Rubber Band Writing

© 2010 David Parker

From morning to mid-afternoon, my classes and I brainstormed all of the things you can do with a rubber-band. Inspired by a comment posted here, I decided to try this little exercise with 9th graders, and it was absolutely magical. When they walked in the door, I had a rubber-band waiting for them on each of the desks. They had to divide their paper into three columns and, in the first column, list all of the things they could think to do with a rubber-band. Then we shared (and I wrote our collective list on the board). Then they had to write more things to do with a rubber-band (that we didn’t already have on our list) in the second column. Then we shared and I wrote again. Then they had to do the same thing in the third column. EXHAUSTING! We spent an hour in each class with this activity. And every time, the kids whined about how there was nothing more they could possibly say about rubber-bands. But each column got longer than the one before it. And by the end, I was having to cut them off because we were out of room and out of time.

My favorites:

Take it to Wal-Mart.
Ask it how your butt looks in these pants.
Get mad at it for not talking back.
Lasso a rhinoceros with it.
Put it in your game day pants for good luck.
Insult it.
Measure it.
Forget it.
Tell your mother she can’t have it.

We talked about how our writing should be third-column writing. We figured out that it takes the first and second columns to get to the third, that you can write about anything if you want to (or have to), that you never feel like you have anything to say at the very beginning, that it’s sometimes easier to write if you have someone you can talk to about it.

My neck is sore, my arm feels bruised, and my back is all messed up, but, damn! It was one of those I’m-a-Teacher days, where you know you’ve just blown their minds (and yours). And the kids were buzzing about it in the halls. And, from now on, when they hand in shitty-first-drafts, I can say they need to work it into the third column and they’ll know what I mean and how to do it. But what made the day was that they valued each others as writers and thinkers. It’s not often you see 15-year-olds, or people in general, valuing each other’s ideas.

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As Though I Knew What I Was Doing

© 2010 David Parker

The short prose poem of yesterday totally ruined me. I wrote like six of them and they were all pitifully dramatic and try-hard. It made me wonder why I’m doing this whole write-something-everyday-for-a-year thing. I thought by now, it might come easier to me, but it seems to be getting harder and harder. And I think it’s getting harder and harder because I’m kind of still expecting to be struck with the magical Something-to-Say. And today, when I subjected my students to the prose poem assignment, I realized that maybe this task has been so arduous for me because I haven’t been following my own advice.

Two things I always tell my students: writers keep notebooks, and writing is thinking. I haven’t kept a notebook since I started this project and I’ve spent a great deal of time staring at my screen. If I were in my own class, I’d be failing. So when I started today’s Writing Workshop with my students, I followed along with them and probably got more out of it than they did. For instance, the very idea of a prose poem forced us to analyze what makes a poem a poem when there are no line breaks (we came up with concrete imagery that shows an emotion, idea, or experience). Then we started building our poems together. First, choose a major life event that you can remember very clearly. Next, freewrite about a specific moment from that event that captures how you felt and why that moment was important, focusing on the five senses. Then take all that crap you wrote down and find three or four sentences to scrap together.

At the beginning, the kids were reluctant. The thought of writing for five minutes without stopping was unthinkable. But no one was ready to stop when I called time–not one out of nearly 70 kids. And most classes wrote for another ten. Then, because the space was so limited, it forced them to think about all kinds of lovely things like sentence structure and using strong verbs and how to choose an image so that it does something in a poem. They can’t wait to share their stuff with each other tomorrow, and I’m kind of proud of the work that we generated together as well. Win!

So my challenge to each of you readers is to post a three– or four–sentence prose poem here. So we can all see it. I dare you. Here’s mine from today (about my first teaching job):

The room smelled of chalkboards, dust, old papers–like the inside of a drawer that had been shut for years. Empty desks were pushed against the walls as though they’d been in a wreck. Behind the teacher’s desk was an old wooden student chair that looked like it’d been chewed up and spit out whole. I collapsed into the chair and began scratching out lessons as though I knew what I was doing.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

© 2010 David Parker

It’s taken me nearly 28 years, but I’ve finally learned how to be alone. It sounds simple, but I’ve found that simple things (sticking to a budget, having patience, sharing, being nice) can be the hardest to accomplish. Being alone is one of the trickier simple things for me because I haven’t had much practice with it. I had roommates from the time I left for college until I left grad school to have Ruthie, at which point I swapped my roommates for a husband. Now that it’s just me and Ruthie and a boyfriend who works often and out of town, I have a lot of alone time on my hands. Especially in the summer time.

Before the summer began I made a conscious decision NOT to fill the days with furtive trips out of town, major projects, work. I made NO plans (very uncomfortable for me). After two days at home with Ruthie, I realized that I hadn’t done this since I was on maternity leave, nearly five-freaking-years ago. It took some trying, but I finally learned how to relax into being by myself. This was all new to Ruthie too. When I came to get her out of time-out (on a rug in her room), she asked (in her excited voice with her eyebrows raised) if she might be allowed to play in her room. It struck me that Ruthie has also spent a great deal of time away from home. During the week she was at daycare, and I’ve always packed the weekends with “fun things to do.” And so this summer turned into a nice, wide stretch of time for Ruthie and I to learn how to entertain ourselves at home.

The thing about me is when I’m really enjoying myself, I have this overwhelming urge to share it with someone. Whenever I find myself becoming immersed in a moment–coffee on the front porch in the early morning before Ruthie wakes up, making dinner with music and a beer in my hand, eating a pretty breakfast of yogurt and granola with fruit, catching fireflies with Ruthie before bedtime–I always want to call someone. To make it real. I mean, if I have this beautiful moment, and only I witness it, then it’s like the proverbial tree in the forest. And isn’t that why we write, take pictures, talk? To preserve something the way we see it or the way we want to see it so that others can witness it as we did?

When you have a child, everyone says, “Write it down. You’ll forget all of this.” They say that because they’ve already forgotten. And the other night when I was putting Ruthie to bed, just after she fell asleep, I kissed her fat, smooth, perfect cheek and pressed my palm to her chest to feel her fluttery heart. Her mouth was kind of open and she was clutching her favorite stuffed animal: an elephant named Audge-A who smells like love. And I thought of how I so desperately wanted to preserve the moment because I’ll never have it back. It’s our job as parents to remember our children and how we loved them while they’re small because if we don’t remember it, no one will. No one will know Ruthie as she is now, at four years old. No one but me. And I’m going to miss so much about little Ruthie when she’s big. Like how she treats a glass of chocolate milk like a bottle, sucking it over the rim of the glass until it’s gone. Or how she will spend nearly an hour making shapes on the floor with bobby pins. And when Ruthie gets older, like when she’s a teenager, she’ll think I hate her. And it’s my job to give her little-self back to her when she’s older, through stories, pictures, my writing, the drawings she’s done, the videos I’ve taken with my phone.

So I call people when I’m alone and loving myself and my life and what I’m doing. Or I write about it. Or I take a picture of it. Or I sketch it miserably on a napkin. And it’s spectacular how little I have to record for the moment to come flooding back to me. For example:

Sleeps like superman

Ruthie: “I gotta show Mr. Bear what’s the deal”

Magic number: 113

David & Max come in from a walk–smell like dirt and leaves ground up between my fingers, like cinnamon and heat

I’ll see these in a month, in five years, and I won’t just remember, I re-live them as vignettes. These snippets become gorgeous talismans. Without them, those moments would be lost. Forever. And if no one remembers, it’s like it never happened. But if I record it, I can remember it, and share it, and it can be lived and re-lived by more than one person. Forever. And that’s publishing: putting something down and sharing it with others so that when the moment has passed, or when you have, your life is still there, pulsing in ink.