.

We popped out 2 more sometime after.  🙂

In 2008, gas prices went through the roof, so we got another little car in 2009, 2010 (forget which), and, of course, that’s been our go-to vehicle for commuting.   Meanwhile, Tahoe sits until we need him for little family jaunts.

Dad wanted to sell him, but I told him we worked too hard for him to just get rid of him for a few thousand bucks.  The A/C’s pokey, he has an oil leak (we prepped the garage floor for it), there’s a problem with the windows so we’ve got to keep them up .. and although he has over 250,000 miles, I’m still absolutely in love with him.  My plan is for him to be our project car.. just like some people do.  When we moved to the city, we abandoned the plans of raising our family in the country with space and traditions that would have followed from our own upbringing .. long walks in open spaces, skygazing at night without the sound of cars nearby, tinkering with trucks in the garage.  Keeping the Tahoe is my little consolation prize after all these years.

It’s funny, because as we unpacked the garage and sorted stuff into trash (new vacuum box, new tv box, new tennis shoes boxes) and goodwill things, for the 45th time, I was shoving boxes of kid things and grade remembrances in corners, just to make room for the biggest keepsake of them all.

I don’t mind.  Days like this — and I knew this would come — made me slow down and savor our history, which is what I’ve really, really needed lately.  Life is just so high-pressure-everything.  It’s everywhere — phones, social media, noise, politics — fast, intense, urgent.  I tell my children life doesn’t have to be like this where you don’t have time to pause and look at each other.  We don’t have to be ships passing through the night.  Let’s slow down, think about this moment, remember the past together.

It’s working out.. because they kids helped me clean the garage today in record time (about 3 hours).  Every now and then, they’d pause .. and I’d watch my own children tenderly stacking boxes of their own memorabilia they want to keep and remember, too.

“Mama.. I have such strong memories about this, it’s so important to me.”

Me, too, baby, me too.  What’s most important is right in front of me…

10 Minutes – SOL 24

10 minutes.

I haven’t quite been here in awhile — where I thankfully remember my SOL post for the day a few minutes before the deadline.  Last year, I think this is where I was everyday, battling the last moments before deadline.  Today, it’s the 24th.. so I’ve gone 24 days in without hitting the panic button.

Today, though, I don’t quite feel panicky.  I know my little post will come out fine.  Not because I trust in my posting ability.. but because I’ve had a good today in Process.

We analyzed a mentor text for structure — came in as we read as soon as we came in through the door, shared our focus findings with friends, went over them in whole-group, compared structure of this piece with yesterday’s — and finally found a key detail  that lead the reader into introspect.  Could we do the same?

Time to talk with our partners and mine for ideas that lead to this type of thinking for the reader — inferencing, wowzer details that lead one to pause and reflect.

Jot down notes.  Check our community chart on Google Classrom, modify our claim and author’s purpose — check our feedback from peers to tweak our ideas.

What a day.

Committing to Maddness – SOL23 Day

So, it slipped out of my mouth today:  we’ll be publishing our Editorials on a blog, where they’ll be viewable to the public.

Huge endeavor — I spent 5 nights in a row copying/pasting/uploading/linking everything and the kitchen sink some 3-4 years ago to accomplish this for my students.  I trembled when I thought about people outside our little classroom seeing our stuff.  I was worried about the quality of my kids’ writing.  What would readers perceive about my teaching?

I don’t know how I got over it… I think I was in denial about the blog existing beyond our classroom.  I saw in on computer screens in my classroom, sure, but those computers weren’t hooked up to the internet — No!  Yeah… I had a little server that housed this little bit of awesomeness and no one would ever, ever see my student’s work and no one would ever, ever criticize me as a teacher..

There’s been an imperceptible and gradual release of those fears — and that coincided as I implemented Workshop as the staple of my teaching practice.

I’ve been in the trenches with them, writing and thinking beside them.. through struggles and celebrating, big and small.  Workshop helped me experience this first hand with them.  Why on earth would I want to keep the hard work of my students hidden?

The kids are excited.  My hesitation is in figuring out how to move the burden from me — loading all the posts and creating this classroom blog full of entries of every student — to them, because I really want to boost that agency. Let them create, design their blog and put everything up themselves.

But that’s the nature of progress as a writer, as a creator.  Every year it gets better.

Notebook Miracle – SOL 21

Notebooks make all the difference.  Used by the teacher, that is.  Of this, I am an official believer.

Let me tell you..

I had been a day-to-day notebook keeper since early 2015.  Prior to that, I’d written weekly in several notebooks and journals — as many as raising children would allow.

Notebooks in 2015 increased my teacher performance, improved my relationships with my students, boosted my self-esteem — I have stories on these, but I’m under the gun to get this SOL out before midnight.  🙂  This all happened because I began my work with the National Writing Project.  I was drawn to it because I’m a believer in marrying your beliefs to your work.  Writing has been my belief all my life..

Sometime last year, a cork got shoved somewhere in my brain.  It started by not keeping the writing habit going.  It got so bad, I didn’t even keep my little journal and notebook writing around the house.  Maybe it was the political climate — or the nation’s climate — that got to me.  Maybe it was my mother being place in a nursing home (separate from my Dad) and losing access to my childhood home, possibly forever.  Major upset, I haven’t gone back to guess why my writing stopped.  All I know is the effects.

Here is how I was affected:

  • the worst personality crisis I have ever experienced in my adult life. We spend all this time, day by day, week by week, year by year, beginning with teenage-hood, perhaps, trying to figure ourselves out.  We improve, we backtrack, we jump with ecstasy when we’re in a place we’re recognizable to ourselves and have figured ourselves out a little.  All that stopped for me, for a period for, gosh.. I can tell you if I went back to my notebooks.. I want to seriously, seriously guess 1 year.  The. Worst. Totally not myself.  Silent.  Lost.  Inside Out.  Where was I?
  • teaching impacted.  Totally stilted. I could still perform, still love my children, but there was a wall there .. you know?  I felt.. inauthentic.  Something definitely missing.  How can I be totally me if I’m not totally there.. or there’s a part of me that is lost as I stand in front of my kids?  I functioned.. I worked hard.. I stressed SOOOO much because not “being” all there just didn’t seem right to me.  That’s not how I’ve ever lived.  It’s all or all..
  • thinking impacted.  There were times when I would begin to write something down.. and my mind could not hold a sentence. My mind would flip and I’d draw a complete blank.  Or I would hit a skip and begin thinking of the next topic without finishing the first sentence. Twice in a paragraph.  Very odd.  This is recorded in my “Classroom Notebook” that I used while I still tried to write during Writing Time with my kids during Workshop.  I learned to record these [boats on a river] lapses with brackets — just you just saw now.  Over time, I grew afraid of the blank page..
  • creativity null and void.  Gone, just gone.  All my life, I’ve had an edge on idea. I enjoyed my brain and thinking stuff up, a new version, a different angle, a unique perspective.  This was absent during that time…

But let me tell you what’s happened.

I had a mahvelous Workshop with a mentor from the Heart of Texas Writing Project (our NWP affiliate here in Austin).. and it was just what I needed to get the Notebook started again.  This happened February 20th.  I have been writing non-stop.

Today, the cork popped and my creativity sparked.. and roared!!!!

I came up with a quick-draft for curriculum for next unit.

I came up with 1 Topic-Talk chart for my kids to work with during Workshop tomorrow.

I came up with a Risk Rubric as they develop their ideas for Opinion.

I came up with a Community Chart for listing their Topic Commitments.

I DREW UP PLANS FOR A TEACHER APP!!!!!!

That… I was not expecting that…

… and I wrote it all in my Notebook, which is going fabulous.

Please, please.. if you want to streamline your practice and don’t feel you have time to work in your Notebook, do whatever you can to carve out time to get back into Writing for Self, for you, for your mind, for your thinking, for your soul, spirit and sanity in this world.

Give it a solid month, like I did — 15 minutes everyday, like I did with my students (I was bound to them through a promise).

You will notice the stress disappear, your thinking become clearer, you’ll become more efficient, your confidence will rise, you will be yourself and more pleasant and friendly and fun to be around, you’ll be more at peace with yourself and the world.

It is so worth it..

..Veronica, don’t forget.