It's All in the Details
The Slice of Life Challenge has ended, but my daily writing practice will continue, and it will be richer as a result of my fellow slicers.
The Slice of Life Challenge has shown me that the universal is in the details.
I've heard it before, and somewhere deep inside my brain, I know it.
But knowing something and feeling something is a very different experience.
So which three posts have stuck in my mind, and what details glued them there? Well, one post made me taste something, another post made me feel something, and the final post made me visualize something.
Let's start with Fran Haley's post, "Zest." One could write a whole post about all the wonderful writing techniques in this lovely slice, such as what a sweet treat it is when a writer plays with all the multiple meanings of a word. But, I digress. The detail that stuck with me was the lemon rind and juice in the ice cream.
Well, when my sons were in elementary school, I made strawberry ice cream. The recipe called for lemon juice and lemon rind. It might have been delicious if I would have added sugar. But, I didn't. I don't eat sugar and I thought the lactose in the cream would make the ice cream sweet enough.
Over a decade later, I could picture each of their puckered faces in my mind. But if Fran hadn't included those zesty details, the memory would have remained buried in some dark recess in my mind.
Thanks, Fran, for making that day a fresh-squeezed memory for me.
Sigh, I don't know who to credit for these next two posts, sad but true. That just goes to show that I had to learn this lesson again and again to realize how important it was. If I would have known, I would have taken notes. Anyway, my apologies to the slicers. If one of them is you, please let me know and I will link to your slice!
Someone posted a slice about their dachshund. To tell their story, they used photos and captions. I'm not a big dachshund fan, so this wasn't a post I expected to stick with me. But it did.
One of the photos, showcased their dachshund wrapped in a pair of jeans. The caption talked about how nothing feels as good as a pair of jeans straight out of the dryer. I smiled. Every morning, I throw my jeans in my dryer. When my shower is done, I put on those warm jeans and I'm ready to face whatever challenges come my way. That post made me feel warm, energetic, and ready to go. Just like a pair of warm, jeans.
Finally, a slicer in Chile, posted about not knowing what to write about. If they would have stopped there, I wouldn't have thought twice about that post. But they didn't.
Instead, they ended the post with three memories for the day. One musing was about popcorn, which led me to write my most popular slice, another memory shared about a tree his son drew, and the third memory shared about the stuffed animal his daughter had brought to school. If he would have just said stuffed animal, the post wouldn't have stuck with me. But it did.
It's all in the details. He talked about the matted down fur on the stuffed animal that must have occurred as a result of his daughter sucking on her stuffed animal, when an adult squatted down to talk to her eye-to-eye.
Immediately, my mind raced back twenty years to my youngest son's infant days. He had a red chenille stuffed bear with an olive green chenille scarf. He sucked on that scarf every day. That matted, down scarf may only be a foot long, but it's the warmest scarf I own.
So, as I return to focusing on crafting fiction, I'll remember connecting heart-to-heart requires details. If I've just mentioned an object and not a specific detail, I either need to add a detail, or cut the object. Every word needs to make the reader feel seen, and if it doesn't, it's not doing it's job.
Thank you to all the slicers, who have taught me how to be a better writer, and thank you to Stacey Shubitz, and her terrific team at Two Writing Teachers for this amazing opportunity.
The Light Side: Oh Yeah!
No, this is not a musing on Ferris Bueller's Day Off, although that would be fun. This is the flipside of yesterday's post.
Here's something positive that occurred as a result of a month of ELA test prep in my fourth grade classroom.
On Tuesday, as we sat in our meeting space recapping parts of speech, how to respond to different types of questions, and the importance of a good night's sleep, we only had a few minutes left of our writing block.
"Mrs. Narita," a student raised her hand.
"Yes," I answered.
"Is this all we're doing for writing today?"
I nodded. "Yep, it's time for recess."
She slapped her thigh. "Ugh! No writing. I hate that. I used to hate writing, but now I love it. I can't stand it when we don't get to write."
The Dark Side: Cheap and Nasty
For the most part, I have been trying to keep this blog honest, but positive.
Today is honest, but it's angry, and it's real.
During my fall conferences, several parents asked me, "Why did my child get a zero on the writing portion of the state standardized testing last year?"
Now, before I go any further. Let me give you a quick picture of two of these students. One tests at the 13th grade level for reading and math. The other will be a New York Times bestselling author by the time she is in college. There were plenty of other students' parents that asked the same question. These examples just illustrate that these are stellar students receiving zeros.
"I don't know," I said. "But I do know the administrators are looking into it because our school as a whole did really poorly in writing."
By spring conferences, we had the answer.
Are you sitting down?
Any student who did not indent when writing their responses, received a zero.
Never mind if they thought deeply about the question.
Never mind if they cited evidence to back up their reasoning.
Never mind if they explained their thinking.
No indent equaled the grader could type in a big, fat goose egg and move on.
That meant the state saved money. I mean just think how many zeros they gave to third graders who didn't know how to indent on the computer! Talk about a smaller hourly bill.
Score for the state's wallet.
So, I told my parents and my students the truth.
The state is nasty and cheap.
I challenged my students yesterday.
"They're making you take this test," I said. "Do you think it's fair that you can work really hard, organize your thoughts, write an awesome essay, and then get a zero because you didn't indent?"
"No!" they shouted.
I agreed. "So don't let them do that. Make sure you indent."
Make 'em pay.
Biographies, Book Bans, and More!
Are you teaching a biography unit?
Are you writing a biography?
Are book bans affecting what you teach or what you write?
Join our Chalk + Ink Chat tomorrow night with Carole Boston Weatherford and Rob Sanders. It's free, it's fun, and it's informative.
Why did I start live chats when I already have a podcast?
Well, hosting the podcast has made me a better teacher and a better writer because I can ask guests specific questions about their teaching and writing processes and then weave the new knowledge into my crafts.
Now, you have the same opportunity.
So sign up to join us tomorrow night. Bring your questions and take your answers back to your classroom to add some spark to your writer's workshop or shine a new light on your biography unit.
Hope to see you there!
A Creative Partner
Without a doubt, the Slice of Life Challenge has been my March creative partner.
The Slice of Life Challenge has made me laugh out loud.
The Slice of Life Challenge has made me feel seen.
The Slice of Life Challenge has helped me grow as a writer.
As it comes to an end, I find myself thinking about what parts of me I haven't yet shared with all of you. And I haven't yet shared a whole lot about my personal, creative process. So today's post is about a podcast that makes me laugh out loud, feel seen, and helps me grow as a writer.
This may not seem personal, but it is. This podcast helps me keep going when I feel like quitting, keep going when I think selling another manuscript is out of reach, keep going when I think I'm not as talented as other writers.
It's Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Pizza.
Every week I anxiously await Wednesday, because without fail, a new episode drops. He's been podcasting every week, without fail, for eight years-400 episodes.
Yep, 400 episodes.
Yet, every time I listen I learn something new about myself or am able to see something from a different point of view or feel as though someone knows exactly how I feel.
So, when April first rolls around and you're feeling lost because you've lost your March creative partner, you have more than a years worth of episodes that you can listen to whenever you need a creative partner or at the very least a... Creative Pep Talk.
I Did a Good Job
Do you often tell yourself you did a good job?
In fact, I've had to teach myself how to do it.
Last Friday, when I was rehearsing my VSLA presentation, I panicked as I envisioned presenting to an empty room. After all, it was the very last conference session on a Saturday. I thought I need to give attendees something right off the bat that they can take to their classrooms. So, I I searched up fun classroom cheers, and I decided to work a bunch of fun movements into the start of my talk.
I'd work in a round of applause for the conference organizers, a cowboy "yeehaw" cheer for the hotel staff, and a disco cheer for anyone who actually showed up to the last session of the conference.
What's a disco cheer?
Stand up, channel your inner Bee Gees or John Travolta, and put your finger in the air. Then chant, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, I did a good job. I did a good job."
It was so much fun, I took the cheer back to my classroom. On Monday, I told my class how I had been grading all weekend, when I wasn't presenting, and how I was so proud of their tremendous improvement. They did a round of applause for increasing math fact fluency, a yeehaw cheer for reading comprehension and a disco cheer for written responses to literature.
On Thursday, as I was packing up to go home, the custodian entered my room. This is a relationship I have nursed for ten years. He is not someone who easily engages in conversation. So, when he stepped in and started talking I was surprised.
"You know that music you were listening to the other day in class?"
My mind raced. Music? I hadn't listened to any music in class that week. What was he talking about?
"You know, the Bee Gees song."
Still dumbfounded I stared at him.
"They don't music anymore like they did in the seventies and the eighties."
And then it clicked- "Stayin' Alive."
"I have that song on my phone." He smiled and walked out the door.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, I did a good job. I did a good job."
It's your turn. Stand up and try it.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, I did a good job. I did a good job."
Popcorn used to just be well... popcorn.
Sure, I had some memories associated with it.
When my dad was a principal, he had a movie theater popcorn machine so that kids could have free popcorn on celebration days.
One time when I visited my friend, who was a single mom of two young kids, she wanted to cook me dinner. Meanwhile, I just wanted popcorn.
Getting the call from my sons' school to pick up Corbin because his stomach hurt. Turns out he ate too much popcorn.
But none of those memories are sticky memories. They come and go like fluffy, white, cumulus cotton ball clouds, on a summer day.
Now whenever I eat popcorn, I think of one person. The six-year-old sweet, sassy, smart little girl who lived with us for six weeks.
We had an after dinner routine. First, practice reading sight words and/or naming numbers from 1-20 for ten minutes. If she could earn ten points, a point for every correct word or identified number, she could earn ten extra minutes of movie time. Boy, did she work to turn 30 minutes into 40 minutes of Disney magic.
Almost always, she chose Encanto. I can't even tell you how many times I watched Encanto in six weeks.
I lost count.
And every other night, she and I made popcorn. The old-fashioned kind with melted butter and table salt. She'd stand and watch on the stool, a safe distance from any spattering grease, as I poured the kernels into the pot.
She and I sat on the couch, each with our own bowl, and a cloth napkin so that Tom wouldn't hyperventilate about grease stains on clothes or the couch.
After she finished one bowl, she'd always ask, "Is there more?" Of course, I made sure there always was, even if it was just a little bit.
Then, she would sing.
Song after song until the forty minutes was up and it was time for books and bed.
Last night before Tom and I sat down to watch Shrinking, I looked at him and I said, "I want popcorn."
We looked at each other and said her name.
He looked at me and said, "Is there more?"
Popcorn has never tasted so bittersweet.
Everyone Starts Somewhere
Today's all school meeting focused on responsibility. In addition to collaborating on a class book about all the different ways students can be responsible, the two primary classes showed a video called, "Stop Making Excuses and Own Your Actions." While I wish the video would have had a more diverse cast of actors, its message hit home.
It's easy to blame my exhaustion on March's indecisive weather, or the fact that it's the longest 31 days ever, or the fact that there are parent teacher conferences, or the fact that there are report cards, or the fact that I spoke at a literacy conference.
But that's not taking responsibility for my own actions. The real reason why I'm exhausted is the fact that I don't really know how to slow down.
But for ten minutes this morning I did. The timer for my husband's tea beeped. A part of me wanted tea. The go-go-go part of me wanted to head for the door.
I stopped and honored the part of me crying out to slow down and have a cup of tea.
I sat for ten minutes, sipped tea, and chatted.
It's not much, but it's a start.
Everyone starts somewhere.
An Unexpected Guest
Usually, I reserve my before-dawn writing hours, for my creative writing. But sometimes, during report cards or if I have to prep for a podcast, I need to use that time in another manner. Today was one of those mornings, and I was dreading it.
As I continued reading Text Sets in Action by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes, I began to lose myself in their words. Just like their text sets facilitate connections in elementary classrooms, their writing facilitated connections in my mind.
Critical thinking... Steve Jenkins' book, Animals by the Numbers... my students' critical responses about a book we read earlier this year...
And the Muse barged in.
Just like she did nine years ago when I was on an interview committee listening to my colleague talk about how if students don't know the combinations of numbers that add to ten, they won't be successful in math. The Muse dropped off the concept for 100 Bugs!. Then, during my drive home, she gave me the text word-for-word.
Thank you for visiting again, dear Muse.
Please stop by anytime.
On Sunday, from the plane's window seat, I watched the rainbow sunrise. The horizon burned red, bleeding into orange. Yellow blended into green. Blue faded into purple, pushing the night away. A few wispy clouds veiled parts of the show.
I let myself soak up the visible spectrum and bask in gratitude, reminding myself that soon I would be in the comfort of my own home.
This morning, as I meditated in my dining room, a rainbow sunrise once again filled the horizon. A Peloton gratitude meditation playing in one ear prompted me to remember a time I felt loved.
Right away, that airplane's rainbow sunrise painted itself across my brain. But this time, instead of clouds, text bubbles floated into view. The kind words my husband and sons texted me when I let them know on Friday that my manuscript wasn't chosen...
C: Still impressive!
T: 10 out of 2,000. That's some amazing odds.
A: Sounds like you're just one step away from getting published. Could happen anytime if you're that close to something.
Today ten minutes was all it took to get close to love and gratitude.
Six hundred seconds to soak up gratitude rainbows so that my light could shine throughout the day, no matter what came my way.
Slice of Life Challenge
My 2023 one little word goal is PLAY. So, one of the ways I'm playing is by joining in the Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life Story Challenge. My first post will be March 1st. Happy reading!