Reading notes: Kathy Fish’s Wild Life

I have been lax about posting notes on my reading, though I did dedicate extra time in December to read more. It was, by the way, lovely, though I also had one of those moments when I realized that it is okay to give in to bouts of quirky taste, reading whatever works rather than what I feel I should read. I also stumbled upon a thread on Twitter about how sensitive writers are to any negative feedback so I also made a Note To Self to embrace the Southern rule of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” so I will only share reading notes when I can write sincerely and enthusiastically about a book.

I have a few books from my month of extra reading that I want to fan-girl about, but today I’d rather talk about a book I just finished by Kathy Fish, Wild Life: Collected works from 2003-2018. I knew she was a star in terms of writing flash fiction, sometimes called short-shorts, fiction that can range from a paragraph to a few pages. After reading her book, I would call her a virtuoso. I especially loved how un-predictable yet terribly relatable each story turned out to be, moving and startling. I hate myself for saying this, because it feels cliche and reductive, but from a craft point of view, her stories helped me expand my understanding of what is possible in this short form.

Really, this is just a long way of saying I loved this collection, and I encourage you to consider reading it.

Joshua worked hard today.

Joshua worked hard today.

Signed–Ms. Duke

Did he really? I honestly can’t remember as I write this note. In middle school, each day is a ride on a cheap Ferris wheel with the speed set too high, punctuated by unsettling sights and rattling noises. 

But I’m not feeling frustrated with Joshua at the moment, and I don’t see his name written down somewhere with a dozen angry tick marks that mean I need to send him to detention or take away some petty privilege–the heady freedom of going to the hall for a sip of water, for example–or have a pseudo heart-to-heart.

Could he work harder? Probably. He’s likely a genius, and I’m not doing my job as a teacher when I don’t hound him every time he inhales a fresh breath. 

Yesterday I called his mother, again. Her solution, surprise surprise, was for me to stop to write a note in his planner each day. Perfect.

Most parents make me feel everything is my fault, and I worry they are right. I created the lesson plans. I signed the teaching contract. And long ago, I sat in education classes and dreamed of reaching struggling students. 

What was I thinking then? It’s hard to remember now. Something about being there for these kids when it was the hardest. Funny, too, I thought maybe I could help young girls in particular gain confidence. Yet here I am devoting so much energy to Joshua, and just feeling grateful that Mary is quiet, pretending to do her work.

Is she pretending? I don’t know. I wish I could know when the assignments are too hard, too easy, or Goldilocks just right, the perfect match for each child. Not one lesson, but thirty, for kids wiggling out of their seats, and almost out of their skins. It feels as if we fail more often than we succeed, but especially me and Joshua. I sense he will leave this class when summer comes, and it will be as if this year never happened, so much energy lost and hopes discarded.

But he seems okay right now. I don’t feel upset with him, and I see almost two paragraphs of new writing on his paper that is only a little shredded on the edges, so it’s probably true: he has worked hard today.

–previously published on a now defunct website around 2009