Reasons to Write

by Kate Messner
by Kate Messner

If you are a teacher of writing, a teacher who wants to write, or maybe even a writer who wants to be taught, I’ve got a book for you. I attended an educational conference recently and one of the sessions I sat in on was “Teachers as Writers”. It was a session designed to help teachers discover their inner writers, to share their writing with students and to help them help their students to blossom as writers.

During the workshop, the presenter used two different activities from 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner. Each of the 59 prompts offers a new approach to a fun writing exercise.

Here are my creations from our brief session. They are not earth-shattering pieces, but they were thought-provoking exercises and they are proof that you don’t have to write a novel to be a writer. Anyone can write with a little push and a little inspiration.

Six Words on Me
Teacher, writer, speaker, wife, mother, friend.
I am a crazy Spanish teacher.
I am a novelist by night.
I’m mom to two great kids.
I love my sometimes silly husband.
I speak well and speak often.
My friends make my world fun.
Plainly pretty, slightly plump, wildly entertaining.
General Hospital fanatic, Team Scorpio forever!
I laugh often and laugh loudly.

A Poem of Home
Home is where your memories lead you.
Way back…
To a much simpler time and a better place.
With some homemade cookies and a warm embrace.
Warm summer breezes and grandma’s face.

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Are You Wiser Than a 1st Grader?

Have you ever dreamed of doing something, but let someone talk you out of it? Have you ever had a dream that went unfulfilled because it seemed silly or because life’s responsibilities got in the way? If so, you may not be wiser than a first grader. We adults believe ourselves to be experienced and wise, when in fact, there are some very important lessons we can, and should, take from our kids.

Dream. Children dare to dream. They believe they can do or be anything. Astronaut, president or Michelin star chef. My daughter is a classic example. She thinks she’s going to grow up to build the first combination homeless shelter/animal shelter/food pantry. The practical adult in me asks where the money is in that, but in her mind, that doesn’t matter. She might just earn the money as a dancer or singer since she’s clearly better than Taylor Swift. She believes she can change the world. Her life is full of possibilities. She is limitless. She can do it all. Even make her own “ chocolate” cookies with flour, butter, and Hershey’s syrup. She doesn’t care if it doesn’t work. She doesn’t give up. She tries again, because she still believes she’ll find a way to do it. She doesn’t care about “rules”. Eventually she will find the “right” way, or invent her own new way.

Desire. Kids find their passion and run with it, no matter what others think. My son has loved learning about animals since he was old enough to talk. He was so interested in them that it almost became an obsession. He refused to read a fiction book until he was forced in the second grade. He is that funny kids who stops at the zoo exhibit and instructs other on-lookers about the genetic make up of the Okapi. He loves Pokemon and Skylanders. Never mind the fact that when he tries to explain these games to me I can only stare in confusion. He likes hot tea and the color pink, even though that isn’t “normal” for boys his age. He doesn’t care if others think he’s silly. He just knows what he likes. That’s the beauty of a kid’s mind. It doesn’t matter what others think of them. At least until they’re in Middle School!

Determination. Children find a way to do what they want. They let know obstacle stand in the way. Until they are old enough to “know better.” One day we made a tub of cookies. Audrey wanted those cookies so badly she could hardly stand it, but they were supposed to be for a bake sale, so we hid them on top of the fridge where we thought she’d never find them. We should have known then that our strong-willed girl wouldn’t rest until she got what she wanted. Later that day, while we were watching television and she was supposed to be sleeping, she snuck into the kitchen. She climbed on a chair, pulled down the tub, and stole away to her room. She crawled into her closet and shut the door, and there she stayed until she had eaten every last one of those cookies.

Stolen cookies might be a silly example. And to be clear, I’m not really encouraging you to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want. But when was the last time you wanted something so badly or worked so hard until you got it? Somewhere along the way, we grow up. We become “wiser”, but along with that wisdom comes a loss of innocence and the idea that we “can’t” do things. These limitations seem real, but they are often self-imposed.

Today, instead of asking you to think like mature adults, I’d like to encourage you to be more childlike. Find your passion. Believe that you can do anything. Or at least try it. And when life tells you that you can’t have any cookies, find a way around it. I never thought I would be a published author. But with a dream, desire, and determination, anything is possible. Take up painting. Take a cooking class. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, if not as a profession, than for pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re waiting for the right time to begin a new project, if you’re waiting for some kind of sign, I’ll give you one!

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Fieldtrips Are Not for the Faint of Heart

Every year as I pack for the 8th grade Washington D.C. field trip, my husband eyes my suitcase with contempt as if I am abandoning him and embarking on a week-long vacation while he’s stuck at home with two squalling children. She gets a week away, a stipend, free food, and sight-seeing, he thinks. But I know that this trip is far from a fun-filled week away from the family. Yes, it can be fun, but it is also a lot of hard work. That Monday morning as I board the bus, I morph from Spanish teacher into bus leader and subsequently become nurse, counselor, and mother to fifty-six. That’s right folks… these fieldtrips are not for the faint of heart—especially when you are on the principal’s bus with the kids who need to be kept in line—the rowdy boys, the girls who buck the dress code, and yes, sometimes the kid who started the fire in the school bathroom several weeks earlier.

Every year is eventful to say the least, but one trip always sticks out in my mind as the trip to end all trips. I began that week armed with aloe for sunburns, bandages for turned ankles, duct tape for broken flip flops, and a pair of small scissors for gum-in-hair removal—the usual. But after a few hours it became clear that things were going to get even more interesting. The girls behind me on the bus began to perk about the text messages that were whizzing around about the drama between Eddie and Clara. At the first rest stop, Eddie from our bus had asked Clara from bus 2 to the Thursday night dance. Under pressure, Clara had said yes, but now regretted her decision, as she was actually hoping to go to the dance with Matt from bus 4. Clara wanted to back out, but at the second rest stop Eddie bought her jewelry, so the situation got awkward. Clara talked to him a few times, trying to let him down easy, but Eddie, being a different kind of kid, wasn’t very good at picking up social cues… like the pained look on Clara’s face when he did the old yawn and stretch at the Nationals game with Matt sitting just on the other side. We chaperones were worried about Eddie getting his feelings hurt. And since the three of them, Eddie, Clara, and Matt were all in my Spanish class together, the principal appointed me to help them sort things out.

As if that weren’t enough drama, later that week I was forced to invade a protest circle in front of the White House in order to extract one of our fourteen year old girls. Natalie, a bright but naïve girl of Middle Eastern decent, had walked up to the group of college students who were chanting in Farsi because she recognized the language her parents spoke and wanted to practice. She saw nothing wrong with it and neither did anyone else. At first. That is until I heard one of the college guys asked her where she was from and say, “Oh, well, now I have a reason to visit Ohio.” As red flags flew up, I charged in and escorted her away. She was confused by my concern, until I explained that the young man, obviously deceived by her beauty and maturity, was hitting on her. “Oh,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe I should have gotten his number. My parents could have traded me to him for a goat!” She wandered off toward the bus with the rest of the kids as I breathed a sigh of relief, but my relief was short lived.

By the time we reached the Department of Treasury less than a block away, a new situation had arisen. The same girl was being approached by afore mentioned fire-starter, Ned. Ned, another socially challenged young man, had been ogling her all week and talking to her any chance he got. Being the kind-hearted girl she was, she laughed and joked with him each time, not realizing how easy it would be for him to misinterpret her “Kindness”, which of course, he did. As he crossed the street toward her in the darkness that night, I knew what was going to happen. I saw it coming like a train wreck and I was powerless to stop it. Sure enough, shy, quiet Ned managed to summon up the courage to ask Natalie to the all-important dance. As I heard the words come out of his mouth I cringed, fearful of what the rejection might do to his fragile psyche. Thankfully, Natalie, though clearly out of Ned’s league, handled things with more grace than most teenagers–or adults for that matter–and explained that she thought he was a very nice boy she already had a boyfriend at another school and just wouldn’t feel right about it. She later asked the principal and me why we thought he had asked her and the principal once again called on Relationship Counselor Cat to explain how being too nice to a boy can easily be misconstrued as flirting.

Some years aren’t quite as exciting. Some years, the big deal is being called to boys’ hotel in the middle of the night to deal with a Swedish-Fish-related eye injury. But every year I return home thoroughly spent. I collapse on the couch, thankful to be off duty for the first time in five days. And every year hubby asks me the same question. Why do you do it? I understand why he asks. I ask myself the same thing at the beginning of every trip. But by the time the week is over, I know without a doubt that I will do it all again in a heartbeat. I’ll do it because it’s an adventure. Because even though I’ve seen the White House nine times, every trip will be different. I’ll do it because I love the history of our country and I love seeing it rediscovered every year. And I’ll do it because I love those kids, and I love watching them as they make memories that will last a lifetime. It is not an easy job. It is at times at times exasperating and exhausting. But it is, above all, rewarding. So much so, that I’d do it for free. But I’ll take the $700… as long as their offering.