a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

End Table

 Every night when I sit on the couch with the dogs, I am facing the end table next to the couch where my husband sits.  The end table is a kind of curio cabinet with a glass shelf inside.  It is distressed black wood and made to look like windows with divided panes on all four sides, with a door on the front. 

It used to belong to my mother-in-law.  It used to hold a smattering of ceramic decorations, including her trio of striped vases.  I always liked that end table.  I always liked those vases. 

Now, it sits in our house, instead of hers.  Now, it holds my collection of William Saroyan books and a selection of my husband’s old psychology texts.  Now, the striped vases provide a splash of color amongst the faded cloth of old book covers.  

Now, it also holds memories.  Every night, when I sit on the couch with the dogs and face that end table, I am reminded of the quiet conversations I had with my mother-in-law in the weeks before she died.  The respite week she spent at the hospice center before returning home was not a highlight in her life, I am sure.  However, the moments I spent with her there were some of the only moments I spent alone with her.  They are moments I treasure.  Moments I am happy to be reminded of as I sit on the couch with the dogs tonight.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I'm Not Going to Lie

The transition from school to summer is always a rough one for me.  I tend to slam from doing it all to doing none of it because I am in desperate need of a break.  It takes me a few weeks to strike up a good balance.  However, I’m not going to lie…the transition from school to spring break has been a breeze!

So far, I have gone to the Chicago FIRE meet the team event to acquaint myself with new players and fall in love with the team (being kind of new to the whole sports-fan thing, I have not fully accepted that players come and go).  I have finished two fabulous books (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Because of Mr. Terupt).  I have participated in one shopping marathon at the nearest outlet mall (during which I helped a friend spend a fortune, while I practiced some budget-induced shopping restraint and still managed to get some really awesome pieces). 

I am not going to lie, though—I miss my classroom.  I have been more and more disenchanted with the system in which I work, but my passion for the work I do in my classroom has not waned (in fact, if anything it has grown so far beyond the walls of my classroom that I can’t contain it there any longer).  I thought during break I would be avoiding work at all costs, but I found myself up early this morning planning the details for our school-wide acknowledgement of National Poetry Month. 

During yesterday’s shopping marathon, I fully intended to search for an interview suit.  I plan to need this suit to interview for some position that will be the “more” I am searching for in my life.  But, when it came down to committing to selecting a suit, my heart was not in it.  My heart was still in my classroom. 

I told myself that it was just that I didn’t want to get a suit and jinx things.  I told myself that when I need a suit, I know where I can go to find one.  I told myself that I just hadn’t come across the “right” suit. 

Maybe those things are all true.  But maybe something else is truer—I am not entirely ready to let go of the safety and familiarity of my current classroom.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Have a New Crush

This book was delivered to my doorstep in an Amazon box.  Though the smile on the side of the box is familiar to me, I had not been expecting a delivery.  Upon opening the box, I discovered two books that I knew I had not ordered, had not even had in my shopping cart, on a wishlist, or done a search for: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Time Traveler’s Wife. 

My first instinct was to apologize to my husband for teasing him every time something arrived in the mail for him that he could not remember ordering (I tell him he must “sleepshop” the way some people sleepwalk).  Since my pride caused me to be less than eager to follow my first instinct, I went with my second instinct: check the packing slip.  It turned out the books were an unexpected gift-for-no-special-occasion from my friend Beth (phew, no apology-to-husband required). 

That in and of itself is outstanding.  Beth and I have known each other since we were in second grade.  Actually, “since we were in second grade” isn’t exactly accurate.  We knew each other from second grade to 6th grade.  Then from 10th grade to somewhere around freshman year in college.  And now that we are 32, each married, and she has a daughter, we have reconnected.  That is more accurate.  But even with those gaps, Beth is one of those friends with whom friendship is just easy.  It is comfortable to spend time with her.  Our husbands feel as if they have known each other for years, even though they’ve only met twice now.  That kind of easy. 

I had asked Beth, in a recent e-mail, what she reads these days.  I have been reading young adult literature for so many years and experiencing a sort of dry-spell as far as grown-up literature that I deem worthy of my time.  Young adult literature is so rich, has so much depth, and provides both escape for me as well as a means for me to be better at my job by providing fodder for recommendations for my students. 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer made me fall in love with grown-up literature again.  Why haven’t I read this book already?  Why has nobody recommended this gem to me before?  I am smitten. 

It took me longer than usual to read this one.  I wanted to savor every word.  I didn’t want it to end.  I am in love with the characters, the language, the format, the story.  I read and reread line after line.  I read passages aloud to my husband.  I never read passages aloud to my husband!  I think he even enjoyed it. 

I have so much to say about it, and yet I have no idea what I have to say about it.  I know the book is extra special to me because of the manner in which it was placed in my hands, but it is more than worthy of my regard. 

Jonathan Safran Foer is my new author-crush.  I am on a quest to devour his words.  Yet, I want to save the rest of his works, leave them unread because the anticipation is half the joy.   

Friday, April 1, 2011

Slicing with Students

This year, the Slice of Life Challenge motivated me to try something new with my students: an Edline discussion.  Trying out this technology for something like the Slice of Life Challenge opened the door for me to come up with other reasons to create discussions.  See, Ruth (and Stacey), you just never know where your influence stops!

Aside from managing the technology of the challenge, this is what I learned from slicing with students:

I get more participation if I build in some flexible class time during which students could choose to participate. 

Students need lots of models.

I enjoy writing informally with my students, where I feel more of an opportunity to celebrate their writing instead of correcting or re-directing them.

I write differently if I intend my students to be my audience than if I intend the public-at-large as my audience. 

I want to be able to teach my students to set up their own blogs in the real world. 

It is essential for me to take the time to comment, comment, comment for my students to remain fueled.

Even students who did not participate (after the practice I forced them into trying) still observed quietly from a distance, the way I did when I first started reading Ruth and Stacey’s Two Writing Teachers blog.

Doing this challenge with my students fueled me as a teacher. 

Reflecting on the Slice of Life Challenge

Slice of Life Challenge was a powerful experience for me this year.  I learned a few new things and confirmed others.  These are just some of the many things I am taking away with me because of the work Ruth and Stacey have done for us:

I like the discipline of writing every day whether I feel like it or not (most days I felt like writing, but often I didn’t feel confident that I could come up with something that was ‘good enough’).  It is invigorating.

I am inspired by the pieces of writing that other people post.

I revise (a lot) as I write.

It is difficult for me to reread my own writing without being overly critical.

I feel validated by other people’s comments about my writing, and that validation fuels me.

I enjoy writing positively even if I am feeling a lot of negative inside.  It doesn’t pay to “celebrate the problem” by writing about it (I save that for a phone conversation with someone who will still love me if I whine).  I think this has something to do with Ruth’s sentiment about being our best selves (not to be confused with, though it is similar to,  Oprah’s statement about living our best lives).

It is exciting, in a way I can’t articulate very well, to find myself in the other people’s slices.  I am thrilled to know there are so many like-minded people out there!

I often find I don’t know exactly what it is I have to say about a topic until I do the hard work of writing it out.

Although it pains me, I often have to leave some ideas out of a post in order to make it clear and focused for readers. 

I am ready to do more of this writing thing. A lot more.