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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

Monday, December 31, 2012

NUDGE


Nudgemy One Little Word for 2012.  Nudge and be nudged.  How did this One Little Word nudge its way into my life in 2012?  Let me count the ways . . .

1.  I got more intentional about nudging students forward in their reading and writing lives by using a new conference-record-keeping tool designed by my mom for the FileMaker Go app on my iPad.

2.  I responded to my husband’s nudge to speak up about my Voices Strong class at a school board meeting.  As a result, I was invited to nudge other teachers to step out of their comfort zones and take on the Voices Strong challenge.

3.  In response to the gift of an iPod shuffle engraved with my One Little Word, I nudged my behind out of bed to run nearly every day over the summer and into the start of the school year.

4.  I started a Staff Writing Group at my school to nudge myself and others to spend more time writing playfully.

5.  I responded to nudges at the Anderson’s Young Adult Literature Conference by helping to form a Literary Team that works together make author visits more meaningful at our school.  Part of my work on that team has been to nudge staff members to read more young adult literature by “booking” them with random copies of some of the best books I’ve read and instructions to sign their names on the inside of the cover after reading, before passing the book on in an effort to nudge another lucky staff member to read it.

6.  I responded to Ruth’s nudges and attended the All-Write Summer Conference for the first time.  There I experienced two days worth of nudges that inspired me to continue seeking revitalizing professional development opportunities.

7. I nudged a colleague of mine to take a risk in her professional life by taking a curriculum coordinator position where I knew she would make a positive impact on our entire district by nudging the right people to make the right decisions.

8.  I responded to nudges, again from Ruth, to become a Twitter user.  More recently, I nudged my husband to sign-up.  What an amazing use of technology to expand our worlds by bringing us closer!

9.  I respond almost daily to my mother’s nudges to live up to the wonderful person she sees in me.  I never feel judged by her, but I want to be as good as she believes I am.  And I try to return the favor by nudging her to continue to find joy in the things she loves most, like sewing and her world of Apple computer expertise. 

10.  My husband and I made the decision to nudge the universe a bit and attempt to have a baby through unconventional means (since the conventional means are not an option for us).  Although each of the attempts was unsuccessful as far as producing a baby, our decision to open ourselves up to the possibilities and the process of trying to create a family has nudged us to grow as individuals and as a couple.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HAPPINESS IS AN ACCORDION


SLICE OF LIFE TUESDAYS are hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS

This week I am dog-sitting at my mom’s house.  My husband has fierce allergies to dogs, which makes it easier to bring my hypo-allergenic poodle-mixed mutts to Mom’s house to hang out with her hyper-allergenic coonhound mutt than it would be to bring her dog over to our house.

Although my mom no longer lives in a house that was ever home to me, there are traces of my childhood tucked into corners, resting on shelves, lingering in the air. 

Mom crouches down and lugs the heavy accordion case out of the crawlspace and into the wide-open space of the rec room.  I stand at the crawlspace door, too afraid to venture into the musty darkness, trying to stay out of the way while remaining part of the action. 

Rebecca and I giggle in anticipation.  We are waiting for the accordion to be lifted from its case.  Black and white keys shine with a slick elegance.  Mom’s name marches down the front—each letter outlined in glittery jewels.  We hold ourselves back, watching while her fingers find the strap and wiggle their way into place, while her shoulders adjust to its weight, while she fusses through pages of sheet music to find the right song to awaken the proud instrument from its sleep.

Within seconds our giggles turn into belly laughs.  There is something about the jovial sound of the bellows, the peppiness of the polka tune, that urges our laughter to bubble over.  

We are not exactly laughing AT Mom, nor are we laughing WITH her.  We gently tease, enjoying the sound while mocking its oblivious gleefulness. 

Mostly, though, we are concentrating on holding ourselves back long enough to feign an interest in the instrument, while our true cause for celebration lies in wait: the empty accordion case.

The case is just the right size for rolling myself up and tucking myself inside.  The lining is just soft enough to tickle my cheek when I brush against it, just fluffy enough to tuft up when I gently pull it through my fingers, just musty enough to fill my nostrils up with the crawlspace scents of Christmas decorations and forgotten toys.  The cover flap fits over me like a snug little blanket.  I could spend hours tucked inside the bottom half of the case, squealing in pretend fear when Rebecca teases me by threatening to close the lid. 

When she loses interest in this game, I beg her to really close me inside the accordion case, really latch it up, really tip it on its side. This is enough to keep her interested.  When the case is laid back down and reopened, I peek over at Mom to make sure we haven’t disturbed her from her accordion-fueled escape.  Her eyes focus on reading the music.  Her right hand struggles to remember its way across the keys.   Her left fingers strain to find chords as her arm extends and retracts.  And all the while, the accordion chugs out its happiness in funny bursts, singing the spunky tune of our family, of being together.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quick Writing Group


SLICE OF LIFE TUESDAYS are hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS

Recently, Ruth Ayres blogged about writing just because.  Her words gave me pause.  Writing just because. 

I often make time to read just because.  In fact, having recently discovered the joys of the text to voice feature on my kindle, I have been finding all sorts of time to read just because while I iron, while I cook, while I do my hair in the morning.  I am currently reading 3 different books, which is unheard of from this one-book-at-a-time girl.  But reading fills me up.  Reading inspires me.  Reading doesn’t feel like work.

Could I say the same for writing?  While I am not sure I enjoy being in the midst of writing quite the same way I enjoy being in the midst of writing, I think the emotional outcome is much the same: writing fills me up, writing inspires me. 

So, how can I make time to do more of this writing just because? 

Having read Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them this summer, I immediately thought of the quick writes I do alongside my students.  Although there is so much educational value and purpose behind these quick writes, they also have the feel of just because sort of writing, the feel of play.

I have so many more quick write springboard ideas than I could ever use with my students (especially given the amount of days off, early release days, assembly schedule days, and assessment days lately).  So, I decided to start my very own quick write journal.  One separate from the notebook I keep along with my students.  A sort of project notebook.

I started collecting fodder for these quick writes (just-for-my-entertainment quick writes) in a folder.  Then Ruth posted about having started another writing group.  And it hit me.  Why embark on this quick write project alone? 

I suspected there were other teachers in my building who might enjoy writing just because as well.  I suspected there were other teachers in my building who might be interested in a writing group that didn’t require any work outside of the actual meeting time.   

So, I pitched the idea.  I sent an invite. 

People showed up!  Language arts teachers.  A social studies teacher.  A science teacher.  A special education teacher.

We read a couple of model texts/springboards.  We talked.  We wrote. We shared.

Word spread.  This Friday there will be an even bigger group of writers—writing just because.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

GROUP WRITING CONFERENCES


SLICE OF LIFE is hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS
One group asks to meet in the stairwell.
One group asks to meet in the hallway, just around the corner.
One group asks to meet in the office with the glass wall.
One group asks to meet in the computer lab
where I can still see them through the windows. 
Two groups meet at tables on opposite ends of the long room.

Each group begins with one student reading a story. 
His story. 
Her story. 
Each listener takes a turn sharing a plus.
Each listener takes a turn sharing a delta.
Each writer collects the feedback on post-it notes
to turn into the hard work of revising,
the hard work of seeing their words with new eyes.

One group reports to me that one member doesn’t want to share. 
His story is too sad.
Before I can swoop in to solve their dilemma
they share their own solution.
“We are each going to write our own sad story this weekend.
So he feels better about sharing,” they tell me.
And they do.
There are lots of tears today when they meet again.
They walk away
talking about how cancer sucks.

One group comes in search of tissues. 
One member is crying. 
And it turns out tears are contagious
amongst teenage girls.
I drop by to check in.
“Don’t worry,
these are good tears. 
It just feels so good
to finally share my feelings with someone.”
They walk away
talking about how fathers sometimes let us down.

One group is filled with silly guys
who transform into serious writers
behind a glass wall.
They walk away
talking about what it means to grow up.

One group loses a member
who comes to tell me
she cannot
will not
no matter what
share.
Her eyes say,
“my story is not worth sharing.”
My eyes say,
“this will be the year.
You will share.
You will stop living behind the wall.”
“I like the wall.”
“The others deserve to know you.”
After a lot of head shaking,
she finally shares
with her teacher
and one other group member.
It is a start.
She walks away believing
her story was worth sharing.

Two groups get right down to business.
Writers share.
Others respond as listeners, as writers, as readers, as friends.
They walk away
talking about how high school just won’t be the same
how older brothers can be cool sometimes
how magic hides inside the covers of books waiting to be discovered
how good it feels to push yourself to the limit in sports
how grandmas are to be cherished
how important it is to always kiss your mom goodbye

Six groups of writers
see their words with new eyes.
Six groups of writers
see each other with new eyes.
Six groups of writers
see themselves with new eyes.

Six groups of writers grow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A BEAUTIFUL MIND


Tuesday SLICE OF LIFE hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS

This piece was inspired by Penny Kittle’s “Student dies in a wreck” from Write Beside Them: risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing.  I read it this summer and was so moved I knew I had to try this format to finally capture some of my own memories and feelings about a similar experience.


BEAUFORT COUNTY—On June 3, 1994, about 2a.m. sixteen-year-old Cedrick James Olson was driving home on Old Sheldon Church Road when he apparently fell asleep and his van struck a utility pole.

This is not the guy I knew: floppy blond hair, lanky stature, claiming he would live in those awful Zumba pants if he were allowed.  I had called him that night after he had already left the house.  His mom promised he would call me back.  How could she have known?
            My sister picked me up from school that day.  I could tell something was wrong.  She didn’t want to be the one to tell me. 
            “Josh called.  He left you a message.  You need to listen to the answering machine.  You need to hear it from him,” was what she said.  But the pain in her voice said, “I shouldn’t have listened.  I shouldn’t have heard it first.”
            I knew not to press her.  Somehow the way she was visibly shook, but remaining centered for my benefit wordlessly communicated that it would be best to endure the car ride home without further questions.
            She stood outside the door as I listened.  Josh’s voice was broken.  Ced’s mom was trying to get in touch with me.  She knew he was supposed to call me back.  She wanted me to know why he never would.  In her grief, it was the one thing she had control over making right.  She couldn’t find my phone number.  Ced carried it in his wallet. 

Although he was wearing his seatbelt, he was killed instantly.  A coroner’s inquest revealed he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

I knew he hadn’t been drinking.  Ced prided himself on being straight-edge.  His brand of getting high on life involved dying his blond hair blue, wearing purple Doc Marten boots, and fastening them with rainbow colored laces.
            In fact, it was this self-assured individuality that caused him to be made fun of when he moved from his aunt and uncle’s house in Eagle River, Wisconsin to move in with his mom in Yemassee, South Carolina—a town not known for its tolerance of old souls trapped in teenage bodies. 
            The students at his new high school didn’t appreciate purple combat boots.  In fact, a group of boys waited for him after school one day to pelt him with stones.  He thought he had left the real world and landed in the middle ages.  I was shocked that these students couldn’t see his light.  Ced was well loved—one of the most popular guys at his old school.  He was welcomed by upper classmen and I felt lucky to ever get his attention.   
            One time he wore a flannel buttoned tightly all day in the South Carolina heat because he was sure this kid was going to make good on threats to beat him up.  “I had worn the t-shirt you gave me and the flannel was tied around my waist,” he told me that night on the phone.  His voice carried his isolation across miles, “I didn’t want to get blood on it.”  My heart swirled with giddy pleasure and sickened angst.  I wanted to rescue him. I wanted to be special to him, but not like this.  I wanted the others to fall under the spell of his sincerity, his creativity, his genuine charm.  I wanted them to see the Ced that I saw. 

Sixteen year-old Cedrick James Olson was a poet, writer, artist and comedian.  His friends and family described him as a free thinker—always daring to be different.

Different doesn’t begin to describe Ced.  When he left Eagle River, I already knew my family would be moving away soon too.  I was confident we would keep in touch.  After all, we had spent each summer writing back and forth while he visited his mom in South Carolina.  My parents were lenient about long distance phone calls and I knew I would be able to call him at least once a month.  Still, I knew it wouldn’t be the same. 
            The day before he left, Ced asked me to meet him in front of the building after school.  I asked my sister to pick me up late that day. 
            When I reached him, he held a shoebox out to me.  I looked at him with question in my eyes.  “It’s just a little something.  A going away gift,” he shyly told me.  Shy was not a usual part of Ced’s emotional vocabulary.  I had a feeling this was something special.
            “But you’re the one going away,” I offered, “I should be giving you a gift.”
“You will be leaving soon enough.  It’s just something I made,” he added, as if that diminished its meaning instead of exponentially increasing its value in my eyes.       
I lifted the lid to find a sort of natural sculpture wrapped gently in tissue paper.  I carefully pulled it out of the box. In my hands was a piece of dried tree bark, with a petrified mushroom forming a little ledge for pebbles and brilliant purple flowers.  I could see when the clear glue had oozed out beneath a pebble before it dried.  How tedious it must have been to work with such tiny stones, such delicate little flowers. 
“I make these sometimes from things I gather when I walk,” Ced explained.  I hadn’t needed an explanation.  His art spoke for itself. 

He wrote a children’s book called Ricky the Lizard—a book asking to please not forget about the animals of the rain forest.  He wrote his mother loving Mother’s Day cards.  He gave excellent back rubs.  He had a beautiful mind.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

RUTH AYRES ROCKS


Write.
Pay attention.
Teach.

That was Ruth’s challenge to us.

Last week as part of her visit to my classroom, Ruth set aside time to work with the language arts teachers in my middle school.  


Her presentation was titled Nudging Joy: If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t know…  She spoke about the impact of our own writing lives on the work we do with young writers.  It is a topic I have heard Ruth speak about before.  It is the heart and soul of her work as a writing coach.  It is a message that settles more deeply in my heart and soul and each time I listen to her speak. 


It is no surprise that she inspired us to do some writing.   We did a quick write in response to Eve Merriam’s poem “A Lazy Thought.”  Ruth wrote alongside us.  


She shared some things she has learned as a writer and how they’ve impacted her work with writers.  

She reminded us to celebrate, to listen to the writerly voices in our heads and shut out the critics, to share our writing habits—the joyful ones and the spirit of endurance when the going gets tough, to think in terms of possibilities, to balance choice and structure, to play purposefully, and to write if not for immediate joy, then for the promise of future joy.

Then, she nudged us to notice what we learned from even the small amount of writing we just did that we could apply to our work with young writers.  This was the transformational moment. 
 
Today, my co-teacher and I talked about tomorrow’s lesson.  She got this little spark in her eye as she casually mentioned using the quick write from Ruth’s workshop as a model for the lesson about how writers develop a “So What?” in their work.  She wants to demonstrate how sometimes you just start writing and figure out the point later.

Write.
Pay attention.
Teach.

We are rising to the challenge.  Thanks Ruth!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NATIONAL DAY ON WRITING {OCTOBER 20th}: thinking about my writing life


SLICE OF LIFE is hosted by Two {awesome} Writing Teachers

I convinced all of the teachers on my team to spend the first 5-10 minutes of class tomorrow sharing their writing lives with our students (secretly I suspect this is a conversation that will blossom into more than just 10 minutes, but I just asked for a mere 10 minute commitment…shhh!).  I believe sharing our writing lives will help form connections.  The teachers on my team have writing experiences that range from writing poetry to cope with life changes, journaling to sort out the tough stuff, and archiving to record family memories. 

As an 8th grade language arts teacher, I have been sharing my writing life with my students since the first day of school.  Given that tomorrow I want to participate along with my team members, I have been thinking about what I might share about my writing life that would be new to my students.

So I have been thinking about my writing life—about why I write, about my current writing life, and about how I got here.  These are some of my thoughts:

·      I blog and use Twitter to connect with other writers.  These connections have become vital to my professional growth and sustenance.

·      I have been writing for as long as I can remember.  I still have my writing portfolios from 4th and 5th grade, which is how I finally realized I had participated in an early form of writing workshop as a student.  I still have picture books that I wrote and illustrated as part of the young author’s contest from 4th through 8th grade. 

·      Writing has played a role in many of my friendships.  My friend Dena and I wrote notes back and forth in notebooks throughout our junior and senior years of high school.  My friend Lizabeth wrote me a poem when I moved out of state during my sophomore year.  I wrote snail mail letters back forth with my friend Ced from the time he moved out of state up until he died in a car accident at the end of sophomore year (I still have all of those letters).  My friend Beth and I worked together on countless writing projects in elementary school, including turning a picture book into a script for a play that we cast and directed during our lunch hour after begging for permission.  Most recently, the colleague of mine who moved to the ad center and I exchanged a card each day of her final week at school. 

·      Writing is part of my family’s history; I wrote about my grandpa’s writing past a while ago in this post.  When my parents went on vacation to Jamaica when I was a child, my mother left poems she had written for my sister and me to open each morning they were gone.  My sister gave me gifts of writing on many occasions throughout my childhood (however just because they were gifts, does not mean they were nice).

·      Reading plays an important role in my writing life.  I just cannot separate the two.

(I think this could blossom into a conversation that lasts more than 10 minutes.)

Writing matters to me, it matters to who I am and who I want to become.  Happy National Day on Writing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

21 VOICES STRONG

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Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS
Fire drill.  1:30pm.  Friday afternoon.  8th graders.  My co-teacher’s student teacher.  My co-teacher’s guest teacher. 

There is a reason they call them disaster drills.

I tried to pre-correct.  I tried to model a sense of decorum.  I tried. 

My 9th hour class exited the building quickly and safely.  Once outside, they split up to find their 1st hour teachers.  I broke away to find my 1st hour students. 

I approached a line of antsy, squirrely—well, 8th graders.  I wrangled them as best I could.  I held up my “Good to Go” sign when they were all accounted for.  I avoided engaging in conversation with them at a time when we are supposed to be silent. 

I stopped next to R.  He is usually quiet. 

“Mrs. Rush?”

I turned to look at him. 

“If this were a real fire they wouldn’t really make us report to our first hour teacher, would they?  I mean, what if I had to walk around the whole building to get here?”

I took a deep breath.  “Actually, R, we would expect you to report here in case of an actual fire.  In fact, that is the very reason we practice this procedure over and over again—so that you know what to do in a REAL fire.  That is also the reason there are teachers calling to you to walk around the building at a safe distance from it.”

“Yeah, but if it were a real fire they wouldn’t really care if we reported to 1st hour.”

By this time, I could see my efforts were futile.  If 9 years of public school system disaster drills had not convinced him, my attempts to explain certainly were not going to do the trick.  At 1:30 in the afternoon.  On Friday. 

For a moment I feared that exchange might be the nugget of school I would carry with me into the weekend. 

The classes around us began to move towards the door.  I held my class back to avoid being scrunched into the crowd.  To avoid allowing students to be swept away with other classes.  To maintain at least a semblance of control. 

Finally, I led my class into the building.  We merged with the sea of moving bodies. 

That’s when I heard it behind me.  A chorus of voices.  “When I say 21, you say VOICES.  21.”

“VOICES.”

“21.”

“VOICES.”

“When I say VOICES, you stay STRONG!  VOICES!”

“STRONG!”

“VOICES!”

“STRONG!”

As we entered back into building at 1:45 on Friday, I was followed by 21 Voices Strong.  21 students, who started the year nervously asking if the mantra we are learning to repeat at the beginning of class each day would be shared with other classes, declared their membership throughout the hallways.  21 members of the Voices Strong class, which is my answer to the remediation-based interventions our system is currently putting into place, made me proud. 

Now that is one of the finest nuggets of school I have ever captured to carry with me into a weekend.   

Monday, October 1, 2012

A SATURDAY OF AUTHORS


This Saturday my husband and I attended the Anderson’s Bookshops 9th Annual Young Adult Literature Conference.  Here are some highlights:

First of all, we got to each lunch with authors T.M. GOEGLEIN and PAUL GRIFFIN.  What an awesome experience!  They talked about the author visit workshop they do and how it is about getting students to recognize that they each have a story to tell.  They had me at story.  PAUL GRIFFIN even signed copies of his books to “21 Voices Strong,” the name of the class I invented.  I am going to work hard to make an author visit happen for this year’s class.  
PAUL GRIFFIN and me



On where he gets his ideas: It’s like there are hooks in your brain and things get caught on them.

Questions he asks himself about every line he writes: Is this compelling? Is this gripping? Is this moving the story forward?

On his readers: The more people who read your book, the more you exist as a writer.



Two questions he explored while writing his latest book Every Day:
1.    What would it be like to not have a set body, just a self, with no physical manifestation of that?  No culture, no race, no gender, etc.
2.    Can you love somebody who changes every day?

On incorporating paranormal/magical realism into his work: You can illuminate real life by showing the alteration of real life.

On working with so many different characters in a single novel: Everybody has a story inside of them. 

On sharing all books with all readers:  We have to uphold the fact that books are as much windows as they are mirrors.

3 books he recommends you read:
1.    The Disenchantments
2.    Endangered
3.    Ask the Passengers



On work that inspired her to write/draw contemporary realistic graphic novels: the comic strip For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnson and the t.v. show Daria

On her new book Drama: True high school events inspired many scenes, including the twin brothers who were based on a real set of twins she knew.

On her writing process: She drafts in thumbnails (rough outlines of images with words boxed out).  Her editor edits in this stage as well.

RAINA TELGEMEIER, DAVID LEVITHAN, and SHEILA O'CONNOR


On her writing process: She drafts story with dialogue and all, but then inserts brackets that might say: [insert fight scene here].  She adds fight scenes at the end because they are most challenging for her to write. 

On social media: She enjoys that it allows her to interact with her minions.

On becoming a writer: Referred to library as being made of bully kryptonite.  Was bullied as a kid.  Wrote two books that were rejected hundreds of times.  Then decided to write what she knows:
1.  how to be unpopular,
2. teenagers (believes people hit the age they are and that their bodies keep growing old and betray them), and
3. vampires. 
So, she created Vladmir Tod, the unpopular teen vampire.  Soon realized that if she was going to write his story, she would have to write her own story.
me with HEATHER BREWER



On writing fantasy vs. contemporary realistic fiction: No fiction reader is really reading about reality.

On her childhood: “I remember when I was a girl.  I was a small and black-hearted creature.”

On what inspired her to write fantasy: Mom would manage her behavior at a young age by doing things like pointing to the woods while driving and saying, “Did you see that?   You just missed it!  It was a fairy!” to distract her from hitting her brother in the back seat. 

On writing fantasy vs. contemporary realistic ficton: Fantasy is more universal, doesn’t become dated.

On social media: Wants to interact with her readers first and foremost through her novels.

Something she said that was just plain poetic: “Brutal and beauty lie next to each other.”

MAGGIE STIEFVATER and me