Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

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!

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(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.

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(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.

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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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?

Full Moon Dreams

In Dreams, My Writing, Teaching on May 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm

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.

full_moon-dec-21-blod

 

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.

Confidence

In Inspiration, Teaching, Thoughts on Writing on April 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm

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!

high-power-poses

(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

In Inspiration, Teaching, Thoughts on Writing on April 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

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.

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