A signpost is usually found at a crossroads. So says the definition. And in the teaching book Notice and Note, you’re given six avenues — ways to go or topics of conversation. What should we notice in a book? How do we note what we read?
When discussing literature, there’s often no right or wrong answer. You’re using the signposts to get into the characters of ask the book questions. And questioning is what we want young people to do — in literature and in life. After all, we all have essential questions, such as Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning? The word ‘essential’ has taken on such important meaning this year, with the rise in respect for essential workers.
Have your heard of ‘essential questions?’ When I first started teaching high school five years ago, the department chair told me, “Be sure that you have your Essential Questions posted for all to see somewhere in the classroom.”
I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ I had no idea. I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to have the right — the most essential — questions on my bulletin board. So I did what all teachers do when they don’t know and they don’t want to ask. I googled, “What is an essential question?” And of course, I fell into the rabbit hole of what makes a good question. The more questions I had, the more confused I became. But my mentor at my new school four years ago turned me on to this Notice and Note process. Look for the signposts. Discuss these topics. Yes, one category is called Tough Questions, which to me is the same as Essential Questions.
Ultimately, I decided that an essential question is a deep question — one that that leads to more questions and cannot be answered simply with a yes or no response.
Hey, I love learning about learning. Yes, I’m meta like that!
I have writing to do and teaching — and thinking to do. And don’t forget the gratitude list. There’s a new/old dog to walk and friends to phone. There’s much to do. And then, again, there’s nothing to do. A helplessness — a desire to read — to stay in, stay safe, stay put. And curl into a ball to let this big wave pass. So we hunker down in this farmhouse in this town that I love with family and friends. With children and trees. Set to bloom. Set to bud. Set to flower. Game, set, match. My mind keeps turning to this twist — my love gov says tennis courts can open. Where is my nearest tennis court? And does it matter that I have no racket, balls, nor opponents? Or tennis whites? I keep thinking about tennis. As if I was Billie Jean King. Fierce like that. All women are – for simply surviving this potus abuse. I cannot get over this administration – the way that man speaks to journalists, to women, to poc. I must to stop watching his cruelty. It breaks my heart. I aim to maintain my soft-hearted nature and happy-go-lucky disposition. I will not let this wave of fear and despair submerge me. Better days, ahead. Chin up and all that.
Think about tennis and flowers and Billie Jean King. Family dinners in the farmhouse.
At about 10:30 pm, I went to sleep with three young adults laughing together in kitchen. It warmed my heart. At about 1:30 am, I woke to doors slamming and young people yelling. It froze my heart. I cop to joining in the fray. I am a beast when I’m awoken from a deep sleep. Or maybe a beast within me awakens. Even the dog started whimpering.
When the ruckus settled, I could not fall back asleep. Adrenaline. Guilt. Fear. Worry. Sadness. Failure. I don’t know. I’m reading Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion so I tried to comfort myself and recognize that we are in difficult times and there will be interpersonal conflict during our days and nights.
I am only human. And, as Neff suggests, how would I console a friend who was in a similar situation? Am I a not a friend to myself?
The upshot — hey, you know me, there has to be an upside — is that first thing this morning, I reached out to T.C. at BetterHelp, an online counselor. See, last fall, my primary care doc, Dr. E., had suggested, given the circumstances of my life, a regular mental health appointment could not hurt, might even help. I’m no longer on Zoloft. When I had protested, saying, “I’m too busy,” she, my wonderful Dr. E, said, “Try a virtual therapist. They can be just as good. Convenient.” Which I did. (I chose BetterHelp as it was offering free trials, which I discovered on one of my social media sites. But I’m sure TalkSpace or any other virtual therapy is also decent.) I was assigned T.C. who was smart and pragmatic. I think that she lives in the Albany area and has a bit of a Brooklyn accent.
We had several useful phone conversations and some texting check-ins. It definitely helped. But, hey, you know me, I was super busy. I did not want to be confined to any regular appointments, even phone calls.
Fast forward these several months to today: I am, like the whole world, circumstantially challenged by this time of necessary confinement. The circumference of my life has been compressed. While I’d rather not have woken and become a part of the middle-of-the-night mudslinging fest, I’m glad, in a way, that I did, because it prompted me to seek help. Over the course of my life, I have found therapy — talk therapy, especially — extremely beneficial. It helps me see the forest for the trees. I am grateful for any strategies for hope and healing. I look forward to better communications within the family about our emotions during these difficult days.
There’s a noise in my chimney. that only the dog and I hear. Of course, I wear hearing aids and the dog is finely tuned for sound so it could be that we’re special? I worry that some poor thing’s stuck in there– not a vicious wolf in the wall (a la Neil Gaiman). And it’s not that I’m scared. No, not me. I’m not scared, not at all You’re scared, not me. There’s nothing in the chimney. but this morning when I walked away from the house, with Charlie on the leash, he and I looked back at the house, at the tin man’s hat at the top of the house. at the top of the chimney. A black bird was looking down the chimney. It called for a lost chick down my chimney. Why a lost child? and not a lost spouse? I’m surely projecting. There’s no wolf or black bird in my farmhouse chimney. Chimney’s are jolly places, just ask Santa. Still. I thought I just heard a slight thump or a scampering. It was the wind. There’s nothing in the chimney. Yet I hesitate to start a fire. We need a fire in the fireplace for it snowed last night, a little drafty at the beginning of spring, at the tail end of winter in the Adirondacks. I’m happy to do nothing. It’s only me Pandora who hears strange noises. Well, me and Charlie.
Yesterday we bought Charlie a dog bed. And yes, he loved it. But the dog flipped it over and lay on it, upside down. “Oh God, you really are becoming my dog,” I thought with a little dread and a little relief. Who else turns things upside down? Who else hears wolves and birds in the chimney?
I’ve been writing my posts first thing in the morning. I wanted to write about Earth Day today. Earth Day for 50 years! The commemoration lands on April 22, because it is the fullest, richest day of buds and blossoms of the whole year. Well, this morning I did not notice the beauty of springtime, because, again, WE HAD SNOW TODAY!! But here are a few pictures of flowers in the past. And they will be in our future too. Have hope.
For Lent, I’ve usually given up some small pleasure. But I’m not giving up anything this Lent.
Not giving up kindness. No. The world needs it now more than ever.
Not giving up coffee. I did that once and went the whole 40 days and nights with a headache.
Not giving up gossip. When I did that one year, I missed too many juicy conversations by the water cooler. I want to bond with my colleagues, not feel smug and act superior.
Not giving up TV. As a kid, I had to forego my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz, which only showed once a year. See, kids, we didn’t have Netflix or streaming services back then. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to wait until it was on.
Not giving up social media. When I started to give that up one year, I missed a party invitation. Not this year.
Not giving up meat or alcohol.
I’m not giving up so many good things in life. Not giving up friendship, letter writing, and social justice.
I’m not giving up my writing and/or blogging habit either. I’ve tried, but I don’t seem to know what I feel if I can’t write my thoughts down.
What about you? Giving up your Jeopardy habit? Candy? Complaining? Good for you. I’m supporting you from the sidelines as I pop bon bons from the couch in front of the TV.
Some people vacation in the Adirondacks in the summer. Yet the cold winter months in the New York mountains offer a beautiful and stark landscape, perfect for taking stock and taking time. How often do we pause to simply exhale and inhale the beauty of nature?
Getting out of your home comfort zone and into nature, even in the winter weather, refreshes your soul. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family went up to Westport on Lake Champlain. We took a couple of long walks on Camp Dudley Road. Nothing makes you feel so alive as a brisk winter walk. Breathe. Feel the bracing fresh air and notice the big sky.
Don’t be lulled into the belief that the only way to socialize with family and friends is to dine at home or go out to eat together. I contend that walking and talking and making art together offers a more fulfilling connection. Don’t get me wrong: I love sitting down to a delicious meal with family and friends. It’s a great way to share time and stories. But it’s not the only way.
Walking together makes memories too.
During one of my long winter walks, I hit upon the idea of offering a winter writing and arts retreat in Westport. I, for one, am looking forward to getting quiet, slowing down, going for long winter walks, and, okay, yes, dining together. Telling stories through art and writing.
I do not know what is on my mind until I write it down. I journal every morning and sometimes I write gratitude lists at night.
Why write? This is a difficult national and personal time. My husband Chris’s health is declining. And our democracy may be unraveling. My small contribution — whether I jot down my feelings or write to my congresspeople — feels futile.
The world is falling apart. I’d prefer to write about the joys of female friendship or my take-aways from the Press Club journalism conference? I wonder, Who cares what I think and why bother?
Usually in October, I’ve tried to post on this blog every day. The more I write, the more engaged I feel and the more I engage with other bloggers. New York City is so beautiful in the fall. I feel an uptick in civic and personal contribution when I write on a daily basis.
The impulse or compulsion to write fuels me, provides me with greater resilience to cope with worries, be they about work, family, or country.
I want to write:
to do lists
money matter musings
resume and cover letters
emails to far-flung family
witty status updates on social media
biting commentary on twitter
I want to write about the smell of flowers at the bodega – how they’re trying to be fresh despite their lengthy stays in the refrigerator.
The world is roiling. The anger of the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg is justified and righteous. She does not censor herself. Her words and spirit remind me to not suffer in silence and to speak out about my fears and hopes.
Unashamed to work for Hillary Clinton, I will not be ashamed to work for whomever the Democrat party presents as their candidate — although my top choice is Elizabeth Warren.
The unethical and immoral behavior of our current commander in chief shocks me. I am not afraid for the future because young people – okay, yes, some are obsessed with their own selfies and videogames — but they are also leading the charge for justice and for full inclusion for all people. For after all, the government is supposed to be run by the people for the people.
And that is why I write. That quote from brother’s company, Field Notes, sums it up, ‘I’m not writing to remember it later, I am writing to remember it now.’
author stately noble fussily editing slowly accurately wearing tweed male
writer flowing dreaming on a tear sassily barefoot wearing silk female
When writers write and share their words, the words circle above them like fairies who fly to awaken the Ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Then the deities, grand and small, gather, as if around a beach campfire, to send the red crackling words into the air.
It is the author or writer’s task to grab the words before they dim. Words like fireflies who once roamed the land, begin to fade, come Autumn.
another poem – a haiku
central park green lawn
sunbathers, frisbees, babies
grass, a blanket from below
below the earth, worms
tunnel, aerate, make new homes
with roots, turning soil
central park green play sunny day leads to starry Shakespeare night, above
These words emerged from last weekend’s writing retreat with J. Ann Craig — so good. We wrote prayers, songs, and erotic poetry.
I sort of organized the day. (I wanted to say ‘helped organize,’ but honestly, I did most everything: found the place, procured the leadership, encouraged attendance, ordered and set out the food.) But it was Rutgers Presbyterian Church who hosted the day at the House of the Redeemer. More than a dozen of us, beautiful women, writers and artists of life, gathered to set the world right.
Do not doubt for a minute that writing has the potential to heal the world. In this fractured time in our country, there is something necessary about writing down our truths — in our revealing, there is revelation. The authentic self emerges and writers’ words are free to bind the brokenness in our hearts and in the hearts of our communities.
Writing is a solitary endeavor so the connection with other writers inspires and energizes you. Fill your soul with stories. Feel braver after a weekend away when you return to your writer’s desk. Write your one, true, beautiful story.
Here is my advice on getting the most out of writing conferences:
Go deep fast
Take time to walk alone
Read your work
Make one friend
Whisper the words that you long to hear
Share the struggle, share the joy — be honest
Reveal the unspoken story
Know that you are not alone
I love writing weekends because, beyond the substantive information, there is always depth, laughter, and understanding among writers.
Last summer we were a small and mighty group at our weekend in Lake George. We empowered each other as writers and fellow travelers on life’s crazy and unexpected journey. We want to do it again.
In this writing workshop, you’ll feel a sense of belonging.