Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Timeout

This blog's title -- Cast of Characters -- is a nod to writing within constraints. Years ago now, a slippery slope of tweets connected me to one of Two Writing Teachers' ambassadors (Shout out, Mrs. Sokolowski!), which opened a door to this community of writer-educators. I shifted from character limits to word limits for my first slice in 2016 and proceeded to contribute most weeks since, daily during the last three March Challenges. It's become a habit both constructive and productive, leading to a few hundred pieces of writing that wouldn't otherwise exist. Plus priceless connections to like-minded folks. The routine fostered by the Slice of Life Challenge is its own gift.

Now, though, two moments are leading me to change my mind or mindset or both: one involves a nearby educator-blogger I read regularly who announced her own writing hiatus in words that struck chords in me (Shout out,  Ms. Yeh!); the other, fittingly and unsurprisingly, unfolds from a Twitter exchange about alternate modes of writing (Shout out, Ashish!). These influences along with a dose of my own inner restlessness have me fumbling in search of alternate outlets. Energy conservation laws, meantime, necessitate me ceasing slicing to redirect what resources I have elsewhere. Or, if you'll indulge one more metaphor, it's like this blog is heading into hibernation.

I am grateful for and humbled by the cast of characters who've visited to read what's here. Thank you.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Glasses, half empty

As my caricatured avatar attests, even without speaking: I wear glasses. I've done so since eighth grade, in fact. (Editor's note: I'm still technically in eighth grade.) That's why spending a day on the job last week for the first time ever without my spectacles felt bizarrely momentous.

I was several miles into my bike commute, taking in the world through prescription root-beer lenses, when I registered the day's general overcast-ness. Guess I didn't need these sunglasses after all, I thought to myself -- a thought chased quickly by the high-definition mental image of my regular eyeglasses lying on the kitchen counter where I had placed them during the process of packing my work bag that morning. If I swore in this moment, it wasn't aloud.

I cycled through obvious solutions like turning back for home (too late), passing the day as a celebrity whose eye candy for all settings and light levels is sunglasses (too eccentric), and letting the day pass in a literal as well as metaphoric blur. The last option proved the path of least resistance, my nearsightedness navigating most tasks passably while stirring up servings of empathy for students with mediocre vision who sit far from projector screens. I'll take a page from Robert Ludlum and title my experience The Mr. Magoo Solution.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

They said it might rain

The trail's edges cup finger lakes,
gather temporary seas,
parted by sizzling tires into momentary waves
that fan behind me like some wild animals' tails;
my mountain bike drifting as if on crazy rails,
rain and mud spotting my sunglasses,
behind those, my eyes wide like a child's.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Nine people I met

My slice hiatus was caused by disconnecting from the Internet last week. Among the bonuses, I can now write micro slices about people I met while away...
  • The bed-and-breakfast proprietor's sister who joined us for the latter (not the former, which would've been awkward) and graced us with tales from her native South Africa plus frequent doses of her delightful, contagious laughter.
  • The ferry captain with penchants for high-brow food -- smoked Gouda and egg sandwich on rye toast -- and low-brow puns -- "When the fog's gone, it'll be mist."
  • The First Nations caretaker in bright-print Bahama shorts who, in a remote island location, incongruously used his cellular phone to provide a weather update about a coming storm. 
  • The architect from New Jersey, paddling with his two teenage sons who offered us toasted marshmallows and accepted in return the first Fig Newtons of their young lives.
  • The grateful Russian couple, now based in Toronto, seeking our kayaking company across a choppy, breezy channel.
  • The transit operator who testily warned passengers knocking on her vehicle's door while waiting to board that "Bus drivers need breaks too."

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Better dresser

My slice last week touched on the topic of salad dressing -- specifically, one enumerated here, a delicious amalgam for drizzling on several kinds of greens. It lands at that synergistic taste intersection of tart, sweet, savory, and intriguingly spiced.

When I reused leftovers as part of dinner with family visiting from afar, my nephew repeatedly gushed about what he called "the best salad I've ever had." Those leftovers gone, we decided that we needed to make another batch. So, he and I set to work the next rainy afternoon. He read the ingredients from the recipe; I collected them from cabinets and pantry. He held the measuring spoon; I tapped seasonings into it. When my clumsy bump delivered too much cayenne to the spoon, he said, "Guess we'll just add more honey," speaking like someone who knows his way around a kitchen. Needless to say, the second-draft dressing proved to be an equally big hit.

The morning after our teamwork, I was thumbing through a book of quick writing prompts by Paula Borque, called Spark! In it, she quotes author Rachel Naomi Remen who advised: "Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways" (81). Turns out Remen's words apply to the not-necessarily-mundane world of emulsifying vinaigrette. Making that salad dressing the first time was a fine, satisfying experience; repeating the process with my nephew and seeing familiar moments anew through his sparkling eyes was memorable.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Ten observations, hold the metaphors

In a New York Times Smarter Living column on Monday, editor Tim Herrera explored ways to counteract people's prevailing sense of over-stimulation and under-focus. One way to resist the world's constant clamor for our attention, he noted, is to look closely without technology's mediation. Herrera shared a strategy used by Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing: "Report 10 metaphor-free observations about the world this week." Here are mine, from the past 36 hours:
  1. The morning temperature in my apartment was 77° Tuesday morning, six degrees warmer than the day before.
  2. After a weekend when I hiked and biked many miles, my legs ached with fatigue Monday whenever I walked up or down stairs.
  3. A man who sat near me in the library had two bottles of Powerade on his desk; he finished the blue one and kept a green one in reserve.
  4. An electric bus I rode had less robust air conditioning than the gas-powered alternative from which I had disembarked earlier.
  5. Speaking of buses and hurt legs, I saw a man using a cane to get on and off mass transit. His cane was decorated with a collage of flower stickers.
  6. Paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, onion, salt, honey, mustard, cider vinegar and sunflower oil made a tasty, tangy dressing to toss with toasted almonds, poached chicken, and spinach.
  7. Taking groceries out of their bags was a counter-intuitive way to fit more of them into my bicycle panniers.
  8. I counted fifteen lines of water arcing from a lawn sprinkler.
  9. There are many places in the world about which I know little, including the Philippines and Moldova.
  10. The classroom where I'm learning this week is in a college hall that opened in 2007, and it has zero windows.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Recalculating route

Technology leads, via multiple paths, to unintended consequences. Exhibit A is this news item from last month. Exhibit B is me and my wife sitting in holiday traffic last weekend. In an hour, our car had crawled about two miles along a jammed two-lane highway. We suspected, having traveled this road before, that a traffic light miles ahead was responsible for the back-up. Sitting shotgun, my wife popped open a maps app in a Quixotic quest for alternate routes.

Moments later, she said: "You could flip it and save about 15 minutes." So I u-turned.

She directed me to make a right onto a nondescript side street. That set us (and a half dozen other vehicles, presumably with the same intel) trundling along chunky junior-varsity pavement, winding through a once peaceful valley. In less than two miles, its twists connected back to our same highway somewhere farther up the queue. Of course, we had to rely on the patience of other motorists in the jam to permit our alternate merge from the smaller artery.

"Take the next exit," my wife said.

I slid off to the right, heeding my wife's and the digital navigatrix's cues. We paused at a stop sign, turned left to cross beneath the highway underpass, turned right onto a frontage way for a fraction of a mile, then right again to reach that confounded stoplight, which obligingly turned green to let a handful of cars including ours through to the now open road.

No doubt, we made up a little ground, but my inner Ethicist couldn't help but wonder: Were our tech-fueled machinations part of the problem, creating needless cross traffic that clogged the works more than necessary?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Words's worth

Despite the better part of half a century as a reader and half that time playing a professional part focused on teaching young people about using the English language, I still thrill at the pleasure of meeting new words. Prinked, for example. An author threw that curveball my way recently, in the context of describing holiday lights in Amsterdam: "a city prinked-up for Christmas" (Tartt 647). Kind of like gussied up, I inferred from a mix of context and background experience, but with the added suggestion of strings of winking bulbs. Later, an online dictionary taught me 'prink' is a synonym for primp or preen, two words already in my mental lexicon.

This relish for words hasn't always been one I've tasted with such contentment. I can recall younger me working a crossword puzzle, getting to one of those cruxes where a single letter remains missing at the intersection of two answers -- the hole in an otherwise complete smile. Running vertically as I remember was STR_P. I can't recall the horizontal sequence. Needed a vowel, I knew. Trial and error led me to: Strap? Strip? Strep, even? The clue referenced shaving. The cross-ways clue, I realized demanded an 'o.' I hesitated to write in that letter, though, because: Strop? What was that? In that distant era, I reached for an actual dictionary, rather than some smart phone. I looked up 'strop,' a strip (!) of material used for honing a blade. Even as I (resentfully) filled in the missing 'o,' I threw a side-eye glare at the crossword creators and the esoterica they deployed.

Now I can smile wryly that I have a brain pocket prinked-up by 'strop,' plus my own word-stuffed blog entry.

Work Cited

Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. New York: Back Bay Books, 2013.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Connecting texts

To date this summer -- or what qualifies for summer around here -- I have spent an unseemly amount of time reading. Professional books, adult fiction and nonfiction, young-adult and middle-grade texts, the occasional graphic novel. My June reading ladder, arranged in rungs from hardest to easiest, would look like the image at right. This slice is about how two in-process reads I'm juggling collided yesterday.

I'm about 200 pages into The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. That novel's intimidating heft had been shelf squatting for a year or more despite a friend's recommendation that had sparked me to buy a second-hand copy in the first place. I finally dove in last week after seeing a trailer for its movie adaptation due this September.

One of its blurbs calls The Goldfinch "Dickensian," and I do hear echoes of Pip from Great Expectations in the suddenly orphaned Theo's tenuous life just starting to open into strange, new opportunities. I also see fun-house reflections of To Kill a Mockingbird, thanks probably to Theo as grown-up narrator looking back with heightened awareness (and vocabulary) on his childhood. One evident difference: The Goldfinch is so far set in New York's bustling cityscape, little like Maycomb's small-town South.

Meantime, I'm also reading 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, about how these two educators plan and carry out a year of teaching together at their respective schools on each side of the country. One passage sparked for me. In it, Gallagher and Kittle unpack the focus of a lesson that aims to "show students the questions we ask as we encounter confusion with a book we pick up for the first time." Why does this matter? The co-authors explain:
We model why reading is hard at the start of any book. Students who frequently abandon books are often stuck in this hard place. They struggle with ambiguity. They find reading confusing because they never get past the work required to enter a book. It helps students understand why a reader must focus attention more closely in the beginning. (51-52)
Their words neatly sum up where I've been in The Goldfinch, swimming in ambiguity, just starting to see the characters and how they connect, puzzling over where the tale may turn next, making predictions of shaky accuracy.

Writing this blog helps me realize the many layers of reading experiences, the many readerly moves, that underpin my time with this latest text. That realization reminds me of a third piece of reading in which I'm dabbling -- an online sequence from the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, in preparation for a formal workshop next month. This introduction's look at dyslexic brains has me wondering about the story of how my own brain has been wired in a way that has me bellied up to this summer's reading banquet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Another fine mess

The calculus that ran through my head as I rattled up to the creek crossing on my mountain bike:
  1. Keep going; it doesn't look that deep.
  2. Stop! It looks muddy and your tires are going to get stuck.
  3. See those rocks and grass tufts poking up? You could probably hopscotch across those carrying your bike.
I dismounted to try that third path, grabbing the bike frame under the down tube and hosting the seat over my shoulder. My first steps proved sure from one flat rock to a grassy micro-island; my confidence bubbled, not ready for the next unreliable rock -- which sunk under my weight and tilted. The stiff sole of my right bike shoe skidded into the cold flow. Utterly off balance, I let the bicycle go as I tipped forward. I ended up elbow deep in the water, hands braced in sucking muck, saving me from a full-flopped swim.

I picked up myself and my bicycle and slopped to the other side, ruing the wet worst-case outcome of my choice. That data I factored into subsequent crossings where I tromped right through the water, soaking my feet and nothing else.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heller high water

An emulation of author Peter Heller, based on my reading The River last week and getting caught out

A group of three volunteer coaches gathered around a patio table. The wind sometimes pushed drapes from the shade awning into us. I sat with my back to the mountains in the west. From where the weather often came.

One coach said, "You ride your bike here?"

"I did."

He said, "Looks like a storm."

I twisted in my chair to look where he was. Hulls of dark clouds cruised low off the foothills. I thought of the weather forecast I had read that morning. Zero percent chance of rain. "It's okay," I said.

Talk at the table resumed for another 20 minutes. We then ambled to the door and the driveway. Thunder grumbled.

"You want to stay a few minutes? 'Til this passes?" the host said.

"Or I can give you a ride in my car as far as I go," the third coach said.

I said, "Thanks, it's alright. The storm is north, so I'll take a road to the south. Go around." I put on my rain jacket.
~

The thunder re-tuned itself when I was half way home. Sharp cracks. A few drops fell, but they weren't bothersome. "Still on the edge of it," I said to myself.

The rain spotted my glasses and made it harder to see. Lightning strobed and percussive thunder chased it. My bike tires sizzled in the water coursing along the shoulder into storm drains.

I pedaled into a parking lot on the right. A building with eaves, probably a church. Sanctuary. I rolled up underneath and bumped my bike across the small tan rocks against the building. I leaned the bike. I pressed my back to the still-warm bricks. I waited.

The rain intensified. It crashed down the gutters. It cascaded off the roof. I was on the windward side of the building. Gusts flicked rain at me. Staying here for the duration of the storm would be foolish.

I noticed a large picnic shelter across the parking lot. I pedaled there into a large dry space.

I watched keenly to the west. I saw the back edge of the clouds low on the horizon. The sun's eye pierced through beneath this nimbus brow. I waited still. The rain continued, slackened; the umber landscape goldened.

I turned east. I might've thought, Could be a show.

A full rainbow arced across the dark sky's canvas. A second fainter one rippled upwards. I reached for my camera.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Word play

As Thursday's last hour winds down, Dr. Jacques Bailly's monotone expounds
that this unprecedented bee must conclude after 20 rounds.

All remaining spellers who survive the bleary-eyed, late-night ambience,
the emcee says, will potentially be named champions.

Rishik thus shuffles to the mic where he faces 'auslaut,'
making quick work of his final word, raising his fists as in a boxing bout.

Erin, next, feels "great to be here," dances, fist pumps when she hears 'erysipelas;'
she easily dispatches what, to mortal spellers, would belittle us.

Saketh weathers all four pronunciations of 'bougainvillea'
and jumps back to his seat, first champion ever from Marylandia.

Shruthika stalks the microphone warily, settles her shoulders to 'aiguillette;'
her smile breaks like sunrise across her face once she spells it, no sweat.

Sohum's next, all hands-in-jacket-pockets ho hum; he gets 'pendeloque,'
licks his lips, and spews the spelling before any time falls off the clock.

Abhijay stands on verge of hyperventilating as what paddles up is 'palama.'
He gives three letters, pauses, asks three more questioningly, wins, with drama.

Christopher's word fits his drooping shoulders: they're notably 'cernuous,'
yet he hardly makes meeting his last challenge even look strenuous.

Rohan goes last, once again more than okay to avoid gutturals with 'odylic.'
It means force of nature, fitting all eight champions perfect as acrylic.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Standards-based case study

Feb. 6 | Summative writing project due in class of eighth graders. Of 29 students, 22 submit the work on time, and 28 of 29 deliver within a week. One student's work remains missing in action.

Feb. - Apr. | From time to time, I check in with the student, during reading time as class starts or via email. "How's your progress on that missing assignment?" I ask. In response, I hear stories about how busy the student is. I tap dance between validating those stories and coaxing towards a plan for catching up. I point to lame leverage like, "You know this missing work is keeping you on what I'd call the wrong side of the pass/fail dividing line."

May | I ramp up my communication as May 14 approaches (which includes copying parents on emails to the student). That May date is a partially arbitrary one I've announced as a last chance for students to turn in missing work before the end of the school year. It affords me time to clear any backlog before teachers are expected to finalize grades for the semester.

May 14 | The crucial piece remains missing, so I toggle electronic grade-book marks for the student's work from missing -- a.k.a. 0% along with a weekly email notification home from Infinite Campus -- to 50% (as stipulated by standards-based practices by which I operate). Officially, the student fails.

May 19 | I see this tweet, on which I ruminate, from a history teacher in Indiana:

May 20 | I sweep through Google Classroom, to review work for a different class on my to-do list, when I notice a turned-in assignment I'm not expecting to see from that February task. It's the writing I've been asking that one student about for four months. In my head, I hem and haw: Should I make an exception and still accept it? Should I hold a firm line in service of enforcing consequences and teaching responsibility? After near Hamlet-level equivocation, I choose to review the work and update grades accordingly. The student passes.

May 21 | I receive this email from the student:
Hello Mr.Rozinsky,
Thank you so much for grading my work on Growth Challenge 4 so late in the year. This really brightened my day. Next year at my new school I will strive to do my best in school. If there's one thing I learned from your class is that I need to make time for the things I love and school to live a fulfilled life.  I will carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for being patient with me throughout this year.
Will that one thing the student learned lead to changed habits? I don't know, yet I remain hopeful.

Postscript! I traded direct messages today with Kevin Cline after sharing this blog entry with him. We revisited the context of our previous Twitter chat and clarified newer ground, too. Among the key points I'll spotlight: Age matters. For instance, what I expect of the eight grader in this story versus what Kevin expects of the juniors and seniors he teaches may necessarily differ. There are tightropes to be walked -- sensitive to, yet independent of students' ages -- that account for individual cases while still communicating expectations underscored by purpose. Accountability and compassion need not be mutually exclusive.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Not nothing

Wasn't going to write, then I did. Didn't have much to write about, until I did. Could write about playing laser tag for the second time in two years, teaming up with teacher colleagues, going toe-to-toe with our students as part of a school fundraiser. Sweaty, silly fun, in 10-minute intervals.

Or I could write about the weather. Always a topic that's reliable in its mundanity, or is it mundane in its reliability? Well, it did snow. "Is this what May's like around here?" a teacher, in passing, asked with a smirk. She's finishing her first year, which is definitely not her first year, though she's new (not so new now) to our school.

Or my writing could dwell on hackneyed, derivative movie sequels that wring just a little bit more from desiccated franchises. Ocean's 8, Creed II: entertainingly predictable, predictably entertaining. Or there's the book I'm reading, Golden State, that likewise rings familiar bells (noir! dystopia!), and yet I'm still not quite sure what the tune is as I keep turning pages.

In the end, what did I write? Snapshot sentences of this week tonight.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Unexpected connections

A few minutes after 7:00 this morning., local time, as I stepped off the transit bus near school, the driver asked me a question as he sometimes does. "Which of your students are most successful?" he asked. I paused, then said, "I'm not sure how to answer that." I paused again. "Going to need to think on it." We fist bumped, which has become a quirk of my a.m. commuting routine, and went our separate ways, him behind the wheel and me on foot.

About three hours later, a student who will be graduating Saturday dropped by in the middle of a class. She carried a smile and a small box. The box was in my hands and she was gone before I could say much more than hi and her name. Inside the box were a mug with the initial of my first  name, a few sachets of tea, a Starbucks card, and a thoughtful note she had written. The student -- a 12th-grader days from graduating -- had delivered similar gifts to all of her middle-school teachers.

Maybe I'll share this story with the bus driver tomorrow because I'd sure like to think this student's generous kindness will play an integral role in her success, now and long into her future.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Not an ode to my socks

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day, and a student gifted me a pair of socks. These socks, specifically:


The present made me smile, or rather the sentiment behind it. The socks themselves are problematic: They're stuck in a world of cliched tropes: male teacher in tie at either black-or white-board in front of cluster of raised hands, female teacher who points at a globe, looking extra matronly, though decked out in a superhero cape (you can see her boot and skirt running up my shin). Look more closely near the left instep. There, you can spot part of what says 'Book Report.' Continuing across the top of my left foot, you'll see a pencil that forms the I in 'Inspire.' I'm skeptical book reports in the forms that I've known them are reliable sources of inspiration.

My take-away? While one ought not look a gift horse in the mouth. one would do well to beware the pitfalls of too-easy imagery. If you were to redesign these socks, what might you include instead?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Bottled message

A week ago, I wrote about Factfulness. Today, I'll write about a TED talk called "The Happiness Advantage" that recently drifted my way among Twitter's flotsam.

Both Hans Rosling (author of the former) and Shawn Achor (speaker of the latter) manage to preserve optimism, without seeming naive. To paraphrase the former: The world can be better than I think and still have problems that demand attention.

Here's what I'm wondering now: How am I looking at the world? How could I be looking better? What data could help me see better, beyond say misleading averages, implicit biases, or cognitive distortions?

My wondering feels both large-scale -- as a citizen of said world; and small-scale -- as a teacher looking at classroom microcosms of students. While I don't know yet where my wondering is going, I'm putting this particular message in a digital bottle in the hopes it washes up on a shore where you are wondering and willing to share further thoughts.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Factfulness finding

Just finished reading Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling et al, and here are three bits I'm carrying away:
  1. "Though we absolutely need numbers to understand the world, we should be highly skeptical about conclusions derived purely from number crunching." (191)
  2. "Sometimes when you are called to action, sometimes the most useful action you can take is to improve the data." (232)
  3. "A long-jumper is not allowed to measure her own jumps. A problem-solving organization should not be allowed to decide what data to publish either. The people trying to solve a problem on the ground, who will always want more funds, should not also be the people measuring progress. That can lead to really misleading numbers." (236)
Each of these resonates with schools and my work within a particular one. I see them as potential guideposts in making decisions towards improving the quality of data we gather with students about their learning, what we all do in response to this information, and what oversight governs this process. (Spoiler alert: Conventional grades feel insufficient.)

The notion of 'factfulness,' I came to realize, involves spiraling through cycles of gleaning more useful information and asking better questions in service of incremental progress. If you're curious to spend more time down this rabbit hole, visit Gapminder.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hindsight

The news from Notre Dame sent me flipping back through the pages of a journal I kept almost three decades ago -- during what today might be called a gap year that I spent around Europe, partly in school and partly not. In that journal, I found this innocuous mention, written 9,866 days ago:


If I knew then what I know now, I suspect I would've braved the throngs and gone in.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Stanza snapshot of a professional experience I hope never to repeat

Writing a letter of interest for a job description I helped author,
though not yet posted, may qualify as institutional bother.
Still, expressing my enthusiasm for this role hypothetical
to continue work I find I'm already doing feels antithetical.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sideline chatter

"Hey, Coach," the player said from a few feet away, on the field. "I know I'm supposed to be on this side of my guy, but I'm so close to the sideline already. Doesn't it make more sense to be on the other side?"

"You've got it," I said. "Let the sideline help your defense."

The player allowed himself a small smile, adjusting his position, and said, "Yeah, it's just like we learned in football."

At the time this afternoon, even though we were in the middle of an Ultimate Frisbee practice, my English teacher brain still clicked on: That's transference, it reminded me, something for which we can help create conditions, yet which relies even more on engaged, aware, purposeful learners, eager to own their progress.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Metaslice - 3.31 #sol19 Story Challenge

What have I noticed after writing 31 days straight for the fourth year in a row?

I have renewed appreciation that changing habits is hard, especially upping a routine given that hours in the day are finite. I suspect I stole time from my book-reading bucket this month to facilitate writing, viewing others' slices, and jotting comments. I can already imagine how Monday will feel like it has a hole in it: "Wait, I don't have to write today? Is this an April Fool's prank?" Then, Tuesday will follow with its next chance to hop back on the slice-writing horse.

And speaking of habits, I found myself posting later on Tuesdays during this year's Challenge whereas my weekly efforts usually land on Monday nights, soon after the invitation goes out in my timezone. The late-night slot meant I could maximize the chance something slice-worthy happened that day. See, I don't tend to be someone who starts his slices in advance; rather, they're composed extemporaneously once I sit down, on deadline. I look forward to getting back to weekly rhythms for the next 11 months, which afford me at least six whole days to trawl for slice-of-life catches.

I realized being on spring break during the Challenge's closing week proved simultaneously more and less conducive to finding writing topics. In other words: Thanks, patient readers, for indulging my deep-dive into skiing slices. I also discovered I can't totally trust the Blogger Android app when trying to post, literally, on the road. In the world of slicing, technology giveth and also -- at least until subsequent trouble-shooting -- taketh away.

Lastly, I increasingly embrace the Slice of Life Story Challenge isn't just about the slicing itself, but also the commenting (See Amanda's insightful observations.) and community-building that emerge from the concerted efforts of hundreds of participants. Thanks, leaders behind Two Writing Teachers, for creating this space and fostering the efforts of writers who spend time here, in March as well as throughout the year.

Desperation tanka - 3.30 #sol19 Story Challenge

On the road again
near end of Story Challenge,
struggling for a slice,
drafting at Thai restaurant
by interstate, pressing send.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Breakfast treat - 3.29 #sol19 Story Challenge

With spring break winding down right alongside this month-long writing challenge, I'm going to use this slice to celebrate and remember, simultaneously, an obvious sign of vacation: the tray full of freshly-baked M&M cookies that has appeared soon after 7:00 on the motel's breakfast buffet the past two mornings. Whoever made this unexpected magic happen, the pocket of my ski jacket thanks you.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fielder's choice - 3.28 #sol19 Story Challenge

It's opening day for professional baseball, and that reminds me of a story.

I'm in high school, undersized and un-athletic, yet required to play sports as part of the program. So, I'm part of a baseball team -- the third team of three my school offers. The coach is leading fielding practice, hitting ground balls to each position. I'm at second base because it requires the shortest throw over to first. The ball I remember coming my way is hit hard. It's in the air rather than skittering along the ground, but I can see it's going to bounce just in front of me: the one-hopper I've heard so many radio and TV announcers ruefully name. I'm already positioned in front of the ball and crouched with my glove grazing the grass, ready to vacuum up what should be rolling its way. This stance, though, is less than ideal when the ball ricochets up and over my right shoulder. Reflexively, my right-hand shoots out; the ball slaps it, then sticks. ("Bare-hander!" I hear the imaginary announcer call.) My eyes and mouth both make wide, incredulous circles as I throw to first. I look down at my stinging right hand to see arcing welts, redder than the seams on an actual baseball. In my memory, they don't hurt at all.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Three chairs - 3.27 #sol19 Story Challenge

Today brought numerous new chair-lift experiences:

Chairs with LED gatekeepers, the lights switching as in a racing video game from red to green when it was time for me to slide forward and have a seat.

Chairs with room for eight passengers. (Picture a big couch, except now it's whizzing uphill, hanging from a metal cable dozens of feet off the ground.) Furthermore, this flying couch featured heated seats and bubble domes, the latter of which retract automatically when time to disembark. Being outside has never felt less like being outside.

Chairs -- not heated for the record -- though still warm enough to melt flurrying snow. This necessitated my wife and I simultaneously reaching back to wipe down our sit spots as the chair swung into position, causing our helmeted heads to knock inelegantly together. While that collision didn't concuss us, it did make me recall this comic from my childhood:


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What skin wax is - 3.26 #sol19 Story Challenge

"What're you up to tonight?" my wife asks.

"Well, I still need to write."

"What do you think you'll write about?"

"I could write about our time outside today."

"Like when you got too far ahead, and I had to put on skin wax all by myself? You know, it's better to put on skin wax when someone else is there."

Me: silence

"And if you write about that make sure you tell them what skin wax is."

p.s. After waxing apart, we enjoyed this view together:


Monday, March 25, 2019

Cloud, nein - 3.25 #sol19 Story Challenge

Fun ski days have been subjects of slices earlier this month. Today offers a different take.

Spring weather means spring skiing conditions, which usually means predictable cycles of melting and re-freezing. A skier who is in sync with this pattern can enjoy soft, slushy slopes; a skier marching to the beat of a different drummer would've been me this morning.

In truth, I blame the stubborn cloud cover for delaying the sun's arrival on the scene. As a result, the snow-pack remained frozen and crusty for longer than expected. Mostly undaunted, I took multiple runs, my molars vibrating in my jaw as my skis scraped their way down the tenacious ice. At first I insisted I could find something worth skiing, but several chattery tries only left me feeling more daunted. So, I bided my time inside for a while.

Still, no sun. The day, though, continued to warm incrementally, and the snow relented a bit, especially at lower elevations. Then, after noon, the clouds started to fray, revealing wisps of blue, and soon the full-strength sun itself. All over the mountain, the snow could fully relax, and so could I.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Second close car call - 3.24 #sol19 Story Challenge

I saw the speed limit sign that announced 55, following a long stretch at 75 miles per hour. A short distance later, I saw the next sign indicating 40. What I didn't react to promptly enough was the 25, which I registered simultaneously with the police officer I passed, his vehicle cruising into the road behind me like a shark -- except sharks don't explode in tell-tale cacophonies of flashing light (and if they do, it's better I don't know).

Polite, terse exchange of words ("I pulled you over for your speed." "Yes, officer."), then documents. Short wait that felt longer than it was. More brief dialogue ("As you can see by the sign next to you, speed limit's 25." "I understand, officer." "Just going to give you a warning." "Thank you, officer."), and then back on the road where I matched the posted speed precisely at each change of its pace for the rest of today's journey.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Worlds don't always collide - 3.23 #sol19 Story Challenge

Dear two people I passed this morning on the multi-use path down by the creek,

I find myself still thinking about you this afternoon. You wore sporty clothes, shorts and tank-tops that revealed an abundance of colorful tattoos along your extremities. You each carried slim packs on your backs. Both gleaming in the sun with platinum hair, you looked purposeful, driven, tautly strung like two bows.

That's the message your words sent, too. One of you said to the other who was fingering the screen on a personal device: "Let's go, honey. We're on the clock." To which 'Honey' replied (grimly, to my ear) while slipping the phone into her arm band, "We are now." Then you both ran off in the opposite direction I was walking.

To where? I wondered. And why?

Sincerely,
Someone whose day was likely considerably different from yours

Friday, March 22, 2019

Appetizer - 3.22 #sol19 Story Challenge

I enjoy cooking -- or what I like to call: procrastinating in the kitchen. Thus, I tend to suck up most of our household's culinary oxygen, and ingredients.

That's why my wife's words just now merit a slice of their own. Amid a half-head of lettuce, a handful of carrots, and six eggs she'd already transferred from fridge to counter, with me hovering nearby, she announced, "Don't worry. I've got this. I've been watching cooking shows."

So I left to prep this small spoonful of writing instead.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Over and out - 3.21 #sol19 Story Challenge

Talked to my niece by phone this afternoon on the occasion of her birthday.
Among the gifts that brightened her day was a pair of walkie-talkies.
Each required three AAA batteries, she informed me.
She was scouring her house for these while we talked.
She thought she could scavenge some from a karaoke-machine remote control.
(She figured she'd just use the buttons on the machine in the short term.)
That controller, though, only offered up a pair of batteries.
She reminded me that she needed three.
She recalled her family had purchased a 24-pack, but she had no idea where to find that mother-lode.
Then, she had her next idea: a trunk of spare pieces and parts.
In there, she found one more battery.
She now had enough portable juice to power one walkie-talkie, half way to her goal.
She sounded persistent, which I expect will eventually pay off, in batteries or other ways.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 6 - 3.20 #sol19 Story Challenge

File this one under irony: Less than one hour after a history-teaching colleague dropped by my classroom to share a conversation he had facilitated with eight-graders this morning about dynamics of compliance and resistance among specific subgroups in Europe during World War II, I found myself in a lunchtime meeting doing the due-process dance that involves force-fed logistics in advance of annual state-wide testing in reading, writing, math, and science for three days next month, circumstances that left me weighing the costs and benefits (a.k.a. risks and rewards) of myself complying, resisting, or seeking alternate ways to those two forks in this particular road.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hall pass hall pass - 3.19 #sol19 Story Challenge

As per a school directive, I keep a clipboard in the classroom next to the hall pass hanging on a lanyard. I expect students to sign in and out when they use the hall pass, noting the times of their comings/goings. For this purpose, students jot their information in one row of a blank table, printed double-sided on sheets of paper.

I was reminded today of a quirk in this system: The number of students who will try to squeeze their details into the white space below the table, once the last row is occupied, or who will even try scribbling details around other margins, is a predictable surprise.

I've demonstrated for students, with mock theatricality, being the hero who flips the full side to its pristine reverse or (even more courageously) rotates a sheet with no more room to the back of the clipboard stack. All to no, or minimal, avail. Perhaps it's a developmental issue among middle-schoolers, a path of less resistance from their vantage. I'm pretty sure, based on other observations, that it's not a bid to conserve resources.

Monday, March 18, 2019

More rhyme than reason - 3.18 #sol19 Story Challenge

In a chair at the barber's, my eyes go wide
reading on the counter the glass jar just spied.
Plain white print spells out: Barbicide.
Below that, "Disinfectant, Fungicide & Virucide."
Inside, Jolly-Rancher-blue juice looks undignified,
though no doubt strong stuff, I must confide.
While my hygiene habits constitute no guide,
can't help pondering with a hit to my pride
what's crawled through my hair, then died.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Worth waiting for - 3.17 #sol19 Story Challenge

Patience paid off Saturday, twice.

First, a recreational ski day began with constrained terrain while patrollers navigated steeper slopes -- loaded with snow from a recent storm -- to assess safety and, in some cases, to trigger purposeful avalanches with explosives. Word trickled our way by early afternoon that Kachina Peak was open for hikers, so we joined a line of ants, numbering in the hundreds, to follow the kick-steps along a lengthy ridge to the top of the mountain. The way up demanded 45 minutes; the way down, less than 10. As I've written about earlier this month, it was worth it.

The ski day done, that night found us at a recommended restaurant nearby. Crowded with diners, the small establishment already had an hour-long wait, but it was well-equipped for the scenario with outside space. We pulled a few vacant chairs into a circle of people around a fire pit. We stayed warm and made fast friends, three of whom we ended up dining with when our eventual tables proved adjacent. The New Mexican food, by the way, was delicious.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Animal xing - 3.16 #sol19 Story Challenge

Driving conditions around 8:30 on Friday night are ideal, more or less. In the 'more' column go dry roads, light traffic, ample visibility. All of these permit a high rate of travel, near the speed limit of 65, certainly not under. In the 'less' column land the four elk abruptly lit by my high beams. I inhale, short and tight.

"Why did you cross the road?" my mind dumbly wonders wanders as my right foot mashes the brake. Though sudden, the subsequent stop proves controlled and (frantic calculating) not quite short enough -- the tires avoiding screeching or skidding; the implacable animals keeping shuffling. I aim for the probably-bigger-than-car-sized gap between two of them who are still on my side of the road. Rewinding the moment, it feels analogous to bizarre miniature golf: vehicle as colored plastic ball and golden specimens of Cervus canadensis as thick, slow-rotating windmill paddles. My foot still pressing the brake, the seemingly nonplussed elk maintaining their cadence, we roll through the space in their ranks, all of us unscathed this time.

Then, the voice from the passenger seat: "You want me to keep my eyes open for a while?" I exhale, long and loose.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Ups and downs - 3.15 #sol19 Story Challenge

Language is perception, not to mention imperfection. It packs symbolic power to capture specifics even as its connotations make its meaning sometimes slippery, elusive, or imprecise. Language use is also a habit.

Those abstracts thoughts circled through my brain as I walked to catch this morning's bus. I was reflecting about recent difficult conversations having to do with students' course placements for next school year. That process is underway currently, and one particular quirk of language has come up often. Most offerings where I teach are divided into two levels: standard and honors. That leads to habitual use of phrases like "moving a student up" when we recommend placing a student who has been in a standard class into an honors one. When we recommend moving a student from honors to standard, we often say we are "moving the student down." That's come into focus for me as a language problem for us and our community -- not merely as an issue with semantics, though, but with perceived realities our word choices have created.

An article from Choice Literacy I read this morning crystallized that thinking, sparking me to wonder how small changes in our choice words (hat tip, Peter Johnston) may hold farther reaching power than we realize.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Admission - 3.14 #sol19 Story Challenge

The unfolding scandal surrounding college admissions got me thinking, many moons ago, about when I applied to college. Then, here's what scandal amounted to...

I spent winter break during my senior year of high school in Florida, visiting relatives. I had college applications to finish, which involved (in that era) filling out forms on paper. That meant I needed a typewriter. It didn't make sense to lug one from home, and purchasing a Sunshine State model to lug back or even stash with family in the South hardly made sense. So, I bought -- or more likely my supportive parents bought -- a basic electric typewriter that I proceeded to put through its paces for the next several days. (For "put through its paces," read: hunting and pecking.) Once the job was done, I returned the typewriter to the vendor, noting my displeasure with some function or another, and secured a full refund.

See what I mean? Scandalous.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Push comes to shovel - 3.13 #sol19 Story Challenge

I live in an apartment, so my snow shoveling responsibilities are minimal to nil. In fact, in the last decade, there's a good chance I've scooped more snow out of pits dug to scope back-country snowpacks during skiing forays than I have snow from stoops or sidewalks. Late Tuesday night, though, my brother-in-law relayed a message that his property needs shoveling love while he's away (or else he risks a municipal fine for neglecting his responsibilities).

As sweet, sweet justice would have it, the current storm is a nasty slushy one. I can only hope my efforts on his behalf will also amount to digging out of my own karmic hole.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Snow days I have known - 3.12 #sol19 Story Challenge

Once, I had an extra-long commute, and I learned of the call to cancel school only after I had survived the harrowing drive to my workplace.

Once, a gas leak led to a day of no school even as the late winter weather featured sunshine with temperatures in the 60s.

Twice, multi-day closures having nothing to do with snow occurred due to crises of Old Testament proportions: namely, floods or contagious illness.

Once, a snow day landed the same day colleagues and I shaved our facial hair to mimic Civil War generals, leaving us suddenly, embarrassingly with no place to go except out in public.

And today, the sheer force of the forecast has inspired a cancellation announcement at 5:18 p.m. for school tomorrow, depriving the superstitious of their opportunity for meteorological influence.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Virtual actual teamwork - 3.11 #sol19 Story Challenge

Today, at the school where I teach, teamwork is on my mind: the forms that will unfold if shifts in staffing announced today lead to more team teaching next year; the forms we aim to elevate among middle-school students' norms, though they seem to be the exception rather than the rule currently; the forms that sometimes pop and other times fizzle when colleagues and I try to navigate together through uncertainty... If nothing else, an in-service day does get me thinking.

To add to that mental momentum, I invite your comments below. What thoughts (or resources) about growing team teaching or honing collaboration skills can you share?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

When an hour's not an hour - 3.10 #sol19 Story Challenge

If 365 days
in a typical year
total 525,600 minutes,
how it can be
that the 60 of those
(tiniest fraction of one percent)
that I fast forwarded through
when I wound ahead countless clocks
laid me so slow
based on the lethargy
that hung over me
when my alarm sounded
in this morning's thick dark?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Tide game - 3.9 #sol19 Story Challenge

Are the rhythms of my reading life natural? Do they ebb and flow like ocean tides? Or are other complicated elements -- intrinsic, extrinsic, implicit, explicit -- influencing what I read and when?

I'm thinking about this after an email exchange with a parent whose child is in eighth grade. She shared a familiar story of a student whose reading life has been at low tide for most of middle school, after surging through elementary school. I wonder: What's different now? What might turn the proverbial tide?

For that matter, what might turn mine? I was juggling three brain-focused books earlier this month: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, Talent Code by Dan Coyle, and Performance Cortex by Zach Schonbrun. I've finished those, and I'm casting about for what to read next. Sure, I've got a to-read list, but nothing there is calling to me at the moment. Sounds like Sunday should feature a library or bookstore visit to go fishing...

My reading life, I realize, is the product of my priorities that become habits. Next week, I'll ask my student about his and how well they're serving him.