she changes right before my eyes

New adventures in writing — which, frankly, the kids both treated rather superfluously, preferring to just watch me bite the pillow and moan — centered on me getting my second tattoo, a much larger, much more detailed one than my first.

Béla photographed my tattoo about ten minutes before it was finished; but I needed the break then. I had not been looking at the progress because I was really fighting with myself NOT to tell Jas that I needed to give up and reschedule another session. Most pain I’ve ever been in in my life. When I asked Béla to take this picture, I was surprised to see the ink pooled up.


We started using our new writing curriculum, concentrating on the Personal Narrative, and rewriting not just for errors but for content, in writing about the Leon tattoo. I have become so aware that the kids understand the joys of reading but do not connect them to the joys of writing and I like this new curriculum a lot, but they were flummoxed. What do you mean, pre-writing? How could we possibly be able to plan for writing? Well, Ben and I kept telling them, you’re sitting in a really large tattoo studio — have a look around? Any questions in your mind? Any feelings?

Probably, but none they were able to articulate. After the first drafts, we worked on a rewrite prompt sheet that asked if we thought the titles and first sentences to their pieces were interesting enough to make people keep reading. Again, they looked at me like I had just invented a thousand new problems for the world. They were supposed to make somebody want to read their writing? Wasn’t my job to read their writing?

I was pleased when Claudia came up with a piece of lyrics from her favorite Leon Russell song to use as her title. I wanted her to go a step further — it only made sense to me — the rest of the line is “into something ugly and sore”. She refused.


Also, writing a single finished draft that was made of two separate rough drafts, written over two separate occasions, was a brand new experience for them — but, again, a good one. I’m not sure why we get the Dragnet-style details on the exact times of my tattooing, but I expect it was an interpretation of some of the pre-writing prompts about the when and where of their piece, taken literally.



Considering that both of them knew that the tattoo was important to me to get after the death of Leon Russell, one of the strongest and most loved voices of my childhood, and someone we all enjoy, went unmentioned. The fact that friends from Arizona had come to Parade of Spirits this past December to make and walk in a large puppet head designed to look like Leon Russell portraying the Frost King, did not occur to either of them. That they knew that my father’s death in September had been convoluted as far as feelings went, but Leon’s death had allowed me to actually yell out “OH NO LEON RUSSELL IS DEAD!” and cry about it — lifting me out of the depression and confusion over my father’s death — is obviously too much to expect to see now, but we are now writing in such a way that I think they WILL be able to make those connections, and not write the way they were taught to “write” in school. At home, Béla catalogued all the different types of needles he saw Jas using and what they did, but this only started to appear in the writing.

This is something I want them to learn with all my heart — I want to hear their voices in their writing and I know what it can mean for their lives. I want to be the person who teaches them that, at least to start. (I think they should learn it from many, but I doubt any of those many are at their old school.)

I want them to know that I value their voices this much.



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