Dark dusky sky
Gliding by, wings wiping at air
Diving down to thieve
Thoughts of tomorrow
Wasting no worries
On what might not be.
Every day you approach the computer
“What are we doing again?” I show you where to see the assignment. I review the expectations, the objectives, the criteria.
“Oh! Okay! I get it!” you say, and set to work.
The next day, we do it again.
Today you stare at me with blank, hollow eyes.
“I don’t get it,” you say.
Everyone else is busily working. You’ve been absent. When you come, you have to study for a test in another subject. Or see the counselor. Or help your friend. In fourteen hours of research time, you’ve been here for eight. Do you have anything to show for the time? Others have the list of the websites they consulted, pages of notes, excitement over how they’ll turn research into a presentation next week.
You have confusion.
The same confusion from the first day. Repeated again. Some days we can help you. Some days you are confident and productive.
But nothing stays in your memory more than an hour.
Other days you are sullen and oppositional, because you’re sure you’ve never seen this before, and you’re angry about it.
“This is stupid.”
What more can I do? I ask. They tell me your parents refuse to have you tested. They don’t want you to have a label, so we don’t know if this is a cognitive impairment, learning disability, or the results of drug use or a sports injury. A label comes with funding to give you the additional support you plainly need. Keep repeating expectations. Keep explaining the criteria. I agree. This is stupid.
The course is almost over and you return each day to week one, living a personal Groundhog Day loop,
and no one knows how to pull you out.
On her blog @SarahDoughty prompted:
Tell me a story covering three things:
This was my response. Not exactly a story, but you know, brevity is an art! 🙂 What’s your response? Go check out her blog and leave a thought.
I feel like I need to take this moment to point out what is going on in this poem, because while there are only 3 lines and eleven words, they are woven tightly using a variety of poetic technique. First, while each line responds in order to Sarah’s 3 prompts, they also read as one sentence, so there are overlapping meanings. Secondly, there is a pattern of 4-3-4 words. Thirdly, repetition in the first line is quite emphatic, but provides a rhyme that tightens the ending with you.
Fourthly, I get seriously carried away with the sound devices assonance and consonance, binding each component of the words to their fellows. There are three vowels sounds repeated, the only out-lier is the ‘o’ in stories. e.g. I, I, my; do, do, you; release, stories, dreams; the, of. (Reminder: assonance is repetition of a vowel sound, NOT a letter). The consonant sounds also repeat with do, do, dreams; release, stories, dreams; release, stories, dreams; my dreams. The the and of are both *fricatives, and so while not exactly the same sound, the brain hears them as ‘close enough.’
Finally, that leaves only the ‘l’ is without a partner, except visually–because I,I,l look the same, don’t they? And of course, the lonely o from stories, visually matches the o’s in do. In other words, every component of each word is tied somehow to the rest of the poem. Absolutely everything fits like a tight puzzle.
Did I do any of this intentionally? No, actually. I just responded to the prompt, tidied it up until I liked it, and then when I copied it here, I noticed how tight it was.
*Fricatives in English are f,v, s (both s/z sounds), th (both θ and ð).
Another quote from John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. An ad for Craigslist:
Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home
One swing set, well structurally sound, seeks new home. Make memories with your kid or kids so that someday he or she or they will look into the backyard and feel the ache of sentimentality as desperately as I did this afternoon. It’s all fragile and fleeting, dear reader, but with this swing set, your child(ren) will be introduced to the ups and downs of human life gently and safely, and may also learn the most important lesson of all: No matter how hard you kick, no matter how high you get, you can’t go all the way around. (p. 124)
My father asked me tonight if I’d learned anything at ‘that conference’ I went to, and whether I would change anything from my last books as a result.
So it’s perfect, as it is?
Yes, Dad. It’s as perfect as I could make it. I went to the conference for the NEXT book. All the workshops I picked were about the next project.
A little while later he tried again, trying to convince me that I didn’t understand his initial question. Wouldn’t I change things, if I was starting over now?
No. The book is what it needed to be.
He sighed, sure that I wasn’t getting his point.
I know he didn’t get mine.
Every day you’d write a different book. Every day your words are new.
You can’t look back. The last project is finished.
There is no point writing if you’re not trying to write the best book you can, at the time.
There’s not point thinking about what you should/could/would do once it’s out, though. Once it’s in the publisher’s hands, it’s no longer yours to fret over. It’s gone. It has its own life. It makes its own connections with readers.
Luckily, Grace is doing just fine. I don’t have to worry about ways I may have failed her. I poured the best I had into her world. It’s done. She’s being well received. Is she perfect? Well, probably not. But she’s as perfect as I could make her at the time, which means, Yes. She is.
It’s like raising children. You do the best you can, and then you send them out into the world. If your personal imperfections cause trouble for your kids as adults, there’s no point beating yourself up about it, or even contemplating what you could have done differently. You did the best you could at the time, and now you have to look toward the future and doing even better.
Behind us lies the way of madness. There can be no room for regret, only moving forward, to become the best we can be for the next project. We learn to improve for the future, not to improve the past.
Past perfect 🙂
I recently met a mother and a son who are both writers. She has years of experience and several books out in various genres. He studied writing at university, and has a few novels out. At one event, I asked him how having a successful author already in the household influenced his own ambitions. He looked a little irritated at my question, and assured me that his work had nothing to do with anyone else but himself.
I felt a bit sorry for him when he said that, because I recognized a common theme of kids struggling to establish identity and break away from their parents’ influence or expectation by adamantly denying its existence. It is never going to be a simple thing to follow a parent into the same profession or calling. Comparisons are inevitable. It seems to me that recognizing and acknowledging the role his mom played in his success would be a natural sign of maturity as a man and a writer. He could accept the leg up, and then ride the horse with grace, demonstrating his ability and rights to be there.
I watched interactions over the weekend, to see how he handled himself and whether he demonstrated the independence that he vehemently declared.
Despite his respectable literary credentials, he is obviously uncomfortable presenting workshops. He seems like a shy kid forced to present to crowds of people older than him, and that’s not an easy situation. He mentioned earlier that he had been worried about this particular workshop. I had wondered if he had the skill and maturity to pull it together or at least fake it successfully. People are paying money to hear him and learn techniques. He owed it to the attendees to be prepared with practical information.
I wondered if his mom would attend his workshop. I confess, I hoped for his sake that she did not.
He opened with apologies and suggested people go to other workshops because his wasn’t going to be very good. He admitted to not being ready. He pulled out his notes, spoke nervously for a few minutes, and then he was stuck. He had not prepared adequately. He had some notes, but only about 20 minutes worth. It’s quite possible to make 20 minutes worth of notes fill an hour, but it takes skill that he didn’t have. He apologized some more, desperately asking for questions.
His mom watched him fall apart. She tried to help. She asked him questions that he should have been able to answer and that would have filled five or ten minutes if he’d picked up on her hints.
He grumbled at her in typical kid fashion. The audience laughed, recognizing a familiar family dynamic.
He provided a weak answer, one that was almost contrary to fact. She couldn’t let that lie. She had to add, “Don’t you think that…” and then she provided a fascinating and informative few minutes. He was irritated that his mother was speaking in his workshop and grumbled at her some more. “You are a bad audience member!”
To be fair, for the period of time when he was presenting the information that he had in his notes, he was amusing and informative. While he was floundering, the audience was forgiving and pleasant with him. He obviously knows his material, he just didn’t have enough material, or hadn’t figured out how to properly expand it enough or analyze it enough to fill his allotted time. He looked a lot like he was roasting on a spit.
What I found most interesting, however, was that by-play between mother and son. It was a clear example of rejecting opportunity. Being truly independent means you are not afraid to take advantage of the tools at your disposal, even if you hate that your greatest asset is your mom.
I felt sorry for him. He seemed like a mortified introvert, forced to do something that was painful for him; however, an appearance of confidence and capability is important when people are spending money to learn from you. You have to make your audience feel like it’s received value.
Sometimes apologies happen at the start of a presentation, then the nerves pass and the presenter gives value. That didn’t happen in this instance. I felt sorry for him, and I thought I knew how his mother was feeling: knowing that she could have have helped. He was determined to fall by himself, and he did. Such moments are painful for mothers!
I hope he is able to come to terms with his advantages and his skills, while developing the ability to schmooze with the public in order to promote his work independently.
I got thinking about those mother son relationships.
My own son lives 6 hours away, and we don’t get to see him as often as we’d like. He is much younger than the young man who was presenting workshops, but he is much older in many ways. As a teen he went through the stage of believing that being independent meant he had to live far away and refuse help from his parents. He did not achieve many of the goals we had set for him, but he forged his own path. As a result, he has been completely financially and emotionally independent for several years. He markets his skills. He knows how to behave with clients. He is aware of his appearance and the need to present a professional image, albeit a youthfully hip one. He exudes confident capability, as he schmoozes and charms like a pro, despite his youth. It takes effort to look as relaxed and stylish as he does. It takes experience and practice to be confident in himself when teaching skills to others, often older than he is. I like hearing that my son acquits himself admirably in those situations.
I kind of wish he’d been presenting workshops. I think if he’d stepped to the podium, the audience would have been enchanted, entertained, and informed by a confident, thoroughly prepared young man. No one would have been embarrassed.
But I’m his mother. I might be biased.