ISI 2016 Day 1

Why do humans  write?

“Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.” ― Christian Wiman

The Paradoxby Sarah Kay

When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.
So I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.
When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was thankful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.
All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.
And even if it is just for one moment,
I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.
– Sarah Kay

Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise….

But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
—Jane Kenyon

Writing Invitation:

“Shape the words thank you” for that which could “be otherwise,” that someday “will be otherwise,” but is.   You can begin by making a gratitude list (a writing practice that is now research-correlated to happiness and well being), but then stretch yourself to

  • explore something unexpected that you are grateful for,
  • find a metaphor for something that you usually take for granted, or
  • write a wish-list for someone for whom it is otherwise today.
  • OR write about whatever else is burning on your heart this morning.
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John Dewey says, make it real.

I love John Dewey’s “This I Believe” essay, written in 1897.  It’s called “My Pedagogic Creed,” and it always reminds me to make the classroom a real community, to make every writing invitation a real invitation to meaningful action.  If we are assigning busy work, or even drudgery for the sake of some benefit far off in the distance, we are missing the mark.  The language is kind of stiff, but that gives up plenty to chew on.

He writes:

I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs. Through the responses which others make to his own activities he comes to know what these mean in social terms. The value which they have is reflected back into them. For instance, through the response which is made to the child’s instinctive babblings the child comes to know what those babblings mean; they are transformed into articulate language and thus the child is introduced into the consolidated wealth of ideas and emotions which are now summed up in language.


       I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.

       I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the play-ground.

       I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life, forms that are worth living for their own sake, is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden.

The whole essay isn’t long.  You can read it HERE.

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Workday writing invitation

Our first task this morning is to get to know one another better.  Let’s start with our names.  A common writing task at the beginning of a class is this one:

Write about your name in order to introduce yourself to this community.

Topic (What): Your name

  • Where it came from
  • What it means


  • An experience when you were proud of it, or embarrassed by it.

Purpose (Why): To help us learn your name and get to know you

Mentor Text (How Part 1):

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female-but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.

My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild, horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name Magdalena–which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least- -can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza. would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.

-Sandra Cisneros, from House on Mango Street

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Welcome to the 2016 Invitational Summer Institute

Are you ready?  All we ask is that you show up.  Physically in your seat, of course, but mentally and emotionally as well.  We want to hear your stories.  We want to hear your questions.  We want to hear the results of your research–research that matters to you and benefits your students.  Although it’s only April, we want to get started; so let’s get to it!

Because we are writers, let’s begin with a poem to toast the group:

To Be of Use

by Marge Percy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)


And here’s one more that always sums up why I need the LMWP Summer Institute:

The Paradox 


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