Monday, December 9, 2013

Do Adjuncts ever get to Grow Up? (An update)

About a year ago I wrote about my working journey and how things were going to change.  A full year later, let me assure you the changes are. . . astounding

ly minimal.

I am caught in the same loop the standard adjunct finds themselves in all across the nation.  Some pitiful figure like one in five of us will ever gain tenure-track positions.  Of those who do get hired, only 10% are hired at the school where they adjunct.  This means it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the likelihood of my securing full-time employment at the school where I currently teach is shockingly low.

And it makes sense.  I remember Steven Leavitt’s chapter from Freakonomics on incentives.  Currently my employer has less than zero incentive to hire me.  Why?  I am engaged in the equivalent of full-time employment from a teaching perspective. They have from me all of the teaching they would ever want at what I calculate to be about 30% (or less!) of the cost of a full-time professor.  Of course there are a variety of other attributes I could easily bring to my employment – my knowledge of state policy changes, my understanding of some of the drivers of continued student improvement and success, my experience with recruitment and retention of minority students, and obviously my sparkling personality – but those things count for rather little when asking them to pay me 70% more.

As such, I can’t help but feel like I’m either going to have to accept a lifetime of adjuncting, go to school for certification to teach high school, or find another career altogether.  In the meantime, I can’t help but feel like I’m stuck in the unenviable position of supporting a broken system without any voice or power to change it. Of course then I feel as though my continued participation in the system only empowers it to roll on.

Of course I don’t mean this to be a pity party for me. We’re not hurting financially – it’s why I can do what I do. This is not really much more than an acknowledgement of where I am and where I would like to be.  I’m a good teacher who loves what she does and gets measurable growth from her students – exactly the kind of person who should be retained. Unfortunately, my years of adjuncting and applying for full time positions to no avail have driven me to the verge of leaving the profession altogether. I guess the saddest part of all is that I’m not alone. I know plenty of amazing teachers who have left the profession for lack of compensation, support, and most of all, respect. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Day the Baby Told Me I Was Her Favorite Pillow

I yuv you mama. You’re so faaaaaaaat. Your tummy is so mushy and soft and your back is so pinchy and chubby.
Are you calling me fat?
Yes! she grinned.  I just yuv you so so much.

I mean, I don’t have much else to say. What is there to say?  It’s nice to be valued for the things you sometimes see as your biggest flaws.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Goldieblox and the three Boys

A recreation of the Titanic, post wreck, nary a pink ribbon in sight.  Drowning Titanic bodies provided by creative children who discussed physics, biology, and history while making this presentation. 

The internet has written a lot of things about Goldieblox and the Beastie Boys over the past few weeks and I won’t retread that ground, but I do have a few important things I’d like to share. I’ve teed off on Lego Friends and Goldieblox since I’ve known about them, but I won’t retread that territory. My philosophical issues with their point and purpose aside, I have a few important pieces of insight for Goldieblox that I really feel are essential side-notes to “Girls”gate.

First, I feel compelled to point out that the company highlighting girl-power has skillfully positioned themselves as the picked-upon girl in a fight against the boys.  And not just any boys. Beastie boys, to be exact.  This seems to be no coincidence.  In their final reply to the Beastie Boys, as Goldieblox announces their intention to take down the “Girls” video, their aw-shucks submissiveness is imbued with an overly-inflated sense of themselves.  “Gee, boys” they seem to say, “We were just trying to do something totally ground breaking and awesome for the girls of the world.”

My issue is that they aren’t breaking new ground.  They are retreading the old washed-out pinks and blues of our childhood, arming girls with ribbons and spools and princess stories and trying to get them to make machines to help princesses.  Goldieblox has proved their adherence to tired old territory through their public relations response to the discovery that they inappropriately (please note I did not say illegally. I’m no legal scholar and I won’t pretend to be one. I think we can agree on inappropriateness, though, and leave legality to the scholars) lifted someone else’s material.  Rather than issuing a mea culpa, Goldieblox doubled down, filing an already-prepared legal suit against the Beastie Boys to use their song under “Fair Use.” When the “Beastie Boys sue Goldieblox” story broke, I couldn’t help but envision the Beastie Boys as that mustachioed bad guy tying Goldieblox to the legal train tracks. The company prepared to take this position in the battle all along and their slick public relations responses show that they gleefully fell into the same boy versus girl narrative that undermines girl-futures in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and relegates girls to the pink aisles at the toy store (where, I might add, they can now find Goldieblox).

I’ve written about the problems of attracting women to STEM careers in my day job and I understand and agree with Goldieblox’s mission to bring more women to STEM industries. That said, I don’t think that gender-branding traditional “boy” toys with traditional “girl” colors and stories will do much to change the overall attractiveness of STEM studies.  What can and will do that, in my opinion, are two important qualities and examples Goldieblox could have exhibited in their handling of “Girls”-gate: collaboration and the ability to persevere through failure.

Rather than filing a "Fair Use" lawsuit and setting up for a battle of the sexes, Goldieblox could have illustrated the essential nature of collaborative work and invited their own customers to help create both music and lyrics to replace the “Girls” material.  As collaboration and crediting are essential pieces of STEM studies this could illustrate for their customers qualities that are important to the industry and allow early participation in a similar process of discovery. The company itself could acknowledge those involved, thus underscoring the importance of crediting in the scientific process.

Further, failure is a difficulty that often drives students out of STEM studies – with girls at a higher rate than boys. Bright young women are often perfectionists who interpret failure as a lack of ability rather than an attribute of the nature of the work itself. By issuing a mea culpa instead of filing against the Beastie Boys, Goldieblox could have astutely illustrated that some tries don’t work – and that this is not only acceptable, it’s a part of the process of innovation and, eventually, success. 

Often, as molders of young minds, we have to remember that how we do things is just as important as what we do.  If Goldieblox’s true mission is to attract growing girls to STEM careers, they would have done well to illustrate important basic essential principles to their clientele rather than step into an age-old girls-versus-boys battle they intended to win by batting their PR eyelashes.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dear long-haired, stubborn, 16-year-old me:

I've seen my share of open letters lately.  From Miley to some poor, unknowing mom checking Pinterest from her iPhone at the park, people have a LOT to say to other people.  Sometimes it's kind of judgmental, too, which is a bummer theme of the "Open Letter".  Or it's all "I know more than you so let me deign to share that abundant knowledge with you." Sometimes they do know more, but open letters still feel kind of weird.

And it's fine. If you page back in this bloggety blog, you'll find I've done it too.  And hang on to your pants, friends, because hypocrite that I am, I'm going to do it again. I mean, I try not to, but I also saw this thing on Facebook (something tells me I maybe spend a bit too much time on Facebook) about "What's one thing you would tell your 16 year old self" and I decided I couldn't do it in a sentence. I spend a lot of time with a 16 year old now, so I've been thinking a lot about what I'd tell *me* if I were *her*.  And I do tell *her* some of these things but not all of them because who needs to listen to me lecture without paying tuition fees?

Right, fictional past-me reading future-me's letter like some sort of knowledge Looper.

This is you in 2 years.  No matter how hard you try, your hair won't be more red than your graduation gown. Just give up. Also, transition lenses aren't your friends now, but I hear they're better in the future. 

So here goes, 16 year old self:

Stop being such a self-centered bungholio. Wait. That's rude because you are sometimes really, really, awesomely selfless.  It's just hidden behind this veil of mememememememememe that you find really comfortable.  But really, a little tiny bit less.  Let us in a little bit.  I promise, it'll be OK.

I should also tell you that the boy you thinks you're going to marry isn't the guy. He's going to go to Harvard and be wildly successful and marry an opera singer.  No shit.  The next guy - he's the guy, but you're not going to know that for another 8 years during which time you'll fall in and out of love with all kinds of amazing people.  Don't hold back your heart - go ahead and do it. Date knife boy and that guy from AA and the musician. . . musicians. . . and the poet.  Definitely date the poet, because you're going to travel the southwest playing disc golf and doing slam poetry and he's going to introduce you to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and snicker as you may, you'll never regret knowing about Joss Whedon.  When you wake up on that inexplicable day in September with the poet at your side and suddenly realize it's not going to work - don't doubt yourself.  Break his heart and your heart and trust it's the right decision because he's going to go on to marry another amazing poet you introduce to him and you're going to get back the "one that got away" and it'll be, well, it won't be perfect because nothing is, but it'll be really, really, really awesome.

Oh, and those two teachers that you were always like "Damn, they SO should be a thing."  They will be.

But these next two are super important:

First: your family rocks.  I know you fight and fight now, but they are fighting FOR you not with you.  It doesn't feel that way and that sucks. But try. Try to see it that way. Also, please know you're going to say goodbye to one of your four parents long before their time. That's just awful and it will hurt. A lot - more than you imagine. So love all of them fiercely now while you can - and love the ones who remain later even more fiercely. And talk to the one who left, no matter how foolish you feel, because even in absence you can learn something.

 Finally, you're pretty cool, self.  So's life.  So when you're feeling like it's not, be kind.  Find a few things that are amazing and beautiful.  Look at a coffee table book of Ansel Adams photographs or Frank Lloyd Wright buildings or a calendar of baby animals and know that it's all good.  Things are going to get much better than they are now.

And in the interest of full disclosure, sometimes they will get so much worse, but you'll rebound.  During one of those dark times, your Dad will write you a great letter and it will say that life has pain and life has joy and because he's an artist he's going to talk about how that contrast brings depth and without some pain the joy's just going to be blah (he's also a poet, so he'll say it better than I have) and without some joy the pain's going to suck and with the two of them, there will be an awesome balance. Something brilliant and amazing with shadows and light.  Like Thomas Kinkaide, except way better and not sold at a mall kiosk.

One final thing:  Don't feel guilty about spending $150 on those combat boots. You'll still wear them in 20 years.  But do, for the love of god, please DO keep the plaid Doc Martens.  Yeah, the toe fabric is peeling off and held together by a band-aid, but sweetie, you're never going to find the right pair to replace them.  And you're going to miss them.

Love you.
And love,

Monday, November 4, 2013

Look, I'm in it, so it's kinda about me.

Yesterday my Facebook feed blew up with reposts of the blog post Marriage Isn't For You by Seth Adam Smith. I love my friends and they usually share interesting things, so I popped the link open.

I had an instant visceral reaction and let me say, it wasn't good.  I went back to reread (or, rather, finish reading) Smith's post this morning and I'm feeling a little bit better about it, I guess, but there are two main points I want to counter.

First: Let's address this future children business

I didn't marry for a family. Well, actually, I did, because I was already knocked up when we did the vow stuff.  But that's not why I married.  That I was having a family was a secondary experience that came along the way. I married my spouse because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. And I would be an egotistical fool if I said I stayed married to him for his benefit.  Please. I stay married to him for the bacon. And because I'm sweet on him. I'm lucky enough that he remains sweet on me.

But I want to address this family thing because it reminds me of an ugly time in my not to distant past when we weren't sure we'd ever have more kids and my friends who are still struggling to create the family they imagine.  They married their spouse because they loved their spouse - their spouse was not a stepping stone to a family with kids. They are a family.

Because some people never get the children, marriage isn't about the children. I guess it's lucky that you can imagine a universe where your marriage will be a family with kids. I've been that lucky as well. But not everybody is as lucky as we are.  Please let's not couch this whole marriage business in the idea that marriage is about a family with kids.
A fun (and stinky and mess-making)  addition, yes, but families are made in many ways. 

Secondly: Marriage isn't for you

Look, I've only been married for 12 1/2 years, so I'm not going to claim to be an expert.  My husband and I have known each other for over 20 and I happen to think we're pretty okay about this marriage business though, and so I want to share something that gets us someplace.

Marriage isn't about you. Except sometimes it is.  Sometimes marriage is for me and about me.  Initially, it was about our kid, because she was the impetus that brought us to "Oh shit, we should probably make this official" but it's not always about those guys either.  Sometimes it's all about them, sometimes it's all about him, sometimes it's all about me, and sometimes it's all about our extended families.  When my stepdad died, marriage was about me. It's the thing that got me out of bed in the morning and without my husband's 99%, I'm not sure I would have made it.  When my husband struck out on his own and started a new company, our marriage was in some ways about him - about supporting his endeavor.  Overall it's going to even out, I think, because we try very hard to ensure that it's me and him not me OR him. That in as many ways as possible, marriage is for both of us.

When I was in college, I had a professor who was a marriage therapist married to a marriage therapist. She taught us that the idea that marriage is 50/50 is bullshit.  Marriage, she explained, is sometimes 50/50. It's sometimes 60/40 or 10/90 or 30/70 or all of those other mathy combinations that take us to 100.  If, overwhelmingly, marriage is all about your spouse, she explained, that might be trouble.  And I've seen that play out in the people I know.  Of course if both partners abide Mr. Smith's scenario, making marriage all about their partner's happiness, then, generally speaking, from the 50 foot view, things should even out. Assuming that everyone knows the rules.

But sometimes they don't.  Sometimes one partner does everything and the other does nothing and it's not fair to either of them.  If we teach about marriage as being about BOTH of us - about the mathy stuff that my professor taught us - it's a much better way, I think, of articulating it.

Upon reflection, I'm not sure I disagree with his overall viewpoint so much as the specific way he communicated it.   I get it. It's not an easy Walmart return, this marriage business.  I don't want it to be.  But I also don't want people running around thinking their marriages fell apart because they weren't enough about their spouse or because their spouse failed to make it enough about them.

Maybe, in the end, just maybe Love doesn't always say "What can I give."  Maybe Love sometimes feels comfortable and supported enough to say "I need" without being afraid of being called selfish.

Or, actually, marriage is about loving someone who understands my need to paint Geek-themed peeps. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

With whom would you dine?

:: Language Warning ::

Bet you didn't think a language warning would be followed by a cooking picture, huh? 

Last night, while cooking this, I was chopping carrots and thinking about that question people sometimes ask - if you could have dinner with any of people, who would it be? My answers always vary. Some days it's Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and Ghandi or Socrates and Plato.  Other days it's George Carlin, Robin Williams, Groucho Marx, Louie CK, and Patton Oswalt.  

But last night as I was chopping carrots, I started thinking about cooking.  About what a lovely and intimate affair it is to stand next to someone and cook with them - how food is a language through which we love and the creation of food is an act of love.

And then I thought: if I could cook with anyone, who would it be?

Of course there are the chefs - Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey.  Great, yes, that would be lovely.  And there is family - I would make fried chicken with my mother and ham and bean soup with my father and just abot anything with my stepfather who taught me to cook. Then there are the heroes and role models- would Einstein cook?  What would I say to him?  If Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson were in my kitchen would we cook at all?

Then again, there are the comedians.  I love to laugh.  I love to laugh almost as much as I love to eat.  If I had to cook with anyone, I'm pretty sure I know who I'd invite.

I'd invite Harto  because she's amazing and I already watch My Drunk Kitchen when I cook, so it wouldn't be much different except there would be pure awesomeness in my presence.  And I'd probably have to invite Jenna Marbles because I watched her bake a cake with Harto once and I might have dropped my knife and screamed, "THANKS, OBAMA".  I'd probably ask Louis CK and Patton Oswalt to come early for dinner so they could stand in the doorway and just be themselves while I got sloppy drunk and made food for all of us to eat to soak up some of the bourbon in our bellies.

I'm not sure what that says about me.  Here you thought you were going to get something awesome and philosophical and deep because some I started out talking about cooking "Herbs de Provence Roasted Chicken with Fennel Lentils" and doesn't that sound fancy?   Now's probably a good time for me to admit that I got the recipe off of  This reminds me of two other people I'd invite.  The maker of that website and Thug Kitchen because I feel like they both might get along well with everyone else and I always love some people who can eat like they give a fuck.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How do we define courage?

My students are writing Definitional Argument essays.  Last week in class, we talked about creating categories using criteria - about how to define words by coming up with ideas that help mold and create those definitions. 

One pesky word students got stuck on during our in-class work was courage. What is courageous?  They were given four scenarios:  A stranger runs into a burning building to save a child, a parent runs into a burning building despite knowledge that they couldn't reach their child and the fireman could, a fireman runs into a burning building for that child, and a boy runs into a burning building for letters from the woman he loves. 

Which of these actions were courageous?  They argued back and forth.  One student quoted Mark Twain: Courage is resistance of fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.  

During our discussion we went a bit off track - we talked about Miley Cyrus and her VMA performance and Wrecking Ball video. Perhaps she thinks she's being courageous in a way - she thinks she's fighting norms and creating a new space for herself and we talked about that a little, though they all so thoroughly disagreed with the idea of her being courageous that we swiftly came back to discussing our criteria of courage.  

They thought that courage was when a person exhibited a mastery of fear while doing something that was honorable that was not their job (or that they were not receiving monetary reward for). 

The latter was a point of contention in class, as we argued about the courage in the fireman scenario.  Was he courageous, I asked? Some said yes. Some said no.  Some said "He's doing his job."  "A soldier is doing his job, is he courageous?"  "The first responders in 9/11 were doing their job - were they courageous?"

It was a fascinating discussion.

I wonder what they would think of this interview - of Malala Yousafzai.  Is she courageous?  I think yes.  

And more than that - in the wake of my discussion with my students and seeing this video the other night, I ask myself:  What criteria have I put forth for my children to teach them about what it means to be courageous?  About what it means to be kind or good.  How do I show them - through my actions and words - how do I illustrate for them the definitions of these difficult words?  

How do I work to raise a child who carries kindness and courage of this young woman? 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

So, that happened.

My first car was a Mustang. It was a 1980 powder blue hatchback with far too many cylinders for a 16 year old girl, as evidenced by the rainy day when I delicately parked it in the ditch after fishtailing on slick asphalt because when you gunned it in that thing, it really moved.

I loved my first car.  I wanted a Mustang. I got a Mustang. I ruined a Mustang.

I moved on to other cars after that - a Geo Metro with half the engine my Mustang had, a Mazda 626 that couldn't keep a transmission, and a Nissan Sentra, shiny and red, with some weird overdrive issue.  Then there was the Altima and the Eclipse - the cars we vowed to drive into the ground.  The sedans we've been holding onto as if they were our last shred of dignity.  Because they are our last connection to that pre-child life where our cars were pretty and sleek, where they didn't stink of chinese food and feet, where we could comfortably reach into the back floorboards without wondering what fresh hell we might find, or at least know if we found it that *we* put it there.

But now we've snipped that final small thread between musician and performance poet us and middle-aged suburban parent us.  We bought this behemoth.  We tell ourselves we're still cool and we call it War Machine because "Predawn grey mica" is exactly the same color as Iron Man's partner.

And exactly as every other minivan sellout has told me I would, I love it.

It's big.  The kids are no longer playing the game I call "elbows and eyeballs".  I don't have to listen to one person tell me they're getting kicked into the face.  When belted in, they are all contained in a space much farther away from me and from each other than they used to have and every bit of it was worth it. Did I mention it's big?

And it's fancy.  My last car was 15 years old, which means that the features and benefits consisted of a CD player and a trunk that pops open from the inside.  This one has special keys and satellite navigation and weather and special radio stuff and things.  And approximately 27 cupholders.  And a seat warmer.

If I think too much about the bill, I get a little fluttery in my "I work for peanuts" soul, but man, this thing is beautiful. Just once I'd like to go back in time and talk to performing poet me.  "Performance poet me," I'd say.  "Twelve years from now you will have three children and a minivan and Martha Stewart will have served time in prison.  Suck it up and deal."

I'd never believe me.

Monday, September 30, 2013

That colossal wreck, boundless and bare or, you know, saturated and bright.

Warning: Spoilers.  Yeah, bitch. Spoilers. 

This looks like a post about Breaking Bad.  See - there's even a picture  of the show logo here: 

Today everyone's talking about Breaking Bad.  About what it means.  About Stevia and garage door openers and "Yeah. Science."  And that's awesome.  I am a fan of Breaking Bad and will be forever grateful for Vince Gilligan's fiction. I'll get to my show-based talky talky at some point in the future when yesterday's finale stops hurting so damned much. But this isn't about the show, really.

Sort of about the show, I guess, in that it's about how I relate to the show. It's a piece about me. Or maybe it's about cancer, too.  A piece about me and cancer and Breaking Bad.  See, the show started about four months to the day after my stepfather had a surgery for a stomach rupture caused by the chemotherapy doctors were using to treat the multiple cancers riddling his body. When I read the promotional material for BrBa, I wasn't sure I could watch it.  A schoolteacher diagnosed with terminal cancer decides to cook meth?  First of all, it's insane.  Secondly, it's insane.  Finally: the cancer.  Because we'd just lived it, who, having seen it in real life, wanted to watch it?

Turns out, I did.  The first episode was hard to take.  The lonely MRI and PET scan machines.  The awful news. The vivid moment of diagnoses when all of the sound gets muffled.  Despite having just ended watching my stepfather battle cancer for five years, I took on watching a show depicting a similarly awful diagnosis. Because it was fiction.  Because I believed  in the face of awful, terminal cancer, maybe I could learn something interesting from this strange little television show.  I'm glad I gave it a chance despite everything in me screaming that I shouldn't.

In the past six years, I've gotten to see Bryan Cranston play a fictional guy who did it all wrong, highlighting for me, the amazing choices of the real-life guy I know who did it right. Walter White said he did it all for his family.  The real guy I know - he did it all for his family - he lived in the face of a horrific diagnosis with acceptance and grace.  Six years ago today, we unhooked every tube and monitor from my stepfather and he lifted his hand in the air with the movement of a graceful bird taking flight.

Last night's finale was hard because Breaking Bad was a beloved show in our home.  We looked forward to every episode.  We watched them all. Some more than once. Or twice. Or, ahem, well, just more.  I love the characters Vince Gilligan created - and how they interacted with the world and with each other.  Above all else, I appreciate how real the morality of the show was and how terminal the show was. Because let's get this straight - no matter how much cancer faded into the background, I didn't believe for a moment that it was survivable.

More than that though, I appreciate how deeply and beautifully the show made me understand the real life cancer story we lived shortly before the BrBa universe appeared -- and how strikingly different were the choices of the real man who lived it.

BrBa left us with Ozymandius's colassal wreck - and the hollow command: "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair".  And last night, we did.  Every one of Walt's hubristic choices over the course of the series led up to this awful, difficult, dreary end. But the series finale also challenged me to reflect upon my stepfather's works - a lifelong dedication to people, dedication to and participation in the lives of his children, his last days in a hospital room filled with love and light, with laughter and family and friends built through a lifetime of giving. I realized with distinct clarity all of the things Walter White was missing. As he caressed Holly's curls in last night's episode, I remembered six years ago tonight, my daughter in her pale pink ballet slippers dancing in my stepfather's hospital room as he clapped with joy. As Walter White stood alone watching Jesse drive away, I remembered a crowded waiting room full of people who loved and supported my stepfather in his final days. As Heisenburg lay all alone, I remember my stepfather's death surrounded by a crowd of people who loved him and loved each other.

Yeah, bitch! Isn't that one of the most amazing things about art?  That sometimes it's meant to take us to our dark places and remind us of every bit of brilliance and light worth remembering.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The importance of playtime

One day, in the distant future, my son won't forgive me for this.  

This week, as I await the gritty and real conclusion of Breaking Bad, I'm looking for shiny and interesting things.  I've seen two that were particularly sweet and dreamy. The first was Ricky Gervais's blog entry on creativity and the second, Jimmy Fallon's second lip sync dance off. Both highlight, for me, the importance of play.

Yes. Play. Gervais discusses it outright in his piece and Fallon makes play his vocation. But play is essential to who they are and what they do - and in many ways, essential to who we all are.  It can make what we do feel so much more inspiring and fulfilling.

Once when my daughter was young she was playing with a friend. Her friend, breathless, ran out to report in a bit of a tattle-tale tone, "Monkeymoo is using her imagination! She says the bed is a boat but it's not a boat, it's a bed." Her mom giggled, embarassed.  But this little gal was taken aback by an essential skill in our place:  You have to play to live here.

Or, rather, you have to play to live.

Everyone in this house plays - while we all spend a fair amount (too much, I'd wager) of time with our heads buried in screens, we also run around in the backyard or take action figures on crazy adventures.  Even Honeybadger plays - mostly mommy/baby themed dramatic numbers that involve someone being lost.  But we also play with music and words. We teach the kids to imagine different endings to movies and tv shows - to envision cross-overs with our favorite superheroes.  We dress up for the Zombie crawl and wear costumes to Denver Comic Con.

Because you have to play to live.

I struggle every year with trying to get my Composition students to recognize that play is an essential skill in writing.  I don't teach them creative writing - I teach them formal academic writing, but we still play. We play with words.  We play with sentence structures - take what's up front and put it in the back and see how it works.  Try fragments!  We play with ideas and writing construction - breaking rules (don't state the thesis outright!  Wait until the END!) along the way. To be a successful writer, even a successful formal writer, requires a sort of play. I work hard throughout the semester to get them to shrug off the seriousness, the big bold THIS IS WRITING CLASS and try to get them to embrace a little writing class, we are!  Maybe it works and inspires them maybe they think me insane. I'm not sure.

But this week, I challenge you to read Gervais's column and watch Fallon's video and find some way to bring play into your life.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Can't Stop the Signal: Why Banning Books Makes Me Want to Read Them

As a teacher and a writer, my life-long love affair with words is undeniable.  But I don't just love words for their fancy dancing on the page.  I love them for their point and purpose as the beautiful wrapping around ideas.  Be they brown paper packages tied up in strings or the most ornately decorated hatbox wrappings that Pinterest can inspire - what they hold matters. 

And what they hold is, well. Everything. 

This week, bibliophiles across America will celebrate Banned Books Week by taking a long look at the books that have been banned or challenged across the United States, scratching their heads, and wondering why.  To be on the list, someone must take some sort of citizen action with a library to have the book removed from the shelves.  This year, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian took second place to Captain Underpants. The Banned Books Week website provided a handy list called Banned Books that Shaped the World to show us the most historically challenged books that have had the greatest influence on our nation. 

It includes some of my favorites and they all have something in common - these books threaten and challenge some of our most basic assumptions about the world and the people in it.  They make us think.  They make us hurt.  They change us in some lovely, difficult way. Or, you know, like Captain Underpants, they're full of fart jokes. That's cool too. Or, like Fifty Shades of Grey, they're knockoff fanfic disguised as BDSM that took the world by storm long after The Story of O came along. That's less cool, but whatever. We all have our opinions, right? 

For me, I guess, if a book inspires such a visceral reaction in someone that they would beat down the doors of their library and complain or start a letter campaign to have those words hidden from the public - there is something worth exploring in that book, some idea important enough to hold in my hands and mind long enough to find some value there. 

Me, I'm off to the library to find The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and And Tango Makes Three

What banned book will you read this week?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yup. Met Lucy. Sorry you think so poorly of her.

I've been thinking a lot about a blog post I saw reposted by a gads of friends on Facebook.  The one about Lucy, the Generation Y whiny brat. It reminded me of that crabby old "From Gen X to Gen Y" post I saw six months ago but can't remember the link for. The Lucy post and the crabby Gen X post both did two things:  They made a lot of assumptions about the broad attitudes of Gen Y and the Millenials and they both made me mad.  Not the seething rage of the entitled turned disappointed mad, just mutter under my breath mad.
You. and you. and you and you and you.  You're NOT the same. 

Why?  Well, for one, I know a Lucy.  She's not Gen Y. She's a Millenial.  In the whole I've known her, I don't think Lucy's asked me for much or demanded anything more than a cup of water or maybe a snack.  She expected a little - like, say, a functioning pancreas and when she was four and her first Disney trip was ruined because her islet cells shit the bed, Lucy got a fancy bracelet that said "Diabetic" and skipped on.  No whining. No disappointment.  Shit man, if everyone of every generation can be THAT Lucy,  we'll all be better for it.

But we're not all that Lucy.  And Generation Y is not all the Lucy described in the post that made me so mad.  Because no matter how much people would like to pretend it is so, Generation Y is a pretty random bunch of people trampling through life as best they can.  Some saw their parents enjoy the spoils of Lucy-in-the-post.  Others, like me, watched their parents and grandparents work hard their whole lives to mixed results - due to the randomness of the universe or their own choices or devastating illnesses or winning the lottery.  Few of the people I know carry an air of expectation and specialness described in the "Why Gen Y yuppies are unhappy" post.

Some of us have taken jobs, as I have, in public service - working hard to make the world a better place - without demanding more money  or job security or even insurance for our services because we believe what we're doing is worth it.  Other Gen Y yuppies have been fighting and dying overseas for a decade now.  Those lucky enough to return demand things like Veteran's services and the GI bill so that they can build some sort of life for themselves and their families after laying down their lives. Still others run around feeling like Lucy-of-the-post-that-made-me-crabby but you know what? Those people are assholes and we all know it.

They aren't disappointed because they're Gen Y yuppies turned Gypsies or whatever the author creatively called them - they're disappointed because they're whiners and here's some breaking news:  Every generation has to deal with their fair share of assholes. It's another thing that the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Millenials, and whatever we'll call the future generations have in common.  There are those among us who are jerks.  This is not shocking. This is not news.  I'm sure there was probably a 13th disciple named FlimFlam who walked out on Jesus because Jesus just wasn't recognizing how special a guy FlimFlam was. 
Flim Flam argues with Jesus over who gets to sit in the middle of the table

The Why Gen Y Yuppies are Unhappy post is right about one thing:  Generation Y isn't special.  They're just like every other generation - a broad group of people aligned by historical zeitgeist that fights, sweats, and bleeds to build an America in which their children have the right to fight, sweat, and bleed to pass it on to their kids.  Congrats, Lucy.  Welcome to it.  I'm sorry you're sad.  Let's work on that. Come on over and meet my friend Lucy.  We have a lot to learn from her, I suspect.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back to School. . . and the end of an era, so to speak.

All three children started school this week.  That's right: three.  Honeybadger has descended upon the local church preschool and begun her educational reign of terror.  As usual, everybody loves it - loves their classmates and teachers and curriculum and the shine is still painfully bright on the school year. Meanwhile, I'm back in my own classroom - two sets of twenty students ready and willing to learn all of the glorious things I have to teach. 

It's the end of an era:  Honeybadger should be our last child - which means our last child has entered the preschool-to-high-school pipeline - thus allowing me small windows of freedom to do things I haven't had much time to do in oh, say, the past 10 years or so.

One of those things is writing, though I promised that last fall at this time.  In some ways I am writing more - I've begun a professional blogging gig. But my personal writing has suffered tremendously over the past 10 years.  I was reading an old friend's blog the other day - and she was talking about the trials and torments of being a writing mother and I was thinking of myself as a mother who used to write.  In many ways that is true and I'm not particularly impatient with it.  In some ways that writing part of me has been doing necessary things like keeping short people from licking the cat or eating paper.  And that's fine. 

But I'm surrounded by women who have managed to be mothers and still write and I'm very impressed with their ability to do so.  I want to be them. 

And so here I go - I'll start with reading a bit more.  Poetry. Fiction. What have you.  This month I started sort of easy with A J Jacobs's Drop Dead Healthy and Anthony Bourdain's The Bobby Gold Stories.  Next up will be some collection of poetry.  Or collections. Then a book of writing prompts - with a daily writing goal of one sort or another.  But also more reading.  I've spent a decade putting in little of substance - and my writing life is suffering for it!

Any suggestions?  What have you read lately? 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I have just a moment.

There is a two and a half year old hanging off my arm and screaming at the top of her lungs.  Summers are . . . long.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hidden. . . and not so hidden. . . treasures.

My father is an artist.  I grew to the smell of paints and drying canvasses and still reminisce with joy when I get a deep sniff of wet clay.  He was an art teacher for several years, and while he never said it to me in my childhood - it was always clear.  Art is everywhere. 

When we moved to our neighborhood several years ago, I was struck by the high number of public art projects I saw dotting our routine landscape.  Just a few weeks ago, I found a map from our local Park & Rec center and decided to take the family out and try to find them all.  First, it gives us something to do and fills our days which - as any stay at home parent knows of the summer - can sometimes be difficult.  Second, it takes us to neighborhoods we haven't necessarily seen before.  Most importantly though, it's gotten everyone in the habit of looking - for - and AT - the art and we're learning fascinating things.  The scuplture above, for example, just looks like boots from the street, but contains this sweet little surprise behind it.  Another sculpture at a park we frequent moves, rotates, and dances with the wind - something we've never before noticed.
Now they're finding art wherever we go.  That is the two youngest.  The older child peers up over the spine of her latest Harry Potter (don't ask which one, there's a new one every few days), raises an eyebrow, and says "Oh, yeah, great" in her best teenager sass. But they're looking - and we're hiking and exploring - and grateful to live in a neighborhood that supports such things!  Once we've finished this list, we'll move on to a larger one that represents the metropolitan area nearby. It's definitely a great way to spend some time together - even if my eldest doesn't yet appreciate it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bloggers block

I'm stuck.

I mean, I've been stuck before.  What to write about.  There's so much - honestly - a universe of things to write about and yet, clearly, something is making me hold back a bit.  I think I'm a bit lost in blogland.

Honeybadger, The Budge, and Monkeymoo are good - happy even.  They continue to be unbelievably exhausting works of awesomeness, for sure, but overall they are good.  I've had a mental reset and gotten to a place where my work is satisfying.  Spring is here.  Overall, I'd say things are pretty good on a variety of fronts.

Except the writing front.  What's in the hopper?  Gosh, I don't know.  Stuff about parenting. Stuff about writing. Stuff about books I've read and books I plan to read.  Requisite geek movie and Denver Comic Con recaps.  It's such a confusing mish mash of topics, I wonder why anyone might stop to read, and as I tell my students: one must consider, always, the almighty reader.

So, almighty reader. . . what do you want me to write about?  Let me know - I aim to please!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

There is no frigate like a book. . .

My daughter is studying poetry in school where she has not told her teacher that her mother's a poet. She reads Silverstein and the children-focused poets and says "Meh, they're okay, I guess" and she shrugs.  But then.  Then.  Then she reads someone and falls in love.  She reads Dickinson to me and she asks how I like it and if I like it and shifts uncomfortably when I read her Billy Collins or Rita Dove or Sherman Alexie or someone (anyone!) but Dickinson. She tells me trivia she’s learned from a Wikipedia page or some Scholastic book.  "Did you know she never left the house?  Did you know she wanted her poetry burned but her sister couldn't do it and published it posthumously?"

I am reminded of that day, in the middle of some dark teenage funk that I announced to Mr. Mercer's creative writing class that Dickinson’s final wish should have been fulfilled. That her words, committed to paper, piled upon each other should have been sparked into a glorious bonfire never to be studied by surly tenth graders. I don't know why I disliked her so. Maybe it was Tuesday.  I wrote weird Kerouac-inspired poems and turned my nose up at her nature-based poetry just because. I reeked of patchouli and had a chip on my teenage shoulder, I guess. I didn't meet Dickinson in the poetry reading-filled coffee shops I frequented so I didn't have much use for her. And for whatever reason, that chip has remained on my shoulder since.

And now here I am and my daughter is in love with Emily Dickinson and I love my daughter. Dickinson has provided her that first spark to light the fire for poetry inside of her.  Whether she grows to be a writer or not, I get the distinct impression that my daughter now understands that words on the page are more than just letters put together to communicate - but to convey meaning in ways that are somehow indescribable.  Thank heaven for that. And, I guess, thank history for the sister who defied a final wish and compiled Emily Dickinson's pages into volumes that would be flint instead of kindling.

Monday, February 11, 2013

When I Grow Up. . .

Often, mid-lecture, while discussing their futures, I will tell my students that I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. We'll be talking about transferring credits or financial aid or what have you and I will tell them that I once heard the average American changes careers seven times during their working life. And how I have always known that when I grew up I wanted to teach. But where?  How?

And I guess in some ways that question remains.

I have been an English composition adjunct now since I graduated college - at private, state, and community colleges.  I've loved every classroom - every set of students.  For those I've kept in touch with - I feel a special sort of pleasure watching their careers unfold before them - be they academic or elsewhere.  I love everything about that part of the job.

And yet.  The fact remains - I am working the job of a college adjunct.  Low pay. No benefits.  Little feedback or reward from my employer.  My faculty-titled colleagues do good work to help offset the nature of my job - they are supportive and complimentary, and I appreciate that.  Their feedback - and the excitement and engagement of my students - is what drives me to continue as an educator.

But I think it's time for a change.

Is that change to pick up more contract work, like many modern adjunct employees? Stretch myself between two or three schools - representing, to my best ability, the interests of all of them?  To pick up writing or blogging or editing work?  To look into licensing for K-12 and take my MA and 10+ years of teaching experience back to school, incurring debt to ensure a possibly potentially maybe future career?  To continue to toss my hat in the overly crowded ring at various community colleges and hope that my application stands out over the 200 or 300 or 400 other applications they have received?  To effectively up the ante and invest in pursuing a PhD in order to fight this fight again with higher stakes at a higher level that would likely require uprooting my family?

It is no surprise to me that educators at every level fight their natural desire to teach and abandon this system.  Frankly, I guess, I'm surprised when my colleagues show up and keep showing up - their love for and commitment to education overpowering their more logical and rational desires - like reasonable pay, insurance, or stability.

I guess, right now, the answer for me is to try a lot of things and see what happens.  And, above all else, to just keep teaching.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I've let myself go. . .

It happens to all of us - we peer into the mirror and see a person that resembles the person we think we are - but is covered in schlumpy clothing or frazzled hair or what have you.

Right now, that person is me.

But it's not the mirror I'm looking at - it's my writing life. I've let myself go as a writer - and now is the time to  reclaim that writing life of my youth.  My youngest is two - this means that there's no reason I can't commit to early morning reading and writing and recapture that poet I once was.

And the blogger I once was.

You are all welcome to prod me along the way with reminders and queries.

As a first step back into the game, I'm going to spend a portion of time each morning reading - and another portion writing new work.  In a few weeks I'll add revisions to the mix as well and I hope, by the end of the year, to have a larger goal or get back into that fun futile exercise of submissions and rejections.

Wish me luck!
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