Scrawl Crawl

This past Saturday thirty writers and I do a most amazing thing.  We attend a writing marathon at some of the most iconic of downtown Shreveport’s settings. Yeah, really. Our group of six walk (and ride in Loretta’s van) to each of six destinations, settle in and write for an hour. At least that’s what we do for the first two hours.

First stop: The Municipal Auditorium. Elvis played here, and it was the home of the Louisiana Hayride. But for me in the 60s, it was the First Methodist Church family night before the church had its own theater and standing in the hall in my high school graduation gown, waiting to march in. As an adult it was where Jimmy Carter came to celebrate the Community Renewal anniversary, and recently where I attended the Bob Dylan concert. Six women are separately sitting on the first level of seats, while four men clang and toss folded chairs onto the stage, cleaning up after an event from the night before.

Second stop: Holy Cross Episcopal Church, in the Anglican tradition, built in the early 1900s. The smell of an old church…Max Edmondson’s funeral…my English literature teacher sitting just yards from me in today’s group. I am reminded of the European architecture to which she introduced us. I sit in the choir loft, working on my voice.

Third stop: Oakland Cemetery, 150 year old cemetery which is the final resting place of some of Shreveport’s first citizens. The yellow fever mound where bodies were buried in a mass grave. And lunch from a food truck. Haley, from the arts council, asks me, the leader, if our group is sharing. Gulp, no. We’ve been writing.

Fourth stop: The Ogilvie-Weiner manor, once known as the Florentine. A derelict mansion slowly being restored. At this stop the group shares the entire hour sitting among Christmas trees and fall decorations of fake orange leaves and walls stripped to their studs and talking of today’s writing experience. Then four teachers, two African American and two Caucasian, begin comparing experiences being some of the first teachers at the beginning of desegregation in the South. These are deep discussions, honest discussions. Is it because we have spent so much time writing of our lives? We discover connection at the Florentine.

 

Fifth stop: The Kallenberg Artist Tower. Once the fire tower for the central fire station, it is now a renovated visiting artist residence. Five floors, five tiny rooms, and lots of stairs. Three of us sit at the kitchen table on the third level writing; three others one level below in the “sitting room” continuing to share.

Sixth stop: The Korner Lounge. A dark, narrow gay bar with “The Golden Girls” on the television monitors, video poker in the back room, and a fishbowl half full of condoms. We sit on stools at high tables, all of us now back to writing.

Then there is a two-hour break before the whole group meets back for margaritas and nachos and readings.

From the breakfast at 8:30 to the end of the evening gathering at 8:30, my energy never waned. It was an amazing event.

Advertisements

The Struggle

I have written two posts that have yet to be released. I wrote both of them on two different mornings and when I came back later in the day something (besides heavy duty editing) is missing. So I put both of them off. Maybe I need more experience with what these words mean to me, I think. Maybe I need to see them in the context of my experience. Maybe these are just excuses for not following through.

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.  Ecclesiastes 11:4-10

The first post I titled “Old Dog, New Tricks.” I feel such anxiety around me lately from the he said/she said, side taking, blaming and shaming stuff that seems so prevalent now. I didn’t want to add anything of my own to the mix. I wanted a kinder response, not an emotional reaction. Writing helps me here. It slows me down and allows time to reflect on my words and feelings. But what I also know is that the writing practice has stirred up many old emotions and reactions I didn’t realize I carried.

At the beginning of the first Natalie Goldberg workshop I went to, she told us that she really just wanted to say get up and run out of here now, while you have the chance. Ok, that was a bit disturbing. But I get it now. A daily practice of writing is a journey and like any daily practice, it takes commitment because some days will be more pleasant than others.

That was one concern I had about sharing my writing practice. Will I set off more anxiety for others? And then I wonder that because it feels like I’m just saying what I need to hear for myself, does it sound like I’m telling others what to do? I can only speak from my experience and reflection. Is that of any value to others?

The second post I wrote was about David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. I introduce this in the foundations of education class I teach to understand how we, the teachers and teachers-to-be, might learn, so we can better guide our students. Which means that I, as the foundations teacher, am included in this search. How did I teach it last year? How do I want to present it to this semester’s class? We need to feel the learning at another level; I need to feel the learning at another level.

learning styles Kolb

Last week when I asked for students’ personal responses to some of the questions from this year’s Phi Delta Kappa public opinion poll on education, I told them to consider specific examples from their own experiences to illustrate their opinions before they write the assigned paragraph. The paragraphs they turned in were disappointing, at best. So, with the learning cycle in mind, I gave them a specific question from the poll on which to do a ten-minute write. Again I told them how I wanted it developed, but I also said that with this stream of consciousness writing, we won’t be just writing down first thoughts to finish an assignment. Let the question take you deeper, explore your own opinions, use your experiences.  This was not unlike what I told them to do with the first assignment, but this time I gave them the experience of timed writing to move them into something uniquely personal. They then wrote another paragraph from ideas they now had. It was amazing. The specific activity gave them the experience they needed to develop the work and satisfied me with a feeling of success.

My struggle here is to go deeper, expand my ideas and make connections. I believe most of us live in an anxious world of 24/7 noise and stimulation. Maybe this is one reason I try to hurry through “assignments.” But when I finish a post and finally hit the publish button, I feel good. So I’m setting aside all my excuses and justifications for now, to experience, once again, the satisfying feeling of follow through.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.      Anais Nin

                                                                   Moon Vine

Waterskiing Through Life

What do you think when you hear that phrase? It is a phrase that stuck in my head after a dream a couple decades ago. A few weeks ago when I casually used the phrase, my friends wanted to know what I meant by that.

Instead of telling them about the dream I told about my fear of letting go during two waterskiing experiences.

When I was a teenager several families went camping by the lake at Narrows Dam, Arkansas on Labor Day weekends, back when school started in September rather than the second week of August. My family did not have a “ski rig,” so the only skiing I did was behind friends’ boats once a year. And as a beginner I would stay in the middle while friends slalomed from side to side around me.

One weekend camping trip the teenagers decided to see how many could be pulled behind one boat and they asked me to be a part of it. Gulp, I thought, I’m not good enough. The plan was to pull up three skiers behind the most powerful boat. I will be in the middle. Another five kids would swing over from other boats and the two skiers on either side of me would hand them their ropes. My assignment was to just hang on.  And I did. For dear life. I was afraid if I fell or let go of the rope, which didn’t happen, I would mess the whole thing up, which was probably not true. The others would just keep skiing, leaving me in the lake to tread water.

The second experience a couple years later happened when skiing with my friend at Lake Bistineau, a lake that seemed always clogged with algae or salvinia. My “letting go” issue here was the fear of getting slimy. I was able to hold on until the boat swung close to the shore and I could glide into the shallow end upright.

But like I said, the phrase “waterskiing through life” originated from my dream a couple decades ago.

In the dream I was at a retreat at someone’s lake house. Most of us hadn’t skied in decades, so letting go was no longer the fear it was as a teenager. I got up and stayed for a while, making a decent enough showing and then…splash. It was no big deal. The boat circled around to pick me up and take me back to shore, where friends were sitting near the shoreline drinking Cokes and laughing and sharing their adventures. I joined them, grateful for my tribe. I liked being with people who had let go of ropes and weren’t ashamed to talk about it.

What do I think now? Do I realize the phrase’s meaning changed? What was important to me as a teenager was no longer an issue as I grew older. The dream continued to show up periodically and even today the message continues to shift.   Now it is not about letting go or holding on. I have decided that for me those two actions have their place, depending on the setting or the time or who I am at that point.

It’s more about skimming over life. Sliding across the surface of things without much thought to what is happening around and within me. I want to be more mindful, not swept along with the lemmings. Am I able to hold on to my beliefs when I am with a group that doesn’t share them? What do I do?

Do I let go of obsolete emotions from past experiences not wanting them to affect what is now my reality of the present.  Am I realizing that I this is an ongoing process? That without realizing it, when I’m tired or upset, I can go into automatic waterskiing again? And that too might just be ok for that time?

And then I think how nice the breeze is, and the spray of water and the warm sun. And the comradery of the others. You know, waterskiing is sounding pretty good right now. What do I know?

Waterskiing through life.

What does it mean to you? First thoughts and those that have specific experiences behind them.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Upon Reflection

It’s Friday and I don’t want to get out of bed. I’m tired, the drained kind. Is it from three days of teaching classes? Is something showing up in my dreams I’m not yet aware of? Or is there something I’m holding  on to, not willing to face?

I don’t have anything to do today except feed Joyce’s cats and work at the book sale tonight.

You’ve been looking forward to the sale for weeks.

Some days just seem easier to start than others.

Let it go Laura.

I finally get dressed and drive to Joyce’s to feed eight neighborhood cats while she is away. She has left specific written instructions along with pictures (what they look like, who gets how much and where the dish is to be placed.) The “kittens” are first; they race for the food. Once they’re settled in, I move on to the next five stations. It’s an interesting assignment, a chance to watch cat behavior. The day becomes better; my energy is coming back.

In the late afternoon I go to the book sale. I want to look through the books before working the 7-9 shift. This sale is put on by a local private college that collects books from the public throughout the year, then fills their gym with tables full of tens of thousands of books for unbelievably low prices (most less than 2 dollars.) A bibliophile’s dream. I like to be a part of the enthusiastic crowd before focusing on an adding machine for the rest of the night.

Friday night while I wrestle with the adding machine, my partner, a third baseman on the college team, calls out prices and helps pack bags as we work our way through the long lines of people juggling books. And what an amazing stream of people.

There are booksellers from neighboring states who come with their wagons and boxes and phone apps that tell them which books are in demand. They buy hundreds of books. (The highest total I ring up is $477.) But there are plenty of good books for everyone, as high school service club members continue to haul out boxes to replenish the tables throughout the sale.

 

Public school teachers and home-school parents are here to stock their classroom shelves with children’s books. A retired couple comes to my table with a load of new books, having donated their old ones from last year. A stack of landscaping and deck building books for the husband and mysteries for the wife. A woman and her grown daughter drive from Baton Rouge every year for this weekend. There is young musician who purchases fifteen dollars of sheet music at 25 and 50 cents apiece. Students, or their moms, head to the reading list table to pick through the classics and newer titles. And then the decision-making-challenged woman who, after I punch in the price of a book, decides she doesn’t want it. Three different times. And children, lots of children.

On Saturday I go back to the sale, again before my shift, to look at books and people. On this day I work from 1-4, the half-price sale. This time I work with a woman about my age who takes a turn at the adding machine while I call out prices. I am also counting back change, until a young woman returns six dollars I have given her by mistake earlier. The crowd’s a bit different now. The booksellers are gone. One young couple pays their $6.50 bill with coins, $1.05 in pennies, the rest in dimes and nickels. And a Korean War vet who, while checking out, shares his story of finding a book about the plane he flew. People who come every year and those who have just discovered this remarkable event.

It’s a diverse and interesting group of people, and it’s also a community sharing their mutual love for books.

This morning I write this reflection at the bookstore café. Still around books and people. Last Friday morning was hard. From a busy three days to nothingness? Not really, it was only a transition, a temporary feeling.

Note to self: when feeling disconnected, reconnect with the things you love. Get out of myself and into the world. Even if it just begins by feeding the neighborhood cats.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.    Soren KierkegaardBadge

This is the badge I earned for writing one million words on the website 750words.com.

Wordy

Blah, blah, blah…There’s no real post this week. I’m tired of words. Fall classes have started and I’m worded out.

black and white book business close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I did hit the million-word mark on the 750words.com website. This is the equivalent of the length of the entire Harry Potter series! All that writing does have its magic.

The Lady Said No

She is a cute little thing with a big friendly voice. I like her immediately.

“Can I help you clean your house with our Kirby vacuum?”

She’s in the neighborhood, and I swear she says she is gonna do it.  She asks about my floors, but I’m not interested. Or a sofa. Ah, I have an older sofa my cat mistakes for a scratching post that could use a bit of sprucing up.

“If I get just one more entry I can quit for the day.” (It’s 95+ degrees outside.)

“I have business at one, so it can’t be long.”

She hurries to the van to get equipment, and a 6’5” guy appears. He is introduced as the one who will demonstrate the vacuum.

“I’ve got business at one and it’s 12:30 now,” I repeat. It’s my bimonthly phone call with Taj, a cherished long distance writer friend and I need him to leave by then. I really have no intention of buying a vacuum; I just want my sofa cleaned.  My Shark Navigator Lift Away from Walmart is a very adequate vacuum.    

In my living room Tall Dude unpacks two boxes of equipment, while talking nonstop.

“What a beautiful house.”

Well comfortable, homey, but not beautiful, I think. He tries the vacuum on part of the laminate floor.

“I only want the sofa, and I need you to leave by one.”

He shows me the dirty filter his 15 seconds of cleaning has picked up, then puts another filter in and repeats. There is more clever patter about the pictures on the wall and the luxurious rug. (No kidding)

“How often do you vacuum?”

“Weekly.” (Am I supposed to feel shame living in all this filth?)

He pulls out the flexible crevice tool and asks if I’ve ever dropped French fries between the seats in my car, then he aims at the baseboard and is soon taking out more dirty filters. At least we didn’t go out to the car to search for French fries. He then demonstrates the flexible hose and the light weight upright machine.

But the sofa…

He runs the vacuum over the carpet and two upholstered chairs and removes more dirty filters. Then he pulls out a brochure about a Las Vegas vacation he wants to win for his girlfriend.

“Have you ever gone to Las Vegas?” he asks.

But he doesn’t wait for my answer, it’s just part of the presentation before he starts talking about his girlfriend. How many demonstrations does he need for the trip?  How many dirty filters, I wonder…

“The sofa,” I repeat.

It’s eight till one. He runs the vacuum over one arm and pulls out a dirty filter. Then another. He hands the hose to me to try the other arm. See how light, how easy, how dirty.

“The time,” I say.

He walks away from the sofa. I was hoping he’d do a bit more as long as he is here.

“How much do you think it costs?” Is he really asking how much I’m willing to pay?

“At least a thousand,” I guess.

“This will be the last vacuum you’ll ever buy.”

I’m  hoping the Shark will be my last one. “So how much is it?”

“Just 50 dollars a month.”

I’m part time on teacher retirement, so I ask, “For how long?”

There’s no answer.

“I don’t have an extra 50 a month for a vacuum cleaner.”

“Well you’re in luck this week. There’s a special. Only $39.01.”

“For how long?”

Again no answer. It’s three till one and his equipment is all over the place. I text Taj to tell her I’m running late and he continues babbling.

“How many months,” I repeat.

He gives me a flyer announcing a price of $2699 with several payment plans and a down payment of hundreds.

“I can’t do this.”

He writes on a clean filter, medical hardship, 0 down payment, 39.01 a month and tells me his boss owes him.

“For how long?”

I don’t remember what he said at this point because I am now listening to him like he has been listening to me. Ah, he needs to make a sale for the Las Vegas prize. For his “girlfriend.”

“I can’t buy this,” I tell him again.

He falls silent and starts packing up the vacuum parts. He’s now heard me. I thank him for his time, but there’s no cheerful patter in return. I bet he doesn’t think my house is beautiful either. He crosses the kitchen door’s threshold at 1:10.

Taj says this could be a great story to write about. So here it is.

Sales people. I need to say no, loud and clear, at the very beginning. No. Stop. Leave. I practice saying these in my best middle school teacher voice in front of my mirror. None of this sweet Southern lady here; you’ve crossed the line, dude.

Learn to set boundaries. In short, learn to say no. Don’t guilt and shame yourself. Say no to people and things you don’t want. Just say no. It’s your right, it’s your time, it’s your energy.    Akiroq Brost

 

So Many Books

Hi, my name is Laura and I’m a bookaholic. Books are all over my house, a full bookcase in almost every room and a growing stack by my bed. I try to cull them, donate them to the book sale that happens in a few weeks and I can’t, even as I reason that I will need new places for the load of books I’m planning to buy at the sale. Some have not been read; some have bookmarks marking my place, after the first chapter or the tenth. Why did I set it aside? For another book? A distraction? A disappointment with how the story is unfolding? A struggle with the author’s style?

Why don’t I just give up on it and let it go? Do I think I will really come back to it? Last week after finishing the powerful book, The Underground Railroad, I yearn for another good read. Do I go to my own bookshelves and pull something down that appealed to me at one time? Nah. I go to the library and check out two more books.

What is this need that wants to be filled? I sit in any of my book-cased rooms and feel community. These are my friends, ideas, and stories. I write at the bookstore or library, surrounded by even more books and other booklovers. My people.

I write with Rachel at the coffee shop, sharing a small wooden table, the topic bookaholic and a timer. I hear the scratch of our pens and the background conversations around me. I feel community. I write of being a reader at a young age, losing my lonely self in a book and finding friends. Ginnie and Geneva, The Borrowers, Henry Huggins. Before I retired I read to my elementary students after lunch. Charlotte’s Web, Superfudge, Summer of the Swans.

I attend a going away party for Annette, who is moving to North Carolina. She gives storytelling workshops and has written several books (The Story Factor and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins) Her home is filled with well-wishers sharing stories. Community. People I barely know, but quickly find connection with. Tales of people we have in common, experiences we share, dreams we nurture.

I have trouble writing these posts…this once a week practice I set for myself to experience the range of emotions and information I struggle to put together. I imagine the work that has gone into each book in my house; I can not toss any aside. Maybe this is why I can’t let go of these half read books filling my shelves.

That’s as good a reason as any, other than just being a hoarder with an addiction.

And once again I end with others’ words:

Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.   Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

The world was hers for the reading.  Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.   JhumpaLahiri, The Namesake