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I never promised you a rose garden…or a stapler

Cruising through my files, I stumbled across this blog post I’d written as an English teacher to high school juniors.  I’ve been retired for over four years now, but reading this transported me back to the classroom, to those days when I wondered if June would ever arrive, and to those students…many of whom have stayed in touch with me via Facebook. 

I remember having these actual discussions with my students. Now, with the perspective of time, I find them amusing. In fact, this was my giggle for the day.

DIRECTIONS ON HANDOUT:

  1. Write an essay consisting of five paragraphs.
  2. Staple this handout to the back of your paper before submitting it.
  3. 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?
  2. Where do I staple this handout?
  3. Do you really want this stapled to my essay?
  4. Am I supposed to staple this to the back of my essay?
  5. I’m out of staples.
  6. 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, Heather 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 Missy wore and then the bell rang.

WHAT THE TEACHER REALLY WANTS TO SAY (and sometimes MAY say some of the below):

  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Why everyone needs a crap-detector friend

This story starts before Hurricane Katrina. (And, yes, even though it’s been nine years and nine months since the bitch hit New Orleans, it remains—like it does for many New Orleanians—a seminal event in my life…but that’s a post for another day.)

I called Carrie Randolph and asked her to meet me at a local coffee shop because I had something I wanted to show her. She didn’t even ask why or what. She came. Because that’s what friends of your heart and soul do. They know you teeter between sanity and craziness, but they trust and love you anyway.

Carrie taught Spanish at the same school where I taught English. It’s where we met and how we came to be friends. To say Carrie is “just” a teacher would be like saying Barbra Streisand is “just” a singer. I admired, appreciated and respected her for her excellence in the classroom, and for her enthusiasm and passion as a reader. We both breathed books.

Her opinion as a reader mattered to me. It mattered so much that, when we both settled at the table with our coffee that evening, it was as if I slid the pages I’d written across the Red Sea. I trusted that the walls of fear wouldn’t collapse on me, and one way or another, I’d come out on the other side. Watching her read, my heart wrung its hands and my brain paced across the coffee shop. She read often and enough to know if it was crap. I knew she’d tell me the truth.

I don’t remember her exact words when she finished the pages. I do remember, all these years later, that she gave me what I needed to keep writing. And I did. Those first pages eventually grew to my first novel, Walking on Broken Glass, which was published five years after Katrina.

What difference does a reader make?

For me, it was the difference between seeing myself as writer and an author. In one of her blog posts, Jami Gold, a paranormal author, said: “I am a writer because I write, but ‘author’ embodies my goals, my actions, and my attitude toward writing.  So I swallow the self-doubt that plagues most of us writers and strive to live up to the word ‘author.’ “

One reader made a difference. A life-changing difference.

 

 

 

 

Is your passion worth sacrificing?

Perhaps if I wore a latex bikini and waved around an oversized foam finger with one hand while I tapped on the keyboard with the other. . .I could make money as a writer. The first two seem to be working for Miley Cyrus. And she probably doesn’t have a clue that twerking became popular while she was still in diapers.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for MTV)

I seem to have a knack for choosing creative pursuits that aren’t lucrative…like teaching high school, bagel-dipping in Nutella, and writing. Maybe I should have actually read the book Do What You Love, The Money will Follow. But since I’d already discovered outlets that “fulfilled my needs, talents and passions,” I didn’t require direction, just affirmation, so I didn’t read more than the title.

Maybe I could write Fifty Shades of Blue Because I Didn’t Think of Fifty Shades of Gray Before She Did. Or The Sun Before Twilight. Or a prequel to the Harry Potter series. But that would be as successful as me at the age 61 attempting to twerk on-stage with Robin Thicke.

Word to the unwise…back away from your laptop if you’re pursuing fame and fortune as an author. I’ve experienced the wiggling excitement of being offered representation by agents, book contracts, seeing my name on the cover of a novel, finding myself in a bookstore and on Amazon. Yet I’ve invested oodles more in marketing, classes, and conferences than I’ve earned.

So, why do I continue to write?

Because I can’t not write, and that’s never been so clear to me as it has recently. I’d been officially retired for five months after having taught high school English for 25 years when my husband decided to open his own business. He’s a veterinarian.

This is what I do while I’m at work: I smile and say, “Hello. How are you?” or Hold on” and/or “I’ll find someone who can help you.” I’m entering inventory and clients in our database, shelving drugs with unpronounceable names, counting pills for prescriptions, mopping the floors every morning so the clinic won’t smell like the population it serves, answering the phone, leaving the house every morning at 6:30 and not returning home until after 7:00 pm, taking emergency calls with him and working almost every Saturday and often going in on Sundays to catch up from the week.

My consumption of Blue Bell ice cream is increasing in an inverse proportion to my hours of sleep and direct proportion to my depression. I went to bed at 7:30 last night and woke up at 4:00 in the morning to write this post. It’s the first writing I’ve attempted outside of chart notes and prescription labels in over thirty days.

When your passion is suddenly taken hostage, you eventually find a way to survive. To entertain it in your mind where it can’t be constrained. I mop and spin ideas of women once wealthy and powerful who assume false identities and hide out in low-end jobs to escape someone or something. I devise stories around clients who own ten dogs and/or cats. I name future characters after some of the clients’ pets. . . I try to not dwell in the land of, “if I’d written a blockbuster before this, I wouldn’t be wiping up unknown glick on the floor.”

I hope to be ransomed one day. In the meantime, I’m following the advice of my writer friends and keeping a journal. Maybe the glick on the floor will lead to a break-out book. Maybe not. But this I’ve learned: you can’t sacrifice your passion on the altar of someone else’s dreams.

Do what you love. If the money doesn’t follow, your sanity will.

What about you? Doing what you love?