Janeczko was great. My favorite insight of his was his response to the question of when did he know he was a poet. He quoted William Stafford on being asked, "When did you start becoming a poet?" Stafford replied, "The real question is: when did you stop?"
But here we were twelve hours later on an elevator together, and Paul Janeczko and his great, grey Walt Whitmanesque beard, said good morning--calling me by my name--and then he said, "I am going to pee."
Reading this as Janeczko willingly engaging me in a verbal joust, I couldn't help raising an eyebrow.
He clarified, "Level P. I'm going to Level P, but I'm having trouble finding it." We made more small talk and shared a laugh.
And then the elevator doors opened and we stepped into an arrest. Two policemen ushered a handcuffed woman into the cold morning just as we reached the lobby. We paused.
I paused to gawkat the arrest. He paused to ask a hotel employee near the arrest about Level P.
And off we went agreeing on the confusing layout of the hotel and conference center. He walked much faster than I did. He inched ahead of me. I had to pick up the pace in order to wish him a good day, before he turned right toward Level P and I turned left in search of a cup of coffee.
|from Firefly July by Paul Janeczo & Melissa Sweet|
I wondered if my teachers in the 70s and early 80s ever had the opportunity to hear writers talk about writing.
I remember seeing my elementary school teachers as moms who happened to be leading our classes in the same way that my cub scout leader led us through arts and crafts in her kitchen. I saw my middle level teachers as friends with one another. Some reached out to us and got to know us. And I thought of my high school teachers as cartoon characters--I doodled them relentlessly.
I didn't think of teachers as colleagues--as part of a network of other educated men and women interested in their subjects--until college. At Temple, I became aware that my professors were writers and researchers and readers and thinkers. And they had expectations higher than I thought I could ever reach.
In a graduate class, Dr. Robert Storey shredded an essay of mine on Ibsen. He wrote that I had a sophisticated perspective of theater, "but the prose--oh, the prose." He wrote that he worried that I wanted to become a teacher. I didn't hate him for that comment. Or the grade.
I felt so far away from where I wanted to be. Twenty-three years later and I still feel far away.
But this weekend was about inching closer with others also wanting to inch closer. That is what NCTE felt like to me--a large collection of positive colleagues taking control of who they were and who they could possibly be.
I teach writing and I struggle with writing, but for a long weekend I had the opportunity to hear writers talk about writing...and they shared information measured in ways exceeding testing.
I heard teachers share ideas and experiences--young teachers, veteran teachers, retired teachers, and everything in between. Teachers who counted their failures as enthusiastically as their successes. Teachers of all ages and experiences who just wanted to learn.
I met a first-year teacher who was at her fourth NCTE conference. She went three times in college.
I met people who retired from their building, but not from being an educator. And never will.
I met an editor, Tracy Mack, who choked back tears when talking about working on a manuscript with Pam Munoz Ryan. She called it her Carnegie Hall moment. If I ever had an agent or an editor, I hope that they would feel that way about my words--the words I have been working on since Dr. Storey's comments. And no the irony of his name is not lost on me. I would love to write enough inches--great, moving, inches of text--and send them to him and thank him for indirectly showing me a ruler...and expecting me to create something worthy of being measured.
And I met lots of writers. Lots and lots of writers.
I love writers for the same reason that I love educators who are in it for life.
No one retires from writing, for each written word carries us an inch closer to where and who we want to be.