Writing and the Absolute Beginner

Writer/teacher/kind and talented person Jorie Miller will help you find your writer self

How to start trading Binary options in Pakistan?

My very first writing teacher is pictured here. Her name is Jorie Miller, and the class she taught, and I took, over a decade ago (!?!) was called “Writing for the Absolute Beginner.” I wanted to take a minute to tell everyone that Jorie is offering this class again this fall, at the Loft in downtown Minneapolis. It’s a Tuesday morning class, 10am to noon, for 12 weeks (from 9/18/18 to 12/11/18). You’ll spend time on fiction, poetry and memoir. You’ll write, you’ll read, you’ll share (the latter, only if you want to), you’ll open your brain to a million possibilities. You can get more information about the class, and Jorie, and the Loft at https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/1526/writing_for_absolute_beginners/.

I could include her bio here (it is extensive and impressive) but it wouldn’t tell you what you really need to know: that in fact, even if you’ve done some writing, in many ways you ARE an absolute beginner (I certainly was); that even if you know you’re not a poet or a memoirist or a story-writer you’ll marvel at what you can create when Jorie has a hand in it; that if you think you might like to write but can’t quite seem to make that leap, please, please, listen to me: This is the place, the time, and the teacher with whom to make it.

While it may seem like 12 weeks is a long commitment, in my experience it’s just about the perfect amount of time to form bonds of trust with teacher and classmates and to establish a writing habit for yourself. You may have a few conflicts (I missed a few classes) but the overall experience was irreplaceable. I can tell you, very honestly, that I don’t think more than a week has gone by in my life, since Jorie’s class 13 years ago this fall, that I haven’t written. Something. Fiction, mostly, with a score of literary journal publications, but also print and online magazine articles and editing and blogging. I’ve gotten a few grants. I’ve won a few contests. I’m still working, hard, toward a book of my own.

13 years ago, what I needed was space and time to explore nothing short of a new identity for myself. I needed a lot of encouragement. I needed a place to write and to read what I wrote, frequently close to tears for the sheer accomplishment of it. I needed to share time with other people whose dreams and desires mirrored my own.

If that’s what you need, Jorie Miller’s got a class for you.




Here We Are Again, Dreaming BIG

It’s been almost two years since I’ve posted something here, two years filled with mostly print magazine writing and editing, which I loved. It was a pursuit, however, that took time from writing this blog and also from my fiction writing.

When I was unceremoniously dumped from my editorship of City South Magazine in late February of 2018, I (very gratefully) took up with author Jamie Attenberg in her Twitter group, #1000wordsof summer, and between that and a Camp NaNoWriMo to which I was invited by another talented writer, Amy Rea, I’ve got about 20,000 words of new fiction. I got to the point where I knew how I needed to write the story, which is good, but also daunting. Work continues on this new story, which is about living in a country where your kids can be taken from you. And are. From everybody.

During this time of fiction resurgence (and simultaneous mourning for my lost editorship) I also chanced upon a short story contest sponsored by december magazine. I entered the contest because the judge was Anne Tyler, truly one of my favorite authors of all time.

I won the contest.

The story will be published in the November issue of december. That’s a great thing, but what’s also great, or potentially great, is that after I wrote (actually, several years ago) “Portage,” the winning short story, I wrote a novel based on the story. It’s also called PORTAGE.

Now I can’t help hoping that maybe some new life will be breathed into the novel ms. I broke up with my agent because she didn’t agree.

So here I am again. Writing to myself, writing to you, and dreaming BIG.

It’s good to be back.



A New Venture


It’s official: I’ve got a new job, editor of Saint Louis Park Magazine. I’ve enjoyed writing for this (October’s Senator Franken article is mine) and several other community lifestyle magazines for the last few years, but when the possibility of being editor of Saint Louis Park Magazine came up, I went for it. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with amazing and talented women and young writers. I love how much visual art is involved in the production of these magazines, and I’m so excited about having one to call my own.

I’m not sure what article-writing I’ll be doing in the future, although I can’t imagine NOT snatching up a few particularly attractive assignments for myself. For the most part, though, I’d like to try to be an editor: an idea-generator, a listener, a teacher. It’s possible I’ll have more time and energy for my first love, fiction-writing. It’s possible I won’t. I’m not afraid to be a beginner again. In fact, I kind of love it.

The election of Donald Trump has been a wake-up call for me, as it has been for many of us. Unfortunately, the burden of this name-thing of mine is not, it seems, going away any time soon. So the “believe-it-or-not-that’s-really-my-name” introductions are over. Nothing about this is a joke any more. That much is certain.

I think I’m going to take a blogging break for a while, at least until the new year. My President Obama and my candidate Hillary Clinton were gracious in defeat; if they are, it’s the least I can do. I know some people object to “legitimizing” President-elect Trump, but that’s where I’m going, until I can’t. I’ll know soon enough; we all will.

So: read my magazine. It’s online, and delivered to many homes in Saint Louis Park. Let me know what you think. Give me ideas for stories if you call Saint Louis Park home.

Be patient, if at all possible, with the odd ways of the world. And ready, if patience fails.


Vote Yes for Minneapolis Children


There are two ways to vote for Minneapolis kids tomorrow, and I’m asking you to consider both. One choice for kids is to vote “Yes” to renewing the expiring referendum that funds our public schools. The second has to do with making a choice that allows all of our children to be…well, children. Happy. Free of fear. Welcome.

The Star Tribune ran an editorial a few weeks back in which the writer argued that since the Minneapolis public schools haven’t met all their goals, voters should give them a “wake-up call” by rejecting the proposed tax levy. There have been many rebuttals, of course, and the Star Tribune itself endorses a Yes vote. I would just like to add that, from my perspective as a school volunteer, you could hardly do something worse for kids than vote against this referendum.

Sure, we’re all disappointed–ashamed, really–that the achievement gap remains, that too many kids aren’t demonstrating grade-level competency in reading and math. Yes and yes, a hundred times over. What I don’t understand is how pulling the rug out from under five-year-olds by drastically chopping school funds is supposed to help. I volunteer in a classroom of maybe 15-20 kindergarteners, and the teacher has no aide. She says volunteers assist in her classroom every day. This is what I do: zip coats; clean off water-painted tables; take a kid to the nurse’s office; help another child write numbers. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing to have community members help in these ways. But if the number of kids in that classroom were increased by as few as two or three, it would make a big difference to the quality of what their very, very excellent teacher could provide to everyone, particularly on a day a volunteer were sick, for example, or away dealing with their own family. You might think small classrooms aren’t essential. I respectfully–and with present-day experience–disagree.

The second way I’d ask you to consider voting for kids calls for a longer story. Today, at the table where I sat to help several rotations of children master a game in which they counted and identified shapes, a little boy asked me if it was true that “Trump was going to bomb the world.” I don’t know where he heard this, but he must have asked me five times in our 10-minute session together, and came back to it again and again over the course of my two-plus hours at school. Before he asked the question (I don’t know what made it come into his head; we weren’t talking about the election or anyone in it) he was his typically happy-go-lucky self. But once this question settled into his brain, his whole affect changed: his body slumped, his face became clouded. He just looked afraid, like if Mr. Trump were elected, the first thing that would happen is that the world would blow up.

Is it important to mention the boy is a child of color? Possibly from a new-American family? You know what? It sure is. And I know I didn’t mention that when this boy complained of a stomach-ache, and I asked his teacher if I should bring him to the nurse’s office, she said he’s been plagued with aches and pains for the last several weeks. So no, I shouldn’t take him away from the classroom where he is safe and could learn what he needs to learn, if only he weren’t so full of fear.

When things people say scare children, we need to pay attention.

When you vote on Tuesday, do what you can to lift the burden of fear from this child’s shoulders. If you saw it today like I did, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t think twice about voting for anyone who could engender it.

Teaching Kindergarteners to Read

Photo by Renee Jones-Schneider, Star Tribune
Photo by Renee Jones-Schneider, Star Tribune

There was an article in yesterday’s Star Tribune about how kindergarten is becoming the new first grade. It’s an informative article, corroborating my experience as a volunteer in a Minneapolis public school kindergarten. Today, in the letters page, there are the perhaps inevitable opinions about how it’s too bad kindergarten children are being made to, well, learn to read, and another by a woman who clearly knows how to do it all better.

My goodness, as if Minneapolis public school teachers didn’t have enough criticism to contend with.

Experience tells me there is some apparently built-in reading readiness that varies from child to child. Anyone who has spent any time in the company of children knows this. I, too, read the article with some apprehension until I got to this line:

Minnesota’s climb to a more rigorous kindergarten can be traced partly to statewide goals urging that all third-graders should read at grade level.  

So that’s the goal, which in fact was the same goal, based on the same developmental assumptions, floating around 25 years ago when my kids were in grade school. Not all children will be reading by the end of kindergarten. It’s possible that not all children COULD read by the end of kindergarten.That’s not the goal. The goal is grade-level reading by third grade. How could anyone object to this?

What is it that people imagine? Five-year-old little Jenny being shunned by the teacher because she can’t recognize a word? Good Lord, when was the last time you were in a kindergarten classroom? I’ll tell you what, I was in one just yesterday and yes, the children were engaged in an activity in which they were learning words “to recognize by sight,” is what their amazing, experienced, unflappable teacher told them. Every child sat down with his or her oversized pencil (easier to grip) and, in a brand new notebook dedicated to the exciting prospect of learning to read, wrote the words the teacher wrote on the board. The words were “I,” “see,” and “a.”

I helped one child by writing the words first in a yellow highlighter (teacher’s fantastic idea) over which he drew the letters with his pencil. The little girl across from us managed on her own, as did most of the other children. Because the teacher in this classroom is excellent, everyone had the opportunity to shine. If you had trouble with the letters, you got a chance to draw a picture of a dog (which is the word the teacher chose to end the sentence). The little girl across from me drew a really spectacular dog.

Here’s how my kids learned to read, in a household full of books and people who love books: slowly. Gradually. In their own time. They were not subject to ridicule for differences in the way they learned to read. They were not rewarded or punished for a skill that takes a long time to master.

Why is it the automatic assumption that it would happen any other way in a kindergarten classroom?

Listen, teachers have a big job. If you doubt that, I suggest you get yourself into a public school to volunteer. Then you’ll see, as I have, that a goal of reading by third grade MUST be addressed in kindergarten, especially for children in what is called “low print” households. And please: Trust that the amazing teachers we have in our schools want only to bring the pleasure and magic of reading to every single child in their care.