on writing

up for air

Every once in a while, I sense the need to surface from my ruminations and hundred-book-deep studies to say, “Hello. I’m still here. And I am writing.” Just not sharing very much right now. Continue reading


when class talk gets “awk”

Dear Writing Journal,

Since we’re taking a minute as a class to freewrite our feelings and lives and stuff like that…. and moreover recover, I figured I’d give this notebook a whirl again. Students must see their teachers write, after all.

Year 25 of teaching has probably been the most interesting. My class is not exemplary. The students don’t read or come with pens. The prep kids talk of Internet memes and wear Uggs. (You can’t take that seriously.) The punks with beanies like to see how many swear words they can cram in a sentence. (Now, I’m not a prudish old codger who can’t appreciate the craftsmanship of language, but frankly, the way these kids talk… not a lick of poetry.) And of course, the students that want to succeed… they’re in my earlier class.

It is an interesting class, though… One of the guys–we’ll call him Darryl–is a hulking specimen of a human being. His size is simply impossible to ignore. His goal in life is to make it onto the San Francisco SWAT team. Two weeks ago, I came in to see him demonstrating the strangest push-up I’d ever seen in my life. He didn’t use his arms; he pushed up from the floor by the strength of his overlarge pectorals.

The students look like shrimps next to him, shriveled-up and wide-eyed. He strikes a sort of awe verging on fear in them, but they like to ask him questions, and like a giant dog surrounded by toddlers, he generally tolerates their interest with great patience.

“How long have you been training?”

“How many times have you been deployed?”

“What’s the average ab size of a SWAT team guy?”

If my teacherly side was not so intent on getting the kids to like As I Lay Dying, or at least be able to dialogue intelligently with it, I would have asked him a few questions myself. Like:

“How would you tailor your workout regimen for a slightly overweight sixty-year-old man?”

“Can you do P90X without breaking a sweat?”

“What exact number of pushups will give you arms like that?”

Darryl does give interesting answers.

Like today.

As I waited for the stragglers of the herd to crawl inside my classroom, I sat at my desk and listened in on the usual talk.

“Can you lift your own body weight?”

Darryl answered.

“What mileage can you run?”

He answered.

“What’s the longest distance you’ve ever hit?”

Darryl paused. His eyes squinted with thought.

Slowly, he answered, “I would say…about 1000 meters.”

There was a collective gasp. Everyone’s eyes widened. Some of them leaned forward. The ability of their god…inspiring!…marvelous!

Darryl looked unperturbed, only still thoughtful.

He added, “At first, I thought I’d missed…”

They nodded. They listened intently.

“…but then he fell down.”

Someone’s pen dropped.

They turned their glazed eyes to me.

In a heartbeaty moment, “sniper” had taken on a whole new meaning.

Jolting up from behind my desk, I commanded them to journal. I then cranked The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe and jammed START on the timer.

Let’s just be honest. There’s no following that up with Faulkner.

*”awk” — a commonly-used teacher annotation in the margins of student papers meaning “awkward” (e.g. “awk” wording, sentence structure, content…)


schoolspeak: things you hear from the hall

“Feel sorry for me. I fall in love with jerks and bearded guys and men who want to keep me skinny.”


“I don’t know what the Stock Market is.”

“You want me to explain the whole Stock Market to you right now?” (he said snottily)


Fertile is a bad word to use there.”


We live in a world of conspiracy! See? Morticians have never done anything about drunk driving!”


“We’re in this art museum. It’s gorgeous. Solid stuff, you know. Real deep… Then suddenly I notice the little dinosaurs. They’re literally everywhere. In the corners…next to the painting, beside the sculpture… The tiny plastic kind, like at the gas station. Then I look over, and there’s Dad. Standing there–smiling–high-fiving himself like a kindiegartner with too much candy.”


“…praying drunk…”


“If I were a man, I could fall in love with a girl with gap teeth.”


“I’m excited about this!”

“You need to get a cat.”


“It smells like illegal substances in here.”


“Georgia on my mind…”


“The way you’re wording this here… it sounds like… Well, if someone with Native American blood read this… they might… you know… Well, have Native American blood, back somewhere way back…not that I look it. I just wonder if you could put this… differently?”

“But that’s just how I write.”


“…unfortunate ways of phrasing things…”


“What’s that girl got a ghost costume on for?”

That is a boy. And don’t scream that: he’s in traditional garb.”


“Put the phones away; I got your butts for ten more minutes.”


“I think art is… making something mean more than the sum of its parts.”

“Yeah, technology may be cramping our style with this art thing.”


“Homework for dayzzzzz….”


“Can we do this democratically?”

“It’s like America: no one wants to vote.”


“Let’s talk about blowing up.”