Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 19 - Last Minute Panic! (Stress, Creativity, & Community)

Stress vs. Creativity

Calvin & Hobbes

We know the feeling of the victorious, last-minute inspiration (even if it never seems to turn out well for Calvin!).   But what have we learned about stress and creativity when the stress is prolonged and environmental? Would subjects' creativity processes suffer when the heat was on? The answer: yes. Creativity suffers under prolonged and environmental stress.

The study, "Environmental Stressor Effects on Creativity and Decision Making" by Shanteau (Kansas State) and Dino (Frostburg State), focuses on the question: "What happens to higher cognitive processes when people are exposed to long-term environmental stressors?". The results: "Control subjects did not show systematic changes in any of the tasks. This pattern of results suggests that environmental stressors had little effect on well-structured tasks requiring clearly identified processing strategies. Larger effects were observed however, for tasks calling for creative responses based on strategies that could not be identified in advance."  (Italics mine) This is creativity. The ability to take what you know and utilize it in an unanticipated activity. The ability even to acquire or learn requires some level of creativity. We must be able to imagine that there is an unknown and use processing required to make the vision reality.
Why is this especially important in a classroom
writing community setting?

The point of distinction lies in the idea that school is a  learning  place as well as a practicing place. If it were only a place of practicing, that would be one thing. But we know that school is place where one foremost acquires new information, and then decides what to do with it (another new set of info). It is also a place full of "tasks calling for creative responses that could not be identified in advance." It is precisely this observe/intake/decison pattern that is affected by the stress in the study. (Abstract, Shanteau & Dino)

Knowing that this pattern, key for productivity, is the one disrupted by the stress- we can see that this could be crucial when constructing our communities. Also important are the ways in which the study inflicted stress: regulated bathroom breaks that did not correspond to need, noisy background, over-crowded conditions, room temperatures that were uncomfortable.... sound familiar? Some , if not all of these, are present at some point in a typical school day. Especially, and most unfortunately, in lower income areas where the students may arrive at school having already experienced these stressors (unmet physical needs, noise, overcrowding). Just being aware that these cause stress for students may help us as we design our classroom writing communities.

This is not just important for student but for teacher. Both are affected by unmet needs for quiet, the bathroom, having enough space. Both are stressed by these unmet needs. The student needs to imagine in order to learn. The teacher needs, among other things,  that "ability to have regard for students' perspective". (Gladwell, "Most Likely to Succeed") Both of these things require creativity.  And both teacher and student must live in community.

Tomorrow: Last-Minute Panic! (Part 2)....

Friday, October 26, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 18- Sometimes the Dragon Wins

"As this big world's always spinning
All that I thought I was winning
I never thought, I never thought I'd lose.."

"Vineyard", Jackopierce

I started my first year of teaching with the highest hopes and expectations.
I ended it  hoping to never teach again.
 It was that bad.

My favorite part of this is how apathetic the dragon is. He just doesn't care.

My brother had this picture on his bulletin board growing up. It came to mind all year. I felt like that crunchy, crisp-fried knight, picked to pieces by the derelict dragon. Two people saved me that year: Cynthia and Janet. I watched them having fun while teaching. I saw them be creative. They had a 'partner in crime'. And they let me in on it. They showed me that that great teachers use teamwork, fun, high standards, and perseverence. Great teachers reach out. Great teachers learn from their failures and keep going.

There will be times of failure... the kid you've been trying to reach gives up (or violates his parole or drops the F-bomb in the middle of a trip to the library..not that this has happened to me or anything..), the parents take the child and disappear, the lesson that rocked in your head fizzled in the classroom, your principal decides you may be the reason the education system is in dire straits, there are behavior problems you can't seem to get managed, the teacher next door is petty and spiteful, everyone flunks the big test... It's going to happen. Sometimes it will happen in front of everyone.

One of the great lies out there is that there's some sort of magical formula that you adhere to and then *poof!* success -guaranteed. There are things that you can do to get the odds in your favor, but when it comes to people (which, if we haven't noticed, there are a lot of at school), there are no guarantees. Just know that failure is as much a part of this as success. And we actually need to fail.

We need it because we have students who have done nothing but fail at school since they put their sweet feet through the door. They need our compassion. How can we teach someone to overcome if we've never faced an obstacle? We need it because we'll always have a first year teacher at our school, or someone who is having a particularly tough year, and we'll need to remember what it felt like when the dragon scorched us. We'll need to reach out. We need it because it reminds us that we really can get up and go on. We've failed and bounced back before, right?

Sometimes the dragon wins...
but, for every knight,
tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 17- Your 600 Percent

His eyes were downcast.
The floor was of utmost interest.
His feet shifted back and forth.
"I only read 6 books all year."

And maybe compared to everyone else's forty or fifty, that was shabby. But you have to know, that just a few months before, this ninth grade boy read his first book cover to cover. Fifteen years old, growing a mustache, and he really read his first book. And loved it. I teach older students. It's rare that I get to see the beginning of someone's reading career. I may see it take off or fully develop but I hardly ever get to be in on the Genesis moment. I saw it. I saw the wonder of that dazed expression when the book closes, you realize it's over, and you want more. I saw him return to the shelf and choose a new one.  I saw that. I saw it six times. There may be seven wonders in the world. I have seen six of them.

I hear teachers complain all the time about how low the students who have come to them this year are. "I can't believe he's in the sixth grade and reads on a first grade level." "I can't believe they've never read Shakespeare. We have to start at square one." "These kids have never written a grocery list, much less a research paper." And I've been there. I know. The state standards tell you one thing, your principal wants everyone at a certain level, someone else has all the "smart" kids for that year (And manages to mention it. Every day.). The negative talk that comes from all of the pressure that is around us. It can suck the joy out of the day. It's discouraging.

But shaming and blaming won't help. And we do get them for a year. At the end of the year will it be be a year that they learned? Or will it be another year of being ashamed of being behind everyone else? Will we change the talk inside our students' heads? The chatter that tells them they don't have what it takes.
If we choose to try, we can alter our students, ourselves,  and our writing community.

 I started looking at it as my call, my challenge. They're not supposed to know already- they're supposed to learn. We knew in Girl Scouts to "leave things better than we found them". That became a sort of motto for me. Let's start where we are and see how far we can get. Anything is better than where we started. Let's see if we can learn a little everyday, add all of that up, and make something great.

In the case of my student:

 He either read six books all year compared to everyone else's forty or fifty....
he improved SIX HUNDRED PERCENT...
the action is the same, and both things are true... it's just a matter of framing.

The book he read..... The FIRST book he ever read.

One of the worst stressors is that of comparison. Instead of seeing his accomplishment for the miracle that it is, he was framing it with someone else's experience and completely missing the greatness. Sometimes we help people do that to themselves. Sometimes we are our own worst framers. This is another reason that we need community. Yes, there are ample pitfalls for comparison when you learn and write with others. But there are also your compadres who are the ones to see your miracle- even when you can't. If we compare, any progress seems like nothing. But if we recognize and acknowledge our starting point, we see the progress for what it is. It can be our six hundrend percent.

I told him no one had the success he had. He had improved six hundred percent. We talked about what he was reading next. How he got faster with each book. He was surprised that I liked the Alex Ryder books he was reading. We shot the literary breeze for the few more minutes, and the bell rang. I wonder if he'll ever know how that whole experience shaped me as a teacher.

I resolved in  that moment to
 choose my dreams daily
(in the end , no one is responsible for them but me)
I'll expect something great to happen
I will
read something
do something
witness something
observe, learn, embrace

I will dream a little every day,
in that way, the significant amount compared to nothing...
It's my six hundred percent.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 16- Taking Notes:Jazz, Magic, & the Idea Book

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.
It is as if they are showing you the way."
-Donald Miller ,  Blue Like Jazz

It was pin-drop quiet. They wanted to know, would she? Would she read what she had written? Would it be... "teachery"?

"I was seven years old, and my brother was twelve. He was supposed to be "babysitting" me. We decided it would be a great idea to play with candles, fire, and matches..."

The teacher went on to read the story of accidentally catching a small patch of green shag carpet on fire, then the screen door, and of course, the resulting attempts at a covert cover-up!

I'm sure that you've realized that  teacher  was me. The students howled with laughter at our  amusing antics, (We cut and colored the carpet with magic markers- don't even ask about the screen door!), wanted to know what happened next in the story. But the best part was when I flipped my notebook around. One student gasped aloud, "But, Mrs. Gililland," she sputtered," there are arrows, and cross-outs. That's... messy!".
They were astounded that I would have a writer's mess- but most surprised that I would show it to them.
One student grinned and said "Well, I feel better now!".
In some ways, that was the point. Relax into your process. Understand that essays and stories don't trot themselves out of our brains perfectly phrased. And that's okay.

 Our students should see us write.... and love it. If you don't love it, please do something else. They need the discovery of your love for this. They need to see the furrowed brow of deep thought, the shriek of joy for revelation, the birth of a well-turned phrase. They need to see your scratch-outs, your arrows, your outlines and drawings. It's absolutely pivotal to let them in on our process. Mentor texts work because they show a student how a certain genre operates. Your idea notebook serves as a mentor text. Share it. Talk about your thought process- especially what you do when you are stuck. By letting them in, we invite them to their own process. Showing them this possibility opens the door to their chance, their dream. Remember yesterday's post? Here's the formula: discovery plus imagination. They discover our process (and love) and they imagine their own.  

The discovery of your process, the chance to imagine and try out their own process, to refine and define it for themselves is an exploration of the imagination. The magic of sharing ideas (sometimes with yourself) and  the courage to just put them down on paper, and then talk about them, changes not only what they do, but how they see themselves:

"I never thought that I liked to write, Mrs. Gililland. But it's just that I hadn't written like this before. I didn't know it could be fun. I just didn't know my style yet, I guess. Now, I write all the time. I read essays all the time. I want to be a Sports writer. {like S.I.'s Rick Reilly}"
(E. -a boy!- 8th grade)

"Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 15- The Magic of Discovery + Imagination

"The organic nature of communities of practice challenges us to design these elements with a light hand, with an appreciation that the idea is to create liveliness, not manufacture a predetermined outcome."(Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott & Snyder)

Discovery happens so often through  open observation. This is a watching in which you are looking just to see what you can see. This is not watching for a particular, already named something, but for an unexpected something.  John Stilgoe, in his book Outside Lies Magic, discusses his Harvard class in which he goes syllabus-free, and has students explore and report back. There is often a student-incited panic at first. These are, he says children of "structured learning and structured entertainment". While structure is not an evil thing, it does sometimes keep the student from possibility. The same can happen for a Community of Practice writing community. Too much predetermination, over-structuring, not allowing for breathing room, creates a stifling environment in which members cannot contribute, much less grow. "Starting a community of practice involves balancing discovery and imagination" (Cultivating Communities of Practice) This balance can be understood through the very thing that Stilgoe's students explore: landscapes.


Outside Lies Magic

 History is  intertwined with community. Each whispers the other's secrets. That's one reason seeing beyond what you know is vital. Stilgoe's exploration is generally landscaped based, and that's  not so different from a writing community. We are, after all, attempting to construct something that lives, ...and lasts. Great communities, landscapes with meaning- they are built to withstand times, change, traffic, and growth.  And they are always planned with an element of 'what if', the hope of a surprise, some elastic in the seams of their construction.  "Because communities evolve toward their potential, rather than defining it up front, developing them involves imagining possibilities their members have not yet considered." (73) If we think in terms of landscapes and architecture, it is no surprise. The blueprints are revised, rewritten, repurposed. Certainly people need just as much wiggle room. And this requires both imagination and discovery.

This playing with ideas, with potential, with what could be, is imperative to growth. When we build a library, we don't build it to house the number of books we have. We build it to house a number we hope to have; that we imagine. If we are unable to look past the concrete of what is to what could be, we lose sight of the very vision that should lead us onward. Writing, and a writing community, provide the physical outlay of ideas. Writing communities that work use exchange of ideas as a constant. They embrace imagination.

Stilgoe says students should look around "simply because objects and even landscapes from the past have shaped their lives and shape them still."(7) As the physical landscapes shape our lives, so the architecture of our community is  both a giver and taker of life force.  Exploring these elements of foundation, construction , and causation lay out not only an explanation of what is, but the possible patterns of what could be.   The magic of discovery plus imagination lies in the free-wheeling, catalyst-causing nature of the wonder discovered- that each exploration "sparks curiosity- encourages serendipity".  It is precisely because we've discovered one thing that we can imagine something else.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C.: Day 14 - Wrestle With It Until It Blesses You

" 'Of course!' she said, 'Of course! I was just trying to think it through. Good things come, but they're never  perfect; are they? You have to twist them into something perfect.'

Joe laughed. 'You have to wrestle with them,' he said. 'Like Jacob with the angel.' "

Betsy's Wedding (Lovelace)

Jacob's Dream - Abilene Christian University

Jacob's Dream

In the biblical account (Genesis 32:22-32), Jacob wrestles all night long with the angel. Jacob turns the tables on the angel, refusing to let go until he has been blessed. Joe and Betsy are discussing a discouraging job; Joe comments that he will not let go until he, like Jacob, is blessed.

 All communities suffer trials. They may be internal or external. They may be relational, directional, or economic. But these issues don't have to deadly to a community. "If the bonds of trust and respect and the sense of common direction are strong, these struggles can become  temporary expressions of the communities aliveness." That's right. We can wrestle with this until becomes a positive for us. These very struggles may actually tell us that we are growing, stretching, learning. Strife impacts who we are, but it also tells us we are here!   (Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder)

Sometimes a certain idea, a prickly person, a conundrum in a  community seems to be only a problem,  but don't let it go until you've been blessed. Make that situation give you (and your community) a blessing. Write the story. Muddle through the idea. Sketch a solution. Gather a taskforce. What can you get from this? What can you give in this situation? How might this turn into something worthwhile?

Like Joe and Jacob, wrestle with it until it blesses you.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

31 Days W.I.C.: Day 13- The Rhythm is Gonna Get You!

"..communities of practice are living design concentrates on energizing uses design as a catalyst for community growth and development.."
Cultivating Communities of Practice (Wenger, McDermott& Snyder)

An hour ago, everyone was about to be out the door. (And I was to be writing by myself. With hot coffee. Which is now cold.) Off on  a little trip to Barnes & Noble, plus a snack, and then meet back up for a volleyball game. The pattern was normal, the anticipation for the outing crackled in the air, ... until it was broken. The volleyball player's knee pads were missing. A frantic forty-five minute search and knee pads.  

But the rhythm wasn't broken in that step. It was broken several days before that, when the knee pads weren't put where they should have been. Not participating in that rhythm caused a ripple effect that impacted the rhythm for the rest of the week. We can all relate to this, right? That bad day started with waking up late, the flat tire, the missed meeting,  whatever... by the end, the one action in the beginning had capsized the day. 

Dr. Leslie Patterson and Dr. Glenda Eoyang of Human Systems Dynamics explain this change in patterns, and how it affects the whole, through the example of a fractal. A kind of repetitive cosmic Spin Art, Fractals are a reiteration of the larger pattern within the whole. In that, if you kept zooming into the pattern, you would see that there are repeated mini-patterns of the large pattern. So, if you add even one minute change, you change not only the point at which the change was added, but you re-design the whole.

Fractal, courtesy of

Video: Fractal Zoom Mandelbrot Corner (YouTube)

This same action happens in communities. One small decision not to participate, one negative comment, one new, hard-to-work-with-issue ... and suddenly there is a new design.

We have seen this philosophy in the application of a bad day.
But the good news is, it works both ways. In the case of the volleyball kneepads, there is now an official bin by the door for this equipment. This one change, combined with practicing the small change of putting the kneepads there, will change the pattern of that interaction. The same small-change philosophy works in writing communities as well. Tiny tweaks to schedules, people, places, times to write, equipment, resolutions, etc. can revolutionize the process, the practice, and the product. Read one new book. Apply one idea. Write in a new place, at new time, on new topic, with a new person. See what happens.

You can make tiny, incremental changes for the good and end up with a dazzling, different design.

Make a list of changes that you'd like to see.
Break that list into tiny changes.
Make one change.... and sit back and watch!

What Fractals will you set spinning today?

Friday, October 19, 2012

31 Days of W.I.C. Day 12 : The Saint John's Bible and Craft Intimacy

Craft Intimacy: "close interactions around  shared problems and a sense of commonality"
(Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder)

I wish you could see this Bible in person. Even if you aren't a Christian, the art is stunning. The scope is staggering. The materials mesmerizing. Gold, vellum, strokes of vibrant color. The wonder of 41 years of effort, design, and workmanship. The first project of its kind in five hundred years. Multiple Monks working together - and separately-to achieve this common goal: an illuminated Bible in English.  

Genesis 1- The Days of Creation
 Different Monks completed each section, set, or page. Yet there are agreed upon elements- the gold, for instance- that show up in each work. There are common values demonstrated: excellence, Faith, dedication. There is a common desire to create.  This is a shining example of craft intimacy. Each page flows to the next. It is clear that separate artists are at work, yet there is harmony in the expression. There must be community with freedom, clear expression of goals, collaboration for problem solving, and a product in order to achieve craft intimacy. The Saint John's Bible demonstrates this in the most excellent way.

Pictured here : One of the Monks who worked on the project. The Bible is 2x3 feet when open.

When collaborating with others, aim for craft intimacy. You'll strengthen your work and your resolve.
As the Good Book says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor." Ecclesiastes 4:9

Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community- Day 11:The Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 3):"The Community Rule"

"The Community Rule" scroll, or 1QS, seen in the photo below, is the "sort of constitution" for the community at Qumran. In the beginning, researchers also nicknamed it "The Manual of Discipline". This guide-scroll laid out the rules for initiation, participation, discipline, and integration into the community. Scholars debate the possibility that it was a code used for a larger scope of communities (not just Qumran) but it really doesn't matter for this discussion. What's important for us is that there were guidelines. Whatever the source of our code of conduct, all communities have one. There are perameters under which we operate. (Photo & information courtesy of University of Saint Andrews School of Divinity: "The Damascus Document & Community Rule")

 In a Community of Practice, the "maturing stage, key community issue is managing the boundaries of the community."  Boundaries don't just protect and prevent. They actually facilitate purpose and practice. Rules, expectations, and values can serve as a types of boundaries.  A lack of healthy boundaries can "distract a community from its core purpose." Qumran without its focus would have been just another desert hang out. People could have come and gone on a whim, worked or not, copied scrolls or counted sheep. And nothing would have happened. (Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder)

Community Rules empower each member to hold one another accountable. In my classroom, during Peer Editing Days for Research Papers, an astonishing thing happened. Everyone was peer editing, the room was drenched in the absorbed silence of work. Crashing into the silence came a booming voice. "THIS!" announced the sixth grader, offended and aghast, "IS.A.WASTE. OF MY PEER.EDITING.TIME.!" You see, for weeks, we had talked about cheating. How the hard work of someone else was worth not copying it. How everyone was going to bring their best work to peer editing. We had all agreed how angry we'd be if we poured hours of sweat and tears into a paper and some chump showed up with a cut-and -paste job. And here I was, witnessing our agreement, our boundaries, our values, and our practice at work. The paper was a classic (read: badly done) cut-and-paste. Seething from the classroom full of students who had worked (until midnight, revising, painstakingingly!) was righteous indignation. Why? Because the boundaries of our community had been violated- and they weren't having it.

Both rules and violations demonstrate practice and purpose in a community. The rules tell us the expectations we can have about a community. The violations demonstrate the level into which members have bought into the values of the community. For example, had the sixth graders reacted with a shrug or all come with their own lackadaisical efforts, it would be easy to see that there was a breakdown within the community. The rules, the relationships, and the thus the outcomes,  would not match.

This match is imperative when finding a writing community. Don't settle for a community that doesn't care. Choose Community Rule that establishes  purpose, practice, and product.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 10- The Dead Sea Scrolls Part 2 : Testimonia

Testify- (verb) From the Latin- witness: To bear witness; to make a statement based on belief; to give evidence
(Merriam Webster)

(Side note: I adore archaeology. It had me at "Indiana Jones".)

Cue the music: Something light and French...A fascinating find by Dead Sea archealogists was the Testimonia scroll. It was a testimony scroll- a list of scriptures on the theme of the Messiah. It might be labeled as a "proof-text". (Texts which prove or disprove an argument.)"The five biblical quotations are connected by commentary or interpretation."(Like a Facebook post with scrolls!) The scriptures cover the "prophet like Moses, priestly Messiah, and royal Messiah". It even has a nickname, "4QTest". 'Sup, 4QTest?! Word. The whole point: Messiah.
(West Semitic Research Project, USC)

When reading, read wisely.
Let in only testimony to your purpose.


It testifies to the nature of Messiah- but also to the purpose of the people at Qumran. They were of a singular aim- being ready for the Messiah. Every scripture copied or commented upon contained this theme. Every behavior choice funneled energy toward this purpose. They refused to write or read on any other topic.

When writing, write wisely.
Let every word testify to your purpose.

Purpose is a tricky thing. There are times when I am so sure of my purpose. The clarity is astounding, the energy sizzles; Every choice feels right somehow. And then, there are murkier times. I feel I am lobbing waterballoons into a dark,vast canyon and hoping the splooshy pop gives me a sense of direction. Every action seems scattered and unrelated- it is a fuzzy puzzle and none of the pieces fit.Fear whispers menacingly. Keeps me from being able to produce for fear of  wrong step, wrong turn, wrong hope. There are times when I think I know the purpose and it comes to be something entirely different. Community can help. Community reminds you of your purpose, your dreams, your hopes. Community can corrall your wandering herd of thoughts. But the wrong community can detract from your purpose. True community- (common unity)- should only bolster your purpose.

When choosing a community, choose wisely.
 Be a part of something that testifies to your purpose.

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 9- The Dead Sea Scrolls and Community

I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit on Sunday. This event was hosted by  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

The Scrolls were copied by men in a community called Qumran, about seven miles outside of Jerusalem.
Qumran was a community  that aimed for  piety and dedication to the scripture. Meticulously, they copied the scriptures and stored them in jars in the surrounding caves. One thing that struck me as I explored the exhibit was how all of this could relate to community in writing. These were people who took the Word, the written Word, seriously. Their world was set up to bring them success in their endeavors. They had what it takes to be a successful community- outside resources (sponsors in Jerusalem) , common goals, layers of involvement, repeated interactions, and product. And they changed the world.

Friday, October 12, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 7- A Beautiful Best: Nika Maples

Today.... a  Beautiful Best!

Nika Maples- This image says a lot... but not everything....

Get the details of her triumphs through adversity at any of the places below:

Check out her info page here:  or laugh hysterically and be inspired at her blog here: . Buy her book here:     

Nika shares her story... and creates community through her writing... How will your story be shared today?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 6 -Make the Best Out of Your Mess!

"Make the Best out of your Mess!"
Sign in our Art room, courtesy of
Mrs. Morgan, My Art teacher (k-12)

Yesterday, we talked about making a mess... sometimes we're intentional with our mess-meaning that we know the process is going to be in several pieces for a while. But what of the times that we intend one thing to happen, feel sure that it will, and then the whole thing implodes? Scattered bits of something, glue running off the sides, a paint color that's not quite right...

In Art class growing up, the amazing Mrs. Morgan would say:
"Make the best out of your mess!"
Students whined for new paper,new glue, new paint. But she knew the importance of learning to take a mess, and see the potential for something lovely and unexpected in it.She knew that this as great lesson for art students. I think it works for teachers, writers, and mothers as well.As a writer, the story can stall. Characters don't cooperate.Teachers know the frustration of a class that seems stuck. The lesson that didn't go where go where it was supposed to. Mothers know the days where perfect turns to perfectly awful in a heartbeat.

Life gives us so many messes. Some we create for ourselves. Some we have to deal with, even though we didn't make them.Some seem to be just Fate. A jumble of words. An accident. An illness. All of these messes can translate into something beautiful, or useful, at least.

Part of me can be stubborn about this. I drag my heels; I don't want to make the best of this situation. That's where community helps. I see the encouragement of another person forming something spectacular out of sorrow. I hear words that lift me up. There are hope, and faith, and peace-threaded joy.I read the words another writer dares to string together- and they are precious pearls. Tomorrow, I'll be featuring some fabulous friends who have made the best out of their messes. For now, let's remember this:
"He has made everything beautiful in His time..." Ecclesiasties 3:11
What mess is being made beautiful for you?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 5- Make a Mess!

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 5- Make a Mess!

"All of their messes are really lessons about life and the earth. Don't be afraid to get dirty and don't be afraid of the mess..."
The Creative Family (Amanda Blake Soule)

Making a mess. Flour all over the kitchen! Fingerpaint on the walls! Itty bitty pieces of paper all over the floor! Some of us shudder at the thought. (Mostly the thought of cleaning it up!)

What if making a mess is necessary for creativity? Sometimes the ideas don't flow out in a concise manner. Sometimes the words, the art, the dance, are choppy at first-awkward. Then slowly, the mess becomes something beautiful. Something worthwhile. A little wild, but stunning.

In a community, we need to share our mess. We need to let others in on our process. We need to be vulnerable, so that others can be brave. I love it when home decorating blogs post pictures of a messy room. I feel instantly better-like maybe my mess could become something...And I love looking at old writer's notes, criss-crossed with additions, subtractions, and scratch-outs. Greatness comes from this: the risk of a mess. I was so tempted at first, to take the old posts off of this blog. But then I thought, no, that's my mess. It's a hot mess, to be sure. But it's all part of this process and I don't want to forget it. I don't want to forget that a mess can eventually turn into something wonderful. (Even if it's only for me!)

Just like a child covered in paint, our mess is leading us somewhere... What mess will make today?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community-Day 4: Meet Us Back Here: Your Downward Facing Dog(s)

Downward Facing Dog has many jobs and functions, among them-assessment pose, transitional pose, resting pose, strengthening pose, inversion pose, and rejuvenator. ...Benefits include decrease in tension and headaches..decreased anxiety..." (Svansana)

The first time I took a yoga class, we learned Down Dog. It's one of those yoga poses that is easy. You can't fall out of Down Dog like you do, say, airplane or tree. Yoga is all about rhythm and I knew that I was a beginner. I knew that there might be poses that proved difficult. Then one of those pivotal moments occurred: (you know, the ones that bring a flash of insight in an unexpected place!) The teacher said that if we got lost at anytime in the class, to return to this pose and wait for the class. The way she said it intrigued me:

"Meet us back here."

Meet us back here. There was no shaming or even, "try harder, do more". It was just meet us back here. When I write , I find myself creating a little community of "Down Dog", places that I go for inspiration, rejuvenation, stress relief. Some are blogs, some books, some people, some places. Some blog favorites include: Nesting Place, Chatting at the Sky, Soulemama,Life in Grace, MelissaWiley.. Books to which I return: Bird by Bird, Outside Lies Magic, Communities of Practice, Why Writing Matters, The Book Whisperer.. The Bible. There are people that I email, or text or message on FB. BFF's, TBF (Teacher best friends), NWPeeps,.. When I feel that what I am doing is overwhelming or I'm getting burned out or I want to share, I go meet all these ideas, people, creativity.. a sort of touchstone to remind me who and what I am about. They are my Downward Facing Dog. I know that whenever we part ways, wherever we go, I can always meet them back here.

What or who are your Down Dogs? (Down DAWGS?) What's your inspiration blog? book? Person? Place?

Monday, October 8, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 3 - In Which My Circumstances Cause Me to Go Somewhat Off Topic... (but not really)

Hey all! No one is reading this because I can't get my "button" to work... and so I haven't linked up to 31 Days.. and my daughter and I had Bronchitis .. and a 3 1/2 hour eye doctor appointment .. and volleyball.. and, oh yeah, I totally forgot about this project that's due TOMORROW (!)...and my ancient computer being testy and uncooperative..and LIFE!

Which fully explains why, on what is supposed to be Day 8, I am on Day 3.
I thought about giving up. I really did. Discouragement and perfectionism pushed at me... I was embarrassed that other people were on-task, on-target and I was... well, not.

But then I re-read my last post... and I saw these words: "Practice is a form of opportunity".. and I think that this is an opportunity that I can give myself. An opportunity for grace and a chance to write...Even if no one ever reads any of this.. even if it takes me 45 DAYS TO DO 31 DAYS...(Get a visual of Scarlett O'Hara and Tara here)...I will complete this!

Nester puts it best: "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful."

And it's all ok. This is all part of the dream of my life,too. Someday, I'll have more time, a better computer,whatever... but I don't want to wait until someday to write... I think I'll give myself the opportunity now.

Friday, October 5, 2012

31 days of Writing in Community:Day 2- Communities of Practice Take...Practice!

"Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing that makes you good."
Malcolm Gladwell "The 10,000 Hour Rule" Outliers

Day 2 of 31 Days of Writing in Community... Today we'll cover the idea of a Community of Practice, we'll discuss Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours idea, and we'll talk about how those two things work together to create a priceless tool for writers - whether they be classroom, blogging, professional, or tinkering writers.
We've all heard that practice makes perfect. That we should keep practicing if we want to be good at something. But how does that work in a community? One way is through a Community of Practice.

What's a Community of Practice?
A COP is a purposeful gathering of people to pursue a common goal. Churches are a good example. Organizations, clubs, businesses, even blogging communities can all be communities of practice. Research shows that this combination of communtiy and purpose helps to achieve the highest learning potential:

"And in spite of curriculum,discipline, and exhortation, the learning that is most personally transformative turns out to be the learning that involves membership in these communities of practice."Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning & Identitity (Wenger)

Writers are learners, observers, diggers, and dreamers. We use words to transform ourselves and others. Doesn't it make sense to do so in community?

Gladwell's quote from Day 1 of 31 Days of WIC tells of the key importance of community, history, opportunity & legacy. Practice is a form of opportunity. Every time we practice, we give ourselves the chance to get better, to see something new, to discover.Practice doesn't instantly make perfect, but it can make you better! So how much practice do we need for success? Gladwell answers this for us in his essay "The 10,000 Hour Rule":it's 10,000 hours. But, again, this can't happen alone; we must engage in community.

"..ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It's all but impossible to reach this number all by yourself by the time you're a young adult." Malcolm Gladwell "The 10,000 Hour Rule" Outliers

So community plus practice... one thing that struck me was the idea of this 10,000 hours. (In a year, at 8 hours a day, 365, you have 2,920 hours. But let's be realistic and say that you could average an hour a day of writing (365 hours)... You'll need 27.4 years to get 10,000 hours. Eeeek!But, if you could devote a few weekends here and there (like conferences or projects) at say 10 hours, even just a few times a year- you get much better, much faster. And this is where I believe Community can be of a particular help. Communities advertise conferences, encourage ideas, have linky parties. Communities say "Try this!", "Here's a shortcut!", "Join this party!". With a community, your experience, your practice is accelerated. It's as if you get your hours plus my hours plus someone else's. Priceless, indeed!

Monday, October 1, 2012

31 Days of Writing in Community: Day 1: Why Community?

"They are the products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious." Malcolm Gladwell "The Secrets of Success" Outliers

Writing is often thought of as solitary. Yet throughout literary history, there are great groups of writers. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien wrote with The Inklings. The Bloomsbury group wrote and shared together. Writers have often sought community.Why?

Gladwell's quote states four keys to success: history, community, opportunity, and legacy. Why include community? Communities provide security, eradicate fear, contribute ideas, and add to ability. Perhaps you need a listening ear, a good editor, or new places to publish. Communities provide these opportunities.

Today, I'm thinking about myself in community. In a great community, what worked? For me, there was a flow of ideas, mutual support, encouragement, a chance to be heard and to hear...
Have you ever been in a great community (writing or otherwise)? What made it great?

Monday, September 24, 2012

31 Days & Writing in Community

It's hard to tell by this blog, but I've been writing.Over the past several years,consistently. In longer and larger spurts than ever before. And, oddly, at the time, I didn't even realize it.

I love to write, I always have. I've been frustrated in the past by times of not getting to write. A feeling of hopelessness would come over me. These were usually connected to periods of time of not getting to read, either, creating a double-edged sword.(You know- babies, illness, schedules changing yet again, etc.)Or, I'd feel at loose ends... So , what was so different? What was so pivotal?

I think it was.... community.
Communities come in so many forms and flavors. We find ourselves a part of something, sometimes by serendipitous circumstance. Take Nester's 31 Days over at's created a community of writers by inviting bloggers to write for 31 Days on a topic near and dear to them. Starting October first, I'll be writing here, but you definitely want to go and check out the over 700 bloggers joining us!

When I look back I've had community in all of this writing. And that's what I'll be writing about for these 31 days. Community in my classroom, community among teachers, friends, bloggers. We'll explore the ways in which community affects writing and writers. And, hopefully, by the end, we'll find in one another: community.

P.S. It's not too late to join 31 Days... Come be in community!