Slice of Life: Puzzles, Poems and Songs

Puzzled during Pandemic

Today’s Slice of Life is a gathering of smaller slices.

First, after starting this 1000 piece puzzle in the days after we left school in mid-March (the first puzzle I have done since childhood), my wife finally put the last piece into the dang thing the other day and finished the scene (Falling Water). The four pieces our puppy chewed made completing the puzzle even more difficult. I started strong in March and April, and even May, and then lost patience at the end in June, but my wife was dead set on finishing and not giving up on it. We finished because of her perseverance.

Second, I received word that a poem I had submitted a few weeks ago to a regional writing guild — the Straw Dogs Writing Guild — had been accepted as part of its Pandemic Poetry collection, and will be a featured poem with the guild in mid-August. The poem is something I wrote for/about my students right near the end of the school year. I’m happy that it will be part of the collection at the guild because it will keep the spirit of that class alive in different places, including my heart.

Third, I wrapped up the collection of songs – Notes from a Quiet Corner — that I have written during this time, and was sharing it out with family and friends yesterday, sending songs and beats out to everyone in my own little celebration of being creative and sane in one way I know best: writing songs and recording music.


Now I am gearing up for my summer break from blogging and most, but not all, other social media connections, starting tomorrow with the beginning of July.

This morning’s poem captures that, I think:

rain blooms

here, smoothing

but temporary

present time

Peace (sharing it),

Book Review: Writing Redefined

I’ve long been exploring how we might expand notions of what writing is, and what composition is, for years, and so have many others, particularly those of us affiliated with the National Writing Project. More than ten years ago, a book I co-edited Teaching the New Writing centered on this topic.

Shawna Coppola and I have often interacted on Twitter, sometimes with our friend Troy Hicks as a connector thread, and so I was excited and interested to learn more about her new book Writing Redefined (Broadening Our Ideas on What It Means to Compose).

(Note of disclosure: Shawna sent me a copy of her book to review. I made and shared comics as I was reading her book).

In her book, as in her teaching practice, Shawna explores a lot of terrain, but in a thoughtful way that balances rigor and exploration, bringing her own experiences as a teacher and literacy coach into the mix, and the wealth of resource she shares via QR Code within the book is staggering, and sure to keep an interested teacher inspired. As I think about her book, I wonder even more than ever how we might use the moments of the Pandemic/stay home to bring more of these kinds of authentic writing ideas into our online spaces for students, to engage them in meaningful compositional strategies and projects.

Response Comic 2 (Writing Redefined)

Shawna effectively makes the case that by limiting “writing” to words on a page, as opposed to being part of a multi-modal multi-medium stew of visual, audio and more, we are limiting our students as writers, too. We’re asked to think about alphabetic forms of writing (essays, etc.) might form barriers to students who struggle with traditional writing, who might have language barriers, who might have cultural barriers (particularly those students from cultures with a focus on oral traditions), who have other strengths to bring into the writing classroom.

Comic Response 4 (Writing Redefined)

Each chapter digs deeper into topics, but I appreciated the last chapter, where she anticipates the many questions and concerns teachers might have about ‘redefining’ writing with a larger net. Shawna patiently counters six different concerns with thoughtful, helpful advice and considerations.

Comic Response 8 (Writing Redefined)

While she may not have broken new ground in her book, Shawna effectively frames the discussion on what it means to write in this modern, digital, visual and audio age, in a way that can reach classroom teachers knowing that the dichotomy for young people of “school writing” versus “non-school writing” is always evident, but not insurmountable. Shawna builds some bridges.

Response Comic 1 (Writing Redefined)

Peace (draw it sing it act it write it),

Music of the Pandemic: We’ve Got Shadows (Bring the Light)

This is likely the final piece of music for this project of mine, which began back in March to create music of this time in the Pandemic. Here, I first did the basics on the guitar and the moved over to the Garageband app to construct the entire music, with a piano-centered feel. The key of the song is a bit out of my limited singing range.

I’ll be pulling all of the songs together soon into a collection.

Peace (singing it),

Book Review: The Best American Non-Required Reading (2019)

I have this hope that somewhere, there is a high school or university class that uses the annual The Best American Non-Required Reading collections for its central text. And knowing that it is a group of high school students, connected through the 826 National organization, who choose, debate and curate all of the materials in the collection makes that dream even sweeter.

I hope it is so, but even if it is not, you need to get your hands on this collection each and every year. The 2019 edition of The Best American Non-Required ReadingĀ is another keeper, with a wide range of pieces that tackle important issues through fiction, commentary, comics, poetry and assorted other kinds of texts (such as the letter submitted by Holten Arms classmates of Christine Blasey Ford as public evidence in the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings).

The book’s collection has been guided by guest editor Edan Lepucki, but mostly, it has been the weekly gathering of high school students who have worked to find the pieces, debate the merits and determine which go into the collection. Their lens on the world is key to the diversity of the pieces. This all began with Dave Eggers at the helm (and his work in founding the 826 organization) but now different people help make the collection happen each year.

One of the more interesting choices is a pair of strange “Sound Translation” text interpretations of the Gettysburg Address by Keith Donnell Jr., which read like a prose poem in some alternative universe of Lincoln’s famous words, flowing with misheard phrases and rhymes and yet, finding a new but related center of the Address’s ideas in the concepts of “Who’ll weed our graves?” and “Force door of heaven” and so on.

Another powerful piece is a graphic interpretation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s On True War Stories (graphics by Matt Huynh) that puts picture to the story of immigration. And Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s powerful piece about black bears in New Hampshire (Barbearians at the Gate) transforms itself into a deep dive about people and nature, and about right wing survivalists transforming a small community.

And on and on.

Read this collection. Read last year’s collection. And the year before that. And hope the publishers keep supporting the young people’s voice in gathering and curating pieces that might otherwise get lost in the mix (I only recognize a few of the original journals where these were first published), but which rise here, among others, in a new light.

Peace (in the pages),

Poetry: In The Time of Lethargy

Duke and Rayna

It’s not unusual for me to have a period of time at the end of the school year to feel a little listless, a bit lethargic, a little bit tired. It’s usually a recharge time after the mad dash to the end of the school year.

I feel that this year, but it’s different. The mad dash was so different, with all the traditions either gone or changed, and the usual winding down energy seems to have gone out of the sails with the distance learning element. I bet many of my students feel the same way.

This morning, as part of the June Five-Day Open Write with Ethical ELA, the facilitator’s prompt was about tapping an emotion for a poem. I went with Lethargy as my emotion, and end with the hope that energy will spring us all forward.

I do have projects yet to be planned (an online youth writing program in July around Interactive Fiction, planning for the Fall, tapping back into thinking about the Write Out project, etc.) and I still have poems to write, and other things, including family getaways and a new puppy with lots of energy. I’ll soon be doing my traditional summer pull-back from blogging.

It’ll be OK.


to the point
of exhaustion

near the edge
of consciousness

on the border
of liquid

by the boundary
of activity

with the prospect
of rejuvenation

Peace (sometimes a poem),

Slice of Life: Crossed Paths

My wife, son, puppy and I were on a hike in a state forest quite a distance from our house, as we decided to get away from our familiar terrain into some place new.

There was a long, winding path that led to a waterfall, not too impressive with our lack of rain, and we were on our way down the trail, towards the car, sort of both acknowledging and ignoring any other hikers, as we walked.


“Mr. H? Mr. H. Mr. H!”

A voice called out and caught my attention, and there, on the path, was one of my former students, one of those kids from the class that I only saw regularly on a video screen for three months, on the trail with his family.

His face lit up. Mine did, too.

There was real joy in seeing one of my (favorite) students out in the world, on a trail, nowhere near either of our homes. From a six foot distance, we chatted and laughed, before he headed up and we headed down. It was just one of those small lovely human encounters that can unexpectedly make your day.

Peace (crossed paths),