Thursday, April 30, 2009

The New Philosophy of KLo--Your Feedback is Respectfully Requested

I had a very clear vision when I started this blog. To recap, "Have you ever just wanted to talk ... about anything? About everything? My new fascination with the whys and hows of virtually everything have led me to create this blog. Please join the conversation : )"

As things have progressed with this blog, many things have happened that I didn't foresee. First, it was not well-read at first. Early posts included thoughts on a short story Stephen King wrote on 9/11, thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr., and a variety of other rather random thoughts. I wanted desperately to get it organized, to have a common thread.

I have written much about my daughters, including a unintentional philosophical observation from both Addie and Belle. Belle's garden dreams and Addie's trip to Florida were documented here.

And then my writing decided that it wanted to take over the blog. There were still posts about teaching, including focuses on Shakespeare and Edward Murrow, a little competition between classes, and my joy over being on April vacation. However, between posting actual pieces and looking at perspectives from writers such as Stephen King, I've started focusing on writing as a craft as well.

Of course, there was the great pancreatitis debacle (I was a hospital blogger for four or five days ... here, here, here, here, and here.

What's happening, now, though, is that I suddenly have 60 followers. I know that's not a lot in the great scheme of things, but it means that I want this blog to be viable (and I don't mean in a financial way--I mean in a way that brings pleasures to its readers and its writer.

With that in mind, my latest approach has been to bring up sticky subjects as I observe them (or that just come up in my mind), talk about them a little on my terms, and then encourage comments. I love responding to comments. I love conversations. I love reading, writing, and thinking, and this blog is allowing me to just ... revel ... in all of those things.

I guess I'm sort of looking for feedback; since my older posts have zero comments and my newer ones get 10-20 comments apiece, I gather that people are liking what they read. This, then, is my plan--to continue to run this blog as a forum for thoughtful conversation to take place.

I am excited, passionate, and willing to work as hard as I need to in order to see this work. If you have suggestions in general, please feel free to leave them in the comments section. If you have topics you'd like to suggest I address, please e-mail to kloud1026@yahoo.com.

It's been a great journey so far, and I hope we can keep it going. I've been enjoying the blogs I've had the pleasure to read almost as much as I've enjoyed writing my own pieces, so I also feel a need to express a gracious thanks to all of you once again.

<3 KLo

Letting Go of Grudges--Possible?

Maybe because it's the week after spring vacation (or maybe because I've become more astute since committing to this blog on a serious level), I've noticed that people seem to be holding more grudges than usual. I'd expect to see this in a high school, of course, but it occurred to me how commonplace it is in real life (a.k.a. "adulthood") as well.

I think that humans are in a constant state of flux, that we are definitely better people at some times than others. I know that I personally have achieved a level of maturity that I can live with only within the last year or so. Before then, I would act like a five year old at times, realize I was acting like a five year old even as I was doing it, but was sort of powerless to change things.

Despite my leaps and bounds growth in terms of outlook on life, I'm still a grudge-holder. Well, actually, that's not entirely accurate. If someone hurts me, my family, or my friends, I can move on. I never forget, though. Not ever. And forgiveness? Well, as it is written, "To err is human, to forgive divine." I'm nowhere near divine, so I guess it's not even worth thinking about.

But grudge-holding? Getting burned and then allowing someone back into your heart and your life? Is it easy? Is it even possible?

I think it's possible on a limited basis but only in certain cases. Sometimes I wish that I could have a more optimistic outlook, but I've recently been let down by several people that I strongly believed in, and it makes me a bit cynical.

Well, as it's also written (somewhere, I'm sure ... and not in that horrible song performed by Paula Abdul), "Two steps forward, one step back."

I guess I'm as much a work in progress as anything I've ever written ... and I think maybe this is true for everyone.

Characters you Would Like to Meet in Reality

I've been thinking a lot likely about how real some characters appear to be. This might sound creepy, but there are some actually some literary characters I would love to have a conversation with (some of my own creation--and oh, what a heady feeling that is : ))

So my question for you ...
(If you are a writer)
If you could meet any character from one of your own pieces, who would it be, and why?
(If you are a reader)
If you could meet any character from a work of literature you've read, who would it be and why?

And if, like me, you are a reader and a writer, please feel free to answer both.

I'll be posting my own answer in the comments section later as I have to go to lunch duty in five minutes. Ah, it stinks when the day job and the heart's job interfere with each other : )

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Loneliness

Is it possible to be surrounded by people constantly yet still be lonely beyond words? To feel that nobody understands what is in your heart and your mind? To have turned to endeavors like writing (as well as other self-destructive acts that shall remain nameless) in an attempt to fill up that terrible aching emptiness? To know for a veritable fact that absolutely nobody understands you?

Is writing a salve?

Is writing a calling?

And what is the correlation between writing and loneliness? Based on my research, there has to be one, at least as a general rule.

Oh, God, I wish I could be an exception to this one ...

Coming Up 8s: Suddenly got a Focal Point for My Writing

I have been directed to do this by several of my blogging colleagues. Although it pretty much reminds me of something I'd do on Facebook, I found it to be fun and surprisingly enlightening. I'm not going to recommend that specific people post it or anything like that ("tag" in the Facebook parlayance), but definitely read through it and change my answers to yours, even if you don't write it down.

I've found that I'm feeling much more focused now. Weird : )

8 Things I Look Forward To

1) Going to see Addie's show this weekend
2) My nephew, Edward, being born
3) Getting a pedi, eyebrow wax, haircut, the whole beauty shop treatment--I usually act like a girl for one day or so in the spring, and I'm starting to feel it's really necessary
4) Belle sleeping in her own room (although part of me will miss her terribly when she decides that a crib mattress on the floor of her parents' room is not exactly where it's at)
5) My cousin Terrie's wedding
6) Hitting the beach every day this summer : )
7) Teaching Act II scene iv of Romeo and Juliet tomorrow : )
8) Last but not least, getting my manuscript published : ) : ) : )

8 Things I Did Yesterday

1) Drank coffee from Dunkin' Donuts
2) Scored schoolwide writing prompts
3) Read around fifty pages of Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
4) Edited several chapters of the most recent work in progress. Tried to smooth out some rough transition. Eh ... it's still a work in progress : )
5) Taught some of my students a valuable lesson in the fallibility of teachers
6) Finally paid one of my students the $40 I owed him for a fundraiser (this sounds funny, but it wasn't the money ... I just kept forgetting to bring the check in)
7) Cooked dinner for my mom. (Well, Pythagorus cooked ... I just ate)
8) Put Belle to bed (well, to cracked crib mattress on the floor of my bedroom)

8 Things I Wish I Could Do

1) Ease the suffering of others
2) Get on an airplane without having such severe anxiety attacks that it's just not worth the trouble
3) Make my house look as beautiful as it has the potential to do
4) Learn how to set writing goals for myself. Since writing has been somewhere between a passion and a hobby until fairly recently, the thought of trying to harness and control it is new to me.
5) Write Addie's rough draft for her (she just got back from Florida, has had rehearsal until ten all week, and shows are tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday). However, I have a moral issue with parents doing homework for their kids. Helping is okay. Doing is not. And Addie is a writing prodigy, so she doesn't need my help.
6) Eliminate any potential health problems for my nephew Pete (although, knock on wood, he is doing great : ))
7) Create a wonderful garden with Belle this year. She is very interested in the idea of growing vegetables and flowers.
8) Learn to trust Pythagorus again.

8 Shows I Watch

1. "NCIS"
2) "CSI: NY"
3) "Law and Order: CI"
4) "CSI: Miami"
5) "CSI: Vegas"
6) "The Smurfs"
7) "Saturday Night Live"
8) "Antiques Roadshow"

Somebody Else's Pain

Pain is part of being human, and it manifests itself in a myriad of ways. We all deal with pain differently, obviously, from punching walls to crying uncontrollably (that would be me) to pretending your pain doesn't exist.

What I've found over the past couple of days, though, is that the pain that someone else is going through can distress you far worse than any sort of hurt inside yourself. One of my friends just suffered a miscarriage. She has been trying to conceive for a very long time, was finally successful, was probably more excited about it than anyone I've ever seen, and now ...

I mean, what do you say? I'm so sorry? My thoughts and prayers are with you? Is there anything I can do? Want to go get very drunk, shoot some pool, and listen to bad music?

The truth is, there is nothing you can say in some situations. Calling or e-mailing or visiting or whatever, wouldn't it just be a reminder? I've been in contact, sent my regrets and good thoughts, and so have a plethora of other people, but when push comes to shove, does that just make it worse?

I keep my pain very close to the vest. Most of the very traumatic things that have happened to me are things I do not speak of. They're things that I do not write of. They are things that, like my friend's little temporary miracle, there's just nothing anybody can say or do to make them better. Time passes. Life goes on. You don't forget, and the pain never goes away.

I am incredibly fortunate, I think, in that I've started to categorize some of my own horrific events. The things that it's possible to come to terms with, to overcome, I've made some steps. One of the greatest realizations is being able to incorporate some of my greatest pain into fiction, thereby giving myself some control over it, if that makes any sense.

However, I remain mystified as to what to do with somebody else's pain. I can give hugs. I can make people laugh pretty readily. I can offer all the positive thoughts in the world, but it is not going to change my friend's pain.

I hate being powerless, but even more so, I hate to see people I care about in so much pain. I just hate it!

Literature Options for Reluctant YA Readers

I have the great pleasure of teaching a class for reluctant readers in addition to my regular English 9 courseload this year. And yes, I'm serious. Watching the kids in this class grow as readers, learn to pick out books that they will enjoy on their own, and most of all develop a love of literature (some more than others, of course ... I'm not delusional :-)) has been one of the highlights of my school year.

I just went through their reading logs and wrote down all the books that have been read in class since school started in August. I was absolutely blown away by the list ... and just so, so proud of my students : )

Since many of you that read this blog are aspiring writers (not to mention teachers), I decided to post the list. I realize it's long, but I thought it would be valuable to give you some ideas of what appeals to YA/reluctant readers--if you're a writer or a teacher. I should also note that I log along with the kids, and I did include the titles from my own reading log. What makes me especially happy, though, is that it isn't easy to figure out where on the list my titles are.

Monster (Walter Dean Myers)
Cracker Jackson (Betsy Byers)
Maniac Magee (Jerry Spinelli)
The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
Hole in my Life (Jack Gantos)
Tears of a Tiger (Sharon Draper)
That was Then, This is Now (S.E. Hinton)
Forged by Fire (Sharon Draper)
Darkness Before Dawn (Sharon Draper)
One Good Punch (Rich Wallace)
The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
The River (Gary Paulsen)
Holes (Louis Sachar)
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Alvin Schwartz)
Sharpe’s Rifles (Bernard Cornwell)
The Boy Who Dared (Susan Campbell Bartoletti)
Loser (Jerry Spinelli)
Paranoid Park (Blake Nelson)
The Boxer and the Spy (Robert B. Parker)
Crackback (John Coy)
Iceman (Chris Lynch)
Bringing Down the House (Ben Mezrich)
Acceleration (Graham McNamee)
Paper Trail (Barbara Shaw Gilbert)
Skate (Michael Harmon)
Digital Fortress (Dan Brown)
Bone Chiller (Graham McNamee)
A Gathering of Days (Joan W. Blos)
Come Spring (Ben Ames Williams)
Eragon (Christopher Paolini)
Eldest (Christopher Paolini)
Brisingr (Christopher Paolini)
A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
The Beans of Egypt, Maine (Carolyn Chute)
The Castle of Llyr (Lloyd Alexander)
Taran Wanderer (Lloyd Alexander)
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (Fannie Flagg)
Here on Earth (Alice Hoffman)
The Host (Stephenie Meyer)
The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan)
The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros)
The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
Just Listen (Sarah Dessen)
Lamb (Christopher Moore)
The Ladies of Missalonghi (Colleen McCullough)
Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
Caretakers (Tabitha King)
Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)
New Moon (Stephenie Meyer)
Go Ask Alice (Anonymous)
Crank (Ellen Hopkins)
Glass (Ellen Hopkins)
Impulse (Ellen Hopkins)
Burned (Ellen Hopkins)
Beastly (Alex Flinn)
The da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult)
The People of Sparks (Jeanne DuPrau)
Friedrich (Hans Peter Richter)
Just Annoying (Andy Griffiths)
Slam (Walter Dean Myers)
Omega Place (Graham Marks)
“The Body” (Stephen King)
Black Hawk Down (Mark Bowden)
Blood Brothers (Richard Price)
The Compound (S.A. Bodeen)
L8R, G8R (Lauren Myracle)
Stealing Heaven (Elizabeth Scott)
Someday this Pain will be Useful to You (Peter Cameron)
Confessions of a Not-It Girl (Melissa Kantor)
The Break-Up Bible (Melissa Kantor)
My Sister’s Keeper (Jodi Picoult)
Perfect (Natasha Friend)
Fearless (Tim Lott)
Boy Meet Boy (David Levithan)
Hangman’s Curse (Frank Peretti)
A Life Without Consequences (Stephen Elliot)
All that Remains (Bruce Brooks)
A Girl in Parts (Jasmine Paul)
That Summer (Sarah Dessen)
Becoming Chloe (Catherine Ryan Hyde)
How to Deal (Sarah Dessen)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brasheares)
Head Games (Mariah Fredericks)
Two-Way Street (Lauren Barnholdt)
13 is Too Young to Die (Isaacsen-Bright)
A Lifetime of Secrets (Frank Warren)
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Jack Gantos)
The Great Gilly Hopkins (Katherine Paterson)
Deadline (Chris Crutcher)
The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dessen)
If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? (Melissa Kantor)
Tiger Eyes (Judy Blume)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hey : ) I Reached 100 Posts!

Well, 102 to be exact (counting this one, of course). So as a celebration of sorts, here is a list of useless/interesting(?)/(definitely)unique facts about me. Enjoy :)

And as soon as I have 100 followers (or 102, if I am to maintain my lack of with-it-ness which you've all come to know by now), I will have a most amazing contest. Plans are in the works : )

Okay, here we go ...

* I lived up to my klutzy image by falling on ice at work this past winter ... in front of six kids that, to their credit, made a great effort not to laugh.

* I think "NCIS" is the best show ever created.

* I wonder constantly what my students take away from my class.

* My self-esteem is in the negative digits.

* I am addicted to a gossip website that keeps me up to date on all things celebrity gossip, one of my minor obsessions.

* I have two tattoos, but I desperately regret both of them.

* I can analyze literature with the best of them (I actually understand and--gasp!--enjoy Shakespeare), but I have absolutely no common sense.

* When I was a kid, I wanted to be a journalist, a lawyer, a psychologist, or an author. "Teacher" wasn't even in the running.

* I am a very different person when you first meet me than I am when you get to know me.

* I hate the telephone. Like, I deplore it.

* I have no patience for close-minded people. I have strong opinions about various things, but I will always listen to the other side as long as it is intelligently presented and not based in hate, ignorance, and bigotry.

* I used to love doing puzzles, but it makes me cry to do puzzles since my stepdad's death, since he usually helped me when I was at the point of giving up. It occurs to me that this is probably a metaphor in some way, shape, or form.

* Ketchup, even just the smell of it, makes me sick to my stomach.

* I think James Joyce is the most overrated author of all time.

* My black lab is so gentle that I'd trust her alone with a baby, yet at the same time I suspect that anyone breaking into my house or something would be in for a rude awakening.

* Even though I tend to lean left politically, I'd rather watch Fox News Channel than CNN or MSNBC. This in large part the entertainment factor rather than getting the news. I follow AP news releases for actual information.

* I LOVE maple sugar candy. And Zagnut bars : )

* My dad should be on "Jeopardy" because he is, as my sister puts it, a fountain of useless information.

* Writing is an imperative part of my life. So is reading. To quote Harper Lee, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

* I am a cheeseburger aficionado. One word: Fuddrucker's.

* I was extremely resistant to reading the Twilight series (and the Harry Potter books until the fourth one came out). I don't know why, really, except for a minor hang-up with cheap commercialism. I got over it : )

* I am so stupid mathematically that I can't play cribbage (too much fast addition).

* I had my IQ tested twice as a child (they thought I was retarded ... go figure lol), had scores within two points of each other, then took an internet IQ test a few years ago and scored the number in between. (I'm hoping you think I'm being modest by not posting numbers here :-) ).

* I rewrote "Hamlet" as a novel for a final project in my college Shakespeare class ... the night before it was due. Yes, I finished. Yes, I got an A. No, my blood pressure has not recovered : )

* I have lost several cell phones because I put them on top of my car and drove off.

* I used to dream about spending the night in the public library.

* My younger daughter is very blonde, and people who see her with me and my (also very dark-haired) husband often feel the need to comment on it. I make a lot of mailman jokes.

* I am really OCD about even numbers. Like, at the gas station, the numbers have to end even or I'll keep putting gas in until it does.

* My daughters both look just like my mother did when she was little and quite a bit like I did when I was little, but I don't look a thing like my mother.

* I HATE feet (especially toenails).

* I could (and have) sit at the beach and watch the ocean for entire days.

* I love smoked Gouda cheese.

* I don't like being touched under my chin.

* I suffer (and I do mean suffer) from chronic pancreatitis.

* Vanilla Ice is on my iPod, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

* I have an obsession with Charles Manson (the psychological aspects of his mind control thing, not in an at all admirable way).

* I think peanut butter pancakes are the best breakfast food in the world.

* One of my daughters thinks I know everything, one of my daughters thinks I know nothing.

* I cannot tell a linear story (in other words, settle down for a spell once I start talking because the ADHD will kick in and I'll add in numerous details and side tales that are not remotely relevant)

Yay : ) That was kind of fun!

Stephen King's Fascinating Analogy to the Craft of Writing

It shouldn't be any secret to anyone that's read this blog with any sort of regularity that I'm a major Stephen King fan. Some may write him off as a sell-out and an example of someone with moderate talent being in the right place at the right time, but I would argue that he is the ultimate American writer of this generation. His writing is passionate, poignant, and prolific (sorry, we're on an alliteration kick in one of my classes :-)), and I predict that he will eventually be the subject of a required college course for English literature majors, much the way Shakespeare is.

But that's not my point.

I was rereading "The Body", a novella from the 1982 collection Different Seasons, and I found a quote that really resonated with me.

If you haven't read "The Body", by the way, the odds are still pretty good that you've seen Rob Reiner's Stand by Me, a film that comes fairly close to living up to King's story. In case you haven't, though, it's the tale of four small town boys in the throes of early adolescence heading off to locate the dead body of a boy who was lost in the woods while picking blueberries. Anyway, the main character and first-person narrator, Gordie LaChance, grows up to be a bestselling author. "The Body" is essentially a flashback of this particular adventure he had with his friends and how it shaped him into both a man and a writer. I can relate all too well to Gordie's friends constantly clamoring for him to tell one of his magical stories--although I don't write as well as King, my tales did a fair amount of entertaining my friends when I was growing up.

Perhaps that remembering, that curious mix of pride and shame, is what makes this excerpt echo so strongly in my mind:

"The act of writing itself is done in secret, like masturbation--oh, I have a friend who has done things like write stories in the display windows of bookshops and department stores, but this is a man who is nearly crazy with courage, the kind of man you'd like to have with you if you just happened to fall down with a heart attack in a city where no one knew you. For me, it always wants to be sex and always falls short--it's always that adolescent handjob in the bathroom with the door locked."

I hope nobody is too offended by the sexual references there, but King (writing as "Gordie LaChance", of course, but many of King's protagonists are writers, so I think that inferences can certainly be made) seems to capture the essence of writing as a craft there.

What do you think? Is writing intensely private? Is it hard to share? Do you wish you could share with all your heart, but somehow it's too much? Is comparing the act of writing to the act of sex apt? Is there a better analogy to be made?

I'm not sure, but I do know that this quote (not in its entirety, of course, but I knew the gist--and the text of "The Body"--well enough to find it pretty easily) came almost unbidden to my mind when I got thinking about what to blog about.

That must mean something : )

The Nature of Dreams

Like many writers, I dream frequently and intensely (that is, when I manage to sleep).

Lately, though, I've been having a recurring dream that simultaneously leaves me excited in ways I cannot express in words and profoundly disturbed.

So what are dreams? The heart's greatest desire? Reflections of regret? Or just the psyche ejecting ballast in the only way it is capable?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flight Tracking Addie (She's Home Safe)

So I've been flight-tracking Addie on the computer since she left Florida. Her plane landed in Boston just before ten, and I waited for her to call and let me know she was all set, per our standard plan when she travels. And I waited. And I waited.

Finally, I sent her a text. At 10:30 (this is a big step for me).

Me: You landed, right? Love you!!!!

Addie: Yep

Me: Okay, thanks! I was worried ... sorry, I'm lame lol

Addie: I know

Yeah, I'm really feeling the love here :) I think she's just mad because I'm making her go to school tomorrow. She and my mom should get back to "Mimi"'s house by 11:30 or so, and then, yes, she'll have to get up and have her grandmother drive her to school.

I'm a mean mother, I guess. And Addie is evidently a texter of few words when you're on her crap list (although she writes veritable soliloquies on her phone on general principle). Sigh ...

The Smurfs are Messing with my Mind

Today was a long day. Like, a very long day. Between it being the first day back after spring vacation and a gorgeous day resplendent with blue skies and sunshine, it goes without saying that convincing a bunch of fifteen-year-olds to revise a piece they wrote in September was not going to go over well.

Long story short, Belle has been watching a lot of television this afternoon.

I was delighted when I learned a couple of months ago that one of my childhood favorites, "The Smurfs", is available on OnDemand cable, and I'm even more delighted that Belle is a huge fan of a show that gave me such great pleasure as a kid. Well, until today. Today, I'm just very weirded out by the episode that Belle was entranced with.

If for some reason you're not familiar with "The Smurfs", they are these little blue creatures that live in mushroom homes (yeah, the symbolism is not even remotely subtle). Anyway, their existence is constantly "threatened" by the evil but incompetent wizard Gargamel and his scruffy orange cat Azrael. Fortunately, each smurf has a special talent (and they're very creatively named to go with their noteworthy personality trait--Hefty, Handy, Brainy, Vanity, Dreamy, Jokey, Clumsy, and so on). The leader of the smurfs is the white-bearded (and red-pant-wearing--the other smurfs all wear white pants) Papa Smurf. There is one female smurf, Smurfette (because clearly her only talent lies in being an "ette").

Now, I've heard (and passed on) countless jokes about that one female smurf living with a village full of males. This was particularly funny when I was an adolescent, of course, and caught up in that sophomoric humor. Anyway, someone must have realized the issue because they added a female "smurfling", notable for pigtails and a tomboy personality, in later seasons.

The episode Belle was watching today caught my attention right away as I zoned out in front of the computer. The gist of it was, several of the smurfs were interested in ... uh, marrying Smurfette. The comical ways they tried to get her attention--and a promise of betrothal--was kind of entertaining, although it did tear a bit at the feminist side of my brain and heart. (And if any of my less mature friends had been with me, there would have been "blue balls" jokes ... but I've really outgrown that kind of thing. Mostly : )).

What totally threw me for a loop, though, was when I realized that Papa Smurf was in on the action. The father figure of Smurf Village was playing, "She loves me, she loves me not" with daisies over the heart, soul, and ... uh, smurfenhead of the lone eligible maiden. I just gaped. And gawked. And googled. And decided to post a blog about it : )

I'm kind of appalled that this episode was on television when I was a kid, never mind today. I mean, I get as annoyed with the hyper-politically correct world we live in as anyone, but I just COULD NOT believe this.

Thoughts?

Structure--Good for the Soul or a Necessary Evil?

Perhaps because I work in one of the most structured places in the world--a public school--I find myself wondering whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I've come to the dubious conclusion that, for me, at least, the structure of my work is necessary. I have a set schedule at work; the classes may differ, the collection of characters in any given grouping of kids makes for great variety, but it's a given. A known.

Last week, I did almost nothing. I played with my kids, did some light editing of my finished manuscript and planned some mental outlining for my novel-in-progress, and toiled to get this blog out there. It was a very necessary easy week, but I'm still disgusted with myself for not getting accomplished a fraction of what I should. Why did I suddenly become a focus machine when I was back at work?

So here I am back at work, and I've got grades entered and informal progress reports printed for two of my classes. I managed to achieve this amazing feat (this is sarcasm ... my classes are blessedly small) in about half an hour. I did nothing for work over vacation--no planning, no grading, very little thinking about it (although I adore my job), and I didn't make it in to clean up my desk as I'd planned to do at some point during the week.

So are you a person that needs structure in order to get anything done, or do you thrive when given your own time and task? Many writers that I've met on the great blogosphere set writing goals, keep track of word count, and do amazing things ... all self-initiated. What is wrong with me?

I should probably mention that I'm teaching summer school this year for the sole purpose of keeping myself occupied so I can actually get things done. How pathetic is that?

Oh well ... I'll just jump on the "I have ADHD" bandwagon and smile cutely. That often works : )

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blogroll Appreciation ... and Question

First, I want to express how humbled and appreciative I am to actually be on the blogrolls of a fair number of you. I've become very passionate about this blog, and I've really enjoyed getting to hear viewpoints and connect with a variety of different people.

Okay, now here's my question for you. Addie is my computer guru (although Pythagorus does a lot with computers at work, he is fairly clueless about all things social and blog-esque), and she's not going to be home from Florida until Tuesday. Is there any easy way to organize my blogroll into sections (such as differentiating my writing colleagues, my teaching colleagues, et cetera)?

Also, and not that I think my blog is all that and a bag of chips, but please let me know if you want to be added to my blogroll. I'm very fortunate to be interacting with the vast array of people that I am, and I would love to share whatever I can with you all : ) If I'm being presumptuous, just tell me to shut up. Actually, tell me to please be quiet, as I'm constantly telling my students.

The human condition is a beautiful thing. Thanks in advance for your help :)

Surprise Parties--Good, Bad, or Ugly?

The big secret in my family is that we have managed to plan and pull off a baby shower for my sister, who lives in Florida, from the northeast (my mom and I are in New Hampshire and my brother-in-law's mother is in Connecticut)with some strategic assistance from a couple of my sister's coworkers.

The big shock, of course, is that it evidently remained a surprise until today.

I didn't go, although I wish I had, in large part because I recently became an aunt for the first time when my brother and sister-in-law had their baby, and it is an honor and a privilege that I can't wait to experience again. My school vacation was this week, and with the pancreatitis hospitalization, I didn't have any time to take off (although I'm planning on going down right before or right after "Baby Mr. Ed" arrives on whatever timeframe works best for Mary). Addie flew down with my mother, and they'll be coming back late tomorrow night (yes, Addie's missing a day of school ... it's not every day her beloved aunt has a baby shower). I did try to run interference by keeping in contact with Mary (not that I wouldn't have anyway, but I tried to keep track of where she was and what she was doing and if she was suspicious). It would have been a scream if Mary had bumped into my mom and Addie at Target or on the UFL campus or something ... and that's the sort of thing that happens all the time in my family.

It made me wonder, though ... I think I would be overwhelmed to the point of being miserable if somebody threw me a surprise party. I mean, I would appreciate it tremendously, but I'd probably start crying and leave the room and cause some stupid scene because I'd be embarrassed and stressed that people put that much trouble into me.

So here's my question--surprise parties, yea or nay?

Are Pets Part of the Family ... or Just Sort of an Appendage?

There's a certain irony that I wrote a post yesterday about my pets, and we ended up having quite an adventure with my cat Charlie last night. (Charlie is a girl, by the way ... Addie named her after a movie character because the people we got her from as a kitten told us she was a boy and, by the time we learned the truth, she was already Charlie).

I hope nobody is offended by this, but Charlie is referred to by many as "The Emo Kitty." If she was a human, for example, she would be a cutter. Since she's a cat, she just bites herself. Repeatedly. The vet tried various anti-anxiety pills for her, but if you've ever tried to give a cat pills with one of those pill-injectors, you can probably see where this is going. It made her a hundred times more anxious to have a pill forced down her throat, so we finally gave up on that, treat her "emo bites" with Bacitracin, and life goes on.

She is also bulimic. It's not possible to give Charlie treats (including wet food) because she scarfs it down in an intense binge, and then ... well, you know. She throws up if she is nervous (and the cat was treated for severe anxiety--when is she not nervous?), she throws up if she is lonely, she throws up if she is bored, she throws up on Addie's homework far too often to be a coincidence ...

I have kind of a theory about this, actually. I'm not a cat person at all, but I'm definitely a sucker. One of my co-workers a few years ago was telling me that her cat had kittens and that she was trying to find a good home for them. I was very much not interested. She kept at me, though, and I finally gave in when she told me that her husband was going to drown the last kitten (my poor Charlie) in the toilet if they didn't find someone to take her. No wonder she has issues!

The thing is, though, despite all this, Charlie is a very happy cat (I swear this is true). She's more like a dog than a cat, actually ... she'll be waiting at the door whenever I get home from work, she sleeps on my pillow at night, she loves to cuddle and be played with (Pythagorus has a laser pointer from work, and he'll move it all over the house--keeps her occupied for hours).

I mention that because it was kind of hard to explain Charlie to the emergency vet. How do you say, "She's mentally ill, but really quite happy?" when she has huge bald patches? Is it possible to explain that your regular vet is aware of Charlie's eccentricities and just sort of goes with them as long as she's healthy?

Yeah, we ended up at the emergency vet yesterday, after a nice trip to Lake Winnapasaukee, because Charlie was peeing blood when we got home. And crying. And hissing when I held her (this had NEVER happened before). So I think the emergency vet thought we were a little weird (we had to bring Belle with us and she was in the rarest of rare forms, Charlie's cat carrier decided to break so you had to hold it a certain way when you were holding it or she would have been able to escape, and so on), but whatever.

They took Charlie out back to get a urine sample, and my crazy cat knocked over a bottle of alcohol and rolled around in it. Oh, Charlie ... But anyway, she had a bad bladder infection, which made me feel like a real jerk for not noticing earlier (the vet said her pee had red blood cells in it, white blood cells in it, and then big clumps that they couldn't identify at first ... they were epithelial cells from her bladder--I'm a crappy kitty mama), but they gave her an antibiotic (in liquid form, thank goodness ... no pill-injector, or I don't know what we would have done) and we went home.

What I can't get out of my mind, though, is that we saw three animals euthanized while we were there (well, we didn't see, of course, but you could tell what was going on in that back room). We had to put down our beloved elderly golden retriever Puck a few years ago, and it was horrible. Both Pythagorus and I went in with Puck and told her we loved her over and over and held her while the doctor put her out of her pain. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but Puck had been my dog for fourteen years, and I didn't want her to die alone.

You can't put a definition on grief, of course, but the owners of the three animals that were euthanized while we waited for Cuckoo Charlie's urinalysis seemed to approach the imminent loss of their pets very differently.

Is it rare to see your pets as part of your family? Do you find it's as traumatic to lose a pet as a family member (part of me wants to phrase that differently because Charlie and Sonja are as much my family members as ... well, the human sector)?

Insomniacs of the World Unite

Actually, that's probably not such a great idea. After all, if every insomniac felt as I do (and after not sleeping well for two weeks, I'm kind of looking for a fight ... and I'm one of the most non-violent people I know), their united front would be pretty scary.

So if you've suffered from insomnia, what's your deal? I've had trouble sleeping since I was a baby--falling asleep, staying asleep once I do fall asleep, no emergent patterns, rhyme, or reason to when I'm able to sleep and when I'm not ...

And honestly, I've kind of gotten used to it. My mother suffers from insomnia, Mary suffers from insomnia, Addie suffers from insomnia ... it's just a raw deal my family got dealt. C'est la vie.

What I'm more curious about is, how prevalent is this problem? How many of you are up at night trying more than anything to fall asleep, popping Ambien and Lunesta and Advil PM, spraying "sleep spray" on your pillow and/or sleeping mask, drinking warm milk, slipping the Valium you have prescribed for migraines because it makes you sleepy if your timing is right?

How many of you have found something that works?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Surprise Adventure: Spring in a New Hampshire State Park

Do you ever have those amazing days you aren't expecting? Just, true pleasure from an adventure that came out of the clear blue sky (or a husband saying, "Want to go for a ride, see what happens?)?



Pythagorus and I took Belle to one of the state parks at Lake Winnapasaukee and had a great day. Belle, naturally, wanted to take off her shoes to "see how cold the water was"



Well, you can probably see where this headed. The next thing we knew, she'd discovered a "stick"



And then felt inclined to raise it like a flagpole



Next, of course, was when she "accidentally" fell into the water and got her clothes totally soaked. Do you believe that look on her face for a second? Totally. Staged.



But Belle was a trooper. Dripping wet or not, she continued down the hiking trails (minus her sneakers, which felt "funny" because of the sand inside them ... I love five-year-olds).



Addie is on an adventure of her own which I will expound upon tomorrow, but today was a very special, very necessary bonding day for Pythagorus, Belle, and me.

Question for you: Write about one of those surprise gift days (or gift couple of hours ... I know whole days can be a stretch :-)) that came up when you were least expecting it. Leave it as a comment here so that readers can experience your joy--fleeting as it might have been--with you. Oh, and of course so you can relive it yourself : )

Have fun : )

Controversy: Book Banning

So I've noticed that the posts that really bring out one of the things I was really hoping to accomplish with this blog--namely, good and thought-provoking conversation--are those posts that have ... well, arguable points, such as my rantings on Twilight or on a recent death penalty case in New Hampshire.

Therefore, I figured I'd throw out there a topic near and dear to my heart: book banning. Whoa, I think that came out wrong ... I don't think any books should be banned. Ever. My philosophy is that, if a child is reading a book, it is never, never, NEVER a bad thing.

But consider, for example, this outcry in my home state over Lois Lowry's The Giver. Having read The Giver (and recommended it to countless students), the idea that it would be deemed inappropriate when it is one of the prime children's books for getting emerging readers to think on a different plane ... I just don't get it. Of course, I'm the person who read Stephen King's Cujo as a first-grader, so maybe I'm a little warped on the subject : )

J.K. Rowling's brilliant Harry Potter series have been perhaps the most commonly criticized books in recent years (although again, I would argue even further this time that not only children learned that reading can be something magical, many adults that actively deplored reading developed a passion for it because of J.K. Rowling). The boy wizard controversy is well-documented on sites such as this and this.

The list of banned books is expansive and includes such remarkable titles as The Catcher in the Rye, Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and--yes, I'm serious--Where's Waldo?

So what are your thoughts on banned books? Am I naive in my belief that it's always a good thing if someone is willing to invest the time in a book and therefore go through the requisite thinking--sometimes completely unaware of this?

The Dog Sleepover

We are taking care of my mother's dog today, and let me just tell you how the dynamics of the house change when Mollie is here. First off,Mollie is a golden retriever and one of the prettiest dogs I've ever seen. Here's a pic of Mollie and Belle for your viewing pleasure



That's the good news. The bad news is that she's still pretty much a puppy (only a year and a half old) and is extremely hyperactive, so she does not exactly bring out the best in our pets,Sonja, a shockingly mellow black lab



and Charlie, a mentally ill cat (she has anxiety, self-mutilates, makes herself throw up--the vet put her on medicine, but it caused her more anxiety to force the pill down on her throat, plus it made her foam at the mouth)



The dogs are very into the "dog domination" thing, even though they get along very well. It usually ends up with them literally running around in circles around the house and, if they can come upon Charlie and torment her a little (and I have to note that Sonja and Charlie get along perfectly, even sleeping in the same bed, when Mollie isn't here), that's all the better as far as they're concerned.

I enjoy having Mollie here. She keeps things interesting, entertains Sonja to no end, and she actually has a very special relationship with Belle. Plus, she thinks Pythagorus is her owner (when she was a brand new puppy, he'd go and take care of her because he has a fair amount of flexibility at work where my mother doesn't so much), so she's in seventh heaven.

Anyway, there are usually many adventures from times when we have "visitation" with Mollie. And best of all, no matter how annoying she can be, she has a basic sweetness that just makes you smile : )

Friday, April 24, 2009

An Inside Look at my Day Job (Reflection on a Workshop from Last Summer)

Rereading Mosaic of Thought and the processing what went on at this workshop has led to my brain teeming with ideas, thoughts, and good intentions. Whether or not I am able to live up to my hopes in terms of these strategies and approaches, I already believe strongly that a positive change has taken place. After all, if a bunch of teachers can get excited about something, there is already a certain level of success.

When I consider possible first moments, I am both excited and nervous. The portent of this shift in pedagogical approaches is huge; there is the potential for a serious approach differential in the education of students, and little is more important than that. I want to make sure that I don’t screw up the possibilities by not introducing these strategies in an effective way. I want to make sure that my students have the necessary level of buy-in. That responsibility is huge, and the onus is on me (and other teachers but, in terms of my class and my students, me) to hook them early and well. I hope to talk with my colleagues about how best to introduce this line of thinking and how to convince my students that they will both learn more and enjoy it better than a strict and traditional classroom.

My grand hopes, of course, are that my students will partake in effective, meaningful learning. This might mean the types of discussions that leave observers no doubt that an enormous amount of learning is transpiring. It could be that students are able to do the comprehension checks that many teachers have turned into an event so dull it is a form of torture on their own. I want my students to love learning. That’s about it. It sounds both simple and Pollyanna-esque when I put it that simply, but it is what it is. I have been teaching for long enough that I am well familiar with both my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Connecting with students, convincing them to look beyond the clichéd “comprehension questions,” has always been one of my strengths.

So what’s the problem, then? Well, it involves what is probably my greatest shortcoming as an educator. Like most educational theory books, Mosaic of Thought stresses the importance of routine, structure, a standard way of doing things so students know what to expect. That’s not me; it never has been, and I’m not sure how successful I will be at this. I am the teacher that gives out in-depth class discussions like a gift; this happens through spontaneity and my core connection with my students. I fear that altering this technique, which has led to veritable magic in my classroom, will lessen its (and my) effectiveness.

Questions? I've got many. Will adhering to a routine make me dull? Will I sacrifice energy and excitement in an effort to do what the book suggests? How can I teach myself to do both? What adaptations can teachers make to best suit their own teaching styles? How can I keep these strategies from becoming a joke within the student body (following John Collins training, students were making fun of the program constantly, asking for type identification from the lunch ladies)?

The noblest profession. The noblest profession. The noblest profession.

A Friendly (if Desperate) Plea for All you Writing Experts (or Those who Enjoy Reading)

As I've mentioned before, my novel Unbreakable is set up with two narrators. I posted the first page from the prologue narrated by one of them. By the same token, I figured I should post the first page of the prologue narrated by the other main character.

I'm hoping that you'd be willing to give me feedback in terms of which is a stronger opening for a novel. Thanks in advance <3
-----------------------------------------------------------------
II.
(Roy; Boston, MA; September, 2006)

I'm sure that to some people, memories are indeed the proverbial priceless gem that can be brought out to examine and relive with positive connotations.

My memories give me nightmares for a week.

That's not precisely true, of course. It's just that virtually all the good ones gleaned over the course of thirty years occurred after I was fourteen. It’s the years before then, though, that my mind is focusing on now as I sit alone in the study of the Boston penthouse where Addie and I have lived for the past five years, wishing randomly that I was a drinker. All sources I can find confirm that nothing helps tragedy like alcohol (until the next morning, anyway), but I can’t keep myself from holding true to a promise I made when I was just a kid that I would never drink.

Addie is in our bedroom crying. She doesn’t want my comfort; I caused every one of her tears.

Today, my life was inerasably altered forever. It started out as a typical day. I'm a professional baseball player, and we flew back to Boston early this morning after a two-week road trip. Although the stretch was highly successful (especially when you consider the roller coaster reputation of the Red Sox), we were instructed to report to Fenway for extra batting practice immediately after getting off the plane from Detroit. I was home at six o'clock, toting two suitcases and a dozen red roses for Addie. Because I can't read or write (a long, complex story unto itself), Ad and I leave "audio notes" on a tape player that sits on the kitchen counter, nestled between the toaster and the can opener and as inherently necessary as those two appliances. Sure enough, there was a fresh tape in it. Arranging the roses in a glass vase, I pressed the play button.

"Hello, my shortstop in shining armor," came Adelaide's sweet voice, and I smiled without even realizing it. She just had that effect on me. "I'll be home around seven. Take a look at the newspapers on the counter. Another Gold Glove for Pentinicci?, Pentinicci Leads Sox to Fifth Victory in Six Games, Can Roy Pentinicci Make Those Who Called his Team the Dead Sox Apologize?, Roy Pentinicci Takes the Growl Out of the Tigers. I am so proud of you! I'm thinking take-out for dinner tonight. I have a feeling it's going to be one of those days. See you at seven. I'm so glad you're home, Roy, and I have some wonderful news for you. Love you."

I picked up the newspapers on the counter, bemused as always with the media's obsession with me. I was named People's "Sexiest Athlete Alive" last year, an occurrence that tickled Adelaide as much as it embarrassed me. I hadn't wanted celebrity, hadn't asked for it, but somehow or other, it had happened. Addie's brother, Christian, my closest friend since we were five years old, jokes that I was born for the spotlight, but we all know it's just teasing. My personality is unquestionably extroverted and I’ve been known to be somewhat vain about my looks (to quote Adelaide, Roy spends more time in front of the mirror than I do), but inside, there is someone to whom celebrity is impossible, unattainable, unimportant, insignificant. I stared for a long time at the head shot accompanying the article discussing my candidacy for the Gold Glove; it was unmistakably me, hat askew, go-to-hell grin on my face, but I wondered if anyone could look at that picture, see through the windows of my eyes and glimpse the demons that lurk beyond, the darkness that plagues my nights.

I had forty-five minutes before Addie was due home from her thankless yet somehow fulfilling job as a social worker for the city of Boston, so I went upstairs to unpack and shower. After ordering pizza then throwing on jeans and a T-shirt, I put on a Simon and Garfunkel CD and dozed on the couch.

Feeling Grateful : )

This blogging thing started out as kind of a lark for me. I wanted to share thoughts, ideas, conversations, and debates with others, but the idea of blogging publicly was kind of a "when I have the free time" hobby.

What's happened instead is that I've realized the tremendous value not just in reading and responding to the comments on my blog (although I love getting comments ... it makes me feel special ... that's not a hint or anything ... well, maybe just a little : )) but in reading and responding to the blogs of others. There are some amazing people in the world with so much to say thinking in so many different directions. Being a small part of that ... it's mind-boggling. It's downright humbling.

The greatest gift I've been given, however, is reconnecting with my passion for writing. I'd sort of been emulating Salinger, hiding in my house writing a bunch of stuff (brilliant stuff on Salinger's part, I think pretty good stuff on my part) that nobody would probably ever see. Because of the people and the connections I've made through this blog, I know that I am not alone, that I have a modicum of talent, and that I will succeed as a writer if I keep my goals firmly in mind and make a commitment to work hard on a consistent basis.

My vacation is over today, for all intents and purposes. When I go back to my day job, it's much easier for me to become overwhelmed in terms of not finding time to write (and I don't mean on this blog ... I mean in general). Teaching is the noblest profession, but it's also among the most exhausting. However, this week has envigorated me in ways I never dreamed could happen, so I'm hopeful that things will continue to move in the right direction.

Thank you, and keep reading : ) I'll be doing the same!

Why Can't We Let Children be Children?

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Well, I found this on the celebrity gossip site I peruse obsessively and felt inspired to write.

Miley Cyrus' parents are everything that is wrong with our society. Raising a child is incredibly difficult--it's a balancing act, it's having to be the bad guy more often than not, it's saying no to what might seem your child's greatest desire ... and then having to live forever with the look in their eyes.

Every time I look at this picture, my brain keeps screaming, "She's sixteen. Sixteen!" And, of course, my reference point is my fourteen-year-old daughter, Addie as well as, to a somewhat lesser degree, my high school students.

All children break rules, particularly adolescents, I'm aware of that, probably even more aware than some. However, any child (and sixteen is child--just have a conversation with the vast majority of them ... you'll see what I mean) that is allowed to dress like that--and then be accompanied by her freaking father--that's just a loaded gun situation. Some might say it's a persona, it's a role she plays, but what kind of parents would use a sixteen-year-old as a financial and power pawn that way? Not only does Miley Cyrus not seem to have rules to break, her parents seem to be hell-bent on knocking down the norms of society as well in their dubious raising.

I might care less if I didn't have young daughters. This is not a role model I want them to emulate--but Miley/Hannah Montana, sort of like rocks on the beach, seems to turn up everywhere.

And I won't even get started on trying to find clothes for a five-year-old that don't make her look like a prostitute in training.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Help! Does this Page One Work?

I've started editing Novel #1 (that's the real, complete, formerly ready-to-rock one) again, and I took out a "pre-prologue". Here's the first page ... would you want to keep reading based on this? I'm not sure if this is a strong enough for the book's beginning.

Any assistance would be much appreciated : )
---------------------------------------------------
I.
(Susy; Emerson, NH; September, 2006)

I felt revulsion toward my son today.

There have been times in the past that Seth (and, to be fair, his siblings) has upset me, annoyed me, overwhelmed me … but never anything like this.

Never before have I been unsure I wanted to lay claim to him.

“He’s only twelve,” my husband told me when I called his cell in near-hysterics.
“He doesn’t know what it means.” He let me rant and rave for another minute or two before interrupting to say that he was going to call the school as soon as he hung up to request that he be called first in the event of further disciplinary issues concerning our children.

Of course, I started laughing. “That isn’t funny.”

“Yeah, I’m getting the impression that you really feel that way,” he said soberly, only making me laugh harder. “Okay, I’m in the middle of a meeting, but I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”

“Is there any way you could pick the kids up from school?”

“Sure, no problem.” He paused for a minute. “Honestly, Susy, it really isn’t that big a deal.”

“No, it wouldn’t be to you,” I said, more sharply than I’d intended.

He didn’t say anything for a long second. “You’re not implying …”

“What, that you’d ever refer to a scholarship student as welfare trash? That you’d use the word spic? No, I know you wouldn’t. That’s almost part of the problem, that

Ridiculously Funny: My Brilliant Sister and I Trying to Communicate via Facebook

As I've no doubt mentioned, my sister Mary is a scientist. She's brilliant. She's also expecting a baby and lives halfway across the country and I worry about her. I became especially worried when I got this from her:

"A riddle: If a horse pees on some lettuce leaves in France in 1975, will this be relevant to the life of one Mary C. Jones in 2009?"

I of course went into panic mode. I started Googling horse urine, 1975, lettuce, France, and anything else I could think of. In the meantime, I sent her this on Facebook:
"Well, clearly the answer is yes ... but elaboration would be nice : ) Oh, and YOUR NIECE ... well, check this out asap. I think we have another scientist on our hands ... http://philosophyofklo.blogspot.com/2009/04/philosophy-from-five-year-old.html"
and then ...
" Okay, I'm googling like hell and getting stuff about steroids and estrogen. Gaaaaaah."

So then I text her, because I'm really getting nervous at this point. She texts me back that she'll respond on Facebook momentarily. So this is what I get ... (and this is adapted a bit so Mary can hang onto her anonymity ... it's not her fault she's my sister : ))
" Point 1: wow for Belle's question!!! I'll have to muse on that.
Point 2: The chapter I'm involved in writing (the one where I send you name origin jazz from time to time)...the author of the previous edition was a little...er...verbose, and put in absurd amounts of detail, some of which was little more than urban legend and was never published.
Point 3: I was writing about a species called Mycoplasma equigenitalium, which (as one could guess) infects the urogenital tract of horses. this gem appeared in the previous version: "A single isolate was obtained from the surface of a field lettuce plant in France."
Point 4: The preceding was never published, indicating that it is of dubious merit.
Point 5: In summation, a horse whizzed in a field in France in the 70s, and nearly 35 years later, this seemingly meaningless event has crossed my path. Should this event be immortalized in the book? Why, who am I to play God?"


So then we had some further sisterly harassment which had me literally rolling on the floor laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face (it was at this point that Pythagorus got home from work ... he didn't exactly see the humor ... sigh, those mathematicians are so damn serious ...). Here's a basic run-down (mostly cut and pasted but adapted again to respect Mary's anonymity ... but I thought you'd enjoy reading about what stupid tools Mary and I are : )

Mary: Wait, you were Googling lettuce and horse pee? That's dedication!

KLo: So here you are laughing at me for Googling lettuce and horse pee because I thought there was something wrong ... and let me just tell you, you really need to do the same. You CANNOT BELIEVE what is out there!

Mary: Yes, I am having a pharmaceutical problem for which the only possible solutions are:
a.) lettuce (note: must be from France) or
b.) horse piss
You have a vivid imagination


KLo: I didn't know if Mom had some bizarre experience that was impacting you now ... yeah, I have a vivid imagination. Sue me! Actually, 1975, I'd have been the one screwed by the equine piss.

Mary: For some reason, I was having a very existential moment. Why have I been saddled with these types of questions? He he...saddled.

KLo: You need to stop this or I'm going to pee my--OH SHIT! You're now officially going to have name the baby "Edward" so I can call him Mr. freaking Ed

Mary: Nooo! That GD horse doesn't need any further immortalization!

Ah, laughter, that elixir for all. Thanks for the stomach cramps from laughing too hard, Mary, you spastic little bug. I miss you more than you can imagine <3!!!!!!!!

Philosophy from a Five-Year-Old

Belle and I just had a fascinating conversation.

She asked me, "Back when there was no one in the world, how did people get born?" I just sat there with my mouth hanging open as she theorized about the sun growing people, a ghost getting married to a person and having a baby, or that people rained down from the sky.

Am I wrong to be completely flummoxed by this?

And, incidentally, my answer was to basically stutter out, "Uh, that's a really good question, baby."

How does one answer what might possibly be the ultimate question to a kid who hasn't started kindergarten yet? More importantly, what does it say about this child's thought process that she came up with this?

And if anyone has a good answer that I can offer Belle, that'd be much appreciated as well.

The Dichotomy of Daughters

There are nine years between my daughters. The only real con is that they kind of missed out on that sibling-as-peer thing, although Mary and I are only separated by two years and we actively disliked each other for most of our childhood (although my sister is absolutely my best friend now ... go figure). For the most part, I think this is a good thing.

Belle is five, and she utterly adores her sister. Whenever she gets sad or mad or any other emotion she feels strongly (and Belle is kind of mercurial ... she feels all emotions strongly), she'll wail, "I want my Addie!!!!!!!" And Addie, of course, thinks it's pretty cool that someone thinks she walks on water. She takes Belle to a lot of places and includes her to a surprising degree with her friends, who all think Belle's adorable, of course.

They are both on school vacation this week, and it just occurred to me how funny it is the different ways they're spending it.

This morning, for example, Belle had her requisite two cups of chocolate milk (it's like adults with coffee, I swear), put on her butterfly wings (don't ask), and danced around, putting on various shows. She's currently painting at the kitchen table. She has already trashed and cleaned her playroom this morning, something that happens repeatedly with Belle. It's kind of ironic that she's wearing butterfly wings since she's kind of like a butterfly, flitting from place to place, sampling the nectar and then moving on. She's a free spirit and a real character.



Addie is currently furious with me for waking her up early--I have a follow-up doctor visit from my pancreatitis hospitalization, and she's babysitting, but I got the time wrong and woke her up two hours before I needed to. Not to worry, though ... the next thing I know, her friend has pulled into our driveway with a cup of coffee from Dunkin' Donuts for her (I don't advocate giving my children caffeine, by the way ... this was a combination of guilt at waking her up early the one morning she could have slept in and the whole, "Eh, it's vacation" mentality). Anyway, Addie is already on the computer talking to people and doing the MySpace thing ... while she's texting other people on her cell phone ... while she's blaring her iPod ... while she's making plans for the rest of the week. She's such a teenager : ) (Oh, and I feel like I have to explain that the reason I don't post pics of Addie here is that she'd kill me. Slowly. In great pain.)

It's funny, though ... I'm probably going to go paint with Belle for awhile now and, when I'm ready for a break from the pre-school thought process ("What happens if you mix red and yellow? Do you know, Mommy? Did you know it makes orange? How about if we mix everything? Can we try? Can we try, Mommy? Huh? Huh?"), I can go upstairs to Addie's lair and hear the latest and the greatest in adolescent angst (I exaggerate--knock on wood, Addie's absolutely amazing).

Delectable dichotomy : )

Digging out of the Doldrums

I'd been sort of hands-off about my finished manuscript since an agent in NYC asked to see the entire thing (following the first five pages, then three chapters, then 100 pages ... it was all very incremental, and of course very exciting because it meant she liked what she was reading). So I figured I'd wait and see--if she wanted to represent it, she would contact me.

But the reality is, it's been a long time (a year), so I guess what this means is that I'm back to square one. However, I'm much wiser this time in terms of how to query, how to shop my manuscript to the right agent through meticulous research, and how to not adapt a laissez-faire attitude when it's my own work that I want more than almost anything to have published and read and enjoyed and analyzed by the masses.

Although I write every day (in some way shape or form) and have one completed manuscript and half of another, writing had started to revert into being a hobby for me. Getting my passion to be an actual published writer back over the past few days has been incredibly exciting, and I've gotten to know (well, inasmuch as you can know anyone through a blog :-)) some remarkable people along the way. However, it has reminded me of how darn difficult it is to get a piece published, even if it's pretty good.

Anyway, I was kind of having a pity party on Facebook last night, and I got a very interesting response from one of the wisest women I know (well, actually, I don't know her personally, but if you read her blog, you'll know what I mean). For a status update, I put something about being distraught about my writing career not doing what I wanted it to, and she put something encouraging about keeping to keep it up. I then went totally to pieces and had what could only be described as a Facebook temper tantrum ... to wit:

"Thank you : ) It's just frustrating me that I have a completed manuscript that's good (and it's not just delusional ol' me saying it) that I can't seem to do anything with. Then I'm trying to start a serious blog, and I'm not even sure how to go about doing that. I'm on vacation from work this week, so instead of stressing about teaching English to ninth graders, I'm stressing about my failures as a writer. Okay, that all came pouring out in one breath ... sorry about that ; )"

Her response, calm, cool, collected, and beyond thought-provoking, was:

"You know what will make things happen? Release all expectation from your writing. I promise you, that is what worked for me. When I had these goals and expectations and emotions attached to what I was doing, I was choked. I released it and my writing started to flow...and opportunities presented, and continue to present themselves."

She was absolutely right : )

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Twenty-Five Things About my Novel (Jumpin' on the Bandwagon : ) )

I guess this concept, starting from Samantha at Wuthering Life and picked up on by several other aspiring authors as I understand it (I found it myself on both Samantha's blog and on As the Plot Thickens), is starting to really make the rounds. More power to it ... I think it's really cool.

So here's what you do. Just make a list of 25 things people don't know about your WIP and post it. Hopefully it'll drum up some further interest ... and it's actually pretty fun.

So, I offer you ... 25 things you didn't know about Unbreakable

1. I had a really horrible nightmare when I was twelve or thirteen involving a group of kids being trapped in a house by an evil witch. That nightmare turned into the first book I wrote (it wasn't very good, but it was the foundation for Unbreakable).

2. As homage to my brother, Adam, and my sister, Mary, I changed the name of one of the secondary characters to Roy. There was a bet involving the purchasing of a porno magazine (it's really better not to ask ... Adam lost the best, we'll just leave it at that), and the mag featured an "article" about a guy named Roy. They didn't think I'd put him into my story, I was adamant that I'd prove them wrong.

3. The aforementioned Roy was originally a minor character, but he ended up being the ultimate scene-stealer and somehow became the leading male protagonist.

4. The book takes place in a small New Hampshire city (yes, we have them) that bears a striking resemblance to my hometown. That is not a coincidence.

5. My husband has said that Unbreakable is my life story, although many of the major events are completely foreign to me. And he's absolutely right.

6. I hate the way it ends, but it took my two years to end the book, so I kind of had to go with what I had. I still don't think I could come up with a better ending ... but I continue to hate it.

7. One of the characters, Addie, is very much like my fourteen-year-old daughter (who I refer to on this blog as Addie because of this similarity).

8. Although there is murder by gunshot in my book, I've never fired a gun in my life.

9. I spent a family vacation to Montreal sitting by the hotel pool editing the manuscript because the mood struck me. Although I was kind of a bummer in terms of vacation, it was by far the most effective edit I've ever done.

10. My stepfather--my absolute hero--used to say, "The universe works" all the time. That is the overlying theme to this book.

11. I tried very hard to portray a drug dealer sympathetically (I try to portray everyone with at least a degree of sympathy), but he was just too much of an asshole to let it happen. Writing the scene where his sister confronts him in jail when she is successful and happy and he's stuck there for life gave me warped pleasure.

12. This book is dedicated to my friend Jen, a gal who has somehow managed to be my friend for almost thirty years. I figured it was the least I could do for her : )

13. The book covers a span of twenty years or so, and there's a lot of bouncing around in terms of when things are happening. I worry that this makes it extremely confusing, but I've been told that this isn't the case. We shall see, I guess : )

14. There are two main characters (and narrators), Roy and Susy. Roy is kind of an asshole, but he's kind of likable in spite of it. Susy is a still water that runs deep. I had to make them very different in order to get the writing voice right depending on which of them was narrating.

15. My sister Mary has been my most constant reader (starting when she was ... oh, I'll say nine or ten), although several others (most notably my friend Roland) should get credit as well.

16. When I asked Pythagorus if he had any idea how one would connect with a police radio frequency from inside a house, I thought he'd give me his famous look that I get when I ask stupid questions (both things happen quite frequently). Instead, he explained it to me in a very simple and straightforward way. Sometimes my husband really surprises me : )

17. The parental figures, Brian and Belinda McKenzie, are loosely based on my mother and step-father. Brian McKenzie basically is my stepdad (except I made Brian better looking ... sorry, Gordo : )), and Belinda is my mother on her good days.

18. I've spent a lot of time observing the various relationships between children and their parents through my career as a teacher. I tried to use this to make a rather unbelievable situation seem more realistic.

19. I think the dialogue in this book is amazing. There, I said it.

20. I set the parts where the main characters are in high school during the same time that I was in high school because I wanted it to be as realistically portrayed as possible, and it would feel very awkward for me to try to imagine what being a high school student is like in this day and age.

UPDATE: As Marty pointed out, I owe you five more facts. So here we go ...

21. It's a very dark story (rape, child abuse, drugs, violence), but it's kind of happy at the same time. Not sure if that makes sense, but it's how I view it.

22. One of my current students, "Mariam", has recently read it (I've let a handful of my very advanced readers experience it) and has taken it upon herself to become my agent because she's pretty sure she can convince a publishing company to take it on. She's probably right--nobody gets in Mariam's way : )

23. The most horrible thing that's ever happened to me is expressed through my characters. I don't know whether this is cheating or therapy ... : )

24. It took me a long time to come to terms with my characters' names. I'm particularly lame at choosing last names. The phone book is a great tool : )

25. One of the main characters, Roy, has a learning disability that keeps him from being able to read, yet he's a mathematical genius. I have a learning disability that makes math very difficult for me (I can't play cribbage because I have to count on my fingers--it's very embarrassing), but I'm ... well, I'm not going to say a literary genius, but it's definitely a strong suit for me. Sometimes I worry that I went to far in the opposite direction ... plus, it's a good think Pythagorus is a mathematician because it was challenging at times to write as a mathematical genius when you're a mathematical idiot.

My Lone Short Story--Please Rip it to Shreds

The following is the lone short story I've ever felt remotely proud of, the only one I've written for pleasure or passion and not because a teacher made me. I'd really appreciate honest feedback on it ... since I'm not of the opinion that it's a great piece, any suggestions for how to approach it would be beneficial not just in terms of this piece but also in how I look to improve my novels.

There is less of me personally in this piece, and maybe that's why I'm more open to having it shredded.

Thanks in advance : )

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"Ruffled Feathers"
by KLo
Every once in awhile, people will do a double take when they walk by me at the mall or on the street or whatever. A good many will even take it to the next level and say, “Excuse me, but where do I know you from?” Invariably, I tell them that they must be mistaken. I have told virtual multitudes about how I have “one of those familiar faces.”

I am a liar.

The age bracket of my familiars fits squarely in with those that would have been three to five year olds in the late eighties and early nineties, when “Birds of a Feather” burned up PBS stations across the country. The only exception are those that look to be my mother’s age; I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, either.

On occasion, my mother, the epitome of all stage mothers, is with me when one of those close encounters transpires. I have to put my hand over her mouth and pull her away quick.

“Why don’t you tell them you’re a Feather Friend?” she always asks. It breaks the woman’s heart that I teach middle school. She had expected far more grandiose bragging rights.

“Was, Mother, was.”

Most of the time, it is easy to forget that, for three years, I was Peggy Feather on “Birds of a Feather.” I live a quiet existence. I rent a small apartment with my cat Whiskers and teach seventh graders how to write paragraphs and diagram sentences. My mother comes over for dinner every Sunday and tells me how brown the lettuce is and how I wouldn’t be overcooking meat if I’d stayed in “the business.”
I knew something was wrong when her elderly gray sedan was in my parking lot when I got home from work today. She hauled her hefty frame out of the car and minced over to me in high heels that matched perfectly the purple sequins on her full-length jacket. She was wearing sunglasses although it was a cloudy day; I’d seen enough Hollywood funerals on television to know what that meant.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked, hoping she couldn’t hear the annoyance in my voice. I mean, I had work to do; I didn’t have time to commiserate with her on the loss of her favorite soap star.

“Oh, Jennifer, Petey’s dead!” She pulled a spangled purple handkerchief out of her pocket and blew her nose loudly.

I cringed, both inside and out, but my mother didn’t notice. “Petey?”

“Petey Feather!” she sobbed.

I sat down hard on the fender of my car, stunned. “Mike’s dead?”

Blowing her nose again and nodding, she contemplated sitting next to me but accurately assessed that my little Honda would not hold her bulk. “I saw it on the news!”

Of course Michael Gladstone’s death would have been on the news. He was, after all, a world famous film star. Even before his stint as Petey Feather began when he was ten, Mike had been fairly visible through all the commercials he’d done. He’d once admitted rather embarrassedly that he’d been in over forty commercials … beginning with the extreme close-up of his derriere in the Huggies ad when he wasn’t even old enough to crawl. Mike was an old pro, and he’d taken me under his wing (so to speak) during the “Birds of a Feather” years.

Mike Gladstone had me pegged from the start. Before we ever arrived on the set, my mother was legendary with all the network bigwigs. She had spent the vast majority of my father’s life insurance money on trying to break her pretty little daughter—me, of course—into the acting world. There were the photograph portfolios, the singing lessons, the dancing lessons, the acting lessons. I acquiesced meekly enough, although I could see the truth in the blank eyes of my singing and dancing teachers as they looked through me and toward the more talented members of the class; I was not exceptional in any sense of the word. There wasn’t anything special about me that would result in my standing out from the crowded, crooked line of pink leotards and ballet slippers—except, of course, my overbearing mother. Through sheer perseverance and pushiness, my mother made connections in the power-hungry world of entertainment as I moved through my childhood years. These connections were definitely on the fringes of things and resulted in pretty much nothing until I was nine and they were looking for a sort-of pretty (in a plain way) girl who could sing (moderately well) and dance (a little bit) for a regular, recurring role in a television show for children.
Mike was sitting on a stool inside a huge warehouse-like building the first time I saw him. The building contained the set-in-progress, but I had no idea about that at the time. To me, it was an impossibly huge room full of a veritable passel of grown-ups, all talking at the same time … and one boy about my age reading a sports magazine. From the start, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him; he lit up the room even though he was just a child. Part of it was how handsome he was, beautiful, really. You could stare at his face for hours in complete awe of something so perfect, so artistic, almost, as though he’d been sculpted by Michelangelo. His movements were so graceful they seemed impeccably choreographed, even those as mundane as flipping through the pages in his magazine. When he looked up and saw me, I felt cold all over. The thought of those huge brown eyes within the porcelainesque face looking at me, looking into me, was almost more than I could bear. The feeling went away when Mike smiled and there were braces on his teeth and he walked over and told me about the playground out back. He looked warily at my mother, glanced at me again, smiled reassuringly, and led me outside. We had our first forbidden jump-off-the-swing-for-distance contest that very afternoon. Mike won, of course, and I was just happy to have spent an hour in his presence. I didn’t realize how much time we would soon be spending together … or how seriously Mike took his role as my first and only friend.

“Birds of a Feather” sort of bridged the gap between that old childhood classic “Sesame Street” and the more modern shows created by “creative experts” that emphasize the learning as well as the entertainment such as “Blue’s Clues” and “Dora the Explorer.” The premise was fairly standard—a family fond of singing and dancing travels the country sharing their performances with children of all ages, making friends and having adventures in various locations. The “parents” of the family, Mama and Papa Feather, were actually huge puppets that frightened me terribly at first. These rainbow-colored mutant birds somehow procreated, resulting in two human children, Petey Feather and Peggy Feather. Petey was the family superstar, perfect at everything he tried to do, happy and cheerful, loved by all; playing Petey Feather was barely acting for Mike Gladstone. In the same vein, Peggy Feather was no stretch for me. Peggy was the picture of mediocrity, especially when compared to her crackerjack brother. A common theme in several episodes of “Birds of a Feather” is a focus on Peggy’s feelings of insecurity. Perhaps the television viewers never realized that Peggy’s feelings of insecurity were well-founded; that was not the case for me. I spent four years singing back-up to Mike as Petey, four years shadowing his dances, four years on television bringing milk and cookies to the “nice friends Petey made” at locations all over the country. Mama and Papa Feather even gave me-as-Peggy a cursory good-night peck (sorry, even after all these years, the bird jokes keep on coming) before heading over to Mike-as-Petey’s nest to discuss the central theme of the day with him for the purpose of really driving home the lesson of the day to our young audience. If I had been a different person, I would have hated Mike Gladstone, or at least I would have had terrible jealousy pangs in his very presence. However, I had spent my entire life in the formidable shadow of my brash, loud, pushy mother; Mike’s shadow may have been huge, but it was at least benevolent.

“Birds of a Feather” had a good four-year run before it ended in 1992 because Mike was offered a pivotal film role that was just too good to pass up. They decided not to recast Petey Feather and, since he really was the heart and soul and star of the show, “Birds of a Feather” was delegated to the archives of memory. The episodes were released on videotape, of course, and sales were good. I was able to go to college without taking out loans because of those videotapes. My mother and I moved to a small town in New Hampshire where I started eighth grade, my first time in a public school. My English teacher, Ms. Gardner, showed me that I did indeed excel in something—writing. “Maybe,” Mike wrote in one of the two letters I received from him, “you can come out to California and write screenplays.”

Indeed.

Screenplays are not my medium; I am a novelist, or at least I think I am. I’ve been working on a novel since eighth grade, the same one since that time. It’s actually pretty good now, and one of these days I might get up the courage to try to figure out how to go about getting it published. Until that time, I entertain my students with my sarcasm and enlighten them about how to write. “Writing,” I repeat over and over, “is an art.” I am no Ms. Gardner, but I think I’m pretty good at teaching, too. I never got any commentary from Mike on that count; his star had risen far beyond my reach by the time my teaching career started, and besides, he probably couldn’t have connected a teaching career to himself the way he could a writing career.

Mike Gladstone received an Academy Award nomination for the role he dropped “Birds of a Feather” to take. It took him four more years, to the age of eighteen, before he actually won an Oscar. Like many, many stars that came before him, Mike was on a rocket ride. He sped to the top, to dizzying heights, to a world of beautiful women and never-ending parties, to a place where each role brought him accolades and the awe-struck praise made him more and more famous, more and more unattainable. His body was found this morning in his California mansion, full of a lethal dose of alcohol and Vicodin. I’m sure there will be the standard accident/suicide debate, but I don’t think it really matters in the long run. Like Marilyn Monroe and River Phoenix, Mike soared through the sky, reveling in the way people looked up to watch him, the way people couldn’t take their eyes off of him. Like Icarus, Mike (and so many of young Hollywood) had a hell of a ride. Like Icarus, he was not careful, and he paid with his life in the ensuing fall.

“Do you want to come up and have a cup of tea?” I asked my mother when my legs felt strong enough to support my weight.

She shook her head. “I just thought you should know.”

“Thanks, Mom. That was nice of you.”

“I’ll be happy to join you for his funeral, Jennifer.”

I stared at her for a long, long time before I turned and headed up to my apartment. Whiskers was in the window, anticipating my arrival. He would be happy to receive a thorough patting and his cat food dinner. My bag was full of essays to grade.

The phone was ringing as I walked in the door. Ignoring the purring of my cat, I raced over and grabbed the receiver. “Hello?”

“Please hold for Ms. Watkins.”

“Excuse me?”

The only response was the “you’re on hold” music. Just as I was about to hang up the phone, a woman’s voice said, “I’m trying to reach Jenny Pearson.”

“This is she.”

“Jenny, this is Lucy Watkins.”

“Umm … do I know you?”

The woman made a noise of frustration. “Used to be Lucy Gibbs?” She had an irritating habit of making all of her sentences sound like questions. “From ‘Birds of a Feather’?”

But I didn’t need any further clarification; the statements-as-questions had clued me in. She’d been a lower-level producer of the show, and not one that I’d particularly liked. “Um, hi. What can I do for you?”

“A favor? Please, please, please tell your mother to stop calling my people?”

“Um … my mother?”

She huffed in irritation at my evident idiocy. “If you want to go to Mike’s services, it could probably be arranged? You know?”

“Um …”

“Tell her I fold? I’ll e-mail you the details? Just stop calling?”

“Um, listen, I have no interest in going to Mike Gladstone’s services.”

“Excuse me? No interest?”

Suddenly, I felt powerful. “I had an enormous amount of respect for Mike as an entertainer and, while it’s true we were friends during ‘Birds’, I haven’t heard from him in over twelve years. I have no place at his funeral; I’ll do my grieving in private.”

“You could have saved me the trouble of calling?” she said, then hung up with an audible click.

“How could I have saved you the trouble of calling?” I asked the receiver as I hung it up. I was laughing uncontrollably. As I fed Whiskers, relishing his purr of gratitude, I looked out the window and saw that, while my mother had squeezed herself back into her car, she still sat in my parking lot. She had wanted me to have wings; she had wanted me to fly. If I had set the screen on fire like Mike Gladstone and melted the wax on my wings in the process, it would have been worth it to her.

She saw me in the window and began gesturing frantically; I turned away. She’ll still be here on Sunday for dinner, and she’ll still be criticizing my cooking, and she’ll still wish I was more than I am. I don’t. I’m okay with who I am. I may never fly shrieking with excitement to dizzying heights, but I can be safe in the knowledge that I will never fall either.

Later, I took a break from making red marks on student essays to walk out onto the porch with a glass of Cabernet. Night was just starting to fall; there was one star twinkling like mad in the darkening sky. Impulsively, I raised my glass of wine to the faraway light, then I went back to the kitchen table, picked up my red pen, and got back to work.

An Excerpt from my Finished and (Theoretically) Polished Novel

I'm not a huge fan of just slapping down a selection from the middle of a completed manuscript (this is from pages 313-318, in fact), but this is one of the main characters telling a story to another character. It is a very personal piece to me, and as such, it's hard for me to be objective. Please let me know what you think.

And while I'm in such a grateful mood, I'd like to thank everyone who reads and comments here. I'm very self-conscious in terms of sharing my writing, and I feel like I've finally found a place where constructive criticism reigns.

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On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Josh would drive to Boston with the distributor from Maine. His name was Dean, and he was originally from L.A. He took great pride in this, referring to “Cali” as often as possible. I often wonder how he managed to avoid detection as long as he did; Emerson is close enough to Massachusetts where he wouldn’t have been a complete freakshow, but he must have stuck out like a sore thumb in his small town in northern Maine. Dean was around Josh’s age, but there was a sensation to him that was like fingernails on metal. Fingernails on a chalkboard are annoying, but fingernails on metal … that’s frightening. Dean scared the crap out of me.

Every Tuesday and Friday nights, Dean would come down and spend the night on the living room couch. He and Josh would leave around the same time I left for the bus stop in the morning, always in Josh’s car, always with Josh driving. Josh had a police record, yeah, but there was humanity in his eyes where Dean’s were like black pits. If a cop pulled Dean over, he would likely get bad vibes and search the car. Josh always drove.

Because Dean gave me the creeps, I made myself scarce the nights he stayed. To give Josh credit, I don’t think he liked Dean any more than I did, but something had changed in my brother. He’d once been a ragtag kid dealing weed, small potatoes in the great scheme of things. He drank Pabst, wore his hair in dreadlocks, and slummed around in jeans, thermal tops under tie-dyed t-shirts, and sneakers. It was Dean who got Josh’s foot in the door, so to speak. After Dean came into the picture, Josh got a haircut and started wearing outfits that cost more than his entire weekly paycheck from Dunkin’ Donuts. With Dean came the Volkswagen Jetta and the spacious apartment. The exchange, of course, was Josh’s ability to transport huge quantities of drugs across state lines without getting caught. In his Gap ensembles and college-boy car, Josh looked perfectly innocuous. Dean was a biweekly irritation that Josh had to put up with to reap the benefits of the life he’d chosen.

One July night when I was thirteen, the door to my bedroom opened, awakening me. I didn’t think too much of it at first; although we never spoke of it, there were a lot of nights that Josh came into my room and crashed on the floor. I didn’t mention the tears I heard him cry on those nights, and he didn’t mention the vomit I cleaned off the floor the following mornings. The fact that the dribs and drabs of Josh’s nocturnal visits were now Glenlivet instead of cheap beer didn’t change their frequency, nor did it lessen the ferocity of the secret tears that he could only seem to cry near me.

When my single sheet was yanked away, I opened my mouth to cry out, but a hand mashed down over my lips and Dean’s voice said, “If you make a sound, I’ll kill you.”

Rape is just a word. It’s defined in the dictionary as The unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse and by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as Carnal knowledge of a female without her consent. Boiling it down to that one word, that tiny little four-letter verb, cheapens what happened, almost makes light of it, takes away the physical agony, the emotional trauma, the ultimate horror of the situation.

But there it is. I was raped.

When he stood up after it was over, I saw blood that I knew was mine matting dark hair that he quickly pulled briefs over. I felt blood sticky on my thighs, and I felt a far more sinister wetness between my legs. The metallic taste and rush of saliva that precedes vomiting rose in my mouth, and I tried to stand but he pushed me back onto the bed. My stomach lurched and I dry-heaved, but nothing would come up, and he sat watching, laughing as I finally succeeded in regurgitating bile onto the front of the nightgown that he hadn’t bothered to remove.

“If you ever tell, I’ll kill you,” he said in a low voice. “You and your brother both.” He looked at me for a long time. “I’ll always own a part of you.” Then he left.

I didn’t move all night. I could smell vomit and blood and sweat and pain and fear. I didn’t get up, even to go to the bathroom, until I heard the front door close. I stumbled to the window and watched the black Jetta move down the street, Dean in the passenger seat. Alone, I stood in the shower until it ran cold, washing every inch of my body, reducing an almost-new bar of soap down to a little nub.

I was bleeding, so I stuck a maxi pad in my underwear and tried to tell myself that it was just my period. I threw away the nightgown that I’d worn the night before and the sheets that were on my bed. I took an aspirin because it hurt terribly to walk. I wanted to sit on the couch and watch television and not think about anything, but of course the couch was where Dean had slept. I flipped the cushions over and sprayed the entire couch with Formula 409, not caring if it ruined the fabric. Twice I picked up the telephone to call the police, and twice I returned it to its cradle. Before I told the police, I needed to tell Josh. I didn’t care what Dean had threatened, I honestly believed that Josh would be so angry that he would literally kill Dean.

I hid in my room when they returned that evening. I’d managed to take a small nap, but every sound seemed to be the bedroom door opening again. I listened to their small talk, held my breath when Dean walked by my bedroom to get to the bathroom, then let it out in relief when he passed by without making his presence known in a more forthcoming way. When the sky was completely dark, they walked outside to quickly and efficiently carry in boxes, divide them, then carry Dean’s share out to his clichéd dusty Maine pickup truck, where they fit neatly behind the seat.

When Dean had been gone for over an hour, I finally ventured downstairs. Josh was on the couch in front of the television set, a bottle of Sam Adams in his hand. “Hey,” he said, muting the TV with the remote control. “Where you been?”

“Josh,” I said. “Dean raped me last night.”

His hand tightened around the bottle, but otherwise he showed no emotion. He said nothing.

“Did you hear what I said?” I asked.

He nodded slightly and turned the sound back on.

“Josh!”

He turned the television off completely and snapped his head around. “There’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it, Susy, okay?”

I sat down, stunned. “I thought … the police …”

He laughed bitterly. “The police? And you’re supposed to be so smart.”

Five minutes passed. I watched the minute hand circle the clock on the wall. I said nothing. Josh said nothing. We didn’t look at each other.

“So that’s it, then,” I finally said.

“Yeah,” he replied shortly, standing up and heading toward his bedroom. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Josh wouldn’t go to the police because it would be the same as announcing, “Hey, guys, I’m a drug dealer.” Money and power were more important to him than me. I considered running away, but there was really nowhere to go. I finally came up with three courses of action that I followed grimly until my brother and several of his associates, including Dean, were busted and tried and sentenced to jail terms that basically took away their lives.

First, I went to the hardware store and bought a top-of-the-line deadbolt. The old man working behind the counter showed me how to install it. He was very friendly and made silly jokes about my little sister reading my diary. I didn’t bother to correct him, but I did thank him profusely for his assistance. If it wasn’t a deterrent, it was a message, to Josh as well as to Dean: you come into my space again, I’m calling the police.

One of the good things about Emerson is that there’s a pretty good public bus system, mostly because of the town’s proximity to the university in Durham. That made my next stop that much easier, especially since the clinic was less than a quarter mile from where the bus dropped me off; walking was still pretty painful. A nurse gave me a gown to change into, and soon enough a doctor, thankfully female, came in. I stared at the wall the entire time that she looked and poked and swabbed. She informed me that the swabs were for the purpose of testing for the presence of any STDs. She gave me a prescription for a powerful antibiotic, just in case, then sent me to the lab to get blood drawn for an HIV test. She told me to make sure I set up an appointment in three months for a repeat HIV test, again just in case. She asked about my last menstruation, but what thirteen-year-old keeps track of that? She did tell me to return for a pregnancy test if I wasn’t menstruating in a month. I refused their repeated requests that I speak with a rape counselor. I made the three-month lab appointment on the way out. My period started the next week, and all of the tests came back negative, including the three-month HIV test. That was that.

And that was really my third course of action. I’d been raped. That was that. I hadn’t suffered any permanent physical damage, I hadn’t contracted any diseases, and I wasn’t pregnant.

That was that.