The September SVWP teacher conference

I never expected to be yelled at today.  Nor did I expect to be yelled at two different times for two different reasons.

This morning I went to the writing conference at Shenandoah University.  This conference is when this summer’s teacher consultants for the National Writing Project/Shenandoah Valley Writing project present their professional development to outsiders (as in other teachers around the area).  It is a special day for the consultants.

The first workshop I attended was given by a high school teacher who went through how she uses the I believe project by NPR.  This teaches students how to read and analyze a very short I Believe essay, respond to it, create a question from it, write about that question and try to answer it, and finally create their own I Believe narrative. For today’s workshop, the teacher had a class set of I Believe This books and gave us directions to peruse through and stop at an essay that interests us.  Being that I have a sense of restlessness, I read an essay entitled, “What I learned from my restlessness and jagged edges.”  It was not what I thought.  It was written by a lady who embraces her highs and lows of her bi-polar.  I thought it would be what people learn who feel like they are missing something in their lives and are on a quest.  The essay reminded me of what a nurse once told me about police bringing in a bipolar in a manic phase who was in the process of nailing himself to a church cross.  That nurse also mentioned that with some people with the disease, it is possible to feel god-like while in a high state of the manic phase.  My question was why do those with bi-polar sometimes have a god-complexion when experiencing a manic phase.  I am not capable of answering that question, and I did not know at the time I wrote it that I would have to attempt to answer it.  But I did, and afterward a lady started yelling at me for trivializing the disease, explaining that there is no god-like complexion,  and then assumed that I could not possibly know anyone with bi-polar.  I calmly responded that I did, but that he has since passed away, and that he, like patients of this nurse, had times where he believed he was God.  I understand that everyone is going to have different experiences, and I in no way wrote what I did to attack anyone with the disease.  Also, as I stated earlier, I am not qualified to answer why it happens.

After the lady verbally attacked me, the presenter calmly explained that my essay was a result of the story of the man nailing himself to the cross and my wondering about how he managed to feel he was God.  At the end of that workshop, another lady walked up to me and apologized to me for how I was treated by the other workshop participant.

Below is my question and my response:

What happens to the brain to make the owner believe he or she is God?

This is a difficult question to answer and for some reason it makes me think of the controversy surrounding John Lennon’s quote that the Beatles were bigger than God. What makes someone God-like?  And to refine that even more what makes an individual Godlike for me.  Would it be how that individual sees God?  Is he all-knowing and can that make the person a busy-body?  Is he wise and does that make someone studious? Is he kind and does that make someone want to do good in the world?  Or is he the God of the Old Testament and therefore an ego-centric asshole who (or that) requires pure devotion which can cause war and strife?  Or in the end is God just energy and electrical impulses?  Does someone with bi-polar have awry electrical systems in their brain?  Do the synapses not work well enough and cause depression?  Then to make up for it do those electrical pulses cause a surge of energy that brings the person to a God-like state of Creation and Myth?

I never meant to offend anyone with this essay.  I also did not share with an entire group the rest of the day.

The second time the yelling wasn’t really at me, it was just a teacher in our group of three who during a group question and share moment went off on how our keynote speaker, Jeff Anderson, was teaching to put a comma before the and in a list.  She was angry.  According to her it is passé, goes against creative writing, and should never be done.  Another teacher brought the idea up to the entire crowd and Jeff mentioned how (after visiting several styles that require it – APA, Chicago, MLA – the only style that does not require it is AP.  I could feel the hot steam rising out of her ears when he said that.

Jeff Anderson gave a great and hysterical keynote address.  He mentioned DoLs.  These are the Daily language exercises that I am embarrassed to say I once did.  When I first started teaching, a veteran AP (this time accelerated placement not associated press) teacher gave me a list for the entire year.  It is a sentence with mistakes, you place it on the board, the student is to copy it, and then correct it.  As a teacher, you are to go over it after the students have had time to work on it.  Even after I started working with mentor texts (before I even knew that was the term), I didn’t think to stop the DoL’s.  Finally, at some point I did, but It was because I lost my original sheets, not because I wised up.

The beginning of the school year I went to a professional development given by an unnamed person (he was bad so I won’t name him).  My table just shredded everything he was teaching us because everything encouraged the brain to remember the wrong information and be praised for it.

Anderson mentioned that doing the DoL’s does the same thing – activating the RAS, reticular activation system, to learn and store the wrong information.  That made me glad I lost my DoL sheets a long time ago.  Anderson mentioned using mentor sentences to teach grammar and the art of sentence writing and how that can teach inferring and comprehension and compare contrast and so much more.  Don and Jenny Killgallon believe the same thing, along with Kelly Gallagher.

Before Jeff Anderson’s speech, I went to another teacher consultant’s workshop and the TC gave an excellent assignment for teaching metaphor via a metaphor writing assignment in describing yourself.  He had us go through our own rough drafts.  I am not going to write mine down here.  But, I will share my other writing.  the title is fictional memories and the idea is to take a real memory, write in third person point of view, and fictionalize it.  I chose the time I ended up with nitrogen narcosis while diving the Blue Hole in Belize.  The real story is that it was a guided no-compression dive, I thought everything was cool, too much nitrogen was slipping into my bloodstream, and the dive master had to grab my elbow, and swim with me back to the boat.  There was no more conflict than that, and especially not with my then husband/now ex-husband.  But, if there had been it would make for a better detail in the writing if I had time to continue.

Below is my rough draft of the writing:

Marianne’s hand twitched in the cold water as she played with the smoke that billowed out of the lavender tube like a mini-volcano about to erupt.  She laughed and then choked on the oxygen released by her regulator.  The laughing felt good, a release of built-up tension from the fight she had with her husband the night before.  he was with her now, pulling her away from the billowing smoke, but Marianne didn’t want to leave.  Her hands caught the smoke and released it, caught the smoke and released it, and continued to do so until the colors faded from her vision.  this should have clued her into the dangers ahead, but she found it all so funny.  Marianne, in her attempt to catch more smoke, felt that the heaviness around her was inhibiting her progress.  She opened up her weight belt and threw the one to two-pound sandbags away.  She watched them float and drop away into the sea below.

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