Any Other Friday

“I’m tired of moments of silence.” Steve Kerr, coach Golden State Warriors

I wish I could “write light” today, and even as I coin that phrase, I realize at least two of its meanings. The first one signals my original thought, to write a “fun” post, and I have one—about my cat and his attraction to the television—all ready to go. The second is an abstraction that escapes me: write something that brings illumination, positivity, a smile.

But I struggle to do either. Last Friday I substitute-taught at the local high school in my rural district. I don’t know what I expected—increased security, a hushed restraint, but no, nothing like that. Because lives go on, for the most part. It’s almost time for graduation here, so the chatter revolves around the senior prank, its whimsy obvious as I stare out the classroom window into the student parking lot. Cars display minds of their own, parked in a jumble, ignoring all those orderly white lines.

The seniors in period three proudly explain about the group chat that “led to this mayhem,” but really, mayhem has been redefined, and random parking hardly qualifies. I do not bring up the events in Uvalde (nor any of the many others), but wonder what our complicit silence says.

It is the last period of the day when a class of sophomores straggles in, many late, most desultory. They get their assignments; they work quietly. I circulate, offering to help, encountering only a series of head shakes. At last one young man waves me over. “Ms. Emerson,” he whispers, “there’s a lockdown at Salem high school. What do you think?”

What do I think? I tell him not to spread this news. Let’s wait and see. Salem is a safe distance from here. But he is no longer with us, his eyes phone-lit and far away.

Into the Bound Blue Yonder

If I tell you that, after today, I will not write about Wordle again, I might be lying. Granted, I don’t know that I’m lying…yet.

In that spirit, I’m jumping to lines from William Wordworth’s sonnet, that affirms what I’ve found to be true for many of my students “with their pensive citadels…who have felt the weight of too much liberty” when it comes to poetry writing.

Nuns fret not at their Convent’s narrow room;
And Hermits are contented with their Cells;
And Students with their pensive Citadels;

Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Now some soar, unfettered, into the wanton freedom of an invitation, but for others, the confines are what make them shine:”…’twas pastime to be bound/Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.”

Wordle is a bounded experience; its appearance affirms it. As I’ve explained before, I have become addicted and even use the five-letter dictate as a means of finding sleep when it escapes me.

As I was substitute teaching the other day, wandering up and down the rows (yes, still rows) as eighth graders completed an assignment on their devices, I discovered three of my charges working on Wordle.

I ambled to the front of the room and asked, “How many of you play Wordle?” Hands popped up everywhere. The few who didn’t listened as classmates explained their fascination.

Now, I do what is asked of me as a sub, but this was an advanced Language Arts bunch. Their assignment would get done, so I posed that we create Wordle poems, an experiment with constrained freedom.

  • only five-letter words
  • play with punctuation
  • no more than five words per line
  • Title may break the five-letter word rule
  • says something 😉

We discussed and brainstormed, putting up five-letter words, dividing them into groups, nouns, verbs, adjectives… Then they went to work. And considering how little enthusiasm they often display, the level of engagement was a win!



world bound round.

Dream , reach


It may not be Ada Limon ,”…the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf/unfurling like a fist to an open palm,” but “I’ll take it all.” (from “Instructions on Not Giving Up”)

Lucky Guess

Wordle, just like the game craze Words with Friends, had passed me by. I am surrounded by game-players, those who love Bananagrams and Scrabble, and cards, who generally love to play. However, I am not that girl.

I am a sore loser, aware of it, embarrassed by it, but boggled by changing it. I know I don’t have a monopoly on poor sportsmanship; my husband is quick to tell anyone who suggests a game, that playing with me is a risk. He swears that we almost divorced over a game of Probe.

But I gave Wordle a try, a toe-in-the-water, perhaps because no one had to know. I could let the tiles fall where they may, and only I would be the wiser. And I liked it! No purist, I used a pad and pencil and pondered. When I admitted that I had started playing, I owned up to my tactics. My son shared that the guy who invented the game, Josh Wardle, recommends my old-fashioned strategy, so…

I have embraced it so wholeheartedly now, after 14 days, that it is what I use to lull myself to sleep when I’ve awakened in the middle of the night. Conjuring five-letter words that might be the perfect start to next day’s Wordle is better than counting sheep!

On Sunday morning, day 12, I awakened ready to go. I warmed up to the Wordle with my routine: read emails, write in my notebook, read some articles, listen to Poetry Unbound and The Slowdown. Then it was time. I opened it up, that field of possibility, a bingo-board grid above a keyboard, empty and waiting.

During the night, I had chosen “PROUD” as my starter. As any Wordle pro will tell you, it’s not a great choice: no N,S,T,L,or E, but an “R” and two vowels, and hey, what do I have to lose, really? I typed it in, and before I hit “enter,” I stopped. What made me do it, I can’t tell you. I undid my choice, tile-by-tile, and typed, “M-E-T-A-L.” I don’t know where the word came from. I know it hadn’t been one of my put-me-to-sleep words.

I looked at it, “metal,” with its e and a and t and l, m the only semi-outlier, and I pressed enter—little skill involved. Square-by-square, it came up green. I had gotten the Wordle in one! A rippling “genius” banner flashed across the screen. I felt like I had when I hit my first—and only ever—hole-in-one on the eighth hole during a golf match. I had just hit my Wordle hole-in-one.

The next day, it took me all six tries, and the banner’s “Phew!” said it all.

The Morning After

Writing Our World

“We’ve decided to move the Oregon Writing Festival online in May, ” the program chair announces, and while no one is surprised—it’s November 2021, and Covid continues to ebb and flow—many will be disappointed. Today’s Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) board meeting, too, is on Zoom. This is our reality.

It means that an author once committed to work with the student writers in the high school group will renege, “Zoom-fatigue.” It means volunteers, organizers, teachers, student writers will be attending online sessions. It means a seriously reduced attendance. Zoom-fatigue thrives.

But when I am asked to host the middle school session with Oregon author Rosanne Parry, I eagerly accept. My responsibilities are small: introduce her and monitor the chat, posing questions that the students ask—and I am a fan of Rosanne’s writing. Do you know her books? Since reading Heart of a Shepherd, the first of her many novels, my sincere enthusiasm and respect has only grown. (I honestly don’t know which is my favorite.)

Last Saturday was the day, and a robust 80+ middle school writers showed up, their cameras dark, their microphones muted. I briefly introduced Rosanne and she began. And her subject matter was not what I’d anticipated. She acknowledged that up front with the students, owning that she would be talking about making a living as a writer, the nitty-gritty, how-writers-manage-financial-stability of it.

In the course of her talk she discussed the realities—irregular income, royalties, isolation, rejection, secondary income sources drying up because of unforeseen events (pandemic, school visits etc). Then she said, “It has never been the most talented beginner who succeeds in the end. If you sustain that [writing] practice purposefully, if you don’t give up…the question is: Do you love it enough to do it all the time?” and she concluded, “A life in the arts is not easy, but it’s worth the risk.”

The students were wowed because she spoke to them about the relevant and real world of writing. She respected them, took them seriously. During the Q & A, the questions leaned more toward the ones you might expect—writer’s block, sustaining attention, idea-generation. Then came the final question: “How do I write about a topic that is triggering for me, when there is something I need to write, but I’m not sure I can?”

With the same honesty she said, “I find that that is when other writers you trust can be helpful.” She admitted that not all writing is ready to be shared, even if it is meant to be written, that there are topics that are “too close to the bone” and each writer must protect themself, that stepping away from the writing is always good advice. Time, she suggested, give it time.

Hopefully in May 2023, Portland State University’s campus will be bustling with student writers. They will arrive eager to meet with fellow artists and find their people, a supportive community. But for all who attended this year, the Oregon Writing Festival’s virtual equivalent did the same.

(Thanks to all authors, organizers, teachers, volunteers, and students who helped make this event a success!)

Seeing and Believing

Songs in the Key of Life (thanks, Stevie Wonder)

A writing assignment I love, and reprise in various iterations every chance I get to work with fellow writers, is a variation of an idea from the amazing Jim Burke and his brilliant The English Teacher’s Companion. My copy is the early edition and in it, scattered among the gems, is a way of generating a personal essay from an adjective. The example I use most successfully when I write with my people is: “I am lucky.”

My first anecdotal support is always, “I am lucky in love,” and I begin telling the story of meeting, then re-meeting, my husband. I married him after spending maybe 14 days together, hours of expensive phone calls notwithstanding (remember those days when phone time had a real cost attached?). The day I called my parents to tell them we were heading out to a notary public’s office to make it official, I prefaced the announcement by asking my mom, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

I could almost hear her worry in that, “Oh, Patricia,” but I hurriedly reassured her and off we went. After the brief ceremony, we headed out for a long weekend on Captiva Island, but beforehand we stopped to stock up on some snacks. I was reaching for the passenger side door handle, my new husband almost to the driver’s side when the reality of what we’d done struck. I froze, our eyes met, and he saw that …what? panic, perhaps?

We were 33, two never-been-marrieds, failed-at-relationships, maybe-it’s not-in-the-cards-for-me-and-I’m-okay-with-that types, yet here we were on this boldly bright Miami street—married.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, puzzled, worried, uncertain.

“It’s forever, for the rest of our lives. It’s …”

“But,”and he paused, then spoke, “It happens one day at a time. We can do this.”

And despite the number of times we have had to reassure ourselves, to remind ourselves of the gift of another day and our ability to handle what life brings, we have done this.

Happy Anniversary, Eric, 37 years so far, with a song for every moment. I remain lucky.

San José del Cabo, January 2022