Saturday, June 21, 2008

Adapted from my Saturday freewrite

It is refreshing to be back in the writing project. I feel as if I’ve been working in a vacuum. There is the adjunct’s office at OTC, but little discussion about writing ever takes place in there. Elbow wrote a paper about teachers having an environment where they can communicate together. Communication is an important aspect of my pedagogy; I need other writing teachers to discuss the aspects of writing that we bring to our classes. I like the idea of identifying myself as a writer, not just a teacher, but as a writer who shares with other writers in a community of writers. That vision was starting to slip away from me before this summer institute. The last semester was typical, both heartbreaking and rewarding, as far as my students went, but I was becoming a teacher, and I know that for me to teach in a positive environment, I need to remain a writer first and foremost. And as a writer, I need a writing community. Returning to the summer institute this year feels as if I’ve come home from a long journey. Hi guys, what’s for dinner?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

PLWP Writing Retreat Summer 2008

John and I had a wonderful time writing at Conception Abbey this past weekend. Joining together with writers from five other NWP sites was a motivating and inspiring experience. I have written about our writerly adventure here.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Something from the Journal

Kids' Fishing Day

When I heard the Department of Conservation was sponsoring a free fishing day at a couple of the state's trout parks, it seemed like a great opportunity to re-introduce the kids to a love of fishing. Maybe, I thought, they're ready to forgive me after the last introduction-to-a-love of-fishing attempt. Another golden occasion to try to prove that fishing isn't always boring and painful. How could I know the field I led them through was sawgrass and loaded with chiggers? It really was an accident.

I kept Kids' Fishing Day a secret as long as possible. I began preparing a few days in advance of it, considering which boxes to use, what lures to pack in them, which rods to use, what test line to string. One thing was sure: we would need an early start to beat the heat and get a chance at the fresh-stocked trout. I could imagine the scene already; the spring-fed stream dimpled by trout, the steam rising, the sounds of a riffle babbling. At last, I could bear no more, and called a family meeting. I told the kids what their mother and I were planning.

"Your mother and I--" (it's always best to begin announcements in this manner, as it helps to spread out some of the resentment) "have planned a wonderful family excursion."
"Do we have to?" the kids moaned in unison.
"Yes, we all get to go," I replied cheerfully.
My seven-year old son, Roger, looked at me earnestly.
"Dad," he said, "we will hate this."
I told him and his sister, Lily, how this was a great alternative to video games and the TV.
Lily reassured me I was doing the right thing by slamming the door, apparently eager to begin preparing for the trip.

The day dawned at last. We, however, rose around eleven, and it might be smarter when considering gear to bring to actually pack it. But the point was to teach budding outdoorspersons how it's done, so what better way to learn the techniques than by watching how their sage parents do it? First, the tackle boxes are crammed with anything that might be considered even partially edible to a half-starved trout. Miniature plastic worms of assorted colors, jigs in plastic and marabou, floating lures, diving lures, plain hooks, red hooks, sinkers, extra line, and so on. Just stuff it on in there. The challenge here, kids, is to get the absolute most possible in the box and still be able to latch the lid. It's okay if things are sticking out on the sides.

The vehicle's cargo-capacity was utilized to maximum efficiency, and then we added my wife, our daughter, and grandpa had decided to go with us as well. My son and I stood surveying. "Yes, the car should look pretty much like the tackle box," I explained to my son. "It's a metaphor. Theme, you know."
"Looks like a porcupine," my son said.

In place of steam rising, the blacktop was sending up mirages by the time we pulled from the driveway. Time for another lesson about fishing-- the one about how, once you've been to a fishing spot (even if it has been ten years ago), you can take backroads all the way, successfully avoiding the interstate traffic and saving countless time. You could turn what is normally a drive of an hour-and-a-half into something like an hour and fifteen minutes. No, really. Two hours and fifteen minutes later we pulled into the state park. It was, I explained to the kids, simply that I was used to driving the roads in the dark of pre-dawn. They look entirely different in the bright of day. The kids seemed to buy it.

We checked in at the park headquarters and got the kids registered. While we adults scratched our heads and filled out paperwork, the kids wandered the aisles, bringing back lures they wanted.

It went something like this:

"Hey Dad, how about this one? I don't think you have this color."

"No, son, I do have that color, it's just faded a little."

"So . . . everything turns gray when it's old?"

"Okay, son. Put it back. Maybe next time."

Or this:

"Mom, that little boy said we have to get the brown bait."

"What little boy?"

(Pointing) "Him!"

The key to avoiding having to impulse-buy for kids, you see, as wise parents have learned, is careful, calculated deflection and distraction.

"Ask your dad."

"Dad, that little boy said--"

"No, hon, I do have that color, it's just . . ."

"Uh, I really think we need to get the brown bait."

"Maybe next time. Okay, everybody ready?"

My wife hands me a bag of chips. "Just these."

Before I can fume and explain that I've ensured we have plenty of snacks and drinks, she bats her eyes. "Pretty please?"

It's amazing, how easy it is to control human behaviour when you're properly motivated.
"You bet."

Somehow I had been nominated to haul all of the gear, so we made our way from the park store down into the valley. Although I couldn't see too well, I had other sensory options for navigation. The rods glanced off the familiar trees. The toes of my fishing shoes felt familiar roots and stones. One root in particular brought back memories. When I quit tumbling, I announced: "Stop!" The family was almost out of earshot, but luckily they heard me. My son came running up to assist me.

"Don't worry, I'm okay," I said.
"Huh? There's free hot dogs!" he shouted, and went running off again.

One key to trout fishing is to get your own spot. Luckily, I had just cleared a sizeable portion of the river with my approach. The river was otherwise shoulder-to-shoulder with happy, jostling kids, and wet, irritable-looking adults. I saw that I had just laid claim to the perfect family spot.

My cell phone began ringing. Who could be so inconsiderate as to break the solitude --er, mood of natural ephemera? Parents and kids threw dirty looks at me. I think one sent a cast my way. I know, I should've turned it off, I thought. I gave everyone the well-meaning shoulder-shrug, effectively downloading most of the gear again.
"Hello?" I answered, ready to give this moron an earful.
Good thing I hadn't turned the phone off.
"Oh, hi honey."
"Dear?" my wife's voice lovingly responded. "I found a spot. Bring the stuff."
I could see her a few yards upstream, waving excitedly, waist-deep in poison ivy . . .