Peanut Butter, Cheeze-Its, and the Writing Life

Last week I had a picnic with four girls from Fox. Lauren won the picnic in the Teacher Lotto and graciously invited three girls from Room 204 to join us. On a beautiful day, over peanut butter sandwiches and Cheeze-Its (not my usual fare), one of my girls regaled us with stories about her four-year-old brother. We all laughed, and as far-fetched as some of the stories sounded, I knew they were true. When I was a third grader,  I was a big sister and I had a four year old brother, too.   Our storyteller is a good writer and has written about her brother before, but it was a treat to hear her tell the stories and to hear her laughter tumble over her words. Brothers can do that to you. They can make you laugh in spite of yourself.

My brother could make me laugh even when his jokes and pranks were at my expense, and they often were. My brother was so good at this that, even though he has been gone for a few years now,  he can still make me laugh.  I turn a corner and his turn of phrase pops out at me. Even now his sardonic humor can beam light on the truth. My brother was a writer and taught writing at a university. I was stunned when he left the university for a job at a large national accounting firm. “But you are a writer!”

He responded, “Writers can’t just write about life… they have to live it, too.” For him, the exit door at the university was was marked “entrance” to  life, new experience, and new material. An ending was a beginning. He was able to cram one more wonderful lifetime into an abbreviated life. He was my most important writing teacher. His lesson about living life as opposed to just writing about it was his most important writing lesson.

The first writing lesson of Room 204 is, “Look at the world with the eyes of writers.”  It is also the final lesson.

Parents often ask me what they can to make sure their children continue writing over the summer.  Some children will be motivated to keep journals over the summer.  If they are not,  don’t worry about it.  Children spend summers living the most important writing lesson of all: “Writers can’t just write about life, they have to live it, too.”  The authors they read or have read to them will be their writing teachers.  Summer is the time to learn this: the life we live is the story we have to tell. Live it and love it.  Together.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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7 Responses to Peanut Butter, Cheeze-Its, and the Writing Life

  1. Sparkelein says:

    Lovely story, Annie. It makes me thnk of John, too. He really did “pack a lot into it,” as our favorite “sayings” maker might have said. Thanks for the memories, both old and new.

  2. debele says:

    You had me with “(not my usual fare),” because I know you really preferred Cheetos, peanut M&Ms and a Coke on a long car ride with your beautiful brother. Not a day goes by without a memory that brings a smile and, often, an out-loud laugh that can build to a guffaw (sometimes at the most inappropriate times … hi, John). We should all leave such a legacy, and that student is very lucky indeed to have a such brother.

  3. Stacey says:

    Great advice in that final paragraph. May I link to it/quote you on TWT? Shoot me an email and let me know, okay?

  4. girlgriot says:

    Wow. This is an amazing piece. Beautiful and perfect on many levels. I loved the opening story about the picnic with the students, and then you took us in a different direction … and I loved that even more … and you kept us focused on writing the whole time.

    A teacher I had years ago said that one of the keys to being a good writer was being a good juggler: keeping all the balls in the air. This is only the first piece of yours that I’ve read, but I’d say you have definitely mastered the art of juggling!

  5. Pingback: What Should A Child Write About Over the Summer? « TWO WRITING TEACHERS

  6. Brittany Anderson says:

    So true… “Writers can’t just write about life, they have to live it, too.” The authors they read or have read to them will be their writing teachers. I agree with that and never really thought about the summer in that way.

  7. Gloria Maldonado says:

    I love this line “the life we live is the story we have to tell”. Everyone has a different story to tell depending on how they have lived their lives. My young brother is also a good writer. He loves to write poems about life. He makes me laugh but also cry sometimes.

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