Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 11

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I have a student with a form of Autism and other health issues and the combination of those two elements make connecting with him difficult at times. That said, he is such a wonderful kid — full of insight and intellect and interesting things to observe about the world. I have loved having him in my class this year and I worry about his transition to a new school next year.

One of his hobbies is Guitar Hero. He comes in with cardboard guitars and shows me his latest moves on the electronic fretboards. He loves music. During our poetry unit, when students were working on a final poem, he was absent for a few days, as happens with his diabetes. He came back in and handed me what he said was his final poem but which was a song that he had written. He said he did not have a melody in mind but I was blown away by what he had done. Writing is an incredibly difficult task for him. To have written lyrics to a song was a major accomplishment. And to address the theme of Life, and the emotions connected with how he sees life, was just amazing.  I tried to get him to publish it as a poem in our book via Lulu, but he flat out said “no” to me.

So I began to ponder how to connect with him through music. I took his lyrics home and let them sit and simmer on the shelf for a few weeks. I’d look at them and think about them, pull out my guitar from time to time. I was not in a rush. I was still trying to wrap a melody around his words.

This weekend, it finally came together, and I recorded a version of his song. I am going to surprise him with a CD version of it and I printed out a copy of the words (only slightly modified to match the structure of the music I had written) in fancy print. My hope is that is shines a light on him as a songwriter and allows him to see some real meaning to his writing abilities.

Yesterday, I pulled him aside during library time and brought him back to our room. I told him I had a present for him, reminded him of his lyrics and let him know I found them to be powerful and I wanted to put them to music. He looked at me with big eyes. Then, I handed him the fancy lyric sheet and popped in the CD and we listened to the song together. He smiled a huge smile and said, “It has been great to have you as a teacher, too, Mr. Hodgson.” We did our own special handshake and later, he told the paraprofessional that he now had a “sacred song.”

Yeah.

Here is the song and you can listen to the podcast version, too (complete with my cold/stuffed nose voice):

Life

When I look into the sky
And I see the butterfly
It makes me want to cry
to think it could die

So I strum on my guitar
I know it can get me far
It doesn’t matter who you are
you’re a star

It’s sweet notes make me happy
Forgive me if it sounds sappy

Life can be bad – bad
Life can make you mad – mad
At times, it even makes you sad
But if you look around and focus
You might see the blooming crocus
And then you’ll know to be glad
because life can’t all be bad

Good things come and go
You have to go with the flow
Some thing we just don’t know
take it slow

Enjoy all that life brings
Like the glimmer of strings
So I sit here and play my guitar and I sing

It’s sweet notes make me happy
Forgive me if it sounds sappy

(repeat chorus)

Peace (in connecting through music),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 10

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, we all sat around and wrote. It was another freewriting opportunity for the kids and for me, too. I didn’t give them any directions, really, just space to write. We didn’t share. We didn’t talk. We wrote and then when it was time to leave, we put our notebooks away and that was that. While they were making comics or writing stories or reflecting on their past weekend, I was hit by an urge to write some poetry, and my mind was wandering around the idea of the End of the School Year.

So, these are three of the four poems I wrote during the freewriting times of my four writing classes yesterday. The fourth poem didn’t make the cut, but there still might be some fragments to pull from the fire on some other day. Words are never lost, they just await their time.

Let You Go
(listen to the poem)

I’d count the days
if I had the time
But time is elusive here
as the days slip past.

I am torn
between who you were,
who you are
and who you are becoming,
and wonder where
my place in your story will be
when the years have washed ashore.

You are more than
what my pen can hold
and beyond a form
to take shape on this paper
beneath fingers.

I watch you — I whisper
farewell
and let you go.


Stage Presence
(listen to the poem)

On stage
you were transformed
into something unrecognizable
even to me —
the silent one no longer silent
but with a voice
like a wolf
pouncing on those words
like prey.

I was there, with you, on stage,
in the moment
behind the curtain
I believed you in a way
I (perhaps) had not believed in you before

I wonder where that person lives
in you —
when I call on you,
I am only met with confusion.

Thunderstorm
(listen to the poem)

Another summer awaits you;
your parents are content to let you sit
and simmer in the heat —
and you, thinking your thoughts of no way out;
I know you need structure
an excuse to write,
to learn;
to move among us in the living
from your world behind the mask.

In the days ahead,
I will mail you a book — some pens and paper —
anonymous, as always —
and cross my fingers that it reaches you
in time ….

before the doldrums move you
into the path of the thunderstorms
of summer.

Peace (in the waning days of the school year),

Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge: Chapter 9

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Remember Spy Vs. Spy?

In Mad Magazine, the two nutty spies would try to outdo each other each episode, but you always got the sense they were just two sides of the same character.

This week, I have been thinking of Bella Vs. Bella. As some of my regular readers know, we had to put our old dog, Bella, down at the end of last year. She was my very first dog, and good dog for the most part, and that is her picture that you see as my avatar (in case you ever wondered why I have a dog head for my avatar — plus, my nickname is Dog before ‘Dawg’ was slang). I figured the use of her image would be a nice way for me to remember her.

Bella has been on my brain because we have been dog-sitting a friend’s dog this long Memorial Dat weekend whose name, get ready, is … Bella. And so, I take this Slice to compare and contrast the two Bellas in a fun exercise of reflection and rememberance.

Here is my old Bella:

Bella headshot

Here is the visiting Bella:

As part of Slice of Life, I give you Bella Vs. Bella (the breakdown)

  • Fur Color: Our Bella (white) and Visiting Bella (black, with some white and brown markings)
  • Breed: Our Bella (German Shepard/Husky mix) and Visiting Bella (Bernese Mountain)
  • Size: Our Bella (medium) and Visiting Bella (large and growing)
  • Demeanor: Our Bella (energetic) and Visiting Bella (goofy)
  • Intelligence: Our Bella (extremely smart) and Visiting Bella (kind of dimwitted)
  • Child-friendliness: Our Bella (protective) and Visiting Bella (loving)
  • Guarding the House: Our Bella (always vigilant) and Visiting Bella (a welcome wag for anyone – friend or foe)
  • Other dogs: Our Bella (mortal enemies) and Visiting Bella (potential friend)
  • Cuddle Factor: Our Bella (great) and Visiting Bella (great)

There are no winners in this game, except for us. We loved having the visiting Bella here, although her large size and goofiness put her right in our path wherever we went. We could barely get in the house when we came back home as her big body just filled the doorway.

Peace (in dogs),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 8

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Bryan and I have been in somewhat sporadic contact since the fall when I received an email out of the blue, asking me if I would consider being his “virtual mentor.” Bryan is a senior in Kansas and his senior project was around claymation. I guess I never asked where he got my name. I just assumed it was from some folks in the National Writing Project or maybe it was through some various online activities around stop-motion animation that I have done.

Bryan wrote:

“Seniors are required to research a topic and complete a 2500 word essay. Also, we must have a demonstration of knowledge. This project will be time consuming and will take most of the school year to complete. I have decided to study claymation and filming a claymation movie. I was informed that you may be familiar with this topic and wanted to know if you would be my outside mentor. This may sound like a big responsibility, but it really is very simple. I would email you about twice a semester with any questions I may have on this topic and it would be fine if you didn’t know all the answers. I just need an outside source who knows something about my topic.”

I was flattered and I loved the idea of trying to help someone get deep into claymation movie making, even if it was from afar. Bryan is a thoughtful student, it seems to me, and quite interested in exploration. I like that Bryan and his class have to find a virtual mentor to help them delve deeper into a topic of interest. This seems to me to be yet another way to tap into the strength of connections through the Web World.

Every few weeks, I would get an email from Bryan, asking questions and advice on:

  • the type of webcam to get;
  • the editing program I use;
  • how important the lighting is to the final movie;
  • what kind of clay to use;
  • the process of creating a movie;
  • where to share it.

I did my best to guide him , although it is clear now that he had plenty of ideas of his own and that his investigation into claymation was really a love of his this year. I tried to share with him some different stop-motion animation sites and movies that I found that seemed to be good examples of how clay can be used for creative expression.

A few weeks ago, Bryan informed me that he had finished his final project — a collection of short movies that he had made throughout the year. Now, we struggled with how to get the movie to me. My online storage site did not allow movies that big to be uploaded by a guest. I suggested a few video sharing sites, but I urged him to get permission from his parents first (and to check in with his teachers).

Finally, the email arrived, and he gave me the link to his claymation collection on YouTube. Oh. I love it. I think it is fantastic and since this is the first time I have seen Bryan’s work – after all those emails — I feel proud to have been able to give him some tidbits here and there, if it helped him. Maybe he just needed a sounding board from time to time. Whatever.

Here is Bryan’s Claymation Movie Collection:
I have now turned the tables on Bryan, asking him to become a mentor to my sixth graders as they begin filming their claymation movies around climate change. I have asked Bryan to write up some advice for my students, using his experience for reflection. Will he do it? I hope so, but I know that graduation and other things are now consuming his time.Good luck, Bryan. It was great to be your mentor this year!Peace (in movies),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 7

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Both Larry and Nancy tagged me to be part of this Meme that seeks to get a little deeper into who we are as people (yep, I am not a blogger-‘bot … yet). And I was thinking how much that is part of the Slice of Life adventures, too.

So here, goes:

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I was ending a ten-year stint as a newspaper reporter, going back to school to become a teacher and beginning a two-year journey as a stay-at-home dad (which I loved).

2. What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (really, yesterday):

  • Go to post office to mail off present for niece (already late)
  • Go to Staples and makes some copies (hear strange SNL voice in my head)
  • Read with son, who is home sick today (and I am home with him)
  • Work on getting ready for Tech Across the Curriculum workshop on Saturday (crap — it’s right around the corner)
  • Remember to get other kids from school (very important!)

3. Snacks I enjoy…

Bananas, apples, yogurt, cookies.

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Fund an innovative school for inner-city kids; buy a new guitar; build a recording studio; become a professional writer.

5. Three of my bad habits:

Act too quick on impulse; am better at writing mind then voicing my mind on emotional issues; and sort of messy at times.

6. 5 places I have lived:

  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Georgia (in military)
  • my mind

7. 5 jobs I have had:

  • Third shift gas attendant
  • Handyboy for dentist (and he had me shovel coal, if you can believe it)
  • Newspaper reporter
  • Sax player in Portuguese wedding band (when I was a teen and not for long)
  • Teacher

8. 6 people I want to know more about:

Bruce Springsteen (and his songwriting process)
Sonny Rollins (and his saxophone ideas)
Barack Obama (is he for real?)
ee cummings (for his style of poetry)
Frank Lloyd Wright (for imagining something altogether different)
Georgia O’Keefe (because my mom was fascinated and I wonder why)

I will offer to pass this along, and like Larry, say that you can pursue it or not, depending on your time and energy and interest.

Peace (in bios),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 6

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Poetry ended on a humorously macabre note in class yesterday as we wrote out some epitaphs for fictional characters, my classroom mascot (an old stuffed polar bear who has lost a lot of beans this year), and anyone they wanted, including themselves. Many of my young writers chose to eulogize their long-lost, but not forgotten, pets in their short gravestone poems.

Now, I shift into songwriting, and it always makes me a bit nervous. But I know it is a lot of fun and something completely different for my students.

Here is what we do:

  • We examine some lyrics and songs that they are (hopefully) familiar with. Today, we’ll be listening to the Goo Goo Dolls (Better Days) and Green Day (Good Riddance) and thinking of how the poetic devices we have used in poetry is used in songwriting and lyrics. I will be bringing in my acoustic guitar and trying to coax them to sing the Green Day song with me.
  • Tomorrow, I will bring in my electric guitar, drum machine and set up a little PA system with microphones in my classroom. I then have a worksheet that has them reflect on songwriting, and then I play them a song that I wrote called Just Believe. My song has a missing verse, and their job is to write a verse, and then … come up to the front of the room on the following day, and sing it the song with me.
  • Last year, I tried to record some of the kids singing, but it was too loud and distorted even for me to listen to. We’ll see about this year.

I love the intersection of the arts and writing, and I see some of my students suddenly think of songs in a different way after these lessons. And I try to remind them that anyone can write a song and everyone SHOULD write a song (at least once in life). The combination of words, music and rhythm are a powerful medium of expression.

And speaking of music, tonight is our school’s Talent Show (the teacher who organizes it whispered to me yesterday, ‘we’re going to start calling it Variety Show to be a bit more accurate in what it is ‘ and then laughed). Each year, the staff puts on an act, and this year, we are performing Stray Cat Strut (by Stray Cats) as a live band. I am playing the saxophone and singing some of the lead parts, and we are going to ham the whole thing up as much as possible. It should be fun.

Music will be a big part of today, that’s for sure.

Peace (in rock and roll),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 5

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I love Love That Dog, a short novel in poems by Sharon Creech, and yesterday, I began reading it aloud to my sixth graders as part of our poetry unit. A few have read it on their own before, but most had not. They were mostly quiet as I read — taking in the story of a young boy (Jack) who does not like poetry but is asked by his teacher to keep a journal, reflecting on the poems he has heard, read and written.

The story begins with Jack stating outright that “Boys don’t write poetry. Girls do.” (That got a few laughs … from the boys)

But slowly, he opens up his eyes to the possibilities of poetry, and Jack’s story of his dog and what happened slowly gets told through journal entries told in Jack’s endearing voice. The journal entries themselves are poems, and Jack watches as his teacher — Miss Stretchberry — types them up and puts them on display. It is through this that Jack realizes the power of his writing, and then digs deep to understand a tragedy that happened in his world.

Throughout the book, Creech shares the poems that Jack is learning about, so the reader gets to peruse Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, William Blake, and others in the poetic canon.

Yesterday, I stopped at the point where Jack is all excited about Shape Poems (poems where words take the shape of the thing the poem is about, is how Jack puts it) that have a humorous bent to them. The one in the book — called Apple by S.C. Riggs (Creech herself) — shows an apple with a wormy worm in the center. Jack creates his own poem about a dog, with a tongue dripping drool and the tail wag-wag-wagging. We then began creating our own funny shape poems (I did a football with grass stains and air hissing out of a hole).

I had more than one student ask, this is poetry? Yes, I said, this is poetry, and isn’t it fun? They are so used to prose and sentences and paragraphs that they are surprised by the freedom of poetry. Too many students balk at poetry because they think everything is about rhyming. I hope they are learning that poetry is about exploration and questions, not answers. (This was made obvious by our discussion of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow, which confused the heck out of them).

We’ll continue reading the book out loud again today and likely finish up tomorrow, and I always get a bit choked up at the moment when we learn the true story that Jack is struggling to tell and only finds his voice through poetry. I often have a few kids with tears in their eyes. There is an emotional resonance to Love That Dog that any middle school student, or older, should experience.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 4

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Nine years of legal battles finally ended this month and a developer is set to destroy a plot of woods near our house for some upscale homes. It breaks our heart. Although we know this land is not ours, we feel as if it is kin to us. We have walked the paths for what seems like forever, with our dog and then with our kids. Resting spots along the trails are homes for treasured memories.

And now, the trees are almost gone and the place looks like some wasteland littered with sawed-off stumps, fallen trees and dead brush. The birds don’t sing quite as loud, nor as happy, as they once did, it seems to us. And where have the deer gone? The chipmunks? The moose we saw running to there one year? And the bears and fox and fisher cats. All moved to some other destination, no doubt, by the roar of machinery.

(This is a path that used to be like a tunnel of overgrown trees. We used to have to stoop to get through. Now, it is just wide open space, and not in a good way)

Yesterday, the five of us walked through there again on a beautiful Spring day and I remembered:

  • The twin Big Rocks that are sliced down the middle where the kids used to climb and eat apples, just resting and listening. It was always apples, in my memory. The rocks seemed smaller but I guess it is because the boys are bigger;
  • The little island the boys call Frog Island that requires them to balance across log bridges. There are no frogs there and I can’t recall anymore how we came up with the name;
  • The place just beyond the Big Rocks where the woods suddenly change to dense Mountain Laurel, and the rocks on the trail become slippery and hidden from sight;
  • The fallen log that my oldest son used to try to crawl under, instead of over, and now finds his body too big. The log is still there. Still blocking the trail like some silent guard.;
  • The upward incline on the path where I slipped one winter morning with my toddler son in the backpack and slammed his head into the tree (no serious damage except intense guilt);
  • The place where two rivers connect just beyond a tunnel, which sits below an old railroad bed, which may be home to a bike trail someday if that legal battle ever gets resolved;
  • The sense that all this will disappear so very soon and my kids will be poorer for it.

I tried to joke with my youngest that the Lorax might pop up out of the tree stumps but he would not have any of it. “No Lorax! No Onceler!” he shouted, and I wish this world had no need for the Lorax and that the Oncler understood what he was doing before the devastation of the Truffula Trees. Sometimes, such knowledge comes too late.

I am experimenting here with the new Flickr Video feature. This is the stream that runs into the tunnel. I made the video with my digital camera. Peace (in preservation),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 3

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

My mind is adrift with poems and positions, and it is feeling a bit tangled up. The poetry aspect is good. I love daydreaming of the poems. And writing every day … that is great and inspiring.

The positions? Well, that has to do with the game of Quidditch that we play at our school and the Big Championship is tomorrow. All the sixth grade classes play before the entire school. It’s a madhouse affair, with loud screaming, action and school spirit on full display all day long.

The kids are amped up and I, as coach, am working on squads for three different matches that are fair and equal and give everyone a chance to play. It’s difficult, though, to make that happen and time is running out. My kids seem to understand that I do the best I can and they were sympathetic and impressed when I showed them the grid that I used to map out who is playing what position, when. The reality: I need to get the squads done today and I don’t have the time! (No, I know, I will make the time)

We play a scrimmage match this morning against another class and so I get another look at my class on the Quidditch court. I told them yesterday that I am incredibly proud of the attitudes they have had so far. Usually, we have to deal with snippets of trash talking from team to team. Not this year. Everything has remained real positive, and that is just such a relief.

I don’t care if we win or lose. I just want them to have a good time and I want everyone — from my natural athletes to the ones who would fade into the wall if I let them — to feel involved and part of the class.

Wish us luck!

Peace (in beaters, quaffles and snitches),
Kevin

Slice of Life, the weekly series, Chapter 2

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Where I live, the signs of spring are comin in two flavors: baseball and flowers.

The feverish, crazy youth baseball season is already fast upon us. As a bit of an update for Slice of Lifers, my older son did not get on the team that he wanted. Instead, he was recruited to move up to the older league and is now on a team that everyone I talk to says has the nicest and best coach in that league. We had one stressful night where we pulled him out of the older league and then reconsidered, allowing him to make the choice on what he wanted to do. He chose moving up. He feels flattered that the coach wanted him so bad (he’s a lefty, he’s quick, he plays first base and pitches) and he knew he was not going to be on the team coached by our neighbor because he was so coveted by other coaches in the drafting process. However, by moving up, he left his younger brother available to be chosen for the neighborhood team, and that is a good thing. Our neighbor is allowing both boys to practice with the team a few nights a week (the older son’s team hasn’t yet scheduled a practice).

And so, baseball begins …

Meanwhile, in our front yard, another sign of the changing seasons is emerging. My youngest son and I are keeping careful track of the little green buds sprouting up from the ground in the small patch of Tiger Lillies. Last week, he helped me rake the leaves away that we forgot about before winter. We bent down to examine what was there, which wasn’t much — just a few green dots below the soil. Each day since then, things are changing as the weather slowly (and I mean slowly) gets warmer. He races over to the spot every day and we marvel at the progress of the plants. He warns me not to step on them. He puts up his hand in the stop sign motion to make sure I understand. Then he slowly circles the land, informing me that these are flowers. I don’t have the heart to tell them that these particular Lillies are late bloomers and may not open up until summer.

But, boy, won’t he be surprised when they do. These are his flowers now.

Peace (in signs and signals),
Kevin