Quickfiction: chapter 2

I continue to explore this work of quick/flashfiction. It’s interesting because I am trying to use the concept of podcasting and voice to help me edit the writing, speaking as I write and editing as I speak. The difficulty with this form is providing enough of a story, without giving the story away. It’s all about the gaps in the narrative and how the reader/listener might fill them in.

Here are my latest:

Black Friday

How do you explain this? You can’t. It’s 2 a.m. You should be home right now, sound asleep with the cat purring near your head and the desire, if not the reality, of a warm body sleeping beside you. You need comfort, not bone-chilling cold. You should not be here, at this hour, in this place, waiting in this line. But here you are. You hold the ticket up in the moonlight, and you see the number 27. You can hear the mini-vans and the cars and the trucks running in the parking lot and you imagine the heat. You can’t risk it so you bundle up as tight as you can possibly be. You draw yourself up inside of yourself, like so many other recent nights and descend into the darkness. Part of what brings you here is the understanding that he is there at home, with his youthful dreams of something that must better than what it is, and the other part of it is the knowledge that so much of your life together has been wrangled so completely out of your control. The divorce. The violence. The terrible abruptness of departure that has settled upon the two of you so heavily that it makes you choke sometimes. You can feel his inherent trust in you withering in this dark winter. Words are beyond you now. Words have no currency anymore. It kills you that your only way back into his heart may be through the object that sits on the shelves in there, beyond those big glass windows and bright neon signs. It’s 2 a.m and you feel as if you have sold your soul to something wicked. You finger the credit card and hope to God that there is enough of a ceiling left to allow you to bring it home, wrap it up and be his hero again, if only for that one morning in December.


The instant the doors closed, he knew he was on the wrong train. He could barely catch his breath from the mad dash down the tunnel and his overnight bag and computer felt like bricks in his hand. It had been all he could do to find a seat in the crowded car. He watched the doors slide shut and he knew, in that instant, that this train was not his train. He wanted to curse out loud but that was something he never did. His mother had taught him better so he held it inside and felt the blackness seep into his head. He tugged out his ticket from his overcoat pocket and looked it over, as if it and not he were the mistake. There were faces of every color all around him. None seemed to invite a question so he wrapped himself up in loneliness and wondered where he was bound. He felt the familiar unloosening of life that comes from making yet another bad decision and imagined one of his grandmother’s beautiful hand-woven afghans being pulled apart thread by thread by thread. That was his life. The ticket-puncher temporarily saved him. She took the ticket from his outstretched hand and shook her head in that sad, pathetic way people often did with him. He could feel another thread being pulled.”You’re on the wrong train,” she told him, in almost a whisper, and he nodded. “This one goes to Philly, not Penn Station.” He lowered his head. Philly. “Nothing to do now but ride into Philly and get on another back to the city,” she offered, handing him back his ticket and moving on. He could hear the rhythm of her clicker as she moved down the aisle. Philly. He’d be late for the meeting. His bags felt even heavier in his lap and he fumbled around, trying to reach his cell phone. He’d have to let them know and ask to reschedule. It occurred to him, however, that in his rush to get the train to New York on time that morning, he had left his phone sitting on the counter, all charged up for the day. Another thread, being pulled, as he watched the landscape roll past him.


She cursed when the guitar string broke. She tried to keep going but it was impossible with the wire dangling down the fretboard. It made a loud twanging noise that made her curse even louder than was normally acceptable on this street corner. The little girl was watching her, so she turned away from the sidewalk and faced the wall behind her. “Damn it,” she muttered, and looking back over her shoulder, she saw the little girl still there, watching, waiting. The collection hat sat between them. Just a few coins and a dollar bill or two in the old cowboy headgear her father had given her years ago. Not much, but enough for dinner before she would knock again on the shelter door for the night. Katarina nodded and the girl smiled back, showing gaps where teeth had fallen out. Where was this child’s parent? No one seemed to be tending her. Katarina ignored the girl and dug into her case for another string, slowing unwinding the broken one and rewinding the new one. The guitar made a strange whirling noise as she twirled the peg and tried to get the string in tune. It took longer than usual as the uncooperative string seemed bent on going too sharp or too flat before being herded into the right pitch. Katarina looked up. The girl was gone. Good. Damn it, she muttered. The girl was gone, and so was the hat.


If it were at all possible, he remembers his life beginning after the yawn. It was clear as day and it happened in second grade. Tommy and Sandy were nearby, having one of their endless arguments over whose turn it was to use the computer when it was that he realized that he had been yawning for what seemed to be forever and that nothing had existed before the yawn. It was as if everyone was a blank slate. Was that even possible? Years later, that yawn would seem like some Great Awakening in his life. For it was now, with clarity, that he realized a few things. Tommy was nothing but a bully and at recess that day, he pushed his former friend away and made him cry for the first time in his life. That felt good. Sandy was not quite the yuckiest kid on the planet. He thought about this as they walked around at recess together in the snowstorm that stung their eyes. The snowflakes looked wonderful on her outstretched tongue.Words in books suddenly seemed important. He could hear his teacher talking and understood. He was listening for the very first time in his life. Really listening. And then he went home and lost it all in a good night’s sleep.

Peace (in shortprose),

The Boy in the Newspaper

I was reading through our Boston Globe on Sunday, engaged in this story about a boy who is undergoing experimental brain surgery to combat something known as Dystonia when I realized … this is a former student of mine! Alex was one of my students in writing class a few years ago, and although he had some difficulties walking, his disease had not progressed to the point where it apparently is now. He can barely walk or talk, and so his family — immigrants from Russia and deeply conservative and religious — are opting for experimental brain surgery that they hope will unlock the vibrant, intelligent and thoughtful young man from the confines of his unreponsive body.

I am torn with emotions — sad about the progression of his disease and in awe of his courage to keep on fighting. Needless to say, the physical act of writing was a chore for Alex — his hand did not always do what he wanted it to do — but he was always open for new ideas and new directions, and could articulate those ideas pretty clearly. His religious faith was always on the surface, allowing him to draw strength from his understanding of the world.

The article in the paper about Alex (and the photos they have there, too) reminds us of the different paths that so many lives take in the world. Perhaps, as both a father and a teacher, the story hit me hard. My heart goes out to Alex and his family, and I hope his faith sees him through.

Peace (in contemplation),

Day in a Sentence: Bonnie is Your Host

When I took over the reigns of the Day in a Sentence from The Reflective Teacher, my intention was not only to continue the great work that he was doing but to try to push the collaborative venture in new directions. (Thus, our forays into podcasting and VoiceThread and my hopes to stumble upon some cool mapping-writing site).

So this week, I asked my friend, Bonnie Kaplan, to guest-host the feature for us this week, and I hope as time moves on that I can ask the same of some others in the group of regular sentence-writers. It’s really not that difficult to do and is a great way to showcase your blog.

Please head on over to Bonnie’s Blog — http://blk1.edublogs.org/ — and write your sentence.

Peace (in brevity),

A Look Inside Imaginary Lands

As part of expository/informational writing (coupled with creative writing), my sixth graders worked on a project in which they invent an Imaginary Land and then create a travel brochure, using techniques gained from examining real travel brochures and advertising campaigns. They amount of investment they put into this project is pretty cool, and the coupling of writing and art really fuels a lot of them to do great work.

I scanned in a bunch of the maps, in particular, to share with parents and so I share them with you, too.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=1577320511090925048" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in new worlds),

Youth Radio — On the Edublog List

My Youth Radio project — which has yet to really get off the ground this school year but is close — is one of the finalists for the Edublogger Awards for 2007 in the category of educational use of audio. That is really great news for the teachers and students who have been collaborating.

Why not take a minute to cast a vote?

And while you are there, check out the many great blogs and resources that are available out there.

Peace (in podcasting),

Your Day in a Sentence — Post-Turkey Day Edition

This week’s Day in a Sentence includes some new friends, as I posted a call for responses over at the Classroom 2.0, just to see what might happen. (My fear was hundreds of posts but that hasn’t happened … yet). Without further ado, here are your Days in a Sentence (with no podcasts this week — darn it):

The holiday break was on the minds of many this week, including Delaine, who wrote about finding some time away: “A holiday getaway to our San Francisco highrise made me giddy with pleasure.”

Sue, who comes to us via Classroom 2.0 and who has launched her own site called MasteryMaze for teachers and students, had a residue of good feelings from meetings at her school: “This week’s resounding applause from parents and students at parent teacher conferences reinforced my belief, as unpopular as it may be to many, that you can reach them best if you are courageous enough to step into their world!

Durff, whom I seem to run into all over the Web and who is doing some amazing things in many different format, posted her comment on Classroom 2.0 for us. She writes: “This week could be wrapped up by saying it was a week of great loss, great gains, and great rest: the great loss was Monday when a good friend died; great gains when 17 faculty went to ACSI; and great rest for Thanksgiving holiday in USA.

My colleague, Susan, of the Western Mass Writing Project, is still energized by the meetings in New York City. She writes: “There’s nothing more satisfying than connecting people with people and opportunities that support their passions, their great thinking minds, and their vital voices; it’s like living your life in hyperlink!

Ben is nearing fatherhood (whoo-hoo) and realizes that being away from home is not so great a thing, as he muses: “I realized that using the NWP/NCTE New York conference as a exciting, if not poetic, deathbed for the final weeks for the pre-fatherhood epoch in my life was useless because I missed my wife almost as much as I missed seeing my unborn sun bulge in her belly.” (Editor’s Note: Did he mean sun? or son? I didn’t change it because sun seemed poetic to me).

Amy‘s words kept coming, beyond a sentence, and who am I to edit the rush of the writer? She writes: “This week we had our Thanksgiving Morning Ex at school. (Morning Exercises are all-school assemblies that occur once or twice a week.) The Thanksgiving Mex is always highlights fall service learning projects that have happened in the lower, middle, and upper schools. I am the service learning coordinator for the lower school, and although it is a lot of work to put together, it went really well. Today I am baking pies in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities! (Sorry that was more like a paragraph than a sentence!)

Larry (whose blog site you must read regularly — it is wonderful) comes to us with a possible solution for a practical problem, and some learning, too. He writes: “The highlight of this short week was the classroom management success of giving two VERY active students soccer “stress balls,” with the caveat that they had to jot down at least one time each day when they used it (so they might eventually see a pattern).”

Bonnie seems a bit rested and then disturbed by real life, and it comes in the form of filling up the tank. (Is there a metaphor here?) She writes: “Coming back to life without a workshop to prepare for is nice, just a chance to breathe and devour some turkey and wonder just how high the cost of gas will go until someone screams out: I WON”T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

Cheryl (who co-created the podcast-friendly Seedlings Ning for the K12 Online Conference) continues to spread her knowledge and skills with others, as she notes, “I presented about Moodle in 4 different workshops and teachers moved on with Moodle, I am a happy presenter.

Ginny, who has been forging her way into podcasting with the Seedlings Ning site started by Cheryl, is looking closer at student interaction, explaining: “I have discovered how peer assessment, that is students assessing students, contributes to deeper learning and is a fairer way to recognise contribution to groupwork for example.

And then there is Nancy, a virtual friend with whom I met in real life in NYC, who writes: “This week, I went to bed early nearly every night, recovering from a weekend of volunteering and being professionally developed, and practically gave up on teaching my Juniors, those little buggers; thank goodness Thanksgiving is finally here.

So there you have it — a great expanse of writing and thoughts. I encourage you all to follow some of the links to each other’s blogs, and begin a conversation — start a friendship — connect.

Peace (in shortness),

Questions of Leadership: Inquiry with NWP

NPW NYC 07 (4)

In New York City for the National Writing Project, I had the pleasure of co-leading a session that centered on encouraging teacher leadership and developing strategies for encouraging teachers to become more active in programs via the NWP and also showing some ways that current leaders can facilitate that growth and development. It’s not easy and we began our session by having folks come up with some inquiry questions — the ideas that brought them to the session in the first place.

(Note: TC = teacher consultants = teachers in the writing project)

Here is that list:

  • How can I motivate/inspire overworked teachers to jump at the chance to be writers?
  • How do we draw too-busy TCs into leadership?
  • Are there “good reasons” to attract “teachers” – not just leaders – and if so, what are those reasons?
  • What are different ways leadership can “look”?
  • How do we keep others wanting to lead?
  • How can TC leaders help us build participation in initiatives they lead?
  • How do we open closed ears?
  • What strategies can address burnout?
  • What timeline should we pursue?
  • How can we encourage those who won’t take risks?
  • As the site grows, and the responsibilities of various positions grow, how do you figure out what positions to pay and how much is reasonable?
  • What are the issues of teacher leadership from the perspective of school districts?
  • How does a relatively new or developing site develop leadership capacity without “burning out” existing leadership?
  • What are some incentives to encouraging TCs to take on leadership roles.
  • How do we give up responsibilities that we do because no one else can do them?
  • Why are people so afraid to step up to the plate?
  • How can I keep the work I want to do and share the work others want to/should do?
  • How do we groom leaders – allowing for “messy maturation” process and respecting the growth – without micromanaging or having crash and burns?
  • Finding venues for TCs to grow?
  • How do you get people to follow through on promises made?
  • How can we sustain our current leadership – keep them from taking on too much responsibility or burning out?
  • What resources are necessary for growing teacher leaders?
  • What are the qualities of a good leader in the Writing Project? A good potential leader?
  • How can we turn “leadership” into an opportunity instead of a burden?
  • What carrots do you give? Long term and short term. What mentoring do you provide?
  • How can we move from beyond sustaining our site and create systems for growth?
  • Are there approaches that you have used at your site that have increased involvement of TCs after they have participated in the Summer Institute. (Our TCs are willing but time is such an issue)
  • How do you find your voice among a strong leadership team that has defined its own?
  • How can we empower TCs and share leadership and ownership?

[slideshare id=177099&doc=t-cs-leadership-and-sustainability-1195830581422589-5&w=425]

Peace (in inquiry),

Take a look at Lookybooks

My friend, Susan, showcased this very cool site for picture books called Lookybook and I realized that you can embed the books as a flash file in the blog itself. I love picture books and use them all the time in my classrooms so this site is very much welcome (thanks, Susan!).
I liked this one in particular. It is called Jazz by Christopher and Walter Dean Meyers. I know it is impossible to read here so feel free to go to the site and take a look at the book directly.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.lookybook.com/embed/1206-embed.swf" width="241" height="277" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in picture books),

Your Day/Week in A Sentence

This is a shout-out for everyone to capture your week or a day of your week into a single, concise, emotionally-centered sentence. Last week’s VoiceThread experiment didn’t generate too much response but I won’t give up and will give it another go at another time.

This week, it’s back to tradition, so please use the comment feature on this post to share your sentence with us. Please leave your name and your blog, so we can connect with others. You can also podcast your sentence — just provide me with a link to your file or podcast or email an audio file to me directly at dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com and I can host it for you.

I will collect and post all of the submissions over the weekend.

Here is mine:

“I discovered the joys of quickfiction this week and find my thoughts jumping from short narrative to short narrative in an attempt to harvest this little goldmine as a writer and maybe later, as a teacher.”

Peace (in all of our myriad connections),


Richard Sterling at NWP: One Last Address

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Richard Sterling, the executive director of the National Writing Project, is stepping down from his post as leader of this wonderful organization. Last week, in New York City, he gave his last public address to the more than 1,000 teachers attending the NWP annual meeting. I have only met him once, briefly, but I have always looked forward to his talk at the last three annual meetings that I have attended. His words and stories have been inspiration and empowering, and I will miss his voice and humor at these meetings.

If you missed his speech in New York City, you can take a listen here as I created a podcast of his public address. (The sound is just OK, not great).

Peace (in inspiration),