The Days of Whines and Supposes

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 On the three-year anniversary of my retirement  after twenty-five years of teaching English

DIRECTIONS ON HANDOUT:

  1. Write an essay consisting of five paragraphs.
  1. Staple this handout to the back of your paper before submitting it.
  1. Your essay is due at the end of class.

QUESTIONS TO TEACHER (ME) FROM STUDENTS:

  1. Does it really have to be five paragraphs? What if I write only four?
  1. Where do I staple this handout?
  1. Do you really want this stapled to my essay?
  1. Am I supposed to staple this to the back of my essay?
  1. I’m out of staples.
  1. What if I don’t finish? Can I take this home?

WHAT STUDENTS REALLY WANT TO SAY:

  1. If we barrage you with enough questions, we think you’ll eventually back off. We would rather listen to an hour of Frank Sinatra than write even fifty words on a sheet of paper.
  1. We know you told us at the beginning of the school year to purchase our own mini-stapler, but we either didn’t purchase one, purchased one and lost it, purchased one and broke it, and/or it ran out of staples five months ago when the kid behind me took it and emptied the staples, one by one, into my hair. I’ve passed any number of places where I could purchase more staples and/or a stapler, but I really didn’t have time to stop because Starbucks was about to open or close, and I needed to be there. Anyway, we don’t understand why you won’t allow us to use your stapler when we know you’re hiding at least two of them in your desk.
  1. Is the earth going to stop spinning if I staple the handout to the front instead of the back? Sometimes you seem just a tad bit OCD. We think, perhaps, we might be able to help you overcome that if we don’t always follow directions.
  1. We know we could finish before the end of class, but we have homework for Free Enterprise/Civics/Biology/Spanish/French/Geometry that’s due next hour. And, BobbieSue didn’t have time in my other class to finish telling me what happened at Prom because she got all caught up in the fashion disaster that Martha wore and then the bell rang.

WHAT THE TEACHER REALLY WANTS TO SA Y (and sometimes MAY ):

  1. Directions are entirely at your discretion. Feel free NOT to follow them; however, feel equally free to stand ready for the consequences.
  1. Students in 11th grade honors  should be able to burp five paragraphs in fifty minutes. That’s ten minutes per paragraph. If you think that’s not a long time, think about being poked in the eye with a hot stick for ten minutes.
  1. If you write only four paragraphs, that’s one less paragraph I need to read. See #1.
  1. Yes, I want the handout stapled to the BACK because I don’t want to read 100+ essays and have to flip the handout out of the way every time. You will need the handout when I return the essay to remind you of the directions. See #1.
  1. I told you in August that if you were old enough to sit behind the wheel of a moving vehicle traveling at 50+ miles per hour, you were certainly old enough and responsible enough to purchase, be trusted with, and use a stapler no longer than 2-3 inches.

For the record, I have THREE staplers. I purchased them with MY money. Years ago, I allowed students to use my stapler. Over that period of time, staplers were “lost,” broken, or abused. When it was time to submit papers, the room sounded as if it had been invaded by wildebeests galloping through the Kalahari when 25-30 students would simultaneously flock to my desk. It was uncivilized. And it wasted valuable class time. And it made ME responsible for YOUR paper. And so the entitlement program of free stapling ended.

  1. My directions may seem, possibly could be, OCD-ish. Wait until you fill out your first tax return. Ask the IRS if you can switch around the information. Let me know how that works for you.
  1. The lesson isn’t limited to the writing. It’s a lesson on being responsible, practicing wise time management, and following directions.
  1. Clearly, socialization is an integral part of the high school experience, one which I certainly would not want you to experience the pain of deprivation. So, to accommodate that need, we have scheduled special times for your bonding with friends. We call it before and after school, passing time between classes, and lunch.

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Life Savors

Books and writing have saved my life.

Not literally, of course, like being protected by a bulletproof vest of hardbacks and Anna Karenina-sized paperbacks. But they’ve been, figuratively, life preservers when I’m drowning in a sea of chaos, frustration, anger, grief or all of the above. What they’ve provided for me is a haven; a place to retreat when all the other doors are slamming.
Writing isn’t always an art I can fully share. It’s not like a painting propped on an easel or a tune coaxed from the strings of a violin. But to be able to pull a thought through my brain like so many scarves out of a magician’s sleeve and watch my hand glide across the barren whiteness of paper and create something from nothing is amazing.

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Certainly, not all I write is amazing. Often it’s a mess of emotional brain urp. But the process fascinates me. In the same way that I’m still fascinated waves travel through the air, find their way to my car, and convert themselves into music that comes back out of my speakers as waves again. I mean, how WOW is that? Invisible stuff. Floating through people and places and things and producing stuff.

So, too, writing is that act of creation.

What do books and/or writing mean to you?

You Can’t Push a Wet Noodle

NOTE: Cleaning up files, I tripped across this post from my days in teacher-land. Since I’m closing in on a deadline, I thought I’d share this, and save brain space for my manuscript. Enjoy!

Today, a series of events converged into the perfect storm that, without the support of my colleagues, would have left me drowning in a sea of frustration.

The first strike of thunder started with a student complaining about having to watch the Veterans’ Day special program on the morning announcements. In one of my rare “call your kids from the neighbor’s house” voices, I informed him that men and women died so he could whine about sitting in a classroom watching a flat screen television, and I was certain the soldiers’ families would so appreciate knowing how much he honored their contributions.

Announcements over, I returned graded papers.

Strike two. A student who submitted an assignment that did not follow the guidelines, was incomplete, and looked as if he’d written it in the back of a pickup truck traveling over a gravel road, had the audacity to “bow up” and yammer about the unfairness of it all.

So, I launched into my “come to Jesus” speech (I don’t refer to it as that to my students; after all, I teach in a public high school). Inevitably, every class, every year requires one of these. Twelve weeks into the school year, the bar’s higher than it was in August, and they’re feeling the pain of chin bruises. Some of them react by stretching, working smarter, and asking for help. Others, usually the members of the “exert minimal effort for maximum gain” club, start fashioning voodoo dolls that are sporting glasses and sensible shoes and look very much like I do.

Eight out of twenty-one students in the class submitted the assignment. The others “forgot” (note: each student was given a planner at the beginning of the school year) because “you didn’t tell us it was due.” One student told me she’s too busy to do homework and, after all, she has six other classes. I reminded her I had 143 other students, and we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day.

Another informed me that I grade too hard. Not a surprise. In fact, just a few days ago, another teacher overheard a student say, “Mrs. Allan grades like a Nazi.” I didn’t know the Nazis had time to grade papers…but, anyway…I’ll own that I have high expectations. I don’t apologize for expecting more of them than they do of themselves because even if they fall short of what I expect, they’re often miles ahead of where they would have been.

If they can’t meet some of my expectations–rigorous ones like writing in blue or black ink only, using a heading that includes writing a last name, not Joe T.,  and writing on the front of the paper–how’s that mindset going to work for them in the real world, with real jobs?

A student remarked, “I’m not going to need a job. I’m gonna be rich.”  To which one of her classmates responded, “You can’t even pass English, how you gonna get rich?” (I love when kids “get it”!)

Sure, they’re freshmen, and they’re young and silly and hormonal. I get that. But I’m not buying into the, “they’re ONLY freshmen” excuse for why they shouldn’t be held accountable or why they shouldn’t learn to self-advocate.

Nothing disappoints  me more than spending my time reading work that’s obviously completed at the last minute or blatantly disregards guidelines. And, honestly, I feel a wee bit resentful taking time away from my family, my friends, whatever…to spend with half-hearted attempts.

When I do sit down to grade, I don’t do it after a fight with my husband, or after opening that month’s bills, or after being awake for twenty-three hours. I give them my best effort. It’s what I believe I should do. But, as I pointed out to them this morning, they expect my best effort, but don’t submit theirs.

The bell rings and Mr. Bowed-Up walks straight to the principal to complain. No problem because the principal then walks straight to me  to tell me his suggestion to the student was to schedule a conference. (Two years ago at my former school, a parent left messages on an administrator’s phone that she was calling the school board to ask that I be fired.  That apparently didn’t work out for her.)

Second period happens to be my planning period, so I sit to check my school email. Thunderbolt three. I’m not going into too much detail here because this is a yet unresolved issue. I open an email from a parent with whom I already had a conference, and find a l-o-n-g diatribe consisting of biting sarcasm sprinkled with bits of character assassination. In terms of emails I’ve received since that became an accepted form of communication, I’d say this one ranks in the top five of the most vituperative.  I refuse to even dignify it with a response.

Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to accept that they want academic success more than the kid wants it. And it’s more difficult yet when the parents are working harder than their student because sometimes that leads to smug kids who think parental units will fight their battles.

At an Advanced Placement reading two years ago, a college professor told me more and more parents are calling their offices asking for their student’s grades, demanding extra credit be given, wanting grade changes…Of course, the college teachers find all this quite amusing, and refer to them as “helicopter parents” because they’re constantly hovering over their kids.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: my wise father always told me, “Christa, you can’t push a wet noodle.”

Storm over.

I am from…

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hurricane swept houses, swollen rivers, and rain drenched streets,

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waking on lazy Sunday mornings to my father cooking bacon and scrambled eggs,

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green and green plaid pleated uniforms with blazers and black and white saddle oxfords,

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watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, LSU football and Saints games,

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afternoons at the kitchen table sharing cups of freshly brewed chickory coffee with my grandmother,

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a submarine gray Rambler with no air conditioning that transported three adults and two children to the hills of Tennessee,

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crawfish boils and streetcars and chocolate snoballs and lakefront barbecues,

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TG&Y and K&B purple and D.H. Holmes and Winn-Dixie and Mardi Gras parades,

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and blistering summers, and evening showers

where, if your heart listens, it can hear the rain drops sizzle as they sacrifice themselves to the raging heat of the concrete sidewalks.

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I am from yesterday, in today and headed to tomorrow.

 

Where are you from?

 

 

 

10 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Book Tours

Note: I’m hosting Dorothy on my blog today because I know, from personally using Pump Up Your Book for two of my novels, how dedicated, professional and passionate she is about supporting her authors.

10 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Book Tours

By Dorothy Thompson, CEO & Founder of Pump Up Your Book

By now, most authors know what virtual book tours are or at least have heard of them.  They’re that wonderful marketing tool that should be a must have in every new book’s campaign.  With each new book I write, I’m making a game plan before the book is even published and a virtual book tour is the first promotional venue on that list.
While most of us know what they are, there are still a few new authors who might have heard of them but have no idea what they involve.  I give you my top 10 things you need to know about virtual book tours so that you will know what to expect.

  1. Virtual book tours are the BEST way to get the MOST online exposure for your book. Not only are you presenting your book and yourself to thousands of people, all of your interviews, guest posts and reviews are archived which means months down the road, you’re still selling your book because of that one tour.
  2. Virtual book tours ARE a lot of work. Not only are you searching for the perfect blogs to host you, you are acting as the middle man between you and the blogger unless you are using a paid service such as Pump Up Your Book who will do all the work for you.  Even if you do sign up with Pump Up Your Book, there is still lots of work to do completing assignments – filling out interviews and writing guest posts unless you choose an all review tour.  Even though it requires a little bit of your time to fill out interviews and write guest posts, it’s well worth it.
  3. You will learn more about your book than you ever did. I had an author tell me that through the interviews and guest posts she had to complete, she never learned so much about her book which caught her off guard.  Now when she is interviewed on radio shows and makes television appearances, she is better prepared.
  4. Virtual book tours will build up your author platform No matter if you’re a fiction author or a nonfiction author, virtual book tours will build up your author platform using your key search words.
  5. Your reviews are guaranteed. Offline publicists while they mean well do it all wrong.  They query a book blogger, make arrangements to send the book, then that’s where it stops.  The review is not a guaranteed thing.  The reviewer can post the review anytime they see fit.  With virtual book tours, your review is guaranteed on a certain date unless the reviewer jumps ship which rarely happens.  I had an author tell me she signed up with an offline publicist who sent out many books and only one or two reviewers actually came through for them.  That was money loss for the author.  Books don’t come cheap these days so coming up with a date you and the reviewer can agree upon guarantees that review will be a given thing.
  6. Many reviewers now take ebooks which save you money. Thank goodness someone was smart enough to invent a device that automatically loads a book in a few seconds (no waiting to go to the book store anymore my friend) and makes it fun to read.  When Amazon lowered their price of the Kindle, sales soared and book lovers started talking about getting one.  What that means is that it opened up a wonderful way to get these books to the book reviewers quickly and less expensively.  Have you noticed how much books are and how much it takes to ship them?  Not saying all reviewers will take ebooks, but as time goes on, most will have an e-reader and, as a matter of fact, will prefer an ebook.
  7. More website hits, more blog hits, more Twitter hits and more Facebook Fan Page hits. All authors should have a website or blog and accounts at Twitter and Facebook.  No matter if you think they’re all a waste of time.  A virtual book tour will definitely give you more hits at all places as long as your links are in your bio.
  8. Going on a virtual book tour raises your Alexa rankings. What is Alexa?  Alexa measures how well you are doing in the search engines.  By going on a virtual book tour, and including interviews and guest posts during that tour, your website and blog links are included in every bio (or should be!).  Those are incoming links which Alexa uses to measure your ranking.  The more your website or blog link shows up on other sites, the more valuable your site is to them and thus, your rankings soar.
  9. You will learn how to sell your book through media exposure. Not all authors take advantage of their interviews and guest posts by gearing them toward their audience, thus luring them to their book and/or website/blog.  I’ve had many authors on tour and the ones who really take the time to make their interviews and guest posts effective selling tools are the ones who profit the most.  The key thing here is to make your audience curious.  One liners in the case of interviews may not cut it.  Of course there are only so many ways you can answer “What’s your book about?” but take your time and get your audience’s curiosity piqued so that they do make your way over to your website or your book’s buying link.
  10. Virtual book tours teach you how to connect well with others. There is no better way to learn how to network.  All these wonderful book bloggers who agree to host you are your new friends in your extended network and they will be there for you the next time you have a book to promote (unless they completely hated it of course).  You’ll also learn how to use the social networks effectively as you study how to get people over to your stops by persuasive wording.  Remember to talk to your audience, not at them.

There you have it.  10 reasons I feel you need to know about virtual book tours in a nutshell.  If you have a tour coordinator as opposed to setting one up yourself, she will walk you through it so that it will be a fun experience for all.  Your book will thank you for it.

 

Dorothy Thompson is CEO/Founder of Pump Up Your Book, an award-winning public relations company specializing in online book publicity.  You can visit her website at www.PumpUpYourBook.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pumpupyourbook and Facebook at www.facebook.com/pumpupyourbook.

 

 

Why I Write

I write because there is no one left in my life who knew me before I knew myself.

I write because I can talk to the paper and not be interrupted or misunderstood or frozen mid-sentence by a quizzical stare from a listener’s eyes.

I write because I can’t (nor would you want to watch me) sing or dance or paint or sculpt or provide anything else of artistic value to the universe other than what I can create with my paper and pen.

I write because my days are numbered; I have less days to live than I have already lived, and the abstraction of mortality is waning, replaced by the very concreteness of careening years.

I write because I kept my mouth shut for too many years of my life. I write because I could exorcise the ghosts of the past, the goblins of the present, the amorphous fears of the future wielding a cheap plastic-barreled pen and a college-ruled notebook.

I write because words spoken are swallowed by time. Words written are meals cooked today for a banquet to be held later. I write because I have lived an unexpected life and the surprises–both full of dread and full of awe–would otherwise drift uncharted.

I write because I want my children to know me, not mother me or wife me, or sister me, or aunt me, or grandmother me. But Christa Me. The deep and the shallow places. I want them to have access to bits of my soul, perhaps slices of me that they may not hunger for until I am no longer here to feed them.

I write because, in doing so, I shape the memories, give them words that will be my eternal life breaths.

Why do you write, paint, dance, sing, create….?

What really matters?

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I want to share a post I wrote years ago that still thumps in my now retired teacher heart:

Some days, I want to hurl the textbooks and state-mandated curriculum through the windows that open only to the windows of another portable classroom, and announce:

Okay, let’s talk about what really matters.

Let’s talk about what you’ll face in the world. How tragedy and joy are holding hands, and they’ll play Red Rover with you for the rest of your life.

I know some students are experts at the “divert the teacher from the lecture” game. And some teachers are sucked in and allow class time to be swallowed by rambling tales of the teacher’s children’s latest antics, their spouse’s occupations or lack thereof, or the state of their disunion. 

But that’s not what I’m advocating.

I’ve squandered so much of my own life afraid of the unknown, afraid of deciding, afraid of not deciding.

I wonder, if someone had grabbed me by the collar of my uncertainty and encouraged me to risk, to ignore those who did and who would steal my dreams…what would that life had been?

Five Reasons a Writer Should Stay Put

My husband and I have been married almost twenty-five years. We’ve moved ten times. (I just counted because I do my best creative procrastination when I’m on deadline.) These haven’t been military related (though I’ve been militant about a few of them), due to job transfers (with the exception of four moves due to Hurricane Katrina), or because we’ve been evicted (thank God).

It’s because we’re idiots, I tell you, idiots.

Seriously, I told the husband that the only place I am willing to move after this recent was:

1. to Houston to live in the same city as my children, 2. to Houston , and 3. to Houston. And the only thing I’m taking is my toothbrush. And the dog.

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And this is related to writing…how?

I’ll tell you. Here are five reasons writers shouldn’t move:

  1. Having to unhook the laptop/computer from my online life support (the router/modem) is painful. Like putting the scissors to the VISA or losing a finger. I posted DNR (DO NOT REMOVE) on my router, and I’m thinking of having someone sign off on having seen it.
  2. We show up at the new house before the internet connection…and, oh dear God, in the name of everything holy, how will I survive because I’m on deadline, I haven’t checked out Nordstrom Rack’s clearance sale, and found out if Jennifer Aniston’s really pregnant this time because she’s been pregnant for decades now, and–oh, yes–I’m on deadline.
  3. We confuse the Muse, and mine is pretty damn ticked off right now because she can no longer sit on the balcony and watch the world go by while I’m dawdling, waiting for her to remember who made it possible for her to be there in the first place. The duck pond across the street is not, definitely not, doing it for her.
  4. Our book-buying addictions are exposed. After the fifth or sixth box labeled “bathroom,” weighing in at fifty pounds came down twenty-seven steps, I’d blown my cover. I told him I’m researching the idea of building a small cottage office using paperbacks and hardbacks, and a few workbooks as mortar.
  5. My office is a mess. Not the purposeful, organized mess I’d already created at the other house. This is a new mess that doesn’t know where it all belongs.

I’m certain there are more, but my brain’s still adjusting to its new thinking environment.