Writing in the face of fear

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Just under the wire, I’ve completed my first two “assignments” for Teachers Write, an online writing “summer camp” for teachers. After returning from a weekend away in Florida, I resumed my role as Daddy for the evening; dinner, baths, Band-Aids, and bedtime, before settling in to continue in the far lesser-known role of writer. It’s the role that takes a backseat to all of those listed in this blog’s description.

I began with Kate Messner’s Monday Mini-Lesson about writer’s notebooks. It’s a perfect way to get started because it actually forced me to think about where I keep my writing. If you know anything about my “unique organizational systems,” you’d know that they include little in the way of practical organization. I do my best to post comments to each of the TW lessons I complete. Here was my idea about my “notebook”:

The world is my notebook. That sounds awesome, but it’s not. I have bits and pieces of ideas and writing all over the place. Sticky notes, napkins, receipts, you name it, I’ve got notes, doodles, or writing on it. I’ve gotten better at keeping digital records of these things so they’re not gone forever when the kitchen drawers and counters get cleaned. I’ve also started to use the Rocket Book app to upload images of my work. It’s helping to organize my ideas, but I do enjoy finding an old idea buried in the drawer or in the pocket of last fall’s jacket!

So, this summer, as I continue writing, I will also continue to develop strategies for managing my ideas, writing, doodles, and such.

Today’s second assignment, Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-up, offered encouragement, which TW so often does, and a call to action. One of her possible starting points for stuck writers is, “Write something uncomfortable.” That instantly led me back to my Google Drive, where many of my “notebook” ideas reside, for a single line, “I’m not a criminal, yet.” I have loved that line for a long time, but I was kind of afraid to see where it would take me.

I am fascinated by authors who put it all out there without fear that they will be seen as being like the people they create. Michael Robotham’s Shatter is a good example. How does he think of a character who does horrible things to people? Maybe that’s not the hard part. It might not even be hard to write what they do. But to print it for all the world to see. That’s guts. Surely it changes the way some people look at a writer as a person. “How could he think/write that?” But changing the way people see the world is one of the main reasons to write, so let’s go.

 

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Inspiration. A poem. A finished product?

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On Friday, April 1, I got to spend the afternoon with a fool for all seasons, Bryan Crandall, of the Connecticut Writing Project. In a day full of Teacher PD, I most looked forward to his afternoon poetry session. He’s creative. He’s different. He’s fun. He’s captivating and captivated. Bryan’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is inspiring. So here’s a poem I wrote, inspired by the session

Appearance – obsessed New Yorkers
stream as
a robot
customizes wires.
Cutting edge
Wires and brackets
Aligners.
Wires and brackets
The wave of the future
Aligners.
Straightening
Suspected
Everybody
A hunch
Aligners.
They do it a lot.
It’s just easier.

Weird? Sure. What does it mean? You tell me! It came from an activity in which we “deworded” magazine articles, searching for words that seemed poetic.

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A deworded article, some notes, and a draft

Another activity had us listing words that began with the same sound. For me, it was hard c. From a list of eight words, I put together what I’m calling a “poetic fragment”.

   Crazy captivates
   Catastrophe coagulates

I think there’s more there, but like Miss Rumphius, I do not yet know what that will be. The first line immediately reflected our culture, particularly politics. The second line had me thinking about how disaster brings us together. On Saturday I ran the 5k for Sandy Hook. In driving rain, about 2,000 of us gathered together to remember those taken in one of our greatest tragedies. Catastrophe coagulates.

Over the last two days, my school was blessed to welcome author Ralph Fletcher. I am continually awed by his ability to catch those moments that pass most of us by and share them with the rest of us. Read Twilight Comes Twice, and you’ll see what I mean.

Ralph talked to staff about using mentor texts to help students see what’s possible. He spoke with students about finding, and often embellishing, moments in their own lives to inspire their writing. These are simple messages, but important ones. They take the mystery and magic out of writing and make it accessible to everyone. Read and write. Open your eyes, your ears, and your heart, and write. Just write.

Tonight, as everyone in my house sleeps, I write. Thanks Bryan and Ralph for the inspiration.

“I’ve got more.”

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As a teacher of writing, l often ask nine-year-olds, “Who cares?” at the end of their writing pieces. It’s cold, but it’s meant as an entryway for reflection. If someone reads, how will it matter to them? I should ask myself as well. About writing, of course, but also about life. As 2015 draws to a close, I ask myself, “Who cares?”

Teaching is hard. Sometimes it’s very hard. My 2014-15 school year had me wondering if I wanted to continue this line of work. Teaching is a job where you don’t always get out what you put in. Some years just take, and take, and take. Some years I feel empty in the end, like I didn’t give enough. But one joy of teaching is being able to try again. To start anew. To find yourself again,  to see the promise in new faces, and give more to the next group. I’ve got more. I know that because I haven’t taught to the point of passing out yet.

As that school year ended, my running life began again. I needed to run away, and I found something to carry me on to the next year with renewed purpose.

I used my end-of-year gift card to buy a new pair of running shoes and some shorts, and I ran. I put in 150 miles over the summer. Those miles helped me focus on something that I’d been missing. Me. I got to know myself again on the road. I found out something. I’ve got more. One more mile. One more lap. One more stride. One more whatever. There’s always something left in the tank. I haven’t passed out running yet.

As a dad and husband, I have to remind myself that I have more for them too. More patience. More time. More love.

After a hard day at school, or many long days at home over a break, there is still more I can give them even if I have to dig deep to find it. Being a family man has yet to cause me to lose conciousness.

“I’ve got more,” is carrying me through my life. If every person in the world weren’t getting tattoos, I might emblazon my body with the phrase. That simple phrase that ran through my head running hard around the corner of Columbia St. leading me to push harder when I so badly wanted to slow down changed the way I look back at my year. It’s changing the way I look at my life.

“Who cares?” Maybe you do. Because I’ll bet you’ve got more too.

A running life again

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I am a husband, father, teacher, and neighbor. Most of the things I do in my life are for others, and that’s ok, but running is for me.

I probably always thought of myself as a runner. I can remember people saying I was fast when I was a kid. I proved it in the annual mile run at school. I ran all over the place. You couldn’t stop me.

I ran track and cross country in high school. I won a couple of medals. Then I grew up. I stopped running. For close to twenty years, more than half my life, I haven’t been a runner. I have spent more time looking for those medals over the last five years than running.

Now, for the last five months, since the first day of summer vacation, I’ve been a runner again. I hope to be a runner for the rest of my life.

When I was a runner way back when, I learned everything I know about hard work and dedication from my beloved coach, Yvonne Grimes. I never stopped thinking like a runner throughout my life by setting goals, succeeding sometimes, but mostly failing. Never stopping. Never quitting. Now that I’m back on the road, trails, and track, I am all about making the most of every run and getting faster, getting fitter, and having fun.

I didn’t realize it all those years, but the hard purple-faced workouts in the heat and prepping for a race with tingling fingers on a frigid morning are the things I’ve been missing. These are things that make running great. They are the times when you actually ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” These are the times you smile to yourself and simply answer, “Because you’re a runner.”

Now that I am finally a running adult, I cherish every second of my runs. The warm ups (maybe not stretching yet), the excruciating intervals, the hills, counting my cadence, and pushing toward the finish of a workout, of a race.

In the past five months, I have had several runs that went beyond my intended goals. A twenty minute run went five minutes longer. Ten minutes longer. A two mile run became a three miler. After a four mile Sunday morning run, I did a four mile Sunday night run. “You’ve got more,” I literally say to myself. And I do have more. That’s the fun. How much more?

Eventually, all runs must end, and it’s a good thing they do. I am usually greeted by my little girl yelling, “Daddy’s home!” as I enter the back door. She then fills me in on whatever she and her brother and mother have been up to since I ran off.

Maybe the reason I’ve become a running adult, more than the fitness and fun, is because I have people to run for and a place worth running back to.

Since high school ended, I have wasted my running life. I figure I’m only about half-dead, so I’ve got a lot of running ahead of me. I’ve got more.