The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Caught Red-Handed (Or Black-Handed--If There's No Red Ones)

       Yes, school has started. Yes, school with kids has started. Teachers talking to other teachers always like to make that distinction. "With kids?" when they're comparing start dates. Because almost-always, there are several days or a week of deadly dull fascinating meetings that cure insomnia inform and educate the teachers before the students begin.

photo by missngui

      I have had two days already with my students. And it has been two good days. But that is not what this post is about...

       When the teachers begin a new school year, so does the tried and true annual stealing spree. In the halls and teachers' lounge, there are stacks and boxes and rows of treasures junk that have been discarded as cabinets and file cabinets are cleaned out. Cruising through colleagues' clutter to find a valuable worthless goodie (that--most likely--you will discard next year) is how we warm up.

      Because this is just the appetizer. The entree the office.

      There, in the school office, is the vault. In our building it has a combination, and only the secretary knows the left-right-left-right-left (and so on) combination that has to be spun to, the dial wildly spinning as forty-two numbers are clicked into place, 42 rotations of the dial, until--with a magical whoosh--the vault door is opened.

      Once the Brinks men have left their post at 7:30 every morning (because now the secretary will take over the guarding of the loot), the safe's contents are fair territory. Educators sidle in, sideways glances to see if the secretary or one of her minions (the aides) are watching, and if no one is paying close attention, they slip in, closing the door slightly, to stealthily carry out the deed.

      Only new teachers get excited with file folders and scotch tape. The highly-prized and almost-extinct rolls of masking tape, dry-erase markers, staples and (whisper) Sharpie markers are what we old frumpy and hairy-chinned veteran teachers stuff into our pockets and shove into our armpits...but we grab a few file folders or a few envelopes as our "cover." And then we scuttle back to our rooms with our bountiful booty.

      Earlier in the week, I snagged a whole box (count them: four of 'em) of dry erase markers. Sadly, no Sharpie markers could be found. I also grabbed two rolls of masking tape. Yes, I might only need one right now (I have 157 dozens of large, laminated leaves that still need to be affixed to my ceiling) but educators are hoarders. You never know when the producers of masking tape will go on you must collect and hide and say, when asked, "I have no square to spare."  Because teachers who share end up with empty cabinets. And the friends they shared with? They're happily snapping off snippets of masking tape, not even shedding a single tear for their tapeless neighbors...

photo by Tony Lynch Photography
Blue Tack (do not confuse it with the grayish, useless Blue Tack wannabe) is never in the vault. Teachers have to buy
this miracle material themselves.

        Teachers are not the only talented thieves around. Writers steal, too. They find a device, a strategy that's clever (like beginning with the ending, and then flashing back--or leaving the reader in the dark until the end of the piece) and then they embrace it as their own. Oh, we're glad to give credit, but we steal nonetheless.

        What have you stolen from a writing friend? For writers, the statute of limitations is seven minutes, not seven years, so don't be afraid to admit it.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Achingly Brilliant Book

        Who would you walk 1,000 miles for? Would you willingly walk into a territory where in all probability, you'll be beaten or lynched? Would you keep a love alive in your heart, even though it had been 15 years since you last saw him/her?

       That is at the heart of Leonard Pitts Jr.'s novel Freeman. The Civil War is over, it has been a decade and a half since Sam saw Tilda, but even if he dies trying, he's determined to find her. Or, find out what happened to her, if it's too late.

        And so he starts his journey, beginning in Philadelphia and heading into the deep south.

        It is so well written and such a compelling story, I relished the waits in the airport earlier this week (I even read in line while shuffling towards the security check) and read each evening in the hotel (I went to a workshop in Chicago).

         What book did you read that made your summer  sumptuous?