Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Opening The Writer's Notebook: Exhibit A from 2002, Louisville Writing Project XXI, #OurNWP @writingproject

Exhibit A. Crandall's notebook, 2002
This is day #3 for me to reflect on the influence the National Writing Project has had on my practice, research,  creativity, and professionalism. Honestly, I think I could reflect on their influence everyday for the rest of my life.

Why? #MyNWP is #OurNWP, and together it creates harmony.

When I set out to dedicate my blog to the thunderclap efforts celebrating 40 years of National Writing Project work, I couldn't wait to get into my office at Fairfield University and pull my first writer's notebook off the shelf. To be truthful, I have kept notebooks since I was 19, but this one was my first NWP one, and each page  - as I expected - was loaded with numerous shifts I made with my own pedagogy as a result of the summer institute. I have since moved from notebooks to blogs to do my meandering, but collecting and connecting, creating and making, and composing and reflecting are what make such notebooks irreplaceable.

The first thing I did when I entered my office yesterday was head to the corner where I currently keep the 25 years of writers' notebooks. I immediately looked for the blue, silky one - the LWP XXI summer institute one - and opened to the first page.

Wola! Memories leaped at me as if I was Dumbledore and Potter dipping a wand into my pensieve - a magic elixir.

Hence, this post: 
Entry #1. Jean asked us to write a response to, "Why am I here?" - a question I continue to ask myself on an everyday basis. Here's what I wrote on that April day when I was a newly minted-30 year old brought into the fold of the National Writing Project.
April 13, 2002 - Entry One
It's a Saturday morning and portfolios were turned in yesterday. I'm cooked, but where I am? I'm sitting with 25 teachers selected as Louisville Writing Project participants and our assignment is to think about why we're here - existentially speaking...why are any of us here? Is there a God? Does everyone in here picture their God to look like Jean's counterpart Tim? Will Chris cuss today like he promised us he would? Does Rita Robinson know how beautiful she really is? Did I remember to turn my lights off?
It rained last night and everything smells new. The garden out back, I hope, is a forecast of things to come. There's all these things blooming, so excited to have life, and I'd like to feel that way again.
This hasn't been the greatest year of because my revelations are getting more frustrated than ever before. How do I keep my energy and passion alive when Slytherins have entered Hogwarts and when gossiping, bitter colleagues are undoing the magic of the Brown? How do I make sense of the reality I learn from my students? When does writing become more important to them when they go home at night to divorced situations, where dad is smoking pot in schizophrenic hysteria, where mom spends nights in latino salsa lounges after she exorcises the house to rid the ways of her 'once' husband? What about the kid whose grandfather left him with a Kroger bag of clothes on the front door of our school with a note pinned to him that stated he couldn't afford him anymore? What do I do when youth come to me with all the pressures they feel in their adolescence and as they begin to realize they are young adults with huge life choices to make? How do I help them see themselves in the mirror for the first time and not freeze? Have I modeled the way of using writing as a tool for survival? Do they understand that writing is therapeutic? Should they? And what about my own journey? 
Through mentoring Sudanese realities and all the Brown School complexities, when do I have time to take care of my own BRC? What comes next? 
The simplicity, I suppose, comes to my Woody Allen curse. Alice would say, "The truth is you have a wandering eye and your dog, Juliette, looks like a stuffed sausage."
 I wrote my dentist a thank you card this morning. I had to pay the last installment of my $2100 teeth extravaganza (without insurance) and decided she probably never gets a card in the mail. I wrote how much I loved our little romance where she gave me gas to calm my nerves and I stared into her eyes with cavity-stricken pleasure. I told her it feels like we are divorcing now. After all, she put nitrous oxide in my soul and let me listen to her stomach growl when she injected novocaine and hysteria into my hypochondriac genes.
What is this writing thing, anyway? Yeah. Good question. Why are any of us here?
What is interesting is that a doodle of a woman who gave our school professional development the fall after I did LWP popped out of the notebook when I opened it. She was all bubble-eyed and sparkly, but totally disconnected with the needs of kids and teachers. I wrote next to her wide smile, "Teaching isn't a commercialized method, yet we're forced fed the gimmicks of outsiders all the time."

And the other thing that fell out of my LWP notebook was that I cut out an article from the Courier Journal: 09/01/04 - the one that covered James Kuch Mangui's murder. During the summer of LWP XXI, I wrote many pieces for Sudanese refugees I worked with. I taught them in preparation for the GED and helped them understand genres like poetry. James was one of the men I mentored. Three years after becoming a fellow, he was killed by three youth suspected to be involved in a gang.

I didn't realize it then, but stepping into the National Writing Project network opened my world to the writing I would spend the next decade unraveling. My dissertation, in fact, was dedicated to James Kuch Mangui, as he was the inspiration for writing about the literacies of relocated youth in and out of school.

In this sense, NWP is #HisNWP, as well.

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