Category Archives: writing

Clearing the Clutter

I’ve been thinking a lot about clutter.  In my mind, I am a minimalist. I love those wide open clean spaces, creating a blank canvas that facilitates thinking and creativity.  I’m drawn to those books that offer clutter solutions, guaranteeing success in easy steps to get rid of the junk and keep life carefree and unjumbled.  I regularly browse them in the bookstore, taking note of the tips and advice, but seldom put any of it into practice once I get back home. I guess I have to admit that I am a bit of a packrat. 

There are different categories of stuff I have a hard time parting with.  Books compel me. I seek them out like old friends. I crave having them around.  They teeter in tall stacks beside my bed, crowd into the corners of my bulging bookcases, peek out of baskets beckoning to me.  The ones I’ve read remind me of my own thinking and learning, taking me back to different times in my personal and professional lives.  They are those mentors and coaches that helped through tough times, kept me on track or pushed me to the next level in thinking or doing or feeling. The ones I haven’t read yet are the gateways (I hope) to new ideas and new ways of thinking about being in the world. Novels, professional books, nonfiction, fantasy…they all intermingle on my shelves and in my mind, which do I get rid of?

Cards and notes and bits of paper filled with love also linger in my life.  They are tucked into books, crouch near important papers, and hide in drawers and files.  Like rays of sunshine, they warm my heart and lift my spirits. Then there are those keepsake items.  The musical stuffed dragon we bought for our youngest son when he was born, the tattered blanket that was never far from his chubby fist.  Then there’s the letterman jacket showing off the achievements of our water polo playing son, the baby blanket my grandmother crocheted, and the book about education wars my son wrote as an example of satire in seventh grade.

There are also the items that still have use left in them.  The extension cord that has been curled up in the drawer for the last five years because the lamp being used now has a long enough cord.  The drawer of pens that all still work, even though no one uses them. And then there are clothes. Those jeans that are worn thin but you still love, even though they stopped being comfortable five pounds ago, the sweater in your favorite shade of blue that must have cost a fortune but makes you itch every time you wear it.  The baby clothes that remind you of the time when your now grown boys were a babies, won’t one of them want that tiny Padres jacket for his own child one day?

How do I get from my real life clutter to the wide open spaces I see in my mind?  I think about all the books and blogs and videos out there that espouse the perfect solution.  Unclutter in 30 minutes a day, change your life as you tidy your house…you know the claims. And perhaps the bigger question is, do I really want those sleek, shiny spaces that I dream of or does the physical clutter contribute to the complexity of my own thinking?  

As I walk through the Price Center on my way to our meeting room, one of the quotes on the floor catches my eye: “Perfect Order is the forerunner of perfect horror.” Carlos Fuentes.  I stop and snap a photo. Wait…has this quote always been here? Have I walked over it time and time again? Was it placed here purposely for me to find today…just when I most needed to stop and think about it?  As I work to frame the photo with my phone, I’m frustrated by the reflection on the shiny waxed floor, my inability to get the perfect shot. I continue to ponder the meaning, wondering about the appeal of perfect order–that perceived beauty of the sleek and shiny.  The myth that rules and a lack of ambiguity somehow leads to clearer thinking and robust, equitable solutions to the world’s thorniest and most persistent problems.

Perfect Order

Maybe I should take a note from nature, noticing the ways that beauty and complexity are intertwined.  Simplicity is not a straight path with clean uncomplicated solutions and easy answers. Remembering that even my clutter is part of a complex system–memories wrapped up with functionality, sentimentality intermingling with purpose and usefulness–can help me as I continue to chip away at the piles here and the stacks there.  I do want to make space in my life for new–new pathways, new memories, new books, and new ideas–and also leave space for the new to intersect with all that came before.

I have to face it, minimalism is not a likely lifestyle for me.  It’s not likely that I will achieve that perfect order that will result in perfect horror.  I love ambiguity and have spent much of my life pushing against rules that serve as gatekeepers rather than safety nets.  A new lens might help me re-view and re-vision my clutter, seeing new opportunities in what was once simply a mess. Perhaps now is the time in my life to start looking carefully at why some of those things remain, long after they’ve ceased to have use for me.  I’m sure I can find a good home for that extension cord and the drawer full of pens. I will prune, donate, reimagine, and gift the excesses. And I will be patient with myself, knowing that if I can’t part with something today, the time must not be right, and instead I will work to appreciate those teetering stacks and overflowing baskets knowing they are providing me support and comfort for the time being.

But I also won’t be complacent.  Change means looking for a new order and that means I will need to ditch some of things and thinking that no longer serve me.  Maybe this is what all my heron and egret sightings have been telling me: lighten the load, stretch out, and let your imagination take flight.  How can I not be inspired by those amazing yellow feet!

yellow feet in flight

 

Bubbles

There’s a bubble man that regularly shows up at the beach where I walk.  He concocts a bubble mixture, pours it into a bowl that is fitted onto a one-legged stand that he plunges into the sand, and then starts working his magic.  

bigger bubble

Two bamboo poles are his wands, and they are attached by long stretches of rope that serve as the point of bubble creation.  He dips, lifts, opens and swirls using the natural sea breezes to create enormous bubbles that drift along the shore.

Tiny bubbles

Like the Pied Piper, the bubble man attracts children.  They flock to him, chasing the bubbles, hands reaching, eager to pop these ephemeral jewels.  He teases them with a cluster of low, small bubbles, sending them out in a flurry, then lifts his wand high above their heads, coaxing another bubble to grow.  A snake evolves into a dragon, expanding and twisting as it nuzzles the sunset. The kids look up, arms stretched, running beneath the giant as it floats out of reach.  

color unfurls

When the conditions are right, bubbles become corridors to another world.  Immersed in briny ocean water, the brave enter the bubble, seeing the world from inside its colorful coating.  For those who are patient and move with elegance and ease, the bubble stays, moving with them in a watery dance of soap and salt and air.  

img_8263

There’s something freeing about the temporary nature of bubbles.  You can almost catch them, but never quite possess them. In some ways it’s like learning.  For a moment, you can stop time and hold it in your hand and then, pop! It has become part of the air again, you breathe it in and it is a part of you.  

lrg_dsc09678

Don’t stop, blow a new bubble today. Try some small ones to get started, share them with others. Now reach. Higher. Open your arms wide, catch the breeze.  Pop! It’s gone before the bubble formed. Try again and again until the light catches and the colors unfold into a rainbow of possibility.

Full color bubble

On the National Day on Writing

Today is the National Day on Writing–a day to celebrate all that writing offers.  My students were excited this morning at the thought that they would get to write today.  In fact, they were already excited about the writing they had done last night in their Learning at Home notebooks. We started the day listening to a short story by a student about a leaf, a leaf personified, who travels from a tree branch to a construction site and eventually back to a leaf pile with the help of the leaf blower.  We could have spent the entire morning listening to stories written by students…but we had writing to do!

Inspired by Red Sings from the Treetops by Joyce Sidman, we began writing our own color-inspired poetry earlier this week.  Today we took those bits and starts and worked to craft them into a whole piece.  Some students were spectacularly successful, some had moments of brilliance, and others veered away from color and still wrote some interesting accounts of things they are interested in.  They wrote, read to a partner, and eventually created a short video of themselves reading their poem on Flipgrid.  And while their first attempts are not ready for “prime time,” I am proud of all they accomplished today and their enthusiastic and creative approach to our day.

Here are a few glimpses:

In winter, yellow sighs, I’m done.  None of my sunlight can peek through clouds as dark as the oceans’ most shadowy blue places.  It’s time white takes his place..

(Third grade boy)

In summer yellow shines from the sky while blue splashes .  Colorful plants explode with power and beauty.  In summer blue wraps around my ankles.  Red rises from green…

(Third grade girl)

In the morning gold wakes me up with his paws and barking, “I’m hungry.” And with his pink tongue, gold wets my face…

(Third grade boy)

At the beach, green is sly.  It slithers by surfboards, sneaks by me and ties a slippery knot around my legs…

(Third grade girl)

Students left today wanting more…begging for more opportunities to write and share.  My students remind me that writing can be playful and creative, an opportunity for social interaction and experimentation.  They remind me that there are lots of reasons #whyiwrite!

 

Paying Attention: #whyiwrite 2017

Fall is subtle in San Diego. Instead of a riotous celebration of trees dressed in their best fall colors I notice that the lifeguard towers have been moved from their strategic summer shoreline positions to a collection near the road. Instead of grabbing a sweater and drinking warm apple cider, we scan the horizon for evidence of wildfires as hot winds gust and whip the dry grasses and dust into a frenzy.

lifeguard towers

But in spite of these easy to miss markers of fall, there are seasons in San Diego. Not the two (spring and summer) that so many use to describe our temperate climate, but four distinct seasons that you might only recognize if you take the time to notice, document, and reflect.

fall colors on the ocean

It’s like that in my classroom too. As teachers (and maybe as parents and learners too) we all wish that learning came with recognizable markers of growth. That we could watch the leaves of learning change from green to yellow to brilliant crimson, celebrating new knowledge, expertise and confidence. We’d love for snowplows to mark the new pathways that allow for connections between new concepts and older understandings. But learning is often subtle. It is incremental, sneaking its way into our synapses and those of our students without fanfare.

To pay attention to these subtleties, I turn to my camera.  My camera has become my go-to tool for focusing my attention, allowing me to notice and document changes in my environment.  Through its lens, I pay attention to changes in light and shadow, notice moods and action, and see what might otherwise be overlooked.  Combined with writing, reflection becomes a daily habit with camera in hand.

black and white seagull

Writing helps me pay attention. It helps me record the small details that don’t seem to amount to much and notice how those details change, accumulate, and grow over time. And when paired with photography, writing helps me leap from concrete to abstract, considering why a photo of lifeguard towers stored for the fall and winter draws my attention to my students and their learning. Writing pushes me from the tediums of day to day, to examine the reasons I keep returning to those same topics. And even more importantly, when I write, I am reminded of the power of writing not just for myself but also for my students and that helps me search for ways to support them as they find their own reasons to write.

I write to support my students as writers, knowing that the power of the pen will open possibilities for thinking, learning, and problem solving. And when I pay close attention, I will not only learn about them but also from them. That’s why I write.

A Tiny Celebration of Writing

I aspire to a daily writing practice, following my thoughts where they lead, planting seeds of ideas that may produce something more at a later date, documenting life’s everyday events—both ordinary and extraordinary. Many days I fail to write, excusing myself mostly because the practice is not firmly established enough to be a habit that I no longer have to prioritize. But sometimes I get the opportunity to write in the course of my day…a treat that reminds me of my intention.

Last week as part of some work bringing National Writing Project (NWP) teachers and science museums together to consider ways they might partner to support students and teachers, I wrote. On my table a hotel coffee cup contained some small shells and a couple of hand lenses. We were invited to examine a shell, sketch, and write.

Here’s my beginning thinking—the result of taking about five minutes to sketch and write.

img_5890

Layers of ridges that wrap the diameter and also extend along the length give the surface a spiky texture that I can feel as I roll the shell between my fingers.

Spiraling up from a tiny sharp tip, an opening is revealed on one side of the widest part. Although I’ve seen a version of this shell many times, I don’t know who lives there or what it is called.

I imagine a tiny snail carrying its home on its back, washed with the tides without a permanent resting place. Perhaps these creatures are the original Tiny House Nation, secure, bringing their homes—intricately assembled for efficiency and functionality—with them wherever they roam.

I’m reminded again of the importance of establishing this daily practice, even if in tiny spurts—one I regularly espouse for my students and teachers I work with. Can I spare five minutes a day for writing? Of course, everyone has five minutes somewhere. Why don’t I write for five minutes every day? There are a million excuses—among them, the fear that I will need not five minutes but an hour once I get started.

So today I’ve written another five minutes or more, moving this small piece from my notebook to my blog and adding a bit of context. I hope this is a catalyst for reestablishing that daily writing habit, even if for only five minutes a day. Today I will celebrate the tiny start and be reminded that small starts are betting than not starting at all.

#haikuforhealing

It’s so easy to break a good habit, even after it has been well established. When I started this blog, I wrote daily for months on end.  Of course, I did it because I knew if I stopped (and I was afraid to stop for even one day), I would have a hard time getting back on track.

I guess I was right.

This week, my friend and colleague Kevin posted a prompt on the NWP iAnthology, inviting some short-form writing in the form of Haiku, 3 line poems, for the purpose of healing the spirit.  #haikuforhealing is a hashtag where people are sharing these poems meant to raise spirits.  I noticed Kevin writing them in December, making posters of them with inspirational images as their backdrop.  I enjoyed them…and thought about writing some of my own.

So when the prompt came up on Saturday, I decided to try my hand at it. I started with a photo I had taken and posted on Instagram.  I imported it into Canva and added my words. My first #haikuforhealing was born.

img_4860

On Sunday my schedule didn’t allow for a long photo-taking walk. Instead, I snapped a shot of the moon through the trees in the Trader Joe’s parking lot.  I messed with it a bit in prisma, amping up the color. Hmmm…a Haiku about the moon?  I could do that.

img_4868

It rained quite a bit on Monday, but it had stopped by the time I left work. Knowing rain was in the forecast later in the week, I decided to take a walk on the beach on the way home.  The clouds were sitting low, hugging the horizon, as the sun tried its best to peek through.  Inspiration for another #haikuforhealing?  Why not?

img_4882

Should I go for four days in a row?  One of the things I love about living near the coast is the proximity to the trains. I hear them as I walk on the beach, I hear them as I teach, and they frequently hold me up at intersections as the guards lower, the lights flash, and the train barrels past.Today I was walking toward my car when the rail guards dropped, giving me just enough time to snap a few shots…and think about a Haiku…

img_4892

I don’t know if I have re-established a habit of daily writing, but I am four days into daily #haikuforhealing writing.  I’m enjoying it.  I like creating the poster with my photograph and words…and sharing it on Twitter (@kd062) makes me feel accountable (at least to myself).

Join in the healing, let Haiku shift your perspective and help you find inspiration, beauty, meaning…  And if you have other ideas to keep the daily writing fresh and doable, I’d love to hear about them!

 

Playing with Postcards

It’s CLMOOC time…in fact it’s the break/brake week, meaning that without specific prompts or even general guidelines, I have been thinking about ways to make and connect.

There’s been lots of talk about the postcard project in the CLMOOC community (and by the way, if you haven’t stopped by yet, everyone is invited!) and I’ve been tempted to join the fun to send and receive (through snail mail) postcards to CLMOOC friends.  I knew I wanted to incorporate my photography into the process but hadn’t really worked that out yet. And then I saw a post on Teachers Write, a Facebook group focused on getting teachers writing in the summer, where Madelyn Rosenberg offered her version of a quick write called Postcards!

Earlier today I broke down and gave into my impulse to try out Prisma, a photo app that turns your photos into art (some of the effects are really cool!).  And then I buckled down and tried on Madelyn Rosenberg’s Postcards quick write strategy.  With words and an image, I headed over to Canva to combine the words and images.

On Sunday my husband and I stopped by the beach around 6:30pm for a pre-sunset walk and I was amazed at how many people were in the water…still.  I took a photo from above the beach to try to capture the numbers of people in the water.

Combining my words with my photo, here’s my postcard:

img_2481

And who can resist beautiful, stately palm trees?  Of course I have taken many photos of them, so it was fun to transform my photo into something that looks kind of art deco to me (also in Prisma)…here’s my palm tree postcard:

img_2482

I think the re-imagined photographs and short form writing work well as postcards, so my next step will be to transform these digital postcards into analog postcards to address and slip into the mail…to surprise…someone!