Monthly Archives: March 2014

1000 threads

I  do not often post on this, my public site, anymore. It doesn’t mean I am not writing. Oh, I write. Writing secures a measure of sanity for me. I  write.

It has long been an indulged habit of mine to write toward someone, a witness if you will to what it is  I sense that I must address. I have moved that burden about over the years I have been again writing. Old friends and new friends alike have so graciously let me “write their way.” And that is no small sacrifice. I may not be profound, but I am prolific. I write a great many words every day. I write to compensate for much insanity about me, one I do not want to succumb to myself.

Presently, my best friend ever, forever has taken up the duty of at least acknowledging what I write, secreting it, asking me some good follow-up questions, and supplying prompts when further exploration seems wise. It is a great gift, the most precious of gifts, she gives to me in doing such. ( If you have done the same before, you have, I trust you know, saved my life.) Yesterday, we hit 1000 threads, in a little over a year of writing, well me writing ad nauseam and her responding or occasionally sending me something. Do you have any idea how many words that is? How many thoughts and considerations? How many questions I have posed to myself, tried to answer, and sought better questions to better address all that is before me?

It is a lot to slog through.

If you, especially you whose duty has been presently relieved, ever wonder if I am writing at all, the answer is, “Yes, I am writing… and writing…and writing.”

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They still love math

I substituted for a friend today, a young woman my youngest daughter babysits for in the summers. She teaches 2nd, yes, second graders. It is an anomaly for me to sub for such an age. They wear me out! It is a battle at times to keep high schoolers awake. That is not so for 2nd graders. At all. ( I might have taken them out and run them.)

Anyway, we wrote out spelling words and played spelling games. We read and drew and answered many comprehension questions aloud and independently. We practiced our penmanship, no I didn’t remember how to make a cursive upper case Q. When have I last written in cursive? And then I taught a math lesson on equality. (Those who know me well are smiling. ) I told them I didn’t know a dang thing about elementary math, how their teacher taught it, etc. I taught seniors, 12th grade math, the best I could do for them was some geometry with a few fractions and decimals thrown in for fun. Their eyes got big, 12th GRADE MATH! Yep, your teacher told me you were very smart and could handle anything I dished out. They nodded, of course. 

I  made them put up their workbooks and just watch. We were going to learn how to do math intuitively. We would check ourselves with counting and regular old math. They were game. We started with the geometry of circles and triangles and squares, learned the relationships inherent. We eye-balled equivalents. Then we counted to check them, and do you know, along the way we learned all about equivalent fractions and how to reduce them. And no one was afraid or shut down or was unable to get it. Because they were smart at math, their teacher said so, and I proved it for them…I just proved it for them.

Later in the day they went to centers, things which I have learned save teachers’ souls, and I asked them what they were playing. “Math games! they are much more fun than word games.” This Word Girl, who just teaches math to those who need more counselor than instructor, had to smile. Math is a mental thing, the game gets gummed up in the mind when you are told how hard it is, how weak your skills are over and over. The best mathematicians I know are intuitive in how they reach their ( correct) answers. They see it first, then prove it with numbers or statements…and consequently their scores.

2nd graders can still see it, like Santa Claus sailing across the night sky or that glorious as of yet unhidden forest. 2nd grade  is the time, now, before it is too late, to let them see and then believe.

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known by name

I have noticed something these years I have been in schools, among the students, especially those who are new to me. I have discovered that if I know their names, learn them quickly, immediately…call them by them before they expect I might, the nature of our relationship changes dramatically. They become, for the most part, my help, support, even defenders. We are not locked in some strange vertical association that rarely brings about much real learning, we are comrades on a journey together towards knowledge and understanding. I do not know of many other ways that real learning well occurs.

I love to call roll in someone’s class and be smiling into the eyes of a student as I speak her name aloud. There is the magical moment of recognition, mine of the student, specific, unique, a gift, and his that I have remembered who his is, clearly a gift to me.

I am substituting this year, and as such, I have discovered something about me. I so much more enjoy that moment of recognition than the material covered, even that which I was passionate in presenting. It is that moment that makes this job matter, at least to me.

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Talking about tone

I had an English class today, one section is especially talented and teachable, a rare combination.  They are constructing a persuasive essay. Their research is completed, their arguments are selected, they are weaving together a draft of a “persuasive” nature.

We talked a bit about persuasion, how it works and how foolhardy that work can be, if undertaken unwisely. Such can convince, without argument, one entirely otherwise. Tone is everything, argument is only somewhat important. I told them what I thought was the secret to teaching high school, gaining trust and allowing the love of learning to grow. I told them how I would never dare to tell one of my students what was so. How the whole point is for them to discover  and come to more and more understanding on their own. A key is to always use a back door, never come barreling in the front, “The Answer,” or worse, “YOUR answer, is here!” It seems better to knock at the back door, the friends’ door, with cookies, warm. I try to let another come to their own answer, present understanding, to honor that, respect it as untested by life as it yet is. Give them that grace to learn, to truly learn and gain “what is valued above all else, wisdom and understanding.” – Proverbs 3:13

As I demonstrated plainly one’s reaction to frontal attack, immediate defensiveness, instinctual, ingrained defensiveness, some saw that I spoke to more than the essay before them. Some saw what I was saying to them in our own back porch conversation.

Then I explained to them that as a writer, I have come to learn that a back door approach is nearly mandatory, most good story is told from that perspective. The young, will be writer in the room, looked up and wide-eyed at me, Aha! all over her face. Back door, baby! I silently shot toward her quick eyes, as she nodded, yes!

My day’s work was done.

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“maybe when things turn green again…” – J. Mayer (In Repair)

Meg had a track meet. Of course, it started early and we had to be there even an hour earlier. It was cloudy, cool, threatening to rain on us again. Last year there were lightning storms and tornadoes in the nearby sky. I did not want to be there, then. I did not want to be there this year. I am a horrible parent/friend fan, a burnt out one.

All Meg’s ( and my ) favorite friends of hers were there competing. I see them all the time. At school, at our house, at theirs. Today, I saw them all differently, better. I saw sweet Maggie, whose love for Meg holds her no matter what comes. Maggie is Meg’s steadfast forever, who is more excited for Meg’s victories than Meg or even her mama. Alex, who broadens Meg’s world and reminds me of me before I let them run me far on past what seemed sane and true and good. Alex, who sat with me and talked call to care and to be there for those who need. Alex, who will not miss her moment, or the opportunity to sit aside another in his or hers. Payton, who has all the answers and shares them as generously as Meg shares her two sandwiches with him at lunch everyday. Payton who every day grows more humble and more gracious and more kind. Payton, who will help Meg, I know, and will offer all in his hand when the wind blow the other direction. And it will.

As soon as I saw them, today, this fair weather fan decided to stay on and watch, all day, to see what they would show me and us all. I hope when I hugged her like my own, spoke with trust  to her like the old soul she is, and fed him in Meg’s stead, that they realized that my time and interactions with them were life-giving to me. Yes, they ran well, jumped far, bested their times tremendously. But, more than that, they loved me well and let me love them in return.

And in the down times, when none of them were on the track  or field, I  got a few of my own miles in, too.

It took me only a few minutes out of the parking lot to realize that something had shifted since I had been (walking) in Birmingham. The pears had flowered… even before I saw them, their scent caught me. It is not a favorite scent of mine or many. It is a sickening sweet, with a rough edge to it which is all at once everywhere. People plant those things in yards and along roadways and in parking lots. When they flower, all the world knows so.

I took a few tentative steps beyond the black top aside the stadium and they assaulted me, first the scent and then the white flowers were also in my face. I dropped my head to block both and saw a green, new, deep and dark upon the dirt. It gave under my tread and spoke silently, “it will be good…to say you know me.” – JM

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walking on the water

Not far from the house is a dock/bridge that winds back and forth across the marsh, out to the channel. One can take a walk upon it, as many folks were doing, or fish from it or bring a boat up to it at several points. The thing about it that struck me so was its solidness. One could jump high, land hard, and feel no shuddering. It was steadfast. It did not move, though the sea and land beneath constantly ebbed and flowed, rose and fell with the tide. Fish darted and flora swayed underneath us, never still. But, the pier pathway remained stationary.

I love the marsh, the briny, almost too much smell that means life is coming to be. I have sweet, sweet memories of marshes below Mobile, aside St. Simons. I find them the most nurturing of views.  Marshes are the home of all my gentle beginnings.

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a new blue

The beach was windy, a bit cool most of the week. But, Sunday, after walking in the morning, we decided to take a evening turn toward the pier. As soon as we hit the beach, it assailed us. The sea was blue, shining blue…a blue we had never seen at that beach in the 35 years she had been coming or the times I had been there, or at any of the beaches on the Gulf, Georgia coast,  South Carolina coast, North Carolina coast, Cape Cod, Maine, California, Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, etc. It shone from under the now calm waves. The blue seemed to be illuminated. It was ethereal and breath-taking. It pulled my head and body around toward it. I walked staring into that blue and not ahead of me for miles. It made me feel something at once old and new. The color caused me to taste a season of life so long ago I could barely bring the detail of it to mind. But, I was young and the place it brought before me was sheltered and mine to explore.

For hours we tried to name the color, make associations. An artist and  a writer could not call it anything but Other, entirely other.

It seemed a Presence. A compelling, Know I am here.  With you in your own attempt to be other than you are. 

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