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Writing time

The sky is grey
Power lines fan out across the air like pen marks on a white paper
Pine trees poke their heads onto the page.

The refrigerator was humming, but now it’s stopped.
The wind chimes were playing, but they’re stopped now, too.

There’s only the whisper of my pen on the paper,
etching words like power lines fanning out across the sky.

the most sensational inspirational celebrational …

I can’t help but think of The Muppet Show, with its characters flying from stage right to stage left and back again, chaos always a moment away.

It’s the first day classes have been allowed on the playground equipment all year.  It is a BIG DEAL for my fourth graders. 

It’s hard to know where to start. Flocks of children run to the swings.  Then they run across the woodchips to the monkey bars.  Then back to the swings.  Then to the slide.  Down the slide and around the climbing structure to the stepping stones.  Over to the bench to drop off their coat–it’s 50 degrees, but who can wear a coat on such a sunny, glorious day? (Their teacher can, but that’s besides the point.) Across the woodchips to the bouncing structure, then a lap around the playground just because.

“Let’s go to our spot!” A group of friends say to each other.  “Remember when we always used to hang out there?” As if they’re high school seniors reminiscing about their long-ago childhood.

Suddenly, long-forgotten games spring back to mind and the class is playing “Cops and Robbers”.

“You’re arrested!” the cops announce before sending the robbers off to jail.

“You’re free!” the robbers announce as they spring a jail break.

The words echo as I watch the students laugh and chase and swing and slide and run and run and run.

You’re free!

Statler and Waldorf sit on my shoulder, waiting for kids to forget social distancing rules and come too close, or start bickering about whose turn it is, but for now all is quiet in the balcony.  The show is running smoothly for once, and the stagehands running at breakneck speeds behind the curtains don’t collide. 

Kermit and I breathe a sigh, and take a moment to enjoy the show.

Lost Tooth

I lost my tooth, she says anxiously.

I mean, LOST-lost it, she adds.

I mean, I lost my tooth, but then I lost it.

The details of the story emerge. She bit into a chicken patty at lunch, and her tooth came out.

She went to the nurse, who gave her a little tooth-shaped container to keep her baby tooth safe.

But the cap on the container was loose–more like a tooth than anyone had realized–and now there’s no real tooth inside the plastic tooth.

Her lost tooth is lost.

Let’s do coffee

Or maybe tea.  You could even have hot chocolate.  (If you chose first, I’d probably join you.)  If we were at the right coffee shop, I might order a vanilla chai latte for its cinnamon-clove scent that would complement the sweetness of our conversation.

If we could meet at any coffee shop, I’d meet you in Maine.  There’s a bakery in Brunswick that I found on a perfect day.  It has yellow-golden walls and huge windows that let the morning sun stream through.  There’s no chai, but mismatched mugs are stacked next to coffee tumblers and tea options on an old wood stove.  We can make guesses about each other by our mug choices, and write about them later in a slice.  On the day I stumbled into this cafe, a group of older women sat on the couches and armchairs clustered around a low, round coffee table, and I thought, This is my goal for the next phase of my life:  I want to have a group of friends who will meet me in this shop every Sunday morning.  We’ll order a muffin or a scone and share stories of our week.  (Okay, fine, someone will order only black coffee, and someone else will be healthy and order a fruit cup, but the right friends will back me up in ordering whichever baked good has chocolate chips in it that morning.)  You and I, we can be the founding members of our group, and build on, until the circle is so large we have to beg chairs from other tables and our laughter is loud enough it draws the attention of everyone else in the shop.

Today, since I’m still not fully vaccinated, we probably shouldn’t meet in Maine.  Instead, have a seat on my front porch.  I’ll bring you something warm to wrap your hands around, and a blanket to keep you toasty.  We can listen to the squawks of the red-winged blackbirds across the street and watch them rise and fall in the trees by the river.  We’ll watch the sway of tree branches and the ever-changing circles the raindrops make in puddles.

Tell me about what you’re reading. I’ll dart inside, to the bookshelves just on the other side of the porch, and press a book on you.  You’ll love it!  It’s sooo good! I’ll scribble down your recommendations, too.  What is that author’s name again?  From there, we can shift to talking about writing. We can talk about our favorite slicers, the ones we aspire to write like. I’ll make sure you’ve visited amyilene’s blog, the slicer I was lucky enough to be assigned to the year I joined the welcome wagon, who takes everyday moments and observations and spins them into poetic gold.  I want to someday craft my words into the layers of meaning that she makes look so easy, and to spark the kind of thoughtfulness that her reflections do.  I’ll make sure you’ve visited Voice of the Untethered, a slicer new to me this year. She’s like the cool student a few grades above you, that you aspire to be like, but know you never will. Her writing is both sparse and detailed–using just the right words, with nothing more. They’re full of caring and devastating beauty, and I despair of ever being that talented.

We can talk, too, about our own blogs.  Tell me about the favorite slice you’ve written this month.  Sometimes the ones I’m most proud of are the ones that just don’t happen to get many views. Let’s correct that, and send each other to read the posts we’re so proud of.*

Tell me, too, about the posts you haven’t written.  What is the post you want to write but haven’t been able to yet?  I’ll tell you about the crack in my coffee mug, that I want to draw metaphors around, but can’t quite figure out the right angle. If we sit for a while, both staring out into the sheets of rain that are now coming down, letting the silence linger long enough, maybe I’ll tell you about my struggles to join the party (check out this post if you haven’t seen the invitation yet), how I don’t have enough different superficial roles to write a description of myself, which mean I have to go deeper, to write about the layers of identity I keep inside, and that feels hard and risky, and I’m just not sure I have the energy to go there, …..but I want to join the party.  And then I’ll laugh and apologize for turning this into a therapy session–but I suppose that’s what good writing is in a way, isn’t it?–and ask you more about yourself.

Perhaps we’ll stay out on the porch until the rain has stopped.  Perhaps you’ll need to get back home.  By now the tea (or hot chocolate or coffee) has gotten cold.

I’m so glad you came.  Let’s meet again next week.  Maybe someday we can meet in Maine.

*Please do.  If you’re inclined to leave a comment, I’d love for you to include a link to your favorite post that you’ve written this month.

Thinking out loud

I dreamed my friends had gotten the mistaken notion that I was in an abusive relationship, and they coordinated to all show up together and encircle me–metaphorically and literally–with protection and love.  I woke up and thought about how this group of friends would do that for me if needed, even in the waking world, and I thought, “I should send them all cards.”  But I know I won’t….at least not until March is over. 

I have a stack of library books that I checked out in mid- February.  This winter I’d been reading 3-4 books per week.  I have so far read 4 of the books I’d checked out; the rest of the stack sits on my floor, waiting for April.

I haven’t been getting enough sleep.  My aspirational bedtime comes and goes while I type and delete, type and reread and revise, and my husband calls downstairs, “I’m going to bed.” I call back, “I just have to finish this slice!” but he’s asleep before I hit publish.

It makes me think about the purpose of the slice-of-life challenge–or at least one of the purposes–to build a writing habit, and I know I’m not.  I’m certainly building a noticing habit, I’m building a gathering stories habit, a generating lines of poetry habit, but I’ve carved time for writing out of other things I love–reaching out to friends, reading, cuddling with my husband, going for walks, sleep.  I haven’t created a space for daily writing in a way that’s sustainable.

And I’m not sure what the answer is. I know it’s not to do less of the things I love.  It’s also not to give up the slice of life challenge–I love this, too.  I love reading the amazing writing that other slicers post, of seeing the glimpses of their lives that they are so generous to share.  I love rediscovering the joy in writing that I find each March.  But I don’t know how to make this daily writing sustainable.

I will be successful in the 31-day writing challenge, but I’m not sure that I can really count my month as a success.

Early morning coffee break

An impulsive stop on my way to school–deciding I need stronger caffeine than my travel mug of tea offers–means that I’m one hand short for carrying everything into the building.

Luckily, the early morning insomnia that caused the caffeine detour means that I’m also at school a little earlier than normal.  I swish around the (mostly empty by now) coffee cup and decide I have time to drink it at my car.

And so I straighten up from the passenger seat where I was eying my bags and mugs, and lean against the car, enjoying the last few drops of coffee.

As I stand there in the parking lot I start to notice birds singing.  Do they sing every morning?  My brain is usually so full of what I have to do once I step foot into the building that I have no idea.

And so I pay a little more attention.  I look up into the grey sky and appreciate the filigree of tree tops silhouetted against the clouds.

I let myself notice the warm air on my face and the way it feels to stand and breathe.

I notice the calm that settles around me when I let myself pause.

 

And then I finish the coffee, fill my hands with bags and tea mug, and make my way into the building, planning what I need to do next once I set foot inside.

 

 

Driving home after night conferences

I’ve forgotten how dark it is.

I’ve forgotten how the black surrounds, like a blanket tucked in around the edges. How quiet the world feels when all I can see is the road stretching as far as my headlights.

I’ve almost forgotten that my car has brights, that I can flick my wrist to bump a lever and suddenly the road stretches ahead farther. A prick of headlights appear ahead and I remember more. Now I have to turn off the brights. Right. Like riding a bicycle, it’s coming back, wobbly.

It’s drizzling, ever so slightly, and I’ve forgotten that, too–the way the sporadic streetlights turn the tiny drops on my windshield into a galaxy of golden stars…..until I pass out of the streetlight’s circle and the drops are once again invisible.

I’ve forgotten how, at the same time, the darkness both makes the world feel unsettlingly unfamiliar and comfortingly close.

I’ve forgotten how the night draws in, until there is just me, just my car, and the road that stretches to the edge of my headlights.

Spring is here when…

when enough snow melts that we can see again the green-brown earth

when the first red-winged blackbird sits in a bare tree and sings, “Kon-ker-eeeee”

when the last snow piles, hidden in shadows, disappear

when we leave home without our winter coat, trusting that we won’t freeze, even without it sitting, just-in-case, in the back seat

when pockets of early flowers dot the world with color

when, driving at night or standing underneath the stars, a crescendo of spring peepers fills the silence

 

A perfect mug of cocoa

How to make it?

That, of course, depends what you’re looking for.

A quick, drink to warm you up from hiking all day when you don’t have any milk with you?  For this you need a package of Swiss Miss. You could get a fancy cocoa powder to use, but it’s never as good without milk.  Why bother?

A blanket to wrap around yourself after a long day?  Fill your favorite mug with milk–almost to the top, but not quite; the mug will be a little fuller when you’re done. Pour it into a pan and set it on the stove. While it heats up, mix a spoonful of cocoa powder with a spoonful of sugar.  Dip your spoon into the milk three times (or maybe two, or maybe four–whatever.  Are you hovering over the pot and looking for a way to use your time, or are you eager to get back to the book lying face-down on the kitchen table?).  Pull out those spoonfuls of milk and mix them with the cocoa and sugar until you have a paste.

Watch the pot for a small hint of steam, then pour the milk into your mug and stir.  If you don’t wait for the steam, the cocoa will only be lukewarm–okay, but not the sinking-into-a-warm-bath feeling that it should be.  If you let too much steam appear, the cocoa will be too hot.  You’ll have to hold your mug gingerly so as not to burn your fingers as you wait for the cocoa to cool.  (This might be an advantage if you need an excuse to linger over that book.  Say, if you have schoolwork to get back to as soon as you’re done drinking your mug of cocoa.)

If you’re reading while waiting for the milk to heat up, be careful.  Too engrossing a book might make you forget to watch the pot.  Luckily, at some point the milk will boil up over the sides of the pot and onto the burner, making a hissing noise.  That should alert you to come back to the present.  Jump up as quickly as you can to move the pot off the burner. It takes some elbow grease to clean burnt milk off the burner.  (Though it’s a good procrastination tool if you don’t want to go back to that schoolwork.)

Luckily, slightly scalded milk adds a depth of flavor to the cocoa that you might not otherwise have achieved.  It takes longer for the cocoa to cool enough to drink, but with your engrossing book, that’s not really a problem.  The time will fly.

Enough

Livestreaming link turned on.  Lunch count taken for the kids in person.  Attendance done.  What else do I need to do?

As students settle into their morning work, I sit at my desk to continue my self-flagellation. What else should I already have done by now?  My morning message wasn’t finished before students walked into the classroom. I’ve forgotten to post today’s schedule in Google Classroom for the kids online.  Instead of doing that now I should be walking around the room interacting with the kids in person.  Or maybe not walking around, but interacting somehow.  And interacting with the kids online, too.  Why can’t I ever get my act together to get to school early enough?

But for once I catch myself.

Actually, the reason I was late to school was I was drafting an email to help parents feel more comfortable with the report cards going home tomorrow.  I wanted to do it before I left the house because I’d told the first year teacher that I’m mentoring that I would write this model for her, and I wanted to share it early in the day.

The reason I didn’t have the schedule posted in Google Classroom was because when students came into the classroom I took the time to pass out notes that the principal had written to each student.  I’ve been working with my class all year on self-assessing their work and setting realistic goals.  For once, I’d planned ahead well enough that students’ self-evaluations were finished in time for me to share them with the principal along with their report cards.  The principal was thrilled with my fourth-graders’ work–enough to text me over the weekend and decide to write personalized notes to each student.  Why wasn’t that was I was focusing on?

Last week, my students asked me if we could schedule writing time earlier in the day so they could have more time to write because they’re having so much fun working on their research reports. A number of 4th graders ended up with reports that were 10 pages long.  They didn’t believe they could write so much…..but now they do.

Why wasn’t that what I was focusing on?

The week before, students debated the American Revolution fiercely, laying out their arguments and asking pointed questions of their opponents.  Why wasn’t that what I was focusing on?

My students are happy coming to school, obviously growing, excited about reading and writing and taking on challenges.

And yet, I am deeply ashamed of taking extra minutes during the school day to catch up on tasks I could have done before school started.  I tell myself “A good teacher wouldn’t be sitting at her desk”.

And in that unusual moment of clarity, I realize that I can change my focus.  I can decide that what I do is enough.  I can type up the schedule and then look around the room and self-congratulate myself on creating a classroom that hums without me.

I can be good enough if I choose to see it.