On Writing and Testing

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You might have noticed I’ve been away for a while.  I’d like to tell you I was on sabbatical, traveling the world and learning all kinds of amazing things.  The truth is, I’ve been more like Ross and Rachel: on a break with intermittent surges of writing, some of which were blog related and others not.

I have been working on my book project, though I have to admit, not with the intensity it deserves.  Once the manuscript was complete, the fun part was over, and I was faced with what Terri Hendrix would call “the part that ain’t art.”  Trying to figure out how to get the work from my computer to the outside world, beautifully presented, on a limited budget, using technology far outside my comfort zone is intimidating to say the least.  For a time, the enormity of the task became overwhelming, and I turned my attention to other things while I gathered my inner resources to start again.  Luckily, I have some incredible “outer” resources who provided much needed encouragement and direction.  As it has before, Big Magic also stepped in and uncovered some hidden resources at exactly the right time.

I have also been teaching writing.  To fourth graders.  In Texas.  Where they will take a high-stakes standardized test very soon.  Few things bring me greater joy than writing with children. And few things can destroy that joy faster than high-stakes testing.  We are working on revising and editing skills: punctuation, grammar, word choice, and such.  It’s tedious work, beyond their developmental level if you ask me.  Of course, no one asked me.  My students are frustrated by a task that would, under different circumstances, help them find their voices and express their ideas to the world.  Luckily, children are resilient.  While they are not thrilled with the almost constant repetition of comma rules, they humor me, searching their mental data bases for why we should use a comma here instead of there.  In a few weeks the test will be over, and the mechanical workings of the English language will fade into the background.  Until they are in seventh grade.  When they take the next writing test.  Big Magic, if you’re listening, we could use some help here.

Which of the following BEST explains the frequent use of sentence fragments in the previous paragraph?

a) Rhetorical emphasis

b) Passive aggressive behavior toward high-stakes testing

c) All of the above

If you can answer this question correctly in the comments below by midnight CST on March 8, 2016, your name will be placed in a drawing for a $10 Starbucks gift card.  Low-stakes.  As it should be.

If you are an educator, I hope you survive testing season with your sanity and passion intact.

No matter who you are, I hope the approaching spring brings you warmth, joy, and renewal.  And blessings.  Many, many blessings.

Stories

You should write a book!  People tell me that a lot.  I don’t disagree, but I also don’t write books.  Or much of anything, really.  I should.  Writing is something I enjoy, and other people seem to enjoy reading what I write.  I guess it’s like a lot of things.  When I have more time… When the house is clean…  When I retire…  Finally, in the waning days of September, just as October approached, the stars aligned.

I retired a little over a year ago which means I have more time, and my house is clean, or at least as clean as my house ever is.  To tell you the truth, I probably still wouldn’t have sat down to write except for two emails that showed up, one right after the other.  The first one announced a “platform challenge,” a month-long, task-a-day roadmap to creating a writing platform.  It sounded like the very thing I needed to get me moving from thinking about writing to doing writing.  The second email was an advertisement for 40% off the new Elizabeth Gilbert book, Big Magic.  Even though I don’t write, I do read about writing, and the subtitle, Creative Living Beyond Fear, was the second kick in the pants I needed to get me to this point.  Apparently, Gilbert is some kind of writers’ psychic.  She managed to list every single excuse, fear, doubt, and imagined roadblock I had ever thought or uttered, from, “I’ll write when I have more time,” to “I’m too old to start.”  Coincidence?  Serendipity?  One of Squire Rushnell’s Godwinks?  Gilbert’s Big Magic?  Whatever you want to call it, those two emails moved me to action like nothing else ever has.

So, there it is.  The story of how I became a writer of material for public consumption with encouragement from Elizabeth Gilbert and step-by-step instruction from Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest.  It is unremarkable, maybe even a little boring.  But that’s okay.  It is a story just the same. And stories are important.  They give us insight to others, ourselves, and the world around us.  They preserve our history, reveal our humanity, and provide shared experiences we might not have otherwise.  They entertain us, soothe us, and inspire us.   

I hope this blog will become a place for stories to live.  A place where those who need a story can find one to read and those who need to tell a story can do so knowing there will be an audience.  So, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine if you prefer, and let’s share some stories.