Monday, October 19, 2009


Today was the third day of our cold, rainy long weekend here in Maryland. Desperate to entertain our restless preschoolers, my husband and I took them to the mall. Wonder of wonders, we discovered that our high-maintenance children are finally old enough to play quietly at the train table long enough for me to browse in the children's section! Before my blissful browsing time was finally cut short by my son's proclamation of "Ew, stinky diaper," I had amassed a big armful of books to buy with a big, fat gift certificate from my boss, and I am still on a big high. (Writer in bookstore, kid in candy store -- I am equally dangerous in both situations.)

This week we honor the National Day on Writing.  Tomorrow is the official day of observation per resolution of the U.S. Senate (!), and I'm sure my English 101 students will be observably more thrilled about their classification essay assignment when I tell them of this momentous occasion.  When (if) someone asks about the preposition (why 'on' and not 'of'?), I will have to admit that I am mystified.  Anyone?

Like the fervent exercisers among us, there are those who can't start the day without committing their daily 500 words to paper.  Then there are the rest of us (professionals and students alike), who have lots to say but might need some measure of encouragement/prodding to get through the whole sweaty ordeal to the Finished Product. 

This day is for you (and me).  As in a 5-mile run, endorphins and that elusive high may or may not materialize, but at the very least, completion of a writing exercise will provide immediate beneficial results.

Last night I was ellipticizing to The New Yorker (blissful apart from the elliptical part) and found not one but two articles about children's books.  The first, nominally about Alloy Entertainment, essentially addresses the question of why kids read and why we write for them.  The second article, possibly even more interesting to me as the parent of a "willful" child (and on some days, two), discussed picture books as mirrors on the parenting trends of our times and the messages they send to our kids (and to us).

My children's preschool held its weeklong book fair recently, and my daughter begged daily that we buy her a copy of A Bad Case of Stripes. She is a huge fan of the No, David series (natch), and at the end of the week, she was finally rewarded for her patience.  I read her the book that night, and she was mesmerized until halfway through, when she became freaked out.  "I don't ever want to read that book again," she declared.  I put it away until she's a bit older and didn't think of it again for several weeks.

Meanwhile, I was browsing at the book fair in question when I got a call that there had been a staffing emergency at the community college where I'd previously taught.  I happily agreed to cover a class already in progress, though the ensuing childcare juggling meant that Kate had to go to beforecare at her preschool on two days.  These made for long days for a little girl and, while she ADORES her school and her teachers and was soon begging to go... at night, she started sleeping in our room.  We were tired, we were cranky, and my back really hurt by the time 5 a.m. rolled around and we had 4 people and 1 cat in our (not king-sized) bed. 

Kate now suddenly insisted that her room was scary and she "hated" it.  I did the math and figured that she must have developed a bad case of clinginess due to the extra hours at school.  Finally, on questioning about what was so scary about her room, one day she burst into tears and said, "We should have bought the The Star Wars book!"  My exasperated husband explained that he had joked that he would buy her this instead of the book she'd been begging for for days.  And suddenly it all made sense.  She was petrified.  It had all started at the book fair -- because, as she had already told me clearly, that book had scared her!

As I tell my students, words are powerful things (words like "liberal," "socialist," "fascist," "racist" -- how many of us reflexively cringe without really considering what they mean?).  Stories and books, a compilation of carefully chosen words, are exponentially more so -- especially if we are four years old and already spend half the day in the world of pretend.

And so, bearing the sacredness of your mission in mind at all times -- write on!

Writing Workout

In an effort to help my students avoid cliches, I asked them to write about fall and avoid the following words:
crisp, clear, clean, cool, colorful

I am teaching a class on writing college essays and scholarly papers, and one of my students wrote a lovely poem.  I love fall!  And I love teaching!

1 comment:

April Halprin Wayland said...

Yes, yes! Why IS it called National Day ON Writing, for heaven's sake?