Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Comfort Zone of Learning

I've been working outside my comfort zone lately. My research writing classes are focusing on several different mythic systems, and while I started with Greek myth (a system I've had several classes in and have loved since I was very little), the class has now moved into Native American myth (a far more diverse system, since it covers millions of square acres of geography alone), will soon move into African folk myth (ditto), and finally Chinese myth (ditto).

With each one, I need to find a balance. Believe it or not, very few of my students have studied a single story from Greek myth (most were stunned to find out that Disney's Hercules had little resemblance to the original story, since that was their only previous encounter with Greek myth), and while more of them have experience with some Native American stories (since we live in the Northwest), virtually none have read any stories from Africa or China.

And I find myself researching each system to the nth degree, reading reams of books on geography, typical community values, beliefs, monetary systems, and other associated elements, but I don't want to overload the students with too much information so that they end up drowning in it instead of digesting any of it. I also don't want to stereotype cultural assumptions, especially since different tribal and geographical communities had different ideals and accepted precepts.

At the same time, an understanding of major belief or cultural systems is necessary for deciphering some of the tales. In fact, the stories themselves serve as good examples for illustrating some major ideas. For instance, several stories in our Chinese myth text explain and contrast Confucianism with Taoism, allowing students to see both major tenets of each belief system and how the two philosophies compare and in some ways argue with each other. I only have a few weeks to let students explore all of this, however, so I have to balance dealing with the stories fully and giving background so that students can see each story's cultural significance.

Perhaps, at this point, my goal should be meaningful exposure. Let the students read, research, and find what they can, while (hopefully) encouraging them to continue their reading once class is over. I find, with each set, though, that I wish I could spend the whole semester on it. I love each one, for different reasons, and I am always sorry when a particular section must come to an end.

I only hope this dabbling into myth inspires students to examine their own mythic system, examining it for its sources and influences... and even assumptions. That might be the most meaningful exploration of all.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Cape Flattery, the Video

video
This is the video I promised (at least, it should be the video, if it works, since it's still uploading). Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States, is also spectacularly beautiful. I took three videos on my digital camera, from three different lookouts, as we walked out to the very point where the country ends. The roar you hear is not my camera... it is the constant, load, explosive roar of water against rock.

Most of you have probably spent time on a beach, with waves pulling in and out, the smell of fishy, sandy ocean in your ears, along with people smells like sunscreen and restaurant food. That is not what you will find on this point. The weather, even in summer, is likely in the sixties, and the air is wet and spitty, always misting into your glasses and sticking your hair against your head.

The wind is unbelievable, but it pales against the sheer power of the water hitting the rocks below you. The roar of water is unending, rushing back and forth with the power of a sea god. I can see how the Native Americans in the area (several tribes have lived near here for centuries, including the Matak) could believe that the ocean was the place holding both life (food) and death. Honestly, standing out on this point, I could not recall the calm of the beaches in Florida, California, and South Carolina, for this sea was a different beast entirely, ready to eat me, to pull me under and splatter me against rocks.

And yet the cold and power drew me in more strongly than I thought possible. A small island out off the coast holds a lighthouse. The building is most likely no longer inhabited, but it once was lived in, by some solitary man and his family, alone except for a few days each year when a boat could make it from the shore. All alone, with the sea. I could think of worse ways to live.

If you are EVER up near Seattle, you must come out here. It's worth the drive through nearly uninhabited rainforest, if only to realize how small and breakable you are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ABNA Novel Has Been Entered!

I did it!

Despite all the grading I've been doing, along with all the other obligations, I actually did finish revising my novel, and late last night I entered it in the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest. Hurray!

I made it through several hoops last year, and while I don't expect that success every year, I have to pat myself on the back that I actually turned it in! I met a deadline!

I'll let you know how it all goes, even if I have to admit that this year I didn't even make it out of the first round. No effort, however little rewarded, is ever wasted.

If you have a manuscript you've been sitting on, submit it! What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

20 Years

No, I'm not projecting any time travel stuff. Honestly, I'm so caught up in now I can't possibly speculate on what the world will be like in 20 years.

But today, January 26, is still a big day. It's my husband's and my 20th Dating Anniversary.

Yes, we still celebrate it. It's the reason we went to Cape Flattery a little over a week ago. It's the reason we get gooey-eyed every January. Heck, it might be the reason we're still together after all this time. And, looking back, I'm pretty amazed. After twenty years:

1. We don't hate each other (marriage ain't much fun if that's happening).
2. We still like sitting next to each other, holding hands, etc. (Don't worry, I won't do the TMI thing.)
3. We still have plenty to talk about.
4. We still don't annoy each other much. Actually, we may very well annoy each other less than we used to. (I could make a short list, of annoyances, but then, so could he. None of them usually is enough even for a spat.)
5. We still like going places with each other better than with anyone else.
and, most importantly,

6. I still can't imagine putting up with anybody else instead.

So, there it is. Has it been exciting? Not enough to make a movie about. Has it been fun? Yup. Would I have picked differently? I am SOOO glad I didn't, and I think he'd say the same. We get along like best friends, we tell each other the truth (even when we don't want to), and we share a vision, a purpose, and a great deal of respect. And we know each other almost as well as we know ourselves.

What more could I ask for?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Riding a Motorcycle

I need your help.

I am working on my novel's revision, but there is one part I simply cannot describe. The sixteen-year-old girl, the novel's protagonist, must learn to ride a motorcycle. I had intended as part of this revision to speak with several people about riding, and even ride with the husband of a friend (who owned a motorcycle), getting over my own fear of being shoved off onto the pavement and having both arms ripped off.

I know my fear is likely irrational, but I was willing to overcome it for my novel in the same way I wanted my protagonist to face the fear and learn to ride the motorcycle. She faces a lot of fear in this novel, and with each test she becomes stronger and more self-reliant. I could describe her fear and her experience in almost exactly the same way I experienced it (and much of her fear I've faced and defeated in my own life).

Only I never got around to riding on a motorcycle. And my friend's husband sold the bike.

I still intend to take that motorcycle ride as soon as I can, before I start sending out this novel to actual agents and publishers, but I need some help right now so that I can complete this version and submit it to the Amazon.com contest. I will be calling my brother in Houston, since he has a bike and has definitely ridden it, so that I can get some details (where is the ignition, etc.), but I want most of all to know what it felt like to ride a motorcycle the first few times, especially the first.

I swear to heaven that I will experience it myself, and not just rely on your observations, but I have no way to do so now except through a Craiglist posting with a stranger (scarier than the motorcycle ride itself). Can you help? I welcome any description you might lend to me (I emphasize lend, though I also promise to put you in the acknowledgments).

So, what is it like to ride a motorcycle?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Countdown to Amazon.com

I have much work still to do, but my goal is to revise my third novel by this coming week, when the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest begins. Starting on January 25th, they'll be accepting fully completed novels, up to 10,000 of them, so even though I might have as long as Feb. 7 to turn it in, I actually think the contest might reach 10,000 entries by the end of the coming week.

I am so grateful for the deadline! It makes my husband prioritize the weekend so that he watches the kids as much as possible so that I can work two full days on my novel. My experience last year inspires me to try again. When my classwork overwhelmed me, and I told a few friends I might not make the deadline, one responded, "You won't!?!?" (Thanks, Cherilyn!)

Even if it's only for this week, I'm glad to place my novel first. Even if I don't do so again until this summer, write at this moment, for the next few days at least, my writing is a priority.

If I could only make it a priority every day.

So, any of you trying out the Amazon.com contest? Anyone working under another deadline?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blogging for Fun

I am drowning in essays on Greek myth (why did I choose to be an English teacher?!?), and I have less than forty minutes before I have to pick up my kids, but I just had to blog.

Thanks so much, those of you who read my blog whenever it pops up. Thanks for checking it out even when the title is lame and the subject matter isn't to your taste. And thanks to the BIG THREE responders, who pretty much chime in every single time I write (do I have to list you three out specifically? You know who you are!). Sometimes, in a given day, this blog is the only writing I can count. Sometimes it's the only fun I have. Sometimes it's the one break I get from all the stressful "have-tos"...

And you read it. Bad, good, boring, interesting, off topic, weird--no matter what presents itself here, you check it out. Thanks so much for that.

I wish I had more today. Perhaps I'll have time tomorrow to post about my trip out to Cape Flattery this past weekend. I took some digital video of it--spectacular!

Thanks again.

*hug*

Friday, January 15, 2010

Signs of Aging

I'm getting older. We all are. My kids are still not fully grown, but they are getting older (thank goodness!). 

I'm a bit older than they are, though, darn it! My husband's younger than I, but he's feeling older than he really is. He has a foot that is likely to need surgery, for every time he walks more than a few blocks it swells up and hurts for days (his mom had surgery). He's had arthritis in his hands for years, and has even had his wedding ring sized up several times, just so he can get it over his swelling knuckles. He has mystery pains everywhere, from his knees to his hips, his hair is thinning, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes it hurts for him to get up in the morning. Sometimes he can't get to sleep fast because he hurts.

I can't really whine about being old. Unlike my unfortunate husband, I can't say I've felt any effects of aging. No arthritis, no weird pains, nothing. I'm probably more spry now than I was a decade ago (since that was also several dozens of pounds ago, too). The only way I'm sure I'm getting old is that I have these smiley wrinkles right around my eyes. Since I'm pretty smiley, and very light skinned, I guess I can't be too surprised.

So, for those of you who are already feeling the effects of getting older, what's it like? What do I need to be prepared for? What should I expect? 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Simple Wish

My head exploded
With dreams of being worthwhile
A sage of the world
Guiding readers through 
The maelstrom of life
Leading my children 
As they make themselves successful
Changing the world
Through words

(In other words, 
I took myself
Just a bit too seriously)

But as I stomped in the rain
Dreaming dreams of glory
I chanced upon a woman
A girl
Of 90 years or so
Hair white as age required
Skipping along 
In a hot pink coat.

All my dreams drifted away
Out of my Pandora's box 
Where I had stuffed them
Held them captive
Leaving only one:

When I'm ninety
May someone see me
Skipping down the street
In my white hair
And hot pink coat
And smile.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Killed by Time

Dreams far off
Goals I feel my being's fiber
Gravitating to
Yearning for

Get lost.

Grading pulls me down
Into a stack of papers 
With my little purple pen
Writing answers
Offering encouragements
Recording score
Circling the smily faces as I go.

But the writing waits
Like a siren 
In the other room,
An untouched file on my laptop
Beautiful, calling for me to

Get lost.

Yet dishes drown me
And clutter drags me across the floor
Bathrooms sniff at me
Children's homework strangles me
Appointments eat at my time
Like moths.

And still the novels cry out
Unfinished
Broken
Filled with holes
Unwritten.
I keep answering:
I'm almost there!
I'm coming!

But I'm not coming.
My time is running out
And I'm not getting anywhere I want to be.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy Busy Day!

I have officially hit the ground running. My classes have started, I'm thick into THREE novels right now--one for book group, one for pleasure, one for a fellow writer (and pleasure). I have another writer's novel waiting, and then my own (third) novel to revise by the end of the month. 

Whew! Thank goodness I only have two classes right now! And they are promising to be wonderful--great students, enthusiasm, intelligent discussion. I can't wait to see how both classes progress. 

I hope your days are as exciting and busy! Or at least as exciting! I have lots to do, but I find myself doing it joyously. All I can do is wish the same for all of you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wasting Time

I took off for my playwriting rehearsal this afternoon, looking forward to centering myself a little around writing and theatre. I reached the theatre ahead of time, pulled out a book to read until everyone else arrived, and waited. 

No one came. I'm still not sure when the rehearsal was supposed to be (I was told 2 p.m.), but since I live nearly an hour from the theatre (and am now home, after waiting there for over half an hour), I won't be driving back for the staged reading tonight. In fact, with all the driving, I spent about 2 1/2 hours--no, wasted 2 1/2 hours--doing absolutely nothing. 

I cannot express how frustrated I am at this moment--although the impact of it is already beginning to fade--frustrated enough to question my involvement in what is otherwise a fantastic playwriting group. They are one of the best writing groups of any kind I've found over the years, and I'm lucky to be involved with them. Really.

But I hate wasting time. And gas. In those 2 1/2 hours I could have read another most of my best friend Cherilyn's novel. I could have finished Susan Cooper's fifth of five books Silver on the Tree. I could have finished Crystal's painting for her room. 

Then again, not going to the performance tonight has freed up quite a bit of time, too. Sure, I'll miss what is likely to be a fine reading, but perhaps I'll get to all those other things, and more.

See, all it takes is a bit of a perspective shift to end my whining. I'm off to read/edit/paint/etc. Hope you're making the fun use of your time, too!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ten Years Ago

It's not my tendency to look into the past, except in my novels, but my husband does it. He pointed out, too, that ten years ago was a bit of a parallel to last night. Ten years ago we were at the Millennium Celebration at Walt Disney World, watching Tinkerbell fly up to the castle before fireworks went off. And we were childless. I had just miscarried, and though my body had recovered, I was still devastated by the loss. Yet only three months later, right around my birthday, I would conceive my daughter. Now she has just turned nine, and last night, as my husband and I thought back to that time ten years ago, she and her brother watched Tinkerbell on DVD. 

Full circle. So much change, so much that stayed the same. 

I wonder what will happen in the next ten years. This time ten years from now, Crystal will likely be through her first semester of college (or hairdressing school, or something else, if she decides she's not ready for college yet). Richard and I will be wondering how we will afford college for both her and Brandon. I hope we're still married. I hope we're still happy. We've been happy for nearly 21 years now. Is 31 years in our future? 

Honestly, I can't predict anything. All I know is now. 

I'd be willing, ten years from now, to look back. But only for a moment. I don't have time to wallow in it, even the good stuff.

One thing I can guarantee is that, if I'm still alive, I'll still be working at something. And that's the best future I can imagine.

Now, though, laundry needs doing, and Brandon needs the toaster. And I have a novel to revise. Today is all that matters.