Category Archives: teaching


Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises


Good morning, Mom,

Remember when we used to argue about candidates and issues around the dinner table…even before I was old enough to vote?  Sometimes I think Dad and I just had fun arguing.  You would mostly listen, smile, shake your head, and ask who wanted more vegetables.

I read something today that would make you really shake your head.  Tomorrow 44 people will be on the New Hampshire ballot, including one candidate called Ver Supreme.  He is campaigning to give free ponies to all Americans (as a kid I would have LOVED that–too bad kids can’t vote!)  His other issues include mandatory tooth brushing (for people, I think, or maybe it could be ponies…), and zombie preparedness.

Hmmm, what do you think of that, Mom?

When I was going through boxes of pictures, I found one of you as a kindergarten teacher in Kansas City before David and I were born.  I remember the stories you used to tell, especially about one little boy who was intent on learning to tie his shoes.  He worked and worked, but his success came at an awkward time.  One afternoon as the children sat in their little chairs while you read them a story, the school fire alarm went off.  Immediately your young students lined up to march out the door, the way they’d practiced. All except one.  The little guy who’d tied his shoe–in a knot–around the leg of his chair, couldn’t stand up.  Since you couldn’t untie the knot, you carried the chair, with the boy in it, out the door and down the stairs.

When you told me that story, I asked if after that you made a rule that students couldn’t tie their shoes to chairs.  You smiled and said you didn’t make a lot of rules, but tried to guide your students by showing them the right way to live and treat others.  The main rule you lived by was The Golden Rule.

You guided us the same way, Mom.

I never got the pony I wanted while I was growing up, but I had everything I really needed.

Thank you.

Love, Marylin

(teacher Mary Elizabeth Shepherd is third from left in the back row)


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, memories for grandchildren, teaching