Becca Wilhite Blog

March 24, 2015

Writing Stories

Filed under: emotion,metaphors,rambles — becca @ 5:34 am

It’s not just something writer-people do, you know. Everyone does it. When the car goes screaming past, we automatically give the driver a story. I learned a long time ago that the story I give the driver has more effect on the rest of my drive, and maybe my whole day, than I would have expected.

“That maniac. She’s probably hurrying home to hide the evidence of all her vile behaviors before her landlord comes for an inspection.”

“That idiot. If he’d plan his day and leave his house on time, he wouldn’t have to endanger everyone on the road. I’ll bet he’s got his music turned up so loud he can’t even hear sirens when he gets pulled over. There’s probably a shrine to that guy in the police office – Most Valuable Driver.”

These stories give me a tiny moment of satisfaction, and then an afternoon full of righteous indignation. But they’re not the only stories.

“His wife is in labor. They’ve waited so long for this baby, and she’s laughing and crying at the same time in the front seat – all the pain and anticipation blending together into a kind of baby mania, and he doesn’t know how to help her, so he’s hurrying her into the care of someone who does.”

“She’s running to her nephew’s birthday party, and the box turtle she bought him is scrambling up the sides of the crate it’s in. She’s terrified that it might get loose in the car, because there’s nothing she fears more than reptiles (are turtles reptiles?) but no one she loves more than her nephew.”

These stories make me infinitely more glad to be a part of humanity.

When I get a glare from a student or a colleague, I can assume “You hate me,” or I can develop a little backstory that is probably totally inaccurate, but makes me sympathetic to the plights of humanity.

“The babysitter she feared wore a T-shirt that said “The Grapes of Wrath” on it; it’s not me she hates, and it’s not Steinbeck. She’s dealing with long-repressed memories of being forced to eat cold canned peas.”

“He only appears to despise me. In fact, he just found out he’s been assigned to teach driver’s ed this summer, so all his longed-for early morning tee times are wafting away like a puff of smoke.”

Is it likely? Well, no. But it’s not impossible. There’s a chance that it’s not, in fact, about me at all. And there’s a more sympathetic story I can devise. The generous stories don’t change the reality of the manic driving or the glares, but they change the way I feel about it. They change the reaction from a reflex to a choice.

I prefer choice.

March 19, 2015

In Just-

Filed under: Uncategorized — becca @ 2:14 pm

It’s feeling Just Spring to me today. So I revel in e.e. cummings’ poetry and all the weirdness thereof. I don’t think I can convince the high schoolers in general that cummings is the way to go, but there are a couple, a weird, bizarre, artistic couple, who seem to get it. The magic of Just Spring, the playing with spacing and tabs and returns and spelling and all of it. The increasing creepiness of the balloonman. Mud-lusciousness. The word “piracies,” for the love of English.

It all makes me a little giddy today, as I peek into the beginning of what might be a perfect spring.

March 12, 2015

The Turtle Part

Filed under: books,school,Uncategorized — becca @ 1:59 pm

My 11th grade students are reading THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Okay, that’s a lie. They’re studying it, though. Because I have this goal – I want them to finish high school LIKING Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck. And so, instead of requiring them to read a book that they won’t likely finish and can’t hurry through and still understand, I chose to go about teaching this book a little differently.

I showed them the movie.

(That was different.)

And now we’re studying some chapters. Today we read the Turtle chapter (it’s chapter 3, if you’re playing along at home). In this chapter, we see a turtle struggle across some landscape and cross a highway. A car swerves to miss it. Then a truck swerves to hit it. It survives, and life goes on*. It’s three pages. Not painful. But so many good things are in there, and I want these kids to know it. So we talked about it. We talked about how it’s all a big metaphor and junk. About how it’s not about turtles at all, and about humanity and evil and kindness and victimization and everything important. And then I made them write about it. I made them write for just 10 minutes – when have you metaphorically swerved to hit? When have you swerved to miss? When have you been the turtle?

Oh, they’re clever kids around here. They wrote amazing, open-heart things about being a Hitter (and almost universally regretting it, minus the kid who confessed that he crumbled [and then stirred] saltine crackers into his little sister’s giant birthday jar of Nutella; he doesn’t regret his choice – Yet). They wrote tender, humble things about being a Misser and how they wish they could more often be a Stopper who gets out of the metaphorical car and makes sure the turtle is okay. And they wrote self-aware things about being the Turtle. About how those people speeding past don’t know anything of their struggles to get to the road, let alone across it. About how sometimes life is hard. About how sometimes people are awesome.

Listen: “Maybe to get to the stage of being the woman who swerves to miss the turtle, you have to have been the turtle before.”

“I see those turtles in the road and I have sympathy for them. I want to make up for my crappy former self that was the one trying to hit all those turtles.”

Maybe none of these kids will ever try to read GRAPES OF WRATH. Maybe none of them will ever like Steinbeck (but not because I wasn’t trying). But for at least ten minutes today, they thought about their actions, and how those actions look to others, and how they will affect the world. That’s why reading.


* We talked about the weed-seed part, too – and about how Life Goes On, sometimes in spite of our trials, and sometimes because of them.

I love Steinbeck. Have I mentioned that lately?

March 11, 2015

Open Letter to the High School Kid who Played Ball with my Boy

Filed under: character,gratitude,kids — becca @ 10:18 am

Thank you. I’m not talking to the You who was my student, or the You who is a poet. Right now I’m talking to the You my boy watches at the varsity basketball games. The You who makes effortless three-pointers. The You who smiles and congratulates other players who play well – on your team or the other. The You who calls little kids by their names, like they were your friends.

Last night you played basketball with my eleven-year-old son. You spent time with him, there at the Rec Center. You shot free throws with him. You dribbled with him. You complimented his efforts. And then you played one-on-one. You stood feet taller than him, but you didn’t laugh when he reached to block your shots – when his upraised hand didn’t even reach the top of your head. You held your arms out to “block” him, but you never got in the way of his shot. You celebrated his baskets. You kept score out loud – the score that stayed pretty close despite your vast skill difference. He won. He got to 30 before you. Do you have any idea what that meant to him? To me?

When we left and I asked him if he had fun, he grinned at me. Obviously. I asked him how much you spotted him. He didn’t know what I meant. “How many points did you start with?” I clarified.

“Oh, no, Mom. I didn’t get any free points, but I think he went easy on me.” (No kidding.)

You gave him your time. He felt important. And cool. And so, so grateful.

And I feel grateful. I thanked you when we left, but what I wanted to say is, “Way to go. Way to be a genuinely decent guy. Way to make someone’s day. Way to give a little of yourself to increase the gladness in someone else’s world.” So I’m saying it now. Thank you.

That hour you spent with my kid may not be anything you’ll ever remember, and it may not be an hour you’ll miss. But it will be a forever memory for him. And hopefully, when he’s a graduating senior and he meets a fifth grade kid who thinks he’s cool, he’ll remember what you did for him last night and pass it on. He’ll take a little of what he learned from you to increase the gladness in someone else’s world. He’ll pay it forward and he’ll think of you.

March 2, 2015


Filed under: anxiety,dumb things I do — becca @ 3:10 pm

Can a person make a habit of good intentions? Because on the surface that sounds like Not a Bad Idea. It seems like good intentions would lead to great actions and amazing results. Except, it doesn’t, always.

I generally act on my good intentions (in all my life’s aspects), except for when I don’t. And the don’t times feel bad, and I have regret and stuff. I tell you this so you understand that I’m actually a pretty nice person.

Sometimes, even with the best actions following the most excellent intentions, I get poopy results. I offend. I overstep. I underdeliver. I mess up, is what I’m telling you. And I worry that my habit of good intentions is causing me to be the person who offends and oversteps and underdelivers and messes up and I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the excellent one. And sometimes I’m really, really not.

But I guess I have to take what happens as it happens, because I don’t think it would be a good idea to stop intending goodness, or to stop acting on those intentions. I can’t control the results very often, so I guess I have to Let It Go and junk. And hope that the people whom I offend can get past the offense and decide to discover my intentions. I promise, they’re pretty good.

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