Friday, April 8, 2022

A Writer's Smudge


As writers, we know ideas continue to enter our creative corridor even though we may be in the middle of another project demanding our full attention. At least that’s what we hope. I have a mental list of several story ideas, so my well is far from drying up. I can’t imagine, and I hope I never experience, a time where I’m not plotting through a story concept.


Ideas may seem to come out of nowhere, but our surroundings often inspire us, whether a show/movie, a headline, or a writing prompt. Some, however, do come out of nowhere. Either way, it’s exciting to pin down another idea for another day. Yesterday, however, my latest pin had me curious. Attempting to discipline myself and break old habits, I did what I rarely do. I typed out the idea to see if I could convey my thoughts on paper – something I find most challenging as a writer.

 

Even though it’s a rough draft – not even rough, more like an expounded sticky note – my goal was to make a significant revelation forcing an ohhh from the reader. I gave subtle hints that you’d catch the second time – if I were so lucky to write something worth multiple viewings.

 

By posting this “sticky note” of an idea, I am breaking a rule writers shouldn’t break, or at least break with absolute caution. The public shouldn’t see rough drafts, so to speak. If the person reading your initial draft isn’t a writer, they won’t understand. Their mentality is: Oh, you’re a writer! Then what I’m about to read should put me at the edge of my seat and blow me away all at the same time. They, or rather you, are setting them up for utter disappointment with a lackluster plot, flat characters and a setting as boring as a cactus centerpiece.

 

I used to enjoy watching Bob Ross paint. It was amazing watching the blank canvas transform into a beautiful depiction of nature. But every time I watched, I’d see Bob do something, and I couldn’t help to think, Dude, you just messed up your painting. I wasn’t seeing the big picture. I didn’t see what he saw, the smudge becoming a bridge or a tree line. 

 

Rough drafts are no different. Their purpose isn’t to have the bridge or tree line but rather to begin putting paint on the canvas. Writers see the big picture. We know, sometimes, where we want to go. Other times, we dab our brush into different colors as if scraping the white off the canvas in hopes of uncovering an idea.

 

With all that said, here is my smudge:

 

The bench, damp from the mid-morning rain, wobbled when I sat down. I stood and walked over to the walking path and found a thick, flat piece of limestone. After a bit of digging, dirt wedging under my nails, I pulled it from the clutches of soil, leaving a tripping hazard for visitors. I carried it with both hands, the moist soil making the lines on my palms muddy riverbanks and placed it under the leg of the bench correcting its balance.

 

And then I waited. 

 

I didn’t know who would show, but someone always did, putting a nice, if not reflective, end to another, otherwise, meaningless day. People from town were habitual, always coming to visit loved ones on their way home. Some talked. Some stood still. Some knelt. But those weren’t the ones that shared my bench.

 

The clouds swept by with the late fall breeze at their backs, pushing my thoughts along the majestic sky. Lost in a memory or two, I was startled by her presence as if appearing out of nowhere. She sat upright like a fence post, hands folded and nestled in her lap. She didn’t seem to mind the wetness.

 

“Were you waiting long?” I asked, looking at a strand of hair touching her shoulder as it caught the sun’s finale.

 

“No,” she answered in a whisper. “Time is irrelevant. There’s just waiting. But many are.”

 

“Are what?”

 

“Waiting.”

 

“Oh, I don’t know how it all works,” I said.

 

“For better for worse, I suppose.”

 

“Yes, I suppose.” I looked out across the cemetery. More wilted flowers than fresh ones. “Where did you come from?”

 

“Up there,” she pointed, her voice forlorn. “A few graves away from the big oak tree. Next to my husband.”


-rg

 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Cover to Cover

Over the years, I have had many magazine subscriptions; Entertainment Weekly, US, Premiere, Sports Illustrated, Home and Garden, Family Handyman, and Writer's Digest, to name a few. Never have I come close to reading them cover to cover. It was unusual for me to read a single article, let alone the entire publication. I didn't read it if it wasn't about Steven Spielberg, Robin Williams, Michael J. Fox or U2. I perused the pages - always back to front - several times, always liking the idea of having magazines more than reading them.

2022 is the year for things to change. I earned my MA, completed a March challenge of writing every day and today, I finished reading my Writer's Digest cover to cover. A double issue, too! For you writers out there, WD is a great tool to have on hand providing many articles on POV, setting, finding agents, plot etc.

It comes at a time when failure on the parenting front weighs on my heart with piercing disappointment. I must focus on celebrations in life, no matter how insignificant. Is my life better because I read an entire magazine? Not really. Did I learn something? Of course. Are small achievements stepping stones to becoming a better person? Absolutely.

Next up? Coffee table books. So many to choose from. U2? Lost? Spielberg? Phillies? It's going to take more than three days for sure. If this rain keeps up preventing me from doing yard work, I may finish sooner than expected. But whenever I do finish, it will be another stepping stone.

No excuses.




Thursday, March 31, 2022

Goodbye (for now) and Thank You

I just wanted to thank everyone for clicking on my links and posting comments. I know I haven’t returned the favor as much as I wanted to. I am grateful to the Two Teachers for providing this challenge and being a catalyst for community-building among teachers and writers.

Below are my next goals, so if you believe in prayer or would like to send positive vibes, I’d appreciate it.

My two biggest goals go hand in hand; continue to revise Grace Leads Home while searching for a literary agent. Both require much discipline. The former requires hours at my desk plotting, rearranging, adding, deleting etc. The latter means many rejections. But I’m okay with that. It’s part of the gig.

After that, I have a few short stories I started during my MA courses I’d like to return to and eventually publish as a collection. I also, a few years ago, started and/or completed a few with my best friend I look forward to fine-tuning.

Again, many thanks to all of you – even if you didn’t click on my link. I’m proud of you for meeting the challenge and taking time from our hectic lives to focus on your passion for writing.

Dream Out Loud,

Ryan

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Writing Tips and Tidbits


Joe Fassler spoke with one-hundred writers asking for advice, tips for writers. Following are the suggestions (in bold) he gathered, along with the tidbits I picked up along my writing journey.

    1) Neglect everything else. We have our jobs and families, but writers need to dedicate themselves to finding time to write every day. If we look hard enough, we’ll be able to locate a pocket, a window of time allowing us to blurt out some thoughts and ideas on the white screen.

2)    Beginnings matter. It’s not only the first chapter that matters but the first sentence. Jump right in with dialogue or a problem. Flow is essential throughout the story, so why not begin the flow on the first page. If agents and publishers aren’t enthralled by page ten, your story hits the bottom of the trash can. Michael Chabon says, “the seed of the novel…was in the first sentence.”

3)    Follow the headlights. One thing I had to learn to do, which goes against the grain, is outlining. I can’t say enough about Blake Snyder’s beat sheets. But even with an outline, you still have freedom. Freedom is important because it starts painting the picture outside the headlights that may not be in your immediate plans for the story. Outside of the lights, in that freedom, theme, setting, character etc., can often be found. Andre Dubus calls this the “architecture” of our story.

4)    Sound it out. I admit I haven’t done this yet, but reading your work aloud to yourself has tremendous benefits – especially when you’re on the third, fourth, eighteenth draft. George Saunders says the “sound shows him where the energy is.” Without energy, flow, rhythm, don’t expect many sales.

5)    It’s supposed to be difficult. What else is there to say, but the magical thing about writing is no matter how difficult it is – because it’s always hard no matter how established you are – it is worth the pain, the struggle, the maddening bursts of anger.

6)    Keep a totem. Dickens, according to Fassler, had figurines spread out over his desk to keep him company while he wrote. Totems can be anything from family pictures or a favorite quote. Apparently, it can be your cat that seems to think half your desk is hers. Currently, I have a picture of my dad and me. When I turned in my last assignment for my MA, I picked it up and held it in front of me. Let’s just say it was emotional.

7)    Find the joy. Amen. If you know you are a writer, and you know you have a story to tell, but you aren’t finding the joy between throwing your laptop out the window and yelling at your tokens, then take a step back. Take time to invest in reading from experts in the field, or take a class. The key is to humble yourself and listen to what they say. And do what they say.

https://lithub.com/i-talked-to-150-writers-and-heres-the-best-advice-they-had/

Above is the link for Joe Fassler’s article, I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had: Joe Fassler on Seven of the Most Common Writing Tips.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Talking to Myself: Part 4


I’m sorry to say this will be our last time talking with each other.

Is it really, though? I mean, if you think about it, we spend a lot of time talking with one another.

You’re right, which reminds me how you need to work on your self-talk.

Why do you say that?

You call yourself stupid when you mess up.

Well, thankfully, I don’t mess up often.

Not funny.

It’s a little funny.

No.

You’re right. I do. But why do you care?

When you call yourself stupid, you’re calling me stupid.

I keep forgetting that.

Ready for my first question?

Go for it.

Do you think you’re strong?

Hmmm. I definitely have strong opinions.

For example?

Too many Christians don’t know how to read the Bible. What makes it worse, they don’t have the leadership, guidance and tools to teach them. For example, Jesus, many times, spoke hyperbolically when speaking with people. Do you really think heaven has streets of gold?! Are you telling me the most creative being in the universe would pave roads with gold? Please. How tacky is that?! He spoke to people who couldn’t fathom what heaven actually looks like, so he had to give them something they could understand.

Any books you would recommend?

Absolutely. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. Genius.

How about in other ways? Do you feel you’re strong with other things?

When I put my mind to something, I get things done. I lost forty pounds and kept it off for five years – some fluctuating with holidays. I get my daily steps in. I finished my MA program, and I am part of an amazing Slice of Life challenge that has pushed me creatively.

What are some things you wish you could set your mind to?

Playing guitar, piano, working on negative comments. I hate that I raise my voice so much. I put a lot of things off.

Me too.

Don’t get me started on what you need to work on.

Understood.

I think we can both agree we wish we were more easy-going. It’s hard not to envy people like that and how they roll with the punches; nothing bothers them. Too many things irritate me.

Maybe there’s a reason you are getting emotional about certain things. Being passive isn’t always good. Just turn the irritation into something more positive, productive.

Good point.

Last question. What is the best thing that could happen to you right now?

Easy. Money. Having enough money to walk away from teaching, buy safer cars, upgrade the entire house, take the family on vacation, pay off all debt, and still have enough for savings would be wonderful. Doesn’t renovating an old barn and turning it into a homeless shelter sound great? I’d love to buy Camp Donegal too. For now, I’ll be grateful to make it to the next paycheck – try to be as much of a light to others as possible.

Oh, I miss Camp Donegal, and yes, the barn for the homeless sounds amazing. I think great things will happen.

Me too, but –

No. I won’t allow you to say that. It will. Say it.

Great things will happen. End of story.

And end of interview.

 

 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Very Random

1)  Is it weird I still get excited by the dentist saying "no cavities"?

·  2) The cup being half empty is the optimistic viewpoint. If your goal is to consume the entire glass of water, you are halfway to completing your goal. That's a good thing.

·   3) On my way home from the dentist, I passed Kurtz Drive. This made me think about my sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Kurtz. I loved Mrs. Kurtz. If for no other reason, I enjoyed her class because she gave me time to write. In fact, she wrote my first rejection letter for my (cough) amazing story called "Fight for Your Right." Here's an original snippet:

 It all started in about the winter of 1981 when I was going in to town to buy a few things to snack on. On the way to the store I heard a loud bang. I walked over and looked to see what it was. It was a young boy who knoked down a trash barrel. He was about a year or two younger than me. I walked over and said "looking for anything." The boy turned around and said Uh. I saw then that the boy probably was lost for a long period of time because his clothes were all ripped and it was in the middle of the winter. I asked the boy if he was lost and he just ran away. I followed him and I ended up at a big box where lay a couple of smelly blankets. Then the boy said no but my parents left me here and forgot all about me like two years ago.

I was so proud of my story, which went on, unluckily for her, for several more pages. I asked her if it was good enough to get published. Her response was kind, but I'm sure she got a good laugh (or eye roll) out of my delusions of grandeur.

·    4) I find it ironic that Nicholas Cage is starring in a movie called, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

·    5) Growing up, our trashcans did not have wheels. Did anyone's? My older brother had the brilliant idea of putting them on skateboards and rolling them out to the end of the drive. Is it too late to get a patent for wheeled trashcans? I could use the money.

·    6) I once tried pushing down on one end of the skateboard to make it pop up as Marty McFly did in Back to the Future. It popped alright. Right into my chin.

·    7) I was pulling a lot of weeds on Saturday. I met a snake. Then the snake met my spade. I don't like snakes. I slept well that night.

·    8) My dad has been in a lot of my dreams lately. He and I are always in a car, and I'm always sitting behind him, so I can't see his face. In one, we were chasing or outrunning a tornado. After that, I handed him my plate while he was switching lanes – I know, weird. The most recent one had him teaching me to use the emergency brake to turn around really fast. I don't know what to make of those dreams, but it's good to hang out with my dad again.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

We Will Flourish


I have a house plant (I think it’s a tradescantia) in my office. It catches the afternoon sun next to some carved hippopotamuses I bought in Ghana. I’ve had it for many years – mostly in my classroom, where I have witnessed its various stages. I’m not sure how I got it, but I think it’s a rescue plant – abandoned and neglected and saved by me, a teacher desperate for green in his classroom.

After some TLC, it quickly flowed over the white plastic pot and looked nice on my shelves with the peace lilies. A few years ago, unfamiliar with this kind of plant, it eventually dried up despite the sun and water. I kept trimming the dead stalks, but soon there wasn’t any more to remove. My teammate’s doubtful look told me there wasn’t any hope and that she’d toss it and forget it. 

I kept it. Other than the soil, it was empty. But beneath the surface, there was life.

I waited. And waited. For a long time, I kept the plantless pot on my shelf, continuing to give it water and set it near a window for natural light. Then finally, a sign of life. A thin green leaf still rolled up poked through the soil, and in a few weeks, it was flourishing. It waited until it was ready. Even though we couldn’t see it, life was always there, centimeters below the surface.

Now, as it sits on my window sill, it is coming out of another dry spell again. There are a few leaves, but there’s been a few leaves for quite a while. I expected and hoped for more by now. But I know it will flourish when it’s ready.

We are not much different. Dry spells are unavoidable, but it’s important during those times, within ourselves, we choose to grow. It could be growing spiritually, studying/learning something new or breaking bad habits. Beneath those troubled times is life, and it needs nourishment. It’s imperative to understand during those dry spells, those times of doubt and desperation, we are not forsaken.

Never.

When the time is right, we will flourish.

Always.



Saturday, March 26, 2022

Ten Books Worth Looking Into

I need to give myself a little break from writing, so I’m going through my recently borrowed books on Hoopla and Libby (the former is much better). Here are eight fiction books (plus one memoir and one biography) I’ve recently read that I’d recommend to anyone:

·       The Water Keeper by Charles Martin

o   My favorite author whose stories always have a powerful theme of redemption.

·       Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker

o   Josh tells his story of growing up using baseball cards. Genius idea.

·       Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

o   From Amazon “Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.”

·       The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

o   Imagine a library where all the books are different realities. Your realities.

·       Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt

o   Great minds don’t think alike.

·       Robin by Dave Itzkoff

o    One of the most extraordinary human beings ever, Robin Williams, suffered from a terrifying disease called Lewes Dementia. A great mind literally deteriorated.

·       The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

o   Hig is one of the very few survivors of a flu pandemic. He and his dog live at an abandoned airport before a sound of hope changes everything.

·       The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

o   Dan, if you’re reading this, I want to write a screenplay adaptation. Actually, I’ll go ahead and write it, and you tell me what you think. Love this story. A father and daughter on a cross-country adventure…in a school bus. How could you not?

·       When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

o   How did I not know about this book?! I discovered this during one of my MA classes. Clues and time travel. What could be better?

·       Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

o   Um, Netflix? You need to read this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Shaped and Molded

 Late last night, before finally drifting off, I began thinking about how events in my childhood have (most likely) shaped my personality – making me behave the way I do at certain times. I don’t write this to make excuses, complain, blame or make anyone feel bad. It’s just interesting – at least to me.

     Nobody picked me up after basketball practice. This was during middle school “1980-something,” long before smartphones. If I had a phone, I could have sent several different emojis – the one with a teardrop comes to mind – or a gif of an animal with sad eyes. In all honesty, I would have called and probably yelled. I was forgotten twice - devasting for a kid who wore (and sometimes still does) his heart on his sleeve.

·       I have fond memories of growing up in our church. Many relatives worshiped there, and most that weren’t related felt like family. It seemed, from a child’s perspective, a close-knit community. One family we were close to was the Eberlys. Their house was where I first watched Michael Jackson’s spectacular Thriller video. As impressive as that was, it’s not what shaped my personality. Linda was in her thirties (I think) and was taken to heaven too soon. She was the first person I knew and spent time with that was here and then wasn’t. Just like that. No warning. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, but my heart took the most brutal hit – as did her family and all that knew her. I remember putting the dishes away the day I heard the news – my tears alone could have washed three loads – asking, through my sobs, why?

·     I hate loud noises. Any bang, clang, thump and bump immediately raises my anxiety. And I think I know why. It’s partially parental instinct because the last thing we want is our children hurt. But it has deeper roots for me. When my dad had his seizure, our entire lives changed. My one brother and I were hanging out in the basement, and Dad was giving my youngest brother a bath. Next thing we know, the freshly-cleaned brother was telling our mom that dad had fallen and wasn't moving. Here’s the strange thing; we never heard a thud, but I’m convinced it’s why loud noises are unsettling. P.S. I hate brain tumors.

·       Some memories are crystal clear, while others are faded like a favorite pair of jeans. I have a vivid memory of a time I was in the kitchen with my mom. She was washing dishes at the sink, glancing out the window when sirens roared down Route 30. I didn’t think anything of it, but I noticed she was crying. After I inquired why, she responded, “somewhere, somebody is hurt.” I have never forgotten that, and my personality (and my heart) changed that day. Whoever it was hurt and in need wasn't anyone she knew. It didn't need to be. When my girls were younger, in the spirit of my mom’s statement that day, I would tell them to say a prayer every time an ambulance rushed by, sirens blaring.

    Ever wonder what shaped you?





h



Thursday, March 24, 2022

How I Wish the Big Wheels Would Keep on Turning


I read a fellow slicer’s post today, but I forgot to write her name down, so I don’t know who to give credit to for my post. She described activities she used to do but struggles to find time to do them without feeling guilty. It made me think about activities I used to do growing up I longer do – not from being too busy, but just have outgrown. For better, for worse.

5: Earl Weaver’s Baseball. We are talking floppy disk! I loved this game. It gave you options of different eras allowing you to play for teams with Ruth, Mantle or Aaron and Clemente. I mainly chose to play with the current rosters and spent hours upon hours plugging in data from all 792 cards from my1988 Topps set. As accurate as I wanted the rosters to be, I’d finagle with some of my favorite players. I believe Tony Gwynn had over twenty hits in one game while Henderson stole a base a dozen times. Those pixelated players were my heroes.

4. Basketball. I still shoot around. My oldest daughter isn’t so easy to beat anymore, but I still enjoy it. When I was younger, it gave my imagination a chance to shine. Grabbing the ball from the garage, I’d dribble our to the court, the bounces echoing throughout the forest. I’d be out there for hours playing one-on-one with myself as I pretended to be Barkley, Jordan, Webb, Wilkins, Magic etc. Often, it’d be snowing, but I kept playing. All the players felt real, and the atmosphere of being in the middle of the woods was peaceful. No annoying brothers.

3. Movies. I used to watch movies over and over again. Rocky, Star Wars, Goonies. I watched Pee Wee’s Big Adventure forty-four times before I lost track. Robin Hood (1991) nearly fifty. Back to the Future trilogy? Who knows? Now, with so many good shows to binge-watch, once is enough for me. Usually. Plus, you didn’t realize how bad some movies were back then. The pickings are much slimmer these days. My patience, too.

2. Ice Cream. I’m not talking about a couple of scoops with sprinkles. I’m talking about my post-soccer game mountain of junk where the scoops, as large as they were, still got buried by the smorgasbord of junk we had in the kitchen. I grabbed the chocolate syrup, peanuts, sprinkles, marshmallows, Oreos, pretzels, M&Ms, Lucky Charms and raisins. And never gained a pound. Today would be different. I think my scale would boycott flashing me the red digital numbers if I still did that. But, boy, what a treat!

1. Big Wheel. This was the best thing about my childhood. I remember the plastic wearing away on the wheels and the sound of gravel crunching beneath the three wheels as I went around and around, back and forth all day long. I thought there could be nothing better in life. Then the upgrade came -a hand brake on the side. Whoo-wee!

I wish I enjoyed video games (I like MarioKart, but that’s it). I wish I had more patience for movies and that ice cream piled in junk was healthy. I wouldn’t mind shooting b-ball more than I do, but man, do I wish I could still ride a Big Wheel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?


Slice of Life: Day 23 

*With some exaggeration, but not as much as you'd think.

As much as I search for a topic for my daily slice, I’m surprised sometimes it takes me as long as it does. I mean, life with third-graders is never dull. Yesterday it was a puddle of pee in the classroom’s bathroom. To add to the fun, a child stood on a toilet and, for what I can only guess, was trying to get in touch with their inner orangutan, concluded his act by swinging from stall wall to stall wall. His performance was so fluid and graceful it made me wonder how we can’t go one day without them bumping their heads on the playground equipment, or go ten minutes without their pencil boxes crashing and exploding to the floor?

But there I was, the eleventh hour – or at least it felt like it – driving home still searching for my slice of life. I have been listening to Janet Burroway’s, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, and in her section about revising, she quoted Andre Gide, a French author and recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. He said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

And a chorus of angels in their heavenly glow said, “Fear not. For this is your slice for which you have been seeking.”

It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but what a quote, right? I mean, what teacher and/or parent cannot relate to this? I think every teacher needs to have that on their tombstone or engraved on their urn. I feel I spend my whole day refraining from making the worse Jackie Chan impression and yelling, “Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?”

I don’t think they do. It never fails. I’ll say, “Do this, then do that. When you’re finished, do this.”

Clear. As. A. Bell.

From the back, a hand goes up as if everything that was just spoken, all the words I know exited my mouth, was only in my head.

“No hands. Everything you need to know, I just told you.”

Like a contagious disease, hands from all corners of the room rise above their cute little heads. Jackie Chan is about to do an alien-burst through my gut.

Them: Can we do (this or that) when we’re finished?”

Me: Was it on my list of what you can do?

Them (every time): No, but, can we…

Me: Everything you need to know has been said, repeated, rephrased and restated.

Them: Mr. Graybill?

Me (wishing my name was Booger-Butt, so I would get some amusement from hearing my name 764 times a day.): Yeees?

Them: Should we start now?

Me: Yes, you should have already started.

Them (raising their hand): But…

Me: Please get started

Them (with a mixture of anguish, confusion and frustration on their faces): Are you going to pass out the papers?

Me (sheepish and humbled): I guess that would help, wouldn’t it.

:/

 


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Talking to Myself: Part 3


Slice of Life: Day 22

Here we are, part three. How have things been since we last talked?

I finished my last class for my MA in creative writing last week. I won’t lie; it was a bit emotional turning in my final assignments. I later found out I had a perfect thousand points for the class and my cap and gown arrived over the weekend. I’m all ready for my virtual graduation.


Virtual?

I considered making the eight-hour drive to SNHU, and I suppose I still could, but it’s quite the undertaking, especially when driving isn’t my favorite thing to do.

Any reason?

I just know how quickly life can change. Or end. Some people believe when accidents and such happen, there’s a reason for it. Prime example of spiritually immature thinking. There are positive things in all situations, but there isn’t a reason for the bad things. God doesn’t kill us in car accidents or end our lives with brain tumors. It’s how earthly life comes. It’s the way it is. What about incest, murder and rape? You’re telling me an all-loving God makes that happen?

I’m not telling you. I mean, I am, because I’m you, but…well, nevermind. Anything else, or do you need a breather?

It’s been seven days since the admin at my school learned I completed my MA. Seven days and they haven’t said a single word to acknowledge it.

That’s horrible. And they are supposed to be the leaders and catalysts for building community.

Supposed to be, yes. I’m ready for a question now.

I was hoping you’d say that. What makes you smile?

Pass.

No.

No, what?

You aren’t getting out of answering it. I’ll cut you a break, though. I was going to ask you to list ten things, but how about you just name as many as you can?

Fine. As much as TimeHop makes me sad, seeing my girls from years ago brings a smile to my face. I love talking and being silly with my niece and nephew. Students making me heartfelt cards or pictures or bringing in a random gift like jellybeans is pretty special. I have a student from a couple of years ago who often reminds me I’m still her favorite teacher. When writing, there are times I’m in the groove, and I’m amazed at the ideas that come out sometimes. I’m sure there’s something wrong with me since I can’t think of anything else.

Yes, there is. But I have no idea what.

Thanks.

I think that was five, and maybe there are things that you don’t necessarily smile about, but you express joy.

Watching my oldest play basketball is an example of that. I get pretty loud when she scores.

Who’s your most dangerous enemy?

You.

Me?

Yes. You’re the one that decides to be disciplined and write. You’re the one that chooses not to forgive yourself for stupid things.

Doesn’t Satan play a role in that, too?

Of course, but he only tempts. You are the one the ultimately decides.

He is powerful, though.

Incredibly so. Spiritual warfare is no joke. It takes the wind out of your sails. Taking the joy with it.

Do you want to go deeper into that right now?

Not now.

One more question. Where do you live?

I have a feeling this is a more layered question than it sounds.

You would be correct.

One of my favorite places to live in within my novel, Grace Leads Home. With each revision, the people and the world become more alive. Real. Narnia was like that. I felt I was walking through the wardrobe. Loved it. I want nothing more to have my readers feel the same when they are with Riley, Daulton and Kerry.

Your protagonists?

Yes, they all come from some broken life, and their friendship is the heart of childhood.

Then their lives get a bit crazy.

They discover an old cabin in the middle of the woods, which turns out to be the catalyst for their alternate world adventures. Their lives are changed forever.

I can’t wait to hear more about it.

And I can’t wait to continue my revision and get an agent.

It’ll happen.

Amen to that.

 



 

 

Monday, March 21, 2022

A Funny Thought

Slice of Life: Day 21

A funny thought occurred to me today.

My third-graders have two recesses each day, during which I take laps. It's the best way to keep an eye on the students and get my daily step count. All year, more than others years (combined), I have not gone one single lap without hearing my name, a "guess what?",  a random question and/or comment, a "so-and-so is hurt," a "so-and-so is crying," or students wanting to race me or fly them to Africa. You have to love the super-randomness of children.

It's nice being so well-liked, but honestly, it's exhausting and maddening. I appreciate how comfortable they are with me and will miss those times when I can interact with them in a silly way evoking pure-hearted giggles. From them, not me. But give me one, maybe two, laps of silence. Please!

My funny thought was how I would never have considered doing any of that with my elementary school teachers. Most were standoffish, but I'd mostly want to enjoy playing kickball and chasing girls. I don't remember much before third grade, but Mrs. Phillips was my favorite. But to follow her around asking questions? No way! Especially after she made me stay inside after throwing a wet paper towel at Amy. I missed tug-of-war that day, sitting alone in the classroom as the yells and cheers flooded through the open windows. Funny to think how today, we could never get away with having a child sit alone in a classroom.

My fourth-grade teacher, Ms. McG, had a drinking problem and severely lacked a wardrobe, wearing the same blue dress (or was it was a muumuu) every day – so it seemed. The only good memory I have of her was when she gave us an hour-long recess. Along with my issues with bullies, it was a year to forget. During the same year, my principal told me to run as fast as possible into a cement pole. Thankfully he stopped me before I did. It was a rough first year in a new school. No amount of money would convince me to have a recess chat with Ms. McG.

My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. S, was tall, loud, and standoffish like Ms. McG, and my sloppy writing reminds me of his chicken-scratch. The only silver lining was he read A Wrinkle in Time - don't get me started on Disney's atrocious film version. I'd imagine a recess conversation with him - there wasn't a single one - would be as intimidating as confronting Count Olaf. Without the silly (and evil) antics.

It's sad most of my teachers weren't approachable. I struggle to teach students the importance of problem-solving without coming up to my table every time they have a question (literally a thousand times a day). Seriously, it's nearly driven me to drink some days. And I haven't touched a drop of alcohol since, well, ever. The fine line between being unapproachable and establishing a safe environment can be difficult to maneuver. But I must be doing something right since there isn't a minute where someone doesn't approach me with a question I've already answered- or has no relevance whatsoever.

 


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Slice of Life: Day 20

While the major league teams are getting their bodies in shape for a long season, I, too, am working on getting my body ready for another summer of yard work, which I enjoy. After today’s objective – starting a flower bed on the opposite side of our front walk, my body is sore from wrists to shoulders. It takes all but a minute for my muscles to tighten when I sit down. Undoubtedly, my back will feel today’s strain in the morning. Oh, well. It was a beautiful first day of spring to make the front yard a little bit more, well, beautiful.

My post is about today’s quote: Bloom where you are planted. It’s a great quote to reflect upon, although it may not be something you want to hear while you’re struggling where you are. However, it’s important to be our best selves in all situations, as all situations, with the right mentality, prepare us for whatever comes next. Opportunity knocks whether there's a door or not.

As I consider uprooting my teaching skills from elementary school to high school and eventually to college, I need to focus on the here and now – being the best version of myself, despite dealing with micro-managing. If I don’t, I may not inspire and may not be inspired. Besides, I’m not there for them. I am not and will not allow them to define me. It’s a daily challenge many of us face, but there’s a reason they’re called stepping stones and not close-your-eyes-and-take-a-running-leap-off-the-edge stones.

Little by little.

rg

Photo by istockphoto.com


Saturday, March 19, 2022

What Would You Save?

Slice of Life: Day 19

Linda Sue Park's The One Thing You'd Save is a poetic, thought-provoking picture book. On the opening pages, a teacher gives her class an assignment; to think about the one thing they'd save if their home were on fire. All people and pets are safe, and the object's size is irrelevant.

My best friend, a fantastic librarian in the State College area, told me about the book this morning. It's a perfect post of our Slice of Life challenge. My friend, no doubt, is writing about the same book. I thank him for the idea because sometimes it's difficult to find a topic. My apologies for stealing his idea. 

Some of the things I wouldn't save may surprise people that know me. And I have no doubt my answer today will be different than tomorrow's and a year from now.

I wouldn't save the cross because the sacrifice and gift of grace are etched in my heart. I wouldn't save a picture of my dad because I can find photos of him somewhere else. I don't need a framed degree to be proud of my achievements, and my favorite books and memorabilia, like photographs, can be found elsewhere. U2 is on Spotify. The camera roll is in the cloud. 

There's a frame on our fireplace mantle with our home's latitude/longitude coordinates - I wouldn't save that either. A house doesn't make a home. I certainly wouldn't keep the sticker, yes, a sticker that I received after teaching twenty years. So demeaning. I'd consider the flash drive with all my stories saved. But I doubt it.

In a fire, everything you own becomes less important. In this particular fire, everyone you love is standing huddled together. Safe.

We used to huddle around the dinner table. We still do, I suppose, but it's different. If we were to look at ourselves in the past eating dinner as a family, we'd ask, "Who are those people?" I hope that is a place we can return – without the yelling, bickering and complaining. Without the…

I can't even finish the sentence. Nothing hurts more than our family's growing pains. So, the dinner table is out, and I'll let the sectional in the family room burn as well.

But if I had to save something, it'd be the sign hanging in our kitchen. It reads:

Our family

Is a circle of

Strength

And love. With

Every birth and

Every union

The circle grows

Every joy

Shared

Adds more love

Every crisis faced

Together

Makes the circle stronger

Family. Strength. Joy. Circle.

Circle. 

Circle…

It's a reminder life is cyclical; full of hills, valleys, storms, change, but complete with growth, joy and wonder.

We began this journey together on a circular path. No matter how narrow or wide the path, no matter how much we trudge along forging new trails, we are always on the circle. 

We are a circle of strength.