Grading Papers on a Sunny Afternoon

Sunlight on the slick clean table

Melts the edges away

Encroaching on the work

In front of me, anchored only

By a red pen that has lost

The very thing that gives it power.

Soon, if daylight keeps encroaching,

The papers will slip into the molten sea

Of the dissolved table and the coffee

Will tumble into the liquified abyss

Pouring out its heart on the fluttering wings

Of student attempts at composition and

Analysis while the bloodless pen spins

Uselessly through the void–

Unless

The setting sun retracts rather than

Advances its rays on

The evanescing table, setting it back

On terra firma, restoring the student efforts

To their fate once I procure another pen–

Though which option offers deliverance,

For them and for me,

It is impossible to say.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Feeling particularly tired yesterday on my commute home, I knew that if I read as is my wont, I would fall fast asleep and end up at the end of the line. So instead I took out my phone and starting flipping through my photos for inspiration. I came across the one above which I took last week during a particularly trying grading session at a local cafe when my pen ran out of ink. This poem is the result of photography, memory, exhaustion, and imagination, and, once I got started, a thesaurus as I became invested in using various synonyms for “melted” and “essays.”

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What Happened Here?

As I made my way through Penn Station tonight, I saw what is pictured below:

And I couldn’t help thinking, “What happened here?” There was no one sitting or laying nearby to whom these shoes could belong. And the one stray pastel sock adds another level to the mystery. Does the sock belong with the shoe? Or were there two separate foot wear incidents in such close proximity? Questions arise.

How does one leave one’s shoes behind? And in such an orderly pose? And one sock? With those colours, could that be a child’s sock? A man’s, a woman’s with a sense of whimsy? It poses a quandary.

Naturally, my writer’s brain was quickened by the unusual sight, so much so in fact that I passed the shoes, noted them, but even though I kept moving, they squirreled into my brain, so when I got a short distance away, I went back upstairs to photograph then. What is their story? Don’t you want to know?

But you do of course. It’s in your head, and mine, and hers, and his, and theirs. So here is today’s challenge, a quest perhaps: choose your genre and tell us what happened here.

New Year’s Resolutions 

Another year has come and gone.  2017, done.  2018 about to begin.  I could make the standard resolutions: work out more,  eat better,  get my papers graded in a more timely manner, etc. etc. But I won’t.  Not that those are not things worth doing; they are.  But in many ways,  they are destined to fail, especially if you’ve made those kind of resolutions before (as I have). No,  this year I will make only one resolution: write more.

Now I know.  That is an amorphous resolution.  What qualifies as “more”? Is this a resolution also destined to fail because of its very ambiguity.  But I don’t think so.  From an optimistic point of view, that vagueness can work in its favor. Anything can be more!

This year that’s coming to a close has had its ups and downs (as I guess all years do), but a definite up was my writing life. I did a better job of keeping at it, and as a result,  three poems were published somewhere other than this blog (or the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day blog in April). Yay! And there are quite a few pieces out for consideration.  Hopefully 2018 brings good news for those pieces.

So here’s to 2018, a year that once seemed so far away is about to begin.  May it find you healthy,  bring you peace, and inspire the writer within.  Cheers!

Revision

Today’s task is revision. There is a personal essay I’ve written and revised which has not been able to find a home, but I still believe in the message, so I must work on the medium. It’s time to revise again before hurling that bottle back out into the ocean.

And so, with that in mind, I find myself a quiet corner and a cup of coffee and open my laptop. Logging into my Google Drive, the Quick Access panel at the top of the page displays thumbnails of four files, one of which is captioned “You edited this week.” Two others are labelled “You edited this month.” The fourth, which actually appears as the third thumbnail, is blazoned with “You edited at some point.” For some reason (and at some point), that makes me laugh.

20170927_173332.jpg

Is this a sign of encouragement or accusation? Should I be glad that the file was in fact edited at some vague point in the past, or should I feel guilty that I have neglected it for, well who knows how long, but at least more than a month? What is Google’s purpose here? Its motivation? Maybe it’s passive-aggressive; “you worked on this once, what happened? It’s been a while, you know, and you need to do a bit more. I mean, it’s been so long that even I, the Great Google, cannot remember when you last opened this file.” Then again, maybe it isn’t passive-aggressive; maybe Google is like, “Yeah! You did some work on this! Isn’t that great! Pat yourself on the back.” I cannot decide on the tone.

Whatever it is, I cannot help but think of my friend Gerri’s blog, Grammarian in the City, on which she makes snarky remarks about signs seen around NYC. If this comment on my revision schedule were posted on a building, I’m sure she’d have something to say about it!

In the meantime, I’ll get back to my revisions “at some point” and hope Google approves.

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.

Handwritten or Typed?

My adventures in novel writing continue. I finished reading through all I printed out and realized, to my dismay, that the point-of-view problem I thought I had solved for one section of the story, was in fact not solved. Back to the drawing board for that one. I scribbled in the first set of revisions. Now I can go at it again when I transfer those handwritten changes to the computer file.

I find that I prefer to write my first draft by hand, then type, then print out, then revise by hand, then type again. Yes, I do also revise by reading on screen and making changes to individual sections (or short stories), but I find for this longer work, printing out and reading it on paper makes a difference. It seems a bit old school, I know, but what I realized today is that by working on paper, I was not distracted by every other open (or available to be opened) tab on the computer. My focus remained on the story. In fact, when I did open the computer today to implement some of those changes, I was immediately distracted by a notification of a FB post. Which I had to check. Of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see

20170803_231352 with the caption: Too. Much. Catnip.

Okay, it’s my own photo, my own post. But who else liked it? I mean, he’s cute right? It is easy to get sucked into the seratonin producing checking of “likes.” But I digress. Again. That is the problem and the benefit of the Internet. There is so much to catch our attention and easy ways to find and convey information. (Here I am, writing this blog!) But the business of writing sometimes, most times, needs more concentrated focus. For me this means a messy desk of papers, notebooks, and print outs. It is not the most efficient or most ecological method, but for now, it works. I think it would work better if my filing system were better, but that goes for the electronic filing system as well. So, I ask once again for you, my readers, to share your thoughts. Don’t be shy! How do you like to write and revise? By hand? electronically? Do you have any suggestions for keeping track of your drafts? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh and by the way of full disclosure, I contradict myself when I write this blog. These entries I tend to write directly into (or is it onto? Gerri, what do you think?) the computer (or phone or tablet, depending on where I am when I write them) with the exception of some of the poetry. So perhaps you would like to comment on your exceptions as well. Do you approach some writing with one method and other writing with another? Is it genre that determines the mechanics or time and place? I think for myself, it is a combination of both. If you are generous enough to share some of your thoughts with me, I’ll follow up with another post highlighting your contributions. (And probably another photo of Lionel 🙂 )