Thursday, November 29, 2012

Margaret Atwood "Is/Not" Provides NaNoWriMo Procrastination

I just found this blog, Poetry Post, through Twitter.  It will bear more exploration in the future... meanwhile, the entry I linked here has a wonderful poem I hadn't read by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood.  I haven't read much of her poetry, actually.  Mostly novels and short stories, and I'm way behind the times.  Although I did see recently that she is co-writing a zombie serial novel with another writer, which will be published online (or has been already) [Note to self: Find the link and put it on here later.]

I hope this is an accurate copy of the poem.  You know how it is, finding poems online.  You never know...

by Margaret Atwood
Love is not a profession
genteel or otherwise
sex is not dentistry
the slick filling of aches and cavities

you are not my doctor
you are not my cure,

nobody has that
power, you are merely a fellow traveller

Give up this medical concern,
buttoned, attentive,

permit yourself anger
and permit me mine

which needs neither
your approval nor your surprise

which does not need to be made legal
which is not against a disease

but against you,
which does not need to be understood

or washed or cauterized,
which needs instead

to be said and said.
Permit me the present tense.

I am not a saint or a cripple,
I am not a wound; now I will see
whether I am a coward.

I dispose of my good manners,
you don’t have to kiss my wrists.

This is a journey, not a war,
there is no outcome,
I renounce predictions

and aspirins, I resign the future
as I would resign an expired passport:
picture and signature gone
along with holidays and safe returns.

We’re stuck here
on this side of the border
in this country of thumbed streets and stale buildings

where there is nothing spectacular
 to see
and the weather is ordinary

where love occurs in its pure form only
on the cheaper of the souvenirs

where we must walk slowly,
where we may not get anywhere

or anything, where we keep going,
fighting our ways, our way
not out but through.

Is it a breakup poem?  Or is it a "grimly determined to live through the hell that we create through love" poem?  More reflection required.

However, I love some of the ideas and images:  "Permit me the present tense," "there is no outcome," and "fighting our ways, our way/ not out but through." The idea that love is an ongoing series of choices, a process, not so glamorous much of the time, but inevitable, worth it, though we cannot predict where it will take us, nor can we expect a specific reward.  And I appreciate the acknowledgement of anger.

Coming from Atwood, I like the idea that (what I interpret as) the female narrator disposes of manners, is not a saint or a cripple. She doesn't have to be saved or fixed, but on the other hand she isn't seamlessly self sufficient or a self-denying perpetual nurturer, either.  As the wife of an actual cripple, I sometimes become grumpy about running to the other end of the house for something after I'm already in bed (etc., etc.)  And then I feel guilty about being grumpy.  And then I feel stupid for being grumpy because hey, I have two legs.  But, honestly, is it realistic that a person will have the personal energy to be a saint to everyone, all the time?  I try hard to be a loving person.  Mostly, I succeed.  Except when I get grumpy.  Oh, well.  This poem acknowledges those dynamics in a relationship, or at least, that's how I read it.

I have 6,000 words left on NaNoWriMo to meet my truncated goal of 25,000 words (see my last blog entry.)  Will I do it?  Or is writing this blog sign enough that I have capitulated?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Accepting Defeat: A Teachable NaNoWriMo Moment

I am planning a lesson on accepting defeat.

Part of teaching for creativity is helping students learn how to deal with failure, and it looks like I'll have a chance to teach them firsthand.

Last year, I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  It was an intense ride, and thrilling to take on that challenge alongside my students.  For some reason, I latched onto my 50,000 word goal for the month, and wrote consistently almost every day of the month, finishing just in time and earning my button and winner's web badge.  At the end, I wasn't at all satisfied with my novel, but I was happy with myself for my achievement.

This year, I just haven't worked myself up into the frenzy.  Perhaps it is the anti-anxiety medication.  The little edge that anxiety gives me can a very useful little edge, albeit with plenty of drawbacks.

At any rate, I've been writing.  I should be able to reach 25,000 words, which is still a lot.  But I won't win.  There's no way.  I only see my husband on weekends; during the week I've been having to leave work early to deal with doctors' appointments, kids getting sick at school, cancellations of their other rides home after school... it seems like I can't get enough time at school to do what I need to do at school.

And at home?  I don't have my husband to rely on to interact with the kids at all.  So if I sit and write, they either play or watch TV with no attention.  It feels extra selfish.  By the time they're in bed, I'm pooped (not to mention way behind at work-- more than usual).

On weekends, I owe it to the man I married to save some of myself for him:  tidy up, do things as a family, give backrubs, receive backrubs, that kind of thing.  I can sneak away for a little bit of time, but... I've lost so much time at school during the week that I have to spend some time planning, grading.  And my lowered anxiety level has left me less willing to get up early in the morning and write. Last year I insisted on the writing time.  This year I've been more compromising.

And I've compromised my novel.

So... for my students, here are my steps in accepting defeat, and the lessons I can learn from it.

1. Explore whether there is any way to meet my goal.  Realistically:  What would it take?
2. Assess: Am I willing and able to do what it will take?  Be honest with myself and others.
3. If so, then GO FOR IT.
4. If not, assess: What do I really want out of this process? Can I get some of what I want with the time and energy I have left?
5. Set new goal I can live with. One that is still challenging and offers me some success I can recognize.
6. Work to achieve my new, compromised goal.
7. Forgive myself.  Every day is a new chance to kick ass, after all.
8. Acknowledge what I did manage to achieve.
9. Analyze what I can do next time to meet a higher, more worthy goal.  Or, assess whether my priorities are really elsewhere.

Honesty is key when we set goals.  We need to be honest about our motivation, what it will really require, our level of intensity and our commitment to meet the goal.

Challenging ourselves to amazingness may not result in the exact outcome we had planned, but will probably lead to more amazingness than if we hadn't tried at all.  (I will have 25,000 words of a novel after all, and my concept is more cohesive than last year.)

Accepting defeat can free up our energy for other pursuits that turn out to be either more important or simply more urgent.  Accepting defeat lets us look toward the future, dwell in possibility and not the defeat itself.

When we accept defeat, we must also accept the consequences of not meeting our goal.  I'm certain that my inability to meet my goal will affect my relationship with my students who pushed themselves to meet their goal.  I have a student going for the 50,000 word mark.  What do I teach him by not meeting mine?  Still, I can't avoid it now.  There may be negative consequences, and I have to live with that. I'm not willing to be dishonest with my students just to preserve a veneer of amazingness.  The amazingness has to be genuine.  It's the same way when students don't earn the grades they hope to get in my class.  If they choose to cheat, lie or plagiarize, then I lose all respect for them.  A respectable C is  just that, a C, but respectable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Ending

Every ending is a new beginning.  But it's hard to feel the new beginning without feeling an ending, closing a chapter, boxing things up, cremation.

I chose to celebrate earning my National Board Certification by burning all my work.

This might seem like a negative way to end things, but it didn't feel that way.

Ever since I finished my portfolio and sent it in March 31 this year, I've had one of those little teachery rolly-cart things sitting around in my dining room.  It was filled with binders, folders from retreats, hotel writing pads, file-folders of student work.  I kept thinking, "I should really go through that stuff."  I'm sure my husband kept thinking, "I should really go dump that thing in the alleyway."  But I had forbid him from touching it.  Everytime I considered sorting through it, it seemed like a waste of time.  I knew that if anything came up during scoring, I had everything from my process either in the rolly cart or saved digitally on my hard drive AND Google Drive... AND the server at school... AND a flash drive.

[It would be a lot easier to blog if this dachshund would get off of my face.]

So anyway, I didn't touch it.  Then, when we moved houses, I moved it into our new dining room.  Much smaller house, though, and it's been in the way.

Saturday, we had my brother's family and a good friend over to grill out.  The weather has been absolutely beautiful here in Southern Arizona, and the evening was cool enough for a fire in our little fire pit.  After a couple of beers and marshmallows, Rich was joking about whether we had anything else from inside the house that we could burn.  I brought out my rolly cart, and slowly emptied it into the flames.

The fire burned hot, and the paper created gorgeous layered canyons of bright coals. I burned it all:  my drafts, my instructions, my rubrics, my worksheets, copies of student writing, reflections, doodles, and handouts. Handful by folderful. It was a long task, and a lovely sight. What a relief, letting go of the anxiousness about what was in those folders and worry whether I had made the right choices. The contents of the rolly cart were no longer part of my present, but part of my past.  My new initials are part of the present:  NBCT. And what will I do with my new initials?

Now comes the beginning. The beginning of what? I am not certain. I never am. I keep my eyes open for opportunity, and enjoy the adventure (except when I am agonizing over it.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steamboat Willie Halloween Costume

My son wanted to go as Steamboat Willie this year, Mickey Mouse in his first role.  In black and white.   We visited Disneyland for the first time this summer, and he spent the money he had saved on a stuffed black and white Steamboat Willie.  He goes for the classics, the originals of things.

I knew it would be a challenge, but it sounded like fun.  Also, I felt I needed to compensate for buying both my kids their costumes last year.

We started with a design.  G drew his ideas and we talked them through.

Then we went shopping.  He already had white shorts, but we picked up inexpensive black gloves, a black turtleneck and black opaque tights.  At the thrift shop we found a pair of Crocs clogs, and decided to cover those in white somehow.  At the craft store we picked up plaster coated gauze, inexpensive craft paint, and black and white craft foam. I also found a jumbo-sized black pipe cleaner that was perfect for a tail.  Really, it was not an overly expensive costume.  $35 for everything.

Mask: Next, we made a plaster mask over G's face.

We didn't worry much about the shape of the eye holes and left the space immediately around his nose and mouth open.  I figured we'd trim the eyeholes to the right shape.  I covered the back of his head with plaster gauze, but ended up having to cut away much of the back so that he could put on and remove the mask.

Next, I shaped the nose out of aluminum foil, and duct-taped it to the face.  All of this was just by playing around until it looked right.
Then we trimmed the eye holes (for looks) and the sides and back of the mask (for fit), and covered the whole thing in another layer or two of plaster gauze, to hold the nose on and smooth the edges around the chin and eyes. The nose shape fit over the top of the mouth/nose hole (because Mickey's smile would be more around G's actual chin than on his mouth.  So breathing was easy to manage.

Nose: I used black yarn to shape an oblong nose for Mickey, which we used glue and straightpins to attach after painting.

Ears: Before painting, we used a multitool's serrated edge to cut slits in the plaster gauze where Mickey's ears should be.  We used my daughter's headband with Mouse Ears to get an idea of the angle.  Then we made the ears using two circles of black craft foam glued together.  In between the layers on one side there was a tab that was cut to fit through the slits.  The idea was that after the ears dried separately, and the paint was dry, we could slide them into place and duct tape the double-layered tabs inside the mask.  It worked pretty well.

Paint: After the plaster was finished drying completely, we painted the front part of the mask white with acrylic craft paint, pencilled in the marks for the black, and carefully added two or three layers of black acrylic craft paint.  I had a bit of trouble with the mouth, and ended up having to make Mickey's tongue much thinner than I originally thought it was at the bottom of his smile.  Wider and not so thick. I painted the smile down where G's real chin was inside the mask.

Hat: G shaped the hat out of white craft foam.  We made the slouchy top with a black athletic sock with a coffee can lid inside it and another sock stuffed in there.  We used Tacky Glue and straight pins to first get the hat to stay on that head. Once it dried it stayed amazingly well. You can kind of see the black-yarn nose in this shot:

Pants: We found oversized white buttons at the discount fabric store, and outlined them with Sharpie before attaching them to G's shorts.

Shoes: In a stroke of genius, we covered the clogs with athletic socks and then painted over the socks (shoes and all) with white craft paint.

Ta Da!  I think we had to go back inside and get the tail, but he looked great!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I am a National Board Certified Teacher!

It's a big day for me and two others in my English department. We are NBCT's!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Austerity Measures

Austerity Measures

How should one
measure austerity?
It must, as everything else
during a recession
be portioned out I suppose
and brought out in small doses
enough to whet the appetite
make us hunger for
future days with a wealth of it
make us remember
the days when there was so much
of it we didn’t know what to
do with it all. Remember? We
would seal it in Kerr jars and
walk it to the neighbors. We took
it for granted. It was part
of the lifestyle then. People
didn’t think about it or appreciate
it. Our hearts overflowed with
sincere, unmeasured austerity.
And now, just like everything else,
we can’t get enough.

Teaching for Creativity

My next Stories from School blog post.

Too tired to comment further for now!  Comments appreciated, especially on the SFS site.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

RIP Prop 204. Anyone Hiring an Idea Person, Highly Literate, Excellent Work Ethic?

So much for Prop 204.  And the funding it guaranteed for Arizona schools.  I don't think most people fully appreciate how essential that money is/was for our state's schools.

I will most likely be on the job market next year, and I am cringing at the idea of being out there under these circumstances, with so many other teachers looking for jobs because class sizes will most surely be increased to save money.  Entire schools will close.

I am honestly frightened. 

The future, for me and for my kids' schools, is very uncertain. 

Maybe I should go into durable medical equipment sales.  I have skills.  But, at least right now, the idea of committing myself to any other career is heartbreaking, because although I can imagine being decently good at other jobs, I can't imagine throwing myself into those jobs as wholeheartedly.  And at 41, I'm learning that I am a person who has to be able to fling myself completely into what I am doing. I have to have a drive for it.  I have a drive for teaching English.  I have my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, but I think my drive to innovate, learn and connect with my students makes me a good teacher. 

I was a real estate agent for a while, on the side.  I could be good at that.  And it was good to feel like I was helping friends and family learn better how to negotiate the hairy business of house-hunting, helping protect their interests.  My efforts were sincere.  But I'm just not a real estate agent at heart. You know?

I could maybe throw myself into working for a nonprofit, or something else where I could come up with ideas and try to implement them.  I am honestly at a loss.  What if I can't find a teaching job next year?  What if I have 40 kids in each class?  I spiritually can't do it.  Of course, I can do it, but it is essentially different.  Teaching demands infinite hope and innovation. But the idea of innovating and assessing for even more students is just demoralizing.

And what about my own kids?   The mental health of their teachers? Their ability to meet the needs of the little boy and girl that come home to me each night?

The whole picture frightens me.

NaNoWriMo Day 6 (Oh, and Election Day)

Today on my way home, I was trying to gather my thoughts for my novel.  I'm kind of getting bored with it, which means it needs an injection of new ideas.  I'm into the action, but I haven't developed any characters besides my main character, and that only internally, really.

Maybe because it is election day, and my novel takes place in the future, I started to play "What If..." with the school in my story.  What if schools were well-funded by the time my novel takes place?  In fact, what if they are completely privatized... but still public in name?  I'm thinking:  Seniors don't pay for any graduation paraphernalia, but their caps, gowns, announcements, class rings et al are covered with logos and slogans.  Marquees scroll across the tops of the plasma boards.  Lessons are routinely interrupted by short ads which you can skip after 10 seconds.  Candidates run on platforms of supporting educational funding, but what it really means is a new form of pork-barrelling, but from the corporations into the schools vs. the other way around.  Students become a major market.  It took a foothold when parents became so grateful for all the "support" companies were providing trying to encourage graduation.  Meanwhile, up to one full graduation credit can be earned by cutting out boxtops and pasting them onto colorful worksheets and handing them into the office. I'm trying to focus on all the possible manifestations of this idea, but I'm distracted by my actual teaching load.

My novel may turn into satire.

My student numbers just don't seem to go down.  156.  And most of them show up. The grading load is going to do in my nanowrimo novel.

Meanwhile, hypothetical projections of presidential winners are being declared all over the networks, one state at a time.  And my kids somehow managed to turn on The Simpsons.  How did that happen?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 1


I have 357 words so far.  I've taken a third person omniscient perspective so far, which surprises me, but maybe after a day of teaching followed by students in my room at lunch, an evaluation post-observation conference, and students in my room after school, squeezing in 357 words isn't half bad before picking up the kids by 4:00.  It was fun, anyway.

I'm completely exhausted by Halloween this year.  (Photos... coming soon.  I want to blog about each of our costumes a little.)  Last year, working on National Boards, I bought both of the kids their costumes, and I didn't dress up, and neither did Rich.  This year, we made all three costumes (Rich was in Phoenix).  And then, Tuesday night after my two doctors' appointments and a book club meeting, the kids insisted we hadn't carved pumpkins AGH!  So we did that on Tuesday.  Then I finished costumes until 11:45.

Making the costumes together was so much fun, though, and they turned out awesome.  Well, mine (Athena) and G's(Steamboat Willie) were awesome, L's (princess vampire) was fantastical... wild... out of control.  A bit like Bertha Rochester from Jane Eyre, or at least how I imagine her to be.  It did not turn out the right profile/ silhouette, but she did look pretty awesome walking down the street at night with yards of poorly-tailored tulle and organza streaming behind her.

Turns out our new neighborhood is a pretty sweet trick-or-treat spot compared to what I would have guessed.

Today I woke up with a sore throat, and then read Stephen King for three hours out loud to my juniors.  and then the remainder went as above.  I'm pooped.

Oh, and G needs a Civil War sailor uniform for his book report tomorrow.  He has to speak from the perspective of the narrator in Avi's Iron Thunder, a character who, as a young teenager, sails and fights on the Monitor.  Pretty cool... better get to it.


I added this photo, obviously, later that evening...