Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Author's Dilemma--You Write One, You've Written 'Em All?

Or maybe this is a reader's dilemma, I don't know.

I'm currently reading Pat Conroy's recent offering, South of Broad. Now, I am a huge fan of Mr. Conroy. Yeah, he's a little long-winded at times, but I have long been in awe of his skill with the craft of description. He uses words the way an artist uses a brush to paint a picture. Unbelievably gifted.

And yet I find myself very lukewarm about South of Broad. The worst part, though, is that I have a sneaking suspicion that not only am I going to be disappointed with this book itself but I'm going to find that it's ruined Conroy's other works for me ... and that would just be a shame.

I never realized before how similar all of Conroy's characters are; there is very little change from book to book beyond names, occupations, and who has almost irreperably betrayed whom. Even his sentence structure, his phrasing, his very word choice is alarmingly reminiscent of earlier works.

This, of course, begs the questions: at what point does an author realize that he or she is basically writing the same story over and over again? Some of them are okay with that (Danielle Steele comes to mind, although I would only refer to her as "author" in the very basest form) and others try to reinvent themselves (a la Dennis Lehane, who created a couple of very endearing protagonists then just left us hanging for a decade ... not that his other stuff isn't good, but I want to know what's up with Kenzie and Gennaro) while some admitted that they were only good for one book (Harper Lee ... Margaret Mitchell ...).

Even Stephen King, an author I believe to be the most gifted of the past century and arguably of all time, has an occasional sameness. Being King, he brilliantly incorporated this into his whole Dark Tower theory, but the fact remains that there are times (and with King it's minimal, but still ...) that the works become redundant.

Is redundancy okay? Am I being too hard on Mr. Conroy here? And, well, since my Swine Flu and I are going to sign off and go read the book, I guess it can't bother me as much as I think it does ;) It definitely gives me something to think about as a writer, though ... an area I hope to avoid, redundancy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Of Pancreases and Pinot Grigio

On my "hot date" with Belle last night, I ate fried chicken. I know better, but I did it anyway. Yeah, fried chicken. Dipped in blue cheese dressing. It was freaking amazing.

It also wreaked havoc on my pancreas to the point where I was biting belts and stuff to keep from screaming. No fun, but again--my own damn fault. I don't get a pancreatitis attack every time I eat fried chicken (or cheese or french fries or pizza or whatever might have a high fat content), but I'm aware that the potential is there. It's like playing Russian Roulette with a taser. I'll be really good for awhile and not have trouble, so I'll forget just how awful the pain is (multiply childbirth by maybe fifty--yes, I'm serious).

I feel bad for my Facebook friends--I posted asking for advice on whether to go to the ER for pain meds (my Darvocet was all gone :()or not since I usually end up being admitted (IV pain meds controlled through a hospital environment are far better for my situation)and I just don't have time for that. Anyway, my friends are wonderful--they kept me focused on their input while the pain was at its worst (I was also in the parking lot of Addie's school waiting for her to get back from a competition) and I went home and took a lot more Advil (and Valium and Ambien) and went to bed.

Not a pleasant experience, but it almost certainly wouldn't have happened if I'd been smart and avoided the fried chicken (and the blue cheese). I have to take ownership of that--sometimes I don't treat my body well, and there can be consequences.

Part of me wanted to go directly to the ER, get some fentanyl action going or a morphine drip, demoral mixed with the anti-nausea stuff that would have solved all of my physical problems. Bam, I'd be floating in lala land. I wouldn't have to worry about what I'm teaching tomorrow (emergency sub plans, and I'd be so out of it I wouldn't realize how much I was shafting my students). I wouldn't have to figure out how to get Addie and Belle to and from school--if I'm in the hospital, someone else (my mother, maybe my father and stepmother, aunts, uncles), but it wouldn't have to be me. Laying out clothes, driving to work, taking the dogs out, all the issues big and small belong to someone else while you're in the hospital. And most importantly, no pain.

Well, I decided that the hospital wasn't an option no matter how much it hurt (unless I lost consciousness, which has happened before). That was that. I told myself I could hold on until Monday when I can get some more Darvocet through my regular doctor (who understands the particular struggles with being my regular doctor), and I've managed to do it. I had chicken broth for dinner and a really great bottle of water for lunch, and I'm still in quite a bit of pain, but I did it. I balanced the pros and cons of the situation, and I realized that taking care of my girls and going to work was more important than feeling no pain.

So that's the pancreas part of the post. Now, onto the Pinot Grigio (have some for me--the pancreas is rather fussy about alcohol, too).

So, after going several days without a coherent conversation and three days with no contact at all, Pythagorus calls. He promised Belle a week ago that we would meet at the bowling alley today--didn't happen, along with more than half the phone calls he was supposed to make to her. Well, not to worry; Pythagorus has figured out what he needs. He needs--drum roll--to be hospitalized for all the stress and anxiety in his life.

The stress and anxiety in HIS life? I mean, is he shitting me? I know this might sound insensitive, but when you're over thirty and you've basically destroyed your relationship with your children and all you have to do--and I mean ALL--is go to work and not drink, wouldn't you think this would be doable? The truth is, Pythagorus' stress and anxiety come from two places: first, the fact that he screwed up badly, and he cannot handle the fact that he made a mistake. Second, he was raised by a family that belongs on Jerry Springer and, instead of going to counseling and dealing with it, he drinks and berates (and/or avoids) me when I hold him accountable for anything.

Yeah, so Pythagorus can't handle his own failures, so he wants to go to the hospital to hide. If the hospital saw my amylase and lipase levels right now, they'd force me in. And yet, I refuse to let that happen.

It occurs to me that this is an interesting metaphor--and in a way, the crucifixion-reminiscent stabbing pain in my stomach is like a scream of triumph, like Mel Gibson's William Wallace screaming, "Freedom!!!!" as he is literally pulled to pieces.

I wonder what Pythagorus sees when he looks in the mirror sometimes. He was not a lying, sneaky coward when I married him ... but somehow I don't think "hospitalization for stress and anxiety" is going to bring back the man I once loved.

Damn, I think my pancreas is laughing ;)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wild Saturday Nights Don't End When You Have Kids ... They Just End Earlier : )

I just got back from dinner out. I won a rubber chicken from a waitress dressed up as Monica Lewinsky. Yes, I'm serious. No, I'm not drunk. And man, did I have a blast : )

Let me explain ...

A couple of weeks ago, Belle and I had lunch at this

truly amazing restaurant that specializes in chicken wings but has pretty much everything you can imagine on its menu (and reading the menu is an exercise in hilarity itself!). After our delicious meal of "Spongebob Cheesepants" and "The George Michael" (a pulled pork burrito--I'm telling you, READ THE MENU ... you will pee yourself), our waiter very kindly (heh!) mentioned to my five-year-old that, on the nights of the 23rd and 24th, Wild Willy himself (this giant chicken mascot thing) would be present along with a variety of Halloween festivities.

Belle can't remember to brush her teeth without a stern reminder. She's doing well if she's changed her underwear on her own (yes, I check). I'm not confident that she remembers her phone number, but that kid remembered without question that we WOULD be at Wings Your Way on Saturday the 24th. There was no way in hell I was getting out of it. The fact that Addie is at a marching band competition and my mother is at a UNH hockey game with my uncle made it even harder to try to distract Belle long enough to let dinnertime pass. I finally figured that, what I couldn't avoid, I might as well try to enjoy.

And we had a blast : )

First, Belle was given her own pumpkin to decorate.

She had clearly inherited my artistic (in)ability, but it was fun. She was told by the server that she could bring it home or put it on display anywhere in the restaurant, so Belle very seriously said to the server after finishing, "Excuse me, I'd like to put my pumpkin on display, please." It was quite funny : ) I have a good pic of her "on display" pumpkin, by the way, but it shows Belle's real name and that's not how I flow. Suffice it to say, it fits right into this lovely atmosphere of cobwebs and chicken feet painted on the wall:

This was followed by more art,

Dinner (the obvious low point of our evening),

and Worm Pudding, a Halloween treat provided to children in costume--since Belle was in full princess attire, complete with her "royal scepter" (and yes, this is what she refers to the 99 cent wand I got at Rite Aid as), she was clearly covered (although less than impressed with the whole worm pudding thang).

By this point, it was just about time for the evening's highlight: a visit from Wild Willy, the giant chicken. Belle was quite distraught when he started in a different location of the restaurant, watching carefully (and not very patiently) as the guy in the chicken suit made his rounds,

But it was all worth it in the end:

And then I won the rubber chicken, which is a story unto itself, but the point of this post is not to show you how gorgeous Belle is in her Halloween (ahem) finery or even to provide a recommendation to Wings Your Way (located on the New Hampshire seacoast with a satellite restaurant on campus at UNH--don't ask why I know that, and definitely don't ask if I've been there ;)). It's that I was reminded that wild (pun partially intended) and crazy and silly and ridiculous things can happen when you're out with your children. The easy laughter and goofy times don't end when you--ahem--grow up.

It's seven o'clock right now, and not too many years ago, I wouldn't even have been started having fun on a Saturday night. The phrase, "I won a rubber chicken from Monica Lewinsky" would have had a completely different context. Now, I'm in my pajamas while Belle makes Halloween posters of her own invention (okay, she's creative--she just doesn't color in the lines :)) and the dogs have been fed and out and back in and all is right with the world.

I'm going to go read Belle a story now. And give her an extra kiss : )

Isn't it funny when the universe reminds you what's really important?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Laughter: The Best of Medicines

I was reminded today of why I teach. Beyond the obvious--and I'm serious--intrinsic rewards, the simple truth is that high school students are so damn funny it's hard to put into words.

I'm going to try, though :)

So my Journalism class is on the verge of sending out the year's first issue. One girl had to finish her article on tips for what to always have in a car, so we were working on a brainstorm list.

She had water, a flashlight, and a blanket on the list, which she read through then asked for suggestions. "How about water?" I said, which was funny enough since she'd just read the list where water was number one. Then, naturally, it perpetuated.

Another student was adamant that tampons should be on the list. She felt that you always seem to need a tampon when everything seems to be going wrong (like your car breaking down)--for the record, I think she's right about the whole "when it rains, it pours" thing.

The lone boy in class today--one of those genuinely wonderful human beings, by the way--tried to get the conversation back on track by saying, "How about extra lights?"

He was, of course, referring to light bulbs. A couple of the girls thought he meant extra light tampons, and laughter ensued. A lot of laughter. It was so damn funny that several of us had tears rolling down our faces. Yes, I was one of them.

I was expecting today to be such a horrible day, and that laughter was just so therapeutic. I am so, so lucky to not only have wonderful colleagues but to get paid to have the honor and privilege of working with beyond amazing kids every day. There are always moments of unbelievable pleasure (usually more focused on curriculum ;)), and sometimes I take for granted how much I absolutely adore my job.

Do you get as much joy (and hilarity) from your job as I do?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musings on the Horrorversary

Anniversaries--weddings, homeownership, even birthdays--are all celebrations of an event, one with theoretically happy connotations.

So what do you call the day that is the antithesis to those joyous times, the ones that come up once every year the same as the happy days? I created a word tonight when I was thinking about this--horroversary. I'm sure someone else has used this before, actually, but I'm not really in high thinking mode, so work with me a bit here.

I have several horrorversaries. One is in December, one is in January, (I suppose I have to add one these days ...) and one is tomorrow. October 23rd (also my grandfather's birthday--an anniversary for my Papa, a horroversary for me ... life is strange) is the worst. It always will be.

Ironically, my birthday is three days later, on the 26th. My mother has planned to have relatives over Sunday night to celebrate, and it's very hard to say, "I just want to be left the fuck alone for the next few days. THAT's what I want for my stupid birthday." She was on my case tonight for "sounding depressed". Oh, shit, if she only knew ... And my students, my sweet and wonderful and loving students, they have been very "sneaky" in their attempts to plan an in-class birthday party. I am trying so hard to keep my shit together on my horroversary, and everyone else is so focused on my birthday (a.k.a. my anniversary, if you want to think of it that way), and I just reread that and I realize what a selfish bitch I sound like and ...

And I guess I'm going to stop now. I'm going to bed on a double dose of Ambien and metaphorically beat myself up for the next few days over something that happened over ten years ago, when I was a completely different person.

How do you spend your horrorversary? (By the way, I truly and deeply hope that I'm the only person who suffers horrorversaries ... when Addie starts saying, "Ten days until my birthday" the first day of September, I know that I think of my horroversary--all of them, but especially this one--on the same terms. Maybe nobody reading this can relate to this in any way, shape, or form ... and if so--I AM SO GLAD FOR YOU :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Edgar Allan Poetry Class

I'm teaching a poetry class for the first time ever this year. As with any new class a teacher takes on, there are learning curves ...

The biggest flop to date has been the now-notorious Poe unit (which seems willing to go on forever). Basically, I thought it would be cool to do an author study, my main point being that a poet's work is often linked intrinsically to his or her life. Poe seemed ideal for this--he was an infamously volatile alcoholic (yeah, this should have clued me in ;)), he was found mysteriously unconscious in a gutter with someone else's clothes on just before he died (and with some interesting last words), he married his thirteen-year-old cousin when he was in his mid-twenties, and so on.

Well, each student was assigned a poem by Mr. Poe to lead a discussion about and then write an analysis paper. The first day was pretty cool, with everything from Poe's haunting via tuburculosis (everyone the guy got close to died of TB--talk about bad luck!) to his possible Oedipal complex (both his biological mother and foster mother died of TB when he was quite young and impressionable, and he seemed to be searching for maternal love throughout his life--including with the cousin/wife). Pretty interesting stuff.

By the third day, though, the class and I made an interesting--and depressing--observation: all of Poe's poetry is pretty much the same. He mixes it up a bit in terms of style (it was especially neat to read a couple of his sonnets, since we've studied both Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets already), but the themes--pretty much same old, same old.

I've managed to ruin Poe's poetry (through overexposure and excessive analysis) for an entire class and for myself as well. I mean, I used to LOVE Poe, and now it's like, "Yeah, yeah, death, loss, darkness, dreams of better things that didn't turn out the way you expected" and so on.

Oh well ... you win some, you lose some ;)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Paper Stash

I was sorting papers today, trying to get stuff organized (as though that's ever possible, being me). One box that I came upon contained what must have been every freaking paper I wrote in high school and college (and I was an English major--I wrote a lot of papers).

The first thing I noticed was that many of the things I nag my students about (unfocused introductions and conclusions, repeated phrases, passive voice, excessive adjectives and adverbs, and so on) characterized much of this stuff. I mean, I was told by both high school teachers and college professors that I was some kind of writing prodigy ... but either they were full of crap or the competition wasn't much ;)

I did find my analysis paper on the works of Aristotle, written for the guy who was supposedly the hardest English prof at UNH. It says "A+" on it and, just below that grade Dr. X claimed not to give, the word "Perfect". That was pretty cool to see.

The most entertaining trip down memory lane, though, came from the composer paper file. I cringe to admit this now, but I made an awful lot of money selling papers ... and selling composer papers to members of my high school music department was the start of it.

Even back in high school, my morals were pretty twisted. I would never, EVER plagiarize someone else's work--but I'd happily recycle my own pieces, just changing the name from mine to someone else's and reprinting. If you were my friend, I'd do it for free; otherwise, there was a fee involved.

The scary part is, nobody ever caught on. I tested this theory once using my sister as the guinea pig. Well, there's more to the story, actually. Basically, I was bitching and moaning that the teacher played favorites and, if you were one of her pets, you could turn in a shit paper and get an A+.

This bitch-fest happened to coincide with Mary asking me to write a paper for her. I had a stick up my butt (Mary was one of the teacher's pets, and it really ticked me off) and refused, and of course my mother stepped in and forced me to cheat on my sister's behalf. Yeah, I'm serious.

So I figured I'd test out a theory. I wrote an amazing composer paper ... until the end, where it concluded with, "He was buried in Westminster Abbey--and he smelled like old socks." I put Mary's name on it, and sure enough, she got an A+. After that, no one could say the teacher didn't play favorites (the paper I wrote for myself was far better and didn't desecrate the memory of a deceased composer) ... I had the proof right in front of me.

Wow, the memories that come flooding back ...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Trying (Unsuccessfully) to Alleviate Loneliness

Do you ever feel so alone, so misunderstood that it makes you crazy? The thing is, I don't even know if "loneliness" is the right word.

I guess that it's just sometimes the people you want to talk to, the people you thought would always be there, just disappear sometimes.

I'm guilty of this, too, of course. I've been avoiding a couple of my best friends that have been calling, e-mailing, texting ... because sometimes you just don't know where to start :(

Why do the actions (or non-actions, if you will) of others play such an impact in a person's psyche? Why can't you just go through life alone and not have to believe in other people? It would certainly make life easier, I sometimes think.

Eh, things will look brighter in the morning, when I'll still be lonely (or whatever the hell I am) but I won't care as much.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Garbage and Ice Cream Collide ...

I've posted about my odd sense of humor here before. Sometimes I wonder, in fact, if I'm completely twisted ;) Well, it perpetuated today ... and demonstrated that I've passed the funny bone-tickling that comes from the bizarre onto my progeny.

When I was driving Addie to school this morning, she suddenly yelled, "Oh my God, there was just an accident between a garbage truck and an ice cream truck." And then she started laughing. And then I started laughing. And yeah, you know how that goes ...

The thing is, I want to state very clearly for the record that I would never under any circumstances laugh at the misfortune of others--except that this is clearly exactly what I pretty much did. This kind of bothers me about myself, actually. I hate hypocrisy more than pretty much anything.

I can rationalize it by saying that obviously trash collection companies and ice cream companies have good car insurance. I can further state that it was obviously not a bad accident, just a minor fender bender as they go. However, the fact of the matter is, it was at the very least a fairly serious inconvenience (at the very least) for the two drivers.

Think about it, though. It's humorous on so many levels. For one, the nutritional value of ice cream is pretty close to garbage. The wrappers from the frozen treats sold by one truck eventually end up in the stinky receptacle contained in the other. What are the odds of two trucks of roughly the same size colliding? And, perhaps funniest of all, what the hell was an ice cream truck doing on the road at 6:15 in the morning?

Anyway, I got the giggles bad. I felt like a jerk, but I just couldn't stop laughing.

Addie summed up the whole experience best, though. Wiping tears of laughter from her own eyes, she said, "Oh, so it's going to be one of THOSE days."

Friday, October 2, 2009


The lump was just a cyst!!!!

I am, of course, beyond relieved. However, this little scare has made me think a great deal about those who are not so lucky.

These things come like a shot in the dark. You hear all the time about children, adolescents, and seemingly-healthy adults getting cancer, having heart attacks, and so on. It's incredibly frightening when you think about it.

I can tell you that I certainly appreciate my life--and everyone in it--more today than I did a week ago. How horrible is it, that sometimes it takes such a sobering event to make you realize how lucky you are?

Well, the bus will be here in a minute ... the freshman class is on a field trip to an outdoor teambuilding event with high and low ropes courses, among other things.

I suspect I'll be flirting with death on a zip line within a few hours ;)

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...