The Age of Aquarius and Mimeographed Worksheets

No Telling
(Scribbling Paradisio by Dore’, with a little help from me.)

I taught at a traveling writing workshop this summer down in Harmony Grove, Arkansas. School teachers, tired ones, met with us in that sweet but woebegone way public teachers do at the end of the school year. This is when they love their students the most but are cheerfully able to say good-bye for the summer. The workshop was splendid, and you can read about it here and here.

We used a book I’ve had in the workshop arsenal for a few years called The 9 Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers. It’s geared towards educators, but it’s a fine fist-in-the-air book about what every writer needs/deserves. These are breathtakingly simple. Every writer has the right to:

  • reflect
  • finding personally important topics
  • go off topic
  • personalize the writing process
  • write badly to unearth and clarify meaning
  • observe other writers at work
  • assess constructively – and well
  • experience structural freedom
  • unearth the power of each writer’s voice.

This is a powerful book for teachers. You see, most of them are scared to death of students’ writing because many teachers don’t see themselves as writers. That’s an important hurdle during the workshops.

As an opening scribbling prompt, my partner-in-workshop-crime Stephanie asked all the teachers to pick one of the rights they wish they’d had as students. Good opener. We all began writing. Kind of.

My pen hovered over the page for a bit. It had been a few years (coughcough) since I was a public school student. I tried to summon up something, some writing experience gone awry or pinch-nosed schoolmarm with a bleeding red pen. Nothing.

The thing is, I was a public school kid in the Age of Aquarius and Mimeographed Worksheets. With the exception of one senior-year research paper, all I did was fill out purple-inked (you know you can smell them) grammar and punctuation mimeos. They were like a puzzle, really. All you had to do was figure out the pattern.

In public school, no one ever tried to teach me how to write. Huh.

But the writing happened anyway. I began as Harriet the Spy and became the girl with the contraband poetry books in her locker and a Secret Notebook in her purse. I wrote incessantly, mostly terrible poetry then published in the high school literary magazine, but would never have devalued my late ’70s coolness-mystique (good lord) by being on staff. My plan was to be Gloria Steinem and Sylvia Plath. Simultaneously.

That morning in Harmony Grove I ended up writing about the freedom students need to scribble outside of standardized testing and five-paragraph nightmares. I wrote about the freedom to be left alone with the words, to develop fearlessness and a casual attitude because everything we write isn’t stark reflection of our worth. It’s practice. It’s play. It’s necessary.

They’re just words. We can always make more.

So go write something.

Note on the Fridge to Governor Palin

No Telling

You certainly gave a rousing speech last night. At least I think you did. There was an awful lot of cheering and such, but I’ll admit I was distracted by the camera flashing back and forth from you to your lovely family down in the good seats. As a mother and a grandmother and a voter and a woman, there are a couple of things that concerned me, Sarah.

1. What in the world were you thinking bringing your four month-old child to a loud and late political convention?

2. How is it possible that angelic child slept through the entirely of it? I know babies, Sarah, and most of them aren’t as dandy as yours was when being handed off, person to person, past bedtime and in a room full of screaming people. You must have prayed really, really hard for that kind of peace in the valley. It’s a maternal miracle.

3. Your Iraq-bound son is so handsome and you must be terribly proud of him. He seemed a little surprised by the September 11 date of deployment, though. Bless his heart. I’m sure you two talked about it afterward.
4. Watching your daughter and her beau hold hands was sweet. That poor boy looked like he’d been hit by a truck, and she…well, she just makes my heart hurt. I noticed that while everyone passed the sleeping angel down the row, the infant never quite made it into their arms. Oh, Sarah. I know that was a decision made by some Very Important Strategist, but it was a little unnatural. You’ll have to agree the young couple (when is the wedding, by the way?) do need the practice.

5. Your husband is a cutie. Watch out for those Washington gals, though. Some of them don’t look like Janet Reno.

And my final question/observation…

6. While I understand it’s not terribly Vice Presidential to be holding babies all the time (who is that Very Important Strategist, anyway?) I’m a little befuddled by a woman who’s never seen holding her own newborn. Ever.

Oh, Sarah. Don’t parade your family around if you don’t want us watching. I realize I’m looking at you through bifocals instead of my old pair of Gloria Steinem aviators now, but that’s what happened to a lot of old feminists – they became mothers and grandmothers and realigned a few things. Go on out there and run a country if you must, and more power to you for the effort and all that, just be sure to vacuum up all that cracked glass ceiling before you let the baby crawl on the floor.