Poem #2: End on a question


I’ve read the greats as well as the unknowns
Gobsmacked at the similes, metaphors, synecdoche, metonymy
Inspired by the diction, the imagery
I swoon, I weep, I ponder—the depth and breadth of human emotion
Present in the lines and stanzas of good poetry
All of it leaves me to wonder:

Why add one more voice?
Why add one more verse?
Does the world need one more poet, when it barely pays attention
To the ones who already inspire?

April and Poetry: “How to Write”

When I taught English, I loved April, because April is National Poetry Month and I loved teaching poetry. I loved reading a variety of poets with my students, discussing form, and letting them loose to write poetry.

Stueve told me today about NaNoPoMo, and since I’m in the process of rebuilding parts of my life, I figured I might as well try writing 30 poems in 30 days. Most days I will likely use the prompt, unless I’m feeling extraordinarily inspired.

I do not consider myself a poet, not by a long shot. So I make no guarantee to the quality of the poems I’ll write. But I know this much: this project is the ultimate exercise in practicing what I preach.

I tell my students all the time that to become better writers, they need to practice writing. They need to play around with form and function and language. And even if they think the writing isn’t great (and most of the time it won’t be), over time they will start to see flashes of brilliance–a word here, a sentence there–just from the cumulative effect of practice.

All of the poems I post this month will be first drafts–if you read one that you think is worth salvaging and working into something better, leave a comment and let me know. If you read one that is weak or trite or saccharine or angsty, talk about it behind my back with your friends.

Today’s prompt was “instructions on how to do something.”

April 1, 2019
How to Write

Sit on comfy gray couch, open the laptop
Stare at a blank screen, blinking cursor taunting—
“Write something. I dare you.”

Close the laptop, stand up
Look around, look for options—
Movie? TV show? Podcast? Piano? Or heaven forbid: clean something?

Pick up laptop, walk to desk, sit in oversized black office chair
Open the laptop, stare at a blank screen, breathe deeply—
Click away on black keys.

Don’t edit, don’t stop, just write.

Collateral Learning.

At the end of every school year, I talk to my classes about collateral learning. I tell them that I realize they have six or seven teachers who, for 10 months, tell them their class is vitally important to their lifelong success. And then I tell them, almost like it’s a secret, that for me, I’m more interested in their collateral learning. What did they learn this year about time management? Friendship? Setting boundaries? Identifying passions?

Yes, math and science and social studies and English and the arts and journalism are important, but what did they learn about how to live a fulfilling life? That is equally important.

This morning at 2 a.m., I thought about collateral learning in my current schooling. I’d been working on a JavaScript lab for nearly 7 hours, and while I’d asked for help and identified minor bugs, the lab still wasn’t passing the autograder.

It’s 2 a.m., an hour I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long, and I’m tweaking bits of code in hopes of being declared worthy, and I’m failing over and over and over again.

Oh, let me be clear: the code works just fine in simulators. In code validators, I’m getting zero errors. The people who helped me say they can’t find anything wrong with the logic or syntax of my code. It’s just the class automatic grader that doesn’t like something about my code and refuses to pass it. And since the autograder is a robot and can’t point to a specific choice I made, I’m a little stuck.

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 2.09.52 PM

Same errors for seven hours. I mean… just give up, amirite?

So at 2:12 a.m., I finally shut my laptop, turn on my meditation app and think: what am I doing to myself?

I haven’t written anything since starting this class. I haven’t practiced the piano. Haven’t practiced the music for the choir I’m singing in this summer. Haven’t read anything for enjoyment (because let me tell you, while informative and helpful, reading about JavaScript is not really enjoyable right now). Haven’t seen any new movies, haven’t binge-watched any TV shows. Haven’t edited any podcasts, organized my real or digital life, or seen any friends.

(I have gone to Jazzercise, so at least that’s something.)

What am I learning, exactly?

So before drifting off to sleep, I resolve to reevaluate my goals for this class. I make a list of things I need to do today, and things I want to do. And I go to sleep.

I woke up this morning with collateral learning still on my mind, and in the past month of working on this class, I’ve learned that I am not the best about self-imposed boundaries. It’s always been hard for me to say no to people, so this should not come as a surprise, really. But I didn’t think I would ever work on something for so many hours and be unable to set it aside, take a break, and do something that brings me joy.

I’ve learned that–right now, at least–I enjoy web design more than web development.

I’ve learned that I need to track my time spent on this, I need to plan more things in my days so my time with the class is more focused, and I need to be a tidge more forgiving to myself when I’m slow to grasp content.

I’ve learned I need a break.

Coding Hope.

Wednesday night, I finished the coding class, and now I wait to find out if I made it to phase two. My second project bothered me, though. We had to create an card about an animal, and the only specs we were given was the size and what basic info the text needed to contain. I didn’t like how it looked when I finished it in February, but I moved on anyway.

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 8.45.59 PM

See the design problems? There’s a weird line at the bottom, and a weird drop shadow and the text is too close to the left border, and I really don’t like the font…ugh.

So tonight I went back to it, and guess what?

I knew how to fix it.

I looked at the code and knew right away what I needed to play around with to bring it closer to my design standards. In less than five minutes, I had this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 8.47.04 PM

This gave me such hope. At some point in the past six weeks, something clicked, and I knew how to use code to improve a web design. Now, I still struggle with how to use code for a website’s functionality, but I no longer think I won’t figure that out someday.

I just might be able to do this.

Stupid (for a short time) (I hope).

In January I was notified of my acceptance to the initial phase of the Grow with Google Scholarship program. I have until April 11 to complete 20 lessons and three major projects.

I’m on the final project right now, and I’ve never felt dumber.

Wait–that’s not true. I have felt this dumb before. 


I carried feeling that dumb that with me for years–to the point where I tapped out of math courses after my junior year of high school, and when BYU told me I could take four semesters of a world language instead of two semesters of math, j’ai dit, “d’accord, je les prends.”

So as I have been working through these programming lessons the past two months, most of the time I feel pretty stupid. And in this past week as I’ve worked on the final project, the level of stupid I feel far exceeds what I remember feeling in advanced geometry.

But one thing I’ve learned in this course is how open many in the coding world are. The forums for the class are supportive, and people often post tips or hints for how to best complete quizzes and projects. Two weeks ago, the program directors offered to pair up people who were struggling with people who were really good programmers. So I signed up.

Tonight, someone I’ve never met face to face spent two hours walking me through different pieces of the code I’d tried to build. He asked questions and sometimes I answered them wrong, so he would give me hints, and a couple of times, he gave me the answers but then asked me to tell him why those answers were correct (and I could at least do that). When I finally signed off, he said, “Good work tonight!”

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 11.10.36 PM

This is part of what took two hours to fix and clean up tonight.

My first thought was “Good work? I barely understood what I was doing and you gave me A LOT of help! How is that good work?”

With his help, I am confident I’ll complete this course. I am zero confident that I’ll be selected for the next round, because I just haven’t truly learned the skills I need to be successful and I doubt I’m in the top 1500 students. I’m probably (definitely) helping him get into the next round just by having to suffer my inane questions and sloppy syntax.

And that’s okay. Really, really okay.

Because I have learned that there’s so many resources available for me to continue learning and practicing. I’ve learned that while taking courses at the local community college might be nice, it’s not necessary for what I want my second act to be.

This course has humbled me quite a bit; so much of what I’ve done in my life has come pretty easy to me, even the things that felt difficult at the time.

It’s been a long time since I felt motivated to become better at something I was really, really bad at. (And I am really, really, really bad at programming right now).

In fact, this might be the first time that’s happened. Sounds like a bucket list item to me.