Slice of Life March Challenge: March 9th., 2014 – How do we find the “slices of our lives”?

orange soltwt

The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .  

This slice was inspired by a fellow slicer, Trish of Today I Love who had wondered about how others planned, organized, and wrote their March slices. Her question was one that stayed with me: how do we, teachers and lit coaches most of us, participate in this writing challenge even as we go on with the demands of our working lives?  How much of our writing can we plan (in between the grading, the teaching plans, and all the other stuff) and how much is spontaneous, on the spot writing – the kind we often  ask our kids to do in their writer’s notebooks?   My own experience in slicing today gave me some insight into these questions…

I had meant to slice about my plan book earlier today (yes, really) ,  but then I thought about how that  would delay my trip to Trader Joe’s and land me smack dab in the middle of their busiest time: no room to move in the aisles, nowhere to park, grouchy kids,  and harassed parents. No, thank you. So I scribbled a few notes in my writer’s notebook to remind me of my ideas (making those writing plans, just like I tell my kids to) and set off for the grocery store.

TJ’s was blissfully quiet at that early hour, and I was feeling especially efficient since I’d actually remembered this time to bring my shopping list with me.  One of my very favorite things about Trader Joe’s is their floral section – you are greeted by lovely flowers and plants as soon as you walk in…and I am a fool for flowers: there is a vase in just about every room of my house and two in my classroom that need to be filled weekly.  This is usually the best part of my grocery shopping excursion, and you can see why:

I had a wonderful time choosing tulips and daffodils, roses and hydrangeas, and then I caught sight of these:


so I just HAD to pick out two – one in green (for my classroom) and one in a lovely shade of purple (for my office).  As I made my way around the store, picking up the items that were actually on my list, I heard a voice behind me ask: “Where did you get those beautiful plants?”  The woman behind me gestured at the shamrocks and we both remarked upon how lovely they looked.

“My husband is Irish,” she said, “just off the boat Irish, practically, and he’s missing his home so much. Galway. He’s really homesick…I think I’m getting some of these for him,” she added, pointing to the plants.

“That’s a great idea”, I replied, “are you planning on going to the big parade in New York City?’

She rolled her eyes and then nodded, “Thirty years I’ve lived in New York and I’ve avoided that parade like the plague…not this year though, my husband really wants to go, so…” she shrugged.  We talked a bit about the parade, and I mentioned Frank McCourt’s hilarious description of this raucous event in a piece I’d read years ago.  “Good old Frank, he was my teacher at Stuyvesant,” she said with a smile, “he was such a great teacher – the best.”  Naturally, the conversation then moved on to teachers and teaching, she was getting ready to retire, and standardized tests.  “I teach in the Bronx,” she said, “my kids really struggle with standardized tests. The stuff  on the tests? They have no familiarity with most of that stuff – they have different lives, different stories.”

Which made me think to mention this interview on Fresh Air with the Nigerian  novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and then we talked about her amazing  TED talk  on the power of stories, and her latest book – Americanah .  “Did you know she’s going to be giving a talk at the Tenement Museum this week, Wednesday?” she asked, “you should try to get there – it’s a great space for lectures and conversations.”  So, talk moved to field trips at the Tenement Museum and how she takes her kids there every year.  By now, we had been chatting for over fifteen minutes, and there was a person who really need to get to the chocolate covered cherries by my elbow.  So, we bid each other goodbye and parted ways.

As I continued to fill my grocery cart with all we would need for the week, I thought about this conversation.    I knew that I would no longer be writing a slice about my plan book, for I now wanted to write about this wonderful encounter with a fellow teacher, literature lover, and stranger.   We always tell our kids to write about what matters to them, the things that capture their imagination, fire up their curiosity, make them wonder about the world they live in.  We hope that they will pause to notice  lovely things, interesting sights, chance meetings.  Heart maps and writing lists are wonderful tools to jog our memories and spur our thoughts, but there’s nothing quite like being open to writing ideas that come our way when we least expect it … when we are simply going about the business of our day. What Naomi Shihab Nye writes about finding poems, we could just as easily say about finding the slices of lives:

I’ll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

(from A Valentine for Ernest Mann)


24 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge: March 9th., 2014 – How do we find the “slices of our lives”?

  1. It is good to have a plan what to write about, it’s even positive to have some sort of a draft, but it is great when we can let go of our writing plan and be open-minded to new possibilities. Your slice is a perfect example of changing plans. I like that you included your before and after thoughts.

  2. Like you, I often have a plan of what I think I will write about, but then, something happens and it’s a totally new slice. And I think that’s what it’s all about.

    Love the stanza of poem. Printing it off for my writer’s notebook. And, I’m off to read the whole thing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. It’s good to have a plan to fall back on, but those spur of the moment happenings are the true slices of our lives. Thanks for sharing your encounter. Isn’t it amazing how one question can lead to a 15 minute conversation?

  4. You are SO right. I no longer look at those heart maps as writing fuels; rather they are picture of who we are. Instead, after SOLing, I encourage my students to write about the moments, people and events they encounter in their day. I encourage they to notice how the bus driver talks or what their teacher says when she/he is happy! Like you, I write best fresh from the events of my day……sigh…..I wish I had known that years ago!

  5. Oh Tara, you wrote a slice that touched me in so many ways. I kept wanting to add in to something you mentioned. From Frank McCourt to standardized testing to the Tenement Museum, which made me think of the ice cream store right next to it. Sorry my thoughts are bouncing around. Being aware of the moment, holding on to it long enough to press it into our notebooks and preserve it is an art. The planning of my writing I look at like planning my teaching. I have intents and I go in that direction, but when it comes down to the actual writing/teaching it is where I am in the moment. I honestly didn’t know that until this week. So it makes me wonder, how does this transfer with our students.

    • Such a great question. I’ve always believed that great teaching is a formula of equal parts of intensive planning, and seat of the pants performance art. That spontaneous quality HAS to be present, but not at the expense of intentionality and purposeful planning.

  6. I have to plan my writing in March otherwise it might never happen. My plans, however, are flexible. You reminded us about being open and looking at our writing through different lenses. As I go shopping this afternoon, I will keep my eyes open for opportunities.

  7. I loved this slice! Honestly, I should probably start planning out more of my writing…actually, not really planning, but instead I’m going to try to go about things thinking about Slice of Life. Slices often take me longer than they should because I sit down at my computer twiddling my thumbs for a solid five minutes before I decide what to write about. It sounds like both you and my mom are instead the type of slicers that go through March thinking “well, this is a great moment to slice about” which definitely limits the amount of idle thinking time. On a different note, you captured a beautiful moment with a fellow teacher in Trader Joe’s!

  8. “but there’s nothing quite like being open to writing ideas that come our way when we least expect it … when we are simply going about the business of our day. ” Amen, amen, and amen…let the Spirit guide you to what you will write about! I’ve thought many a morning I knew just what that day’s love would be, but God had other plans!

    I had to chuckle to myself about your trip to the store ending in a potential friendship. Some friends and I were talking this week about the difference between men and women and we were mentioning a book we had read a long time ago about women being compared to spaghetti, while men are waffles. Men truly have that “nothin'” box that allows their mind to go white canvas blank at times. Women do not…our minds go a million miles a minute even while we sleep! The book revealed a story about a man going into a hardware store to buy a light bulb vs a woman doing the same. The man goes in, gets the bulb, pays, comes out. The woman goes in, asks the clerk to show her which aisle, comments on the clerk’s resemblance to her son’s best friend, finds the light bulb and compares the cost to four other brands, meanders her way to the checkout while considering what her family will have for dinner, then chats up the checkout clerk and leaves with a new best friend…and a lightbulb! (or something like that!)

    Ahhh…so glad we are all so different and yet so much the same!
    Glad to be of inspiration to you today!

  9. “Heart maps and writing lists are wonderful tools to jog our memories and spur our thoughts, but there’s nothing quite like being open to writing ideas that come our way when we least expect it … ” I so loved this line. I’m trying to go about the SOLC a little differently this year, really focusing on moments during the days to share, but more importantly, to reflect on, and learn from. I have my stash, all listed as drafts on my blogs, but I have been finding a lot to write about in the daily art of living. Your post reminds me of the conversation that I didn’t have today, with people who stirred my curiosity. It’s on my list, but tomorrow is IMWAYR. We’ll see if it is still sticking with me on Tuesday.

  10. This is a perfect example of life’s small slices that mean so much, Tara. How wonderful that this woman had Frank McCourt as a teacher-wow! And then mentioning the Tenement Museum, & Julieanne mentioning the ice cream shop next door-I was there with my students-a wonderful day to remember. So happy that you shared this experience with all its permutations-just think of the threads you just threw out! Thanks much!

  11. I am always so drawn into your stories. I could actually imagine being in the grocery store, meeting a stranger and exchanging stories. Thank you so much for writing with such care. I want to do more of this kind of writing. I get so anxious when I don’t have a plan for what I am going to write about. I spend time in the day making sure I have enough post ideas for the week. This weekend. I drafted two post just in case I get busy this week. However, I want to be the kind of writer can detour from the plan because in those detours are the really rich stories. My favorite part is this: “Heart maps and writing lists are wonderful tools to jog our memories and spur our thoughts, but there’s nothing quite like being open to writing ideas that come our way when we least expect it”

  12. I love the richness of all the details you included. It showcases you interest in life, experiences, sharing and learning. I really want to bump into YOU at Trader Joe’s and block the chocolate covered cherries!

  13. Awareness of every day is heightened in March, which explains why I’m exhausted by the end of the month. You are a master at creating those small moments and telling them in such detail. What a great slice!

  14. I just love this story, Tara! I love the way you allowed yourself to depart from your plan and write about something that just happened. At the end of the month you’ll be happy you went for it!

  15. Tara – I loved this post. You wrote in a way that actually made me feel like I was in TJ’s with you and experiencing the whole encounter. Thank you for sharing both the process and the interaction with the fellow teacher.

  16. Funny you should write about this. I have been wondering how everyone else is writing. I feel like I am constantly flying by the seat of my pants at the moment and anything I write has not been planned out properly, if at all. I am a little frustrated. This is a good feeling though because now I know how my class feels sometimes. I love those conversations at the shops, you sometimes think you want to exchange numbers and meet for a coffee and more chatting don’t you?

  17. As always, Tara, this is so insightful! You’ve really gotten to the heart of our purpose: to, as Naomi Shihab Nye put it, “to live in a way that let’s us find them.” Thank you so much for sharing!

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