Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Cult of Worms

Walking from my car to the school in the rain today, I noticed something very grim.

The worms.

It dawned on me that they are more than just little tubes with a digestive tract the length of their segmented body.

There's more to their being than naturally aerating the ground with their tiny mouths as they sniff out living and dead organic matter.

They are in a cult.

They are a member of the Animalia, like us, so it makes perfect sense that these brownish organisms can belong to such an organization.

As I walked with my head down, hood up in the rain this morning, the worms lay about the wet concrete, writhing and wriggling around.

They were not taking some communal shower.

They were committing mass suicide.

Later in the day, what lay about the track and sidewalk? Sad worm carasses, all dried up. One of the unfortunate souls, that one over there, twitched on the track, its little wormy body too weak to use its tiny mouth to find its way back to the soil.

It didn't perish quickly like the rest of his cult. Instead, it waited for the sole of a middle school runner to end its life.

Other than similar instances, like the Heaven's Gate cult, I don't believe there are any other species that have committed mass suicides like worms. They come out, practically drown themselves, and then they don't move back to the soil. Instead, they wait for the rain to stop so they can dry out in the sun and get stepped on.

It isn't just a one-time thing with worms, either. The rain must hold some kind of power over them, like Hale-Bopp, and it draws them out of the confines of the soil.

Studies have shown that the wet allows for the worms to travel, but I know the truth.

They don't want to move. They're in a cult, and when it rains, they commit mass suicide.

Monday, March 23, 2015

In the sun of the forgotten spring

On the warmed porch Saturday afternoon, while Steph slept, I was at the table in the sunlight with my manuscript. A few weekends ago I finished reading it. I needed to refresh my memory from the haze of the November writing fog the book was born in.

November is known, in the writing world, as National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to huff out 50,000 words before the month is over. The writer sits in front of the glow of their modern typewriter, pledges his soul to a story, and commits to writing about 1,560 words a day. To win, the writer must type a marathon of 50,000 words or more, and that is all, and the feeling of satisfying accomplishment is immense.

This was my third go-round. The first time I attempted, but I only got through 19,000 words, and it was too much. I quit. I didn't hold steady.

A few years later, I tried again, and that time I was successful, even through a week of pneumonia. Sadly, I only wrote half of the book at 50,000 words, but it was a sequel. Writing it allowed me to go back to the first book and make significant changes. Had the second book not been started, the first book wouldn't be where it is today.

And that book is still in the rewrite pile. I have major faith in it, I just need to figure it out -- in the five years it took to write it, there were some major issues that still need to be ironed out.

I wanted a break from those two stories I had been thinking about and working on. It was time to venture into something different, to see if I had a different story in me.

I did.

This past summer, as I listened to music by the group Punch Brothers and mowed the lawn, a weird vision of waves rushing into my backyard struck me.

It seemed so strange. Waves crashing in? Crashing in on a land-locked yard? So many questions rose as I pushed the mower back and forth, kicking up dust and grinding up sticks. Where did the water come from? Why did it bring a boat? (In my head, it brought in a boat.) Who was in the boat? Why were they in danger?

I continued to think about this, and as I mowed, this idea continued to burn with exciting energy. I wrote it down, set it aside, and figured I'd return to it some day.

Summer faded to fall, as it always does, and Halloween was upon us. That frosty night was wet with clumpy snow, and I could hear it hit the sidewalk. Trick-or-treaters rang the doorbell bundled, their costumes shrouded by coats, their makeup smeared from the soggy snow.

The start of NaNoWriMo was the next day. I paid it no mind. I had no time to pound out a book. I needed to edit the one I'd been working on, even though I felt lost and overwhelmed with it.

Why start a new one? Who does that?

But come Saturday morning, that's exactly what I did. Something kicked me in the gut, and the thought of waves gushing in on land nowhere near the sea called to me.

And I started writing.

This time, the goal wasn't just to reach 50,000 words. My goal was to actually finish the book, conclusion and all. Send the characters off in the sunset, type THE END at the bottom, and actually call it finished. No sequel. No series.

That's what I sat with on the porch in the warmth of the forgotten spring. It was time to begin the editing process.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

You need to read aloud

I enjoyed a hectic round of NaNoWriMo this past November. Now, it's time to face the manuscript. A book written in the blinding speed of one month cries out to be edited. But, as I tell my students, what do you do before you edit?

"You need to read it!"

I actually tell my students that they need to read aloud anything they've written as they edit,  that they can see and hear the story, see and hear the errors.

It's great advice.

Too bad I'm not going to follow it. With 222 pages to go through, and probably more to add, I think I'll just read it quietly to myself.

Although, if I did sit down and read the manuscript aloud, I would record myself so I could follow long later. The biggest hurdle would be listening to my recorded self read the story aloud.

Just like anyone else, I hate how I sound.

Sure, to you, I sound like me, but when I hear myself, I feel like I sound nasally.



I don't know if I could handle listening to myself read for 222 pages, as I followed along and edited. I would interrupt myself and wait for the other me to respond. I would want to have a discussion about the story, to make sure I'm making the right choices as I edited.

Sadly, I won't respond. The recorded me would just be rude and keep reading, not even stopping once to answer any questions I have or offer any feedback.

My recorded self would be a horrible editing partner.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Second Day of Official Spring

Nigra has been able to spend most of the day outside. Maeve can't handle it. Where Nigra will lay in the middle of the yard and just observe her kingdom, Maeve will find anything and everything to eat and bark at. Sadly, Maeve has had to stay on the porch with us all day. What she needs to do is take a nap, but she can't handle not knowing what's happening all around her at all times. 

Which probably explains why she's always out on the couch by 8 p.m., if not earlier. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

This is more difficult than I thought it would be

While some people were all giving up chocolate or coffee for Lent, I decided to go after my website and post for 40 days (and 40 nights).

I figured it'd be a breeze. Just be random, I thought. I don't need to be too thoughtful, and my goal wasn't to sit down and make anybody think. Write, write, write. 

And then, I find that I am a few days behind.

This is one of those. You caught me. I'm actually writing on a Tuesday night, not a Friday afternoon. I figured after successfully completing NaNoWriMo twice, I could easily plow through random posts, especially since I didn't have a specific word count that I needed to meet.

Writing a mad dash with a plot is much easier than coming up with new ideas on a nightly basis, hence videos and random Thomas Jefferson quotes. 

This very post, originally, had a very different title. I opened it up, suspecting some bait for my mind, but instead nothing was there for me to add on to. 

All I had was the title. 

"I'm going to do this for real this time."

What was I going to do for real? It could be any number of things. I'm an irrational person. 

Perhaps I was going to get a tattoo for real.

Bungee jump? 

Knit a sweater?

Who knows. 

But what I am going to do for real is finish these 40 posts. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

A little rebellion is healthy

Two summers ago I ventured out to Pennsylvania with friends. Our road trip took us to Philadelphia to check out the Liberty Bell. In one of the visitor centers, there were different Founding Fathers paraphernalia. On them was this quote. Because of the first amendment and our basic freedoms, we all can commit a little rebellion. Those small rebellions are what bring about change.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I don't subscribe to a newspaper

You would think as a journalism teacher, I would be all about the news. I'm really not. Have you tuned in lately? It's sadistic if you do. Now, I'm not completely ignorant of world events, but it doesn't help me feel better about life when I check in. It's one of the reasons I strayed from working as an actual reporter. One of my weekly beats was to check in with the campus police each Monday to see who was arrested over the weekend.

I really don't care if you were arrested for underage drinking or disorderly conduct. I really don't. I don't really want to inform the public either, because, really, they don't care who was arrested for underage drinking either (unless it was that horrible person you just don't like...but that's just awful, you be nice!).

What I do care about is participating in all the parts of a newspaper or publication. I enjoy the writing and reporting, but I also love the design, too, and I can't not take pictures. 

So, I teach. It's the one way I can do it all. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Dance of the Mailman

The Girls have been practicing all week. You see, they choreographed their Dance of the Mailman. I present to you the World Premiere event:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nigra versus the mailman

I'm always showcasing the Girls and how they like to wait for the mailman and attack the blinds. Here's a video I made, and it's weird to watch because I don't have my beard.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Phase Five

There's an element to middle school yearbooks some parents don't understand: It's created by 13 and-14-year-olds.

I am proud of the publication when it comes out. Months of work are seen to fruition. The students who worked on the book hold it in their hands and are amazed that they actually created a custom book.

But this custom book comes with a warning: Teenagers made it. Now, that notice isn't in the front of the book because it would belittle the work they produce, but it's still there -- in invisible ink.

It's something I wish I could make parents understand. That one name misspelling wasn't on purpose. If you're child was left out of the portrait section, I did not know this -- the thing I can't be, even when creating a book that features all the people in the school, is be omnipotent.

There are going to be errors. I guarantee it.

Phase Five is when all that hard work and pride gets flushed away when a parent taps out an email proclaiming what yutzes we are.

How dare we misspell a name!

How dare we leave a kid out!

How dare we misidentify a student!

Those are the things that are pointed out. Not, "This was fantastic, great work!" or "I can't believe you got eighth graders to create this!" or "You deserve a Pulitzer!"

One of my favorite emails was from a parent flabbergasted about her daughter's name misspelling. Since the yearbook was created during an actual class, she demanded perfection. Anything less would have been created by an after school club. So, when she discovered that her daughter's name was spelled correctly in one section of the book, but incorrectly in another section -- well!

Her disgust was laid out to me in a verbose email -- and copied to the principal, I might add.

"Since this is a class, I expect there to be no errors!"

Another email was from a parent whose child was left out of the portrait section. This mistake I felt bad about, but it was also out of my control. I work with a portrait company, and they give me a disk with all the pictures. The students and I do our best to check and make sure names are spelled correctly, that kids are labeled by the right grade, etc.

It is not easy.

My school has over 1,200 students.

Unkown to me, there were two seventh graders with the same name. Same first name, same last name. The company eliminated one of them because of that.

I did not realize there were students out there that shared the same name.

One of the students was left out. This is never my goal, and I did felt bad, but the email the mother sent featured the same melodrama used in those after-school specials from the 80's.

"When my son has kids, they won't know what he will have looked like in seventh grade!" she bemoaned.

I was speechless. Did she not have any of her own pictures? That email was also copied to the principal.

Overall, I am lucky. The emails I receive, if I even receive them, are piddly. They are about mistakes made because imperfect humans create the publication. Luckily, most years I don't receive an email.

It's just, well, my gut wraps itself into a knot the minute I see the subject line of an email from a parent titled "Yearbook."

It's sad that I let those moments define Phase Five of the yearbook, instead of allowing the process just end in the excitement and pride of Phase Four.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My 11th yearbook is finished, and yet I dread

I submitted the final pages to the yearbook today, six days before my final deadline -- the earliest I have ever been done with a yearbook. This past year's was an undertaking at 152 pages, one of our larger books.

Now, I know the high schools in my area have much larger books, but those yearbooks get to keep their students for the entire year. I have had 11 completely different yearbook classes lay their hands on this year's book at some point.

Within a timeframe of nine or ten weeks, they have to be able to write journalistic stories that capture the year (and the theme), understand  design terms, as well as know how to use the enormous online yearbook program we create the yearbook with, take pictures, upload them, and organize them, as well as write captions, good captions, for said photos.

So, yes, 152 pages is a lot when 300 or so students are on the yearbook "staff."

But, today, the final pages were submitted and my Yearbook COPD is now gone.

I can breathe. For now.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but this stress level is just Phase Three out of Five.

Phase One is getting the theme, design, and look of the yearbook set. I am not dealing with graphic designers. I, also, don't want to take over and make the yearbook something I would create. There's a fine line between coaching, suggesting and taking the mouse from their hands and doing it myself. Usually, it's still warm out, deadlines are far away, and it doesn't get dark until after 8 p.m. Essentially, Phase One is summer.

Phase Two is hammering out the buttload of content. Write the stories. Take the photos. Assign all the content to the pages. Get those clubs photos taken. Make sure we have photographers at sporting events so we don't just run one game on a team's page (sorry, wrestling..although, I think we got at least two this year). Submit the 16 color pages on deadline before winter break. Sit on all the other pages until we come back in January.

Phase Three is a mad dash from the beginning of January until the middle of March. At this point, minus a few students who have had me before, I am the only one who really knows what's going on. In order to get the rest of the yearbook finished, I have to be super organized in my directing. I am an orchestrator of chaos. I wave my baton at all the students. At one point, a student is working on a clubs page, but wait! Just kidding, you're too good to be working on that, you need to be over there working on the performing arts pages that are super difficult this year. With the help of my six editors who stay with me all year, we iron out all the wrinkles, submit pages, and by the time March hits, I pluck out my gray hairs.

Phase Four won't happen until the yearbooks arrives in May. This is when I cut open a box, take out a yearbook and look through it in pure glee. This is the first time really get to see cover and how it looks. The inside pages are actual pages that I can flip through with my hands and not the click of a mouse. I show people, and as they look through it, they are amazed. Phase Four is bliss. My editors come in, we count out yearbooks for distribution, they get their copy days in advance. They are proud of all the extra work they put into it. This ain't my first rodeo, but it is theirs, and their faces are worth it.


Phase Five.

This is when I have to actually give people the books. When I hand them over to the principals. When students take them home to their parents.

When I get the emails.

Phase Five, although minimal, can sometimes be the unraveler of all the hard work I, and the kids, have put forth for eight months.

Phase Five is when the parents complain.

Phase Five is a whole other post all on its own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

They're trying to get the electricity back, but should they?

Here's the big question: Do we turn the power back on?

At this point, it's been days. Weeks. Perhaps months. What was once a constant instantaneous buzz of the world is out of our reach. The only pictures we've seen lately are the ones still framed in our houses, the ones we see in old magazines we're using as kindle, the ones printed in photo books we flip through when we're lost with with this new way of life. It doesn't matter if we like them or not. It's time to go back out and get to work. The livestock needs fed, the earth tended to.

Although life was cluttered, it was better before the end, wasn't it?

Or was it?

There's a new panic at the front of our minds currently. Healthcare is at a stand still. No one's continuing to create any of the medicines we rely on, especially for those that use them as a daily maintenance drug. First aid needs to be relearned by everyone. It's become lethal to even carry life-saving drugs because someone is always going to need it more than us. We protect it. It's now on lockdown. Whoever is on guard, protecting it, has a gun.

We're still getting used to cooking over an open fire. We have to hunt. We have to gather. We have to farm.

Our hands are dry, cracked, and in the cold, they bleed. The lotion's been gone for months, now.

Shouldn't we do what we can to get the power back on? What's left of us can pick up the slack and get society going again. We need things. We need power to make things.

Regardless of what we need, though, factions will form. A new fundamentalism will be born out of the ashes of life without electricity. It will be the electricity that got us into this mess and ain't nobody going to bring it back.

Except for those renegades over there who are packing their bags for the journey through town. They will risk their lives just to get the power back in ours.

It's all so cinematic at this point. The factions are starting to fight, and it's gotten ugly. People are dying simply because of this weird belief that bringing back power will cultivate an accelerated end to civilization.

"The earth wasn't meant for electricity!"

"Without power, the earth will heal from our reign!"

Marches. Chants. Sides. Battles. Beat-downs. Bloodshed.

Without a polarized congress to madden our senses, it's time to bring the opposition to ourselves.

Monday, March 09, 2015

I can't stand this commercial

I have a twisted shard of dark joy that allows for me to hate stupid things. Like this commercial. 

I hated that it was on, but I loved hating it, and then I hated myself for loving the hate that I felt toward it.

Modern culture is filled with buckets of this. It's called hate-watching.

When "Peter Pan" was on NBC this past holiday season, people definitely tuned in and Tweeted. Some people were able to watch and take a ride back to their childhood when Mary Martin pranced around on stage in green tights back in the 50's and 60's (I've seen that production merely because my grandma owned the VHS). 

This time people tuned in to watch Allison Williams play the boy wonder in green tights, not because they were excited, but because they wanted to hate-watch it. 

My Twitter feed was more enjoyable than the actual broadcast.

That, and Captain Hook needed more cow bell. 

Sunday, March 08, 2015

The last week before deadline

Starting tomorrow, I have seven days until final deadline for this year's yearbook. There comes a time when it's time. I've hit the ceiling where, even when the book comes out in May, and I take it out of the box, as thrilled as I will be with it, I will instantly become tired of it.

All I've done is look at the thing all year.

It doesn't help that I get a little paranoid that something's wrong with it. Sure, I've gone through every page with a fine-toothed comb. The plus-side is how I've become more of an astute editor. But, I can't help but get just a little scared about what it is I've missed.

Did a four-letter word end up in the book?

Did someone stick their middle finger up in a picture? Did I miss that?

Do I trust middle school kids just a little too much?

I'm 99% sure there's not, but most teachers work isn't published in a book that's 152 pages. I think that's the most worrisome every year. I should get used to it, but I have that moment of panic every year. My fear is something will be discovered that I missed.

Then I get called down to the principal's office.

Because, a yearbook is forever -- technically. So, whatever mistake that gets placed in the yearbook -- that mistake is for forever.

You think diamonds are forever? So are yearbook errors.

I need to chill out.

*Takes a deep breath*

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Saturday's their busiest day

 One of the jobs the Girls assigned themselves was watching out for the mailman. We always take pictures and post video, but the shenanigans never really get hold.