something different

I'm taking an art class -- two -- at Creativebug when I return from family, schools, and a conference in Mississippi. Both are on-demand work-alongs -- you choose the time and place to work on each session -- and both are Lisa Congdon classes. Sketchbook Explorations and Basic Line Drawing.

I'm a life-long doodler as well as a notebook devotee and evangelist, as you may know, and in this year of exploration, I've dedicated myself to working more with my hands, going back to my roots. I want to get out of my head -- all those words! -- and use my mind in a different way.

I leave for Mississippi on Easter Sunday and I'll be home on April 11. Wanna work/play together when I'm back? I have no expectations. I'm in this for the discovery, the exploration, totally. You've got a couple of weeks to investigate at Creativebug, and you can take a different class if you like, or no class at all. I've slowly been buying the materials for my two classes and I'm just about ready to go.

I'm off to a local school this morning. Atlanta International School. All day talking about history and stories and personal narrative with grades 4 through 8. And KEEPING A NOTEBOOK.

Gotta put on my face. Happy day, friends. xoxo

the year of exploration

For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.

Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).

I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag #theyearofexploration.

I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)

I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.

I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.


I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.

To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.

I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.

I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I'll play hard, too! I'll try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?

on being a late bloomer

This is the hashtag I used on Instagram -- #teachinghongkong2015 -- to document in photos my trip to Hong Kong this month. You can find photos of the trip there, and even more on Facebook, here, along with a few thoughts about teaching writing to students who are learning to be fluent in both English and Mandarin Chinese.

 We mainly focused on personal narrative and moments we could add color and flavor and texture to, characters we could create from those moments -- and how to make them come alive on the page -- and then we moved into fiction with them.

We used several mentor texts, including FREEDOM SUMMER, LOVE RUBY LAVENDER, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS.

I learned to write by reading like a writer, modeling my writing on what I admired, then making it mine, so that's how I teach. I turn my life into stories. I understand how I do it. I have broken it down to the foundations of how it works, and it's always a stretch and a pleasure to share it with young writers and their teachers.

I am a writer who teaches, and to that end, I will always be a writer first. I have developed my teaching over the past twenty years by teaching in classrooms, from K through college, and I know that what I have to offer is substantial, meaningful, useful, and offers a lasting toolbox partner for teachers and their young writers to use for years to come.

And yet.

I am thinking about who I am today, as Jim and I return home to spring in Atlanta -- we left in a February snowstorm. This ruminating always happens after I am thrust for a sustained time into an unfamiliar environment, where I am constantly thinking on my feet, meeting new people in new cultures, learning new customs and traditions (and food!) and discovering how people make meaning in their lives.

Traveling, especially internationally, invites me to rethink everything. Invites me to make meaning. It reminds me of my young life, when, as a teenager, I became a mother, and a wife to a boy I did not know, and moved to a place I did not understand, with no support, with people and customs I could not comprehend, and with fear and isolation so complete it would take me years to assimilate and integrate and create meaning from it.

So I am thinking.

I want to chronicle some of that thinking here on the blog. I'm going to play with short posts about what I'm discovering, and just see where it leads me. I can feel myself entering a time of change. I'm working on a sort of manifesto for my sixties. God. I grew up in the sixties, and now I *am* sixty. 61. Talk about a late bloomer.

I raised a family first. I was homeless first. I was lost, first. I had to find ways to stabilize my life and my children's lives, first. I had to live some, first. Make sense of some things. Find my way into my life. Do a whole lot of different things with my life and teach myself how to do... pretty much everything. It would take me time to learn how to help myself, so I could help someone else.. I taught myself how to write so I could tell my stories and find home, belonging, safety, meaning, love.

My first book was published the year I turned 48. I went back to school that year and got my credentials to teach -- I'd been teaching informally for years without them. I became suddenly single that year. My heart was broken. I wrote EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in response to that loss.

By the time I turned fifty, I had lost not only the long-years marriage, but my mother and my father and my siblings and my home of 25 years and my hometown. My youngest of four graduated and left home for college. I moved to Atlanta. The dog died. My beloved editor was fired. My publishing house was decimated.

The bitter was tempered by the sweet. I had created a support system by that time, and my friends became my family. They held the space for me, held me up until I could stand on my feet again. I met my husband, Jim. We had a three year long-distance relationship, a three year Atlanta relationship, and then we married. My books did well in the world, even though my life was so chaotic for a time, I couldn't always appreciate it or participate in the book community that celebrated all of it. Much of my life was a blur.

Little by little, though, I came back from a devastating time of loss. My children grew into interesting, resilient adults and began to blossom. I began to create a home, here in Atlanta, a family home, a home for friends, a home for my own heart to rest in once again.

It took me a long, long time to do this. I was scared, and once again lost, even in the midst of the sweetness. But I kept writing. I kept teaching. I kept on trying. I have been emerging from that difficult place, once again forging an identity and discovering who I am. Making meaning. It's a process. Life long.

I am happy to be here. I love my life. I know how lucky I am.