Writing by Hand

A few weeks ago, near the beginning of the month, I was invited by Christie Wyman of Wondering and Wandering to participate in a TeachWrite workshop hosted by Jennifer Laffin. As life right now would have it, I wasn’t able to participate in the next workshop, but I was able to participate in one last week. It was fun, and I thank both Christie and Jennifer for the opportunity to be there (Zoom there?).

As the workshop got started, the participants were invited to do a number of things, one of which was to write in our notebooks.


Errr, my notebook.

I have a strange relationship* with notebooks. In principle, I love them. I have several. I encourage (okay, require) my classroom students to use them. I mean, come on: A notebook! All writers use notebooks, right? I have several, and I even write in them. On occasion. Sometimes. Okay…rarely.

I know I’m supposed to, but more often than not, when I need a notebook to jot down an idea I don’t have one with me. Yes, I’ve tried a pocket notebook, but it only lasted a few days. What about when you sit down to write, one might ask? Honestly, typing (keyboarding…I know) is just easier. As an added bonus, when I use a computer, my work is now on all of my devices since I write in the world that is Google.

Anyway, back to the workshop. I did! I did write in my notebook. The novelty of doing so got me thinking about the process, and the first two stanzas of a poem actually came out of the time with the group. In the spirit of things, I actually finished the piece, then revised and edited it with a pencil on the page. Oddly enough, it came out with a rhyme scheme. That doesn’t happen often, but I like it when it does

Despite the ending, I really do like notebooks. Sort of.


A pencil on paper
A mark on the page
It’s like watching live music
Or an actor on stage

It’s not fingers on keys
And there isn’t a screen
It’s real, and it’s physical
Do you see what I mean?

Is it good? Is it better?
This writing by hand?
Does this scribbling unplugged
See my vision expand?

I think that it doesn’t
— Leave those voices ignored
You can keep all that scratching
And I’ll keep the keyboard


*then again, maybe I don’t–maybe I have a normal one and just don’t know it!

Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory


A hand flashed and two dice bounced into view

Snake eyes.  Snake eyes?  

Snake eyes

Two pips looked up and the people looked down, most with dismay




Folded paper changed hands and some of the crowd began to walk 

No longer having a reason to stay


Soon, the voices started 

Low at first 

Then gaining in volume

Their displeasure evident


Loaded.  The dice were loaded

There are too many ways to do it

The collective mind and the collective voice gained confidence 

As the anger grew


They’re weighted.  That’s it

That’s how it happened  

A friend of mine had a set once

They’re weighted. I’ve seen this before.  They’re weighted


The voices worked that one over for a while 

As each individual uncovered in his mind a new truth 

A truth few others could see or understand 

Until it was explained to them  


Then another voice spoke out, louder than those before

You shave a side, just a bit, and polish it to look like all the others

That’s how it happened

There’s nothing worse than a cheat


Volume and rage built 

Pointing at the unknown yet clearly known

Surely known

It was easy to see, once you knew where to look


But: Chance.  Fate.  

Tragic, in a sense, but inevitable 

Unlooked for 

And certainly unwanted


What if the roll just came up aces

Dash the probability

And it’s as simple 

As simple as that


Writing Workshop: Day 1

“So, I’ve got a question for you.  It’s not a hard question, but it’s still a question.  Are you ready?”

As I spoke, the two students I was learning with looked back at me through the screen of our video conference.  Their faces showed apprehension and curiosity, and I had to imagine they were wondering what kind of question I might ask on this, the first day of our ad hoc quarantine-distance-learning-wish-we-could-meet-in-person writing workshop.

I continued: “Why do we write?”

Both girls, sisters, had looks on their faces that said, “Huh?”  

I leaned just a little bit closer to the screen and asked again, “I know it’s a simple question, but why do we write?  Why do we write?” I spoke slowly as I asked my question the final time. I know it’s not a hard question, but it’s not one that’s always easy to answer off the cuff.  I knew that.

The younger sister spoke first.  She started slowly, but over the course of just a few words she gained confidence.

“So we can talk to people, and answer questions,” she answered.  Looking back, I think that’s what she said. Honestly, I was a little bit nervous too.

I waited, and the older sister gave her answer shortly after.

“To express our feelings,” she said, also gaining confidence.

“Okay, I can go with that,” I said. “So, when we express our feelings, is that like what we might write in a diary?”  

She thought for a second, then answered that it was.

I turned, if that’s possible in a video conference, to her younger sister. “So, let me ask you this: If I was writing a shopping list, would I be expressing my feelings?”

Realizing where this was going, the older sibling quickly chimed in, “Yes, you’re expressing how you feel about what you want to eat.”

Sigh and smile.  You know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, this whole teaching writing thing.

After a laugh, the younger said no, a shopping list wasn’t expressing our feelings.

I know there are a lot of answers to the question, “Why do we write?” and I shared my own.  “The reason we write…the whole reason we write…is so someone can read what we wrote.  That’s it. That’s why we write. The someone might be ourselves, if it was a grocery list, but that’s why we write.  We write so someone can read it.”

Now, I’m a basics kind of guy.  There’s a lot to writing, and it takes a long time to even come close to mastering the art and skill.  There are many reasons to write, but ultimately we write to make a record that someone is going to read.  We write for an audience, even if it’s ourselves. At least, that’s what I think.

For better or worse, my two writers didn’t argue, and both seemed ready to move on.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the next few months go, and I’m pretty sure we’ll all be happy with the outcome at the end.

A quick word of explanation: During this quarantine, I’m learning alongside two sisters whom I’ve known since the older one was a student in my third-grade class, some five years ago.  I like to write, they want to learn, so it’s a good thing for all of us. I think so, anyway.

If you want to, I’d love to see your answer to the question: “Why do we write?”




Days like Yesterday

On days like yesterday, I think about growing up in the southeastern part of Ohio, just north of Dayton and about 30 miles from the Indiana line.  Lots of flat land, lots of open spaces, and lots of potential for what we now refer to as “severe weather.”

I don’t know why, but I don’t think I remember ever hearing the term severe weather.  We just–as I remember it–called it thunderstorms and, of course, tornadoes.

Twisters, sometimes, but usually tornadoes.

In the mid-seventies, when I was still fairly young, a devastating tornado hit the nearby city of Xenia, some 30 miles southeast of where I grew up.  Not too close, but close enough that the “Xenia Tornado” was the measuring stick with which all spring, summer, and fall weather events were measured.  

Even though the area where I now live suffered massive destruction during a “super outbreak” of tornadoes in 2011, Xenia still comes to my mind on days like yesterday.  With today’s technology, tornadoes are still unpredictable, but only in that we don’t know specifically where they’ll hit.  

On days like yesterday, we’ve known about the danger for a while.  Three or four days earlier we knew the conditions would be right. Cold air moving in from the north, warm moist air moving in from the south, and a pretty good idea of where the two would collide.  We knew.

We nervously move through the early hours of the day, on days like yesterday.  The air is calm, almost peaceful, as if the local atmosphere doesn’t know of the pressure changes that would soon pull it away.  Without an apparent reason why, though, clouds start to form by mid-morning, thunder is heard in the distance, and the leaves begin to rustle.

Some folks like me start to feel an urge to turn on the TV, comforted by the broadcast of benign programming, anything other than the local meteorologist providing play by play as the weather marches in from the west.  Here in north Alabama, it’s almost always from the west, especially on days like yesterday.

We knew it was coming, and it did.  When it was all said and done, my immediate area, just south of the Tennessee line, suffered nothing worse than nearly four inches of rain falling in just a few short hours.  Some broken branches, a few power outages, and we were able to sleep soundly by ten o’clock.  

After days like yesterday, one looks to the news to find out who wasn’t so lucky.  Six tornadoes, ranging in strength from EF-0 to EF-2, all within 100 miles of where I live.  More than 60 tornadoes across the south stretching from Texas to the Carolinas, millions of dollars in damage, and at least 32 people who’ve seen their last severe weather event.  May their families find peace and comfort.

That’s what it’s like, after days like yesterday.


I Know that Voice

That bird call…there it was again.  

And again.

Six notes, a three-note phrase repeated twice.  Argh. I knew what it was, but I didn’t. Three notes, the second lower than the first, and the third higher than both of the others.  

Was it a robin, claiming its territory from high atop the neighbor’s house?  Or the mockingbird, who oftentimes sits at the same perch, sounding just like, well, a bunch of different birds?  No, I didn’t think so.

I knew it wasn’t a cardinal, as a cardinal’s voice is just a touch deeper.  Maybe a wren. We have a lot of those, and wrens are possibly the loudest tiny bird in the world.  But, no, I didn’t think so.

I knew what it wasn’t.  It wasn’t a jay, loud and obnoxious, its beauty–in my opinion–more in its appearance than its song.  It wasn’t a brown thrasher, rarely seen above knee height as it races across open spaces. 

Not a mourning dove, and not one of the ubiquitous sparrows whose specific species I’ve never been able to identify.  Not a titmouse, with its peter peter peter call, and not a towhee, encouraging me to drink my tea.  

Not a grackle or a starling, as it was a solitary voice.  Bluebird or house finch? No, I didn’t think so.

I’ve written before about sitting at my kitchen table, watching the birds that occupy the area around our house, and that’s where I was, listening to the birds.  The particular bird whose song I was enjoying was just above the line of vision allowed by the window. Singing, and singing.

I knew I would feel foolish, but I had to go and look.  Pushing my chair back in, I slowly walked out the back door so as not to scare my avian vocalist.


A chickadee.  Most likely you’ve already been saying that, reader of mine.  Chick a dee chick a deeChick a dee chick a dee.

I knew that. 


Soldier, You Make Me Proud

While it seems like forever ago, I was once in the military.  I joined the United States Marine Corps during my senior year in high school, and served for nearly five years before leaving and joining the United States Army (long story).  

As coincidence would have it, today marks 16 years since I retired.  (Yes, I took much satisfaction retiring on April Fool’s Day.)  My professional life has revolved around elementary education ever since, and as each year goes by I find myself remembering less and less about my military life.  Being a teacher does that to a person.

On occasion, though, I find myself on Redstone Arsenal, the local Army base here in Huntsville, Alabama.  I mostly go “on post” to use the medical facility, but on occasion I go to use the post exchange (department store) or commissary (grocery store).

Today I went to go pick up a prescription at the medical center.  I’m glad I did, because I needed the laugh.

Because of the current COVID-19 outbreak, the pharmacy is closed for walk-in service.  The medical center has, instead, devised a drive-up service that protects both the staff and the customers.

Pulling into the drive leading to Fox Army Medical Center, I immediately saw the first of many signs that directed me along my route.  Mind you, there’s really only one route to take, but the Army is nothing if not thorough.  

Arriving at the initial check in point, I was met by a uniformed Master Sergeant who smartly checked my identification, verified my prescription was indeed ready for pick up, and directed me to turn into the pick up line and see the soldier sitting ahead who would direct me to the appropriate pick-up station.

I turned off the main road (following yet another sign, just in case I didn’t understand the spoken directions), and started to laugh out loud, one of those deep belly laughs I normally save for kindergarteners.

I saw the soldier.

I have to say, I firmly believe that the United States Military has some of the finest people you can find anywhere (I recognize my bias).  We all join for a variety of reasons, but service to country is what we are all about. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen continue to have my utmost respect.  Period.

Now, most people know that whether you’re talking about the officer corps or the enlisted ranks, everyone starts at the bottom.  My branches have 2nd lieutenants in the officer corps, and privates in the enlisted ranks. The Army promotes its enlisted soldiers to private first class after a year or so, but the junior ranks are, well, privates.  

I laughed because I knew I was looking at a private ahead of me as I rounded that corner.

Today is a beautiful day.  There’s a light breeze, the temperature is in the mid-60s, and the sun is shining brightly.

This private, the one who inspired my laugh, had been stationed at that point to direct cars as they pulled up, and she was doing a fantastic job.  Customer traffic was light, and in between cars, though, she was doing her absolute best to relax. Her hat was kicked back just slightly to allow her sunglasses-shielded face to have maximum exposure, her legs were stretched out ahead of her, and her hands were folded and resting on her stomach.  Her eyelids were undoubtedly open, but, like her limbs, they probably weren’t doing more than was required of them at the time.  

And she made my retired senior-enlisted self laugh.  

As my vehicle got closer and she heard my approach, she sat up, but until that point her world was very small.  There was a virus wreaking havoc upon the country she swore an oath to serve, and I don’t doubt she would give her all if it was asked of her, but for now, she was relaxed as only a junior enlisted soldier can relax.

Private First Class, you make me proud.


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