Story Starters, Prompts & Quick Writes ~ SOL#19 ~ Day#5

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It seems like Twitter is flooded with lots of educators asking questions lately; teachers needing resources for a unit, books around a certain topic, or a lesson to teach something. I recently came across a tweet requesting prompts for journal entries for a class because the students didn’t have anything to write about.

My inner writing soul whispered, “Teach them to notice the world.”

Mary Oliver said it best, “Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About it.”

What if we just modeled and taught our students what awareness was and what that looks like, sounds like and feels like? Writers have strategies to help them pay attention to the world around them, and I think that we can teach these as strategies or triggers and call them as such, rather than the latter, to get something down on the page. Awareness is a habit of mind that can be cultivated over time – every day – so that after a couple of weeks, we can just say, “Write for 20 minutes,” and students will be able to grab something because, hopefully, they have been paying attention, or else they can choose a strategy to get them started. If our goal is writing independence, wouldn’t we want them finding writing topics on their own instead of us having to provide them?

Lynda Barry’s tool for teaching students (and myself) to be more aware is pretty effective. Seriously, used daily for a week or so activates the senses to no end.  Character sketches can happen constantly because people are everywhere and people are interesting. Really see someone, pay attention to their character and who they are. We write from big wonderings or noticings when we read books, listen to music or podcasts, or pay attention to the happenings going on in our world. Most of the time, if we are truly aware, just paying attention to the voices that are constantly talking in our mind should give us enough content for life.

I’ve also learned how important it is to take a good line from one of those awareness entries, just a line and to write from that, following whatever path unfolds, to find our way to new discoveries (Donald Murray taught me this). This, too, takes practice. And, modeling. Scary modeling it is, because it’s authentic and you don’t know where it will lead. Once I modeled this for my third graders starting with the smell of burnt toast and ended up writing about how it reminded me of my grandmother’s house and pretty soon I was a puddle. Geez. 28 kids sat there mesmerized. They wanted to try it.

Awareness and discovery. I really think that’s the meat of what keeps me writing.

Well, this wasn’t really a Slice of Life, but Twitter started it.

I just followed the thread.

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2019 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.

Sometimes Doodling is a Better Way~ SOL#19~Day#3

 

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Sometimes, I can capture a moment with more specificity by drawing doodles than in writing a descriptive micro-memoir. Speech and thought bubbles lend to inferences that can portray my characters more than I could in describing them in words. And, it’s quicker.

It can become a curse, however, as you start to see everything as a graphic novel, visualizing a scene or overheard dialogue as cartoon snippets. You can’t get down things fast enough as once you start, you’ve activated the launching sequence. Then, you begin asking yourself what becomes “story-catching worthy”. I’ve come to believe that everything is “story-catching worthy”, and if we don’t capture it, it’s gone forever, and sometimes we don’t know a story’s worth until years later.

Being an introvert, I can quietly observe my extrovert family members and their witty conversations. They don’t realize I’m taking it all in. Actually, my husband does. He sometimes says, “Did you get that, hon? Can you put that in your notebook?”

His life is much more “story-catching worthy” than mine.

But, perhaps that’s why we were partnered.

lumberjack doodles

Shari 🙂

The Essence of Old Books~SOL#19~Day#2

I have a book obsession. While new books are lovely, old ones speak to my soul in a multitude of ways that I am not sure I can describe.

But, I will try.

Aesthetics are important to me. How objects, spaces, sounds and words feel can prompt my senses to go into warm fuzzy mode, give me goosebumps, expand my heart and seriously increase my oxytocin levels. (Or, the opposite can occur. But, we aren’t going there today.)

I wish I could tell you how an old book feels in my hand. It’s thickly textured pages are housed in a cloth shell worn with time. One can only imagine the hands that have embraced this treasure . Golden lettering announce it’s title. Pages fragile, dozens or more sets of eyes having studied the words that rest upon them, ever so gently turning each page to meet previous ones read. And, old books are heavy. They reign when competing with the paperbacks of today.

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I picked this one up to read this morning. It’s title, The Child, by Amy Eliza Tanner, copy write ~ 1904. Inside the front cover, a human being’s name graces the page, in delicate black ink cursive handwriting of which appears to have come from a fountain pen of sorts.

“Who is this woman?” I wonder. “Hertha?” not “Bertha”, but, “Hertha”.

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Well, my need-to-know-mind won’t let this rest, so I do a quick search to see who this woman is. I’m led to a photo:

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. . . which leads me to Ancestry.com. I can’t go there. Entire weekends have been lost there. I know better.

Back to the book.

I had not heard of Amy Eliza Tanner, the author of the book, in education circles. And, I do read and research educational pedagogies and philosophies (this sounds arrogant, and I apologize if it comes off that way, but it’s more a curse than a blessing). A quick research on Amy Eliza Tanner results in some fascinating fodder to add to my scholarly drawers of who to know from education past. Here she is in the center of this photo:

Look at how empowered she looks. Good heavens, John Dewey is there. Have I been living under a rock in not knowing this woman? Honestly, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. I could continue to read about her. She lived a most resilient life among her male counterparts. But, I don’t.

Because, here. Here is the ESSENCE of why I love old books:

The words.

In the introduction by G. Stanley Hall,

“If there is such a thing as a ‘call to teach’ it consists of loving children, and with love go insight, the  power to serve, and the desire to help each child to the maximum development of body and should of which he is capable. When vocational guidance is fully developed those intending to teach will ask themselves the question, which is the supreme test of their fitness,

“Do I really love children?”

Those who do not, have no right to teach.”

He goes on to say this message is Amy Eliza Tanners’ chief purpose in writing this book.

1904. It takes a whole lotta love to to do this job. We forget about that sometimes as we don’t see it enough in the educational literature of today. Yet, we know it. We feel it. It’s why this job hurts so much sometimes.

This, my friends . . .

is why I adore old books, AND. . .

is why I get nothing done.

But, it brings me to my happy place of bliss, wonder, and awe.

Shari 🙂

 

 

 

Why Are We Here? ~ SOL#2019~ Day 1

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Here we are. Again.

But why? Our days are full. Our plates are full. Our minds are full. Adding one more thing feels impossible.

After spending an hour reading the posts of others who have committed 31 days of their writing lives to share with the world, it was evident as to what brings us here.

Some writing friends feel the nudge through the energy of others, feeling a pull to connect with like-minded-teacher-writer-soul-sisters. We work in places where perhaps others do not write or wish to write, nor do they understand why in the world we would WANT to write. We are all writers here. Join in and hold hands. High five!

Some writing friends are carrying pain, dreariness and are walking through sludge at this time of year. Whether they or a loved one is going through difficult times, or maybe  just feeling the pressures and stress of our vocation that March brings, we know someone here will understand and lift us up. There is connection here. If a writer is hurting, we all open up and feel her heart. Grab a tissue because tears will be shed.

Some writing friends have been asleep at the wheel. Attuned to the spin cycle in the mind and neglecting the gifts the world puts before us. A sharpened writing mind takes us out of our craziness and into the present. We crave this awareness of the world – of others – and the wonder of living as a human. This sense of awe is what keeps us alive and brings bliss to our souls.

Some writing friends have not been writing and wish for a cultivated habit of coming to the page each day. They realize they have not been story-catching the moments of their existence. Fear sets in. How will anyone know we were ever here on this planet without the snippets of a life well-lived left behind? A SOL challenge will get that stuff down.

For me, it’s all of this. Connection. Well-being. Community. Awareness. Story-catching.

But, mostly, it’s because of the mystery of not knowing where I’ll end up. Each writing journey starts with a line and ends up somewhere else. It’s like a present I give myself each day. A good writing friend once told me it’s the surprise in the next line that becomes the writer’s addiction.  Or, maybe that was Donald Murray. 🙂

And,the best part? Writing is free.

Words are free! All of them! Even the long ones!

Not the notebooks, though. . . and the pens. . . and the books. . . and the cookies I need to eat to keep me writing. . .

But the words? Yeah. They’re free.

Why would anyone NOT want to write?

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2019 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂

 

 

 

I’m Sorry, I Can’t Borrow You My Book ~SOL 2018

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A book came to mind that I needed at the moment. It was one I’d devoured and scribbled tracks of my thinking in the margins and throughout it’s pages. I’d memorized where quotes were and knew exactly what chapter to go to upon my need of the words for a place in my paper.

My books are organized, by author, genre, publishing dates even. No other item in my house has an organizational system like my books. I need to know where they are at a given moment for whatever purpose I might need them for.

But, this book?

Was Gone.

I’d searched the location that it should have been in. I ran downstairs to check my other shelves in my bedroom, my stack on my night stand, and then the pile by my chair in the living room.

No Where.

“Think, brain, think, did you have it at school?” I quizzed my forgetful, menopausal mind.

“No, this is not a ‘school’ type book,” it replied.

And, then – I remembered.

I’d borrowed it to someone. I couldn’t remember who and I couldn’t remember when, but I remembered the offering.

And, now, it’s gone.

I don’t know if it will ever come back. And, ordering a new one would not ever be the same. Somewhat distraught and befuddled besides, I try to tell myself it’s okay.

“But what if they don’t even read it and the book is sitting somewhere lost, or worse, what if it gets sold in a garage sale or brought to a thrift store. My own words are in there!” I argue with myself again.

Arge. Will I ever learn?

From now on, this day forward, I need to let others know the name of the book I’m thinking they need to read and have them find it themselves.

But, that seems so selfish. I have so many books. What am I going to do with all these books? I want others to read good books!

Be selfish.

It’s okay.

Do it for your books.

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2018 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. I’ve already missed a day, so I’m out of the contest for prizes, but no worries. I’m just going to keep plugging along. 🙂

To check out other writers, visit here.

Pet Peeves: Password Problems ~SOL 2018

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“Are you kidding me?” I cry at the screen that has alerted me that I am now locked out of my grad school site “for security purposes” as my password was incorrect five times in a row.  Seeking articles on the university library site came to an immediate halt when suddenly, my password was necessary to access an article.

“What’s wrong over there?” my husband asks from the other room.

I explain to him the source of my trauma.

“Whose going to want to get into my account anyway? Who are they protecting it from?” I ask.

“They are protecting it from yourself,” he says, as he watches TV without a flinch.

From myself?

I ususally brush off his smart— comments when my distress becomes his playground for words. But this time is different.

All day I’ve worked on transcribing interviews, analyzing data, searching for articles and writing up sections of an article. I’d not even taken a break for a walk on this 30 degree day in Minnesota.

Consumed.

I shut my laptop and grab my notebook to write this down.

“These things don’t just happen,” I hear a voice in my head.

(I had another paragraph drafted to explain the learning here, but I deleted it as I think the lesson is obvious. And, I’m too lazy to revise it today.)

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2018 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. I’ve already missed a day, so I’m out of the contest for prizes, but no worries. I’m just going to keep plugging along. 🙂

To check out other writers, visit here.

 

 

An Awareness Tool ~ SOL #2 ~ 2018

My Quick Diary of the Day

“I can’t think of anything to write,” is a continuous phrase I not only hear from students, but it also happens to myself if I’m honest. (However, the opposite is the case more often as I have so many things I want to write about that I have issues choosing.) When we know we have to produce writing every day, activating our awareness is pretty important and sometimes we need tools to help us develop a lens of what to look for.

I was introduced to Lynda Barry a few years ago by Austin Kleon on Twitter. In her book, Syllabus, she teaches her students how to create a Quick Diary page each day to keep track the happenings of the day. While I don’t do this every day, I probably do it once a week or when I just want to get something in my notebook for that day. I revised Lynda’s format a little – because its my notebook and I can do whatever I want in there. I’m pretty adamant about that.

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So, I chose a nugget from yesterday’s Quick Diary entry to do a quick narrative for today.

In a sketch.

Because you can tell a narrative in a little sketch – and possibly tell the story better.

(And quicker – do you see a theme here?)

my problem with peanut butter Reeses eggs

My sugar problems are also a theme in my notebooks.

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March Challenge of posting a blog post every day for the month of March.  To check out other writers, visit here.

 

What Really Matters ~ SOL #1 ~ 2018

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I cried on the way to work today.

My commute is about 35 miles in the barren prairie of northwestern Minnesota. I’m lucky if I pass five cars some days. It makes for lots of pondering time or just singing along to the radio.

This particular morning, the radio station DJ’s were collecting donations for the Children’s Miracle Network. For one hour only, our local grocery stores would MATCH our donation!

I kept driving, eyes on the road.

Then, a mother came on and told the story of her twin daughters who were born way too early and the heart wrenching journey of one of the twin’s struggle for life. The Children’s Miracle Network had paid for the machines that kept this baby alive.

One expects these stories to end happily. This one did not and her precious baby died in her arms. This brave mother believed her purpose in life was now to help the remaining twin to know of the strength and love her dying sister brought to all of them.

Sobbing, I had to pull over on the road and dig for a Kleenex.

While sitting there, stopped on a path that resembled what Antarctica must look like, I broke down. I have never known the kind of pain a parent goes through at the loss of a child, or the worry of a childhood illness that could take their life. My own four children are grown and healthy, never even a broken bone.

Such a pillowed life I’ve led.

I reached for my phone to call in my donation. They even said my name on the radio.

My issues did not seem so big today: a laptop that quit working (I got a loaner) , my pants seem to be getting smaller (put on a dress instead), and our dog ran away just before we had to leave for work (found her at the neighbors looking in their patio door).

Some days we need a story to wake us up to what really matters.

Shari 🙂

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March Challenge of posting a blog post every day for the month of March.  To check out other writers, visit here.