The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for August 2016

Thirty 5Ks… #4 (Hero Hill)

leave a comment »

It was cool but oddly humid when the gun sounded at Great Lakes Naval Base at 7:15 yesterday morning.  I was in a herd of 600+ runners who were running the 3 nautical mile course around parts of the base.  There were a bunch of other runners somewhere else who were running the ten miles from Ft. Sheridan down the road to Great Lakes.  The 3 nautical miles (3.45 land miles) would be enough for me, especially considering the thick air.  I kept hearing rumblings about Hero Hill and whether it was still at the end of the course or had been taken off the course or if it had only been placed in a different spot.  It was the latter.  I hit it after the first mile and thought it might better be named Holyfuckingshit Hill.  I couldn’t see the top of it most of the way up, which is kind of like real-life symbolism that would lend itself nicely to a poem.  I wasn’t thinking about poetry, though.  I was thinking about putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how slowly that was happening.  I thought about giving myself a break—I’m not 16 anymore.  I’m not even 45.

I can thank my Cross Country coach who thirty years ago made us run up Big Bertha on a local golf course in preparation for running up Agony Hill at the New Prairie Cross Country Invitational.  Part of the New Prairie course passed through a dried up river bed, and you had to climb Agony Hill to get out of the river bed.

agony hill

Agony Hill at the New Prairie Cross Country Invitational.

Big Bertha was massive.  It rose almost 50 feet in less than a of a quarter mile.  We hated it after our first run up, and hated it exponentially more by our tenth run up, but it made us better and made Agony Hill manageable.  I was thinking about Big Bertha and Agony Hill as I hit Hero Hill.  A handful of naval officers stood beside the road and offered encouragement.  There were a few signs along the way about what heroism actually is.  I felt pretty good once I crested the hill, but that only lasted until the long, barren stretches that rounded out the course.  Those long, barren stretches are tests, too.  What are you going to do when the next turn is a point on the horizon that remains at a fixed distance no matter how fast you run?

Running is an existential crisis sometimes, but I made it through.  I thought I could do the course in less than 30 minutes, but I’ll settle for 30:27.  That damn hill put a dent in my time, but I finished in a real good place overall and in my age division.  Guess I’ll keep going.

Written by seeker70

August 29, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Thirty 5Ks… #2 and 3 (plus “Ambivalent Yogi”)

with 2 comments

I guess this was bound to happen once I set the goal of cramming in a bunch of 5K races:  I’d run into a few duds that were hardly worth the time or poorly managed.  I didn’t think it would happen in back-to-back races on the same weekend, but it did.  I guess it’s good to get the clunkers out of the way from the get-go so maybe it won’t happen later on.

I showed up to Independence Grove Saturday morning to run a race sponsored by the Urban Muslim Minority Alliance.  It was supposedly their second annual.  I was the first to arrive, and that included the people who were supposed to run the race.  Nothing was set up–no course, no refreshments, nothing–and the person at the gate didn’t even know where the race was supposed to be.  I finally found some people who appeared to be very young to be organizing a race, and they told me they were pushing the race back to “11 o’clock or noon,” depending on who shows up.  Hadn’t I gotten the email or seen the Facebook page saying that they were delaying since the weather was bad?  Well no, I hadn’t.  Besides, there was no email.  It was already 9:45, which is far too late to start a race in the summer anyhow.  I decided to hell with it and went for a run, a crappy one at that, and went home.  I’m still counting this as one of my 30, though.

I showed up to Indepedence Grove again this morning for A Walk to Remember, which in addition to being a walk one might keep in one’s mind, is also a 5K.  They didn’t have the registration sorted out, and the bathroom situation was a disaster because some dude was sitting on the only toilet for a looooong time texting or whatever.  I hoped it was more “texting” than “whatever.”  Still, I was primed to run despite having run Saturday (I almost never run two days in a row…  too old…  too heavy…).  It was beautiful running weather—overcast and cool.  I got off to a great start and felt I was running my best race of the summer.  It helped that Independence Grove is pretty much my home course, as I’ve discussed before.  I came across the finish line after holding a few dudes off for the last half mile, and my time was a disaster despite feeling like I was really hauling ass.  My guess was that the course was longer than 3.1 miles.  I’d say it was 3.3 or 3.4.  And I just now checked the results online and saw my time listed was 20 seconds slower than what I registered when I finished.  So it seems like this thing was wonky pretty much all around, which is too bad.

So I got tangled up in a few crappy races that were poorly run.  All you can do it keep running.  I’m on pace to meet my quest thus far, so that’s a good thing.  But my back is tired.  Get used to hearing that.  And I’ve got a strange, dull pain on the top of my left foot.  Probably tendinitis.  I’m about due for new running shoes, so maybe they’ll help.  Most of all, I need yoga.  If I don’t get it, my skeleton is going to jump out of my skin and go find a more caring and compassionate body to inhabit.  I can’t blame it.  So it’s yoga tomorrow after school lets out.  But yoga?  Yeah.  For a few years now.  It’s keeping me going.  That’s not to say I like it much, which inspired a poem I crafted during the Poem-a-Day Challenge last year.

Ambivalent Yogi

It doesn’t look like I love you, not with how
instead of cherishing our time together I count
the minutes until I can get the hell out of class.
I’m not conveying love when I grumble about
spending weekend mornings on the mat
instead of sleeping in or making an omelet.

I don’t give you proper due for how my shoulder
hinges likes it’s been oiled and rotates without
a hitch.  You exorcised plantar fasciitis from
my feet with your “downward facing dog,”
or whatever it’s called.  There are days
I’m lucky to be walking upright, right?

Do I have to proclaim it?  Of course it’s because
of you, despite not packing much action or
making sweat fly or challenging me to best
my best time—because you reject my norms!
I’ll never say “I love you,” but you might think
you see it in how I flow through your forms.


Written by seeker70

August 21, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Students, Please Forgive Us (pt.3)

leave a comment »

Though there was a lack of research to counter the previous assertion about encouragement, there may have been research involved at some point along the way as the student constitution was drafted.  I say “may have been” because some data was presented, though the source was never cited.  It’s impossible for me to say whether the data came from qualified academic research, or whether it was educational philosophy that somebody packaged into an article in an education publication.  Regardless, I could have searched for the article and discussed it with colleagues.  Some things that were cited from the article were the benefits from a mere 1% increase in school climate.  How was “school climate” quantified in the article?  What concrete steps can we take in that direction to improve?  None of those considerations came up when the research was referenced.

By the end of the presentation, the most our presenters did to suggest how to address school climate was to tell us we need to ask ourselves “What have I improved or contributed to today?”  The assumption was that teachers don’t do that.  It’s easy to see why students would think that since they don’t see the amount of reflection in which teachers engage with themselves and their colleagues.  It doesn’t often happen in front of students, so if they don’t see it, for their intents and purposes it isn’t happening—unless someone knowledgeable about teaching takes the time to explain the reflection processes in which teachers engage and steer the presenters towards suggesting something more substantial and insightful.  Then again, why were the students telling us what we needed to do?  If it was their constitution, why weren’t they telling us what they were going to do?

As the presentation was wrapping up, someone in a position of authority told us “it’s not over” in regard to the presenters rolling out the student constitution.  The following week, the group briefed other students who then visited homerooms to spread the word to the masses.  Some of those deployed wore the official t-shirt that was crafted to promote the cause.  Another push to promote the cause came through a few weeks later.  Faculty gained clearance to show support by wearing the official t-shirt if we had bought one or accepted one when they were given out for free, and we could also wear jeans in what became an official “dress down” day.  One colleague pointed out that the clearance to dress down was the same as what one student railed against when she was offended that a teacher bribed  students with candy in exchange for favorable behaviors.

Ultimately, we don’t expect to see something sublime and transcendent when students come before us in a situation like they did when they presented their constitution.  We rarely get something sublime or transcendent even from the professionals we hire.  Plus, it’s absurd to think our students would rank with Tara Brown or Hal Urban, though our students have something that Brown and Urban don’t have:  An authentic voice coming from the ground level.  That voice is something we should be hearing frequently.  As with any voice that wants to be heard, though, it needs to be measured and precise and not fired from the hip.  Our students are naive about the world in so many ways, but that’s what you are when you’re seventeen or eighteen.  We can no more hold that against them than we can hold it against the sky for being blue.  Our students are also aware and ambitious, if misguided.  That’s where we come in as teachers:  We help guide them, and our job demands we put our all into guiding them as best we can.  We have to know the territory and how to guide them through the pitfalls inherent in unfamiliar terrain.  It’s an uncomfortable process—growth always is, and the only thing worse than limited or no growth is false growth.  When students are left thinking that their accomplishments, whatever they might be, are insightful and meaningful, that any opinion they have is valid, that any perceptions are reality, we have wronged them.  In the wake of all we’ve seen thus far about the student constitution, I’m reminded of how hard we need to work to be insightful and critical towards our students’ work, to question their opinions, and to demand they back them up in substantive ways, all so they know that that is how the world works.  If we do this and familiarize them with the process, it will help them achieve excellence and accomplish something meaningful.   We should also hope they’ll forgive us if we can’t help them recover this movement that has such potential for positive change in the climate in our building.

Written by seeker70

August 10, 2016 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Students, Please Forgive Us (pt.2)

leave a comment »

I would be neglectful if I did not explain that this dream of a positive, focused disposition can be a reality.  Many of us see it frequently.  Of the five classes we teach each day, it is common to  have one “bad” class and one “good” class, and those classes remain as such pretty consistently throughout the year.  The other three classes can vary, but effective teachers know how to get four of their five classes consistently hedging toward the “good,” if not fully existing in that zone, and get unexpected results from the “bad” class, if inconsistently.  This all goes on with students largely unaware of the strings teachers pull backstage, the peer coaching many teachers engage in, and the frenetic paddling going on just below the surface while a teacher is teaching—it takes a lot of relentless hard work and relationship building with no guarantee that any of it is going to work out to establish that kind of effective climate in the classroom.  The teacher is responsible for constructing that environment, but it can come from the students, too.  I have a notable instance of that from my eighth year teaching.

It was my 7th period low-level Junior English class, and the fact that most of the students had already lived through ten years of being told they were “low level” meant most of them had developed a repertoire of behaviors they felt were expected of them.  There was daily refusal to work, frequent backtalk, and countless reasons to remove students from the class and write conduct reports to the dean.  There was also Keona, who cut a significant physical presence in the room and was a vocal leader.  She was a mixed bag who could go one way or the other day to day, and sometimes within the same 47-minute period.  I knew her well enough after the first two months to know she had a broad sense of humor.  She also liked to test boundaries and would go as far as I would let her, and sometimes further.  She spoke to me privately one day before class about halfway through the year.  

“Mr. Burd,” she said,  “I’m tired of kids in here acting the fool.”

“I’m tired of it, too,” I told her.  “It has an impact on how I teach and how this class runs.”

“I’m gonna make it different,” she continued.  “I’m gonna start calling kids out.”

I agreed that some student leadership would help.  I also said she might be surprised at how many of her classmates were going to jump on board.  I didn’t think she was aware of how many other kids in the class were eager for a change.  They were juniors after all, and several of them understood how their classes could run and how their decisions can affect change.

So I welcomed Keona’s voluntary leadership, but cautioned her:  “If you’re going to call out your classmates, they’re going to nail you every time you slip, or decide you don’t care.  And there’s not much I can do to stop them.”

Keona accepted that, and the change was underway.  It took a few weeks, but the class gradually changed to the point where there was a ubiquitous positive vibe.  There was a helluva lot more time on task, removals and conduct reports fell to almost zero, and we’d go days with no behavior issues at all.  I was having fun teaching the class, and the students seemed to enjoy being in the room and being engaged in learning without the most of distractions they had become used to.  We never got every kid on board, but the outliers mostly surrendered their acting out behaviors, if not their attitudes, because the class leader had decided there would be no more social reward in “acting the fool.”

Halfway through the presentation a few months ago, I began to wonder how much thought had been given to how the audience would respond to what the students were saying.  The presenters didn’t appear to prioritize empathy, if they thought about it at all, but they aren’t on the hook for that.  Teenagers are plenty capable of empathy, though if we want them to demonstrate it, they have to practice the cognitive skill set empathy demands.  As their teachers, we can prompt them when empathy needs to be apparent so they are practiced in demonstrating it.  We can get them to think about the impact of the message on the audience and adjust it when so much of the message is tinged with negativity.  We have to know the message ahead of time in order to do that.  I was told by someone close to the situation that nobody besides the students vetted the content  before the group spoke before more than 150 teachers who average around ten years of experience in the classroom, and two-thirds of whom held at least one master’s degree.  That answered my question about how the original focus had been lost and why we were seeing something far different than the students had originally intended.

Students next vocalized a few generalizations, one of which was that our school has a bad reputation.  Was I to infer that the climate in our building was a result of our reputation?  And of course we have a bad reputation!  That’s low-hanging fruit in regard to how we are viewed, especially by some of our neighboring districts.  The idea of us having a bad reputation was nothing new to anybody in the audience, and despite the bad reputation, there are still two hundred or more adults who show up each day to help make the building the best it can be, and a lot of those people have done it for twenty or thirty years.  None of the ones I know ever shows up and says “I’m here, even though we have a bad reputation.”  Nor has a “bad reputation” been cause for scores of staff members to quit.  What’s more, teenagers sensationalize their experiences.  The testimonials that kicked off the presentation were proof enough of that.  We fight this battle of perception yearly in regard to a substance abuse awareness campaign that has found year after year that 75% of our students don’t drink alcohol, and a substantially larger number don’t smoke.  Students deny that the numbers are that high even though we have sound statistics gathered in an effective and meaningful manner that back those numbers.  The reason students deny the number is because they are used to hearing about the sensational things their peers do while the mundane are broadcast at a lower volume or even a different frequency.  So the word is out that we have a bad reputation. Students could look to a neighboring district (where I happen to live) and find enough dirt in a short internet search that might get them to rethink reputations since the district where I live has a “good” reputation.

Another generalization was that students don’t feel encouraged.  The presenters didn’t reference any surveys or any other attempts to collect student opinions from across the school demographics in regard to this proclamation.  They perceived a lack of encouragement, though, and left unchallenged, it was their reality.  I challenged that reality, and my own, by combing through our school report card on the Illinois State Board of Education website.  I saw that our graduation rate has increased by 10% in the last 5 years, our freshman on-track to graduate rate has increased by 5% in the past year (the state average has decreased by 4%), and we have a lower achievement gap in almost all measured areas than the state average.  There must be some degree of encouragement happening if we are getting those results.

Written by seeker70

August 9, 2016 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Students, Please Forgive Us (pt.1)

with one comment

Climate is tricky business in schools.  We can have high expectations for academics and behavior that we demand students meet, but the grind of getting to them can be exhausting and even futile if students don’t feel some degree of a positive, nurturing climate in the building.  That vibe is especially important when dealing with a large at-risk population like the one at my school, where two-thirds of the students come from low-income families.  Without the proper climate, it’s not uncommon for students to give up or act out or not even buy into what we expect of them.  With the proper climate, we can motivate students to not only show up, but have an appropriate attitude and see the worth in the demands we make on them as we help them develop the academic skills we are charged with helping them develop.  The district in which I work recognizes this and has prioritized climate for years now, to the point that the school board and administration have sought out a number of names renowned for their angles on school climate and contracted them for in-service days, mostly at the beginning of the school year.  People like Tara Brown, Hal Urban, and Mark Scharenbroich have delivered  meaningful and engaging seminars to us about the nature of school climate and how to maximize its effects for our particular demographic.

When we have such esteemed guests in our building, they bring with them an air of hard-earned gravitas after teaching for decades, studying for advanced degrees, writing books and conducting research, and earning heady testimonials about what they have to say.  What’s more, their delivery and content is fresh and engaging even to veteran staff who have lengthy tenures in the classroom.  We listen to and absorb what these experts say because of all that, and each of the presenters I mentioned (and more) have had concrete, applicable ideas regarding how to improve climate in the building and our classrooms.  Given our track record in this regard, I’m struggling with our recent decision to hand the microphone to students who were concerned about the issue.  The results thus far have lied in stark contrast to some of my core beliefs as a teacher.

It started with some upper-classmen speaking to a teacher about how they were disillusioned with the climate in the building.  They formulated a plan for change and put together a presentation that was delivered at a faculty meeting late in the school year.  After a brief introduction during which one of the students told us that what they were doing was “110% student-driven,” the students shared videorecorded testimonials in which some of them, and several others, discussed their disillusionment.  Students spoke under the utmost privacy:  A large black box digitally concealed their faces.  In one of the testimonials, a student spoke about a friend who had to serve detention after accumulating cuts to his first period class.  But, according to the testifier, his friend had to stay home and take care of his sick mother.  There was no mention of contact with the attendance office to excuse the absences, nor was there any indication of the student speaking with his dean or counselor about the situation, or one of the six social workers the school employs, or if he spoke to his advisor or any of his six or seven teachers, most of whom could have helped the situation.  That might be a lot to ask of a teenager, though if nobody knows about his situation, it’s very hard to get him the help he needs.  There is also the possibility that the proper people did know, but there was more to the story than what was being told second-hand behind the black box on the video.

A subsequent testimonial featured a student who had a friend who was upset with a counselor who supposedly wouldn’t let her drop an Advanced Placement course because she would “end up working at McDonald’s.”  At that point, I was seeing a pattern emerge.  The testimonials being shown to us were second-hand accounts of something that happened and may have been missing some context critical to the individual situation; most notably, were the students to whom these things happened outraged, or were their friends outraged?  Another student took exception to one of her teachers offering candy for correct answers or cooperative behaviors because she felt students were being bribed.  She equated it to students being treated like animals.

The testimonials were difficult to watch since someone helping with the presentation was trying to omit content as we watched the video by scrubbing back and forth.  I was wondering why that happened until a colleague who saw the entire video told me that the omitted content was too inflammatory or inappropriate to show during the presentation.

We could have spent the rest of the meeting or even the rest of the school year listening to testimonials, regardless of how appropriate their content might have been.  Students typically have gripes about some way they feel they were mistreated at school or some injustice they feel was done unto them (or someone they know).  Of course they do.  It means they are paying attention to what is happening in their institution and are becoming critical consumers.  I’d be more worried about them if they didn’t have gripes.  In many ways their gripes are precursors to what they’ll talk about once they are members of the workforce and they know their respective fields well enough to develop frustrations with it.  What the students don’t know is that most of that chatter amounts to background noise.  The faculty knows this well—we engage in it, too.  It’s venting that I hope most of us do in private with trusted friends or colleagues.  I wonder how many others viewed the testimonials and sundry other gripes in a similar manner.  I have thought since then that the concerns broadcast to us would be excellent issues to bring before something like a student council where students can filter concerns and moderate issues through student leaders and then move forward from there.  Unfortunately, we don’t offer a student council at our school.

What we most needed to see were testimonials from students who said, “Hey, this is what I found out, and this is what we want others to know:  Our choices about behavior and attitude can make a big difference in how we are treated.”  That would have helped bring forth in a more effective manner what the group before us wished to propose:  The advancement of a disposition in which students are mindful of their internal locus of control; a disposition that has the potential to improve each student’s academic standing and contribute to a positive classroom and school climate.  It was becoming apparent during the meeting that they had some ideas for how the climate could be improved in the building, and they had some notion of how they could implement that change.  They called it a student constitution for the school.  They only alluded to the particulars of their plan.  There were few if any concrete steps announced.  Why they started off with a gripe session against people who they wanted to buy into their plan was lost on me.

At one point during the presentation, a student said she knows the perception is that she and her classmates have senioritis; they “have one foot out the door” and don’t necessarily  care.  “But,” she continued, “it’s discouraging when teachers have it, too.”  I didn’t know who in particular she was talking about among the 150+ teachers in the audience, and I started to wonder how the group went from showcasing what they were going to do about school climate to accusing teachers of being as checked-out and disinterested as many of our seniors are.  It wasn’t long before I thought I knew the answer.

Written by seeker70

August 8, 2016 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thirty 5Ks…For Thirty Years of Running (#1)

with one comment

A surprising nostalgic turn recently, a desire to set challenging goals for myself, and a thirst for symmetry in some aspects of my life all came together two weeks ago into this plan:  I’ll run thirty 5K races in the next year to commemorate my thirtieth anniversary of running.  The milestone almost went by unnoticed but for the scatological thinking I experience when I run.  I was out running around who knows where when I reminded myself that I can still run faster than I did when I was sixteen…  which led to me remembering that I’m forty-six now…  and then I got my iPhone out and did the math and realized it was thirty years ago that my high school Cross Country coach rang me up and I made good on something I told him I would do as a freshman, which was to join Cross Country.  I didn’t, and he reminded me every time I saw him in the hall.  I was at school early one morning for a baseball meeting my sophomore year when I happened to see him, and he spouted off again about how I dodged him two years prior.  I spouted back that I’d do it.  He called.  I couldn’t back out.

Glad I didn’t.  And that’s the flat truth.  Aside from six years of my life when I didn’t run by choice, and about two years when I couldn’t because of injury, running has been one of the barometers of my well-being.  When things haven’t gone so well in life, sometimes I’ve been able to go for a run and get my head straight.  When running wasn’t going so well, I’d prioritize recovering it.  It’s what has made me mentally tough (that was the only promise our coach ever made), and what has made me jackass stubborn.  You take the good with the bad.

Anyhow, thirty is a pretty heady number.  I’ve already figured that it’s going to cost me about $1000 dollars in registration fees.  I’ll have to double-up some weekends and race both days, and juggle even more the other priorities in my life like work and relationships and recreation.  I modestly figured that if I run three races a month, I’ll easily make the goal.  Problem is, 5Ks are rare December through February and since most races are on the weekends, I’m taking up a lot of weekend time that is very valuable during the school year.  There’s the physical toll, too.  I’m sure I’ll be noting some sore feet and knees.  Probably some weak legs.  Get used to hearing about my tired back.  My IT band has broken up and the members are pursuing solo careers.  I might get injured by running more than I usually do.  But there is also the benefit of on-going wellness.  The satisfaction of reaching a goal.  The challenge to rethink my fitness routines.  Plus, the discipline.  I’m pretty strict with myself the day before a race as far as rest and drinking lots of water and eating right and staying away from Mr. Booze.  I’ll have to do more of that if I want to maintain some level of excellence as far as my times go.  So, bonus on all those accounts.

The quest began today.  I ran the North Chicago Community Days 5K Color Run.  I’m already stepping out of my normal habits by running a color run.  I don’t go for all that gimmicky stuff like color runs or mud runs.  But necessity prevailed, and I needed to do something to start myself off.  Besides, I’d run this race before when it wasn’t a color run and turned in some good times.  It’s a fast, flat course and usually a small race.  Today was no different.  It was cool but getting hotter as we waited fifteen minutes past the start time for the mayor to finally start the race.

I felt good from the start.  We went up a small rise and ran at an elevated height for a short time, and when we hit the long slope down, I was breathing in tune with my pace, which felt pretty rapid.  The course is blessed with some long, straight stretches, and those helped me maintain what I had started.  It all went well until I started the third mile.  I started to feel gassed and kept reminding myself time is not so important.  I’ve been fighting all summer just to get below twenty-seven minutes, but it hasn’t been a priority because I do my best running in the fall.  I came into the final stretch and heard a few guys closing on me.  I thought at first to let them have it if they wanted it, but then I saw I could actually crack twenty-six minutes.  I held one of  them off, and ended up finishing twelfth overall and second in my age division.  One of the guys I beat at the end was in my age division, and I edged him by .4 of a second.

So, it was hardware city for me.  I’ve never won many medals, so I feel pretty good when I do.  Final time:  25:59.8.  It’s still faster than when I was sixteen.

Written by seeker70

August 6, 2016 at 11:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Writing Date

with one comment

I’d heard the advice for years, probably since I first started writing like it’s a second job:  Establish a time when you sit down and write.  Clear out distractions and stick to that time; it is exclusively for writing.  Of course I ignored it, much like I ignore 90% of the writing advice I read from whatever hack put up whatever on his blog or got published in whatever magazine.  And I ignored it because I know better.  Other writers don’t know me and my methods.  They don’t know how important it is to me to slog around blindly, feeling every inch and only every inch in front of me and write in such a way that it feels like I’m giving birth sideways (hyperbole!).  Besides, I don’t believe in gimmicks.  They don’t work.  Until they do.  And then they stop becoming gimmicks and start becoming habits.  That’s why I have a writing date with myself on Wednesday afternoons during the summer.

This didn’t start as a writing date.  It started last summer (on my birthday, actually), and I was going to drive one town over for a little birthday present I bought myself.  I had been working on a poem that morning, and was having such fun with it that I decided I’d take the poem with me and camp out in the little coffee shop in said town one town over.  It turned out that there was a farmer’s market going on and there were lots of people milling around.  I ventured through the market and I ended up sitting on the back deck of a restaurant.  Got myself a little snack and a beer, and set to working on that poem.  I got up two hours later and thought how nice it was to be unexpectedly productive.  I went the next week, and the week after and the week after, and seemed to always have something to work on.  And I always walked away feeling it was time well spent.

So I formed a habit.  Now the writing date is locked on my schedule during the summer on Wednesday afternoons, though I have moved from the back deck of that restaurant to the beer garden of a bar up the street from there.  They offer full-time shade, a better beer selection, and huge tables so I can spread out my work.  Plus, there usually aren’t a lot of people there.  Why is this even worth writing about?  Because this blog is foremost a meta-cognitive journal about writing, so when things come up in my writing life it’s a good idea to come back to the blog.  Beyond that, though, it’s important that I found some structure for writing during the summer.  I am one who has frequently lamented the “dark side” of my annual 80+ days off; i.e. I tend to run off the rails and lose discipline and structure.  So plugging in some regular time helps avoid that.  Plus, it’s not just about Wednesday afternoon anymore.  I’m working on stuff in the days leading up to Wednesday so that when I arrive at the beer garden I have stuff going already and am not always trying to create new stuff.  An open, public environment usually isn’t conducive to generating new material, not for me at least, but I have found it to be effective for editing and redrafting because I’m not self-conscious about looking like I’m constipated when I’m in those stages of the writing process (hyperbole!).  Plus, this structure and discipline has helped me slog through what has been a very difficult piece to write these last few months (it will appear here soon), and without this habit I probably would have kept blowing the piece off until it was really too late to write it.  And then I would have kicked myself for blowing it off (not hyperbole!  the past few years of yoga have helped with my flexibility!).

There’s wisdom to be gleaned from all this, of course.  One such nugget is that I’ve stopped being so self-conscious about writing in public in a non-coffee shop setting.  I’ve had a hang-up in my head for years now that people look at you like you’re a freak or you’re trying to draw attention to yourself if you’re writing in public in an unexpected place.  Dunno where that came from, and it’s probably my imagination, but I seem to have dealt with the issue effectively.  Either that never really happened, or it’s still happening but now I don’t care.  The beer garden setting and so many other distracting things happening in the farmer’s market probably help in this regard.  Also, I learned to hold off on ordering a beer until later in my writing session.  I won’t get into the details of how I made that discovery, but trust me.  So I guess I can endorse setting a writing date with oneself.  Funny how this issue isn’t a problem during the school year when I have much less time and much more structure.  I guess that will be a blog for a different time.

Written by seeker70

August 2, 2016 at 9:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: