Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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#WhyIWrite

Today is #NationalDayonWriting, and it has been a whirlwind, hectic day, with paper everywhere, pens scratching, and keys clicking, which means it has been a very good writing day. I celebrated with my students, doing writing activities in all my classes, including a “Tweet” board in the alcove outside my classroom for students to post #WhyIWrite messages.

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Though many were hesitant at first about the assignments, they tried, and succeeded! The sophomores are well on their way to creating detailed descriptive paragraphs about the view from their windows. The juniors are crafting beautiful poetry about a treasured object or love (or as it seems, love gone wrong). And the seniors are are producing academic prose–a mini-research paper on Pygmalion by the Brit Lit group and an analytical essay on symbolism in “The Japanese Quince” by the AP group.

In Brit Lit, we read some critical excerpts yesterday and took notes, so today, the students were asked to bring in one article from a specific database on their chosen topics. Then I walked them through the process of taking notes from an academic article. As they continued on their own articles, I walked around the room offering help and encouragement where I could. Then one student asked me, “When are we going to write this paper?” I said, “We’re doing it now, aren’t we?” Yes, writing is a process. Yes, it’s worth it. Yes, I think they’re getting it. 🤞

The only thing I was not able to do with my students was write with them today, but I could at least talk to them about what I am writing. When one student apologized for her poem being long (maybe a dozen lines), I told her not to worry; I had written a poem this week that went on for two typed pages.

And then I had a prep period which I used to put some finishing touches on said poem and submit it. 🤞

On the way home, I tweeted about #WhyIWrite: “Fueled by coffee and imagination, I can go anywhere, be anyone, anytime, including myself, now.” But that tweet only covers a part of it. Writing rejuvenates me, frustrates me, engrosses me, and exhilarates me. I write to live. I write to communicate. I write to teach, and I write to learn. I write to understand and to be understood. I write because in the beginning was the Word. Writing is in my soul.  

Wishing you a happy National Day on Writing, and many more happy writing days to come!

Being of Two Minds

Today is supposed to be my writing day,  or rather,  my writing afternoon,  and I’ve done a terrible job of it.

I had an idea for this post, wrote the title, and started writing. And the whole thing morphed on me. It turned into something else entirely than what I had planned, than what I had envisioned.

But that’s okay. I know that happens. While writing stories, I’ve had minor characters demand more attention. They really wanted the story to be about them. And usually they are right. Don’t argue too much with the flow. So, I changed the title and kept writing, letting the ideas take me where they may.

Unfortunately, where they took me today was down a dark alley where Lord Complaint and Lady Grouse waited for me with cudgels. Luckily, I had clicked “Save Draft” rather than “Publish.” When I got home and opened my computer to “put the finishing touches on,” I found a draft that whined about all the things I let get in the way of my own writing today. Because that is the crux of it: I let things get in the way of my writing today. It was me. Not any of the errors, errands, and complaints I enumerated in the now deleted post. It was me. I knew full well what I was doing with each choice I made. And I made them. Okay, maybe I’ll cut myself some slack on the delayed subway. That wasn’t really my fault. But, had I stuck to my original plan, I probably would not have been on that subway anyway, so…

Which leads me to what this post was supposed to be about in the first place: Being of Two Minds.

I had a really good writerly summer this year. I wrote, I revised, I submitted. I made writing my priority, and it was good.  The only thing wanting is the acceptance, but it will come. I have to believe that.

But now…

Oh, but now. It is September. And a new school year has begun with new classes added and familiar and favorite ones stripped away. But still, the girls are great, trying perhaps (!), but great, and the literature is rich and powerful. There is so much to be teach and to learn. I really do still love to teach and where I teach. But teaching requires a different set of skills from writing. Perhaps it is because I gave myself permission this summer to “be a writer” that transitioning back to “being a teacher” has been difficult. In the past, I think I have been a teacher who writes. Now, I am trying to be both a teacher and a writer, and as anyone who has taught, especially high school English, knows there is always a long “to do” list for the teacher: grade this, grade that, grade the other thing and the other thing and the other thing, create this test, create that project, photocopy this, photocopy that, make time for this student’s make-up quiz and that one’s, run this club, run that club… Need I go on?

This school year’s task (above and beyond the first one of serving our students well) is to learn a) how to grade smarter (actually, this is a perennial goal of mine) and b) how to let go of the teacher brain on writing days. The teacher brain plans, teaches, corrects, organizes, and frets. The writer brain needs more freedom to create and space to think and concentration to revise, not to mention time to research and submit.

I am of two minds which I think can coexist, if I let them. If I don’t allow the teacher brain to dominate simply because she is the one who makes the money (well…). And, as a bonus, giving the writer brain her time and exercise will ultimately help the teacher brain do what she needs to to: convince these young ladies that a life in literature, whether as a writer, or more likely, as a reader is worth it, is what makes us human and able to connect to those who are different from us.

Luckily at least, the teacher brain and the writer brain agree on a nice glass of wine.

Rejuvenation 

I have come to love Central Park,  or at least my little corner of it. At the end of long day of teaching and grading, there it’s really nothing so rejuvenating for me as a walk through the park. The diversity of life there brings a smile to my face — and I’m not just talking about the flowers and trees!

Welcome to today’s episode of Belvedere Fountain:

Sleeping with Poetry

I give my students packets of poems

With the publication data: cover pages, copyright, pages with the

Poems themselves;

Poems printed off the Internet too,

With URLs and website info and even where

They were first printed.

And they studiously flip the pages, scouring them

For every tidbit of information they need to create

A Works Cited page–properly formatted and informationally complete.

And when they finish, they put their heads down

On the desks, exhausted, and bored.  Some

Stare off into space; others twiddle their thumbs, waiting

For the packets to be collected. So they can do something else:

Read a book, doodle a drawing, study for the next final exam.

What they do not do,

What they do not even think to do,

Is read the poems.

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