Sunday, August 26, 2012

Of Poetry and iPads

"Annie, come out on the porch and see the storm," my dad would say when I was a little girl.

Our few years spent in Virginia Beach brought us some wonderful, powerful, rip-roaring, Tidewater storms. I loved to stand at night with my dad on our front porch, and feel the wind whip my nightgown, and watch the light and the sound. But I don't remember feeling worried. My dad was a Naval officer and never reckless, a man who had seen and weathered such storms and worse at sea.

Ever the mathematician, he would count the beats between the thunder and the flash of lightening, and talk about how far away the storm was, and we'd smell the crackling summer night and watch the wind in the pines. When the beats between the thunder-and-lightening dance would become too few, we'd head inside.

I live in Texas now. It is 30 years later, but I still love a good storm. Sometimes during tornado warnings we cannot watch the storm, and we head to a safe room with the kids, where we play Uno by flashlight. But I still stand on the back porch and watch a good rip-roaring thunderstorm when I can.

"David, come out on the porch and watch the storm with me." It's a weeknight out on the back porch, here on our little rise in our suburb in Texas.

It is a warm night and the air is still and heavy. He joins me at our old patio table. It's that perfect, last moment of the day, right before turning in and right after the kitchen is tidy. Our three kids are already in bed and the dog is stretched out at my feet, a leisurely white spot on the dark nighttime grass. The storm is flashing off on the horizon, still too far off to hear.

The air is heavy with waiting and it is crackling with heat (91 degrees in May). The air smells like it always does before a good storm -- a sharp and soft smell at once. After a bit, I go inside and get my son who is in bed reading. "Will, come out on the porch and see the storm."

Outside, David is next to me, with his iPad perched in his lap, drinking a diet coke and watching the Doppler track of the storm. He is marking it's exact location and path. I glance dismissively at the invading technology. Will is sitting near us, mid-chapter, thumb marking Chapter 6. All is quiet on the back porch with these fine men. We watch the flashing horizon.

"Is that west?" Will asks, pointing at the storm and breaking the quiet.

"Yes, Will." I am entranced. "It is a brilliant storm showing God's mighty power, way off in the west, and moving our way. We'll have a big storm here soon! Look at that, isn't it pretty?"

"Actually," David pauses, then says, not unkindly, "that's north. And I think it will pass by us."

He holds up the green and red glowing Doppler picture on his glossy black tablet to show us. He is right, and no counting is necessary to see its path. It is a big storm, but is north of us, and the gradually pixelated motion on the screen shows we are in a channel of land where no storm will pass.

"Oh," says Will. "That's really cool!"

Will heads back in after a while. One day, will he call his daughter out to watch the storm from the porch? Will they write a poem, or count the beats, or look at a Doppler?

I hope they do all three.

It's a still night. It's that perfect, last moment of the day, right before turning in and right after the kitchen is tidy.

David and I stay outside for a while, in the quiet together.

He is right about the facts of the storm, and I am right to think it is beautiful. And we were right to get married.

Some Writing Basics for the New School Year

Dear Will, 

Here are just a few writing basics to remember for all your subjects. Remember, keep your writing simple and clear, and it will be effective.

Read the question or assignment carefully
Example: “What made Gandalf a good leader?”

Write a clear, simple, complete topic sentence that truly answers the question.
GOOD: “Gandalf was a good leader, because he put the members of the fellowship before himself.”
BAD: “Because he was an interesting guy with a grey cloak and a long white beard.” 

Avoid using many pronouns 
GOOD: “Gandalf would not bend to Saruman’s demand to join him in his dark plot to rule Middle Earth.”
BAD: “He wouldn’t do that bad stuff he wanted him to do with him to them.”

Use clear, supporting details from the book that prove that you both read the book (or assignment) and thought about the book (or assignment)
GOOD: “Gandalf risked his life in the battle with the Balrog to save the fellowship.”
BAD: “He was brave, and he tried hard."

Use capital letters and end marks
GOOD: “If Gandalf had not led the battle against Sauron’s forces, Middle Earth would have fallen. What a help he was to the forces of good!”
BAD: “if gandalf hadn’t helped like that who knows what would have happened it probably would have fallen”