Sunday, October 31, 2010

TSS: 10.31.10

Happy Halloween everyone!  I wish you lots of treats without the tricks this holiday weekend. 

Of course, this means that tomorrow is the first of November - which means that Thanksgiving is less than a month away - which means that 24 hour holiday Carols will be playing on the radio and the countdown of shopping days until Christmas will commence.  I truly love this time of year, but I wish that I could find a way to slow it down to a manageable pace.

Those who know me well know that I am a very literal person.  I tend to view the world in black and white with little gray variation.  Sometimes this trait serves me well as I am very focused, goal-oriented, and follow directions to a T.  I get the job done and do not create waves.

However, there are many times when this diametric point of view is limiting.  Here is one example.  I have always enjoyed taking pictures of family and special events.  Cameras, to me, are a way of capturing precious  memories to be enjoyed over and over again.  It never occurred to me that cameras can be a creative artform.  I know - crazy.  But that is the downside of my black and white brain.  Camera's function = memory saving device.

Recently my eyes have been opened to many other uses for this versatile apparatus.  One possibility is to use the camera as a diary.  The website, 365 project, is a dedicated website for just that purpose.  Take a photo a day (or more) to document your life in pictures.  I have enjoyed following Amanda's weekly photo posts this year and I think I might like to make this my New Year's Resolution.

There are several other photo blogs that I have enjoyed reading these past few weeks.  Shutter Sisters posts a daily photo with a prompt.  It is so interesting to see how others interpret the written prompt in a visual photo.  Shutter Sisters also has a couple of Flickr groups (one word project and 365 days) to view all the photos which inspire lofty artistic dreams.  Vision and Verb is a site that I recently came across which is touted as being a collaboration of women of a certain age.  I find it comforting to know that many others do not discover their hidden talents until later in life.  This gives me hope.

To that end I have found an online course that I think I will take - a special treat to myself.  The website is called Big Picture Classes and the particular workshop that interests me is entitled, Picture the Holidays. this is a description of the course:
Picture the Holidays is a photo centric daily guide to creatively and mindfully celebrating the season.
With as much light and magic this time of year can bring, it's easy to be equally hurried and harried. This 30-day (actually 31!) e-class is the perfect remedy for the holiday hustle. Seasonal photo prompts delivered to your inbox each morning will not only inspire your inner photographer but will encourage you to take a few moments to yourself each day to get creatively centered, one photo at a time.
I think this sounds wonderful - and perhaps a great way to make myself slow down and truly enjoy the spirit of the season.

Finally, I have come to realize that the creativity of photography is not just subject composition and camera settings, but it is also the manipulation of the "straight out of the camera shot" using photo editing software.  This is what truly makes the picture an artistic endeavor.  I have enjoyed the photo contest on the Pioneer Woman website recently (here is the first contest winners and here are those in consideration for the current contest).  She uploads a raw image and then invites others to PhotoShop it any way they desire.  I have been amazed - absolutely amazed - at the modifications one can do with a single photo.  This has truly inspired me to make the time - and save the money - to take a course in PhotoShop.  I have tried to watch a few online tutorials, but quite frankly, the lingo is a bit too technical for me to follow.  I think for a visual learner such as myself, I need a hands on class where I can work on my pictures and have the opportunity for one-on-one assistance if needed.

This was a rather slow week in the teaching arena - which is a nice change of pace.  Of course, one of the reasons for this is that I lost my voice on Thursday night - which made teaching all day Friday a difficult task.  Fortunately I had a few alternative lesson plans to call upon.  English 1 students discussed the various themes of Fahrenheit 451 without much assistance from me. This was a great class as it showed the students that they can indeed work together and analyze a book on their own.  I did have the DVD ready to play - just in case.

The 7th grade class was scheduled to present their Tuck Everlasting projects - which meant that the students talked and I did not.  I look forward to this particular lesson every year as it is so much fun to see the creativity of the students.  My most favorite projects are the CD Soundtrack, where students must select 5 different songs to represent various scenes of the book (one student had such fun songs as Jail House Rock - when they are trying to help Mae escape from prison - and Forever Young - which is fairly self explanatory) and designing a game, where students must create a board or card game that is inspired by the novel.  This year we had a chutes and ladders version of Tuck - a candy land version - and trivia pursuit.  Students put a lot of effort in these projects and this class gives them the chance to show off.  We spent the final thirty minutes of class listening to the Tuck music and playing the original games.  It is a good way to end the week.

 It is now crunch time; T-minus one day and NaNoWriMo 2010 begins.  I currently have about 16 students signed up for this challenge and that has me more excited that writing my own book.  I had no idea that so many students would be thrilled about an academic endeavor.  Some students have decided to have NoWri slumber parties so that they can stay up late and write together; some have created other worlds by drawing maps and buildings and characters.  One senior has decided to take a required narrative paper from English Comp and develop it into a full length novel.  His enthusiasm inspires me.

I have downloaded the windows beta version of Scrivener and absolutely LOVE this program so far.  I have decided that as much as I crave linear order in other facets of my life, writing comes to me in fragmented scenes.  This program allows me to create index card scenes as I think of them; jot down little notes to refresh my memory for another time; and rearrange the digital note cards in any order I desire.  What is especially useful is that the index cards are linked to the actual manuscript text which is also linked to an outline mode.  This is quite valuable if I decide to rearrange my scenes, the text will also be rearranged in the proper order in the manuscript.  Very cool, if you ask me.

I now have a true incentive to complete the challenge as all winners of NaNoWriMo will be eligible to receive 50% off the retail price when it is released in January 2011.

I currently have my character sketches - coupled with flickr photos for visual stimulation - and about 10-12 index card scenes.  I hope to flesh out a few more scenes before the clock winds down and I actually have to start writing 1,667 words a day.  It is a little scary -- but also rather exciting.

Reading was sacrificed this week in favor of teaching and writing.  I do, however, have a few literary adventures planned for this upcoming week.  Our county library is holding its Used Book Sale  and Wednesday night is the special preview event for friends of the library.   I have enjoyed going to the June sale for the past few years and I am anxious to see what bargains I can find at this first annual fall sale.

That same night Greg Kincaid, author of A Dog Named Christmas which I reviewed here, will be signing autographed copies Christmas with Tucker, scheduled to be released on Tuesday, November 2nd.  I was able to meet this local author last December when he spoke at our library, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to meet him again when he visits Rainy Day Books

I anticipate my personal reading to take a temporary nose dive in favor of writing this month, but I plan to start reading some holiday books once December arrives.  I truly love this time of year and I want to schedule the time to savor each and every moment.  I have purchased several holiday books throughout the year in anticipation of some focused reading during the hectic weeks of Thanksgiving through New Year's.  How about you?  Do you set aside certain books to read at various time of the year?

Edit:  Blogger is giving me fits this weekend.  This is the third time I have had to re-write this post.  If there are typos or other such grammatical imperfections, please forgive me.  I simply do not have the energy to retype this again :(

Sunday, October 24, 2010

TSS: 10.24.10

Once again the week is a blur.  I woke up on Monday morning in disbelief that I was starting another work week, and the next thing I knew I was driving home from school on Friday evening - thankful for the weekend.  Despite living at what seems to be the speed of light, I did manage to set aside some time for personal exploration in addition to the typical grading and lesson plans.

In an effort to fully live out my motto "Work Smarter - Not Harder" I strive to set aside some time each day to do at least on thing that I truly want to do.  Some days I may only set aside an hour - but other days I am able to devote more significant time to personal pursuits.  This week I managed to spend a few hours going out to dinner and catching up with an old friend.  We always have such fun when we get together; we just wait too long between visits.  I will try to remedy that in the future.

I also took an afternoon and visited the Arboretum to practice taking nature photos during this fall season.  A few of the trees were changing colors, and some of the flower beds had transformed from spring pastels to autumnal colors and I enjoyed meandering through the gardens.  My favorite photo of the day was taken in a section of the park entitled, Monet's Garden.  I felt as though this photo truly captured the essence of this impressionist artist.

Most of the classes this week spent time honing writing skills.  My 9th graders learned how to organize their note cards for a 5-7 page research paper (which I will get to grade over Thanksgiving break) and they are now working on developing their thesis statements.  My 7th graders learned to peer edit and they will be presenting their final Fractured Fairy tales tomorrow (which I will be grading this week).  Eighth graders continue to work on A Midsummer Night's Dream and slowly but surely they are starting to come out of their shells and truly "become" the character while on stage.  It is fun to watch.  

The ninth graders are also reading Fahrenheit 451 and I have enjoyed some lively classroom conversations.  I received a library book this week entitled, It is a Book by Lane Smith, and I thought that it was a perfect read-aloud for these students.  Yesterday I shared the book and it did receive a few chuckles here and there (where do I plug it in?  You don't.  It is a book!  Can you text with it?  No.  Can you wi fi?  No.)  But the theme of this children's book resonates of the society that Ray Bradbury has depicted.  Television, video games, cell phones, and computers are mainstays for youth today -- but an old-fashioned paper book? Not so much.  It does give me cause for concern.

Last week I shared an epiphany: I have not been a fan of chick lit because it is too similar to my own life and when I read I wish to escape life, not relive it.  This has been a true AHA moment for me and somehow I feel liberated.  I am not sure why - but I guess feel as though I am free to read this genre without guilt that I am not reading something much deeper and thought-provoking.  It is ok to read something light for a change.  To that end, I have read three (yes - THREE) books this week.  I finished Round Robin and immediately began reading the first book in the Elm Creek Quilt Novel series, The Quilter's Apprentice.  This book gives the backstory of the main characters and how the Elm Creek Manor was renovated to become a quilter's paradise.  I have also started the third book in the series, The Cross Country Quilters, which is going to introduce me to some new characters to study.  

I also decided that if I was going to read chick lit - then I should include the queen of that genre, Debbie Macomber.  I have only read one of her books in the past, Twenty Wishes (which I reviewed here) and I did enjoy the female fellowship that develops throughout the story.  I did a bit of research and decided that Thursdays at Eight would be a good novel for me to read as "research" for my current Work in Progress. I made a wise choice.  It follows the relationship of four women who meet at the local coffee shop every Thursday morning to encourage and support one another.  They originally met in a journaling class, which explains the structure of the story being told in alternating narrative and diary formats.  It is a quick read, but the characters are developed well and their lives are intriguing enough to keep me interested.

Finally, I also read a scrapbook mystery entitled Paper, Scissors, Death by Joanna Campbell Slan.  I originally thought I wanted my protagonist to be a part of a dedicated group of women who met on the pretense of cross-stitch, but really got together for fellowship and support.  I have now decided that the flow of the story would work better if they meet to scrapbook instead.  I wanted to do some background reading on crops and workshops to get the flavor of how to write about page layouts, scrapbooking supplies, etc. and I happened to have this book on the shelf.  It is an easy-going cozy mystery that had enough suspense to keep me interested, but I am not sure that there is enough interest to read the remaining two books in the series.  It was fun, however, to read about St. Louis and some of the places in the Midwest with which I am familiar.

This "chick lit" epiphany has also freed me to write the stories that I desire to write.  Again, I have always been drawn to read classics and more literary fiction and therefore I did not think that the stories brewing within me were worthy.  Well, no...they are not worthy of an English novel study, but they have worth and I am now looking forward to bringing them to life.  Who knows, perhaps after I have honed my skills in this lighter genre, I might find myself writing something of more substance. But as I heard the other day...."you can't write something good if you don't write"

So in the spirit of living each day to its fullest, I went on an adventure yesterday.  Well, it was an adventure for me.  I attended a regional kick-off meeting for NaNoWriMo.  It was held at the central branch of our local library and I went by myself - not knowing a single person there.  This is a HUGE step out of my comfort zone.  There were about 40 people in attendance and I was thrilled to see that there is no stereotype of a NaNo participant.  There were men and women; teens and retirees; veterans and rookies.  The three leaders were as different as could be - which gave hope that anyone can be a part of this insanity.  The two hour meeting focused on basics of the event, brainstorming ideas for writer's block, and a few group writing exercises.

I am very glad that I attended this meeting yesterday, although I am not sure how many write-ins I will attend during the month of November.  While I embrace the idea of getting together to squelch the feeling of writer's isolation, I am not really a competitor for "most words written in 10 minutes" or "incorporate the idea of fire retardant underwear in your story" (no joke - that was a plotter's plot suggestion).  I may find enough support within my school community.  I currently have 14 students signed up for the event and I am thrilled.  Some are even planning a sleepover on October 31 so that they can start writing promptly at midnight on November 1st.  They are my encouragement.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

TSS: 10.17.10

This has been a rather low-key week.  Parent-Teacher conferences on Wednesday meant fewer lesson plans to create, but resulted in sheer exhaustion at the end of the day.  I saw a different family every fifteen minutes from 8:00AM until 3:30PM, and while it is always nice to put a parental face with a student's name, meeting so many new people is wearisome for an introvert like myself.

While I was not in class much this week, I did manage to have quite a bit of grading to accomplish.  I try to balance my grading schedule so that I am not overwhelmed, but somehow this week I had two different classes turn in rather extensive papers.  In an effort to follow my year-long mantra "Work Smarter, not Harder" I am trying to grade a few papers every day rather than all of them at once.  So far I have stayed on task.

As is my typical fashion, when I have an idea I tend to zoom full speed ahead.  Such is the situation with NaNoWriMo.  Not only have I decided to attempt this challenge myself, but I have solicited interest among my students.  I have organized an extracurricular "club" where these budding novelists can come and share ideas, frustrations, and successes.  So far about ten students have registered and I am thrilled!  Students do not need to write the required adult goal of 50,000 words, but they do need to settle on a word count that would be a true challenge for them.  I envision us meeting about once a week in person and then online in a discussion board forum.  This will certainly put the pressure on me to strive to complete the challenge - as I will have my own students constantly inquiring about my progress.  See what I mean?  I zoom full speed ahead without thinking of all the possible consequences.

I have continued the focus of my NaNoWriMo read-athon weekend to extend through this week.  I quickly skimmed the book, This is the Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley.  Vivienne mentioned this little book on her blog and I thought it would be worth a quick glance prior to the month of November.  Since I have read several books on this topic over the past few months, there was not a wealth of new information here, but it was a good summary of the key elements.  I still know that my biggest struggle (besides the fact that the mushy middle is not at all fleshed out) is that inner critic that will want to examine every punctuation mark and search for just the right word.  

I also started reading Round Robin, the second book in the Elm Creek Quilt novel series by Jennifer Chiaverini.  I picked up this book as "research" for my own novel.  My NaNoWriMo book will focus on female relationships, in particular the sandwich generation of the protagonist being the caregiver for her two daughters as well as of her own mother.  The stress of dealing with these domestic issues causes her to reach out to a former circle of girlfriends called the Stitch Group.  Since Round Robin also focuses on female relationships in the context of quilting friends, I thought it would be a great place to start.  The book is structured in much the same way I envision for my story, and I am learning how to develop character stories in the midst of the overriding narrative.

It is funny.  My literary interests lie in suspense/thriller or literary fiction - but I find myself drawn to writing "chick lit" --- a genre that I have never desired to read.  At first I was confused.  Why would I not be inspired to write a book that I enjoy reading?  Why am I motivated to write a book that I would typically ignore?  But as I read this quilt series (yes, I do plan to read others) I have discovered that chick lit (at least as it is defined by this book) is MY life. I read to escape - so why would I choose to read a story about the life that I want to temporarily flee?  But the old adage - write what you know - is true.  This is my life - all the bumps, twists and turns, and there is story here that I need to tell.  Not that I need anyone else to read --- I just need to narrate.  I am hopeful that once I get this story in writing - I will be free to explore other creative writing adventures.

The weather here in Kansas has seen a slight warm-up - so while many of you are writing about cooler autumn temperatures, we are experiencing a sunny weekend with temperature in the mid-80s.  I am now ready to say good-bye to these summer days and welcome more seasonal weather.  I did take advantage of the sunshine, however, and went to the park to take some photographs.  The leaves are still not at peak color in the Midwest - I am guessing maybe next weekend would be better - but I still enjoyed walking in the sunshine and watching families picnic at the water's edge and fly kites in the grassy plains.

In reading through the blogs this morning, I was inspired by two particular posts.  One post came from the Shutter Sisters where the day's photographic theme is:  What I need Now.  Their selected photograph is a simple mug of hot tea.  I haven't decided how I might capture "what I need now" in a photograph, but I think it is a thought-provoking assignment.  What would your photo be?

Another post that caused me to pause and ponder can be found at Sunday Scribblings where the week's topic is simply Harvest.

As a teacher I live my life in the planting season.  I desire fertile soil to plant the seeds of knowledge.  Some of the students come to my class with a thirst for learning:  their parents have prepared them well and they are ripe for planting.  Some students need a little more work:  perhaps a bit more encouragement, as they have already experienced one too many failures in their short academic career while others need more discipline as they have not yet discerned how to manage the priorities of life (delayed gratification has not yet entered their vocabulary).  A teacher's planting season is but 9 months, while the harvest season does not come for several years.  If we are lucky we might see the sprout of knowledge by May, but more often than not, the true harvest is not realized until after graduation - long after our diligence is passed.  

Sometimes this can be discouraging.  The harvest makes the hard work of planting and maintenance worthwhile.  When you miss out on the harvest, it is difficult to remember that the sacrificial work and intense frustrations of sowing are ever appreciated.  But sometimes, every once in a while, a former student will take the time to come back and say hi and give me a glimpse of the harvest.  When they return as successful college students or career-minded graduates, it is rewarding to know that the seeds have indeed sprouted, grown, flourished and will now be shared with the next generation.  It is nice to hear that the high expectations that I set in class have helped them to achieve their personal goals in life.  And somehow this small glimpse of the harvest motivates me to return to the classroom with a renewed spirit that will carry me until the next time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Inner Critic

In preparing for the NaNoWritMo event, I have been reading and researching various tips and suggestions.  In virtually every book or website that I read about the craft of writing - there is always advice given about the "inner critic"  This is the small voice that seems to constantly criticize the writing in the guise of making necessary improvement - when in reality it hinders the flow of creativity.  The inner critic is quite useful for the editing phase of writing, but totally destructive in the imaginative narration of the story.

In reading Mary Carol Moore's blog post this week, I realized that this inner critic is not just present in writers, or artists, or other creative types --- this inner critic is present in anyone who strives for perfection.  Those of us who are attempting to free ourselves from the tyranny of perfectionism (I posted about that topic here) need to learn to silence this inner critic as well.  In our pursuit for excellence, we are stifling the joy of life.

On her blog, Mary Carol Moore suggests an exercise that I think would be useful for me as a person - not just a writer.  I thought I might post it here, in case other perfectionists might like to try it as well:
Write a letter to your Inner Critic. 

Begin your letter to the Inner Critic with gratitude--always a good way to soften any resistance. Yes, you may be fuming at the chains, but start by thanking this part of yourself (for it is) for its never-ending vigilance. 
Then renegotiate your contract. What can you ask for that would give you more freedom?
I do believe that there is something useful in giving credence to this abstract entity.  I think  acknowledging its existence, but admonishing its control, could be a positive step forward in embracing the life that I truly want to live.

TSS: 10.10.10

The media has reminded me all week about the uniqueness of today's date - and the fact that it falls on a weekend for new brides to secure as a magical wedding anniversary. I must admit, however, that when I wrote it this morning I was not thinking of the date's special qualities but rather of the radio jingle of my youth when living in New York:  10-10 Wins.  In either case - I hope that everyone experiences a beautiful fall Sunday.

This has been a good week.  I define "good" as nothing out of the ordinary happened, lesson plans worked well, student issues were kept to a minimum, and nightly grading was manageable which allowed for some much-needed down time.  I am still crazy enough to consider participation in NaNoWriMo in November, so much of my evening activities have centered around preparation for that event.  I have researched online successful NaNoWriMo tips and I have tried to read a bit of plot development and character sketch exercises.  In addition, I mentioned the idea of organizing a student NaNoWriMo event at my school and I think I might have about six or seven students join me in this insanity.  As you can tell, I am a little singularly focused at the moment.

I did manage to begin my Christmas shopping yesterday.  This was not a planned event - but I guess I was in the right place at the right time:  the moment where ongoing sales match my mental mood.  Bath and Body Works is having a sale on their 3-wick candles and I thought I might purchase a couple of new fall fragrances for the home.  Well, in addition to the large candles, they are also having a sale on the smaller version of the  four new holiday fragrances:  $5.00/each.  I think that a small candle and a bookmark would be the perfect sentiment for each of the administrative staff at school.  I also think it might be a nice gift (perhaps paired with a Starbucks gift card) for each of my teacher's aids.  It feels good to have the first gifts purchased, and  I am almost ready to start playing Christmas Carols (just kidding --- sort of)

As I mentioned above, this was a good week in all classes, but two class periods were particularly rewarding.  I am thrilled to see that my 8th grade class is starting to release their inhibitions and starting to embrace their inner Shakespeare.  On Wednesday I had each student select any character - any speech (as long as it was a minimum of 6 lines) and rehearse those lines for 10 minutes.  The goal was to perform "over the top" in front of the class.  WOW --- they did great!!  I think hearing everyone else practice and strive to be "too much" gave them permission to let go and just have fun.  Hopefully they all realized that if everyone feels "silly" and is uncomfortable, it takes the pressure off.

In 9th Grade English I tried a new idea to help with literary discussions.  I have one class that has a very difficult time staying on task.  Some of the students can get off topic at the drop of a hat and bringing it around to the original question is a constant uphill battle.  I read about this idea in the book, Speaking Volumes by Barry Gilmore - and adapted it slightly for my own needs.  

I took 4 large sheets of butcher paper and put a different discussion topic at the top of the page.  I also included some suggestions for relevant discussions on that topic.  For example, we are studying Fahrenheit 451 and the 4 main topics included:  Happiness - Society - Foil Characters - and Writing Style.  Each student received a different color marker (I only have 12 in a class, so this was not difficult) and were told to use that color the entire class period (this was so that I can monitor who said what - which encouraged full participation and appropriate comments).  Students were divided into pairs (for the class of 8) and threes (for the class of 12) and given 10 minutes to "discuss" the topic.  They were not allowed to talk, and they had to support their answers with textual references.  After 10 minutes they moved to another sheet - given another 10 minutes to read the commentary already written, and begin their own discussion OR add to the previous conversation.  This continued until every student had the opportunity to write their thoughts on each topic.

Since we ran out of time, we will complete this activity on Friday.  I will put the sheets of paper on the wall and we will analyze the discussion:  the different conversations - questions raised that were not fully answered - and the legitimacy of this exercise.  I was thrilled with the results - and hopefully the students learned that they can actually stay on task and still have fun.  

Well, as most of you know who are a part of the book blog universe --- yesterday was the fall read-athon.  I absolutely LOVE these focused weekends where hundreds gather privately to read, but share publicly in twitter conversations, reading challenges, and blog posts.  I did not officially join this go around, but I did participate in my own small way (you can see my posts here, here, and here -- if interested).

While this was an unusual read-athon for me, it was exactly what I needed.  And while I had hoped to make some progress with the RIP challenge, I did manage to make a book purchase in honor of that event.  Half Price Books is having its annual teacher/librarian appreciation sale and I simply could not pass up that kind of opportunity.  In browsing the clearance section I found a terrific anthology of American Gothic Tales which pairs quite well with the anthology of Victorian Ghost Stories I purchased in clearance a few years ago.  Perhaps my buying habits are trying to tell me something:  at this time in life I don't have to read a full-length novel in order to participate --- I can just read a couple of short stories to get into the thriller spirit of the season.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Honor of the Read-athon: Part 3

My final post in homage to the read-athon is to summarize my thoughts on the re-read of No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty (I wrote a more in-depth review here).  The author is the founder of NaNoWriMo and I wanted to read this book again as motivation for my debut in this upcoming event.

While I know that I will have lots of obstacles to overcome in my attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days, I think I know that my greatest enemy is my own inner critic.  I can already hear her telling me that this story is totally boring and no one has any interest in the subject.  I know that she is planting the seed of doubt even now as I write this blog post - and it is a good three weeks until November 1.  I know that she will constantly remind me that I am an English teacher - but now that the rubber meets the road, I will be proven a fraud.  I know that I will want to spend countless hours perfecting one sentence - rather than moving on to the story's climax (which is yet undetermined).  And yet....No Plot, No Problem has assured me that I am not the only one who feels this way.  That all writers, at some point in time, must confront their inner critic during the rough draft phase and tell him or her to take a hike and not return until it is time for revision.

I also know that my perfectionist ways will want to take over and prevent me from completing my goal.  That side of the brain has a difficult time with lowering standards and allowing creativity freedom.  The Left Side of the brain likes to retain constant control - but if I want to make any kind of break-through, I must be willing to relinquish my usual "high expectations" so that the weaker Right-Side can begin to flex its muscles.  I know that the month of November will be filled with far more inner conflict than outer distractions:  my children are grown, my husband travels, and I relish the thought of being alone for hours on end.  But my critical inner voice never takes a break and I anticipate that this kind of solitary activity is fertile breeding ground for it to blossom into a destructive monster.

I hope to work a bit more on character sketches and possible story climaxes between now and the first of the month.  While I don't want to over-plan and box myself into a corner too early in the game - I also know myself well enough to know that I need to have a general idea of where I want to start - and how I want to end - before I put pencil to page (or cursor to document, as the case may be).  I am nervous - I am doubtful - but I am ready to challenge myself as well.

Final stats for this unusual read-athon weekend:
3 books read/skimmed
665 pages
6.5 hours reading

While this was not my typical read-athon routine, it suited me today and I am glad that I was able to participate on at least a small scale.  I hope that all of you had a wonderful weekend - whether it be literary or otherwise.

In Honor of the Read-athon: Part 2

Another book that I have quickly skimmed/read during the read-athon is Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.  The subtitle for the book is a revolutionary program for doing everything that you love.  I was introduced to this author by my sister-in-law who referenced the book on her blog not too long ago.

In this book the author refers to "Scanners" as those who are interested in so many different pursuits, that they find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to actually participate in any of them.  In the introduction she describes her freshman year of college when all of her friends were trying to decide on a manageable class schedule, and she was mesmerized by all the different courses of study.  She simply could not make up her mind, for they all sounded so interesting:  The History of Western Music, Ancient Trade Routes of Central Asia, The Geology of History.  While none of these particular courses are of interest to me, I have always quipped that my ideal job would be a professional student --- if only it paid well rather than cost a fortune.  I have learned to be content being a life-long learner instead, using the internet as my personal classroom to pursue whatever interests me at the moment.

I found much of the information in this book to be common sense - but when you are a scanner, common sense is the proverbial forest and the only thing we notice are the trees.  For example, I know that everyone in life has the same 24 hours a day.  I know that no matter how busy I am, there is always some free time in every day.  It is a matter of making conscious decisions to fill that time rather than allowing the routine of life to subconsciously dictate my schedule.   Barbara Sher is a strong advocate of the calendar -- a nice pretty one to hang on the wall in full view - and to actually schedule time for the activities that you WANT to do, rather than putting off that time to "some day" that never seems to arrive.

While my interests are varied, I do think that they are manageable.  I am fortunate enough to have a job that I actually enjoy -- not all parts of it mind you -- but overall, I derive immense pleasure and satisfaction from teaching.  Along those academic lines, I also enjoy reading and writing (and blogging).  My creative interests lie in paper crafts, most notably scrapbooking and rubber stamping.  Just recently I have developed an interest in learning more about photography than just point-and-shoot.  I would like to take the time to watch more movies - I feel left out of so many family and student conversations. I have always had a deep desire to travel and see other parts of the world, but finances as well as time hinder that pursuit.  While these interests are indeed varied, there does not seem to be so many that one would be overwhelmed at the choices.

But it was on page 38 that I stopped in my tracks for the author described me to a T:
....Time Sickness, a state of mind frequently found in Scanners in which your whole sense of time in compacted into the present moment and you actually forget that tomorrow exists.  That translates into the belief that if you put off doing anything you love, it will be lost forever.  And when you love more things than you can possibly do now, Time Sickness creates panic.
Now, logically I know that tomorrow exists.  Common Sense tells me that I have several more years to devote to personal pursuits.  Yet tunnel vision creates that inner voice that is always telling me that I have wasted too much time - that if I were younger I could (fill in the blank) - that life has passed me by.  I must say, there is comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who feels this way.  There are apparently many others out there who have such dreams, aspirations, and creative desires but are defeating themselves with inaccurate self-talk.  I have learned that I am a "dual scanner" which means that I am an either/or type of person - there is no middle ground for me.  This false way of thinking is detrimental to living the creative life that I desire.

I think this is a part of the reason why I am motivated to try NaNoWriMo this year.  There is no time like the present - as they always say -- and while I can list a hundred reasons why now is not a good time, the truth of the matter is that there will never be an ideal time.  This is my focus for now - and I hope that after November I will be motivated to purchase a new calendar for 2011 --- write down specific appointments with myself to pursue other dreams and aspirations - and allow myself the freedom to be me.  Better yet, I may do as the author suggests and purchase a 2 year calendar, so that I will always be reminded that there is indeed lots of tomorrows in my future.

In Honor of the Read-athon: Part 1

I remember the first time I heard about the Dewey 24-hour read-athon.  I had just discovered the book blogging world and the preparations were being made for the Spring read-athon, 2009.  I was SO excited that I could finally partake in a "competitive sport" and not feel like an uncoordinated failure.

When I learned the dates for this fall read-athon, I immediately rearranged my academic schedule to free up the weekend from grading or major lesson plans. My goal was to do as I have done for the past three events - read 12 hours over the course of the weekend.  I was excited and planned to make a dent in my TBR pile, while at the same time participating in Carl's RIP Challenge.

But my personal life has taken an introspective turn lately.  For some reason I have not felt like reading fiction at all.  I think it has been at least six weeks since I have read a novel, although I have started several.  I am contemplating participation in NaNoWriMo this November, and all my energy has been focused on that activity.  Of course, committing to this event is another matter (fear of failure, fear of writer's block, fear that the story isn't good enough...well, you get the picture).

But this morning I had a rather "novel" idea (sorry...couldn't resist the pun).  I could participate in the read-athon by reading books that will help me with NaNoWriMo.  I refuse to fall into my typical trap of "I Should...." For example, I should read a certain amount of time; I should post a certain number of updates; I should read a certain book.  Instead, I am going to use this free weekend to pursue interests that I want ....and so far this morning that has included the completion of one book!!

I quickly read/skimmed the book, Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel.  I think it was Catherine at Words World and Wings that introduced me to this author and creativity coach.  While much of the information was either familiar to me - or slightly ahead of my own creative journey, I did enjoy the overall message.  In particular, I discovered that I need to learn to embrace my creative desires; I need to stop sabotaging myself with destructive talk and dualistic thinking; and I need to allow myself to dream.  Many of the examples from the book center on those who have already achieved a level of success in one area - only to discover that they truly desire to create in another way.  Their comfort zone is a hindrance to their creative life.  

As I was reading this book it occurred to me that even in my pursuit of finding a creative outlet, I am still putting myself in a box.  For example, I have always thought that if I am going to write, then I should have the dream of publication.  It is not valid, I told myself, to want to write just for personal reasons.   But I think that is inaccurate and there is a middle ground for me.  I think that it is ok to write just for my own pleasure - but I can also foster the dream that perhaps my writing might resonate with someone somewhere.  I do not dream of being on the New York Times Bestseller list - but I do dream of having an impact.  This is the heart of who I am, which is why I am a teacher.

Through reading this book, I have validated what I have known for a while.  The project that I should be working on is a non-fiction project.  I NEED to get this story down on paper - and NaNoWriMo is the vehicle.  I think that after the non-fiction portion is written - I will be free to revise and perhaps create a fictional tale.  This would be a logical step.  And then, once I have those under my belt, my creativity muscles will be developed enough to perhaps tackle the story that I worked on all summer.  I am not giving up on that project - I am only following my heart.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good-bye Perfectionism

In some of the non-exclusive book blogs that I read, there have been a number of posts about the new book release of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  The subtitle for this book reads:  Let go of who you think you are supposed to be, and embrace who you are.  These are powerful words - easy to say incredibly difficult to live out when you are, indeed, a perfectionist.

On the author's blog last week she declared a "Perfect Protest" and asked all interested perfectionists to post  a picture of their defiance of perfectionism and how they thought they would be rewarded in the end.  It has been amazing for me to read all the posts of those who are chronic perfectionists like myself - and their resolve to give up this debilitating disease.

I have lived my entire life by the motto, "If you are going to do something, then do it right."  I strive for perfection in absolutely everything I endeavor:  my marriage - motherhood - being a teacher - a photographer - a scrapbooker - a book reviewer - a blogger....well, you get the picture.  It is absolutely exhausting AND totally unrealistic.  No one on this earth is perfect - and if that is my measurement for success, well, it is no wonder that I always feel as though I have failed.  I rarely give thought to what I "want" to do; I always live life for others.  At the age of 50, I think I have hit a brick wall.

I have not yet written a sign for the "perfect protest" - probably because I am certain the print will not be "good enough" (perfectionism) and I am not sure what size or color to use ---- but if I were to make a sign I think it might say something like:  Good-bye Perfect - Hello Joy.

I wonder how many wonderfully fun moments I have missed out in life because I was afraid that I could not do it perfectly the first time.  I loathe the word "adventure" -- why?  Because an adventure means that I am setting out to do something that I have never done before and that means that there is a very good chance that I will make a mistake - I will not do it perfectly - and I will let myself and others down in the end.  It is best, I have rationalized over the years, to just stay within the four walls of my comfort zone. 

I realized just how ridiculous this thought process has been when this past June I was forced to take a detour to arrive at my final destination:  the berry patch.  For most people a detour is a minor hindrance - a small distraction that just adds a bit of extra time to the day.  For me, however, the detour was an adventure - the opportunity to travel to an unknown area without a map or mental image of where I was going.  My palms immediately began to sweat.  I noticed that I clutched the steering wheel with all my might and my muscles began to tense. Every ten seconds I looked at the clock - thinking that I had been driving for at least several minutes.  I constantly questioned myself whether I should turn the car around and head home, or continue to the land of the unknown.  Within ten minutes time we were unloading the car and heading toward the patch.  It was truly no big deal, and I was rewarded with a bumper crop of berries that made nearly nine pints of jam, but the agony that I put myself through in that ten minute journey was ridiculous.

Photo from Silke's blog post
This caused me to wonder - What other rewards have I missed because I have made too much of a deal about the journey?  What pleasure have I by-passed because I don't know how to do it perfectly --- or --- I don't want to get messy (see  Silke's post here --- what she calls happy hands I have tried to avoid my entire life -- WHY?)

I think I am tired of living the life of perfection.  I am tired of trying to be the perfect someone while losing sight of me.  I am ready to let go.  I am ready to move on.  I am ready to embrace the future with wild abandonment (ok - maybe I am not willing to go that far yet) and do what makes me happy.  In following those desires of my heart perhaps I will find the purpose of my life lurking in a forgotten corner somewhere.  It is definitely worth a try --- what have I got to lose?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

TSS: 10.3.10

The days are long, but the weeks are short.  This popular saying completely summarizes my life this semester. On Monday morning I wonder if I will ever make it through the day, and before I know it .... it is Sunday morning and I am preparing for another week of the same.  My mother warned me that the older I become, the faster time flies and she wasn't kidding.  I continue to try to find at least some portion of each day to "live in the present" and not miss the hidden blessings.  I continue to try to do at least one thing just for me because I want to - not because I have to or because someone else expects me to.  It is a slow process to retrain your brain to live differently - but I will continue to persevere.

Weekend Plans:
The weather this week has been absolutely gorgeous!  While we often experience two or three consecutive days of nice weather every once in a while, Kansas is known for its excessive heat, bitter cold, and torrential rains.  This week has been sunny, high in the 70s, with light breezes that provide that perfect fall nip in the air.  Yesterday we took advantage of the fallish temperatures and went to the pumpkin patch - a former annual activity that we have not done in the past five years.  "Ron and Hermione" joined us and had a good time selecting a pair pumpkins for painting.  Today Geoff and I may try to visit an apple orchard about an hour away and take advantage of a few more photo ops while the natural elements are cooperating.  The changing of the leaves has only just begun here - so this may require more than one excursion.

On the teaching front, classes continue to progress on or close to schedule.  The 9th graders have just started Fahrenheit 451 and I am looking forward (hopefully) to some great class discussions.  I had them research various topics as a pre-read activity so they are aware of the available technology in the early 1950s.  Some are fascinated at Ray Bradbury's ability to imagine the  futuristic world with such amazing accuracy.  This class is also finishing a Fictional Memory assignment (they brainstormed memories from ages 1-4; 5-10; 11-15 - and then selected one in which to write a fictional narrative).  The final drafts are due on Wednesday and we will begin a read-around session where all stories are read aloud and constructive criticism is shared.  I very much look forward to reading these imaginative essays - I dread grading them.  It is so difficult to try to quantify a rather subjective assignment.

The 7th grade class is reading Tuck Everlasting and starting to work on their fractured fairy tales.  They selected a topic on Friday and will be outlining the story next week.  The most clever idea I heard this year is a retelling of Rapunzel where Rapunzel is a prince with a long beard being rescued by a princess.  Should be fun!

The 8th grade grammar class has just taken their first major exam (fairly decent results) and started reading and interpreting Act I scene i of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Out of the 18 students in the class, I would say half are really excited about this unit. They come to class with their books asking if we will have a chance to do Shakespeare.  I am hoping that their enthusiasm begins to rub off on those are less excited about the Bard.  Tomorrow each group (there are a total of three) will perform their interpretation of this scene and then we will give constructive criticism.  I am looking forward to that.

The creative writing class continues to develop story ideas.  These students are a lot of fun, but I do worry if  some will be able to focus long enough to actually complete the 12-chapter novel.  I decided to implement a system of rewards.  If we complete the necessary worksheets between now and October 21, then I will take them on a field trip to the mall where we can do some character studies:  people watch and take notes; listen to conversations to help form character dialog; create story ideas from various "characters" we notice.  So far this has worked well.

English  Composition continues to be the most challenging class for me - and the most fun. The students have just finished their persuasive essay and we are in the midst of group edits.  The topics chosen have been rather controversial (which I tried to ensure) and has yielded some lively conversation.  Students are learning that all facts and no emotion can make for a rather dull paper --- but all passion and no statistics raises questions in the mind of the reader.  I think (hope) this has been a good unit of study for all.

As you can see, these classes, with two sessions of English 1 and two sessions of Grammar, definitely keep me busy Sunday - Friday.

My Photography
I continue to add more interests to my life and struggle to find the time to focus on any of them.  This weekend I took the time to focus on photography - if just for a few minutes.  I am hoping that I can find some time here and there throughout the week to capture the changing  leaves and reflect on the similarities of my own changing season of life.

My Writing
I have read with interest - and jealousy - the writing plans of J. Kaye, Vivienne, and Amanda as they prepare for NaNoWriMo in November.  I think the first time I "read" of this event was last year when Belle participated, and I was incredulous that anyone could possible write a novel in 30 days!  Since that time I have read numerous books on writing, including No Plot, No Problem, and I have daydreamed of joining the thousands of online participants.  While I truly do not think that this is the right time in life for me to do this (all that grading you know.....) I have taken the step to at least register my name on the site and join the regional group.  Did you know that there are currently over 800 people in the greater Kansas City area registered?!  That is insane - and wonderfully comforting to know that so many other aspiring writers are in such close proximity.

What pushed me over the edge to actually sign up was the writing inspiration I received on Friday.  For months now I have had these two story ideas:  one idea is a book, similar to the Christmas Cookie Club, where a group of female friends have gathered together for a Stitch Group.  The book would be a reunion meeting - since the group itself dissolved several years prior.  Each chapter of the book would focus on one of the members' lives - and how much has changed, as well as stayed the same, in that intervening time period.  While this is loosely based on true events in my life - the story itself would be primarily fiction.

The other story idea is one that focuses on the sandwich generation --- those women who are still raising their own children and yet are now responsible for taking care of their aging parents.  I don't think this has been discussed much in literature, but it is a real-life situation that will become more and more prevalent as the baby-boomers enter the geriatric stage of life.  Again, this is a subject that rings close to home, but I have some ideas that fictionalize the characters and events, but keep the truth of the subject in tact.

On Friday I realized that these two ideas can (possibly) be married into one story.  The over-arching story is the one of the sandwich generation - and in her search to find herself in the midst of all the care giving she decides to organize a reunion of the Stitch Group - that same group of friends who were so supportive and necessary to her life when she was a young mother.  In this process she discovers women need that female fellowship - but that we can never return to the past, we must always move on towards the future.

Anyway, that is the idea in a nutshell and I have grand hopes of trying to write it one day.  Perhaps that day will begin on November 1, 2010 --- or perhaps it will begin much later in life.

My Reading
I continue to wallow in a reading slump.  I flit and float from book to book, never finishing more than a chapter.  I don't know what is wrong with me!  I love the RIP challenge and have looked forward to it since last November - and yet I have not finished a single book.  I have started reading The Happiness Project, but only manage a few pages a night before I turn out the light.  I have skimmed through several books on writing and journaling, but I am now finding that much of the information I have already read, it is just time to put into practice.

So that leaves me in a dilemma:  Do I sign up for the Read-athon or not?  I absolutely LOVE the read-athon and have participated in three previous ones.  I even scheduled my classes so that I would not have mandatory papers to grade that weekend and I could devote quite a bit of time to reading (and cheering and blogging).  On the one hand I think perhaps the read-athon would help me get out of this funk.  There is something contagious about being a part of a "competitive" group activity, and perhaps that social element would help me to overcome my general malaise.  On the other hand, I do not need another unfinished project in my life -- that would be too depressing.  I suppose I will wait a few more days to make that decision. If I decide to participate, then I will definitely use the time to read some wonderfully horrific and thrilling novels for Carl's challenge.  That should put me in a great Halloween mood!

How about you?  Do you plan to participate in the read-athon this weekend?  If so, please feel free to share what books you plan to read - what snacks you plan to serve - and what strategies you plan to follow.

Well, I did not intend this post to be a novella.  I hope that the bold-faced sections allowed you to skip the uninteresting parts and that the length did not scare you away.
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