SOLSC #10: One Day

The idea of journaling both intrigues and taunts me.

Whether I am in a bookstore, stationary shop or gift store, journals of all designs, sizes and colors lure me in with their enchanting promises of inspirational stories and provocative thoughts.

Enthralled, I make my way over to the shelves of journals. Handling each with care, I admire the texture and design of the cover and inspect the quality of the paper tucked within. I listen to its whispered promises.

Unable to resist, I am taken with one or two muses and make my way to the register, excited at the prospect of filling the pages with fodder for thought.

This journal is special,” I believe. “This journal will travel with me. This journal will inspire…”

“…it  rides all day in a raincoat pocket,/ready to admit any droplet of thought,/nut of maxim,/narrowest squint of an observation.” (Journal, Billy Collins)

Sadly, this is where my tale ends. My ship, lured in by the Sirens, crashes into the rocks, as yet another journal graces my shelves collecting dust and the growing mold of false promises.

Now and again, as I pass by, I can hear their music taunting me once more…

“…there is room in the margins/for the pencil to go lazy and daydream/in circles and figure eights,/or produce some illustrations,/like Leonardo in his famous codex -/room for a flying machine,/the action of a funnel,/a nest of pulleys,/and a device that is turned by water…” (Journal, Billy Collins)

“One day,” I whisper back. “One day.”

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SOLSC #6: Power of Words

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Oh my goodness, I don’t know where to begin…today, the sixth grade Humanities classes had the opportunity to work more closely with Newbery Award winning author, Jack Gantos.

A plethora of writing advice was shared with the overarching message that we are all writers “full of really good stories.” For too long, Gantos believed writing had to be profound and found himself paralyzed trying to write something of significance.

This confession resonated with me personally as I am often plagued with the notion that my writing needs to be worthy of attention, thus I fret over every word and question my choices, often getting nowhere.

Self-doubt,
Whispers in my ear
Shrouded in insecurity 
Trampling my confidence and obstructing forward progress.

Gantos impressed upon the students that they can battle such insecurities with good writing practices:

  • Buy and keep a journal. This is your narcissistic tool as it wields the power of YOU. YOU are the main character. YOU are the hero. YOU win all the arguments. It is all about YOU!
  • Create a MAP. This map should reflect your house or neighborhood and the surrounding perimeter. The drawing causes the stories to float around in your mind, nourishing ideas.
  • Engage in DISCIPLINED WRITING. Write every day for 10-15 minutes. Write to capture the story – a little blast every day. Don’t worry about getting messy at this stage. Gantos reassures us it is a good mess.
  • Engage in FOCUSED REWRITES. This is where you, the writer, focus on making a good story, better.
    • Reread your story and add a layer of EMOTION.
    • Reread your story and make sure all the ELEMENTS OF WRITING have been included:
      • CHARACTERS: Add dialogue to bring the characters center stage. Be sure the main character changes from beginning to end.
      • SETTING: Bring the place the story happens to life. Help the reader visualize the where.
      • PROBLEM/SITUATION: Be sure you have stated the problem.
      • ACTION/PLOT: Start with the smallest problem and build to the largest issue. Think of your plot as a set of stairs.
      • CRISIS: Magnify this moment – slow it down and expand it. Let the reader experience the crisis alongside the character.
      • RESOLUTION: How was the problem solved?
      • PHYSICAL & EMOTIONAL END: What happened and what was the lesson learned?
    • TIGHTEN LANGUAGE: Focus on strong verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Your language needs to be precise and evoke emotion.

Gantos’ final gift to his young audience…

“Good writing practices lead to good writing. Good writing leads to confidence, and confidence feeds motivation.”

A small confession…

At the end of the lesson, I asked Mr. Gantos’ permission to take a photo of his journal. As I snapped the photos, I found myself overwhelmed with awe. Writing is so powerful. Words have the ability to change lives, and here I was intruding on the words of a Newbery Award winning author.

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As I grappled with my emotions, the school librarian asked if I would like my photo taken with Mr. Jack Gantos. I readily accepted (this is atypical, as I usually dodge photos at all costs) and was overcome with the opportunity to share a moment with an honored author.  I was indeed starstruck. 

What a fabulous day! I look forward to watching my students become authors.

Brace yourself kids, I am excited, and you know what that means!

Slice of Life Challenge!

Classroom Slice of Life Challenge

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”  ~Truman Capote

March is fast approaching, and as promised, we will be participating in the Two Writing Teachers “Classroom Slice of Life Challenge”.

What does this mean?

  1. It means you will be writing EVERY DAY in March. Yep, even on the weekends!
  2. It means you will be commenting on other student blogs around the world EVERY DAY.

What is a “slice of life?”

A slice of life is a description of the ordinary details of real life.

What should I write about?

Anything and everything! Think of the challenge as an opportunity to journal the exciting as well as the mundane aspects of your life.

Two “slice of life” authors include Sandra Cisneros and Jack Gantos. They use their own experiences as a springboard for their writing. Note the following extracts from their books.

My Name from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female-but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.

My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild, horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name Magdalena–which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least- -can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza. would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.

 Dynasty from Jack’s New Power by Jack Gantos

We threw our clothes off and pulled our new bathing trunks up over our skinny white legs. After we knotted the drawstrings inside our waistbands, we ran down to the pool. Betsy had settled on a lounge chair to read a book. The baby was asleep in his carriage under a striped umbrella with fringe around the edges.

Pete and I gathered up a garden hose, a big rock, and my swim mask. We were playing a game we called “Deep-Sea Diver” after a movie we had seen in the television room. I was the diver and Pete was my air-pump and support crew. Anyone who dove into the pool would be a giant squid. If they touched me, I was strangled to death.

I put on my mask, stuck one end of the hose in my mouth, picked up the rock, and jumped into the deep end. I held my breath and sank to the bottom. I exhaled out of the corner of my mouth and watched the silver-and-blue bubbles go all the way up to the blurry surface. Then I breathed through the hose. It worked. There was air flowing through. I exhaled and took a deep breath. Then I held the hose with my right hand and tugged on it twice. That was the signal. In a moment I could taste lemon soda mixed with some funky inner-hose scum. Then there was more soda, and more. I needed to breathe. I pulled on the hose. The soda slowed to a trickle, then stopped.

This was great. I could have stayed there the entire day. Pete could feed me olives, raisins, and little Vienna sausages all washed down with my new favorite soda, Lemon Squash.

I was thinking that the air was getting a little thin and it would be a good idea if we had a bicycle pump to hook on to the hose so Pete could pump fresh air to me. Suddenly the hose was jerked out of my mouth and I swallowed a lungful of water. I pushed the rock to one side and sprang up toward the surface. “Why’d you do that?” I sputtered.

“Come quick,” Pete said and pranced up and down on his toes as if he had to pee. “Dad’s drowning.”

Other Thoughts:

  • Write a snapshot, drabble (exactly 100 words), dribble (exactly 50 words) or a tiny story of an observation you made on the way to or from school (a stray dog, monkeys raiding your mango tree, the bread motorbike).
  • Sit quietly in a place for 10 minutes. Notice everything around you – what do you see that you have never noticed before? Write a poem or description of your new observation.
  • Listen to the conversations that go on around you. Take a snippet of the conversation and turn it into a drabble (100 words).
  • Write your opinion about something that is happening in the news.
  • Write a photo essay. Using photos you have taken, post them on your blog and write creative captions underneath each photo that reveal the story behind the lens.
  • Write about a pet peeve.
  • Write about an act of kindness you noted that day.
  • Quote wise words you overheard and explain their wisdom.
  • Write about an embarrassing moment.
  • Write about a proud moment.
  • Write an Ode to an ordinary object. Use Pablo Neruda’s poetry for inspiration. Read Ode to My Socks to jumpstart your thinking.
  • Write about something you wish you could ‘do over’.
  • Write about something that is troubling you.
  • Personifying the sun, describe a sunset or sunrise.
  • Personify a storm, describing its actions.
  • Speak to a quote that you find meaningful. Explain what it means and why you find it meaningful.
  • Critique a book or movie.
  • And so on, and so forth…