Everything that I want to say today about my many and varied pedagogical reasons for asking my students to write 144 character tweets that summarize a work of literature is coming out preachy and pedantic. It has been a long and peculiar day, and frustration with our local public school system and my son’s teacher keeps creeping in there, and no one wants to read that. So never mind the theory, or why I think it is a good idea to combine creativity and skills practice, or any other mumbo jumbo. It’s all hooey anyway.
I ask my students to write tweets summarizing a novel because it is fun.
Playing with words is exciting.
The challenge of getting just the right information into that tiny number of characters is exhilarating.
So why not?
I wrote one, and then challenged my online students to do the same. I used it in a recorded lesson that they can watch, and I am issuing them an emailed extra credit challenge to write one of their own for a piece of literature they have read in their class. I hope they take me up on the challenge.
Here’s my sample, written about The Great Gatsby.
Mysterious, rich, notorious, single. Turns out, she’s just not that into him. Tom untouched, Daisy unmoved, Nick aghast, Jay dead. Gatsby’s dock light blinks over all.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. Here’s hoping they pick it up!
Everyone knows that parenting is full of questions. From that initial “They’re sending us home with a baby- by ourselves?!!?” to the more nuanced 3 a.m. existential self-doubt like “Am I doing the right thing? What if everything I have ever said or done to the child has been wrong?”, parents seek answers. (They are never going to find them, but that realization does not kick in for a couple of years. Plus, knowing that the answers are unknowable does not stop the late night soul-searching anyway. Not one little bit.)
It’s not all panic and nighttime philosophizing. Babies, in particular, are so baffling and mysterious, especially to first time parents, that there are also a ton of pragmatic questions.
“How exactly am I supposed to swaddle a baby?” (Answer: Give up trying to learn the fancy technique and just roll the baby up like a burrito. He or she is going to instantly wiggle out of the swaddle anyway. Or was it only my baby who had the infantile skills of Harry Houdini?)
“What do I do when the baby has a fever?” (Answer: Cry. Stay up all night. Worry. Listen to the pediatrician. Know it will pass.)
“Is that a rash, or some caked on oatmeal?” (Answer: Really? You cannot tell the difference? Clearly, you need more coffee.)
What no one prepares you for, when you are expecting a child, is the OTHER questions. The “Oh my God, I sound like my parents!” questions; even better, the ridiculous, never-thought-I-would-hear-myself-say-that, unanswerable questions. Sometimes I feel like I never utter anything other an interrogative. You know?
“Why are you standing naked on top of the dresser, looking in the fish tank?”
“How did you tear a hole in your new jacket?”
“Where IS your new jacket?”
“You know that it is not actually my job to pick up all of your LEGO, right?”
“Did you wash your hands? Really? With soap? Let me see. Go wash your hands!”
“Why are you out of bed again?”
“What did you THINK would happen?”
“Why is the shower drain blocked up with band-aids?”
“Why is the cat wearing your underwear?”
“Who left Hot Wheels in the middle of the kitchen?”
“How did you get a bruise THERE?”
“Why is there one dirty sock under the dining room table?”
“Oh my God, why are you peeing off of the front porch?”
“Where are your shoes?”
“Why are you not wearing your shoes?”
“Are you ready to go? Why aren’t you ready to go? Didn’t you hear me yell ‘It’s time to get ready to go!’ thirty times in the last ten minutes?”
My son was obsessed with Busytown Mysteries for a few years, and they have a little jingle that helps them solve the mysterious happenings in Busytown. When they want to find something out, Huckle Cat and his friends sing, “Who what when where why HOW” with a cute little conga line dance animated to it. I have this refrain running through my head all the time (dance and all). My life is now question based. It’s not that I do not know the answers to these questions. I only have one child, after all, so who flung the toys around or wrote on the wall in crayon or finger-painted the woodwork is really not open for debate. (Despite copious claims to the contrary, the cats do NOT have the fine motor skill required to hold crayons, and they never finger paint voluntarily.) It’s just that so many things are so frustrating, or so infuriating, or so downright mind-boggling that I just have to ask. Parenting is, as I said, question-based.
The only thing I never question is how much I love my little boy.
I was nervous about this challenge when my sister asked me to do it with her, but, not being one to pass up a good challenge, I gave it a try anyway. I had always been interested in writing, though I knew I would never be “A Writer.” Authors always say that they write because they cannot not write; that the words and characters and plots must be expressed, and if they were locked in an empty room, they would have to find a way to write on the walls, with blood or something. (Maybe I only go to readings by very intense authors?) I enjoy writing, and always have, but I have never felt that way about it. I feel that way about reading, without which I definitely would not survive. But writing? Not so much.
I wrote a lot, for a long time. Poetry, some short stories, pieces of novels. (Don’t all English teachers have secret novel writing projects somewhere?) Just for me, as a way of expressing myself, and with my students, so we could all write together.
I screwed up my nerve one fall and took a short story writing class through the local writing project. I had worked with the Oregon Writing Project before, and had taken and enjoyed classes on memoirs and poetry, and wanted to explore writing short fiction. The teacher was a published author, and we had to submit some of our work and an application in order to be accepted. I was accepted into the class. The other students were much more experienced than I was. Several of them had had short fiction published already, and all of them were working on pieces that they were going to submit for publication in a variety of literary magazines. One was writing a book. I was a little intimidated, but stuck with it. We had guidelines, and writing conferences were to be supportive and not critical. I had ideas I wanted to explore, and concepts I thought might make interesting stories. I read and admired the work of the other students and our teacher, made supportive comments and asked questions about areas that seemed to need work, and made suggestions or comments in response to specific requests from the authors. It was interesting reading the stories of the others, even though they were sometimes in genres or styles that I don’t much care for. They were talented and interesting people, and so they wrote interesting stories. Then it was my turn.
I was eviscerated.
Truly. I would not have allowed my students to make the kinds of cutting, non-supportive, and, frankly, unhelpful, comments that were made to me. Every one of my classmates and the teacher hated everything about my work. Genre? Trite. Also, I was doing it wrong. Diction? Trite – that is, when it was not simply cliche. Voice? Unconvincing and undefined. Plot? What exactly was the point?
I endured this for the first piece, and submitted a second, and endured it again. The second time, the comments were as barbed, but a good deal more perfunctory, as the others seemed to have decided that my work really was not worth the time needed to read and think about responses, or even to discuss it. I refused to submit the third piece, failing the class (which was quite expensive) rather than putting myself through that process again. I came to agree with their last stinging question: What was the point?
I closed my notebook. After a lifetime of writing, I did not write again. For years and years.
So going into this project, I had baggage. I was nervous about finding things to say, and about strangers reading my work, and about being judged. Especially since I am not in a traditional classroom every day, and did not feel that slices of my life could meaningfully contribute to discussions on teaching practice. I have read some very good slices this month that do exactly that. In many ways, my posts are trivial compared to those who are able to reflect and dissect their big issues on a daily basis.
Something happened in the course of the month, however. Some of you found my blog and really liked it. I have some followers, who are not related to me and thus obliged to read my writing! You wrote comments of encouragement. You let me know when you enjoyed my writing. You told me I was funny.
You gave me back my voice.
I enjoyed every minute of slicing this month. I enjoyed reading other people’s ideas and trying out new concepts. I enjoyed finding different methods of recording bits of my day, and different aspects of life that might, in some way, resonate with others. I enjoyed thinking outside the box for ways to be “not boring” – for myself, writing every day, and for anyone else who might be reading. I rarely had trouble finding a topic.
Thank you for the challenge. Thank you for a supportive group of people struggling to create a new writing habit and make time in frenzied lives for even just a few lines every day. Thank you for a place to share my writing, and yours, and for the peeks into your lives.
Thank you for my voice.
You can bet that I’ll be back!
On the qualities of a perfect wife:
Miles: I am going to pick the most talented wife ever.
Me: Talented at what?
Miles: So no one peels off their thumb.
Me: Are you saying Daddy should not have married me because I can’t work the carrot peeler?
Miles: No. I just want a smart wife.
Me: Hey, I’m smart! I just cannot work the carrot peeler.
Miles: I love you anyway, Mom.
On being asked to put away a new stack of his laundry every time he walked into the room:
Miles: Ugh! I feel like a teenager who is unhappy! Teenagers hate chores! (stomp, stomp, stomp)
Me: Teenagers have to do their own laundry!
Miles, opening door to grandparents: Hi! Come on in! The house is messy because my mom is pretty slow at cleaning.
Chatting happily in the back seat with Papa, an industrial contractor, about concrete pumpers (A Concrete Boom Truck! I saw it on my DVD! It has a song!) and the various challenges of working with concrete for 20 minutes.
Hotel jacuzzi tub.
Happiest child on earth
Wants three baths a day.
Today, we get to visit the grandparents! My son is blessed with seven grandparents (the legacy of divorces and re marriages on both sides of the family) and he lives to visit them all. Unfortunately, they all live in California, and we do not, so he sees them infrequently. Over the last couple of weeks, he has been remembering that he spent last year’s Spring Break at “Camp Gramma” with Papa Frank and Gramma Linda. He idolizes Papa Frank because he owns a tractor AND a Dodge pickup truck (in red, no less!), so he has been asking when he gets to see this particular set of grandparents again. Last week, we did a big reveal: a much delayed trip (due to this winter’s appalling weather in Oregon and Northern California) was finally going to happen, and we would meet Papa and Gramma about 50 miles from our home.
Today was the day. We knew we would leave at about 3:30, because my husband is NOT on Spring Break and had meetings to go to before slippomg out early. (He is self-employed and has a very strict boss.) By 10am, our boy could not take much more. I told him we were not leaving until a few hours after lunch, so he volunteered to eat lunch right then. By 12:30, with lunch over and Dad off at his meeting, he began to pack for himself. After a while, he had amassed about 10 Hot Wheels, 4 sections of Hot Wheels track, four picture books he likes and the chapter book that I am reading to him, four carefully curated ziplock bags of LEGO parts, a book the he wrote called The Cat Who Made the Moon, two pictures that he drew, his sketchbook, his box of colored pencils, his tractor blanket, 4 stuffed cats, Blue Blankie and Gar. I told him we would only be gone overnight, so he cut down his shoe collection to the hiking boots he was wearing and his high tops (red Chuck Taylors with his name and a picture of a cat on the side). No clothes. That’s what moms are for, right? He then put on his sweatshirt, buckled his backpack straps across his chest, and proceeded to vibrate. For three hours.
When my husband got home from his meeting, he ran outside to meet his Dad and buckled himself into the car seat to wait. The fact that the grown-ups were not ready was irrelevant. We needed to get our acts together and get this show on the road!
Once we were finally on the road for our hour long trip, he continued to vibrate and helpfully repeated all the instructions from the GPS, in case we were not paying attention. At last, AT LAST, we got to the hotel, and there was Papa Frank, waving from the balcony, with Gramma Linda in the door behind him.
Miles broke from us and ran for his grandparents. I have never seen three happier people.
4 new magazines,
Knitting project to finish,
A cup of tea,
All within reach.
Ankle iced and elevated.
6 year old cleaning the house.
Maybe being in pain today is not so bad.
Wait…the 6 year old is cleaning the house?!
It is Spring Break in Oregon, and Oregon may be unique in that it is Spring Break for everyone in K-12 (and some colleges) all over the state, all at the same time. I explained this to my sister once, and she commented that this must be quite overwhelming for all the attractions in Oregon, to have all those kids (and usually at least one parent each) on vacation all at once. This is not an issue, however, because the biggest attraction in Oregon during Spring Break is the airport: Gateway to Someplace Else. (Preferably somewhere sunny.)
You may not be too surprised to hear that we are experiencing traditional Spring Break weather, which is to say…it is pouring, interspersed with breaks of mere showers, and the occasional burst of time in which skies like solid polished pewter press down on you, waiting for the most inopportune moment to burst open again. However, for those who venture outside – which is everyone, because if Oregonians did not go outside in the months-long rainy time, we would wither away and die – it does not really matter if it is raining or not, because everything is going to drip on you and you are going to get wet anyway.
Yesterday dawned with a weather teaser – the sun was out. My son wandered out of his room and announced “The blue came out” and was very excited for a sunny day. I told him that any sunshine at all during Spring Break was pretty unusual, so he went around for a while, declaring that it was “a rare day”. By 8:30am, clouds were wisping by overhead; by 9:30, they were clumping in the sky like giant gray dust bunnies, and by 10, the sky was a mass of shades of gray and black and rain was clearly inevitable. The neighborhood’s earliest flowering tree, a magnolia varietal, had bravely bloomed, its white blossoms shining against the bare mahogany branches, and the cherry trees along the river front were stretching forth their pink flowers, little knowing that they would soon meet their traditional fate of being tattered to shreds by dripping, pouring, lashing, slicing, oh-so-insidious perpetual rain.
Of course, I would not want to imply that the only weather we have during Spring Break is rain. Sometimes, it is broken up by sudden hail. Less frequently, it snows, although never enough to stick on the flooded, puddly, splish-splashy ground. Sometimes, there is the added bonus of thunder and lightning to liven things up. (A good thunderstorm is always exciting in a house with two cats and a small child.)
Furthermore, there is mud and lots of it. The ground oozes with water, teeming with puddles that can no longer be absorbed by the supersaturated ground. Lawns and playing fields and parks squelch. Worms flee their wormy underground homes, seeking sidewalk safety, only to fall prey to puddles and torrential and eternal trickles that wash them back to the mud. Walking up a grassy incline is an exercise in slipping and sliding, with the prospect of a muddy fall in the immediate future for anyone foolish enough (or new enough to Oregon) to actually attempt it. Plants and seeds cannot be planted in early spring in Oregon, not because of frozen ground, or overnight lows, but because the soil is semi-liquid muck. I’m sure that somewhere in Ye Olde Farmer’s Almanac there is an adage which reads “If your boot pulls off into the muck, for planting time you’re out of luck.” Anyone who attempts planting at this time of year will probably end up with hands and knees suctioned down into the sucking maw of sodden clay-filled earth in their front yard and have to be rescued by their laughing neighbors. Failing that, the roots and seeds planted would simply rot away.
So don’t look for me outside, having spring adventures in the great outdoors during Spring Break. I am hanging up my rainboots and curling up inside with the cats, a cup of tea, and a good book. Lucky for me, my son likes to splash in the yard, collecting soggy nature, running around, trying to catch falling raindrops in a bag, and making soft streaks of chalky and ephemeral color in the driveway. I might get peace and quiet long enough for a few sips and a few pages, here in our rainy wonderland.
I keep coming across interesting “life in numbers” posts, so I figured I would give it a try.
1 First time slicer. My sister got me started this year after she did it last year, and I am having so much fun writing along with her.
2 Number of cats that currently run my life. One is almost 13 and thinks my husband is her cat god, and one is almost 1, and follows me everywhere I go and cries if I close the door on her. She thinks standing on my head or my shoulder is a good way to help me work on the computer. Or do anything else, for that matter.
3 Number of people in my small family- me, my husband, and our son.
4 Hours of sleep I got last night, and they were not even stuck together. My son had a rough night and my husband was out of town, so there was only mom to pick up the pieces.
5 The number of nosebleeds that I thought was my son’s record for one week- until the 6th one at 3:09am this morning.
6 Age of my son. 6 is a fun age, and I often remember that he will not be this young or this interested in spending time with mom and dad for much longer.
7 The age I was in second grade when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Mrs. Sanborn, you were the best teacher ever!
8 Number of places I have lived since I left home for college. Currently we live in the house my husband and I bought 17 years ago, and I hope I never have to move again. Too many books to pack!
9 Number of “in-progress” knitting projects I have scattered around my bedroom right now. I seem to be actively knitting only three of them, but I keep promising myself that “I will get right back” to the other ones.
10 days of vacation someplace warm with a pool, a huge stack of books, and no responsibilities. It is Spring Break, and a girl can dream, right?