Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bring on 2012 and Watch me Grow

With a new life opening before me, 2012 is going to be the year I rule MY world!  Far too long, I have repressed my inner self.  My writer!  I have made everyone and everything a priority above my most innate need.  My fellow writers understand, I'm sure, how strong the urge to write and relieve the build up of imagination within can be.  To have something to say and have it be heard is the ultimate in personal freedoms.

Let me be clear, nothing or no one prevented me from writing but me.  Internalizing so much of who I am has caused greater damage than any another person could inflict.  This is why I am taking back my life, freeing myself and inviting others to join in the self-development and healing that writing can bring.

During 2012, I have work to do.  Goals to reach:
Finish 1st novel (13,100 out of 36,000 words) 
Submit poetry and flash fiction entries once a month
Blog once a week
Continue to build my platform and brand

I could go on, but I've learned over the years, there is a need to limit goals to what can be managed alongside life.  Otherwise, I quit at the first setback because it feels like there's too much to catch up on.  WHEN I achieve these goals, I will set new ones.  So join me on this journey, learn with me, cheer me on, correct my mistakes, ignore my rants.  Just don't expect me to stop and go away, because I won't.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Deadline by Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher's novel, Deadline provides readers with a fresh look at teenagers and drama.  The main character is funny and even a bit snarky (especially when it comes to his opinion of the education he's being offered) but not so over the top that you find him annoying.  His courage as he faces death and the experiences he allows himself because of his choice not to tell, leave you wondering what you would do if you found out a similar fate.

Especially endearing is his relationships with others in the book.  There is not one character on the book that is left out of Ben's connections.  He manages to reach everyone, in one way or another, with his message about living life one day at a time.

A compelling read, with a powerful message.

Book Review: Small as a Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson

Small as a Mustard Seed was like stepping into someone's life. The characters are gut-wrenchingly honest and so well written, you feel their pain, their struggle and their relief as they grow. As you watch the story unfold through the eyes of the older sister, you wonder what the others in the family are experiencing at first. However, as the story goes on, you realize that one perspective is enough because she is so observant and raw about what she sees and hears in her world. 

While the book is set in post-Korea and during the Vietnam era, Shelli Johnson's short emotionally packed book keeps us focused on the people so well that it could be happening at any time. These characters could be your neighbors, friends or family, you feel so close to what is happening in their lives and want to reach out to them. Despite their flaws (which make them so real) Shelli portrays each of them with great care and respect while painting a perfect portrait of living with PTSD. This is a definite must read!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Courage in the Face of Judgment

 Deciding on what kind of candy I need while I'm striving to reach the ambitious writing goal I set is difficult. (Come on now, we all know candy is a need not a want.)  This is an arduous thought process, this decision making stuff.  I mean, if I get the chocolate it might not be enough chocolate.  If I get the Laffy Taffy, I have to unwrap each one and then I would have to stop typing.  Wait, that might be good for my diet then.  Twizzlers don't come individually wrapped, so I can type and snack, but the kids will bother me because they want some too.  UGH!  Sound familiar?  Everyone makes choices in their life everyday.  Some are easier than others, but we all know what it is like to make a tough choice.  So why is it then, that we judge another person's decisions?

Almost daily, I see students, teachers, parents making decisions at break neck pace.  And just as fast, there is someone there judging these decisions and sharing their well-intended opinions.  With all of this immediate feedback it's no wonder decisions are tough.  Make the wrong one and the world will haunt you for it.  Make the right one and someone will tell you what you should have done differently.  What is it that makes us all forget the difficulty that goes into making decisions, deciding on the value of opportunity cost?

I just read a beautiful novel, As Small as a Mustard Seed, by Shelli Johnson.  I spent so much of the novel questioning the decisions of the mother in the story as I watched her through the eyes of her oldest daughter. She struggled with the cost of protecting family over protecting just the children.  For much of it, I was feeling the burns of old wounds I have because of my own mother's similar struggle.  Yet, as the story continues, Shelli allows us to see the family years later through the eyes of an adult daughter.  A daughter who has lived her own life away from the struggles at home and has a fresh perspective of her youth.  It is amazing how our opinions of some one's choices change with time, age, experience and perspective.

I mention this because I was feeling very stuck with the mother in my own novel.  I didn't like her.  Here I am creating this woman, and I'm disgusted by her and her choices.  No matter how I tried to write her, I struggled because I felt wrong making her likable now when her choices as a younger mother were appalling.  Reading Shelli's novel helped me see that perspective and life experience are the things that make it OK to change our opinions of the decisions people in our lives make.  She helped me see that I NEED to work through writing this character because I NEED to work through these issues in my own life as well.  I need to remember to respect the courage it takes to make a decision, while well aware of the judgments you are facing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What Makes a Family?

As I write my first novel, I've thought a great deal about family.  Growing up in a family of four, (mom, dad, younger brother and myself), I thought I knew what family meant.  I mean, we had it all didn't we?  The three bedroom house, two cars, two dogs, two cats and all the Christmas lights a kid could ever remember wanting.  Family is picking on your little brother so much he cries and the very next moment he is sticking up for you to the neighborhood bully.  Then an hour later, he and the same bully are caught reading your diary in your room so you beat them both up.  Family is a mom and a dad going to work during the day, home in the evenings, t-ball and softball games, backyard BBQ and camping with neighbors.  Or is it?

Now as my family is crumbling and I am experiencing my own battle with the infamous plague of families--divorce.  I find I am learning what family is and what it is not.  I'm realizing that family, as I have come to learn it, is a sham.  None of the previously mentioned experiences mean anything without love.  It seems that so often we equate family to numbers, 2.5 kids, $84,000 average net worth, 2 parents, 4 grandparents and so on.  Where is the love number?  

Based on the average income of divorce lawyers ($48,353-$77,968 annually,, May 2011), it may seem to some that the love number has a dollar sign attached to it.  I know there are days when I look at those red numbers jumping from my online banking statement and think the same thing; especially this time of year.  Despair starts to take over, but then, one of my boys asks me for help with something or shares a story with me about a friend at school who may be moving away.  Smack!  Back in reality, I can clearly see that how much spending money one has does not equate love.  And not only can I see it; it is obvious that my boys somehow instinctively know this better than most adults.  Sure they ask for things, but they know those things do not mean I love them.  

Love, I am learning, also is not measured in increments of 60 or by 30-31 boxes on a calendar.  Nope, you won't find any measure of the love that constitutes a family on the clock or calendar on your wall.  Go ahead and fill your days with times and places, events and people.  Let me know if this brings you love.  As my children are learning how to actually "spend time with" their parents, especially Dad, it is becoming painfully obvious that love is not measured by time.  Sure, they get excited about seeing Dad.  They talk incessantly when he comes over for his Wednesday night visit--for about a half hour.  After that, they are back to iPods, video games or just hanging in their rooms.  They aren't upset when he is late because of traffic or leaves early because they are ignoring him.  For the kids, time does not equate love.

Ask any adult what their two most valuable liquid assets are and most will tell you time and money.  Ask any child, and it's love (maybe candy, but this is not about candy, so we will just ignore Matthew's response).  They feel their best when they know they are loved.  The best part is, the love doesn't even have to come from their parents (thank goodness, right?).  Just look at all the adopted, step and orphaned children that manage to find one adult to love them no matter what.  These kids are able to become contributing adults, go on to love and build their own families.  Kids are better at "family" than adults are.  Kids thrive on love!  

Next time you see any size group of people, regardless of the combination of race, creed, gender or age, look in their eyes.  Is there love?  Is there an ebb and flow of sacrifice and contribution?  Is there a comfort level that accepts successes and mistakes?  That is a family.  You don't need to know how long they have known each other or what country the baby is adopted from.  No numbers, no statistics, no averages.  None of that matters.  Love, love makes them a family.         

Friday, December 9, 2011

Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?

Picture that kid, sitting in class.  The one who is either sleeping or constantly making inappropriate comments.  The one walking around the halls like they are "too cool for school" and looking for a fight.  What's he wearing?  (Come on now, you know you pictured a boy.)  How many times have you written him up?  How many times have you called home with no results?  What does he smell like?  What does he like to do during his free time?  Wait, what do you mean you don't know what he likes to do?  Is that because we all know this is the kid we are going to see on the news someday?  Is that why you haven't even tried to get to know him?

Chapter 2 of Adolescent Literacy, titled "Flying Blind" is written by novelist Chris Crutcher and should be read by every teacher at the beginning and end of everyday. In his chapter, he reminds us who is in our classrooms and what they bring with them. He states, "Favorite teachers save lives."

I have to say, from personal experience, this is true. I had a few teachers in my life who, for no other reason, were my favorites because of a look, or a well wish about my personal life. The ones that proved that they SAW me and knew I needed a nudge or a reassurance are the ones I remember. I remember them more than the grades I got or the things I learned. I also have a life lasting love for those subjects and a greater confidence in my abilities in those classes. How many English teachers can say they LOVE chemistry? I can, all because of Mr. Wilson. He just knew when I wasn't OK and his guitar playing while we worked made it better every time. I'm sure it wasn't all for me, but he had a way of making sure he checked in on you when your body language suggested you were not OK.

He is just one of many that I learned from and try to emulate as I teach in my room. In years past it has been successful...this year, my focus was wrong. This year, my focus was on school (Masters program) and data. It shows in the motivation and relationships in the classroom. It hurts. I find myself wanting to loop, just so I get the chance to "get it right" and make a positive impact in my kids. They deserve better than they got from me this year. Chris Crutcher's article will be read many times by me.

This book seems to be a must read for every teacher, regardless of the content you teach. It reminds you that the kids are the puzzle, not the GLE's and the best way to get the test scores you want.

Who were your favorite teachers and why?