October Warm-Up (Day 1–“A First”)

Standard

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here was yesterday’s first warm-up writing.  This, and the 19 to follow, are obviously rough drafts that may or may not find their way down Revision Lane someday…

Day 1 – A first

This was a first that speaks to my nervousness around the opposite sex.  I had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 at most.  I know I was still in elementary school.  My mom took us to either King’s Island or Cedar Point for a day about once a year.  We have some family in Ohio, and we must have made a weekend out of it–not entirely sure.  Anyway, my older brother was either on his own or with a friend that summer day at the park, so I was left with my mom.  We were in line for a ride I called The Octopus.  That may very well have been its name, but I distinctly recall this multi-legged ride with spinning cars  at each end to be white with red stripes.  

I can remember thinking it would be fun to ride this ride with my brother and not with my mom.  I sensed that she was pretty much over riding rides at this point in the day and her life, so I probably said something like how I didn’t want to ride the stupid Octopus.  Whatever I said was typically ignored or not met with adult conflict.  No.  My mom looks around and sees a girl about my height who is standing alone a few inches behind us.  

“Young lady, would you like to take my place and ride with my son?”

She clearly had not been asked such a question in her life.  Her gaping mouth suggested that no one had even ever referred to her as a young lady.

By this time we were being rushed forward toward the entrance gate to the ride.  The guys operating that day couldn’t have known I’d just met this girl seconds earlier when my mom accosted her in line.  Later, I remember looking down from my vantagepoint and seeing my mom’s cryptic grin–something that, then, made me think she was pleased by seeing her baby grow up.  Nope.  It was definitely because she got me in the end for back-talking her.

The girl was as forgettable as this tiny memoir.  She had long skinny legs and our knees touched once or twice as the motion of the mid-air car swayed us around.  I’m sure I didn’t talk to her.  I told the story several times at school the following year and probably even wrote about it then.  

It’s well over twenty years later, and I can still see those bare skinny knees and my mom’s devilish grin a few dozen yards below me.  

Finding Your Legal High

Standard

A week ago, my nephew and I had a brief chat that has since redirected (and refocused) my goal.  I had my laptop open and was skimming through the novel I started writing last November during NaNoWriMo.  I mentioned the word count (something like 36K) and he wanted to know what it was about.  I gave him some of the major points I could recall, but then I began thinking as I was talking.

I’ve had numerous excuses to explain why it’s not done: teaching HS and evening classes, family obligations, computer malfunctions, buying a house, etc.)  Where do those get me?

I do most of my writing within the confines of the month of November, but I never push myself as much during the other eleven months.  When I write–when I REALLY write–I get a rush that is unequaled by anything else I know.  I don’t mean to suggest it’s even in the same ZIP code as playing with my children, seeing my wife’s face when I’ve been a part of her happiness, or even getting through to one of my students about anything whatsoever–those are different “highs”.

No.  Writing, though, gives me that positive surge that reminds me how life should feel all the time.  I’m completely grateful for everything I have achieved in this life so far.  I do not often realize how good I truly have it.

But I want to take this just a few steps further and write a book good enough for a publisher to want to try to sell.  That’s been a goal for something like 15 or 20 years, and I’ve not pushed myself hard enough for it to happen.

I talk to my students a lot about the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset.”  I commonly remind students that growth is always possible if you want it badly enough.  I’d be a hypocrite to say that I’m just not good enough to be published.

Imagine a world where everyone loved what they did for a living.  Imagine a time where people sought out their goals and didn’t always play it safe.

A Week at Indiana University (Day .5)

Standard

Good evening (depending on when you’re reading this), everyone!  I’m in a dorm at Indiana University.  I’m 39, and I’m fulfilling a childhood dream of going to, staying on, and being in Bloomington.

I’m here for a teacher workshop.  The details of such may not interest you, so I’ll keep that stuff to myself for now.  If time allows, I’ll blog about the actual conference separately after we get started tomorrow.

For now, I just want to write a few words about getting here.  The dorm where I’ll call home for the next four nights is about 10 x 12 with a shared bathroom with the neighboring dorm.  I’ve always pictured dorms to have bunk beds (because all of the ones I’ve been to had exactly that number), but this is a single.  It’s conceivable that these may be utilized by sophomores or upperclassmen, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  There weren’t any hangers provided (like one would find in a hotel closet).  All of the furniture is natural wood–quite sturdy too.  It makes me speculate how many IU students have used this desk, that bookcase, and the wobbly dresser over the years.

Is this too boring?  I think so too.  Well, I’ll wrap this up and potentially get something more intriguing along later.

Toodles…

Tennisball

Standard

Tennisball

When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine.  A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt.  When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game.  I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen.  The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.

Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field.  I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain.  Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases.  Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat.  The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.

By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games.  While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute.  Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line.  The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air.  The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.

At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason.  With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch.  Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.

Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball.  I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer.  I wanted to hit one out so badly.  I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held.  I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves.  That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.

Creative Writing Class – Assignment #1

Standard

I’m taking an online creative writing course through Ivy Tech to fulfill a course requirement to keep my teaching license active.  I’m very excited to be a student again!

Our first assignment was to post three short stories that introduce us to the class.  The caveat is that only one of the three may be factual.  Here are my three short stories.  Feel free to guess which one is real!

1.  As a kid, I was not much of a troublemaker.  If anything, I avoided pretty much all conflicts whatsoever.  My first real act of rebellion as a teenager, however, got me in some serious hot water with my mom.  I went to my junior prom with a sophomore girl I had been dating for a few months.  We had an okay time, but the event did not pan out as I had pictured it would.  The time came for us to leave, and I assumed I was just going to take her back to her parents’ house.  She, however, had a different plan.  Evidently, everyone else in the school knew about this enormous party one of the seniors was having out in the country.  She led me to it, which turned out to be quite simple due to the large bonfire that served as both a signal and warming device.  In short, we stayed way too long and I got home at 3:15–over three hours past my curfew.  I didn’t drink at the party, but I was in severe trouble for being out without permission.

2.  I never owned pets as a child; that is, unless you count goldfish (and you shouldn’t, honestly).  When I was in my twenties, however, I got my first dog–unless you don’t count Shih-Tzus as dogs (but you should!).  We named her Kenzie (short for Mrs. Kensington, a character from the Austin Powers movies), and I really became quite fond of her.  One morning, however, an outside observer might have assumed otherwise.  My in-laws at that time had a long driveway, so one chilly Sunday morning, I offered to drive down to get the paper.  My wife had let the dog go outside while I was on my brief excursion.  As I pulled back toward the house, I saw that the dog was yelping and jumping around near the car.  Even though I slowed down, I ended up running over her tail!  We had to have the tail amputated, and I think it’s fair to say I was no longer Kenzie’s favorite parent.

3.  Years ago, roller skating was wildly popular.  Once in a while, our elementary principal–of all people–would organize a Friday evening trip to the old Wigwam on the north side of Terre Haute.  While parents were encouraged to accompany their children, they were not required to do so.  My older brother had found some rather taboo print tee-shirts during a recent vacation with friends, and I took one to wear to that night’s skating night.  I arrived well before the required time and was very excited.  That is, until my principal suggested I take off my jacket.  As I unzipped, I revealed the risque shirt–a cartoon duck with the words SHIT HAPPENS emblazoned above his head.  Needless to say, my mother was called and I was not allowed to attend that night’s skating party.

NCTE Day 3 (Saturday) Notes/Reflections

Standard

After a short sleep, I woke up this morning at probably 5:50 to another roommate’s trash-can lid sound emitting from his iPhone.  It might have been a gong.  Either way, it did the trick…for me.  I wasn’t upset about being up because I had wanted to get to the convention as early as possible.  A friend had a poster session that began at 8.  With a bagel in my belly, I hit the road with my Chestnut Praline Latte and got there around 8:20.  It was good to see my colleague, and I was inspired by her work and our brief catch-up chat.  More on that in a moment.

Let me speak to the exhibit hall of my convention.  I know thousands of English teachers under one roof sounds, perhaps, like a raucous group of activists who bleed red ink, but the people I spoke to while in lines or at tables were some of the most genuine and funny people I’ve ever met.  They love books; they love teaching; they love sharing stories.

I caught the end of a session on blogging for teachers, and I learned about two pretty well known sites:

twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

and

writerswhocare.wordpress.com

Everyone I spoke to at these sessions felt these blogs were among the best going for teacher-writers.  I had not considered writing about my profession; I have decided that will be coming soon.

This leads me to my day’s highlight!

Just after the session with the bloggers, the same room was used for a session entitled “Meet the Editors.”  These editors were from NCTE’s journals.  In short, attendees had a chance to learn submission guidelines and pitch ideas for upcoming issues.  I was able to speak to a column editor for English Journal, who gave me very positive feedback about an idea I have for a column.  At the same table were the chief editors, and I spoke with one of them who identified with my concept and also encouraged me to write it!  I’m going to start on it soon and submit it.  I might have a real shot, folks!

Anyway, it was a great day overall.  I met a few more authors (including Cory Doctorow, above) picked up about 8-10 more books for my classroom, and left the conference feeling rejuvenated and excited about my profession!  While I may not be able to attend each year, I do hope to attend again in the coming years.  Who knows…maybe I’ll be one of the authors this time!

For Tom

Standard

Recently, I found NPR on my cassette-playing radio device in my truck.  I will probably not change the channel until baseball season begins.  I was so sad to hear about the passing of Tom Magliozzi yesterday morning.  For the uninformed, Tom and his younger brother Ray hosted an absolutely wonderful program on NPR for about twenty-five years–CarTalk.  If you never listened, be grateful that all of those have been recorded and that you can probably obtain access at a minimal cost.  Tom had one of the best laughs you could ever hear.  The brothers’ on-air relationship reminds me so much of my own with my brother Rob.  In fact, when we were much younger, a friend of his taped episodes for us.  Regularly, I would pop one in before I went to sleep.  Hysterical and informative.  It was such a brilliant show.  When i was a little older, I got a job at a independent bookstore.  Among my first purchases was the brothers’ first book.  I still have it, and I look forward to sharing it with my children someday.  I didn’t listen a whole lot, but Tom Magliozzi ended up being a large part of my childhood.  Thanks, Tom, for the knowledge.  More importantly, though, thank you for all the laughs.