Category Archives: joy

I wanna care

Before I entered junior high school, my parents sent me to reading camp.  I do not know all of the diagnostic details explained to my parents, but I do remember regularly struggling to read “fast.”  Years after junior and senior high, I find myself telling others, including my high school students, that I struggled to read fast enough to care about the fictional characters I encountered.  Why read, if you cannot care about the people involved?  That became the underlying dynamic of my high school reading–in literature, history and elsewhere.

This remembrance of things past surfaces today, while reading reviews of Gita Mehta’s novel, Raj.  A friend just told me he is considering one of her other novels, A River Sutra, for his Humanities class’s India unit.  While reading about this novel and her other books, I encountered the following excerpt:

Princess Jaya of Balmer, witness to bloodshed and insurmountable political upheaval, realizes that royal India’s demise is imminent. “Although the rich background detail is engrossing, Jaya remains a remote character to whom one never develops an attachment,” PW [Publishers Weekly] said of this novel penned by the wife of Knopf’s Sonny Mehta. Author tour.  (from, emphasis added)

Without having read her books, I cannot agree or disagree with this or any review, but the quoted sentence sparks a memory of my early reading experiences.  The maroonballoon blog has become, especially this summer, a place to remember and recount the dynamics of my own reading and writing.  Time–in the close sense of summer vacation, as well as the broader sense of my career–invites me to reflect on the basic dynamics and associations within my own composing and comprehending.  Awareness of these personal phenomena equips me more robustly, as another colleague might put it, to understand and guide students’ reading and writing.  A heightened awareness allows me to communicate more convincingly, “I’ve been there.”  It also enables me to spot their struggles and deconstruct the confusion they might be experiencing.

Now, as an older person, I enjoy reading and writing, though still struggling to read “faster.”  I look forward, for example, to reading A River Sutra.  I also will be reading Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion in the recent Affordable Health Care Act decision.  I just enjoy reading stuff–of various sorts.

Reading a variety is important for students; they need to be flexible readers.  This wide exposure strengthens–i.e., makes more robust–their writing.  In my case, for example, reading the first pages of Justice Roberts’ opinion helped me write my letter of protest to the GA Dept of Revenue.  Writers write their reading.  Seeing Roberts’ careful wording and conceptual coherence inspires me to greater precision.  So it is with students younger than I .

Today’s title, by the way, is meant to echo the label some people use to identify the law officially passed as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-148).  I know this blog post title captures a primary principle in my reading experiences, and I believe it reflects the best instincts of most people, as they consider the long-term health of all Americans.

Leave a comment

Filed under challenge, discovery, empathy, expression, joy, reasons for writing

pattern recognition

I find myself repeating myself.

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I found myself repeating myself.  In other words, ideas or phrases kept re-emerging, floating to the surface of my attention.  For example, the gaps I mean–to echo Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall.”  The idea of gaps cycled back through my attention, and I enjoyed its return because that gave me momentum.  The momentum was fueled by the fun surprise of the re-emergence; I did not plan so much as discover it.  A bit like turning over soil and discovering worms wriggling about.  Once the idea of gaps returned for the first time, I began seeing it as a recurring theme that I could intentionally nurture.  A structure of sorts emerged, or a motif.  I could then identify and develop different kinds of gaps.  Sometimes I impose structures beforehand, but at times like this, the frameworks emerge more organically.  In these vacation reflections, I can play around with this organic material.

So what about pattern recognition?  This is a specific skill within the broader ability called problem-solving.  Teachers need to help students develop this specific skill, and literature study provides a tool for this training.  So does reflective writing.  One benefit of my playing around with this organic material–there I go repeating myself–is that I can practice pattern-recognition.  In this particular case, I have seen a concept repeated.  The start of a pattern happened unintentionally, for the most part; I then continued the pattern on purpose.

link to previous post

Students benefit from being able to “listen” to the sequence of their own ideas.  Reflective writing can provide practice at “hearing” recurring concepts in their mind.  Those patterns, I have found, serve as productive launching pads for their individual writing.  Their voices are more likely to emerge in writing that builds from patterns in their own minds.

final comments

I enjoyed seeing the idea of gaps recur.  This recognition had the ring of revelation.  Maybe not to the scale of Joyce’s epiphany, but it had a spark of joyful learning nonetheless, and that’s my main reason for sharing it.  Many writers no doubt have already firmly learned this feeling of pattern recognition emerging from their composing, but–to paraphrase Neruda’s “Ars Poetica I”– I am learning this by working with my own hands, which is the kind of learning I hope for students.

Yesterday, I hung some dill branches in the shed to dry.  Later, we can use the dried seeds to flavor dinner dishes or to plant new seedlings.  In either case, the dill work reminds me of an idea for my youtube series, growing writers.  That series explores connections between gardening and writing.  In the case of dill and yesterday’s post, I have harvested the idea of gaps  for future use.  Since the seeds are drying, I can use them any time I want–to flavor a meal or grow more plants.

Leave a comment

Filed under challenge, creative solutions, discovery, expression, joy, reasons for writing