Sunday, January 30, 2011

TSS - 1.30.11

Is anyone else surprised by the date?  I can't believe that we are already heading into February.

The snow that was forecasted last weekend totally passed us - I mean, we did not even see a flake and they were predicting close to 6 inches of the fluffy stuff.  On the one hand I was grateful that we did not have another snow day, but on the other hand I lost faith in meteorology.  I simply cannot understand how they could be so far off the mark.  We had a high of 48 degrees on Friday - springtime weather - and most of the snow melted.  HOWEVER....they are predicting another snow storm tomorrow that is supposed to produce an ice glaze on the roads before another 6 inches should fall.  Welcome to the Midwest!

This was our first full week of school since before Christmas break!  Between snow days and MLK Jr holiday, we have really had a difficult time getting into the swing of second semester.  So as you can imagine, I am struggling in most classes to stay on task.  There are some projects that may have to go by the wayside, but I am confident that all critical course material will be covered.

I am finding that I truly LOVE teaching English Comp.  In another life I would have majored in English in college (rather than French), gone on to pursue a Masters in English, and then (hopefully) obtained a job as an adjunct professor at a local college or university.  I truly enjoy teaching the upper level students; we learn from one another and the classroom environment is always energic.  Most of these students are high school seniors, and at a time when most seniors are mentally checking out, these students continue to be excited about the film project at the end of the year.

Photo Credit
Since our school calendar is about five weeks longer than the college from which the dual credit is offered, I was struggling with how to fill the time.  In December, through some random brainstorming, this class decided that they would like to write a film script, shoot the film, edit it, and present it to the student body.  I tried to let them know how much work is involved in a project such as this -- especially when senioritis is bound to kick in sometime around March 1st -- but they were determined to make this a reality.

Over Christmas break I revamped my second semester syllabus to focus on the project.  Their first major writing assignment is a narrative short story - with the idea that they would develop this short story into a film script later in the semester.  They were also told to think about limited characters (since we only have twelve students in the class) and a setting that be could recreated on school grounds (since we will not be doing many off-site field trips).  These stories are due in two weeks.

Students also need to complete a major research paper this semester.  I limited the scope of the paper to their choice of a novelist or film director.  Students are to select one or the other and research the life and the historical time period in which they wrote/directed.  Students are then to select one major work, read/watch it, and analyze it for narrative writing techniques (those who chose a director will also include analysis of film angles and lighting for effect).  Students will then meld these two portions into one 8-10 page paper.

Once the research paper is due, at the beginning of April, we will then begin filming the class narratives (for time and space considerations, students will choose three out of the twelve scripts to film).  That will give us about five weeks to film and edit and then hopefully have a school assembly and show our finished projects the second week of May.

It is rather ambitious --- but I am encouraged by their constant enthusiasm and willingness to stay a few minutes after class each day to discuss the possibilities.

I am continuing my re-read of Little Women.  I tend to only read this at night before I go to bed and since I only read for about twenty minutes before my eyes start to droop, this is going to be a rather slow read.  The story has definitely picked up as far as conflict goes, and I am definitely enjoying it more now than I did in the beginning.  I am reading this book on my Kindle and have discovered that obtaining new batteries for the Kindle generation 1 is rather difficult.  I think I might have to resort to ebay.

Anyway....I am finding that as I read this novel I am constantly reminded of Pride and Prejudice.  While I realize that the stories are different - there are some similarities in the characters.

  • Mrs. March is raising four girls alone while her husband is away at war; Mrs. Bennett is certainly more worried about her five daughters' future than her husband (he is often absent, escaping to the library by himself to avoid family relations).  
  • Mrs. March is far more respectable, however (Mrs. Bennett's busy-body personality adds humor to the book, but I have little respect for her as a parent).  BUT...I do find Marme's lessons for the girls a bit too preachy for my personal taste.  
  • Jo of Little Women reminds me of the outspoken Elizabeth of P&P.  Her tomboy ways are reminiscent of Elizabeth's long walk to Netherfield, which yields unfavorable commentary from Caroline Bingley.
  • Amy, the youngest daughter of the March family, reminds me of Kitty --- rather immature and self-centered, but willing to learn from her older sisters.  
  • Beth March, the sweet, unassuming middle child, is similar to Mary Bennett in that they both focus on music as a means of expressing themselves.  I much prefer Beth's humble personality to that of Mary, however.  
  • I think Meg is rather her own character in Little Women -- somehow a mix of Jane and Elizabeth.  She is not as sappy sweet as Jane (I'm sorry, but I just can't handle Jane's ability to only see the good in people), and she is more outspoken.

I would be curious to know if anyone has noticed these similarities between the two novels, or am I the only one who feels this way?

Last week several of you commented that you would like for me to post my reviews of photography books (and other non-fiction reading material).  I will definitely make a point of doing that in the near future.  I am working on a post that will showcase all the photography books that I actually purchased - which is but a small percentage of the ones that I reviewed from the local library.

I am also quite interested in learning how to combine my photos and writing into some type of artistic expression.  I have done major research on photo manipulation, mixed media art, and art journaling.  Again, I have reviewed many books from the library, but have also added a few to my personal library.  I have also discovered some beautiful magazines published once a quarter by Somerset Studios:  Artful Blogging and Journaling, both of which I have savored reading every page (to see the numerous magazines published by this amazing company visit this site).  I will also work on a post to showcase this interest as well.

My most recent library acquisition - and one in which I read (and took notes) in about two hours was Keri Smith's How to be an Explorer of the World.  A fellow teacher mentioned this author in passing on Monday and I immediately did a search.  My local library had this book available, and I have Living Out Loud on hold from the inter library loan.  In essence her books describe how to relate to the world around you in an artistic way.  This book focused a lot on collecting things of personal interest and then truly analyzing them, rearranging them, finding patterns that are first invisible.  A couple of the ideas that I plan to try include:

  • Go to the local hardware store and look at the paint chip cards.  Find colors that resonate with you.  Take the cards home and then write the memories that surround that particular color.
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood and discover 'accidental art' - that is, stains on sidewalks, or discarded trash. Learn to see the beauty in the life around you.
  • Walk aimlessly -- take a walk, intentionally doing the opposite of what you think you should do.  Want to right?  Turn left instead.  Want to stay on the path?  Walk through the field instead (provided it is not a private yard).  This one is a bit outside my comfort zone at the moment - but I could see where it would provide a lot of artistic inspiration (getting out of thinking only with the right side of the brain)

This continues to be a New Year's resolution that remains dormant.  My "old" self would have said that if I did not make good on it by February then I had failed.  My "new" self says that it is not a failure, it is just a temporary delay.  I continue to read blogs about the writing process and I do hope to at least begin daily journaling soon.

I must tell you of a fantastic site that Jenners mentioned on her blog the other day:  Book Drum  I am absolutely enthralled with it and wish that I had more free time in my life at the moment. In essence it is like a Wikipedia for books.  Anyone over 18 years old can become a contributor and the point is to provide extensive background information about literature.  They currently have several book profiles already completed, with a list of several hundred (?) more that they are interested in adding in the future.

Currently there is a tournament going on (with a first prize reward of 1,000 pounds!) where contributors sign up to complete an extensive book profile between now and April 30.  This would be pure escapism for me.  To read a book page by page - researching unusual words to add to the glossary section - or finding photos to add to the setting section in order to bring the descriptions to life - or adding trailers to the content area for readers to gain another perspective of the narrative or characters - or adding background information to the bookmarks section to reveal valuable insight for a more complete understanding of the novel. (all links are to content found for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which I am currently teaching in the 9th grade class.  I have already found some very useful information on this site that I plan to use in the classroom).

As I told Jenners - I am not quite sure whether I should bless her or curse her for bringing this fantastic site to my attention.  I plan to make use of this often throughout the year - with the hope of perhaps profiling a classic novel myself one day.

Well, once again this post is far longer than I anticipated.  Perhaps I should consider doing a section a day - like Teaching Tuesdays, Writing Wednesdays, Reading Weekend.  What do you think?

I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

TSS - 1.23.11

As I am writing this blog post we are scheduled for another round of snow which should drop about 3-6 more inches on top of the 7 inches we already have on the ground.  I am hopeful that the snow will come early today and the roads will be clear by tomorrow for we have yet to have a full week of school since December.  While I am just as fond of snow days as the next person - the lesson plans are falling behind and I have no desire to extend the school year into my summer vacation.

The best laid plans.....I had great dreams of writing a week's worth of blog posts every weekend so that my readers would have something new to view throughout the week.  Alas, that has not yet happened and here I sit writing another lengthy Sunday Salon.  I am hopeful that this routine will soon change and I will begin to be more of an active participant in the blogging community.  I have been rather faithful in reading your wonderful posts - and I have tried to be a regular commenter.  Hopefully this activity will extend to my own blog some day soon.

I had great intentions of participating in Natasha's Bloggiesta this weekend, but that fell by the wayside as well.  I did keep tabs on your progress, however, and made notes of some things that I would like to work on in the future.  I did manage to update my sidebar by deleting my Work in Progress chart (seeing how NaNoWriMo was completed nearly two months ago) and I also deleted my list of 2010 challenges.  There are other items that I would like to address, however, like revamping my header to include better tabs; updating my labels for the past few months; consider adding the copyright protection information; learning how to make these adorable "buttons" and updating my book review lists.

Speaking of book has occurred to me that I have been too judgmental in my book review process.  The majority of the books that I have read lately have focused on non-fiction subjects, like photography, photography manipulation, art, and self-help.  Rather than review them for you, I have just assumed that these subjects are only of interest to me.  but perhaps that has been an unfair assumption.  Perhaps I should start reviewing these types of books and allow you to decide if you wish to read the post or not.  So, that will be my new resolution.  I will try to review ALL books that I have read, despite the potential limited appeal.

So, this naturally segues into the reading portion of my life.  I have continued to persevere with Little Women and I must admit that it is beginning to grow on me.  Yes, this is a simple way of life, and yes, perhaps the characters seem a bit too perfect for my realistic mindset (and when they aren't perfect they are always willing to listen to the wise reasoning of Marme) -- but I like it.  And I am starting to look forward to my nightly bedtime reading.

I have already decided on my next classic read, thanks in part to Amanda and her wonderful review of Jane Eyre.  I read Jane Eyre for the first time about three years ago and enjoyed it, but did not really allow myself the opportunity to truly escape in her world.  I have a student doing an independent study with me this semester and we have decided that this would be a good book for her to read.  This provides the perfect excuse for me to re-read this classic and really delve into its study.  I would also like to re-read the book before seeing the new movie release, due out in March.

As far as non-fiction reading is concerned, I am thoroughly enjoying the book, Photos that Inspire by Lynne Eodice.  Not only do I love viewing the beautiful photographs, but I appreciate the commentary that explains what makes it such an inspiring photo and the technical knowledge used to take the picture.  This is the year that I really want to focus on the composition of a good photograph, and this book is enabling me to learn that first hand.  I believe that once I learn the components of composition, I can then begin to learn the artistic expression of manual mode.

Lastly, I am slowly reading through the book, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  While I have always known that I have been a perfectionist, I never realized how it has controlled my life.  It has been an eye-opening experience.  I will not change my ways overnight - for this I am certain - but I am determined to learn to let go little by little.

I feel as though little time was spent in the classroom this week.  We had the day off Monday in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and Thursday was a snow day.  But I have decided that I am going to take a lesson from my students this week.....

I must confess that I have always thought of watching a movie as pure entertainment and therefore not a priority on my list of things to do (this relates back to that perfectionist tendency -- I must always be efficient).  Often students in my class have discussed going to the movies - but my way of thinking told me that it was the lazy way to enjoy a good narrative.  Reading the book and analyzing the language was the "true" way to enjoy a story.  But lately I am noticing that ALL students discuss movies - even those who are voracious readers discuss the newest release or the cinematic interpretation of their favorite book.  It seems as though all conversation in my creative writing class comes around to a movie reference.

In fact, it is not only from my students that I am learning this valuable lesson.  Our beloved book blogger, Sandy, is not only a voracious reader but also an avid movie goer.  Do I think she is lazy?  HARDLY!  Fellow teacher and book blogger, C.B.James even had a challenge last year that promoted the pairing of books and movies -- and yet I still could not shake this inaccurate thinking.  Well, now is the time that I start embracing this narrative media.  I have decided that it is ok to experience "pure entertainment" - and perhaps, I might learn something along the way.

I did manage to watch Fellowship of the Ring a couple of weeks ago and I did enjoy myself - while at the same time realizing that Middle Earth is not as difficult to understand as I once feared.  This is an example where watching the movie has inspired me to read the book.

I have mentioned that I want to watch the new Jane Eyre movie when it is released in March.  I just learned from Sandy that Water for Elephants, a book that I have wanted to read for quite a while, is going to be released as a movie in April.  I have just decided to take this book off the shelf, dust it off, and read it over spring break.  The Help, a book that thoroughly enjoyed and plan to read again, will have its film debut in August.  I have wanted to read the Harry Potter books and watch those movies for several months now - but I have yet to make the time.  I feel as though I have been an outsider for way too long and it is now time for me to join the party.  Not only will I add more fun to my life - but I should be able to participate  more in student discussions.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

TSS - 1.16.11

Well, we are trying to thaw after the winter storm last week.  While the Midwest did not experience the record-setting snowfall of the Northeast, we did have about seven inches and sub-zero temperatures, which resulted in two glorious snow days off school.  I must admit that I was ready to get back into the school routine by Wednesday, however, and while I love a good day off every now and then, my lesson plans really can't easily accommodate another, so I hope all other storms occur over the weekends.

I actually used my snow days to their full advantage.  I watched Fellowship of the Ring, which has been on my to-do list for over a year.  After a couple of slow starts ( I fell asleep after about ten minutes - which is my typical posture when I watch a movie), I actually finished the movie Monday night and liked it far more than I thought I would.  I think my step is to watch the extended version (which I understand is significantly longer and closely follows the book) and I then I might be prepared to try my hand at reading the books.

I also started scrapbooking again - a favorite hobby of mine which I have ignored for nearly four years.  As is my typical fashion - I do have a deadline that I need to meet, which is why I initially started this project - but I am working  hard at learning to enjoy the activity rather than focusing purely on the goal.  I have made albums for each of my children when they graduate high school.  This is an album for them to take when they move away from home and it basically summarizes their life:  one two page spread for each year of their life.  I definitely have a scrapbooking style with which I am comfortable - very symmetrical, simple and clean.  While I know that I eventually want to try to spread my creative wings and branch out into other scrapbooking styles, I think I will enjoy the comfort zone on this project.

In my post earlier this week I mentioned that I would like to reconnect with my love of music once again.  I tend to maintain silence in most everything I do - and while I need silence to fully concentrate on some activities (reading and grading, for example), I am thinking that too much quiet is not good for the psyche.  I know that some are enthralled with the concept of the iPod -- downloading their favorite music to have readily available 24 hours a day.  But my problem is that I have been too far removed from the music scene for so long that I have no idea what I consider my favorites anymore.  So.....I have started listening to Pandora and am truly enjoying their selections for my specified preferences.  I am starting to make a list of songs that I may like to have on-hand to download to my iPod in the future, but for now I am more than willing to let the Pandora experts select my music for me.

The start of a new semester is always exciting for me - I guess it is that proverbial clean slate with infinite possibilities.  I think the one class that has inspired me the most so far is the 8th grade grammar class.  As I have mentioned before, this class focuses on the mechanics of grammar and writing - and the literary element is a year long study of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Last Friday I showed three different movie interpretations of Act I scene i - in order to give students the idea that there is not one right way to perform Shakespeare.  His lack of stage directions is actually quite liberating.  This past Friday we discussed those three interpretations:  what we liked, what we disliked and what we might like to incorporate in our own presentation.

As a result of this class discussion they have decided to present a modern-day rendition of this play.  Some ideas that have been bantered about include a New York City setting - with Theseus and Hippolyta as corporate CEOs of rival companies.  Central Park would serve as the forest, and communication devices such as cell phones and GPS systems could be included.  I think they are showing tremendous creativity and I am very much looking forward to the development of this idea.

I also followed through on another promise to myself and I started reading Little Women this week.  And, as seems to be the case with nearly every endeavor these days, I had another epiphany.

I must confess that after the first chapter I was really not enthralled with the book.  It was just too perfect.   All the daughters got along (which is NOT the case in my own household); they are thrilled if the only Christmas gift is a small bouquet of flowers; and they truly revere their mother(?!)  I don't was that it all seemed too simple.  And then it dawned on me:  I long for the simple life, or so I say.  And yet here I am reading about that lifestyle and I find that I am bored.  What does this mean?!  Could this mean that I truly do not want the simple life after all?  Or could it mean that I need to learn to slow down long to read about the simple life before I can ever hope to have it myself?

I chose the latter interpretation.  I have continued to read the book and am now on Chapter Four (scrapbooking has taken up most of my free time this week).  Now that I have postured myself to believe that I am reading about a lifestyle that I wish to emulate, I am thoroughly enjoying the book.  In fact, I think that the proper way for me to read the book is probably at a rather slow, non-rushed pace.  That would be keeping with the simplified theme that I am trying to adopt at that late stage of life.

I have not progressed as much in this area as I would have hoped, but ideas are percolating.  I think I worked so hard during NaNoWriMo during the month of November, which was quickly followed by the chaos of December (finals and holiday preparations) that what I thought would be a month long sabbatical has actually resulted in a two month break.  I have begun a daily devotion journal that I (so far) have maintained, but that is not a concentration on writing; that is a concentration on spiritual growth.

I hope to soon re-incorporate the morning pages that Julia Cameron suggests as a mandatory exercise in order to free the brain for creativity (I am also working my way through her book, The Artist's Way, as well).  I have also started to revisit my Degas novel.  I know that I still have research to do, and ideas to formulate, but I sincerely want this to be my NaNoWriMo novel of 2011.  I think if I allow myself to keep this on the back burner - that is visible but not a priority - for this next semester, I will be ready to do the necessary research over the summer which will equate to a well organized outline by the end of October.

No, I am not as focused on writing as I would like to be, but I am trying to be kind to myself and allow this break to not be the end of an interest, but rather, the beginning of a very long journey together.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pardon Me....

Today is snow day #2 here in the Midwest.  It snowed all day yesterday, totaling about seven inches here in my neighborhood.  The skies are clear now, but the wind is causing blowing snow which results in dangerous driving conditions, hence the reason for snow day #2.  Tomorrow the wind chills are supposed to be near -20 degrees!

While I enjoyed my snow day yesterday, I spent a large part of it in deep introspection, and I feel the need to write down those thoughts and realizations.  I simply can't imagine anyone would be interested in this mental mumbo-jumbo and stream of consciousness, so I ask that you pardon this personal post and suggest that perhaps you might just want to stop reading now.

As I was basking in my morning routine yesterday - sipping hot coffee in front of the fireplace reading my favorite blogs - I was struck by a this post from Journey through Grace where the author discussed her issue with SHOULD --- that "should" comes from perfectionism and when she placed shoulds on herself - she also placed them on others, which put her in the seat of judgment rather than acceptance.  I am not stating this nearly as elegant as she --- but with each sentence I found myself nodding in agreement:  that is me!

As I progressed with my day, I realized that no matter what I was doing:  a household chore; playing with the dogs; practicing photography; reading --- I was always playing the tape in my mind I should really be doing such-and-such OR I should quickly finish this so that I can begin such-and such.  I NEVER allowed myself to fully enjoy the activity of the moment because I was too focused on doing the "right" thing and making the most of my day off. At the end of the day I initially felt as though I had accomplished little, when in fact I had accomplished much but enjoyed little - which led to a feeling of unfulfillment.  Then it occurred to me - if I do this on my day off, a found 24 hours of freedom, how often I must do this on days that are packed with time sensitive responsibilities.  No wonder I am exhausted and frustrated.

I am slowly working my way through Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  In that book she spends a lot of time talking about the link between shame and perfection.  I do not (think) I feel shame -- but the guilt that I have placed on myself is overwhelming.  I am suffocating myself trying to accomplish much, second guessing each step of the way.  I am never satisfied with a decision made or a job completed.  There is always something else that SHOULD have been done.

I am not sure what led to this feeling of efficiency is the goal of life.  I am organized and I enjoy time management advice - but I don't think that is what has led me to be so compulsive in this area.  I think perhaps I have subconsciously listened to all those well-meaning comments, "I just don't know how you do it all" and twisted that around to mean "We like you because you do so much."  Perhaps there is a fear that if I don't do it all anymore - I will no longer be respected.  In order to maintain acceptance, I continue to try to do more and more.  It is a vicious cycle and I am the proverbial gerbil on the exercise wheel:  I keep running and running but I am getting nowhere.

I read Patti Digh's books, Life is a Verb and Creative is a Verb.  She gives great advice.  In essence - slow down and learn to accept yourself (she says it far more eloquently with humorous anecdotes - but that is the essence of the message I received).  But even then -- even reading Creative is a Verb where she is telling me to slow down -- I am racing to finish the book so that I can tick it off my to-do list and move on to something else.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!  I love reading slowly and writing down key phrases.  I did not allow myself to write a single reference from this book (and there are numerous quotes that are worth contemplation).  That would take too much time, I reasoned, and I simply don't have that kind of time.

I remember watching my children clean the house (I thought I was teaching them appropriate life skills and they had an opportunity to earn money).  I would find myself becoming quite frustrated with my oldest.  What would take me two hours to complete - took her the entire day.  She would listen to her ipod as she dusted, and then sit down and watch a favorite television show.  She would listen to her ipod while she vacuumed and then sit down and enjoy a snack.  I would think, "Why don't you just get the job done so that you can do something else?"  It never occurred to me that she could actually get the job done WHILE doing something else.  That she could actually get the job done in a relaxed manner and not be stressed.  That she could dust and vacuum without resentment.  Why can't I be more like that?

I used to love music.  In fact, I have tried to instill my love of music to my own children (and they have all incorporated music, to some degree, in their own lives).  I played the piano and flute; I was in band and orchestra; I loved high school musicals (before the Disney movie and Glee became popular).  I had numerous records (yes, it was the 70s when we called them records rather than vinyls) and would always have some kind of music playing in the background while studying, talking with friends, or reading.  But I rarely listen to music anymore.  Why is that?  I think a small part of the reason is because I would listen to Bible songs and Barney music in the car when the kids were younger to keep them entertained.  When I had the rare occasion to drive by myself, I relished the quiet.  But that was many years ago and I still drive in silence.  While it is conducive to inward reflection, I am not sure that it is good for the psyche.  I lament that I am not creative, yet I do nothing to help exercise those creative muscles that have lain dormant for so long.

Many writing websites suggest making playlists to coordinate with the work in progress.  While I would have never thought of that idea on my own, I can see the advantages.  In fact, I thought I might like to try that.  But then I stopped in my tracks:  I have no idea what music to consider?  It has been a long time since Donny Osmond, Genesis, and Chicago.  I am not even sure how I would go about bringing music back into my life, but it is an interest worth pursuing, I think.

Patti Digh embraces creativity in the midst of life. She says to let go of perfection and just do.  She says to get messy and just let the creative mind take over.  This doesn't sound like rocket science to me - and yet I am totally stymied.  Make a mess?  Don't have a plan?  Ignore rules?  These are such foreign concepts to my highly functional Left-brain way of thinking.  But at this point I think I have used only one side of the brain too much.  I don't want to change who I am --- I just want to learn to enjoy who I am.  I want to have some fun in life.  I want to let go of worry and learn to embrace the moment.  I want to increase faith so that it is not solely up to me anymore.

So today when I woke up on the second gift of a snow day - I decided that I would play.  I am sure that I will continue to "should" on myself -- but when I am conscious of that, I plan to tell that still small voice to go take a hike.  I shall make a mess with scrapbooking and I shall freeze outside taking pictures.  I shall enjoy the process without worrying that skill is lacking.  I shall give myself permission to be joyful today.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

TSS - 1.9.11

As I sit here and type this week's edition of the Sunday Salon, I am hopeful that tomorrow will be a snow day.  The forecast calls for snow to start about midnight tonight and snow through tomorrow until mid-morning Tuesday.  We are expected to receive about 6-7 inches of snow, which for Kansas City is significant.  Of course, I have lived here long enough to know that the forecast can change on a dime, so while I am hopeful for a snow day, I would not be at all surprised if I wake up to a mere dusting.  Not to fear, I have lesson plans prepared to teach if the storm passes us by (I just don't want to drive in hazardous conditions), and I am geared to scrapbook if I have the day off.

As I reflect on this first week of January I have come to realize that I expected too much from myself with regards to resolutions.  Each one by itself seemed quite manageable:  exercise 20 minutes each day; drink 4-5 glasses of water every day; take at least one photo a day for the 365 project; write a little bit (no pre-set amount) each day; have daily devotions each morning; and set aside a few minutes every day for creativity; and spend 30 minutes pleasure reading each night before bed.  However, to try to implement all of these little activities at once proved to be an impossibility.  So, rather than admit failure and quit - I am going to choose a new approach.

In Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project (of which I have only read the first two chapters), she segments her resolutions by month - focusing on just one or two each month and then adding one or two more the following month.  Without planning to follow this approach, this is what I have instinctively decided to do.  It appears that I will focus on daily devotions for the month of January - as I have been most consistent with those.  I am also trying to journal my thoughts and insights as I read these morning verses, so that will also help my writing resolution (although I know that I must focus more on the craft of writing as well).  I hope to begin to add exercise into the routine - at least two or three times a week - over the next few days.  Perhaps if I exercise more the increased water intake will naturally follow.  That is at least my plan for now.

Statue at hospital entrance
The 365 project will be the first to see a major revamp.  I knew that this would be very difficult for me and I was right.  So I will now set my "drop dead" goal to a minimum of one photo shoot a week.  This week I decided to take a few pictures of the one place where I have spent the most time:  the local hospital.  My mom was hospitalized on December 29th and remained there until 5:00PM on January 4 --- only to return at 11:00AM on January 5 and where she remains today.  There are many in the bloggisphere who have experienced the death of a parent in the past few weeks:  Jenners unexpectedly lost her mother, Stephanie unexpectedly lost her father, and Kathy's father passed away after a long, hard fight. While I am grateful to still have Mom here, the constant care is rather exhausting.  Mom's health has been poor for nearly a decade, and this recent hospital stay is a continuation of the same complications:  ortho-static hypo-tension coupled with congestive heart failure.  It is a constant tweaking game of medications - which at best will last a few months before they are out of whack again.  It is wearisome, and weighs heavily on me even after I have left the hospital from one our daily chats.  We are both hopeful that she will return home within the next day or so --- tired and weak, but at least home.

I have still not started reading a fictional book - although I plan to start Little Women this week - but I have enjoyed reading the non-fiction book, Creative is a Verb by Patti Digh -- the same author who wrote Life is a Verb, which inspired me to write Life is a Verb Thursdays last summer.  In this new book the author asserts that we are all creative and she quotes Pablo Picasso several times:  Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  In her typical witty style, the author carefully walks beside us, encouraging us to find that artist once again.  She is understanding of our roadblocks, but she does not allow us to use them as excuses.  Rather, she gives sound advice, coupled with lots of personal experiences, to help us chisel away the fears and barriers and release the inner imagination.  She lists six creative commitments that she says are essential to reconnecting with that inner child:

  • Be ordinary
  • See more
  • Get present
  • Catch Fire
  • Clear Ground
  • Let go

She provides exercises -- one written and one visual (she recommends using pencils, crayons, magazine pictures, glue sticks, and index cards) -- as well as one long range project to complete over 37 days.  However, on page 14 she states:
At the end of reading this book, you might have 20 or 37 or 500 index cards on which you've written, scribbled, drawn.  Or you might have none.  And either way is perfectly fine.  Do you get what I'm saying here?  THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER, no perfect way to work through this book - or through life.
Every single moment of your life is an opportunity for creativity.  Even the darkest moments.  Perhaps especially them.
Yes, this is the book that I was meant to read this first week of the new year.  I am ready to learn to let go, give up trying to be perfect, and get a little messy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Progress of Resolutions....

It is January 6th - a little less than one week after the euphoria of New Year's Day - the day when the future is bright and all things are possible.  Typically I have abandoned most resolutions at this point because I realize that my expectations were totally unrealistic and rather than persevere I find it easier to say "next year"

It is not that this year is necessarily different.  I have not made good on several of the resolutions, but I have attempted many and I refuse to give up. While I have yet to develop an exercise routine (although I have at least watched the videos), I have had daily devotions.  And while I have not developed a daily writing routine, I have journaled about the insights received from those devotions.  Baby steps --- I must keep reminding myself of the importance of baby steps.

While I continue to struggle to find the time - or the desire - to read a novel, I have actually taken baby steps towards completing two reading challenges that I did not join:  Fearless Poetry Exploration and Wendell Barry's Reading Challenge.  I went to the library today and picked up the book The Collected Poems of Wendell Barry, a book recommended by my sister-in-law who claims to have been as intimated by poetry as I am - until she read this book.  I decided to just allow the book to open where it may and read a selection from that page.  Here is what I found:

A Warning to My Readers

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies.  That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

I consider this a warning to my own readers.  Somehow this author, who is totally unfamiliar to me as I am to him, has captured the essence of my being.  Perhaps this is what poetry is all about.  Finding ourselves in the words of others.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

TSS: 1.2.11

It is incredibly hard to believe that the holidays have come and gone and tomorrow begins a new semester.  It seems like the first week of Christmas break is spent preparing for Christmas, and the last week of break is spent cleaning it up.  While second semester is about three weeks longer in terms of classroom hours, it is somehow broken into more manageable timeframes.  We ease into the semester by having teachers report tomorrow for an in-service day, but students not returning to the classrooms until Wednesday.  After a week and a half we will celebrate MLK Jr on Monday, January 17.  A month later we will celebrate President's Day on Monday, February 21, and then less than a month after that will be spring break.  Can you tell that I am already counting down until Summer Vacation???

I have spent the better part of this week reflecting on the past year.  I decided that I want to live 2011 with purpose and attempted to develop a schedule that would help me to accomplish that goal; and I reviewed my love/hate relationship with challenges and decided to secretly participate in a few challenges of my own design.  I had one follower comment that she was tired of reflecting and ready to delve into the New Year.  I am ready as well --- but I have one more thought on the past before I fling myself into the future.

While my track record for 2010 reading challenges was abysmal (I only completed one and several I did not read a single book), I did actually read a LOT - probably more than I have read in several years.  The problem was that I had a significant shift in interest - from predominantly fiction literature (contemporary fiction and mysteries) to predominantly non-fiction and literature within the genre of my writing.  I had NO idea that 2010 would be the year that I discovered a love for writing.  It just rather evolved - a large part in thanks to the Bread Loaf School of English course I took the summer of 2009, but also due in part to the inspirational reading on J.Kaye's writing blog.

By mid spring my reading focus had shifted and I found myself reading a number of non-fiction books related to art, and Impressionism in particular.  This was due to the fact that I was inspired to write an historical fiction novel (a genre that I have never read) that encompasses the art scene of Paris in the late 1870s.  I love research and allowed myself to delve knee deep into this subject matter.  I read countless books and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The storyline is coming along and I hope that it will be my NaNoWriMo piece for 2011.  There is still a lot of research that needs to be done, not to mention a major conflict that needs to be developed, which I will probably focus on during the summer break.

About this same time I also began to develop an interest in photography - not as a memory keeping device (which I have always done) but as an artistic expression.  This led me to research many, many books on photographic composition as well as lighting and exposure.  I reviewed a few of these books, but I have probably read close to thirty on the subject and purchased about ten.  This will continue to be a focus in 2011.  I hope to participate in the 365 project (a photo a day to chronicle my life) --- but knowing me, I will adapt this to a 52 project (a minimum of a photo a week).  I hope to become well acquainted with PhotoShop Elements 9 and begin to manipulate digital photos into works of personal art.  This will be ongoing, but it is an interest that I am anxious to pursue.

By late summer I knew that I was going to be teaching a creative writing course (it was originally supposed to be a team teaching experience, but since the other teacher moved away, I was going to teach it solo) as well as attempting to write my novel in a month.  This led me to read several books on creative writing - everything from travel writing, to authors' memoirs, to the craft of writing.  I became almost obsessed with the concept of reading about writing.  I have now acquired quite a number of books on this topic in my personal library and hope to organize the prompts in such a way that I can find inspiration to write on some topic every day of the year.  I want to try to focus my attention on the act of writing, and worry less about the quantity or quality.  Hopefully that will come with time.

So as I am ready to delve into the New Year - I must consider my past and realize that my reading life will follow its own course and will bring me pleasure.  I hope that 2011 can be a year of reading balance between fun fictional reads, as well as informative non-fiction ones.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bookish Business

It has been such fun reading your blog entries this past week - learning your favorite reads of 2010 (and adding a few titles to my TBR list) and hearing the enthusiasm about reading challenges for 2011.  You know, two years ago when I first discovered the Book blogosphere, I had no idea that reading was such a competitive sport, and I readily jumped on the bandwagon.  The concept of reading challenges appeals to me on so many different levels:  academically they introduce me to new reading genres and authors that help me to get out of my comfort zone and broaden my horizons...and...socially they help form a reading community where like-minded people can get together - if only in a virtual format - and share ideas and thoughts about literature.  I have not been a part of a face-to-face book club and this helps to fill that void.

Unfortunately these past two years have shown me that my enthusiasm for these challenges does not translate into a determination to follow through.  I failed miserably at completing any of my 2010 challenges (except for the Support Your Local Library Challenge) despite my sincere intentions.  I still believe in challenges and am still motivated by them, but I have come to realize that this is just not the right time in my life to actually try to participate in them.

However, last night as I was reading about the many new challenges listed on the website A Novel Challenge, I was reminded of Wendy's decision last year to "pretend" to become a part of the challenge community.  She developed the idea of the One Night Stand, where she would make lists of books that she would read for challenges, if indeed she had signed up.  I love this idea!  It allows me to give into my enthusiasm of the new year without worry about the failure to complete them.  I know that some day soon I will have the time to devote to reading as a competitive sport, but for now I will just be a cheerleader on the sidelines for all of you.

So without further ado - here is a list of the challenges in which I would love to participate if I could.  Some of these are challenges that I were offered in 2010 in which I did not complete (but really really wanted to) and some are new challenges offered in 2011.

The Harry Potter Reading Challenge sponsored by Michelle of GalleySmith.  I actually started off well with this one - listening to the first two book on audiotape (and absolutely loving the narration of Jim Dale), but then somehow I didn't maintain the momentum.  My original plan was to not only read all the books in the series (which would be my first time and not a re-read) but also to pair this challenge with C.B.'s challenge, Read the Book See the Movie challenge.  I still secretly harbor this desire and to do it before the release of the final HP movie this summer.

Another challenge that I missed last year was sponsored by Margot of Joyfully Retired.  She hosted the All Things Alcott challenge over the summer and I had so wanted to re-read Little Women (I read it once in elementary school and didn't care for it much; I am certain that my tastes have changed considerably) and again pair it with the movie.  I also wanted to read the new release, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott as I do enjoy gaining insight about authors through reading biographies, memoirs, or historical fiction.  A good friend of mine shared that she would like to read Little Women some day - perhaps I will succeed with this challenge, if only a year late.

For two years now Stephanie has hosted the Everything Austen challenge and both years I have dreamed of escaping into Regency England for a month or two, and both years I have not read a single book during the challenge time period.  I have collected numerous books and movies pertaining to Jane Austen, including all six of her novels, plus a book of her letters, plus a book of her juvenalia, plus several popular Jane Austen sequels.  It is not for a lack of material or desire that I do not actively participate.  I am hopeful that Stephanie will offer the Everything Austen challenge III this summer and perhaps I could focus my reading enough to include a few of these items from my shelves.  I would love to read Emma and Persuasion, the two novels that I have not yet read, and then perhaps to read the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aidan.

The one challenge that I truly look forward to and actually completed in 2009 but not in 2010 - is Carl's RIP challenge, which allows me to read all those lovely Gothic novels that I so enjoy.  Last year I actually purchased books throughout the year with the expressed purpose of saving them for the challenge, and then once the fall came, I was too distracted with other priorities, such as preparing for the NaNoWriMo event.  This year I also hope to devote the month of November to this insane writing task, but I want to set aside time for reading as well.  At the very least I should be able to participate in the short story component of Carl's challenge.

Last year I did sign up for the Rory Gilmore's Book Project - which is actually a perpetual challenge with no deadline.  I did not read many books on the official list, but I did read a couple and was actually inspired to purchase the DVD set (which I have all but the final season).  This will be one challenge that I will periodically view and attempt to complete one book at a time.  I also want to try to find the time to start watching the series again.  I so enjoy the banter between Rory and Loralie and I think it would be good for me to learn to sit back, relax, and escape into the television realm every once in a while.
Focusing on the challenges offered in 2011, I am most tempted to join C.B.'s TBR Dare.  I really really NEED to join this as I have numerous books waiting to be read and I have absolutely no business bringing another book into this house.  However, I know myself well enough to know that I will continue to find library books that I wish to investigate, if for no other reason than to add to the list for a future time, and my trips to the HalfPrice Bookstore are about the cheapest therapy around.  Secretly, however, I am making a conscious commitment to reduce the unread books on my own shelves.

I have wanted to try to read JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy for years.  I have so many students that adore this series and while I teach the Hobbit, I am rather fearful of attempting to read this masterpiece.  Fantasy literature has not been a favorite genre of mine, although I am learning to appreciate it thanks to your wonderful reviews.  I noticed that The Story Girl is offering a Read-along for this series during 2011, but quite honestly I think that is a bit too ambitious for me.  I think my personal challenge will be to watch the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring and then attempt to read the book.  If I can accomplish one book per year then I should complete the trilogy by December 31, 2013.  Now that sounds manageable, doesn't it?

In the true spirit of being "challenged" in my reading endeavors, then I am quite tempted to join Serena's Fearless Poetry Exploration (doesn't that sound better than "challenge"?).  Serena emphasizes that this is an easy challenge with the expressed purpose of just trying to give poetry a chance.  I must admit that this is one area of literature that I feel quite inept.  Poetry intimidates me for many reasons, but mostly because I know I don't slow down enough to appreciate the word images.  The challenge is simply to read one book of poetry in a year - which does indeed seem doable.  I think if I were to join this challenge, I would seek to read a poetry collection of Mary Oliver as I understand she is a terrific poet for the easily intimidated.

Last - but I am sure not least - I am very tempted to join Carrie's Wendell Barry reading challenge.  A month ago I would have skipped over this listing, as I had never heard of this particular author, but when I visited Nashville in December my sister-in-law waxed poetically about his work and I made a mental note that I would have to some day check it out.  Well, it seems rather fateful that in that same month I would discover that one of my dear blogging friends, Kim, had joined a challenge that is devoted exclusively to this author.  Carrie describes his writing as making "me ache for a simpler way of life."  I also dream of a less frenetic lifestyle, and I think that is why I would like to try at least one of his books or short stories in 2011.

The final challenge in which I truly hope to participate - is Natasha's bi-annual Bloggiesta which is scheduled for January 21-23, 2011.  While I don't have many book reviews to write (which is about the only benefit to not reading much this past semester), I do have a lot of blog clean-up that needs to be done.  The tabs at the top of my web page have somehow gone MIA - and my sidebar information is significantly outdated.  I know that Blogger has added some new template options, and I may try to tweak the site just a bit.  I don't plan to spend hours and hours on this project, but I love the fact that there is a designated weekend in which to focus on this often overlooked task.

I hope this first day of the New Year finds you restful, happy, and expectant of wonderful things to come.
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