Friday, May 29, 2009

The Rawest Emotion: Is it Possible to Capture Anger in Writing?

Anger is, to me, the strongest--and the strangest--emotion.

There are a couple of characteristics to my anger that are I guess maybe a bit unique. In general, I have an extremely long fuse--it takes A LOT to make me angry--but an extremely volatile temper when I finally get there. We're talking car-kicking, door slamming, cell phone-throwing, screaming obscenities angry. I don't get there very often.

And then there's this passive-aggressive thing I do (passive-aggression is something I hate in others, by the way--I'm a hypocrite sometimes, although I hate those too), most often in writing. When I'm angry and I write about it, there's always this bitter, acerbic, downright mean tone, stuff that I would never dream of saying to anyone's face and stuff that has at times gotten me into varying degrees of trouble if I don't rip it up fast enough.

Usually when I'm angry, though, I just cry. That's me in my typical angry state--crying because I have to let it out of me somehow.

What's entertaining is that my students say to me all the time, "Do you ever get mad, Mrs. L? Like, ever?" I have not yelled at a single student in my current school (well, except as a joke, and the class knew it was a joke). It's hard to explain how one can have infinite (and in some cases, beyond infinite) patience with children, adolescents in particular, yet go postal on Verizon Wireless tech support or scream, "Motherfucker!" when you drop the shampoo in the shower or punch a wall or write angry letters or e-mails you never plan to send. I have never and would never raise a hand in anger to either Addie or Belle, yet I broke the blinker on one of my cars I slammed my hand down on it so hard.

Looking at my completed novel, I've found that I've shared aspects of my own anger throughout. Interestingly, it's never as simple as saying, "Character A" is a passive-aggressive letter writer, "Character B" destroys objects when angry, and so on. It's more the different mixes each character gets of how I see and view and feel anger.

Anger is probably the most difficult emotion for me to write about, and I'm just wondering if it's because anger is the least easily defined, understood, or controlled feeling of what I, a human being first and a writer after, experience.

PS. Writing helps my anger a lot. Like, beyond a lot. And I'm not talking about those passive-aggressive epistles that almost always get destroyed before they see the light of day. I'm talking writing like this : ) I wonder why that is?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's Your Guilty Pleasure on Television?

I spent much of my life completely ambivalent about television. I mean, when I was a kid I spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons with Adam and Mary, but I was never obsessed with TV like so many people are. There were so many good books to read, know what I mean?

I was student teaching when the 9/11 attacks happened (I swear this connects to the topic at hand). My class was in the library starting a project when the librarian started having hysterics and screaming, "They're bombing the White House!" I do not do well in emergency situations, and this was of course the ultimate emergency situation. When I finally got home, my stepdad was watching the news. For the first time ever, he was not able to reassure me that I was safe, that my world was going to be okay. He was the bravest person I've ever met, and he just sat on the couch watching the news unfold, his eyes glued to the TV screen. I sat with him trying to keep my anxiety attack under control; strange as this sounds, the talking heads on the screen were reassuring to me. They were people, alive and scared and knocked to their knees, just like me. I watched the news almost obsessively after that. I slept with the cable news channel on, finding what comfort I could from staying on top of the "breaking news alerts", for over a year.

As a result, television lost its repugnancy for me. I slowly but surely branched out from the news and eventually learned to sleep without the television on, but I had become used to the TV as a means of relaxation, of coping with stress. I found that not all television was mindless drivel, that there was some stuff on the boob tube that could actually make me think and help me learn.

I'm not going to pretend that I watch all educational television, although I spend a disproportionate amount of time on the History Channel, National Geographic, Discovery (I adore Shark Week), and PBS (I think "Antiques Roadshow" is amazing). I never got into reality TV--I'm one of the few people I know that have never seen a single episode of either "Survivor" or "American Idol" or anything in between. Nope, I found my niche with the crime/drama/detective/courtroom shows. I enjoy the "Law and Order" shows, the "CSI" shows, things like that.

My ultimate guilty pleasure on television, though, is "NCIS", a show about Naval investigators. There are always twists that leave me guessing until the very end, the characters are incredibly rich (despite the outward shallowness of some of them), and the show does not take the easy road like many seem to. The line between good guy and bad guy blurs, the lead character deals with stress by building boats and drinking bourbon in his basement in a manner both tragically sad and eminently real, and the show sends the message that there is a place in the world for everyone to succeed. For some reason, watching an episode of "NCIS" gives me a level of pleasure that, in the past, I've only experienced when in the grip of an unbelievably good book.

So what are your thoughts on television? What is/are your favorite show(s)? Why? What role does television play in your life? Do you think there's a point of too much TV-watching? I worry as a teacher that my students spend too much time watching television (and playing video games, but don't even get me started on the V.G. word). What do you think?

Monday, May 25, 2009

What is Memorial Day?

Happy Memorial Day : )!

Belle asked me on Friday afternoon, upon ascertaining that we did in fact have a three-day weekend, what Memorial Day was. That I wasn't able to answer her effectively ("It's for the veterans ... no, that's Veterans Day ... uh, it's for people who have served our country." "What does serve our country mean?" "Like, in the army." "What's the army?") bothered me a lot more than I expected. It made me realize how ignorant I am about certain things, things that I should not be so ridiculously ignorant about.

We got flowers to put on the graves of my stepdad, who was stationed in Germany during his time in the U.S. Army, and my maternal grandfather, who was on the Normandy Beach on D-Day. It occurred to me that I don't know where my paternal grandfather (who was also a World War II veteran, serving in the South Pacific) is buried, and that I wish I did so I could bring him flowers too. The whole situation made me want to go crazy and spread flower petals all around the flags decorating the headstones of those who were in the armed forces. I'm very patriotic in my way, and I just wish that I'd taken more time to think about the portent of Memorial Day.

So ...

Memorial Day is celebrated the last Monday of May. It was originally called Decoration Day and was set aside as a day meant to memorialize members of the American armed services who died in active service. Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War, and some traditions include VFW donations for poppies (think of the poem "In Flanders Field"), the Indy 500, a national concert on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and family picnics and barbecues. Also, Memorial Day is generally considered the "official" beginning of summer in the same way as Labor Day is considered its end (Thank you, Wikipedia, for the quick history lesson).

The fact that I think of Memorial Day as when the beach house is opened, when my mom makes her first potato salad of the summer, and when I get a much-needed extra day off from work does not make me unusual, I don't think. That I make sure to put flowers honoring some of my relatives who served in the armed forces puts me on par with many Americans, but if you think about it, that's not even the purpose of Memorial Day (not that it's ever wrong to honor your dead, but ...).

Anyway, I'm glad I learned what Memorial Day truly is. I'm kind of embarrassed that I didn't know before, but I guess it's better to do something about your ignorance than to just let it simmer. I'm still not sure how to explain it to Belle, but at least I know how to explain it to me.

I think : )

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Best (and Worst) Last Lines

For writers and readers, there is a great deal of focus on the first line of a written piece, the grabber, the so-called hook. I agree that the way a work starts is vital--many readers, for example, judge whether or not to keep reading based on the first line.

As a writer, I struggle mightily with the last line, what we English teachers call "the clincher". I am horrific at ending my own writing ... I think that's why it took me fifteen years to write my first novel (and I'm still not thrilled with the ending). This is an area of constant struggle for me, and I'm just wondering if others feel the same way.

Why is there so much focus on first lines yet not as much to last lines, to the last thing a reader sees, to what he or she carries away with them?

John Irving is, in my opinion, the master of the last line. "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases" is as much the ultimate close to a book as "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed" (from Stephen King's The Dark Tower, natch) is the quintessential opening. However, Irving has a very interesting approach to his writing--he writes the last line first, and goes from there. All of his books have amazing ending lines (although my personal favorite is the aforementioned one from The World According to Garp), but I suppose it could be argued that Irving isn't really in the running were there to be a contest since he puts the same effort into his concluding lines that most writers put into their first ones.

In looking through my nearby bookshelf, I found the following noteworthy final lines:

"'Peter, my dearest heart. Peter. Hello, love. You see? I did wait ...'" (from Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons)

"'Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?'" (from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all." (from William Goldman's The Princess Bride)

"When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack." (from The Call of the Wild by Jack London)

"'I'm so glad to be at home again!'" (from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)

"They will not know I have gone away to come back, for the ones I left behind, for the ones who cannot out." (from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros)

"I been there before." (from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

With the exception of Twain and Goldman (and possibly London), none of these are particularly thought-provoking notions to leave your reader with. Does this mean that many (most?) writers share my difficulty with ending a novel, or am I just overly picky?

What is the best last line you've ever read in a book? What is the worst? If you're willing to share, what's the last line of something you've written (I'm not willing to share the last line of anything I've written ... my last lines are all crap ... I've definitely identified an area I need to focus on big-time as a writer)?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Struggling for Sibling Status

Believe it or not, my daughters almost never fight. Their one bone of contention, interestingly enough, involves my mother--their beloved Mimi. They had a real blow-out today ...

My cousin asked Belle to be the flower girl in her wedding. Naturally, Belle was thrilled at the prospect to be part of the attention and wear a pretty dress. She's a little fuzzy on what exactly a flower girl does, but she's stoked.

This morning, my mother called and wanted to know if Belle and I wanted to go to the bridal store in Nashua with my aunt and cousins. I had an eye doctor appointment at eleven (finally got my new contacts--woohoo!), a softball game to attend at one (several of my students were playing), and Addie had a haircut scheduled for three, so I was pretty tapped out for the day. My mother pointed out that it seemed that, while I might be busy, Belle seemed to be available. Long story short, Mimi took Belle for the day.

After Addie's haircut, we drove up the New Hampshire coastline, taking the scenic route to my mother's house. She and Belle were outside playing catch with Mollie when we got there, and they were very excited to share the details of the day. We had dinner (spaghetti and salad, mmmmmm :-)), and as we finished eating, I realized something interesting.

Addie was ripped. I mean, she was furious.

Obviously, she wasn't furious so much as she was jealous. She was the first granchild, and my parents spent a more active role in her early upbringing than most grandparents do. Therefore, Addie is used to being the light of Mimi's life. The only light of Mimi's life. My mother has always been very, very careful to make sure that Addie doesn't feel usurped from her position as princess-on-a-pedestal as far as her grandmother is concerned. However, today was unquestionably Belle's day. As far as I'm concerned, she deserved it--Addie has owned her grandmother's adoration and special moments with Mimi for fourteen years, while Belle has never had the same kind of experience. She was thrilled at the chance, thrilled at the day, thrilled at the flower girl prospect, and thrilled to be "Mimi's Girl" for a day.

I think what sent Addie over the edge was when Belle announced to her grandmother, "Mimi, I think I'm going to come live with you." Mimi said this was absolutely fine with her, and Addie's eyes just about popped out of her head. I guess Addie might as well get used to it, though--in addition to my girls, Mimi is now grandmother to Adam's little Pete (unspeakably cute, I might add) and Mary and Jon's baby is due any day now.

Do you think most parents and/or grandparents have "favorites"? Is it possible for this title to be usurped? Do all kids feel like they are the favorites sometimes (I've said to both Belle and Addie when told that I like the other one better that they are both my favorite, depending on the day)? How devastating is it for a child to realize that they are not the one and only? Is "favorite status" really all it's cracked up to be, or is it a double-edged sword? Given the interesting triangle between Mimi, Addie, and Belle, who do you feel most badly for, if any of them?

It's not a big deal, really. I mean, everyone ended up happy, and Mimi had a great day with Belle and a great dinner with all of us. It just got me thinking about some of this stuff ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Writing--a Family Habit

Okay, I'm cheating.

I've been keeping up with my writing goals; this is huge for me ... if you know me at all, I'm not always great at the follow-through. The fact that I've been blogging here every day, putting time into my current WIP, and slowly but surely getting my Dark Tower blog going without procrastinating has been a minor miracle.

With that said, it's Friday afternoon of what's been an incredibly long week at work. Pythagorus and I are going to watch a DVRed television show, and he's waiting (not very patiently :-)) for me to finish blogging so we can get to the show. Therefore, I figured that I'd post an essay written by Addie for her summer reading project for Honors Freshman English. It got me thinking ... do you think writing is a genetic trait? Do most writers raise children that are good at writing? Is there an added pressure on children of writers to excel as such?

Interesting to think about. Anyway, here's Addie on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I'll be back on track tomorrow : )

"Summer Reading Analysis Essay: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"
by Addie

I have been required to read many books for school. Some were excellent, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read them. Others weren't so great, and I hope I never lay eyes on them again. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time didn't completely fall into either category. Some things about this book lived up to my standards, while others confused me or left me wishing the author had done something else. Overall, it wasn't a horrible book; however, it wasn't spectacular either.

When I opened the book, my first observation was how well the author described Christopher Boone, a teenager with autism. His word choice was spot-on such as when Christopher emphasized, “I do not like people shouting at me. It makes me scared that they are going to hit me or touch me (4).” His actions were realistic as well; his reaction of “I turned and walked away (38)” when people laughed at him seemed very realistic considering this book is fictional. Reading the point of view from an autistic adolescent's eyes makes the reader understand how hard life is for him, and how differently he thinks: “In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was a good day (24).” This makes the story very unique because, to me, it is always interesting to hear a story told from someone else's perspective.

I found Mark Haddon’s graphics to be another positive. They helped the reader understand more effectively what was going on in Christopher's mind. In many books, it is hard to understand exactly what the storyteller is thinking. In this case, though, Christopher makes it easy to understand confusing description. When he got lost at the train station, I found the map Christopher made in his head and drew in his book very easy to comprehend what was occurring.

As the story began to unfold, though, I was confused. A dead dog? Who cares? I wish the author had used more foreshadowing to give the reader a glimpse of what was to come by either making Christopher slowly put the pieces together rather then all at once or made his mother’s whereabouts a little more obvious. Although the writing itself was decent, I thought the plot was a bit lacking. I was also very confused about the relationship between Mrs. Shears and Christopher's father. I had to reread certain parts several times to understand. It seemed like before the dog died, there was no suggestion of an argument between them, but after Christopher mentions confronting her about his detective work, there is a random, unclear conflict.

The thing that confused me the most about this story was the ending. I don't know if I was just hurrying through the book, but after reading the last fifty pages, I had no idea what happened. I had to reread the ending several times to apprehend how Christopher ended up back at his father's house. When I was reading this book, I felt like the author wanted to finish writing it as much as I wanted to finish reading it. If he had put more explanation into it, it would've been easier to realize how and why the book ended the way it did.

Even more then the confusing description, though, I disliked the plot of the ending. While reading the book, the reader becomes somewhat attached to Christopher and wants the best for him. His innocence makes you almost expect a happy ending. However, once you reach the last page, you realize his life is and will always be a bit of a mess. He's always going to have the image of his father killing Wellington in his mind, and having to spend time with him often probably won't help that too much, as he doesn't forgive or forget easily. Christopher’s fear of his father’s violence is shown when he “pushed the bed against the door in case Father tried to come in (217).” It is nice that he gets to live with his mom and his puppy, although a non-autistic child would have problems with divorced parents so I can't imagine how Christopher will respond to this realization when he's older.

If forced to judge, I'd give the book six out of ten stars. If I were the author, I would have tried to tie in some more interesting plotlines for the slow parts in the middle of the book. I also would have made the ending happier, although it would be hard to make the situation any better then it already was. Although I would change a lot, I'd also give myself a pat on the back because writing about an autistic child is inevitably a challenge. It is easy to forget how much work truly goes into books, and from the graphics to the hard-to-nail point of view, this book must have been extremely hard to write. Mark Haddon definitely earned my respect in that regard.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Contemplating Field Trips ...

The marine biology class at my school led a field trip today, and I had the distinct pleasure of going along. What a great day : ) !

Basically, a group of students undertook a marine biology enrichment opportunity offered through the school. These students did a great deal of research, created posters on various topics ranging from pH and salinity in the ocean to the nature of currents to sediment to the actual marine life existing in the waters off the coast of New Hampshire. The marine biology students acted as teachers yesterday and today, leading the freshman class (divided in half, hence the yesterday and today) through a series of activities aboard an actual boat on the actual Atlantic.

As we neared the Isles of Shoals, the boat's staff set out a trolling net, explaining the entire process. Students were captivated at the thought that the net would be on the bottom of the ocean, seventy feet down, and that we would see what was going on down there. After six minutes, the students worked together to pull the trolling net back up. The staff emptied the fruits of our labor into a small plastic pool filled with seawater so we could observe what kinds of creatures exist on the bottom of the ocean.

Most noteworthy, in my opinion, was the psychotic devil crab (my name for it). When they emptied the trolling net, this crazy crustacean was in the process of eating a fish:

Even after they disentangled the crab from its prey (and the fish was just fine, by the way), it maintained an aggressive posture that was almost comical because it looked like it was ready to do some boxing:

Anyway, I could go on for hours about all the neat things we saw and did. It was a truly remarkable experience that I will never forget--and, more importantly, neither will the kids, either the "teachers" or the freshmen.

What I can't stop thinking about, though, is how frustrated I was earlier in the week at the prospect of losing precious class time as the school year draws to a close. For all intents and purposes, I lost two full days of instruction time because of this trip. I have a lot of English curriculum still to get through, and it's hard enough trying to slog through without being interrupted by end-of-the-year field trips (and this is definitely not the only one ... it's just the one that impacted my classes the most).

That's part of why I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to go today ... it reminded me of the tremendous value out-of-the-classroom activities can afford. It was also gratifying to see the large amount of learning that went on, and the hard work of many people that enabled this venture to happen.

When I was a junior in high school, my American History and Government class went on a tour of the county--the county jail, the county nursing home, and (for whatever reason) the wastewater treatment plant. I can still remember many details from that trip, certainly far more than class lectures or papers I wrote or tests I took.

How important do you think it is for schools to strike a balance between field trips and classroom learning? What are some memorable field trips you've been on (and I have to note here that among my most memorable field trips are various visits to a nearby amusement park that was billed as a "reward" but had absolutely no educational value ... perhaps that's why I'm a little skeptical of the whole field trip thing)? Were they educational?

In general, what are your thoughts on field trips for students? I'm curious ... especially since I feel much differently on the subject following my experience today than I did a week ago.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Relationship Between Reading and Writing

As a passionate writer and reader (and a teacher of English, also known as writing and reading), I find the connection between the two to be fascinating. It's all about words, about language, about story, and it occurs to me how valuable the written word has been to me throughout my life.

I have a confession to make. My English classes have fifteen minutes of free book choice silent reading three days a week, and I have been known to at times work on writing my current novel-in-progress in lieu of reading. The fact that my kids get this tells me that they understand the relationship between reading and writing; the line dividing the two is blurry, to say the least. I try not to do this, though--modeling good reading habits is extremely important to me as a teacher (and my current at-school book is Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, which I absolutely can't put down, so any potential writing I might get done at school is on hold for awhile).

My brother Adam is an extremely talented writer. His potential is limitless, but he never developed a passion for writing the way that I did. He won a schoolwide Young Author award as a fifth-grader, a feat I never accomplished (although I usually got honorable mentions), and the pieces he did for some of his college coursework were just breathtaking. However, writing never became part of his life the way it has for me, a daily act basically as necessary as breathing.

Adam does not read. Well, let me rephrase that--Adam does not like to read. At least, Adam does not like to read fiction. He enjoys sports magazines, biographies, and encyclopedias (yes, I'm serious ... please don't ask), but he reads slowly and never made reading an integral part of his day. The fact that his strongest writing pieces are fiction (and generally in the fantasy genre) is just fascinating to me.

My brother is proof that you can be a strong writer without being a strong reader. I have students that are much the same (amazing writers, apathetic readers) as well as the opposite--those that are extremely strong readers but who profess to being unable to write.

Having never been anything but a voracious reader (and a nearly obsessive writer), I find that I'm quite curious to hear your input on this. Sometimes I think it's hardest to look with an unjaundiced eye at something near and dear to your own heart.

How important is one's life as a reader to his or her life as a writer? Can you be a truly committed writer without being, at least on some level, a strong reader as well? Do you think being a writer enhances your life as a reader?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Facebook Fan Here

I love Facebook. I think it's beyond cool that people you haven't seen in years and, in many cases, will never see again can be accessible through the click of a button.

Part of it with me is that I'm an incredibly nosy person. I like to see what's shaking with people, how my high school and college classmates are doing, and talking to people in a way that's somehow easier than e-mail. I mean, you log onto one account and can easily access everybody. It's genius : )

Sharing pictures is another valuable tool in the Facebook repertoire. I love pictures, and I've seen some pretty tremendous photography (and the pics are by people I actually know, which makes it somehow even cooler) via Facebook.

I am shocked sometimes by the status update feature. I tend to be very honest in my status updates, and sometimes I'll get to work and some of my co-workers will be like, "Is Belle feeling better? How was dinner with your mom? Your brother's baby is beautiful! What the hell is going on that you're posting Nirvana song lyrics?" and so on and so forth. When I was in the hospital a couple of months ago, I think I would have gone crazy without Facebook (which is in itself probably not the healthiest statement, I suppose :-)). It was wonderful to get so many well wishes and to be able to update people on the pancreatic turmoil without having to use the telephone (I deplore the telephone).

I realize that there is a dark side to both Facebook and that other social networking site (I have one of those as well, but only to keep tabs on Addie ... I do that through my Facebook too). However, for me, the joys of reconnecting with so many of my old friends (and having another way to communicate with new ones as well) make it more than worth it.

What do you think? Do you have a Facebook? A MySpace? If not, why? If so, do you love it as much as I do? Do you think sites like this are dangerous for children? At what age is it "okay" for a kid to have a Facebook or MySpace? Do you think it's wrong for parents to "spy on" their kids through these sites (note--Addie is well aware that the moment I am no longer her "friend" on either of these sites, she will not be allowed to have an account anymore, so I guess in my case "spy on" is not exactly accurate)?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

My mom just left with her dog, the inimitable Mollie, a hyperactive golden retriever with a penchant for getting into trouble. Mollie has a basic sweetness, and she's calmed down a lot, believe it or not, as she's grown out of her puppyhood a bit. However, she's still kind of high-maintenance, so there's a kind of peace that radiates my house after she leaves and I'm left with my own two animal "babies".

Going in this direction has got me thinking about how most people seem to be either dog people or cat people. There isn't necessarily any rhyme or reason to why this is, at least as much as I can figure--I mean, I can't walk down the street and be like, "Dog. Dog. Cat. Dog. Cat. Neither. Cat. Cat. Dog."

I was raised a dog person, in large part because my mother is a dog person so we always had dogs. I was never a cat fan, finding them to be solitary and unfriendly when I encountered them at the homes of friends or relatives. Dogs always struck me as friendlier.

And then Charlie came along. I got Charlie by accident in a weak, sucker-written-on-my-forehead moment when one of my coworkers said her husband was going to flush the one kitten she hadn't been able to find a home for after her cat had a litter down the toilet if she didn't find someone to take it. I don't know if she was serious--I'd like to think she wasn't, but anyway, we ended up with a little orange kitten that we'd never planned on.

We got our black lab, Sonja, in much the same way. She'd been abandoned, abused, and in need of leg surgery as the result of being hit by a dirt bike. The humane society wouldn't take her, unless it was to exercise euthanasia. We decided that she deserved a better fate than that, so we adopted her as a year old puppy.

The thing is, Charlie and Sonja are very much alike. Both are sitting at the door, tails wagging (yes, Charlie wags her tail ... I think it's a learned behavior), when we get home. Sonja sleeps on my feet every night, Charlie on my head (well, sort of next to, but really ... yeah, on my head). They both come running when you call them, and they follow the four of us around to a degree where it's moderately annoying. It breaks my heart that they are both so grateful all the time--while it's true they'll never be flushed down a toilet or run over with a inappropriately handled motor vehicle here, they do get snapped at (mostly by Addie, who is not an animal person), not walked or played with as much as they deserve, and are forced to play dress-up with Belle (they actually like this ... go figure).

But my animals are an exception, I think, in large part because of the early trauma they suffered. It's my understanding that most dogs share a similar set of characteristics, and the same can be said for cats. Clearly, Sonja and Charlie are just freaks of nature : )

Which leads me, of course, to the human beings who make the choice to own one (or the other ... or both). What makes either a cat or a dog preferable to you? Is the thought of a cat as a stereotypical loner and a dog as a friendly pal accurate? Do you think you can tell something about a person by whether they prefer dogs or cats (note--Pythagorus prefers Sonja, Addie prefers Charlie when pressed, Belle prefers Sonja, and I love them both equally)?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's Talk About the Weather ...

I hate summer. I just hate it. I know this is an unpopular opinion, that everyone in the world seems to be desperate for the heat to arrive, but I'm just holding onto the cool and comfortable while I still can.

I live in New Hampshire. One season of the year--fall--is a veritable paradise. The mornings and evenings are cool and crisp, there are not words to describe the joy of long walks through gorgeous autumn leaves, and it's just so picturesque and peaceful that I find myself smiling all the time. Spring is much the same (other than I know what's right around the corner, so ...). Winter in New Hampshire is an adventure--snowy, often icy, temperatures averaging in the thirties ... but I've lived here my whole life. I enjoy the winter, even driving in snow. Yes, I think it'd be fair to say that my home state comes through for me three quarters of the year.

Then there's summer.

My biggest issue with summer, I think, (besides the fact that I'm deathly afraid of thunderstorms and we sometimes have a lot of them in the summer) is that it's just impossible to be comfortable much of the time. No matter how cold it is in the winter, you can always put on another sweater or add another blanket and you'll end up warm at some point. Even if you walked around naked in the summer, you'd still be dripping with sweat much of the time ... and there's not much you can do about it.

Yes, we have air conditioning. I guess that goes without saying, or else I'd probably have been assassinated by now since I'm such a witch when I'm sweaty, sticky, and uncomfortable. It's just that I like to be outside, and sitting in an air-conditioned room is just not fun. Expect excessive blogging this summer : )

What bothers me the absolute most, though, is that so many people here in New Hampshire spend the entire winter complaining about being cold and miserable and wanting summer to come ... and then when the temperature starts to warm up, all they do is complain that it's too hot to get anything done. I just don't get it.

So what's the weather like where you live (you can be general)? Do you have four distinct seasons? Which is your favorite? Do you find that most people enjoy the climate where you live? Does it bother you when people complain about the weather ... after complaining about the weather?

"One Lovely Blog" Award

The amazing Jenni has bestowed this blog award upon me. I am truly honored and humbled. Jenni is an amazing and positive person, and it has been a great pleasure to read her blog and know that she is reading mine.

My job now is to pass this award on ... so here are, in my opinion, ten blogs that both deserve this award and should be read by the masses. So, in no particular order ...

Just Jules , a visual feast of photography you will enjoy tremendously : )

Children of the '90s , a place where I can relive my wicked awesome adolescence : )

Rena Jones , a children's author and photographer with a unique perspective on writing, photography, and ... uh, everything else : )

PINKNIC , where I go to stay classy : )

Insert Witty Anecdote , the amazing personal blog written by a columnist for the fledgling (but amazing) site Zelda Lily

Red Bird , who has an understanding of beauty and simplicity that I will always envy ... and aspire to.

Agent Stiletto , who has known me since junior high (gulp lol) and is able to focus on fashion like a fab fashionista : )

Erinadequate Me , who puts more raw emotion and truth into her blog than I can begin to imagine. Her courage is an inspiration.

Donut Girl , who you really have to read to fully appreciate. She is a stylish, humorous, history lesson-giving girl with a remarkably fresh insight.

From Elysium , a blog written by a young aspiring author and student.

I have to note that I kept this list focused on ten of my favorite blogs kept by females (since the award looks like it's geared that way ... I might be totally wrong ... I follow a lot of amazing blogs written by guys, notably Martin and Eric), so if this was an error in my understanding, I apologize. I also follow some blogs that knock my socks off that have either been given this award already or who I didn't get a chance to list here (ten is such a lonely number).

I'm fortunate to know (and read) each and every one of you!

<3 KLo

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Power of a New Haircut

If you look at my profile picture, you'll see that it's changed (and in case you missed that, look left). The one where I look sunburned and ticked at the world (also the one that my mother swore up and down was my sister Mary and not me ... sorry about that, Mary) is no more. I just got a haircut : )

I haven't given a rat's derriere about my appearance in years. I don't know if that's one of those things that disappears when you have children, a husband, and nobody to impress or if I'm just strange. Every once in awhile, I'll get a haircut or something, but I never stick with it.

I think I'm sticking with it this time. I feel pretty (cue "West Side Story", I know ... I'm so lame) for the first time in eons, or at least prettier.

Clearly a new haircut is not going to change one's life, but at the same time, I feel incredible right now. Just incredible. Maybe it's because I got my eyebrows done, too (the salon is so much better at doing eyebrows than I am :-)).

What are the small things that make you feel like a million bucks? Why is it that some things can make you feel so darn good? Do you like my haircut (sorry, I'm having a self-obsessed moment :-))?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Books that Changed your Lives

I've read numerous books that have changed my life in some way, shape, or form. The most obvious is Stephen King's The Dark Tower, which made me contemplate the world we live in from directions I never would have otherwise, but there are many, many others.

I've listed my favorite books before, but I got thinking on my way home from work that there are a lot of books that didn't make the "favorite book" cut that have still greatly impacted me. In some cases, I don't even understand why.

I have a fondness for Jonathan Kellerman's murder mysteries. My personal favorite, Self-Defense, is about a young lady named Lucy haunted by a nightmare. What made this book special to me is that Lucy is the daughter of a one-hit wonder writer of the proverbial Great American Novel (think Salinger).

Speaking of Salinger, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is perhaps the most honestly portrayed fictional character I've ever encountered. His obsessions, his obstinacy, his insanity ... it makes me feel better about what's going on in my own mind every time I read it.

When I was a kid, my neighbors left a box of books that didn't sell at a yard sale out in front of their houses with a "free" sign. I brought many of those books home, of course. One was a book called Angel by Samantha Harte (I think ... I'm not sure where my copy of the book is now). It was about a young girl traveling west with her family who ends up resorting to prostitution in the American frontier following a variety of family calamities. Very important lessons in that book, strange as it may sound. It was bawdy and crass in parts, but it was a very moral book at the same time, if that makes any sense.

Finally, I have to mention The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Yeah, they're kid books (there are five of them). However, the imperfections of the characters made me love them, made the standard hero's quest tale truly unique (and I still haven't forgiven Pythagorus for not allowing me to name Belle "Eilonwy").

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of others, but I want to know what y'all have to say. What are books that have changed your lives? They don't have to be considered fine literature (I mean, Kellerman can tell a good story, but he's probably not going down in history as the next Poe or anything ... and need I reiterate, Angel by Samantha Harte?), but I'm just curious to see what people have to say.

And, of course, I'm always looking for books to add to my reading list ; )

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finding a New Doctor

I have been going to the same primary care doctor for years. He's kind of a quack, but he was always entertaining and was willing to call in prescriptions to the pharmacy on my word ("I have a sinus infection ... could I get a Z-pack called in, please?") and ... well, I don't like change.

But Pythagorus (who also went to this guy) has had some serious medical issues in the past month, and this guy's practice totally dropped the ball. Like, totally. To quote my mother (she's a nurse practitioner), "Why would you put someone with asthma on a beta blocker?" But even that observation was kind of ignored by us because this doctor was just what we were used to. It wasn't until the recent drama that we realized this was a necessary step.

Well, Pythagorus' health has done a complete (and vitally necessary) 180, and much of the credit goes to his new doctors.

Tonight it is my turn. I'm about to leave for my pre-physical physical (they're evidently quite thorough ... and they have evening hours, bonus!).

How do you feel about doctors? Do you feel a strong connection with yours (I adore my gastroenterologist, for example)? What would make you leave your regular doctor? How important is a primary care doctor?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Students were Teachers Today, and I Had Writer's Block

We did a quote quickwrite in one of my classes today. The quote, from the Roman philosopher Seneca (although my first thought, after locating the quote on a Google search on a focus area, was, "Hey, that's the last line of the song, 'Closing Time!'"), was:

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

To me, it seemed incredibly deep and brimming with directions to go in. I was really looking forward to writing about it, analyzing it with my students, having a great discussion. I wrote the quote on large paper and read it aloud twice. I then started timing two minutes (that's what our quickwrite discussions are--basically, the kids and I respond in writing silently and individually to a given quote for two minutes then talk about it in a whole-group discussion and see where things end up) and realized almost immediately that I couldn't think of a darn thing to write.

Total block, and on a quote that I had chosen. What a dolt! So basically I just listed questions on my quickwrite sheet and kept a much closer eye on the clock than I usually do. Talk about being able to relate ... WOW!

The best part, of course, is that many of my students wrote amazing responses and contributed to a valuable discussion. I don't think it was a wasted quote or a pointless effort ... it just surprised me to be blocked so suddenly and completely.

It was a true privilege to watch my students surpass my own ability today : )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writing Goals ... and the New Blog about "The Dark Tower"

Since you've all more than likely noticed my obsession with Stephen King's The Dark Tower and its impact on my philosophy, I've become motivated to start a new blog devoted exclusively to King's work of genius.

On a different note, I have become very much motivated by my online writing peeps to set writing goals for myself. I go on writing jags that are very much like alcoholic benders, and I'm trying to figure out how to pace myself, how to better control my writing, how to increase my writing stamina. I have found that blogging has permitted me to do all of those things.

Therefore, my writing goal is threefold:
1. To post daily on "The Philosophy of KLo" (and continue to enjoy and participate in the amazing discussions my fabulous readers have)
2. To post as often as possible on "Gunslingers and Dark Towers" (I'm not prepared to commit to a number of daily posts ... my insomnia might go away, after all : ))
3. To work on a current WIP (either Novel #2 or a short story) each and every day.

We'll see how this works out ... : )

It's the Little Things ...

I forced Pythagorus, Addie, and Belle to accompany me to a game for my school's softball team today. Actually, that's not completely accurate--Belle absolutely worships one of my students and, when she found out that her "best friend" would be playing, couldn't get us there fast enough.

Since I've been a teacher, I've made it a point to attend games, sporting events, and other extracurricular activities. I chaperone pretty much every dance, and I buy something from every single student fundraiser (it's starting to be a running joke over who can get to Mrs. L first).

It never ceases to amaze me, though, how valuable those little things are to the kids I teach. The fact that I spent a perfect spring afternoon outside with my family watching a game I love seemed ... kind to the kids I teach, as if I was really going out of my way for them. Their appreciation--not just today and not just these students--for the extra attention you afford them is just so much larger than anything I did ... or do.

But it seems to me that, in a way, it's the little things that do make an impact. Those are the things you remember. Pythagorus used to send me flowers all the time (I hate getting flowers--they just die and you have to throw them away and I feel bad about that) and I can't really remember any one flower-sending experience ... but I can remember the pizzas he brought when he came to do a math tutoring session with my students (no, I don't teach math ... several students had some similar questions, and Pythagorus was kind of thrilled to work with kids again) or the lilacs (our bushes just bloomed : )) he cut for my mother on Sunday.

The small and the heart-felt are rarer ... perhaps that's why they seem to mean more. It's really easy to go to Macy's or Saks Fifth Avenue or Dick's Sporting Goods and spend a fortune on flashy presents.

What I've learned as I've gotten older, though, is that sometimes your presence is the best present. It's often a very little thing, just showing up at a two hour baseball game, yet it means the world to others.

So what do you think? Presents ... or presence?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do Kids Spend Enough Time Outside?

The above is Belle outside at my mother's house yesterday. She was outside all afternoon, running amok with the dogs (we brought Sonja to Mimi's to celebrate Mothers Day and have a playdate with Mollie), raking leaves, picking up sticks, finding Easter eggs she missed the first time around (don't ask ...), climbing on rocks, and doing all sorts of the things that five-year-olds do outdoors.

Belle is watching "Caillou" on television right now. And eating a rice cake. And drinking chocolate milk. I was going to take a picture for comparison, but my bedroom is a pigsty and I was kind of mortified to post pics of it for public viewing, plus I need a new memory card for my Blackberry (and we still haven't replaced the camera).

The point is, though, in one scene, Belle is outside in the sunshine getting exercise and playing and bonding with nature (and golden retrievers and black labs and her family). In the other, she's sitting on her mother's bed watching television (the black lab's sitting next to her).

The really sad thing is, if I asked Belle right now if she wanted to go outside, she'd be in the mudroom getting her sneaks on before I was finished speaking. I can try to make myself feel better by saying that it's past her bedtime (she goes to bed at 6:30 ... yeah, I don't get it either) but I'm keeping her up until Pythagorus is home so she can say good night to him (he had to return his uncle's truck about an hour away, but he'll be home any second ... then we'll read our bedtime story and do the bedtime routine), but the point is that we could easily be outside playing right now. And we're not. Because I suck.

I mean, obviously I'm not the only parent that allows their children to watch television. I'd even go so far as to say that both my girls watch less television than most kids. However, it doesn't make it right that I'm sitting here on the computer (well, at least I'm in the same room ...) while one of my children is watching TV and the other is ... well, on a computer of her own. The fact that I worked all day is absolutely no excuse.

So what do you think? Do kids spend enough time outside? Is television the culprit? Parents? Would kids prefer to be playing outside? Are these habits that are taught early truly necessary to a child's health as an adult?

And please don't mention my inadequacies as a parent ... I'm well aware : )

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The One that's For Mothers

So how did you spend Mothers Day?

The bulk of mine was spent working the yard at my mom's house. I used a leaf blower, I spread cow manure, I lugged slimy and nasty leaves on a tarp to the back of the forest area.

And I had a perfect day (minus the morning, but that's a different story that probably more accurately belongs in the private blog).

Pythagorus usually gets me jewelry or a car dock for my iPod or a Blackberry or something like that for a holiday. Today, instead, we spent the day together working ourselves to the bone to help my mother with her yard.

It meant a hundred times more.

So how did you spend the day? What are some memorable mothers day events you've experienced? Do you ever end up feeling disappointed?

Oh, and do you love my mom as much as I love my mom? The woman who once disliked me as much as I disliked her (we're both Scorpios ... and far too much alike) is now my best friend pretty much. I would take a bullet for my mother, no question. Ah, tomorrow perhaps a blog about the mother/daughter dynamic. Tonight, I'm too tired (and have too much laundry to fold ... and want to watch the "NCIS" I DVRd).

Happy Mothers Day, everyone : ) !

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nostalgia for Things that are Going ... Going ... Going

You know how something can be good for so long? Like, something you never expected, just sweeping in out of the blue and making you smile and see rainbows everywhere and look at the world completely differently?

And then suddenly it was gone.

I guess I'm not making much sense. I've just never been one for nostalgia, and it's hitting me kind of hard. Looking back on things with a friendly eye makes you look at things a certain way, when looking at the reality as it exists in front of you right now--lying and dishonest and pathetic--is kind of like looking through someone else's glasses.

What has your experience with nostalgia been?

Movie Review: "The Godfather" (Book Review is Forthcoming)

"The Godfather: A Movie You Can't Refuse"
by KLo

Many moviegoers identify themselves by genre—-horror, chick flicks, action, comedies. There are a rare few movies that can be thoroughly enjoyed by film connoisseurs of all types. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 gem The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s book of the same title, is one of those movies.

The Godfather is the story of Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone, who maintains his status as leader of the most powerful of New York City’s “Five Families” by masterfully balancing favors with payback. When Don Corleone’s position is threatened by a sneak attack backed by an anonymous member of one of the other families, New York City quickly becomes the battleground for a Mob turf war unlike any seen before. There is sufficient gun action, car chases, and gore to satisfy the most bloodthirsty theater attendee.

This unavoidable violence makes it easy to overlook the emphasis on family, a theme recurrent in The Godfather. Don Corleone is a man resigned to his fate; as an Italian immigrant, he has long been aware that his life, out of necessity, will be one of hard work, violence, and balancing the good and bad both within himself and in the world he lives in. However, Don Corleone had always dreamed of a better life for his four children, but his first two sons, Santino (or “Sonny”) and Fredo decide to stay with the “Family Business” and his daughter, Connie, marries an abusive man primarily interested in moving quickly up the rungs of the ladder that is the Corleone family. It is only his youngest child, Michael, that opts for the American dream; a decorated war hero, Michael attends an ivy league college and dates a girl from a small town in New Hampshire. However, Michael is awakened from that dream when an assassination attempt on his father is nearly successful. Michael Corleone realizes when he returns home that his family is at war as surely as his country was when he fought overseas. He was willing to fight for his country, and he recognizes that he has no choice but to fight, and fight hard, for his family.

The movie is not without its comic moments as well. Two men dispatched to kill the man that set up Don Corleone’s assassination attempt hide their true purpose by stopping at a bakery along the way. After shooting the snitch during a bathroom break on the side of an abandoned road, the head hit man instructs his apprentice, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

While Puzo’s storyline is one of sheer genius and Coppola’s directing is masterful, it is the actors that truly make The Godfather shine. Marlon Brando as Don Corleone balances the regality of a king with the humility of an Italian peasant boy merely by his presence; the true gist of Vito Corleone is evident even before Brando speaks in what is possibly the most-imitated movie accent of all time. As Michael, Al Pacino is able to believably change from a na├»ve college boy to a hardened Mafiosio in the course of the film, and a pre-Rocky Talia Shire gives a powerful performance in the supporting role of Connie Corleone. Also noteworthy are a young Robert Duvall as Consigliere-by-necessity Tom Hagen and James Caan as the hot-headed but big-hearted Sonny Corleone.

The Godfather is a film that lived up to the hype surrounding it in every way, and it is as enjoyable and relevant today as it was in 1972. This epic film truly deserved its Best Picture Oscar. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll turn your face away in disgust, and you will never forget the many lessons in the movie.

Musings on Fast Food

Pythagorus is on his way to McDonald's to get lunch for the four of us.

I'm getting french fries. I know academically that this is a stupid idea (I'm sending calm and relaxing messages to my pancreas), but sometimes you just need french fries. Or is it just me?

I've read Fast Food Nation, and I'm both proud that I've cut my fast food intake down significantly and appalled that I still partake in fast food (and crave it on a regular basis).

Do you eat fast food? Why or why not? How often? Do you think this is a problem? Is McDonald's the beginning of the end for the world as we know it?

Oh, and just curious, my morning cup of coffee from Dunkin' Donuts (the one made with skim milk and Splenda), I don't count that as fast food. Is that fair?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Amusing or Appalling?

So I really had to pee on my way home from work today and, since as soon as I picked Belle up I had to go straight to a baseball game (one of my freshmen starts varsity), I stopped at a gas station to use the restroom beforehand. And buy a pack of Devil Dogs so I could be a "customer".

But anyway ...

The above picture is of a sign hanging on the wall of the ladies' room. I apologize for the crappy imaging, but the Blackberry does have limitations. High-quality pictures is one of them. For your information, though, the sign reads:

"We Go to the Washroom Every 30 Minutes (whether we Need to or Not). We work really hard on our washrooms. And if we've done our job right, there's nothing to show for it. Just really clean washrooms to make you comfortable. If you're not completely satisfied with the results, please talk to our store manager. We want to know about it."

Although you can't necessarily tell from the picture (freaking Crackberry!), the sign has been doctored. For example, the words "hard on" were circled, "hand" was scratched in before "job", and so on.

I could not stop laughing to save my life. I mean, by the time I got to the part about talking to the store manager if you're not completely satisfied with the results, I had tears rolling down my cheeks I was laughing so hard.

And so I took a picture of a sign in a public restroom (sorry, "washroom" is evidently the correct term), which is clearly pretty disgusting on its own.

But was I wrong to find this so hysterically funny? Do I have major maturity issues? Have I spent too much time with ninth graders? There is, of course, the teacher part of me that was angry at defacement of property (although this can be randomly funny as well--one of the bathroom stalls at my work has "SCOOL SUCKS (sic)" scratched into it), but the rest of me was just ... dying I was so amused.

So am I weird, or is this funny? Or a little bit of both : )

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your Thoughts on Sarah Palin

I sort of famously looked down on Sarah Palin during the election. My opinion of her has not changed since (if anything, it's gone lower), but it does seem interesting to me that so many people who once championed her are now brushing her name aside as thought she wasn't at one point within votes of being the vice-president of the United States. For a woman to accomplish this (and I know she wasn't the first, but it's still noteworthy, scary as that is in this day and age)is a remarkable thing, and I have to give Palin props for that.

If you found Sarah Palin distasteful, please explain why. If you were a supporter, please explain why. Also, if you were at one time a supporter of Palin, please explain why or why not this may have changed (with you or with people that you know).

I'm extremely curious to see where this one ends up ... me and my random curiosity : )

A Written Explanation of my Interest in Charles Manson

I realized I haven't posted anything about writing for awhile. I'm still cleaning out my hard drive, and I came across this essay I wrote last spring. I think the writing is pretty good, but I also think it's a topic worthy of debate.
"The Enduring Allure of Charles Manson"
by KLo

My obsession with Charles Manson is not based on admiration.

I feel pure disgust for this monster and his actions. In spite of this, I cannot help my mind from contemplating the man, his crimes, the psychology that exists within his twisted brain, and the persona he has created for himself that continues to the present day.

Charles Manson was a small time felon who became the proverbial “institutionalized man” before he reached adulthood. Although he reportedly begged, “Don’t let me out, I can’t cope with the outside world” prior to being released from prison in 1967, a thirty-three-year old Manson was set loose and, through coincidences of timing, location, and sheer luck, was elevated to Christ-like status by his followers.

According to John Gilmore’s Manson: The Unholy Trail of Charlie and the Family, the aspiring musician was a “late-comer” to the anti-war love fest best exemplified by San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. The “flower children” Manson encountered were “only the diehards of a disappearing scene.” A number of these lost youths, almost exclusively female, were drawn to Manson; he was old enough to exude an air of wisdom yet not so old that he reminded them overmuch of their parents.

While gathering “members” to what would eventually be known as “The Family,” Manson skirted the edge of the music scene. Record producer Terry Melcher, songwriter Gregg Jakobson, and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson each at one time encouraged Manson’s dream of being a musician with Manson even contributing to several songs credited to the Beach Boys, most notably "Never Learn Not to Love". Manson felt that he had received promises from each of these men that they failed to keep; instead of elevating his status in the music world, they brushed him under the carpet, actions that more than likely played a role in the carnage that was to come.

By 1968, a bitter Manson was struggling to maintain control of his followers as they lived on an abandoned movie ranch near Topanga Canyon. He used hallucinogenic drugs and sexual degradation to accomplish this, but he correctly sensed that his hold was slowly weakening. In order to regain his power, Manson began spinning his theory of “Helter Skelter” to his followers. Using every shred of mind control he had achieved, Manson convinced his minions that a race war between blacks and whites was imminent. He preached that the long-repressed blacks would rise up in battle, annihilate the white race except for the “chosen ones” hiding in a hole in the earth located in Death Valley, but then prove unable to lead and would be returned to their “rightful place” by the holy and pure whites, led by none other than Charles Milles Manson (he started giving his name as Charles Willis Manson and emphasizing the “Man’s Son” coincidence at around this time).

Under the premise of sparking the supposed race war, Manson directed Charles “Tex” Watson to go to the residence he thought belonged to producer Terry Melcher late at night on August 8, 1968 and create a murder scene “as gruesome as you can.” He ordered three girls, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, to follow Watson’s directions when they reached their destination. With Kasabian serving as a lookout, Watson, Atkins, and Krenwinkel violently stabbed the house’s inhabitants—-aspiring movie star (and nearly nine months pregnant) Sharon Tate, respected men’s hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski as well as a late-night visitor to the estate’s caretaker, recent high school graduate Steven Parent. Following Manson’s request to write “something witchy,” Susan Atkins used a towel to scrawl the word PIG in Sharon Tate’s blood on the door of the house.

The next night, Manson accompanied another group that again included Watson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, and lookout Kasabian as well as “Clem” Grogan and Leslie van Houten to a house on Waverly Drive in L.A. After Manson entered the residence and tied up homeowners Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Watson, Krenwinkel, and van Houten brutally butchered the couple while Manson and the others went out in search of more violence but were fortunately unsuccessful. This time Krenwinkel left the bloody words: Rise, Death to Pigs, and Healter (sic) Skelter.

After an overlong investigation hampered by the refusal of the Tate homicide detectives to work in tandem with the LiBianca detectives as well as neither group wanting to hear about a similar crime being investigated by the L.A. Sheriff’s Office, Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, and van Houten were tried, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death for the Tate-LaBianca homicides in large part due to the testimony of non-participant Linda Kasabian. Watson was tried separately with the same result. All sentences were commuted to life in prison when the death penalty was abolished in California in 1972.

Since 1971, these individuals have been languishing away in prison, the teenage girls giving way to middle-aged women and men. One by one, they have denounced Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel going so far as to say in a 1994 interview, “I wake up every day knowing that I'm a destroyer of the most precious thing, which is life.”

Only Manson is unrepentent; only Manson does not apologize. For that, my mind wanders in various directions whenever I read about Manson or view a documentary or interview. How could one man possess the power to turn regular old American kids into monsters willing to commit the most brutal of crimes at his whim through what can only be described as mind control? Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll are undoubtedly part of the answer; the rest lies within the warped embodiment of Charles Manson, his wild brown eyes and swastika-engraved forehead hiding the secrets of the only man sentenced to death for crimes where the blood on his hands was only psychological--but no less deadly.

Increments of Time Don't Always Coincide

I'm sitting in the parking lot at Addie's school waiting for her to get out of chorus.

I took half a personal day to go to a Mother's Day tea party at Belle's preschool. That got done at two, and I contemplated going home knowing that I had to pick Addie up at 3:30, but I had to go to the bookstore and stuff, so then I figured I'd take Belle to the bookstore so I didn't have to go later. It seemed logical that this would sufficiently entertain her for an hour or so, then it'd be pretty much time to get Addie.

Big mistake! Belle has my bookstore addiction, and her wish pile kept growing until I checked out in self-defense. Plus, there were some WEIRD people hanging around the train table in the kid section.

So then we had,like, forty minutes to kill. I'm a lousy mother--I took her to Burger King, where she got this horrible Star Trek toy that says, "Kirk to Enterprise" over and over every time she presses a button.

She keeps pressing the button. Like, she's pressing MY buttons.

We've been in the parking lot of Addie's school for what seems like forever (especially considering Captain Kirk), and I'm wondering how I could have planned out the timing of things this afternoon.

Are most people able to make a schedule and stick to it? Plan things out and have them work? Figure out when it would be worth it to go home, stare at the clock for five minutes, and then go pick up the person you're supposed to pick up?

Here's Addie ... Gotta run!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reading to Children--Why do Some People Not do Something so Vital?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I'm what could be termed as a bibliophile. What makes someone a reader or not is kind of an interesting train of thought, particularly when you consider that a large percentage of the population that hated reading when in school end up being very involved readers as adults.

However, even more interesting to me (and more disturbing) is the fact that there are so many parents that don't read to their children on a regular basis.

I learned how to read at a very young age, but my parents (my father in particular) read to me anyway. My father spent several hours on some holidays reading Adam, Mary, and I entire books (Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox stands out)while my mother got dinner ready and cleaned the house. He also regaled us with tales of Uncle Wiggly from the same worn copy of the book that his own father had read to him as a child. My favorite aunt, AJ, and my favorite uncle, Daniel, always got us books for presents as children (I should probably note that AJ and Daniel are both my father's siblings--I'm learning an awful lot about my father through this post--so I guess that says something about the value of literature in the household my father grew up in).

I started reading to Addie and Belle while they were still in utero, strange as that may sound. Once they were born, of course, I read to them every single day. Reading became a part of their schedules, as necessary as feeding and diaper-changing. Both of my girls love stories, perhaps in large part because they had little choice in the matter.

Belle has a story every night after she gets her jammies on, goes potty, and brushes her teeth. Woe to me if I forget, and woe to the person who has to read to her if I'm unavailable. As a joke, Pythagorus took a picture of Belle and I reading together last night (I deplore getting my picture taken).

While he was laughing about how awful I look in virtually every picture that's ever taken of me, though, it occurred to me how fortunate it was that I have those moments every night to share a variety of literature with my little princess.

I don't read to Addie anymore, of course, but I did for a long time. Even after she was a fairly advanced reader, we'd read chapter books together, alternating turns (I recall Shel Silverstein's Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back and the first Harry Potter book as being special). We do talk about literature all the time, though. This very afternoon, in fact, we had a lengthy discussion about Romeo and Juliet, which I'm currently almost finished teaching to my students and which her class started reading today. We talked about the characters, the language, the double entendres, the significance of Shakespeare's need to appeal to a very broad audience, and whether Willy Shakes was in fact a real guy at all. How remarkable!

Earlier this year, I did an interdisciplinary project with the biology and social studies teacher at my school. As an introduction to the project, I read my students The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. I don't think any more than 3% of them had heard (never mind read) the book before. This made me more sad than I can put into words.

If you are a parent, do you read to your kids? Why or why not? Is it hard to find time to do this? What sort of books do your kids enjoy? Do you think there is a correlation between kids who are read to as children and adults who enjoy reading? If you are not a parent, what are your plans for reading (or not) with your children?

How can we solve this problem (and it is a problem ... I wish desperately that it wasn't, but it is)?

Well, I'm off to read Belle her bedtime story. In case you're interested, she's selected Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for tonight's fare.

Relief Through Sleeping

I am something of a world expert in the area of insomnia. I've blogged about it before. Enough said about that.

Except, I suppose, that a lot of people have noted that I post a lot of blogs, comment on a lot of blogs, have a full-time job, raise two children, work on my novels every day ... how in the world do I have time to do this? The simple answer is, I don't sleep much. It's a trade off I would gladly give up, believe me. Insomnia sucks.

But the strangest thing happened last night. I was watching "NCIS" (I'm not a huge fan of television--so many great books to read, so many great books to write--but I just adore "NCIS" ... I think I might have a little thing for Gibbs :-)), first the rerun on USA Network that ran from seven to eight and then the brand new episode (this was supposed to be the highlight of my week), and I fell asleep about five minutes into it.

Fell asleep! With no Ambien, I might add. Just ... fell asleep. And slept until my alarm went off this morning.

Now clearly, much of this has to do with stress and not being able to sleep for several weeks. Yesterday, Pythagorus went to a new doctor, one that changed the course of his treatment, and I was so relieved that it was like I let something go in myself. And--I have to say it again--I fell asleep. At eight o'clock. With no sleep medication.


Do you think the body just reaches a point where it needs to sleep or it will explode? Is true relaxing, restful sleep only possible when you are feeling at least moderately hopeful about the situations of your life? Why is sleep so imperative? Why is the feeling after a good night's sleep better than that first cup of morning coffee, dancing in the rain, or sex?

Sleep is a minor miracle ... I realize this so infrequently because it happens to me so infrequently. Those of you that do not have this problem (or even those that do, of course :-)), I would love your input.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Me, Myself, and I: Get to Know Yourself Better (or Something :-))

I have been tagged, thank you Novelista Barista

Here are the rules…

1. Respond and rework: answer the following questions on your blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your own invention, add one more question of your own.
2. Tag other un-tagged people.

The Questions:

1. What is your current obsession?
My current obsession is blogging. Writing has been a lifelong obsession for me, naturally, but the connections made with other people actually getting something out of your work ... or even just what you have to say ... mind-bloggling, man (see, you knew that one would come out sooner or later ;))

2. Who was the last person you hugged?
My daughter Addie. She's fourteen, so this was a rare treat. I did, of course, have to ruin the moment by refusing to tango with her down the hallway ... sigh :)

3. What’s my favorite dinner? Lobster.

4. What is the worst "classic" book you've ever read?
Ulysses by James Joyce. Is it me, or was that book so far over the typical reader's head that it was orbiting the moon?

5. What are you listening to right now?
Nothing. Everyone in my house is asleep. It's kind of nice, actually : )

6. What is your favorite weather?
Fall is my favorite time of year. I deplore the summer (being sweaty and uncomfortable makes me horrifically grouchy), spring just reminds me that summer's coming, and winter ... well, I like winter,too, actually, although sometimes it's a bit intense here in New England.

7. What is your least favorite season?
Summer, natch. Geez, if I wasn't so long-winded with my answers, I probably wouldn't repeat myself!

8. What’s in your purse?
Wallet, pen, gum, iPod, Blackberry, Belle's engineer hat (don't ask)

9. Say something to the person/s who tagged you (Novelista Barista): Cool blog : )

10. What is your favorite dessert or cool treat?
Apple pie, but only if it's really well-made (my mother's apple pie, for example, is much better than that which you'd get at a grocery store)

11. What did you want to become as a child?
A writer, a lawyer, an actor, anything but a teacher (strange how that works out, isn't it?)

12. What do you miss?

13. What’s your favorite brand of jeans?
Old Navy jeans work for me. I know I'm probably going down in fashion estimation, but for some reason they're comfortable and fit right.

14. If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
I'd go on an ocean cruise. I'd spend every minute in or on the ocean if I could.

15. Who do you want to meet in person?
Stephen King.

16. What are your most challenging goals right now?
Oh, man, I wish I hadn't changed an earlier question! Trying to get my life back together ... there, I think that's vague enough.

17. What’s your 5 year plan?
Publishing. Teaching. Raising my children. Going on cool vacations. Reading a lot of great books.

18. Why is today special?
Because one of my students came over to me while I was grading papers this morning (I never grade papers in the morning--I hang out with my students before the day gets going ... this morning, after a night without sleep spent mostly crying, though, I was grading papers) with a crumpled up piece of paper and said, "If I make this shot, Mrs. L, you need to cheer up!" He then walked over to the trash can and dropped the paper in. It made me laugh and truly brightened my mood : )

19. What is my favorite sport to watch?
I like to watch any sporting event my students are involved in. I also LOVE the Red Sox.

20. Describe your perfect day:
Spending the day on the beach with my daughters, reading and writing while they played and occasionally going for a swim in the ocean.

21. What TV show would you want to be a cast member on (reality included)?
Why, "NCIS", of course : )

22. Are you a lover or a fighter?
I'm a lover.

Okay, so it's your turn ... I'm a little fuzzy on the "tagging" concept, so please feel free to do this if you read it (it's actually sort of fun :-)), and comment me the link so I can check it out.

Hope all is well with everybody : ) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Human Condition

As any of you that read the post I wrote last night know, I have some drama going on in my personal life. It was intended to be posted on my personal blog (and I've since moved it there) but, as it was posted here in the first place, I realize that many people read it, and many gave good wishes, thoughts, and prayers. All are appreciated. I want you to know that I am fine, that things will eventually work out as they always seem to in life in the way that fate means them to.

What stood out to me the most, though, was how we can all relate to the human condition, to the tremendous pain (in any of its manifestations) that impacts all of humanity. It seems that this deep-seated hurt, this feeling of being so overwhelmed by pain that you don't know what to do, is something that everyone can understand, that everyone has felt on some level.

Can anyone truly understand someone else's pain, or just the depth of agony someone else is feeling? Is there a point in sharing your private hurts in detail, or is it enough to say, "Gee, you know, I have some bad stuff going down right now?"

And really, in the great scheme of things, is there anything anyone can do about the pain of others other than sympathize, empathize, send good thoughts and well wishes, and hope and pray that things will change for the better?

Is the human condition unique to each human, or do we all feel the same pain, just suffered (and dealt with, I suppose) in different ways?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Helping" Kids with Their Homework

I've spent most of the afternoon going through Addie's research paper. There were benefits, of course (Addie gave Belle a shower, for example, and Pythagorus read Belle her bedtime story ... these are usually my tasks and I enjoy them, but the break was kind of nice), but for the most part ... ugh!

Addie is literally a writing prodigy. I could read her fiction, poems, and essays happily for the rest of my life. Research papers, though ... painful!!!!!!!!

It got me thinking, though, how Addie lives with an English teacher and a mathematical scholar, yet she very rarely asks for (or accepts) help with her homework. We have an unspoken agreement with our little academic superstar--if the grades are good and you're not acting like a psychopath over lack of sleep, we're not going to nag you since obviously whatever you're doing is working for you.

Like me, Addie is a master procrastinator. However, she knew enough not to ask for assistance of any kind until she had a solid draft (and in her defense, she had rehearsals all week until ten, so she was a busy girl today), and that wasn't done until late this afternoon.

It was good. I was proud of her, and I told her so. She managed to write a research paper that wasn't a total snoozefest, provided information to support both sides of an issue, and framed it with an effective introduction and conclusion. I fixed the commas, some of the word choices, and her Works Cited (Addie has a random inability to do a correct Works Cited ... she has all the information, but it's in the wrong place, and this is the one thing I'll actually fix up for her). That was it. It was a good paper. I'll be surprised if she doesn't get an A. But, most importantly, it was Addie's paper.

It bothers me a great deal when I have assignments that come in with a kid's name on it when I know darn well that his or her parent did the bulk of (if not all of) the work.

Perhaps I feel especially strongly about this issue because I'm a teacher, but where is the line where parents are doing too much "helping"? Did I do Addie a disservice by not rewriting her paper (she's in an Honors class ... there are no doubt parents that will do just that)? Should I have made her write her own damn Works Cited? Should parents let their children sink and swim on their own? Should teachers?

When does "helping" become "enabling", and is this as much of a problem in this country as I think it is?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Writing Prompt: Flowers

So I was motivated to join the challenge for writing a short about flowers issued by Elana at Mindless Musings. I had a lot of fun writing this, and would as always love to have your feedback.

I'd also strongly encourage you to participate in this endeavor, even if you don't consider yourself a writer. It's always nice to see the multitude of interpretations a single word can give.
"The Flowers that Were"
by KLo

The stage was wooden and splintery. Once, when Autumn had been rehearsing for a show, a girl in the “special class” at school name Marisa had cut her foot fairly badly. She’d continued to dance in her jerky, marionette way that everyone snickered at and secretly imitated behind her back, apparently unaware of the blood dripping from the bottom of her bare soles and freckling the peeling wood with red droplets that caused the stereotypical pre-teen drama scene.

Autumn wondered, just before the lights went down, if there were still remnants of Marisa’s blood up there, on the very platform her daughter would momentarily be the center of. She knew of course that this was impossible, that Marisa’s shed and forgotten (except for those late night slumber parties where the girls laughed … and laughed … and laughed) blood was as much a ghost as an Autumn that was comfortable getting up in front of people, of singing and dancing under brightly colored lights, of letting her voice be heard.

Samantha was brilliant. She always was, and Autumn listened with mixed pride and indignation as those sitting around her raved of Sam’s talent even as they muttered about how nice it would be if someone else got the lead, for a change. It bothered Autumn a bit that, as she sat alone in her seat on the aisle of the auditorium, a bit hunched over as was her wont because to hold her head high might mean looking in someone’s eyes, nobody seemed to realize that she was Samantha’s mother, that the hands holding a bouquet of spring flowers from the local grocery store were the same hands that had held Samantha to her breast seconds after she was born, who had crooned her the songs that had given her such a repertoire of music in her mind, had introduced her to the concept of harmony and lyrical introspection.

Autumn’s eyes didn’t leave Samantha from the first act until the curtain call, when the audience gave her daughter a standing ovation and Samantha’s eyes burned with a passion for what she had done. Her smile of joy, of pride, was bestowed upon the musical director, on her peers. Samantha beamed as she, along with her cast mates, gestured to the lighting crew, the stage crew, and the pit orchestra.

Autumn noticed that her sweaty hands had creased the floral wrap into a wrinkled, sweaty mess. The flowers, bright pinks and purples, were crushed and shabby-looking. Autumn surreptitiously slid the ruined bouquet under her auditorium seat. Nobody noticed.

In the lobby after the show, Autumn stood alone against the far wall waiting for Samantha. Every time the door swung open, an April breeze wafted in, smelling of lilac and newness.

Samantha appeared out of nowhere, and Autumn’s lips started to curve into a smile. “You were great, sweetheart.”

Samantha nodded. “Do you have any money, Mom? Everybody’s going out to get an ice cream.”

“Um, sure, I guess. Are you sure you don’t want to come home? You must be tired.”

Samantha rolled her eyes at the coterie of girls that had followed her. Autumn noticed with despair that five of the six were holding bouquets of flowers, gifts of appreciation for a job well done. She thought of Samantha’s bouquet, hidden and alone in the now-empty auditorium, and wanted to cry. Instead, she rummaged in her purse until she found a ten-dollar bill.

“Thanks, Mom,” Samantha called. “I’ll let you know if I need a ride home.”

Before Autumn could answer, her daughter had disappeared into the crowd of people and was gone.

Autumn pushed opened the door and walked outside. She thought a deep, cleansing breath would make her feel better, but instead it only reminded her that sometimes the beauty of spring, the hint of flowers riding the waves of air, smelled cloying, overpowering rather than a sign of something new.

Stay Home if Swine Flu is a Possibility ... but How?

The Swine Flu has arrived, and people are frightened. It's no surprise to me, for one, that "pandemic" and "panic" start with the same three letters. Pandemonium. Mary just sent me an article link exploring the somewhat contradictory directions we are being given. And I don't mean in terms of getting sick.

Recent statistics claim that 57 million Americans have no paid sick time. If they (or their family members) are sick, they must make that agonizing choice to either go to work sick or stay home then suck it up on payday. Not a good option either way.

With the economy being what it is, a reduction in work force because employees are told to stay home if suffering from certain symptoms could be disastrous, to both workplace production and employee job security. However, at the same time, nobody wants the first three letters in pandemic to turn to "epi".

The article talks about something called "presenteeism", which is basically when someone who should be absent from work instead goes in sick. A 2004 study by Cornell, in fact, found that $180 billion each year is lost to "presenteeism" due to lack of productivity brought about by sick employees that go to work anyway.

As someone who has been guilty of presenteeism (I go to work unless one of my kids is home sick ... or I'm in the hospital with pancreatitis), I think this is very accurate. If you ask my students, for example, when we watch movies or do busywork worksheets or something less exciting than my class usually is, they can tell you, "Oh, Mrs. L had a cold that day" or "Mrs. L lost her voice and couldn't talk" or something like that. The irony is, it's fairly easy for me to take time off from work--I just don't like to.

Companies and schools and public places and airplanes and so on are saying, "If you're exhibiting symptoms of Swine Flu, just stay home." However, is it really that simple? And is this indicative of a bigger problem?

Despite my aversion to missing work, if I suddenly came down with flu-like symptoms and was running a high fever, I'd call in. I wouldn't want to expose my students and colleagues to anything potentially dangerous. However, I have that luxury.

What about the 57 million people out there that don't?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Direction in Dialogue

Although I think dialogue is one of my strengths as a writer, I'm a bit leery of this encounter. Does it work? Is it realistic? (The characters are both high school seniors, one of whom is drunk, so I apologize in advance if the language is offensive). This is, of course, from my WIP.

Your helpful words and advice have already made me a better writer : )
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Roy said without preamble. He had waited until Christian’s coffee arrived before speaking; he was not without sympathy, irritated as he was. He’d ordered for both of them over Christian’s protest, eggs and bacon and home fries and toast.

Christian looked up. His face was white except for grayish smudges under his eyes. His hands shook. “About what?”

Roy ran a hand through his hair. “You just told a bunch of people what’s going to be the hottest gossip since …”

“Since that scene at prom last year? Since your freshman year fiascos?”

Roy took a deep breath, refusing to take the bait. “Playing the asshole doesn’t work for you, man.”

“Didn’t you just say I’m an asshole?”

“I said you’re an idiot. You’re not an asshole.” He paused. “Although Susy might disagree.”

“I don’t see what’s so wrong about it. I mean, people are going to notice at some point.”

The waitress appeared out of nowhere, placed two plates on the table then disappeared. Christian looked at the food in front of him, and his face turned green. “Go to the bathroom, man,” whispered Roy. “Get it out of your system.”

Christian nodded and almost ran for the restroom. Roy had the waitress bring a large water and refill Christian’s coffee and his own Coke. He charmed her into locating a couple of Advil. When Christian returned, he was calmly spreading strawberry jam onto his toast.

“Never again,” Christian whispered as he sat down.

“Okay, eat one piece of toast to start with.”

Christian shook his head. “I can’t.”

“You need to or you’re going to be in fucking agony tomorrow.”

“I’m already in agony,” Christian muttered, but he picked up the toast and started eating.

“Now drink some water.”

“I can’t.” He saw Roy’s look of impatience and took two sips.

“Is that settling?”

Christian smiled ruefully. “For now.”

“Okay, take these.” He handed over the Advil. “With the water. Alcohol dehydrates people; that’s really what a hangover is. The more water you drink tonight, the better you’ll feel tomorrow. Although I think ‘better’ is going to be relative.”

“Do I really need to eat? Just looking makes me want to …”

“Work on the toast,” Roy advised. “You’ll be glad you did.”

“There’s a certain irony to the fact that a guy who’s never had a drink is suddenly the hangover guru.”

Roy looked relieved; Christian was sounding suddenly more like himself. “What can I say? I’m observant.”

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...