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.

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.