Grading Papers

Grading Papers

That handwriting is impossible to read–
The pencil has smudged the words
Out of existence–
Sometimes their pens blot and words
Become blobs, obscuring
Meaning
And then, there are the crossouts, the write-overs,
The                       spots never
Filled in.

The lights are dim in here, aren’t they?
My eyes burn and water, blurring
The page, drowning the cries of Frankenstein who
Has suddenly stabbed Laertes in Elsinore, or of
Hamlet, chasing the creature
Across the frozen tundra to
Raskolnikov’s cell.

It is cold in here, isn’t it? I’ll go get
A sweater, and a cup of tea. Then,
I’ll be ready. Except,
Where did I leave my glasses? And
My pen?
There’s one. –Ah, but it’s red, and
Too upsetting to their
Delicate hearts that i carry with me
As they ponder who is the mad lady hidden
In Pemberly’s attic.
I’d better switch to green, or better yet
Purple for Celie and her sister, Little Nell.

Dear hearts, they’re trying, but when
Offred travels to the Savage Reservation
And meets the Eloi in 1984, my head
Spins and my throat is as dry as
The Sahara where the Little Prince
Cries about his Beloved Country, and it seems like
These papers may never get finished.

Whether you are in the last days, last weeks, or last months of the school year, if you are an English teacher, I am sure you have stacks of papers to grade. Today’s Creative Writing Club prompt was to write an “impossible poem” (See Writer’s Digest prompt for May 1st.) Of course my first thought was finishing all the grading I have to do! As I wrote, the characters started to story hop. I hope you enjoy! Now, back to grading!

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Practice What You Preach

I just participated in the most amazing teacher workshop, and all I want to do is write! Through The Academy for Teachers, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of astute people discussing The Art of the Essay with Jeff Nunokawa from Princeton as our cheer leader and guide. Today was day 2 of 2. I wish there were more.

Last Sunday, I finally sat down to “do my homework” at the last minute, having carefully avoided it for ten days. I knew I wanted to revisit and revise a piece I’d started two years ago about my friend Harry, but I kept putting it off because I was tired, because I had papers to grade, because I had lessons to plan, because, because, because. Finally, I sat down, opened the file, and dug in. Two hours later my husband called to find out how I was doing. I was great! Writing had revived me from the lethargy of winter, the albatross of grading, and the oppression of procrastination.

The other part of our homework I completed this afternoon before the session began: reading essays written by the other teachers attending. Wow. They were powerful–and diverse in both content and style. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin!

And I was not disappointed. We discussed them with care and insight. There is something so exhilarating about intelligent conversation that seeks to understand and build up. This was no show of “how smart I am,” but rather “how good a writer are you”: Let’s discuss this personal, yet universal issue you brought up; let me tell you what I understand from your writing; you can tell me more about the topic or situation. And then, I’ll take note of what I can learn from this exchange, again in both content and style. Isn’t this what we should always be doing?

I am at my best when I do what I ask my students to do– read, write, discuss. So now even though I’m exhausted as I sit on the train home 15 hours after leaving there this morning, I’m writing, to you, and I hope you’ll write too. And we can learn together.

Book Review: A Flaw in the Blood

A Flaw in the Blood

I have read a few of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen as detective series and enjoyed them. This book is in a similar vein. Set at the time of Prince Consort Albert’s death, the atmosphere and prejudices of Victorian London are well depicted. Patrick Fitzgerald and Miss/Dr. Georgiana Armistead run for their lives as they try to unravel why someone is trying to kill them. The two main characters are interesting enough to keep the reader invested in the story and a few of the side characters are delightful. Prince Leopold, for example, is charming! I’m tempted to read a biography of him now. The “bad guy” is a bit too stereotypical for my taste, though he fits the time and the genre, and his power was not sufficiently explained. Queen Victoria was a bit too simpering and whiny too, though more on that later. What really keeps the book from a four star rating, however, is the subtlety of the motives for the murders. The reasons are actually a big deal, but I never felt an “aha! that’s it!” moment. I kept expecting something more. While I could follow it, I’m not sure everyone will “get it,” my students in particular who are always looking for mysteries to read, and I’m always on the lookout for appropriate choices But the twist at the end was well-played which helped change one’s perspective on this representation of Queen Victoria. Overall, it is an enjoyable read, a good escape.

National Poetry Month

No fooling, April 1st begins National Poetry Month. I told my students on Monday that I didn’t care about April Fool’s Day, the important thing is that it is the beginning of National Poetry Month. I went on to explain how the NCAA-esque poetry brackets work. You see the NEHS is sponsoring a poem tournament for the month of April, school-wide. It’s a pretty ambitious project. Fingers crossed it goes well with a lot of participation. (More on this later; stay tuned.)

But appreciation is only half of the NPM coin for us writers and poets. So once again, I’m trying my hand at Writer’s Digest’s Poem-A Day Challenge. It’s really good exercise for one’s creative muscle to commit to writing every day, and so many do it regularly. For me, it’s fits and starts. I go for stretches when I write regularly, let’s say five out of seven if not every day, but then… something happens that gets me off track. April and the Poem-a-Day Challenge are a great way to get back in the groove.

So, you may have noticed, this is not a poem. But as the wee hours of April 1st wore away, I scribbled down a few lines in response to the day’s prompt: write a morning poem. And as I write this, another angle for this prompt springs to mind. I may not post every day to give myself time for review and revise, but the aim is to write. I’ll keep at it. I hope you do too. Happy National Poetry Month.

No Time to Read? Read This!

In our busy, busy world, some people find it hard to find the time to read. While I can’t understand this personally, I can help them out! Recently, I took on a challenge to write 18 word stories. It was a challenge to get a story arc into just 18 words, but the experience was fun. Even though I didn’t win publication, I enjoyed the writing. I hope you enjoy these micro-micro-minis: something to read when there’s no time!

1. Warning Sign

The wheelbarrow tilted against the barn door told Norah the drought continued. Sven would be hungry again tonight.

2. Love on the Dice

The deliberate way he counted the Yahtzee dice showed Milo that James might yet make a good husband.

3. Velveteen’s Nephew

The polka-dotted bunny slipped his bonds and tumbled away from her homespun dress: looking for love, finding mud.

4. Inspiration

“Down the rabbit hole,” Lewis swore as he watched his prized marble disappear. Suddenly, he had an idea!

Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

Writing/Not Writing

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been writing. Sort of. Or well, rather I’ve been starting many things. You see, I’ve started having my students draft and free write on a more regular basis this year, and I’ve been writing alongside them. We respond to poetry and prose and sometimes simple statements or questions. Sometimes, I share my work with them; sometimes I do not. I want them to value their own thoughts, so I do not default to sharing with them first. I let them share their ideas. But I do let them see me write, and every so often, I put something I scribbled out with them up on the Smart Board and let them see me do some preliminary revisions.–More of a “this is how revision is done” thing than a “this is what I think about the topic” thing–They can see me write and hear my words without me telling them that this is what one should think about this topic. It’s still early, so it’s hard to tell how well it’s working with their writing, but I do know that they are not as reticent about writing as they were in the beginning of the year because they are seeing it as a class work activity rather than a big assessment. That in and of itself is the beginning of a win.

As for me and my writing, this activity has left me with the beginnings of many pieces and ideas jotted down for others. Despite the fact that the real season is autumn, it feels like spring in my writing life–planting seeds that I hope will germinate and come to fruition. I hope you don’t feel neglected, and I hope you’ll stay with me through the planting season and will be around to see what has grown.

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