Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Assigned Work: Cat Fiction

May 6, 2021

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing.

Today’s assignment: Write a fiction dialogue about cats.

Okay, I’m wondering. Is this a full fiction story about cats INCLUDING dialogue, or a story TOLD through dialogue? Guess I’ll trust myself as a writer! I know I need to work on narration, so I’m going with the first one.


“Hey! Lydia! Quit hogging the climbing post,” snapped Goldie.

“Nah, I’m not feelin’ it,” replied Lydia from inside the carpeted hideaway. “I’ve finally got this spot warm, and I’m not in a mood to move anytime soon.” She yawned, licked her paw and gave her ear a quick smooth-down.

“You KNOW this is my favorite spot, now get off!” Goldie’s hackles began to raise as her ears went back.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” retorted Lydia.

“What on earth does that MEAN?”

“I don’t know. I hear The Weird-Os say it all the time when they fight over stuff. I thought it might work.”

“UGH!” said Goldie, stalking off to her less-than-ideal alternative spot behind the couch. Goldie could have chosen the reclining chair, the spot in the sunshine by the window, or even the nubby blanket on the ottoman.

All of those places are perfectly wonderful for a cat, thought Goldie. But not a smart cat. Not in this household.

Smart cats in certain households know the only way to true happiness is to stay out of the way of certain humans. Smart cats in certain households know it’s better to stay hidden as a rule, and only come out for exceptions: catnip, canned food, feather toys, and humans who actually know how to pet a cat.

Whenever she thought about the Weird-Os, Goldie had to stop herself from growling. Those two humans have no business being in a cat household, she told herself.

Granted, Goldie was more than happy to be IN a home. She and her sister Lydia shared a kennel at the pet store until the Weird-Os’ parents came to an adoption fair, fell head over heels in love, and brought the two of them home.

Home.

Home to comfy blankets.

Home to food that tastes like food.

Home to windows with ample sunshine.

Home to a litter box in a WHOLE OTHER ROOM.

It was bliss.

Lydia and Goldie shared their home with two grown-up humans who had nothing to do but buy cat toys and treats, offer a warm lap for sitting, and keep the catnip coming.

Until.

Until the Weird-Os blew home one May day in a minivan packed to the gills with all kinds of junk. Before they knew it, the house was littered with dirty socks, backpacks, college wear and the undeniably ripe smell of humans in their late teen years.

“You know, the one with the earring and longer hair isn’t so bad, Goldie. He knows the best way to become friends is to stay away until we decide we want something to do with him.”

“Unfortunately,” mused Goldie, “he stinks so badly that nobody in their right mind would want anything to do with him. And the short-haired one with the blue jeans?”

“Don’t get me started!” said Lydia. “She’s a problem. I think she missed that memo about waiting for us to decide when to be friends.”

“I know, right? She’s always dragging us from under the couch or the bed. Like, if I wanted you to pet me, don’t you think I’d be purring in your lap by now?”

“And who’d want her to pet them?” said Lydia. “There’s a reason why our fur goes in a given direction on our bodies.”

“It’s like she’s trying to squeeze a purr out of us.”

“Well she can keep squeezing. I ain’t purring. Not for her.”

“Amen to that,” agreed Goldie.

So Goldie and Lydia kept themselves hidden in the cracks and crevices of their home, only coming out when their older humans had a treat or a lap to offer. They snuck their meals only after determining the coast was clear. When the Weird-Os entered the kitchen, Lydia and Goldie would streak back to the nearest hiding place.

One August morning, there was an uncommon amount of hubbub in the house. The Weird-Os circled the house searching for their stuff. Socks and shoes on the floor gave way to boxes, to suitcases, to backpacks stuffed full to bursting. And just when it seemed every square inch of the floor was taken by STUFF, the human family took it all out and packed their minivan to the gills once again.

They heard the car rumble to a start and move down the street.

The house was quiet once again.

After a time, the older humans came back.

Alone.

“Hey! Lydia! The Weird-Os are gone. Do you think they’re really gone, or is it a trick?”

“I don’t know,” replied Lydia. “The minivan came back without their stuff.”

“Well, I think we should just keep hiding for a little while until we know for sure,” said Goldie.

Sure enough, the house remained quiet and calm. The only humans were the older ones – the ones who knew how to talk to and treat a cat. Lydia and Goldie slowly made their way from the shadows to return to their laps, their recliner chair, their sunny spots by the windows.

Until the next May…


The original Lydia, our cat during and after college.
The original Goldie, our cat when I was a kid

Assigned Work: Video Game Writing

May 5, 2021

So. I committed myself to writing student-assigned topics throughout the month of May. To tell you the truth, I could extend LONG beyond May. The kids had a great time (perhaps TOO good of a time?) coming up with topics they thought I should write, topics they themselves had a tricky time with. Of course, some of them were just having some fun with me.

The topics included the functional: “write a horror story without gore,” “write ten sentences in Shakespearean English,” “write a dialogue-only poem.”

Others invited me to think on an entirely different plane: “what is your view on racism?” “what makes us human?” “how is your vision of yourself different from others’ vision of you?”

There were a couple, of course, that were downright savage: “write a 5-page realistic fiction story.” “write a story while doing push-ups (dictation allowed).”

This, my friends, is just a PARTIAL list from one class section out of four.

Today, I’ll dip my toes into the water with this prompt: “Write about a video game you’ve played – no research allowed.”

Here goes.

I still remember the setup in our back hallway. There was a tiny black-and-white TV plugged in to an Atari game system wedged in the bottom shelf of our linen closet. You’d think it was a terrible place to have it, but that placement was perfect. You see, that closet was all the way at the end of the house, at the end of the hallway with the kids’ bedrooms. My parents’ bedroom was at the opposite of the house. No way could they hear how often we were playing, or how often we fought over the games.

My brother Mike and I could play video games on that black-and-white TV absolutely any time we wanted to. And we did. There was the Grand Prix car race played on the paddle controls, there was Asteroids, and there was Pong, an early version of lots of Breakout games.

But the real star of the show? Without question, it was Space Invaders.

Space Invaders was a game where you had your rocketship-shooter on the ground that you could move from left to right. Up above you would be rows of UFOs that would march down left…right…down…down…and you’d have to shoot them all before they landed on you.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick went the UFOs as they marched. As they got fewer and fewer, closer and closer, they’d speed their march, coming towards the rocketship.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick you’d race back and forth shooting at the UFOs. Level by level you’d shoot them down. As you gained levels the UFOs would go faster, would start shooting back at your rocket ship.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick if you were lucky you’d score high enough (a whopping score of 9,999) you’d TURN THE GAME OVER! which was cause for celebrations and high-fives, and maybe a bit of resentment that *someone* was hogging the video game.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick I’d wait my turn patiently, patiently until my brother lost a game – unless he lost too early in the game and then he’d say that round didn’t count. And the rounds that DID count took forever because he turned the game over who KNOWS how many times.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick went the UFOs, faster and faster. I’d keep my fingers crossed that my brother would finally lose, because I knew he wouldn’t willingly give the game to me, knew I couldn’t tattle on him for being a game hog, knew my parents would just take the game away because we were fighting.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick I waited my turn to get control of that joystick, that Atari, that black-and-white TV in the linen closet.

chickchickchickchickchickchickchick….

May Writing Challenge

May 4, 2021

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

My students are brave and inspiring and amazing – in writing AND in life.

So I’m dedicating May to them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much it takes for them to write, without complaint, WHATEVER it is we throw their way. Every genre, every challenge, every topic.

Yes, I do realize that we have things to teach them, and many of those things are important skills as a writer. Still. How does it feel when most of the writing we do isn’t actually of our choice?

That led me to think.

How would I do with assigned topics?

I’ve solicited my students for writing topics. I’ve asked them about the topics and assignments that were the most difficult, the most trying, the most frustrating.

And I’m going to write them, too.

Understand, this isn’t a knock on any of my colleagues. We have a job to do when it comes to writing instruction. Besides, several of the suggestions were assignments I had given them. I suppose I’m not always sparking joy, if I’m being honest with myself.

What it would be like if I truly walked the walk? If I made myself write whatever topic they threw my way, without complaint? How would I evolve as a writer? As a teacher of writing? As a human?

So, for the month of May, I’ll be picking up writing topics at the suggestion (direction!) of my students. It might be fun, it might be educational, it might be gray hair-inducing.

This month is for the loveys. Let’s go!

This post is for the Slice of Life Challenge on Two Writing Teachers. Check ’em out!

Poetry Month Day 29: Signs

April 29, 2021

This evening
I saw
out the doors of my gym
a sun shower
and after showing
a six year-old how
wonderful the smell of rain is

I dodged the drops
to my car
all the time looking
at the contrasting steel gray sky

Knowing this was the
perfect time and place
for rainbows.

I craned my neck
as I walked,
then drove,
scouring,
searching,
wondering
how there could
NOT
be one anywhere

And then it hit me
that there are some times
we want signs
we pray for them
and search for them
but that won’t make them appear

Until
I drove north
and was doubly rewarded
so I’m not sure if it’s a sign
to be guarded in my sign-seeking
or if it’s a sign
that maybe I shouldn’t
ever doubt
in the magic of signs

Poetry Month Day 24: Repairing the World

April 24, 2021

There was a lot that I enjoyed about writing today’s poem. For one, it came as a surprising counterbalance to yesterday’s post. I also gathered inspiration from my time today with an incredible group of educators through the Just Schools Cohort. The work my colleagues do inspires me to do better, to be better.

That, and the fact that I’m a complete math geek at the heart of things. It’s nice when I can flex that muscle every so often.

Those who wish to perfect this world
who wish it to be
smooth and round and beautiful
forget that a perfect sphere is only
a thing
mathematically:

understand. A circle
is but a collection of points,
the round world a fractal consisting of
infinite corners, with
infinite spaces between them

(and no matter how close those points stand,
we can find infinite points between them,
and points between them,
which is why pi is such a big deal anyway)

so maybe the question is not
about making our world
perfect and round

but

whether we can
connect those corners
those tiny spaces
within and
between
our selves
and others,
bending into formation,
connecting
point to
point to
point

and

perhaps,
rather than a sphere,
the shape of a perfect world

is an arc

Poetry Month Day 23: Draft Form

April 23, 2021

The poem I wanted to write
was an apology to my students
because today I was crabby and impatient

and how at first I thought it was about
technology
(because technology)

and not about how
there is so much about me
that is broken

and not about the outrage
that day after day after day
people are shot first and fought for later

and certainly not about the hopelessness
of knowing there are things I CAN fix
and nobody wants what I’m selling

and I wondered
why was I so angry
I didn’t have a reason to be
because it’s just jamboard and google slides

The poem I wanted to write
was angry
and seething
and resentful
and rage-full

and unwilling to be tamed by words.

Poetry Month Day 22: Pooped pup

April 22, 2021

Dog is crashed beneath my feet
but of course, that’s only
after a long walk,
a nice fat meal
some whining
and then
plop

playplayplayplayplayplayplayDROP

Poetry Month Day 21: On Opportunity

April 21, 2021

They say, sometimes,
that when God closes a door
He opens a window

(and yes I know gender is a construct)

but what I really want to say
is that sometimes
when God closes a door
what’s really meant

is for you to stay at home,
look around this place and say
hey
I kind of like this place
maybe I’ll spruce it up a bit

Poetry Month Day 20: On Storage

April 20, 2021

This poem is also an entry for the Slice of Life weekly writing challenge. Go give them a visit!

What do you do with all of your ideas,
they wondered
that you gather during the day?

She thought a moment,
pursed her lips
looked real hard to her left
(as if something were there)
then she shrugged her shoulders and said,

Depends.

The idea might be thin and wispy
so I’d carry it like a scrap of paper,
tucking it wherever it might fit best

Or it might be rough and scrabbly,
so I might work it with my hands,
roll it around my brain
until it’s smooth and shiny

For the one that might be handy
I’d plunk it into my pocket
and carry it around
with the keys
and the loose change
and the day’s worries
until I needed it

Some others still
just need to live in my mind,
traveling in and out of rooms
whispering when they want to
and shouting when they must.

Poetry Month Day 19: Litter-ati

April 19, 2021

Her head is littered
with poetic debris –
random shrapnel of thoughts
the daily barrage of metaphor
that obscures her vision:

the cairn of rocks from her nature walk
how trees grow through fences
(and how they’re like some teachers)
the many places where she stores her ideas
how grief attracts more attention than joy
the waiting-for of lilacs
the student who opens her eyes to hyenas, misunderstood
the giving-away of writing time
(and the pale ritual she’s resigned to)

She can’t not see things as a poet,
without lines and images swirling,
accumulating in staggering piles
so all she can do is
sweep up after herself
or open the door
and let them blow away