Archive for March, 2019

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I made it!  And so did you.  I’ve been joining the Slice of Life challenge for 8 years now and always breathe a sigh of relief on March 31st.  Some years, and this one included, I will keep going through the month of April with daily poetry writing.

Some of my fellow slicers have written reflective posts about their learning.  Terje has been writing for nine years, so she did nine things she learned. Elisabeth inspired Terje’s post with Four Things I’ve Learned in Four Years of Slicing.  And Lisa, who I think started this whole idea, wrote Six Things I’ve Learned in Six Years of Slicing. 

Here are my Eight Things I’ve Learned in Eight Years of Slicing:

  1. I am not alone. Writing in a community of writers makes my work and my words worthwhile and valued while. at the same time, I feel a sense of obligation to be the best writer I can be. The feedback encourages and uplifts me.  I also make friends along the way.  People I may meet some day or not, but even so, we are friends.
  2. Writing makes writing easier. Opening the blank page on my blog used to fill me with fear.  I’ve learned that there is always a back button, a move to trash option.  The more I write, the more I find to write about.  The world is my open for my noticing.  There is big magic waiting to be written.
  3. Readers appreciate honesty.  Some of my most successful posts (if I take the time to look at the stats) are ones in which I put my heart on the page.  There is camaraderie in sharing the vulnerable moments of your life.  I’ve learned that readers want to connect in some way.  The best way to connect to someone else is to be honest.
  4. There is room for lots of voices.  I don’t even know how many people are doing the SOLC this year, but I know it’s a lot.  And there is no way I can read and comment on all the posts, but that’s OK.  There is room enough for all of our voices.
  5. My go-to writing is poetry, and I’m OK with that.  I can always count on a poem coming to visit me, so I’ve stopped making excuses for it.  I am a poet; There, I said it.
  6. I have time to write.  I stole this one from Elisabeth, but it rings true for me, too.  People always ask me, “How do you find time to write?”  I don’t stay up late.  I do get up early, but most of the time, I carve out the time and it works.  I am currently writing at Whole Foods outside in the breeze with a vanilla latte’.  This makes me happy!
  7. A teacher of writing must be a writer. I’ve heard this over and over.  Now I live it.  I am a better teacher because I do this every day.  I know how it feels to be vulnerable with my writing.  I know how good comments feel.  I am a writer, and it makes a difference.
  8. Slice of Life is not just for a month.  The people I’ve met here become lifelong friends and even writing partners.  If you sliced this year, don’t go away.  Stay and write at least once a week on Tuesdays.  You will be glad you did.

Thanks for reading my daily posts.  And now…Playing with Poetry Time!

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The shoe showed up in the school parking lot sometime in September.  Someone graciously placed it on the curb, like an offering.  “Here I am.  If I am yours, take me home.”

But no one claimed the shoe.

Every day I park in the same vicinity of the shoe. It became like a parking spot marker.  “Oh, you.  Back again.  I’m still stepping in your path.”

Winter months came.  Lots of rain.  The shoe remained.

One day I asked the secretary when I stopped to sign the ledger, “Have you seen that shoe in the parking lot?”

“Huh?” She looked up from counting money.  The secretary always seems to be counting money.  “No, I don’t think so.”

I tried to ignore the shoe.  Maybe I could pass in peace and not notice.

Well, the shoe heard me all right and decided to do something to show me.  Here we are, almost to April with 7 weeks left of school, and that darned shoe stuck herself right in my path.  I opened my car door about to step out and Yikes!  There it was!

By this time, I felt the shoe was stalking me.  I took no sympathy and kicked the thing underneath another car.

You didn’t think I was going to pick it up, did you?  I didn’t see it today.  Perhaps it’s gone to another parking lot.  One can only wish.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Spring is in full swing and weeds are choking the ground.  When we discussed service projects we could do for this quarter, Landon brought up the garden.  He is in the garden club, so he knows it needs some loving care.

I suggested Thursdays. 30 minutes. Keep it a secret.

When Thursday came, the sun was high in the sky with a slight breeze and the perfect temperature to be outside.  The kids didn’t forget.

Landon showed us the stash of gloves and tools, and we went to work on a small patch of weeds.

I was surprised at how excited they were to get down and dirty.  Kaia said, “I have a poem.”  We had also talked about writing secret poems for poetry month and placing them in the garden.

We hadn’t brought our notebooks (note to self for next week), but I had my phone, so I opened Notes and captured her poem.  Jayden laughed when she got the chance to star in our poem.

We are the secret gardeners.
We don’t make a sound.
We are digging weeds
Right out of the ground.

We are pulling and pulling.
Watch out for the bees.
What a charming day!
Jayden’s about to sneeze.

by Kaia, 3rd grade

Bouquet of flowers from the garden.

Poetry Month is just around the corner. My NPM19 Poem A Day project is Playing With Poetry. I am joining Jone MacCulloch and Mary Lee Hahn. We will be playing with Haikubes, Magnetic Poetry, Metaphor Dice, and Paint Chip Poetry.  Join in if you’d like! We can use the Twitter hashtag #playwithpoetryNPM to find and support each other.

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“You created a group of kids who advocate for themselves.” My supervisor called me on my way to school.

“I didn’t create them.  They came to me like that. I just encouraged it.”

“Yes, but so often that spirit is crushed by teachers.”

B. called me to tell me good news.  That’s the kind of supervisor she is.  A group of gifted seventh graders had summoned her to come to answer questions they have about their next steps in math.  It’s a pivotal decision that will put them on a certain math track.

These were my kids in 6th grade.  One of them was in my class from 1st through 6th.  They are my heart.  I’ve come to understand how to best respond to these moments of affirmation.  I just say, “Thanks.”

On deeper reflection, however, I think back to how these kids were with me during a vulnerable time.  Their education involved very little choice.  They often came to my class frustrated over one constraint or another.  What I gave them in the safe space of our gifted classroom was freedom.  They could be themselves.  They had choice over what they read, what they wrote, and who they wanted to be.  Acceptance and love permeated the room.

I miss these kids.  They stretched me to be the best teacher I could be.  They trusted me as I trusted them.  They taught me to embrace them as unique individuals, to respect each one’s dignity and voice.  They demanded it.  We made a difference together.  I’m happy to know their wings are soaring.

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I take inspiration wherever it comes from.  My friend and I recently discussed the book Big Magic.  He said, “It really works.  I send the wish out into the universe and inspiration comes.”

I’ve subscribed to Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac .

Every day there is a poem to read and other short articles about famous birthdays and historical events.

Yesterday was Robert Frost’s birthday.  I love this quote from Robert Frost about poetry.

Using a line from Robert Frost’s poem A Prayer in Spring, and keeping this quote in mind, I wrote a poem.

Keep Us Here

With this spring day
while pollen dances on the wind
while blossoms open to the sun,
keep us here.

With our true love
gathering flowers in a vase
digging deep in the earth
keep us here.

With our eyes on death,
holy is the dirt.
Holy is your face.
Keep us here.

–Margaret Simon

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Over the weekend I attended the JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans.  You can read Part One here.

Many of the notes I took at the conference not only apply to me as a writer, but could also be advice for my own students as writers.

My friend Denise Gallagher is an illustrator and she takes notes in sketches.  Here is Ernest Gaines’ advice delivered by author Freddi Williams Evans.

Denise Gallagher’s notebook

Bullet points from Freddi Williams Evans’ presentation:

  • Choose interest over trends.
  • Narrow down your topic.
  • Show some.  Don’t tell all.
  • Add kid appeal.
  • Present the truth.
  • Pay attention to details.
  • Use your voice.

Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents an impressive list of authors, ones I admire and follow like Kate Messner, Linda Urban, and Nancy Castaldo.  Jenn is hilarious.  Along with her humor, she presented ideas around creating your own brand.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the meaningful themes, subjects behind my writing and life?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my tone?
  • What is my Big Dream?

She reminded us to “Be a mensch!” Ok, new word.  It means to be a good person.

  • Meet your book sellers.
  • Make friends with librarians.
  • Boost fellow authors.

We also heard from Grace Kendall, an editor with FSG Books for Young Readers/ Macmillan who reminded us of the 25+ questions to ask yourself about your manuscript.  And from Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster who took us through the steps from concept to book cover.

I was in awe of these giants who were easily 10 or more years my junior.  I am such a novice in this book making business, but they each made me feel like it was doable.  If my goals are in the right place, and I have a heart for children, there is room in this kidlit world for me and others like me.

If you are writing for children and ever have a chance to attend a regional SCBWI conference, go.  You will be glad you did.

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Over the weekend I attended the JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans put on by the SCBWI Louisiana/ Mississippi region.  I am still such a novice in the field of children’s publishing.  I learned so much as well as networked with friends, new and old.

One of the perks of a regional conference is the agents and editors who attend offer to accept unsolicited submissions following the conference. This is both good and bad.  Good because I can polish up a manuscript and send it off.  Bad because I can polish up a manuscript and send it off.

Academy of the Sacred Heart, New Orleans.

The conference took place at The Academy of Sacred Heart in uptown New Orleans on St. Charles Ave.  The building breathes of history and catholic girls.  The library had many nooks for students to tuck into to read (and editors to critique).  I was welcomed by authors such as Angie Thomas and Jason Reynolds folded out on the librarian’s desk.

I signed up for a critique from editor Catherine Frank.  She sat sweetly in the corner of the library.  I took a deep breath and tried to relax.  Maybe I tried too hard to relax because the conversation with Catherine was easy and fun.  We laughed.  We shared our love of musicals.  Wow!  She had tickets to Hamilton for that night! And she told me she adored verse novels.

Then she said I had to make some changes if I wanted it to sell.  The breath caught in my throat.  I don’t know if I can do that.

“Of course you can.  You’re a good writer.”

She had me in the palm of her hand.  The teacher pleaser in me will go back to the manuscript (Did I mention I’ve been writing this one off and on for 10 years?), and  make the g.d. revisions.  I’ll let you know if I get a book deal.  It may take another 10 years, though.

This book writing business is hard work.  A Louisiana author and friend, Johnette Downing, reminded us, in her wonderful presentation about writing “From the Roots Up: Culture as Character,” that we are in the service of children.  A little poem from her talk:

Be the river.
Write what you know.
Write what you love.
Let the river flow.

The conference experience was too big for one post, so I think I’ll write part two tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

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