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Look

It’s a gray day today; outside the window looks like November, even though the calendar says spring. Trees are bare–the buds are yet to come. The ground is covered with orangeish-brown leaves–flowers are yet to come, too. The early warblers and phoebes we heard calling yesterday have hunkered down from the rain. Tomorrow must be soon enough to find a mate.

There’s a chill in the air. It called to linger in bed, to sip the warm tea at breakfast slowly, to curl up in a blanket on the couch and read another chapter.

Inside my head is gray, too. My brain hasn’t warmed up for writing yet. Thoughts spin and disappear. “I could write about … no.” “What about … not today.” “Maybe … maybe not.” I force my pencil into putting words on the page, but they’re for exploring, for stretching in preparation, not for sharing.

When Randy suggests running errands I quickly agree, put aside my writer’s notebook, move onto other things.

Errands run, we reverse our route. The air has gradually warmed. The sky has brightened. Here and there are even patches of blue. In a nearby yard I see buds promising to burst into forsythian gold any day. In another spot I see three purple crocus hugging the ground.

The signs of spring are here, waiting to be found. The ideas for writing are too, waiting only for me to lean in close and look.

The football player

He dodges left and right through the crowd of fourth grade boys jostling to catch (or keep their opponents from catching) the football. His eyes never leave the ball, his left arm never leaves his chest. He’s clutching a book tightly to him as he plays. The book stays in its protected spot as he weaves and blocks.

Later, during a lull in the action that concerns him–other teammates have the touchdown safely in hand–he opens the book to share with a friend. The two stand close together, heads bent over the pages, while the game rages on at the other end of the recess yard.

Soon the touchdown is completed and the game shifts back towards the readers. He closes the book, nestles it again against his chest, and resumes his running.

Tomorrow

I’ll notice a bird, a tree, a quirky kid,
and I’ll reach for the precise word to capture that image–
the beauty,
the humor,
the mood,

and then I’ll remember it’s April.
I’ll play with the thought another moment,
then move
on
to the next item on my task list,
shift my attention from my writer’s notebook to
the present,
promise myself I’ll come back to write it down
later,
and then forget.

I’ll go to sleep on time,
read another chapter of a book,
and
wonder
about those slicers whose posts I’ve read all month.
What are they up to?
How’s their life going?
When will they share their next installment?
When they do, will I see it?

I’ll watch my students
lean over their laptops,
dash off a post
or
labor over each word,
crafting a slice of beauty
or laughter.
They’ll check their posts for comments,
and I’ll see their pride.

Tomorrow I’ll pass the torch.
Here,
it’s your turn now.

Enjoy.

A Classroom Slice

Aaaand–go!

That’s essentially what I’ve said to my class. Two minutes before the announcement to start packing for dismissal I’ve set my students to write their first slice of life.

They rise to the challenge. Heads bend down over their writer’s notebooks. Pencils and pens lean parallel to each other, and wiggle.

The test prep unit has driven the class to begging for writing time. I heard their cry, but hadn’t realized quite how thirsty they were.

One student whispers, “Done,” stretches out his arms and cracks his knuckles. Slowly more heads move up. As the writing time continues, the heads go down again. One boy dots his page with a blue marker, than a yellow one.

Another outlines the edges of his eraser.

All the while, I watch, bend my own head over my own writer’s notebook, lean my own pencil and wiggle, then look up to watch again.

The announcement comes. “It is now 2:40. Please start preparing for dismissal.”

My class can pack quickly. We’ll push it off a few more minutes so kids can share their work.

The knuckle-cracking kid volunteers to share and bounds up to the document camera with his writer’s notebook, perhaps the first writing assignment he’s been proud of all year.

The class roars with laughter. He beams.

This is why we write. This is why we do the classroom slice of life.

Contemplating my mortality

There’s a funny bump on my nose when my fingers brush it. Has it always been there?

I mean, there’s been a little bump on my nose for years–or maybe just a couple years?–actually, how long has it been there?–and is it now growing?

My fingers feel around a little more. It definitely feels larger than I remember. And maybe puffier. Actually, it feels huge.

I try to continue writing my slice of life, but my fingers keep wanting to check out the bump. They reach in that direction, and then my stomach clenches, and I decide I don’t really want to know, and I bring my hand back down to the keyboard.

All the same, when I go upstairs with my laptop to show my husband my slice of life, I make a quick detour to look in the bathroom mirror.

At first glance my nose looks fine, but when I lean in close and tilt my head I can see the bump. It maybe looks bigger than before. It’s possible it’s a lot bigger. I’m not so good at judging these things. I wonder if I should get a ruler and measure it.

I wonder if I should call a dermatologist tomorrow morning.

I wonder how quickly it’s growing.

It’s good I’m still wearing a mask at school, I realize. I wonder if I had my mask off, if my students would all notice. Will the bump get huge and hag-like? Will I soon look like those pictures of old witches? Could I get it removed? Would there have to be a huge bandage over my face for weeks afterward?

I wonder why it’s growing so quickly. Could it be cancerous? My mom had skin cancer around my age. Could this be skin cancer? Could it be another kind of cancer? Is this a sign that I’m going to have all sorts of health issues and doctors appointments and treatments in my future?

I decide probably I should call a dermatologist tomorrow. Hopefully that will be soon enough.

I make myself leave the mirror and bring my laptop over to my husband. But instead of opening the laptop, I find myself saying, “Does the bump on my nose look bigger to you?” He’s observant, and good at estimating sizes. He’ll be able to notice if it’s grown even a few millimeters.

He studies my face. Looks at me carefully. Then delivers his opinion: “What bump?”

“This one, here!” I tell him, pointing straight at it.

He looks closer.

“You’re fine,” is his expert opinion.

I stay quiet and don’t move, the signal he knows means that I want him to take this seriously.

“What are you worried about?” he asks.

I list all the reasons: what if it grows huge and covers my face and is hideous and makes it hard to breath and is also cancerous and it’s a sign that I’m about to die?

He laughs.

“It’s late. Show me your slice of life so we can go to bed,” he tells me.

I do.

I check the bump in the morning. It’s maybe smaller. I try not to check it too often. By nighttime I’m still breathing, and no one has mentioned my similarity to a witch. Hopefully I’ll live a few more years.

Image

Begrudging 8 cents

I’m thinking uncharitable thoughts.

North

I went on vacation once,
driving north
into Maine,
then more north still,
till I reached almost the border with Canada.

This is really far north,
I thought,
until I saw the sign
announcing I had crossed the point
midway
between equator and North Pole,

and I knew
the world was much,
much
larger
than I’d ever imagined.

What else defies my imagination?
Stretches farther than I think?
Where else do I think I’m at the end,
when I’m only
midway?

Stuck

Fortunately, my reading slump is winding down and I have a book of librarians and dragons to curl up with.
Unfortunately, I need to write a slice first.

Fortunately, I have a draft already saved.
Unfortunately, it needs some revising.
More unfortunately still, the words won’t come. The ending is wrong, but I don’t know why. I think there’s a metaphor lurking inside, but it’s hiding and the shadows are too dark for me to get a peek.

Fortunately I have another idea for a slice. I tried drawing it yesterday, and I couldn’t get the pictures right, but the idea is still itching at my brain.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can draw the pictures the way I want them to look.
Fortunately, I don’t have to draw the slice. I can play with writing it in narrative form.
Unfortunately, I’m just not sure about it. These words feel clumsy, too, getting in the way of each other and galumphing around where they should be dancing.
More unfortunately still, my husband, who would read it and tell me it’s great and ready to be published, has gone to bed. The reader inside my head is not so kind a cheerleader (nor does she believe as strongly in the importance of my getting enough sleep).

Fortunately, I’ve been saving mentor slices for times like these, when I need inspiration. One of them is bound to work for tonight.
Unfortunately, the words are still wrong. Vocabulary is a chore, synonyms stick in my brain. The slice, the day, feels hard and everything feels stuck.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to hit publish.

Trivia Night in the Kitchen

“I can do the dishes,” I offer.

“No, that’s okay,” my husband responds. “Do your slice. I want to listen to Harry Potter.”

It’s his comfort listen. For years now the books have cycled daily through his phone. Some days simply an accompaniment to dish-washing, other days a security blanket wrapped around him throughout the day.

“The champions write their names…” I know right away that’s he’s on The Goblet of Fire.

It’s a game I play with myself. How many words does it take to identify the book?

“Sirius Black, possibly the most infamous..”Prisoner of Azkaban!

“Kreature won’t!”Half-Blood Prince.

“Harry…” –( Jim Dale’s smarmy Gilderoy Lockhart is unmistakable.) Chamber of Secrets.

Sometimes I need a few lines.

Hagrid staggered to a chair and sat down; (is this book 3, when Hagrid gets the bad news about Buckbeak?) it collapsed beneath him. Ignoring his mingled oaths and apologies, Harry addressed Lupin again. “(Must be book 3, or the end of book 6? Or book 7?) Will George be okay?” All Lupin’s frustration with Harry seemed to drain away at the question. “I think so, although there’s no chance of replacing his ear…” (Ahh. There’s the magic word. Definitely book 7. Right after Harry leaves the Dursleys and has escaped the Death Eaters.)

I take pride in my quick identification.

As Randy washes the dishes, I sit at the kitchen table a moment longer, enjoying the story.

And then I leave the room. Despite knowing the ending and all the details that will take me there, I can’t be in a room with Harry Potter playing and think about anything else.

Those lines of Harry Potter will have to suffice for the night. I have lines of my own to write, magic of my own to create.

An unexpected email

It was a tough morning, culminating in a student crying, shouting, and taking his shoe off to wallop the floor because he didn’t win the free-shooting competition in gym class.

Lunch wasn’t nearly long enough.

And so it’s a relief to set the kids on auto-pilot for our after-lunch “quiet time”. Lights off, bamboo-fountain music playing softly, I sit at my desk for a moment to glance at my email.

There’s a new message from the principal, labeled “Classroom set up”.

I’m itching to get back to my old set-up. Desks in rows are not for me. As soon as the email came last week about classes going back to eating in the cafeteria, a la two years ago, I was in the principal’s office asking “Does this mean I can move my desks and have my kids sit in a circle on the rug?”

She looked at me sympathetically, but her answer was still no. “Hopefully after April break. The superintendent wants us to move slowly. Once we see how things go with the cafeteria, then we can think about changing the classrooms.”

Disappointing, but understandable.

Still, I’m itching. I’m counting down the days, day-dreaming about how the room will look, planning new seating charts already.

The email hits me like a shock, and I gasp out loud.

As of tomorrow, you will be able to move your classroom desks to better meet your needs for the rest of the school year.

All of a sudden, my eyes fill with tears.

I’m crying.

I can’t believe I’m crying.

I can’t believe we’re finally going to get to move the desks out of their rows.

I look at my students, sitting in their individual islands, each 3 feet apart, imagine moving the desks tomorrow. More tears come, and I’m worried kids are going to look up and worry about their teacher checking her email and then sobbing.

Sometimes I’ve gone to a yoga class full of stress from the week, and have lain on the mat, doing nothing but breathing, and tears have poured out.

I think that’s what’s going on here.

My mask is still on, the students are just as challenging, but I can finally breathe again.