Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Balls to the Head

This week has been a little nutty. For instance, right now I'm sitting at home with Mac who had a little fever and a massive headache. I worked the morning, and then I traded with Dan at lunch. The whole tradeoff was a little hairy, and I was reminded that I hate missing class. I hate getting subs. I feel responsible for my students and my colleagues, even though everyone needs a sick day now and then. I wish I could just submit an out-of-office thing that said I was working at home, guilt free.

Anyway, I'm just feeling rather out of sorts, a little headachey myself. Of course, my headache might be the residual effect of yesterday's recess duty.

There I was, watching kids play basketball and frisbee and stuff in the gym. Indoor recess - we have it all winter because middle schoolers don't wear coats - seems a little precarious. I supervise it once per week.

Midway through yesterday's session, a kid landed a soccer ball on top of the folded-up bleachers. Kids aren't allowed to go up there to get the balls themselves, so I walked over to retrieve it. On the way, a different soccer ball hit me in the back of the head. My glasses flew off my face. I had an instant ache behind my right eye. Plus, I was super embarrassed. Getting whomped in the head with a soccer ball in front of thirty seventh-grade boys - it's just not dignified.

I wasn't very gracious about the kicker's apology. "Watch where you're kicking!" I admonished, unsmiling. I could tell he was actually sorry, but come on - look ahead before you let loose!

I'm hoping things seem a little more normal starting tomorrow. No sick children, no dull headaches, no projectiles, no nothing. Teaching and learning. That's it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You know what's fun?

Halloween is fun for most people, but as you might remember, I hate fun. At my school, you get to wear costumes. I wore a t-shirt that I wrote on with a permanent marker. It says, "Grammar Police" and "Special Pronoun Force." Also other stuff like, "Your apostrophe won't make it plural," and "Ask me about who and whom!"

This was the second year in a row I've worn it, which I think makes it a classic.

"What are you?" the kids asked as they arrived from recess.

"The grammar police," I said, to minimal reaction. "This is as fun as I get."

They looked a little sad for me. After all, their costumes were super fun. Especially the blow-up t-rex and sumo wrestler. "Can you two deflate?" I asked. I hated to wreck their vibe, but the t-rex couldn't really see out of his costume. Also, the whirring of the electric motors required to keep the both of them puffed up was loud.

"Sure," they said.

And then, about ten minutes into my lesson, my boss showed up to do an impromptu observation. On Halloween. After recess. With the t-rex and sumo wrestler, the gorilla suit, a bunch of football players, and a Thor.

"Can I take my costume off?" the gorilla asked while I was giving directions. "I'm getting really sweaty."

"Yes," I said. "But, wait. Do you have clothes on underneath?"

He did, but it's always good to check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Plans, etc.

I'd thought that I'd settle into a reasonable, once-per-week blog posting routine. You know, just to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. Then, what happened was that I had parent-teacher conferences last week, and I've been recovering ever since.

Also, after the conferences, we had our accreditation visit at school.

And, whatever, it was life.

In any case, I am planning on writing once a week to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. The only things I can think about are finishing the book, writing a query letter about the book, and what I might write for the next book.

Every day, I work feverishly on getting closer to a finalized version that I can give to readers.

Last night, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with all of the other things I'm supposed to be doing besides finishing the book, things like taking care of the children and doing my full-time job. The level of anxiety was sort of extreme, so much so that Dan thought to text me during the day to check in.

"Anything else I can do to assist you?" he asked.

"I'd really like to finish and sell the book," I said.

This is, in fact, the case, but I might need to be a little less intense about it, at least from time to time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Your Grandma Ain't My Grandma

I've realized that I need an additional hour per day to write. Yes, I now have a completed novel project, but the revisions (we're on draft 15 or 17 or 25, but who's counting) are taking a long time.

This is a problematic, but I hope not insurmountable fact.

Everyone knows I already write from 5 to 6am. Turns out there is a whole community of people who do this, and we all tweet at each other in the wee hours. We choose funny GIFs, including pictures of donuts on Fridays. I'm pretty sure #5amwritersclub is like the cool kids' lunch table, only not so much.

Anyway.

I'm thinking about when I could add an additional 60 minutes. I could maybe scrape out 20 minutes over lunch at my desk? Maybe 30 minutes after school on the days I don't have meetings or Mac's guitar lessons or the kids' sports practices? Maybe while I'm sitting at said sports practices?

Now that I'm closely examining the situation, I actually don't think I can find another whole hour per day, but maybe if I try really hard, I can up my weekly writing time from 6 hours or so to 8? That would speed along the process by a certain percentage. Like, it'll be 33% more time in which to revise.

My goal is to be #DoneByDecember, like all done. I think I can do that, but I'm talking about December 31st. All the days of December are mine to excavate for those few extra minutes.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Big Bucks

In the sixth-grade writers workshop, we're deep into narrative writing. Kids have accumulated lots of small moment story seeds. They've chosen a favorite one, flash-drafted it, and now we're making sure we know not just what happens, but what the stories are REALLY about.

Did you know that writers plant the seeds of those deeper meanings throughout the piece, using tools like dialogue, symbols, precise actions, and internal thinking?

Anyway, it's true.

One young man has struggled a bit with his deeper meaning in recent days. In the story he likes best, he makes an amazing play on the football field.

"So, what about football is important to you?" I prompted in a whispered conference.

"It's fun," Brian said.

"Okay, but you've written in so much detail about setting up for the game, being with your teammates, the moment you really need to leave it all on the field - why does this all mean so much to you?"

It took a little back and forth, but eventually, we teased out some deeper meanings. It turns out, it's the feeling of camaraderie that gets to Brian. It's the constancy of football in his life, the tradition of it and the values of the game.

That was yesterday, and I was feeling good about Brian's progress. Today, I encouraged him to imagine a few different story arcs and get back to it, revealing that deeper meaning every step of the way.

But Brian wasn't into it. "My story doesn't have a deeper meaning," he said, loudly, so everyone could hear.

"You have a deeper meaning," I told him, quieter, modeling the appropriate volume. "We worked it out yesterday."

"All it is is that I had a huge sack." Loud and clear.

Giggles from Brian. Giggles from the audience he'd created.

"I had a huge sack," he repeated. "I mean, I had just a major sack."

We get it with the sacks, Brian! We all know you're not talking about felling the quarterback on the snap! We know you're not engaged in a rigorous exploration of themes!

"Look, Brian," I said pointing toward the spot I was hoping he'd settle into with his Chromebook and cutting to the chase. "We talked yesterday about the love of the game. I don't want to hear anymore about your scrotum and testicles."

There. But, that was a lot for the sixth graders in my room. One kid buried his whole head behind his screen, just losing it. I ignored all of them and played it straight.

"I want you to get back to your writing," I continued, turning away from Brian and hoping for the best. "You've got this."

Monday, September 25, 2017

How It's Done

My sister Mary was in town this weekend, and she agreed to drive with us to one of Shef's cross country meets. It was far - like an hour and a half - and because it's billed as "The World's Biggest Cross Country Meet," you have to park literally miles from the start of the race.

All of this is to say, coming to the meet was a major time suck for her, and she did it anyway. Thanks, Mary!

On the way home, she got to witness a strategy I use to keep the peace in the miniature van. The kids get to alternate song choices on Spotify. As the selections began, I gave a pronouncement, a necessity now that Shef's in eighth grade and listens to the vilest music I've ever heard.

"Okay," I said, "let's keep it clean. No n-words and not too many f-words."

I didn't think anything of this decree, but Mary started laughing so hard she choked on her water.

"What?" I said.

"High standards!" she coughed.

"Yes," I laughed, "A+ parenting over here. Take notes on how it's done! If you need parenting advice, you know who to call!"

We howled.

It was funny, but the message was clear; and I stand by it: Some f-words are okay, but NOT TOO MANY.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Raging Ever Forward

We're in the groove now, this school year. Stacking up the five-day weeks, quizzes and homework, important - yet, controlled - discussions about pressing global issues. I'm just cruising along, doing my thing.

Tonight's a rarity on our calendar. We don't have evening obligations. We'll make some dinner, force the children to talk to us, maybe watch something on television before Dan and I each retreat into our work until we go to bed.

I'll try to read a few pages of the novel I've been picking away at forever, but my eyelids will get far too heavy, and I'll fall asleep before I've finished another chapter.

This weekend, I'll write my professional goals for the year. Each year, I articulate two or three, try really hard to get the sentences just right and sounding smart, and then I accomplish the goals. Or, at the very least, I make significant progress toward them. That's my way. Charging ahead.

Also, this weekend, I'll run a 10-mile race. After that, I'll do some weeks where I'll try to attend fitness classes. Then later, I'll start running again. I'm going to run a marathon during my year of 40. I'm also going to finish my book. It's going to be a big and important year.

Just like all the other years.