Inked

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I got another tattoo this weekend.

All tattoos have a story, don’t they? Even the ones that are “I just thought it was cute and wanted one because I was in college and being a rebel.” There is always a reason.

Ten years ago a few things happened: I found out I was pregnant, I lost that pregnancy, I started a blog, and I got a tattoo. I would say it was a busy year, but that is pretty much just how our married life has been. Highs and lows with very little in between.

When I started this blog I called it our Family Website. I was going to post photos and write little blurbs about what was going on in our life. I think in the first couple years of this blog’s life I probably only wrote a handful of things that were real and not just superficial “look at this fun day at the beach;” my tattoo post was one of them.

Contrary to what my mom probably thinks, I don’t take permanently “disfiguring” myself lightly (Cortney’s words in jest, not my mom’s). The first time, I tattooed what my students think is a V on my neck. It’s not a V. It’s two things: it’s the Aries sign and it’s also the Egyptian hieroglyphic for “woman.” You can read that post up there for more details, but basically after getting unexpectedly pregnant when I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted babies, then miscarrying that baby (and feeling like it was my fault), Cortney and I realized we wanted to be parents. Women’s bodies are strong, yo. That tattoo was for womanly strength.

Since then I have been writing.

Before I knew I had an anxiety disorder or depression or OCD or needed medication or therapy, I wrote to get it out of my head.

When I was having intrusive thoughts, I wrote them out of my head and then destroyed the evidence.

When I realized that one of my biggest fears in life was being forgotten and lost in time and space, I wrote out my stories.

When I decided to turn all of my passion for reading and writing and education into a PhD program, I wrote articles and journal pieces and conference proposals.

When I wanted my children to know me as I am in this moment, I wrote letters.

When I acted too impulsively or said things without thinking or made an ass of myself, I wrote to apologize.

When I missed or loved or thought of people, I wrote to them.

When I wanted my students to learn to write, I wrote with them.

Writing has kept me alive for the past ten years.

I’m placing my faith in writing to keep me alive forever.

Write.

It’s a command.

Write.

 

 

 

ps. My mom is not really that upset.

pps. Yes she is.

ppps. I love you, mom. Thanks for loving me despite my disfigurement.

9 Things I Wonder About Other Writers

While I was reading blogs–yes, I still do that–I came across this post by my friend Alison, which was inspired by Kristen. I really liked it.

I have been thinking a lot about that label “writer” lately. Are “blogger” and “writer” synonymous? I suppose so. I tell my students that if you write, you are a writer. However I think there is a difference between “writer” and “capital ‘W’ Writer”.

I definitely consider myself a writer (well, a Teacher-writer, if you want to be specific), but a Writer? I’m not sure.  I don’t think being published means you are automatically a Writer. I think there is more to it than that, but I haven’t figured out what. In the meantime, here are my answers to some interesting questions.

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1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes, always. Cortney reads my blog regularly and I send him almost every draft of something I am going to submit for publication elsewhere. He is my biggest cheerleader in anything I do and really pushes me to go to the next level in teaching, learning, and writing. I smiled when I read that Stephen King also has his wife read everything he writes.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it? 

Most of my readers are people I know “in real life”. My mom is probably second after Cortney in being my support. She doesn’t always agree with what I have written, but she proudly shares it with everyone and encourages me to keep writing.

My friends and other family members read it from time to time–when they see me post on Facebook and the topic interests them. Many members of my church have become readers, as well as some of my colleagues. Our church library even has one of the books I was published in on its shelves.

I’ve always been deeply honored when people I know tell me they read my writing and enjoy it. It’s also very humbling when former students, people I went to high school with, or past co-workers either approach me “in real life” or reach out via email or Facebook to tell me they enjoy what I write.  That keeps me going.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

The pieces that I have had rejected are either posted to my blog or kept for something else. I never know what I could revise and use again.

Rejection has taught me about who I am as a writer though, and what sorts of publications are more important to me than others. I find that I don’t fit many of the places that other bloggers find success submitting to. I don’t fit the mold that many places like the Huffington Post, Mamalode, etc are looking for.

While I do write about motherhood, most of those essays get rejected, and I’ve become Ok with that. I don’t naturally write beautiful, flowy pieces about being a mom. When I do, it’s usually something that just happens by chance.

The writing I get most recognition for are my opinion pieces and my posts on education. In fact, I’ve been published twice now in academic journals, and that is probably what I am most proud of.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

I don’t think I have ever just “let go” of a piece. If it didn’t start as something here on my blog, I will publish it here in some embodiment of it’s original whether I have to make it more “blog friendly” if it was academic, or revise it down to fit the attention span of blog readers.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I read a ton. I take very seriously Stephen King’s idea that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.  I like to read books on the craft of writing, but I also just like to spend time with good writing–a good book that I can fall into for awhile. I get inspired by good writing.

I also try to read books on teaching pedagogy so I can stay abreast of best practice teaching. This leads me to try new things in my classroom and to write about it here (like I did with Reader’s Workshop and not assigning homework). I also read academic journals which both inspire me as a teacher and writer, but also give me ideas of what I can write about.

I like to read blogs as well. Lately I have been reading lots of political blogs and opinion blogs (but not the comment sections!)

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

I think it’s equal parts experience and reading especially my teaching/writing posts and essays.  It’s hard to write about something you don’t experience, but reading really motivates me to write.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so under-appreciated?

I think young adult literature is often under-appreciated. I know I never thought of it as “literature” until I started reading a TON of it over the past year in preparation for implementing a Reader’s Workshop in my classroom.  When I was the age my students are now, what I had available to me with teen protagonists was hardly good writing. Now I find myself spellbound by authors like Rainbow Rowell, Andrew Smith, and John Green.  I don’t think you have to have teenagers or teach them to fall in love with these books.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I think it depends on the kind of writing you love to do. I appreciate Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, but I also read a lot of “shop lit” (books about teaching writing) by Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Katie Wood Ray, Penny Kittle, and many others.

I also think sometimes reading authors that inspire your writing is sort of like reading a “craft book”. For instance I am largely influenced by Hemingway’s writing style of using very few words to convey very large ideas, but other than his posthumously published A Moveable Feast –which is more memoir than writing direction–there is not much writing advice he gives. I think many Writers don’t claim to know what will work for everyone; they only know what will work for themselves.

While I enjoy a good “craft” book, I don’t lean on them for a direct “Here is How to be a Capital “W” Writer” so much as I glean suggestions and ideas from them.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? 

Nope. No regrets. There have been a piece or two that I didn’t think was my best writing, but I don’t regret that it’s out there.  There are also pieces that I put out there that people read into in a way I didn’t expect, but again, I am not regretful or upset that I pushed “publish” or “send” on those pieces because they started conversations.

I’d love it if you answered a few of these. I’d also love it if you shared what YOU wonder about other writers too.

30 Blog Posts

I did it.

I posted all 30 days of November, and I learned a few things along the way.

1. I don’t really enjoy posting every single day.

2. I am not entirely happy with what I have written for that day, but instead of just hitting “save” on the draft, I hit “publish” because, well, a post a day!

3. I don’t feel like I wrote more than I usually do; I just hit publish more often.

4. I found myself thinking “is this a blog post?” about everything…like I used to do.

5. I am still annoyed about the picture thing. Yes, there have been pictures but that is either with copy/paste or embedding via Flickr. Both are annoying stand in’s to what I should be able to do here.

6. I do still enjoy writing every day, and it’s not all bad to have some pressure to hit publish once in a while.

7. I’ve been more stumped for content because, I think, I’ve been holding back.  No, I know I have. I have some stuff I really, really want to write about, but I am afraid of being controversial or whatever and I don’t have the energy to “deal with” the fall out. Or even the support.  I know. That is sad.

8. Blogging every day has me somehow missing real people more than usual. I am still working this through my brain about what this even means.

9. I’ve become acutely aware of how much has changed since I was at the “height” of my blogging (stats-wise that is) in 2011/12. I didn’t care what other people were logging about or what had been said already. I was writing my own truth not trying to say something new.  Now I feel like a small, repetitive voice in a sea of “been there, done that” type of writing.

10.. I made time to post, but I didn’t make enough time to read others, and I wish I had. I miss reading blogs just for fun. So to those of you who have popped over here, thank you. I know how big of a deal that is.

Will I do NaBloPoMo again next year? I don’t know. I didn’t know I was going to do it this year until I had posted on November one and decided to see if I could. So maybe?

I also know I am tired and tomorrow starts the three-week haul to Christmas break, so I am going to go grab some rest.

one true sentence

hemingway

I have been struggling with my job as a writer.

It’s not that I don’t want to write or that I don’t have a truth to write, but the words have been slow to come. And when they finally find their way from my brain through my finger tips, they just aren’t right.

It’s like typing in a bowl of jello.

To be honest, I have been struggling with that word “truth” that Hem talks about.

What is my truth? How do I go about writing truth?

I feel like when there is hurt or pain or disappointment my truth flows from me in a wild sea of words, almost like it’s running to get out of my head and heart. When I am crushed, the only way back I know is through my words.

But what about when I am experiencing joy and success? Is that not worth my words too? Why is it harder to write about my accomplishments and being satisfied? Why does it feel less “true”?

I have often been accused of being a pessimist–of always saying “yes, but” and “but what if”.

I have got some wonderful news about my writing as of late. Three of the five places I have submitted to this year so far have accepted my writing. One is already available. One is set to print (in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan), and one was just accepted (so I can’t give you more details). I have one more out there. And one rejection.

The one I have written about is the rejection.

Is sadness more true that happiness?

Hemingway also said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

So that is what I will do. Each day.

Today my truth is this:

I am proud of myself.

I feel strong mentally and emotionally, but I need to take better care of myself physically.

I feel like I have earned the break that is summer.

What is your one true sentence?

 

Daily Writing Manifesto

Writers write.

That is a simple truth. Every single book on writing you will ever read will tell you that if you want to be a better writer (or any writer at all), you will find time to write every. single. day.

It doesn’t have to be good writing, it just has to be writing. It does need to be more than just a grocery list or post-it note reminder, though.

Writing is thinking.

When you write through a story or an opinion or a process, you are thinking about that story or opinion or process.  Writing itself is a process, not a product.  My students are sick of my telling them this.

WRITING IS A PROCESS, NOT A PRODUCT, PEOPLE.

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We write every day in my classes. All of my classes: Senior English, Mass Media, and my Freshman Comp course at the Community College.

Each student has a notebook to call his/her own. They put their names on them, they can personalize them.  I encourage them to OWN them. At the high school I collect these notebooks quarterly (once a report card) and just once at the college level.

Each day there is a writing task or strategy projected onto my screen in my classroom. Sometimes it’s a focused- prompt–something I want students to start thinking about because it’s something in the literature or a big theme (today, for instance I am asking them to think of five words that are fairly new to the English language and then choose one to write about because we are going to be learning how to take Cornell Notes during a presentation on the history of the English language. Follow me?)

Sometimes it’s more open because I just want them to brain dump.  I usually use this after a weekend to get their “head in the game” or before we have an essay assignment come up to get their gears turning.

In the beginning, I could tell students didn’t think I was serious about writing for 10 minutes every single day. But now that we are in our third week, it’s starting to sink in that this is the routine.

Come in class, see the WRITE assignment, tardy bell rings, pull out notebook, shut mouth, start writing.

Every day.

Runners run, ballers ball, rappers rap, racers race, dancers dance, gamers game, and writers WRITE.

Football players run different plays so they are not good at only one pass, run, or defensive tactic. Musicians practice different scales and chords so they are not good at only one technique. And writers write in all different voices and tones and styles so that they are not good only at one genre of writing.

Over 90% of my students say they are going on to college after this year, but 100% say they will graduate.  This means they will be going out in to the world and will need to effectively communicate in some form.

They will need to be able to think.

Writing is thinking.

We write to know what we feel and to know what we know. We write to process ideas and solidify arguments. We write to inform. We write to feel.

We write to get it right.

Therefore we write every single day.

We write until we believe we are writers.

It’s Personal

Friday I did something that I wasn’t sure was a good idea, but that I felt I needed to do. I made a snap decision to be vulnerable with my seniors.

I read them my post about depression.

Having never read any of my own personal writing out loud before, and certainly not in front of a bunch of teenagers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But they all listened intently. In fact, I could feel their listening, if that makes sense.

I was nervous, had no idea what to say to introduce the piece, and knew less what to say or do after I finished. One hour was super quiet. One hour gave me a huge round of applause. One student hugged me. Once I cried.

Why in the world did I do this?

I am trying to teach them to write personal narratives.

writingpersonalnarratives

The Common Core Standards (which we use) say that the students will, “write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”  Under that main standard there are five sub-standards based on structure and technique and language.

Pretty generic, but I am Ok with that. It leaves it up to the department/teachers how they want to teach the standard.

We decided to start the year with personal narratives and the prompts we give the kids to choose from are ones that are common on college applications: about important experiences, people who impacted them, the communities they are part of, etc.  The idea is that they are not just writing for a teacher, but for a more “real” audience.

That aside, I want these narratives to be good.

I want my students to dig deep in their souls and pull out something meaningful and powerful. I want them to bleed onto the page. I want them to be so good that I scramble to figure out how to have some sort of public presentation for them to read and share their awesomeness.

I dream big when I dream of my students’ success.

But first we have to start at the beginning.  The blank sheet. The empty document. The blinking cursor.

I started by giving them real examples of student essays–ones we found through a website devoted to helping students write quality entrance essays.  Learn by example before doing, right?

They read them, we talked about what we noticed, but I didn’t feel that they really knew what I was asking. Sure they could tell me that “showing not telling” was important and that the great essays they read did more showing that telling, but I wanted them to do that in their writing too.

I knew they recognized good writing, but could they do it?  I believed so.

But they needed to hear something by someone they knew and could relate to personally. They had to know the person behind the writing.

They  needed to be inspired.

Since this is my first year teaching seniors, I don’t have samples to draw from past years; and besides, it’s always more powerful to have someone you know read their work.

I could tell on Friday that while my students accepted that their first paper assignment was this personal narrative, they were not planning to dig deeply for it.

So I walked over to my computer, loaded up the blog, printed my post, and stood before my students.

And I read my story.

As far as form goes, it was not the best example of what they needed to write. But it was exactly what I wanted them to do with vulnerability and voice.

After I read it, I asked if they understood what I meant by choosing something personal. Not something private, but personal. They nodded, but to find out, I had them each brainstorm ideas for each prompt on their list using lists. The next day, I had them choose one of the ideas they had from one of the prompts and fastwrite about it for 7 minutes.

I asked them to look at their fastwrite and underline/highlight/circle things they liked: ideas, words, phrases, sentence structure.  Look just for the “lovely” (to borrow a phrase from her) in their “bad” writing.

The next day we mapped. Our district teaches all students how to use eight different thinking maps.  The hang in my room on a wall and I routinely see students staring at them deciding which one will best help them manage their thoughts on a subject.

I gave them examples of how they could use a variety of the maps to plan their narrative.

Today they are writing.

Writing and writing.

I’ve looked over shoulders and held netbooks with drafts hammered out on them. Some are bad. Some are Ok. Some have that thing…that shimmer of potential of greatness.

Some students are focused. I see them stare off biting a nail, earbuds in while they think of the next thing they will type. Some are distracted and discussing what happened at lunch.  Drafts are due to me by Friday.

I am going to do everything in my power to look at each. To come up with a good plan for revision. To teach my students to help each other.

But that is another post.

For now, they are writing narratives.

Narratives that I hope they will want to read and be applauded for in front of their peers.

He Writes Stories

I never told Eddie that I have a blog.  He has no idea what a blog is or what I do with mine.

He doesn’t even know that I teach writing.  Eddie only knows that his mommy is a teacher and has a classroom and big kids that she teaches.  He also knows that I spend lots of time doing “work” on my ‘puter.

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A few months ago, Cort took one of our defunct laptops (yes, I know this is a “you know you’re married to a computer geek when” joke), put Windows 8 on it (don’t even get me started on how dumb that is), and made Eddie a “Game ‘Puter”.

It has internet, but the only sites that are not currently blocked are PBS Kids, Disney Jr, and Nick Jr.

Eddie also has access to Word.

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A few weeks ago, I asked Eddie what game he was playing.

“I’m not playing a game.”

“What are you doing then?”

“I’m writing my stories.”

“Your stories?  What kind of stories?”

“Well, this one is about daddy and his best friend, Mat, and how they never get to see each other because Mat lives so far away and they are sad because friends love each other and want to see each other.”

“Wow, Eddie. That is good.”

“Yeah, but now I think I will write the story about when God died.”

“You mean when Jesus died?”

“Yup. Same thing.”

And away his little fingers went all bunched up over the keyboard simulating what he has seen Cortney and I do when we are on our computers.

2013-04-19 17.05.49

Sometimes his stories are based on something we read from one of his books or from his Bible.  Sometimes they are based on what he knows about family (he has also “written” about how Papa and the cat are both in heaven and he misses them).  Sometimes he makes up funny stuff right from his imagination, like the time he told me he was Bad and he had a Bad Cat and a Bad Baby and the Bad Baby knew karate.

Each time he “writes” a new story or song (oh yeah, he also writes songs apparently), he calls me over to see what he has written.  The last story looked something like this:

lkdjldflkaa;l;dxosal d  ldsakjalfsjlka;l kdljnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn afjasl;xada;lkljf;alskaljsf;lkdjs ldfjsalf jls;kfdj;sa df ald als asl    l sflkjasdl;aeuiiuogj 123456789011121314151617181910101010101010l’iaekl’;        lksfasfsl;f ko

asflksadkfa

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alkfasll i[aajaf’as

I believe that one was about the Bad Baby who knew karate.  Clearly.

All joking aside, my heart melted when he told me he likes to write stories.  He has asked me what the letters he puts together say, and I told him that letters have to be put together in a special order to make words.

“Like in my books?”

“Yup. Like that.”

“Will you teach me to do that?  Will you teach me to reads those words too?”

Oh my heart. At that moment I wanted to pull him close to me and tell him how special words are.  I wanted to whisper in his ear that words can set your soul free of so many burdens, either by writing out your own or reading the words of others.  Words are freeing.

But instead I smiled and told him, “yes.”

Yes.

So much yes, Eddie.

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