I once was lost…and mostly I still am

 

Yes, this is spaghetti.

But, since we moved to Houston, it’s not only what my brain resembles when I try to figure out the interstates and toll roads, it’s a pictorial representation of the damn interstates and toll roads themselves.

Here’s what I needed to know as a New Orleans lifer to drive in NOLA: was where I was headed  on the lake side or the river side of the interstate, that going downtown really meant going up, and going uptown was down. And then we sometimes crossed bodies of water like the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River or the Causeway Bridge over Lake Pontchartain that connects the North and South shores. Learning the difference between a lake and a river should have happened in first grade, so even in Louisiana, distinguishing the two was rarely a problem.

However…We moved to Houston and suddenly I have to become a compass expert. I will own that I am directionally disabled. And, please, do not tell me things like, “Take the left by the blue house on the right, then when you see the gas station on the left, move into your right lane…” I lost you after, “Take the left.”

Last year, US News ranked Houston #4 in the top ten Worst Traffic Cities in America with an average of 74 hours spent in traffic. Honestly, if I could spend all 74 hours at once and know that for the remaining 362 days, I’d be traffic-free, I’d sign on for that.

Okay, I know you look at the map and think, “Good grief, it seems simple enough.” Of course it does. That’s part of the madness. Because, for reasons known only to itself, the Houston District DOT has done little to clear the confusion that arises from having two names for the same freeways.

So, I-610 can be North, South, East or West Loops, which requires knowing the direction you’re coming from and headed to or else you will find yourself making an endless loop around the city.  And the KatyFreeway? Oh, that’s I-10 West because I-10 East is also called the East Freeway.(Another blog, I’ll delve into this “outside the loop” vs. “inside the loop” caste system.)

Then there’s 1-45, which–praise God–is either only north or south. However, if north, then it’s North Freeway. You’d think I-45 south would be South Freeway, right? Wrong. It’s AKA Gulf Freeway.

Highway 290, at times the shortest distance between two points, is always a no-go for me because imagine trying to squeeze Play-Doh through a strainer with a few rocks thrown in for fun. Just not going to happen in any way that’s conducive to your sanity or your time frame. It’s also called the Northwest Freeway (along with a string of names far too unacceptable for this blog), and just for giggles, the exit ramp has been switched due to construction.

Beltway 8 and the Sam Houston Tollway are actually one and the same. As for 1-69 (which is the “old” 1-59), it can also be the Eastex Freeway or Southwest Freeway. I’ve also heard rumors of a Westpark Tollway that will circumvent traffic. Of course it does because no-one knows where the hell it is. I almost forgot; TX99 is now, in places, the Grand Parkway.

My children have been infinitely patient with me, especially when I call for directions and have absolutely no idea where I am. I just know enough to know I’m lost.

I’ve learned to ignore my Nav system which has some love affair with 290 and always directs me there. I’ve downloaded the Waze app though it sometimes directs me to the oddest places. Plus, she and my Nav System voice compete with one another.

Truly, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my navigation systems have grown so tired of me, that I’ll hear, “Hey, you behind the wheel. How many times do I have to tell you to take the next left and make a legal u-turn because in the direction you’re headed, you’ll end up in New York, you idiot.”

But it’s all good because moving six and a half hours closer to my children is worth every wrong turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you taken for granite?

This is not a self-portrait, though sometimes I think it could be except for the straight hair.

Since I’ve been gone from blog-land (which is a rather amusing  and only slightly self-serving opening considering my new novel is Since You’ve Been Gone), I’ve felt like this confused creature I saw one morning from my NOLA balcony. So many wires…so many possibilities…so many risks.

This past year, the hubby and I landed in a community outside of Houston to live closer to the children (they’re all over the age of 30; they should be called adult-tren). In the past eight months, I’ve seen our children more than we had in the past five years. I’m grateful that we have this opportunity, and I (almost) never take it for granted.

I can’t write the words “take for granted” without thinking about students who’d write that they took something “for granite.” I’d write, “as opposed to marble?” in the margin of their papers, and then they’d tell me, “that doesn’t make sense.” And I would say, “Exactly!” assuming they connected the dots.

Wrong.

And because I’m obsessed with analogies, and I learn best by making those sorts of connections, it occurred to me lately that there are so many life things I’ve taken “for granite.” Situations, where sometimes I assumed people were rigid and inflexible, uncompromising. And,often, they were. I’ve been surprised by times when I depended on someone or something to be solid and unquestionably supportive and discovered that even the strongest can crack under too much pressure.

I’ve come to realize that being taken for granite can be comforting in a way that taken for granted can’t be. If it’s because the wrinkles and the imperfections of aging have rendered the outside of me as having character, and the emotional storms I’ve weathered have made me strong in ways I never thought possible…then granite I am.

 

 

News to Celebrate AND a Giveaway

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When my children were excited about an upcoming event, they used to say they were “on nins and peedles.”

Today, finally, I can banish the “nins and peedles” I’ve been experiencing for months now, and introduce you to Since You’ve Been Gone, my debut novel with Amazon’s Waterfall Press.

Olivia and Wyatt have occupied space in my writer brain for years, so I’m delighted Waterfall gave me to the opportunity to share them with readers.

With that, here’s an intro to their story:

One moment, Olivia Kavanaugh is preparing to walk down the aisle and embrace her own happily ever after. The next, she learns that her fiancé, Wyatt Hammond, has been in a fatal car accident. Through the chaos and the grief, a startling discovery comes to light: Wyatt’s car wasn’t heading toward the church…toward Olivia anther happily ever after. He was fifty miles away…with a delicately wrapped baby gift in the backseat.

Her faith shaken, Olivia pores over the clues left behind, desperate to know where Wyatt was going that day and why. As she begins uncovering secrets, she also navigates a tense relationship with her judgmental mother and tries to ignore the attentions of a former boyfriend who’s moved back home. But when she starts receiving letters written by Wyatt before his death, she must confront a disturbing question: Can we ever know anyone fully, even someone we love?

When an unexpected path forward—though nothing like the life she once envisioned—offers the promise of a new beginning, will she be strong enough to let go of the past and move toward it?

I am and continue to be grateful for your support. You’ve encouraged me for years and, without you, this novel wouldn’t have been possible.

If you’ve made it this far (applause!), please see the details for the $25 AMAZON GIFT CARD below:

To be eligible to win:

-Purchase the Kindle, paperback, audio or MP3 version of Since You’ve Been Gone

-Send a copy of your order/receipt (copy and paste or photo upload) to christa.allan@gmail.com

-Post a comment on this blog letting me know you entered AND your email address so I can notify you if you’re the winner

-THIS GIVEAWAY ENDS AT MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2016.

-THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2016

Please, share this post with your friends!

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.