Filling the bucket

Bucket of Sunshine. gfpeck. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power.  – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium

At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.

I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.

All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.

It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.

Light reading

A friend who knows my affinity for the natural world gave me The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. It’s written as a conversation between Jane Goodall and her interviewer, Douglas Abrams. When I say it’s part of my current “light reading” I don’t mean easy (although it is) or frivolous (for it is not).

I mean light as in candleglow dancing on the walls of a dark room.

I’ve not gotten far yet but here are some lines that draw me in the first couple of chapters—flickerings of my own credo:

Hope is a survival trait.

The naturalist looks for the wonder of nature – she listens to the voice of nature and learns from it as she tries to understand it.

Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but is not stopped by them. There’s a lot of darkness, but our actions create the light.

And this from an Inuit elder, on confronting and healing our grief, which can manifest itself in the body as physical pain: Make space for grief…find awe and joy in every day.

—these, I believe. They are often the very reason why I write.

Recipe for Survival

Hold onto hope, and it will hold you
Open the ears, eyes, arms of your spirit
Perceive the call of awe, all around
Embrace it. Let the healing begin.

Of the ages

It is said that
the Information Age
is ending
giving way to
the Experience Age
loosely defined
as moving from
accumulation
(our digital output
is greater
than our capacity
to store it
anyway)
to immersion
in the story:
‘Live every moment
of your life
to the fullest,
with as much
sensory detail
as possible!’

(a shift
reminiscent of
the writing rule
‘show, don’t tell’
although in truth
it takes both
to bring a story
to life
and in thinking
of narratives
I pause to consider
this thing called
the unreliable narrator)

then, this week,
I stumbled across
this phrase:
We live in the age of rage

I contemplate the why of it
as my brain follows threads
inextricably, impossibly knotted
through a psychological tapestry
of distortion
information here
experience there
narrative everywhere
(as I once heard a father
tell his child:
It’s your lie.
Tell it like you want to.)

people do tell it
and sell it
and buy it
like they want to

often, it seems,
without an eye
turned toward the age
to come
being too blinded
by continual bombardment
in the now

the Experience Age
I wonder if it might be
more aptly called
the Age of Escape
fleeting as it is

these are the things
I think about
when I sit to write
in the stillness
of early morning
before the sunrise
before the stirring of the birds
nature’s continuity
offering sacred respite
from the Age of Rage
where the broken road
inevitably sends one
teetering on the edge
if not over into
the abyss
of despair

Hope. Martin Gommel. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An ancient alchemy

One day at dismissal while I was monitoring the hallway, i.e., preventing a stampede, a fifth-grade girl approached me:

Mrs. Haley, I have been working on a story. I was wondering if you could give me some tips?

Of course! Is this an assignment for class?

No, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while…

Even better. Have you written any of this story yet?

Yes, a little, but I’m stuck. C. told me how you helped him last year and he said youre the one to ask…

And so it was arranged that the student would come to meet me in the morning, story in hand.

She brought a friend. Another fifth-grade girl.

I began to sense that this was either a business conference or a council of wizards… maybe both.

The student read her story (a fantasy) and explained that she needed help with where to go next.

We discussed the strengths of her introduction and how to create a hook. The friend’s eyes glistened.

I asked several questions about the characters and their problem-solving adventure (i.e., plot). The story-writer answered aloud, expanding her own thinking. When I made a suggestion or two, both girls’ faces took on an otherworldly light.

Most of all, my young apprentices (I really didn’t say ‘my young apprentices’ — I only thought it as I spoke), if you’re going to have magic in this story, you have to stick to the rules you put in place or you’ll lose your readers. Does that make sense?

Oh yes, said the friend, nodding sagely. It still has to be believable.

And off they went, leaving me marveling in their wake about codes and spells and the power of one’s own mind to imagine the unimaginable, of idea-dust drifting through the atmosphere to settle upon whomever it chooses for bringing forth the story that wants to be told.

For, in a time and place when writing workshop is out of vogue and crafting responses to texts is essentially all the writing the present educational Powers That Be can imagine, what could be more magical than a child desiring to write a story for the sheer pleasure of it?

Nothing, I think. Nothing. It’s an ancient alchemy.

Go forth, young crafters.

Your stories await.

So do I.

So do we all.

John Steinbeck on Storytelling. Jill Clardy. CC BY-SA 2.0

*******

Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…supporting student writers starts with supporting teacher writers.

Essence experiment

My kindred-spirit-blogger-teacher-writer friend Lainie Levin had a fun post this week on a favorite exercise with young student writers: playing with suffixes added to your name, then coming up with a definition of the essence of you. Lainie calls this “nounifying yourself.” Here’s her suggested suffix list:

-itude
-ness
-ility
-age
-dom

-ity
-ship
-sion
-ance/ence

-al
-ation
-iety
-ment

Naturally I had to accept her invitation to compose (read more about her process and see fun student examples in her lively post, Word Play – thank you for this, Lainie!)

Frandom

The quality of maintaining a quiet inner realm despite the world’s clamor, where one’s thoughts are free to be one’s own; typically achieved through experiences with reading, writing, nature, and awe.

A drawing of me by my granddaughter last year: Franna in her Frandom?

‘How to be’ poem

Today on Ethical ELA Sheri Vasinda invites teacher-poets to compose “How to be” poems for VerseLove, in honor of National Poetry Month. The idea is to choose a topic, research it, list facts, and write a poem incorporating those facts in a Do/Do Not format. Sheri says students love this. Imagine their awe at seeing facts take on poetic form…and the power they find in it.

I’ve written of seahorses before; they fascinate me for many reasons. As a writer, the seahorse remains one of my favorite symbols.

How To Be a Seahorse

Don’t worry about being the slowest swimmer
in the sea;
just anchor your prehensile tail to long grasses
so that strong currents
don’t drown you

Don’t worry about your posture
being different from other fish;
let them be horizontal
you stay upright

Don’t worry about having no teeth
and no stomach
and no etiquette;
rejoice that your loud lip-smacking vacuum
enables you to eat constantly
so you can stay alive

Don’t worry about not having scales;
wear your bony armor
with befitting chivalry

Don’t worry how other fish do it;
you find someone
you blush, you flush bright colors
you court for a few days
prim and proper
keeping apart at night
meeting again just after dawn
—ye who are males, step up
sacrifice your own time and energy
on behalf of your beloved
by carrying the babies for her
(even if there ARE 2000 of them)
-out of all the universe
you be Dad Extraordinaire

and commit
for life

Never mind—if you do—
that your scientific name means
“horse sea monster”
—just wonder, if only you can,
little Hippocampus
why your very likeness
is embedded deep
in the temporal lobe
of the human brain
as the central storehouse
for emotion
for learning
for the vast, rolling sea
of human memory.

You can’t worry about that, Seahorse.
Just keep rolling your eyes
in every direction
independently of each other
and swim
(if ever so slowly)
onward

*******

with special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Shoe poem

For VerseLove on Ethical ELA today, Andy Schoenborn invites teacher-poets to write “tumble down poetry” about shoes:

“For the small spaces they occupy, poems can cause writers to freeze. To break a poem free, try writing a paragraph or two of prose and, then, watch a poem tumble down with this process… today let’s write about shoes. Please take three minutes and write in prose about a pair of shoes that you’ll never forget… Once your paragraph is written, look for naturally occurring repetition, alliteration, striking images, and moments of emphasis fit for enjambments. Then play with the structure and form as a poem ‘tumbles down’ the page.”

It’s amazing, when you stop to think about it, how many shoe stories we have… this memory from long ago quickly overshadowed all others for me today.

Shoe Story

Fifth grade
studying mythology

the teacher says:
Now you will write
your own myth

sometimes myths
are about inventions
or journeys
or transformations

what can I write
about any of these?

I think
I sigh
I look
around the room

rainslapped windows
there was a time when
my parents would have made me
pull galoshes over my shoes

I hate hate hate my shoes
saddle oxfords
— I call them sadlocks—
black and white
or in my case, 
black and gray
needing polish
again

everyone else
wears Hush Puppies
suede desert boots

Be grateful
for what you have
I’ve been told
by various grownups
in my life

(who do not have to wear
sadlocks)

I wonder
who ever invented
these stupid stupid shoes

I wonder when shoes
were invented

—wait—

a picture forms in my mind
a boy, living in a village
by the sea
where the sand is soft
where no one needs shoes…

I grab my pencil

I write him into being

this boy who had to save
his village by climbing
the mountain
where sharp rocks cut his feet
where he made shoes
from big leaves, tied
with strips of bark

on his return to the village
everyone started wearing shoes
in honor of their hero,
Shoeani.

Saddle oxfords. MBK (Marjie). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Ancient shoes. Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints. CC BY 2.0.

Write more

I started this blog in March of 2016 because I knew I needed to write more. At the time I was leading writing workshop training for elementary teachers and teaching writing lessons across grade levels; I would go on to co-design workshops for teachers as writers. Although I’ve loved the craft all my life, I wasn’t always an active writer; if I was going to encourage others to write, that needed to change. One must walk the walk… I came across the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge too late that year, but I’ve been participating every year thereafter. I didn’t stop writing with the daily March challenge. I kept going on SOLSC Tuesdays. I found other online groups and wrote with them, too… and I kept going when my district moved away from the writing workshop model and stopped providing opportunities for teacher-writers. I kept on going when life took sharp turns. I kept writing because memories started flowing and I didn’t want to turn them off. I kept writing as a means of choosing hope over despair and because I kept coming across interesting things to try. I began recording ideas and dreams in notebooks, all the time thinking about what I might write next…for there’s so much more to write. So many more stories to tell. I love every minute, even when the writing is hardest. I have learned that just beyond that concrete wall is a garden of plenty, if I can just find the hidden door…

I don’t think I would have kept going if I hadn’t been part of a writing community that uplifts, encourages, and inspires one another.

You are the key.

I owe a debt of gratitude to all at Two Writing Teachers.

Fellow Slicers… don’t quit now.

Write more.

When you need a challenge
write more
When challenges are too much
write more
When you need silence
write more

When silence is too much
write more
When you need to know yourself
write more
When knowing yourself is too much
write more

When you need to remember
write more
When remembering is too much
write more
When your heart is full
write more
When your heart is empty
write more

When you are grateful
write more
for you cannot be too grateful
When you are out of ideas
write more
and more ideas will come

When endings come
write more
and find beginnings

My pencil pouch

*******

Thus concludes the daily Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you for thirty-one days of joy.

Tomorrow is the first day of National Poetry Month; I’ll write more in VerseLove at Ethical ELA.

Ingredient poem

Thanks to John Noreen who hosted yesterday’s Ethical ELA Open Write with the invitation to pay homage to food that comforts and sustains us. John focused on process; he suggested that we “create the way we cook.” He says when he cooks, he takes a central ingredient and gets going, improvising along the way.

Sounds like a metaphor for writing to me…

Daily Writing Staple

An idea forms
inside my brain
like an egg forms
within a bird


one moment
nothing
and the next
the shell
of something


I feel new presence
of fragile life
within

or at least
the provisional sac
of nourishment
for building and 
sustaining life
as it forms

deep inside
living membrane

until it should hatch
and eventually fly
on wings of its own


or

like my breakfast egg
boiled for long enough
at the right temperature
the idea solidifies
and gives life
to me

one simple ingredient
containing a whole world
of possibility

and I almost never settle
for just one.

*******

with thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.