Let us turn our thoughts today…

I had a dream recently. Nowhere near, of course,  the eloquent and visionary Dream many of us celebrate and cherish, memorialize and continue to long and to strive for on this day in the United States.

Just a regular dream.

In it I was chatting with an old friend. I wish I could remember what we were talking about. I know it was light and jovial and I was enjoying the conversation.

Something struck a chord, though, with some part of my heart that I keep hidden. I wish I could remember. What I do remember is outwardly joking, “Well, I’m not sure my editor would let me write that story.”

Then I heard a voice, not my father’s voice, but in a tone that my father had: loving and quiet but firm. A tone that said he meant for the message he was conveying to be taken with extreme seriousness:

“I AM the editor. Write it.”

It was the tone as much as the message that woke me up. Unfortunately, I mean that literally.

It’s been over a month and the “it” continues to elude me. I can’t imagine that among the many stories and thoughts that “crowd my mind” and my heart there would be any “that really matter,” any that anyone needs to hear, that will make the world or even one person’s day any better.

Instead of chasing “it” with a net, I’ve decided to wait mindfully — and with all the cliché of that butterfly philosophy — to see if it lands on me.

While I wait,  I’ve been clearing things out, sharing old stories and thoughts and enjoying and occasionally sharing others’ stories and thoughts.

If you’re reading this from a phone or other media device, you may not be able to see the “Now Playing” music player over in the right frame.

Just about daily, a song from deep in the archives of my music collection comes to mind, often because of some snippet of conversation or sometimes just because of what’s going on around me. They’re not necessarily “earworms,” those songs someone plants in your head that won’t go away. Please note the restraint I am exercising in not citing examples here. You’re welcome.

If a song qualifies more as a soundtrack to part of my day than an earworm, and if I own it in my collection, I add it to the playlist. (You can click and slide the “play” bar to the right to get to the next song.) I’ve begun to think of it as a sort of Muzak while I wait.

Maybe the “it” will never land on me. Sometimes a dream is just a dream.

But other times dreams and the words used to convey them make the world a better place. Thank you, Dr. King, for your dream and your words.

This is my song for today.

 

 James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” is from his 1991 album, New Moon Shine. This video excerpt is from one of the DVDs I would grab if I had to rush out of my burning house. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. 

At least one of you will get the Jackson Browne lyrical reference in this post, which is why I like you and your way with words.

 

The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from www.readwritethink.org

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.

diamante-final-exam

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon

Wikipedia

A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.

                              Noun
                       Adjective-Adjective
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                      Noun-Noun/Noun-Noun
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                       Adjective-Adjective
                              Noun

Peace. Love. Hitchcock’s chin

This is a re-run. Today seemed like as good a day as any to bring back the idea of peace.

******************************************************************************************************************

For whatever reason, I recently stumbled across two videos of Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam’s “Peace Train.”  I was fascinated at the difference between the two and how very moved I was by both versions.

My favorite comment from that  post explained that the first was from a time of celebration and the other was a prayer.

I love the youthful joy of the first version and the sweet silliness of the line where he explains the song’s origin, being on a train and thinking about Alfred Hitchcock’s chin:

If everybody could, you know, love Alfred Hitchcock, I think it would be a better world, don’t you?

I’m intrigued by the stories artists tell of where particular works came from and it gives me hope to know that he created such a timeless piece from a seemingly idle thought.

A timeless peace would be nice, too.

I love the quiet maturity and hopefulness, however measured, in the later version.

Wherever you are when you read this, whatever you believe or don’t believe, who(m)ever you love, whatever is your joy, here’s wishing you peace, love, and music. And maybe a little Hitchcock.

~~~

A healthier relationship: It’s like riding a bike

It may seem a bit insensitive to be declaring my new love so openly. I realize it hasn’t been long since I made the break from that unhealthy relationship, and so publicly at that.

I can’t help it. You know how it is when you’re basking in the glow of newfound love.  You just want the world to know.

You want to spend all your time together getting to know your new love, discovering all the little things that make him (or her)* special.  All day you find your mind drifting to the next time you’ll be together, striking out to explore the world from a new perspective,  or remembering the special moments from that last time.

You drift off to sleep at night thinking about how lucky you are and you can’t wait to get up in the morning to see him (or her)* again.

Truth be told, I’m old enough to have been around the block a time or two, so I’m still a little cautious, but optimistic.  It’s not just my new love: I’m not sure of myself, either. Can I take proper care of him (or her)*? If I learn to do everything right, will I end up getting hurt anyway?

It’s like riding a bike. This gender-neutral one. One of my favorite things.

I mean, things look good, but looks can be deceiving.  Before we go too far, I want to be sure there’s not a slow leak in that front tire.

I had to take that tire off to get him (or her)* home and the owner’s manual strongly cautions about making sure the tire is properly attached, which only makes sense.

The brakes seem just fine, but the streets around here are flat. I don’t want to be headed downhill, carried away with the thrill of new love, headed toward water or a major intersection, when I find out things aren’t what they seem.

I have a plan, though, which led to the serendipitous discovery in the next and final piece of the three-part series, “A Few Of My Favorite Things.”

*For lack of an appropriate singular gender-neutral pronoun other than “it.”

My favorite paper clip: A (possibly unhealthy) attachment

Here’s lookin’ at you, clip.

To you it may be just a paper clip. To me, it’s a serendipitous emblem of hope, a curious mix of mystery and possibility.

It came into my life  last week. Of all the copy rooms in all the offices in this bureaucratic, document-infested town, this paper clip wandered into mine.

I don’t know how it got there. I don’t know where it belongs.  All I know is somewhere someone must be missing it. It’s too special to end up sitting  in a communal supply  bin, hoping for rescue from the miasma of ordinary office supplies.

There it was, carelessly tossed among the utilitarian metal clips, disregarded, possibly even envied by its fancier plastic neighbors, so obviously out of place but with nowhere else to be.

There I was, attending to my own administrative tasks after normal business hours, both of us out of place in this fluorescent-lit machine room.

For my part, I come here often, and when I do, I always check the bin for plastic paper clips.

I’ve been hoarding them for some time now, ever since the Great Recession forced our supply room to stop stocking plastic clips as a cost-cutting measure. Thanks to a highly placed ally and these stealthy procurement runs, my secret mission to maintain a steady stock of plastic paper clips has met with quiet triumph for almost four years.

Until this one appeared, a good catch was a handful of large plastic clips, which are slightly more precious to come by.  When I surreptitiously cast my glance across the counter, I never suspected spying this. To say it is the coolest paper clip ever to have entered this room is a gross understatement.

Not only does it combine the durability of metal with the color and pliability of plastic, it’s guitar-shaped. You don’t just come by guitar-shaped paper clips any day of the week.  It has to be special to someone, which means it’s quite possible someone else around here appreciates guitars. Or maybe music in general. Or maybe just fun paper clips.

Still, this is a rough-and-tumble town.  This paper clip should be cherished,  not haphazardly attached to meaningless documents and tossed in a bin, like so many everyday metal fasteners.  I’ve taken it home, where it has been sitting on the sideboard. Every time I pass by it, I smile.

It’s a really groovy paper clip.  For now, it’s one of a few of my favorite things.

This post is the first of a three-part series of “A Few of My Favorite Things,” the Weekly Writing Challenge on WordPress.  Serendipity is one of my favorite things*, if a bit more abstract than would be in keeping with the spirit of the challenge. So I went with paper clip.

The challenge  topic gave me a framework for writing about three things that have come my way recently through the beauty of serendipity, which, as you may recall (*because I just said so), is one of my favorite things.  I just love it when things fall into place like that.