Wednesday Wonders: On Breaking Rules

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I once cut in line.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.

“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.

At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.

I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.

“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.

As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.

I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.

“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.

She smiled kindly at me and nodded.

I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.

I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.

We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.

Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.

Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all  to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.

I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.

Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.

“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.

Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.

I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.

I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.

In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.

I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.

So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:

Non-fiction

When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?

When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do? 

Fiction

When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?

And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!

May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,

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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: Stretching Some Sentence Skills

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Not too long ago, I was correcting papers and wishing the writers would not be so inventive with their sentence structures and vocabulary.

I would see something with a phrase, a comma, or an unfamiliar word like ‘thalassemia’ and sigh.

I had an prickly sense that something was off but wasn’t strong enough on the structure to make the fix without some checking. Only after looking up the words and the grammatical structures, could I make the right corrections.

I thought to myself: “If I were writing, I would never have tried it this way.”

Then it occurred to me.

If I stick to only what I know, I won’t grow in style or ability. The writers making those mistakes did me a favor by making me stretch.

Pricilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor also pushed me with the suggestion that I take a sentence from another writer and make it my own. To do this, I must carefully examine how the writer creates the sentence and then craft my own sentence in the same form.

I chose two lines from ‘Welding with Children’ by Tim Gautreaux.

“Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over their kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again.”

The first structure is something I might write on any given day. It’s simple with a subject, verb, and adjective phrase.

The second sentence structure never would have come to me with its interruptions and commas sprinkled all over the place. It’s the kind of thing that gives a grammar teacher headaches, and, yet, it works so well to give voice to Gautreaux’s character and set the stage for his conflict.

Here is my version, using that same foundation, worked through with the meaning of another story:

Football night was the usual. My new friend Susie, never one to worry about style, you know, fiddled with her neon spirit hats, two of course, and listened while Josie the cheerleader was babbling at me once more.

It’s turtle-slow work, this sort of sentence skill building. I know, for example, that the last verb form I used is not quite the same as the original version, but I couldn’t quite make it work. And I sure wouldn’t want to craft like this while trying to make a word count.

Still, I do like it. I like the stretch from both proofing those papers and the sentence work. Language  holds more twists and blind corners than I figure I’ll ever have time to explore.

That’s just the way I like it.

May you stretch in words and other ways-

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Wednesday Wonders: Pitching Words

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This Wednesday, I need to pause the blog while I madly craft a query letter, hoping to be chosen and learning from the jump into the unknown.

If you have a book of your own to pitch, check out Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars. It’s quite the writing adventure she has put together.

I’ll let you know how it went next week!

May you make your best pitch and round the bases when you get up to bat,

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And just because I found it in my image search…

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.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: The Garden Gift of Forty

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When I was a teenager, working in the garden numbed my brain with boredom. I could not understand how my mother spent hours and days pulling weeds and clipping dead branches. I loved the beauty of the place and went to the roses to talk to her often, but I could only do the work for a few minutes before running off to bike 30 miles, pace the floor, drive to the beach, or anything else besides working with plants.

Life has changed me. 

My latest read is by Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bark. In The Longevity Book: The Science of Aging, the Biology of Strength, and the Privilege of Time, Diaz talks of how to embrace each age you are in as you live it. I’ve only made it a few chapters through the book but already see the beauty in this approach to growing older.

I think gardens may be one of the gifts of forty.

Soon after I entered this decade, I  began enjoying the time I spend outside with the flora. I worry less about having a perfect looking place and enjoy more the experience of being outside and touching the dirt. Pulling weeds and moving earth heals me when my soul aches, and the work gets me outside when I need to move from too many hours with a book or in a basement level classroom. To make it even better, my six year old dances around me, playing his games and talking to the neighbors as they walk their dogs by our home.

When I was a teen the heaven of my imagination would have been filled with action. Now I think my vision of it would be much more like Eden.

The newfound garden joy also gives me hope for the decades to come. I can no longer run as fast as I did in my twenties. In fact my hip now tells me not to run at all most days. I haven’t given up on running altogether–I still am working to heal.

But who knows what new gift I will find as I grow older?

Gardens may be just the start of the party. 

May you find joy in every age-

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Wednesday Wonders: How to Get Rewards for Reading

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Every summer about this time, I remember the libraries have programs for reading with prizes to encourage reading. My mom tells me I began doing this in the card catalog days of my grade school years, and most summers I’ve remembered to sign my kids up before the end of July. (The libraries are always generous and let me fill in hours I’ve missed recording because I signed up late.)

In my area, I have two library systems offer rewards. Both have reading programs for people of all ages. If I were really greedy, I could also join the Tacoma Public Library program.

I am not that greedy and that would also be too many things for my busy brain to manage.

Quinton and I signed up for the two libraries nearest to us: Pierce County Library and the Puyallup Public Library.

Quinton longs for the Toys R Us gift card, and I am checking off the books I read in hopes of winning the Tacoma Rainiers Summit Club tickets or the Kindle Fire. It could happen!

Even if it doesn’t, I’m sure to get in a few lovely hours reading by myself and with my kiddo. Most recently we discovered how much we adore Lyle the Crocodile books by Bernard Waber and I am digging into Graceling by Kristin Cashore. 

May you sink good books this summer and maybe even win a prize-

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