Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Four Part Post

I have a series of events that I recall every year about this time as my own personal memoriam, since 2008. Much like Nick Carraway describes looking back on his first interactions with Jay Gatsby, I didn't think too much of these events as they happened, and a lot of living went on around them. It was hindsight that brought them to the forefront as markers in a path and linked them in my mind. 2008 seems much longer than just four much has changed and faded in my mind in four years.

But not this story, which probably taught me most of what I know and take to heart about my job, who I am, and my purpose. However, to fit the whole story, I am going to present it in four posts (posted every other day starting 11/3, ending 11/9) called In Memoriam and number them. I just wanted to give a heads up so that anyone interested in reading them would connect the events in chronological order as the posts come out.

Thanks for your interest in this story I've wanted to put into writing for the past four years.


Sunday, October 28, 2012


November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. This month is set aside as a crazy "thirty days and nights of literary abandon," where anyone who ever wanted to write a book can go for it. There is a support group and pep talks, word counters, and chat forums to help you along your literary way. A "winning" product is a 50,000 word novel downloaded to the NaNoWriMo site by 11:59 PM Pacific time on November 30th.

Many people have at least heard of this event, as I have, but don't know its history. It started in July 1999 with 21 friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, who simply wanted to have some fun and "make some noise." Over the years since they've added a professional website and staff, changed the month, made official sign ups and rules, and have involved K-12 schools through their Young Writers Program. In 2006 they became a nonprofit organization, which runs on donations from participants and

As of 2011, NaNoWriMo had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them winners, meaning they finished the required word count in one month. They have been featured in the media and endorsed by professional authors. There have been a number of NaNoWriMo participants who have gone on to publish novels as well, some names most familiar being Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" and Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus."

So if you're looking for a reason to give writing a try, this may be for you. Comes complete with a deadline and good company working toward the same goal. Because I don't know how I feel about downloading my work to someone's website, I'm not going to sign up. But, I am going to do my own unofficial NaNoWriMo at home. Hopefully it'll kickstart my own story juices flowing to the point of no return!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's My Problem?


Stuck in a rut. How is it I get so far from my initial intentions without realizing it? How is it that even with a good idea, I have lost my motivation? I find myself still thinking about writing, enjoying reading others' writing, critiquing writing, proofreading college students' writing, teaching high schoolers writing...but not actually writing.

My grading and lesson planning has all been manageable. My kids have all become amazingly self-sufficient on the homework front so far this year. For once none of my kids have a current sport or activity eating up the afternoons and evenings. My husband cooks dinner pretty much every night. My laundry gets done on weekends. I even have some time to take a nap before dinner and read after.

But I haven't been writing. Why, when I have the perfect set up right now, am I not writing? What is this? I am one of the least lethargic people I know when it comes to doing things that need done! Yet, when I hit 9-10pm, and the kids are in bed, everything's ready for the morning, I'm not tired cause I took a nap, and there's nothing else to do...I read or zone out on some random game or task.

But I should be writing! That time every night, no excuse. It is so hard to get back into the habit. I feel like I don't get back to it because I don't know where to go; however, I think this is a lie my mind tells itself because the act of writing will trigger the ideas and organization I'm looking for. I know this piece will set itself up if I would just get it moving.

I don't even feel like rereading and improving this post before putting it up...So what's my problem?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Free Kindle?

Am I crazy? Hard to find stuff for free, right? Well not when you follow awesome blogs like Rebecca Taylor's. For the next seven days you can win a free, new Kindle by visiting her blog and completing certain tasks for chances to win! It's fun and doesn't take much time at all. Plus, you get to connect with a pretty swell blogger. So hop on over there and check it out.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Great Thinkers thinking greatly

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over
the man who cannot read them." Mark Twain

Today I attended the first of a series of inspiring workshops. The starting point for the workshop caught my ear with its Fahrenheit 451 overtones and reminiscence of Mark Twain wisdom. To be fair, the gentleman running the workshop was a high school English teacher for 30 years before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, so he "had me at hello," literally.

The opening piece was an excerpt from Rushworth Kidder's book "Reinventing the Future: Global Goals for the 21 st Century." He states a valid, yet unheeded worry about why people should read, but don't:
       "It is that they read for wisdom, for depth, for a conscious acquaintance with the values and judgements of great thinkers thinking greatly. The tragedy of illiteracy - and even greater waste of alliteracy, involving those who know how to read seriously but don't - is that it abandons the accumulated wisdom of the ages. It places fine writing in the hands of fewer and fewer interpreters, whose translations and commentaries become progressively oversimplified - and whose audience, increasingly unable to think for itself, grows more and more susceptible to the manipulations of the elite.

       "Are we headed, then, backwards into the pre-print attitudes of the Middle Ages, when the literate few ruled the illiterate many?....To avert such backsliding, [our educational focus] must be given over to two things: training people how to read, and teaching them why they should want to read..."

This does not mean people have to read more than anything else.

This does not mean people are not smart unless they read abundantly.

I am one of the most avid readers I know, but even I am guilty of this! Sure, reading lends me exposure to a wide range of views and ideas, but I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to shrugging off what I should be reading because I do not want to be bothered with the responsibility, I'm too busy, or I figure it doesn't matter if I do or not. Recently my mom told me I should read a finance/business book. The authors had predicted the current conditions of the housing market and our other economic issues two years before they happened and now the authors have a new book that shows us where the economy will go from here. Probably worth looking into, but what did I tell her? "You read it, make a list of things I should do, and let me know."

What happens when the trustworthy on such topics, such as my mom, become few in my life - or in the world in general? To whom can I turn for this information - on whom will we all rely?

What this means is that people need to realize the importance behind reading and use it as needed at the very least.  More and more people make decisions based on what they hear or see on TV, without ever gathering, reading, and critically thinking through the materials themselves. Why do campaigners place signs in people's yards? Because people will recognize the name and short list of facts at the voting booth and simply mark that name down because they've heard it before.

By losing the ability to comprehend and think critically about what we read, we set ourselves up for failure. If the trend continues, we are lambs gladly led to the slaughter. Men like Bradbury, Orwell, and Huxley were not pulling crazy ideas out of thin air. They could see this coming and now it is ours with which to deal.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Keep Inspiring


Annie Dillard said, "Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you." What? You will lose something if you don't give it away? Hmmm...isn't that against some law of physics...or at least common sense? However, I think Ms. Dillard is on to something here. And she's not the first one to say it either. I recall Jesus stating in Luke, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it." There is much more to unpack with Jesus' statement, but at the root is the same basic idea as Ms. Dillard's.

Experience in the classroom has taught me that the more I share what I know, the more I gain. Others either add to my information or they provide opposing views that cast mine in a different light. When I hold back, not only do I miss out on possibly augmenting my knowledge and understanding of a topic, but I also lose a little bit of my passion and confidence in what I already know. Without passion I fail to grow and without growth, my knowledge becomes stale. Staleness leads to death (at least metaphorically). I also prevent others from discovering new knowledge, understanding, and passion. In essence, that makes me a murderer of the mind - theirs and my own.

Now before you think I'm suddenly in need of some Prozac or a restraining order, let me fill you in on where and how this popped into my head. I don't know where I found the quote, I just love quotes so I'm always collecting them in an empty journal or on various decorative plaques throughout my house and classroom. But, I read a guest post by Becky Kopitzke, on Jeff Goins's blog, that was titled "Every Writer is a Mentor (Or Can Be)." (Read post here.) She talks about how every writer has an audience and the ability to be a mentor/coach to that audience. For example, many writers have blogs. Why? To connect with other writers and/or readers. We provide our insight and our readers provide theirs through comments. We are, in essence,  mentoring each other. 

Prodding each other to Keep Inspired.

Have you ever looked at yourself as a (although maybe unofficial and/or accidental) mentor or coach?

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Result

Here it is...the poster I put together to advertise my high school book club, Reading Warriors. The slogan was written by one of the members: "We Read Books for Breakfast!" To emphasize its meaning I added a sort of subtitle underneath the larger slogan. It reads: "Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest." (It's a Proverb.)

The art work is our customized book and tomahawk from my previous post about Reading Warriors. (Mohawk Warriors is the name and mascot of our school, respectively). I blew it up as large as I could using Word. On either side is the basic information: my name, classroom number, and meeting times. I decided to do Friday meetings twice a month for grades 9-12 and one Wednesday meeting a month for grades 7-8. This way they can read books appropriate to their grade and discussion levels.

The border around the tri-fold consists of 71 different book covers - everything from sci-fi to fantasy to memoir to popular fiction. Filling in the rest of the center are eight quotes from famous/popular authors, followed by the author's name and his/her most well-known book pictured next to it. (Not all of the quotes came from the book I placed next to the quote...some are just things the author said. But, I wanted to connect a picture to the author.) I picked these authors to represent books/reading more specifically based on their longevity in the world of literature...I knew they had to have something to say about books/reading.

Here's what I found (top left, moving counter clockwise):

“Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself,
to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“To be a well-favored man is the gift of fortune, but to write or read comes by nature.”
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
 Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

“...I believe it important to emphasize how strongly I feel that books, just like people,
have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both.”
 Elie Wiesel, Night

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.
They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."
Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry

Fun fact (because I'm a nerd and couldn't help myself, I actually went back and counted after it was finished): There are 79 different books on the tri-fold. I own 59 of them and have read 49 of them. I had so much fun putting this together. I started at 9:30 PM on a Sunday night and went to bed around 1:30AM. I only meant to get it started, but once I got going, I didn't want to stop.

And boy was that one student excited to see I used his slogan as the main piece for our board. Nothing like watching a student grasp onto reading as the adventure it is. I'm expecting to see more of that this year! Go Warriors!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Such as we are made of, such we be


Last Sunday morning our pastor, who is also a good friend of ours, made the statement "Get over yourself." He was referencing having to face taking and giving correction, but it recalled to me what it takes to write. (And I'm sure he's thrilled my mind seized on one phrase and ran to a totally different subject with it ;)

 When I started this blog I sent the link out to a select group of FB friends and didn't share my posts to FB. I was hiding even as I took steps to move forward. What if I couldn't think of worthwhile topics? What if people didn't like what I had to say, or even worse, were indifferent?! Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we might win by fearing to attempt. It is time we hate that which we often fear.

As I started to write on topics on which I wanted people's input, I decided to share all new posts to FB (and Twitter). After all, either I considered myself a writer or I didn't. Either I wanted to form a writing community or I didn't. I had to get over myself and the winter of my discontent in order to pursue my passion.

In You Are a Writer, Jeff Goins says, "The more I love what I do, the more others do, too. This is the paradox: when you stop writing for readers' affections, your work will affect more people." Ironic, but logical. The subtle shift in focus makes all the difference. Boldness be my friend!

And I've found myself wanting to veer off of the course of directly "talking shop" (aka writing). I tell myself, "Wise and slow. They stumble that run fast." But maybe that's okay because if all the world's a stage, then all of life presents me with writing opportunities. The earth has music for those who listen.

So I write for an audience of one - me. The goal: Pursue my passion. To say what I need to say, in the best possible way to say it. Not just to speak but to speak true. To know what I am and to find what I may be. This above all else: to my own self be true, so that to others I will not be false.

How has life served your art? Or how has art served your life? You can probably take a good guess at how art and life intertwine for me.