Wednesday, March 31, 2010

10 Things

Carrie over at 2 Girls 2 Dogs 2 Cats posted a "10 Things" list, so I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon. I always enjoy reading these ... and I actually really enjoy writing them as well :-) Consider yourself tagged, if you want to make your own "10 Things" list ... leave a link to your blog in the comments.

I was going to just make a list of 10 random things, but I decided instead to list songs that make me think about things. It seems more interesting than "1. I have two dogs; 2. My favorite foods are cheeseburgers, lobster, and pizza" and so on. Not that I would have anyway, but ...

1. "My Own Worst Enemy" (Lit)
I've come to the conclusion that it is human nature to be your own worst enemy. Colleen McCullough ends The Thorn Birds, "The bird with a thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it." That says it all. (And, of course, there are many times I want to say, "Can we forget about the things I said when I was drunk?")

2. "Forgiven" (Alanis Morissette)
The concept of forgiveness is one I have long struggled with. Perhaps it's because of my Catholic upbringing, perhaps it's because I have much to atone for. I ponder sometimes on if forgiveness is even possible. I mean, no matter how much good you do, the bad is always there. There's nothing you can do about it, and there will always be a part of you that is being consumed by guilt ... and people to throw it in your face when you're least expecting it. Life is strange that way.

3. "Another Brick in the Wall" (Pink Floyd)
It's funny, the more we as a society claim to be moving toward creating individuals and embracing the unique characteristics everyone brings to the game, the more this song rings true. I find myself all the time conforming and doing things I don't necessarily want to do and saying things I disagree with because it's just easier than trying to be true to myself and having to deal with the consequences of that. I think that, back when there was a standard pat expectation of people, they were more likely to rise above it (or go to either side of it); now, there is this constant state of unspoken conformity that is all the worse because we try to say that the converse is true. It's strange. (Note--I think my iPod has a great sense of humor since this song seems to shuffle on more than any other just as I'm driving into the parking lot of the school I work at ;-)).

4. "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" (Patti Smyth/Don Henley)
You can love somebody to pieces and have them tell you that they feel the same way (and definitely have them act like they love you), but at some point you just have to realize that you're in different places. Books and movies might say otherwise, but "sometimes love just ain't enough."

5. "Tick Tock" (Ke$ha)
It's funny how time gets away from you. I am thirty-three, not exactly old, but my partying days are unquestionably behind me. I kind of wish this song had come out fifteen years ago, because I really like it. I could totally have related to it in my heyday. That said, it makes me very nervous because I worry about my daughters and about my students in terms of the sentiments raised here. I also question the veracity of a society where a song like this is so widespread; I mean, Belle knows the chorus to this song (thanks so much, Addie), and I'm pretty strict with my kids.

6. "The Boxer" (Simon and Garfunkel)
If you were to look at my high school yearbook, the quote I chose to accompany my senior picture is, "In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving' but the fighter still remains." We are all in a fight with life, in a way. We are all going to get brought to our knees sometimes. We are all going to have times when we rise triumphant. And, ultimately, we are all going to lose.

7. "Yellow Ledbetter" (Pearl Jam)
There is something about a song with lyrics that are almost impossible to understand. It makes you listen a little harder, makes you pay a bit more attention. And to continue the boxing metaphor from number six, "I don't know whether I'm the boxer or the bag" is a sentiment I think we can all relate to in some way, shape, or form.

8. "Imagine" (John Lennon)
I spend much of my life dreaming, a great deal of time hoping. There is so much evil in the world, and there's just no need of it. I mean, we all bleed, we all hurt, we all smile. It would be so nice if everyone could just get on the same page and look at the big picture.

9. "What's my Age Again?" (Blink 182)
There isn't an adult alive that doesn't, at times, act like a five-year-old. It's kind of unfortunate, but it's pretty much human nature to be selfish and stupid sometimes. This song is so much fun (Am I the only person that yells, "I said I was the cops and your husband's in jail--this state looks down on sodomy" when this comes on?), but there's actually a lot to think about here even though, on the surface, it's kind of a fun and sort of dumb song.

10. "The City of New Orleans" (Arlo Guthrie)
Okay, confession time--I cannot hear this song without crying like a baby. It was one of my stepdad's favorites, and I can hear his voice singing it (hopelessly off-tune, natch) whenever the song is even mentioned. The cyclical nature of virtually everything, the rise and fall of empires and trains ... it's mind-blowing. Just mind-blowing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Staying Right on the Pot

Writing is a funny passion to have.

On the one hand, it is as necessary as breathing if you are a writer. I, for one, can't not write (wow, that's great grammar from the English teacher ;)). However, at some point you have to make the decision on whether you're writing for yourself or if you want to do something with what you produce. To use a phrase that my mother hates, "S--- or get off the pot."

I thought I'd made the decision a long time ago to do something with my writing, to share it, to get it out there. The truth is, though, I wasn't quite ready. I have a serious inferiority complex which I've recently realized is always going to be there. I'm always going to think that my writing isn't good enough, that it's crap unworthy of being held up next to anyone else's. I can wallow in that, or I can try to make it better, try to get it up to the best level.

The first two chapters of my second novel have been posted on a lit crit blog and are currently being ripped to shreds--and I couldn't be happier. My writing will never go anywhere if I don't put it out there, if I'm not willing to see what others have to say and work with it.

Please go HERE to read the excerpt from Annual ... and I encourage you (in fact, I beg you) to join in on the lit crit. It can only make what I already do better : )

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mixed Blessing of WebMD

So I'm sick again. Bronchitis this time, just to mix things up a bit (having already weathered H1N1, pneumonia, seasonal flu, strep, and a myriad of sinus infections). I'd say thank goodness my pancreas has been fairly quiet, but since I'm clearly a walking medical curse at the moment and there's no wood around to knock on, I'll just keep my mouth shut.

I got sent home sick from work this morning and ordered (affectionately by a couple of my wonderful colleagues) to make an appointment with the doctor. (Incidentally, I find it pretty comical that teachers get sent home by the school nurse too). Anyway, I had about an hour to kill between when I got to the doctor's office and when my appointment was scheduled, so I did the stupidest thing I could possibly have done: I went on my BlackBerry.

Okay, in my defense, I was going to read my book. I had about thirty pages left in the fourth Dark Tower book (which I'm reading for, like, the eightieth time), and I figured I'd just sit in the car, watch the rain fall, read, and try not to cough anymore. Tragically, I'd forgotten my book at work and, since I didn't want to infect an entire waiting room with my pestilence, I figured I'd catch up on the news, celebrity gossip, do some research for the new WIP, whatever.

And then I started (this is gross--feel free to skip this part) coughing up blood and, consequently, freaking out. Instead of going into the doctor's office or even calling my mom or something that would have calmed me down, I went onto WebMD to see what they had to say about it. Dumb idea. Like, really dumb idea.

The thing is, going onto a "symptom checker" site opens up a can of worms. By the time I got out of the car and went into the doctor's, I was convinced that I had leukemia ... or scurvy ... or something. It's crazy! And I'm not exactly what you'd call alarmist; I'm sure that medical sites like WebMD must really cause some sleepless nights for a lot of people, and that's really sad and scary.

I think WebMD does a lot of good. It's always good to be educated and to be proactive and involved in your health, but is it healthy (no pun intended) to have so much information at your fingertips that it's nearly impossible for a layman to fully understand what's being said? I wonder sometimes how many hysterical phone calls are fielded by secretaries and medical assistants and nurses from people who have self-diagnosed using WebMD. I would think that would be very annoying for medical professionals.

I kind of hate myself that I jumped on the "freak out due to WebMD" bandwagon, but at the same time it really reminded me of the importance of leaving some things to the experts. Self-education is great, and being informed is never a bad thing. However, does the internet make it too easy to interpet things the wrong way (and this isn't just the medical field ... I can tell you from personal experience that there are some ridiculously shoddy "education" sites on the web)?

I'm thinking yes ...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blog Pseudonyms

I use pseudonyms on my blog (obviously ... having to go through life being referred to as KLo would be interesting, to say the least). I just got thinking about why I do this (privacy is the obvious answer, of course), whether other blogs I read have real names or false like mine, and of course the doppelgangers on my blog and the origins of them.

Belle is the easiest, of course. Her real name is that of a Disney princess (which is probably pretty much telling it to you, since I'd obviously never name my child Cinderella) and Belle from Beauty and the Beast is her favorite, so it was a pretty logical choice.

Addie is a bit more complicated. She's actually named after a character in my first novel, which I realize is a bit of role reversal. The fictional Addie was created before my daughter existed, and it's very odd how much she reminds me of my daughter.

It's funny about Andy. I don't remember where I came up with the name Andy for him ... there's no great story or stroke of genius (if I was just starting to blog about him now, I'd refer to him as Banana Boy, which believe it or not has absolutely no sexual connotation). No, the odd thing is that his father's name actually is Andy ... and his father is kind of a jerk. It makes me feel kind of bad, now, of course ...

My ex-husband Pythagorus is a mathematician, so it seemed evident. Well, he used to be a mathematician. Now he's something completely different. Ah, c'est la vie. I could have called him Edgar Allan Poe Bon Scott Ernest Hemingway something a lot worse ... Let's put it this way--I hope he and Marilyn Merlot are very happy together.

Anyway, is it standard to create fake names on a blog? Do you? I see some blogs with links to Facebook, and I'm just wondering how comfortable that would make you ... it makes me a little nervous. Do you have as much fun coming up with blog pseudonyms as I do (and should I change Andy's name to Banana Boy?), or do I have a simple mind ;)?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Musing for the Evening ...

"If I tell you tonight,
Will you turn out the light
And walk away ...
Knowing I love you."


Monday, March 22, 2010

Write What You Know--Why Have I Been Avoiding This?

How do you write? One word at a time. It's elementary, really. However, the root of the question involves the ideas, the meat. Writing needs to be more than just words strung together well.

Confession time ... I haven't written in months. Part of it is no doubt related to the chaos with Pythagorus, hanging out with Andy and going with that flow, teaching amazing children English, and of course my fabulous daughters.

The truth is, I'm afraid. Yup, I am scared.

I have, for a long time, used writing fiction to deal with my problems. Turning things like unspeakable violence and loss into things experienced by my characters gives me an element of control that helps me come to terms with things in my own way at my own time.

It's funny, though, how blogging has really allowed me to address some of these things in terms of me. More importantly, though, it has forced me to slow down, to consider things in a more thoughtful and less impulsive way. There are some remarkable, thoughtful people that read this blog, and sometimes I want to yell, "I need some freaking advice here! Some of you are wise in ways I will never be--what do I DO about this? How do I act?", but the double-edged sword to having a public blog is that you never know who is reading. There are some things that have to be kept private.

Which ironically leads me to my point, I guess. Yes, I just wrote "There are some things that have to be kept private" ... and yet I'm gearing up to write a memoir. I think that I've finally reached the point where I can write about the last year of my life--a year when I lost everything I have because of my husband's alcoholism and mental health issues--in a way that is healthy and, perhaps more importantly, helpful to people.

Write about what you know, they say ... and I say it to, to my students all the time, but more and more to myself even as I realize that it's what I've been doing all along. I'm just all of a sudden aware of it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's Hard to Give a Compliment These Days ...

Yes, I said compliment. After all, it's easy as heck to give a complaint ;)

So I got my hair cut Friday night and, as usual, it looked damn good after the hairdresser had done all the blow-drying and straight-ironing I never have time to do. The next morning, not so much, but that night, I was pretty pumped about it.

Being as I am in many ways a true epitomization (is that even a word) of the day and age, my first thought was, "I have GOT to take a picture to put on Facebook." I took about thirty pictures before coming out with this:

My Facebook started popping like crazy, of course, my BlackBerry buzzing so hard that I got looks at the grocery store. And the gist of what my friends on Facebook had to say was, "Wow, that's beautiful! It doesn't even LOOK like you!" (and, directly behind that, "Damn, girl, you've lost a lot of weight!"

I am, of course, able to appreciate the intent of the comments rather than reading too much into them (Do I usually look so awful that a halfway decent picture doesn't even look like me? Am I so damn fat that one picture sets off an outcry about my weight loss?) ... but there are people that aren't.

How sad is it that we live in a world where you have to be as careful of compliments as you do anything else?

**And for those of you that have noticed my absence from the blogosphere, thanks for your concern :). There are so many things going on in my life right now that are tied far too closely to other people for me to blog about. It'll all come out sometime, I'm sure ;) : ) :(

Friday, March 12, 2010

Knowing the Minds and Hearts of Others

I seem to attract people with a tendency to avoid sharing their minds and hearts. The old adage claims that actions speak louder than words, but sometimes you just need to hear the words.

Sometimes you just want to know what exactly is going on in the minds and, perhaps more importantly, hearts of other people.

Or would this be a mixed blessing? A blessed curse? Please let me know what you think ...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Such a Thing as Situationally Shy?

Tonight was the student showcase at my school, basically parent/teacher conferences part deux. I've taken to Facebook to express my woes, namely that the very mention of parent/teacher conferences makes me nauseous.

No, I'm not exaggerating. The fact that I only threw up once today is a major victory in terms of my nerves on parent/teacher conference night.

What got me thinking is the response that some of my Facebook friends had. The overwhelming message (and this came from people who know me in real life, one of whom was my best friend in high school) was, "You? Shy? Are you CRAZY? You're joking, right?"

When I've tried to explain this in the past, people tend to say, "You're really funny, K, your freaking JOB is to stand up in front of people all day." Well, yes, that may be true ... but I stand up in front of children all day, children who think I know what I'm talking about. I don't stand up in front of people that might want to criticize what I do, or question my abilities, or imply that last year's teacher (or the one they'll have next year) was a better match.

The craziest thing is, I've never had this happen to me. It's just my own ridiculous perfectionist complex that gets me so worked up. I do stutter, though, and repeat myself and lose my train of thought of do things like refer to "snowboards" as "snowmobiles" and ... well, yeah, you get the idea. I am stricken by a wave of shyness.

And people don't believe that this is possible. I might be a teacher, I might be kind of no holds barred in real life and I'll say what I'm going to say and do what I'm going to do (I told a guy who was smoking right by the door to the ski school to take his cigarettes elsewhere on Sunday ... and I'll walk into Burger King and correct their sign if they say "Whopper's are $.99.") ... but when it comes to parent/teacher conferences, shy is the only word that comes to mind. Well, shy and vomit : (

So do you believe someone can be situationally shy? If not, why? If so, what suggestions might you have for getting over it :)?

P.S. Formspring is open. Ask me questions HERE, no matter how strange : ) I'm enjoying this!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Curious? Ask a Formspring Question

A new blog craze seems to be formsprings. Basically, that means that I'm opening it up to you to ask me any questions you'd like. I will answer anything you ask me (now that's a dangerous statement if I've ever heard one ;)).

Here's the link to my Formspring:

Ask away : )

You can also ask questions in the comments here and I'll answer them in future posts. It took me a bit to figure out the Formspring thing, although it's very cool now that I've (sort of) got the hang of it : )

PS. Oh, and I'm finally motivated to actually post this after reading Novelista Barista's similar post. Her blog is awesome ... you should really check it out :)

Oh, and one more thing ... if you have a Formspring, please put a link to your Formspring in the comments of this post. Please and thank you : )

To Read is to Breathe

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, I decided to give my freshmen a quote about reading for our Tuesday quickwrite. Since I had a meeting this morning and didn't have time to go searching for that perfect quote, I had to grab for one quick within the dusty annals of my brain.

What I came up with is this, ironically taken from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that they will be reading in about a month:

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

Turns out that was the proverbial perfect quote. Sometimes my students really surprise me, and this was one of those days. Not only did they understand the gist of the quote, they really started connecting it to their own lives on a--dare I say it--philosophical level : )

In my world, reading is essentially akin to breathing. It is something I do to relax, to learn, to escape, to entertain, and so on and so forth. I learned how to read at a very young age and have never really stopped. Simply put, I cannot imagine my life without books. It would be like existing without a right hand.

So what about you? Is reading your breath? If not, is there anything in your life (beyond children, of course ... speaking for myself at least, that goes without saying) that you would equate with breathing?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lightbulbs and Stories

I caught up with a student I had last semester in my Poetry class today in the lobby during my prep period. His growth as a poet over the course of half a year was nothing short of remarkable, particularly in terms of developing his own style and themes. He's working on moving on the next step artistically now--changing up styles and themes.

He told me that he is trying to write a series of poems set up as short stories. He has the imagination and the vocabulary to really make an impact, which is cool ... and it's even cooler that he's challenging himself. Coolest of all, though, is the increase in confidence this kid is demonstrating.

"I want to write about a light bulb," he said.

I looked at him quizzically. "A light bulb?"

"Well, about a guy who wakes up one morning and sees a light bulb. It sort of makes him ..."

"See the light?"

He laughed. "Yeah, pretty much. You know, it's interesting about light bulbs."

"How so?"

"Well, if you turn a light bulb on, it means one thing metaphorically and if you turn it off, it means something else." He paused. "But then, if you think about it, it could mean the exact opposite. Both on and off."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I said, "You should write a story about Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb. And use the word 'illumination.'"

"Nah, I've already used the word 'illumination' in a lot of my poems."

"That's true."

"And I think I'd rather try to write a story about a guy who wakes up and sees a lightbulb and starts going in those metaphoric directions. Not that Thomas Edison isn't interesting," he added quickly.

"Well, make sure you let me read it when you're done," I said.

He smiled. "I'm sure you'll be reading it before it's done."

As he went to class, it occurred to me the true value of a teacher. Honestly, this kid and his classmates taught me more about writing poetry than I ever taught them, and yet they give me so much credit ... and for what?

It's just a matter of believing in them, of giving them the time and space and support to find their own voices. Some kids never do, of course, but when it does work out, it is just one of the most amazing feelings in the world : )

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

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