Sunday, June 28, 2015

Struggling in June


I started the summer so well. Woke up, went to my beatboxing class, then headed to Starbucks to pound out some words before heading home for a tasty salad and a fun beach read.

The schedule was working. It was working, dangit!

And then, well... life.

We went camping at Devil's Rock in Arkansas, where we hiked and tie-dyed t-shirts and sat around the pool every day. I ate s'mores and spaghetti and cinnamon rolls.

I gained weight.

My dad got married on a boat in Okoboji. I made fruit salsa, guacamole, and chocolate chip cookie dough dip. Shane grudgingly carved a fruit shark (which turned out to be fabulous). We went swimming at an indoor water park, and I did about 30 rounds on the lazy river. The lazy river ain't called that for nothing. I was lazy, y'all.



And I gained weight.

There were a few work days at school for teachers to map out curriculum. I spent eight hours each day sitting in front of the computer, chomping on chocolate, figuring out my essential learning targets and prerequisite skills and unit benchmark assessments.

Aaaaaaand I gained weight.

You can see where this is going.

It's terrifying to me, almost hitting a 100 pound loss, then watching the weight creep back up again. Of course I know the answer is to stop eating everything in sight and get my butt back to the gym. But somehow it doesn't seem that simple. Something is always coming up. An impromptu trip to the movies (with candy and popcorn, of course). An evening playing board games with the in-laws (which obviously calls for pizza). The farmers' market with its fresh donuts, breakfast burritos, and PBJ rangoons.

So, here I am, 10 pounds heavier than when the summer began. I've gotta put on the brakes. Figure out my strategy. Reset my attitude and reframe my thinking about all of this. Maybe I can do the summer things but do them more reasonably. Next week I'm going to a Dave Matthews concert with Shane. Instead of going out for a calorically (and financially) insane dinner, maybe we could eat at Subway and then bike to the concert. Or I could make one of those eggplant recipes I've been pinning like crazy. Maybe for the 4th of July I could make a fun red, white, and blue fruit platter. I need to do something because we've got quite a lot of summer left (bet you've never heard a teacher complain about that before!).

The other thing is that I haven't been writing as much as I should, but that's a whole other post.

So tell me, how has your summer been going? Am I the only one struggling with the lack of structure?


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Making the Most of May


Ha, so I feel really guilty for not blogging in so long, especially after Katie's nice comment on the last post. But it is what it is. I'm busy with school, family, the usual. Not really writing much because I'm between revisions, although I'm trying to get back into the habit.

As of today the school year is finished, and I've got all the time in the world. Believe it or not, it's almost harder for me to write during the summer. The expectation is that I'll be able to write six hours a day and crank out a book in six weeks. But I always end up putting the writing off, thinking I'll do it later, and then it never happens. Or we go on vacation and it's hard to get away from everyone to get that hour in. Or I'm just lazy. Yeah.

So I've made a schedule for myself.

Here's what it looks like:

8-9 coffee, breakfast, Pinterest
9-10 work out
10-12 write at starbucks
12-2 read
2-5 write
5-??? (family time, fun)

It's a little bit looser than my schedule during the school year, but that's good because the summer is meant for relaxation. I need to refill my teacher well just as I do my writer one, and that requires time away from kids, time to reflect on the school year and think about how to do things better next year.

As for writing, I'm about halfway through a revision of a thriller I started a couple of summers ago. I love reading something I wrote so long ago; it's like a different person wrote it! That's really given me the objectivity I need to hack it to pieces and start all over again. I don't know if anything will become of it, but it's been fun.

What are you all working on?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Crap, It's (Late) November

I guess I should aim to blog once a month, at least, though it feels somewhat like shooting virtual postcards into cyberspace.

(Hey, how's it going? Turned in my book, graded approximately one.million.papers, lost 10 pounds, finished The Magicians series. You?)

I don't know what to say here anymore. I really don't. Writing has become something strange in my life, an animal that morphs from obligation to addiction to obsession to something evil that I avoid at all costs. No, not evil. Just draining. I need to get away sometimes to play the Sims on my phone and bake pumpkin muffins and watch American Horror Story REFILL THE WELL.

Yeah, that's it. Refill the well.

But today it just so happens that I have a few extra drops to spare.

Not many, but some.

I've started something new. My voice is changing like I'm an adolescent boy, trying out a deeper tone, and it's fine it's fine until SQUEAK! it's not. It's almost painful, or it will be for a paragraph or two, until I let myself breathe and the words come. They are coming, slowly, but they are there, as well as the story, looming before me, in outline only. Loose plot points, connect the dots. The stars.

I thought maybe I'd do NaNoWriMo, but no, I'm pacing myself a bit more moderately. 1,000 words a day; that's something I can manage in the hour or so between school and home. The time in between, when I've taken off my teaching hat (which I imagine is something rather Mary Poppins-ish) and before I put on my mothering one (Mickey Mouse ears? hairnet?).

An hour is more time than you think.

And an hour plus an hour plus an hour, well, it's everything.

So here's to minutes stolen, kept hidden, safe.

May they mate and multiply and manifest into something truly memorable.

Cheers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fangirling Wally Lamb


Wally Lamb. Wally Lamb. Wally Lamb.

I met Wally freakin' Lamb last night!

He is one of my all-time FAVORITE authors. I remember reading She's Come Undone in college and not being able to believe that a GUY had created this character, Dolores Price, that resonated so strongly with me. He really captured the protagonist's struggles with food and weight accurately, exploring all of the emotional triggers and underlying reasons for an eating disorder (in this case, compulsive overeating).

He's written several fantastic books since then, but his recent We Are Water leapt to the top of my all time favorites list. I'd forgotten how much it moved me until he read an incredibly powerful passage last night, and I just felt this lump of dread in my stomach, because I knew where it was heading. What I love about Wally Lamb is that he's able to explore the light and dark sides of people and how they interplay throughout a life. For instance, in the piece he read last night, a boy performs an act of heroic generosity, and it directly leads him into one of the most shameful acts imaginable. But you can't completely hate him for it because you see everything leading up to it and understand how circumstances beyond his control could give birth to the demons he struggles with.

Lamb talked about how he volunteers as a writing teacher at a women's prison and his inspiring experiences with his students there. He shared a student's heartbreaking piece that conveyed a theme that he often explores--how one's background can set them up to fail before they even get a chance. What's important about Lamb's work, though, is that he shows how a person can have everything against them and have sunk to the absolute bottom but still somehow find the strength to swim back to the surface and save themselves and their loved ones. His stories exude hope.

And he manages to reach both ends of the spectrum... he does tragedy so well, but he's also hilarious! I had some serious writer envy when he read the piece about his signing at a Costco the size of Delaware and how a little girl came up and asked him how much he wanted for a Sharpie. Haha, and how a man slowly led his wife away after being told that We Are Water is about a wife leaving her husband for another woman.

He's brilliant. Just brilliant. So excited that I got to meet him.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What I Learned in College



I'll be honest.

I don't remember a lot from college. At least not from my classes. Unless it involved reading novels or memoirs, I really wasn't very interested in the content. If my math professors had stood in front of the class and acted out stories about the bell curve, I'm sure I would have retained a lot more.

Nope, I don't recall a lot, but I do remember, during my freshman year, someone modeling how to schedule my time. College was different from high school, they explained, because you were only in class for three hours a week, but you were supposed to study a bazillion hours outside of class for every hour you were in class. It seemed overwhelming, but once I charted it out and saw how much time I actually had, I felt a lot better.

So, uh, I'm under a bit of stress right now.

I'm teaching, parenting, writing, trying to lose weight, struggling to keep my house from turning into a complete pigsty, and looking for some time to snuggle up with Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels.

It's a lot.

When you also consider the fact that I have 100 students in Composition I this semester, well... let me break that down for you...

100 students X 10 minutes to grade the average essay = 1000 minutes = about 17 hours every time an essay comes in (usually every 2 weeks)

Blah... I feel like I'm getting into one of those competitions where people detail everything they have to get done and everyone else rolls their eyes and says, "Yeah, we all have a lot on our plates."

It's true. We've all got a lot.

Anyway, I've managed to de-escalate some of the panic by making one of those charts from college. I started by blocking off the non-negotiable time, my hours at school. But even some of that is negotiable, like I can walk the halls in the morning (AHEM... MONITOR the STUDENTS) for 20 minutes or so and knock out about 2,000 steps or so. (Goal is 10,000 a day.) I can do another few rounds at lunch while I'm waiting for my Lean Cuisine to heat up if I don't waste time on Pinterest.

This year my husband is dropping the kids off/picking them up from daycare, which opens up a HUGE time slot for me in the afternoons. So, if I put my butt in that chair for an hour before I leave school, I can manage 1,000 words before I leave for the day. I've trained my students to ask me if I've done MY homework and started to chart my progress on the board so they can see my word count.

I pack my gym clothes in the morning and head straight to the gym so I can take in a Zumba or Body Pump class before heading home for snuggle time. Fitness, check. I just have to try not to undo it all with sloppy joes or mac and cheese for dinner.

Weekends are harder. Not as regimented. The couch is a magnet, and Margo Lanagan is just calling to me. (Damn you, Margo Lanagan! Hahaha. Just kidding.) If I can get out of the house and get my butt to Panera or the library, it's easier for me to focus and get some words written. But then there's stuff like football games, birthday parties, trips to the pumpkin farm... all of which are important! Don't get me wrong! But I'm not one of those people who can write novels on their iPhones between tents at the farmers' market. I'm just not.

Soooo... rambly rambles are finished.

I'm off to guzzle more coffee and, as soon as my husband gets home, get gone to the library and write some words.

Ssssssshhhh. Quiet, Margo.

I've conquered 50K at the time of this writing! Woooooooo!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Numbers Mean (and What They Don't)

I handed back my seniors' first essays on Monday, and before I did, I gave the speech I always give at the beginning of the year. This is their first essay. It's not going to be their strongest. They shouldn't get too worked up about their grades, especially since they have the chance to revise to recover missed points.

But, of course, some of them saw their grades and got upset. We're not talking about Ds or Fs. We're talking about the kids who are used to writing a paper in twenty minutes and getting an A being confronted with a B and not knowing how to handle it.

The problem with throwing out As all willy nilly is that the kids are never going to acknowledge their shortcomings enough to overcome them and grow. I explained to my students that they are not the number on the paper. They shouldn't internalize that grade as a judgment of their worth as a human being or even as a writer. That grade is a snapshot of how I viewed their performance and measured their potential for growth on that particular assignment.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

This morning I stepped on the scale. 166 pounds.

Disgusting. Fat. Whale. Worthless.

Worthless.

I was doing the exact thing I asked my students not to do, judging myself by a number only. What if I reframed my thinking? Used this data as a snapshot only, a measurement tool. 166 pounds. Up about 10 from where I was 8 months ago. Down 80 from where I was 2 years ago.

I set out on my weight loss journey with a goal in mind. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting closer. Every day I make choices that can move me closer or further away from this goal. Will I go Zumba tonight? Eat pizza for dinner? Or a salad?

I'd like to lose 20-30 more pounds. Of course I know what I need to do to get to my goal weight. It's just a matter of putting that knowledge into practice. Anyone who's struggled with their weight knows that's not true. Losing weight is not an intellectual process so much as an emotional one.

That weird lumpy thing on my waistband is my Fitbit, btw. :D

I had my friend take a picture of me this morning in front of his amazing Super Mario Bros. bulletin board. I'm 166 pounds in this picture. I'm not particularly happy with the way I look. My legs are too stocky. My arms are too thick. But you know what? This is a snapshot. One moment in life. And, though I'm not thrilled with my weight, I am happy with my career and my family, and I am grateful that I have a healthy body with the potential to reach my goals.

It's probably too small for you to see what I'm pointing at, but it's invincible Mario. He's midair, about to reach that flag, to achieve his goal.

I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Brand New School Year

"I don't have a job. I am a job." ~Jacob Bacharach, The Bend of the World

A nut job, maybe.

That's what it feels like this time of year, tap dancing in front of the students with my syllabus and dry erase markers. It's a great time of year--the fall--don't get me wrong. Everyone is still smiling. The caffeine is still working. No one is failing.

As with my writing, I'm trying something new in the classroom. Well, our whole department is. As a district, we've adopted Springboard's pre-AP program, which is carefully matched with the standards set forth in the Common Core. Although rigorous in content, it is delightfully (and somewhat maddeningly) elementary in execution, urging teachers to decorate their bulletin boards with mountains so students may envision themselves traversing up the rocky terrain of rhetorical skills. I have a word wall displaying literary and academic terms such as "claim" and "concession" and "syntax" in red and purple and blue. Every time we use a collaborative strategy, I hand a tiny checkmark to a student to attach to our running chart.

And I love it.

I'm not being snarky. I really do love it. My inner elementary school teacher is coming out, the me that led crowds of five- and six- and seven-year-olds in endless rounds of camp songs and taught them how to make flux capacitors during craft time. I'm seriously considering investing in Crayola stock at this point in my life.

All of this curriculum work has necessarily drawn my attention from my WIP for the time being. I'm sitting with 2/3 of a completed draft and swishing the plot around in my mind during my commute, considering possible character connections and ways to tie up loose threads. I know that I need to get back in the zone, carve out the time to write. I also know that, for me, opening the document after a period of time away is sometimes the most difficult step.

Gah. Okay.

*screws up resolve* *opens document*

Here we go.

~~~

P.S. Just (this morning!!) finished Jacob Bacharach's The Bend of the World and completely loved it. Conspiracies, drugs, and snarky social commentary. I've been discussing "voice" with my students and am tempted to draw some quotes from this book to show how personality can come through so strongly in writing. And his "blogarach" is awesome.