Young Writers in Their Dreaming

I got to do the fun stuff with my students when I taught the Gifted and Talented in the 90s. The elementary school kids in the program left their classroom and came to me bright-eyed, bushy-taled. Grounded in the basics, they were ready for a session of poetry or creative writing. Here are some activities the second graders got a kick out of one year. They were reading fairy tales in class so we played with a number of enrichment exercises around the subject of gnomes. We brainstormed the things these creatures might eat and need. See what the kids came up with:

Gnome4
Gnome Foods by Anna

1. Chocolate Mushroom cake
2. Chocolate-covered leaf
3. Jellyfish tuna sandwich
4. Buttercup cake
5. Smashed Grass and Fish Salad
6. Nectar shake

Tap the list on the right to zoom. The word that’s hard to read in no. 5 is cockroach.

Ad for Gnome Furniture

for the Gnome News by Jackie

New. Acorn fillings sofa bed with cotton flower pillow. The pedals help you fall asleep and in the morning they help you wake up rested. And in the night you have no bad dreams. Yours, for only 10 pinecones. Pillows free.

Oh, where are those pinecones?

Gnome Illnesses by Julian

1. Nox Shadis Feveris (Nightshade Fever)
Carrot infusion and agave minted green
Drink 1/2 cup every morning.

2. Lox Gnomigus (Lou Gnomig’s Disease)
Black tea with Meridian grapes
Take 1/4 cup a day after lunch.

3. Gnomhizerus (Gnomheizer’s Disease)
Cyprus fruit with citrus.
Take 1/2 cup five times a day.

============================================
Several years later a private student of mine came up with a Narnian menu Mr. Tumnus the Faun presented Lucy in his cave.  Daniel was in third grade.

Tumnus Café

 Dessert

Cookies n Cream Reindeer Pie with boba nose and cinnamon antlers
Rocky Road Unicone with roasted pink marshmallow shreds
Wildberry Cheesecake topped with sliced acorn and nutmeg
McCherry Sundae with toasted TumFlower seeds
Rainberry muffins with vanilla icing
Strawberry Upside-Down Cake (for birthdays. Please call in advance.)

 Iced Beverages

Snowberry lemonade
Rainbow punch with banana-flavored straws
Snowplum smoothie
Morning dew shake topped with moon peach slices

 Hot Drinks

Green apple cider with star sugar
Fire Diamond milk
Dawn Wind mango boba with dessert dream sprinkles
===========================

Hear the poetry in some of these lines? Young writers at work, frolicking in a field of ideas. What a delicious world they created. Where imagination took these children is the runway of the Shel Silversteins, J.K. Rowlings, Alice Walkers. An old friend reminded me yesterday that English was my second language. I wonder where I’d be now if in the formative years I’d been given the permission and direction away from the glory of grades to dream, just dream. The privilege was to be the one consenting.

The Writing Process II, Part 5: The Gift of Time in Revision

If this one isn’t short and sweet, hopefully it’ll be short and sensible. I didn’t touch on this point in the first series for its plain truth, but it’s a common experience of writers that might be nice to talk about. Before publishing anything, take the good that time offers and – where at all possible – step away from your work.

Stephen King says, “With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development…Your mind and imagination…have to recycle themselves.” (On Writing) But he doesn’t get into why the brain welcomes this respite in the first place.

PocketWatch2Without it, we’re too deeply IN IT. It’s the reason we’re convinced we’re in the right, glued to our own voice in an argument. No objectivity.

Mario has said, “Even though I wrote it, it is too close sometimes, OK all the time. And readers’ response tells me how I am coming across.” Kevin told the Grammar Mafia, “I do edit most of my posts. For grammar. For spelling. And then, I’ll reread the post months later and wonder how could I have said “that” so poorly. Run-ons and convoluted phrasing mostly, but not exclusively.”

That’s all of us. The distance of time, even an hour, can lend legibility to the written thought as it renews the reader and quiets the talker in us.

The Holistic Editor offers a word on healthful writing: we require balance in all areas. Writaholics of all people benefit from activity that redistributes blood and energy from the brain to the rest of our anatomy. We are physically more than the thoughts we hear and devote desk hours to, and need to nourish all the organs with the balance of movement. Enjoy some fresh air, tackle the dishes, pump those limbs, sing, dance, sleep. And return with a fresh eye to the words you were eager to print. They’ll be even better. Clearer.

disarmed the sun

she bathed in sweat just
from breathing, shoulders 
rouge in the evening blaze

        as she balanced on the edge
                                     of hope

        the decisive rain
        disarmed the sun,
        a zealous s t u t t er
        that drenched her to a start

        and she smiled

                   as she fell headlong into
                                             expecta
                                                      tion

FacetoSky

Words Between Mom & Boy

TreeBetween22.5 or 3 years old
“Ditsy, ditsy spider went up the water spout.”

4 years old
From the backseat of the car
“Mom, you’re my Giving Tree,” the Tree the protagonist in a children’s book who gives and gives of herself until she’s cut down to a stump.

5 years old
Zonkers over the rare treat of tapioca pudding, Tennyson happily volunteered to give thanks. “Dear Lord, thank you for…[spoon LICK.  Lonnng LICK….Silence. Prayer resumed when reminded.]

5 1/2 years old
To Daddy. “Your heart sounds like Samba. Bugga Bugga Boom.”

“Where does Barney live?”
(Anyone?)

Out of the blue, reflectively, like he was tasting the words
“Pine cone juice…”
Laughing, I asked where he got that.
Shrug. “I dunno.”

Another random thread out of literature
“This is a special day in the hundred-acre wood,” with the widest grin.

He walked in on Daddy in the bathroom who requested, “Uh, excuse me.”
Tennyson’s gleeful retort: “I already went this morning.  HA HA I win.”

“What do the other planets smell like?”
One of many questions Mom couldn’t answer.

6 years old
“Where is the Star Wars planet?”

Mom: “You wanna stop eating?”
“I wanna feel my stuffedness.”
*20 minutes later*
“Is your belly happily full?”
“My belly is happily ever after full.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I want to be a daddy.

Two weeks ago
“Mom, when I die, bury my ashes under the trees.”
Speechless. I realized it was his rendition of Daddy’s last wishes.

Yesterday
From the backseat
“Mom, I think you’re not a good driver.”
(She’s nOt.)

In bed, with a smile: “Mom, I feel Jesus’ love.”

The last thing he hears from me every night
“You are safe and loved.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

To my boy, when he’s old enough to understand:

“Be good to your friends. Life is relationship.”

“Whatever you do, be unique as you are skillful.”

“Onward and Upward.”
I love the pithy profundity that concludes the odyssey of Narnia, suggesting the journey’s only begun.

The Writing Process II, Part 4: Why We Read

books-on-a-shelf4With every post here, I turn my nose up at her who’s bold enough to take minutes of your life. I make her answer, “Who cares?”

Your response has not only motivated me to do justice to your time, but made me contemplate the reading process. In all the talk about how to write, I began thinking about why we even try, backtracking to why we read. According to Stephen King, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing.” (On Writing) What I want to understand, though, is not the intellectual benefits of reading, but why we take such pleasure in it. We are preoccupied with Self. Like we’re so interested in the preoccupant who yaps without giving us a word edgewise. But we love a good story, romance or gore.

Among the highest compliments you can earn is that your work made me laugh or cry. A physical response. I watch the guys in the octagon at the gym. Their blows land with impact. To think – words can do just that.  Some time back, a post I stumbled on cut open a deep, quiet wound. Good writing. A chemical reaction between me and the words. If we were able to maintain our distance, remind ourselves it’s just a poem or piece of fiction, we wouldn’t respond with our body, sensibilities, memory. King says, “The object of fiction is…to make the reader welcome and then tell a story…to make him forget, whenever possible, that he is reading a story at all.” That your writing drew someone in is high praise. As a teenager, I sought out this transformed reality in the proverbial escape into books away from my unhappiness. We like to lose this world, our very self, in a good book. But reading isn’t just anesthesia or a verbal trip to the theme park. We’re not only running from something, in many cases, but running to.

RECOGNITION
King says, “If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.” Effective writing often taps our autobiography. It sights the strands in the reader’s own story – of love, sacrifice, heartache, mystery – and yes, we feel the tug. I recently finished Notes from the Underwire, former child actress Quinn Cummings’ account of her adventures from the early years into motherland. You’re hard-pressed to flip a page without laughing but in the chapter on the dog I would otherwise care little for, I couldn’t help tearing up. Through the fun description of the mutt she adopted and trained, she took me through the pain of losing him. Cummings made me care, speaking into my experience of the regret of mistakes, of loss, of coming up short. This response from one who will let her son get a tattoo before he does a pet. It was one of the most poignant chapters in the book.

When we’re happily settled in even the cheap paperback fling, it’s not only because we daydream the thrill of courtship but because it answers our inmost longing to be romanced by life. The horror genre? Apart from how interesting he is to read of, the boogeyman is someone we all know. We’ve all been afraid. Whether of a person who haunts you or the voice in the dark that murmurs you’re not good enough. King says he writes so the reader can lift the truth from the web of his fiction. We love suspense for the unpredictability it mirrors of our life, the questions we live daily. Why is the battle between good and evil a classic theme and not a cliché? We don’t tire of it because justice is the assent of the spirit, redemption its cry.

But we want more than the reflection of our own tale, especially when there is so much of the painful in it. Compelling writing also echoes the story under our story. It is the yearning for the distant country C.S. Lewis saw, the hopeful suspicion that the five mortal senses are not the arbiter of reality. And just behind the familiarity, we discover possibility.

POSSIBILITY
Suffering and beauty lift us out of self-absorption to something greater than ourself. Even humor, a touch of beauty for its dip into joy, helps us get over our bad self for the moment. There is lightness. Life isn’t all about shuffling along under a load. We can set it down. Trust that Someone or something’s got our back – God or friend or peace with self. When we hope or even fear as we ought from the lessons of literature and poetry, we realize a fresh reverence. Privy to the vast range of possibilities ancient and modern tales disclose, we learn new ways of responding to challenges and can exchange the load for a dream.

AND SO, THIS THING CALLED WRITING
Why show, not tell? Why go to lengths to paint it in a poem or novel when you can simply say She was beautiful. It was horrific. The universe takes my breath away? Not only do these declarations fall flat, they are inadequate. It is the ironic insufficiency of the human word that has seen writers and sages from the first incarnate Whisper scrambling to describe the fullness of experience so those on the other side of the story can see, hear, feel for themselves. If you take this illustration for egoism, I’ll risk it: I was taken aback yesterday by a comment that my poem — know? was “satisfying.” It resonated with me as a commendation every writer would embrace, while inviting survey. Webster’s top three definitions of satisfy:

1. to fulfill the desires, expectations, needs, or demands of; give full contentment to
2. to put an end to (a desire, want, need, etc.) by sufficient or ample provision
3. to give assurance to; convince: to satisfy oneself by investigation

God knows I never imagined the poem fulfilled anyone’s needs. I considered it decent enough to share when it sufficiently confided my mystified reverence for the Mystery that makes itself plain but remains inscrutable. But my thoughtful reader Monica found the pulse of the human heart. We hope from – even demand of – our reading that it deliver us from the tyranny of the mundane. There is more to life than these four walls. And the soul sings – in reader and writer – to envision something larger behind that corner up ahead. It is the Narnia adults follow kids into.

Writing with you has been magical.