The ING of My Writing

Writers have the weirdest interests. We strive to know how other writers accomplish things; how they write, how they edit, what their routine is, or what their writing space looks like.

Having seen many posts lately about other writers’ creative spaces or writing nooks, I was reminded about the one true writer’s abode I had actually ben privy too. About eight or nine years ago, I got to see a writer’s habitat and all I could do was drool. Our Florida Gulf Coast University National Writing Project group had arranged a writing workshop at his home. The writer was Randy Wayne White, a native fixture here in southwest Florida and New York best selling author of the Doc Ford mystery series. Living off the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, his home is a typical Florida cracker salt box; square, porch wrapped, rustic. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen, tiny bathroom, and a large main living room that was filled with his desk and books on every wall. Between the two bedrooms, in the hall there was a ladder that you could pull down and climb to a captain’s nook. Once there you could look out upon the Gulf as the shrimp boats departed or returned, follow the sun wave across the day, or the dolphins and mullet as they jumped and thrashed in the water. On the porch in one back corner was a hot tub. Right next to the hot tub was a palm tree growing through the floor of the porch and the roof with a shower attached to it. There were two carved footprints on the porch with the following phrase carved into the wood, “Hemingway pissed here”. His home was surrounded by Calusa Indian mounds that architects were slated to begin excavating. It was the genuine Florida setting and I was jealous.

So you probably are not wondering what mine looks like. But here goes. Though I spend no time in there at all I can see my office as if I am in its midst right now. I am fortunate to have an actual extra room dedicated as an office at the front of my home. As you enter my home you can go to the right and find a dining room that is being used as a craft room or you can turn left and there is that office. The craft room is an option because I am also lucky to have a large kitchen with an informal dining room off of it. The craft room currently holds my sewing, most of my knitting and almost all of my jewelry crafts. Rich, hell no! For once in my life I was in the right place at the right time during a housing market cycle.

While I have an office with two solid pine bookshelves and an assortment of fantastic books, I don’t have a suitable office chair. I have a glass L-shaped desk I kinda like but not really and an extra dining table of solid pine wood. Alas, I am a spreader; I spread out no matter what I am doing. I like the color on the walls and the curtains and thoroughly enjoy the ceiling fan that I updated, but I can’t seem to commit to putting my photographs on the walls. As for the external view –it plain out sucks. The windows look out on an unkempt lot and is just one wall hidden from watching the nightly sunsets. Why there are no windows on that wall I will never understand. Many days I imagine using a sledge hammer as a dual purpose writer’s block release and construction tool to by demolishing a nice window sized hole in the wall. The worst part of this perfectly fine office, and extra room in the house I might add, is that there simply is no flow. There is also no door. No matter how I try, nothing useful is created in there and no one leaves me alone when I am in there since I can’t possibly be doing anything, right? I have visions of what it should be and can close my eyes and clearly see it forming in my mind. Try to describe it to someone and the vision dissipates almost as well as a flatulent poof in an elevator.


Writing for me is like napping; I can do it anywhere. And lately I have been guilty of writing while sitting or even laying on my bed. So I wracked my brain and tried to figure out how I could put in writing where I really do my writing. While mentally listing what I do when writing the INGs just came to me. So I listed all of them on my brain to share with you and if your eyes are really good you will see that one word has an extra syllable: cryining– because when I do break down and cry I do that heaving thing and breathe and do that yo yo gasp so why not add in another syllable. It’s what we writers do–make things up as we go!


Burning On. . .The Proposal

In teaching, there is a belief that if you make it through the first three years you are likely to make it ten.  If you make it ten, you might make twenty.  If you make twenty, you might as well stay all the way.  Quite the defeatist attitude and one I never bought into.  Why bother starting if that is your premise.  In reality, most teachers burn out somewhere between years 12-17.  And if teachers are not diligent in their calling they will leave the profession before they reach retirement age. For those teachers that stay in too long and reach burn out, it is a well known fact that they are difficult to remove from the classroom.  They become ineffective in numerous ways:  effective instruction, student engagement, communication with stakeholders, parents, guardians, are often technotards in a digital warp age, and unlikely to try new and improved methods or stay connected to their professional organizations for current methods and pedagogy. 

I know these truths all too well.  I am in my 22nd year.  I have faced burn out and for a while feared it had me.  Turned out to just be a health issue wearing me down.  How do I know?  I know this because I dragged myself to work four weeks after a total knee replacement (four weeks earlier than most people are allowed back to work) and every time I stepped in my classroom those kids rejuvenated me into delivering the goods again.  From morning bell to afternoon bell I was running with the ball, making first down after first down, gaining yardage every where I could.  Sometimes it took a sneak play to get over on them and sometimes the play was a standard run-of-the-mill drop back and pass the lesson to them.  Once in a while I fumbled but once in a while I made a touchdown.  And that makes all the difference.  The constant personal evaluation of what am I doing, why am I doing it, and is it working for these kids?  Better known as WithItNess.  Not every teacher has it.  But every teacher needs it and more importantly every kid deserves it.

Standard operating practice in my classroom from year one was writing a lot.  As a high school English teacher I needed to see what they wrote to know what they learned.  Being a National Writing Project Fellow this is what I know best:  writing is reading, reading is writing, both are learning.  Participating in The National Writing Project the year after my internship and before my first year of teaching was a unique situation.  It set up my teaching career to deal with this burn out phenomena.  But more on that later.  Writing was an important way for me to get to know them and connect to them individually so we journalled and I commented back to them; reading every word they wrote and making sure they knew I had.  I wrote back to them in the margins, in between sentences, above the brainstorming, on the back, anywhere I could or needed to in order to respond to their writing and to them.  I never used a red pen either!  I didn’t bleed all over the paper regarding their mistakes.  I simply read their thoughts and responded.  Then there was the phase of state mandated writing instruction requiring a piece of writing be produced each week by each student.  Try assessing over 150 essays every week.  Hard work!  And that is beyond teaching literature, reading, grammar, etc.  To top it off start with a class load of students behind their grade level in reading. 

Even though I continued to look for those fresh ways to connect the content with the students and their world or use the technology and their media to my advantage, I struggled with the paper load it produced.  And then there was the total knee replacement fail.  Three revision surgeries and rehabs made sure I didn’t make it back to my previous position.

After the knee revisions forced my role as English teacher out of that classroom and into another one, I found myself recreating my remaining teaching career.  I am now a credit retrieval teacher.  This computerized program allows students that failed courses to regain their credit by mastering the content via a computer course.  My job is to facilitate and monitor their progress.  Chosen because I was good with computers, very detail oriented, knew how to and often used data to drive my decisions in the classroom, but most importantly I had the knack of reaching those students that other teachers often turned tail and ran from in sheer panic. 

Now after three years of this transition and having successfully regimented the credit retrieval program to run in a more ethical and efficiently systematic way than previous to my arrival, I find a need to do more for our school and its ambition to be the best.  More important than my need is the need to do something for my principal who has had the vision that every educator should have; kids deserve the best learning experience we can give them. 

So I have written a proposal that will probably shock my principal who more than likely thought I was down on my last knee.  He will think I have lost my mind or have suffered a concussion.  Spring break is coming and then the mass of state testing followed by graduation and another summer break.  Since my principal is a fermenter when comes to ideas I need to give him time to think on this one.  My only qualm now is should I gift wrap it or is that over the top?

Stay tuned for more. . .