It is early Sunday morning and I awake to soft and familiar sounds. Through a hallway and behind a sliver open door, lies a little grandson trying to form his sounds, his pitches and his syllables into words. It’s a one year old’s private game of boggle, no competition or pressure, only joy. I listen to his word play for only a moment before I can resist walking in on the game. “Good morning,” I say forming my own old and familiar sounds. I reach into the portable crib and lift up a little boy in a flannel pajama suit with built in stockings and appliquéd airplanes. His eyes are bright and he is ready, trusting, purple crayon in hand, for a new adventure. I like to call him Harold, and one morning while he toddled around the kitchen, going from truck, to cupboard, to scattered crayons and toys, actually brought me a purple crayon.
On this day in his early morning sweetness, at his insistence, I wrap him in his “bay-bay” hurry downstairs where I pop a piece of bread in the toaster and fill a bright green sippy cup with milk.Breakfast will be outside, among the trees, the birds, wrapped in his bay-bay, wrapped in my arms. It is a lovely morning, before the color enters the cheeks of this world, before the “vroom vrooms” can be heard in the street below, before the birds and quail hide from human intrusion. As we walk down the hill there is a rustle. Two deer have heard our approach and are tip-toeing away. If we hear a dog bark, this little boy will start to pant like a dog; if a bird darts through the air he will point and say “bur, bur,” but when I say “Deer. Look,” there is no reaction. He is a clean slate and nothing has been written about deer.
We settle at the end of a staircase on the ledge of a very small valley. It is like sitting on a boat dock but instead of water, there are trees and a spring surrounded by cattails and aqua blue, wispy brush. Nature, aware of our presence has become bashful, but so have we. This child and I are usually exchanging syllables, half words and half thoughts. So eager are we, the nurturers of this little boy, for him to learn and develop, that we are constantly speaking, pointing, and defining the concrete and abstract objects in his world. “Look Max,” we say, “this is the color green,” or “Can you say thank-you?” and “What kind of truck is that? Dump truck? Can you say, ex-ca-va-tor?
But today is different and we continue our observations in silence. We both understand that voices would be an intrusion, that reverence is satisfying. My incessant hopes for his language development are calmed when I recognize that he is still learning, for silence is a language too.
When we moved in to our home over sixteen years ago, a kind elderly lady lived next door. Over the years, our friendship grew. We used to sit on her porch during the summer and I listened to her life stories told in her melodic voice. I enjoyed my time with her. When I was assigned my first AP class, she, a teacher of AP Literature for years, took me to her bookshelf of tried and true literary analysis.
When I pass by her house now, I feel its emptiness. The white baby grand piano sits behind the sheer white lace curtains with a blue scallop valance. The bench is empty, the notes are silent.
I'd traveled 1,300.2 miles to see my grandson and he could have cared less. In fact, he went out of his way not to sit on my lap. And it wasn't because he was afraid of a "stranger." He placed books on beloved grandpa's lap and begged to be lifted up. It's been like this from the beginning of our relationship-he seems to tolerate me. And so I back off, not one to be pushy anyways and, I understand love and devotion are a tricky pair.
I have enough resilience and love that it sort of doesn't bother me. I know I've been the best grandma, albeit from a distance, that I could have been. I don't smother him. I patiently try to play with him, try to win his love but am always defeated. It's just the way it is.
The grandson of a Cherokee chief, came to him because he was troubled by the pull or fight between good and evil in his own mind. His grandfather told him there were two wolves constantly pulling us to do good or to tempt us to do bad. The grandson asked, "Which one wins?" The chief responded, "The one you feed."
I was aware of this good wolf/bad wolf conflict the other day in the most simple situation of possible intolerance.
For months, I had tried to replace a pair of favorite boots stolen from my suitcase on a flight from San Diego to Salt Lake City (the third pair of boots stolen in this situation-yes, there is a boot loving, boot stealing baggage handler in SD-beware). I had ordered the second try-to-replace-pair from Nordstrom online. They didn't fit. I was going to Chicago and I knew I'd have time to exchange them and given the Chicago weather, I figured I'd even have a better selection. I was right and the boots were even on sale!
The shoe department at Nordstroms was buzzing with business. Every shoe salesman seemed to be occupied, stacks of shoe boxes beside him, women testing new shoes around them. Everyone except a little old man who seemed to be wondering around. The man was VERY old, and my initial reaction was to not want the old man to help me. I was in a hurry, .....I noticed my unfounded intolerance immediately and felt ashamed. Old? I'm old, why would that bother me? I assumed his age made him less competent--I didn't need a doctor to operate on my eyes, I needed a pair of boots.
There were two wolves in my heart that day and when I recognized my intolerance, I immediately switched; the old man hadn't noticed me, so I sought him, and he was more than I had imagined.
The gentleman had been in the shoe business for 40 years. He had once been a traveling shoe salesman from Brooklyn and he had chummed with the best. I learned that Cole Hahn shoes were created by Cole Kahn, an old friend. I learned that 9 West shoe company was sold for a bundle and the shoe designer started Vince Camuto Shoes. Both were favorite brands and now I knew why. Irwin (we were on a first name basis now) had been a part of the reserves in WWII, had grown up in Chicago (but didn't know Phillip Hallie), had 9 grandchildren and his wife's health was ailing. Irwin was a delightful man. And....I was helped by the oldest shoe salesman in all the Nordstrom stores. Irwin was 92 years old. For a shoe loving girl and especially a Nordstrom department shoe loving girl, this was a momentous occasion meriting a photo. And to think, I'd almost missed out on the encounter because I was tempted to feed the evil wolf within.
Aren’t we all in the classroom? It may not be a sit-down at-a-desk classroom, lecture or an online study, but I’ve come to think of life as a classroom. If this is more than a nice cliché, then we are all in some sort of classroom – but only if we are willing to learn. And what we learn is entirely up to us.
A long time ago, I thought I knew just about everything, thinking when I grew older I would have mastered it all — emotions, knowledge, personal, social and business relationships. But the irony of life has clearly shown me that it’s just the opposite. As I age, I seem to know less and less. And so I reach out for wisdom in many places. My most recent find came in an ancient story from India:
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did without hesitation. The traveler left rejoicing in his good fortune; he knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime, but a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious — give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
Apart from being figuratively in the classroom, I am also literally in the classroom. I am a schoolteacher and I’ve learned some of my greatest lessons in this environment, especially from student writing.
It was from these writings that the idea of this In the Classroom column was born. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could read the best crafted and well thought out ideas of students in Utah County? The Daily Herald agreed, and I am happy to present the first column of In the Classroom.
Beautiful place to write? I thought so, but I learned a valuable lesson today: I can't wait to return to my old place at my desk. Though nice to have an occasional change, there's no place like writing home.
Second lesson? I can write anywhere. It's not the place.
This morning I went for a hike and trekked along a quiet pathway. When I emerged, I was covered with those mini-monsters that cling to your socks and pants, well-named: hitchhikers. I plan on taking a few more hikes in the area, so I decided to look for the plant, identify it and hopefully avoid it. As I watched the side of the road, I discovered raspberry plants! Fresh wild raspberries. What a treat because I have been mourning my raspberry patch. While I was away, hundreds and hundreds of berries dried on the canes because no one (I shall not name the offending child) picked them. As I feasted and collected and dropped the raspberries into the fold of my sweatshirt for my fellow writers' breakfast, the experience reminded me of editing. Hang on, this might work.
We write a rough draft-good ideas, but we know it needs polish-there are some hitchikers (poor word choices, too many theres and weres) that need to be booted out of the car. While laboring to look for the offending sentences, ideas or syntax, we unexpectedly find the raspberries-the good sentences, the original simile. Once I had found raspberry plants, knew they were there, knew what they looked like, I saw more and more---so the final analogy is: when we consistently write we become better at identifying poor writing and creating good writing. When we make those edits, they go from nuisance plants to fruit-bearing raspberries!
I sense, that many of my students, when they see an edited, marked-up paper--they panic, deflate, feel overwhelmed. I'm hoping this post will lead to a paradigm shift.
This past week, as a fellow of the Natl. Writing Project, I spent three days with fellow writers and mentors. One of those mentors is Chris Crowe (Mississippi Trial 1955). He also has a new book coming out in fall 2014. The current title (because the publisher might change the title) is I Saw Death Coming Up the Hill- a-coming-of-age novel set in the Vietnam War era (1970's). This work of his has a fascinating history, not only of the time but of its creation.
Chris asked me how my revision was going and what I was doing to revise. I paused and realized that I wanted to hear what he had to say about revision and not what I had to say. So I said/asked, "I could really use some revision tips from you."
One of those tips was: Use your search option in word and search for "there." It is overused and usually combined with the lazy "to be" verb.
Then he offered to take a look at a "few pages." I only gave him four and I wish like crazy, I'd sent him ten. He then sat down with me and explained every reason and suggested edit. He did this so deftly, it was an amazing editing experience. He set the pattern for the rest of my editing (only 200 pages to go). Now, in part, it was such a great experience because 1. my attitude--I do not have an ego with my writing. I realize I can only see so much and new eyes see so much more. 2. I love fellow writer's input. I'm not embarrassed that I spelled "house" wrong or embarrassed that the scene I just wrote is stupid or that I used "ok" fifteen times in one paragraph. Writing is mutable, flexible, erasable.
I want my students to "shift," to welcome edits, to be excited about edits, learn to edit, love editing, write more than two drafts and come to see writing as evolution. Keep in mind that the photos of Dr. Crowe's edits were made on writing that has already had MULTIPLE drafts, and it still needs work.
When I first started Mimi Lost and Found, I chose an old church on St. Germain Des Pres to be the location of the orphanage. But the name was just regular and I liked the name Sacre Coeur so much better. Sacred Heart. But as I am here, it seems wrong to change or lift the name of one cathedral to another location. Especially when the Sacre Coeur is such a famous place. So, last night while riding our bikes at dusk, my favorite thing to do, we once again passed St. SEverin and this time I looked closely. It seems to be a perfect set-up for the orphanage. I'm going back right now to scope it out thoroughly and take photos and hopefully get past the cathedral and into the courtyard and the living quarters of the seminary that would serve as the perfect orphanage.
I also read from a Paris tour guide that the Lost and Found was moved to its current location in 1939. I don't know if that's authentic information but it would ruin the story. For my purposes, the story stay on the ile next to the perfecture of police.
To Joe, Megan, Mrs. Chambers, Becca, Annie (who saw Mimi in Paris), Ellie, Summer (who did illustrations), Holly, Mandi, Tony, Deren, Tess, Elena and any one else who I may not have listed,
Thanks for reading Mimi Lost and Found, a middle grade novel that has been in the works for several years. Author and beloved friend Becca Wilhite's daughter Ellie also read the manuscript and kept asking her Mom when she could have the newest edited version, so I decided to have it printed for her for Christmas. Summer Meredith graciously did the illustrations and Mimi came to life. Mimi is about a young girl who works in the Paris Lost and Found and after finding that Paris is wired for destruction at the end of 1944 ends up saving Paris.
Since it was a self-edited, self-published book, it didn't have the final copy edits and didn't undergo the scrutiny that professionally published books undergo. So, when I read through MLF, I see its faults. I only printed 12 books (thank goodness).
One of the underlying reasons for coming to Paris was to double check on the venues of the book and one of the main venues is the real Paris Lost and Found.
I almost put off going to the Paris Lost and Found. I think I was afraid I would be disappointed, and I knew that it had moved from its original location by Notre Dame. With only three days left in Paris, we finally went. And I wasn't disappointed.
A photo of the curator, 1939, Monsieur Rigolo. Not really, but my character is Monsieur Rigolo.
Documents. Parapluies are umbrellas and clefs are keys-as we stood in the L&F I noticed a bin that had at least two umbrellas going down to storage. Valuables are kept for a year and a half. Non valuables are kept between one and a half and four months time when they are trashed or clothing and useful items are given to charities. Over 185,000 items are turned in each year and less than 27% is claimed. Back in 1939 only 10% was claimed. Sometimes as much as 700 items are turned in in one day.
The best thing is that my research is in tandem with the real Lost and Found established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805. And here was the fun bonus: after talking to Monsieur Patrick, I told him that I had written a book, and he got a sheepish little smile on his face and he said that he had been told that someone was writing a book where the L&F was a setting. And he of course thought this was the book. I had originally read about the L&F in an article written by John Tagliabue for the New York Times and I had sent a thank you email to him. He responded with very kind words and I would like to imagine that Mr. Tagliabue let the L&F know and the story he'd heard about was in fact the book he is pictured with here. I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't a REAL published book. C'est la vie!
A remarkable after note to this story: When I printed the book and created this post, there was one woman whom I needed to thank, but our friendship was brief, and I had lost touch with her and, I couldn't remember her name. After visiting the Lost and Found, I tried to remember her name for a few days. She had lived in Paris and she had discovered that when Mimi steals a boat, the boat floats the opposite direction in which the Seine river flows. This lost friend saved me from an error in an important scene.
Today, I am waiting to board the flight home. I turn, and standing in the line,-- yes, there she is. Thank you, Amy Jamison.
An important character in Mimi Lost and Found is Joan of Arc. I found these gigantic frescoes on the wall of the Pantheon. They were a later addition (1874) to the original structure's completion in 1791. Every little study helps to round out and understand the character and his/her role in the story.
I knew I always had to return to Paris to walk the scenes I had created for Mimi. Well, Je suis ici! I'm in week number two of three weeks. This morning I found myself alone at Square du Vert Galant and realized a few critical moves for Mimi that need to be changed. I'm going tomorrow morning early, laptop in hand, and I'm going to re-write the critical scene on the quai of the Seine.
The stairs Mimi would have climbed down to reach Etienne's boat.
Where Etienne's boat would have been tied to Square du Vert Galant
Loved this portrait of Napoleon: pouty, puffy and exactly how he first appears in MLF.
So, it is after my Paris re-write that I can put Mimi to rest-knowing I have given it my best effort and the best on-site research.
While doing research for a script long ago, I interviewed Doris Hallie who retold her husband's experiences in France, both in the army and in the village of Le Chambon. She told me several times her husband's favorite explanation of the French. "Les Francais aiment les belle choses." These are my favorite belle choses.
I'm in Paris for trois semaines retracing my Mimi steps.
I am now a National Writing Project fellow. What a privilege.
One day, I had to leave early and it coincided with Deb Dean's early departure too. Chris Crowe tweeted: Where's Deb? Probably at Tangies with Pat (Tangies is an American Fork restaurant).
That was an invitation to trouble. I sent a message to Deb and asked if she was ready for a sweet revenge. Within ten minutes she was standing at my door in swimsuit, sunglasses and hat ready for our photo op-which we promptly tweeted with the caption: Hardly at Tangies. Probably one of the few times for Deb and only times for me that we "got" Chris Crowe, the master of teasing.
To fully understand this post, I strongly recommend that you watch/listen to this four minute TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_addis_a_father_daughter_bond_one_photo_at_a_time.html
Steven Addis, a photographer, tells of his 15 most favorite images, mostly taken by strangers. These 15 images document his visit to New York the same time every year with his daughter since she was a one-year-old. In the four minute talk, Addis mentions that he relied on the kindness of strangers to snap the image. He gives a challenge too, to document our special moments.
While in Paris, I have had the most heartfelt moments when I have offered to take the photo of strangers. Twice now I have walked up to the photographer and offered to take the photo so he or she may be in the photo with his/her loved one. In this smallest of gestures I have felt that heart-warmth that comes from engagement with a stranger when lending a hand.
The first couple was French and the second couple was from Moscow Russia. In each instance the borders, the politics, the differences, shrunk in a matter of seconds.
The third couple I met at the Musee d'Orsay and they were from Israel. As she explained her background, she cried, for her background was that her mother escaped from Poland after the Holocaust when she was one and a half years old. She explained that she and her husband were the generation that built up Israel. Israelis don't have earthquakes, mudslides but terrorists. Her beautiful five minute story all from the offer of a photo.
I'm currently studying the art of revision. This magnificent roof must have something to do with revision. The house isn't finished yet, but the roof is on. Yes, that's it. We build a story-foundation, walls, windows, roof, but we still have to go in and paint the walls, lay carpet, move in the furniture.
Or maybe it's ok to enjoy the artistry of this roof just because. No writing analogy needed. Beauty for beauty's sake.