Working With Scratched Ink

Directions are hard. I have wandered around many cities with little more than chicken scratch on a piece of torn napkin looking for a particular museum or restaurant. In fact, it is how I found the Burano Lace Museum in Burano, Italy, a cute little museum that featured lace art produced by fisherman. It was quaint and not the least bit interesting.

What I am saying, I have always been a guy who will go where the spirit leads. I love the freedom to invest in the experience, only later curating the memories I create into small narratives of adventure. This guides my writing, a sense that I watch life happen around me and notice the stories that live in the forgotten spaces.

Following my spirit lead me back to college, then into teaching. At forty years of age it was painfully apparent the nuances I brought to a classroom of twenty something millennials as I asked the long drawn out questions that an old man of my age should represent. (I am totally owning this.)

College lead me into new spaces. In these spaces I found friends in uncommon positions. My professors, some my age, loved to discuss the intricacies of what we were doing and my unique perspectives on their work. It did not escape them, how my life had prepared me to be blunt and direct. I often asked uncomfortable questions about theory and practice that did not usually occur in the classroom, and professors would sometimes be set in a CYA recovery mode.

Those professors who I would challenge and invest my time researching the topic beyond the classroom materials did something I did not expect. They brought me into the fold. I found myself inhabiting a space often only opened to graduate students. As an undergrad I was running important functions within the department, setting up tutoring sessions, and working as a writing center fellow. I was moving into directions I could never have imagined or mapped.

Planning for a career in education I wanted to be well informed and ready. I also had a desire to move beyond the traditional graduate, after all I was way older than most of my cohorts. This desire would open up a new space to me that I could not have imagined. I asked a professor about an institute I had heard another professor planning. This summer institute was designed for teachers, professionals who were looking to broaden their commitment to writing instruction and hosted by the Arkansas Delta Writing Program.

My inquiries to the school site director was met by a friendly face. One of my favorite instructors, who had challenged me in the classroom and elevated the attention I gave to pedagogy welcomed me into the program. I had just completed my student teaching and accepted my first English position at a rural school.

So in the midst of a summer planning my first year as a teacher, my first post undergraduate summer, and my last summer of freedom before graduate school began, I walked into room 115 of the Arkansas State Communications Building. It was 9AM and several of the teachers were young and new to the profession. Not as new as I was, but less than five years. The institute was being directed by two teachers with over fifteen years experience in the field and each brought unique, and interesting predilections to the instruction.

Jaclyn was a thin tall teacher who came from Helena, Arkansas and brought a writers spirit to every conversation. Her brilliance leapt at the pages and she loaned it like whispers on the wind. She reached out with every lesson and asked me to find writing at the heart of all emotions. Like a child I took her hand and opened lyrical veins I had not touched in ten years of wandering. Once those words began to flow she guided them into my fledgling pedagogy and they took root.

Debbie was an older teacher who had this amazing way of making teaching sound beautiful and her writing was very personal and intimate. She was in many ways the opposite of Jaclyn and I think this was an incredible balance. She nurtured my writing. Taught me how to slow down, get to the principles that made writing important to me. She also turned me toward applying this nurture to those I would teach. These two fine teachers lead me through three weeks of writing instruction and creation that instilled in me a desire to nurture writing in my classroom.

After the institute I wanted to earn the title of fellow. I committed to bring writing to life for my students. I began to wander new spaces, liminal spaces that lit with the light of youth. Here I did not need directions, instead I walked through dark hallways, gardens of despair, effervescent landscapes that lived only in the imaginations of students. I began to find the narratives of new writers given to me as loving investments of wordsmiths in their infancy.

I learned in the National Writing Project work that followed that I am not alone. Guided of these ever growing scribes continue to nurture each other in supportive work all across the country.  In this work we follow scratched ink into new spaces, lean on each other, writing the narratives that live there. We find friends, we find our passions, and we find new directions to point our toes. This is the work I have found among scratched ink.