Sent Thursday, March 9, 2017 11:32 a.m.
From: Steve Tuit
To: Abby Zwart 

Hm. Almost a year ago. Glad you applied.


—–Forwarded message—–

Sent Wednesday, March 30, 2016 4:33 p.m.
From: Steve Tuit
To: Abby Zwart
Subject: GRCHS

Hi, Abby.
I wanted to let you know that we’ll be posting an English opening shortly after Spring Break. I hope you’re doing well.



I click the light on at five a.m.—way too early for a Saturday morning. No matter. The shower heats up quickly, and the kettle boils the same as every other day. An hour later I’m aboard a charter bus checking names off of a team list. Broadcasting. Check. Prose. Check. Storytelling. Still waiting on Rachel.

We use a telephone chain for these early morning tournaments to make sure everyone is up and ready to go. 

Only five minutes past scheduled departure time, we’re on our way. Strains of speeches and performances and chatter about the week’s news wind through the seats as students get ready for our third forensics tournament of the year.

“Sorry you’ve gone insane, Zelda…”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the stories for editorial this week…”
“So get ready for an adventure designed by me, your friendly Dungeon Master…”

It occurs to me that exactly a year ago, I was driving to the same place to judge forensics—just not as a coach. March has been full of these flashback moments. An email from a coworker this week. An invitation to an event I first attended years ago. The first of the month is my birthday; it’s always accompanied by reminiscing and sometimes by overwrought soul searching about what I’ve accomplished in the last year. It usually falls around Lent and is just far enough away from January that any attempts at New Year’s resolutions have been fully abandoned. That inspiring but also, in a weird way, damning and judgmental line from Mary Oliver usually crashes into my brain at this time of year, taunting, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Rd 3, Section 2 Rm: 3.128

Six girls file into the room accompanied by parents and friends. Clad in the usual dresses, blazers, and suspenders, they’re less fidgety than they probably were at nine this morning in first round.

The use of cell phones, pages, and according to copyright law, cameras and video recording equipment, is strictly prohibited. Audience members not conducting themselves in an acceptable manner may be asked to leave. Inappropriate behavior could result in sanctions against the competitor and/or the participating school.

I watch differently now than I did last year, always looking for clever hand gestures or effective uses of volume that I can bring back to my own student competitors during practice this week. Last year I was hoping not to mess anything up, to make students feel comfortable and confident, but now the shred of competitiveness I harbor is pleased that I’m watching the poet who won last week because I can see what we’re up against. Last year I was just glad to be out of the middle school classroom that daily left me crying in my car. I spent all my free time that Saturday hovering near my old high school teachers, trying to impress them because I knew they had a job opening and I smelled escape. I won’t claim that it worked, but nevertheless, this year—by some still-surreal sequence of events—I’m eating lunch with those teachers as my coworkers. This is the other other side.

Try to use some more creative blocking, esp. in the ‘tell her that she’s beautiful’ section

Other performers had more emotional impact and physical creativity.

In high school, my birthday fell on a forensics Saturday one year. Facebook’s “On This Day” reminder shows me red-sweater-clad Abby huddled on the floor surrounded by friends. Another Facebook memory of the day features college-aged Abby, looking slightly cold and greasy, huddled on a couch with friends at Calvin’s Writers’ Retreat. The power in our Northern Michigan lodge had gone out during a big snowstorm, and we’d all retreated to the common area to be warmed by the providential woodstove.

Equipment list for the Bill Vande Kopple Memorial Writers’ Retreat
March 3-5, 2017
Portage Lake Covenant Bible Camp | Onekama, MI

Stuff You Really Need

  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Winter jacket
  • Boots, hat, gloves/mittens that can stand being wet
  • A veritable plethora of good (some wool) socks
  • Writing tools and materials

Stuff You Might Want

  • Some kind of snow pants or a pair of bibs
  • Games for later at night. Variety would be good, since some of your leaders have already had unfortunate experiences with euchre and speed scrabble.
  • Guitars, provided, of course, that you know how to play one
  • DVD to enjoy later at night (NOT Napoleon Dynamite—g.s.)
  • Five copies of a piece that you would like to workshop with others

I tag along on the Writers’ Retreat this year as an “alumni facilitator” at the invitation of the faculty and staff who organized. Familiar haiku and Bulwer-Lytton contests are held around a fireplace, and we spend Sunday morning in lectio divina and atop the playground equipment firing snowballs at the opposing army. I remember how quiet English majors can be and marvel that I qualify as “outgoing” among this bunch.

And so here I am, standing still in the eye of a hurricane, the confluence of these memories, documents, and moments of déjà vu swirling every which way. High school me: learning that I could say something people would listen to, that maybe standing in front of a room of students, perhaps as their teacher, wasn’t as scary as it seemed. College me: learning that I could write something people would read, that teaching might be a little more complicated than just standing in front of a room of students. First year teacher me: swamped by ill-behaved middle school students and common core state standards, learning that it’s definitely more complicated than that. And current me: learning that the past does inform the present, that “success is always sweeter to those who ne’er succeed,” that none of this would be possible without that year of car cries.

Oh, how the times have changed. Except, not really.

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