Saturday, April 30, 2016

For S. B.

marveling at the sight of the rays
peeking between the thin wisps
of the rain cloud.
Storms had always bothered him
deep within,
where the drops of water
hurled themselves against his soul,
marking him for life.
But today,
with the mix of sun and rain,
somehow, he felt more alive
than he had in weeks.
As the last of the rain melted away
he turned and caught a glimpse
of the rainbow he'd hoped to see.
Life is good, he thought.
Finally.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Slim Line

Slim line--
more than a scratch
but not much more
hovering on the smooth layer
of an otherwise unmarred surface--
speaks the tale 
that only she can tell.
For years,
it lay there,
unwanted, unnoticed, but waiting.
Wanting, really,
ready to spill its secrets
to the first person to minister to her.


Years passed
and not one being
dared to observe what lay
beyond the shallow line.
And with time,
her energy turned inward,
compressed her core,
and pushed outward,
like an exploding supernova.
Instead of healing
and erasing that single line,
she's left with nothing
but a litany of cracks
and a compromised structure.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lyric Lover, VIII

After two days on the couch, I woke up to hear this lovely song by Rachel Platten. Sure, it's somewhat sappy, but sometimes, we can all use a little sap in our lives. And sap and Tim go hand in hand, so this episode of Lyric Lover is dedicated to my husband. It's definitely a better place since you came along. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kitty Cuteness, XVIII

Due to some raging illness that overtook me quickly, I sat on the couch yesterday and did nothing but watch White Collar and take pictures of the cats. Not a bad way to spend a sick day, if you ask me, although it would have been better if Matt Bomer himself sat next to me on the couch.




Since I was stuck on the couch, I never managed to get a picture of Heathcliff. Next time...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Building Your Own World

 Remember the sandbox?
All you needed was bare toes in warm sand, and maybe a great bucket.
Then you could build your own world.
~Sark


The above quote opened a letter I wrote almost 20 years ago to a dear person in my life. At the time, I wanted to convey to him that despite the turmoil our relationship had been through, I would always consider him a friend, I'd always wish him well, and I hoped to stand witness as he built his own world someday, complete with vibrant joy, laughter, and love.

I said a lot in that letter (I was verbose even then, of course), most of which I won't reveal here. But at the end of it, I asked him to keep a copy of the letter so that "every once in a while, when [he] might not be feeling very good about" himself, he could take it out, reread the letter, and know that he had made a monumental impact on at least one person.

I don't know if he still has the letter, or if he does, if he's ever taken it out and looked at it. I guess I could ask him, but until a few days ago, I didn't think the letter mattered. I thought he'd found his sand and his bucket, and I thought the world he'd built was exactly what he'd envisioned so long ago.

It's funny how we think we know so much about our friends, and sometimes, we know so little.

***

"Who taught you to share?" he asked as an opener for the conversation.

Tuesday afternoon in my car brought a phone call from him, one that I hadn't been expecting. Most unexpected was the question he posed. Apparently, he'd been reading a bit of my blog.

"Plenty of people taught me to share. My sisters, my children, Tim. You, too."

Our conversation wandered to spouses, siblings, parents and the like, and toward the end of our chat, another unexpected thing happened. He revealed a hard truth about his life at the moment, indicating to me that the world he'd built is not exactly how he'd envisioned it.

I clutched my chest after hearing what he had to say. There I was, sitting 260 miles away with a cell phone to my ear and no way to do anything but say, "I'm sorry." He told me that he "didn't want to talk about it," and out of respect for him, I didn't ask questions. But I wanted to. I wanted to reach out a hand or give him a warm embrace. I wanted to sit next to him, even in silence, just so he'd know I was there. I didn't know what he required, but I know what I would require if our situations were reversed: support from an old friend.

Since that afternoon, I've thought a lot about what he revealed to me. I've toyed with the idea of picking up the phone and pestering him to talk about it. Asking him to open up and divulge his thoughts, good or bad. But I used to know this guy pretty well. He never caved to my demands to open up before, so why would he now?

***

When I first met him, the world I'd built in the sand had just been washed away. I was young and naive, and yet jaded at the same time. The path I had intended to follow was not the one I was on. I didn't know how to sustain relationships (platonic or romantic) and I often refused to acknowledge my role in the demise of any relationship. Every fiber of my being was wound tight. Something in me needed to change.

And then, he walked in.

I don't intend to tell the whole story here (maybe it will come out in a book someday). But part of what he gave to me at a tough time in my life is simply the gift of friendship. His friendship and subsequent lessons on loving people helped change me into the person I am today. I'll even go so far as to say that I am able to love the people I love today because of my relationship with him. That's a huge statement, right? It is, it really is. And I'm not sure I ever told him or specifically thanked him for all that he did for me.

So while there's not much I can do for him right now--I'm still 260 miles away--I can do this: I can say that he's never, ever, been out of my thoughts for too long. I can say that I've often wished we could live closer to one another. I can say that I miss his wit and charm and humor (thank goodness Tim has so much of that as well), and that I cannot imagine being where I am if I had not met, befriended, and loved this person. I can say that I'm here for him and most of all, I can just say thank you.

And I can also say that's it's much easier to build a new structure in the sand if you have the determination and desire to do so and the support of those around you. I know he still has the determination and desire, and he has my support as well as that of others, I'm sure.

I can't wait to see what you build, my friend.


(He probably just rolled his eyes at this post.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Search

My first stop was the doctor of philosophy.
Without a word, I dropped to my knees,
head bent and eyes closed.
I could feel his gaze on me
as he accessed my small form.
quickly, too quickly, a reply came.
I am sorry: I cannot help you.

Deflated, not defeated, I departed.
The parish priest was next.
This time, I lay prostrate at his feet,
face covered, eyes shut.
His mediation and prayer,
earnest, heartfelt, did nothing.
I quietly left his dominion.

Humans failing, I chose next the wind.
High upon the mountaintop, free,
blowing, I asked her.
Face upturned, hair flailing helplessly
I felt the touch of her hand,
soft, cold, wet, against my cheek.
yet soon, too soon, it was gone.
And I knew she could do nothing.

The same can be said of the river.
Winding, deep, treacherous,
her tendrils reached out to me.
Gently patting my hanging head
as I gazed into her mirroring pools.
Her waves tried to console me,
her waters tried to warm me.
I departed as the tide receded.

Feeling lost, I stopped at the oak tree.
Innumerable branches stretched out to me,
hoping to grasp my hand,
trying to pull me closer.
But I found them dry and decaying,
scratching my skin without trying,
killing, not giving, life,
offering neither joy nor fulfillment.

And so, I continued my journey.
Through the plains, to the desert,
over hills, and mountains, and snowy terrain.
I came upon a cave, cold, dank, dreary
Where nothing flourished
and I expected nothing but.
I sat, head bent, eyes closed,
shivering in the darkness.

Deflated and defeated, I slept soundly.
Breathing quietly, head still hanging
I felt a light, warm and alive.
Rays emanating, it captured my gaze
turned my face towards the halo,
shimmering and reflecting off the stones.
I sought it not, and thus,
no longer searching, it had found me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Being

He found her in the garden, lying flat on her back among the long stems of the daisies, face to the sun, eyes closed.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Shhhh."

He sat down next to her and looked at her face, so serene, unlined. She still hadn't moved. The freckles across her nose would deepen with the sun and her cheeks would turn rosy soon, if she didn't leave the sun.

"What are you doing?" he whispered.

"Being."

"Being?"

"Yes. I'm being. Sometimes I feel like I'm just not anything. And today...this sun? It reminds me that I'm something. So I'm being. Come on, just try it."

He expected her to open one eye, or maybe both eyes, and he'd see the mirth that lay inside. But she didn't bother to look at him. So he glanced around the garden. The wind ruffled the leaves of the Japanese maple tree to his left and an orange butterfly danced across the phlox. Aside from that insect, though, they were alone. Had anyone even been in the vicinity they'd see two kids laying in the sunshine.

"Okay."

He spread the length of his body next to hers, being careful to leave a couple of inches of room. But as he lay his head back against the heated grass, and the warmth of the sunshine seeped into his skin, he realized that most of the heat he felt actually radiated from her. He shot a careful glance her way. This warmth, this comfort: he could get used to this feeling.

"Close your eyes," she said, her tone impatient.

"How did you know they were still open?"

"I just did."

He didn't know how she knew, but she was right. He closed his eyes and concentrated again on the warmth. The sounds of the garden. The whir of the lawn mower up the street and the tinkle of the bird bath. He heard a trill of a bird he couldn’t recognize and the soft purr as she breathed. He'd come to find her because he needed something from her. But what? He couldn’t remember now and this…well maybe this is what he needed. To just be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Words, II

Words.
A barrage of letters,
all connected
into dainty necklaces
that manage to deliver
agonizing news.


A thud against his barrel chest,
like the newspaper
thwacks
against the cement stoop
in the darkness
of the morning hours.
I watch as he cracks open
from top to bottom
down his sternum,
and then
side to side.


A large ravine stares at me,
dares me to do something,
to fix him and his broken body.
But I realize that
there's nothing 
that will help him now.
That words
will never be enough
to mend the gaping hole.


But that's all I have now
to offer him,
and all he can trust.
He hopes to unjumble the letters
and weave together
a blanket of words
that relieve and soothe and heal.
Words that tell a story.


Photos found at http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/why-your-brain-can-read-jumbled-letters; http://news.discovery.com/earth/odd-cause-of-gaping-siberian-holes-possibly-found-140731.htm; Pixabay

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sharing is Caring

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, someone taught me to share.

"Sharing is caring," this person said. And while it took me a long time to learn how to share in the best way--each situation encompasses very different details, of course--I'm happy to report that eventually, I learned my lesson.

Now I find myself sharing my food, time, talent, and energy with so many people, I'm quite overtaxed at times.

But that's not the point of this post. After all, every one of us can conjure a plethora of reasons for why we might be spent these days, and I don't expect you to take pity on me.

So as usual, then, what is the point of this post? Does it have anything to do with my introductory theme of sharing?

Yes, yes, it does.

Because a few years ago, I decided to fulfill a life-long dream of mine and write a novel. When I finished that novel, I went on to the next, and the next and the next. I have four complete novels and one draft of another novel, and because someday, I'd like to possibly publish at least one of those novels, I've also undertaken other aspects of writing life. I edit and write profiles for Literary Mama; I'm part of a writing group; I submit short stories to literary journals, some of which have been rejected; I've written two blog entries for The Huffington Post. Along the writing journey (and it's still going, I might add) there are two lessons I've learned that go hand in hand with sharing.

The first lesson was quick and easy to learn: It's important to share.

Like what you read or see? Share it. That's really the only way a copy of anyone's work will be read or noticed. And if you're an artist and have actual work hanging in a gallery somewhere, you're in the same boat. It's not enough to simply hit the like button on a Facebook post. Sure the number of likes tells the writer or artist how many people liked the piece, but readership needs to be increased if a writer is going to survive and artists need to have people physically go and see their work.

So go ahead and like the post but you should also share the post. That little action doesn't cost you a thing but can help that person out in more ways than you might anticipate. (I hope it goes without saying that if you pick up a book and like it, tell your neighbors and friends. And if you go to an art gallery and see an artist you like, buy a piece or at least spread the word about that artist. I'll end with a business example: if you like the caterer you used last Saturday, recommend that person!)

Remember the Care Bears? Why yes, this is Share Bear.
The second lesson took me longer to learn, but I'm certainly glad I did: Don't be afraid to ask someone to share.

I consider myself self-sufficient and pretty much rely on  myself to accomplish a task. I don't really like to ask anyone for help. So this lesson has been the single most difficult aspect of writing for me to swallow. I expect people to share my work because that's what I do for them. Assuming I see your link on Facebook or Twitter (I probably don't spend enough time on social media), then I will share without you having to ask. And silly me, I once thought the world worked that way. An acquaintance taught me otherwise.

"Can you..." she'd email me as part of a group. "I hate to ask..." another email stated. "Why so much asking?" I'd ask myself. Then the thought suddenly occurred to me that in order to make sure her work is circulating and hitting the right targets, she HAD to ask us to share. While I might be a sure thing, not everyone else is. (Just so you know, to this day, I have trouble asking anyone other than my sisters to share my work. I'll do it, but the act makes me nervous. Crazy, I know.)

So I challenge you to this, readers. This week, as you go about your business, try to share as much as you can. Sharing is caring, my friends. And caring makes you feel pretty darn good.

Friday, April 15, 2016

These Wants

Stretching her fingers,
she tries to reach
the other side of her wants.
She views them there,
clinging,
like vines that dance across
the distressed cement siding
of her former home.
Lovely, and yet suffocating.


These wants,
they mimic and taunt
and she questions when,
and if,
she will be able to touch them.
And whether or not
a single glance
will quench her fierce thirst.
for all the desires
she does not possess.


These wants,
they serve a grand purpose
and distract her from the here,
the now.
They tether her to the past
instead of propelling
her forward
to the place she needs to be
to succeed,
to grow,
to flourish.
She never thinks about why 
her fingers stray off the mark.
And she should think.
She should.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 26

Let's just jump right to the point of this post: for me to tell you how I really feel. Since I've been actually writing in my spare time--this week I already put together a short story and a blog entry for HuffPost--what I'm going to tell you today are a few items that really get on my nerves as of late. No need to dilly dally, I say...

I'm not sure why people seek out my advice and then cringe when I give it to them. If you don't want my opinion, and you don't want an honest opinion, then don't ask me my opinion.

I'm proud to be a mother, and it's my favorite of all the hats I wear. But when I'm at work, I expect to be looked at with and given the same respect as any other colleague. Just because I choose not to work outside the home full-time doesn't mean that I'm not good at what I do at school.

Life can suck, but most of the time, for most people, it doesn't. Remember that getting through those sucky times can be difficult, but with the right attitude and determination, you'll experience sunny times as well.

Whoever thought that cold temperatures in April was a good idea should be shot. Yes, shot. I'm not normally one to act with violence, but there is a time and a place for winter, and here in southern Ohio, April is neither the time nor the place.


I fear for the state of our country. (I'd say more, but I don't have the time or energy to devote to that subject right now. Maybe later...stay tuned.)






Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Go to Her

Go to her,
I want to say,
go to her.
Peel off the gossamer layers
of shame and guilt and madness,
Confess your sins,
and place them before her,
carefully,
willfully,
let her inspect them,
these things that have 
desiccated you.
Have her thread her fingers between the crevices
and then,
she can decide
whether or not
to judge you.


I have no answers,
I want to say
I have no answers.
but I know how much
the past can adhere
and wrench the vitality
out of everything,
such that it jeopardizes
the present,
the future.
But you will feel 
clean, pure,
rejuvenated
and more content than ever
if you go to her.

Monday, April 11, 2016

AWW Spring Seminar Wrap-Up

On Saturday, despite the blanket of snow that covered the ground in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I attended the spring (ha!) seminar from Antioch Writers' Workshop. The topic of the seminar was "The Writing Life," and Margaret Wrinkle led the pack as the featured speaker.
I took this photo from the AWW website.
I hadn't heard of Margaret Wrinkle before registering for the seminar, but I took a peek at her bio, which intrigued me (excerpted from her website):
Born and raised in Birmingham Alabama, Margaret Wrinkle is a writer, filmmaker, educator and visual artist. Her debut novel, Wash, published by Grove Atlantic, reexamines American slavery in ways that challenge contemporary assumptions about race, power, history and healing. It has won the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Wash has also been named the Fiction Runner Up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, a finalist for the 2014 Chautauqua Prize, a Wall Street Journal top ten novel of the year, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, an O Magazine top ten selection and a People magazine 4-star pick.
Not intimidating at all, is she?

Much to my utter delight, Margaret Wrinkle walked into the auditorium dressed in casual clothes and spoke to us like she'd known us for years. And after listening to her speak about her writing life, her book is now on the top of my to-read list.

But what did she say that other people have not? I mean, I've been to several writing conferences, I personally know authors, and have read extensively on "the writing life." In fact, I have my own writing life, right? A couple of sentences stuck out amongst the others in her presentation, as they struck me as something I hadn't really thought about before. They included:
Images help you stay present to the heart of the story.
Your mind is a small boat on the ocean of your subconscious.
Live a boring life; save the drama for the work.
I plan on referring to those thoughts wherever and whenever I can.

~

I also had the pleasure of hearing three energetic and passionate speakers talk about querying, editing your manuscript, and self-marketing.

First up, Sharon Short. I know Sharon on a first-name basis, and attended the query session because I was interested in what she had to say. (I'm in the process of querying right now and have an agent looking at my book. I hoped that I'd done everything right.) Sharon's genuine enthusiasm made for a great session. She shared her experiences with querying, gave us some information about agents--those to look for and those to avoid--and helped us understand the importance of researching which agent you actually query.

Kate Geiselman then took me through the art of editing and formatting a manuscript. Again, I'm past this stage but I felt like I wanted a refresher course. Kate provided that and more. She began the session with a lovely video by Stephen Fry (If you haven't seen this yet, you should):


And from there, she reminded us of grammar rules and formatting tips that any writer could use. The best advice she gave, though, is to pay attention to submission guidelines, as they can vary widely. Like the true teacher she is, Kate repeated that phrase often.

I'd seen Kate before at a Sinclair Community College writing workshop, but I've never had the privilege of attending one of her sessions. She's a vibrant teacher and someone from whom we can all learn.

Last but not least came the session with Greene County Public Library publicist Ryan Ireland. He'd created a presentation worthy of any publicist, and disseminated a wealth of information on how to self-market. (He spoke about figuring out your readership, what to include on a website, and how to use social media most efficiently, among other topics.) I'd chosen this session because I find it really easy to help promote someone else, but I had, until yesterday, no idea how to self-market myself. Based on what Ryan said, I think I have a lot of work cut out for me, but I knew that when I got into this mess of a writing life.

~

This spring seminar is a one-day type that happens every year. I'd suggest trying to get there next year, if you're local. But if you're looking for something even more extensive, consider the Antioch Writers' Workshop Annual Summer Workshop. It's a week-long event that is chock full of information and experience that any creative writer would be fortunate to add to his or her writer's toolbox.

Happy Writing!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spread Too Thin

The pat of creamy, yellow butter
is expected to last
past the center of the toasted bread,
over the deep ravine
that exists on the left,
all the way to the very edge 
of toast civilization.
But halfway through
its progression,
despite the warmth,
the fluidity,
it becomes very clear
that there's not enough--
not nearly enough--
to satisfy anyone. 
The pat of creamy, yellow butter
is spread too thin once again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Dear Student VII

Dear Student,

Good morning! How are you? Can you believe we only have about five weeks left to this semester? That's right, only five weeks left, and if you pass, you'll be done with the Anatomy and Physiology series. You might even be ready for the nursing or dental school track in the fall. Where did the time go?

I can tell you where it didn't go. It didn't go into studying. How do I know? Well, let me tell you a little story that will serve to explain everything.

Way back in the fall of last year, when we immersed ourselves in the first course of the Anatomy and Physiology series, we stumbled upon Chapter 4: Tissues. Now Chapter 4 is full of facts and interesting information on all of the tissues in the body, and it requires you, the student, to look at different histological slides.

I know what you're going to say. You hate slides. I know this because you said it every day I saw you and asked you to study the slides (thanks for the bad attitude, by the way). But there was a reason I asked you to study those slides: they held information you needed to know. So, we went over all the differences (and similarities) we could find in the four main types of tissues as seen on the histological slides. We talked about the cells, and how many layers a tissue might have, and we named all the tissues and cells as well.

For example, when we spoke about epithelial tissue, we talked about how the tissue can be named according to the shape of the epithelial cells (squamous, cuboidal, or columnar) and how many layers existed (single=simple and many=stratified).

We went on to look at different slides of epithelial tissue, including simple columnar epithelial, which is found in the respiratory and digestive tracts. In fact, I remember pointing out the picture to you, last fall, of the jejunum (part of the small intestine--an organ of the digestive tract). It looked a little bit like this:

I didn't have a picture on hand, so I went here to find one.

That's a great picture, by the way, because you can really see the simple columnar epithelial cells standing next to one another as well as the little white ovals (called goblet cells--we're getting to them) that are interspersed throughout.

And because structure and function go hand in hand (it is Anatomy AND Physiology after all), we also discussed the role of the different cell types found in those tissues. So we chatted about the simple columnar cells and the goblet cells and discussed what function they perform.

Do you remember what the goblet cell does? Do you? Think long and hard before you answer that question: it might be a trick one. Because I know that you don't know the function of the goblet cell considering I asked you yesterday what the goblet cell made and you couldn't remember.

I'm sure you're ready to defend yourself by saying that technically we introduced goblet cells last semester and you're not sure why you have to remember anything from last semester.

Cry me a river, student! This subject, like many, builds as we progress through the course. So yes, what you learned from last semester is quite important to understanding what you'll learn on the last day of this class. Furthermore, may I remind you that we saw goblet cells in the not-so-distant (i.e. a month ago) past? As in, back in Chapter 22, the respiratory system.

Why yes we did! (You're supposed to say that, by the way.) We studied a cross section of the trachea and I remember distinctly pointing out (among other structures and details) the goblet cells to you. So just for kicks, let's look at a picture of the trachea, too, and see if we can find those suckers.

Check here for this picture.
Oh look! There they are again! And this time, we have a nice arrow to point them out to us. And what did I say goblet cells do? Yeah, maybe I haven't said in this letter, but I will now: they secrete mucus.

Okay, so back to yesterday, when we're swimming through the digestive tract and we've stopped at the jejunum (remember, part of the small intestine). We take a look at the microscopic anatomy of the mucosa and I say, "Blah, blah, blah, goblet cells. What are those for?"

You looked at me like I'd uttered a string of expletives in the face of your grandma or something, and nothing but silence ensued. I tried again. "Goblet cells? Anyone?" But the veil of quietude remained intact.

And that's when I let the truth fly: "This is why I want to get out of teaching. This moment when you cannot tell me any of the information I try so hard to help you learn."

Despite the non-use of any expletives or derogatory statements, jaws dropped and a few people twittered. I heard an "aww..." from the back of the class, and everyone straightened their spines against the chairs. It took a pity statement from me to get you to pay a wee bit of attention, which of course, I'm glad for, because at that point, I once again stated what the goblet cell does. Say it with me now: the goblet cell secretes mucus.

(For those of you who don't know, mucus secretion in the respiratory and digestive tracts is crucial for proper functioning of both the systems. And I don't mean the mucus produced from the mucosal lining of the nose.)

At this point, you might be asking why on this earth I'm writing this letter in the first place. I'm asking myself that as I key these words in and I think I'm writing to tell you this: you've won.

You've taken so much out of me over the last 13 or so years, most notably time and energy I can never get back. You've shown up to class but haven't really shown up. You've pretended to listen and to study and made me think that maybe, just maybe you actually care about what I'm teaching you. But yesterday, I realized that you just don't care and I don't think you even realize that your apathy is a problem.

And so it's time for me to move on to a place where I'll find different, maybe greener, pastures. I'll freshen up my CV and plaster my friends' inboxes with it and hope that someone can help me find a job that proves to be a bit more rewarding or at least less depressing. Because I cannot show up to class everyday knowing that everything I've tried to do is for naught.

Let me leave you with one last thought though. When the Final Jeopardy category is Anatomy and Physiology and the answer reads: "These cells are scattered among other cells in the epithelium of many organs, especially in the intestinal and respiratory tracts," I want you to shout out to the masses, "WHAT ARE GOBLET CELLS?" and think of me fondly.

All the best,

Your teacher


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Think Spring

The day dawned dull and gray and the clouds hung low in the sky. And I needed a little bit of spring in my step. What better way to get that than to look at some pictures I'd taken a few days before of the spring glories waking up around the yard.

This picture is my favorite. The dogwood hasn't bloomed yet, but it's peeking out.

The picture could be centered better, but I like how the filter worked on this photo of our front door.

For years, I've tried to get rid of this plant. Lovely flowers, no? But it invades my space.

Bright green shoots from the hastas on the side of the house appeared last week. I fear the frost last night might have killed them.

Monday, April 4, 2016

What's in Your Toolbox?

Yesterday morning, as I cleaned up the kitchen in preparation for a brunch we would be having with friends, I found Tim's hammer and pliers resting on the kitchen counter. I'm not sure why these tools were in the kitchen; he hadn't used them recently. But Tim has a habit of not putting away his things. So I wasn't surprised to see them sitting on the counter. I was simply surprised that I hadn't put them away before then.

Of course, as I placed the tools into the box, the phrase "What's in your toolbox?" came to mind, most likely because of Capital One.

I don't have a physical toolbox, per se. I just use Tim's tools when I feel the need to construct or repair an item. But in my day to day life, I do a lot of fixing, and metaphorically, I guess I have several toolboxes.

One of those boxes is for writing, of course. And many people—most notably in my mind, Stephen King and Natalie Goldberg—have talked about what's in their toolboxes. To be honest, your best bet is to go pick up their books: On Writing, and Writing Down the Bones respectively. These two books should find a place of honor on your bookshelves if you're serious about writing. (I confess, though, that I only own On Writing. I've borrowed Writing Down the Bones from the library in the past.)

But let's say that you don't have space for more books. What then? Lucky for you we have this mighty wonderful tool (ha!) called the internet. And when I searched for "writer's tool box," I found, as expected, a wealth of information.

Does it do any good to list that toolbox here (King says there are six tools he keeps handy)? I don't think so. It's easy to find links that lead to good information. In fact, you can find the gist of what King says out there at places such as this and this, which means I've done some of the work for you. So what I will do is list what sorts of tools work for me (other than the craft-y info given by King and Goldberg).


My Six Tools:
1. Reserving time to write.
2. Having other people read my writing and give thoughtful feedback.
3. Discussing other writers' writing in a writing group.
4. Practicing my writing: the more I practice, the better I will become.
5. Writing down anything that pops into my mind, because most items will come back in some form in a story.
6. Exercising good grammar in my daily life.

I'm sure many of you are laughing at that last tool. How can grammar matter? I find it matters very much to always strive for the best grammar I can. Doing so makes stringing together strong sentences much easier.

And while I didn't include the following in my list of six tools, it's the one point that supersedes them all: Have fun. If I'm not enjoying what I'm doing, then there's no point in doing it.

Happy Writing!


Friday, April 1, 2016

Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Back in July of last year, I decided to take on the role of substitute teacher. I didn't make that decision lightly. I knew that I'd need to be flexible with my schedule as well as with my knowledge. I could expect to teach English one day and Biology the next; third grade on a Monday and seniors on a Friday. But I wanted to add a bit more cash to the "three kids in braces" fund, the "vacation" fund, the "let's try to retire before we're 80" fund, or the "four kids need to go to college" fund. And making $10 an hour was better than making $0 an hour at home.

So far, I've coped pretty well, I think. I've gotten used to your surly students and the lack of respect in the classroom. I know my way around two schools better and have confirmed that I am not made out to be a second grade teacher. I've also learned that I can take direction well, as sometimes, I even get to teach a lesson left by you, the regular teacher.

But what I haven't gotten used to is the amount of time I spend waiting for you to confirm that I will actually be subbing for you.

Let me explain. Many times, if you want someone specific to sub for you (i.e. when the 7th grade math teacher asks for me because she knows I can teach 7th grade math), you will contact the sub directly, discuss the date in question, and come to some resolution. The resolution is easy: the sub can either provide the service or the sub can't. As a sub, I try to tell you (and other teachers) within a day (or less) if I am available on the date in question. That way, if I cannot sub for you, there will be time to find someone else.

Every once in a while, though, you will ask for two days in a row. Right now, that scenario works for many people, but it doesn't work for me. I'm at the college on Tuesdays and Thursdays and cannot rearrange those days to fit your schedule. So, when you ask for say, a Thursday and Friday, my reply is most always, "I am unavailable on Thursday but can sub on Friday.  However, if you'd rather have the same sub for both days, I understand. Please let me know what you decide."

I am going to repeat that last sentence for emphasis. Please let me know what you decide. Which means I need for you to get back to me. (I even use please. Every single time!)


Like I say in my response to you, if you want the same sub, I get it: continuity in the classroom is worth more than gold sometimes. All you have to do is shoot me an apologetic email that lets me down easy (insert sarcasm here) and I'll go on my way to either accepting another job or taking care of any number of other things I have on my agenda. Of course, if you don't mind having two different subs in two days, I'll plan on being there on the Friday you stated.

Now maybe you don't see a problem with what you did (or didn't do) but I can tell you this: if you sent an email to a student and requested a reply, you'd expect for that student to get back to you. So I'm going to hold you to the standards you set for your students and request that the next time you contact me directly and ask for me to sub that you let me know when you have, indeed, decided to go with another sub who can be there on both days. I mean, I'm not trying to be rude here, but I have plenty of things to do and I don't really feel like putting my life on hold for you.

Lest you think I'm grumpy and just about to throw in the towel, I'll tell you that I'm not. In fact, just so you know, teacher, I'm thinking I'll keep my sub license for next year. I want to work less at the college and pursue other avenues (if you know of people needing an editor, let me know). That means I'll likely be available for you again in the fall and winter of next academic year, should you want me to sub for you again. And I'll promise you this: I'll try to work on my patience, so that when I encounter this scenario again, I'm less inclined to write a Dear Teacher letter. But maybe you can try to work on your communication skills.

Thanks so much.

Your (possible) substitute teacher