– Stories, built

My MIT friend and colleague, Lisa Dush, also runs Storybuilders, which helps organizations and individuals make digital stories. In January, I went with her to Washington, DC to work with the staff of College Summit, a really cool nonprofit organization that works with high schools to raise their college-ready culture and get more kids into college. For two full days, we worked with the six staff members on developing and revising their stories, recording the audio tracks, uploading photo files into the video software, and constructing the mix of words, sound, images, and effects. Later, Lisa worked with the College Summit folks on production.

She recently sent me a link to the finished stories! Here is Darin’s on College Summit alumni leaders. Even though I heard Darin read his story aloud many times during workshop, and also looked over his shoulder as he sorted through images, I was surprised and moved by several moments. This is a powerful testament to peer mentors (and superhero underpants).

More of the College Summit stories can be found at the Storybuilders’ site on Vimeo.

– It’s here! It’s here!

The table of contents is here!

Those are the words that rung through my mind’s ear as I opened issue number nine of P•M•S poemmemoirstory and saw my name in the table of contents next to “Little Creatures,” an essay on lice and love.

I was thinking of the early scene in the Steve Martin movie, The Jerk, in which the phone book arrives and Navin Johnson cavorts in joy: “The new phonebook is here! The new phonebook is here!” (Relive it at 1:24 in this trailer.) His name, in print! My name, in print!

Alas, though, it’s only a name. If you want to read my essay on experiences delousing my three children, leave me a comment with your e-mail address and a PDF will be yours.

And if you came here looking for the BEST LICE TREATMENT or a LICE REMOVAL MACHINE, which are among the top search strings that lead people to my blog, then let me give you the information you came for: Continue reading

– Lover of carrots

In my house, I have frequently been called “Lover of Carrots,” or “LoC” for short. Honestly.

And I do love carrots. I eat them raw every day. (My limit is a half-bag of those baby ones.) They taste good; they’re a habit; and — I also realized on Monday, when I felt overwhelmed by every work, house, and family task on my list — the chewing is a release of tension. Mouth exercise?

Perhaps it is not so illogical, then, that I thoroughly loved my raw food/vegan meal at Grezzo Restaurant in Boston, even though I am not currently a vegetarian. And that I had such wonderful company in my friend, and movie partner-in-crime, Betsy Boyle, helped.

– Your attention, please

Thank you for your attention to my work.

That’s the line that ended the cover letter I sent with an essay to an editor who had read “Tethered” online, dropped me an e-mail, and encouraged me to send her something else. (I finally did.)

I stared at that sentence for a long time. Yes, it is gracious — anyone who went to public school in an era when students learned to compose and format a letter (do you know what the five parts are called?) — and concludes the body of the letter appropriately.

I wondered, though, as I stared and stared at the line, if that’s what I really want: attention.

A writer cannot actually be a writer without an audience. While I and others might write to organize our thoughts (see Seth Godin), I could also do that in a private journal. But that for me would not be enough. An idea written down is not somehow alive unless someone reads it.

Is that the secret function of an audience? Attention? I think of that as something children want. And yet there I was, grateful for it. Continue reading

– If you teach

… you may be interested in this short article, written by me and friend & colleague Lowry Pei and published this week in Tomorrow’s Professor.  It’s on ways to use informal writing and peer response in any class you teach, in any discipline.

Excerpt, Ways to Teach Peer Writing and Response:

Writing’s role in critical thinking and learning has been well documented, and it has important social and pedagogical functions as well. Collaborative writing and peer responding helps to create the network of relationships that makes a class succeed. Informal writing and small group work varies the classroom experience and transfers more responsibility to students. Even in large lecture courses, in-class writing and response time fosters ideas, problem-solving, and playfulness and makes a space for everyone to say something to someone. From our own practices and from colleagues’ across the disciplines, we’ve assembled a kit of basic principles and tested exercises that could help teachers consolidate and improve the ways they teach peer writing and response in any course, with any size class, at any level of student mastery.

This one — like another piece on teaching writing we published in October 2007 — also goes to eleven.

– Rejection is exasperating.

After my “On Lice” essay received notification of rejection from the journal I sent it to back in August, yeah, I was disappointed for about a day. Let down.

Not personally hurt, though, or even stung. By the next day, my feelings had turned into exasperation, like Grace’s here.


Grace, collapsed on the lawn in front of some public monument in Ottawa. August 2008.

Who has time for being rejected? Not me.

Being rejected is totally impractical. It means that one has to try again, at an activity — seeking prospects, and preparing the manuscript for submission — that adds on time to the time it took to write the thing.  And, therefore, it takes time away from other things I might do. Continue reading

– Bodies are weird

These few lines are from a conversation that Jimmy and I had in our upstairs hallway this morning.  It happened to be about menstruation, but it just as easily could have been about sex, psychopharmacology, or even double-jointedness.

Jimmy: Bodies are weird.

Jane: That may be because we think of them weirdly.

Jimmy: And that would be because of our bodies.


And speaking of bodies…

“Tethered to the Body,” an essay on my adjustment to wearing an insulin pump and its affect on my sense of (sexual) self, appears in the fall 2008 issue of Bellevue Literary Review. The full version is not online.  You can get the journal at bookstores, or you can e-mail me and I’ll send you a PDF.  In the meantime, here’s the first paragraph:

A $6,000 insulin pump with an on-board computer chip is not alluring.  Neither is the white mesh adhesive patch on my naked abdomen or the length of nylon tubing that connects the patch to the pump.  There is only illness, and there is no way to make that sexy.  After several years as a medical device wearer, I know.

– Prompted by snow

The view of snow out of a second floor window into our backyard reminds me of other times, in other winters, I’ve stood at the same window and looked out on the same view. These linked memories seem to collapse time and heighten the present moment.

Snow out window, December 14

Yesterday I was the first adult home, and I dug out the driveway. This morning, I dug out a 600-word essay I wrote in mid-winter 2003 and tried to publish, in a local newspaper, in winter 2004. It seems fitting to publish it here today. Yes, it’s about snow, and something more.


Snow Hunger

February 2003

This morning, snow again. The branches of the bare and mature Japanese maple outside the girls’ window is furred with snow, as if the snow had grown there. The lower-growing junipers in the back, planted like fence posts in a line by the neighbors on the border of their yard and ours, are top-heavy with snow, their heads bowed in awe of the maple.

I say out loud to Grace, “Oh, look at the beautiful snow!” Almost three and unstoppable, Grace jumps off the low bed she is dancing on, steps onto the blue stool at the window, and blurts, “Oh, I hungry for it.” Her instant desire, I know, may have more to do with getting the snow into her mouth than appreciating its beauty, but I am instantly touched by her word choice, so more deeply true than “I want to eat it.”

I love the snow and the cold. Especially the snow. Last winter there was none that accumulated, and in this house we wished daily for it, watching the sky out our kitchen window as if we could discern the signs of weather. We wished for freezing temperatures, too, a long string of sub-freezing days and nights.

In December last I bought a backyard skating rink kit, and Eli, Lydia, and I assembled it in the backyard on an afternoon cold enough for coats and gloves but not too cold that it would have been unwise to run the hose for several hours. The water started running into the 17 x 21 foot form in mid-afternoon, and even at 9 p.m. Jimmy and I were still checking the progress of the fill. Moon glow and a backyard light shimmered on the water, yet we could not see well and so had to put a finger in to check how far to the top edge of the frame the water had reached. By our bedtime it was full. We turned off the hose, disconnected and drained it, and coiled it away in the garage for the winter, its last watering task done.

A day here and a day there, temperatures dropped below freezing. Through January, February, and March 2002, however, there was no trio of days cold enough to freeze such a large quantity of water. Nevertheless I loved looking out at that still, shallow pool every morning as I filled the pot to make coffee. I noticed the stray leaf or two that had fluttered down and settled to the bottom, a dark rotting brown against the slippery vinyl white. Some mornings there was a crust of ice; leaves and broken twigs rested lightly on it. Those days gave us hope for even colder weather, for a giant puddle to blossom into a skating surface, for a frosted patch to fill with bright, whirling parkas and a flash of skate blade and the shrieks of the neighborhood children convening in our yard.

The hope for cold and ice — for extreme weather — was the only hope last winter. I also remember sitting on the wooden steps leading from our porch into the backyard a few months earlier, on September 11, 2001. It was a stunning and clear afternoon, and I remember peering at the blue sky, the Japanese maple leaves not yet ready to turn from dark green into their autumn flame, and these words bursting into my thoughts: “I will never be happy again.”

One season later my daily wish for a certain kind of atmospheric condition, and the ice it could bring, lifted me. Better it was, I think now, that a sustained freeze never arrived. There was so much potential in that silent, inexpertly made pool of water.

Picture above, of the view from the window at 8 a.m. today, is by me. Picture below, of the tangle of tree branches seen through the same window, is by Lydia.

Snow on branches, December 14

– Tutor as tailor

My writing center colleague, Jane Hirschhorn, published her article, ESL and LD Students: Diverse Populations, Common Concerns,” in the fall issue of Praxis. Grounding her discussion in research and personal experience, Jane describes writing challenges shared by diverse students, and she offers tutoring strategies, with examples, that effectively serve them.

Her key metaphor, incidentally, is tutor as tailor, which reminds the reader that tutoring involves the art of seeing and serving each person uniquely.