SOLSC #12 Finding My Voice

I read the writing advice: Write in your own voice

Is my voice sarcastic?
What is my own voice?  

And what if my voice is not enough?
Not smart enough?
Not creative enough?
Not engaging enough?

My voice is currently “dis-” engaged: discouraged, disgruntled, dissatisfied.  
Won’t seeking a different voice improve my writing?
And, possibly, transform the person behind the voice? 

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SOLSC #11 The Great Tohoku Earthquake

Slice of Life

I wrote about this event last year – over two days if I remember correctly – but it’s impossible not to remember on this date.  I haven’t read last year’s slices since last year so sometime it will be interesting to read them together and combine them into a complete account.

It’s  March 11, a day that will always be in my heart and my mind.  It was four years ago today that the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami hit.   It was a day that I was in the office sitting at my desk around 2:45.  My boss came out of his office and was talking to one of my colleagues about the building shaking.  I really didn’t notice until I heard them talking about it.  At that time I had very limited earthquake experience** so I didn’t really look out for that sort of thing.

I realized that the building was, in fact, moving.  The guys were calm and laughing so I didn’t think much of it.  But it continued for about 30 seconds more, quite long for an earthquake, and so the boss suggested that we leave our building.  The quake continued as we walked outside.  We could see the cars moving in their parking spots and the poles and posts shaking.  Up to this point I was pretty calm, but it was quite a lot to take in so I decided to sit on the curb.  It was the first time in my life that I was afraid of the ground.  The “solid” earth did not feel solid.  It felt like waves of liquid moving beneath my bottom.  It shattered any sense of security that I thought I had.  At that moment, it seemed possible that, somehow, this island that I was standing on, that I lived on, was going to be destroyed.  And that I was going to be destroyed with it.  It was a very long earthquake.   Not just seconds or even a minute, and a minute-long earthquake is pretty long.   I didn’t think it was going to stop.  Of course, it did stop.  We looked around.  Everything seemed ok.  So, we marched ourselves back into the building and went back to work.

It was difficult to get back to work though.  We were all distracted and a little nervous.  We weren’t back at our desks for long before we got an aftershock.  It was over 7.0.  It was also long.  We left the building again.

When the ground rested, and we re-entered the building, we went right to the television.  We could only get the Japanese news and we didn’t understand Japanese, but we didn’t need to.  We started to get the first views of the Tsunami.  There were 2 very small clips, but we could see that a wave had come up somewhere along the coast.

Still, it seemed that the earth had settled and things were ok.  It was 4 pm on Friday afternoon and time to go home for the weekend.  I got in my car and headed to the other side of base.  I live on an Air Force base and the flight line runs down the center of the base.  I have to cross the flight line to get from my office to my apartment.  Well, on this Friday as I approached the flight line, the red light came on indicating we couldn’t cross.  This happens frequently.  We get stopped for a couple of minutes while a plane lands or takes off.  It’s part of living on base.  I could see that a plane wasn’t taking off so I waited to see the incoming plane.  And I waited.  And I waited.  And when it finally touched down, it was not a military plane, but a United plane.   We sat there for the next hour and watched 11 commercial airplanes land on base.  I later found out that Narita had been closed and these planes were going to run out of fuel, but as soon as I saw the second plane land, I knew something was really wrong.

By the time I got home the real picture was starting to develop.  I met my friends at the club and we watched the scenes on tv.  The unbelievable, horrifying scenes.  The 9.0 earthquake itself was not as devastating as you might think.  The tsunami, however, caused destruction that I thought and hoped could only happen in movies.  If you haven’t watched a video (there are tons of them on Youtube), here’s the one I watched today: I hadn’t seen this one before. It’s a longer clip so you really get to see the before and after picture.

Anyway, after the 11th there was still the little nuclear incident and the missing people and the empty store shelves and the closed gas stations. Except for the nuclear incident, none of those really affected those of us who live on base. But it affected our friends and colleagues. And it allowed us to see the true nature and spirit of Japanese people who continued to be kind, patient, and giving without looting, stealing, or gouging.

If you like jewelry and would like to support a cause connected to that day, check out the Nozomi Project They use pottery broken in the earthquake and tsunami to create beautiful jewelry.

I haven’t written about that day since the SOLSC last year.  This is a writing piece that I should work on so that I could adequately describe the physical feelings and the emotions, but it’s so emotional that it’s draining and I can’t commit to that mid work week.

**(Btw, my prior limited earthquake experience happened on August 17, 1999.  I had just moved to Turkey to teach and was in the middle of a week of orientation in Istanbul when a 7.6 earthquake hit, killing 17,000 people.  I guess that would be a good August slice.)

SOLSC #10 My 10 Things Right Now


1.  I’m bowling and wondering why my speed is fluctuating.  I threw the ball really fast yesterday, much faster than usual.  Today I’m still a little faster than usual, but I can’t tell what I’m doing differently.  And I’ve been doing this almost 40 years… How can I not know, not feel, what I’m doing???
2.  I’m chatting with my Friday night teammate.  It’s Tuesday, but he was in practicing so stopped by to say hi.
3.  I’m thinking about how to make the math training better.  Padlet isn’t going to work as well as we had hoped for collaboration so we’re going to try Lync whiteboard.  Doing training via VTC has its challenges.
4.  I’m reading 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong.  I really like the focus on student learning and think it will help me tomorrow as I work with the struggling teacher.
5.  I’m also very slowly reading Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld.  I’m counting this as reading two books!
6.  I’m wondering how members of our small district team can be so oblivious to how their negative attitudes and inconsiderate actions affect others.
7.  I am hoping that someone has broken into my apartment and cleaned my kitchen. And now I’m wishing that I had just left the door open.  
8.  I am dreaming about vacation even though it is 3 weeks away.  I’m still planning final details for the Maldives and the layover day in Kuala Lumpur.
9.  I am brainstorming topics for slices for the remainder of this month and wondering how I struggle to find suitable topics every day.  
10.  I am thanking Stacey and Mindy for sharing this idea because I hated what I wrote this evening and now I’m happy to have something else to share.  Also, I believe I will now have time to do my ab and thigh challenge (very important due to upcoming bathing suit vacation). 

SOLSC #9 Distracting Background Noise


Once again, like every day last week, today I got home from work, fed myself, and then sat down to write.  I do have moments throughout the day when I ponder possible topics, but once my bottom hits the sofa, none of them seems appropriate.   Today I was home a little earlier than usual so I decided to put on a movie as background noise.  I went to the closet, looked through my DVDs, and chose Never Been Kissed.   I hadn’t seen it in a really long time, but I’ve seen it enough that I wouldn’t be distracted wondering what happens next.

The movie started and I started reading other slices in the hope that I would be struck with inspiration for a topic.  Sadly, my computer seems to hate me at times, and this was one of those times.  It was spinning and thinking and stalling  – taking forever to complete basic functions.  I had no choice but to pay attention to the television in between tasks so as not to become impatient and lose my temper.  Then I was really dismayed because my background noise, this old, comfortable, nostalgic movie was… ridiculous.

The movie was so preposterous that I was fairly certain that I would not be able to keep it on.  In fact, I was going to have to throw out the DVD.  I was waiting for my comment to post and I looked up just in time for the club scene.    So, first of all, who goes to a club where you can be 16 or 25 or sitting on the sofa eating ganja cake?  And what English teacher is super excited to see his high school student at this club while he’s standing there holding two beers?  And then just good-naturedly laughs when that student, who is now high from ganja cake, is up on stage making a complete fool of herself?  And how is the guy in the van who is watching everything from the hidden camera on the pin on her chest able to laugh at her dancing?  He can’t see her from that camera!!  Awful!  Just terrible!

The movie only goes downhill from there, but my comment finally posts and I’m able to get back to work so I don’t get up and turn it off and destroy the painfully embarrassing DVD.  Still, my computer continues to be difficult so there are other times when I’m forced to focus on the movie.  Until, I realize that I’m at the end of the movie.  That last scene when she’s standing on the pitcher’s mound waiting for Michael Vartan to come out and give Drew her first kiss.  The clock is counting down.  The crowd is cheering.  We’re all set up for the happy ending.   The movie viewer is starting to reflect on her own life and how many times she has put the pressure of a metaphorical countdown timer on events, tasks, people in her life and quit at the sound of the buzzer.   And Drew Barrymore’s time runs out, just as the viewer’s time has run out so many times in life.  Tears are streaming down her face as she empathizes with Barrymore’s pain and embarrassment.  But, wait… the crowd starts to cheer.  The camera pans around the stands.  There he is!  Michael Vartan!  So young and attractive with that innocent smile – not the smile of a teacher who was hitting on his student just two scenes ago.    He runs onto the field and immediately engages Barrymore in a passionate kiss.  The viewer grabs a tissue to wipe her cheeks.

Damn it!  Sucked in again!  The movie is over and I don’t have one word written.   No worries, Pitch Perfect will certainly do the trick!

SOLSC #8 Being a Bad Guest


Today I bowled in a tournament.  It is when I bowl in a tournament that I am most aware of what a bad American I am because this is the place where I am surrounded by Japanese people that I know but cannot talk to.  Yes, I’ve become one of those people who moves to a foreign country and then doesn’t learn the host language.  I always defend myself with the fact that I don’t plan to stay long and Japanese is really hard to learn.  But it’s been five years now.  I have bowled with some of these people for five years and I can’t speak to them.  It’s really unforgiveable.

Fortunately, bowling has its own language.  Of course, that language is English, but at least there are some things I can say that they will understand – “nice shot,” “good game,”  “lucky!”  It’s not that I want to have long, intellectual conversations.  I just want to be nice and polite like they are.

If I could understand my opponents, maybe I wouldn’t think they were so nice.  But when I  don’t understand a language, I just block the sound of talking.  I assume the person is kind and has good intentions because I have no words to contradict that idea.  This is particularly true with Japanese people because they are not often physically expressive.  They just seem calm and peaceful.   Even in a bowling center with the whirring of the machines, crashing of balls hitting pins, cheering, music playing, and babies crying, it’s still fairly quiet in my head.

But I wonder what they think of me?  Do they resent that I live here and can’t speak to them?  Do they think I’m so serious about my bowling that I don’t want to be distracted by conversation?  Or do they think I’m just snobby?  I guess when I resigned myself to not learning the language I also gave up the right to want others to think I’m nice and considerate.

SOLSC #7 A Gift


We had a guest in our office this week – a Japanese teacher who was working with our Host Nation instructional support person.  Last Friday she went to lunch with us and Monday I received this gift.  Can you imagine a thank you gift for sitting with someone at lunch?  I have enjoyed the plant all week, but only in writing this post did I try to investigate what type of plant it is.  Apparently, it’s a hyacinth.  Seems like I should have known that but I guess I’ve never received nor grown one before.


I’ve been obsessed with this amazing gift all week.  When I received the plant, there were three stalks, but none of the flowers were open yet.  The plant sat on my desk and I watched as they opened throughout the day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  On Friday, one of the stalks of flowers was leaning over quite far so I cut it to make room for the new stalk that has popped up.  I wish the photograph could capture and communicate the smell.   My lilies (another gift last week) are almost all gone, but I’ve brought the Hyacinth home for the weekend and my apartment continues to smell like a fresh floral bouquet.

It’s a terrific olfactory reminder to be kind to others and appreciate their company.

IMG_2490          IMG_2404

My obsession at work included several photo sessions.

SOLSC #6 Struggle to Write

IMG_2489I wish I had prepared better for this writing challenge.  Ideally, I would have spent the past year working on slices.  Maybe I would have some pieces to revise, some ready to go, and some I would write new.  But I didn’t prepare.  So, each day after work I am trying to brainstorm ideas and draft and make something presentable enough for others to read.  Often what happens is that I just post something, even if it’s not fully “presentable.”

Unfortunately, today when I came home from work my mood started going downhill.   I should have been elated about making it through the week and having a day off, but instead the little irksome events from the day and week settled in my brain.  Once I started writing, they traveled through my arm and the pen onto my paper.   The result was something I would not want to share with others.  So, I started over.

It is hard enough for me to write one piece each day, but some days I am writing 3 or 4, hoping to stumble into something suitable for the public.  Today it just wasn’t happening.   I went bowling and bought myself a beer.  I’m not a big beer drinker and I never drink while I’m bowling, but desperate times called for desperate measures.  Sadly, I found that neither the beer nor the bowling were  helping.  I considered not posting.  I’m the only one who would be disappointed and I’d get over it.

I don’t want to quit on the 6th, though.  Surely I can make it through the first week.  I decided to make a list of things I can do to improve my mood:

  • turn up the music and dance around my apartment
  • bake cookies to share
  • read a good book
  • shop
  • go for a walk on a sunny day
  • sit in front of the space heater on a cold day
  • look at pictures of my family, friends, and travel
  • watch 13 Going on 30 (I think it’s the music)
  • buy flowers
  • go out to dinner at a new restaurant with friends
  • spend hours with some fictional friends – GIlmore Girls, Monk, Buffy, Angel, Monica, Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Phoebe, and Ross

Still, I had nothing to post.  I was running out of hours in my day so I decided to go ahead and read other posts and respond.  There’s no surprise ending here – I obviously did not come up with something clever, creative and upbeat to post.  But I did figure out something else that lifts my mood:  reading slices of other lives.

SOLSC #5  How Did We Let It Get This Far?  

A teacher contacted me last week to ask for my help.   She has been put on an improvement plan by her administrator and feels she is at risk of losing her job due to poor performance.  I am the district ELA specialist so she is hoping I can help her keep her job.  

I am eager to help her and the more I ask her questions to determine how best to help her, the more I am consumed by the thought that we (the components of our system) have completely failed her.  And we have mostly definitely failed all of the students who have passed through her classes.
My district is widely dispersed so I don’t get to spent enough time in each teacher’s classroom. I suppose ‘enough’ is not the right word since I can recall being in her classroom once over the past five years.  And I wasn’t completely shocked when I asked her to look at the standards and identify where she and her students are and she indicated that they had not worked on most of them.  She couldn’t identify one standard that she thought her students would be comfortable with.  I think there are a number of teachers who never look at the standards.
I was taken aback, though, when she indicated that she doesn’t have one instructional strategy nor classroom routine that she thinks is successful.  We’re in March and she seems to have to learn everything about teaching.  She’s been here at least as long as I have (5 years) and I’m wondering how we let this situation get this far.  
More importantly, what do I do now?  She asked for help in creating a unit plan.  I think she’s happy to let me do that for her, but that won’t help her.  I’m wondering which books she should read, who she should follow on Twitter, which blogs she should read.  How do you give someone a crash course in teaching English effectively?  
Yesterday I read Kelly Gallagher’s In the Best Interest of Students and, since we’re getting ready to move to the CCSS, I think that’s a good one.  Well, even if we hadn’t adopted the CCSS, it’s still thought-provoking with practical, try-them-tomorrow ideas.  But she’s made it this far resisting professional development, so will she read?  
What do we need to have in place at the district level to make sure we continuously support the professional development of teachers?  

SOLSC #4 Fuji-san



photo1 photo3 Sasebo & Zao 031Every morning
I hope to see Fuji-san
It never gets old

Towering in the bright sky
A threatening gift

A fool to think that
I could climb it with a bunch of
Twenty year olds!

SOLSC #3 League Night


I brought Allan Wolf’s book Immersed in Verse to league night with me so that I could figure out something to write while bowling.  It’s not surprising that I ended up writing about bowling.  These probably won’t have wide appeal, but my teammates like them and they are short.

The Purple Bowling Ball (inspired by William Carlos Williams)

so much depends

the grape scented bowling

glistening with lane

crushing the white

The second poem is a He Said She Said poem.  Allan Wolf and Sara Holbrook wrote a whole book of these titled More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her (which my students loved).


He said
Game on!
Bowling is competition –
Striving to crush your opponent
With strikes and trash talk,
Knowing the men will get the points.

She said
That’s all she needs to say because she
Knows that bowling men
Is a mind game.
Stay quiet, get marks and they’ll self-destruct.
The ladies will win almost every time.