And Mause swam into the sunset.
I had stood waist-deep in the cold water of Lake Superior at my favorite pebble beach at McLains State Park, coaxing the 21-month-old German Shorthaired pup. She had followed me out as far as she could stand, barking at me to throw her a rock.
Our game goes like this: I find a rock beneath the clear water, one that glows like a translucent agate or prehnite. I scoop the rock of interest and a bonus rock — any rock — the size of a chicken’s egg. I throw the egg-rock beyond the pile of beach-worn pebbles to the sand further upslope. Mause chases the thrown rock and digs it into the sand. She pushes it with her paws back to shore or picks it up in her mouth. I look at the rock I wanted to see and keep or toss it.
I had walked backward, continuing to convince Mause to follow. We have spent the summer trying to teach her to swim. She will go into the deeper water and panic-paddle, thrashing. On this particular day, the waves were big and intimidating. They pushed at me, threatening my balance. I waded deeper where they swell with less thrust.
Mause decided to change games. Instead of following me, she chased the big rollers as they crashed at an angel to shore. White breakwater splashed as she followed the crest down the beach, turning around to chase another. Then she braved the swells and paddle-splashed toward me. Todd said to lift her belly when she neared.
Okay. Grabbing a half-panicked dog in cold rising waves is no easy feat. But at last, I timed it right, side-stepped and slipped both forearms beneath her. Todd was right. The lift corrected her thrashing paws. Mause paddled beneath the water, and swam back to shore. She returned and made a beautiful half arc. Todd and I cheered. Our pup finally learned how to swim.
The third time out, her front paws pulling beneath the water with her back legs tucked up like a baby hippo, Mause swam past me. Todd was out even further. She swam past Todd. And that was the moment she swam into the sunset. We called her back. Slowly, she swam in a large arc and glided past us to shore. Relieved, we followed.
Sometimes, life goes so swimmingly well we don’t want to stop.
After a rough start to my third semester instructing college English composition, the week went smoothly. Mostly. I temporarily lost a class. We found each other. A returning student walked into another class, gave me a big hug, and announced to his classmates that I was the best prof on campus. I felt giddy, listening to students interview one another for a writing assignment as they shared stories about their names and why they chose their majors. So much potential and promise. Fresh starts.
Of course, there are the labs to run, data to maintain, lesson plans to create, and the reality of grading papers for sixty students. I walked into my office to discover I forgot I borrowed a plant from another faculty last year. I forgot I was an adopted plant mom over the summer. My officemate forgot, too. But she decorated my W-board with colorful markers and I remembered why I liked officing with her. We are both forgetful plant tenders but we nourish each other’s creativity.
I felt fully supported by my college, my dean, my Learning Center director, and my students when I missed the first day of class. I caused ripples by asking for a different classroom because I have the largest incoming freshman classes in the smallest humanities classrooms. I had to admit to my dean and registrar that I had already moved my class, maverick that I can be. No one was using the larger room, so I made a decision. I didn’t know it takes an act of the registrar gods to reassign a classroom, let alone three times. But my dean stood up for me. And I stood up for my students.
I’m still nervous-excited when I think of each day in the classroom. Honestly, I hope that never goes away. It means that I care enough to want to do my best for sixty young minds. I want to teach what can be the hardest thing to teach — writing. “Writing is thinking,” I tell my students. I can’t teach them to think or find their voices. But I trust the process of writing to be my co-instructor. I trust the 99-word template to give them a pattern, a prompt to spark creativity, a safe space to grow, and weekly writing to practice craft.
We write a lot in ENG I, starting with personal narratives and ending with literary criticism. Our book is Firekeeper’s Daughter and our style guide is good ol’ Strunk & White. In ENG II we slow down the full writing process from brainstorming to organizing thoughts to researching to drafting to revising to editing a single 15-page research paper. We are also listening to The Four Pivots on audiobook in class.
One week down, 15 more to go, including finals week and Thanksgiving break. I hope it all continues to go swimmingly. Like Mause, I’m facing the beauty of the setting sun, trusting newfound buoyancy.
September 5, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word, “swimmingly.” which means “smoothly or satisfactorily.” What is the situation? Who is involved? Let the word take you into a story. Go where the prompt leads!
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