Celebration and Confession

Something wonderful happened last night. I finished a draft of my very first book.

Early in June I set out some writing goals for myself, along with a plan for my writing life. Among the goals was finishing this book. Another of the goals (related to this book) was to work on using dialogue. I have worked on it. How successful it’s been will be up to others.

When I sat down to work on this book, it came pouring out, often in 800 word increments. I could clearly envision the world of the characters. I felt I knew the main character inside and out and his friends started to come to life for me across the pages. We are now six weeks into summer vacation, with a scant three remaining. My draft is a little over 8000 words.

It took a little more than a week’s actual writing. I put the first words to its pages in April, not long after finishing the Slice of Life challenge and deciding to try writing a different book in the same neighborhood. I can see you doing that math. How did an early chapter book take four months if I could write 1/10 of it in a single sitting?

So I have a confession.

In spite of my best and most earnest intentions, I haven’t been writing every day this summer. I’ve been less writerly than I’d planned.

I could blame any number of causes: travel, the lack of schedule & routine this summer, numerous commitments for the rest of the family, distractions… Or I could blame myself for not setting aside my sunrises as I’d planned from the beginning. (The thing is that sunrise feels very early when you’ve only just gone to sleep.) I’d fully intended to participate daily in Teachers Write so I’d have a crew and some daily accountability. For the reasons above and none at all–I haven’t. I could be angry with myself. I could belittle what I have achieved because it wasn’t all I’d expected. But I’m hearing a little voice inside…

“Dinna fash yerself lass.”

Ok, so yesterday’s #bookaday was historical fiction from Scotland. But Angus’ advice is sound.

There’s no point beating myself up about how it didn’t all go according to plan. It’s true of my writing this summer. And it’s true for our teaching the rest of the year. If we want to keep our heads up (and the heads of the precious littler writers we’re trying to grow) we need to fully celebrate the accomplishments, no matter how delayed. Because finishing a book (even a first draft) is exciting. I feel more powerful as a writer than I ever have. I hadn’t realized I could do this, and now I’ve proven to myself that I can. I’m feeling confident enough to try again…maybe with this same character, or maybe with the first novel that I started and set aside in favor of something that felt easier. I’m hearing another voice…

“We celebrate hard. Then we get back to work.”

That one is Lucy Calkins’ voice, though I’ve paraphrased.

It is important, though, that I recognize what got in the way of meeting my other writing plans. Being reflective about what was working and what wasn’t in my process can help me set up better conditions, and perhaps devise more effective strategies for meeting those targets next time.

In the end, the books I write are a byproduct. What I’m really working to grow is a writer.

So consider this (and an ice cream–hey it’s still National Ice Cream Month for one more day!) my hearty celebration. Tomorrow it’s back to work on the next set of goals.

May you have your own celebrations this summer and always!

 

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Capture the Flag

#TeachersWrite Challenge 1- Consider your setting from someone else’s perspective + #SOL + #notsleeping = #LateNightFlashDraftforNovel

The Garden– To an outsider.  Jungle like. How can the tomatoes be this big in July? 

Though they wouldn’t be ripe for a few more weeks, the peaches smelled sweet as my face brushed past them. The leaves tickled, too. Softly I dropped down out of the fruit tree. I crouched at the base of the tree until I saw the backyard. Jake would call this recon. The shadows were long as the sun settled into the treetops. I’d have to be careful of an ambush.

To my left was the preschool yard. Emma would clear that one. My job was this jungle. I had to search through the fruit trees and the garden for their flag. I had to be fast.

I hunched and hurried to the cherry tree closer to the fence. My eyes scraped across the branches in the weakening light looking for the red of their flag. Cherries would be a good camouflage. But there were few cherries left and those were high in the upper branches where no one could reach. Well, Jake could have reached them, but I didn’t think anyone from this side could climb like him.

I retraced my steps to the peach tree and its companion. Again I scanned around the trunks and through the branches for any telltale flash of red. There was nothing. My heart beat faster in my chest. Seconds were ticking by. I forced myself to move further down the row. It was like searching across the summer from the June Cherries past the August peaches to the autumn apples. The infant fruits were small and still mostly green. Still no sign of their flag.

I had reached the far edge of Frank’s yard. This was the boundary of the game. If the flag wasn’t hidden in these trees, I’d have to venture further in.

The grass brushed the tops of my socks. The fresh cut smell wafted from Jake’s yard reminding me of our failed plan. But this grass was tall. Not quite tall enough to disguise me if I tried an army crawl. It would be faster and better to run across the small clearing to the garden fence.

I craned my neck to get a better view of where the gate was. It would make sense for the gate to be on the side facing the house. Whoever was growing this garden would want the easiest way in. But easy for the gardener just meant it would be harder for me. Instead of slipping up the outside edge, I’d need to cover open ground.

I listened. I didn’t hear anything in this yard. From two yards down, I could hear the bigger kids splashing in the pool. Their laughing rolled across the yards and tangled up in all the trees and plants around me. Just then I heard a squeal from beyond the path. It came from my yard. Or was it closer?! There was no more time to waste. They sent me because I’m fast. It was time to prove it.

Looking over my shoulder along the treeline, then glancing along the edges of the fence that I could see from here, no movement. It looked clear. I pumped my legs until I was racing across the grass. My arms pumped in time with my heart. Now I pulled up short at the fence, groping for a latch or a gate. My fingers gripped wire. I skimmed my fingers across the top until they reached a gap. Urgently, I felt with both hands for a way to open the gate. The latch slipped open in my hands and I slipped inside. I left the gate ajar so I could slip back out.

With an ever quickening beat in my ears I sidestepped through each row of the garden. Once I was between the tomato plants, I was hidden from view. How was it possible that these tomato plants were already up to my shoulders? It was barely July. Our own tomatoes in a pot o the deck were only up to my waist. I scanned each plant for signs of red. Tomatoes would make another good camouflage.

I’d been focused at eye level where many of the fruits were swelling. I almost missed the knot of red behind the lowest arms of one plant in the very center of the garden. It wasn’t tied like a flag or spread out like a bandana. The perfectly round clump resembled the fruits that harbored it.

Gently, very gently I reached down and removed their flag. I was careful not to damage the plant. These were somebody’s project. They must have started in the winter to have such big plants already. I didn’t want to be caught with their flag. But I really didn’t want to explain why I’d ruined someone’s sauce garden either.

I shoved the flag into my shorts pocket and poked my head above the tops of the leafy stalks. Was that a shadow moving near the far fence? I’d have to make a break for it. Once I left the garden gate, there’d be no time to look back. I’d race back past the fruit trees to where I’d found Frank’s gate. Then straight through and into Jake’s yard where I could declare victory.

I reached the edge of the garden row and angled toward the gate. Here I go!

I launched myself out of the gate and across the lawn. There it was again. Movement near the preschool yard. There was no way to know if it was Emma or Frank’s crew. I pumped harder. My hair ruffled against the lower branches of the orchard. The back gate was only steps away.

A shadow filled the opening of the gate.

I swerved to the right back toward the peaches. The figure at the fence pointed at me and yelled something.

With my pulse pounding in my ears I couldn’t hear what he said. I pulled myself up into the branches of the [maple] tree. If I could get high enough, I could jump over the fence and onto the bike path. From there I’d try to run toward’s Jake’s.

Leaves flapped in my face as I climbed. I squinted to keep any twigs from poking my eyes. I was moving too fast to be careful. My left arm stretched above me and gripped the smooth bark. I lifted my right foot and tried to hook it up onto the next branch. For a moment I hung there by my hands and feet. I opened my eyes wide and caught a glimpse of the nearly full moon through the leaves. I inched farther out on the branch until it started to sag. With a quick glance down over my shoulder, I unhooked my feet and dangled by my fingers. Then I dropped onto the pavement of the path.

I started to run toward Jake’s. But three steps in I saw the shadowy figure blocking my way. Just as Frank had stood in my path this morning. He came toward me.

I remembered my brother’s signature dodge from lacrosse and tried to imitate it. I took a stutter step to the left, then rolled away to the right. I rolled until I was facing  away from my pursuer. Then I opened up and ran like I was chasing down Dan with the ball. I streaked up the path toward my own yard.

With each step I pulled further ahead. By the time I pulled to a stop at my own gate the footsteps behind me were at least two bike lengths behind me. I’d opened this latch hundreds of times. It could be tricky, but I knew just the trick. Come on! There.

The latch popped open and the gate swung out to my left, nearly hitting the one chasing me. I leapt through the gate and yelled as loud as I could, “Olly olly oxen free! We have the flag!”

How NOT to Visit a Museum

  • With 12 people– Seriously. Inevitably you will spend more time waiting for half the group to catch up, use the bathroom, and make a decision about what to do next than actually seeing the museum. Half your time will be eaten up. Then as you’re visiting an exhibit you’ll be compelled to repeatedly count noses (or neon green shirts) to be certain that none of your young (or senior) charges have wandered away. The result is a fragmented experience where you see the broad topic of an exhibit and perhaps two or three isolated details, but little of the particular treatment of the topic. The few times you do engage in a display, one of your crew will inescapably wonder aloud what’s taking you so long and can’t you keep up? One example? Eight of us crowded around the slowly rotating Hope Diamond at the end of the gems exhibit. One of the cousins asked, “Why is it so important?” “Let’s find out,” I responded before stepping over to a large plaque with a timeline of key moments in the history of the stone. I began to read that it was shipped to France (I think from India), was stolen from one of the Kings Louis, later sold to one of the English kings and… “Come on! Everyone left already!” Qaiden said as he tugged at my sleeve. Oh well. I guess it’s just a big shiny rock. And some of your group will just sit and nap on a bench anyway after all the trouble of getting everyone there…or leave without telling anyone.

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  • Squished between other items on an itinerary– A museum deserves its own space and time. Inevitably it takes longer to appreciate in person than you imagined when you noted its location on the map and perhaps the front page of its website. (Only partly because of your travelling companions-see previous.) If it’s worth navigating to and passing through security for, it’s worth actually seeing it.

 

  • Before, after, or between other museums–Museums are enriching, but also exhausting. Face it. As an adult you can only take in so much new information at once. If you’re travelling with children, adolescents, or anyone with a limited attention span, the threshold is lower. If you’re fascinated by the topic–more. If you wonder why anyone bothered to even collect this stuff–less. If you have background knowledge or get to touch things–more. If it’s quiet, dark, and hands off–less.
  • At lunch time– Come on. You’re hungry. Even if you’re standing in front of an exhibit you’re wondering where, when, and what lunch will be. Now imagine hiking toward the museum without actually knowing how to get there. You thought it would be best to get to the museum and then feed the kids, because when they finished eating, off they could go to the exhibits at their own pace. But it’s ten degrees hotter than you counted on. It turns out the museum is still six blocks from the bus stop, and there’s a long line to go through security. Between the heat and the hunger someone is about to drop. You can’t even make it inside to the air conditioned cafeteria. Instead, you tug the kids up to the food truck with the shortest line and hawk its selections with more enthusiasm than they deserve. “Look! Hot dogs! Or you could have a burger!” Then you send them back across the jam packed sidewalk to pull up a seat on the stone wall in the little bit of shade there is. Don’t worry, you can sit on the 2 inch wide iron railing between sections of the wall. It’s probably best not to mention to anyone that you’re literally swooning in the heat. There are seven kiddos and three of the other adults haven’t caught up yet. It’s not like they can spare you right now.

 

  • After walking 2 miles–You know that museums involve standing. And walking. Those are their two main requirements. You walk from one room to the next, then stand and admire whatever the museum is showing off. If you’ve been doing more walking than usual before you arrive, your group mates will have a tendency to want to sit down. That makes it hard to see a museum. It does make your group more likely to pause for the various short films embedded in an exhibit-regardless of topic. Sometimes you even stay to see it a second time. But halfway through whatever you’re visiting someone will undoubtedly ask, “When can we leave? My feet are tired.”

  • Trying to see every exhibit–I think I taught my boys the wrong way to visit a museum when they were very small. I have the sense that once you’ve formed the habit it’s very hard to break. We arrive at a museum and since it took effort to get there and we’re unlikely to visit again soon we try to cram in as much of the museum as possible. XX Thank you for playing. This no longer seems reasonable. (See Before, After or Between above.) Instead I wish we’d investigate the one (or two) things we most want to experience at the museum and focus on those once we arrive. Then we’d approach them with an intent (and ability) to linger. Some curator spent countless hours deciding which artifacts to include and what information to present to give context or to frame a subject or an issue. Let’s spend an hour reading them and considering what’s included–and maybe what’s not included. Let’s think about how this fits with what we thought we knew and what we’re still wondering. This kind of a museum visit would likely require a notebook or a conversation partner. I’m loathe to give up on my kids (relative to museums…or anything) so perhaps next time we’re visiting a museum (without a whole gaggle of group members requiring matching shirts) we’ll experiment.

Read Aloud at the Lincoln Memorial

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A different way of viewing something can completely alter your experience of it.

The air cooled instantly as we stepped through the crowd at the top of the stairs and into the shaded alcove behind the columns. While hundreds of people milled in front of the statue, few were tucked into the wide space beyond the side columns. We leaned or sat against the cool stone pillar and gazed at the immortalized words etched into the walls.

“Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty…”

I tapped Qaiden on the head and whispered, “Let’s read it together.” He hoisted himself off the floor and stood near me.

“What’s a score?” he asked.

“Twenty years.”

“So that’s 87 years?”

“Mmhmm. 87 years since the Declaration of Independence.” What I didn’t say was how amazing it was the country had lasted so long, or how surprising that within a hundred years of its existence it was being torn apart. Both are true, though conflicting.

In a soft voice he began. “Four score and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty…” Eventually he came to a natural breaking point and he stopped for breath. I continued from there. Heads close together, oceans apart from the other tourists at the monument, as if in a contemplative bubble we stood. When I paused another voice joined in, my niece’s.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

When we finished we paused and soaked in the gravity of his words. Then we snaked our way through modern crowds that seemed misplaced to the hush of the far side. Again Q and I stood together. Daniel had settled himself just past the next column. My niece had slipped off to her sisters. We began again with the second inaugural address.

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first…”

Again at the break his voice picked up where mine left off. And where he paused another voice joined ours, her southern drawl adding a particular poignancy to the words

“All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.”

My aunt had joined us without our noticing.

Together we continued to his final admonishment:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

And an echo of emphasis: “With malice toward none and charity for all to do what is right and to bind the nation’s wounds.” Looking up from the final lines I noticed that half our group had gathered around us in the time it took to recite Lincoln’s address.

The stolen stillness we created between us, and the coolness under the columns gave a satisfying weightiness to our visit. A sense of stepping out of time to find the ways in which both times are linked. We need his wisdom again in these times of stark and stubborn divisions.

Rather than rushing by to frame selfies, or glance sideways at passing exhibits, we paused to reflect. This became one of my favorite moments of our trip.