Tuesday, October 31, 2017

With Total Admiration & Respect for @bre_stewart30 ... She Keeps Shining For The World

Breanna Stewart, at the ESPYs
Dear Breanna,

I'm writing as a teacher, an educator, an individual who has encouraged young people to write for over 22 years, a Northstar (Class of 1990), and admirer. I first met you when I was a substitute teacher in North Syracuse (shhh! I wasn't supposed to be working on the side while earning my doctorate at Syracuse University, but I needed the money) and, well, I couldn't help but notice that you probably were a basketball player, too. I later learned from one of my favorite teachers of all time, Ms. Rhiannon Berry, another Northstar, that you were indeed an athlete and, in her words, a remarkable human being. The first time I saw you I thought, "I know that face, and it wasn't until I read an article during your UCONN days that I found out why...your mother was also a Northstar! I have vague memories from my NSJH days that she was in winterguard with my sister. That's why you looked familiar. Your Heather's daughter.

I also have stories from my niece, Nikki, who made me laugh one night when she came home from school saying she had gym class with you and she was supposed to block you while playing basketball. My niece is (her words?) vertically challenged and not the most athletic human being in the world (although that is not true - she excelled in winter guard like her mom). She's also a witty kid with an impeccable sense of humor. The thought of her standing in your way to the basket will always make me laugh.

Yesterday, when I saw you Tweet the poetic essay you wrote for The Players Tribune"Me Too," I immediately read it. I read it a couple of times, in fact, and the word that came to the forefront was "admiration." The second word to follow was "respect."

English educators, like me, who teach high school literature and young adult novels, and those of us who encourage self-expression through writing in our classrooms, have been aware of the Me Too reality for a very long time. The statistics are alarming, but they are also a window into the reality that so many of our young people experience and survive. That is why, while reading your words, I thought of so many of my students throughout the years, male and female, who have shared similar truths. I'm sure you're aware of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak - a young adult novel with CNY connections that has single-handedly changed the ways teachers talk about violence in our schools. Your essay will do the same.

You are a trailblazer. Any anyone who has followed your career recognizes this. In fact, I live in Connecticut now and often went to Webster Arena when the Huskies were in town (which is hard for a Syracuse and Louisville graduate, but excellence is excellence, and I know it when I see it and it deserves a great fan). This morning, too, local news in Connecticut are running stories about your Me Too essay on the local channels and sharing similar 'admiration' and 'respect' for their "Stewie" - a name that has resonated across the Nutmeg state for a while now. You are synonymous with superstar!

You are a phenomenon.

You are a warrior.

You are a voice.

You are a champion.

You are a hero.

You are a writer.

I am sure you have touched numerous young lives already and will continue to touch even more. Your willingness to take a stand and share your story will be a face of hope for many. Your words will be shared, too, by educators like me.

I write to say, "Thank you." Your strength helps educators to spread strength to so many of students in need of inspiration. I'm sending you a standing ovation today. Your bravery is historical.

I'm even prouder today to be a Northstar. Your blue and green shine has me awe. You have helped others to feel "less alone" and, as your father's advice poignantly stated, "you could save someone's life."

I know that you already have.



Monday, October 30, 2017

And on the 10th Hour, Glamis The Wonder Dog Said, "Okay, I Guess I Have to Go Out."

She did her best to resist going outside yesterday. She whimpered by my side but wouldn't dare step foot in the downpour. At about 8 pm, however, she couldn't take it any more and insisted on going outside to do what dogs do there.

She came back in drenched.

Not a fun day for the canine world.

It was a productive day for the human world, however, especially those who needed a day on their rumps planning, grading, and doing what academics do.

I managed to get to the gym for an hour or so, and also folded laundry, but the majority of the day was spent being the nerd I've always been (and listening to Glamis squeak her toy ball until she pushed it under the couch, then she squeaked herself until I got it for her).

The winds and rain were something - can't complain. I still remember learning that wet falls mean better springs for blueberries. Bring on the rain.

And don't let it turn over to snow too soon. I've yet to kick on the heat and I don't want to any time soon.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

An Evening That I've Wanted To Have For Some Time. Thank You, Great Whatever

It will be a year in December since Brian left all who loved him, including me - a teacher of yesteryear who still can't register the fact that he's no longer with us. Since last year, I've spent many weekend nights chatting with his sister, Kristen, through text and, more often that not, processing the world since via phone.

The Valentines were central to my heart and humor in Kentucky, and that is why, last night, it was wonderful to put a personality to Brian's niece, Asha, over sushi and burgers (fries, too, and a caesar salad, Asha! I didn't forget those).

The Valentines are in Connecticut for a family wedding and I drove 48 miles north to find them. When I learned they were going to be nearby,  there was no way I could NOT see them. I grabbed my KY hat, (although I'm usually in my KY hat) and headed their way.

And Asha? 3rd grade. Phew. I wish I was that smart, clever, witty, and spunky in 3rd grade. What a blast to spend a few hours with this kid!

Earlier, knowing I was going to see them, I  found myself filling up with tears. Seeing them, I knew, would solidify the year - hugs that were way overdue. I got them, held myself together, and stayed strong by following their lead.

Brian was a great kid - one who made my last year in KY extra special (and a primary reason it was so difficult for me to leave the class of 2018 behind when I ventured off to do my doctorate degree). My memories of Brian in his junior were of joy, music, humor, and an absolute zest for life. To this day, I use a photo of him in his beads whenever I talk about my teaching days in Kentucky. Brian remains in my heart, but it will never get easier knowing he departed way too soon. Seeing Kristen and Mary, and meeting Asha, brought more of the story together (what Mary called "The Dash" --- all that resides in a life from birth to death --- the in-between stories of sadness, happiness, triumphs, and tragedies. Yes, it would be so much better if he was still with us, too.

As I pulled into their hotel parking lot, I thought, "Wait, has it been 20 years since Kristen graduated?" Actually, it's only been 18 years this spring. Jason, Asha's father, graduated 20 years ago (my first senior class). It's all surreal - this time thing. I see my students as kids - they are forever 15, 16, 17, and 18. I still picture Kristen on the green couch early on weekday mornings purring like a cat, organizing her world for post-high school life, and simply being brilliant (and always in love and protective of her little brother).

So much --- dash --- has occurred since.

Bry/Bri - he spelled his name wrong
And I'm remembering parent/teacher conferences with Mary, always loving to see her in our school and talking about her oldest children. When I think of Brown School, I think of her love, the friendships Kristen and Brian had, and the family.

Mary couldn't eat with us, as she had arrangements for the wedding, but Kristen, Asha and I had time to be silly for a while. I was the big thug standing in the way of pool time, but Ausha was a great sport...even said, "It's okay. We'll have time in the morning where I can swim, too." Ah, we found out the pool stayed open until 11 p.m. and I suggested they take full advantage of that fact until the very last second.

A year is quickly approaching, and it won't get easier. It will get harder. It will get calmer. It will wave in cycles. It will never make sense. It will be what the -- dash -- has brought.

And I'm remembering, in the last messages Brian sent me, the pictures of his two cats in three consecutive photos. The first said, "We," the second, "Dove," and the third, "You."

We dove you, too, Brian.

It would have been great to see you again. The joy, however, came from your sister, your mom, and your niece. You are missed.  You will always be missed. And of course we're still angry, lost, confused, frustrated, and sad. But the place you hold in our hearts remains the same.

Shoes & elephants.

I would love to smack you upside the head, but also to hug you. Be an angel for us, kiddo. We can use it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Friday Guests Were Tame, But Our Dinner Was Delicious

For many years, English faculty who reside in Stratford have said, "Let's get together for a dinner." We've never been successful at making it happen, until last night when, mid-week, we all discovered we had the evening free. I decided I'd host, and I set out to roast vegetables, including my first ever batch of barbecued brussels sprouts which, with a little maple syrup, olive oil, and salt and pepper were delicious.

I also prepped the crock pot with chicken and Wegman's Asian BBQ sauce so it would slow cook when presenting during the Read.Write.Act conference hosted by SCALE through the University of North Carolina (my first online, digital conference that was a success - I will write about it at another time).

In the meanwhile, colleagues and I welcomed a new faculty member to Stratford and simply had a nice evening unwinding from the week and eating good food. I also had my first ever flourless chocolate torte which was out of this world.

My plot to clean the house paid off. I knew if I had the event in my home I'd actually clean, which I did. That's the perk to entertaining.

Okay, Saturday, now it's back to the grind: planning, creating, writing, grading, and organizing. Tomorrow is a wash and will be easy, but today is supposed to be nice, so the temptation to be outside will be plentiful.

My little bar, too, pretty much went untouched (I tried). And, by 9 p.m. everyone left to go to bed. I credit the work week for this. Every now and again, we take time off! It doesn't last long, though.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Frog-Love for a Friday; Genre Love and Literacy Love For the Weekend

Yesterday afternoon, Chitunga sent me a picture of his desk, a cubicle, where he is crunching numbers at his new internship. He wanted me to know that I am represented, because he has a frog that is holding all of his pens.

I had to laugh when seeing this - it looks like something my Grannie Annie would have in her home, except she'd use it to store all the dead flies she swatted throughout the week. I love the creature. I love the sentiments. I love the history.

Frog. Gorf. Who'd of thunk it?

I spent yesterday grading content-area literacy projects for graduate students deconstructing the genres of their discipline and the academic literacies the should support to reach achievement with their students as thinkers, doers, readers, writers, and communicators. I learned French, Spanish, Biology, geometry, literature, and equations along the way, as I worked with the materials they deconstructed for me and discussed the parts they have to help their future (sometimes present) students to be more proficient in their field.

I should have gotten to the presentations of another graduate class who read independent texts and showcased their new learning in brochure form - yes, brochure form. I had a point, as I have had in the past. I'm likely to write more about this later, because this particular crew did a bang-up job.

Today, however, I am prepping for an afternoon presentation with the Read.Write.Act online conference and getting my house together to host a Stratford-living English faculty mini-October gathering. It's my excuse to clean - have friends over and then you need to be semi-domestic.

I am going back to the frog on Chitunga's desk, though. That (this) and this (that) alone makes my heart grow ten times its natural size. I love the cross-generational influence my Grannie Annie has had. It's wonderful to have daily reminders of her influence.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nope. No Chicken Marsala. My Twin Sister @pamelaMarieKell Had Pizza, Instead

So there's a place in Milford called Lassie's. A few weeks ago, a discovery was made that they have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday chicken menus where all food is $10. The portions are plenty, the place is packed, and it really is delicious (they also have good Manhattans).

Well, I am too busy to go out, but I can easily be tempted to go out, especially if it's a Wednesday at Lassie's and I can eat Lassie's Chicken Marsala (not Masala...I typed that in, too...it exists, but I am not doing Indian food after I almost died in Monroe after eating too much spice).

Crazy, but my hint(s) never took. I sent gifs, a song, emails, and texts. "Let's go to LASSIE's," didn't work. Nope. My twin sister separated at birth (but a couple of year's older) ordered pizza with her daughter. Yes, I was invited over for that, but it was a chicken night. I wanted chicken.

Sigh. I ended up with a salad and sliced sausage links. It's all good, because I also graded quite a bit and cleaned (some).

Their Chicken Marsala, though. It's going to be on my mind until I have it again. I've always loved mushrooms, and coupled with their mashed potatoes a...well, it's a great way to spend an evening mid-week, unless...

others have skewed priorities.

Chicken Chicken Chicken Marsala Marsala Marsala.

No matter how many times I say it (or how much I hinted all day) it just didn't happen.

Then, when I walked Glamis, it started to pour when we were 2 miles out. I got soaked for a second day in a row. I call it symbolism.

This too shall pass.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Well, That Was a Downpour. Me Walking To My Car Last Night

Well, walking to the car last night at Fairfield University after a 14 hour day was quite the adventure. First, parking is atrocious on campus because of construction. When I arrived, I only found a spot on the opposite side of the campus from where my office resides. It was fine coming in, but when my last class ended, the skies opened up, and we all had to leave in an absolute downpour. It's just that I had to walk almost a mile to get to my car.

I was in new suede shoes. They are drenched. My pants were drenched. My book bag was drenched.

I made it okay, but then I had to drive. The roads were flooded and it was slow driving. Cars were on the side of the road after hydroplaning. When I finally made it to my exit, all the underpasses to get to my side of Stratford were small lakes. Cars were covered up to the windows. They tried to pass through. A lot of moisture fell to the Connecticut Earth in a really short period of time. I ended up going back on the highway and exiting east of my town, so I could climb back roads to meander to my house. This strategy worked.

Soaked. That's what last night wrought, and I made it home, albeit it much later than I'm used to. I came home, however, to a surprise. Penguin Books/Random House sent me a gift of several children and young adult novels that will debut this spring. It felt like Christmas morning.

I need this morning to dry off some and to regroup. Pour Glamis, though, won't go outside because it keeps coming down. Driving, I thought of the floods and Houston and really felt for them. In a few intersections, the water rose so high that it was hitting up against homes and I imagine seeped into their first floors and basements. I simply think too much came down too rapidly.

Phew. Nature.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

And On This 14 Hour Day, A Happy Birthday To My Little Sister

One of the reasons I stayed in this weekend was to cross many t's and dot a few i's, including a birthday tradition for my little sister. I know that I'm booked in meetings from early morning until graduate classes into the evening hours, and that is why I got a card into the mail late last week.

Chitunga asked, "Did you know that Casey is just a year younger than you?" I said, "Yup, for 4 months she is. We are both heading to the big Five Uh-Oh."

So, Happy Birthday, Lil' Sis.

And Congratulations to Fairfield University Men's Basketball team for hosting a fundraiser last night for hurricane relief in regions that are in desperate need. They looked great in their scrimmage against Hofstra and I love knowing that my donations are going where I intend them to go. Men and Women for others...always looking out for those in need.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sunday, Funday, But Now It's Monday, And I Fixed My Fence

The vast part of my Sunday morning was spent in preparation of an online seminar I'm giving through Read. Write. Act out of the University of North Carolina (more on that as the date gets near). When I finished working on that, I decided to head to Home Depot to check out potential gates, as a Tru- Green agent accidentally broke mine when he was aerating and putting seed down for the winter (he left a note that said, "sorry," and the management told me they would replace the gate). Rather than stress out by hiring someone, I decided I would simply go to the store and do it myself.

I've been watching videos for a few weeks now.

No project is ever as easy as you think it is going to be, but I managed to finished in three hours. I was rather impressed with myself, too, using my circle saw, drills, and all the parts. I now have a gate that springs back into place and stands sturdier than it previously had. And I did the project for a reasonable amount (wondering how much someone would have charged to do it for me).

I don't know why I wanted to save TruGreen money, but I thought it would be a good exchange. It was an accident and I couldn't fault the guy. These things happen. I was just glad to read a note where he fessed up a "whoops."

Then, finishing the project, I returned to finish my project for this Friday's presentation, frustrated by technology, but excited by its potential.

My house has been neglected, as has my cooking. Glamis was fed, however (I got her food and even a Bull stick to chew on).

I was thinking, though, how much I love doing manual labor and I wish I had more opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of getting things done. I now want to build a house, so I can be part of the construction from beginning to end. I want to learn.

But it's Monday. Ain't nobody got time for that. Rather, here's the workweek. We are back at it, indeed.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

My First Ever Co-Ed Baby Shower...No One Does It Better Than the Diva!

I had the honor and pleasure of attending Attallah and Shawn's baby shower for Zoriah Aliyanna Stone and, knowing the poetics we share between us, I had fun creating an original piece to take in the baby's room: We Are Blessed. Family.

For Zoriah

Z oo joke. What’s a Llama’s favorite drink?
o h, don’t know? Llama-nade (formation).
r eady for a giggle? What do you call an elephant
i n need of a bath? A Smelly-phant (the frog has
a nother). Where do rabbits buy clothes? At the
h opping mall!

A ll of us, Zoriah, so enormous, so small, should
l earn all that we can, Langston’s renaissance call:
i asked you, baby, if you understood.
y ou told me that you didn’t, but thought you would, &
a ngelou, too, who heard the caged bird’s song,
n arrowing poetic text against all that is wrong. When
n ubian Queens unite, they show they are strong. They
a im for togetherness, Ubuntu, to belong (shepparding a

S ympony of faith that the dark past has
t aught us, singing a chorus full
o f hope that the present has brought us). The universe
n eeds your laughter, your love, your serenity & bliss…
e verything, Great Whatever, delivered in a family’s kiss.

The festivities were wonderful, and it was great to see everyone - the whole Shep-crew from New London, Connecticut. Of course, Attallah and Shawn looked great (and I apologize for causing a bit of emotion for my favorite muse). I'm wishing them the best as they begin to nest in their New Haven space. The magic of another generation is upon us.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I Get To Spend This Morning Being Poetic, But First There Was Yesterday

Nope. It wasn't graduation, but in was precursor of sorts, welcoming the new president of Fairfield University. I marshaled undergraduates and was fortunate to participate in the pomp and circumstance. It was remarkable to see representation from so many Universities worldwide, coming to our campus on a stunning day to tell Dr. Nemec, "Welcome to your new role at Fairfield University."

We also sat in the sun, and I thought to myself, "It's October. It could have snowed."

But it was beautiful, just like the National Day on Writing that was hosted by the University's Writing Center in collaboration with K-16 teachers worldwide. Between my Twitter account, Facebook account, campus participation, and daylong celebration, I came home, walked the dog, and totally collapsed.

I was spent...not an ounce of energy left.

That is why I'm looking forward to attending a co-ed baby shower this afternoon, and finishing a project I've been working on for a few weeks. I think, however, I'm ready for a couple days away from the campus to work on other items needing attention.

Happy Saturday, world. Enjoy this great weather.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Paging Mr. Kelly! Mr. Kelly. Paging Mr. Kelly! And The Milford Beach Winner Is...

Running from campus to gym and with a list of errands to accomplish before I went to bed, I stopped by Walnut Beach in Milford to root on my favorite Pit Bull/American Bull Dog mix in his first ever Halloween contest parade. Last year, some time near Thanksgiving, I found a dog costume for $2 and picked it up for Jake. I dressed him one night when his canine wife wasn't looking and had him run down the stairs to surprise her. It was hilarious. 

Pam said, "I'm going to have him lead many parades," and last night he did - the one at the Walnut Beach dog costume contest. I'm proud to say that he got first place, although he was ridiculously vocal while the contest was going on doing his best impersonations of a maimed Chewbacca. The sounds that dog can made are haunting, and I thought for a second he was calling whales and mermaids trapped in the Long Island Sound. He looked good, though, and won a skeleton dog toy of which he destroyed in 10 minutes. 
Other dogs were dressed as butterflies, prompted queens, devils, cowboys and cow girls. Jake, however, made a phenomenal drum major or bell boy (depends on the perspective you take. 

I made it in time to Big Lots and Michaels for the other projects I had lined up for the evening, but when I returned home, I realized the pizza slices I thought were in the fridge were actually given to my own dog, so it was an evening of roasted peanuts and Triscuits for me (in front of the television for Scandal while preparing a presentation to be uploaded tomorrow for a conference next Friday.

Ah, but this was a special treat to see Jake-a-boo win a special prize for looking so dapper. As I texted Pam and Kaitlin, it was the best $2 I ever spent. I will always be a fan of Clearance racks and humor. In this case, I won!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Yesterday, A Sunrise (and Then a Sunset) with Colleagues - That Means a Lot.

My morning yesterday began with writing, but was quickly followed by a Poetry For Peace meeting with the co-directors, Dr. Elizabeth Boquet and poet Carol Ann Davis. For the last few years, they have built, stabilized and maximized an incredible Fairfield University tradition. 10 a.m. and I was convinced that a double espresso cappuccino would be good for me.

Okay, so I left buildings with a cape around my neck and only realized I was far from invincible when I crashed last night.

Seriously, these two are incredible and I realize how unusual college teaching is in comparison to K-12 teaching. On our campus, those who are like minded find one another and aren't necessarily united by curriculum and shared responsibilities. Instead, the roads cross where interests lie.

Then, in the afternoon, I met again with Dr. Beth Boquet to share her expertise with a teacher from Joel Barlow and another from Central. It is just awesome to see the vision she has, and how so much of her wisdom can be shared with K-12 schools. I was definitely sandwiched in excellence and I am happy for that.

The rest of my day was spent in a faculty meeting and doing a 1.5 hour workshop with undergraduates in a Philosophy of Education course (which was a lot of fun, because I practiced some of what I want to deliver at NCTE next month).

And that brings me to this morning. One meeting at noon, and the rest of the day I am prepping for the craziness of all to come. In the meantime,  smile. That's what I got yesterday morning at the coffee shot.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ending a Fourteen Hour Day With a Classic Perspectives Essay & Starting the Day Anew

Since 1999 (yes, I was partying like it was that year), I've been doing the same perspective activity with students and teachers, which involves smashing an egg and writing from the perspective of a character (a mother hen, a chef, a journalist, a politician, a brother, a 3rd world child, etc.) on what was seen in the genre I give (e.g., letter, memoir, op-ed, journal entry, email). One of the characters I give is musician who turns life's event into music. I offer this activity to teach literary analysis, but also perspective.

Peter, a 1st year graduate student studying to be an English teacher, picked the musician's perspective and in ten minutes tapped his love for Tom Petty and parodies his "Free Falling" song.
She's a bad egg, filled with life's yolk/ could have been made into breakfast for two/ She's a bad egg/ now a pile of shells/ Yellow yolk drips, when dried like its glue.
It's a long fall, dropping from Bryan/ There was no chance / it was going to stay whole / And it's a bad egg, cause I think I can smell it/ It's a bad egg for exploding on the floor.
The egg's free / free falling/ Yeah it's free/ free falling. 
I'm trying something new this semester, too, bringing high school students into my graduate courses so they, too, can participate in literacy events and bring youth viewpoints to the instruction that works and doesn't work. Why this hasn't occurred to be before is absurd? Those of us who teach in graduate programs in education should always have youth in our room to remind us what it's all about (and to raise the bar of what they are able to do intellectually.

The graduate students and I read two short stories, too, and I know that our perspectives were made richer because I included young people from Haiti, Bangladesh, Guatamala, and Tanzania. The American youth population is a pastiche of cultural voices that transcend the Western European our traditional classrooms tend to serve. The subject and content is made robust because of the diverse perspectives of these youth - especially in relation to 21st century realities.

Take any event in history: elections, murders, kneeling, banned books, or tv programs, and explode it for the multiple viewpoints the world might have on it and you have diversity of thought. That's what I'm after, and I am made a better thinker because of it.

And I'm free / free falling. RIP Tom Petty.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Look Mom! Cheaters! And Those are the Soles of My Running Shoes, Glamis! Argh!

 I spent yesterday in my office preparing 4.5 hours of instruction because I will be spending the day in 4 hours of a minors/majors fair, followed by meeting a candidate for a position at Fairfield University, followed by meetings, and followed by guilt before I actually teach.

In preparation, literary analysis. Texts inform, even fiction, and that is the intent of one of my courses tonight, knowing that I have traditionalists who love the classics, but I want to point out how Young Adult literature can foster deep, intellectual thought. I had several copies of Angus Bethune by Chris Crutcher on my shelves from a summer workshop, and decided to put them to work (hmmm. someone put the short story online). It's a coming of age story, late 20th century style, and I want to do a comparison of the text with one that is more traditional - a piece from an Irish Literature anthology that also questions 'parenting' in the role of what it means to be successful in school.

And look at those glasses. That's how I'm reading these days, because it's totally a blur otherwise.  It's all good. At least I'm still reading.

When I got home, however, I saw the bits and pieces all over the house. I knew what it was...the sole of my New Balance sneakers. They came out when I got home from gym last night. I thought, "Either Glamis will grab this (or the mice)."

Glamis got to them. She did it to spite me because I was gone a long time yesterday (and it will be much, much worse today). I realize she didn't go full-throttle beast, however, but just enough to let me know that I'm a schmuck. She wasn't happy that I was gone all day and now I need to get inserts because running without them makes for discomfort.

Okay, Crandall. You got this day. Hold your breath and you'll be home by 10 p.m. before you know it. (For all concerned readers, I have made arrangements for Glamis so she isn't neglected the entire day.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hmmm. A 42 x 36 Frame, and I Just Might Finish This Seven Year Writing Project

I've taken a bit of a hiatus, but I'm back at the Literacy4Life project I began in my Board Advisory of Hoops4Hope. For 7 years, students have written about their philosophies of literacies and, as per direction, articulated their thinking through visual art to represent what they believe. This year, in ED 455: The Literate Learner I finally finished the last life skill - sense of humour.

All the skills are now framed and ready to go, but I still need to find one for the giant Africa that was created my first year at Fairfield. I wasn't thinking, and I created the outline of Africa before actually sizing a frame. The problem, I have yet to find a frame big enough. I keep looking (and I'm cheap). Once it is frame, the entire seven year project will be complete.

This morning, I am thinking of my own sense of humour as this week is beyond insane with commitments. I literally go from one thing to the next thing to the next thing and beyond, all the way to a week from Wednesday. The breathing room is minimal.

Of course, I'm looking ahead to the days wondering, "But you didn't have a weekend, because all you did was prepare for all to come."

Not complaining. Just acknowledging the facts here - the way it truly is.

Okay, Monday. We got his. Inhale and exhaled sometime next week. Focus. There's a lot to be accomplished starting right now...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

From "Flying Lessons" to Driving Lessons: A Saturday Behind The Wheel of Possibilities

Mr. Akaru at the Wheel
The phone call came on Thursday.

"Bryan, I have my driving test next week."

"That's great, Akbaru," I say. "I hope you do very well and pass with flying colors."

"Can you teach me to drive?" he asks.


"I need to learn by next week."

Schedules are exchanged. We find a small window of opportunity where he isn't working his part time job or in high school and when I'm not committed to a million other projects.

I've done this before. Driving lessons. He has been in Ubuntu Academy for two years and this summer he also participated in Project Citizen: Flying Lessons from the Prose. He did well with his 'flying lessons' with writing with the professionals, so I imagined he'd be a good study in the car.

I took him to a high school parking lot where we spent an hour. At first he was nervous, but he did well driving in the big rectangle, getting control of gas and pedal. I even made him go backwards, which made him anxious, but he also did well with that. He mastered a three-point turn rather quick and, in two tries, he parallel parked like a pro. "Let's go to the streets," I say. We drive all over Stratford and I have to admit, like Chitunga, I was not nervous with his instincts or reactions. "I'm going to take you to the Merritt," I say. "I want you to get used to traffic and acceleration."

That was tricky. Rather than merge, he pulled out into the lane and brakes, starling those behind us. A few honks, but he hit the gas again. Then he was fine. "This is scary," he says. "I know," I say.

I fill him with all the teaching of my mother and father who had patience with me. I tell him about teaching Sudanese men how to drive in Louisville, and the twins in Syracuse. I tell him how Chitunga succeeded with just two driving lessons - it was instinctual. Akbar also seemed to naturally figure it out. "Ah, but every time in you're in a car, it's a new adventure."

We talk about driving defensively...of being aware of everything around him. We talk about the expense of driving and how every vehicle has the potential to kill. They are monsters and a driver needs to show he or she can tame the beast. We see many on cellphones and I say, "They are idiots. It's only a matter of time before they will regret."

And I never broke a sweat. After a few hours I dropped him off at his job and I returned home to write, create, read, and plan.

Oi vay. Bless all who run Driver's Education programs for a living. Akbar did fine, but I imagine most aren't like him.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reality Check and a Moment To Pause. American Work Ethic and, Well, Insanity

Yesterday at a faculty retreat, a colleague in marriage and family therapy did an activity that pinched our brains, punched usin the stomach, and inevitably tricked us into deep reflection. The task?

We were given four cups and we had to write on them, who or what we prioritize in our lives: that is, what are the four things we spend the most energy upon.

As I began to think about my 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year lifestyle, I knew that the vast majority of my cups would be work, so I listed three of the job responsibilities I have (leaving the 4th as a joke - bourbon). The other three were CWP, GSEAP, and Research. We then were given a water bottle and asked to fill the cups with water, to show how much time we spend on each. I equalled out three, and left a drop in the bourbon glass (meant to be humorous, but a big dig on the reality of my life). One by one, colleagues began to deeply reflect on the truth that came from such an activity. We know there's supposed to be a life/work balance, but being in academia, all of us were lopsided.

"Ha! I didn't even think to put my husband onto one of the cups," said one colleague. "I didn't even think of him."

Those with little children had a cup for them, but admitted that they received only some of the water. There was much crestfallen somber after doing the activity.

It initiated a conversation of cultures around the world and the rat race that so many of us typically are running: no time, exhausted, looking for heath, sad we're not doing enough, and realizing our priorities are askew.

I've learned to find happiness in the work I do, but seeing that "all work and no play" has been a frustration for decades now, I'm wondering, "Why do I allow this?" Employers get a lot out of me...too much, which results in them not hiring more people to help out the labor that needs to occur. There's not enough resistance. There's not enough showcasing, "Wait a second, this is not right!"

Of course, this all gets tied into American privilege and the fact that, in a dog eat dog world, those who snooze, lose. It's a catch-22. We're trapped by the work.

The whole exercise made me long for retirement, where I won't wake up, live, and then lose sleep over agendas, reports, replies, demands, and responses.

I'm starting this Saturday thinking much about balance and the lack of it. I'm not sure what I'll do about it, but I know that the water in my work cup has always been, and remains, lopsided. It's not right, but it is what it is, and I'm sad because it - not so much sad for me, but for those who have families, children, or elders to take care of.

Humans are such brutal beasts. If only we were more in line with the rest of the world with finding a middle ground.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Building One Community and Learning From Law (and Courts). That is the Only Hope.

Last night, I was invited as a special guest for an evening Asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants where I listened to Dr. William O. Douglas, Professor of Law and Counselor at Yale Law School, Swapna Reddy, and Liz Willis, both graduates of Yale Law School, on their current work in courts given the legislation that has arrived since inauguration in 2017.

Their belief? These times and the harsh actions against immigrants and refugees (insert Statue of Liberty here) will play out in courts. We are a land of laws and lawless behaviors and demands made by a current wave in Washington will need to be presented before judges who create, know, and represent the law. Illegal actions, conversations of our constitution and democracy, and arrests tearing apart families today will likely continue, but eventually the court of laws will be the arbiters of justice for what the United States was designed to be and to stand for. They're pessimistic, but also optimistic that checks and balances will do what they were designed to do with gavels at the helm.

The stories I heard last night: parents arrested and taken from children, women having newborns taken from them while breastfeeding, and officers wrestling individuals to the ground as soon as they walk in a grocery story, a government building, a school, or a medical facility, were alarming. Some of these individuals are 3rd generation Americans, but they don't fit an administration's view of what that America should look like.  I can't get the image of children out of my head...the screaming in school as their parents are arrested dropping them off for class each day. That is for the work these lawyers do. Their workload has been overwhelming in the last year.

At the event, I happened to see one of the few refugee faces in the crowd - a young man who looked like the many Sudanese refugees I've worked with in Louisville and Syracuse. His name was Abe and he was at the event because his wife and children, in Juba, Sudan, can't come to the United States. He's an American citizen, college-educated, and an accountant. Yet, policies are keeping him separated from his loved ones. His children are U.S. citizens, but his wife's status is being questioned so they are being denied a return to Connecticut. Their case is trapped in U.S. courts.

The evening was surreal, and I kept thinking about my sisters and their children, especially when they were young, and what their lives would have been like if Nikki, Dylan, Sean or Jacob were kept from them...if they were not allowed to see them...if they were separated. I just can't imagine what these families are going through.

And what I learned last night is that imagination is pointless.  It's now time for courts to check and, hopefully, balance the drives behind all that is occurring right now. I'm entering my Friday in more awe than ever (and I'm shaking my head).

Yoda. The force needs you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

I Needed To Drive, To See Leaves, So I Traveled to UMASS-Amherst Rather than SKYPE. Thankful

The dossier process, folding into fall semester, has had me locked at desks, on my writing chair, in my house, within my office, and nose to the screen. I was invited to present to doctoral students at UMASS-Amherst on youth work with Young Adult Literacy Labs, Ubuntu Academy, Writing Activity Genre Research, and the NWP Teacher Institute and rather than do the presentation from Connecticut, I woke up and decided, "Drive, Crandall. Just go."

I texted Alisha who is a doctoral student and said, "I've decided to do this in person. I need to get away from Fairfield County for the day.

And I did. I saw a new campus, recognized the importance of knowing other places and what they have to offer students and faculty, and met wonderful people. I was also thankful to put my head around four years of summer work and all the data we collected. Much of what we do to make sense of the phenomena around us is to create charts and graphs to help us tell the story. Speaking with the doctoral students put a firecracker under the project and helped me to get on top of the numbers (which started with the dossier, too). As I said during the presentation, "I'm an odd researcher, because I like to take what I know to create phenomena rather than to take time to study phenomena that has already been reported - that is, the writing instruction that isn't happening in U.S. schools."

Of course, I know I do this so I can help teachers trapped by tests and curriculum mandates to at least see glimmers of life in the work they do (that sometimes a shining moment motif).

My colleague, Ryan Colwell, teacher leaders from CWP-Fairfield, and I will be presenting during NCTE and Ryan and I have our eyes on LRA 2018. Yesterday was a great first step to put our data into action and to help clarify what it is we are actually seeing with the work.

Yet, what I'm taking away the most - the leaves. The hills in Massachusetts at this time of year are absolutely gorgeous. It was stunning to see, and I definitely was in need of seeing something new.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

All Love to @WritingProject, #C3WP All the Way. College. Career. Community

How do we maintain the energy and zest of 14 phenomenal educators across southern Connecticut who have dedicated a year to argumentative writing, but who face the obstacle of crazy traffic, busy work schedules, and the impossibility of always meeting face to face?

Well, we ZOOM, of course (in increments, because we're only allowed 40-minute sessions for free).

And, we also do it two days in a row because not everyone could meet on the first proposed date.

That is teaching. That is a love for what we are doing. That is dedication.

Last night, teachers discussed their school years so far and what they've already implemented in their classrooms. There's something magical about sharing what works and doesn't work, especially with motivated educators who are doing the best they can for their students. The chat room was active, Google docs grew with resources, and the C3WP resources were in full force.

Special to the work, however, was leadership that came from Julie Roneson and Kristin Veneema. They each shared ways they've used tools from the resources and moved their students forward with argumentative writing (Hey, wait. Can you share that with the rest of us? Yes. NWP has it online).

The teachers are in varying phases of argumentation (some with district mandates calling for argumentative writing that sometimes counters the great work we accomplished this summer), but all are quick to adapt, apply, and achieve. Whenever like-minded individuals join forces, it's easy to say, "Oh, man. I wish we all taught in the same school."

Ah, but we don't...and we have ZOOM as a tool to bring us together (it's early in the year, too. I only saw one glass of wine on a Tuesday).

It was wonderful to hear from all the participating teachers and to feel, digitally, the excitement that grew from sharing ideas with one another. The majority of them reported, "I've never attended a meeting like this before. It sure beats traffic."

Yes, I-95. You remain the curse of our network, indeed. If only you moved more that two miles an hour with your to and from NYC traffic. Jeez.

I think, however, we've figured out a wonderful way to stay connected and to make this work.