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Armless, Legless, with a Crayon in My Mouth

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Do you remember the post I wrote last spring about our Teacher as Writer presentation being accepted at NCTE? Well, it was accepted and we did finally present. I worked with two other women: Pati Cunningham, a national education consultant from VA and Sarah Jerasa, a teacher at the Project School in Indiana. We presented our individual teacher as writer projects to an audience of mostly classroom teachers and some university folks at NCTE in Orlando.

Meeting the needs of all participants

I typically struggle with conference presentations—is the presentation going to meet the needs of the audience? In fact, what are the needs of the participants? Who are the participants? What roles do they play in our field? Was I clear enough in my description so that attendees know what to expect?

Writing can save you

As it turned out, I had no reason to worry. We had a great audience for our session. All were eager and interested to discuss making writing more a part of both their professional and personal practice.  In our presentations, we tried to connect them with the theme that writing has the potential to save you—be it writing about your teaching or writing about your personal life. Essentially, taking a moment to write about your struggles helps to discover your truths.

We started the workshop with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “When I write I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in my mouth.” We showed the participants only part of the quote and we asked them to fill in the blanks: When I write, I feel like a__________ with a_____________. The responses were raw and inspiring. One woman wrote, “When I write, I feel like a paratrooper with no parachute.”

We ended with the ninety-minute session with a truly inspirational gift from Pati—a poem that she wrote about uncovering a sweet secret.

Last Night

Through sleep, I felt you

leave our bed- heard your bare feet

secret in the hallway,

waking me with their mischief.


I crept after you                                                                                                      

down the hallway

towards the kitchen’s eerie glow

and found you bathed there

in refrigerator light, spoon

In one hand, quart of Chunky Monkey

In the other and knew then

That this was not the first late night visit

 for the small curve of your belly smiled at me.


I watched for a moment as you lifted

the creamy shovelful delicately

to your mouth and then,

without speaking

I slid down the dark hall

Back to our bed where


The burning begins

Not from a

Heat like your hand

Or the breaking of your promise

But the way a secret, hot as tears

Surrenders itself willingly

When a truth is discovered.


So how would you complete this sentence?

When I write, I feel like a__________ with a_____________.

Isabel McLean is a Senior Staff Developer at Developmental Studies Center

“Last Night” poem © Pati Cunningham. Used with permission from the author.

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Comments (2)

I love Pati's poem - has the

I love Pati's poem - has the sterling ring of truth! Thank you.

Check out the conversation on

Check out the conversation on our Facebook page about this blog too! There are some great comments completing the quote from Kurt Vonnegut.

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