Posted in Poetry, Reading

Making the Most of a Mess: 5 Book Title Found Poems

If there is a book lover out there who can pack a single box of books without opening, smelling, reading, or contemplating at least one, I haven’t met them yet. Then again, there are a lot of book lovers out there I haven’t met because we all spend so much time alone reading books. Did you know that secretly I’ve considered creating a meet-up for readers where we all meet at a comfy coffee shop, spend ten minutes introducing ourselves and telling each other what we’re reading, and then just read– silently– for the next hour? I have actually considered this multiple times. But I haven’t done it because of two very specific fears.

Very Specific Fear #1: Some bored extrovert will read the ad, grab a random book, and come to the meeting, but instead of reading, they will insist on talking to us the whole time. *shudder*

Very Specific Fear #2: That person will be me.

But, as usual, I digress.

I, personally, cannot pack a box of books without opening, smelling, reading, and contemplating several, if not all, of them. That can make packing up my classroom at the end of the year a fun but slow process. This year when I boxed up my large classroom library for summer, I made even more of a mess than usual. I had four piles going: books to be packed, books to be taken home to read over the summer (I will never read all of the books I brought home), books to give away, and books to be used in book title found poems before being placed in one of the other piles.

I made these giant, messy mountains of books (and knocked them over more than once) just before STAAR testing. During STAAR testing, I stared at the books longingly, and did a little rearranging in my head. Then, after STAAR testing, while my exhausted students watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that they’d read earlier in the year as a teleplay, I happily stacked, unstacked, and restacked my books until they were in the right poetic order. Then I packed them up for summer.

Then I came home and made more poems out of the books there.

Here they are:

IMG_20190513_144124059

I have lived a thousand years.
Ask me no questions–
I can’t keep my own secrets.
My thirteenth winter
life, the universe and everything
found things hidden,
knots in my yo-yo string.
When the sea turned to silver,
the girl I used to be
ungifted my own true name–
just my luck.
That was then, this is now.
Come with me
through the woods
where the red fern grows.
I will always write back.

*

IMG_20190513_142046833

When the outsiders runaway
it looks like this–
all the broken pieces
falling into place.
Listen, slowly:
Trouble don’t last.
Breathe.

*

IMG_20190413_232030689
Ack! The book THE GIRL FROM THE WELL was supposed to be in this stack after FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS, but it was left out on accident. Oops.

Once Upon a River

Seven little Australians,
children of blood and bone,
linger
five feet apart.
Imaginary girls shout,
voices in the air
negotiating with the dead.
Things fall apart,
the madwoman upstairs
falling over sideways,
the girl from the well
mapping the bones
in the lake of the woods.

*

IMG_20190414_000653036

The Night Diary

Within these walls
the sky is everywhere.

Love is a mix tape;
I was told there’d be cake.

Deep dark fears
linger
sailing alone around the room.

I touch the future.
I know why the caged bird sings.
I’m nobody! Who are you?

*

IMG_20190529_120302777

Prom Dates From Hell (a poem in two voices)

Dear Evan Hansen,
I am not a serial killer.

………………………………………………. How did you get this number?

Even cowgirls get the blues.
Time you let me in.

………………………………………………. I feel a little jumpy around you.

Let’s pretend this never happened.

………………………………………………. As you wish.

Good night, sleep tight.
There is no long distance now
from you to me.

*

Posted in Teaching, Writing

Attics, Windows, and Weirdness

Happy Monday the 13th! Muahahahaha!

I realize it’s usually Friday the 13th that you have to beware of, but once you see what I have to share with you today, I think you’ll agree that this date has a sinister side too.

The Horrors of Standardized Testing

First, it’s STAAR testing week. If you’re a teacher or a student in Texas, that’s enough to make you shudder right there. If you’re reading this post between 8:15AM and 12:45PM central time, please know that I am stuck in a silent room with thirty seventh graders and no access to the outside world, trying to keep myself from going crazy by anagramming their names in my head and making mental pie charts of the types of shoes they’re wearing. Oh, the horrors.

IMG_20190413_170227247

More Entertaining Horrors

Don’t worry; there are other, better horrors today too. For instance, my short story, “Window,” was published today at Havok. It’s a flash fiction piece, so it’s short enough to read on a bathroom break (<– if you have a job with unscheduled bathroom breaks, thank your lucky stars) but there’s a pretty strong creep-factor packed into those few pages.

Think you’re too scared to read it? You better decide quick because the story will be free to read today only. Beginning tonight at midnight, it will be available only to subscribers. So, in order not to be reading it during the witching hour, you might as well buck up and read it now. If you enjoy the story and have a Havok account, consider rating it. The stories with the most votes will be included in the upcoming print anthology.

Screen Shot 2019-05-12 at 8.52.38 PM

If you read “Window” and survive, then check out my longer short story, “The Girl in the Attic.” This story was originally published in Growing Pains by Sinister Saints Press, but it can now be read for free in Allegory. There’s no clock ticking on this one, so read it at your leisure. It’ll give you a good reason to put off cleaning out your attic for another year.

Horrors of the Weird Variety

If you’re not dealing with standardized testing today and can’t bring yourself to read about creepy windows and attics, then spend your Monday the 13th considering this madness.

A few days ago, a couple of very good friends of mine stayed at our house. They slept in our guest room, which is also my office. This isn’t usually a problem, but these particular very good friends are also very good pranksters, and my collection of books and office supplies offers them plenty of fodder for their mischief. I never know what I’ll find (or not find for days, weeks, or months) after they visit. This time was no exception. Shenanigans were definitely afoot, and I know I haven’t discovered them all yet.

One thing they did was use my set of wooden letters to leave me a message on my bookshelf. That was easy to spot and pretty cute. They also left me a cryptic note that looks like a piece of a larger puzzle, something I haven’t even tried to figure out yet. That’s also harmless and cute. But today when I looked up from my desk, I got more than a little creeped out when I saw THIS:

IMG_20190512_090858807

That is a stuffed pony that I loved when I was a little girl wearing the fake witch nose I wore last year for Halloween.

Not only is it really, really, really, really disturbing, but I had no idea where these very good friends got my witch nose! These people are not above a bit of snooping. I know this because my wooden letters were in the closet. Then again, they were in a box clearly labeled “SET OF WOODEN LETTERS” so, yeah, not hard to find. But my witch nose? Even I couldn’t have told you where that thing ended up after Halloween. If I had to guess, I’d say in the trash or in a box in the garage.

I immediately texted the above photo to my very good friends and asked them where the heck they found my witch nose, wondering just exactly how much of my stuff I need to keep under lock and key during future visits. The reply I got did not make me feel better.

Screenshot_20190512_204143

Um, what?!?!?! Freaking out, I showed the photo to hubby, who said, “You just now saw that? I did that months ago.”

*sigh*

Apparently, I am not very observant. When I get home from actively monitoring the STAAR test, I’m going to take a GOOD, LONG LOOK around my guest room and see what other little treasures I can find.

But I’m not going in my attic. Nope, nope.

Posted in Life, Lists, Teaching

How to Escape for Spring Break Without Leaving Home

Last year during spring break, I took my dog and ran away from home. (We came back.) This year, I decided not to go anywhere during my week off, but I still craved that feeling of escape. I wondered, Is it possible to have a low-key, stay-at-home spring break AND get away at the same time? The answer is yes. Here’s how to do it.

1. Indulge in Good Food

You don’t have to go on vacation to eat like you’re on vacation. Give in to your sweet tooth or make that favorite recipe you don’t have time to prepare when you’re working. Splurge on your taste buds.

IMG_20190316_092943094
On the first morning of spring break, I made this giant pile of pancakes, and we ate every last morsel of them.

2. Try a New Restaurant

Splurging on your taste buds doesn’t have to include cooking and clean-up. Find a few dining spot to check out. In Austin, there’s never a shortage of good places to eat.

IMG_20190316_143145464
I visited Hillside Farmacy for the first time this week. Their fried egg sandwich has fried green tomatoes on it. Need I say more?

3. Sleep Somewhere New

You don’t have to check in to a hotel to check out of the daily grind. Make a pallet on the couch and have a movie night. Build a blanket fort. Camp out in the backyard.

image000001
This is what I call an open-airbnb.

4. Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Take a walk through a neighborhood you’ve never been in, or finally take the time to do that thing that everyone does when they come to your town, or visit a museum. (Note: Museums are free in Austin on Thursdays.)

IMG_20190321_151120673
I went to the Blanton for the “Words/Matter Latin American Art and Language” exhibit. I recommend it.

5. Buy a Souvenir

There’s a difference between regular shopping and souvenir shopping. You can go buy a new pair of jeans at Old Navy over spring break, and that’s fine, but it probably won’t feel like an escape. A souvenir is a strange or specific object that you wouldn’t have purchased if you hadn’t been in that place at that time. So get into get-away mode and search for a trinket to commemorate your staycation.

IMG_20190322_223214570
To each her own, of course, but I bought an evil eye talisman from Tesoros Trading Company on South Congress.

6. Send Postcards

You don’t have to travel to write a note to a loved one about your experience. Buy some postcards of your city or some random cards or pick up freebies where you can, and send notes far and wide. Describe your pancakes, your blanket fort, your trip to the vegan ice cream shop. People will love to hear from you regardless of where you are when you write to them.

IMG_20190322_222949661
This weekend, I sent ten eclectic postcards to friends and family members, but I forgot to take a photo of them before I dropped them in the mail, so here’s a picture of the cards that currently hang above my desk instead.

*

At this point, you may be thinking, These are great ideas (thanks) but I’m broke and lacking transportation and don’t have a backyard or postage stamps. Fair point. These next four tips for escape are for you.

*

7. Escape into a Book

If you don’t have the means to travel or the courage for daring feats or the stomach for adventurous eating, read about someone who does. Pick up a novel set in a foreign land or a book of essays by someone who’s been around the world or any good book with a good story. Immerse yourself in it. Read for hours, and ignore the laundry.

IMG_20190314_181043766_HDR
This week, I read The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It’s like a mix between the movie Clue and the movie Happy Death Day except the narrator wakes up every day in a different character’s body. It was a wild ride for sure, definitely “escape” material.

8. Call a Faraway Friend

If you’re like me, you don’t pick up the phone often enough. I mean, yes, you pick up your mobile computer and your map and your texting device and your camera all the time, but the actual phone part of that thing? You probably don’t spend a lot of time with it. Spring break is a great time to reconnect with an old friend. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, who lives in a different city. Then close your eyes and let their voice shrink the miles between you.

phone_PNG49001
I called an old friend this week. Well, not that old. She’s the same age I am. I won’t reveal her name here and embarrass her, but we’ve known each other since we were in the first grade, and it was really good talking to her.

9. Keep Work Out of Sight and Out of Mind

I brought home a lot of grading over spring break. I know, I know, boo me all you want. Sometimes it’s inevitable. But even though I brought those essays home, I didn’t leave them laying around, staring at me and judging me all week. I took my time off first and saved the work for the last couple of days, making sure that I was managing the grading, and not the other way around. Do your best to compartmentalize work and play. Don’t check work emails at the museum and discuss work talk over your stack of pancakes. Enjoy yourself without guilt.

IMG_20190322_225208593
You can’t tempt me, essays! No! No! Stay back!

10. Say No

When you don’t go anywhere for spring break, that makes some people think you are free the whole week. You are, but that’s the point. You’re free, free on your own terms. Don’t feel like you have to say yes to every favor or invitation. There’s only so much fun you can fit into a week. Unfortunately, you may have to pick and choose where to spend your time and with whom. Escape sometimes means escaping from stress or exhaustion or obligation. Protect your time. Keep it free by saying no to some things.

Uno_Birthday_8
To all the friends I hung out with this week, THANK YOU! I had a fabulous time! To all the friends I didn’t get to hang out with, I’M SORRY! Summer is coming! (Note: I didn’t take a single photo with any of my friends this week, so here’s a picture of my dog. Today is his birthday. My parents sent him a card.)

*

This spring break, I never traveled more than twenty miles from home. But I made pancakes and visited a museum and bought strange objects and slept in a hammock and read books and mailed postcards and hung out with good friends and said no to things so I could stay in my pajamas and write all day, and that gave me the escape I needed. If I have to go back to work tomorrow (and both Austin ISD and my hubby tell me that I do), at least I’m going back rested and rejuvenated. Except for my right wrist, which still hurts from grading all those essays…