Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The landmarks are the same

at Two Writing Teachers!
Saturday morning, at a time I would usually be in bed, I found myself sitting in my old high school auditorium, wondering if Penny Kittle could see the tears pouring down my cheeks as she peered out from the stage.

She had just showed us a video of Sarah Kay's "Montauk", asking us to choose a line that spoke to us and write from it. Immediately, I knew I had to write to "The landmarks are the same."

When she asked us to stop a few minutes later, I wanted to keep going. (As she noted, that's exactly the goal of quick-writes -- to make student writers hungry to write more!) Then she asked us to spend a couple of minutes to improve what we'd written. Although I continually revise as I write (I do NOT tend to follow the rules of quick-writing well!), I still enjoyed the opportunity to look back at what I'd written and make a few changes. (I'd never heard of incorporating revision after quick-writing, but it's definitely something I want to implement with my students! Penny said this is a new idea she's tried since writing Write Beside Them.)

This is what I got:

I was fine until she told us to share with someone near us. My mom was beside me, and I knew she'd cry. I couldn't even read my work -- I just said "Marietta" and we sat there crying, alone together in the midst of the busy hum of sharing. Crying for old memories that can't be recreated. Crying for the way a familiar place can feel so empty even though it hasn't changed. Crying for a town that's not the same with my grandparents gone and my cousins moved away.

At least I can capture it in writing.

After the winding drive down through the hills, the landmarks are the same: The rushing river spanned by the angled strength of its steel bridge. The charming riverboat-era hotel filled with memories of grandeur. The rusty streetcar rails running down uneven brick streets, past antique storefronts still emblazoned with echoes of the past. The hauntingly steadfast Hopewell mound that towers over the small marble stones marking generations of slumbering history: Putnam, Whipple, Stacy, Dawes. 

And on the corner of 7th and Wooster, the house is still the same too. The squirrel feeder that made my cousins and me erupt in fits of laughter still spins in the front yard. The pewter eagle still surveys the sidewalk from its perch above the doorway. The noisy air conditioners that never put out quite enough cold air still hang from the upstairs windows. The deck my dad helped build still hangs precariously out toward the holler. The same maroon shutters. The same vertical blinds. The same astroturf-covered porch. If I walked up those stairs, could I just open the door and walk in to the sound of a John Wayne movie? Would Granddaddy be sprawled in his easy chair, his cane leaning against a TV tray? Would Nannie walk in with a fresh bag of iced cookies from Big Bear? Would my cousins arrive any minute, throwing the house into a chaotic frenzy?

But now, when we park in front of the house, we walk up broken bricks and around the corner towards the ancient mound. We notice those venerable old names and look for new ones. We wipe the leaves off the cold stone, put out new decorations, straighten the flags, and remember. 

Then we walk back over the upheaved sidewalks, back through the quaint streets, back past the huge holly hedges that now nearly obscure the house. We drive downtown to stroll through the shops and look out over the levee. "When you're down by the river, drop in!" Granddaddy's words come out of Mommy's mouth. But there's nowhere to drop in to anymore. So we savor memories over creamy Broughton's ice cream and head back out onto the highway, over the hills, and into the present.

The landmarks are the same, but the heartbeat is gone.

The Delta Queen leaving after its last voyage to Marietta, a few summers ago.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Excited about everything

at Two Writing Teachers!
A few days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, I was skipping around the house, humming the Olympic songs and chirping about which sports I was most excited to watch. (Bobsled, ski jumping, all kinds of ski racing, cross-country skiing... ok, almost everything!)

For some reason, Husband was grinning sideways at me with twinkling eyes... which always means that he's amused at what he thinks is weird behavior.

"What, didn't your family get excited about watching the Olympics?" My incredulity was only half-fake.

"I don't know... I mean... we watched them... but..."

"My family always got so excited for the Olympics!!! They're so much fun to watch!" I was about to launch into an explanation of how some events, like bobsled, are even more fun to watch when you've seen them in person (which we were lucky enough to do for 3 events each at the '96 Atlanta and '02 Salt Lake City Olympics!)... but he interrupted me.

"Your family gets excited about EVERYTHING!"

(As some of you know from reading about how much fun we have watching OSU sports... and eating... and doing everything else... he's right!)

So this past weekend, just after my dad had emergency surgery for a detached retina, we found ourselves peeking over the edge of my parents' bed, horizontally watching the Olympics on a small TV on the floor... still having fun.
To help his eye recover, Daddy is required to look down for 45 minutes of every hour!
Now, I'd imagine that most usually-active people who can't see out of one eye and have to sit around the house staring downward almost constantly would be pretty despondent, but my dad isn't most people. Miserable? That doesn't sound like very much fun!

Inspired by his eyepatch, he greeted us with a hearty pirate "Arrrgh!" He gleefully gloated about getting all his favorite meals, MMMing loudly as he made a big deal about savoring each bite. He conspired with Husband to play little tricks on my mom and me. He hammed up his condition to annoy my mom: pretending to bump into things on purpose, trying to sit on me with the excuse that he couldn't see, and whining that he couldn't open his pop bottle.

As we peered down at the TV, we practiced our best skeleton-racing positions. We giggled about how the Sanki Sliding Center's name sounds exactly like my maiden name, enthusiastically echoing the announcers each time they said it. Through it all, he was spouting puns and fake Spanish (such as "rice-o EspaƱa" for "Spanish rice") and laughing through his nose at his own jokes like always.

Even when he isn't feeling his best, my dad is always excited about everything... especially spending time with me. <3

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Just write. It's amazing!

at Two Writing Teachers!
After reading Betsy's post last week about inviting others to participate in the March Challenge, I knew I wanted to do the same. For a few days, I mulled over what I would say and who I would invite. (Still not quite sure if I'm brave enough to invite the whole staff like Betsy did!) For a few days, I was a whirlwind of busy-ness and thought, "Oh, I can do that later!" Finally, today, I sat down after school to write a "quick email" (famous last words) to invite a few special friends to join the challenge. As the "quick email" grew, I knew it should be my slice for today:

Hi! You're reading this right now because you're one of the most amazing writing teachers (teacher who writes / writer who teaches!) that I know. 

That's right. YOU. You are amazing!

And I'm inviting you (yes, YOU!) to join me in an incredible experience this March: the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

What's the challenge? Write a "slice of life" on your blog every day in March. You can write a story. You can write a poem. You can write a vivid description, a dialogue, a letter, a song, a photo-story, a something-that-doesn't-have-a-name-because-you-just-made-it-up! Just write. Every day.

That's right. EVERY DAY. 

No time? Make some. Too tired? Make some coffee! :-) 

No, really, you're too busy and too tired? Write something anyway. Write a 6-word memoir. Write a list of things you should be doing instead of writing. Post a photo and write a caption for it. But write something.

What will happen if you do? You'll notice small details you'd have been too busy-and-tired to notice. You'll become more reflective. You'll become more thankful. You'll think like a writer. You'll play with your writing craft. You'll find courage and creativity you didn't know you had. You'll also have days when you don't feel like writing ... and you'll learn how to just write anyway. You'll nod sympathetically the next time a student complains she's stuck, and you'll be able to say, "Well, when that happens to me, I..."

Yes, you might need to order takeout. You might lose a few hours of sleep. You might look for that shirt you wanted to wear and end up discovering a sopping wet mess of wrinkly clothes you forgot to put in the dryer. You might find yourself greeting your husband by yelling "DON'T-SAY-ANYTHING-I'M-IN-THE-MIDDLE-OF-AN-IDEA!" when he gets home from work. You might look at the closing credits of a TV show in astonishment as you realize that you have no idea which show it was or what happened in it.

But you'll become a better writer. You'll become a better teacher. You'll become a better person. And you'll become a part of a supportive, inspiring community of teacher-writers.

That's right. It's AMAZING. Just like you.

So be a teacher who writes, and become a writer who teaches! 

I also sent a slightly different email to our English Department and all my colleagues from my local Writing Project. Moreover, I'm encouraging my students to begin slicing on Tuesdays to get ready for the challenge, and they are already excited to participate! How will you encourage others to write with us in March?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A face and a spark

at Two Writing Teachers!
Usually when a teacher runs breathlessly into my classroom at the beginning of a class period, one of my students needs to do something or go somewhere. Or a bilingual aide is needed.  Or the teacher has run out of strategies for meeting the needs of a student. Or...

"What's up? Do you need somebody?" I tried to appear concerned/interested as I simultaneously tried to get my students started on reading.

"Oh, we were just playing 'Guess the Student' from this morning's staff meeting... Is it H.?"

My shoulders relaxed and my biggest grin started to shine. Guess the Student? WE? It's 7th period! People have been thinking (and talking!) about this all day? AWESOME!  "Yeah, it's H. Good job! Isn't she just incredible?"

I got them thinking. I made a difference. Just one 5-minute vignette, but what a SPARK!

We had asked to be on the staff meeting agenda to talk about meeting the needs of ELLs. As I planned, I thought of my students: the ones who struggle through sorrow. The ones whose hearts are broken. The ones who can't believe they're lucky enough to be here. The ones who flounder through a strange world. The ones who are proud to share their world with us. The ones who work nonstop. The ones who feel so lost they've given up trying. The ones who find success and find themselves.

 If everyone knew my students as well as I do, wouldn't they want to move the world for them too? If they knew what these kids are going through, wouldn't they remember to speak with kindness and teach with patience and consideration? So I took a deep breath, stared out over all the heads of all those teachers who barely even know me, and told one student's story:
Hopes and dreams. Responsibilities and duties. Fears. Medical struggles. Religious devotion and open-mindedness. A willingness to try new things and a hunger to learn, despite her anxieties and obstacles.
After school, another teacher stuck his head in my doorway on his way out of the building. "Just wanted to say 'Great job!' on the staff meeting. I really liked the personal story. I think it made people think about students in a different way!"

A history teacher. A French teacher. The principal. The assistant principals. A math teacher. A science teacher. The school psychologist. The librarian. "Great presentation!" "Was the student H.?" "I liked hearing about your student!" "Aren't our students amazing?"

When I told my mom, she called it "putting a face on the data". To me, it's just loving my students. It only takes a SPARK to change the world.