The Perfect Grandson goes to Kindergarten

No Telling

School supplies are bought, labeled, and stowed neatly in a backpack by the door. The Lightning McQueen lunchbox is packed and chilling in the fridge. New shorts and a shirt are folded in a pile with clean socks and a handkerchief on the ready.

Tomorrow morning, The Perfect Grandson goes to kindergarten.

He’s a little nervous, but more excited. His classroom looks like jungle with monkeys on the walls, counting bugs in jars, books everywhere. The alpha and omega of his day will rest in Mrs. Lovelady’s hands. He calls her “Miss Lovely” and I think that is a very, very good sign.

I have no doubt The Perfect Grandson will have a sterling day. He’ll come home, eat everything that’s not nailed down, and talk nonstop until he goes to bed. He’s a born-curious extrovert who makes friends on the fly and who craves the how and why of everything. School will be his other food.

Em, on the other hand, is a wreck. I suspect this milestone sneaked up on her like the dirty thief time can be and now here it is, tomorrow. In truth, she’s been weeping off and on for a week. Not because she’s worried or scared that her son will be worried or scared, but because his going to Big School marks the end of something. The beginning too, and that’s a long hall to look down for any mama. When I think about Em’s first day of kindergarten, I’m fairly sure it was yesterday that she went. Maybe the day before, but no longer ago than that.

It’s been 21 years since I walked my baby to her first real classroom. So I understand when Em says tomorrow is the beginning and the end. She’s right. It is.

As a teacher and his Mimi, though, I can’t help but be excited for him. Fresh crayons and sharp pencils and the whole big world to learn. I won’t spend a second worrying about him tomorrow – that’s his mama’s specialty. Besides, The Perfect Grandson doesn’t need hand-wringing. He’ll be having entirely too much fun.

UPDATE:  The day was a smashing success and the young scholar ate all his lunch. How could a boy with shoes as cool as those have a bad day?

How to be a One Percenter, or 14 Minutes in Heaven

No Telling

It occurs to me that something’s awry. I’ve gotten out of my daily writing routine, which is particularly tragic on two different levels. First, because writing makes me happy and failure to scribble is a silly kind of self-flagellation. Second, because I have another site with almost 1,000 writing prompts that I’ve accumulated for students and strangers, but have failed to use a single one myself. Crazy.

Where did I go? How do we manage to slip ourselves in last place? I know it’s not just me. I’m confident there are a few of you out there who, right now, are fist-bumping the screen or talking to yourselves out loud. Nod with me and give me an amen. Too many of us.

Enough, I say. Time to fix this mess. I used to be in love with Morning Pages. For those of you unfamiliar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, here’s the gist of it…

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Occasionally colorful, more often than not Morning Pages are negative, fragmented, repetitive or bland. Good!  Worrying about your job, the laundry, the weird look your friend gave you – all that stuff distracts you from your creativity. It eddies through your subconsciousness and muddies your day. Get it on the page first thing in the morning and move on with your day with a freer spirit.”

I’ve done this. I have teacher friends who’ve done this. I have more students than I can count who have managed to do this morning page business. All of this despite the fact that they were too busy feeding children, falling in love, studying for chemistry, finding cheap shampoo, kissing boo-boos, folding underwear, or scraping out a living. After a few days, the morning page routine kicks in and the writing becomes easier, lovelier, automatic.

Not everyone can do the morning thing. I get that. Not everyone wants to write about themselves, and I get that too. The beauty of the thing is that there are no rules other than the three pages. I’ve found that even that is negotiable.

What I do have is 1,440 minutes in a day. Most is devoted to a mountain of duties for Other People, but I’m going to steal back 14 minutes. That’s less than ONE PERCENT of my day, your day, our day. To be an exact One Percenter, you’d have to write some portion of a minute longer, but don’t you dare.

Steal your 14 minutes when you want. Give yourself permission to take it. Write something dreadful and don’t worry about it. Scribble in a notebook, type like banshee, start it on a roll of paper towels. Doesn’t matter. Throw it away if you hate it. Share it, don’t share it – it’s your call.

I’m starting right now. Are you in?

(Image via, a very cool site indeed)

Anything for Science

No Telling

So I’m having it pulled in a few hours. Sometime after that, an implant, which will nearly make me The Bionic Mimi.

Because The Perfect Grandson is a five year-old boy, he wants to see the tooth. He’s heard a thing or two about losing teeth and that tooth fairy woman, but he’s a man who likes hard evidence. A scientist.

My fear, of course, is that my old tooth will rattle around in a plastic pill bottle alongside his beetles and dead paper-wasps. Wish me luck.

Not a Poet After All

No Telling
via Little Yellow Birds

I don’t think I’ll write poems anymore. Making poems used to be easy as breathing and just as involuntary, but for the past few years it doesn’t seem to be so urgent. In fact, after spending almost a whole life making poems, deciding to stop doesn’t make me sad at all.

It’s a little like looking at your own baby pictures. Who’s that child? I remember her and I remember being her, but it’s easy to shut the family album and go on about my business. Same thing with the poems.

Maybe I’m just too tired to feel so lovely and terrible and gut-wrenched. Maybe some menopausal mechanism has clicked over to make me scribble stories with voices rather than take word snapshots. Maybe I burst a poetic blood vessel writing 50,000 words in a month and my circulatory system has rerouted around the wound.

It’s possible all that metaphor wafting in the world doesn’t have to be announced by me. I’m fine with that.

I don’t hate poetry. In fact, I’m one of its biggest fans. And those young ones who still understand poetry as the subversive underground and foreground to their life landscapes? I love them even more. Shout the f-bomb into the crowd, I say, raise your articulated fists into the air! The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes! Love hurts!

Nothing wrong with being a spectator. Everyone needs an audience. It’s even better when the audience isn’t (even in secret) competing with the poet on some level. Ask any writing major or MFA candidate, they’ll know exactly what I mean. Teaching public school again has reminded me just how valuable an open audience can be.

While cheerleading those poems, I think I might finally fall in love with The Sentence. If I’m still enough, I can feel Story tattooing itself on my DNA. Double helix typewriter ribbons of text.

Much better.

The Sky is Falling and That’s Just Fine

No Telling

“A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.”  ~James Dickey

Rain. I don’t know where you live, but here in bellybutton of Arkansas it’s been the broken promise of rain for two months now.

Two dry months in the middle of an Arkansas summer. The only thing worse is finally getting rain and living in a 115-degree steam bath the next day. I’ll care about that tomorrow, but for now it’s pit-patting on the roof. An old friend.

I could go on and on about this drought’s  devastating toll on farm and field around here, but I’m sure some of you are just as dust-covered as I am. Leaves crackled off the trees weeks ago here and everyone house is sporting patchy-dead grass. Watering doesn’t really help and they’ll stop that soon enough. I imagine a few boil-orders here and there as well.

My only comfort is that I never planted those early tomatoes.The grief would have been too much to bear.

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I vacationed Up North. Eureka Springs is in the Ozarks Proper, which means it has it own climate. A self-important mist comes rolling off those mountains every single morning and the whole world is so green it hurts your eyes. It even rained one afternoon, hard. Great sheets of rain blowing sideways, ancient trees flailing branches, thunder, lightning, like that. We sheltered in a local establishment and knit in front of a big leaky window and did not care how long the wait.

It felt almost pagan watching that much rain, which might explain most of the fine people we met in Eureka Springs. Later, I watched quite a few more file oddly through the bell tower of  St. Elizabeth’s Church to, I assume, pray for more of the same.

Only a refined sense of familial and educational duty made me come down out of those mountains and back home. One time I’m going to make the trip to Eureka and never come back. Watch me.

Ah, a lull. More on the way soon, though. The rain’s a small gift from Texas for which I’d like to say a big Thank You Very Much. In the morning, the whole world will smell inexplicably like a catfish, but that’s not their fault. 

Note on the Fridge: Mea Culpa

No Telling

Dear Friends,

Now that I think about it, it might have been a better idea to leave a note on the fridge a couple of years ago when I stopped posting Just Like That.

But the thing is I always meant to get back here for a scribble. Here I am teaching writing all day long and somehow managing not to write one single word myself. I tell my students to be fearless on the page, to write every single day, to spit in the Muse’s eye, to make a voice and let others hear it.

And then I put down my own pen.

I don’t have to tell you that sometimes life gets in the way. You already know that. It gets in your way, too. That’s not a reason for much of anything because I understand full well that writing is the gift of sanity in such times. It is, in fact, the antidote to most every ailment real or imagined.

The writing stopped, then couldn’t get restarted, so I berated myself for waving my hands in the air like some midnight televangelist faking miracles for cash. Since hypocrisy is exhausting, I self-medicated by knitting really large shawls. This was either an act of penance or procrastination. Maybe both, since I gave every last one of them away.

Enough. It’s time to get back to the page and re-acquainted with you.

All You Do Is Blink

No Telling

Nothing makes you feel older and younger like standing in front of teenagers all day. I teach in the very high school I graduated from thirty years ago, and while the physical building has changed very little, I am reminded every minute that everything else has changed a great deal.

It seems like just weeks ago I was stomping the halls of this high school in platform shoes and bell bottoms, peasant blouse flapping.

At the same time, the wild-eyed possibility of these teenagers is catching. Makes me feel like the world is round again, that the orbits are infinite and the end is not near. That’s a lovely bonus.

The mad pace is eating into my writing time right now, although I can see a time soon when I’ll be caught up and – with luck – trot a little ahead. Just not in wooden platform shoes.

A Last Minute Change of Plans

No Telling

Today I finished packing up book boxes and moved out of my university office. With four more days until the students flood in, I’m going back to public school teaching. Yes I am.

I left high school teaching five years ago for this academic adventure, and now it’s time to go back. I miss the students who aren’t there because they want to be. I miss the feeling that every day I might say or do the very thing that sets a young person on course. I miss gut-wrenching teen angst poetry. I even miss the frustration of staying up late at night to find one more way to make the magic happen for students who don’t believe it matters.

So last Monday when I discovered a last minute opening/chance to go back, I applied and was hired in a day. That was that. My Ivory Tower career didn’t turn out to be a career anyway, just a job. There are important things I’ll miss there as well. My heart hurts when I think about the literary magazine staff I’m leaving behind. These students are grown-ups, though, seniors in college standing at the edge of the jumping-off place, capable and in control. I’m going to miss their triumphs.

To be honest, there wasn’t a day during those five university years that I didn’t look around and wonder which students weren’t there. The students who didn’t make it to the show always haunted me.

Because I know I made the right decision, it was surprising to find I was more than a little jangled as I loaded the last box in my car this afternoon. Resignation and keys turned in, I let the front door of Thompson Hall close behind me and the world spun a bit. Maybe all this moving was too fast, maybe it was simply too damn hot out to be lugging heavy boxes across fiery asphalt.

Maybe it was that I’d spent most of my life on that campus, sneaking cigarettes and listening in on medieval lit night classes when I was supposed to be in the library. My mom was a dorm mother and my daddy coached football there on that campus. It was my home and the school where I later earned two degrees. I remember the odd vacancy of the whole campus leaving for Christmas or summer break, the ghost-town silence the  university left behind at such times. It was like someone had sucked all of air out of my walking-around world and left me dangling there alone. Can you hear me Major Tom?

It felt like that again today. A Sunday afternoon between terms, empty parking lots and still buildings. Maybe it was that this time, I left too. That’s a lot of history to walk away from.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be in workshops and dragging furniture around my classroom. On Thursday, the halls will be filled with nervous and swaggering teenagers. It makes me smile to imagine them, all possibility and emotion, filing into rooms unaware that these rooms are too small to hold them long.

I can’t wait to begin.

photo, George Eastman House via Flickr Commons

Be Careful What You Wish For

No Telling

It’s been the hottest summer I can remember. Day after day with a heat index of 110+ and the whole world feeling like it’s on fire. Not a drop of rain in weeks, no matter who’s doing the rain dance or how fancy. Those liars on the Weather Channel had promised rain for days. Yes, Jim, even you. Still nothing.

This afternoon the lie became the truth and in less than half an hour Em was outside sweeping water furiously away from the back door.

We needed sandbags, but sandbags are an emergency purchase that seems all-important when you can’t drive through flooded streets to buy them. To make matters worse, the place selling bags doesn’t have sand, and vice-versa. Somehow, I always put those on the to-do list after a hard rain and then forget about them entirely. It might be time to break that cycle.

Better yet, we might want to put in a french drain so we’ll need neither sandbags nor spare flood brooms. There’s an idea.

I’m So Vain

No Telling
The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.
(Clairee from Steel Magnolias)

Well, this should be interesting. I had a little surgery (nothing serious) to smooth out my lumpy head. Fifty stitches later, my head has been slap-dash shaved and I look like a cur dog with the mange. That’s nothing. When Tina sees this, I’m pretty sure she’ll go after the surgeon with a pair of clippers set on zero.

I’m hiding out for now wearing various loud scrub caps, but in a couple of weeks I’ll be back in the classroom looking like this. It’s time for some creative solutions. Unless anyone out there has another alternative, it looks like I’m sentenced to hats or fake hair for at least four months. Lindsay Lohan will be back on the street and re-incarcerated before I can use a teasing comb again.

I know this is whiny, but hair is a Big Deal here in the South. This is mysterious and (for some reason) irritating to Those Who Aren’t From Around Here, especially the academics I share the halls with. It’s as if big hair and intelligence were an either/or proposition. Well-educated Southern women find this amusing, because we’ve always known that real power down here requires both. Just ask Blanche Lincoln whose local senatorial approval ratings rise and fall with the flick of a teasing comb.

For now, I’m in loose caps. While I’ve always enjoyed a nice hat, wearing anything on my head in 110+ degree weather makes me want to burst into tears. Besides, they don’t make hats like they used to. I’ll compromise, of course, and find a nice cotton or linen something-or-other. Accessorizing is next to Godliness and all that. Any suggestions are welcome.

Em found a little something at the local beauty supply, but it may be a few weeks before I can test drive it. Maybe by then my vanity can overcome the idea of wearing Paris Hilton fake-hair-on-a-headband. I don’t know.

I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Relax! You can’t screw up her hair. Just tease it and make it look like a brown football helmet. (Shelby, from Steel Magnolias)