Friday, October 26, 2012

Research: The Devil is in the Details...and Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!

This week Poetry Friday is hosted by
Linda at TeacherDance
--thanks, Linda!

All five of my fellow bloggers have weighed in on research and now it's my turn.  Jeanne Marie talks about research avoidance, Esther walks us through the research behind three of her books, Jill is adamantly in favor of research ("put a sock in it," she tells us if our inner voice downplays its importance), Mary Ann argues the importance of research like a lawyer fighting for her client's life, and Carmela gives us a terrific trio of research resources.

Since I seem to be confessing sins lately, I'll get this out of the way fast: does anyone else ever get scared because you know that deep, down, you're really a fraud?  Here are two worries in the whispery-thicket of my mind, keeping me from that research phone call or email:
  • What do you mean, call the zoo and ask the herpetologist my question?  Who am I?!?!?  I'm nobody!
  • How can I interview a group of seventh grade girls? What if this never gets published?  They'll feel betrayed!
I can't tell you how many books I've done copious research for, most of that research saved on my computer.  I've interviewed rock and mineral experts, my 91-year-old Uncle Davie about flying bombers in WWII and pitching sparkling strands of tin foil out of the fuselage to mess up enemy radar.
This is my favorite photo of Uncle Davie, taken when he was 85.

I've emailed middle school girls and their mothers about body image, I've researched compulsive overeating, anorexia, alopecia, snakes, floods, tashlich, Passover food, Hawaiian hikes, foods that have holes in them (Swiss cheese, olives, bagels, dried apple rings, red and green bell peppers, pineapple rings, bundt cake and cherry lifesavers for dessert.) and so much more--oy!

Research, for me, comes down to the beauty of finding that one defining detail.

In researching Girl Coming in for a Landing, I spent a day at Magruder Middle School in Torrance, CA on the first day of school.  
Throughout the day I was allowed to interview individual students in each grade about how they prepared for the first day, how scared they were, etc.

Here is the pair of poems that made the book:


Last year
I worried about where the rooms were
and all     those      kids. 
I didn't know
what kind of binder to buy (three ring?)
or how much lunch money to bring.

Last year I got my hair cut the day before school started.
Dumb me. 
It was way    too    short that first day.

And last year I didn't know if I should buy new jeans
or if my comfortable overalls would be dorky…
or even if anyone cared.

Last year I wasn't sure what time to set my alarm.
Last year
I was scared.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *  


This year
I've got the perfect organizer
with pockets for every subject (except PE).

This year                                        
I ironed my lavender shirt three days ago
and laid everything out last night.

This year
I set the alarm for six forty-five:
just right.

This year
I got my hair cut two weeks ago
so that it is exactly the right length today.

This year
I have Mr. C for science
Mr. Barton from Tennessee for language arts

and Ms. Konigsberg
for chorus.

Last year I worried: Who was I?  What did I know?
This year
I put on glitter ChapStick and go!

poems (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.

So...besides the alternating inner turmoil and confidence the kids expressed, what was that one defining detail I discovered that day? 
Glitter ChapStick. 

Who knew?  It didn't exist when I went to school.  How would I know about that? And of course, that's precisely the point--I wouldn't.

Writing Workout: The Devil is in the Details

 Here's today's assignment:

1) Choose a topic you're working on or pull one out of the sky: cats, schools in Croatia, comic strips, how to grow asparagus--it doesn't matter.

2) Now, give yourself a reasonable amount of time to research it--30 minutes? A day? Two months?  It depends on the project--you decide. 

3) Google it, email a friend who knows the field, go to your local dog park and talk to owners, ask to speak with the woman who runs your school district's vegetable garden program.

4) Your goal is to find one killer detail.  Something that sparks you, as glitter ChapStick ignited me.

5) Now, write a poem or start a picture book with this detail in mind.

Write, my children, write!  And remember to breathe.  And to remember to write with joy!
drawing (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland. 
If you use this drawing, please give credit.  Thank you!


Jill said...

Oh, April! Love the glitter chapstick. Weird, isn't it, how one little detail can make such a huge difference?

Jill, who also feels like a fraud half the time

Carmela Martino said...

>>I can't tell you how many books I've done copious research for, most of that research saved on my computer.<<
Same here, April, and it sometimes makes me feel like a fraud, too. But I keep hoping that I will eventually use some of that wonderful material.
And I agree with Jill about the glitter chapstick. As you say, "the devil is in the details."

Linda B said...

I do know about glitter chapstick because I've taught those middle schoolers for a long while. But, there are many other things I don't know, like how it is to be in jail, what it is like to work in a retail store, why some ink stays on the page, & some washes out with moisture. I loved the parts you shared April, & the two poems have been ones I've shared with teachers since I moved out of the classroom because I've read your book & shared it a bunch. I can tell you did your research! Thanks for this, for reminding again of its importance.

Violet N. said...

I'm going to remember this business of the one telling detail. Thank you!

Violet N.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Jill and Carmela--now I don't feel so alone in the Feels Like a Fraud club!

And'm so flattered that you share my book and poems. I am smiling...

Violet--yep. One detail. Thanks for stopping by!

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Lovely post, April! I love the gems from the middle school girls - and the poems in Girl Coming in for A Landing. I treasure that book!
As a journalist writing fiction, research is second nature to me.
And that glitter lip gloss is fabulous!

iza said...

Lovely and inspiring pair of poems, April! And I love how you dive into your research!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Guilty confession: I never research.

On second thought: I often research, but not in the typical ways, and because my time to Write is so limited, much of my research is internal. There's a reason the blog is called "my juicy little universe"--I wouldn't claim to know about anything that was further out than about three experiential feet. However, in this field, I think I'm an expert. Am I also a fraud? Extremely thought-provoking post, April.

Thanks for your comment on my New York poem. I'm glad my words carried so much of that experience directly to you--that's what I was encouraging the 8th graders to hear and create in their poems!