Darkness Descends

All was not sunshine and roses in that long ago Spring/Summer of 2014. In April, my world shattered. My mom, the most vivacious person I have ever known, was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. We’d been living together (by which I mean I was living at home) for two years, since returning from Edinburgh. My mom was so stoic, we didn’t even know she was sick, and indeed, for a short time, she kept on doing what she needed to.

The effect on me was profound. In an instant, all of my creativity was sucked away, like dust through a vacuum running over high pile shag carpet. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and couldn’t write. I stopped going to my critique group. I stopped thinking about future classes and told the parents that I was closest to what was happening. I had agreed to give a few students private classes and agreed to keep doing that, but asked if I could do a more intensive schedule of multiple days per week. The parents of my students agreed, and so instead of doing a month-long session, I agreed to do it on a week by week basis. I was thankful for their understanding, and so I did the best I could under the circumstances. I think I deserved an academy award for my showmanship. I became very adept at not showing what I was going through to my students.

Looking back today, I can be grateful that my mom’s illness progressed quickly and that she didn’t suffer for a long time. I had seen my mom cry before, she’d been through a lot of physical and emotional pain in her life. She bore her diagnosis with grace and dignity. She only cried once during her illness: One night, shortly before she died, my mom fell and she was so bloated from the fluids that she was too heavy to lift. It was then, lying on the ground that my mom cried like I had never seen. This was not the delicate crying of tears rolling artistically down the face, you all know that single tear that just so gently rolls down one cheek. That night I saw my strong, invincible mother hyperventilating from her terror. Never, not even when she’d broken her leg in two places and dislocated her spinal cord in a car accident, not when she was put in a halo to stabilize her spine on the long trip from Greece that summer did she lose her composure. She was even stoic when the halo was put in without anesthesia. She cried so hard that night that my sister and I couldn’t get her off the floor until we’d calmed her enough that she could help. Still, it was so difficult that she bumped her head on the tile hard enough that the sound of anything hitting the floor brings me back to that night and gives me nightmares. So many things happened to my mom in the last fourteen weeks of her life, they are too numerous to count. The sound of sirens and the ringing of the telephone late at night still cause me to wake up with an irregular heartbeat and in a cold sweat.

Still, they were not all bleak those final days. I continued to teach my private students and go to educational fairs to promote Inkreadable Kids. I asked my mom if she wanted me to cancel all my private classes, and her response was “Hell no, this is for your future.” We also celebrated her last birthday in style. My sister, genius that she is, decided that we weren’t going to give my mom a party, it was to be a women-only surprise party. My mom nearly spoiled the surprise part of it though. When we started talking about her birthday, she said she didn’t want a party, and my sister started planning a surprise party. My mom could sometimes be true to her Gemini nature and change her mind. She did in this instance as well, asking us to plan a party for her, a day before her birthday. We had already started making arrangements for the party but were good enough actresses that we exhibited the right amount of annoyance at my mom’s change of heart. While the party did not go off without a hitch, and my mom wasn’t truly surprised having suspected something, she later told us that what surprised her was when a usually reserved friend of hers jumped out from behind the couch and shouted surprise.

The day after her birthday my mom went into the hospital for the final time. I spent the 11 days between my mom’s birthday and my own visiting her at the hospital. By this point, I had stopped teaching altogether but was getting calls from parents just to see how I was doing. On 28 June the doctors told us that they could do nothing more for my mom. My birthday came on the 29th of June and my mom called sang me and my twin sister, Tatyana  Happy Birthday. I was in tears for the whole conversation. “Worst birthday ever” would be my facebook status for that year. It was probably the penultimate time I’d hear my mother’s voice. I can’t remember anything about the 30th of June.

In the early morning hours of 2 July Mom suffered “a respiratory event” and had to be intubated. I will never forget waking up from a fitful attempt at sleep, to see missed calls from the hospital. Seeing the exchange 444 on my phone would terrify me and I would have a knot in the pit of my stomach. My mom had such an expressive way about her that even unable to speak she commanded the room. She got things done with the crook of a finger and a glance. Afterward, the staff in the ICU would tell both my sister Alex and I that my mom was one of the strongest and kindest people they had ever had there. Also apparently the funniest as she joked with them while she was still able to write.

When the end came on 19 July, it was a relief. My mom hung on for 17 days. It was enough time for us to make the preparations for her funeral including going to get my sister Taty from the facility where she lived in New Jersey. My father was a godsend in this time as he came back from Greece to help us with everything, which was extra special as my mom and dad had divorced 30 years before and it wasn’t my dad’s responsibility.

For over a year, I went through life feeling nothing and everything. I couldn’t write or create. I certainly couldn’t teach. I went to work, I came home, and I dealt with the aftermath of my mom’s death. It was oppressive that darkness. For the longest time everything I ate or drank tasted like sawdust. I couldn’t swallow past the ever-present lump in my throat.

A couple of things were to happen that would pull me out of the dark and change everything. They deserve a post of their own. That’s up next.

That’s it for this Inkreadable Installment but stay tuned. As always, there is more to come.

 

Story Cubes and Summer Camp

I look back on those long ago days of 2014 with nostalgia, but I was also conflicted. Even though I KNEW that I was good at teaching writing and that the kids enjoyed the classes, but I was consumed by doubts: could I make this something that would take off and make me a living? And even more important could I get adults interested as well? It had always been my intention to grow in a couple of different ways. I didn’t only want to focus on kids, I knew from my two writers groups that adults, especially seniors, were an untapped market. Seniors have such stories to tell. They can connect us to our home, our ancestors, and our history. They place historical events in a living, breathing context. All of these things were ruminating in the back of my mind, but with no idea of how to execute the marketing needed for that kind of growth, I let the ideas percolate and continued teaching. It was good that I had the teaching because things were soon to get very dark indeed. But now is not the time for darkness. It is a time to wax happy. Wax on, Danielsan.

Towards the end of that session, I had found a new teaching tool. One of the moms turned me on to Rory’s Story Cubes. The game has nine dice with a different picture, one on each face. You roll the dice and make up a story using the pictures that come up. I wanted to see if the game would work for children under seven years old whose reading skills are not quite where they need to be.

The manager of the community center approached me about teaching a session of Inkreadable to her summer camp attendees. I agreed with alacrity. Since the mom of my student had recommended story cubes, I hadn’t had time to go out and purchase them. I thought that with 15 kids, they might prove useful. So I duly ran out to the best toy store in Washington DC called Child’s Play and got not one, but two. It would be a good thing, too.

I walked into the community center early and found to my trepidation there were not fifteen kids to teach, but twenty-seven. Twenty-seven. Turns out, there was nothing to worry about, the kids were fun and receptive. We did three stories in an hour. They are too random to recount, and also I can’t really remember what the stories were.  The experiment was so successful, that I used it with my trio of brothers as well. No writing was done, but we became impromptu storytellers so that we could include the youngest child of the household.

The youngest brother stole the show. Well, him and the story cubes. On this particular occasion, I was asked to do a marathon class for the kids as their summer was booked for the next three weeks. We had two classes left and so I agreed to do a two-hour session to wrap up. Little brother entered the scene early on in the marathon class, earlier today. He was playing with some stones that he blithely informed us were magic rocks. Magic rocks, you say? Magic rocks. It’s one of those ideas that, once taken hold, refuses to go away. We all decided to write a story about magic rocks. My students wrote complete stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I struggled to write a story that was complete so I actually added magic rocks into my existing novel.

Well, that’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment, stay tuned, as always there is more to come.

 

 

 

Class Contented

So many things were happening with Inkreadable Kids that Spring. In the short story modules, we were crafting stories about heroes escaping from snake pits, cousins taking a canoe trip, and the three brothers were writing multiple stories. There were a lot of stories started and never finished in that session of Inkreadable Kids, and I had started to panic that my boys would not have complete stories to read to their parents for the publish and share class. I needn’t have worried, however. All three brothers had a lot of completed stories my favorite one was a story of a hungry lion who finds a magic talking tree that grants him any wish he wants. The lion, being an enterprising sort of lion, wishes of course, for candy and soda. And gold. There has to be gold, of course. How else is a poor lion going to keep himself fed? The story took an interesting turn because the lion went to his friends and told them about the tree. They all went to find it, but it had disappeared. It reappears in the story but doesn’t seem to grant any other wishes. The lion ends up disappearing, presumably to a soda and candy-filled world. Everyone lives happily ever after. But mostly the lion. That has to be the best ending to a story. EVER.

Meanwhile, the  Scene Stealers sessions were a veritable alphabet soup. Please pardon our use of shortened names, but well, sometimes it must be done. You think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH)? Trust me, you don’t. At Inkreadable, Hood is quite technologically advanced. The girl has an X Box. And internet. She’s a teenager, so not so little. But surprisingly, she has no attitude. She still does what her mama asks and takes a basket of food to granny. She also helps her mom turn on the computer. Which particularly amused me, because I can relate.  I asked the kids to write the conversation between LRRH and her mom. What’s interesting is that the conversation is quite banal and follows the line of the original story, but the boys took liberties with the life that LRRH lives. She’s been moved into the modern age.  I can’t say that I was surprised at the turn in LRRH’s circumstances, just their execution.

The big bad wolf (BBW) was also reinvented. In one boy’s scene, LRRH is off to give granny her basket, but while listening to pop music. Which is where we meet the BBW. Who Dances. And lays eggs. Yup, you heard me. Lays eggs. This caused much hilarity for myself and his brother. Following on the heels of his “Mostly the Lion” ending, I realize that the humor is no fluke and I might have the next Stephen Fry or Christopher Brookmyre in my class.  Exciting stuff, indeed. As the class drew to a close we discussed further ideas for the BBW. We invented an alternative ending in which BBW has a dad. BBW’s dad appears after his son has eaten both grandma and LRRH. Dad gives BBW a medication to make BBW throw up. That’s one way we revised the story. In a second revisionist ending, grandma and LRRH are imprisoned by both the BBW and his dad. The women escape on their own, while the dad is asleep. They are chased by BBW, but come upon a hunter who kills BBW. They backtrack to the house and kill BBW’s dad while he sleeps. It’s all a bit bloodthirsty, really.

Well, that’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment. Stay tuned, as always, there’s more to come.

Scene Stealers and Struggles

Have you ever felt that you were missing something as you read a story? That niggling at the back of your mind that something happened to a character that the author hints at but doesn’t fully come out and say? I started reading one of my favorite authors out of order and felt exactly that. I hated that feeling, so I decided it might be interesting to explore having kids write their own backstories for their favorite books. It also helped that one of my returning girls from the first session had literally notebooks full of those kinds of stories. In fact, she was my first student for Scene Stealers. We focused on creating backstory in the context of working on the craft of writing. For example, we created a dialogue that went into the backstory for two characters that the original author doesn’t explore.

In a couple of the classes, we focused on expository writing.  Wait, expository writing you say? Why are you focusing where writers generally dislike to tread, you ask? Writing is no different than any other art. In painting, Picasso started out drawing the human figure “the right way” before he could move on to the works of his later periods. I saw an exhibit at the East Wing of the National Gallery of his pencil and charcoal drawings that he did as a teenager, and they bore no resemblance to his adult work at all. Writing is the same. You can’t break the rules until you know how to use them correctly.

In scene stealers, we were able to use elements from our lives in our stories.  In one class, I told my student that I wanted a scene to be as wordy as possible. She was having a hard time with it, and when I aasked her why, she started telling me about her nemesis. Apparently, a boy in her class is treating her with shameful disrespect. Far from being torn down by this foolish young man she’s taken the high road. They happen to be in a group project together and he is “bossy by nature”. It seems he has taken over the whole project and the other kids are not sure how to deal with it. He’s a bit of a silly head as she politely put it. The righteous anger she displayed when talking about this boy was fantastic to behold. Machiavalian person that I am, I decided to tap that emotion. I told her to forget describing a room. I asked her to invent a new character in her favorite series that resembled the bane of her 5th-grade existence. She did. With great success and much venom.

The struggle of the second session was an internal one for me as a teacher. I had to come to terms with the fact that no person writes at the same speed. I knew that of course, as I had seen it in my adult writing groups, but it was also true of the kids. An eleven-year old’s output may be greater than that of the six-year-old, and I had to quickly learn to go with their flow. I accepted that their stories might not be complete. The opposite was also true. Two of my boys were actually such fast writers that they read not one, but two stories a piece at the end of the session. I had to content myself that my younger, slower writers would get where they needed to so that when we read the results to the parents.

It turns out, I needn’t have worried. Inkreadable KIds session two had understanding and super cool parents. They didn’t mind if the kids didn’t finish the stories. They were happy that their kids were writing and having fun doing it. How do I know they were having fun? They told me, and also their muttering “This is so much fun” as they wrote in my class were pretty decent clues.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment. Stay tuned, as always, there is more to come.

Bring on the Boys

Where the first session of Inkreadable was a glimpse at the power of the female writer, the second session of Inkreadable was about a boy. Actually, it was about four of them. I also had a couple of the girls from the first session return as well. I’ve known for a while that the genders write very differently. I’ve seen it in the adult groups that I ran in Edinburgh, DC, and the one that I run here in Amsterdam.

In that second session so long ago, two of the boys opted to wrote their own stories with no help from me. They were brothers so it made for an interesting dichotomy as well. I actually had to separate the brothers as they were using the same ideas in their story. Since this wasn’t a collaborative writing class, I had to put a stop to that. And quickly. But it also gave me an idea. Was a collaborative writing class such a bad idea? Like the original idea for Inkreadable, that too would not go away buzzing like that first been in my mind.

The boys tended towards more direct violence than the girls. For instance, one student had not one nuclear bomb going off in a story but ten. Another of my boys wrote a story where the protagonist has to escape a locked zoo through a cage of snakes. Snakes. why’d it have to be snakes? Shudder. The boys tended to less logic in their stories so suspension of disbelief became paramount with them. For example, one of the boys wanted to write a story about a trip that was entirely by canoe. Since in this day and age, unless you live on Lake Titicaca, there are faster ways of traveling, we agreed that the canoe travel would be one of the modes of transportation on the vacation, not the main one. This student wanted the kids to decide all the vacation fun, and I had to explain that people reading the story weren’t going to be able to suspend their disbelief to the extent that the kids rule the vacation. (Although, in my other job managing a restaurant, they seemed to do exactly that. The girls tended to solve problems in writing with less bloodshed.

In the second session of Inkreadable Kids, I was constantly being surprised by my students’ output, the freshness of their ideas, and their ability to be prolific.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment. Coming up: a new course and it’s pitfalls. Stay tuned, as always, there’s more to come.

Pentultimate Position and an Engrossing Ending

Penultimate is one of the coolest words in the English language. It’s a bittersweet word, filled with the knowledge of an ending but also the possibility of new beginnings. I know that the girls loved my class, well, because they told me so. But also, I got adult validation as well. Their parents really seemed to like what I taught and the way in which I did it. I think the key to writing, for anyone, is positive validation. The caveat is, that one isn’t going to improve their writing until they know what to fix to make it better. For me as the haphazard writer that I currently am, it means looking at work and thinking about what relationships stick out or resonate with the reader, and which do not. The problem is that most writers aren’t objective about their work, because to them,  it is perfectly clear what they were trying to say. After all, they wrote it. As a writer, it is all too easy to get defensive when receiving critique. Writers, and artists in general, need to have a thick skin. The key is taking that crucial step back and looking at your own work as though you are reading it for the first time.

I think it is even harder when trying to convey these ideas to kids. Remember the childhood axiom “sticks and stones may break my bones. but words will never hurt me?” I can’t tell you how many times I myself heard it as a kid. Unfortunately, while the sentiment is meant to empower, it doesn’t. Words have incredible magic, and that magic can be quite dark. So in talking to my students, I find out that the phrases “Here’s what’s working” and “here’s what’s not” work just as well for them as they do for the adults in my two critique groups.  The structure of the class doesn’t allow for as much critique as positive reinforcement, but that’s to be expected in a class that lasts an hour. Kids are also more likely to write if they are mostly encouraged. That was the case for me, anyway.

I also found that the kids got inspired to write more while I was reading to them from either my own work or a children’s book of some kind. It was very gratifying that my own work had the kids on the edges of their seats. I frustrated one of them whenever I stopped reading to answer a question from one of the others. I found that while my literal reading skills are very good indeed, my kid reading skills are somewhere in the remedial range. I couldn’t figure out if one of the students was having a good time in the class because well, she’s rather like me, very quiet, very reserved, and holds her cards very close to the vest. It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Her parents contacted me and asked if I had plans for classes for returning students. So I put my thinking cap on. Their daughter made a comment that she has notebooks filled with new scenes for stories that have already been written.

In the writing world, we know this as fan fiction. So I offered a choice: we do a course called scene stealers. In that course, we take popular children’s stories and write all new scenes or we take a scene she’s already written and devise an all-new story around the scene. All the while building on the concepts that I taught in the Short Story class. So, for instance, we’d write a scene from a fairy tale focusing on character description. Or add a scene in Little Red Riding Hood that examines the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, or the mother that is only briefly mentioned in the story.

The first Short Story Module taught me so much about how kids think and transmit their thoughts both on paper and to their peers.  The lead up to that last class way back in 2014, caught me in a reflective mood, I remember. As I waited at the printers for the stories to be bound, I thought about what the kids had learned about writing, about critiquing, and about each other.   I learned several things about myself as well. I read the girls bits of my novel and it was empowering. They were on the edge of their seats wanting to know what happens next. It was gratifying to me that I write with enough panache that kids like it. Since that’s the age range I am targeting, it galvanized me to write more. It also put to rest all the mental naysaying that I do with regard to both teaching and writing. I know that I can write. I now know that I can instill the love of writing in children. I am amazed at the power of the girl writer. And I know that yes, I can do this.

In the Thursday class, we saved a mom who was a genie, we dealt with the stress of being a girl who loves science and vanquished that stress, plus we won the science fair, and we got a humble musician to take three risks, and avoid his critical wife, to go to a masquerade. On Saturday, in true WIS style, we wrote a story about a cheerful Captain and two young women, who find a secret waterfall, and in the process rebuild earthquake-ravaged Haiti.  The power of these young girls’ imaginations was astounding. Their intellects are big, their imaginations are bigger, and their hearts contain immense courage to stand up and bare their souls, to their parents, to me, and most importantly, to each other. I am in awe.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment. Stay tuned, as always, there is more to come!

 

 

 

Wonderful Writing

The girls in both my Thursday and Friday classes were wonderful students and made the initial session of Inkreadable Kids a joy to teach. The ones who were writers already, like my Friday student took the idea of the hook and ran with it. And even the ones who were less familiar didn’t ask many questions. “We’ve got it.” ruled the lessons from beginning to the rising action, the climax, and beyond. It was a great first session and kids are nothing if not willing to listen to ideas. Remember the fourth student who was a no-show to our first class? She ended up coming to our rising action class. She’d missed the first because she’d been ill. As I lead them through the concepts, I saw that the kids were starting to form connections. Our newest edition fit right in and picked up the story in the middle very easily.

I also tried something different for this go round. As they wrote, they asked me to read a story that I had checked out of the library. I originally intended to read the story and have them identify the parts. But they were so adamant that they wanted to get writing, that I just read it. Leaving the climax for the following week. Their own writing did not suffer in the least. In fact, it seemed that they became inspired to write faster and that the ideas flowed naturally. That class was all about the rising action of a story. The events that get the reader to the main event. I talked about the definition of rising action and what it does, the theme, aka the deeper meaning to a story, got more detailed about the plot of a story and introduced the idea of pacing.

Like any good teacher, and I’ve known plenty, I decided to teach the third student the beginning of the story after the class ended. In my one on one with her, I was surprised to see the same traits that I had growing up. She’s super smart, very funny, and very talented. And she’s got a rather dark sense of the absurd. She is writing a story about a humble musician who takes three risks to go to a masquerade ball.  It’s turning into quite an adventure and has subterfuge in it. It’s very exciting.

Remember last week’s “Hook, Line, and Stuck”? Well, it was a fluke apparently. My nine year-old thought faster than she wrote. So being the super supportive person that I am, I offered to write for her. I assure you the ideas were all her own. I was just her personal dictation device, with the added benefit that I know how to spell. She sent me to Haiti on a ship with two sets of parents, two bffs (don’t worry this abbreviation will get into the OED soon enough I am sure), and one cheerful captain, aka Emma the sidekick’s grandpa. Then she sent the protagonist’s Dad to work, the other parents to a hotel to get settled, and our dynamic duo to explore the island with Gramps.

Hook, Line, and Stuck

Wait. Don’t go. You read that correctly. But, you’ll say, what kind of writer are you? It’s hook, line, and sinker, you’ll grumble. And of course, you’d be right. But Poetic License is also a thing, and I am taking some here. My creative writing workshops for kids started, as I mentioned previously with the power of the girl writer. My first class was two girls from WIS and one from Murch, a DC public school.

I had set up my classroom and walked downstairs to meet the girls in the lobby to show them the way. Alas, there were only two girls waiting.  The third student was a no-show. It’s ok because the two students I had more than compensated for the lack of the third Thursday student. I came up with a small lesson plan for the beginning of a story, which I vetted with Madeline who assured me that all the concepts made sense. I talked about introducing the characters and giving them a personality and a backstory, setting up other characters in their world. Next up was the introduction of the conflict, where I talked about the protagonist and the antagonist. Of course, kids aren’t going to understand that concept, until you call them good guy and bad guy. That particular lesson caused a bit of incredulity on the students’ part when I started talking about Harry Potter/Voldemort, and Percy Jackson and just about everyone. “You’ve read them? You’re old.” was the general consensus. I read them, and between you and me, they are way more fun than books for grown-ups. I talked about point of view, and the general consensus was that the third person was the easiest to write.  Next came how to start a story and we went through action, dialogue, narration, and description. The last concept was the Hook. That thing that grabs the reader, pulls them into your story and makes them want to read more. It can be a question, use of descriptive words, or leaving the story a mystery. I asked if anything was confusing and whether there were questions. Apparently, I was pretty clear and all the kids were on the same page because they piped up and said, “No questions, we got it.  You want us to write a hook to a story. What story?”

They’d hit the nail on the head and were quicker on the uptake than I was. Luckily, I had found a sort of story generator called Story Starters at scholastic.com that was a slot machine and generated random prompts with different genres like mystery and sci-fi. You also got to pick the grade you’re in and I thought that was a nice touch. I also gave a couple of prompts that I came up with on my own. One student used the random prompt generator and the other used one of my prompts.

It was a great experience for me as well. What would have happened if I had been encouraged to translate my love of reading into a love of writing? I can see you’re all nodding your heads thoughtfully. But wait, you mutter, where’s the stuck part of the erroneous cliche?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. The next class I had was more of a tutoring session than a class. You see, I only had one student sign up for that class. She was a 9-year-old who was a precocious as they come. She was also a WISKid and so we bonded.  When given the option for a prompt, she chose the Scrambler option from Story Starters. It was a learning experience for me as well, as I hadn’t chosen the Scrambler option while I researched. So, we did it together. What emerged was so nonsensical, we looked at each other and simultaneously chorused “Next!”.  So we spun the wheel again, so to speak, and we are now engaged in an adventure about a girl who sails on a ship with a cheerful captain, who discovers a secret waterfall. A bit complicated, no? But intrepid she is so she decided to stick with it.

For this student, I became more involved in the writing process, as almost immediately, she said: “I’m kinda stuck.” So I started by asking her questions about her main character, who it turned out was named Annabeth. My young budding writer had a love of all things Rick Riordan, hence the character name. Since I do as well, we were off to a good start. Through question and answer, we gave her a best friend sidekick, a dad who was sailing for work to Haiti and set up the problem. It turns out that our heroine is afraid of storms and losing her dad. Kids come up with some very grown-up ideas.

What happens next, you ask? You’ll have to wait for the next Inkreadable Installment to find out.

The Challenge

Setting up Inkreadable Kids was the easy part. How I got my students proved to be a stumbling block that for a time I could not get my head around.  But the problem resolved itself in due course. Remember my rather posh private high school with the egalitarian leanings? They stepped up and I started stepping into the world of education. It turns out that reunions are wonderful for getting ideas and some very concrete support. Back in 2014, Tina Thuermer was the alumnae relations coordinator for WIS, but I remembered her as the awesome Theory of Knowledge instructor who taught me how to question. well question, I did. But my questions were circular and I couldn’t break the circle. So I called Tina and we had a brainstorming session.

In the years since I had left WIS so much had changed. The posh part of the posh private school had come to pass: they had a gym, a real theatre department, and their winter gatherings (Read alumnae boastfests) were catered. WIS had arrived. How did this help Inkreadable Kids, you ask? They also had a parent newsletter that allowed people to advertise services and such. With Tina’s encouragement, that’s exactly what I did. And it turned out, there was interest. I started getting email inquiries from parents within a week.  They asked me all sorts of questions: syllabus, class structure, but most intriguing for the parents was how was I going to apply peer critique.

I believe that when you write, and allow others to read it, you give them a glimpse into you innermost thoughts, feelings, fears, and desires. Sure, the writer may disguise those things within the confines of a story but they are very real to the writer and exposing yourself to critique is the hardest thing a writer can do. But it can be done, and more importantly, in an environment where it is safe to do so. Questions are frame in a positive way. There was to be no “I like…” and “I don’t like”. Instead, “Here’s what’s working”, “I want to see more of…”.

The parents were excited, and and it turned out so were the kids. The first class was a glorious exercise in the power of the girl writer. On the edge of your seat to see what happened? Stay tuned, that’s the next Inkreadable installment.

The Bee

Like Zeus, Inkreadable Kids was born on the sun drenched island of Crete, at the beginning of my trip. When I conceived the idea to teach creative writing to kids, it was unformed. More of a “maybe I should” rather than an “I am going to”. But the idea didn’t go away. In fact, it started buzzing through my brain like the most annoying of bees flying hither and yon. It caused no end of trouble, on my vacation. Here I was, on vacation, trying to have a good time, and all I started thinking about was how to make the idea a reality. This bee wasn’t dying or getting angry, no matter how much I tried to swat it away. I decided to talk to the closest thing I had to an expert. Was it someone in business, you ask?, A writer, maybe?, Come on, it has to be a teacher, you mutter. No, I had none of those people. I had something better. I had a Madeline. What is a Madeline, you ask? A new robot? A computer? Madeline  is none of things. Madeline is a friend, a very good friend, who was doing exactly what I wanted to do. Except she was doing it far away in Accra, Ghana. I contacted Madeline and told her what I wanted to do. True to form, Madeline was nothing but encouraging. And so the round of what ifs began. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, that with time and Madeline’s advice,  the idea solidified into a syllabus that revolved around the elements of a short story.  It would be a five week course that met once a week for an hour and looked like this:

Week One: Exposition

Week Two: Rising Action

Week Three: Climax

Week Four: Declining Action and The End

Week Five: Publish and Present

Our last class would be where I presented each kid with their story in book form and we invited family to hear the stories read out by the authors. The class was geared to 8-12 year olds because I figured that in order to learn how to write the kids first needed to know how to read.

I wasn’t idle on the business side of things either. So far the checklist was:

Who I’m Teaching: Check

What I’m Teaching: Check

How I’m Teaching: Check

Why I’m Teaching: Check

One problem remained: the where and when. The when was easier than the where. When turned out to be Thursday and Friday afternoons from 4-6 pm. Where was a bit of a challenge, but ended up being easier than I expected. The manager of the community center near my work was willing to give me the space for free. There were A LOT of hoops to jump through: like two security checks, and setting up a limited liability company. Once all of that was done I was the proud owner of Inkreadable, LLC. Now the fun could really begin.