Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reflection on the Writing Institute

Credit (in more ways than can be imagined) given to the Grateful Dead for use of the lyrics from "Truckin'" ... if it's illegal, sue me.

"Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it's been."

First, the decision to make this trip: I'm teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade writing for the first time, and have no clue what their writing should look like. I ask around. Everybody, and I mean everybody, says I should see if I can do the writing project in Chico. Ok, then, I'll check it out. I did the math project and that was excellent.

"Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on."

I get all the information and now I have to think. It has been the most exhausting bone crunching year of teaching I have ever had. And now I'm looking at giving up a big chunk of my summer, weeks of camping trips, weeks of dedicated time in Mr. Lawnchair by the waterfall reading whatever I want, and most importantly, weeks of my time to write. I have no time to write when I teach, so this is a big consideration.

"Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street.
Chicago, New York, Detroit and it's all on the same street.
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings."

Oh, what the hell, I'll do it. My husband is less than pleased, but at least I'm not going to be stuck out of town.The first meeting in Chico, on that cold rainy day, sounds intriguing. So, I finish school, and gather the student work requested and get ready.

"Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans;
New York's got the ways and means; but just won't let you be, oh no."

The first few days go by in a blur. The mansion is cool, the writing is promising, the people are friendly, but then there is the reality of the work. I wrestle with that, but it's not something impossible.

"Most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love,
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home.
One of these days they know they better get goin'
Out of the door and down on the streets all alone."

Now something strange starts to dawn on me, something that I had never really considered. We're in the first week of this institute and, slow though I may be, it is occurring to me that most of the people here, people who are teachers and college professors and so on, don't think of themselves as writers. I'm stunned. I go home and speak to my muse, my husband, Kim, about this. He doesn't know what to make of it either. Born of different mothers, but somehow out of one womb, one strange womb, we have always thought of ourselves as writers. We reminisce , and can't really remember not thinking of ourselves as writers. Then we start thinking. Did our English teachers in high school not think of themselves as writers? Oooohh... that's different...a time honored assumption blown... what about college? Oh some must have, they did write books... but maybe not all of them. Ok... now I'm out of my comfort zone, I feel different from the group. I have to think on this.

"Truckin', like the do-dah man once told me "You've got to play your hand"
Sometimes your cards ain't worth a dime, if you don't lay'em down"

I make a decision. I'm just going to write whatever I want from now on and let the chips fall... And it's ok. I share my feelings with Mike and Jocelyn on the writing marathon. They seem to be ok with it, too. I don't feel like a fish out of water as much.

"You're sick of hangin' around and you'd like to travel;
Get tired of travelin' and you want to settle down.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for tryin',
Get out of the door and light out and look all around."

So I write and I learn, because you can never not learn something everytime you write. I get good feedback on my writing. I listen and I learn. I get really good ideas from everyone on what to do in my classroom. I feel like I have some new tools, tools to use, tools to wake kids up and clue them in on how wonderful it can be to create your own reality, sitting in front of a keyboard. A place where you can just be... anything and anyone.

Tomorrow I'll drive away, heading back to Mr. Lawnchair, and Borges, and camping, and writing, and I'll have much to think on as the days roll by and school approaches. Anticipation of the new year has returned, as I'll have new things to do, and new ways to teach. This is is good.

"Truckin', I'm a goin' home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on.
Hey now get back truckin' home."

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