Archive for March, 2020

#SOL20 Day 31: A Conversation with Story, Resolved

March 31, 2020

I thought that this piece, a continuation of my first and my second “conversations” with Story, might be a good place to bring some closure to this month-long writing challenge.

…..

“Well?” She drummed her fingernails on the table.

“Well…what?” blinked Story, letting the right corner of her mouth twitch up into an almost-smile.

“Oh, come on. You know. You were the one who came in here a month ago, rocking all kinds of boats and upsetting all kinds of apple carts. You were the one who dragged me into this.” She folded her arms expectantly. “Don’t you think I deserve some kind of recognition?”

Story didn’t miss a beat. “Sure. Make yourself a cookie.”

Her face fell. “Ouch.” Then, “That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? All I’m asking for is some kind of acknowledgement that this month was hard. That it took courage and discipline to write fiction when all I really wanted to do was to stay comfortable in my journal and poetry zone. Is that too much to ask?”

“Why are you asking me? Who ever said you needed validation from me in the first place?”

She sat for a moment, looking at her hands, twiddling her thumbs, first forward…then backwards…

Story continued. “Was I the one who signed you up for writing every day?”

“No, but -“

“And was I the one who magically decided that you wanted to write more fiction?”

She cleared her throat. “I – I thought that you…”

You thought! That’s the point!” Story shook her head. “You’re sitting here insisting I’m the one who put you up to this? That I’m the one who is somehow responsible for making you take this all on?”

She banged her palm on the table “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re the one who keeps showing up, who keeps following me, who keeps calling me a chicken if I don’t flex my writing muscles.”

“Honey, I hope you know by now that I like you.” Story looked her in the eye. “So I’m sure you will forgive me for telling you that’s a load of bull.”

She sat, confused, though nothing would surprise her at this point. “What on earth do you mean?”

“Oh, come on,” Story said. “It’s time for you to give yourself credit already. Yeah, I drop in from time to give you grief about things, but think about this: who’s sitting in front of the computer every day? Who’s deciding what to write? It sure as heck ain’t me.”

“But – but, the guilt trips? And the teasing?”

“All you, sweetie. I’m just a voice in your head.”

She sighed, loosened her shoulders. “So…I don’t need you after all then, do I?”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s not go that far. Everybody needs me.” Story set her jaw. “And don’t you forget it.”

#SOL20 Day 30: Intentions

March 30, 2020

WHAT I MEANT TO DO:
-work out
-walk my dog more
-write something better than this
-drink actual real live water
-breathe some outside air
-shower
-start a puzzle
-read a little
-finish this week’s grad school homework

WHAT I ACTUALLY DID:
-attended 5 online “meetings”
-made a bunch of phone calls
-wrote a bunch of tricky emails
-called my mother
-planned how I would break the news of Tomie dePaola to my kiddos
-made some blondies
-mapped out learning for my loveys
-ate with my family
-worked until 10:30
-forced myself to stop working at 10:30

To say today got away from me would be an understatement. I was hoping for a slice today but got buried under a big fat HUNK.

#SOL20 Day 29: Word Casserole

March 29, 2020

I started today with a bucket full of words:
I trounced through the house with it overfull, sloshing,
Spent a few on the phone with my mom,
A few more with my sister,
Then held out pretty full
Until I got to my school work:
Email upon email, text upon text, I found myself
Rooting through, hunting
For only the best ones
And letting the rest spill away –
And now I worry
That now it’s time to write
And I’ve emptied my supply
So I’ll gather up a few I’ve
Needlessly dropped,
Cobble them together like casserole
And serve them up
In the hopes they will satisfy.

#SOL20 Day 28: On Boredom

March 28, 2020

As a writer, I very much stand “guilty as charged” when it comes to planting seeds…and then forgetting about them. Today I spent some time walking among the rows of drafts that I’ve planted on my blog, and I found this one. It strikes me as timely right now, especially as so many of us are grappling with new ways to face the boredom that comes to greet us. I gave it a little tending, and here I offer it to you.

Boredom gets a bad rap. It’s my sense that boredom is more like that 70’s kitchen with the avocado fridge, brown walls and the carpeting. Still useful and important, but maybe it needs an update or two.

Maybe if you’re talking about boredom as that anxious, antsy, holy-cow-how-am-I-going-to-occupy-my-time boredom, maybe that’s not so great. But that’s not how I see it. Here’s where I’m coming from.

Despite what my husband may think, I’m an introvert. Yes, I can schmooze when I need to, but boy does it wear me out. And one of my favorite things to do is to get lost in my thoughts.

I’ve always loved being on my own, entertaining myself. Even when I was little. I would disappear for hours inventing a new nature hike, or hang out in my room putting on puppet shows for myself, or stare out the car window counting things.

And even now, as a grown-up. Yes, I have sat through my share of hours of mind-numbing meetings, lines, car trips and airport waits. But for the most part, I can’t often say that I’m bored, because I always have some way to occupy my brain.

Why do I mention this?

Because it’s what I want for my students. For most of them, the only time they have to be alone in their thoughts is when they’re laying awake at bedtime. In those moments, the mind that’s been anxious to explore all day now has free rein. And as anyone who’s lain awake at night with a racing mind knows, that’s not always a good thing.

So I’ve introduced time in class for students to just sit. Sit and think. It was funny to watch them at first, strange and awkward. I could see their questions in the way they fidgeted and looked around. What do we do with our hands? What do we look at?

But once kids get past the awkward, something magical happens. They start to LIKE it. They start to enjoy and look forward to the time I give them to let their brains explore wherever they’d like to go.

I think we’re on to something!

#SOL20 Day 27: What Needs to be Said

March 27, 2020

Dear Families,

I probably shouldn’t be writing you this letter over Spring Break, during a time when we should all take distance from school, but I confess my brain is just not in vacation mode. You and your kids have been on my mind a lot over the last weeks.

There’s a lot I don’t know:
-what will happen in our community;
-how long we’re going to be at home;
-how our current situation will affect us in the long term.

But here’s what I do know:
-we are all in unknown territory;
-your job is HARD. Really, really HARD.

All of a sudden, our families are constantly under the same roof together, and it seems as though there are expectations coming from all directions. Everywhere we turn, it seems like there’s some new list for all the ways we should be making the most of our family time. Ways to achieve that Instagram- or Facebook-worthy ideal. Or another resource for activities to try. Or another website. Or another expert. Or another information source. And hey, don’t forget about self-care!

So here’s what I really want to say to you.

Yes, starting next week, I will continue to provide the activities and work to keep your child on track with our Navigate learning. Yes, I will continue to provide resources and activities to keep their brains busy, both through Navigate and support of other teachers.

But to me, it’s not just about activities. What’s most important to me is keeping my commitment to the social and emotional health and growth of your child. That means keeping our classroom community going strong through our communication on Schoology and/or Seesaw, and it means being here for your child, whatever the next weeks may bring.

I also want you to know I’m here for you as well. I encourage you to keep the lines open. Let me know how this time is going for you and your family. Stay in touch! If there’s a way that I can support you in any way via email or video conference, just drop me a line.

These are difficult times. Remember that you matter. That your family matters. That we can do this, together.

Warmly,

Lainie

#SOL20 Day 26: Teaching as TV

March 26, 2020

<<cue lights, music>>

ANNOUNCER: Some say it’s the hardest profession around. Some say, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Well, we’re about to find out what teachers are made of.

<<visual: montage of teachers in classrooms>>

ANNOUNCER: We’ve gathered teachers from all across the nation to test their skills against one another. Each week they’ll face a new challenge. Each week we’ll have one teacher make the honor roll, and one…will be EXPELLED. All of them are competing for the chance to prove themselves and become…

<<cue title sequence>>

ANNOUNCER: TOP Teacher! Our winner will enjoy a $50 Starbucks card, a case of sticky notes and a 32-pack of Flair pens. And now, here’s your host: Movie teacher icon Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

<<cut to Ben Stein in the TEACHER’S LOUNGE, addressing contestants>>

BEN STEIN: Welcome, teachers, to the Teacher’s Lounge. This is where you’ll get a chance to be with one another, and it’s also where you’ll get your assignment for the day. After each challenge, the teachers with the highest and lowest ratings on our evaluation scale will be sent to The Principal’s Office. One of you will be chosen for the honor roll, and one of you…

<<cue music>>

BEN STEIN:…will be EXPELLED. And now? Let’s have our first roll call.

<<cut to each contestant>>

FRAN: Fran Greeley from Davenport Iowa. I’m a 29-year veteran teacher of fifth graders. Been there, done that!

BECCA: Heyyy, Becca Smith, student teacher from Portland, Oregon. I’m soo excited to be here!

DENISE: Denise Williams, eighth grade math teacher from Springfield, Illinois. I’ve seen it all, my friends.

KEN: Hey, I’m Ken Wang, second grade teacher from Miami Florida. Bring the heat!

SARAH: I’m Sarah Goldenrod, a kindergarten teacher from New York City. We kindergarten teachers can do anything!

DANA: I’m Dana Frost, high school performing arts teacher from Phoenix, Arizona. If anyone can handle the drama, it’s me!

BEN STEIN: And now, for today’s challenge. Better start taking notes.

<<walks to chalkboard>>
<<cut to contestants, who take out notebooks and pencils>>
<<cut back to BEN STEIN, who begins writing>>

BEN STEIN: You’re a fourth-grade teacher in a suburban school. 46% of your students have access to electronic devices and the internet at home. Your district, in response to state mandates, has just shifted to at-home learning. Develop a differentiated lesson plan for your students. You have sixty minutes. Your time starts…NOW.

<<cue school bell ringing>>
<<cut to contestants, agog and aghast>>

<<COMMERCIAL>>

#SOL20 Day 25: On Twenty-Five

March 25, 2020

So, it looks like I’ve made it to my twenty-fifth post for the month of March.

For me, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Twenty-five takes commitment.

Twenty-five is the number of years I will have been married this May. And oh, has THAT taken discipline, and commitment, and WORK. And love, to be sure, but discipline, commitment, and WORK.

Twenty-five is also the number of years I have been a teacher. And this one – this commitment – is especially sweet, given its dubious beginnings.

You see, when I was a student teacher, my cooperating teacher didn’t think I was all that or a bag of chips. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust me, but – well, OK. It was that she didn’t trust me: to handle concerns with the students, parent phone calls or the like. Still, I thought I was making my way pretty well along.

Until my final evaluation meeting.

There, in front of my yearlong mentor teacher and my cooperating teacher supervisor; there, in the meeting that mattered the most; there, in that key time of my student teaching experience –

There, my cooperating teacher questioned my commitment to teaching.

Sitting there, dumbstruck, near tears, I had no defense. I had no response.

My only defense, my only response, has been to commit myself heart and soul to the craft of teaching. To double down on the bets I’ve placed on public education and the people I serve. To teach as hard as I can and as compassionately as I can for as long as I can.

Twenty-five, and counting. I’ll take it.

#SOL20 Day 24: Built For This

March 24, 2020

My mom and I were chatting about parenting during today’s “shelter in place” order. She remarked on how, with four children, there’s no way she would have been able to keep two of my siblings at home.

I couldn’t disagree. My oldest sister and my brother were never the compliant type growing up. But my other sister and me? We would have cooperated – for completely different reasons.

My older sister is a rule follower’s rule follower. As the second of four children, and sandwiched between two kids who weren’t about that whole “obey the rules” thing, she took it upon herself to be The Good One. So her choice to stay at home back then would be (as it is now) entirely based on Doing The Right Thing.

But me? I joked with my mom: “I was BUILT for this. It’s like I have been preparing my whole life just for this!” We had a good laugh together, because we both knew how true it was.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time by myself. Sometimes, I would hang out in my room reading books, doing puzzles, or listening to music. Other times, I’d walk out my front door and go exploring, either in the neighborhoods or the forested area near me.

Either way, I would happily occupy myself for hours at a time.

(OK, so maybe it didn’t help that I only ever had one friend at a time, so I had to get used to spending time with the one and only me, but that’s a digression for another day.)

I would have been the kid who stayed home, but not because I felt the rules were important. My entire childhood was spent exploring the joys of solitude. Having to be by myself back then would actually have been somewhat validating.

Yes, there are people whose faces I miss. Yes, it breaks my heart to be away from family, friends and students. Yes, I deeply enjoy connecting with people on new and different levels now that we have to work our way around distance.

Still, I cannot deny that I welcome this retreat inward, these uncountable, satisfying hours alone with thoughts. Having this time allows me once again to inhabit my own inner world, and to accept and celebrate that part of me.

It’s been a while.

#SOL20 Day 23: Weight of the World

March 23, 2020

This slice is part 1 of I’m not sure how many. I know my protagonist has some things to figure out, and I need time with her to decide what that’s going to be. But I’m especially grateful to Fran Haley at lit bits and pieces for providing me with the inspiration to get going in this direction. Thank you!

Her alarm buzzed her awake at 5:10, as it did every weekday. It was tough to shut it off, what with reaching around the giant sack laid on top of her, but she was able to manage. She knew that she’d probably sleep better without that thing – heck, she’d probably breathe better, too – but there was something about the weight of it that felt secure, kept her rooted to herself.

Her burden made a deep thunk as she rolled it off the bed and onto the bedroom floor. She examined its contents to make sure everything was still in order.
Obligation? Check.
Expectation? Check.
Guilt? Shame? Disappointment? Check, check, check.

Hoisting it over her shoulder, she began to go about her day. She had never directly weighed the world, but it was probably comparable to what was in this bag.

She started her way down the street, stooped under the heft of it all. No one really noticed her dragging along, but then again, she didn’t expect them to. Few ever really did. Every so often, someone would say something to her. It would often go like,

“Wow. You really have a lot to carry there. How do you do it?”
“I don’t know,” she’d shrug. “I just do.”

Or perhaps:

“You’re carrying so much. Let me know how I can help you. Just ask.”
“OK,” she’d respond, perfectly aware that asking was not within her skill set.

No. Most times, carrying it quietly was the easiest thing for all involved.

#SOL20 Day 22: Story's Return

March 22, 2020

(continuation from SOL day 3)

Snow in March:
Of course, she laughed
As she gazed out over the –

“HEY! What do you think you’re doing?”

She felt her ears redden, felt all of her body weight condense and harden into a ball at the pit of her stomach, felt her face prickle.

She did not need to look up to determine the source of that voice. She raised her head but stopped short of full-on eye contact. “Oh. Hey. Story. You again.”

“Yeah. ME again.” Story pressed on. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

The writer sat, silent. I’ve been in trouble enough times to smell a rhetorical question when it comes my way.

“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”

Another one. Best stay quiet and safe.

“Listen. You signed yourself up for a story challenge. A STORY challenge. I tried being gentle with you before. But what on earth do you think you’re doing messing around with the poetry and personal narrative, huh?”

Someone should probably tell Story that poetry and journal both convey narrative, not to mention craft, and that Story should know that better than anybody else. Someone other than me.

“Answer me!”

“Well…I…um…” she stuttered.

“Why haven’t you been writing fiction, as you challenged yourself to do?” Story was in full swing, hands on hips, foot tapping, head cocked to the left in just that way. “Why aren’t you keeping that promise to yourself?”

“Well, see, the thing is this,” she stammered. “It’s been a really hard month, and it’s been everything I could do to keep my head above water and take care of myself, and I’ve kind of just been proud of myself for sticking with writing at ALL, and – ”

“You know what they say about excuses, right?”

“That everyone’s got one and they all stink?”

“Hey!” Story snapped. “Who asked you to mouth off to me?”

Dang it. Another hypothetical, she thought. Got to get better at that. The writer’s eyes brimmed.

“Listen.” Story’s tone softened. “I’m just saying you owe it to yourself to try a little more fiction. To keep that promise to yourself. To stretch yourself a little. You do deserve that, don’t you?”

The writer sighed, then nodded. Like a popsicle, she knew when she’d been licked.