Give it away, give it away, give it away now

I realized the other day that I have a pile of books that I have read and, honestly, I have no intention of re-reading. So, inspired by my friend “Alex“, who gave away some books to blog readers (including me: I got an Artemis Fowl book), I have decided to give these books away to readers of this blog. Let me just say, these are fantastic books and if you have not yet seen any of the Best American Non-required Reading Series (edited by Dave Eggers and a group of high school students), then you are missing out on some wonderful reading across the genres: fiction, non-fiction, comics, poetry, and assorted compositional ballet form the crux of many of these books.

So, if you would like one of these books, just let me know in the comment section of this blog post, and I will do some random choosing, get in touch and pay for the shipping of the books. As Alex did with me, I ask that you consider doing the same at your blog or online home, spreading the wealth of words through the networks.

Here is what I have:

  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2002
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2003
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2004
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2005
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2006
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2008

(Where the heck is 2007? I am not sure)

If you want a specific edition, just let me know in your reply.

Peace (in sharing),

Slice of Life: the bird’s eye view

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

Last night, my older boys and I took a bus trip into Boston to watch the Celtics take on the Cavaliers (Go Celts!) with some neighbors of ours. The bus trip is sponsored by our city’s recreation department. Taking the bus sure beats driving the car any day, particularly for an 8 p.m. game that ended way past my bedtime. But tickets are often iffy, with nose-bleed seats the norm. This year, we got our tickets and could not find our seats. I finally asked for help and was told to find the elevator (“It’s the only way to get there,” the usher said, giving me pause) and head up to the ninth floor. The ninth floor? It turns out our seats were way up there, in the area known as the Promenade. It’s the section that we always loop up and wonder how people get those seats. True, we were the farthest from the court, but our seats looked almost “down” on the court from above, giving us an interesting view of the game. And there was plenty of room to walk around, run around (if you were a kid), and stretch.

Plus, we saw an exciting game. And the Celtics won. And we could all snooze on the way home. I would say: win – win – win.

Peace (in the game),

Slice of Life: the language of Boolean Squared

My slice of life is quick — I am updating my website home of my webcomic, Boolean Squared, this morning — adding in recent comics about the use of language when it comes to kids and teachers. This three-comic series begins with Boolean questioning why he and his friends get in trouble for not using proper English only to be taught the beauty of Jabberwocky and all of its invented words. Later, the students create their own words on a wiki (as I do with mine at our Crazy Dictionary project).

Visit Boolean Squared for more shenanigans. This week, the comic pokes fun at assemblies on Cyberbullying. (And here is the RSS feed from the newspaper where Boolean Squared runs once a week)

Peace (on the funny pages),


Slice of Life: Writing with my Students

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I love to write with my students. I love that all of us are there, in the moment, together, as writers. Yesterday was one of those days as all of my classes spent almost an hour straight in short story writing, using Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick illustrations as launching points for stories. When I mentioned how much uninterrupted time we would have to write in one class, one girl let out a cheerful and infectious “whoop” of delight. Is there a better sound than someone that excited about writing?

I, of course, gave them some directions: pay attention to establishing a good setting, make sure you are developing believable characters with depth, and effectively use dialogue. Other than that, though, they were free to write.

I gave them the option of either writing stories in their writing notebooks or on the laptops, and close to 90 percent of them chose the computers. I was not surprised, but still … it is interesting. In surveys with my students, many will say that they believe they can writer “better” on the computer. I am not sure that is actually the case, but it certainly is the perception.

So, my young writers were spread out around the room like bohemians in a coffee shop, composing away, and I was right there with them. I chose an illustration from Harris Burdick entitled “The Seven Chairs” which shows a nun in a hovering chair as two priests look on. The caption reads: The fifth one ended up in France. I decided that I would tell the back-story of the chairs and so (making some changes, such as it being six chairs and not seven) I began:

The Woodworker lived for the isolation. He had long ago found that people in general were far more trouble than they were worth. They asked questions. They needed information. They could not think for themselves. It was enough to drive anyone mad. The Woodworker, in particular, could not abide other people who were not smart enough to see this world as he saw it – as something magical that could be carved, created and brought to life with their own hands.

Ten years before, he finally given up on people and went off on a journey to find a space where he could work alone. It was there, in the cave up high in the Andes Mountains, that he could finally do what he always wanted to do: create the Magical Chairs. This had been his vision for as long as he remembered, and he had spent the 10 years before gathering the perfect wood, foraging for the perfect pieces of fallen trees in the rain forests of the Amazon, the dense forests of the Redwood Forest, the oasis areas of the Sahara and so on. The perfect piece of wood was crucial for his work and The Woodworker spared no expense.

Now, with wood in hand and isolation guaranteed, he spent the next 10 years of his life creating the chairs, wonderfully ornate chairs that held unlimited possibilities. His plan all along had been to create 10 chairs – items that would change the course of history forever. He never got that far. At four, he felt the illness coming on – the slight sounds of Death approaching. He vowed to continue and rushed to finish the fifth chair even as the night approached in his sleep, beckoning him to come closer and find peace. The Woodworker resisted and worked on the sixth through the long winter months, with the cold snapping at his body like a ravenous dragon.

The pieces of the seventh chair lay scattered on the floor of his cavern when The Woodworker finally collapsed and this is how he was found three years later when an Expedition into the Andes Mountains in search of an elusive Lost City came into the cave to escape a torrential downpour.  Led by a man who had eerie sense of peace about himself, unsettling really, the expedition had turned up nothing of value after three months of searching. No hints at all of an ancient civilization that came to power with magic, only to lose it all to magic. The lost city that the Leader of the Expedition had promised them was elusive. The crew itself was ready to abandon the wild goose chase and go home. But not the Leader. He was nowhere ready to give up on the things he intended to find.

(you can read the rest of what I have written so far here)

Do you write with your students?

Peace (in the classroom),

PS — Not sure what Harris Burdick is all about? Here is a podcast I once did for Just One Book on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

Slice of Life: Haiku Postcards

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)
This is kind of cheating, but I finally gathered up all of my haikus that I wrote on a family trip to Japan two weeks ago and created this slideshow, so it is a Slice of Life — but not immediately recent. One interesting side note, though, is that I was talking with a teacher at my son’s preschool and he mentioned that he has been writing haikus recently, too, and we are now exchanging our poems with each other. Very cool to be on a poem hand-off with another teacher.

Peace (in poems),

Slice of Life: The Beast Across the Street

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

A conversation with a four year old in the car as we are almost home:

Son: Did you know kitty talks to the beast?
Me: Huh?
S: Our kitty. Coltrane. He talks to the beast.
M: Which beast?
S: The one I was talking about.
M (now thinking of past conversations): Oh. The beast who lives in the woods across the street?
S (nods): They talk.
M: What do they talk about?
S: I don’t know.
M: Do they do other things? Do they play scrabble?
S: Nooooo.
M: How about checkers?
S: Noooooo.
(quiet pause)
S: The beast eats birds.
M: Really?
S: And chipmunks and squirrels.
M: Really?
S: Yep.
M: So does kitty. Maybe that’s what they talk about.
S: What?
M: What birds taste like.
S: Maybe. The beast sleeps in winter. It comes out in summer.
M: Oh.
S: So be quiet. Shhhh. Don’t wake the beast.
M: I won’t. Promise.

Peace (in stories),

Listening to the Music of the Wood

A poem I wrote came in second place for a writing contest with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (the second year I came in second) and I used some of the comments/critiques to revise it a bit, and then I added a podcast. The poem is a memory poem, of Sunday mornings in my childhood when almost the entire neighborhood packed up for Church … except for me.

Listening to the Music of the Wood (slightly revised)
Listen to the podcast

They all left on Sunday mornings,
dressed up in clean clothes and polished shoes;
their faces pushing up against the inside windows of their parents’ cars
as I waved goodbye in my dirty jeans and beat up sneakers,
feeling not quite alone but utterly free as they disappeared down the road,
swallowed up by the sound of the church organ.

I’d take in the deepest breath of the day;
drawing in the silence of the neighborhood to consider my own thoughts
of the Infinite and the world beneath and above me.
I could hear music moving in and among the trees —
melodies of the woods
that called out to me with a spirit all of its own.

I imagined their preacher standing up high on the pulpit,
pushing back against the sins of the world,
delivering sermons on the temptations that lay around us,
guarding his flock against the tide of bad judgments and unexpected calamity,
moving his congregation with equal parts anger and compassion,
making them understand that this is but a fragile peace
and that one must live with open hearts and open minds,
while my friends — so prim and proper on the outside yet full of chaos and energy on the inside —
fidgeted in their seats with empty ears,
daydreaming about the Wood ….

where I scampered about with abandon in the early morning Sunday light,
climbing the tallest trees to survey the world from above
and declaring this place to be my own Heavenly Kingdom
for as far as my eyes could see.
If you listened, if you put your ear to the wood and held your breath,
the wind would make faint hints at a symphony,
something for the solitary journey into the heart of the mind.

My friends sat on hard benches, balancing bibles on their knees,
absentmindedly turning page after page, scanning words
written in a language they could not quite understand —
while I opened my long, sharp, silver pocketknife
and carved a secret name into the biggest tree I could find,
pledging myself Protector of the Wood from the Great Unknown
that always seemed to be lurking just beyond view.

It was only a matter of time …

Those spirits later did come calling
— right at my doorstep, discordant in tone, unsettling —
and it turned out that neither the preacher nor the Wood
could do much to fend off this unbidden sadness of the world
— the slow rumble of minor chords ever present, ever present —
even as I retreated into the trees for solace and comfort,
seeking out their protection as I once promised mine to them
and finding nothing but loose notes engraved in the bark,
solitary sounds outside of the song.
I’d rub my fingers along the carvings
and feel the wounds I had made with my words and actions,
complicit and conflicted and completely alone.

A childhood is made up of overlapping worlds:
some defined for us; some, we make our own.
On Sunday mornings, when I’d become the center of the Universe,
the possibilities of changing this place for the better never seemed more likely than when I was
lying down on fallen leaves,
staring up past the treetops,
pushing off into the clouds,
listening to the music of the Wood.

Peace (in poems),

Not Another Snow Day (comic)

My thoughts this morning as snow came down and school was closed.

I used The Grimace Project (a free flash-based face generator based one the work of Scott McCloud and the concepts of facial expressions in comics) and then ComicLife, in case you are wondering.

Peace (in snowflakes),

Slice of Life: Listening to Teachers

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I spent part of Saturday with a videocamera in my hand, documenting some work being done by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Within our network, a group known as Project Outreach (whose mission is around issues of access, equity and diversity for WMWP) has been designing a program for prospective teachers in urban schools who have not been able to pass the state’s certification test for teachers (known as the MTEL). So, WMWP has offered some sessions on how to approach the Writing and Communication exam, and my role was to capture a discussion at the end of the Saturday session.

I felt a bit like an intruder with my camera aimed at them, but they were gracious, and the discussions were pretty amazing, as these teachers — some of whom English is a second language — talked not only about their own struggles with this standardized test, but also how their struggles allowed them to relate more to the struggles of their students; about how they have come to understand that they must find ways to relate to the world of their students to make learning relevant; about what keeps them going in the classroom during difficult times; and about how they must always maintain high expectations of their students, even though they come from families falling apart or neighborhoods that are violent or schools with very little flexibility. They keep their students in the center of their hearts.

As a teacher, it was a reminder to me, too, to keep these ideas close. Many of my students don’t have the same situation, but some do. It’s interesting how sometimes just the act of “listening” to others brings a solid focus into your own situation. I am thankful for those teachers and their willingess to be honest and open, and to share their stories.

The video will be used as part of a presentation by our Project Outreach folks, but also, it will be part of our Western Mass Writing Project website, which we will be redesigning this year. When it goes up live in the coming days, I will provide a link.

Peace (in sharing),