A year of walking

Yesterday, one of the writing prompts I gave my students was “create a timeline of no more than six moments from your life that tell a specific story; then do it again with different moments.” The idea behind the prompt is to recognize how selection and omission shapes the stories we tell. As I wrote alongside my students, I had a revelation: most of my stories aren’t shaped by specific moments. Instead, a lot of my stories are determined by a series of events or choices that someone – me, my parents, my sisters or friends – made over and over. The story isn’t one test, one class, one dinner, one disaster or one anything: instead, it’s all the swim practices that led to the swim meets that led to one race and then another; it’s the series of dates that led . It’s not one book; it’s all the books.

My timeline was a disaster – so obviously I shared it with my students. Though they nodded as I explained, I can’t guarantee that they really understood my scribbles. Most of them had managed to complete the assignment with some ease. No messy ongoing moments for them.

As of today I have officially walked at least 1.5 km for 365 days in a row. Once I decided to do this, I went about it wholeheartedly. I was so committed that when we foolishly went to a cottage during black fly season, I walked in the lake. I was so committed that I checked the weather and walked around rainstorms – and sometimes in them. I was so committed that I walked in ice and snow and even sleet (but only once), which I do NOT love. In fact, this is now the first year of my adult life (and possibly even my childhood) that I went outside every day in the winter. It’s the first year I went through multiple pairs of shoes. (I got fancy new ones for today.)

My fancy new shoes for my one-year anniversary.

And now, maybe because I’m deep into studying information with my students – how it is never neutral, how it is shaped & created – I feel like I should, you know, share some life lessons. After all, it’s been a year. Still, I’m not sure that I have any. In ways both literal and figurative, a year of walking is simply about putting one foot in front of another. And then doing it again. It turns out, there’s no earth-shattering moment when all is revealed. There’s just another morning, another day I put on my shoes, another day I head out the door.

And yet, I want to create meaning from this year of walking. I *want* to reflect. Two million-ish steps later, I must have learned something. It’s not a timeline, but…

  1. Have a buddy. (Hi Lisa!) I already knew that having a buddy makes things easier, but I didn’t know that even a virtual buddy would be a real motivator. In some ways virtual was better (story of this year, right?). I had no idea if Lisa had already walked on any given day, so I couldn’t let her down by skipping my own. On days when the weather here was better, I imagined her slogging through snow or muck. How could I not go out when she had faced that? On days when the weather here was worse, I imagined the glory of sharing that I did it anyway. Lesson learned: community counts.
  2. Bite-sized goals. Our original goal was to walk daily from Victoria Day (right before Memorial Day for you Americans out there) until Labour Day. Ambitious but do-able – I mean, walk through the summer? Easy peasy. Then we aimed for Halloween. No problem. I balked a little at the stretch until Christmas – I knew what the weather might do – but once that was done, the rest was a no-brainer. (It was as if I had forgotten February’s existence. It was cold.)
  3. Make it fun. I listen to podcasts, talk to my friends or my sisters, walk with friends, take pictures, find scenic routes. Taking pictures every day has allowed me to slow down & really look at things – no worries about cardio or times. Just walking. I love it. Now, I take pictures every day – and I’m getting better at that, too.
  4. Focus on the basic goal. I am NOT going to run a race – turns out I prefer streaks to competitions. I am not going to sell my pictures. I am not going to walk 30 km. All I’ve committed to is 1.5km each day. Everything else is extra. Extra is fine, but some days 1.5km (and a few snapshots) is enough.

I’m sure there’s more, but there always is. I’m proud of myself in that sort of vague way that comes with milestones I saw coming: I never feel older on the day of my birthday, I found my various graduation ceremonies mostly tedious & I think I was more tickled about finishing a year of walking a few weeks ago when I realized how close I was. A year probably won’t fit neatly onto a timeline for a writing prompt, but as it turns out, I’m not especially good at telling my story through just a few big moments.

Might as well put my shoes on and head out the door again tomorrow.

100 word memoirs

For the past few years, I’ve used Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s idea of a 100 word memoir as one of the early assignments for my classes. It’s miraculous. Over and over, students engage deeply with this task. They dive into their notebooks for ideas; they draft multiple options; they give each other feedback, laughing and talking in small groups as they tell their stories. Best of all, they revise and revise – actual revision! – to get their word count and their craft just right.

Each time I assign this, I write in front of my students. They see how I generate ideas. They help me choose my topic from my list; they almost always choose ones about dating or embarrassing things I’ve done. They watch me struggle with decisions – how should I start? does this ending work? maybe I should fiddle with this sentence – and see my mini-memoir grow and shrink as I aim for 100 words. Sometimes, I actually get to the end.

Today, teaching online, I shared some of my potential ideas and saw the reaction of the two kids whose cameras were on; no point in taking a vote, experience told me that this topic would win. I fiddled and futzed, changed and rejigged. I started 87 words. I changed the opening. Moved the middle. Added some details, took out others. 100 words! But still not quite right. I moved bits, changed sentence structure… They were writing, I was writing. It’s actually pretty fun. In fact, I kept fiddling with it after class until I got something I liked. Tomorrow, I’ll ask my students for feedback, but you can read it here first.

Kissing J Austin
As soon as my lips touch his cheek, I know this is a mistake. I’m already seriously awkward and Pammy has pushed me forward, so I nearly knock him into a shelf full of beakers. Supposedly every girl in the 7th grade is kissing J. Austin for his birthday, but at this moment I realize he isn’t in on the plan. He rights himself and stares at me…horrified? disgusted? Red-faced, mortified, I retreat from the science supply room. Behind me, the popular girls titter and flit around him. How many girls kissed him that day? I never dared ask.

Craft moves: use of present tense, a hook that drops the reader into the moment, 7th grade POV/diction – all the emotions are giant

This is the end/beginning #SOL21 31/31

This is the last day of my fourth year of writing (and publishing!) every day in March. This is the end of the 2021 March Slice of Life Challenge – an amazing idea and community supported by Two Writing Teachers. I can’t lie: this year was a slog. I didn’t have much of a plan when I started this month – I usually have *some* ideas before I dive in; I didn’t have many hidden, half-written pieces that I just needed to tidy up and publish – I usually have half a dozen, even if I don’t use them all; I didn’t have any sort of available time – I usually have a schedule with daily quiet moments and a March Break. This year, I was constantly scrambling. There were nights when I posted at 10pm (or later), days when I sincerely wished that my children were younger so I could write about them with impunity or that I could tell everyone else’s stories without telling mine. I barely knew my students when we began and didn’t feel comfortable writing about the classroom most of the time. I didn’t join the Welcome Wagon ,and I didn’t have time to read and comment on nearly enough other blogs. (I tried; I honestly did, but there are only so many hours in the day.) As we come to an end, I am relieved.

So why did I keep writing? Well, first of all, I hate leaving things incomplete – even self-imposed things – and I love the community of writers. I know that daily writing – pushing past the point of frustration, letting go of my need for perfection – makes me grow as a writer. Most of all, I feel nourished as I read other people’s work and as they read mine. I learn and think, learn and grow.

This year I end at a beginning, as though I spent a month (or a lifetime) clearing away the underbrush and then am surprised to discover insistent green shoots poking up here and there. This year, I have a sense that some of these shoots are ready to grow. I have ideas that are ready for a little fertilizer, a little sunlight. I’ve found writing under my writing and, while I couldn’t write everything in the rush to write daily, I think I can nurture some of these shoots into something bigger. I have things to say that will take longer than one day or twenty minutes, things that need time. We shall see.

I guess I had to write every day for a month, every week for four years, to realize that I am ready to write, but I think I am. If nothing else, here I am, writing – always writing – at the end of the day, at the end of the month. So, look for me here. Even I’m curious to see what I come up with!

I can’t wait to read other people’s beginnings that stem from the end of March – see you on Tuesday!

Come, begin with TwoWritingTeachers and the supportive community they have grown.

Getting better #SOL21 28/31

314 days ago, Lisa Corbett over at A Little of This, a Little of That started a walking challenge and invited me to join in. The goal was to walk every day from Victoria Day (May 18, the week before Labor Day in the US) to Canada Day (July 1) – at least, I think that was the initial goal. It seemed like a fun idea and something to do during those early days of the pandemic, so I joined in. Once we’d finished that, someone suggested extending the goal until the end of the summer, and then until Halloween, and here we are, 314 days later, still walking every day.

When we started, I set myself a minimum goal of 1.5 km (ok, secretly 1.6 because that is a mile and I am, still, American in so many ways and apparently because I also like rules) and I walked. Mostly I walked around my neighbourhood and the more I walked, the more I started to notice things. By May 24, I was taking pictures on my phone as I walked. By June 3 I started posting them because I thought they were pretty. Soon my walking challenge was a walking & photography challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this during March because, obviously, I’m doing another challenge. Given that I’m doing three challenges at once, and one of them is *entirely* self-imposed, apparently I am a challenge person. This is not something I knew about myself. I am not a race person: I’ve tried a few and mostly find myself on race day annoyed that my walk or run is so crowded and that everyone seems to think that a timer is a reasonable motivator. I’m a selective group-joiner, often preferring groups that allow me to attend or not attend based on my own needs. So, basically a selfish group member. Sigh. I *am* a perpetual class-taker, though I often end up frustrated in the middle and regularly swear never to take another – and then I sign up for another one the next summer.

Doing the Slice of Life Challenge got me started with regular writing four years ago, and every year March makes me dig deep to write through whatever comes at me. I have signed up for this challenge even when it made no logical sense and I have always written & commented every day for a month (and almost every Tuesday the rest of the year). As a result, I am a much more confident writer than I was four years ago. I am more comfortable writing in front of my students; I am more versatile (hey, I’ve written poems!), and I think I am more effective. I can’t say that the walking challenge has made me a better walker – what would a better walker be? – but I can say that it has gotten me out of the house every day this year, something that has *never* happened in my previous 13 winters in Ottawa.

I’m thinking about all of this today because today’s walk was in a cold gray rain. Days like today make me a) not want to walk and b) not want to take pictures. What sort of beauty can I find in late March muck in the middle of the city? After 314 days, you’d think I would know better, but I don’t. Even as I headed out the door, I had the same conversation with myself that I’ve had dozens of times this year, “There aren’t going to be any good pictures today, so you might as well capture what you can. You realize how often you think this? There’s always something. Sure, sure, but today… today’s going to be just like yesterday. Might as well just use something left over from yesterday’s batch…”

But there’s always something if I’m looking for it. Always. Today, I found myself fascinated with droplets, entranced by rain and the minutiae of the leaves pushing through the soil. Sure enough, I took pictures; when I got home and looked at them, I had a realization: I have gotten better at photography. This is improvement I can see. And you know what? I’m proud of my pictures and I’m really proud of my growth. That goes for all of these random challenges and maybe this is why I like a challenge – for me, the consistent practice that comes with a challenge helps me get better.

Here, enjoy a few of today’s pictures. Not bad, eh?

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org/ who host this challenge every year. Imagine what might happen if you joined!