I was a substitute teacher for Organic Mama’s composition class on Monday.
The class is tiny – only five students – and it was really a pleasure to work with that small a group. It felt a lot more like my favorite seminars in grad school than my larger classes tend to (though my middle class, with only 11 students, comes pretty close to approximating that atmosphere). There was the added bonus of a former student of mine in the class; I liked this boy when he took my public speaking class last term, and it was a delight to see – and talk to – him again.
Yesterday’s class went well. Everyone showed up and everyone brought the picture that O’Mama had asked them to bring as a writing prompt. I spent the first few minutes of the class talking to the kids, asking them about their majors and their backgrounds, then I started a conversation about description. What is it, and why is it so important? I read Polaroids, Anne Lamott’s chapter about description from her book Bird by Bird (“that is one cool dude!”) and we talked about the idea that sometimes, you don’t know what a piece is going to be about until you’re done writing it.
After a bit of discussion about what makes for good description, we all took out our photographs and started writing. Here, for your perusal, is the first draft about my photo; I’ll bring it in to workshop with the students tomorrow. It totally sucks – I have NO idea, really, what it’s about – but that’s okay. First drafts, according to Anne Lamott, are supposed to be shitty:
The rocking chair is backed against the wall, in a small downstairs bedroom, facing the door. It’s a real rocker – the kind with bowed wood on the ends of the legs – and not a glider, which seemed to be the only kind of rocking chair the furniture salespeople had to show us when we were shopping for a rocker just before our first daughter was born.
The chair, for all its wooden hardness, is very round: the back is a wide arch of wooden slats, the runners curve gently up under the legs, the arm rests, thick and shiny with lacquer, end in rounded edges that are comfortable to the hand.
The chair has no cushions, and I never got around to making any, so the only softness came from whatever form of blanket or pillow that happened to be tossed on it. When the girls were little, I had no shortage of blankets: crocheted or woven or pieced; filled or flat; soft or scratchy; single-hued or multicolored; populated with Pooh or nameless teddy bears or the letters of the alphabet. Even with the addition of blankets, though, and the happy memories I have of rocking my precious babies to sleep in it, that chair was never comfortable.
That didn’t matter a bit to my children. More often than not, I would find them side by side in that chair. The baby would get in first, assisted with a helpful boost on her diapered bottom by her older sister, who would then grab a back slat and hoist her own self into the seat. They would “read” (though, of course, they weren’t quite at deciphering the letters yet), tell each other stories in their own sister-language, play with bears or dolls, or just sit in companionable silence. there was always a blanket, though, and the baby always – without a single exception that I am able to recall or document with a photograph – the baby always sat to her sister’s left.
Most siblings fight. “Sibling rivalry” is a term that is most often spoken of as a foregone conclusion. Happily – at least, thus far – it’s a concept that has been all but foreign in our home. My girls have thrived in close contact with one another, sharing the back seat of the car, bunk beds, sand boxes, and that rocking chair. From as soon as the baby could sit upright, the two have shared that space, reading, talking, sharing, speaking their particular dialect of the language only sisters know. I watch, quite apart from them, though they are living pieces of my heart, as they continue to grow together. I am in constant awe of their matter-of-fact affection for each other.