Possumbilities

It was not a thing I expected to see while on a Chick-Fil-A lunch run.

But there it was, directly opposite the drive-through menu board for ordering: A possum in a tree.

First thoughts: What’s wrong with it? Why would a possum be out and about during the day?

Next thoughts: Where did it come from? Why is it here? Has the smell of food lured it? Did it somehow manage to cross the busy street? Or (I shuddered): Will it TRY to cross the busy street? What will become of it?

Then: I need a picture. I’ll have to write about this.

And so I left the drive-through with the possum’s image preserved in my phone. Before I pulled into traffic, I looked back at the tree one last time. The animal wasn’t there any more.

It’s hard, for a storyteller, to not know fate or destiny.

I wondered many things as I drove away: Will restaurant workers or patrons call Animal Control? What does Animal Control do in a case like this? Will some random person decide to shoot it, deciding it poses a safety hazard, or just for the sake of shooting it? I am not a big fan of opossums but I didn’t want harm to come to it. Maybe it was old, weak, confused, like a person wandering in a nursing home. Maybe it was a female with babies hidden in her pouch. One Sunday morning when I was coming home from church a possum darted in front of my car. “Dart” isn’t really accurate; it hobbled as fast as it could. A mother laden with knobbly pink and gray babies on her back. Four little faces with eyes looking right at me. I slowed; they skittered across the road to safety.

That time, anyway.

And so I remembered them as I drove farther from my drive-through possum, contemplating the whole gamut of what might happen to it. Then, thankfully, my fanciful side kicked in: It knew where the speaker was. Maybe the possum comes on a daily basis to place an order: “Twenty-piece nuggets, please. Don’t forget my ketchup.” With those little pink hands, it could probably peel the ketchup foil back for dipping. Maybe the famous renegade cows are initiating this possum for the next round of their advertising campaign to ‘Eat Mor Chikin‘. . .

Oh, I thought, children would really like that story! I wonder what THEY would write . . . ?

There was a time when I’d take the photo and my story right into classrooms, across grade levels, as a model for any kind of writing. Small moment narratives, opinion, informational (for I ended up researching why an opossum would be so visible during the day and guess what? It’s not out of the ordinary at all. I further learned that opossums have a natural resistance to rabies and snake venom. Imagine people shooting it out of the tree because they don’t know). As an intro I might ask students if they know that the opossum is the only marsupial native to the Americas and link it to the koalas and kangaroos in Australia; we might consider relief efforts and life preservation, for all life is connected.

I’d even use my possum for teaching poetry writing. My mind is playing, this very minute, with opposite and opossum and tree and see, with an atmosphere of fear, wishing for a safe place. . . and of course there’s the fabulous fun of writing fantasy. Perhaps this possum took Chik-Fil-A home to its family where the bigger possum kids are playing video games (it always appears in some students’ writing). Maybe the possum babies got their nuggets “to go,” eating them in their mother’s pouch, with the littlest one crying that it didn’t get a toy . . .

The possibilities—or, in this case, “possumbilities”—are endless.

Or were endless, in the days when we did those kinds of writing, in that way, before the advent of programs that “incorporate” writing via a series of formulaic steps with whole classes writing on the same thing for the same amount of prescribed time. When authentic process was valued above uniform product and the end results were all different, because students—humans—are all different. In the days when students asked questions they generated themselves, because they really wanted to know the answers, because the answers mattered to them. When mining their own experiences for meaning lit up their faces and exploring their own ideas illuminated their minds. When the most priceless gift of childhood, imagination, wasn’t constrained and when teachers were not conscripted to teaching writing this way (with some believing that it’s better because it’s “easier”).

—Not me.

I saw a possum in a tree.

And I wondered, knowing I’d write about it, to find out why I needed to write about it.

It’s not about knowing fate or destiny.

It’s all about seeing possibilities, great and small, without and within, following a thread of thinking, of feeling, of life, to see where it takes you.

In other words, not blindly driving through and missing possumbilities.

16 thoughts on “Possumbilities

  1. Sticking with the rambling on about the possumbilities, I came to this prize: “It’s all about seeing possibilities, great and small, without and within, following a thread of thinking, of feeling, of life, to see where it takes you.” I refuse to give in to the conscripted writing. We have notebook time, Poetry Friday, and Slice of Life that keeps us from falling into the hell of scripted writing.
    And just an aside, we have a baby or juvenile opossum coming to the back porch to eat our cat’s food as soon as the sun goes down. Yikes! I have not romanticized one bit about it.

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  2. That was exactly the point of the rambling: the staggering possibilities for writing from one real-life experience, the creative freedom to spin it any which way… I wrote with deep sadness for kids who are not being taught how see a thing and think “I can write about that,” nor remember it, and therefore never knowing how much could be said or how much meaning and interconnectedness they can find. I didn’t even know, until I got deep into the writing, that the possum post would lead to this. I also wrote with some sadness over the creature itself, not likely to get away from such a public place unscathed. Seeing it so near in that place was unnerving, though, I confess. I’ve heard that possums love cat food; I wouldn’t be too happy to have them eating mine up, either, if I had any!

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  3. I love the rambling glimpse into your mind with this slice. Brilliant how you bring right to the glorious spontaneous, creative nature of being a writer and a teacher writer who NEEDS to teach from this moment! “It’s all about seeing possibilities, great and small, without and within, following a thread of thinking, of feeling, of life, to see where it takes you.” YES! Thanks for sharing!

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    • I suppose I feel like that possum, watching writing workshop being forsaken for a mechanical approach ,,, clinging to the natural while machinery of “progress” rolls onward. Thank you, Dawn.

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    • Stories do live all around us! Nothing grows us more than realizing them. Writing them, shaping them into something meaningful and impactful, is a powerful creative force for life, not just school … thanks, Jess and thanks, old possum. 🙂

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  4. Though we d know assure the curriculum with genre writing units of study, we make room for green belt writing. When I drop in, I often disrupt and I’m not sorry. There’s room for both.

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    • Many thanks for your words – I shall always take the organic approach, and as a coach working across grade levels I know that there are many courageous teachers are doing the same. Learning doesn’t come from staying within the box … nevertheless, I mourn, but only for now, as I believe in time this, too, shall pass.

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  5. Your post is making me think deeply about the lack of possumbilities in so many of our classes. Where have we gone wrong – expecting robotic teaching and lack of creativity is under it all.
    We need more possumbilities!

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    • Those words – robotic teaching, lack of creativity – I think the obsession with data, scores, &evaluations has done it. And how humanity hungers to be creative! There’s a universe of it to explore… we should be opening the doors and windows, not slamming down lids. Thank your for this, Christine.

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  6. This is the second time opossums have popped up in my circles this week (someone introduced me to the “Opossum Lady” on YouTube, a bizarre few minutes of my time). You echo the advice of every author who’s come to visit our school–stories can come from anywhere. I am seeing the swing back to student choice in my school. We’ve had PD on inquiry, and I hear teachers talking about squeezing in some free write time despite the overpacked curriculum they are expected to deliver. On the flip side, however, my kindergarten teachers have been lamenting the time they’ve had to take on assessments this year. In kindergarten, where a teacher’s influence in the classroom matters most. Sigh.

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