Slice of Life: Something Windy This Way Comes

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

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We have a pretty solid house. It’s not going to fall down anytime soon (God willing). But the wind at 3 a.m. in the morning shook us at our very foundation. It didn’t last long, this wicked wind that came from nowhere, but the windows were rattling and the walls were moaning.

Eyes closed as I kept sleep close enough to fall back into, I could envision the world outside as the fury increased, the landscape rushing by on the gusts of the changing weather front. No doubt, it is winds like that which inspire writers to create strange winds of change in stories. I am reminded of Something Wicked This Way Comes for some reason. I don’t want to be.

It was that kind of wind. Not a kind breeze. But a gust that could move you into something strange and unknown. I huddled closer to the blanket.

The dog got up from one of the kids’ rooms, clicking his paws on the hardwood floor in the hallway. No doubt, he was wondering: what the heck was that? And then he disappeared again, finding comfort downstairs in his crate. He knows a thing or two.

So does the wind. I wonder, though, where that wicked wind went when it left us at 3 a.m. in the morning? Did it find you? Did it leave you with a story, too?


flickr photo shared by Annadriel under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Peace (in the shakerattleroll),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Open Air Easter Song

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16After our Easter Sunday Church Service, in which I was asked to play a Greek hand drum on the anthem (even though I was upfront with the fact that I do not play the drums nor can I read drum music … we have a very inclusive and forgiving church .. I just kept to the beat, with a few extra rhythmic whacks now and then), I was home, playing around on my guitar with some open tuning.

Easter drum

As I played my guitar, I had this lingering sense of the flowers and a quiet thoughtfulness on my mind, and while the song here is not really an Easter song, not one of forgivingness or of unexpected possibilities or of belief, it is inspired by Easter morning. Funny how the Muse comes to us at odd angles.

Peace (in the music of life),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Synchronized Car Dancing

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16I was out, alone, driving on some family errands, with the car stereo up sort of loud. It was a funky, bluesy, bluegrassy song by Shawn Mullins — a tune about a love gone bad, with bitter revenge and then terrible regret — and my head was bobbing up and down to the beat, even though my heart could not stomach the violent story Mullins was unfolding in my ears. My fingers were dancing on the steering wheel.

You know what I’m talking about, that sense in the car that it’s just you and your music. The world can wait. Your soundtrack is on and it won’t be denied.

I arrived at a four-way stop sign, with the song still midway to its conclusion, when I noticed a local cab opposite me. A woman, with long blond hair, was car dancing, too. Her head was going up and down. Her whole body was in movement. Her lips were moving to the lyrics of her song, and her dancing was in near complete sync to mine.

She looked up, and I looked over, and we both smiled in one of those social encounters that only last a mere second, and yet in that moment, we both were in complete tune to the same world, even if it was a different song. We were dancing partners on the streets of the city.

Headbanging (Wayne's World)

We didn’t even have to wave or anything as we rolled our portable motorized dance floors forward. Our eyes told of the connection. We locked in, danced. Then I took my song one way, and she took her song the other way, and we both just kept right on dancing our way into the day.

Peace (in the car),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Clockstoppers and Timetellers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Friday mornings, we do our fluoride in the classroom. About half the kid grab their cups of stuff (the other half don’t participate) and, at this point in the year, I tell them to time themselves for a minute. They stare at the clock on the wall, in a sort of trance, watching the second hand tick the seconds away.

Interestingly, it is one of the few times they make note of the analog clock in the room.

In almost every other occasion other than fluoride time, when they have to pay attention to the minute mark, they squint at my active board for the small digital clock in the upper corner. Sometimes, they don’t notice that I have the board on “freeze” mode (so the screen stays frozen and I can work on my computer) and they become lost in time. I had one student yesterday, signing out for the bathroom, who kept looking back and forth from the screen to the wall clock, trying to figure out why they were not in sync.


flickr photo shared by Bennett 4 Senate under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

On some mornings, like yesterday, right around 9 a.m., our wall clock sometimes … stops. Just pauses. Takes a break. It’s the building clock system adjusting to “real time,” I guess, but when it happens — when the hands of time come to a complete and full stop — all the swishing-spitting kids’ eyes bulge out, as if they can’t believe it. As if it hasn’t happen many Fridays before. They point with dramatic fingers at the clock, and try to get my attention. As if I can fix it.


flickr photo shared by bibendum84 under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I nod, as if knowingly, and say, “Well, I guess your teeth get a little extra protection this morning,” to which their reply is as predictable as mine: a shake of theirs head in a dramatic “nooooooooo” shake and then relief when the clock starts up again.

The more attuned kids have realized by now that the second wall clock in the room — the one I brought in from home, with a saxophone on it — may be “off time” a bit from the world of Time, give or take five minutes, but it never stops working. Therefore, it’s a much better device for fluoride. I think the other just like the idea of watching time stand still.

Peace (in the seconds),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Pay Attention to the Abundance

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16I’ve been reading, by chance, perhaps the most appropriate, and best, writer for an event like Slice of Life: Annie Dillard. Her new book of essays — In Abundance — is a collection of pieces from her various books and a few new ones thrown into the mix, but any reason to return to Tinker’s Creek with Dillard is well worth my time. Yours, too. She reminds us to see the world. Really see the world. To take notice. To be there, in the moment of nature.

So I went out into my backyard, with Annie on my mind after finishing up The Abundance, to see what I might see and notice, and make note of. Excuse me for this attempt to steal her style of writing. I’ll do my best.

Our fire pit has long been bruised. Before we arrived to reside in this house, someone — the former owner, we are told by neighbors, who watched with fascination on the event itself —  took a sledgehammer to the fire pit, slicing off chunks of red brick. What’s left is still a place for fire, but it’s as if the brick are now reluctant at its task. Air comes in through gaps. Pieces are crumbling. Bricks keep getting smaller and smaller through the years. The New England winters take their toll. So do kids’ playing. I find pieces of the fire pit through the yard in summer, cursing as I avoid them with the mower. Someone used it as a baseball, probably, or part of the landscape of a rescue scene with Legos. I imagine one of these days, I will come outside and find in amazement that nothing is there where the pit was but some red dust, as if the whole of Mars had come for a visit, and maybe stayed for Smores and drinks. The place to build the fire will no longer be there. Just faint memories of nights under the stars, red embers in the fire pit.

I take out the compost to the bin, which sits beside the crumbling fire pit, and notice how winter slows down everything. Somewhere in there, the worms are in slumber. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of worms call this black bin their home. They’ve buried themselves deep. The rich, black compost is their thick blanket against the chill. Who could blame them? Our bed is still piled high with layers of blankets and we have the warmth of the house. The worms have very little. Only decomposed material. Soon, though, the worms will stir, and no doubt be hungry, and our melon rinds and banana peels, and coffee rinds and tea bags, will nourish them as a welcome to Spring. Some worms will end up in our garden, a mass relocation effort with the goal of food for our mouths, too. In this way, we and the worms eat together at the same table.

Outside

On the windward side of the fire pit, where it almost touches the compost bin, I notice two abandoned brown and striped husks dancing in the wind. They look like bugs, dead from winter, but they are not. They are what the bugs left behind. One little thread connects each to the brick wall, and it feels that if I were to touch them, they might fall. Maybe even fly, they seem so light and airy. I resist the boyhood temptation to crush the husks, even though it reminds me of the bubble air pouches that come in valuable deliveries. You unpack the valuables, fair enough, and first turn your attention to the bubble wrap. Pop. Pop. Pop. Can anyone really resist that popping? You make the air whoosh, snap, pop. It’s an unlikely Zen moment. I’m tempted, yet I resist the husks handing on the wall, although I do wonder who stayed in there last and where have they gone to now? Were they ugly bugs now made beautiful by change? Or were they beautiful to begin with? The husks just keep dangling, with no clue for me to discern.

Outside

I wander by the fence and notice the push mower. We only use this mower a few times each year, before the grass has really come in. Unlike our neighbors, we don’t use anything on the grass in our yard to help make it grow or be luxurious, so our backyard becomes the unexpected by early summer, with weeds and grasses and flowers and a wonderful wildness about it. The few tufts of grass clumps, and wild onions, that are first to emerge from the soil aren’t enough for the larger mower, but this push mower does the job. Come summer, the mower by the fence will be overgrown with vines and weeds, so that it becomes a sculpture of the wildness of the backyard. It will be nearly impossible to move, so strong are the plants holding it in place. Now, however, the mower seems naked, vulnerable even. The weeds of last summer have long died off. The snow has melted. The grass is still quite some time from growing. It waits, patient. I am not. I move on.

Outside

A flash of color catches my eye. One of the first flowers of winter, or spring, of whatever this in-between zone is that we find ourselves in these days. One day it is cold and the next day, warm, and none of us seems to really know what kind of jacket to wear in the morning. Will we be cold because we underdressed? Or warm because we overdressed? Make up your mind, Sun. This flower doesn’t seem to care one way or another, for it has forced its way up to the sun, and opened itself to the warmth of the world. It may not last long, this flower, resisting the last vestiges of winter. While it’s here, though, it teaches us of the beauty of reaching for the sun and of the possibilities of wonderful things happening all around us, if only you remember to pay attention.

Peace (and thanks to Annie Dillard),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Postcards from the Present

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Most days, our mailbox is a real snore. Not much mail and what there is is usually bills or advertisement stuffers. Or magazines. (Ok, so magazines are not boring and I do get a burst of excitement when a new magazine is delivered.)

But since last summer, I have come to expect to find postcards in my mailbox every now and then, and it is just such a treat and surprise to be sorting through the mail to find a postcard from a friend from the CLMOOC (Making Learning Connected MOOC).  (I once wrote about this project at Medium, if you are interested.)

I hold the postcards in my hand, read their writing and analyze their loops and swirls of words — the physical act of writing itself  — and closely examine the artwork on the other side.

I’m looking form, and find, the essence of my friends in the postcards. I’m wondering what they were thinking as they composed the writing or art itself, and I appreciate the time they spent not just writing, but also mailing it out into the world. We can write an email or a text or a tweet in mere seconds and it disappears, without even really thinking about it. Just .. poof … it’s gone. But a postcard or a letter .. that requires more of your attention, and in that attention span, there is something to be said about friendship. You have to care in order to spend the time with the writing, however brief.

Postcards from Karen and Sarah

Yesterday, I received a postcard from my friend, Sarah, in Scotland, so the postcard came covered in Air Mail stickers, and inside was this beautiful postcard with some of her woven, knitted work, wishing me a Happy Easter. Good timing, Sarah! (Sarah once knitted me a hat and sent it to me from Scotland.)

And another postcard from Karen has arrived earlier. Hers referenced “Food as Art” — a theme that we were sort of exploring in yet another writing space in recent weeks. And on the back of the postcard, Karen wished me a pleasant Spring with friend and food and fire.

I’ve sent out a few rounds of postcards since last summer (including a slow-moving poetry project that became a game of sorts, with poems and images and other media on a Padlet wall) but it is feeling like it might be time again to make connections beyond the screen, and sent forth a few scribbles to let my CLMOOC friends know our words matter, as does our reaching out beyond the social spaces where we connect.

Maybe Slice of Life could do something similar …

Peace (on the postcard),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Return of the Polar Vortex

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16If you have read my blog over the years in March, you know that our school plays a version of Quidditch that is now in its 15th year, I believe. Each year, each sixth grade class decides on a team name and in April, we hold a full-day Quidditch Championship celebration, and the whole school comes out to watch the sixth graders play.

It’s crazy fun, and we weave in all sorts of art and writing activities into the mix.

I have a whole process for how my homeroom class chooses its team name, from brainstorming to voting. Our main color is blue, so we often have cold or water themes. Alas. But as with last year, this year’s group of students had already mostly agreed on a name before the voting happened (with a name suggested by the quietest student in the room, which I think is great) — we did the voting anyway, just in case anyone had other ideas not yet considered.

In the end, they chose the name “Polar Vortex” — which I like now that winter is nearing an end — over the second place choice — Arctic Apocalypse (which I have a hard time spelling, and which is hard to say) —  and this is our student-created team design that will go on the T-shirts they are making, as well as posters we will be creating in the coming weeks.

polar vortex

And this is how you play our game:

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Pete’s Pigs, Finney’s Fish, Klotz and Glotz and More

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16We had a roaring good time in class yesterday, as I began a review/introduction to Figurative Language/Literary Devices with my sixth graders. They’ve had bits of it in past years, of course, but we are working to pull them all together now as part of the “writers’ toolbox” for adding more “oomph” to their writing.

And, well, standardized testing is coming up soon, too, and there are always some questions about personification and imagery and other elements of Figurative Language.

We focused in on Alliteration yesterday, using tongue twisters to set the stage for the rhythm of repeating sounds at the start of words. I have this long alphabetical list of tongue twisters that anchor on sounds from A through Z, but the real fun came by whipping out the Dr. Seuss book, Oh Say Can You Say? and after reading a few of the oddball twisters, letting them have a try at it.

Oh my. We were all laughing up a storm as we tripped over the stories of Pete Briggs and his pigs; of Pinner Blinn and his dinosaur pins; of Fritz and his dog, Fred; of eating at Skipper Zipp’s Chip Chop Shop; and more.

Today, we will dig out another Dr. Seuss classic — Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? — to play around with Onomatopoeia and sound words, with a little comic making to use sound effects.

Peace (in the oddness of Seuss),
Kevin

A Closer Look: Levels of Teaching Experiences in SOL16

sol16I know what you are going to think: Don’t you have other things you can be doing? But I was fascinated by the sheer amount of information and data that was in an opening survey for this month’s Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers.

I had used the results of the shared survey to look at the imbalance of men versus women writers the other day but then I noticed a whole section where we who took the survey self-identified our status as teachers.

Hmmm.

So I counted up the answers from the 300-plus resondents (although a few left that section blank) and then I created a chart to show how so many of us Slicers are well into our teaching career. That’s not a surprise, I guess, but I do wonder how a community like Slice of Life or Two Writing Teachers can best reach out to teachers in the early parts of their career, to encourage them as writers.

I’m not putting this on Two Writing Teachers to figure out, but certainly, as a member of the National Writing Project who leads professional development in our area, it’s an issue we have to continue to grapple with.

If we want to change the nature of classrooms, and improve access to authentic writing activities that counter the narrative of “standardized testing,” then we need to draw in a wider range of teachers, particularly those educators just starting out. No doubt, many of them are seeking resources and mentors and guidance and suggestions. I know I was, and I know that connecting with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is what saved my sanity that first year.

How can we continue to pay it forward?

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Looking for Winter Leaves

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Another Sunday. Another round of Manhunt for my son and friends. Another walk with my dog. Another day to look more closely at the neighborhood woods, and yesterday, I paid attention to the lingering leaves of winter. There was not a whole lot of variety out there — mostly pines and Mountain Laurel.

But at one point, I looked off the walking trail and saw this burst of white in the middle of green and brown. My dog and I bushwhacked our way through the undergrowth and some swampy soils to find this small tree, covered with dead white leaves. They had died, but they hung on through winter. Hardy things, these ghost leaves of New England.

Leaves of winter

I found enough variety anyway to create a small collage, which now joins my collage of tree barks from earlier in March, and found sculptures, and the flowers from a brightly-colored bulb show from last weekend. I guess Sunday is becoming my photo day.

Peace (in the lens),
Kevin