The question is how to
not cross the lines.
From being involved 
not
swallowed.
Intentions for balance
skew, tilt, teeter, dissolve.

The question is how to
step back without detaching.
Flowing not submerging.
Dethroning the trump call of work.
Disconnecting the known cord.
 
 
Over the summer, I took part in Book-a-Day, an initiative launched by Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer). Every participant was asked to set a personal goal of how many books they would read over summer vacation and to keep track of it.

At first, I thought I would try for every day and read over 70 books. Yet, my count obsession began to overshadow the enjoyment so I settled for a best effort with the goal to just read everyday.

My seven-year old niece decided she, too, wanted to challenge herself.  Her goal: fourteen books. I inwardly cringed when M said she wanted to read the Holy Grail for so many early readers: “chapter books”. Although a good reader, M still had not developed the stamina to stay with lengthier text. She tended to abandon them after a few chapters.

Kicking aside my aunt persona, I launched into my Reading Specialist role and talked about: choosing just right books; building stamina; how it is not the size of the book that counts; and how we read for enjoyment, etc. M looked dubious. Against my territorial teacher instinct, I decided to lend her a stack of my recently-acquired picture books to get her started (and, I admit, to convince her that picture books were not just for babies.)

M, I discovered, had a competitive streak. She checked in periodically to tell me how easy this was for her. With glee and an eye roll, M announced her sister had only read two books. By summer’s end, M beat her own goal and logged in 25 books.

I thought I would surprise M with a book to acknowledge her achievement. When I called her father, I found M had other ideas. She told her family that I had promised her a dollar a book and that she would be getting twenty-five dollars. My mouth dropped. M then proceeded to tell my brother that “really, I should get $30 because I am worth it”.
 

Writing

09/06/2011

5 Comments

 
Last week, a five-day power outage prevented me from slicing. And the strangest thing was that I missed writing.

When we talk about identities in our workshops, my perception is always that I am a reader. Writing is what other, more creative, people do. I sympathize with the students who struggle to write. It is hard. I could (can) never meet a deadline and the process was (is) hard. It is no exaggeration that two paragraphs represent (-ed) at least eight hours of cross-outs, starting overs, and doubts. I have never just sat down and whipped anything out. 

Back in March, when I started to slice, I still viewed myself as a reading person. My aim, again, was not to Be a Writer, but a teacher who would be in a better position to help student writers. I felt it unfair to ask students to write, if I didn’t.

The daily challenge, which turned into weekly, propelled me to write. Did the process get easier? No. Did my pace ever pick up? No. I would spend so much time on these pieces, l often had to read and comment other postings the next day. 

Yet. I began to think of things I could write about as I pursued typical daily activities. I took note of what other slicers did. I started figuring out, in my head, different ways I could write about something. As I read, I wrote down interesting words. And finally, finally. ..when I read, it was easier to notice the craft involved. 

The act of writing on a continual basis shifted my perception. I am still a reader but one who has begun to think like a writer. This is what I want to tell my students. It will happen to them, if they keep writing.
 
 

This is the not-yet period.
September still adumbrates; 
But school is in session
in my head.

The anticipation grows.
The need-or-want 
purchase of supplies.

The annual potential
of that have-to-get
item that will make
classroom life easier.
Sometimes, it does.

Decor decisions.
To theme or not to theme.

The toppling pile(s)
of picture and chapter
books and more books
such guilty-lovely finds,
bursting to be introduced.

The whirling, spinning of ideas;
evolving strategies;
adrenalined new thinking
to share and explore.

The excitement of
reflecting back
so to be transformed;
To go forward anew
and begin again.

The rush of back-to-school.
 
 
When we were young, we did not need an internal clock or a calendar to signal the end of summer. We had our own arboreal marker that measured the seasons.

Early summer meant freedom, endless days and doing all of our whatevers. In the backyard, a lone green shrub stood and urged us to Just Pass Go and crash through the Red Rover line. When we glanced at it, we knew possibilities beckoned. Sleepovers, swimming, the ice cream truck chase, maybe miniature golf.

Every summer though, buds started to pill the canvas of the bushy tree: an early harbinger of change. A first glimpse of white evoked, every time, a knowing sense of oh-no-dread. Never prepared for it, we tried to will the green and summer to stay. We did not know then that wishes often lose to time.

And when the first blossom emerged in a blink’s time, our thoughts, as if in sync, began to look ahead. The welcoming sun, the glimmering water, the rambling plans all paled. These dwindling days called for organizing, getting ready, shopping and being focused.

We always called it the Fall Bush. Its beauty entangled with ambivalence.

Even now.
 
 
Picture
“You have to bleach them?” 

I looked down at the small brown disc in my hand, embarrassed. “I thought sand dollars were white.” Strands of feathery seaweed floated around my ankles.

My beach companions stared at me. I skimmed through my memories of collecting shells. No, nothing surfaced relating to sand dollars.

Minutes earlier, a casual walk along the shoreline had dissolved into a free-for-all treasure hunt at the first sighting. I found just two (with some needed help) while others had stacks. 

“No, they are alive. Feel the velvety side. You soak them overnight and they turn white. They're beautiful.” 

Alive?

“I, uh, thought they were just hard shells.” Appalled even more by my lack of ocean life knowledge, I stroked the soft side of what I now knew was a sea urchin. A live one.

I found the exhilaration of the quest evaporate then. I stopped searching and waded on.

 
 
I didn’t plan it. In the past, summer vacation always meant working in an office. But not this year. I envisioned myself floundering with all this unstructured time.

And then I picked up a book. Downloaded another. I mixed entertaining reads with professional books, contemporary with classic. I now scour websites and book stores for more titles. I’ve begun to get exasperated feedback.

“You’re still reading?”

“Aren’t you doing anything else?”

“Don’t you want to do anything fun?”

Yes. 

Yes. 

 I am.
 
 
I know, I know. Who wants turkeys in their yard? No one.They are loud, messy, destructive and none too swift. But this turkey was different.

He was strange from the start. Every evening he wandered down our hill to the backyard flockless. Can turkeys be loners? He walked with nonchalance, meandering around the grass, poking and pecking. Our burgeoning vegetable garden remained untouched. Sometimes he spent his visits preening his feathers. Or, he just sat swan-like. His presence kept the Evil Squirrels away.

The turkey always ignored the woods that bordered our yard and perambulated up front to the main road. At various times, he was sighted in different neighborhood yards. Yet that would mean his unknown destination required him to walk out along wide open spaces.

The first time the turkey emitted a sound came two weeks after his first appearance. Calm as usual, he pecked the ground. In the adjacent yard, a tan-and-white hawk dropped from the sky and stood still and poised. The turkey stiffened. A moment of tension filled the air. The hawk went into a slow glide, flying close to the ground. The turkey screeched and ran into the woods. But being a a turkey, he only hid himself partially. He left his dark brown rear sticking out and shaking. The hawk’s slow return sweep propelled the turkey to move deeper into the trees but did not prevent his gobbling in alarm.

The turkey no longer comes. I think he was lost for those couple of weeks and has now found some fellow turkeys to be with. There are other alternatives but I am going with that one.
Picture
 
 
Picture
A recent post by Ruth talked about place and its importance which got me thinking. I had planned on writing about finally reaching the end of the school year (June 23rd). So, both ideas came together.

The family pool
Happy, happy.
How can a pool not be?
A constant since childhood.
Races, diving.
Flying down the slide 
in creative variations;
Screaming, shouting,
Constant danger of getting tossed in
If you foolishly wandered the edge.
Raft wars; Marco Polo
Lying out with (back then)
Baby oil and tanning reflectors,
Hot creamy lotion, greased arms
coconut and banana smells.
Baking until you needed to jump
Cool, cool water. Emerge dripping.

Kiss-108 blaring and the Saturday
ritual listening of Wishing on A Star.
A pool for all the neighborhood kids
an everyone’s pool
all day, mornings, afternoons.
Popsicles and chips and tonic (not soda!)
Soggy towels, stubbed toes, burning cement.

And best of all, floating, languid, on
a raft, staring up.
Treetops, clouds, sky.
Now the pool is
taken over by the young
Nephews, nieces, their friends.
Ipods, texting.
Still Kiss-108.
Still shouts and screams.
And for me, still floating.
Looking at the sky.

 
 
Picture
In the beginning, as with all relationships, a simple gesture charmed and entranced us. A look, a turn, a sighting. We congratulated ourselves on our foresight and reveled in the wonder of it all.

And then reality raced in. Our backyard paradise, replete with robins, blue jays, cardinals, squirrels and chipmunks happily coexisting with us, the feeders, crumbled. The daily ritual of throwing out bird seed to attract wildlife had transformed our clever, fat squirrels into evil masterminds.

“I think that squirrel is up to something.” I pointed out a few weeks ago while looking out the kitchen window. “He stares right at me with a look of contempt.” Of course, my family thought I was the one with the problem. Yet, I kept track of the gray creatures as they drew closer and closer to the house with their challenging glances towards me. They were definitely plotting.

In the first attack, the ring leader chewed a hole the size of a grapefruit in the screen of our enclosed porch. He welcomed himself to the bag of seed and urinated on the furniture. Although clever enough to get in, the squirrel trapped himself inside. It took several hours to coax the intruder out.

Betrayal and outrage replaced our awe and joy. After all, what did those greedy squirrels want? They were being fed. They had to go and ruin the bucolic dream. After a second invasion via a melon-shaped hole, we appealed to the experts. Local hardware and gardening centers were amused at our distress. They shared their squirrel horror stories and offered little relief.

After a few days interruption, we resumed feeding the birds. Why should the birds suffer because some animals are selfish? Yet, it is not the same. We rattle cans and tap the windows to scare the squirrels. Our porch is immersed with vinegar to mask any enticiing smells. The bird seed has been removed to the garage. We are now hunkering down.