Writing with Middle-Schoolers After the First Snow

What my life looks like from the other side of the world; an interesting and humbling exercise.

Excess, I imagine the little old lady carrying water buckets to rice paddies would say. Here, we are always looking to find ourselves in the space, in the big picture, in the meaning, but there, life is a question of survival and so meaning hardly matters.

How dare you whine, I hear her say, wagging a finger in my direction. Silly, spoiled Americans, giving real meaning to the phrase first world problems. 

My problems are not problems; get your head out of the sand.

A girl in writing club today told us how her mother makes the car silent for a three-and-a-half hour drive to her dad in Ohio. A boy rhymed about cooking for his family, triumphant when his sister ate the fish.

Another girl, ear bud playing Fitz and the Tantrums in one ear, her pencil furiously writing on the page, was angry that her mom won’t let her go to the concert. “Disappointed,” I said. “Angry,” she said.

We all see our lives as troubled and strained, but if we looked as an outsider from the other side of the planet, we’d see only bliss and ease. Comfort. Gift. Reasons to celebrate, not reasons to lament.

We are victims of our own circumstance.

Life is a matter of perspective, no matter where you live. The amputee beggar on an Indian street doesn’t trouble upper-class Indians like it troubles me; they have a clear picture of karmic cycles. Outsider looking in, it’s another story altogether.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

I simply love teaching writing with these kids. The words on the page, the cadence in the word choice, one line feeding the next or building on the one before.

Prior to writing club, I conferenced with third-graders, my son eating his yogurt for snack by my side. How can we be more detailed, more specific, paint a picture with words, engage the senses. How can we live fully and in four-color brightness, how can we share our experience of this moment, and then that one, with another person so they are there beside us, living as fully as we are?

It’s all in the words. And the perspective.

This morning, the first visible flakes came down outside the breakfast nook. Shaya jumped up and exclaimed, with all the force of his 8-year-old body, “It’s snowing!!!!!”

He ran from window to window, exclaiming at the change in seasons. His older brother dryly remarked, “In a few months, this won’t excite you anymore.”

Perhaps. But this is how we see our lives: full of beauty, full of angst, full and full and full.

Perspective. Words. Life.

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