Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One Word Writing Prompt: Lesson

I'm still in massive production mode on the book project. Unfortunately, that means the blog is taking a back-seat. When I do this to my poor blog, it doesn't just sit there, at peace with its neglect. It kind of taps at the back of my skull.  Like, why have you forsaken me? I've been here for you for twelve long years.

"Just write some short posts sometimes," Dan said when I explained the trouble to him yesterday. And, he's right. Let's just keep it alive.

Here's what I'm keeping it alive with today. A one-word writing prompt called, "Lesson." It's #2 on this list. Seems almost too easy for a teacher, no?

In English 7, I get four lessons per week to achieve my teaching goals. That's not a lot for a literacy educator - four, fifty-minute lessons. Monday's lesson is designed to get students ready to read a book called Nothing But the Truth by Avi. We used a time-honored activity called an anticipation guide. What you do is this: You pose a controversial statement to the group that reflects a theme in the piece you're reading, and then the kids tell you what they think about it. Sometimes they argue.

They argued hard about the statement, "We should say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem regularly at school." They also had strong feelings about, "If you don't like a teacher, you should consider switching to a different teacher."

Yesterday, a girl raised her hand and said, "When we did this yesterday, I couldn't imagine how these statements would all relate to the same book, but now I see they do."

See? Lesson planning. It sometimes works out.

Monday, March 6, 2017

One-Word Writing Prompt: Bullet

It felt like time to write a blog entry, but I had nothing. I think this has been happening because I've been focused on the book. Remember I said it would be finished with it (the complete draft - not the whole thing, duh) by the end of April? I've realized this commitment will require that I do very little of anything else (except work at my job, obviously, and keep my children alive and reasonably healthy) until the day comes when the curtain closes on the story.

That was kind of a funny thing that I did there in the last paragraph because there will actually be a theater performance at the end of the book. So that thing with the curtain was a metaphor, but also it was literal.

And, with that revelation, I think you now might be getting a sense of why it's been hard to write the blog.

But anyway, it's like all of the words and the ideas go straight to that project or to my actual paying job. Lucky for me, there are people on the internet that put together lists of prompts for writers who are stuck. I didn't want anything too complex, so I googled "one-word writing prompts." There are tons of these lists. I went with this one. #1 on the list of 153 one-word writing prompts is "bullet," which will now inspire this quick television review:

A good show to watch while you're cooking dinner or folding laundry is Schitt's Creek on Netflix. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara (Johnny and Moira Rose) get totally bamboozled by their business manager and lose all of their millions of dollars. The only asset they have left is a town that Johnny bought as a joke for his unproductive son, David. He bought it because the town is called Schitt's Creek. Haha!

The funny comes from the titular homonym and also from the fact that this ridiculous family, accustomed to opulence, lands in a run-down motel in a rinky-dink town. None of the Roses have any transferrable skills. The "children" - adults who have never had jobs - attempt to make friends and feel okay about themselves. In a recent-to-me episode, David accepts an invitation to go turkey hunting with Stevie, the cute desk clerk at the motel. He ends up shooting a turkey in the neck with a bullet. "Now just wait for it to bleed out," a fellow hunter says, as David sits there in is ridiculous camouflage with his curated face stubble.

A potential pitfall of Schitt's Creek is that you could think that the show is making fun of small town life. I think it is, but it's okay because the show is mostly making fun of the Rose family, their entitlement, and their total inability to cope. The townspeople are the genuine, generous ones and, seemingly, the key to the Roses' redemption.

Schitt's Creek! Bullet! Blog for the day!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: An Accidental Set of Memoirs

I push myself to read a lot. I enjoy it, and I feel like it enhances my life and keeps me sharp. In 2017, though, I'm trying to stick right close to the 52-book target and not overachieve. 

The first year of my 52-book reading target, I read 57 books. The next year I did 61. In 2016, the total was 65. You see where this could go, right? It could go down my typical "bigger, better, faster, more" path. That tendency doesn't reflect my best self. What am I trying to win? My prize for 52 books (a badge on Goodreads and a nice, credible list of favorites posted here) is the same as it is for 70. And there are other things to do like watch Big Little Lies on HBO, write resistance emails to Trump-complicit politicians, and hang out with my family. 

Ok, but so far this year, I've read nine books, and four of those have been memoirs. I usually don't clump genres like that. This has mostly been an accident of library holds and hearty friend recommendations. 

Here's what I've learned:
  • I think I might be the only person in the world who didn't love Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior. I do feel curious about her, and I admire that she's made a career of writing and inspiring other people. And there were inspiring moments in this book, but some of the scenes made me feel super uncomfortable and cringey. Of course, that was the point: we should be honest with ourselves and others instead of masking the truth with substances, food, or other addictive behaviors. That makes sense, I guess, but it wasn't really for me.
  • Next up was Jessi Klein's collection of personal essays, You'll Grow Out of It. Less cringey, more funny than Melton's, I zipped through this. The stickiest sentiments: No matter how wonderful your life may look on the outside, you might still feel lonely and less-than. I learned this lesson while laughing out loud. Also, you're not alone, and you'll be okay. And finally, "get the epidural." Don't feel like you have to be a hero all the time. For what? What are you trying to win? As I mentioned, I'm always trying to win everything, so this was for me.
  • My takeaway from Carrie Fisher's 2008 offering, Wishful Drinking was this: Even if things are crazy, even if you're crazy (and who isn't?), just keep trying to do your best and also to make people laugh. This is a quick and pleasant read, and I have a full review coming soon on Literary Quicksand.
  • And finally, I listened to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. This guy is really something. His anecdotes cover petty larceny, religion, and his complicated relationship with his white father. You can't really boil this book (or any of the others) down to a life-lesson, but that hasn't really been stopping me. Noah says, love your mother, put yourself out there, and fight injustice. 
I'm going to try to do good stuff today, inspired by my reading; but I'm not going to try to beat everyone while I'm doing it.

2016 Best of Audiobooks

Fun Home Musical Theater Review

The Benefits of "Not for Me" Reading

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This Blog Neglect is Getting Ridiculous

Okay, you can't really just quit writing your blog, so let's talk about Zumba. I've done Zumba before in a sporadic fashion - a class here and there, a video game, some cool moves in my kitchen while stirring chili. You know, just jamming on my own, pretty much.

But now, NOW!, I'm a Zumba regular. I go to an extra-long class every Sunday that's really hard with complicated choreography. In fact, last week the instructor told us that she's changing the name of the class because boring old Zumba routines are too pedestrian for our quality group.

Presenting: Urban Pop!

The teacher says stuff like, "Don't feel bad, you guys, but I choose the people to be in the front row because I need them to help me keep the class going." Don't come to the first row, she's telling the rest of us. And, maybe avoid the second and third rows, too. We lesser dancers need to stay farther back and just try our best to hold on.

After several months of practicing, I feel I'm moving up to the intermediate level, but when I look around the class, I have to admit that most people are still as good or better than I am. That's okay because, as I remind myself each Sunday, Urban Pop dancing is not a competition. The prize is showing up and getting a workout.

Doesn't that sound right? We're all winners?

I've been showing off my dance moves to the children (not impressed) and Dan ("Please stop"), and I told Lynne that I'd definitely be ready for a prime Dance Captain role in this year's teacher talent show number. "You got it," she told me, but I can't tell if she's serious. My brother sent me a YouTube video yesterday in which Zumba is listed as a prime criterion for being diagnosed as "basic" (not a compliment). The video, though, doesn't say anything about URBAN POP!

And now, this morning, I'm bringing my friend KK to the party. "You'll love it," I told her. And I'm 99% sure she's going to be laughing - both at me and the whole 100-person Urban Pop fantasia - through the whole 75 minutes.

I'll come back and let you know. Track the comments. Refresh. #bodyroll

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Writing Status Report

#amwriting, novel writing, revision, drafting

Remember the book? I'm still writing it. In fact, I just started an 8-week intensive coaching session with my teacher. During this time, I'm going to completely finish the first draft.

When I say "first draft," I mean that almost every paragraph in the entire thing has or will have been revised 4 or 5 or 10 times. Isn't that nuts? Although I've been reading about writing and writers for my entire life, and even though almost all of the novelists I admire discuss revising all of the words countless times, the necessity of expansive and extensive revision still surprises me.

And, this is weird: I can't always tell what needs to be changed and what doesn't. Usually, I can totally tell. If I'm writing a book review or a blog post, I pretty much know when something has to be cut or rephrased. Even if I decide not to fix it, I can tell if there's a weak spot.

In the novel, it's way harder to determine. This is why you need readers (I found two fantastic ones in my last writing class, and we've agreed to continue to read for each other), and that's why you (okay, I) need a teacher.

Right now, my teacher has instructed me to map the entire story in a spreadsheet. My book has lots of third-person limited narrators, so I have to track who's telling what and when. I also have to map the outer events, so that together, my teacher and I can place the "reveals" in the story to keep the pacing snappy. Then, we'll track each character's inner arc and determine how each one develops or doesn't. Which minor characters are going to end up playing bigger roles? I don't even totally know yet.

Also, I have to write the rest of the words. The ending. There are about 20,000 words to go. I mostly know what happens, but there might be some surprises. 20k is both a lot and not a lot. Remember when I wrote that much in the month of November? I'll need a little of that grit in the next eight weeks.

Here's my pronouncement for the sake of accountability: This is going to get done by the end of April. And then, I'll spend the summer obsessing over the next round of revisions. There are probably 4 or 5 or 10 to go. I'm too far in to quit, and I don't even want to quit. I want to finish the book and get it out there. Is that so wrong?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stealing: A February Survival Strategy

teaching, school, stealing, door stop

Last week, there was an afternoon on which I couldn't find my door stop. It's the door stop I use at least five times per day in Room 111, so I was pretty irritated when I couldn't locate it.  I did a cursory look around my classroom and didn't turn it up. Next, I scanned the first floor. That's when a familiar-looking door stop caught my eye. It was wedge-shaped and rested in the middle of the hallway, two doors down.

If I'm being really honest, the door stop I saw was pretty much outside my friend Chadd's classroom. But, for the purposes of my story, let's just say the door stop in question was familiar-looking and far away from any specific classroom door.

I'm taking that door stop, I decided. I marched down to Room 116, bent over, and picked up the stop. As I was walking back toward my room holding it, another neighbor eyed me quizzically.

"I lost my door stop," I explained.

"So," said Christy, "you're stealing someone else's?"

As she said this, I realized that's exactly what I was doing. I was stealing my friend Chadd's door stop. Whatever denial I'd been exercising fell away. Still, I kicked the stop under my door and stood guiltily by as students began arriving. "It might be mine," I mumbled to Christy. She clearly wasn't buying it.

That's when Chadd showed up.

As he walked by, I blurted out, "I think I stole your door stop."

"What?" he said.

"I'm not really sure if it's yours," I said, too fast. "It might be mine. I mean, I found it outside your door."

The incredulity rolled off of my buddy, Chadd. I can't remember exactly what he said at this point, but it was along the lines of, "Give me my freaking door stop."  And I did. I did give it to him right away. And, I didn't even blame him when he took out a big 'ole Sharpie and emblazoned the door stop with a very clear 116.  "Yours is probably in your classroom!" Chadd insisted, waving his stop at me.

"It's not!" I said, but I was losing certainty. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, I found my stop (thinner and smoother than Chadd's, I'll have you know) behind my garbage can. In the days since this incident, I've endured accusations about kleptomania and dishonesty. That's #fakenews. I did have the inclination to steal, but I think we can all agree I was really bad at it and inherently honest. I'm a nice person and a good colleague.

The end.

Stealing Beanie Babies from Mac

Three stories about winning. One has stealing in it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Teaching Trump

teaching, immigraion, Muslim ban, school

We spent a day in sixth grade considering the question, "Does the executive order on immigration make us safer?" The next two lessons after that were, "How does the order impact people?" and "How does the order come into conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"

I can't take any credit for the lesson design - KK did it, and she did a really good job. But, just so you know, I did write a bang-up activity on commas last week. So, there's that.

Anyway, one of my little lovelies raised her hand part way into the "Does it make us safer?" lesson and asked, "Is this one of those things where you give us the facts on one side, and then you give us the facts on the other side, and then we decide?"

"Well, Mary," I said, "I would give you facts to show that the executive order might make us safer, but there aren't any." I nodded at her. "The only facts are the ones we're talking about right now."

"Oh," she said. I let that sink in. Later, she reflected on the many sources we'd explored, and she read aloud from her notes: "The extraordinary thing about this is that we're more likely to be killed by our clothes starting on fire than we are to be killed by a radicalized refugee."


Today, another kid asked me, "Are you going to present the other side of the Muslim ban?"

I had to say, "There are people who agree with the travel ban, but there aren't facts to support the idea that it will make us safer."

"Oh," the kid said.

Somebody else told an admissions visitor that he likes my class because,"When something in the news goes viral, we talk about it right away."

I like that, too. We're a modern global issues class, and President Trump is really dumping a lot of global issues right at our feet. I guess I want to say to Mr. Trump in language he'll understand, "SEE YOU IN THE CLASSROOM."

If Mac were president.

Reading as a democratic act.