Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Honor of 200 Posts, Here are Some Excerpts from the New Novel

I wrote in a recent post that my outlook on things tends to be schizophrenic, how sometimes the exact same thing will affect me 100% differently depending on the day (or sometimes even the hour).

I mention that because my blog has become decidedly schizophrenic. I want to write about topics that will be of interest to many and become a place where people read and respond and return and comment like crazy and amazing conversations transpire and world peace breaks out and--well, you get what I mean, anyway. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, it depends on how you look at it), this blog has become a potpourri of those philosophical debates I wanted it to be mixed in with writing, teaching, and more about my personal life than I ever thought I'd put in (although all names and identifying whatever blah blah have been changed).

I decided I wanted to do something about my writing to celebrate my 200th post, but I couldn't figure out what. I contemplated doing a character motivation explanation: you know, something like, "My main character, Roy, is a combination of three people--about 70% my street smart, wrong side of the tracks, kind from the very bottom of his heart although you'd never know it if you didn't give him a chance friend Andy (there are several conversations and events taken verbatim from chats I've had with Andy--he'd better not sue me for copyrights) except better looking ;) ... and taller (Andy's not a blog-reading kind of guy, but if he was, I would razz him even further since he really is a pretty good-looking guy and he knows it--I did tell him that Roy's much cuter than he is), 20% my brilliant and soulful friend Roland, and 10% one of my former students, a stellar athlete with a quick wit and a gift at bouncing back from adversity without allowing it to change his positive essence." But then I realized, who really cares? You don't know who I'm talking about (either the characters or those making up their composites), and there are only two people reading this that have read the entire first novel and any of the second. Well, that I know of, at least.

Okay, I'll stop wandering and stick in excerpts. These are never-before-read and are from Novel #2 (unfinished, unnamed, and quite unloved at the moment)

All three excerpts are from the first 50 pages and the WIP's at 150 pages right now, so I don't think I'm destroying any major plotlines here. Just giving you a taste--please let me know what you think. Oh, and they are not necessarily in order ... but for some reason the spacing keeps getting messed up every time I try to copy and paste them, so they're just going to stand the way they are for the moment, considering they're just excerpts. Enjoy : ) And please (this means, "I beg of you") leave comments if you have something to say : )

Excerpt 1:
When school let out for the day on Friday, the vast majority of the upper forum knew that, at around seven, they would be heading to Hampton Beach, essentially dead with the passing of Labor Day until it bloomed anew with Memorial Day the next spring. Jamie and Bobby drove over to the chalet as soon as they could, Jamie to spread enough cash to the evening staff to keep them away from the party and Bobby (whose contacts always seemed to surprise his friends) to meet the guy bringing the kegs.

By ten o’clock, the party was in full swing. The music was loud (although not too loud), the gaggle of kids had oozed onto the beach, and there were half-full pizza boxes and the remains of various Chinese take-out boxes spread around. A dripping contingency huddled in blankets after swimming in their underwear, plastic Solo cups of beer and all.

Susy watched the party with both discomfort and distaste. As far as she could tell, she and Roy were the only people drinking Coke instead of beer, and Roy was high enough on life (plus had been a non-alcoholic fixture at parties for so long) that nobody noticed; he had in fact led the chilly evening swim that had included both Christian and Addie. She sat alone, watching their group slowly dry off. Christian found her eyes and winked, and she smiled pleasure she did not feel in return.
Truthfully, she was exhausted. She was sitting off to the side—aloof, those who didn’t know her well would say—on a large rock, shivering despite Christian’s heavy soccer sweatshirt. The lights from the hotel office were very far away, and she happened to be looking in that direction when the blue lights pulled into the round driveway. She jumped off the rock, ran down to the water’s edge, and grabbed Roy’s arm.

“What’s up?” he asked her, laughing at a classmate Susy thought was named Charlotte—although she was generally good with names, the sheer number of new faces sometimes overwhelmed her—as the girl tripped over a breaking wave and went briefly underwater.

“The police are here,” she said quietly, not wanting to create panic. She’d seen enough parties when she lived with her brother where the mere mention of police created unnecessary chaos that led to arrests. “Out front.”

“Shit,” Roy whispered, grabbing a blanket from the sand and wrapping it around his dripping boxer shorts. “Okay, come on, Susy, let’s go.”

“I’m coming too,” Christian said, his words slightly slurred.

“You’re fucking two beer queer, McKenzie,” Roy said. “Stay here.”

“You’re fucking naked, man,” Christian retorted, a response that seemed to make perfect sense to him.

Roy shook his head and grabbed Susy’s hand, pulling the blanket tighter around himself. He swore under his breath as his bare feet hit the gravel driveway of the hotel but didn’t slow down. The policeman, a young kid identifiable by a silver tag on his uniform as Jones, was halfway out of his car.

“Good evening, officer,” Roy said, his breath coming in pants.

“Kind of a loud evening if you live on the beach,” the cop replied, making a hawking sound in his throat then spitting near Roy’s feet.

“Oh, we’re just having a little get-together,” Susy said quickly when she saw the flash of anger in Roy’s eyes. “I didn’t realize how loud the music was up here. I’m awfully sorry.”

“I’m sure.” Jones turned back to Roy. A boy clad in soaking wet underwear was evidently more interesting than a fully dressed, obviously sober girl, Susy reflected. “You been drinking, son?”

Son? Roy asked himself incredulously. If you’re older than twenty-two, I’ll eat my … shorts. “No, sir,” he replied aloud, stifling a laugh.

“Really. Well, I got a call about a bunch of drunk kids in the ocean.”

“I was swimming,” Roy admitted needlessly. “Me and a bunch of my friends. Listen, officer.”

“What’s that?”

“I know you have a job to do. I assume you have a breathalyzer machine with you.”

The cop nodded, unaware that he was losing control of the situation. “For if I feel it necessary,” he said importantly. He couldn’t know that the arrogance in his voice only encouraged Roy.

“I’ll tell you what,” Roy said, dropping the blanket. Both Susy and the shocked police officer looked away from the wet fabric of his underwear. “Test me.”

“Well, you’re acting like I should, son.”

Roy, who had been standing upright, slitted his eyes and staggered into Susy. “I’m not drunk,” he said, an intentional slur to his voice making Susy giggle. “Really, ossifer.”

“Okay, you asked for it. Come with me, son.” A few moments later, Jones registered the 0.0 on his machine with wide-eyed shock. Roy winked at him and smiled, standing up straight again. He pulled the blanket back around his waist, too, much to Susy’s relief.

“Want my friend here to weigh in?”

“No,” the cop said shortly. “I want your name.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ve been jerking me around, wasting my time.”

Susy spoke then, averting a comment that would no doubt have related in some way to Dunkin’ Donuts and would have further escalated the situation. “I’m very sorry, Officer Jones. He thinks he’s funny. We’ll go right back down, turn the music off, tell our friends to get off the beach.”

Ignoring her, Jones looked annoyed. “I asked for your name, kid.”

“My name? Roy Pentinicci.” He paused, watching the young cop’s eyes when he realized who he was talking to. “How’s my friend Detective Sweeney?”

“Sweeney? She’s, uh, she’s fine.”

“Please tell her I said hello, that the family continues to be extremely grateful for her assistance.”

Jones turned to Susy. “Turn the music down? Don’t make excessive noise on the beach?”

She nodded gratefully. “Yes, sir, we’ll do it right away.”

“Have a good evening, then.” He got back into his car, turned off the pulsating lights, and drove away. Susy noticed that his neck craned toward the chalet and the beachfront, but he must have written off those dancing in the sand as “drunk” in the way that Roy was. Fortunately for them.

Roy picked Susy up and slung her over his shoulder, whooping with happiness as he ran back to the party. He put her down next to Jamie’s treasured stereo, moved carefully to the hotel from his dorm room at Stephens, and pulled the plug, interrupting Tupac Shakur mid-phrase. There was an outcry from numerous voices, and he walked into the doorway of the chalet so he could address the lushes outside as well as in.

“So the cops were here,” he began.

Jamie staggered to his feet, goosebumps rippling his muscular brown chest. “Oh, shit, man.” The hotel had his name, nobody else’s.

“No worries,” Roy continued. “Susy managed to convince the cops that we weren’t a bunch of drunk high school kids.”

“I’m not the person that blew a 0.0,” Susy teased, relaxing only when everybody began to laugh.

A chant went up then. “Pentinicci! Pentinicci! Pentinicci!” Roy put a hand up and yelled, “Shut up, everybody. No, seriously, this was Susy’s heroics. I’d be arrested for giving the guy a gift certificate to Dunkin’ Ds if she hadn’t been there.”

Susy realized then that Roy was giving her a gift. Acceptance by her peers, something she’d never before felt, enveloped her, warmed her. She blushed and pushed gently past Roy inside where she plugged the stereo back in and turned the music down slightly. The cheers that went up embarrassed and pleased her at the same time.

She saw Christian sitting alone on her abandoned rock when she stepped back outside. Although he was dressed, his hair was damp and sandy. His eyes were troubled. “Hey, beautiful,” he whispered.

“Hey.”

“So you saved the day.”

She shrugged awkwardly. “Guess so.”

“Can you drive a standard?”

She nodded. “Yeah, why?”

“I want to go home, and I don’t think I ought to drive at the moment.” He paused. “You shouldn’t have been put in that position.”

“Honestly, it was sort of funny.”

He smiled, but it didn’t touch his eyes. “You could have gone to jail, Susy.”

She looked at him gently. “That’s a bunch of talk,” she whispered. “I’ve seen more parties busted up by cops that resulted in nothing but a lot of talk. They dump the booze out and leave, then twenty minutes later there’s plenty to drink again.”

“This isn’t—a party like that. Like your brother’s.” Her face was unreadable as she looked out at the plethora of rich kids falling down drunk on three cups of beer, trying to be tough in ways they never would be. And he was no different, much as she loved him.

Excerpt 2:
After they left Bickford’s, Christian drove to the beach. Susy pretended she didn’t see the tears in his eyes. Neither one of them said anything until they parked in the mostly abandoned public lot and sat facing each other on the break wall.

Christian slowly took his wallet out of the back pocket of his Levi’s. He opened it and pulled out five one-hundred dollar bills, then he looked at Susy. “What we do about this, Susy, it’s your choice.”

“But—don’t you have an opinion?” she finally asked.

“Of course I have an opinion, but here’s the thing. You’re the one who’d have to put up with morning sickness, stretch marks, childbirth, being … you know, having a kid when you’re seventeen. If you want to take this five hundred dollars and call the clinic, that’s your right and your choice.”

“Is—is that what you want?”

Christian felt a bit guilty. He was employing a tactic that he’d observed his father use a dozen times, always with great success. He thought about abandoning that line of thought, of just pulling her into his arms and begging her to marry him, to keep the baby and they’d figure it all out, but a cold and calculating part of him that was a born businessman made him continue. “What I want is irrelevant for the moment.” He held the fanned money out again. “If that’s what you want, here’s the money. I don’t think I can be there, not for that, but I know Roy would drive you.”

“So you don’t want—”

He decided to tip his hand. “I want you to make the decision.”

She took the money and his heart dropped for just a second until he saw that she was folding it up. After she put the wad into his front pocket, she whispered, “As far as I’m concerned, that’s my decision. Unless you feel otherwise.”

“Oh, God, Susy, that’s what I wanted you to say. I just didn’t want to be the jerk who made you feel that way.”

Excerpt 3:
The brick office complex on Main Street was quite familiar to Brian McKenzie. The brief time he had actually been able to practice medicine had been divided here and the hospital across the street. After his father’s first hospitalization for the cirrhosis that would eventually kill him, Brian was able to return to Baltimore and finish the semester then transfer to Dartmouth Medical School. The magic was gone, though; he knew that sooner rather than later he’d have to focus his attention on the complexities of the McKenzie family fortune.

That he was able to enjoy any time as a doctor was due entirely to the man whose name was on the frosted door he pushed open. And, of course, his wife, although he was the first to admit that he sometimes took her for granted.

“May I help you?” the secretary asked automatically, then looked up and recognized him. “Oh, hello, Mr. McKenzie.”

“Good morning, Gloria. Is Jerry in?”

“I’ll let him know you’re here.”

Brian sat in the waiting room for maybe thirty seconds before he heard his name. He looked up at the man who had been more a father to him than his own. He hadn’t seen Jerry in several months—they were both so busy—and was saddened by the sudden aging he saw in his mentor. It occurred to him that he didn’t know how old Jerry Bellwood was, just that he’d been a longtime friend of his father’s. That would have to put him at seventy at least.

“Good morning, Dr. Bellwood.” Brian stood and shook the liver-spotted hand that had brought all four of his children into the world.

“What can I do for you, Dr. McKenzie?” Brian’s smile was a bit sad; it always was when his stolen dream was mentioned.

“Could we talk in your office, Jerry?”

Jerry raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t seen Brian in a medical capacity since Belinda’s hysterectomy four years before had ended their hopes of another child. He closed the door and sat behind a desk piled with papers, charts, ultrasound reports. “What brings you here?”

The younger man covered his eyes for a long moment. “I’m going to be a grandfather.” The doctor had tipped his chair back on two legs, and it returned to the floor with a surprised crash. Brian might have been fuzzy on Jerry’s age, but Dr. Bellwood knew for a fact that his surrogate son was thirty-eight. Too young. “What the hell did Roy do now?” he managed.

“Not Roy. Christian.”

“Christian, as in your son?”

Brian nodded.

“The avowed virgin changed his mind?”

“It started … that weekend. The girl, she’s the babysitter Belinda hired for while we were in Boston.”

“Your boy made the best of a hostage situation, eh?”

Brian smiled weakly. “Evidently.”

“Do you want me to take care of it here in the office? Use anesthesia?”

“They want to keep it.”

Jerry remembered having a similar conversation with the father of the man sitting in front of him under much the same circumstances. He recalled how his old friend George, irresponsible drunkard that he was, had been devastated at the thought of his beloved son throwing his life away. “His father’s son.”

“Guess so. Listen, Jerry, I’m here more on her behalf—Susy’s—than as Christian’s father.”

“I’m listening.”

“Do you remember that big heroin bust a few years ago?”

Jerry nodded. “It’s not every day our neck of the woods makes the national news. For weeks.”

“The kid from town? That was her brother.”

“Josh Heidelman?”

“The very same. Did you know him?”

“Between you and I, I delivered a girl who named him as the father and aborted two more.”

“Jesus, that doesn’t exactly help the situation.”

“I can’t picture Christian with a girl like that. Christ, I can’t imagine Belinda hiring her to babysit your kids.”

“Susy … she’s not like that. She’s been scarred by what happened to her brother, there’s no doubt about that, but she’s a nice girl. A smart girl.” He hesitated. “I want her handled gently. I’m afraid that some of your younger colleagues might be rough on her, or at least she might perceive it that way.”

“Fair enough.” Jerry picked up the phone, his eyes still on Brian. “Gloria, what’s my availability for this afternoon? Hmm, how about tomorrow? Please write down Susy Heidelman for four o’clock. Initial Ob. You’re a gem, Gloria.”

“And so are you, Jerry,” Brian echoed as the doctor hung up the phone. “I really appreciate it.”

“Now, I need to emphasize something.”

“What’s that?”

“Christian needs to be here for every appointment. She’ll need support.”

“I’ll let him know that’s your recommendation.”

The old man shook his head. “Requirement, not recommendation.”

“I know he has soccer practice tomorrow until six. Maybe we can work something out with the coach.”

Jerry didn’t respond to that, and they got back into conversation following the brief awkward silence.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Maintaining a Positive Outlook in the Face of Constant Smackdowns

According to one of my best friends, Jo, life is all about having a positive mental attitude (abbreviated to PMA, opening her to much ribbing about a certain time of the month ... and yes, she does in fact yell it down the halls of school, via text message and e-mail, and communicates it in every way).

It's funny how sometimes, no matter how "P" your "MA" is, though, life just keeps smacking you down. You know those punching bag toy things, the ones that have sand at the bottom that keep coming back up no matter how many times you knock them over? Or, in the eternal words of Chumbawamba, "I get knocked down, but I get up again"? Why is it that some people are able to get back up so easily, while others just curl up in fetal position and whine about how the world is out to get them?

I'm curious, because my resilience to the ebbs and flows of life is kind of schizophrenic. Sometimes, I am totally on Jo's PMA bandwagon, singing Chumbawamba and popping right back up no matter how awful things get. Other times, I'm crying like a baby. Sometimes I surprise myself with my own strength, and at times I am ashamed of how weak I am. There's no rhyme or reason to it.

Is this just human nature? Are there people that are always able to take adversity in stride? If so, how does one become of that ilk?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Not so "Deer"

What are your thoughts on hunting? I'm not anti-meat and I understand that a pork chop or a haddock filet doesn't show up on my plate out of the clear blue sky, but I guess the idea of killing animals for entertainment is just not something I can get my mind around.

I work in a rural school (like, a very rural school), and hunting is a popular pasttime for many of my students. I mean, in a way I can see getting pleasure in the concept of hunting. Going out into the woods, enjoying the peace and quiet, spending some quality time with friends and family also into being outdoors ... yeah, that sounds great.

It's the killing part that gets me.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was telling me about a piglet that he and his friend Todd bought with the intention of eventually slaughtering for meat. When the time came, neither one of them could do it easily, and nobody enjoyed the meat from that particular pig. I think that's how I'd feel as well--I mean, after feeding and raising a pig from babyhood to adult-sized, there'd have to be some sort of connection, I would think.

I understand that many people that hunt use (and in a number of cases actually need) the meat they catch. I have no problem with that at all. You do what you have to do.

What I don't get is, what is the point of hunting just so you can say, "Hey, I got a ten point stag last weekend"? (Note--I don't know if a "ten point stag" is the right terminology). There are uncountable ways to get thrills, adrenaline rushes, and accomplishments in ways that don't involve shooting a deer in the middle of a forest then following the blood trail to come upon it injured, suffering, and dying.

Couldn't you just play laser tag or paintball? Can anyone explain this to me?

Saying it With Lyrics

Sometimes, that's the only way to say what you're thinking about : )

"Turning back for home I'm feeling so alone
I can't believe.
Climbing on the stair, I turn around and see you smiling there
In front of me."
(David Gray "Babylon")

"Oh, it's never too late to start living
To get out and have some fun.
The sun'll be just as shiny in the morning
As the first day the world begun."
(Liam Clancy "The 200 Year Old Alcoholic")

"I've heard this life is overrated,
But I hope that this gets better as we go."
(3 Doors Down "Here Without You")

"You're racing with the wind, you're flirting with death,
So have a cup of coffee and catch your breath."
(Phish "Fee")

"Let's go drive 'til morning comes
Watch the sun rise and fill our souls up.
Drink some wine 'til we get drunk ..."
(Dave Matthews Band "Crush")

"Tomorrow we can drive around this town
And let the cops chase us around.
The past is gone, but something might be found
To take its place."
(Gin Blossoms "Hey Jealousy")

"Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes."
(Michael Smith "The Dutchman")

"I don't know whether I'm the boxer or the bag."
(Pearl Jam "Yellow Ledbetter")

"I don't want to come back down from this cloud
It's taken me all this time to find out what I need."
(Bush "Comedown")

"Yeah, we'll look at the stars when we're together."
(Jack Johnson "Better Together")

"Even though the moment passed me by
I still can't turn away.
All the dreams you never thought you'd lose
Got tossed along the way."
(Goo Goo Dolls "Name")

"I was brain-dead, locked up, numb, not up to speed.
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream."
(REM "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?")

"I believe in the sand beneath my toes
The beach gives a feeling, an earthy feeling
I believe in the faith that grows
And the four right chords can make me cry."
(Third Eye Blind "Semi-Charmed Life")

"Who's gonna drive you home tonight?"
(The Cars "Drive")

"Always wanting more, he'd leave you longing for
Black velvet, and that little boy smile."
(Alannah Miles "Black Velvet")

"You know, I mean to tell you
All the things I've been thinking
Deep inside, my friend."
(Dave Matthews Band "Crush")

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Respecting the Office ... if not the Person

I've noticed lately that a lot of people I know in the military are slamming President Obama. This would bother me less except that these are the same people singing a completely different tune when the man in charge of running the USA was George W. Bush.

Politics are a tricky business, and I certainly don't want this post to be some sort of conservative vs. liberal thing. I mean, I have strong political opinions; I've read a lot and studied a lot and have a pretty good understanding of political repercussions throughout history. I'm well aware of the big picture. I'm also well aware that there are legitimate arguments on all sides, that people can back up their opinions with solid data (although I was married to a statistician for seven years, so I know that you can mathematically prove anything--including that the sky is green--if you design your experiment a certain way).

So no, I don't want this to be a political post. Just to get it out of the way, I voted for Barack Obama. I even voted for him in the primary, when he was considered a long shot to the Clinton machine. I think he is an amazing, inspirational, intelligent man.

There, now that that's out of the way ...

I thought that George W. Bush was an idiot. I constantly wanted to correct his grammar (or teach him how to produce the word "nuclear", at the very least), and one of my favorite books is a collection of his verbal slip-ups (I realize that everyone makes mistakes, but to make enough to create an entire book?). That being said, I respected the office of the President of the United States. I might not have liked Bush, might not have agreed with many of his decisions, and I certainly didn't vote for him, but he was the President, and I honored him for that.

As a side note, I was brought to tears by Bush's words when he spoke at Ground Zero shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and I was inspired by his courage when he threw out the first pitch at the World Series. I mean, talk about a sitting duck, yet there he was. Good for him. And yes, I mean that sincerely.

Anyway, many people I know, particularly those in the military, really got vehement when me (or my liberal brethren) slammed Bush. Troops stationed in the middle east were very much of the, "He's our Commander in Chief. He's our leader. Even if you don't like him or agree with his politics, we in the military have to respect him."

So why are so many of these people so blatantly, obnoxiously rude about Barack Obama? They make socialist comments, badmouth him, and even make references with barely veiled racist undertones. I mean, shouldn't the party line continue to be, "He's our Commander in Chief. He's our leader. Even if you don't like him or agree with his politics, we in the military have to respect him"?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful

In my effort to be positive in a very negative point in my life, here is a list of five things I am thankful for (and a short explanation of why). I have been thinking about posting this all day, and it's been very good for me to concentrate on all the good things in my life. I am very lucky, actually, and it's very important that I stop sometimes and remember that. If you feel compelled to do the same, leave a link in the comments : )

I am thankful for ...

1. MY DAUGHTERS. Addie and Belle make every single day bright for me. They are both sweet, kind, intelligent, beautiful young ladies. Both are also extremely humorous (often untentionally, which makes it all the better). For example, Addie started freaking out this afternoon because Facebook went down for about two minutes and she was all worked up because she needed to fertilize eggplants on Farmville or something. She called up her friends to see if Facebook was down for them as well, and it was just like a bad teenager movie. My mother kept saying, "She could be selling drugs. She could be selling drugs." Freaking surreal! And Belle? Well, one of her recent lines was, "Addie's the tallest, Mimi's the oldest, and Mommy's the fattest." Yeah, it was a laugh riot :)

2. MY JOB. I have the distinct pleasure of actually enjoying what I do. My profession's forefathers were named Jesus Christ and Socrates. I touch the lives of children every day; it's an awesome responsibility but so rewarding at the same time. I told my students once that reading a book then sitting around talking about it was like some sort of heaven to me--I sometimes can't believe they pay me to do it. My students think I'm a little weird ;)

3. MY FRIENDS. I recently reconnected with my best friend Andy. It's very strange being friends with him as an adult. The days of doing 151 shots then throwing up all over the bar and just getting in a car and driving are gone (well, mostly ;)), but it's amazing how much there still is to talk about, how much he still understands me. I have other great friends also--you know who you are!!!!!!!!!!!--but I mention Andy in particular because ... well, it's kind of complicated and a very long story (which is actually on this blog somewhere, but I can't find the link and frankly don't want to dredge it all back up), but it's just so cool how you can go years without seeing someone and have it be like you'd just said goodbye the night before. Weird.

4. MY FAMILY. My family is as dysfunctional as anyone's. However, when push comes to shove, they are there for you. Also, even if most people in my family don't say it (except me--I'm big on "I love you"s), there is love. I've just learned in the past six months how rare that is, so I'm very grateful that my family loves each other, even if they don't know how to say or show it. Or not be dysfunctional. But it's all good : ) And my dogs are family!

5. MY MISTAKES. You learn a heck of a lot more from mistakes than you do from being perfect all the time. I've made many mistakes--many, many, many, MANY mistakes--and I've learned from all of them (not always the first time, but eventually). In general, I like myself very much now. I used to hate myself. I find it remarkable that making mistakes made me a more likeable person (at least to myself). Does that make any sense?

Oh, and I'm thankful for everyone reading this post right now. I would write anyway--to me, writing is like breathing--but that you take the time to come to my blog, to read what I have to say, and to respond if the topic strikes you ... it is very humbling to me that anybody gives a rat's derriere what I write on my blog. So those are my words of the night--humble ... and grateful : )

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Search of the Writing Zone

I had an epiphany regarding my novel-writing today. I finally figured out why I write in fits and spurts, in weeklong marathons bookended by multi-week dry spells. It's why it took me fifteen years to write my first novel and why my second is such a slow process.

First, here are some links to posts where I've posted excerpts (please feel free to read and comment--a lot of people that read my blog now didn't when I posted those, and I'm always eager for feedback). First, here's an excerpt from my completed (but alas unpublished ... for the moment, anyway) first novel, Unbreakable. Speaking of Unbreakable, here's a post where I followed a trend other aspiring writers were exploring at the time--25 things about your novel. It was actually a very valuable experience for me, so if you have a WIP (work in progress), I strongly recommend that you give it a shot (and let me know if you do ... I'd love to read your posts on the subject). But anyway ... then, there are the first two chapters of my new novel (although I've reworked the beginning a bit so these aren't completely up-to-date, they're pretty close).

Okay, back to my epiphany. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm wordy. Like, very wordy. As in, I at times use five or six words when two will suffice. And I have an unhealthy attraction to both adjectives (bad) and adverbs (worse). And no, this paragraph is not an intentional example of what I'm talking about--it's just me. *Sigh*

I have to be completely immersed in the world I have created in order to write. It's necessary for me to be 100% in tune with the actions of characters, all events (because, as I tell my students, everything ends up connecting at one point or another), and the narrative voice to ensure a seamless continuity. To accomplish this--to find my writing zone, so to speak--I need to reread my entire piece if I've gone more than a week or so without writing. This is not a problem when your work is fairly short, but Unbreakable is over 600 pages, and Novel #2 (I have to name that poor baby) is at 35,000 words. Between being a single parent to two little girls whose company I enjoy more than anything and teaching full-time in a job I adore (but which requires a lot more work than the seven hour schoolday when you figure in grading, planning lessons, and reflecting on ways to always make your class a better learning experience for your students), finding the time to reread my WIP, to bring myself back there, is rather difficult.

Am I going about this the wrong way? It seems rather obvious that I am. If you are a writer, how do you stay in the zone? If you're not, perhaps you might have some thoughts on how you manage to fit in your passions : )

Oh, and keep clicking those ads ;) ... writing full-time and teaching part time would be a dream come true, and blogging seems to be the main writing I do these days (although I suspect I'll whip out 30-50 pages over Thanksgiving weekend ... it's all about time ...)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Behind the Eight Ball, but Needed to Weigh in on New Moon Concerns

The film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's New Moon comes out at midnight, and the country seems to be abuzz with concerns. I'd noticed the latest vocalization about a series I make no secret of being exhausted with, but I hadn't realized the scope of the chatter this time around until reading an excellent post on Zelda Lily on the theory of Twilight as pro-abstinence.

Since then, I've noticed a lot of people talking about Meyer's characters in a less-than-complimentary light. One of my Journalism students actually mentioned a news report talking about how Bella and Edward are the very epitome of an unhealthy relationship. On my way back from the teachers' room at lunchtime today, I came upon a group of eighth grade girls reading The New York Times (yes, you read that correctly) and discussing--intelligently!--the merits and shortcomings of concerns raised in an article.

I'd never really thought of the Twilight saga as more than a collection that was marginally entertaining the first time around. Now, people are talking about why America is putting an emotionally twisted relationship on a pedestal ... about the sexual repercussions of the books ... about Bella's inability to have any sort of individual identity beyond the men in her life (Edward, Jacob, even her father Charlie) ... about the coyly ambiguous relationship between Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart ...

And I like to think of myself as one who finds philosophy everywhere! Geez Louise ...

My thoughts, in a nutshell:
1. Any books that lead to children reading cannot be all bad.
2. It really pisses me off when there are film adaptations made of books that kids actually read and enjoy (Holes is a great example ... the Harry Potter films are exceptions)
3. Bella and Edward are not good for each other. You do not need another person to make you whole, and their emotional obsession with each other is really pretty creepy.
4. The idea that these books are pro-abstinence is laughable. I mean, there are some pretty hot scenes throughout the course of the series. Although Bella and Edward do (because of circumstances and timing) hold off from actually having sex until they are married, I somehow don't see the pro-abstinence groups embracing the sort of intense foreplay both implied and stated in the books.
5. Bella is a pathetic "leading lady" in that her actions and choices are dictated by men (or her mother, whose life revolves around her new husband).
5a. I think it's kind of ironic that Bella names her baby daughter Renesmee after two women in her life--two mothers, if you will--when neither played what could be called a pivotal role in the saga.
6. Pattinson and Stewart are probably dating (or something ... but were told to keep it on the DL so as not to spoil that "pro-abstinence thing")

While I have read the entire series, I did not see Twilight and I do not intend to see New Moon (much to Addie's chagrin). My thoughts are based entirely on the books.

What are your thoughts on the bizarre phenomena of suddenly coming up with all of these concerns about a series that has been in the public eye for years?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Parental Approach to Their Children's Education: Please Weigh In!

I've been doing a lot of thinking since my post about Addie's adjustments to her Biology class. It occurs to me that I have another bright little girl just beginning her school career (she is reading in kindergarten).

Addie was raised with school being a very high priority. Her father and I are both teachers, and the value of education was never a matter for debate. Until she reached high school, I checked her homework every night. I'm so lame I even signed off on her agenda book, just to make sure she was writing in it. She knows that only As and Bs are acceptable grades, and she has a transcript that would make any parent proud (and even more importantly, she is a kind, loving, amazing, beautiful human being).

I was raised very differently. My parents and step-parents are all college-educated professionals (Dad is a lawyer, Mom is a nurse practitioner); obviously, they were people aware of the value of education. However, they gave Adam, Mary, and I little to no motivation to do well in school. They were examples, yes, and they'd help if we asked (we never did), but basically we were on our own in terms of what we did with the educational opportunities we'd been given. Mary responded to a recent post by reminiscing about doing homework for one class in the class before it was due. Adam's brilliance is certainly not evident on his high school records. And me? Well, summer school for math was the least of it. That being said, though, the three of us all figured it out for ourselves at some point. We all have cum laude Bachelor's Degrees, I have a Master's Degree, and Mary wins the prize with her Ph.D. Obviously, my parents did something right there.

What's interesting to me is that I adopted a very different mindset with Addie than what my own experience had been. This was in large part because I used to wish that my parents cared enough to read through my papers, to discuss the historical repercussions of a given event, or at the very least to make sure I didn't make any addition mistakes in Algebra II. I wanted Addie to know that I cared.

I learned through a recent discussion with my mother that their approach to our education had nothing to do with not caring and everything to do with wanting to be different from their overbearing parents that checked every aspect of their schoolwork. My parents wanted to give their children the freedom to learn for the sake of learning in their own way, at their own pace.

Is one way better than the other? Is it even possible to combine both of these mindsets? What was your experience with your parents and your education?

Belle's future as a student may well depend on your responses ;) I am aware, however, that she is extremely different than Addie, that Addie has the whole "Oldest Child Perfectionist Parent-Pleaser" mentality while Belle is ... well, probably going to have pink hair and a nose ring before she is twelve.

Biology, Brick Walls, and the Piano

Last night, Addie had a little meltdown. I was taking Belle to the doctor where we got the H1N1 diagnosis (yes, I'm evidently cursed by this stupid virus) while this was going down, so my mom handled it. By the time I got home, Addie had just gotten out of the shower and, other than the "I've been crying" stigmata on her face, was fine.

She explained to me that she couldn't figure out how to do her lab report for Biology and it "made me want to kick babies." (At this point, my mother nodded wisely and added, "She did yell something about wanting to kick babies.") Addie is typically extremely even-keeled and mellow, so this was very out of character for her (and she would never kick babies).

She said she was going to bed, but I heard her upstairs playing the piano for quite a long time (I had to keep Belle up until ten to get her next dose of medicine). Addie plays the piano when she is really stressed out, and even though part of me loves listening to her play (she's pretty much a prodigy and composes her own stuff), it always makes me a little sad because it almost always means that she's upset about something. Talk about bittersweet!

Addie started Honors Biology last week with the change in terms, and the class is challenging her. She got the only 100 on the first quiz (it's hanging on the refrigerator ... I don't think she's allowed her schoolwork to be posted on the refrigerator for years) so, as usual, she's just being really hard on herself. The thing is, she happily gets Bs in Honors Geometry without issue--she's not ridiculous about grades in general. She just has this major hangup about doing really well in Honors Biology since she wants to be a doctor (a pediatric oncologist, of all things).

As a teacher, I cannot stand it when parents say to me, "My child is extremely bright and is not being challenged." As a parent, however, I'm very frustrated by the fact that my child (my very bright child, not to be obnoxious about it) was never taught skills and strategies for what to do when the work is difficult. Since she's never put more than 40% effort into school (and that only math classes, which have always been difficult for her), she does not know what to do.

I talked to her at length about some of the stuff she can do. She's making vocabulary notecards, reading each chapter and taking notes ahead of time so the teacher's lecture makes sense to her, and so on. These are skills and strategies taught to our lower- and mid-level students from elementary school all the way into high school, but students like Addie were given enrichment work instead of focusing on these things because an assumption was made that they were "smart enough" to figure it out for themselves.

I wish someone had given Addie a copy of Grey's Anatomy or War and Peace or something when she was eight or nine and showed her how to slow down, take her time, and work with material that is very difficult for her.

Education in America does not prepare our brightest children for the inevitable brick wall they will come to at some point. Whether they succeed or throw up their hands and give up isn't something anyone can predict. Addie will be fine--she has her piano, not to mention a family that loves her unconditionally and will work with her to teach her these necessary skills and strategies, not to mention coping mechanisms (and we're fortunate that the content is accessible to both my nurse practitioner mother and my Ph.D. Microbiologist sister, both of whom adore Addie and would do anything for her).

The disconcerting thing is, I realize that I am, as a public school teacher, part of the problem. What do you think--does public education in America shortchange our top students?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ink on the Face: Falling Asleep Unexpectedly

When I woke up this morning, I had weird black smears on my face. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the pages of my book had become superimposed onto my face.

Yeah, I literally fell asleep face-first on a book last night.

To fall asleep suddenly and unplanned and with no angst--I have been fighting epic battles with sleep my entire life, so this was a very odd experience. I'm not going to lie, I'd had Ambien plus migraine medicine and Valium (also for migraine and earlier in the day) so it's not like sleep should have been exactly elusive, but to just crash in the middle of a book, not even remembering it ...

I am fascinated by the nature of sleep. I don't think I've ever fallen asleep without "help" of one kind or another...ever. It wasn't like passing out, either, where the dizziness encircles you tighter and tighter until you drift away on waves of ... Well, whatever. It was--dare I say--what I always thought normal sleeping might be.

Is it me, or is there something magical about sleep?
Well, I'm off to replicate the task (with any luck ;)). Oh, and no Ambien tonight...I'm living dangerously ;)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

RETTOP YRRAH: The Philosophy in Reading "Harry Potter" Backwards

I realize the title of this post might be misleading. When I say, "Read Harry Potter backwards", obviously I don't mean the words.

Well, let me back up for a minute.

I was in the school library with my Poetry class today so they could have computer access to get their lyrics project due tomorrow finished up. Since they were working so diligently (or at least were making it appear so well enough to convince both me and the librarian), I started browsing the stacks looking for something to read.

The craziest thing happened then ... I reached the R section and saw all seven Harry Potter books lined up neatly on the shelf. This, of course, included the second one, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And with that, my day was made.

I had an extremely tumultuous summer. As I always do in times of extreme stress, I read. Like, I read obsessively. And one of the things that I found myself with a desire to read was the Harry Potter series. The problem, of course, is that I could only find the last one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; the series starter Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was nowhere to be found (I was moving ... it was beyond chaos). My urge to read the series again was so great, however, that I started reading it the only way I could--from the ending to the beginning.

Now, I realize this wouldn't work for a lot of people. If you're not familiar with the books, it would be essentially pointless to start with the seventh. However, since I have a tendency to reread books more than is probably healthy, I suspected I'd be able to muddle through somehow.

What I didn't expect, though, is what a tremendous learning experience it was for me. Obviously, I knew as both an English teacher and a reader myself that J.K. Rowling might have sold the first book as children's literature but that subsequent books in the series were more political and social commentary than fantasy tales for kids.

The part I missed, though, and the part that I would have hoped I'd have gotten more quickly given the name of my blog, is the philosophy brought forward in Rowling's brilliant series. Had I not read the series backwards, I would have missed a great deal.

An obvious example is Ron Weasley's dual jealousy of and pride in his best friend, Harry Potter. One of seven children, Ron never seemed to get his chance in the spotlight, and becoming bosom buddies with the most famous magician ever born certainly continued the struggle. Ron has his moment in the sun in the seventh book; he is a true hero. When you read through Book 6 then Book 5 then Book 4 then Book 3, you see the true conflict--both internal as he struggles within himself and external as he becomes Harry's staunchest supporter--experienced by this boy. You appreciate how cheap his own successes always seemed next to the glory of Harry's constant defeat of evil, how small his joys when compared to Harry's. I got this, obviously, reading the books in order, but I didn't get it until I read them backwards.

And then there's the whole Snape thing. I once heard Snape referred to by a college English professor as "no more than the ultimate red herring", but that was a cop-out answer if I've ever heard one. Snape was never acting, not pretending a bit, when he bullied and berated Harry Potter--he honestly hated the boy, and his harsh treatment makes the reader find Snape pretty despicable too. That Snape protects Harry out of love is perhaps the most shocking conclusion ... and when you finish the seventh book, it's really easy to see Snape's nobler points. Certainly they existed; Harry Potter was well aware of them as he eventually named one of his own children after Severus Snape. However, reading the book backwards, fully aware of the "Snape protected a child he legitimately (and perhaps understandably) hated out of a pure and eternal love" thesis gives the dynamic between Harry and the potions master a whole new depth, a level of complexity that cannot be achieved by reading the books in chronological order.

Anyway, school started back up just as I finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I couldn't find my copy of Chamber of Secrets to save my life. Well, I took it out of the library today, and I cannot wait to read it (I stupidly forgot it at school).

I am especially excited, in case you're wondering, at exploring the nature of Dobby's relationship with Harry in terms of what you learn about Dobby later in the series (and particularly the sacrifice made by the house elf in the final book).

Does this make any sense to anybody, or have I gone completely off the deep end?

Wait, don't answer that ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

JFK's Assassination: Is it That We NEED a Conspiracy Theory?

I have a minor hobby over the unexplainable, particularly in terms of crime (hence the whole Manson thing, and so on).

Perhaps the book that set off my love affair with books that explore alternate theories (at least, the first one I remember reading) was Jim Garrison's "On the Trail of the Assassins". I can remember finishing the book and thinking, "How could any rational person believe that a poor uneducated schmuck could singlehandedly--and with some mad gun skills the guy has no record of possessing--kill the president of the United States?"

A lot of time has passed since my first reading of Garrison's book. I've read a lot since then directly related to the assassination; the theories are many and varied. And oh, by the way, they're interesting too. Quite entertaining :)

So now I'm reading "Four Days in November" by Vincent Bugliosi, and it is so cut and dried that there doesn't seem to be any arguing with it. I mean, BAM, Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, and here's how he did it. Mystery gone.

Obviously, there are those that disagree mightily with Bugliosi's work. When I read one of those, my internal pendulum will start swinging again.

So I have two questions I'd love to have your thoughts on. First, what do YOU think happened to President Kennedy? Was Oswald the lone gunman acting alone, or is the story juicier, with overtones of the mafia, Cuba, and even factions of the U.S. Government itself in on it?

Secondly, why is there still this preoccupation with what happened over forty years ago? Do we NEED to believe in the conspiracy because the thought of a president's murder being as simple as Bugliosi presents it ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Oinking Away at the Media

Okay, so what's your take on the swine flu pandemic? This "health emergency"? I ask because I'm completely disgusted with the media coverage and the huge amount of misinformation.

I spent last week home with H1N1. I felt like crap and was very scared at how high my fever got a couple of times and was blown away by how tired and sore your body can feel when you've done nothing more strenuous than lift a remote control (yes, I was too sick to read for much of the week--and for me, that's SICK).

It was pretty yucky, but when push comes to shove, it was just the flu. It wasn't much different than other times I had the flu. Now, granted, I did get on Tamiflu the first day I showed symptoms...but by the same token, I also ended up with an early case of pneumonia as a side effect of the pig thing, so I think I'm fairly representative.

Why all the media hoopla? Is it warrented? And even more importantly, why is there so much misinformation out there--and why do people believe it?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Coupon Clippings: The Annoying, Endearing Traits of Others

When I came downstairs to have my coffee this fine Sunday morning, my mother was sitting at the dining room table reading the Sunday paper. She reads it in parts, beginning with the Parade magazine, and as she finished gave me each part to read.

She then opened up the coupon section--which she had saved for last, naturally--and went at it with a look of sheer bliss on her face. This was obviously the highlight of the Sunday newspaper experience for my mother, and this is something I will never understand.

My mother has always been a compulsive coupon-clipper. I know there are many people with this pasttime, by the way ... it's just that most of them actually USE the coupons. Not my mother, though. Nope, she clips out coupons for everything from dish soap ("I know I only use Dawn, but this is forty cents off of Joy, which is cheaper anyway") to breakfast bagel bars ("These look disgusting--I wonder what they look like?").

When I cleaned her kitchen the other day, I found a drawer full of coupons dating back to 2003. None of the coupons were for things she would ever use. My mother's scope in terms of purchasing is small--she is very particular about name brands (except for mayonnaise ... for some reason, she will only buy Market Basket mayonnaise, eschewing Hellman's or Cain's relentlessly).

Although part of me rolls my eyes when I see my mother clipping coupons, most of me thinks it's just adorable (I can't think of a better word for it than that). What are some annoying, endearing traits you encounter with your loved ones?