Friday, April 30, 2010

Solomon's Puzzle and Teaching

Part 1

Around the time in my life that my children left home-schooling for “formal” school, my husband had work in London and invited me to go with him. We left our children in the very capable hands of my mother-in-law and went away together. While he worked, I wandered around London. This wandering somehow fed my soul. I stood in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey and prayed with great longing for some grace to write; the desire inside had become so strong. One of these wandering, blissful days, I bought tickets to the musical Les Misérables and we saw it that night. Something inside of me opened up as I watched the magnificent play. The theatre’s stage rotated and because we were sitting way up high in the balcony, we could see the many levels of the barricade the student rebels had built. It occurred to me, then, that the things in literature meant more than the description of their looks or dimensions. I felt as if I could see another dimension in life and thought. It’s hard to explain but I think it might have been an epiphany.

Longing to understand more about literature and language. I returned to school to complete what the college degree I’d begun at St. John’s College eighteen years before. Well, I hadn’t valued my years at St. Johns until then. All the misery of learning math and science until my head spun, all the credits I struggled to earn there, counted as my basic education classes and I was able to immerse myself in the study of English and composition and literature and the history that put it in context.

I grew in skill and confidence in my writing that year and continued on to study for a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education. Education classes and teaching, surprisingly taught me lots about writing. Education writing is the antithesis of composing fiction. Whereas fiction demands the dramatization of ideas, the creation of meaning through symbol and inference, education writing introduces an obvious subject, then tells you what you already know, tells you again, once again, once more again by way of studies no one can follow and then concludes. This takes many pages.

Teaching taught me a million beautiful reasons why everyone should love teenagers. I treasured their generous spirits, their hope to understand life and love and faith, their marvelous sense of humor, their conviciting sense of justice. I hated and still despise the way teenagers are portrayed in modern literature and media. And planning lessons for them helped me understand how to write. When I was starting, my friend Jo-Ann said, “You have to make learning happen.” She added, “Set the classroom, the lesson, the work, the review, the assessments up to make learning happen.”

This clicked in my mind as this is exactly what is done in good fiction. Hawthorne doesn’t lecture about how pitiless the Puritans were, he demonstrates it in Hester’s punishment. Nor does he preach about how one is to be saved in such a society, or how one ought to behave, instead, he shows his complex and touching idea by contrasting Hester’s struggle to make peace with her community with Dimmesdale’s deadly self-reliance.

In the spring of 1998, I began to write the draft of Solomon’s Puzzle that is finished, being edited and formatted now. Where to start and how to organize the narrative came to me one morning in my AP English Literature and Composition class when I was writing a Liz Jamison’s comment about a homework assignment on the board. It came to me and I turned around and saw that bright, little class there and knew I had to begin again.

I continued to teach and all those beautifully written books, all the compelling, mysterious poetry and the hours spent thinking and writing about words others had labored over, the hours spent talking about it with my thoughtful and lively students—all of this taught me.

The years of teaching students, their earnest quest to be heard and to learn all inspired me. I wanted to portray them and the community of parents who loved them dearly and sought to raise them well. I wished to document the community of just citizens I knew and loved in Annapolis
once students, friends of students, married to students, now my friends and family

Someone I was thinking of hiring to help me market the book asked me if I was passionate about it. My response? I don’t have a firey personality, but I’ve been working for more than ten years late at night, before six in the morning, on weekends, in lieu of TV watching, always on snow days, in faculty meetings, all during summer vacation. If that’ s not passion, what is?


  1. I am so excited for you at reaching this milestone! I hope you know how much you have meant to me, how I cherish the time I spent in your classroom and having tea in your living room. God used you to shape me into the woman I am today and I am so grateful for you!

  2. You certainly are pationate. I am so happy you are working so hard and have a clear sight of the end! I am excited for everyone to be able to share the beauty of your work.

  3. I look forward to reading your novel -- you have written about the truest thing you know, with passion. I am so PROUD of you :) <3!