Wednesday Wonders: When You’re Not Done Yet

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Have you ever thought you were done? And then you weren’t?

Yesterday, I thought, was my last day of this never-ending summer quarter at school. I woke up early, eager to get to the day.

I took a shower, fed the critters, and shocked the coffee shop I go to by getting there two hours before my usual. I couldn’t stand the thought of writing at home when I had my last day waiting for me, so I plunked myself down at a small round Starbuck’s table to scribble away before driving on in to work.

I arrived at the school at 6:30 am, thinking I would catch up on all the last minute details and then use a few personal hours to take today off.

But I am not done. I have a staff meeting today, it turns out.

It will be fine. We’ll debrief what we’ve done this year and make excellent plans for the fall.

But I really did think yesterday was it. I’ve had the 16th set in my mind for months.

This tiny tale of a mistaken ending leads me to my latest idea for the blog. 

A friend and I have begun to meet and talk and free-write together over tea. We usually pick a writing prompt and then use it to write about the characters in our current works in progress.

So, my blog-reading friends, here is a prompt for you, should you choose to use it:

When did you think you were done but then discovered you had more to do?

Or for your work of fiction:

When has your character thought she had reached the end, only to discover that she had another day (or more) to go? 

May you finish all your work in good time and then know rest-

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Wednesday Wonders: Curiosity is the Cousin of Art

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On Sunday, I drove across the Cascade Mountains to sunny Yakima for a three day teaching conference. In this city my grandparents once called home, I let the sun melt away my everyday stresses and felt my curiosity perk up.

While strolling the neighborhood, I discovered churches with large blocks of  dark stone rising above the city streets of downtown. One sits just outside my hotel window.

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Those churches make me wonder.

Where did the stone come from? Who built these churches? Many of them are up for lease so what happened to make the churches fail?

I bet there is a story or five in those answers.

And then in my session yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit next to a mathematician. (I began to suspect he knew more than the rest of us when he launched into a description of vectors and their relationship to area.)

When we started using manipulatives to demonstrate how a negative number multiplied by a negative equals a positive, he mentioned that there is a mathematical proof for that.

That intrigued me.

So I asked if he could do it. He began working on it and says he’ll bring it for me tomorrow.

I can smell a story in that answer, too.

I have no idea if I will comprehend the proof but just trying to grasp the puzzle of it brings me joy. If nothing else, the experience could lead to the story of the linguist who fell in love with numbers later in life.

Earlier that same day, a teacher who works in the prison system read a poem to us titled ‘I See Something in You.’ She tells us she reads it aloud to the inmates in her class and that these men she works with can see right through insincerity. She’s got to give them her honest self, or she will fail as only a teacher in front of a class like that could fail.

I wonder what it would be like to have her job and asked for a copy of the poem so I could adapt it for my own students. Right after that, I wondered if I would have the courage to read it to them.

Maybe I will write those stories and the poem.

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, I love the way life tingles when the stories all around me get to whispering. I feel like my black cat checking out the vacuum cleaner hose at the top of his cat post, pulling himself up to see what all the noise is about or teetering at the top of a ladder just to get a new view.

Like him, I know there is danger tucked into the moment but, also like him, I measure that danger against the intrigue and zing of a life chock full of curiosity.

I might look stupid to that mathematician, I might find stories that wound me underneath those churches, and I know, like only a classroom teacher can know, that a poem could be the start of painful humiliation in front of a class of forty students, criminals or not.

But I also know if I follow those leads to the stories and the people tucked into them, I might get the gift of an artful life. Most days the falls are more than worth the climb up that ladder.

May you see the stories of beauty and joy all around you,

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Stone Churches…

 

A quilt of the Fred Redmond Bridge crafted out of fabric and curiosity by the “Anything Goes Quilters”: Deborah Ann, Anna Assink, Sally Fitch, Barbara Green, Sue Grimshaw, Nancy Rayner, and Jeanne Strater. I love their group’s name! I think my writing group needs a name like this.

 

 

 

 

Off the Language Track: An English Teacher Tortures Herself with Mathematics

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In a change from my usual programming, I am posting a math problem. Which goes to show that you never can tell what you will end up doing in your life.

I shared this problem on Facebook:

Optional Math Problem (courtesy of the math teacher who shares my office):
Use any operation (addition, subtraction, etc.) between the numbers to make the equation true. I filled in the 2’s for an example. The 1’s are the most difficult. I suggest doing those last. And any fault in the instructions or layout falls to the English teacher. I am writing this up from memory.

1 1 1 = 6
2+2+2 = 6
3 3 3 = 6
4 4 4 = 6
5 5 5 = 6
6 6 6 = 6
7 7 7 = 6
8 8 8 = 6
9 9 9 = 6

P.S. I need a word problem to stump him with for a time. The 1/5 Dr. Seuss thing was helpful.

I’m posting a picture of my messy answers a few space bars below if you’d like to see them. My mathematics friend said more than one answer is possible for a few of the numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rat Terrier Teachings

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I’ve finally revised my About Page. It took most of the week to get the written ‘selfie’ into shape, so I’m cross posting it here. I don’t remember the rat’s name. I wish I did.

 

I saw the rat terrier sometime after I’d been chased by the pig. Or maybe it was before. It was, after all, over 15 years ago and I don’t have a memory that sticks moments to a bulletin board.

But one day around 1994 when I was cleaning the dog kennels at the Whatcom County Humane Society, a dog the size of a ferret sat shivering in isolation without much hair to protect her from the cold concrete. She’d bitten someone. That’s what landed dogs in those back kennels away from the public and the adoptable dogs.

The isolation kennels had a guillotine structure between them, allowing cleaners to put food on one side, open the guillotine and then the dog moved to the other side. Most dogs went willingly. This rat terrier did not, so I had to try to get her to move over. I knew she was ‘in’ for biting but thought something less than 5 pounds wouldn’t be hard to manage and swung open the door.

She slipped out the chain link kennel between my legs before I could bend down far enough to stop her. Then she bolted down the back side of the kennels and turned the average bored barking of the dogs into the frenzy of dogs barking at other dogs – especially loud since she dared to run past their cage door fences.

Shutting the noise out of my mind, I walked the concrete floor in my rubber boots trying to scoop her up. The terrier shivered and, when I finally got her in a corner, she bared her teeth. I was still green enough to think I could pick her up because she would sense that I only wanted to help her. True to all the doggy signals she sent, she bit down hard on my hand the moment I picked her up.

My hand throbbed and, after managing to get her in her kennel,  I shook it, feeling shock more than pain.

My life comes at me sometimes like that rat terrier – it feels like a series of small things that bite hard and teach me lessons I need to learn.

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My life is also learning languages and then trying to teach them to others, beating my head against a wall when we can’t communicate and then feeling the joyful zing of sudden understanding.

 

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My life is running because it brings me intense joy and then stopping because I’ve overdone it and got tendinitis in my hip, regrouping and building myself back up again.

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My life is wrapping bits of yarn together by clicking needles together. And then pulling that yarn right back out because I have not yet figured out how to carry the colors across a row. The third or fourth time I start to make a square for the blanket that I can begin to love.

And for this blog, my life is throwing things on the page and screen in a first draft, knowing they absolutely stink, reworking them beyond the point where I want to give up more than I want another cup of Earl Grey tea and then reaching a sparkling moment where I think, “You know, I actually LIKE this post. Who wouldda thought?”

Strangely enough, the feeling is like that rat terrier’s bite. Sudden and unexpected, almost like a sharp pain. If I remember right, that scared dog made it home again, like I do every time a piece comes together.

Money where the Language Mouth Is

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IMG_0101This past week I decided that to become a better teacher, I needed to commit to a language again. This has been on the back of my mind for some time. I’ve had several excellent excuses for not working on my own language learning, including an infant who was not fond of sleeping or letting his mother sleep.

He’s three now. He sleeps. And last summer a speaker at the state ABE/ESL conference in Yakima, WA let me practice my rusty German with her. Heide Spruck-Wrigley (link this) always gives a wonderful presentation that I would recommend seeing if you are in the language business and get the opportunity. She backs her words with solid research and sprinkles in hilarious stories like this video of a poor guy learning English:

Heide is also is a native German speaker. I pulled up my courage and told her in a small group session that I once spoke German and she gently shifted our conversation into her first language to let me practice. The experience of trying to decode another language while frantically trying to remember the vocabulary and structure I needed to respond in something like a conversational time frame stuck with me.

“Ah!” I thought. “This is what my poor students feel like everyday! No wonder they aren’t so chatty with me before class.”

Of course, I know this when I use my native language with them. But experiencing it myself gave me such a powerful feeling of empathy. I wondered what else I could get from learning another language alongside my students.

I said something along these lines to the Russian speaking administrative assistant Inna who works in the office where I go to make copies before class.

She nodded and said she tells new learners: “Nothing works. Not books or any special program. Just practice.”

“Hmm,” I thought. Sounds a lot like writing and anything else worthwhile.

So I asked my patient coworker if she’d help me by practicing with me in Russian. She agreed with a smile and a nod.

It’s not like I haven’t walked this path before. A part of me is screaming: “You’ve done this! You’re just going to find another excuse and make a mouthful of mistakes again!”

I’ve learned Russian in fits and starts for as many years as I’ve had Russian speaking students. One of my other Russian speaking coworkers shakes her head at me when I bring students in to her for interpreting.

“You should know Russian by now,” she says. She’s right. If I’d kept at it from the start I would.

Life pulls me away, I get busy and, because it’s not vital to my everyday existence, it’s easy for me to let it slide. So far this first week of practicing I’ve worked on a few phrases with Inna, found a free program on the Internet and cracked open a few of the books on the language section of my office library at home.

I suppose I’m hoping that writing about it here will keep me going through the embarrassment and drudgery that learning a new language brings because, since I started Russian on my own in (gasp) 1997, I have managed to learn a few things. And not just words to use with my Russian speaking students but also experiences to share with those who speak a multitude of other languages in my classes.

Besides. Something indescribable happens when I speak another language — something about the practice opens new worlds and novel ways of seeing the world I’m in right now.

Do wish me luck.