There’s no good in our goodbye.

… except that there kind of is. Looking at the calendar and realizing that April is on her way out allowed me a sigh of relief. I can soon part ways with prose poetry. I’ve written a few things this month that I don’t mind. A couple of things I actually like. Overall, however, this has been a hard slog, and I won’t be sad to see the back of it. It’s not over yet, however. Time to get to work.

Swagger

I am having a moment. Feeling myself. Standing a little taller. Taking up all the space I need, not shying away when the fact of me makes others uncomfortable. I can’t pinpoint a change. It snuck up on me, this audacity, this bien-dans-ma-peau, this ease sweetened with a touch of arrogance. Who am I? And where did I come from? And where have I been all my life?


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is a fun one:

Take a word or two invented by William Shakespeare, make it the title of your poem, and write your poem. Check out this list of possibles to choose from. Shakespeare was baptized on this date in 1564. Here are a few to get you thinking: advertising, bloodstained, critic, dwindle, eyeball, hobnob, luggage, radiance, and zany. He invented more than 1,700!

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

“How I wish we had something to do.”

My bus was super crowded this morning, and I was squeezed in the center aisle, standing all the way downtown. So much for reading on my way to work. I didn’t even have room to maneuver my bag and get my headphones out so I could listen too some music.

Good thing. Left my ears open for some conversation:

“I have always been someone who knows what they want,” asserted forcefully by a beautiful girl who was maybe 17.  “I always say what I want.  I’m not confused.  I’m complex.”

“Listen,” from a stern-voiced woman to her 9- or 10-year-old son, “you want me to change colors right now?* No? Then sit still and keep quiet.”

“Driver, you were supposed to tell me when we got to Flatbush.

“I will.”

“You were supposed to tell me.  I asked when I got on.”

“I will tell you.”

“Driver –“

“We haven’t gotten there yet.”

“Thank you, driver.  I still need you to tell me when we get to Flatbush.”

And then the best of all:

Seated near me was a little girl who was focused quite intently on a book. She was tracing across the page with her index finger, going over each page at least twice before moving to the next. I couldn’t see what she was reading because it was down in her lap. She was maybe six years old, so I was pretty sure  she wasn’t working through War and Peace, but I was curious.

Then her mom leaned over and asked her to read aloud. “I like hearing how nicely you read,” she said.  (And yes, how much do I love her for saying that?)

The little girl smiled and squinched up her face, concentrating.  She turned the pages back to the beginning and started reading.  I couldn’t hear her at first, but after a few lines, she felt more comfortable.  She lifted her chin and read out, not loud but strong.  And then I heard it, knew what she was reading.

“How I wish we had something to do.”

I’d know that line anywhere: The Cat in the Hat!

“Too wet to go out, and too cold to play ball,
So we sat in the house. We did nothing at all.”

I edged a little closer so I could listen in.  The little girl was wearing a Jayne hat** with an adorable, extra large and puffy pom-pom.  Her skin was such a beautiful deep, dark brown.  Her voice was quiet, happy.  Her face was serious as she focused on the words.  She sat up straight, but her mom leaned in a little closer, almost snuggling against her shoulder.

I will admit, I’m only a lukewarm fan of the Cat.  I find him a bit creepy.  More than a bit.  (He shouldn’t be trusted, not one little bit.)  And he triggers that thing I tried to describe yesterday.  The Cat is all about things that are just not right.  Too much Cat and I think my head might explode!

“No, no!  Make that cat go away!
Tell that cat in the hat you do not want to play!
He should not be here! He should not be about!
He should not be here when your mother is out!”

Hmph.  Tell me that’s not right.  Don’t get me started on Thing 1 and Thing 2.

But my mistrust of the cat notwithstanding, I was utterly charmed by my bus ride reader.  And equally by her mother’s clear pleasure in listening to her baby display her new skill.  An excellent way to get my morning off and running.

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Eavesdrop on the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers!

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(“I saw her — your mother — your mother is here!”)

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*  I’ve never heard getting angry described in this way.  I kind of like it.  And I have to admit that, when I heard her say it, I really wanted to see her change colors.  That would have kept things lively on our commute!

**  Oh, that.  You know, a Jayne hat.  That was a Firefly reference.  The hat, as knit for and worn by Jayne: jayne_hat_4

600 Words or Less (SOLSC 20)

Still thinking about my sight-word stories …

I didn’t choose words randomly.  I pulled from the 1,000 most commonly used words, a list very nicely compiled for me by the 100-word set in The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists.  These are the “instant word” lists that were created by Dr. Edward Fry.  The lists are interesting because they’re presented in frequency order.  Here’s how that breaks down for the first hundred words:

 Words 1-25 Words 26-50 Words 51-75 Words 76-100
the or will number
of one up no
and had other way
a by about could
to word out people
in but many my
is not then than
you what them first
that all these water
it were so been
he we some call
was when her who
for your would oil
on can make its
are said like now
as there him find
with use into long
his an time down
they each has day
I which look did
at she two get
be do more come
this how write made
have their go may
from if see part

Notice anything?

I’m glad enough that “you” comes first of the pronouns … but then I’m much less glad to see that “he,” “his,” and “they” come before “I” … and that all of them come LONG before “she,” which can’t even make an appearance before “we” and “your.”  And as you move on in the lists, there are more curiosities: “man,” “boy,” and “men” show up in the second hundred, followed up at the tail end of the set by “mother” … “father” makes his appearance at the start of the third hundred, but “girl” doesn’t come into play until almost the end of that set.  “Woman” doesn’t show until you’re past 600 words.  So many thoughts.

I ordered the list alphabetically when I started writing the stories.  That way I could avoid pesky questions about sexism and patriarchy find words more easily. Still, those 100-word stories weren’t easy to write.  I said yesterday that I liked them because my students could read them without struggling and, therefore, read for meaning.  But the truth is, there wasn’t much meaning in the stories.  100 words leaves you with more mystery than meaning.  Here are my two favorite examples of that:

Looking at the Water

There she is.  I see her each day at this time, and I have been seeing her for a long time.  She likes to look at the water.  Each day she comes down and has a long look at the water.  Some days when she comes, there are other people down by the water.  She does not look at them.  All she looks at is the water.  

Some days she writes about what she sees.  Other days, she looks and looks for a long time and then goes on her way.  What does she do all day?

I would like to see what she sees when she is looking out at the water, but I have not said a word to her.  I would like to see what it is that she writes on those days when she writes.  What could she be writing?  Is she a writer?  Does she want to be a writer?  I would like to find out, but how would I go about finding out?  If I call out to her, what will she do?

Who is she, and what does she do when she is not looking out at the water?

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How Could She?

Look at her.  How could she have been with him?  This is not the first time she was with him.  She was with him for a long time.  Now I will have no part of her.  I have her number, but I will not call her.  I will not see her.  Each day I go out and look up and down to see who is there.  I see many people but not her.  She is with him.  Day in and day out, she is with him.  I would have had a word with her, but she could not find time for me.  So now I do not have time for her.  If she did not like me, she could have said so.  What can I make of this?  Many a time she has come to me and I have been there for her, and now this.  I will not be there for her one more time.  How can I?  Who would be?  Not now.  Not this time.  He can be there for her now.  She has him, and now I will find someone other than her.

So yeah, not exactly winning any prizes, but so, so, so readable.  “How Could She?” was a solid crowd pleaser.  It never failed to generate all kinds of discussion in class and get students writing all the backstory and imagining what happens next.  And that’s the thing I loved about the 100-word stories.  There are so few words, so few things you can say, everything you write is full of holes, pulling the readers in to create a story to fill up the nearly-empty frame you’ve hung.

The empty frame is the magic of these stories.  I tried out various lists to see what I could and couldn’t do with each.  The 150- and 200-word lists got tossed early because there were just more words I wanted to include (such as “girl”) that I wouldn’t get until I jumped up to 300 words.  That list created so many more story options but still left so many holes.  I wrote most of my stories with that list.

Probably the most popular story after “How Could She?” was “My Husband, the ‘King’,” which I wrote with the 400-word list.  Four hundred words was right on the edge.  You can fill in a significant number of holes using that list.  Jumping up to 600 words meant closing pretty much all of the holes.  The stories from the 600-word list are much longer because, with 600 words, you can say almost everything you might ever want to say.  (Sort of.  You can’t get crazy with your vocabulary — “crazy” in that you might want to say a word such as “deliquesce” … or something even more outlandish such as “woman” — but you can really say a LOT.)  Those stories were good for students to take home to read on their own.  The word list was still basic enough that people didn’t struggle to make meaning, and the stories were long, so people could spend some time with each … they could read for pleasure, something they hadn’t done much if at all.

My original goal for writing the stories was to create reading material that was clearly for grown ups.  And the stories were about all kinds of adult themes: managing your money, raising children, learning your family history, immigration, domestic violence …

I haven’t written one in a long time, but thinking about them all day today is making me want to jump in again.  I got an email from my mom today (after she read yesterday’s post) saying she’s thinking of doing some literacy tutoring at her church, so creating some new stories for her could be a fun project to take on while I’m home recuperating this spring.  Time to dust off my lists!

my husband the king(Cover from the original chapbook story.)

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See the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.

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A Font of Information (SOLSC 19)

When I was an adult literacy teacher, I wrote a lot of materials for my students.  There was such a sadly small array of readers for adult students.  Rather than have them read children’s books, I started writing stories using lists of sight words: 100 words, 150 words, 300 words, 350 words, 600 words.  The 100 word list was the most challenging for me as a writer, of course — there just aren’t enough words to say anything! — but those stories were almost instantly readable for my students.  They didn’t have to struggle over the words and could read for meaning, could read for the story and enjoy themselves.  That was a huge score for me.  I was so happy to have found a way to create material for them that was really for them, for grownups, not just revamped kid stuff.

My choice of font for printing the stories turned out to be as important a decision as what to write.  Typefaces are annoying.  They are made, by and large, for us: people who read.  That sounds foolish and obvious, I’m sure.  But it’s true.  There isn’t much room for people who are learning to read. For example, let’s look at Vladimir Script:

Vladimir script

And then there’s Amienne:

Amienne

We start to get a little more readable when we move on to one of my favorites, Bradley Hand:

Bradley Hand

In the end, my first stories were printed in — you guessed it — trusty old Comic Sans:

comic sans

I was happy, but my students weren’t quite as happy as I was.  It seems Comic Sans didn’t look “serious” enough.  So I went back to the drawing board (or the drop-down menu, as the case actually was) and eventually settled on Rockwell:

rockwell

But, despite my concerns, with Rockwell I hit pay dirt: students liked it.  And they didn’t struggle with the “a” as much as I had feared they would.

During the whole font selection process, I assumed I was pretty much alone in my obsession about the right type.  I have since learned that no, many, many people obsess about fonts.  And then today I saw an excellent essay (yes, I’m a couple of years behind the times on this one) all about your friend and mine, Comic Sans.  If you aren’t a fan of cussing and inappropriate behavior, I’d suggest you steer clear, or at least be prepared.  I found it hilarious: I’m Comic Sans, A*******.

It’s a long time since I was writing those stories for new readers, but both Comic Sans and Rockwell still have a soft place in my heart.  I hardly use either font these days.  In my personal writing, I’m a devotee of Perpetua.  At work, I swing back and forth from Times New Roman to Calibri to Gill Sans MT and back again, leaving my Berlin Sans FB days behind.  When I’m trying to be fancy, I’ll sometimes dip into a little Tempus Sans, maybe the occasional Monotype Corsiva, Kristen ITC, or Lucida Handwriting.  On grant proposals, I bow to the pressure of page limits and go Arial Narrow all the way.  What font are you?

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See the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.

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Money Can’t Get Everything, It’s True …

Today I’m prepping to head off to the NYACCE conference in Albany.¹  I’m going to be part of a presentation about THE BOOK and part of a meeting programs from around the state who’ve been awarded the new Literacy Zone grant from State Ed.

I’m excited about this grant.  It’s not for my agency, my program, it’s for our whole neighborhood, it’s about the community agreeing to work together to increase educational opportunities and improve services.  No, it’s not a $10million grant.  Yes, it would need to be that big for us to do all the things that we need to do.  But it’s not a pathetically small grant, either.  Six agencies in the community (including mine, of course) have gotten together to improve services, and we applied for the grant as a consortium.

Working as a team with agencies we also compete against for funding is a little weird sometimes, to say the least, but the Alliance — this group we’ve formed — pleases me.  My hope is that it will force us to focus on the needs of the community first and on our bottom lines second.  Ok, funding is important.  After this year of losing so much funding and having to fire so many teachers, I know that funding is important.  But I hate feeling that we’re driven by funding, that funding is the important thing. 

Not too long ago I read The Revolution Will Not Be Funded and it made me think in different and sometimes uncomfortable ways about the fact that I am in a position that means I am always chasing funding, that I am always shaping my program to fit fundingrequirements.  I had my first taste of this at an old job.  I wanted to start classes on Saturdays, the agency secured funding to make that happen, so I started planning.  I made a flyer to do some outreach for the classes … and my boss pulled the flyer and had it remade.  ABC Company Saturdays it said across the top of the page (or, you know, the real name of the sponsoring company).  What?  Turned out the funding was from ABC Company… and that we had to proclaim this fact on all our materials … and that was only the first of the rules imposed on my little Saturday plan.

Now, I drink ABC Company’s coffee.  Not every day, but I am definitely a customer.  I don’t hate ABC Company.  I don’t even hate that they want people to know when they’ve given money to community organizations.  Why wouldn’t they want people to know?  I don’t think they should get to tell me how to run my classes, however.  I think programming decisions should be left to the people who know and understand the program.  Yes, it’s much more exciting for the coffee folks to say they’ve provided classes for 125 people than for 50.  I get that.  But I also get that, if I enroll a progress-deterringly high 60 people in a class, I’m going to lose nearly every one of them because a class that big is going to come with about 65-70% attrition.

In the case of ABC Company, I ran my Saturday classes the way I wanted to run them … and we were seen as a failure because we didn’t enroll even half the people they wanted us to enroll.  We didn’t get refunded.

The Literacy Zone funding isn’t like ABC Company’s funding.  State Ed is actually one of my favorite funders.  But I can’t stop thinking about the difficulties of having to run around looking for money under every governmental and family foundation rock.  I am fortunate to have a boss in my current job who doesn’t believe in playing Twister with her programs to fit funder guidelines.  I worry, however, that we may all be pushed to abandon our positions on this shaky moral high ground if the economy doesn’t turn around soon.

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Yesterday I wrote a tanka to start the month, but was so beat when I got home I was too tired to get online and post it.  So here, a day late, is my May Day tanka²:

dogwoods are blooming
open in pink, cream and green
it’s the first of May
this morning’s light and easy
and pinch-tipped blooms make me smile

 

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¹  Don’t ask me to remember what the acronym stands for.  New York Association (?) of Continuing and C_____ (Community?) Education … Something big and inclusive like that.

²  Alejna has also written a May Day poem (I’m so happy to see more and more people writing tanka!).  Along with her tanka, she has posted the quite strange and fabulous video for Safety Dance.  Excuse me while I go watch it again … I will be singing that song for the rest of the day!