An Invitation to Reconnect to What You Know by Heart

Wednesday, March 7, is World Read Aloud Day. Sponsored by LitWorld, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering literacy worldwide, the day aims to celebrate the power of words and to promote global literacy. As a warm-up to that event, I’d like to offer what I’ll call a Read Along: an opportunity for us to connect with the power of words by reading and sharing our thoughts about a short short story by author Allen Woodman in order to reconnect to ourselves as readers and re-experience the process of meaning making in ways that can inform our practice and our lives.

In addition to wanting to support a great cause, I do this because I deeply believe that every teacher who is a reader has within him or herself what it takes to be a great teacher of reading, without the aid of scripts or programs or packaged Teacher’s Guides—provided we take the time to peer into our minds and hearts to notice and name what it is we do to make meaning as we read. The idea that our experience can be the wellspring of our teaching is precisely what informs Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmerman‘s now classic book Mosaic of Thought, and it lies at the heart of What Readers Really DoIt’s also the foundation of Katie Wood Ray‘s marvelous book on writing What You Know by Heart: How to Develop Curriculum for Your Writing Workshopwhose title I’ve borrowed for this week’s post in the hopes that we can transfer and apply her thinking from writing to reading.

To that end, I invite you to read Woodman’s story, which he’s generously allowed me to reprint, paying close attention to the work that you usually do invisibly to comprehend, understand and evaluate. In this way, I believe, this reading experience can become, as Katie Wood Ray says, “something larger than the moment.” It can transcend your experience with this particular text to become something you more deeply understand about the work of reading that you then can carry within you to your classroom, your next book, your life and the world.

Should you need any further instructions or guidance, consider the following questions:

  • Are you aware of anything you had to do to literally or inferentially comprehend the story on a line-by-line basis?
  • What do you make of it as a whole—that is, what do you think it’s really about. And what did you do and/or draw on to arrive at that understanding?
  • What value, if any, does it hold for you? Did it affirm, expand, refute or challenge anything you thought about people or life? Did it delight, perplex, or even annoy you? If so, how and why?
  • And if you used any of the standard reading strategies (infer, connect, predict, etc), when and why did you use them and what did they yield for you?

In the spirit of collaborative learning and community, I’m hoping you’ll share your experience and whatever meaning you made of the text, by either clicking on the speech bubble at the right of the post’s title or on the word ‘reply’ at the bottom of the post, right after the list of tag words. (And email subscribers can use the comment link at the end of the email.)

And now, without further ado, here is Wallet by Allen Woodman:

© Copyright by Allen Woodman. Reprinted with permission of the author. Allen Woodman is Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University. He has published six books of fiction, including Saved by Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a collection of humorous stories for adults, and The Cows Are Going to Paris, a children’s picture book with David Kirby. He has also published scores of short stories in magazines and anthologies, including Flash Fiction, Micro Fiction, Sudden Fiction Continued, Mirabella, Washington Post, and Story.

Please click on the reply link to leave some thoughts about your reading experience. And remember to celebrate World Read Aloud Day—and change the world story by story.

12 thoughts on “An Invitation to Reconnect to What You Know by Heart

  1. I love being able to visualize the somewhat obscene and undignified image of the father bending over with the wallet sticking out. That image made me smile and set the tone for the story in my mind. I read the story twice, just for pure pleasure, and because it was so short. I like the fact that he skips the whole part when the thief takes the wallet, and goes right to the clerk chasing the thief, (talk about showing not telling!) and I am brought up short by that abrupt transition, yet my mind instantaneously catches up to my eyes as I make that split second inference WHILE I keep reading. The fortune cookie fortune (he just says “fortune cookie” but I picture the fortune, not the cookie, I think the fortune is what he means because I am having a hard time visualizing a cookie mashed into a wallet) is an easy invitation to making a connection to the theme, and I thank the author for that, because figuring out theme is sometimes hard for me. Also, the surprise of the father running for the exit, how you imagine that he is exuberant in his humiliation, ready to laugh with his son, and I try to reconcile the complex notion that he might be embarrassed but also delighted at the same time. I also like the mystery of: “there will be enough time for silence and rest.” What is he alluding to there? It’s a nice momentary rest in the action where my mind is propelled forward and I search for a deeper meaning in what might come next, symbolically and literally. Not to mention the simile: “like stage make up on a community theater actor.” Simile allows for that little connection to the author: yes, that’s it, I know just what you are referring to, it’s exactly like that, thanks for that image, you and I have been to community theater haven’t we, we have a connection now, we are both community theater goers aren’t we, etc. Now I feel the author is on my side, I like him more because he used this funny simile.

  2. What do I know by heart?
    I know I re-read the first line…to ensure I was engaging with the text and to wrap my brain fully around what a “phony wallet” might be.
    I know at first I was thinking about the wallet itself (perhaps because of the title?) as an object that would throw the thief for a loop vs. the contents of the wallet.
    I know that I began reading with a small smile that grew as I read through climax to resolution.
    I know that this short story said a great deal in a small number of words.
    I know there are layers to this short text – the relationship between father and son, the situation/experience, the detail of the fortune from the fortune cookie, the exaggerated movement and the craft the writer uses to describe this man.
    I know that I used what I know about the genre of short stories, and my expectation of a twist, irony, and/or an emotional reaction on the surface and a deeper, buried theme below the surface, was fulfilled in this text.
    I know that if I read it again I would see something new or focus on something different.
    I know that even though I used strategies (namely visualizing and inferring) to navigate the text it was the way the text made me feel (the enjoyment factor) that truly supported my meaning making.

  3. I) I found myself having to “get ready” to think about what I was about to read.
    2)I tuned into the first paragraph but by the second my mind was somewhere else. I just wasn’t grabbed by the piece so I had to set myself up again to to think.
    3)I found myself stopping to make sure I understood the comparison of “oyster and no pearl.” I thought I am not sure someone would you use that just chatting with someone but it sure was “book language.” I rather liked that.
    4)I thought my this old man went to a lot of work trying to get his point across and it sort of backfired on him. I had to laugh at them and could see their stupid smiles as the author put it.
    5)I didn’t see much of a deeper meaning as compared to the text I viewed about oranges that I went to on the link in this article.
    6) My evaluative thinking was this is just for fun and enjoy it. It did not seem very realistic. I have read so much fiction that I don’t enjoy it as much because I can usually predict the outcome. I am more taken in by non-fiction written in a narrative style.

  4. I like Jessica’s structure so I am going to borrow it – thank you Jessica –
    I know that I love to read fiction and discover what the author has to say, what I think the author has to say, what the author intends and maybe does not intend…
    I know that I first ran my eyes over the text, taking in its brevity and was breathless in anticipation.
    I know that I began questioning or rather wondering – what is the man going to do with the phony wallet? what will happen when the thief snatches it? what is the meaning of the fortune? does it mean something bigger, does it point to the theme or is it telling me something about the old man? or both? and what does that line “there will be time for silence and rest” mean?
    I know that for all my wondering I was inferring and revising my inferences, but also reading on because I believe that that will answer my wonderings.
    I know that I began visualizing immediately as well, picturing the old man, the construction of the phony wallet, the drama unfolding in the department store.
    I know that I read and re-read the words, feeling as though they were chosen so precisely to evoke so much meaning. I attempted to weigh them carefully, considering what I knew and what the author might mean.
    I know that I was and was not expecting the unexpected. Having experience as a reader meant that I knew there was likely to be a twist or juxtaposition, especially in such a short story. But what it was did take me by surprise and delight.
    I know that I also delight in the ending, that it leaves me feeling warm and wonderful that a father and son can share such a moment of mixed embarrassment and hilarity!

  5. At first I was surprised that this was a personal narrative or told in first person because I expected a short story told in third person. I was immediately grabbed by the phony wallet and pictured one made with duct tape…not a real one. Not sure why my mind leapt there, but that’s what I pictured.
    When I read about the fortune, I thought that sounds like he really thought about what he wanted the fortune cookie to say. I then pictured an oyster and pearl and had to think about what he meant by the phrase in this situation. I remember being amused by the exaggerated actions of the dad as he was baiting the would be thief. When the story went to the theft and the salesclerk, I was surprised and disappointed that his plan didn’t work the way he meant it to work. Then my disappointment went to complete laughter picturing the father and son in the get away car! When I finished reading, I wondered if the father was disappointed or exhiliarated by his adventure. I decided that he enjoyed it. I think because the author led me to believe that his father was adventurous throughout the story.

  6. “What do you make of it as a whole—that is, what do you think it’s really about. And what did you do and/or draw on to arrive at that understanding?”

    I thought it was at least partly about getting old in a culture that doesn’t value old people, which sees them as weak and vulnerable, and doesn’t like to be reminded of weakness and vulnerability. Along with that, it reminded me of something I once read by the great African-American poet / critic, Sterling Brown: “Change the joke and slip the yoke.”, which made me like the characters an awful lot! And, ultimately, the story helped me to realize that we can’t change other people’s ideas for them, all we can do is present another world of possibility that sustains us, and offers someone else another way of thinking.

    Here’s how I came to those thoughts, as near as I can remember:
    At the beginning I was interested in this elaborate preparation. The author catalogs the things he puts in the wallet, and how the wallet was phoney to boot. I couldn’t figure this out as I read it, but sort of suspended that puzzlement and forged on. I knew he was tired of pickpockets, but didn’t know why, or what (exactly) these preparations had to do with that first line. I read the fortune cookie quote and liked it, not because I necessarily believe it, but because I was interested that an older person would think that important to put in a wallet. It made me wonder about whether the father actually believed that, or not. In my mind, it set up the idea that the father was actually creating something intentional, rather than just putting random stuff in a wallet. All in all, I had a lot of questions — what does all this have to do with pickpockets? why the fake wallet? — and enjoyed the details of the preparation. It left me with the general feeling of premeditation.

    The next paragraph began to confirm for me that he was creating something, a costume or something, because he stood in front of the mirror like a person might if he was getting dressed up for some special occasion. I couldn’t figure out the “All oyster…” comment, but I knew it was important enough to remember.

    In paragraph three I was struck by the words “wheelman” and “case”, which I knew to be bank robbery terms. By this point, I was pretty sure that this wasn’t going to be a real robbery as I hadn’t gotten any clues early on that the father and son were “bad guys.” (I would have been really surprised if they actually robbed the department store.) I was curious about what was going to happen at the store.

    Paragraph 4 brought me a whole lot of answers to all the questions I had earlier. There were tons of details about this being an “act” — that the father had put on a costume and was engaged in some sort of interaction with the public at the store. Pretty soon in the paragraph the image of “fishing” came to my mind. I realized that the father was out fishing, that he had created an elaborate “lure”, and now was dangling it in front of the “fish” at the store.

    That idea of fishing had been lurking in the back after it came out in a flash. It had been there because I used to go fishing with my grandpa and associated this man with him. (Interesting…while my own dad is older than 70, I understood this man to be more like my grandfather, than my father! I’m sure there are details in the story that lead me to imagine that, but I haven’t tried to figure them out yet.)

    The fishing idea came to my mind because the author used words like “allowed the false billfold to rise up like a dark wish…” My brain created a picture of this wallet wiggling in his back pocket like…like…and then the words “dark wish” pushed the image in my mind toward a worm being wiggled in front of a fish down in the darkness of a lake. It came together because I had an image of the father as being my grandfather, which I added to fishing, and that solidified a metaphor for me.

    With that metaphor firmly in my mind, the rest of the story unfolded for me as a variation on it. I thought: The fisherman is supposed to be the wily one, the victor in the struggle with the fish! Someone is intervening and giving the pursued the advantage.
    And. I thought, the store clerk just doesn’t get it! This little act of theater is empowering the father.
    And. This little theater helping him reclaim his agency.
    And. He used what people thought of him already, that he was old and feeble and vulnerable, as a weapon against them! HA! What a deviously empowering thing to do! That’s a lot like what Sterling Brown once said and I’ve always loved that quote!
    And. the father had to scurry away from his prey, chased by a “benefactor” that saw him in the same way as the pickpocket – old and vulnerable.
    And. That must mean there is really no escape from the situation. Even when the old man was most powerful and most cunning he still was a 70 year old man in the eyes of the rest of the world.
    And. I’m hoping the father and son stopped at their favorite watering hole, hugged, and enjoyed a prolonged laugh. I’m thinking that laugh, at themselves and at an impossible situation, would be a lot of fun.

    • And I’m not sure why I thought the other guy was a son. Probably because I’m a guy. Also, the getaway car brought up images from movies of robbers and getaway cars. I know there were some notable female getaway drivers, but…

    • I refrained from responding to readers’ comments until I got this week’s post up (where I attempted to squeeze in some of the wonderful reflective and interpretive thinking you did at the 11th hour). But I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this as a reader. That “Change the joke and slip the yoke” quote adds so much to my own understanding of the story, which seems to keep evolving. And I was really hoping that someone would talk about the ‘dark wish,’ which I latched on to as well. So thank you.

      • Thank you for the opportunity!

        I’m relatively new to this elementary teaching gig. It may sound silly…but…teaching is such a lonely job (too isolating, IMO). My brain has been craving weighty ideas, some hunk of marble to let the sculptor inside my ol’ head whack away at. Your blog and book have given me a good-sized chunk AND a substantial mallet. Thanks for that!

  7. Pingback: What We Knew by Heart: Turning Our Own Reading Practices into Curriculum | To Make a Prairie

  8. Pingback: In a Time of Standardization, an Invitation to Authentically Read | To Make a Prairie

    • So glad we found each other, Patricia, as clearly we’re kindred spirits! I love the graphics in your post and you’re so, so right about how the expectation that students ‘get’ something we can tick off from a checklist as done only encourages us to teach things that are easily done. It all does sound dystopian, doesn’t it?

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