How do I keep my grandchildren safe?

I retired from teaching four years ago. For twenty-five years I taught in public high schools in Louisiana. One of the schools was, for many years, the largest school in the state.

I never feared for my life or the lives of my students as a classroom teacher.

Not after Columbine in 1999 when, like many schools, we dealt with bomb threats on regular basis. So much so, the kids started calling them “bomb fests.” Each time we were told to evacuate our classrooms, we made sure to carry sunglasses, hats, and water. Kids even brought guitars to school during those weeks.

Not that we didn’t take these threats seriously. Our administration never failed to follow through on notifying law enforcement, even if they suspected it was a hoax.

Two things bothered me about those mass exoduses of over a thousand students when that happened. We were usually brought to the football stadium, which I couldn’t help but think made us all easy targets.

The second was when teachers were asked to escort the deputies to their empty classrooms to tell them if they saw anything unusual. First, there’d be over two dozen backpacks abandoned on the floor. Seriously? And I often wondered why, if a bomb was suspected in a given classroom, teachers were putting their lives on the line with the deputies.

Not after  our school participated in an active shooter drill in 2008 on a half-day when students were released after exams. Because the size and demographics of our school fit the profile, it was chosen as a way to test law enforcement’s response to a simulated school emergency. Now, and sadly, nine out of ten public schools have these drills when students are in classes, at all grade levels.

But ten years ago, this kind of drill was not the norm. So, teachers and students who chose to participate volunteered. We had no idea when the drill would start, but we could decide if we wanted to be going through our simulated day as usual, injured or dead. I, along with several other teachers who would be “dead” was brought into a room where someone applied stage makeup so we would appear to have been shot. Even knowing it’s fake, it’s beyond eerie to see yourself in a mirror with a bullet wound to your forehead.

I don’t remember how much time after those of us who were to litter the floors as dead bodies were in place that the drill started. All I remember is the relentlessness of the  fire alarms, the gun noises (all simulated), the smoke bombs, screaming. Then the whirring overhead of helicopters, banging on the outside doors when the rescue teams came in. Men and women with night vision glasses and guns and them passing by us, checking to make sure we were dead, moving on…more screaming. Teachers who were in their classrooms or the faculty lounge hunkered down behind their desks, but fully aware that the back wall of every classroom was all windows (two of the four schools in which I taught had only first floors).

The unfortunate lesson we learned was the best we could hope for was to find a place to hide until either the shooter quit or help arrived.

To give you some idea of why security guards and/or metal detectors are ineffectual in some schools, below is an aerial view of the school where the drill was held. Not shown are the football field and stadium, and baseball fields.Directly behind the school is a wooded area. 

Not after a threat happened in my own school. While I was on a sabbatical leave in the fall semester of 2011, an attack at the  high school in which I taught was foiled when other students told administrators weeks before the first day of school. Three 15-year-old boys, calling themselves “Day Zero,” planned to kill a specific student and faculty member, shoot at others indiscriminately and target school security initially and take his weapon.

Again, here’s the campus layout:

So, when I hear that schools should have locked gates, metal detectors and security at all entrances, I realize that the public is not always aware of how impossible this is for some campuses.

As for arming teachers…please…that’s so ludicrous I’m not even going to address the issue. Well, only to say that the supplies provided to teachers were erasers and chalk, a desk and a chair. And the number of copies I could make a month were limited, and if I needed more, I had to pay for them. So funds for providing guns, bullets and training?

And I’m not buying into these logical fallacies about cars and planes killing people, so when are we going to outlaw those. Cars and planes were designed for transportation. Under circumstances about which we’re all familiar, they can be used as weapons to kill or kill as a result of an accident.

An AR-15 was designed to kill. Period.

Or the argument that knives can kill people as well, and more people than could firearms. The data being used is selective, at best.  True, but the timeline of killing 17 people and injuring 14 is:

2:19  Cruz arrives at school

2:21   Shooting starts

2:24  Shooting stops

From WSVN 7 News: Text message from student to parent during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting. Thankfully, this child is safe.

Would he have been able to murder and injure as many people in three minutes with a knife?

But now, I fear for America’s teachers and students.

I fear for my own grandchildren who attend school everyday expecting to see their friends, learn and be sent home safely.

I want to buy them bulletproof vests to carry in their backpacks. I want them to have their cell phones always charged so they can communicate with us.

I want them to never, ever, ever live with having seen the bodies of their classmates or teachers ripped apart by bullets that travel 3,200 feet per second.

I want to plan their birthday parties and graduations and weddings. Not their funerals.

According to Melisa McNeill, his public defender, Cruz is “… sad. He’s mournful. He is fully aware of what is going on, and he’s just a broken human being.”

Also,  another one of his attorneys Howard Finkelstein, stated that he is “willing to have his client plead guilty immediately in return for the prosecution agreeing to take the death penalty off the table.”  This plea would help the community his attorney said: “”We have an opportunity to begin to put this behind us, to help the victims’ families as much as we can and begin to heal as a community.”

Did he give any of the seventeen people he murdered the opportunity to plead for their lives?

Benjamin Gorman wrote “Open Letter from a Teacher Who May Take a Bullet for Your Child.” His post is brilliant. Please read it.

Enough is enough because THIS is scary:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading headlines for entertainment

When I write, I’m always conscious of events in my novels not seeming contrived. You know, “that would never happen” situations that readers would find too unbelievable in a book that wasn’t SciFi or paranormal or magical realism.

In one of my breaks for research (a WIDE open term for what I do when I’m not writing), I tripped across the following headlines (in italics). I thought I’d share them as evidence that truth IS often stranger than fiction…and, in some cases, unsettling.

In no particular order:

Olympic Village stocked with 110 thousand condoms (CNN) Is there a new Olympic sport of which we’re not aware? That amounts to 37 per athlete for the seventeen days. Judicious use, I suppose? But since outdoor sex is banned, that might help….

The internet of dildos is here and it’s vulnerable as hell (Mashable) This is NOT related to the headline above, and I didn’t read the article to know if I should be upset or elated about their vulnerability.

Jeopardy contestants couldn’t answer a single football question. (SB Nation). For shame! Especially if you live in SEC Nation.

Hawaii twin accused of diving off cliff to kill sister is committed of murder (Fox News) I suspect a novel with this premise with be in  our futures.

Kid gets stuck in claw machine (SkyNews) He retrieved his stuffed football prize, so he’ll think the whole experience paid off.

Titusville, Fla., firefighters work to get boy out of a claw machine in a restaurant. (Titusville, Fla., Fire Department)

People on Instagram criticized CardiB for having body hair, but her fans clapped back (BuzzFeed) CardiB,24, sings “Bodak Yellow,” her debut which was a #1 hit in September. I’d post the meaning of “bodak” (it has to do with a cow’s tushy and #2), but I suggest you go to Urban Dictionary if you must know the exact definition. As for the song lyrics, well, if you omit the profanity and the sexual references, you’re left with about three dozen articles (as in parts of speech) and a few non-offensive nouns.

Religious leaders in Senegal say Rihanna is Illuminati (Complex) At first, I thought the headline meant to say “illuminated,” but no.

Naked robber not guilty by reason of insanity. (Fox) Duh.

Man who wed 6 women charged with marriage fraud. (AOL) Duh again. Plus, that’s a hell of a lot of alimony and/or child support.

NASA lost contact with a satellite 12 years ago. An amateur just found its signal (The Washington Post). We hope Elon Musk‘s Telsa Roadster just launched from Falcon Heavy will not be involved in a head-on collision with it.

(Photo published by CNN Tech)

If you haven’t seen the video of this launch, I encourage you to do so. It’s spectacular.

And, now, it’s back to writing for me…Writing fiction, wherein I tell plausible lies.

Being mindful of mindfulness

This year, instead of  making New Year’s resolutions, which mostly become dissolutions by January 5th, I happened upon this site: oneword365.
And, that’s it for the year…one word.

 I chose MINDFULNESS. Which, ironically, does not mean having a mind full of stuff, but rather a mind full of now. It’s defined on the Mindful website as:

the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

with thanks to Francois at Sketches in Stillness

So many times, I’m just not present in the present. My body is physically there, but my brain is scurrying around like a squirrel looking for nuts I buried in the past and hiding nuts for the future.

And, also weirdly enough, I find myself having to remind me to be mindful. But, I’m getting there…like I’m fully present writing this blog post. A victory, right?!

I tripped across this poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.    Her poetry washes over my soul, and as goopy as that may sound, it’s the best explanation I have for her incredible talent. So, I thought I’d share it with you:

 

Mindful by Mary Oliver
Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Connecting the dots…

Last night we ate one of my pedestrian suppers of spaghetti and meat sauce. Cooking the meat sauce required cutting an onion. Cleaning up after supper (trust me, I promise this is going somewhere), I started carefully jamming the onion skins into the black rubbery mouth of the scary garbage disposal monster.

As I’m listening to the grinding, hoping the grinding I’m hearing is not one of my rings or a spoon or a finger, I heard my father, who died over fifteen years ago, reminding me about the dangers of onions in the garbage disposal. Then I remembered, no, he didn’t mean white onions; he meant green onions. His voice faded and an image of my first apartment fluttered through my brain. I was a newlywed, cooking one of my first dinners. I plunged my hand in a sink full of soapy water and came up with a bloody thumb, my bloody thumb. Drops of blood plopped through the frothy bubbles.

Then, I saw myself in a picture taken in that same apartment the night my father surprised my mother with her first (and only) mink stole. Almost forty years ago. She was the last in her trio of friends to own a mink. It was, to her, a luxurious article she thought she would never own.

My father was wearing a suit. They were going out to dinner. My mother, so astonished, she’s actually covering her open mouth with both hands. Even though she has been dead now for twenty years, I heard the echo of her saying, “Oh, Johnny. You shouldn’t have.” The unspoken “…but I am so thrilled you did” conveyed by the lilt in her voice and the delight in her eyes.

I flicked the disposal off. With its stopping, so did the swish of memories, like Ezra Pound’s, “In a Station at the Metro”: The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet black bough.

Who knew sending onions down a garbage disposal would bring me to my parents? It was a moment; their petal faces on the wet black bough of memory. And my first thought, as I hurriedly dried my hands, was to look for a pen and my notebook. To capture what I could remember; to not lose my parents and this unexpected gift of them in the ordinary drudgery of dishwasher loading and towel folding.

This, I believe, is why I write. It’s what leads me to the keyboard, to the journal, to the notebook.

It’s what makes me grateful to be a writer.

 

Featured Image Photo attribution:http://opencage.info/pics.e/large_1773.asp

Where does an idea go when there’s no brain to catch it?

This post originally appeared on Girlfriends Book Club, a blog written by a gumbo of about twenty-seven-ish women, who share their agonies and ecstasies about writing, for authors and for readers. Funny, smart, talented women. And me.

A few nights ago, I took my customary running leap into bed (we have one of those old, four-posters…and, yes, I know there are stools for beds, but they look too much like church kneelers, which I find disturbing next to my bed. But that’s another story). Just as my cheek met the cool pillow, an idea charged through my sleepy stupor into my brain.

A brilliant idea. Brilliant, I tell you. Nothing less than brilliant. Enough to hip-shove The Hunger Games into Twilight. Enough to make Brad Pitt want my phone number to ask if he could play the male lead. Enough to tell Emma Stone she couldn’t bribe me for the female lead.

Only, I can’t tell you the idea.

Why? Because I can’t remember it. Because I didn’t drag my brilliant butt out of bed to write it down. Because I didn’t lean over and risk a head injury to find the paper and pen I store in my nightstand to scribble the idea.

I should know better. Well, I do know better. As soon as I hear my brain whisper, “Oh, this one is so A-MAZING, you won’t forget it,” I need to make one of those Bella Swan Cullen new-vampire dashes to write it.  Unfortunately, unlike Stephenie Meyer, I do not wake up from a dream with a four-book series in my head.

So, where do my ideas originate?

In the most boring of circumstances.  Like one day, after retrieving mail from my mailbox, I wondered, “What if a woman went out to get her mail and never returned? Or what if she walked out in one year, but when she walked back into her house, twenty years had passed?”  (BTW…if I want to watch my adult children practice synchronized eye rolling, all I have to do is mention this idea.)
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Those two words, “what if?” can launch me into writer orbit. But I have to be willing to turn ideas inside out and upside down. I have to muzzle the editor in my brain who says, “Go you…you’ve just thought of the dumbest premise in the known universe.”

Years and years ago, I attended a conference and delighted in listening to Georgia Heard talk about her recent book, For the Good of the Earth and Sun:Teaching Poetry. What I most remember is her talking about poetry constantly surrounding us, that it’s everywhere…from the worn steps outside your grandmother’s house to drinking coffee with a friend.

And while those may not be ideas that carry a novel into hundreds of pages, they’re a beginning. Even poems marinate in my brain. When I read “Patterns” by Amy Lowell or “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, I just know a story is there waiting to happen.

If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s this: whatever the idea, however ridiculous and goofy it may seem at the time, I must write it down.

It’s a gift. And it doesn’t always keep on giving.

I once was found, but now I’m lost…

If this blog was a baby, I would have been reported to Child Protective Services by now. It’s time for me to step-up and parent.

So, by way of catching you up on my life as I know it, I’m sharing this post. 

 

Once Upon a Time, I Had a Writing Groove…then the music changed. 
A post made possible by the fact that my husband doesn’t read anything I write…except checks.

Four years ago, I retired after teaching high school English for twenty-five years and grooved myself right into being a full-time writer.

I basked in my writerly world for six months until my husband announced he was starting his own business, and he needed—guess who—to work for him. The groove became the rut my writing fell into and out of my reach. But he assured me I’d be able to take my laptop to work and write…between answering the phone, filing, and clients that barked, growled, pooped and peed. Did writing happen? Well, I took notes because how can you not when a man arrives with his snake in a cardboard box and tells you it has a cold, and he’s sure of it because the snake’s been sneezing. My journal/morning pages became my refuge, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that I was at least still capable of forming coherent sentences.

The full post can be found on Writers in the Storm.