Inspiration and Reflection through Art

Arguably van Gogh’s last painting, “Tree Roots”

Laying yourself bare.

#forestbathing

Inspired by the palate.

This painting struck me this morning. Maybe because it’s spring. Maybe because I am about to take a hike with my pup. Maybe because it makes me think how I can use art with teachers and students to inspire writing. Maybe because it expresses raw emotion and vulnerability. It’s really all of these.

The beauty and wonder – to me – of visual art, is that it is open to so many interpretations and analysis. The latter was more limited as an art history student in my undergrad, the former allows for more freedom of thought. I can imagine art historians and scholars researching van Gogh’s letters and missives that reveal his state of mind towards the end of his life – exposing everything, and realizing life or his own fractured mind has nothing more to give. I can see this, but I also reflect on the beauty of this painting – exposure and vulnerability. Here I am. This is me.

Through writing publically, I am learning to share bits and pieces of myself that were formerly reserved for a journal or for private conversations. The sense of freedom, growth, and humanness I have gained in sharing my thoughts has truly changed my life perspective.

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Willpower?

All things dark chocolate

Salted caramel

Ben & Jerry

Disciplined, health-conscious, feel good during the day

Walk, hike, spin, stretch

Feel great!

Home

Comfy clothes

Dinner

Cozy

And the sugar cycle begins

Is it will power? Is it brain power? Do I quit cold turkey?

How do I break the cycle?

Help!

Thank you

Thank you https://twowritingteachers.org/ for providing this inspirational and generous opportunity

Thank you Slicers for writing your creative, inspired, and imaginative words and responding with generous feedback

Thank you, Adrienne, for nudging me. I am so lucky to call you a dear friend.

Thank you all for opening my heart, soul, and brain to the magic of this writing community

Thank you for the endless ideas that I can bring to teachers and classrooms in our collective and tireless quest to nurture writing motivation, engagement, and, ultimately, love.

Writing changes our lives. Like a pebble in a pond, the ripples reach out and touch others to change the world.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” This quote from Anne Frank represents what I have come to realize through this 31 day commitment. It has opened my world to a more contented place. I even revealed that to my husband this morning 🙂

For all of this I am beyond grateful.

And from Anne Frank to Devin K. in Virginia, “We’re all just stories in the end, just make it a good one.”

A Rebirth

Some dogs are swimmers, some dogs are waders. Bodhi is the latter.

Jack (my husband), Bodhi (our dog), and I went on on hike on the most gorgeous day of the new year. Almost 70 degrees and sunny. As we walked along the trail we looked at each other and chuckled because we kept drawing deep breaths. It felt like we were coming up for air after being trapped in an airless, musty room for too long. I’m grateful that we live where we do in New England, being able to fully enjoy all four seasons. I love the start of each new season wondering what it will bring. Today was a perfect beginning.

Ebb and Flow

On my walk this afternoon after school, I came to the beach. The tide was lower, the sand was smooth, and very gentle waves were lapping the shore which was studded with slipper shells. Standing there, watching, I was reminded of my daughter who I heard crying the other night with her boyfriend. The next morning I asked how she was doing, that I had heard her upstairs.

“Is everything OK?”

“I got a 67 on an assignment.”

She’s in grad school working towards her MSW and is consistently an A student – so you can imagine her disappointment.

“What happened?”

“APA is what happened.”

“Aha.”

This particular professor apparently takes citing sources very correctly very seriously 🙂 My daughter got a bit complacent. We proceeded to have a discussion about the importance of failure, learning from mistakes, etc. She wasn’t happy. She “yeahed” me but was still upset, of course. I know she understands and won’t make that same mistake twice. I tell her how proud I am of her.

The next day she got word that an article she wrote via her internship was being published in a well-respected journal. Wow. Still in school and PUBLISHED!! How proud am I?

Standing at the shore watching the water; back and forth, ebb and flow. Just like life.

The Importance of Audience

Many school districts are in the midst of various forms of non-fiction units. Ours included. We are exploring persuasive NF writing currently and in two of my classrooms today, we needed midworkshop teaching points centered around the importance of audience. The majority of students needed reminders to be thinking about who they were writing to so they can best persuade their specific audience to take action. We know that when students have a specific audience to write to they are more motivated, engaged, and invested. They write with more stamina and greater volume. All good.

What do you see?


I walk and hike a lot. I used to run but it’s no longer an option unless I want to endure bone-on-bone knee pain. I don’t. When I started walking more I started to look up more instead of always looking down at the ground. It changed my perspective. It creates calm. I remember to take deep breaths and be more mindful. More reflective and grateful. The wide open sky can do that.

Today my walk took me to the beach. This was my view. Beautiful isn’t it? The first thing I “saw” in the wide open sky were my parents. Their energy. Which made me smile. Then someone commented on the photo and told me when a tiny blue dot appears in a picture it means someone is paying a visit. Do you see it there in the foreground?

So when you are on your next walk, look up. You may be surprised by what that wide open sky reveals.

Stealing from Stacey Shubitz


Blatantly and unapologetically stolen from Stacey Shubitz’s slice today.

This is a quote I haven’t heard before, but it resonates loudly. I’m a close relative of someone who has continuously placed blame on their parents for their own shortcomings, failures – ya know – life’s bad stuff. Sorry, but many people who married in the 50’s were barely out of their teens and having babies very soon after. They were so young, making young mistakes. The stage was set for being somewhat ill-equipped to deal in a healthy way with marriage and raising kids. That said, it is not pretty when you’re in your 30’s, then 40’s, then – dare I say – 50’s blaming your folks (now deceased) for your “lot in life.” I would often say, after each relapse, “You were dealt these cards (Honestly, just as the parents were), now it’s up to YOU to play them differently.”

This blame was something I couldn’t relate to as much because I came to understand the parents. They were doing the best they could. It took them until they were much older – post-divorce – to figure things out and make amends. Oh, believe me, I’m no know-it-all. I can play the bitter card, too. Life is hard. But we are all responsible for our decisions and working on bettering ourselves. I’m happy to say this relative has – at almost 60 – figured this out. The blame game is played no longer.

And something that took me a long time to learn (and it takes PRACTICE) has changed my perspective 180 degrees. Many consider this a platitude or cliche, but when I became sober it became a mantra that I live by: “It’s the journey, not the destination.” It was an “aha” moment that I finally “got” so I started living this way. I am a life-long learner who wants to constantly learn and practice and love. I appreciate and am grateful every day for what I do and have. I am responsible and competent and am capable of moving beyond the past in a healthy way. I don’t blame my people or circumstances. I was dealt the hand and am playing the hell out of those cards.

Frustration with flash drafts – A symptom of the disease

So, I opened an email from an 8th grade teacher this morning with the subject line, “I hate the flashdraft!” Then, the body:

“First of all, the amount of whining is obnoxious.  Secondly, most kids have one crappy paragraph.  I just feel like it’s a waste of time.  Ugh. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow with assessing and setting goals…”

(The assignment: to compare two dystopian books they’ve read in the reading unit)

Clearly, this teacher is frustrated and rightly so. My first reaction is that our middle schoolers don’t do enough on-demand writing. This year, I’ve introduced writing warm-ups, and Linda Rief’s Quick Writes to MS teachers in an attempt to increase student motivation, engagement, stamina, and volume. These practices are working – but not when it comes to the subject of this Slice.

My second realization is that the writing instruction we do at the MS level is very structured – not enough time spent collecting ideas and drafting. We collect for a bit and then it’s on to minilessons taught on essay (or whatever genre) structure which then turns into a lot of time conferring (a good thing) and rinse and repeat. Our MS teachers are doing great with creating effective and purposeful mentor texts and modeling, but the “sitting with the writing” time that “real” writers do is very limited. How do you do it all in 52 minutes? And this is why there is an over emphasis on teaching and re-teaching structure as core instructional practice in writing units. (I’m exposing vulnerability here because I feel like a more effective coach would have focused on this previously. But, honestly, this morning’s email and writing this Slice have brought it all bubbling to the surface.)

This concentration has led our students to hate the “drafting a whole piece process” because they are uncomfortable with it. They whine. They complain that they don’t know what to write. They are afraid of “doing it wrong.” Of getting a bad grade (which they don’t even receive on a draft!!). Jeez. Writing this out is making me think that we are unsuccessful in creating 21st century risk-takers, students who are able to persevere and keep going through the muck – things that our district espouses.

As a coach, I need to figure this out. As a coach, I need to help my teachers feel more successful with the process. As a coach, I need to look at our curriculum and instruction to see where we can devote more time to the beginning stages of the writing process – collecting ideas, developing, planning, and drafting. But, as a coach, I’m not sure where to go next because our students at this level need to learn the foundations of essay writing (isn’t this the “right” way to teach – hook, reasons, evidence, analysis, thesis, body paragraphs, topic sentences, conclusions, etc.??) before we jump into Marchetti and O’Dell’s Beyond Literary Analysis – or do they????

Feedback and advice is generously appreciated.