Time in a Garden

There is so much more than you think there is in one armful of soil. So much more movement, so much more depth. I stared at a patch of soil today because I was asked to. When was the last time you did that? When was the last time someone asked you to?

We didn’t go outside enough in school. It’s a sad thing everyone talks about. I’m becoming a teacher, but in Vancouver. I can’t wait to ask students to put on their galoshes and stare at patches of wet, thriving soil.

I hope to start (or continue!) a school garden in the school where I work. I am this week getting my fingernails dirty in a practicum placement at UBC’s Orchard Garden. I’m realizing things like seeds are so small and salad mix is a real thing. I’m also learning things about time.


(from http://www.theorchardgarden.blogspot.ca)

My sister just had Anya. That is what I will say from now on because my sister didn’t have a baby, she had Anya, and Anya is now here. Anya is my niece. I can’t stop saying her name, letting it out under my breath like witchcraft. We stared at each other for a while the other day, Anya and I, and I can’t believe she will never remember it. I can’t believe there’s a time when you’re too young to realize anything about time.

She knows when it’s time for sleep, and she knows when it’s time to eat. She knows when it’s dark and when it’s light. I assume she knows a lot more than we think. But does she know about time?

Does she know that The Orchard Garden is being relocated for a construction site? Does she know that the polar ice caps are melting? Does she know that every day we age and every day we grow and every day there is someone new and someone gone? Does she know that her being born has marked a moment in time in our lives? There was once a time, and now there is a new one.

I think a lot about time but I stopped this week, when I was in the garden. Instead I thought about life, and how easy it is to forget that time is only there as a byproduct of our living. I only worry about it because I’m here, because I’m thinking. When really, thinking about time takes me away from life. Plants grow because they’re getting somewhere. They use all the energy they have to go for it. They grow and grow, unconscious of what might happen were they to stop. Then time, as seen by the plant itself, stops. Naturally.


Full Moon Dreams

I created worlds in my dreams this week, alternate universes. I did little yet so much writing this week.

For our final writing project of my practicum, I asked my grade three students to do something called “writing projects”. The idea was they could create an idea for a project – any type of writing they could think of – and then they had to write it. I read their first drafts this Saturday night and was blown to pieces. Imagine if everyone did a writing project.


What a neat thing, to ask your brain to create alternate universes every night, universes where you dance on a party bus as if that is just something you do in your personality. Imagine creating an alternate universe where you get to visit with someone you don’t get to see anymore every night. What a writing project I have under my belt, these dreams of mine.



I’ve started writing them down, as if to tell them I am taking them more seriously. I wake up and I write the last thing that happened to me – my reality before I opened my eyes – and from there I go back in non-sequential time to all the other pieces of myself I had made up in the hours of unconsciousness. More than you would think comes back to me. I fill up a page or two at least. I write everything because it is all so insignificant that I can’t let the grocery store dream go if I’m keeping the elevator on the beach. It’s all nonsense; it’s all gold.

The final step my students will take in their writing projects will be deciding on a mode of publication and publishing it. I scribble my dreams down every morning. Months and years later I reread them and I remember my dreams like memories. They inform my writing and my life. They inspire me and make my life feel bigger than it is. They provide a recursive element that isn’t present in my linear life but has no reason not to be. They allow me to reflect and absorb and change. I am shifted every night because of something and I think it is good I have found importance in what it was that happened that made me shift.


Whenever l write a sentence I am sure it is the best. It is the best sentence I could have written and the best sentence that has been written. It means exactly what I meant it to say. Is this unruly confidence the nature of the writer, or the nature of written words?

I feel safe under words, when they’re written down. When I speak them – and when I speak them in a different language – they’re lost to me, invisible because I haven’t seen them and I didn’t plan for them to come out that way. They float somewhere above my head, marking me. I lose confidence in myself. That’s not what I meant to say! That’s not me!

I wonder if it’s what people feel like when they write and they can’t express themselves. I wonder if people who can speak and say what they mean feel as confident speaking as I do writing. Imagine that, standing there with confidence.

I asked my students to write a project in sentences. They choose an image and write a sentence next to it. This sequence of sentences and images forms a story. A class book will then be made up of one sentence and image from each student’s story. My teacher asked me today whether this was maybe a bit too easy for them. In grade three, they’ve been writing sentences for a while. With the most confidence I’ve had yet, I said that I respectfully disagree. I said that as a writer, I think that writing a really good sentence is a lot harder than writing a paragraph you’re not that worried about.

I said it with the confidence of someone who has written a lot of sentences and who knows how that is done. I said it with the confidence of someone who goes on tangents in her blog posts and somehow remains sure she will come back to the main thing. I said it like I meant it, my hand on my heart when I said the word “writer.”

And I realized that confidence doesn’t come from the words themselves, the ones I’ve written down or the ones that happened to come out of my mouth. Confidence comes from somewhere a lot more meaningful, and to have forgotten that is absurd. Confidence seeps through you. It’s in there and it fills up everything. That I write using it only means that I dig deeper then when I’m speaking. I need to speak to you, to speak to them, from a place deeper in me. I need to stand there knowing who I am and I need to share that with everyone. I need to seep out at you. I need to!


(from Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power posing,

photo from 8simia.wordpress.com)

I just put a sticky note next to my bed, where I roll over every morning and wonder why I ever got myself into a job where I have to wake up in the mornings. It says “Confidence.” The “e” trails off, and it’s boxed over in pen marks to indicate an evident stress on the one word that’s on the sticky note. And maybe tomorrow I’ll scoff at myself for writing it, and maybe the next day it will fall down as sticky notes do. But maybe the next day, or the one after, (Friday, thank god), I will wake up and I will meditate, as I am supposed to do every day of 2013 and onwards, and I will think to myself: confidence. And it won’t seem so silly, the word and the idea, because I will have been practicing it all week.

First is Worst

How do we ever start things, knowing our first attempt will be the worst? After years of experience knowing that success usually comes only after considerable amounts of failure, how do we ever begin anything new? I tried writing a first draft of a novel last year. I tried teaching last week. I also tried curling. I did them all wearing dark glasses of faith, surging forward with a white cane, sure I was going to have something called beginner’s luck. I came out of the first day of each unsure about my performance, unable to judge it on much of anything. I came out sure I was either a blow-away success or an utter failure, sure I could only be one or the other. In reality, all of my first days were very mediocre. What I had yet to realize in each activity is that everyone starts somewhere.

I forget this because I see people starting who aren’t really starting at all. I see writers my age who have novels published. I don’t realize they’ve been through Masters degrees in Creative Writing. I don’t realize that they’ve never had a job. I see new teachers like me who have complete control. I don’t realize they’ve taught before. I don’t realize they grew up with younger siblings. I see people doing things that I should be able to do and they’re doing them better than me. And I forget that everyone has to start somewhere.

I’m starting somewhere and it feels shitty. It feels shitty and I know that every day for the next few weeks, maybe the next few years will feel a little shitty. Because I’m passing over speed bumps and I’m learning the things every person has to learn in my position. I’m doing what I need to do in order to do the thing I am doing. But I hate it. I hate being aware of it.

What I need to focus on is the fact that the first day is the worst. The first day is long gone, as is the fifth. I am on to the sixth day of teaching and the sixth draft of my novel. I don’t know that the two are comparable, but the number is the same. Five times I’ve tried things. The first time I had nothing to go on, the second time I had one thing to go one, the third time I had two things to go on, the fourth time I had three things to go on, and so on. And now I am on to my sixth day and I have five days to go on. I am on to my sixth draft and I have five drafts to go on. I have five drafts to go on. I can go on because I am standing on five drafts. I have crushed them underneath me and I am five drafts taller and I am almost on to you, people who think you know what you’re doing. Because I know you never did. I know you started here, and I just never caught you in it. And you remember it, you remember the shitty days, the shitty drafts, but you can’t really imagine it, because something in you has shifted.

You are no longer a beginner. You have made it past something (maybe you had to create the thing in your mind) and you are suddenly in it. You haven’t made it (oh gosh, you’ll never make it), but you’re in it. The first is over and you’re on to the second, or at least the fourth, and you’re running forward because you’ve knocked everyone out of the race. You just kept going and look where you are.


I Am Easygoing

I have to tell myself this out loud sometimes, which isn’t something an easygoing person does. They would just think it, but maybe they’d get distracted.

Today for the first time this year I forgot about an assignment. It wasn’t life-threatening. The assignment is due Thursday and I have done half of it. Still.

Last week, I watched a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy (watch it! watch it!) where she explains that through power-posing (literally standing in a powerful position) you become more relaxed and are judged better in an evaluative situation. Because I am someone who smiles at myself when I pass by a mirror, I am always in an evaluative situation. I’ve been taken to standing in odd power poses in bathrooms over the past few days, repeating I Am Easygoing, I Am Easygoing, certain I am not.

Oh but how I want to be. Imagine a sunny day if you were easygoing. Imagine a rainy day. Imagine having  children and being easygoing. Imagine being a teacher and a writer who is easygoing.

I’ve been living with a dog for five days now. I do this periodically, sit in for people who are away. I take over their lives and try out what it would be like to be any notch more easygoing than myself. This dog I am staying with is so easygoing. Sometimes he gets a little whiny, but it’s just because he wants you to tear this mauled toy squirrel out of his mouth like you mean it. He just sits outside the house most of the time, or wanders around the neighbourhood. He is so casual. Even this morning his brother cat joined us on our walk. This family is so easygoing that their cat goes on a walk with their dog.

So this Amy Cuddy says to take every talk you’re asked to do. She says to fake it until you become it. She says that after a while you will forget you were ever faking anything.

So I will keep repeating this mantra to myself as I run, then stroll for a missed bus. I will keep repeating it to myself as I check my oil and I worry I put the wrong key in my shoe on a run. I will keep repeating it to myself as I spend days not writing and forgetting to even think about writing. I will repeat it over and over as I begin to teach, as I begin to learn that 22 kids cannot and will not and should not do what I say. I will repeat it as I learn that teaching is not at all what I just said it was. I will repeat it as my unit plans and lesson plans and maybe a student go flying out the window. I will repeat it as I do this presentation thing I signed up for and am already scared about two months in advance. I will repeat it as I go through life hardgoing, thinking everything is so hard, only to realize that, at some step along the way, I did start strolling and stopped running (I hate running), and there is a cat and a dog by my side and we’re just hanging out.

photo fr
photo from mygcvs.com

Excerpts from a Travelling Notebook

I keep one notebook by my bed (night thoughts; quotes from literature) and I keep one notebook in my purse. Both get soaked with water and crusted with coffee, but the one that travels with me rarely gets read. I read my bedside journal because I find it soothing to look back through old dreams and the words of literary sages. I can’t bear to read my travelling notebook. It holds urgent notes – scribbles encased in black boxes, surrounded by stars – that I should be looking at, but that when read together overwhelm me too much.


Here I bring to you a few thoughts from my travelling notebook, with the intention of making myself read some of the important things I have written between January – March 2013.

drink water and exercise and hug throughout the day

one student draws robots on all his work

faire moins et faire le moins plus bien

“It takes 3 weeks for students to stop talking about marks once you stop using them” (from an education workshop by Jonathan Vervaet).

“Has anyone here ever been to school?” (from a 2006 TED Talk whose name or speaker I didn’t write down)

other people’s problems look like challenges. Look at what I consider my problems the same way.


Did Mea steal all these artifacts from her parents before their road trip? (pictures, family trees, letters)THIS IS CLOSEdid Jillian steal them AFTER?

9 articles

one physical activity but not 2 (not act like cats – just suggestions of what cats are like)

the ability to see another side of an argument is too kind for a character (Gil)

we learn a lot when things don’t work

kale, beets, quinoa, tomatoes, avocado, cereal, choc. ice cream, granny smith apples, +

severity without raising voice

ecstasy: to stand to the side of something 

I will soon be able to stand to the side of the ecstasy that is my travelling notebook, but for now I am still in January 2013- March 2013, so feel simply overwhelmed by these notes. 9 articles!!!! How can I achieve severity without raising my voice?? The beauty of notebooks is that there will come a time when these notes apply themselves osmotically to my day-to-day life. There will be a time where I look back and it seemed obvious that it was good when things went bad and that of course you should not get the kids to act like cats, just to give suggestions of what cats are like. But for now, I will set my travelling notebook to rest in a drawer and fill a new one with messages to the ether.

Kids Who Were Into Reading

Today I read a children’s book with my grade three class and told them we had to make up the story. It was a book that, of course, allowed for that: illustrations and sentences that only suggestively went with them, the way The Mysteries of Harris Burdick did.

I was obsessed with that book growing up, because it contained the most stories ever. Every time I looked at an image and the sentence next to it, I could make up a new story. I hid the book outside my bedroom every time I borrowed it from the library: it haunted me, the ability to create the scariest of stories.


“Under the Rug: Two weeks passed and it happened again.”

(from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Houghton Mufflin 1984)

The book I read today was far less scary, and in French. I first hid the sentence, to see if the kids could make a story out of the illustration. Once they had come up with several reasons as to why a man was looking into a smoky sewer grate, I revealed the sentence: he thought he saw an angel. Everyone was stunned: we can be that creative?

Even more fun was the fact that each page was alliterated like an alphabet book. First Alex Algodon did something with a lot of A-words, then Bernard Boulet. The kids started predicting the names of the next people, and what it was they might be doing. One girl stood up to show what tap dancing (“claquettes”) was, and another led the class in The Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi” to show others what the word “mi” was. It was so fun to hypothesise about what these characters were doing with students who weren’t afraid to hypothesise wrong. It was so great to see students so excited about reading.

Most people I know who are at university have a common excuse for not reading: I read for school. If we at university, wise as we are, think reading is something we do for school, what do you think students in elementary and high school, when learning to read is the thing, think about reading outside of school? And if you spend your first twenty-two-ish years not reading because you’re reading too much for the sake of school, what are you going to be like when you turn twenty-three? When no one cares whether you read?

I have thus concluded that school has too much reading. A larger percentage of school reading should be fun reading, but mandatory fun reading. If up until the age twenty-two everybody was forced to read for fun for at least half an hour a day, what excuse could you use when you’re twenty-three? I’m tired of reading for fun?

Reading is my passion because I love words. I get that others don’t love reading because they don’t have the same strange obsession as I do. But reading should be so much more than the words: it’s images, it’s meaning, it’s inferences and rhythm and relationships. Reading is everything that’s missing in bad television. It’s like opening Christmas gifts.

I think we forget that kids love silent reading. It seems ridiculous to an adult, the idea that little students and teen-aged students might have to sit at their tiny desks and look down at a book for half an hour every day, but to the kids I have observed, it’s FUN. It’s engrossing. It’s a passionate thing.

When you read you put a bit of yourself into a book. To understand it, you need to let the content pass through your body. When you do so, the book becomes your own. It’s something kids innately understand and get excited about: I built this book. It’s mine.

I Like Homework!

We are discussing motivation as a central issue to teaching: how can we motivate our students? But the question was more like, how can we stop un-motivating our students? I am doing my practicum in a primary classroom, where kids just want to do everything all the time really well. It’s when they get older that they lose it, that it gets taught out of them. Younger children are inherently intrinsically motivated; older children have learned to depend on something else to motivate them.

I guess I never grew up because I still like homework. Last year was the first year I wasn’t in school. Instead of basking in free time, I decided to create a project for myself. I decided to create the biggest project possible. I decided to write a novel, which I’ve read on average takes most authors 2-10 years to write, any less or any more so incredibly rare that it is statistically irrelevant. So that’s what I did in my year off. I assigned myself a 2-10 year project.

Now I’m back at school learning how to never leave school and how to convince students to never leave school either. If we really did our job as teacher, students shouldn’t want to leave school, or at least shouldn’t ever want to stop learning. They should fall in love with the act of learning.

I don’t know that I ever fell in love with the act of learning, but I did fall in love with the act of producing. I love making projects, I love writing essays, I love doing homework, I love writing anything. I love drawing things. I love finishing things and handing them in. I love finished products, but I also love drafts. I’ve kept everything I’ve ever done at school. Only a few years ago I threw some things out. I miss them, my PoliSci and History 12 notes, as though if I had them I would read them all the time.

Why am I like this? I like to think that it’s because I’m a writer. School was practice, it was preparing me to write a novel. My fingers have typed enough papers now to write a full-length book. My English Literature brain has pieced together enough book themes to make one of my own. Enough evenings have been spent working at some project that I know what it’s like to plug away.

(image from mtrmedia.com)

And my motivation was never purely intrinsic, of course. Yes, I was working hard at school because I wanted to improve on skills, so that I could eventually, though I didn’t know it, write a novel. But I was also working hard at school because I wanted to see my name on the final product. Because I wanted to see the A next to it. So I knew that what I had done really was an exceptional effort.

And my motivation now is not in itself to write a novel, though a lot of it is. Yes, I want to improve on my skills. Yes, I would be happy if I wrote this thing in a cabin in the woods and no one ever saw it. I would still feel something; I would still have done it. But there’s something else too: I want to see my name in print. I want to see a positive review next to it. I want to be published so that I know I really did do something exceptional.

So right now it’s still weird that I like homework. Right now it’s weird because we’re trained out of liking homework. I hope to bring this love of learning and producing to my students, so we can all be in on it together, this weird thing called motivation.

Judging Kids

I’m supposed to complete an assignment where I assess a child in my practicum class’s reading, writing, speaking and listening levels – their “literacy skills.” I watched the child for 2 hours and kept running notes, as advised. This felt a little like spying. Then I held an interview with the child. I asked the student about reading, about writing, about what they love and hate. The student was overwhelmingly kind and eager to give information to me. They respected the format of the interview and gave detailed oral answers. And the student was overwhelmingly excited about reading.

I am now at the point where I must evaluate the student and write a paper about their literacy levels. This means the student has to either be not meeting, satisfying minimally, satisfying entirely or exceeding expectations. But of course the student is exceeding expectations. If they love reading, isn’t that better than most adults?

I’m learning that teachers have to be open-minded and accepting and helpful to all children. I’m also learning that teachers have to put their judging caps on and evaluate kids. Kids need to be put into boxes to succeed, demonstrates the tiresome use of checklists, class records, and  percentage grades.

The other thing that makes me believe that children need to be judged is the use of letters to show designations. If students have learning differences, they are labelled with a letter. I don’t know if students know their letters, but teachers do. The letters stick with the students and become a method by which teachers judge them. They can’t help it: they’re being given information. They are open, accepting teachers, so they take those letters and try and accommodate them. What they are forgetting to do when they take those letters is spying on the kids.

When I was spying on the student I was assessing for my assignment, I truly did feel like a teacher. I hadn’t done the requisite reading to prepare me for the assignment – what are the performance standards in literacy for a child at this grade level – so I watched the student with the untrained eye of a monkey observing a human; a human observing a monkey. I was an adult observing a child.

This child did small, incredible things that amazed me. In our interview, the student responded with answers that amazed me. Afterward, the student took me around the library and showed me books they loved. That amazed me. This student, I realized, was exceeding all my expectations.

Of course this isn’t a practical measure of how to evaluate students. But do we need to be doing it that much? Can we just be learning more in class and getting judged on less of it? I learned so much in my two and a half hours watching and speaking with this child. Can we just learn more from our students, to make our classroom a place that fits them better, so we can stop saying that they’re not meeting our expectations? Let’s let them set our expectations. What can these students do?

We are always judging people because we’re humans watching humans; monkeys watching monkeys. We need to take a moment and realize every other person we are watching is a monkey. Because of this we can’t judge others on our scales of not meeting to exceeding expectations. We need to take the time to observe, to spy, then to interview. This is the process we need to take with each student; with each adult. We need to do this to begin to judge, or to begin to judge ourselves.