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)