Asana — on the mat and on the page

Critiquing students’ creative work is never easy on the old heart — a truth that’s exacerbated by “Distance Learning.” 

This semester, one of my classes is being held entirely online. No up-close-and-personal witticisms or warm fuzzies, no sitting-in-a-circle pow-wows. Just a web site, a discussion board and a whole heap o’ emails. Many of which are requests for revisions. 

I fear I’m getting a reputation as Mean Mrs. Red Pen.

I post announcements about the value of revision — and the value of imperfect drafts. I reemphasize process. I give examples of all the writers in the world and all the drafts in their desk drawers. But try as I might to create the same safe space online as I do in a classroom, it must be a bit disarming for students to have their poetry deconstructed and shot back at them with no discernible human attached. 

Sometimes a student sends a revision with a wistful, “I hope this one is better.” Others admit being overwhelmed by my requests to reconsider line breaks or word choice or imagery that’s cliched. I scramble to repeat my reassurances.

So this morning, I’m in the middle of a yoga session, bent over sideways in the triangle pose, when my teacher presses her hand against my hip and rolls my shoulder open, and I think, “Maybe this is what I do for my writing students. I offer adjustments.” 

And as the class moves forward, the comparison grows vivid. (I know — not very yogic to let the mind wander this way. But it was enlightening!)

Annick moves around the room, leaning and tilting and tweaking each one us, so that we can move more deeply into the poses, more fully realize the beauty of the craft at hand. And isn’t that our objective — yours, mine, and all the Mean Mrs. Red Pens out there? To help our students dig a little deeper, wring as much out of the language as they can and, at the same time, relish the process?

I bring this thought back to my desk today, with the hope that some semblance of it will transcend the barriers of screens and cables, that my intention can be executed effortlessly, that my students enjoy the push.


Baby Bonding and Beyond

Many mamas birthed babies yesterday, including a beloved cousin of mine. I fell asleep last night thinking about them falling asleep in their new little world, inside the baby bubble. 

There is nothing more astonishing than those first days and weeks with a baby — getting to know her, letting her get to know you. 

It is a mutual study, both scientific and sensual. 

First, there is that examination of every crease of every finger and every toe, of the little stump of umbilical cord, of the blotchy skin. If I were that thorough and detail-oriented in my day-to-day life, imagine the administrative productivity! 

And then, on top of that precision, there is the intuitive touch and dreamy exploration of scent and sound, the falling in love one little breath at a time. This phase of observation is less orderly, more womblike, and requires no experience or skill beyond mere presence. 

This is a time, I think, we never stop missing. My husband closes his eyes when he remembers one of our babies falling asleep with her head in the crook of his neck. There are times when I ache with a vengeance, watching a nursing mother. And those snapshots of our daughters — tiny blinking eyes, skinny arms and legs swaddled in buntings — they might as well be 3D and scratch-and-sniff they’re so visceral.

It is a lot to leave behind. 

But it occurred to me last night, during my tossing and turning, that we sustain this intimacy best when we read, out loud, to our children. In the rocking chair with a toddler on your lap. On the couch, one child under each arm. In bed, under the covers, morning or night, sick or well. 

Even as they grow ganglier, and learn to add and subtract, and skin their knees, and choose an instrument, and clear the table, and hang from monkey bars, and write in their diaries, they soften and slow down when we offer up the stories and lyrics, pretty pages and imaginative wanderings that are books. 

I know, from what teachers tell me, that lots of folks stop reading to their kids when their kids learn to read. And I know from reading to my daughters, from reading to my students, even from reading to my husband on long road trips, that we don’t outgrow the pleasure, the comfort, the sensual connection inherant in being read to. It’s ageless.

Tonight, my cousin’s baby girl will fall asleep at her mama’s breast and again, later, in the crook of her father’s neck. I will nestle into the cushions of the couch with my babies, whose legs are nearly as long as my own, and read.


Poetry Friday

Just back from an elementary school visit — a Young Writers’ Workshop for 3rd-5th graders. 

I love this age. They’ve grown thoughtful and astute, but are still delighted enough with themselves to stick their hands in the air and shout, “me, me” whenever they’re asked a question.

Today we talked about using language that is Specific, Active and Vivid in Every line, in order to SAVE poetry. Cute, hunh? 

Then they tried out their new chops on some riddle poems. Here are two they wrote together, as a group. I was wowed.

Who Am I?
I’m round like a beach ball
and I spin.
I’m mostly blue
as the ocean 
but I’m vividly detailed
with many other colors.
A golden rod
circumferences my spheres.
I represent something you walk on.
Who Am I?

Who Am I?
I’m white, with sockets
like two caves,
old as mold
and inside of you.
I’m smooth as silk
and hard as a hammer.
I’m silent
as a graveyard.
Who Am I?

What do you think? Any guesses?

Techno Wizardry

This is gonna bring the house down. 

Or maybe not, since everyone else in the blogosphere already seems to have a solid handle on how to link and tag and invite and post and download and what not. 

But me? I’m still thinking papyrus and birchbark are good ideas. When my computer goes wonky on me, I either shake it like a soda machine or get out the sage smudge stick and try something ceremonial. 

So, it’s a red-letter day when I get a little better handle on anything around here. Under the tutelage of folks more technically gifted than I, like the luverly Shannon Lowry, I have figured out how to input aesthetically pleasing links rather than just having folks click on long, ugly, cumbersome url addresses. 

It was a post about a week ago that convinced me I better make the leap into deeper waters. It was littered with hightlighted html gobbledy-gook, illegible really, but not now! 

Lest you think that I’m going to go back and retroactively clean up all my posts, let me assure you that even I am not that driven to waste time. I just tidied up that one for practice. As my kids would say, “Easy breezy lemon squeezy.”

I’m loathe to say how easy it was, in fact. But it’s like all the other forward motion in our lives — so much possibility there for the taking… whenever we’re ready. Yee haw!


On Friday night I donned black and mingled with the literati at the lovely Leitich Smith home. Greg and Cynthia hosted a launch party for Cyn’s new novel Tantalize and it was a swanky delight, complete with vino, Italian cream cake and a glossy, hardcover copy of the book! 
Most gratifying, though, was being in the company of other writers and talkin’ shop in such an easy, intimate way. There was no particular focus but so much good conversation about all things books and blogs, libraries and letters, editors and endings.
I felt like I was brushing elbows with the muse, just being there amongst Mark Mitchell, April Lurie, Brian Anderson, Brian Yansky, Frances Hill, Don Tate, Jeannette Larson, Nancy Jean Okunami and many others. When I left, I knew more than I had when I arrived – about myself, about my work-in-progress and about these amazing and generous talents. I was a good deal fuller on cream cake, too.
The next afternoon, I took off on an overnight retreat with my Goodness gals. This is the Mama-Artist group I wrote about when I launched this blog and let’s face it, I can’t hardly breathe without ‘em anymore.
We settled into a lovely, spacious home loaned to us by a Goodness grandmamma, and ho boy did we settle. We’d brought food enough for a week, and wine and yoga mats and a massage table and journals and markers and music and more. The eggplant was so garlicky, the chocolate so dark, The Hustle so easy to remember after all these years.
(Yes, we danced The Hustle and lemme tell you, we were good.)
In the morning, waking up from deep sleeps with no little folks asking to be fed (except two remarkably satisfied nursing babes), we turned to talk.
We talked and listened for seven hours straight – I kid you not – in our loosey-goosey round-robin way. This equates to nearly an hour devoted to each one of us. An hour – to share our latest projects, tease out worries, weigh suggestions – during which the mutual respect and admiration were thick as goat’s cheese.
Oh, the sense of well-being and privilege and contentment – I cannot do it justice here.
What I can say is that what I got this weekend is what I wish for everyone – a community of people who love me and love my work, and the time and space with which to really, truly appreciate one another.
I wish this for writers who work off-stage, alone with our own thoughts, a few too many hours every day.
I wish this for mothers who work under the blinding lights of judgment and exhaustion and threatened immortality.
I wish this for women and for men, for students and for teachers, for workers and for leaders.
I wish this for my own girls, now and when they grow up to be whoever they’re meant to be.
Which reminds me. When I arrived home from my kinship binge, there were two dirty daughters and their dad – just back from a camping trip to Enchanted Rock where they’d backpacked their gear in, spelunked in the limestone caves and crevasses, and sung under the stars.
They hadn’t missed me, they said, but were glad to see me. They wanted to know what I’d done. Ditto.
More community. How lucky can one gal get?