Sunday, April 16, 2017

Things I'm Learning

As you know, I'm a life-long learner. Trying to write a book has been one big learning experience.

I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I thought deep down that because I've always had the desire and because I read quite a few books, I'd just know how to write one.

For better or worse, that hasn't been the case. I did not just intrinsically know how to write a book. I've had to study and research and take classes. I've made spreadsheets and storyboards and written lots and lots of drafts. This is making it seem like I'm done. I'm not done, but I've made progress.

I've also had feedback.

Sometimes feedback is tricky to digest, but I've gotten to the point where I look forward to it. Something I've learned recently via feedback is that I tend to be good at writing dialogue and less effective at writing setting.

I agree that this is true, and so right now I'm going to practice writing setting details about the inside of a school. It's an exercise that I just made up. Here's what a high school might look or smell or sound like:
  • White-washed cinder block with bits of gray showing through in the places where the backs of metal chairs have rubbed the walls at the conclusion of each class period, the back row kids standing up so fast that their chairs slide out behind them.
  • The fourth-period class that enters the room with a chill attached to their thick cotton sweatshirts, fresh from a non-sanctioned off-campus lunch.
  • The earthy, sticky smell of a kid who thought he could go one more morning without a shower, his greasy, cheekbone-length hair pushed back from his hairline and then falling down in thick ribbons toward scattered stubble on his jaw.
  • One hundred tattered copies of The Things They Carried stacked precariously on a side shelf, some spines facing out, others in,  the corners of covers and pages of the ones on top turned up like bumpers.
  • A blue plastic trash emblazoned with the recycling icon, white papers variously crumpled, poking out from the top. A giant wad of wet pink gum spat in the middle of a recently graded test. The test was a B.
  • A teacher unlocks her classroom door in the dark morning, the room stale smell - a mix of Cheetoh's and Old Spice - wafts up from the carpet. She flicks on the fluorescent lights and checks to make sure the plastic, industrial clock above her desk matches her watch.
  • In the middle of reading Chapter 12 aloud to the class, the strobe light begins to pulse, followed quickly by a jarring blare, a high-pitched tone that made her molars ache. The students heads popped up, and she said calmly, "Fire drill. We're going out door 17. To your left." She watched each of the students file out, grabbed her laminated attendance list from the hook by the door, flipped off the lights, and entered the hallway. She stood, her back flattened against the door, as the students filed past, their faces reflecting a emotions ranging from glee to anxiety. "Is this real?" one asked her. She shook her head. In truth, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't. Finally, she joined the teachers who comprised the end of the throng. "Damn it," said one, "I was giving a test."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break Review

Well, the time has come to return to my paying job. It's been a lovely reprieve here on spring break, and I've accomplished plenty of tasks. Here are some highlights:

I'm sort of finished with the complete rough draft of my book project. In the last week of break, I forced myself to write 1000 words per day. I once again learned the lesson that writing begets writing, and by the end, cranking out the words wasn't totally excruciating. Except on the days that it was. When I say "sort-of finished," I mean that I still have to write some scenes, but very few compared with the number I've already written. Don't worry: I'm going to keep going.

I have supported Shef in the getting of his braces. Braces are mighty unpleasant. None of us like the braces. Shef especially doesn't. I think later, like in several years when his teeth are straight, we might all be grateful that we spent thousands of dollars on braces.

I spent time with many members of the family, and I was reasonably well behaved throughout. I hosted a family dinner, I met a cousin I'd never known before, I went on a whole vacation with my in-laws, I spent full days with my children and my dog. And there was almost no yelling.

I think we can all agree this was a successful spring break. I'm going to give it 5 of 5 stars. That's how good I think it was.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Should You Have Children in Your 20s?

I've been thinking lately about how Shef was born when I was 26, and Mac was born when I was 30. It came up because I've been pushing myself really hard to finish the first full draft of my book project. Yesterday, I imagined trying to finish it with an infant or a toddler around.

I mean, that seems impossible. On the other hand, I think having kids and still doing stuff taught me how to maximize time - a skill I've used for this book project, too.

Because I did do stuff when I had infants and toddlers. I did My Stupid Master’s Degree. That took four years. It was super hard, especially that one time I almost failed Intro to Literary Theory. Instead of failing, I made myself write a final, 20-page paper on something I didn't even understand. The simulacra. Or anal rope. Something. I can't even remember.

I also ran some marathons. I did those almost stubbornly. Like, you can't stop me from running this! Don't even try to stop me! I did them, and one time I covered the distance even faster than I had before the children were born.

I had new jobs that I performed without sleeping full nights.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, my endeavors are maybe easier now? I'm grateful to have a teenager wandering around asking to learn how to do laundry and moaning about the pain of new braces and an eight-year-old playing too many video games and refusing to clean his room. 

After all, these are people that have reached the age of reason. "I'm busy making myself write 1000 words per day right now. I'll talk to you in 30 minutes." They grumble about it, but they walk away.

So what am I even saying? I guess the point is, if you're thinking about having a baby and writing a book at the same time, I feel like that's going to be really hard.  But now that I'm considering the big picture, maybe it won't be harder than finishing a graduate degree or running your fastest marathon. 

So, just keep trying to do stuff if you feel like it, regardless of the children. That's the message. 

It'll work out, and you'll be happy you had the kids whenever they arrived.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quarterly Review

I'm a few days late on the Quarterly Review. Oh well, I'm a few days late on everything this year. It turns out, Late is mostly fine and with very few consequences. I wish I could now give that message about lateness to my 19-year-old self. I used to freak OUT over being "almost late," which was ten minutes early. 

Anyway, The Quarterly Review is a series of little lists. Here we go:

Three Great Books I've Read This Quarter:

  • I read one thing that's required for everyone, and it's The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You might have heard of it, as it's getting buzz like nothing else. For instance, people are saying it might be the YA "book of the decade." And I agree, it's a total package, for sure. Here's my Goodreads review. I'll have a full review of the audio version on Literary Quicksand soon, too.
  • A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan hit rather close to home, as the protagonist is a 38-year-old mother of three who feels like she might suffocate beneath her many responsibilities and ambitions. Full review HERE.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is incredibly ambitious - each chapter represents another generation's experience of slavery and its aftermath, from the Gold Coast to 21st-century California. I admire the intersectionality of the pieces and the way the book keeps (white) readers on the hook for their complicity in systemic oppression. 
Three Things I've Learned:
  • If I take a children's chewable Benadryl along with my glass of wine, I'm less likely to break out in psoriasis spots after consuming the alcohol. Yay! Thanks, Jane!
  • When you're writing a novel, it's helpful to classify your scenes as "Action," "Suspense," or "Reflection." And then, when you're placing those scenes within a chapter, remember that you can't have two non-action scenes in a row. Because, #pacing.
  • I already knew this, but now I'm recording it and putting it into action: If you're a teacher (like me), it's not a good idea to accept week-night invitations during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. Got that? The answer is, "NO," or, "raincheck?"
Three Pieces of Advice from Mac:
  • Never go around to people and say, "You look ugly."
  • Never say to your mom and dad that their marriage was a bad idea.
  • Never play basketball in the house, or else you might dribble yourself in the head.
You're welcome.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Talent Show Teacher Act


Can we talk for just a second about the Talent Show? It happened again this year, and something amazing transpired. It's this: I was actually named Dance Captain.

You know before how I was a self-appointed Dance Captain, and nobody knew that was actually my job?

Well, this year - THIS year - I was asked specifically in an email from a show organizer to be Dance Captain. She used the title, "Dance Captain," with the caps as noted. That's how I know it's real.

I also - and I'm not trying to brag; I'm just being honest - I also came up with the concept for this year's number. It's more of a "show" or a revue, if you will, than an act. The deal is that my friend Lynne, a Talent Show organizer since the inception of the Teacher Act in, like, 2003, is leaving our school at the end of the year to become the director of the middle school at an educational institution in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  My idea was to do bits and pieces of her greatest talent-show hits to send her off in style.

From there the concept was developed by others, but my initial idea remained central. If you watch the video, you'll see segments from "Napoleon Dynamite" (4:50), "High School Musical" (6:45), "Thriller" (8:00), "Single Ladies" (9:42), "Party Rock Anthem" (11:20), "Love Story" (12:40), and then we all "Juju on that Beat" to close at 15:00.

Just so you know, I am the Dance Captain in the High School Musical segment. At 6:45. I also know how to Juju on that Beat. I got special tutoring in the juju from my 28-year-old colleague who laughed openly at me during our lessons. But still. #dancecaptain #talentshow #urbanpop #juju


Monday, March 27, 2017

Status Report

Blogging: 

Well, things are sporadic and rather slapdash. That's okay. I've got other projects. Ok, well, mainly, I've got the book project. It's pretty much only the book project. The words are piling up, and I'm trying to organize the characters and their arcs. It's hard to know from moment to moment whether any one part is particularly good. But, that doesn't matter right now. What matters is writing the ending. I'm excited to do that. Once that's over, I'll be back to blogging. Doing the newsletter. The whole thing.

Vacationing:

We're doing it right now in Colorado as we have done many times before. Good family times. Precious memories. The whole thing. I've been getting up early to work on the project mentioned above. Also to read a thriller called I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh. Have you read it? It was slowing down a bit, and I was wondering what I was missing when all of sudden - MAJOR TWIST. Now, I'll speed through the back half.

Social and Cultural Events:

My pal Emily recommended that I attend an event called Listen to Your Mother, wherein people tell stories about mothering and motherhood. I bought two tickets to this event. The second one I bought is ostensibly for my friend Anne, but if she can't go, I'll be looking for a date. I'll keep you posted.

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."

Yep.

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.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Bleakest Month

tattoo, should i get a tattoo, temporary tattoo, peer pressure

The bleakest month is not April. It's February. I've documented this. So, last night at a Super Bowl party, KK and Dan came up with an idea to brighten February. The idea is to get tattoos.

Ok, but here's my problem: I love the idea of getting a tattoo. I've even purchased temporary tattoos to wear as real tattoos to see how I like them.

And, I do like them!

But, I'm afraid to get a real tattoo because what if I change my mind about the tattoo? I can't get rid of it; it's permanent. What if I decide the tattoo is actually stupid, and then the tattoo is a permanent reminder of my stupidity? What if nice, middle-aged women who went to Catholic school for thirteen years, have bobbed haircuts, and wear eyeglasses just don't get tattoos? It's not our brand?

So, the logical thing to do here would be to skip the tattoo because I'm feeling so conflicted. Wait until I'm sure. And if I'm never sure, I just don't get one. This is what I would tell any of my students to do if they came to me in a similar predicament. I would say, "You don't have to get a tattoo to be cool!"

But then, all my friends (two of them, three if you count Dan) are probably getting tattoos together next weekend, and I'm not going to get one. I'll be left out! Not as awesome or brave! Not awesome and cowardly is not my brand!

You can see my predicament.



Don't irritate your teacher in February.

Wedding Ring Tattoo?

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Importance of Flexibility

waiting, screen time, father son

I was supposed to go to Los Angeles today to hang out with a cute baby. Instead, I'm going to school to hang out with some cute sixth graders who are finishing essays.

I mean, that's cool. Helping sixth graders with their writing is what I really love to do, after all. I wouldn't want another job, as mine is probably the best.

But it was going to be 63 degrees Fahrenheit today in Los Angeles. In Minneapolis, where I live, it might top 20. And there was going to be a baby - my nephew, whom I was going to meet for the very first time. And the reason the trip won't work is because someone else got a head cold. My own respiratory infection, I'll have you know, has been waning nicely.

I would coach my sixth graders on an abrupt and disappointing change of plans thusly: "Oh, man! What a bummer! Do you think you'll get to go some other time?"

Most of them would then maintain a droopy posture, but give a half-smile when I squeezed their shoulders in consolation. Probably it's true. Probably I could go some other time.

Three takes on Independence, including one requiring flexibility

Something from the summer of 2006, when nothing ever went as planned, and I didn't make a breakthrough in missile technology.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: Taking it Back

Elisabeth Egan, A Window opens, news obsession

To be honest, a lot of my reading time has been taken up with news. Now that we in America are headed toward a fascist state, I feel a responsibility to read all of the news. I've become a New York Times and Washington Post subscriber. It feels like my duty as a citizen to read all of the things. The papers send articles to my inbox all day long. Every selection seems essential. 

I mean, obviously, I can't keep up. My New Yorkers are piling. I have student poetry sitting there, and that's not even optional for me to read. I'm the teacher, and I assigned it. 

For the first time ever in my 52 books-per-year pledge (this is the fourth year), I'm behind on my total. "1 book behind," Goodreads tells me. A pit shoots through my stomach when I read that. 

What is happening?

So, I'm going to take back a bit of normalcy starting right now. In addition to reading the news, I have to read fiction and be a writer. Creativity and imagination are enemies of fascism, too, in addition to obsessive news consumption and active resistance. 

So here: I am listening to an addictive audio book - A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. It's right in the wheelhouse of the book I'm trying to write, not in plot but in tenor: suburban mom takes ambitious, busy job in Manhattan when she used to be home two days per week. Her friendships suffer, her marriage suffers (though, to be fair, that's not entirely her fault), and it seems like her children are growing and changing without her noticing. Something has to give, and it will. It's inevitable. It's going to happen in the next thirty pages, probably.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Barriers to Writing

Well, it's been tough to start typing, both here and on my fiction writing project. The fiction writing project (okay, let's just start calling it a book, but not The Book, and most definitely not My Stupid BookTM). Anyway, as it currently stands, it's off in my writing teacher's hands for a complete read-through.

I had to send her the revised chapters in the same week as my report card comments were due because, oh my god, poor planning.

Anyway, it's been hard to type anything because:

1. I'm obsessed by the news of our unhinged president. It's much worse than I imagined, as he's actually driven by only narcissism and revenge. I can't stop reading the papers. It seems like the only thing TO do.  I mean, besides march and do my weekly resistance items. And, I guess, pray.

2. The report card comment cycle. After they go out, I inevitably contact and am contacted by families who want to follow up. That's good and normal.

3. I got sick. There's a respiratory pestilence floating around, and despite my fervent protests, I contracted it. I had to stay home from school on Wednesday, which is a pain and which I hate, and now my face has a massive psoriasis outbreak. Because did you know that respiratory infection is a well-documented psoriasis trigger? I mean, really. Teaching with a facial rash is one of my least favorite states in which to teach. I'd rather teach with a stain on my shirt or even my fly down than with red blotches all over my face. I would, however, choose the facial rash over a third pregnancy. Pregnancy is a terrible state in which to teach. Anyway, the only thing to do is acknowledge that I have a facial rash and watch the students study it openly in response to this confirmation.

Get Over It in 3 Acts

It's Still Not Friday (but today it actually is)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What I Learned from My Sankalpa

sankalpa, open-heartedness, 2017

I'm calling it a day on Sankalpa 2017. When we first started writing about Sankalpa in 2013 (When I say "we," I mean Lee, as I didn't start writing about Sankalpa until 2014), it was determined that we'd do so for 24 days. That seems about perfect, and then it becomes time to write about other things. Here are some thoughts about my 2017 Sankalpa, which was, "I am open-hearted."

I am generally open-hearted (and optimistic) by nature.

It's my natural tendency to be curious about people and relationships. I'm generally accepting, and I'm open to twists and turns. I really like these traits in myself, which is what led me to this year's Sankalpa. 

Sometimes when you're an open-hearted person, you're also the kind of person who can have her feelings hurt pretty easily. This leads to guardedness. But, I think a defensive stance can cloud my spirit. OMG, look how emo I'm being! New-agey! Sankalpa!

Anyway, the January Sankalpa reminded me to be open until it was time to be guarded. Does that make sense? It's like when Shef was going to race some super fast kids in cross country, and he wasn't sure if he could finish first. My advice: "Put yourself in the race, and just see.  You might have to drop back," I told him, "but go out with the leaders and give yourself a shot." He did that.  In the end, he didn't win the race, but he did finish 3rd. Out of like 200-some kids! So, pretty good. 

If you decide first that something is going to be painful or uncomfortable or just not worth it - if you decide before you even try it - you might miss out on some amazingness. I think that's pretty true.

Open-Heartedness is not the same as saying yes to everything.

It's easy to confuse being open-hearted with clogging up your calendar. It's important to be curious and accepting, but smart to decline some opportunities. This year, I articulated something about my work life that I've known for a long time, but haven't made a rule. It's this: No school-night social engagements (concerts, plays, dinners) during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. That's a rule now.

People think that a teaching schedule is really wonderful with lots of free time. That's true, but the free time isn't at all flexible; and in the months I mentioned above, I'm underwater with work. I can't be open to any distractions, or else I start to lose it. You can't be open-hearted when you're losing your mind.

Sankalpa 2017! I'm adding this one to my arsenal, just like "I am intentional," and "I am a creative risk-taker." It's all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sankalpa Status Report: Hmmm

poop, potatoes, middle school

Did you know potatoes could look like this? Like poop, I mean? I was surprised to find them in the bag of little potatoes I was roasting for dinner last night, as I've never seen potatoes in quite this shape before. But(t) per my Sankalpa ("I am open-hearted," remember?), I chopped them on the diagonal and tossed them with olive oil. Not bad, as it turns out. The lesson here is, "Looking like poop doesn't necessarily equate tasting like poop." Whoo!

In other news, I've finished my report card comments. Just now, I spot-checked a few so I could provide an accurate report to you. Sure enough, I carefully considered each child and wrote both what I admire about her or him, and what might be done if they'd like to earn a higher grade. I'm sure you're relieved to hear that I've executed one of the required functions of my employment.

A third tidbit on my Sankalpa: I've been open-hearted to slovenliness. As I sank into report card writing, there was no time left over for exercising. So, I didn't do it. The calendar looks clear tonight, so it's possible I'll take in some yoga. I'm open to it, as it turns out.







Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Work Management

work management, time management, open-heartedness

Sankalpa comes in January, right when I'm doing one of the hardest, most labor-intensive things I do in my job. It's writing report card comments. It takes me forever to write the 250 words on each kid, telling each individual how much and why I value them and what exactly they could do to perform even better in English or Humanities class. I could do it faster, but then I'd do it worse; and that's totally not my way.

I like writing comments best when I spread the job out over a week. I write a quota each day, and then by the due date, I'm finished with no sweaty mad-rush panic. That was my plan this time around, and I was going to write 7 comments a day beginning on Monday. That would leave a bit of a log-jam for the weekend and MLK day, but nothing I couldn't handle with deep breathing and logic.

On Monday, I started, just as I planned, right after school. It was then that I remembered exactly how hard is is to start. The rhythm wasn't coming, and I remembered that in order to really do the job well, I had to look up work artifacts and discuss them specifically. Each comment was taking upwards of 15 minutes. After an hour (4 comments), I gave up for the day.

Not to worry! On Tuesday, I'd get back at it! Things would be easier! I'd cut the time per comment down to 12 minutes. Except on Tuesday, both of my co-teachers were absent and the spoken-word artist I'm hosting in 7th grade missed our class because she was stuck in traffic. I had two meetings, dinner to make, I had to wash my hair, and Shef had his choir concert.

I wrote zero report-card comments.

So, now I'm in the hole. The hole, however, is not that deep. I'm going to be open-hearted (It's a stretch, I know, to apply my Sankalpa to this situation) to the change in schedule. I'm going to take a deep breath and try again to get in the comment-writing zone.

You know what? This isn't that big of a deal. I think I can do it. I've done it before, and it was totally fine.

Looks like, every year at this time of year, I write about report-card comments.

Bragging as an inspirational work strategy. I'll try this today.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Family Movie Night

crying, movies, family movie night, emotions

I'll admit that sometimes during family movie night, I'll stay busy on my computer while the rest of them watch a movie. In my defense, I do generally stay in the same room with the family. Also, they generally choose some superhero film I have no interest in watching for the sixth or seventh time.

But tonight, because I'm so flipping open-hearted per my Sankalpa, I stayed right there in the fray for Pete's Dragon, the 2016 version starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford.  As a bonus, this was our first time watching this fine film - Mac got it for Christmas from Uncle Kevin. This Pete turned out to be pretty much what I thought it would be: a predictable, heartwarming Disney story of motherless children, their heartbreak, and the families that heal their wounds.

And it was so sad and wonderful - and Robert Redford looked so scraggly, old-guy handsome - that I bawled my freaking eyes out.

The kids have been teasing Dan for months about his infamous tendency to cry during movies and television shows, and also to cry during some especially touching advertisements for laundry detergent and/or auto insurance. When anything remotely moving happens on screen, the kids are immediately studying their dad. "Are you crying?" they demand.  And then they laugh at him and sometimes hug him, too.

So, obviously, Dan was crying at the end of Pete's Dragon when Pete (Spoiler Alert for the most predictable movie ever!) lets his dragon go and decides to live with Bryce Dallas Howard's human family that can meet his basic needs, like for clothing. The kids were lasered on Dan's welling emotion, until Mac realized that I was also overcome.

"Dad!" Mac. "She's got DRIP TEARS!"

"It's sad," I blubbered.

And it was. See how open-hearted I am? I'm moved by fuzzy green CGI dragons. If Sankalpa were something to win, I'd be doing it.

A 9:30 bedtime keeps me from watching most TV.

When the brothers aren't making each other cry, they're conspirators.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Opposition

open-heartedness, open-hearted, goals, resolutions


All, right - it's been a few days since I started my, "I am open-hearted" Sankalpa. It's going fine in that several times per day, I tell myself, "I am open-hearted." I've been doing this in tense moments, especially, and I think the intentionality helps me maintain my stance. Let's hope.

I'm expecting more tense moments today, as kids are going to start using glue guns for a project.

Glue guns?!

My co-teachers love projects. And of course, I do too. Right now we're working on an art installation designed to spark a community dialogue about the issue of immigration. What could be cooler than that?

It's just that we've reached the adhesive stage of the project. When we get to adhesives, the nausea kicks in. Last year, it was velcro and spray glue. Holy hell. The year before that it was duct tape and some other kind of glue. Not much better. In fact, I seem to have blocked the memory of the exact type of adhesive, but I know there were also stencils and black paint. Anyway, after fifteen minutes of gluing, I feel like I'm going to hurl. I get hot and twitchy, and I start to yearn for grammar worksheets and silence.

Luckily, I'm open-hearted, and every year I participate in planning a project that will be rewarding for students and our school community, and that will make me suffer.

See?! Sankalpa!

Project Land. This is the extended version of what I'm describing above.

I think Shef must hate projects, too. This is the story of his very first one at age four.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sankalpa: Be Your Best Self

sankalpa, resolutions, open-heartedness

I love goals, to-do lists and resolutions. I also love this sankalpa thing I started doing because Lee was doing it in 2014. As I said last year"Sankalpa comes from yoga, with its origins all the way back in the Vedas, and it's about awakening your true nature."

So, instead of saying, for instance, "I resolve to be more open-hearted," you tell yourself (and the world) that you already have that wonderful quality within you. You're just practicing embodying it.  As it happens, My 2016 sankalpa is actually, "I am open-hearted."

The thing is, I usually do embody an open-heartedness, but in the past year, I've found myself feeling more guarded. Sometimes, I think guarded can be a smart stance, especially if you're doing something really scary or dangerous, like scaling a rock face without equipment. But, if you're always walking around preparing for an impact (as in a car crash or getting hit with a medicine ball), I think you might be missing out on some cool and fulfilling connections.  I've been working against the impulse to close up with the motto, "You can't do it if you don't try to do it." 

In the month of January, though, instead of talking myself into being vulnerable and open-hearted, I'm going to just be that. Be my true self. "That sounds really emo," my birth father told me when I explained it. It's true. But, personal change with staying power just is kind of emo. 

Also in 2017, besides being open-hearted, I'm also finishing my book. Just saying. That's a goal or a resolution. I'll probably achieve it by using my previous sankalpas, which were "I am intentional," and "I am a creative risk-taker." This is good.


The creative risks in addressing the symptoms of puberty

"Writing is easy and fun for me."