Teachers Write: Baby Steps Back to Writing

So…how have your first days of school been?  Crazy and wonderful, stressful and joyful, and everything in between, I’d be willing to bet. And I’d also bet that you haven’t found too much time for writing amid the seat charts and get-to-know you papers of September.

 But let’s see if we can find our way back to that place…

(If you’re just finding us, you can read this post about Teachers Write to learn what we’re all about…and if you click here, you can check out all the prompts, mini-lessons, and assignments we’ve had so far.)

 We’re going to kick off our 2012-2013 school-year Teachers Write with a quick-write. Even if you can only find ten minutes, give it a try. Some time this weekend, or in a quiet moment next week, write a memory about one of your parents.  Choose something specific, something that maybe didn’t mean much at the time but does now….like this story about my dad and the carnations.

If you’re writing fiction these days, try this activity from your main character’s voice…or your antagonist’s point of view.

Share an excerpt in the comments if you’d like.  Or just keep this one in your notebook if that feels more right.

 But one way or another, try out the assignment, okay? Get those writing muscles flexing again, and we’ll be back next Friday with a mini-lesson on craft that you can try yourself and then share with your students.

16 Replies on “Teachers Write: Baby Steps Back to Writing

  1. The Last Bike Ride of Summer

    It was one of the largest hills in our neighborhood, and I was scared to death of it, but I didn’t tell my father that as we went off on one of our last bike rides together in our neighborhood that summer. I must have been around eight years old, and school was set to begin the following week. A few times that summer, on Saturdays, my dad and I had gotten on our bikes and just gone riding for a few hours.

    There was this one one road with this huge hill, and we had avoided it during our biking forays. Maybe he didn’t want to have to pedal back up it once we got down it, or maybe he didn’t think I could handle it. I had this mixture of curiosity and fear when it came to the hill. I wanted, and didn’t want, to go down it. And I didn’t want summer to end without it happening.

    On this day, our wanderings took us right to the top of the road, and my father looked at me, asked if I was ready to give it a try. I held my breath and nodded, and then we took off. It was the fastest I had ever gone on my own, and as I held my head down to go even faster (as I had seen my older brother do), I could feel the bike shaking. I wondered if the whole thing would fall apart — if all the nuts and bolts and chains would dismantle — and yet, I urged it on even faster. I vaguely remember my father behind me, yelling something. I could only hear wind, not voices.

    We reached the bottom, safe and sound, braking our way to a slow halt. I was smiling as I hopped off my bike. My heart was racing, as if it might come apart at the seams from excitement, and then my father said, “Did you hear what I was saying? There was a fox watching us from the side of the road. Did you see it?”

    No. All I saw was the road, and the wind, and speed. I missed the fox altogether.


    1. Kevin-I love this story! What a great memory of you and your dad on bikes. I laughed out loud when I read the paragraph about your bike rattling and your fear of it falling apart! I have that same fear as a grown up on my own bike. We bike over 1,000 miles each summer and one ride takes us down a huge hill and I always brake on the hill, being too scared to just let it go because I always think my bike will fall apart. This summer, I went with it, and “Woo-hooed” the whole way down! My bike maxed out at 36 miles per hour going down that hill! And yes…I was quite sure my tire might fall off, but it didn’t!

    2. Kevin,
      Like you and Kim, I have many memories of bike riding as well. One time, my younger brother was riding his bike down “the big hill” in our neighborhood and his front tire frame broke away from the rest of the bike-he crashed and it was a hot mess of blood and screaming-high speeds can do strange things to bicycles-glad you were ok and sorry you missed the fox…maybe a metaphor for our need to sometimes slow the pace and listen more intently so we don’t miss out on things we are supposed to see…

  2. Canning
    Growing up, I never thought much about all the work that went into the rows upon rows of canning jars that lined our “cold room” in the cellar. It sure was convenient to go down cellar and grab a jar of tomatoes or string beans or beets or strawberry jelly.
    On the days when the cicadas were humming their songs, my mom and three sisters would head down the hill to the huge garden and pick string beans then sit on the front porch and snip them so mom could can them. Sometimes we’d get in string bean fights with the ends we had snipped off, littering the porch with string bean ends. I loved the whistling of the pressure cooker and the steam that rose from the top. Mom didn’t like us in the kitchen when she was canning and constantly told us to find something to do outside and sometimes she’d even tell us to ride our bikes to town to go for a swim at the beach.
    Later in the evening, she’d have rows of string beans in neat rows on the sideboard. She’d count and recount and all the while, I never knew how much she depended on that food to get us through the long Maine winters. I never knew what a store bought can of string beans tasted like. And I certainly never knew we were too poor to buy them.
    Several weeks later, she’d do it all over again with tomatoes, and before the garden was tilled up for its winter rest, we’d have a cold room full of everything we’d need to survive the long winter that was sure to come.
    Even though we don’t need to can our food to “get by” anymore, I still can my garden every year. And if I’m lucky, like this summer, my mom does all my tomatoes for me…all 45 jars!

    1. Kim,
      I had similar experiences with my mom canning and freezing food from our garden growing up too! Food from the garden was never wasted and always a just at the right time serving of what mom needed to cook for dinner. I never really appreciated how hard my mom worked to make sure the food was cooked just right when canning to make sure it didn’t spoil or explode. I am glad to know how good food from the home tastes. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. (THANK YOU KATE! I needed this–have been slacking with the writing, trying to find a way to integrate it back into my teaching life. Once again, you always swoop in at the right time with the right thing. Chose my mom today–rusty rusty rusty. I read your writing prompt on Twitter this morning, and then turned on NPR in the middle of this interview with Stephen Tobolowsky: http://www.npr.org/2012/09/08/160686623/an-invitation-to-join-the-dangerous-animals-club
    which is about memory writing–so very perfect.

    It’s clear as day: Getting off the bus and looking up the driveway to find my mother wearing my stepfather’s tattered, red flannel jacket, chopping wood. Her hair pulled back into a bandana, her baggy pants hanging loose around her hiking boots, she looked like a backwoods pioneer woman. I remember the silence before the bus started pulling away and wondering if I should stand proudly because my mother was so strong, or dig a hole of shame where I could die in utter embarrassment.

    I’ll never forget: Her voice crooning. Nothing made her happier than a Bette Midler album, and when Bette was on, the house smelled of home cooked food; the floors were clean; and our universe was momentarily righted. But there was that one day when I was straightening out the rocking chair in the living room, singing along to “The Rose” that she came swooping in after me. “You don’t know the words,” she accused me. I stood with caught-in-the-headlight eyes. I felt guilty. Why didn’t I know the words? Nothing came out of my empty mouth. My empty head. “Don’t sing the song if you don’t know the words!” Her voice was beginning to escalate. “But,” I stammered. “I like the song.” And her words were lost in a torment of yelling.

    It’s all so vivid: I came home and she was acting weird. Aloof. But not angry. If there was anything my mother couldn’t do, it was lie. You could call her on a lie, and her face would break out into a guilty-as-charged grin, which is what I did on this day. “Well,” she declared. “You got some mail.” She pulled out a cardboard tube with my name and address labeled on the side. Curious, I pried the end off. I glanced up at my mother–trying to hide a smile, she couldn’t take her eyes off my hands. What she knew at that point, was that inside was my college acceptance letter from my top college choice. What I hadn’t recognized in her eyes at that point, was sheer pride.

    Burned in my memory: There is a woman in town who was once my mother. She walks the streets daily, her eyes on the sidewalk, her hair tucked under a baseball cap. Under the bridge she has some stored supplies, an old tent, and layers of clothes. Some days I pretend to be changing the radio station when I drive by her so I don’t have to make eye contact, but too many times she looks straight into my eyes–the windshield and the sidewalk are not enough space to protect me from her piercing stare. I can’t tell what it is she feels for me anymore–resentment, hatred, shame? She still looks strong and determined. And as I leave her in the distance, convincing myself daily that it is okay to pass her–that is unsafe to help her–I know everything I am today is because of her.

    1. Angie, I am blown away by this. Your writing is vivid and completely captured me. “There is a woman in town who once was my mother”. Haunting, evocative, ….. (me-stunned)
      Thank you for sharing.

    2. Wow, I was shocked as I read…like Angie, thought it was haunting…is this homeless woman your mother? If so, how did this happen? Your description really captured my attention.

    3. This blew me away as well. Life brings changes you can’t always foresee. My elegant, intelligent mother has become a different woman because of aging and I mourn that loss even though she is still alive. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  4. Kate’s prompt jostled loose this quirky memory: Strands of caulk draped over each arm, I’m standing on the deck of a Norwegian chemical tanker in the Atlantic Ocean. I’m 10 years old, traveling with my parents, younger brother, and grandmother to Belgium and eventually other parts of Europe. My dad and mom are teachers, and they won our passage on this vessel at a raffle fundraiser for their school. Nearby, my dad perches on a step ladder, using a screwdriver to lever off a glass light cover. He then pries out the old, crusted caulk, and I pass him a supple, new piece. He uses the screwdriver again to wedge in the fresh caulk and replaces the cover. Together, we shuffle to the next light fixture, the ship rolling easily beneath us. Dad had volunteered for this chore a few days into what would be almost a two-week crossing. Finagling such frugal transportation was one thing, but that didn’t mean we shouldn’t earn our way as far as he was concerned.

  5. I remember working in the garden with my tireless Dad. It’s 110 degrees outside, but it’s the dry heat of Central Oregon, and we’re sheltered by the tall runner beans.We move slowly, deliberately, but we keep moving. We dig and hoe, weed and chunk up clods of hardpan dirt, keeping it all in check, keeping it all orderly. Suddenly Dad gives a shout, and I turn, just in time to see a tall yellow-topped weed disappearing with a few odd, sharp jerks beneath the ground, and then my Dad is smacking the earth frantically with a hoe, digging and smacking and half-laughing before he pauses, sweat streaming down his face. A mole has grabbed a weed out of his hands as he prepared to pull it. A mole has stolen the weed from his very grasp, and he is thinking how next it will steal the carrot he’d like on his plate this winter, the chard we’ll saute with onions. But really, he doesn’t regret that he didn’t get that mole. After all, the little guy had as much right to that weed as my Dad.

  6. Thank you, Kate, for the timely invitation. I went totally off topic (even after lying awake thinking of old memories my main character might have of her mother) and finished a poem I started with a challenge to my students a couple of weeks ago. It felt good to get back to writing, even for a little while. Here’s the link to where I posted it to share with my students next week: http://kaymcgriff.edublogs.org/?p=4480