As I’m planning for a writing institute I’ll teach this summer, I’m making sure to “walk the walk” by trying out the writing strategies I’m going to be sharing with my teacher participants. One of the strategies for generating narrative entries is to:
- Think of a strong emotion.
- Think of times when you’ve felt that emotion.
- Jot down a few ideas.
- Write one as a story!
I decided to start with a feeling that I (unfortunately) experience rather often; fear.
My notebook looks like this:
1: A Strong Emotion:
2 and 3: Times I felt fearful and/or worried
-Driving in Ireland (right side, standard shift, narrow streets, cliffs)
-Climbing a ladder to paint the garage.
-Taking a subway from Grand Central to Brooklyn
-Going on a rollercoaster with Morgan at Hershey Park
-Going up the mountain in a chairlift by myself
4: Pick one and write!
-The chairlift story
The chairlift operator looked at my dad and me and waved us over. “Next! Let’s go! The chair waits for no one!”
I guess he thought he was being clever, but I was all business. I had gone on the chairlift before, but I had been small enough for my dad to pick me up and put me on his lap. This year, he said, I was ready to learn how to get on the chairlift with him at my side.
OK, I thought, just remember what dad said..step up, keep your skis parallel and pointed forward, move over to the far track, he’d step in next to me, the chair would nudge us from behind, and up we’d go!
“OK, Erika. Here we go!” dad said. “You’re ready. That’s it. Step up, keep your skis pointing ahead, move over to the far track…move over a bit more….the FAR track…Move over more…..”
That’s when I felt the chair nudge me from behind. But wait! Dad’s not next to me! As I looked to the right, I saw the end of the chair, and I saw my dad on the other side. He couldn’t get on! My heart was pounding. I felt suddenly hot inside my bulky ski suit. I looked down as I felt the chair slowly rising up into the air. I was all alone! “STOP!” I yelled. “I can’t do this alone! I’ll fall out! D…a….d…..!”
“It’s OK!” dad yelled. “I’m getting on the chair right behind you. You’re going to be OK. Now listen carefully. Sit back. Now hold on with your right hand and reach up for the bar with your left. You can reach it if you go to the side where it’s closer to you. Keep yourself sitting back and pull the bar down so it’s in front of you. Take it slow. You’re OK. I’m right here.”
“I can’t reach! I’m too small!” My voice sounded so small and so weak. What good was it that dad was in a chair behind me? He can’t catch me if I fall, and how am I going to get off this thing at the top?
I looked down and saw the mountain getting farther and farther away from me. The skiers looking smaller and smaller as I went higher and higher.
“Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, “I can do this.” Dad had his coaching voice on. He sounded so steady. So sure.
I breathed in….and out. “I…..can…..do…..this…..I…..can….do…..this….” I reached one arm out while holding tight to the chair with the other. I tugged on the bar. It didn’t move. It was too heavy. I tried again and felt it coming down in front of me. Clunk. It locked into place.
“See!” dad said, “You are not only ready to ride the chairlift without being carried. You can run this whole thing all by yourself.”
I felt better then. At least I wasn’t going to fall out and die on the mountain.
I started to panic again when I realized I had to lift the bar and get off the lift at the top, but for some reason I already knew I was going to be OK. My dad coached me through it, one step at a time. I skied off the lift, down the small hill and did a little turn to stop. I waited for my dad. He pulled up next to me, looked down, and gave me a huge smile. “Let’s do this!” he said, “The mountain waits for no one!” And off we went down the mountain.
I grew a few sizes that day.
I have some other strategies to try: First times, last times, thinking about “trouble stories.” and thinking about important people, places, and objects. I want to make sure that I experience what I’m going to ask my students (all teachers) to try. After all, that’s what I want them to do in their own teaching. I want to show my students that if they become writers themselves, their teaching will grow a few sizes!