Last night after a great win at trivia our team didn’t pack up and leave right away, we took our time, we chatted, and even mingled with our closest rivals – the team we beat by just one point. Both our teams consist of teachers, and after reading the weather reports, we knew there would be no school today.
The ice-storm cometh.
Walking Wiley early this morning was treacherous, and I am glad to report neither one of us fell. Once back inside, bundling up was the main priority.
Later this morning, I opened the doors and took some pictures of the ice on the trees and my car. The temps have warmed up, so the ice is not as thick as it was earlier this morning. School will be back in session tomorrow.
I never expected to be yelled at today. Nor did I expect to be yelled at two different times for two different reasons.
This morning I went to the writing conference at Shenandoah University. This conference is when this summer’s teacher consultants for the National Writing Project/Shenandoah Valley Writing project present their professional development to outsiders (as in other teachers around the area). It is a special day for the consultants.
The first workshop I attended was given by a high school teacher who went through how she uses the I believe project by NPR. This teaches students how to read and analyze a very short I Believe essay, respond to it, create a question from it, write about that question and try to answer it, and finally create their own I Believe narrative. For today’s workshop, the teacher had a class set of I Believe This books and gave us directions to peruse through and stop at an essay that interests us. Being that I have a sense of restlessness, I read an essay entitled, “What I learned from my restlessness and jagged edges.” It was not what I thought. It was written by a lady who embraces her highs and lows of her bi-polar. I thought it would be what people learn who feel like they are missing something in their lives and are on a quest. The essay reminded me of what a nurse once told me about police bringing in a bipolar in a manic phase who was in the process of nailing himself to a church cross. That nurse also mentioned that with some people with the disease, it is possible to feel god-like while in a high state of the manic phase. My question was why do those with bi-polar sometimes have a god-complexion when experiencing a manic phase. I am not capable of answering that question, and I did not know at the time I wrote it that I would have to attempt to answer it. But I did, and afterward a lady started yelling at me for trivializing the disease, explaining that there is no god-like complexion, and then assumed that I could not possibly know anyone with bi-polar. I calmly responded that I did, but that he has since passed away, and that he, like patients of this nurse, had times where he believed he was God. I understand that everyone is going to have different experiences, and I in no way wrote what I did to attack anyone with the disease. Also, as I stated earlier, I am not qualified to answer why it happens.
After the lady verbally attacked me, the presenter calmly explained that my essay was a result of the story of the man nailing himself to the cross and my wondering about how he managed to feel he was God. At the end of that workshop, another lady walked up to me and apologized to me for how I was treated by the other workshop participant.
Below is my question and my response:
What happens to the brain to make the owner believe he or she is God?
This is a difficult question to answer and for some reason it makes me think of the controversy surrounding John Lennon’s quote that the Beatles were bigger than God. What makes someone God-like? And to refine that even more what makes an individual Godlike for me. Would it be how that individual sees God? Is he all-knowing and can that make the person a busy-body? Is he wise and does that make someone studious? Is he kind and does that make someone want to do good in the world? Or is he the God of the Old Testament and therefore an ego-centric asshole who (or that) requires pure devotion which can cause war and strife? Or in the end is God just energy and electrical impulses? Does someone with bi-polar have awry electrical systems in their brain? Do the synapses not work well enough and cause depression? Then to make up for it do those electrical pulses cause a surge of energy that brings the person to a God-like state of Creation and Myth?
I never meant to offend anyone with this essay. I also did not share with an entire group the rest of the day.
The second time the yelling wasn’t really at me, it was just a teacher in our group of three who during a group question and share moment went off on how our keynote speaker, Jeff Anderson, was teaching to put a comma before the and in a list. She was angry. According to her it is passé, goes against creative writing, and should never be done. Another teacher brought the idea up to the entire crowd and Jeff mentioned how (after visiting several styles that require it – APA, Chicago, MLA – the only style that does not require it is AP. I could feel the hot steam rising out of her ears when he said that.
Jeff Anderson gave a great and hysterical keynote address. He mentioned DoLs. These are the Daily language exercises that I am embarrassed to say I once did. When I first started teaching, a veteran AP (this time accelerated placement not associated press) teacher gave me a list for the entire year. It is a sentence with mistakes, you place it on the board, the student is to copy it, and then correct it. As a teacher, you are to go over it after the students have had time to work on it. Even after I started working with mentor texts (before I even knew that was the term), I didn’t think to stop the DoL’s. Finally, at some point I did, but It was because I lost my original sheets, not because I wised up.
The beginning of the school year I went to a professional development given by an unnamed person (he was bad so I won’t name him). My table just shredded everything he was teaching us because everything encouraged the brain to remember the wrong information and be praised for it.
Anderson mentioned that doing the DoL’s does the same thing – activating the RAS, reticular activation system, to learn and store the wrong information. That made me glad I lost my DoL sheets a long time ago. Anderson mentioned using mentor sentences to teach grammar and the art of sentence writing and how that can teach inferring and comprehension and compare contrast and so much more. Don and Jenny Killgallon believe the same thing, along with Kelly Gallagher.
Before Jeff Anderson’s speech, I went to another teacher consultant’s workshop and the TC gave an excellent assignment for teaching metaphor via a metaphor writing assignment in describing yourself. He had us go through our own rough drafts. I am not going to write mine down here. But, I will share my other writing. the title is fictional memories and the idea is to take a real memory, write in third person point of view, and fictionalize it. I chose the time I ended up with nitrogen narcosis while diving the Blue Hole in Belize. The real story is that it was a guided no-compression dive, I thought everything was cool, too much nitrogen was slipping into my bloodstream, and the dive master had to grab my elbow, and swim with me back to the boat. There was no more conflict than that, and especially not with my then husband/now ex-husband. But, if there had been it would make for a better detail in the writing if I had time to continue.
Below is my rough draft of the writing:
Marianne’s hand twitched in the cold water as she played with the smoke that billowed out of the lavender tube like a mini-volcano about to erupt. She laughed and then choked on the oxygen released by her regulator. The laughing felt good, a release of built-up tension from the fight she had with her husband the night before. he was with her now, pulling her away from the billowing smoke, but Marianne didn’t want to leave. Her hands caught the smoke and released it, caught the smoke and released it, and continued to do so until the colors faded from her vision. this should have clued her into the dangers ahead, but she found it all so funny. Marianne, in her attempt to catch more smoke, felt that the heaviness around her was inhibiting her progress. She opened up her weight belt and threw the one to two-pound sandbags away. She watched them float and drop away into the sea below.
Last summer I had the honor of being accepted into the National Writing Project – in the world of education this is big. How big: it is where Kelly Gallagher started his publishing career. When I interviewed for the program, I discussed how students aren’t reading longer books – how they hold books and parade them in front of people, how they skim through the book, how some read every third chapter, but they don’t read the entire book. For some students, they don’t even do that because the size of the book intimidates them, and as a result, they never pick the book up from the shelf. If we want to build readers, we need to publish shorter books. At that interview I was told if accepted, my personal writing project would be to write that shorter YA novel. Hence the character of Pearl came alive. Before the end of the school year I talked to my students and garnered ideas from them. I also overheard a conversation between two of my eighth grade students who wandered back into my classroom after they finished their end of the year standardized test. The boy openly said in front of me that he is breaking up with his seventh grade girlfriend because she is pressuring him into having sex and he is not ready. I felt proud of him for his decision. I also asked permission to paraphrase their conversation in my writing project. They happily agreed.
I want to backtrack to when I was in sixth grade and read one of my to this day favorite books: Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die. Years ago, I ordered that book for my classroom. I reread it, but as an adult thought I wouldn’t think it was as good. I was wrong, I still cried, I still felt all the emotions, and still thought, “Wow, what a great book.” A Summer to Die has a word count of 33,916. Every student who has read that book in my classroom wants to reread it, has cried, and wanted nothing more than to talk to me about it. That is a sign of a good book. Lowry’s later book, The Giver, also a fantastic read, has 43,139 words. These are the word lengths more authors need to achieve to create readers out of students who would never otherwise read. Yet, it is more than that, teenagers are just that – they are teenagers. As such, no matter how much they act like or want to be an adult, they are not. Their minds are not fully developed to have the attention span to read and comprehend completely the longer novels. It isn’t about wanting instant gratification, but about normal development.
Of course, I also know adults who have told me they don’t read because they don’t have time to invest in such a long story – some of those adults are probably struggling readers and some really may just have time constraints as busy parents while maintaining a full time job.
This past spring I may have been blackballed in the publishing industry. I had a fight with an agent/editor- I won’t give her name or the house name. I met her at a conference after I paid extra to pitch my story idea. As soon as I sat down she asked me where I graduated and my word count. She immediately began to dismiss me. She never read a word I wrote or listened to my pitch. She explained that YA novels have to be 100,000 word count or longer to be published and that nothing shorter would ever be considered by any agent. I explained my reason for it being shorter, I even mentioned how Sharon Draper has a couple of shorter YA novels that are very successful. She had no idea who Sharon Draper is. I didn’t know how to respond to that. Tears of a Tiger is 25,523 words and the next book in Draper’s Hazelwood trilogy, Forged by Fire, is 33,164 words. I have not had one student who has not liked those books. I have had students reread them over and over again. These are students who will never pick up a longer book.
Yet, I get the misconception of editors and agents thinking longer is the way to go. They are thinking of that sweet spot of book length and cost of production, something I understand as a former high school yearbook advisor. They are also thinking of themselves and how reading, I am assuming, was something they loved and enjoyed as a child. They most likely were not struggling readers or passive readers, instead they were the ones who read every single word and felt emerged in the story and didn’t care if it was 20,000 words or 400,000 words.
That was also me. Around the same time I read A Summer to Die, I read The Stand by Stephen King, a book of 465,974 words. I read every single word. When I finished the book, I reread parts of it. I was eleven, I am now forty-eight and can still close my eyes and visualize scenes from that book. I also refused to watch the movie version because I didn’t want it to interfere with the visuals my mind created while I read the book.
The publishing industry needs to send agents and editors to schools and have them talk to adolescent readers, not just the advanced readers, but the reluctant and struggling readers. I feel that we need to publish not just diverse books, but shorter lengths to help build the reading muscles of the reluctant reader to help create lifelong readers. By only publishing 100,000 + word counts for MG and YA readers, the publishing industry is inadvertently dumbing down America by stopping kids from reading lengths they are not ready to handle.
The advanced readers will read anything, any length, any genre, any level – we won’t lose advanced readers by publishing shorter YA novels. Those advanced readers are also usually the busy ones, the ones taking honor courses, the ones working part time jobs, the ones involved in tons of extra-curricular, and they need shorter YA novels to escape into another world without the time constraints of a longer book. Keep in mind though that reading the entire full length novel of more than 60 , 100, or even 450 thousand words doesn’t necessarily mean that the adolescent or middle school student can comprehend the story.
I want my book, “The Chocolatier’s Daughter” to be that book. One that enters the world of teenagers, a school sports star who falls from grace, and has to navigate a new world while figuring out who to trust.
I’m not finished and I want to visit this new world my main character, Pearl, has to navigate. I teach in a state that is 49th in teacher salary while living in a Washington D.C. cost of living. I don’t have the funds to travel there on my own. On the last morning of the 32nd annual Children’s Literature Conference this summer, I saw a notification for a grant from the International Literacy Association. The requirement, besides being a member, is that the intended literacy project has to be outside the USA. Perfect, I could do an evaluation, transcription, and awareness project in the country I want to send Pearl to in “The Chocolatier’s Daughter.” The catch, the grant had to be snail mailed and post marked that very same day. Every time I received a grant, I wrote and then revised numerous times. That writing process helped me receive over $20,000 for my classrooms over the years. That writing process also helped me be accepted into The National Writing Project, and it awarded me a Japan Fulbright and Honeywell Educator Space Academy spot. Without the time to revise, I’m not confident I will receive the ILA grant, but it won’t stop me from hoping.
Why do I want it, because if I am going to write about a place, I would like to experience it. This concept brings me back to that conversation between my two former eight grade students and that spring conference. I also paid to have a section of my Pearl story critiqued. I sent the pages in advance and then met with the editor. Her first comment to me was that I need to take an adolescent development course because I obviously don’t know anything about teenagers. She explained that her college required publishing students to take that course and it helped her so much with editing and her own writing. She then explained that ninth grade students would never have this conversation and that it is a conversation, instead, that twenty somethings would have. She was referring to the conversation that I paraphrased from those eighth graders. I never used the word sex in my paraphrase, instead I inferred.
I did wonder how she could be so naive to the struggles of adolescents. I also wondered how she would have handled that school day, my third year of full time teaching, when one of my students wrapped her arms around me and cried on my shoulders. She was a senior girl who just discovered her boyfriend was doing cocaine and hiring prostitutes. I wondered about this editor, what would that moment have done to her? I didn’t tell her, I didn’t ask her, instead I thanked her for her advise and walked away.
Now as a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, I received notification about the New Orleans Writing Marathon. How could I refuse? I drove to save money on a plane ticket and spent that time listening to the unabridged version of Moby Dick via my audible app and my car stereo. Moby Dick, as was told to be by one of the other NOWM attendees was the Discovery Channel of the time. I have to agree. However, I would never teach the unabridged version, I would only teach one of the abridged versions floating around in the publishing world.
Some of the pieces I wrote at the conference are on the New Orleans tab above. I explored the city by walking around and even taking some paid tours. I stopped at a street vendor fortune teller and had my palm read, I treated myself to a good haircut at Diversions Salon, and even bought a local jazz record and David Gilmour record at a vinyl shop. I am feeling a bit guilty about the last one, because after he rang up the price of the albums and told me the amount, I handed my debit card to him, and I got a discount I didn’t deserve. He started the transaction, looked at my card, looked at me, then voided the sale, re-rang it up, and informed me I get a fifty percent discount. It was because my bank is with USAA, but I’m not the military in my family – I think he assumed I was.
The fortune teller told me I am extremely funny, but only a few people know that. I disagree because I have had a lot of students over the past two decades and they all know my silly side. She also said I struggle financially because money just isn’t coming in (ain’t that the truth), but that I will be very wealthy. Since I don’t plan on leaving teaching, and I don’t have a rich relative who will leave me money in a will, maybe that means I will have an agent see potential in my writing. Or maybe it just means she makes that statement to all her clients.
Below are just a couple photos from New Orleans and more from a walk along the C&O. These are untouched photos.
My goal to hike in the Shenandoah National Forest is slower going than I thought. High temperatures and high humidity, along with threats of serious thunderstorms in the SNF have kept me and Wiley away. I don’t do well in high humidity and heat – my balance gets wonky and I tend to trip and fall. I’ve often thought I need a big sign that reads “I am not drunk, I’m just a klutz.”
I have instead been walking closer to home until the heat improves. Today, I met my friend for one of our weekly walks at Poor House Farm. At PHF resides a Great Blue Heron and for over four years I have tried my best to get a decent photo of him.
Today, I succeeded. The photos below are not untouched. I cropped all of them. With some of the photos, I applied the auto color correction, and with others, I just had fun pretending to be an artist for National Geographic.
I realize as I hike the thoughts that come to my mind aren’t necessarily what you write about in a blog. Not that they are too private, but because they are mundane. Thinking about my footing and not wanting to fall, why Wiley refuses to drink water when we hike, hopes for Hannah’s story, ideas for Pearl’s story, and what book I should read next.
And Light. I am intrigued how sunlight falls on the underneath of tree leaves. That is what I tried to capture in my photos – light on leaves. I also looked for different perspectives, I tried to see what people might miss.