Category Archives: writing

Reflections on Writing: #whyiwrite

Each year on October 20th people from all over are invited to write, to share their writing, and to consider the prompt: #whyiwrite.  I appreciate a National Day on Writing, a day to celebrate this often unexamined practice that most of us engage in daily.  Sometimes we are confused by the word writing, considering only the writing that appears in bookstores, in magazines, or in prestigious online spaces as “real” writing.

Whatever writing we do is real.  But fear can keep us from getting those words out of our heads and onto a page.  I often find myself writing as I walk, starting a narrative or poem in my head, sparked by something I noticed, overheard, observed.  These words are easily lost, blown into the sea breeze if I don’t make a conscious effort to remember long enough to get them written or somehow recorded for later writing and elaboration.

I find that my words take flight when I turn off that internal censor.  When I stop worrying about writing the perfect essay, saying the “just right” thing that will dazzle and impress someone else.

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But why do I write?  I started blogging to hold myself accountable to regular writing.  But all I write isn’t reflected in this public space.  This space, though, offers me the opportunity to connect, to reflect on my writing, teaching, photography, and life in general.  It lets me start small as I wonder and wander through the ideas in my mind.

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A writing project meeting yesterday led us to a new room on campus, where this quote was prominent on the walls.  I don’t know that it is perfectly true for me, but I like the sentiment. That risk-taking matters.  Sometimes we have to approach an old problem in a new way to figure out a solution.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot when it comes to teaching.  There’s so much talk about how kids are different these days, how they struggle to pay attention (often blamed on our screen-centered society), and how we need to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist.  Most of these comments are posed as problems, difficulties to overcome instead of aspirations to reach for.  Why would we teach students today the same content in the same ways as we taught that class ten years ago?  Why is curriculum more similar to than different from what it was when I was a child oh-so-many year ago?  Is this student problem really a teaching problem (or a structures around teaching problem)?  It might just be an assessment problem, since the content that is tested is certainly prioritized in our schools!

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That ever-moving target can sometimes make us all feel like failures.  We keep reaching for THE solution, instead of enjoying each wave as we ride it.  Watching surfers from the San Clemente pier yesterday reminds me of the importance of patience, playfulness, and persistence.  (And those same traits might just apply to the photographer as well!)  I’m sure each surfer out there in the cool, salty water in the slant of light on a late fall afternoon was in search of the perfect wave, the great ride, the most fun…  What I loved as I watched was noticing the surfers spot potential waves, start and stop–sometimes bailing out of a waves at the last possible moment; lining themselves up to catch the upcoming wave–paddling, turning, jockeying with other surfers for position; playing with waves that turned out to be less than–swan-diving backwards out of the ride.  I’m reminded that there is learning and joy in the process, not just the end product. How do we help students (and teachers and parents and the public) see the learning that happens in the trying rather than in the exam or “final product?”

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So why do I write?  I write to play with words and ideas.  I write to problem-solve, to follow a line of thinking to a place where I can grapple with it.  I write to pay attention to the world around me, to inhale the joy and exhale the heaviness.  And I persist in writing even when it feels too hard, too time consuming, too frustrating, too messy.  Writing matters, each one of us has to find all the reasons why for ourselves (we just may need a little nudge from our friends, teachers, lovers, mentors).  Thanks for the nudge National Day on Writing!

Now it’s your turn, why do you write?

 

Into Negative Spaces

The paths we follow through life seem to be self-determined, crafted from deep thought and consideration.  Carefully groomed and plotted, they take use from where we are to the next destination.  We know where we are going and the most effective and efficient way to get there. Except when we don’t.

Negative space is art terminology that describes the spaces not filled in with color or design. They are the open spaces that often define those more deliberate lines, brushstrokes, carvings.

What happens when you lean into the negatives spaces?  When the spaces between become the path you follow?

I think about the ways that dandelions find the cracks in the walls, in the sidewalks, along the sides of the road, plant themselves deeply and blossom–spreading both their roots and their seeds to ensure that they thrive.

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I think about the blue that is visible through the openings in the clouds, where the sun seeps through and warms our shoulders and relaxes our minds.

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I spy the scented geraniums hiding between the spiky arms of the aloe vera, soft pink flowers intertwined with the sharp spines of the succulent.

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I notice the children who lay low, distinguishing themselves by the ways they blend in, quietly doing what they need to while others stand out, spreading their brilliant plumage like colorful peacocks.

But I know that these negative spaces are not negative, not less than, not inferior.  These are spaces waiting to be defined by the traveler, marked as the feet step on this road less traveled.  There are many paths that lead to fulfilling and successful lives…so why do so many insist that we all follow a single pre-determined path?

Let’s remember that sometimes the right path is the one that is yet to be discovered.

Influences: The Power of Audience

I wasn’t going to post today.  After 61 consecutive posts I was going to take the day off.  But today I found myself reminded of the influence and power that comes with having an audience, no matter how small.

I started the day with a twitter post from Kevin…

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And then a response on Facebook from Ronald…

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When I got home tonight, I came across a blog post from Sheri where she highlights parts of my reflections on writing (from yesterday’s post) that resonated with her.

As I think about those responses I realize another important aspect of writing that I forgot to include in yesterday’s reflection:  the importance of writing in a community of writers.  In addition to Kevin, Ronald, and Sheri, there are myriad others who influence my writing and thinking–some who respond to my writing, some who post their own writing, and some who read my writing and don’t respond but make a passing comment to make me realize they read what I write.  Some of these people I only know from our digital connections, some I know both from in-person encounters and digital forums, and others I see in person on a regular basis.

Knowing that others will read my writing helps to keep me accountable…not only to others but also to myself.  And reading the writing (and other kinds of creating) of others, inspires my writing.  This mutuality of being in a community bring sunshine, water, oxygen, and fertilizer to my thinking and my writing creating the perfect conditions for blossoming.

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#whyiwrite: October 20, 2018

I should probably title this post, All the Reasons I Don’t Write, instead of using the National Day on Writing hashtag #whyiwrite.  But instead of enumerating a list of excuses, I will use this occasion as an opportunity to write.

I’ve established a regular walking practice.  I’ve learned to carry my walking shoes (and my flip flops) with me in my car, leaving me ready for unexpected opportunities–and no excuses for not walking because I don’t have the right shoes.  My camera is also a motivator for my walking–I love to take those daily photos and walking gets me to interesting locations where I find the fodder for my photography habit.

My writing practice fares better when I have an external expectation keeping me on track.  I wrote and posted daily during the month of April when my students and I took on a 30-day poetry challenge.  And I posted weekly photography challenges for years when the iAnthology was my audience.  So now, I know I need to create some reasons for establishing a regular writing practice–one that takes me beyond the more work-related writing that always happens–you know, the lesson plans, the emails, the proposals and reports.

So I will begin today with some thoughts about birds.  If you’ve visited here before, you have probably noticed my obsessions with egrets, including the post I wrote about the egret being my spirit animal.  But yesterday and today, it was a different kind of bird that was called to my attention.

Birds of prey are difficult to photograph–and even to get a close look at without a camera.  They tend to soar high above our heads, their sharp eyes on the lookout for prey.  Yesterday I spied a hawk perched on a sign along the beach-side cliff.  It sat, overseeing the beach and was not at all bothered by me approaching from below to photograph.  Somehow it seemed appropriate that the sign it was perched on said, “Pack Your Trash!”  While I’m not entirely sure, I’m thinking it’s either a red tailed hawk or a red shouldered hawk.  I thought at first it might have been an osprey–I’ve seen them before in this area, but this was clearly a hawk of some sort.

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And today, not far from this same spot along the cliffside, I noticed a man looking intently high up on the cliff.  When I looked up, he drew my attention to the large bird of prey sitting on some bare branches above us.  I knew immediately that it was an osprey (I had done a bit of research when I got home yesterday).  He pointed out the fish beneath the bird, which he had been watching for a bit.  I stood under the branch, trying to capture a photo of this beautiful bird.  Other people came by, commenting on the beauty of this elegant sea eagle.

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I found myself thinking about this coincidence of spotting two birds of prey on my walks on two consecutive days.  When I watch egrets, I think of their patience, their calm and regal manner as they stand knee-deep in the ocean water.  They seem solitary–in great contrast to the seagulls and smaller shore birds that ofter hang out in groups, running with the tide.  When I think of birds of prey, I think of fierceness and independence.  They seem to take control of their environment, taking the long view of the resources below.  They are brutal and efficient, moving sharply as they take their prey, gripping firmly with sharp talons and sharper beaks.

Do I have something to learn from birds of prey right now?  Is this a call to be more decisive, to be more fierce and determined?  I know these beautiful birds have me thinking…and writing.

I know that I write to think, to better understand myself and the world around me.  I write to reflect and to express, to slow down and pay attention.  On this National Day on Writing I renew my commitment to daily writing…and to more frequent posting here.  How will you celebrate the National Day on Writing?  Why do you write?

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.

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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!

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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!