Slice of Life: Just a Sentence

This weekend, Margaret Simon read this excerpt from Elizabeth Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton:

At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of tne horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quitet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.

Afterward, she said, “I’ve got a writing assignment for you. Take the first line, ‘At times these days I think of the way…’ and write your really long sentence. I think you can handle that.”

And then she said, “Here’s mine.”

She proceeded to read. Beautiful. Poetic. A reflection on her world inside and out, offering a vision I could see and feel.

Sure. I can handle that. One long sentence. I grabbed my notebook and wrote. And revised. Couldn’t read my writing. Tore out the page. Tried again. Interesting parts but still not what I wanted. The writing was clumsy, forced.  I wanted my computer but wasn’t sure if that was ok. Was I cheating? I re-listened to the assignment. Nothing said about how I write, just that I write. I thought of asking, but knowing Margaret, I turned to what works for me.

My computer. Opened a doc and typed. It flowed. I could see it; hold on to some parts and let go of others. Revision (was that ok?) was possible. The keyboard is my writing space. I can’t compose or think in longhand. I’ve lost that ability.

After a few minutes, I looked at my sentence. Was it long enough? Good enough? I studied the mentors. Mine was less than, but it is me, now.

Sharing writing is scary. Always. Scary.

But, I felt I was in a caring space. Fear diminished just enough to get me to post this:

At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone.

After, I thought about my process.

I was worried. Was I following the assignment correctly?

I wasn’t good enough.

I was expected to try. I needed to show up.

But, now they’d know.

Still, my teacher believed in me.

I felt, whatever I offered would meet caring hearts.

It was just a sentence. Shared among friends. Still I was nervous.  Exposed.

In the end, the rewards were huge. Shared writing brought us closer. It grew trust and opened the door for more. But it took a teacher who believed I could and other contributors who cared.

I wasn’t much of a prompt fan before this experience. Perhaps because I’ve never had the right prompt or the right teacher or the right community.

Now, I’m looking for prompts for my students, imagining how we can experience this work together. And build on it.

What fascinates me is not the result, but the process. The conditions necessary for meaningful writing work.

This is why teachers need to write. Together. For ourselves. For our students.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog Slice of Life Tuesdays. For providing and supporting a community of caring writers. Read more slices here.

 

 

21 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Just a Sentence

  1. “What fascinates me is not the result, but the process. The conditions necessary for meaningful writing work.”
    This was the part that blew me away – each of us made the process meaningful, because the conditions were there. That’s what it’s all about, my friend.

  2. I agree with Tara, Julieanne. We write because the words flow from inside. We write for the sheer joy of writing regardless of what others feel. It is the process that provides us with pleasure (albeit at times there is anxiety due to writer’s block, stress, or fear that our words are not full of what is needed). In the end, our words are ours. I found your one long sentence to be full of voice and of a philosophical nature.

  3. It is so interesting that each writer has her/his own take on everything- including to prompt or not to prompt, what is the right way to do something, what is good enough, etc. You are a writer who found a way to get your just right words on to the page! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Writing can feel make you feel very vulnerable, unsure if it is good enough. It can be scary, but fortunately we have this community to connect with to support what we are trying to do.

  5. I love how reflective you are! I feel like I walked this journey with you. Let me say this, please don’t abandon your notebook writing! “I can’t compose or think in longhand. I’ve lost that ability.” I believe this takes practice. It’s different. LOVE this post!!!

  6. The willingness to share came from feeling secure with the members of your group. Too often students don’t have that feeling of safety within the class which makes the idea of sharing not even a possibility. When you know you will be supported and encouraged you are more willing to tackle any challenge. Just one sentence, should be easy to do, right? Not so easy when you put such heart and thought into those few words. What a result! Loved it!

  7. First- what a cool prompt from Margaret! Coming from the world of prompts, from the Hudson Valley Writing Project, I’m already thinking about how I can use that prompt in the future and that book is now downloaded to my Kindle and waiting patiently for me to get engaged with it.
    I LOVED your piece, Julieanne and I’m surprised that given your confident writing voice that your process is so revealing in your lack of confidence. I am a loyal fan and writing communities are magic- great places to build confidence. I know that’s happening for me and you, I’ll bet. Keep going girl!

  8. Julieanne, What you did with that writing prompt was magical. First of all thank you for sharing all your anxiety about exposing your writing. I know that I always feel that everyone else is so much more accomplished and my offerings are so minor league. Second, I found it very heartening to see your process as a teacher to take that anxiety and put it into your mortar and pestle and grind it into new food for thought for your classroom. Brava.

  9. […] At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone. —Julianne Harmatz […]

  10. Your sentence is beautiful and resonates with me. “…showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone.” Perfection.
    And your honesty about the anxiety around putting it out there is refreshing.
    I think prompts are like little shots of energy vitamins in our writing life. Some of them help and inspire, some are just fluffy. A steady diet wouldn’t do. But when they work, as evidenced in your work– they are just right.

  11. And when you are with your students, now they will see that you share those feelings of (sometimes) terror of what others will say when they write. Your writing shows deep interaction with the words, Julieanne, both in the sentence and in your entire post reflection. Having the group support, like the classroom, too, is special. Thanks for sharing what happened when you wrote. I hope you share with your class, also.

  12. I enjoyed all of your reflections and vulnerable worries that were part of the process. Such a learning experience – for you as a writer and as a writing teacher. I have just joined this SOL community and find it all a little terrifying. This post reminds me that my feelings are shared. I loved your honesty here.

  13. Before I got to the end of your piece, I was thinking “This is why teachers need to write…” and then, there was that line right there in your slice. I love your sentence and can just picture the beauty of the water on the surface and the power below. How right you are about sharing being scary. Sometimes it feels as if it is even more scary when we dare to believe something we’ve written is halfway good. Do you agree?

    • Oh absolutely. That’s a huge fear. How can we dare? How can we ask our students to. I believe we need a real shift in our ideas about writers and good writers and why we write.

  14. I agree. It was the process of each of us thinking about the same thing in very different ways and needing our own time and our own process to get us to our own product. Are we as accepting with our students? Can we be?

  15. Absolutely beautiful, JulieAnne. As I commented on Margaret’s blog today, the beginning of that sentence is just breathtaking… as is all the writing that followed. Sometimes writing to a “prompt” isn’t bad…. although I don’t really consider this a prompt I guess. More of a … inspiration.

  16. I love your sentence! The wonderful, grand Pacific. The ocean I have yet to see. Thank you for sharing. Yes, it starts with one sentence. Yes, teachers should write. For themselves. For their students. 🙂

  17. This is so lovely and so wise, Julieanne. Your sentence is gorgeous. It pulls your reader in and wraps them in the “blue stillness” of the ocean. And your thoughts about the process of writing and teaching are spot on, as always. Thank goodness we have this safe, supportive community where we can do this “meaningful writing work.”

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