In addition to doing the children’s book thing, I teach creative writing classes for kids via Zoom. I love the work. The students are fun and enthusiastic; the commute is fantastic (just one flight of stairs!); and, most importantly, I can do my happy, jokey, dog ‘n’ pony show while wearing jammies.
Every job is better in jammies.
The goal of these classes is not to teach the regimented mechanics of writing, it’s to build confidence and generate enthusiasm for storytelling. One way I do this is to assign in-class writing prompts. These prompts are designed to push each student’s brain in interesting and unexpected directions.
1. Your efforts to speak to the dead go badly.
2. You’re running for president in an alternate dimension. Write and deliver your campaign speech.
3. How did that giraffe get in the Hudson River?
You get the idea.
The prompts are a hit, usually. The kids have a good time discovering new stories. And I, in turn, love to hear the twisted tales they share.
The regularity of these prompts results in chunks of class time where I don’t teach much. I’m a fellow who likes to keep his brain busy, so I tried to use this time to work on my own stuff. I had no intention of sharing the work, of course—these classes weren’t about me—I just thought it would be a fun way to pass the time while everyone else was silently scribbling away.
It didn’t work. Almost instantly I recognized that I couldn’t simultaneously concentrate on a story and keep an eye on the class.
Doodling on the other hand…
Doodling, for me, requires no focus at all. I can look up from my “work” at a moment’s notice to fulfill my teacherly responsibilities—answering questions, addressing concerns, and, once in a while, sending an urgent message to a student via private Zoom chat (“I can see you picking your nose, Martin!”).
So now I have legal pads stuffed with drawings—half-baked ideas and unfocused weirdness that will never see the light of day.
Until now. Because, hey, why not?
So! Do you like to free your mind with a few doodles? Or something else? Lemme know in the comments!
My new house husband role is going quite well, I’m pleased to say. I like keeping things tidy and writing more often. I also like the fact that my efforts are decreasing Ellen’s workload. No longer does she have household chores to contend with. She can enjoy her new teaching job and take comfort in knowing that things around here are just fine.
Well, except for the injuries.
I’m a wee bit accident prone. No biggie; a lot of people are. My problem is that I only hurt myself when performing mundane housekeeping tasks.
I once tore a tendon in my index finger by tucking in a bed sheet. I wore a splint for six weeks because I needed hospital corners.
I have fallen down a stair, breaking my big toe. Not stairs, mind you. Stair. Just one stair.
I have fallen up stairs, too, onto a vacuum I was carrying. In that case I was uninjured, but the vacuum wasn’t; I broke it in two and, in so doing, became a human sized dust bunny.
And I have gotten four stitches in the palm of my hand in an attempt to clean dishes.
These accidents had not gone unnoticed by my wife, but she held her tongue — until the second day of my house husbandry. On that day I sliced my finger open attempting to slice a heel of bread.
Once Ellen came home from work and caught a glimpse of my crimson-stained, gauze-wrapped finger, she sat me down for a little talk.
“When we agreed to switch roles,” she began, using her best patient teacher voice, “you dying was not part of the arrangement.”
“I know.” I replied a bit chastened. “And the worst part was I bled all over the bathroom I cleaned yesterday. I had to clean the bathroom twice.”
“Noooo,” Ellen continued, her teacher voice revealing a hint of exasperation. “The worst part is the stabbing part. That’s the worst part.”
“Well, maybe, but the bathroom looks pretty good, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Ellen sighed. “It’s beautiful. Just pleeease be careful.”
“I will,” I promised.
And so far so good! No new injuries.
That said, upping my life insurance is probably a wise investment. I’d better talk to Ellen about this right away. Tomorrow I’m planning to mop the kitchen floor. God only knows what could happen.
Mrs. Snelback, however, was the one who kept me on the writing path for life.
Mrs. Snelback was my sixth grade teacher. She didn’t seem to like children all that much. The children didn’t seem to like her all that much, either. They did, however, fear and respect her.
I liked Mrs. Snelback. I understood her personality type; my Great Uncle Bill was very much like her, grumpy on the outside but a great person underneath. Uncle Bill got happy just like everyone else, but it was a subtle, non-demonstrative kind of happiness. Blink and you’d miss any outward signs of it. I made a point not to blink much around Uncle Bill. He fascinated me.
Snelback fascinated me, too. She was my hero because she, like me, hated the clique of obnoxious popular girls who abused people for sport. And, unlike every other teacher at Lincoln Elementary, Snelback refused to ignore these girls’ inner ugliness. She punished them with relish and reveled in their subsequent waves of whining.
“Oh, that isn’t fair?” Snelback would ask after the whiniest among them ran out of steam. “Well, life isn’t fair, honey.”
And because Snelback always enjoyed giving the knife just one more twist, she’d close with a mock frowny-faced, “Oh you poor thing!”
Snelback didn’t believe in sending people to the principal. Any misbehaving that took place in her room would be handled in her room, thank you very much.
One of Snelback’s favorite punishments was “The Infamous 100 Words.” If, for example, Tommy T. called out in class without raising his hand, Snelback would bellow, “THOMAS! 100 words on raising hands!”
And, that night, Tommy T. would have to write a 100-word essay on why it was important to raise your hand before speaking.
The Infamous 100 Words was like KP. Everyone had to deal with it sooner or later. I was no exception.
“MICHAEL!” Snelback bellowed. “100 words on talking in class!”
So be it.
When one of my classmates penned an Infamous 100 Words on talking in class, he would write that talking in class was rude to the children and the teacher.
He would then write that talking inhibited the learning process.
He would then write that he was sorry.
He would then write that when a kid talks in class…um…the Communists win.
On and on it went until a 70-word essay became an 80-word essay, and that 80-word became a 90-word, and that 90-word became a 95-word, and that 95-word became…still a 95-word, and…and…and…OH, COME ON! I JUST NEED FIVE MORE FREAKING WORDS! THINK! THINK!
As far as I was concerned, that was a stupid way to write The Infamous 100 Words. I had a different technique. I told a story:
Little Billy Bumpus leaned over to tell his neighbor the latest booger joke. Unfortunately the teacher heard. She stared hard at Billy, and, without a word, reached for the tiny key that hung around her neck. The class gasped. Some of the girls put their heads on their desks. They knew what was about to happen and didn’t want to see it.
The teacher unlocked the bottom drawer of her desk. Out popped the toe monster. It oozed from his home onto the floor and slithered down the aisle to Billy’s chair. Billy, resigned to his fate, gripped the sides of his desk as the toe monster wrenched off his shoe, yanked off his sock, and bit off Billy’s big toe down to the second knuckle.
“You have nine more chances to behave in this class, Mr. Billy Bumpus!” the teacher said. “Because once your toes are gone, so are YOU!”
There! 100 Words on talking in class. More like 150 words, but who’s counting?
My stories attracted Mrs. Snelback’s attention.
When Mom and Dad came to the next parent teacher conference, the first words out of Mrs. Snelback’s mouth was this: “Do you know what your son’s strongest subject is?”
“Reading,” Mom said. “He is always reading.” This was true.
“WRONG!” Snelback bellowed. “It is WRITING! Your son should be a writer. Your son WILL be a writer!”
The inference was that if I didn’t become a writer, it would be my mom’s fault.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was seven. I was now 12 and the desire to write was still strong. When Mom told me what Mrs. Snelback said, I wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world.
I wanted to prove Mrs. Snelback right. And she was right. Thanks to her, I’ll be a writer until the day I die.
So! Was there a teacher in your life who was particularly influential?