Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Throughout my 10 week tenure at Generic Middle School, it is my lot to reside under a collective microscope of scrutiny and evaluation, a state of affairs that is not as unpleasant as it may seem. I actually find it refreshing to have an ongoing log of what all the Key Players are thinking about me. It’s nice to know where you stand. Besides, the feedback has been helpful, and overwhelmingly favorable to boot.

As much as I like the continuous stream of documentation about my progress,
my favorite evaluations have been neither written nor formal. I love hearing what the kids think about me.

It turns out I’m pretty “cool,” a rumor that began circulating shortly after a perpetual gum-chewer discovered that a Bubblicious crack-down wasn’t high on my list of priorities. It seems that overlooking a little wad of chew here and there buys you a whole lot of hallway cred—-which comes in handy when you need cooperation during an Actual Incident. In the choose-your-battles department, this one’s a no-brainer.

Although coolness is certainly a coveted attribute, I was even more elated to learn of my tactical prowess. Waking up utterly mute one morning, I scrambled to devise a voiceless teaching method that would allow some crucial instruction to continue unimpeded. Communicating with my students via large screen Smart Board and some color coded paper squares, I managed an entire grammar lesson.

“How did she loose her voice?” one student asked another.

“I don’t know. She doesn’t even yell.”

“Yell?” chimed in Bubble Boy, “Mrs. Davis doesn’t need to yell. She’s got strategy.”

And just in case my status as a cool strategist isn’t enough for the resume, I just got another bit of good news. Readers, forget that milestone birthday I told you about. I’ve received word that I’m young. Very, very young. Too young to be married; way too green for children.

Conservative estimates place me somewhere around 22. If only I could get official documentation on that!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blog Imitates Art

Things have been a bit crazy lately, and I haven't done a very good job keeping this forum stocked with fresh, literary art for the past week or so. But thanks to the creative minds at I'm pleased to bring you a remix of all the latest action here at Running With Letters in visual art form.

I'll be back later in the week, but in the meantime, why not turn all of your favorite online forums (including this one!) into printable art, suitable for framing,notebook ornamentation, or just good, old-fashioned chuckles. Just click on over to wordle with a handful of urls and check it out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

8 to 3

“I’m burned out,” I confided to my husband. “Day in, day out, it just never stops.”

“It’s Wednesday!” my husband exclaimed. “You’ve been at this, what? Three days?”

Last week marked the first full-time work week I’ve logged since 1990. And it’s true: I was ready to call it a week by hump day.

Now, I’m no slouch. I can put in 12 hours on a newspaper article and turn right back around looking for an angle on my next assignment. I love deadlines, quick turn-around pieces, and nailing the closing line—even if it takes all day. I love caring for children and pets, and, hey, I’m even up for teaching a class or two—provided no one’s expecting me show up more than three days a week, and certainly not before noon.

But this all-day-every-day teaching gig? I’m just not wired for it.

In my three days on the job, I learned that the “daily grind” isn’t about sipping those first two cups of coffee over email with the cats. Turns out “punching the clock” isn’t a reference to silencing your spouse’s alarm after he’s hit snooze one too many times. And “working for the weekend” is more about holding on to a distant hope than it is about writing up advance blog posts on a rainy Saturday morning.

I’ve always suspected that I wasn’t quite cut out for the gritty world of the workforce. After my part-time, private school art program fell victim to a round of budget cuts a couple years back, I flirted a bit with the classified section, but lost interest quickly upon learning that a “canvasser” doesn’t deal in art, and that job involving an invigorating “office” in the great outdoors was with the sanitation department. And then there was the firm that bolded their big selling point-- two weeks of annual leave, the implication being that they actually expect you to show all the other weeks —51 of them, by my estimate. I broke into a cold sweat and tossed the paper into the recycling bin.

Frankly, I was relieved to find an opportunity to bolster my skills through academics rather than hard labor—but it seems even academia can’t shield one from the harsh realities of the work-a-day world, as my “culminating experience” requires 10 weeks of actual, on-the-job performance.

My Catholic friends tell me that this sort of thing is really good for the soul; that discomfort and even misery are strict yet wise instructors. I’m buoyed by this thought as I ready myself each morning under the cloak of darkness and wane prematurely each evening. But these thoughts of stalwart strength and fortitude are treasured most at the end of the week as I sadly contemplate the one working man’s maxim of which I still can’t relate: “another day, another dollar.”

I may be burned out from the daily grind, but pay day for this gig is something I’ll never see on anything but my graduate transcripts.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Punxsutawney Who?

Earlier this week, word came down from Punxsutawney, PA that winter intends to loom large for another six weeks. I’m sure of this because my family considers Groundhog Day a viable holiday, doubtless because we’ve lost all hope that there’s anything else to look forward to. We sit around the living room, watching the returns come in from Punxsutawney with a fervor most Americans reserve exclusively for Election Night. We regard the Bill Murray/Andie McDowell flick celebrating same as a holiday special, anticipating the screening with the same enthusiasm bestowed on Frosty and Rudolph weeks earlier. This year, we even made three kinds of soup to insulate us against the lingering chill.

Today, these events seemed nothing but a distant memory, as temperatures soared into the 70s and it suddenly became easy to pretend that someone found the fast forward button on a calendar somewhere.

I’m solar powered entity-- any length of time without the sun, and I slip into a lethargic stupor. I’ve spent the past several days artificially propped up by nothing but caffeine and chocolate, so today’s sunburst was especially timely.

I raked away the patina of death enveloping my yard--bagged it right up and tossed it to the curb. I planted two raspberry plants, drinking in the smell of freshly overturned earth. I poked around flowerbeds and found new growth bursting through dry leaves. Cars were washed. Sidewalks weeded. I even got bug bites—-bug bites!—on my exposed feet.

I went along wholeheartedly with the ruse—because, of course, that’s all it really was. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for the mercury to hover around the 40s, which only goes to show the importance of savoring little pockets of spring wherever they can be found: a splash of color on a drab outfit, a dollop of sherbet after dinner, or a few minutes with a travel magazine in a patch of filtered sunlight, if that’s all you can manage.

Tomorrow I may wake up in the cold grip of winter, but my yard will look a little brighter, my skin will be a shade browner, and my spirits will be a bit stronger, because I’ve glimpsed the future, and it’s just below the surface, five weeks, now, around the corner.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Ten Weeks in 7th Grade

I’m spending the next ten weeks in middle school, and I’ll just be honest: I’m in it for the stories.

Admittedly, the stint is a required element in my masters program, but I’m not sure if that reason would be enough, all by itself, to keep me heading out the door each morning before I’m typically out of bed.

See, I am a writer to the core. Although I plan to gather data, teach lessons, and complete all the requisite paperwork required for my sheepskin, I’ve stumbled upon a far more compelling reason to head into the classroom everyday: it’s a goldmine of material, particularly for a writer of YA fiction.

Although I was aware, in a general sort of way, that I could view the whole experience as an opportunity to go deep undercover on a writing research assignment, I didn’t quite realize the wealth of material to which I’ll be exposed until I was tasked with filing some student essays a few days ago.

I hadn’t even officially started my rotation yet (today is my first official day) but was logging some general get-to-know-you hours at the school when I was handed several hundred essays that needed to be placed in student folders. Regular readers know that clerical tasks aren’t exactly my strong suit, so I cheered my lagging spirits by perusing the essays as I filed them.

These kids may not be stellar writers, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have stories to tell. These were no shallow sentences riddled with crushes, BFF drama, txt lingo, or any other stereotypical middle school affectations. On the contrary, their writings told tales of the extraordinary responsibilities some of them shoulder as young adults in single parent homes; of caring for siblings, and pangs of guilt when things go wrong. They wrote of death and loss and fear and gunshots.

But the news wasn’t all grim. They confessed to a litany of minor crimes with a honesty I found thoroughly heartwarming and utterly hilarious. Who could resist reading the tell-all of a kid who lopped off a sibling’s locks, Delilah-style, by cover of night? This was good stuff—material I could never invent sipping coffee at my keyboard.

So I’m diving straight into middle school, pen poised over a little writer’s notebook. I’m going to take it all in, write it all down, and let it all settle. By the time I return to my keyboard, I expect the whole experience to have distilled into a deep well of intermingled tales, events, and details. Over time, these individual stories will inform greater stories of growing, and searching, and finding one’s way. Which makes me kind of excited at the prospect of being part of the tale.


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