Thursday, September 10, 2009


I park the car in front of my empty house. If I pick up the mail I might miss this small window of time to write. I don’t pick up the mail. I stuff the wrappers from last night’s dinner (three cheese sticks) in the walking shoes I did not wear today. My purse holds the ingredients for tonight’s dinner: organic fresh mozzarella, a loaf of rosemary-garlic bread, a small bunch of basil. I climb the stairs, open the door and set out my treasures. Jennie left me two fresh tomatoes. It will be a sandwich above all sandwiches, dripping with olive oil and feathered with thin ribbons of basil. A marked improvement.

Teaching is wonderful, when I feel effective. Last night’s class erupted like a carefully built bonfire, one thing on another on another, a sea of inspiration from beginning to end. I opened the class with “interrupted free-writing,” asking students to list things they feel passionate about, favorite foods, people they miss, things they talk about. I asked them to circle three or four items on the list, and to keep the list handy. With a few sentences on thesis statements, and a few items from the syllabus, we listened to several examples of NPR’s “This I Believe” essays, evaluating each for tone and subject matter, beginnings and ends. Then we rearranged the classroom into small groups and worked on revising our own thesis statements in a recent essay. I offered a handout on beefing up thesis statements, and teams went to work. We listened to one last NPR essay, and the class was over.

Tonight’s class is the more introverted section of students, and they will not be played with, will not argue with me. I need to give them more structure and tuck away some of my enthusiasm. They are not convinced they need a class in order to write better. They are not convinced they need a book to help them write college papers. They are not convinced (at all) that revision will help their writing. In truth, they are okay writers, with passable skills—but what I see as “passable” will not get them through college. How will they learn to write with excellence, if they don’t see their own need? It’s a harder sell, all around.

The first bite of my sandwich is AMAZING. I can’t say how long I’ve been hungering for this little feast—okay, I can say. I’ve been hankering for this sandwich since I saw the first ripe tomato, maybe five weeks ago. But I hate to shop, and I don’t describe “fresh mozzarella” effectively, I guess. Scott and kids went to a cookout at his school, and I dropped by the farmers market, knowing the season is nearing its end.

Each day I follow up a few more things on the list of necessary tasks, phone calls, appointments, calendar stuff, catching up. I hope for a few hours to write and edit, tomorrow, before I get mired in administrative stuff. I’ve been traveling and transitioning for eight or nine weeks, and now I need to pull this writing/teaching life together. Like this sandwich, I don’t want to miss the whole season of tomatoes, or the whole season of autumn and writing.

I may need to write out some thoughts for tomorrow, so I wake up ready. First rule to beat procrastination: start early. I just said that in class.

I pick up the tomato seeds on the tip of my finger, and mop up a few drops of olive oil from the empty plate. Think I need a second sandwich. Look—I left the ingredients out on the counter…

September note

The first week of September passes, and unlike most of my Septembers here, it’s no longer beach weather—by the start of September, a cool breeze blew under even the warmest temperatures, and we’ve turned toward autumn: finding socks, finding long pants, finding jackets. We were left with no time to mourn the passing of summer, and perhaps that’s a good thing. The days go on, sunny and beautiful and just near perfect, but the air chills as the sun goes down, and the skies darken at an hour appropriate to school-night bedtimes. Kids sleep, and I’m grateful.

I am teaching college students how to write—a miraculous fit for my gifts and strengths. I hope to discover how to do my own writing, along the way, since I’m only teaching part-time. So far I’m just keeping up with the grading and class prep. I’m eager to submit essays to literary magazines, and I have one essay 95% ready—it needs one more technical edit, line-by-line, to make sure I’ve cited my source material correctly. Then I’m eager to dig into my story about learning to cook. Then my story about my sense of smell. And I need to keep digging for more new writing.

Soon. Right now I’m just keeping up. And starting the house-shopping process, and parenting, and trying to catch up with the glut of papers and books collected over two years of grad school.

You will see more of me, here. But the weather is too beautiful just now. I’ve been suffering a stiff back and neck, and I’m going to go walk the beach to see if the stiffness subsides. I’m a bit behind on grading, but I’m more behind on walking and sand and breeze.

Happy September to you.