Friday, April 9, 2021

YAY! and HOORAY! It’s our 12th Blogiversary!

 According to my trusty calendar, come April 22, my fellow 

TeachingAuthors and I have been posting for TWELVE years!

YAY! and HOORAY!

My opening sentence deserves 11 more exclamation points, plus 

one for Good Luck.


Traditionally, anything silk celebrates a 12th anniversary.

Here’s a photo of several of us raising our voices in thanks 

to our trusty and trusted incomparable Administrator and Founder, 

Carmela Martino, who continues to make sure our weekly posts 

unfold as smooth as silk.

To celebrate, for the next 4 weeks, each TeachingAuthor will share 

another TeachingAuthor’s post she especially holds dear.

It goes without saying: all of my fellow bloggers en-courage-ed me 

to raise my voice and share my Writer’s Life and Truths with our 

Readers.

I’ve always been in awe of both April’s oh, so poetic posts and her

fearlessly-and-fiercely-acquired illustration skills.

Her October 23, 2020 post, however – “Hop to it!” -  had me printing 

her fortifying words pronto and keeping them nearby in case my voice 

faltered.


Here’s April’s original poem “Exercising My Voice” from Sylvia Vardell’s 

anthology A WORLD FULL OF POEMS.

Thank you, Readers, for twelve glorious years!

And thanks to Tabatha Yeatts for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.


Esther Hershenhorn

Thursday, April 1, 2021

National Poetry Month, Poetry Friday, and a Book Giveaway!

Happy National Poetry Month! Happy Poetry Friday! You might remember me as a former Teaching Author. Today, I'm back to visit and celebrate.

Happy spring! Here in Wisconsin, spring weather means alternating between basking in delicious sunlight and piling on warmer clothes.


boing

sproing

spring bounces

dances 

gallops through gardens

leaving green footprints



Signs of spring are popping up all over! We have lots to celebrate today—including a giveaway of my new picture book Grow, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman and published by Boyds Mills & Kane. With a multicultural cast of characters and STEAM-related content, Grow is a celebration of the wondrous ways young animals and people grow into unique individuals. 




Inspired by encounters with wildlife in woods and ponds and our own backyard, Grow began long ago as a message of hope for our two young sons, who are now grown and on their own. Never give up!

Poetry Friday!

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading has today's Poetry Friday Roundup. Enjoy!

Book Giveaway!

Enter the giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Grow! The giveaway ends April 16, 2021 and is open to U.S. residents only.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below. (If the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.) You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. Here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address

If you choose option 2, you must leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post, on the TeachingAuthors Facebook page, or in an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. If you submit your comment via email or Facebook, you must still enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. 

Good luck!

JoAnn


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 26, 2021

Saving the Heart of a School Year With the Power of Story

 

On March 13th of last year, I said “so long for now” to my transitional kindergarteners/kindergarteners in Los Angeles.  It was supposed to be for two weeks, but doubt tugged at the edges of my mind.  I stayed late that day and collected everything that meant anything to me and packed it into my car.  I really wasn’t sure when we were coming back.





Even the thought of two weeks online without any preparation or direction was daunting.  How would I preserve the heart of my little community that we had worked so hard to nurture? 

My wide-eyed, five-year-olds had spent six months  learning to connect, communicate, and create together.  Stories kept them bound to each other. Braided together by three-quarters of a year,  they had learned that their stories were valuable and listening to each other’s stories was equally so.  We had created an artery from which those stories flowed straight to the heart of our class, keeping us alive and nourished.

The expectations for teachers on that first Monday of virtual class, March 16, 2020 were high but undefined, ambiguous, and undetermined. There was no roadmap. No guideposts. No precedence that we knew of (a year later it turns out that this is not the first time in history that schools were shuttered because of a pandemic.)  I didn’t even have the proper technology to switch to virtual teaching. 


But, when it comes to children, it’s often very simple.  As long as you speak to their hearts and can hear their hearts beat back,  you can’t go wrong.  Those last three months were painful for all of us. The  simple answer at the time was to hold onto storytelling.  It was our life raft that we rode to the other side.



I began the new school year in August with the same intent, creating a new artery with a different set of young storytellers.  Beginning with four and five-year-olds who had never been in formal school was like the clichรฉ, “building the plane while flying it.” 


I did not have the advantage of beginning with a group of students in-person and finishing up online.  This was a whole new frontier. How could I bring this group together and create cohesion amongst young children who were still at the beginning of their development in terms of social skills? Most importantly, could I save the school year with the power of story? Could we build that artery like I had the year before? I was unsure.

I am a big believer in the power of story and so my lack of direction led me to my most basic core value as both a teacher and an author.  Stories are the only thing we leave behind when our time on this earth has been completed.  The stories other people tell about us and the life we led is our only true legacy after we are long gone.  Learning to tell our stories and to recognize the stories of others is the essence of humanity.

Stories define us and dare us to dream.  They simultaneously connect us to each other and allow us to shine individually as we explore our own narratives.  Stories are perhaps the most powerful thing that humans create.  They are what set us apart from other species.  They are how we communicate to each other, to our young, and across generations and centuries.  They defy time and space.


 I believe that the art of storytelling is the most basic skill that children need.  Most academic subjects flow from story and narrative. And so, I travelled deep down to the memory of the lifeblood that flowed through that artery that  I had created the year before under much different circumstances. When faced with the dilemma of what I would teach my young students  virtually, my path led me back to keeping our humanity.  Preserving our humanity with stories that flowed through the artery would sustain us and learning lessons that reached beyond, writing, and arithmetic would save the heart of our education. 

The media says that we have lost a year of learning,  but I disagree.    

The students in my class this year have learned to tell their stories to each other. We have not lost.  We have gained. I believe we have gained  back our heart in education. I believe we have  preserved our humanity. What really makes us human? Standards and tests? Data and criteria? Or stories that create a rich tapestry of existence.

 My students paused and observed things around them that they would never have noticed in the hustle and bustle of their typical lives. Our community has been able to notice the details of their personal stories that they usually don’t have time for, as life rushes by.  More importantly, we have grown our relationships and have created rich narratives.  

We have not lost. Perhaps we have shed the things that have cluttered the “being” part of human being and travelled down to our true heart where stories keep us alive and will for generations to come . . . and then some.


Stories are the lifeblood that flow through the artery. They feed the heart of education which is our humanity. Isn’t that the true purpose of education?  I’d like to think so.

Posted by Zeena M. Pliska

For more information about my picture books and teaching experiences click www.zeenamar.com

If the videos don't play for you above.  You can click on them below.



And if the picture book trailer for Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story from my previous post didn't play, you can click on the link below.


Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story 

Written by Zeena M. Pliska and illustrated by Fiona Halliday

Published by Page Street Kids

Video created by  Kyle Ragsdale  kyleragsdalevfx.com

Friday, March 19, 2021

1 Day, 2 shots, 3 teachers: So Grateful!

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to PF are below)

This round, we’re sharing “Matters of the Heart”๐Ÿ’•. Esther starts us off in her characteristically generous, loving manner, offering three books that keep her heart beating;: Of, By and For Our Reader’s,Writer’s and Teacher’s Hearts; as she takes time off from this blog (I miss her already), Bobbi shares a song I’ve fallen in love with, Baba Yetu, in her very short post, Song of the Week: Here’s to You!;  Mary Ann, who always writes honestly from her heart, shares old family photos as she chronicles her process of returning to writing in Welcoming Home the Prodigal Heart; and Carmela shares two original haiku inspired by a prompt on Storystorm in her post, #TwoHaikuFromTwo.

And me? As a spring breeze of hope blows across my face, three things come to mind when I hear the word "heart"...

1. Heartbreak: March 7, 2020 ~ the last time I taught in person at UCLA.๐Ÿ’”

I thought I was so clever putting up this sign to keep our classroom safe that day     :

Pl                                                Please read the exciting tale of
                                   ALCOHOL AND KLEENEX ~ A LOVE STORY 
· Pour a small amount of alcohol in your palm.
· Wash" your hands the same way you would with soap and water (the classic love story you may be more familiar with). 
· Let your hands air dry completely.  Do not rub them on your clothes to dry. 
                                          Thank you.

(We live and learn: I quickly stopped using alcohol. Anyone need a bottle? I have extra.)

There are many markers for when, exactly, the pandemic began in the US. The consensus is March 11, 2020. I was haunted recently, thinking back...it felt as if it had been at least two years. Or ten. I wrote this poem March 11, 2021:

THIS DAY

by April Halprin Wayland

This day.

This day a year ago

(or maybe more? Am I remiss?)

We stood upon a precipice

and knew not this:

this day the route was stayed, dismissed.

We thought it was the way but no—

it was the cliff.

2. ๐Ÿ’•Take Heart: Two shots!๐Ÿ’•

Now, thanks to the policies of a human, humane POSTUS, I’m double-vaccinated, as is my husband. And though we know democracy is not and has never been a spectator sport, still, my heart beats with hope for our country. Soon we may have a big, warm hug with our son and his beloved (he's an ER doc in Albuquerque, we live in Southern California)!

3. ๐Ÿ‘ชFrom Heart Burn to Open Hearted: Three Musketeers teach a three-hour class๐Ÿ‘ช

In the writing/teaching realm, my heart is filled with affection and appreciation for... 

                             
Alexis O'Neill ~ photo by Sonya Sones

and 

                                                                 

...two dear friends with whom I've been teaching intro to picture book class for absolute beginners each spring for many years. This quarter, UCLA Extension Writers' Program asked us to condense our one-day eight hour class into a one-day, three hour class.

Did you catch that? From eight hours down to three.

How were we going to teach everything a beginning picture book writer wants to know but is afraid to ask in THREE hours?

ACK! There's so much students won't be getting. 

But as every seasoned teacher knows, that's nothing new, right? Learning what to leave out is part of teaching. It's just that remote classes gobble up time like bears gobbling blueberries

Once we agreed that stuffing eight hours into three was like stuffing a dictionary into a thimble, we ripped up our syllabus and our carefully paced 8-hour schedule, created a tear in the space-time continuum,

...and crawled through.

And now it feels as if we've birthed something new. It's exciting!  So...if you know someone who doesn't know ANYTHING about picture books but is curious, please tell them about our class ~ just $30 for 3 hours. It'll be an adventure. Tell them to join us!  

Here's our flyer with Barney's fabulous illustration:

UCLA EXTENSION WRITERS' PROGRAM PRESENTS:

INTRODUCTION TO WRITING CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS
A BASIC WORKSHOP FOR ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS

Saturday, April 3, 2021, 12-3pm PST
$30

You have the dream~ I've always wanted to write a children's picture book. 
But how? This inspiring class offers you practical tools to help you realize that dream. It includes writing exercises, examples of current picture books and behind-the-scenes stories and advice from award-winning authors. By the end of this class you'll have tools to guide you in this vibrant field.

Instructors:
Seasoned teachers and award-winning children's picture book creators
Alexis O'NeillBarney Saltzberg and April Halprin Wayland 

Please understand that learning to write a picture book in three hours
is like speed-dating a cheetah on roller skates. Downhill. 
Still, the chase will be quite exciting!

Enrollment is limited.
https://ucla.in/3eUCzWU
...................................................................................................

Many thanks to RhymeZone and its "find phrases with the word heart in it" option.

Now it's your turn: if you were to list 3 things that changed your heart this past year, what would they be?

Thank you to Linda for hosting Poetry Friday at TeacherDance this week!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with the help of Sheldon, our 20-year-old tortoise, who came out of hibernation today to assist with all his heart.



Friday, March 12, 2021

Two #HaikuFromTwo--from the Heart

Happy Poetry Friday! Today I share two original haiku as I continue our series on "matters of the heart." Esther kicked off this topic the week of Valentine's Day by discussing three books that have recently touched her reader's heart. I'm taking a slightly different view, talking instead about my writer's heart, as Mary Ann did in her post.

I mentioned back in December that one of the things I was looking forward to in 2021 was "becoming even more steeped in poetry, both reading and writing it." I'm happy to say I've been following through on that intention. So I was especially pleased when I read a Storystorm 2021 post by Amanda Davis in which she described her #HaikuFromTwo challenge as a way to find story ideas. Here's the graphic she shared in her post:


I loved the idea! At the time, I was reading From the Desk of Zoe Washington (Katherine Tegen Books) by Janae Marks The two random words my finger landed on were lemonade (page 77) and play (page 155). I came up with the following #HaikuFromTwo and Tweeted it on Feb. 3:

Next, I read the novel-in-verse Reenie’s Turn (Regal House Publishing) by my friend and fellow SCBWI-IL author Carol Coven Grannick. The random words I fell upon in that novel were mysterious (page 31) and window (page 150. On March 2, I Tweeted the following #HaikuFromTwo:

I really enjoyed writing these #HaikuFromTwo--they're a quick way to nourish my writer's heart. So I plan to keep writing them. You can follow me on Twitter if you'd like to see what I come up with next. (I also Tweet links to our latest TeachingAuthors posts there.)

Meanwhile, make sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup by Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe.


Happy writing!
Carmela

Friday, March 5, 2021

Welcoming Home the Prodigal Heart

 What keeps my writer's heart going?

Here is what I almost wrote:

Nothing keeps my writer's heart going. My writer's heart flatlined last March, the day the CDC announced that I was officially elderly and at risk.  Before last March, I thought of myself as a ten-year-old heart in a body of indeterminate age. Overnight, I became an old person who could die. My ten-year-old writer's heart curled up in a closet somewhere. Except for blog posts, I've written almost nothing since this time last year. 

Me, Carmela and April at a long ago conference

All the things that normally keep my "kid's heart" going...are gone. Young Writer's Camp. Didn't happen last summer, haven't heard about this year. Writer's group and conferences?  Gone or gone virtual. (I have difficulty hearing on Zoom.) Eavesdropping on random people. There are no random people because I don't leave the house unless it's a dire emergency. Talking to friends, over a glass of wine, meandering from subject to subject. (I mentioned my problems with Zoom, right?)

The world was so hateful and judgmental and scary...writing was the last thing I wanted to do. Not writing was the scariest thing of all, because writing is how I make sense of life. Now, the more I journaled, the less sense anything made.  Words not only failed me...I couldn't find words. I was using a thesaurus just to have a conversation with my husband. I couldn't remember why I ever thought I could write.

Maybe I couldn't write any more. 

Then something happened.

Yesterday morning, I started out on dire emergency errands...picking up prescriptions from various pharmacies. I left the house in cords and a flannel shirt. By the time I got home, the temperature was in the 70's and I was hot. So I changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and took my dog for a walk.

I wear shorts around the house in winter, because my husband insists on keeping the thermostat set to "The Tropics in July."  I walk my dog several times a day. Neither of these things are unusual. However, for the first time in months and months...I walked the dog while wearing shorts. A warm breeze tickled my knees. Boing! In an instant, I was ten years old again, wearing shorts after a winter of wool tights and storm boots. Free of slogging through slush and toe-freezing winds, I was barelegged and skipping along in my new Keds. (OK, yesterday I was wearing Vans.)

Mom and I brave another Chicago winter

My cousins and I (I'm the one shorts.)

My child's heart had returned. My inner ten-year-old is who writes my stories. Life was fascinating when I was ten, full of possibility and  hope, both sadly lacking this past year. Kids are all about hope. That's why I write for them and not their parents.

My family has been spared sickness this year, and for that I am truly thankful. But COVID and all the accompanying chaos did a number on my heart and soul. I thought my ten-year-old heart had packed her bags and hit the road, never to be seen again. 

My writer's heart has come out from wherever she was hiding, ready to hope again. And write. However, she needs time to recover. She might blow bubbles on the back porch.  Or dance around the den to her old Monkees albums.  She will most definitely re-read her favorite childhood books. And of course, dog walks in shorts and Keds. 

Some day, in-person writing conferences and long talks over wine will return. I've had vaccine shot number one, with number two scheduled for St. Patrick's Day. Until it's safe for me to re-enter the world, there is time to re-read the two best books ever written--Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy.  E.B. White and Louise Fitzhugh certainly knew how to keep their child hearts beating.


Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Friday, February 26, 2021

A Song of the Week: Here's to You!


Life has gotten a bit too demanding of late. Just wanted to let you know that I'll be taking a hiatus from Teaching Authors for a bit while I take care of a few things. Meanwhile, sent to me by my dear friend, code name Clara, I'll leave you with this shivery tear-worthy song. It will certainly make your week. It did mine!


Hope all is going well with you, and I'll see you soon!

--Bobbi Miller




Friday, February 19, 2021

Of, By and For Our Reader’s, Writer’s and Teacher’s Hearts…


This time around, and this being February, we TeachingAuthors 
celebrate All Things Of, By and For the Heart that keep our own 
hearts creatively beat-beat-beating.

As the first to post, I choose to celebrate by offering thanks. 

So…

Thank you, Silas Wade, for grabbing my Reader’s heart and refusing to let go while telling your story of acceptance in Phil Bildner’s middle grade novel A High Five for Glenn Burke (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2020). True, I adore baseball – both professional and Little League. True, I adore learning about a player I’d never known – namely, your Hero Glenn Burke, the first MLB player to come out as gay to teammates and team owners during his career – and – the inventor of the High-Five. But even truer, I love characters whose struggles lead to Bigger Truths we need to honor. “You be you!” your Mom told you non-stop. And by season’s end you bravely were, letting those in your world, those on your team, know you were gay. High Fives all around!  You opened our eyes.  We all can play. We all belong.


And thank you, LeUyen Pham, for pumping my Writer’s heart with an endless supply of oxygen and nutrients. In Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook Press, 2021), your poetic words and beautiful illustrations perfectly and oh, so simply capture the essence of the story we’ve all been living, all around the world, since late February of 2020. 

   “Something strange happened 
         on an unremarkable day                                               
     just before the season changed.
 Everybody who was OUTSIDE
         …went INSIDE.”

Without any mention of COVID-19, masks, ZOOM or social distancing, the story’s take-away both sounded and resonated: on the INSIDE we are all the same.                    
Mem Fox once advised that writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in haiku. You showed this Writer how to do just that.


Finally, thank you, visual storyteller Deborah Marcero, for once again causing my Teacher’s heart to swell.  I recall my words when paging through your eye-stopping portfolio at the end of my introductory Newberry Library workshop nine years ago: “You, Deborah Marcero,” I said, “are the Real Thing!” Your first written story in classes that followed, about a bear who longs to fly, was a Winner. Indeed, Peter Pauper Press published Ursa’s Light in 2016. Like Rose in My Heart is a Compass (Little Brown, 2018), you were and remain an explorer, a pioneer, a trailblazer. Your latest illustrated book, The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars (Enchanted Lion Press, Jan., 2021) has already garnered starred reviews. And how wonderful that now you teach, in VCFA’s  MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, seeding and feeding future children’s book creators.

Clearly, as a Reader/Writer/Teacher, my heart overflows.  

May the above expressions of thanks keep your creative hearts 
beat-beat-beating!

Esther Hershenhorn
P.S.
for hosting today’s Poetry Friday. 


Friday, February 12, 2021

How I Became a Teaching Author

 Children tell stories. It’s what they do. It’s how they make sense of their world. If you lean in closely and really listen to a young child and drop your adult expectations, you will hear it. Between the um, um, um and the repeating phrases, even toddlers are fantastic storytellers. 

This is where I live when I am teaching kindergarten six hours a day. Inside children’s stories, I am allowed to travel deep down into their interior lives. This is where the fountain of youth lies, untouched by adults left cynical, distrusting, and judgmental. When a child lets you in, it is truly magical. I am given that privilege every day. I have a hard time imagining losing that privilege.

Every once in a while, I fantasize about retiring from teaching kindergarten in a public school in Los Angeles. The fantasy doesn’t last long.  The fuzzy image of a future filled with days doing something other than immersing myself in a 5-year-old’s world leaves me depleted and devoid of happiness. 

I teach because I can’t imagine doing anything that lacks the joy of play.  The kind of play which is a means without an end. A process without an expected outcome. Creativity in its rawest form, untouched by adult expectations. Even the thought of spending my days writing, photographing, painting, or filmmaking doesn’t hold the magic of hanging out with a group of young people who keep me grounded and tethered to my own childlike wonder of the world. Maybe, it’s the fear of losing touch with that unfettered way of moving through life. Maybe, it’s the fear of losing that point of reference and losing that ever-intoxicating sense of curiosity. Maybe, it’s the fear of growing old.

I didn’t seek out a career in education as a young adult. Teaching found me. 

Oh, serendipity. 

I had set out to become a broadcast journalist in the early 80’s. I landed an entry level job at CBS in New York City. It was the number one station in the number one market. I was beyond thrilled. Just before leaving my college town for New York, I came to Los Angeles on a whim. Only for the weekend with a fellow recent graduate. Just to say goodbye to the west coast in style.  A last farewell. But my fate was sealed. The sun enticed me and there was no turning back. Hollywood and its promise of filmmaking intrigued me and eclipsed my former goals. Broadcast journalism was in my rearview mirror. 

I transitioned by getting a job as a cocktail waitress. My father was disappointed. Adrift for the moment, I felt like I needed to meet my father’s need to use my newly acquired degree that he had paid for. And so, I crossed the street to the local elementary school to ask how I might become a substitute teacher in the meantime, while I figured things out. Eventually, substitute teaching gave way to full time teaching. The gravitational pull too strong to escape. I emerged as a progressive educator committed to a philosophy of listening to children.

As a lifelong storyteller, I have facilitated story as a journalist, theater director, writer, photographer and visual/multi-media artist. As I developed as an artist and educator simultaneously, I kept the two trajectories separate. Although, I suspect they bled into one another. Later in life than most,  I had a child by myself.  My parenting was informed by my teaching. As my only child approached her early teen years, full time, child-centered, single parenting gave way to small bits of time that could be redirected to my innate attraction to storytelling. As she got older, it found its way back into my life. My child-directed pedagogy as a kindergarten teacher found an intersection with storytelling. I naturally found my way into the kid lit world. 

   

Telling stories in the form of picture books is the culmination of years of listening to children, both my students and my own daughter. Writing picture books and teaching kindergarten are two separate careers. One is not dependent on the other, but I cannot deny that one informs the other and vice versa. It is my role in both professions to build the conditions for discourse between children and adults to emerge.  Children tell stories to make sense of their world.  They are natural storytellers. They have so much to say about our world. It is my hope that my work as a kindergarten teacher and as an author, creates an environment in which children expect to be heard. 
And we, as adults,
have the capacity to hear them.

Posted by Zeena M. Pliska

Above illustrations from:

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story   by Zeena M. Pliska

Illustrated by Fiona Halliday

Published by Page Street Kids


Caterpillar crawls from leaf to leaf, eating and waiting, all alone in a big, green world. Then Orange appears--Orange floats, and flits, and flies, graceful and beautiful. In this sweet, moving story of intergenerational friendship, a small caterpillar is befriended by a glorious monarch butterfly, and together they learn to see the world through each other's eyes.


Trailer created by Kyle Ragsdale    kyleragsdalevfx.com

"Lyrically told and handsomely illustrated... Share this lovely picture book to launch a science unit, or to introduce evergreen themes including growing up, dealing with loss, and the power of transformation." –School Library Journal, starred review

 "[Hello, Little One] is an accessible and thoroughly engaging introduction to monarchs, told through a parable of friendship."  -- Booklist, starred review  
   

Friday, February 5, 2021

How My 2020 Word of the Year Changed Me Forever

.
Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! My poem and the link to today's Poetry Friday's host is below.

The question TeachingAuthors have been batting around this round is, What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021?

Esther, as always, rallies us with gusto offering one tiny prefix to see things anew; Bobbi walks beside us talking honestly about this crazy road we're all on; Mary Ann takes inspiration from a book that's part practical advice, part surprising memoir of a holocaust survivor, and Carmela shows how she is training her brain to be indistractable, offering solid tips and a wonderful found poem to go with it.

This morning I was thinking about how the first word I’ve ever chosen for a full year, CAPABLE, changed me in a year that has changed me. 

In 2020 I learned that I am capable of creating a 3-hour online class on writing poetry for children (next class scheduled for July 17, 2021). I am capable of learning how to comb my hair backwards on Zoom, I am capable of learning how White-centered my thinking and teaching are and discovering how to change this, and I am capable of developing a Zoom-friendly wardrobe (red is my best color on Zoom). To my surprise, I am capable of embracing teaching online. (I sometimes feel closer to people online than people in real life...I think of all my Zoom friends, family and students as my Flat Stanleys.)


I am capable of running again (yay!), taking care of two hatchling tortoises and not killing them (we named them Meredith and Derek...can you guess what we watched from March through December?), capable of finding a most excellent dog-friendly cat, and capable of dusting off my picture book manuscript and working on it for 10 minutes a day.

I am capable of ordering stuff online I never thought I'd be ordering online, doing without a lot of stuff I don't need, enjoying online yoga classes to buoy my spirits, exploring weird neighborhoods in Los Angeles with my dog and/or my husband.

I am capable of embracing the chaos, embracing the unknown, allowing myself to collapse into a puddle of tears, redefining who I am, being filled with hope again. I am capable of  learning to understand racism differently.  Basically, I am capable of persisting.


So thank you, 2020. You and my word of the year have changed me. I am more willing to look up a video on how to fix something, read the directions more than once, or simply not be angry at myself if I can’t figure out how to do it the first time around. Rather than try once, give up, and ask someone else, someone smarter and more capable than me to do it, I may set aside more time to figure something out, or pat myself on the back and say, April, you’re Capable. You can do this. 

Thanks to you both, I tried longer and I beat myself up less.

I'll tell you the word I've chosen for 2021. But first, I'd like to bid a formal adieu:

ACCOLADE (draft)
by April Halprin Wayland


Good morrow, Noble Knight.

Please ~ rest your sword by the door;

come hither.



I have called you here at sunrise

to honor your heroic year of service

in a most trying time.



Your work has taught our people

how to be safe, develop grit,

and—as your name suggests—become capable.



Because of your exemplary
 service

to the palace, to the castle town, and to the world at large,

this kingdom hereby confers upon you



the highest order of knighthood in the field of language:

the First Ever Word of the Year

or FEWY.



Please kneel.



Retire now in leisure

and know that your steadfastness and pluck

has changed us forever.

poem(c)2021 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
...................................................................................................


My word for 2021 is FOCUSED, a concept Carmela's post covered beautifully. I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Do you have a word for this day, this week, month or year?  So many of you do--please share them!

Be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday deliciousness at Jone's!

posted by April Halprin Wayland with love from a house full of animals

Here's our brand-new very dog-friendly kitty, Gato: 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Learning to be "Indistractable" and a Found Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a found poem I created at the end of this post.

As Mary Ann mentioned last week, we've kicked off this year with the topic "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021." As frustrating as 2020 was, I learned some things about myself that are helping me create a happier, healthier, more productive life.   

It all started with one new habit. To cope with the stress brought on by events of 2020, I decided to start meditating regularly. I have meditated off and on for years. In April 2020, I committed to making it a regular habit, initially, for just 8 minutes a day--up from the 5 minutes/day I'd dabbled in earlier in the year. And I decided to motivate myself by using the "Don't break the chain" strategy. The strategy involves using a calendar to cross off each day when you accomplish your goal. After a few days, you have a chain of successes, and the idea is to keep up the habit so you don't break the chain. You can read how this approach helped Jerry Seinfeld's career here

When I meditate, I use the free version of the Insight Timer app to sound a chime at the beginning and end of my meditation time. The math geek in me loves graphs, so I really appreciate the app's graphs and charts representing meditation activity. The app also rewards you with "stars" for accomplishing certain milestones, such as meditating for ten consecutive days. So, instead of using a physical calendar for the "Don't break the chain" strategy, I used the app. Before April 2020, the longest meditation streak I had was ten days. That changed on April 27. I watched the chain grow to 20, 30, 40, 50 straight days, and beyond. I also gradually increased my time to 10, 12, and 15 minutes a day. Early this month, I revised my goal to 20 minutes per day. As of this morning, I've meditated 288 straight days--something I wouldn't have imagined possible a year ago. My goals is to hit 365 days!

Interestingly, this new habit did more than simply ease my stress. It also proved to me that I am capable of real habit change. I began to think about how I can create new habits in other areas of my life, especially my writing. In particular, I wanted to find a way to overcome distractions. Recently, I'd been struggling more and more with the urge to read email or check social media during my designated writing time. Then I read about the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Benbella Books) by Nir Eyal.

Becoming "Indistractable"
I learned of Eyal's book when I came across Gretchen Rubin's 2019 interview with him. In it, he says: 

Truly, distraction starts from within and it is our never ending search for an escape from psychological discomfort that is the root cause of distraction. We check Facebook because we’re lonely, email because we’re stressed, Google because we’re uncertain, and Instagram because we’re bored. We like to blame the technology, but these companies are powerless to change our habits if we don’t give them an emotional trigger to latch onto.  

If you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, these words may sound familiar, since I shared them in my December 2020 issue. But the idea that psychological discomfort causes distraction feels important enough to discuss here, too. The emotional triggers that distract me from my writing aren't typically loneliness or boredom. Instead, my discomfort is triggered by anxiety and self-doubt--the internal critic whispering in my ear that I'm not a good-enough writer or my idea isn't marketable enough. 

One strategy Eyal recommends for overcoming distraction is "time-boxing," something I've been doing for years, though I'd never heard of this term for it. I set aside specific time for writing, usually first thing in the morning. But I often found myself "taking a quick break" to check email or social media during that time, only to have that "quick" break stretch to an hour or more. So I decided to combine Eyal's time-boxing idea with the "Don't break the chain" strategy. I created a schedule for checking email and social media and committed to only doing it at those times. 

To track this chain, I'm using a physical calendar, marking off each day I stick with my goal. Below is a picture of my results through yesterday. (The box for Sunday, 1/24, looks odd because the same square also holds Sunday, 1/31.)

I'm again amazed at how motivating such a simple strategy has been for me. I've been able to sit and work for long stretches without distraction. And when I check email or social media during the designated time, I don't feel guilty about it!

The Strategy of Monitoring
I believe this success is tied to an idea I learned from Gretchen Rubin: The Strategy of Monitoring. (I've mentioned here before how I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books.) One of my goals for 2021 is to write more poetry. To be more specific: my goal is to draft at least one new poem a week, and I'm keeping a record of my results. (So far, so good.) This week, I've drafted a found poem* from Rubin's blog post summarizing the Strategy of Monitoring:

            You Manage What You Measure
        To get more of something good
                   or less of something bad,
        figure out a concrete way
                   to measure and track it.
        By counting the things that count,
        you make sure
                                they’re part of your life.

Found poem by Carmela Martino taken from Gretchen Rubin blog post of April 22, 2013. 

In an interesting coincidence, just a few days ago, Rubin shared on Instagram the same picture she included in that blog post, which I've copied above. 

*To create the found poem, I applied these three rules to the text of the original blog post: Words could be subtracted, but not added. Words must be kept in their original order. Tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization could be changed as needed.

For more poetry, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jan at Book Seed Studio.

Posted by Carmela

Friday, January 22, 2021

Lessons from 2020

Our new topic is "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021?"

My first thought was  "Absolutely nothing! I'm drowning here!"

And then, in one of those serendipitous moments, my answer simply appeared...on my Kindle.(This happened last week, so this is a lesson from 2021 for...2021!)  I was checking for a new title I'd pre-ordered. Instead I found a book I bought last spring in the depths of my quarantined depression. No doubt I'd discovered it on a list of "Books to Get You Through Lockdown." Lists that included books like Yoga for Dummies, Breathe in the Moment and Sourdough Bread is the Answer! 

This one was called The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.   I don't know how I missed it when it was first published in 2017.  Maybe because I'm suspicious of books with two word titles when one of the words is "The"...as in The Secret or The Answer, as if this book and only this book contains priceless information. Still..."embrace the possible"? 

I popped open Dr. Eger's book and scanned the table of contents. Now I remembered why I bought it. It was part self-help, part Holocaust memoir. How did these two things mesh in one book? The introduction mentions that Dr. Eger had been a protege of Dr. Viktor Frankl. I'd read Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, his account of Auschwitz, years ago. Was there more to say on the subject of controlling your own mind in the worst of situations? Is that what The Choice was about?

Of course it's ridiculous to compare life in Auschwitz or surviving postwar Hungary to anything we might be experiencing. To quote Dr. Eger "...there is no hierarchy of suffering. There's nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours...This kind of comparison can lead us to minimize or diminish our own suffering." The mindset of anyone who is in a situation they perceive as hopeless is the same, no matter the circumstances. 

What? It's OK to feel terrible?  Even if my family was healthy and employed? I didn't have to feel guilty for feeling bad for missing family and friends and day-to-day life? OK! I read on.

Edith Eger had been a 16-year-old dancer/gymnast on the 1944 Hungarian national team, when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. How she survived by refusing to think like a victim is an incredible story, similar to Frankl's. However, Eger's book spoke to me in a way that Frankl's did not. The voice of the teenaged Edie was easier to identify with than Frankl's, who was a practicing doctor in his thirties during his imprisonment.

While this book has given me a different perspective on Life in the Land of COVID, it has also given me a new weapon in my never-ending battle with writer's block. All the negative inner chatter that broadcasts from the brain night and day can be silenced by...refusing to think like a victim. Dr. Eger went through many of the same self-defeating monologues herself in her post-war life. (You'd think if you survived Auschwitz, you'd feel invincible...but that was not always Dr. Eger's experience.) She had to re-discover that 16-year-old who never feared the Nazis. 

Edith Eger became a clinical psychologist in her fifties, and many of her fear-busting techniques are those she developed in her practice. Some I've encountered in therapy, some are new. They all have Dr. Eger's take-no-prisoner's philosophy. I feel as if she has actually has my back when I fall into hopeless thinking, or a panic attack.  

I leave you with one last image of Dr. Eger. As a teenage dancer/gymnast, she prided herself on the ability to kick higher than anyone in her class. Today, as a ninety-something psychologist, she can still do that high kick! In fact, that's how she ends her speeches. I couldn't do a high kick when I was sixteen, let alone now. But just picturing her doing that high kick (which by the way, you can see her perform, online) sets my spirit free, to embrace the possible.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, January 15, 2021

Dragons Are My Patronus

 

I’ve written about classes and seminars that I’ve taken this past year. Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson’s Revision Workshops are some of the best. Other workshops I’ve taken include Emma D. Dryden’s excellent workshops in finding an agent. Other seminars, hosted by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions, include the wonderfully inspirational Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Character Masterclass as well as Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Probably the most inspiring seminar was hosted by the award-winning science fiction and screenwriter David Gerrold* . Not because of what I learned about the writing process, but rather what I learned about myself.

David began by asking, why do you write? I suspect the intent – to reflect some degree of self-awareness—is to echo some level of Truth itself. That is to say, if story is the oldest invitation to the human experience, than the heart of that story – and why we (or I) write – is because we want a glimpse of some larger Truth, on what it means to be human. On what it means to be ourselves. So, what is that truth?


But the truth is, I have no idea. Not anymore. I don’t know if I have The Write Stuff.

I can tell you how I started. As a (very!) young child, I was ill with osteomyelitis. Recovery took a long while. While in the hospital, someone read to me. These stories freed me from confines of a hospital bed. It was more than just escaping a painful reality. These stories created a new reality in which I could do what otherwise I could not. Didn’t take long for me to make the jump into reading. I learned to read, even as I learned how to walk again. I was well ahead of everyone by the time I entered elementary school.

By fourth grade, I was reading Charles Dickens, and developed quite a crush on the Artful Dodger. I wrote my first story, in which he and I became friends. I also discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. I read that her brother also suffered from osteomyelitis, and it inspired her to create a character (I forget which character. But, I tend to like dragons more than people anyway). 

 And suddenly dragons became by patronus. 

Certainly the act of writing is a construct of putting feelings into words, and I created a reality and a community in which I finally found belonging. I went to school, earned my MFA (among other degrees), and wrote. I have had short stories, articles and seven books published.

Then something happened. It wasn’t sudden, like a great big bang bazinga. It was more like a slow burn, years in the making. I had prepared, and fully devoted, for a career in writing. I was unprepared for the business of writing.

The business of writing is harsh, dispiriting in its rejection, and – good great glory – it comes complete with all the reigning -isms. For every Gandalf and Dumbledore, there is a Sauron and Lord Voldemort. We have heard of prominent agents – and a few writers – who have conducted themselves inappropriately as the MeToo movement swept through the publishing field. A few writers – including a hero of mine – twittered one too many times to reveal their own humany limitations. Then there’s the major literary agency rocked by – and eventually dissolved by --intimations of racist behavior. Turns out a few significant agents were nothing more than scammers. Writers Beware is full of warnings of publishers and agents acting in bad faith.

In other words, publishing is not some magic place over the rainbow. Rather it’s like every other business, complete with its own dark side and deatheaters.

I’ve had three agents during my ‘career’, all of whom promised to be the champion that would help me build a writing career. Long story short, none worked out. And, in many ways, the impact on my career has been negative. Each time I’ve had to start over.

I’ve had seven books published, a million (or so it seems) articles, and have won a fair share of awards, and still it seems I have spend more time trying to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I am relevant. In this quest to start anew, I worked with an agent on three rounds of revisions, with the assumption (never a promise) for representation. And the end of the year-long process, she loved (loved!) the manuscript, but historical fiction would be a hard sale (translation: she wants a quick sale). I had another agent schedule The Call three times, and each time she had to reschedule. And then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. Another agent asked to see more manuscripts, and then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. I even sent another historical fiction to my old editor, who once said she’s a big fan and to send her historical fiction. And then she ghosted me.

We know it’s not personal, but it certainly feels it. And now, even my dragon patronus has fizzled. I had taken classes. I have done research for potential stories and revised old stories, but I have not written anything new for over a year. My hope is this ebb and flow is normal, and what ebbs soon flows. My fear, however, is that I’ve lost my dragon. And what’s worse, I’m not sure she wants to be found. As I recall, her last words were, ‘### this ###.’

But, before you think its all woe and gloom, something else happened. Something unexpected. It occurred to me, while pondering this question, that my affiliation with story has always been to find a place of belonging. We are all stories in the end, says The Doctor. I have had a career – as a teacher, a bookseller, an editor, a reporter. It wasn’t the one I expected, but perhaps it was the one I needed. 

For so long, I thought that to belong meant I had to be published, but that’s not true, is it?

If the point of story is to find community, it turns out I have built up quite the community. A very special, extraordinary community, complete with Gandolf and Dumbledore, and Clara and The Wandering Monk, Authors Who Teach, Smacking Dabbers, and Master Guru. It includes The Librarians, and Poodle Lady, and Freckles, Lady Squabbit of the North, and Ella Bella’s Nana. And there’s Nyxie, Queen of the Universe (and her Royal Regent Grandpa). Mrs. and Mr. Shiny Serenity (complete with their pretty floral bonnet). The Professor, and Wordswimmer, the Geek, and the Nerd, and The Dog Whisperer, Pearl’s Mum and so many more unexpected friends. Steadfast and firm in their stance, reminding me to never give up. 

Why do I write? The answer was always at once simple and complex: To belong, of course.

Perhaps my patronus, my dragon, just needed a rest. You'll be glad (or at least, I was!) I started a new project. I have seven sloppy, somewhat begrimed chapters. But the characters are certainly dancing about.

Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives. – Anne McCaffrey


Photo: Princess and Dragon by Nikita Volobuev, 2020.





David Gerrold  wrote the script for my favorite original Star Trek, The Trouble with Tribbles. He’s currently on Patreon, conducting weekly seminars and fireside chats about life and grandchildren. Do check it out!

Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller