Falling on my Butt

Yesterday, for the first time since moving to the farm in May, I literally fell on my butt.  Nobody was around to laugh or feel bad, so I did the right thing.  I laughed at myself.  Then I got up and rather than worrying about wiping the Georgia red clay off my bum, I smiled rather admiringly at the mess I had made of myself.  

As I continued with my morning chores that the winter break affords me the opportunity to attend to more often, I thought about the last year.  I thought about how many times in life we fall on our butt, sometimes with people around us to help, laugh, support.  Sometimes when nobody is around to do any of those things. 

How often do we laugh? How often do we curse in anger and frustration at the inevitable.   Life is not too disimilar to walking on that red clay.  Most of the time, if you know your path and have walked that routine daily, the footing can be sure and stable.  But many catalysts out of our control can create slick areas that need skilled navigation.  Ultimately, we all slip and fall.  We all have struggles, it is what we do after that defines the moment- not the moment itself. 

I taught Thomas Hardy ‘ s famous serial novel, Far from the Madding Crowd for many years.  He references “the inevitable tragedy of life” in the text.   I always enjoyed this topic of discussion with bright adolescents.   It offered a perspective that it is not the tragedy, but rather how we endure that shapes us as people. 

So I fell on my butt a couple times this year.    Some of the times, I was just flat out not being careful where I stepped.  As with yesterday,  I was being as careful as usual walking in my own footsteps where I had many times already walked to bring the horses their morning sweet and oats. Yet there were additional catalysts beyond my control that made the clay slicker.  

Sometimes, I grunt in frustration.  But increasingly, the laugh and learn for the next time response is the instinct.  

I am a firm believer that our environment and the examples we see around us allow us to grow in such ways.   I would say that the last 6 months of 2014 has offered me so any examples of how to move forward and learn from our missteps.  To laugh at ourselves in good humour when there is nobody around to laugh at us.  To trust our path and our steps, but to always know that to live ambitiously means to take those steps with increased vigor each day, while pursuing greater excellence in our process, yet thus risking the falls.

So what did I do with my dirty jeans?  I showed them to my children like my red clay badge of courage.   Daddy falls, too.  It is okay to fall, we just need to get up the right way.  

It is 6:58 am now.  The animals are probably waiting for me to come out.  Maybe I will give them something to laugh about this morning.  If so, I will laugh along with them.  Off to chores. 


Coloring Within the Lines

The other day I was in a conversation with two writing teachers.   Those of you who know me know that a) I love to talk about teaching writing b) I use to be a five-paragraph essay fascist and c) in recent years I have become an advocate for many different methods of writing instruction.

So this conversation-one that I thoroughly enjoyed- was accentuated by the high level of respect I hold for the others in the conversation.   We were talking about teaching organization through highly structured formulaic strategies.  One colleague enjoys the structured formula of the 5 paragraph essay for nearly all formal academic writing, while the other teacher prefers to afford students more freedom in applying the concept of organization how they seem fit, feeling that the practice and process will ultimately lead every writer to have a sense of his or her own organizational style.

I was asked what I thought, and I used the metaphor of younger kids learning how to color within the lines of a coloring book before they can create the outlines and thus, produce original art.   I believe in the value of providing young artists with opportunities to color within the lines in order for them to see models of well-structured forms incorporated with their own interpretation of what colors go inside.  There is still tremendous skill and creativity involved in coloring within the lines.   Further, the experience will help the young creator have a better understanding of what the outline form should look like, and as mastery and creative verve develop, the artist can start to branch out on his/her own to create without the outlines.

Writers need to learn how to organize their thoughts by “coloring within the lines” until they have that sense of how to create their own structural form.  So teaching formulaic structured writing strategies is integral to helping young writers develop methods of organization.   Once they have shown creativity and adherence to the form within the parameters that teachers provide, they have proven themselves ready to not only fill in the form with their individual “colors”, but to also be masterful creators of the forms themselves.