Veronique Darwin

Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Nothing to do, nowhere to be

In My Writing, Teaching on June 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

As a teacher on lockout, there’s very little to do, very few places to be. The same goes for writing, though the places I’m expected when working as a writer are not the classroom or the hallways, but those little areas in my brain where synapses signal but never touch. I’m expected to be thinking all the time as a writer, but when was the last time I sat and thought?

While driving, I’m either singing or paying attention to the road. While showering, I’m either singing or paying attention to getting clean. Any other time, I’m listening to something, watching something, or checking my phone as I’m doing things. Though I’m by myself, I’m very seldom with myself.

And I know I’m not writing much and that’s because of a series of excuses I could make into numerical points to make this a more readable blog post, but I’m also not thinking much like a writer. And is it fair to be concerned about that? Are there other jobs that ask for so much? Are scientists always supposed to be observing and hypothesizing; can philosophers take a day off? Because what if I was an accountant. What if I was a clown.

I went into teaching because I thought teaching and writing would be mutually inclusive. I thought they might even complement each other. But are teacher and writer both too pervasive of professions? Am I ever going to have a day off? Even now, as I sit waiting for the government to negotiate on the things that matter for kids and teachers, I am not taking the time to write. And still, it’s as though I’m waiting for something to change to allow me to write.

Nothing will change. I don’t need anything to change. I need to write in any condition. No one is going to provide me with those conditions; no one will sit down at the bargaining table with me. I could never go on strike as a writer because where would I put my picket line? Next to my desk? My brain?

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(fromhttp://psychicfocus.blogspot.ca)

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My Nose is Growing

In Dreams, My Writing, Teaching on June 11, 2014 at 8:32 am

Some people plant gardens and watch them grow. I need only look at my face. My nose is growing!

Bulbous_nose

(photo from healthtap.com)

It’s a known thing that the parts of you that keep growing after sadly your breasts have stopped are your ears and your nose. I just didn’t think it was a thing that happened overnight (like DJ’s friend in Full House). But I swear over the past two days my nose has looked wider in the mirror. I attribute it to a few factors.

– Summer is approaching and I have perhaps drank more beer as of late. I am developing that bulbous nose that Santa Clause and other drunks are known for.

– I have springtime allergies. But these last all year long, and include dust from poorly vacuumed floors and cats, who I surround myself with.

– My lies have been catching up with me. Someone (Geppetto) noticed that I have been claiming to be a writer but haven’t touched my novel in a week and the last post on this blog is from March.

– Like the grey in my hair, this year has aged me. I have been so busy learning to teach that I didn’t notice time, and suddenly a sullen, nose-filled face looked back at me in the place of my reflection.

Or maybe I am wiser. Maybe my body is telling me I need to give precedent to my senses. Maybe my body is literally saying: “Wake up and smell the flowers!” and is giving me more ability to do so. What next, my mouth? No, this one will probably get smaller.

As summer arrives, so do so many changes in my life. I have to pay my car insurance because this time two years ago I decided to buy a car. I am moving because this time last year I also moved. I am finishing the school year (not only because of the teacher job action but because this is when school actually finishes) and I am embarking on two months of WRITING. Writing with all capital letters!

My dreams are preparing me too: last night I dreamt up a dream schedule. I will wake at 8:00, my dream told me. I will read and drink coffee till 9:00. Then I will write! I will leave the house to take a walk or a bike ride. And then I will write!

My dreams are scheduling for me, and my body is equipping me with the nose I need to smell the world and write about it. All I need now are bigger ears and more sensitive fingers, then I’ll be ready to go.

Okayness

In My Writing, Teaching on December 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

There is a certain feeling that sets in after realizing I’m sick (or I’ve been broken up with, or I lose something very important on a bus), and it’s this oddly good feeling, an okayness with myself. I don’t usually give up easily on things, choosing instead to obsess over them. But when something has stepped in, something that stops me from moving forward, I’m forced to sit still and give up on myself.

Laryngitis offered the best kind of respite. I was forced to stop talking, to take two days off work, and other than a stubborn throat, I wasn’t feeling very sick. But did I ever nap. And did I ever sleep in. And did I ever reconsider what it is I’m doing running around all day and not writing. And not even thinking about writing. And barely thinking even, except about what I’m doing. Rarely am I thinking about what I’m thinking.

I loved getting lost in my mind, spending days in my mind. I loved waiting on something, writing on something, instead of producing something every day and immediately presenting it, and then seeing the outcome of it, and then marking it, and then handing it back. I loved the extreme inefficiency of building a life on a novel that doesn’t really exist, does it, but in my mind. Here I now I live in 28 other people’s lives, and their family’s lives, deciding their every day at school, deciding whether they know equivalent fractions or whether they’ll be forever traumatized by equivalent fractions.

And I thought I lost something of me for doing it. I thought that maybe giving so much away every day lost some storing-up of things I had in me (things I’d kept to write about, things I’d felt and could have used but expended). And I wasn’t able to write in my journal, and I wasn’t able to write in my blog, and I wasn’t able to write in my novel because I’d felt I’d lost the pattern. I felt I’d lost my way of seeing.

But maybe all I’ve done is I’ve changed. I’ve gone and expanded. I’ve just about grown up. And in some deep, dark way, I guess I’ve given up.

So what I’m feeling now, here at the precipice of having lost my soul to the working world, is a certain okayness. A certain good, warm, guilty pleasure at it being simply okay that I haven’t finished this novel. That I haven’t put my name in every single literary magazine, or even one, or even tried. It’s okay. Something else is happening right now. It’s important.

I guess this feeling is what you get when you almost died. But then you realize you’re still living! And all you really lost is an umbrella on a bus.

images

 

(image from hd.wallpaper-s.biz)

 

What It Means to Me

In My Writing, Teaching on November 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

It’s the only way I can find any words.

It’s the way I see things: in a blinking scroll bar, on a blank space to the right of what I wrote before.

It’s how I make things right: grammar, spelling, everything in order.

It’s where I find energy, not from sleep or caffeine but thoughts.

It’s what I can give back, after taking so much from other people’s books.

But I’m not doing it so much right now. And it’s not because I’ve found words somewhere else, or because I’m seeing things differently. It’s not because I have things in order or because I already have energy  or because I’m not reading anything myself. It’s because I’ve found another passion that opened up another well inside of me: one that doesn’t want to find words. One that doesn’t want to create something beautiful! It’s a well inside of me that exists for the purpose of motivating others to create something beautiful.

I thought I was being idealistic about teaching during my education program. I believed in teachers being able to inspire students. I believed in students being able to inspire teachers. I believed in a relationship of mutual respect, of sharing thinking, of equality. I believed in motivating students to become self-directed learners. But honestly, deep down, I thought it would all fall apart once I started teaching. It didn’t. It came alive.

And teaching, I realized, isn’t going to be this thing I do on the side of writing. It’s going to be this thing that opens up a whole other part of me. Another life I can lead besides my life as a writer. Beside my life as a writer. More things I can do! More things I can create!

I assigned a Science project. They each created a world. I assigned a Halloween poem. Every one made me jump. I assign journaling every morning. Three students are working on a novel. I teach grades 5 and 6.

I’m not writing not because I’ve lost it, or because I don’t want to. It’s because a new thing in me emerged and I need to nurture it, make sure it stays, before it can stand guard as I hide away in the evenings and write. Every day I’m getting a little more embarrassed by this blog, a little more far from my novel’s core, a little less reclusive and a little more real world. But every day I know I’m building something – some foundation I’m going to need to make this a life.

Because I’m not Walden. Because I’m not a hermit (though I’d like to be). I need both.

Scary Writing

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Teaching on October 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm

In grade six I did my first act of plagiarism. I entered a poetry contest with a Halloween poem that my sister had written seven years ago, when she was in elementary school. It was a terrifying poem that took place in what I imagined was the backyard of my house. It scared me so much I thought it was excellent. It was excellent. But it wasn’t mine.

I don’t know why I did it. I loved writing. My sister was the artist; I was the writer. She wrote too; I drew too. But that poem had affected me in such an important way the first time I read it years ago that I wanted other people to feel the same way I did. And I couldn’t write something that good. So I submitted it to my teacher and she submitted it (maybe) to a poetry contest we never heard back from.

I remember that English teacher so well, just like every other English teacher I’ve had. I was so receptive in those classes, so hungry to learn. I remember she once wrote “plausible” on the board and we insisted that she had gotten the word “possible” wrong. I remember she had us write journals and I told her everything. I remember the thing about how she never sent in our Halloween poems.

I had my students write Halloween poems this month. I thought I would let them freestyle it until I found this, a poem by Neil Gaiman called “Instructions.” So the students each wrote their own instructions. Everyone’s poem was incredible. Everyone’s poem was frightening. It’s amazing what foolproof, creative productions can be made from copying a poetic form. I believe now in haiku, in sonnet, in a way I hadn’t before. I understand the merit in mimicking.

But why did I just take the poem as it was? Why didn’t I play around with it and make it my own? What I remember clearest is the feeling of getting away with something, which I soon after realized was not something anyone cared about. It was the opportunity I missed. I never wrote a scary poem.

I just read The Mist by Stephen King after being haunted by the movie version for two years. The book version is less awful because of a different ending. But it’s also more terrifying because it’s written in words and words are what move me. It struck me in both that novella and the poems of my students that what is scary lies in the detail. It is the image that frightens, not the idea.

the-mist-2007

Maybe I was scared to write the poem. I’ve always been afraid of lights off in the bathroom – being in the presence of a mirror when I can’t see myself in it. I’ve always been afraid of ghosts and witches, things behind me in the dark and in front of me when I open my eyes from sleep. I’ve always been afraid of the moment where I set my feet on the ground off the side of my bed, always been afraid of stairwells and the backseat and empty houses. But those are all just ideas until you place them in a poem, until you give them life through the power of a verb, the tint of an adjective, the smile of properly placed punctuation. And that’s when the chills run up the spine. That’s when poems come to life. That’s when you become so manipulated by the magic of words at the age of 12 that you do something you know in your gut is the wrong thing, all for the sake of literature.

Sitting, Spinning

In My Writing, Teaching on October 13, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Teaching is my jumping off point for everything these days. It’s where my consciousness sits, the place from which I have crazy dreams. But two days into a three day weekend I can’t help thinking  I’m also a human being. I also have a life. I also have this blog.

I have a theme for this year, whether the kids or anyone knows it or not, and that theme is connections. I suppose it’s something I should have shared with them, the theme of the year, but there’s only so much I can do in a day. I use the theme of connections to teach reading, writing, geography, science, and to create a positive social climate in the classroom. It seems rational, that you can learn something better by tying it to what you know already, that you can understand something better by seeing what surrounds it.

I’m somewhere in the middle of my life right now, the spider at the middle of the web, and though all my things – teaching, and writing, and reading, – come from me and through me, I feel like I’ve lost my connection to them. I’m being pulled too far one way, remembering – after a month and a half of forgetting – that I really, really like to read. I’m  looking at my things through new eyes, recognizing faults in the plot structure of my second chapter and phoniness in the language used in yoga classes. I’m placing more intention in reading and writing because I’m doing them less but with more of a focused mind. I see their place in my life more clearly, as I’ve spun another part of my web, and I’m taking care not to cut their line, recognizing now their fragile nature.

I’m scared of losing my writing voice, my reading passion and the blind confidence I had for why I write. I’m scared I sound fake when talking about it, that it has become obvious it was never my first path. I define myself as a writer, a reader, but what can I tell you if you ask? I’m teaching, I’m teaching every day. I’m thinking about teaching all the time. Am I writing enough to be a writer? Reading enough to be a reader?

Is it okay to connect yourself to something you are not at the moment, but for which you feel a deep connection? Do people who live with God live always with him, whether they’re living piously at the moment? Do you live constantly with yourself, even if you fall asleep at night, even if you’ve lost control of your body or your mind?

I think the answers are resoundingly yes, are shouting at me from the screen: yes! Yes you are a writer and a reader because you are that, that is you. Because you believe so fundamentally in the importance of those things (don’t forget it), but you’re just negotiating the importance of something else, too. Something else new. And it doesn’t make other things lose their spot. Yes, time exists, but so do spider webs, and those can get considerably bigger, longer, more spacious. And though they get more fragile as they grow, they stay the same shape, always meeting at the middle where you sit, spinning your web.

Unknown

Whiniest Prose

In My Writing, Teaching on October 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

Personal writing is just whiny writing. It’s what you make when you can’t fold things beautifully, when you figure that a handmade card is okay because at least people can be sure it’s from you. Personal essays are never trashy because they’re honest. But are they ever any good?

Lena Dunham’s character in Girls is writing a book of essays. It’s what I love most about her character. It seems to be the show’s joke: she has a self-inflated sense of importance in what she has to say, at twenty-four, without a job. Then again, Lena Dunham is in her twenties and is writing and starring in the award-winning, huge show Girls.

I’m teaching my grade 5 and 6 students how to write personal writing. We write in journals every morning, and my next goal with them is to turn some of those journal entries into personal essays. The difference? Make it legible. Give it a shape. Add interesting details. Make it something. Give it value.

Is it possible to make a good personal essay, or is what we write always going to belong to an insiders’ club, the insiders being those who enjoy personal writing and yourself, whose head it belongs in? What’s the point, really, when changing “I” to “she” could make a compelling story about which a readers asks, hopefully, “I wonder if this is at all a true story?”

The More You Do

In Dreams, Teaching on September 19, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I’ve found this to be true enough times that it must be true: the more you do, the easier things get. I say this somewhat hopefully, having volunteered for too many things as a new elementary school teacher. I say this as somebody who writes a novel on top of living. I say this as someone who thinks they’re supposed to read absolutely every night but also write absolutely every night and also be nice to others. There’s only so much you can really do, but I think the more you try and do, the easier each thing gets.

It’s a splitting of the heart, but also a realization that the heart space is so much bigger than you thought. You can’t be up for twenty-four hours, sure, until they find a cure for that, but you can be doing more things in your day than you think you can. The moment you take a break to do something different, something you think you don’t have time for, the work you left behind on your desk suddenly gets put into perspective. That’s work on a desk. This is life.

I had a dream in which I was going to get killed by a gang member and then the gang member’s girlfriend shot herself in the mouth twelve times and I just watched her brain go everywhere. So I think I’m pretty stressed out. I looked it up in my dream book and I found that everyone in your dream (all those gang members and that girlfriend shooting herself in the mouth) are actually you. Dreams are very egotistical. And suicide, says the dream book, is an indication that you feel you have no pleasure in your life.

It’s getting to the point that I want to take up smoking, just so I can go sit out on a balcony for ten minutes and not do anything. It’s getting to the point that going to the washroom is the best part of my day, that eating a bowl of yogurt last night almost made me cry because I felt like I was treating myself and that somehow felt comforting.

I’m busy! But the more I do – the more I sign up to coach basketball and take on this thing called The Vow of Silence (which sounds easy) – the more I spread my heart out and the less I confine it to this small space between two Ikea desks where I have piled up soo many papers and worries. And the more I realize that kids are all around! And they’re just kids! They don’t care if the math thing that I’m doing makes total sense, they would just rather me be nice to them. So that’s what I figured out. Also, the more I take a moment to write a blog post, the more I realize that I am me, and not a teacher, and not a writer who is failing to write, but me who writes in this blog and thinks these thoughts, me that I left behind when I decided to work from 6am to 11pm and shoot my pseudo-self in the mouth in dreams and think that’s okay.

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Writing Elbows

In Literary Events, My Writing, Teaching on September 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I did it, I wrote a novel in 3 days. I held my elbows at my side and I wrote a novel for 3 days straight. At the 2.25 mark (1:00 on Day Three) my elbows gave out. They hurt! I blamed them then I kissed them better. Then the day stopped. My document was stuck at 83 pages when I so badly (so badly!) wanted it to be at 100.

I wrote a story about a girl that ended up being a little shallow (17 pages shallower than I thought). It took place in one day! How much of a worthy-of-a-book life transformation can you have on that one day that will make a book worth reading? Less of one than I thought. Or at least I kept telling myself to back off because I didn’t want to appear corny. I didn’t want to accidentally write a young adult novel without meaning to! What would that say about my level of intellect? My soul?

So I added a subplot. I knew about this one already (it was in my outline). It was the story of her parents meeting at Woodstock. I didn’t know anything about Woodstock, really, so I tried to tell their story through feeling (through what I imagined was the feeling of Woodstock).  And that was okay, but it was short, because feelings are fleeting.

Overnight Sunday and early morning Monday, I began planning a new subplot. This one was the story of homeless people living in Powell’s Books (this one day takes place in Portland). However, instead of homeless people, I just created one homeless person, and I told the stories of his three great loves. This got me no further than 83 pages because love is fleeting.

What I loved about this contest was its absurdity. Everyone on Twitter shouting at each other, shouting at empty rooms: Why am I doing this? What am I doing? I loved going places that weekend (because I somehow made it to an outdoor concert and too many coffeeshops) and wondering whether people looked at me and knew what I was doing (or were interested). They didn’t; they weren’t, but I liked the secret I was holding, like I was in some cult in which we write a novel in 3 days.

strong_woman

(from http://annieneugebauer.com)

It’s what fiction writing is, some weird cult. You do that? Who else? Actually, I sit alone and do it, but I know some people…

One very big highlight was being interviewed by CBC’s Canada Writes about my preparation and afterwards about my experience. It was neat to appear on a website I look at often and to somehow feel validated, even before the experience happened. I love committing to hard things, knowing that all that matters is I committed.

I started teaching the day after I finished my 3 day novel. My back and my legs hurts but my elbows have stopped hurting! I love the sharp contrast: here I am alone; here I am with so many kids so full of energy. The experiences better one another, and I am better for committing to both of them, however hard and crazy a commitment that may be.

Preparing for a 3-Day Weekend

In Literary Events, My Writing, Teaching on August 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Next weekend I write a novel in 3 days. Not this novel! I’ve been working on this one for 2 years. Three days to finish it would be ridiculous. But a whole new novel? No problem! I speak of the 3 Day Novel Contest, something I didn’t make up. It’s a thing! Click on the link! I’m paying money to do it!

My mindset going into it is one of naive confidence, something I’m hoping to cultivate for my first year of teaching, which starts the day after I finish my 3-day-novel. It’s a frame of mind I’m actually trying to cultivate in all areas of my life.

I spent a weekend by a pool in the middle of summer. I kept cannonballing into the pool, telling myself before I took the leap: this is you jumping into everything.

penguin-jumping

(from http://www.hiren.info)

I know that for my first day of teaching I need to look like I know my stuff. I need to have the right amount of desks. I know that for the 3 Day Novel contest I need to have an outline. I need a main character with a cool name.

But there’s something else I need for both these journeys, something so much more important than anything already mentioned. I need to be absolutely crazy! I need to go feral. I need to trust my instincts before my tired, sketchy, rigid mind. I need to keep doing cannonballs even if no one’s watching, even if I’m paying thirty-five dollars to sit alone all weekend writing something that will undoubtedly have such poor grammar.

But that’s what it seems to come down to. I need to keep doing what makes me happy, in the strange, clumsy way that I do it. It’s only then that I’ll find the things I’m looking for (or what I didn’t know I was looking for, but happened to find). If I don’t whisper maxims to myself before jumping into a pool by myself, then I’m not being me! I’m not putting all of myself into it. And what better thing to teach, to write about, then the feeling of power that comes from giving it all?

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