Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Harry Potter Identity Crisis

I've been a Harry Potter nerd for about 18 years now, ever since the kids in my 8th-grade classes handed the books to me when I started teaching. And since the very beginning of my fandom, I started to think about which Hogwarts house I myself would be sorted into.

It was obviously Ravenclaw. Traits of Ravenclaws include wit, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity.

I didn't mind that everyone kind of wants to be a Gryffindor. Gryffindors are courageous, daring, and chivalrous. Harry Potter himself is one, and so are all his best friends. It would be cool to be a Gryffindor!

But, their defining characteristic is bravery, no question. I am only brave when it's absolutely necessary, so I knew that couldn't be me.

Anyway, maybe three years ago, I joined Pottermore, the ultimate official J. K. Rowling site for Harry Potter nerds. There, you can take the ultimate official sorting quiz. You can only take it one time. The results are binding! I held my breath, was brutally honest, and...

It said I was Hufflepuff.

Well, I've always imagined Hufflepuffs to be sort of blundering, doughy-faced, and dull, notwithstanding handsome and heroic Cedric Diggory's placement there. The result of the quiz triggered a major identity crisis. As such, I began feverish research and eventually, I came to terms with the sorting. When I really started thinking about it, I imagined that the Pottermore quiz had, in fact, identified my better angels - angels like loyalty, hard work, dedication, and fair play. And Cedric Diggory.

So, I've been merrily telling anyone who cares (and some people who don't) that I'm Hufflepuff. Some in the know tell me that's totally wrong, and that I'm obviously Ravenclaw, but I'm smug about it. "I'm loyal and kind," I tell them. What can they say to that?

And then, for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book's publication, along comes a new Harry Potter sorting quiz from Time Magazine. This one is researched by umpteen social scientists and tested with 10,000 data points. It claims to be the definitive source on Harry Potter sorting. I took it, knowing full well that I'm Hufflepuff now and proud of it.

It said I'm Ravenclaw, with Hufflepuff as a close second.


After studying the new quiz and thinking hard about each question, I think I understand the discrepancy. The Time Magazine quiz is prizing work ethic as the tippy-top Ravenclaw trait; whereas Pottermore assigns that trait at least partially to Hufflepuffs. The Time Magazine quiz puts humility as a top Hufflepuff trait.

Work ethic is obviously my defining characteristic, especially as no house lists "compulsion" as a commonality. As for humility? Let's not delve too deeply there.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Novel Snip: Close to Life

One of the most fun things about my book project is writing the complaints from parents against one of my leads, a high school English teacher with more than a decade of experience. She's me and she isn't me, but this letter? This letter could very well be in my own file. 

Sheila, the writer of this letter, is a mad parent who works for a US Senator. She's complaining about Isobel's anti-Americanism. Things get a little more complicated for poor Isobel from here.

Dear Principal Wallace,

As you know, I have been an engaged and supportive Liston Heights parent for ten years. During the past decade, I have had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with a number of top-notch Liston Heights educators. On many occasions, I’ve connected classrooms - some of which have included my own daughter, Erin Warner, as a student - with various elected officials. Last fall, you and I collaborated on a town hall event held at Liston Heights High School with Senator William McGuire, for whom I serve as State Director. As you’ll remember, Senator McGuire and his wife, Rita, sent their own children through the Liston Heights school system. I know firsthand that the Senator counts our schools as one of the treasures of the state.

It pains me then, because of my long and happy affiliation with the district, to bring an unfortunate matter to your attention. For many months now, I’ve been concerned about the pedagogy and professionalism of Isobel J. Johnson, a member of your English Department. I checked with the State Licensing Board, and while Ms. Johnson does appear to be properly credentialed, I’m quite certain that her teaching is far below the standard I’ve come to expect of the faculty at Liston Heights High School. I will outline my specific concerns below, but before I do, I want to point out that this is only my third formal complaint against a Liston Heights teacher. That is to say, I don’t take this action lightly. I think, if you’ll review the files of Mrs. Margaret Hall and Mr. Peter Harrington, you’ll see my complaints mirrored the eventual findings of the administration, and neither teacher continued to be employed by the district following my intervention.

Principal Wallace, you may not be aware that right in your own building, Ms. Johnson is infecting your students - bright and open-hearted young people - with a dangerous, insidious feeling of Anti-Americanism. With each classic Ms. Johnson hands to our children, she encourages them, under the guise of “seeing multiple perspectives,” to undermine these timeless works of literature. Imagine my surprise, for instance, when my daughter reported to me that Atticus Finch represents white supremacy, rather than the beacon of justice generations of Americans have known him to be. And now, while reading what is truly a Great American Novel, Ms. Johnson is asking not only what The Great Gatsby has to say about the American Dream, but rather she requires teenagers to question the sexuality and sexual preferences of the characters. 

Principal Wallace, I’m asking you to investigate Ms. Johnson’s methods and sources. I can’t be the only Liston Heights parent to object to a teacher of American Literature flaunting her own Anti-Americanism. Once you’ve concluded your review of Ms. Johnson’s practices, I’d like to meet with you to discuss your findings.

You have my very best wishes,
Sheila Warner

State Director
The Office of Senator William McGuire

Fun, right? I'm revising like crazy, and this is from Chapter 11. Maybe only 7 versions or so to go? We'll see.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Status Report

Okay, I'm getting into the swing. Being productive. Working on my book. Finishing other people's books. Thinking about writing book reviews. Cleaning the garage. That kind of stuff.

Here are a few of things I've been thinking about:

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I heard a This American Life that featured this syndrome. Basically, if Dunning-Kruger is in play, you think you're much better at something than you are. You think you're awesome (or at least above average), but you really suck. And, your friends probably won't clue you in.

Since then, I've been trying to figure out what my Dunning-Kruger things are - things I feel pretty confident about, but that I'm really quite bad at. So far, I think it might be dancing. But part of Dunning-Kruger says for sure that I CAN'T know that I'm really bad at the thing. It's a blind spot.

We'll all have a Dunning-Kruger moment at some point, and no one will tell us. Isn't that kind of unnerving?

How Do You Know If Your Book is Done?

I mean, I know my own book isn't done. I'm only on version 7 or 8 or 10. I'm assuming we'll go up to 15 revisions before it's ready to shop around? But, when I get there, will I know, or will it be a Dunning-Kruger thing? As luck would have it, my teacher just wrote a blog post about this.

It seems like I'm just in the mix of approaching doneness, but 2.5 steps from achieving it. I'm on the step of paying a freelance editor, a step that many people may be surprised to know is standard. In any case, I'm hoping that if I continue to work on it several hours per day this summer, I can make progress slightly faster than when I was doing my demanding, full-time job and writing just from 5 to 6am.

Psoriais Flare

I had an epic one at the close of the school year, and it's still not gone. So annoying, but I'm carrying on.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nine Things for Nine Years

Our youngest child is nine years old today. Here are nine things about him:

  1. He doesn't sleep very well. He hasn't ever, but we're all used to it now.
  2. He does things his own way. You can't predict what the way will be, and you probably can't influence the way. You have to roll with it and trust the master. The master is Mac himself.
  3. Two summers ago, he hated swimming so much that he cried about lessons and refused to get in the water. Of course, I wouldn't let him quit swimming because of safety and principle, so he sat sobbing on the edge of the pool for the full hour allotted to practice. This happened day after day.  Now, however, he loves swimming and wants to go to races. He laughs when I remind him of those other times with the incessant crying.
  4. Mac's not a morning person. He's so not a morning person that about six years ago, we began dressing him in clean clothes at bedtime in lieu of pajamas. This eliminated some morning tantrums, and it's a practice we've continued to this very day. Or, we just let it go, and he wears the same outfit for an entire weekend. It's a little gross, but it's not life threatening.
  5. He writes books, types them up, and gets them catalogued in the Lower School library. There's a series about Hamburger Boy and multiple issues of a magazine called Nature News.
  6. Mac hates potatoes, mostly even French fries.   
  7. When he is sleeping, he's super active. If you let him in your bed, he'll kick you in the face while you're in the midst of your REM cycle. Just don't let him in there. If you have to because it's eleven for goodness sake, and he's not anywhere near sleeping, block your whole self with pillows before you close your eyes.
  8. He loves school and does everything his teachers tell him to. This shocks me every time I hear it at conferences.
  9. Mac's very particular about his appearance - hair, clothes, shoes. If he doesn't like it or it isn't his style, he won't wear it. Because see #2. #2 is really all you need to know. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Annals of Medicine: Physical Report

I've neglected my health now for a couple of years (with the exception, of course, of handling the skinny poop). Now, however, as of this very day, I've finally achieved my routine physical. As I waited on the exam table, I felt simultaneously guilty and accomplished

At one point during the appointment, my doctor said, "This is odd - I ordered these labs on you two years ago, but..."

"But," I broke in, filled with shame, "I didn't do the labs because I was in a rush to go back to work, and then I just never came back."

The doctor nodded sagely. "I have two little kids," she said.


"Today, though," I told her, "I've arranged to stay until I'm all done in the lab. It's all getting finished on the same day."

She seemed appropriately proud of me.

I will now tell you what I learned:

  • I have low cholesterol, except for the good kind.
  • I do not appear to have diabetes.
  • My thyroid seems to be functioning well.
  • I'm probably not, at this time, dying of cancer. I explained several symptoms which could possibly indicate imminent death. The expert, however, felt certain that these did not if fact warrant any diagnosis beyond anxiety, which we're monitoring with a wait-and-see approach.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Annals of Teaching: The Crash

Summer Vacation, #teacherlife, school's out

Well, it's the first Monday of Summer Break. I'm eating a Lumberjack Muffin, which is part of my new 21-day meal prep challenge. It's not really a muffin, but rather some breakfast sausage, red pepper, onion, potato, and egg baked in a muffin tin. Delicious! In a few minutes, when it's not so cold from the fridge, I'm going to slice a peach as a second course.

You'll notice that my breakfast is super healthy and free from processed foods.

Anyway, speaking of the transition to summer, my plan this year was to crash hard on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after school got out, with the aim of curtailing the two-week adjustment-to-break funk. It's true, I did go to bed early on Friday. Saturday, though, I spent the day at a track meet. I did talk with really fun, funny, and bright track moms. That counts as relaxing, doesn't it?

Sunday, I spent several hours shopping for and prepping the meals for the 21-day meal prep challenge. I also went to a hockey game and to Costco. And to dance class.

My mom said, "Remember, you can sit and read a book." I did that later in the evening. Unfortunately, the book is not that great, and I have to finish the whole thing because I told the publisher I would review it on Literary Quicksand.

Now, despite my 10-minute meditation as part of the Anxiety Package on Headspace, I'm feeling nervous that I'm failing both my adjustment period and my summer goals list.

Unfortunately, this entire freakout is entirely in my nature.

Last year's transition to summer post. Rewind, Playback.

Two funny end-of-year anecdotes that still live in infamy.