“No more pleasant sight has met my eye than this of so many thousand of living creatures in one small drop of water.”
– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 17th century pioneer in microbiology
Last fall I did a poetry residency with a seventh grade science class. They were studying cellular structure and respiration followed by a unit on genetics and DNA. Their teacher and I discussed ways we could connect poetry and science with the students. We landed on the big idea of close observation, noticing deeply and seeing patterns—essential skills for both poets and scientists. We wanted the students to practice looking closely and describing what they saw in precise detail.
First, some good news: the first chapter of The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures was named a finalist for Fourth Genre’sMichael Steinberg Essay Prize! I’d post an excerpt, but I’m still working on actually getting it published somewhere, so the curious will have to wait.
It feels like summer today. Lawnmower in the distance, fluttering curtains, susurration of leaves, chatter of birds and squirrels outside my third story window. Right now I’m doing research. Not the kind that requires library or internet or the kind that necessitates phone calls home to ask who taught me to suck the honeysuckles that grew along our backyard fence or whether it was a tire or a wooden monkey swing at that one house we stayed in that summer. Nor is it the kind of research that winds up with me on the floor amid stacks of notebooks or letters dug out of cardboard boxes from the hall closet. Today’s research involved plugging in an ancient (like over a decade old) laptop (time capsule) and meandering through its contents.
I started this blog to document the process of writing my first book, The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. If you’ve spent time here, you know I mostly write about what’s going on in my brain as I write, revise and obsess over this massive project. I spend as much time as I can on the manuscript. But in the meantime, a girl’s gotta eat. So, today I’m going to share a story from my day job. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wait tables a couple nights a week. But by day I’m an interdisciplinary teaching artist, which means I work with students, teachers and community members in schools, healthcare centers and jails on all kinds of writing and performance projects.
I’m currently working with a seventh grade class at a Chicago public school on the South Side through one of my favorite arts ed organizations, Urban Gateways. My students are creating a performance that investigates connection – the people, places and things they feel connected to and how they are impacted by that web of connections. Seeking material to inspire student writing, I started thinking about the missed connections ads in the classified sections of local papers or on websites like Craigslist. I thought that could be a fruitful place to start an exploration of connectedness. A little digging brought me to a beautiful site called Literary Bohemian, an online journal of travel writing where I found a prose poem called “new york craigslist > personals > missed connections>” by Megan Falley.
My students and I talked about the concept of a missed connection ad. I likened it to a flyer you might see stapled to a telephone pole or tree for a missing pet or person. We talked about the people we might miss a connection with – a friend or relative who died or moved away, a fictional character we could never meet in real life or someone we hadn’t yet met, but hoped we would someday. We talked about dreams and being weird and how in poems you can use images that are dreamlike and surreal to say something about a relationship that is hard to say in words. Here are some of the poems they came up with. I think they’re pretty brilliant. We’ll use these poems and more to compile a script the students will perform at the end of May. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Continue reading Missed Connections: Meet me in a field of snow.
I don’t remember learning to read and write. The way my mother tells it, she discovered me at age three reading an ancient copy of Fun with Dick and Jane I’d unearthed somewhere, and I’ve been writing almost as long. Reading and writing were a continuum, not separate from one another. I loved the shape of letters – the teepee of A, the crawling snake of S. I loved stringing them into words and sentences. I loved the escape of books. They were magical objects, portals into other worlds. I didn’t think about how they came into being, the mechanics of someone sitting down to think about character and setting, cross things out, scrawl notes in the margins of typewritten pages. I didn’t dream of writing. I just wrote.
I put on plays in garages and backyards. Frankly, the audience was kind of secondary. It was the characters I was in love with. I practiced getting their voices right.
Tom Sawyer said, “You there” and Dorothy sounded plaintive; Peter Pan was cocky and Hook flamboyant. I wrote poems, too, about zebras and the ocean and pollution.
I liked meter and rhyme. I liked typing and illustrating. Writing poems was play.
As a teenager, my poems moved from paeans to bubblegum and spring toward more personal subjects. I was polite, though, correct. I wrote for the A even when I was writing for myself. My journals were wilder. Sometimes I swore like a truck driver. I detailed dreams; I wrote blush-worthy, cringe-worthy things. In these pages, a different, darker, truer kind of writing began to take shape. I took just one writing class in college – poetry. I wrote pretty terrible stuff. But I was practicing. And I continued to read voraciously. I started to think I’d like to write and teach. For a long time, when people asked what I did, I put it that way, as verbs. I write versus I’m a writer. I wasn’t ready to identify as a noun. Continue reading Why I Write