Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Part 1: a winter poem. Part 2: a snow day activity.
1. The Lehigh Valley (my home in Pennsylvania) received more than 67 inches of snow that season, and one of the storms caused schools to close for an entire week.
2. I learned that my mother was a writer.
To this day, I remember almost word for word, the poem she had published in the (former) Easton Express during that endless stretch of more snow / no school / damp kids:
All during last week, when the snow storm hit our town,
I secretly suspected that the schools would all shut down.
On Monday the kids drove me crazy, Tuesday was even worse.
Wednesday was strictly impossible; here it's Thursday and I'm ready to burst.
Of lucky, lucky Daddy, he goes off to work each day.
Trudging through the snow drifts; why that's only child's play.
While poor, poor Mommy, she's worn out to the core.
Trying to dry out children can get to be quite a chore.
Well, the day's finally over; the kids are tucked in for the night.
The dryer hasn't stopped drying, and Mommy hasn't stopped crying.
And I say a little prayer, without any sorrow:
Please God, let the schools open tomorrow.
The most amazing part of this whole memory for me is that with four children (ages 11, 8, 6 and 2), my mother found the time to capture her weary (but no doubt universal) thoughts and send them off to a newspaper. I love the "strictly impossible" phrase about Wednesday and the contrast between a dryer that hasn't stopped drying and a mommy who hasn't stopped crying is perfect.
For me, writing is one of those things I never really feel comfortable doing. I love it; I hate it. Sometimes it's a mysterious miracle. I spend hours trying to get a phrase or a sentence to work just right (and it never really comes out entirely right but still.) Then: that mysterious miracle. An entire passage flows out like a symphony from an orchestra. It's just that cohesive and sometimes it feels almost that beautiful.
But every symphony needs to play to an audience to make it really come alive. So do writers. I once heard a quilter describe her passion for her craft like this: "Quilters take large pieces of cloth and cut them into little pieces and then sew them back up into large pieces of cloth again." Much too simple a description to capture the artistry that emerges in every quilt, but the essence of the activity truly is to make something larger and more beautiful out of something much smaller.
Writing feels like that. You start with an idea, even the most inconsequential thought, and take some words - almost any to start - and somehow rearrange them and piece them together in such a way that you communicate something quite new to the reader, maybe even something beautiful or profound, in a way that no one has before.
Years ago, the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges officially launched a program to improve the writing skills of our nation's students. Apparently, few students wrote with any regularity in schools and we're all the poorer for it.
This lack of written ability doesn't pertain only to students who end their formal education after high school. The commission's report stated that among college students, 50 percent of the freshman class were unable to produce papers relatively free of language errors or to analyze arguments or synthesize information. Yikes!
Their report, titled "the Neglected 'R' ", recommended several programs, including the idea that "writing is everyone's business." Teach, practice and celebrate writing in every classroom from history and social studies to math and science.
Here's # 2; that snow day activity:
The report didn't mention the role of parents in the campaign and that could be an enormous mistake.
Many parents take up the "read to your children" charge with great enthusiasm. Why not a "write with your children" movement? I can't imagine a more fulfilling memory than an adult reflecting on the time they spent sharing their written expressions with mom or dad.
With yet another day stretching out in front of us, and nothing but time, parents could try being a child's appreciative audience while he or she conducts original "word music." Parents can write and share their own compositions with their children.
You never know. With enough practice, someone may compose a masterpiece.