The Highlights Foundation, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountains, is a special place where writers and illustrators of all shapes and sizes and experience levels come together to learn, share, and be inspired. When you turn into the driveway and make your way to The Barn, you can feel the energy. It’s almost magical.
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop at Highlights. Most of the guests are housed in individual cabins, but this time my room was in the Lodge – a larger building with its own unique charm. There is a great room with comfortable couches, a kitchen area, and writing desks that opens up to a wide porch with rocking chairs. There are about ten guest rooms, and it is the custom of the staff to attach a sign to the door of the cabin or room announcing the name of the guest. After locating my room, I continued down the hall to see who else was there. I think my heart literally skipped a beat when I got to the last two doors. On one side of the hall – Rebecca Stead; on the other – Wendy Mass. Suddenly, I was once again sitting with a group of fifth graders reading When you Reach Me and 11 Birthdays. Instinctively, I put my hand on each door, willing that the creative spirit and talent of these two wonderful authors could somehow transfer to me.
Rebecca and Wendy were not part of my workshop (which, by the way, had its own lineup of superstars). They had come to spend time on their writing and be inspired, just like the rest of us. I did have the opportunity to speak briefly with Wendy later in the evening, but I only got a glimpse of Rebecca at breakfast before they both headed home.
Authors are my rock stars, and that’s the way it is at The Barn – you never know who you might run into.
The Lodge at the Highlights Foundation
I entered the darkened studio with some hesitancy. Although I had practiced Yoga before, this was a new place, and I had concerns. Where should I place my mat? If I put it here in the back is that someone’s regular spot? Can I use another mat as a cushion? What if I can’t keep up? The studio filled up quickly, the instructor entered, and soon I could hear soft music and a reassuring voice. For the next hour I did my best, making adjustments as needed…
One of my goals when I retired a few years ago was to get my body back in shape. Although I walk daily and play golf occasionally, I knew I needed something more to stay healthy and active. So began a variety of classes and strength training until I finally settled into Yoga. It seemed to fit me well – stretching, balance, flexibility – everything I needed. Then came a back injury, followed by two setbacks, and yoga was relegated to the back burner. A health scare a few months ago and a stern talking-to from my doctor convinced me that I needed to get back to doing something in addition to walking.
I started by downloading a short Yoga routine on my iPad, and after two sessions I was hungry for more. Now I’m back to yoga two or three times a week at a local gym. I was worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that I wouldn’t be able to do all the poses. And I’m not able to do everything. But that doesn’t matter. In Yoga there is no competition, everyone practices at his or her own level, and that is always acceptable. I think there are parallels here with what we want for our students in reading and writing workshops – no competition, let me meet you where you are, I will accept your best effort and guide you to move forward.
For the next hour I did my best, making adjustments as needed…and that made all the difference.
The other day while checking out at the grocery store, the young cashier (probably somewhere in the vicinity of 16) kept addressing me as “miss” in a steady barrage of questions.
Do you want your gallon in a bag, miss?
Do you want your meat in plastic, miss?
Do you mind how heavy I make the bags, miss?
The age difference alone indicates that I’m clearly not a miss. For some reason the “miss” thing bothered me, and I’m not sure why. I know he was just trying to be polite, but I think if cashier training involves what questions to ask the shopper, it should also involve how to address the shopper.
This encounter made me think of a time when my daughter was about eight and we were in a restaurant on a family vacation. The waitress addressed her as “ma’am” and Ann wasn’t sure who she was talking to so at first she didn’t say anything. In the waitress’s defense, we were in the south, so addressing all females as “ma’am” was probably just part of her southern charm. To this day that incident remains part of our family’s “inside jokes.”
I guess the important thing to remember is that the person speaking is trying to be polite. Sir, Ma’am, Miss, etc. are all correct in some context. But it’s also important to keep in mind that we should address people (students, supervisors, friends) in a way that makes them, and us, feel comfortable. My former superintendent always refers to himself by his first name when communicating with me by phone or email. And while he probably prefers a first name basis, and while most people do use his first name, to me he is still “Dr.” It’s what I’m comfortable with.
The best thing I can say about the whole encounter with the cashier is that at least he didn’t call me “hon.” That might have been a problem.
The email came yesterday in the early afternoon. I was at my computer catching up on a few things when I saw the alert: ILA Distinguished Award Notification.
Yes! We did it!
I’ve been part of the Keystone State Reading Association’s Board of Directors for a few years now. We’ve participated in the International Literacy Association’s Council Achievement awards for the past two years. One winner is selected in each of three categories – teacher empowerment, community engagement, and public awareness – with an additional overall winner selected on excellence in all three categories. KSRA has won in the individual categories, but this year we had our sights set on the overall Distinguished Council Award, the most prestigious of them all. The application involves submitting a narrative and a video, and this year the job of writing the narrative fell to me.
I can do that! No problem!
At least that’s what I thought until I sat down to write. In three hundred words or less I had to find a way to showcase KSRA’s accomplishments in the three categories and how these accomplishments work to help fight illiteracy in our state. And did I mention that documented measures of success and any press coverage should be part of that narrative? A tall order indeed, but I wrote, revised, shared, revised…and came up with something that worked. I think I can honestly say that writing my slices for TWT was instrumental in the success of that narrative. Three to four hundred words is what I aim for in my slices (less if I’m writing poetry). Keeping that number in mind helps me narrow my focus, decide on my point, and write concisely. So thank you, TWT community, for giving me a forum and helping me become a better writer.
Yes! We did it!
For riding in the car, I’ve almost always been a music person. Most of the time my choice is classic rock, but I’ve also listened to my share of kid songs, morning DJs, classical CDs, movie and show soundtracks, even campy Christmas music during the season. I used to complain about having to listen to sports talk whenever Allan drove, and lately I fear I am turning into him. Not sports talk exactly, but talk. More and more I find myself changing the station to NPR for “All Things Considered” or podcasts of Serial and S-Town.
And then there’s the audio books. I’ve become a regular Overdrive customer, and often add the Whispersync feature to books I buy for Kindle. I appreciate it when I can listen to a sample before I purchase or borrow, because the voice does make a difference. What a pleasure it was to listen to Claire Danes’ voice as the narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I reintroduced myself to in light of these troublesome political times. Several years ago I was listening to The Shoemaker’s Daughter read by an actress with a beautiful Italian accent and lyrical voice. I was halfway through when the narration changed to the author. While she wrote beautiful words, her voice just didn’t do them justice, and it changed my whole experience.
I listen while walking the dog, running errands, and of course on those longer car rides. During the last two weeks I did so much traveling that I was able to finish Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. My audio books have become so important to me that I get a little nervous if I don’t have one waiting in the wings. Like now. I am on the wait list to borrow the audio versions of The Sun Is Also a Star and The Hate U Give (thank you Clare and Tammy), two YA novels I am looking forward to “reading.”
I know listening to books is not for everyone, but for me it greatly increases the titles I get through. I read lots of print books, too, but there are so many books and never enough time, so why not capitalize on every minute you can steal to read…or listen.
When I come home after being away for a few days, there are always tasks (and sometimes few surprises) waiting for me in the garden. Yesterday I spent some time inspecting and weeding. It was work I was glad to get back to, and as always, there were highs and lows among the things I discovered. I was happy to find the balloon flowers and black-eyed susan I planted last year. The peonies are budding profusely, so it won’t be long before they burst into color. I noticed that all of the bird houses are occupied, or at least have nests. Sadly, I didn’t identify any of them as bluebird nests. Hopefully the one in the back belongs to the tree swallows who come every year. The change in my bird population started last summer and will probably continue this summer, so I will just have to remain open to the change.
As I worked, I thought about highs and lows in other life situations. The good news, the bad news. The “been there, done that, never again” balanced with the “been there, done that, I’m ready for another round.” There are highs and lows in everything, but when we are able to find more of the good in something, we stay. It happens to me all the time when I play golf. It’s that one good shot among the many bad ones, the spending time with friends, the enjoyment of being outdoors, that keeps me coming back.
Last weekend I was at the Highlights Foundation for the Eastern PA SCBWI Retreat. It was a wonderful weekend filled with comradery and learning and fun. I can honestly say there were many more highs than lows. In fact, probably the only real low was that I had to leave a little early and missed the last great meal (the food is always fabulous!). That is, of course, unless you count hearing your work in progress read aloud in front of an editor, two agents, and an art director who could pinpoint the strengths and potential problems by hearing only the first 65 words. And even that wasn’t a low, just a little heart-pounding.
This week I hope you have more highs than lows, more good than bad, in everything you do.
I’ve been trying to read (and write) more poetry during April. Mostly I’ve been concentrating on my go-to Mary Oliver whose eloquent words I carry around in my head and heart all day. But I’ve also been reading a lot from Billy Collins. Two of his poems from the collection Aimless Love, “Poetry” and “Monday,” recently inspired me. In these poems, Collins discusses the difference among novelists, playwrights, and poets. Poets do not need lengthy descriptions or plots or to think about moving characters on and off stage, they just have to concentrate on what they see or feel and translate it into words. He also talks about the importance of windows in a poet’s life – the looking and noticing that is so important in capturing an image. So last week as I ventured out on my errands one day, I decided to look for images that I could capture and translate into words, a small moment in time that would serve as a virtual snapshot.
From the card store:
I stared in
at the rack of cards,
where images and words combined into
across the aisle there was
a young boy
begging for each card to be opened
a new tune
a new dance