Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 31, 2014

Slow-Slipping Words

I’ve got a pot of tea made from rosehips, dried apples, and blueberries that my sister sent me for Christmas. And red tulips, with equally stunning green stems, my husband brought from the supermarket. These don’t bring the pleasures of speed, whatever they might be, but remind me that all I have to do is move my fingers slowly across the keyboard now and then. Writing is not racing. It’s a slow sport, with breathing closer to dozing than dashing. It’s a tightrope, moving on, while looking back, checking out the word-footprints.


I’ve started a semester of teaching, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I choose clothes from my closet instead of the handy ones in the drawers. It’s good to see beautiful young people wearing orange sneakers and whimsical hats and to hear thoughts about books. My classroom is not fast-paced, but I feel a certain pressure to get across ideas that will be useful to twenty-three people with different goals and needs.  At one point yesterday I said, “Let’s go back and just take a look at the first page. What pulls you in? What suggests the setting and where we might be going?”

There were a few beats of silence before a young man raised his hand and said, “The first word of the book is ‘where.’ That’s kind of mysterious.”

I’d been thinking about sentences and images, but I looked at that first word with newfound admiration. Yes, a brilliant way to start. We admired some other language and imagery before someone settled on the drawn-out beauty of the word “seemed,” the way it stretched out a sentence and linked two possible words.

We got back to a hastier style of running sentences together, making judgments. And a professor has to look at the clock.  But now back in my writing room I’m remembering to soak up the possibilities of words like “where” or “seemed,” to revel in vowels and single syllables and all the places they might take me. I stop to look back and fret about what’s ahead, but come around again to focus on the words just beneath my fingers. Maybe a petal will fall. The tea cools. That’s the pace I’m keeping.



  1. I love it that you pick clothes from your closet on your teaching days! I have a special wardrobe, summer outfits just for teaching. I look at those clothes in my closet (especially now that it’s cold and I dress in 20 layers) and think, summer will come…I’ll teach and wear these flirty skirts and lots of pink.

    Seriously, don’t you love it when your students pull you up short? The young man that pointed out the first word–*first word*–is mysterious. That’s why we teach.

    • And don’t you have the best handbag collection on the east coast? I have little hope for style, but mean to do some small part to counteract the January drear. I do enjoy the fluorescent shoelaces I see around campus. And yes, the beautiful perceptions do make me want to sit back, even if I actually just blink, nod, and move on.

      You will be in pink soon, Candice! February is a short month! I’m just looking forward to not having road salt and sand on my boots.

  2. I’m right there with you, Jeannine. Cooling tea and petals falling all around me…

    • I knew I’d find great company if I waited long enough! Petals intact here, though one stem droops.

  3. So soothing, Jeannine, to accept the slowness.

    • Accept, rebel, itch, then nudge myself back to acceptance. Wishing you a peaceful process, Sarah.

  4. Lovely, Jeannine! All of it — the tulips, your post, and students who stop to look at the mysteries of “where” and “seemed”.

    • Thank you, Amy. I was glad to try to honor one of those sweet classroom moments here, as during those 75 minute classes, one thing washes into the next.

  5. I see you have a small geranium there too, Jeannine. I just came home from a rip-roaring morning with middle schoolers, so it is quite nice to gaze at your tulips and tea and slow down with my own little lunch. Those moments of really looking at a text are important, but I admit, I do forget much of the time. Thanks for the reminder, & happy that you’re enjoying the class.

    • Linda, your calm supportive voice here and around the web are my tea and flowers. Thank you! You navigate between rip-roaring middle schoolers and contemplation with such grace.

      And yes, that’s one of two new geraniums joining some I’ve nurtured along for years.

  6. I love the juxtaposition of red tulips and snow, inside and just beyond your office window. Wonderful talismans of what is, and is to come. And the pot of tea, reminding us to drink them in, equally.

    • Those gifts of flowers with their whiffs of green life keep me going through the cold months — and today we can celebrate arriving in February! But I like your way of saying it more. Thank you.

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