Teachers: Discourage White Letters!

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Teachers: I was just reminded of something I recently learned from one of my college freshmen: Students have been (and will continue to do so) writing X amount of nonsense words at the end of an essay, then change the font color to white. This means the word count you see (grade?) will be larger than what they actually constructed.

Of course this is ridiculous, but then again, so is assigning a word-count minimum (in my opinion).

We need to stop the “easy-to-grade/penalize” mentality of counting words, correcting spelling, and writing in missing commas. Instead, work with young people to develop their thoughts in a clear and organized manner.

If you are reading this and you plan to use this in a future paper or assignment, please re-consider.  Your teacher may dock you for not meeting some arbitrary number he/she established, but you can continue in life knowing that not every one of your readers will concern himself/herself with how many words you can write.

When it comes to your words, quality will always outweigh quantity.

2017 Reading Challenge Book List

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What a great idea! I plan to create my t0-read list (2017 and beyond) from this! Thank you!

Alyce M. Thistle

A book 500 pages or longer: Outlander
A classic Romance: The Princess of Cleves
A book that became a movie: The English Patient
A book published this year:
A book with a number in the title: One Plus One
A book written by someone younger than 30: Evelina
A book with Non-human characters: The Graveyard Book
A funny book: Babbitt
A book written by a female: Mill on the Floss
A Mystery/Thriller: The Woman in Cabin 10
A book with a one world title: Plainsong
A book of short stories: Everything that rises must converge
A book set in another country:
A non-fiction book: Dead Wake
A popular author’s first book: Trainspotting
A book written by an author you love: The Ocean at the end of the lane
A recommended book: Vile Bodies
A Pulitzer prize winner: The Age of Innocence
A book based on a true story: Blonde
A…

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New Junk – jus’ ‘cuz

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I’m now going to flip to one of my notebooks and find something for writing inspiration:

Here’s what I found:

“host a dinner party—rude guest gets a bill”

“Billing William” – an impromptu poem

It was salty but it felt right

When I excused myself

From my own party

From my own table

–The one my ex picked out but my 2nd thinks I bought myself–Shh!

I tore a sheet

Out of this old notebook I keep

It was meant for story notes, or words about spring, or love

But it turned out to be random comments about the shit on TV

Or the twits at work

And one gut-punching letter I once wrote when I was a dad-to-be for a few weeks

But this time, I got super snarky.

William was invited

Though I should have known this might happen.

He sucks when he drinks–literally and street-talk-ly

He’s worse than Sober Will

No willpower powers Will

Enough, I tell myself.  Focus.

I stared at my own eyes in the upstairs bathroom

And made horizontal lines on the page.

His shit comments during dinner.  Passive aggressively telling me well done

Erases flavor, and that all cooks say it’s so.

The meal we prepared was well received by everyone else.

And Gwen didn’t seem to care that Baron lit up without asking.

But Bill and his shit comments pushed me.  High road no more.

 

The steak was about ten bucks

The veggies a little less

Let’s call it seventeen-fifty

And that’s a modest guess

I smile at the bill I’ve made for Bill and his bulbous gut,

He’s not amused, feels abused, then slams my front door shut.

 

You did what, Gwen asks, and I give her the truth

Baron smacks his knee and unknowingly ashes on the carpet

That had been installed a week earlier.

 

Dessert? I suggest, but no one’s interested.

Suddenly, the house feels eerily empty without Will’s shit comments.

Who’s the new dolt if the old one’s gone?

 

 

An Event That Makes My Profession Obsolete

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I’m jarred today.  Thrown off.  Wasn’t expecting to feel this way the day after a presidential election.  Last week, I witnessed my least favorite baseball team claim their first World Series victory in over a century.  Today, I mourn something even more important than millionaires playing a ballgame in a field of green.

Today, I worry about what I do.

When Clinton’s opponents were concerned that she “hated coal” and was going to “destroy coal families” I had a mental reaction.  If the scientists she trusts express that the coal industry is harmful to our society and planet–and that we ought to seek out alternative power sources–then perhaps we shouldn’t see any change in the coal mining industry as an attack on coal families or workers but rather that it was done out of the concern for the health of all living things on this planet.

In short, should we actually see the coal industry come to a close, it doesn’t mean that those people are incapable of working/living elsewhere, right?  It’s not like she’s wanting to put them in prison for some arbitrary but sensationalized reason, right?

Then today, as I was discussing some techniques to writing arguments, I had an epiphany.  First, the lesson involved what are known as the three ethical appeals.  The Latin terms are “ethos,” “pathos,” and logos.”  These are techniques of rhetoric that are meant to appeal to the ethics, the intelligence, and the compassion of the reader/listen/viewer.  Successful arguments, I posited in class, combine all three in the course of the speech/essay, etc.

Then it occurred to me.  That’s not absolutely true.

I think I added on that, though it is not common and rather unprecedented at that level, that perhaps someone who clearly lacks knowledge of one or all of these techniques can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who uses sentence fragments and nonsensical patterns of thought can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who can insert loaded language, harsh, demeaning words on virtually any topic can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who can make unverified claims about, well, whatever is on his/her mind at that moment can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who can invent words on the spot and continue speaking as if everyone should understand this never-before-uttered word can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who can lie, mix up information, get dates wrong, mock those with physical handicaps, speak basely, and falsely claim that he has more money, more friends, and regular-sized hands can successfully get through to an audience.

Someone who can just talk without notes, preparation, or general tact can successfully get through to an audience.

And not a small audience, mind you.

An audience of over 120,000,000 people.

A hundred and twenty million people.

That’s roughly 24 Cubs World Series Parade Rally Events.  Combined.

 

Who Do I Think I Am, You Ask?

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I’m older than I’ve ever been, and I still haven’t put my stuff out there to be read.  So, to punish the world, I’ve created this blog in the event that you Google the phrase “Stupid self-deprecating autobiography” or “Scary Clowns Seen” or “How to Make Money” (those last two might actually boost my “hits” numbers…)

I taught high school English for seventeen glorious years, and I am now at a community college in northern Indiana.  With all of that teaching experience, I feel safe in stating I’m an expert at virtually nothing above explaining comma splices and the horrors that are cliches.

I write when I can.  I should write more.  This introduction is currently being revised, so I’m contemplating whether or not that constitutes “real” writing.  I’ll get back with you on that one when I decide.

The Start of Something – Chapter Three (2016)

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*This will be the final chapter posted here…at least for a while.  Again, I welcome any and all feedback.*

*****

~Chapter Three~

Stacey

My roommate Gina found out about the stolen weed and was pissed at me for almost the whole day.  Eventually, when she got bored, she came in my room and said we had to use our salon gift cards because they only give you thirty days to use them.  “How old did you say he was?”

I didn’t answer until we were on the road a few minutes later.  “I didn’t say, actually.”

“Stace…come on!  Your first boyfriend since Thad?  That was like, a lifetime ago.”

“Ninth grade wasn’t a lifetime ago,” I said.  But she was right.

I have to know every—”

“I’m just…he’s not my boyfriend.  Just this guy I hang out with after work.”

“Girl, every night your phone is blowin’ up with texts from ‘B’.”

I really hate it that she looks at my phone while I’m asleep or in the shower.  I stacked up my school stuff and dropped it on the floor.  I knew going with her would only contain a minimal amount of pleasure, but I also knew I could not not go.

We were getting birthday manis–gifts from our moms.  A tradition.  Being born on the same day in the same hospital meant–to our mothers at first–that we were sisters in another life.  I love Gina to death, but since we started living together, she’s been a little too cozy in my personal business.  I go out of my way to steer clear of her boy drama.  She doesn’t even realize that I never ask her about the guys who’ve been over.  I’ve just rolled with it and waited for her to say something.  That has yet to happen.

“If I tell you, will you please drop it for now?”

She didn’t even take the time to close the magazine she held before tossing it over her head onto a shelf of ancient issues Shape and Good Housekeeping.

“Hoe stih pwease,” said the woman working on Gina’s feet.  The woman’s head never looked up from her work.

I cleared my throat.  “He’s twenty-eight.”

Her eyes exploded open and I could tell her brain was overloading with simple mathematics.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Now please let me just rest my head and enjoy the pleasurable service these fine women offer.”

“Okay, okay…that’s fair.”  She hummed.  It reminded me of what my little cousins did when they had unopened birthday- or Christmas presents in their laps.

I closed my eyes, and I think I counted to nine this time.

“You know my dad is only thirty-nine?”

I didn’t, but I didn’t bite.  Just mmmed.

“Have you two…?”

“Aww, Gina, come on!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My girl tapped my foot to indicate its removal from the buzzing warm water.

“Your fren, she no listen well, no?”

“No, Kim,” I said, then coyly looked at my oldest girlfriend.  “She doesn’t.”

 

* * * * *

~Sherry~

Geoff is tired of me.  It’s obvious.  He’s up all night, pretending to fall asleep until I actually do.  I’m sure he gets up and either goes to his computer or just leaves.  Once I swear I heard him pull out of the drive at around two.  I’ve heard of these guys who just start watching porn or find some secluded spot to go whack off somewhere.  Kinda fucked up, but I’m too embarrassed to confront him.

So, when I saw Bill McKenzie at the gas station this morning and buying one of those ridiculous energy drinks, I had this sort of plan.  Geoff may have actually fucked someone else, but I don’t know for sure.  I decided I was going to just believe that he did.  After a few pleasant How-have-you-been seconds, I told Bill that day that Geoff and I were separated.

He hadn’t heard about the reunion this Saturday.  I thought he was just kidding at first.  I told him it was all over Facebook, but he said he doesn’t really look at that much.  I told him he can still go–it’s not like anyone needs an invitation.  He told me he’d think about it in the way most people say it when they have no intention of doing the thing being supposedly thought about.

He paid for his and told the girl that he was getting whatever I had in my hands too.  “For old times’ sake,” he joked.  I was flattered.  And embarrassed, frankly.  I had a Mountain Dew and a half dozen donuts in my hand, but none of it was for me, really.  I thought it would be stupid to try to explain.  But there was no need.  I must have looked as awkward as I felt as he paid for my stuff because when he turned, he looked at me fully in the eye.  He had only done that once at prom ten years earlier and it was just before the final slow dance when he asked me to the floor.  I held about four thousand calories in my hands, but I was turned on by his eyes.

Thus, while my husband was at the “office”, I suggested we meet for drinks later.  He said something about good timing and that I’d caught him on his day off.  That didn’t last long after I slid my hand up his thigh at the bar while ordering two drinks, mind you.  I wore the same perfume I’d worn for the prom and borrowed a low-cut shirt from my sister without her knowing.

What you or anyone may struggle with is that I did all of that, from the moment I saw Bill that terrible morning, to save my marriage.

Bill is not in a good place.  It’s like it resonates off his face.  He was shaved, but he looked incredibly uncomfortable.  Men may never understand how important it is to at least look the part.  Women read body language way more than men think we do.  He cleaned up for our impromptu date, I gotta give him that.  He didn’t seem to care that I wanted Chinese delivery either (Geoff hates it).  Since my husband had said that he was going to help some guys at the office with this project that was set for a presentation the following day, I knew it was a lie but I worked it out.  Bill has never been known to be very perceptive, but I thought I should at least shove a bunch of Geoff’s stuff in a closet to give the impression I was living alone.  I had my doubts that he’d sleep with me under the true circumstances of my marriage.

He got a little sloppy with his liquor too.  He told me a little about what he’s been doing since school.  He wondered if I had ever planned to have kids.  It was important for me to avoid getting too emotional with him, even though we had something of a past.  An after-prom fuck is not what a lot of people consider a history, but it was ours.  Nothing ever really matured after that.  Just awkward sightings in the halls and some classes.  I was sure I’d meet better guys at college, so I stopped trying to get a boyfriend in high school long before prom.  But, I wanted to go and I wanted to have fun.  We saw each other in passing a few times on campus that first semester, but after that I don’t remember much from him.  At prom, Bill was a good date, but a pretty lousy lay.  Probably his first time, but he never said so.  I don’t have any sort of savior value or anything.  I just knew that he was probably not as interested in starting a relationship with me.

If he hadn’t been buying a Monster yesterday morning, I might have just banged the clerk instead.

We had a good time.  Not great, but good.  While he was in the bar restroom, I texted Geoff to tell him I was having a girls night and would be staying over at Lindsey’s.  He only replied with “ok” which made me sad but a little horny.  Bill came out and I kinda wanted to pounce on him then and there—not because he all of a sudden looked like Matthew McConaughey or anything; rather, I was super pissed at my husband for preferring to jerk off in his cold Celica and not onto my breasts.

“Let’s get outta here,” I said.  He’d just ordered a beer, but I took a huge chug then pointed to it for him to finish.

“Really?”

“Sure!”

“My place?”

“Sounds great,” I told him.

“You hungry?”

That’s when I mentioned Chinese.  He just nodded and said he hadn’t had it in a while.

So, I brought him back, we talked a little more and slurped lo mein right out of the boxes.  The TV was on, but I wasn’t watching.  He played with my hair and I scooted closer.  It was a lot like the prom night but with a bigger general space.  And light.  I made no move to turn off the ceiling fan or lights and he kept a baseball hat on until he realized how often the bill was hitting me in the forehead.

This is all before the weirdest part of the night.  After we were done on the bed, he like instantly crashed.  That’s not news.  I turned on a movie, but he fell asleep.  I think, with the condom still on.  Anyway, about ten minutes into his doze, he began muttering something.

Geoff always talks in his sleep, but it’s about work and stupid shit like the price of Nike tennis shoes.  Once he had a conversation with me but he performed both parts.  That was about a vacuum cleaner.  This night, however, Bill was saying some shit that didn’t make any sense.  First, he was saying Alison, Alison.  Go home.  It’s past your bedtime.  Then, he said something about his parents were fighting again and making it hard to play by himself.  Some really of weird shit, right?  I just rolled him over a bit because that always gets Geoff to shut up.  It worked.  He was still snoozing when I snuck out.  I had to get up for work.

Covered (2016) Excerpt #1

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After feeding, it’s nap time.  Yes.  Baby nappy.  Momma nappy too, sweetheart.  Oh, baby.  I’m just so—yes, sweetheart.  Mommas get sleepy too.  Yes they do…oh, they sure do, sweetheart.  Trust me.   Okay, baby girl.  You did a good job eating your breakfast.  Let’s burp it out and take a nappy, okay?

“Hon?”

Shit.  Okay.  Good job.  Now let’s just lie you down.  Go to sleep now, darling girl.  I’ll be right in the next room.

“HON!”

No, no, baby.  Don’t cry.  Aww…sweet girl, don’t…please?  It’s just daddy.  He’s…well, he forgot you were about to take a nappy.  I’ll leave the door cracked…just..like…this…

What is it?

“Oh, shit.  You were putting her down.”

Duh.

“Did she–?”

Yeah, but she’ll fall asleep soon enough.

“Is that her?  She’s still cry–”

I know.  Amanda said it’s hard to let’em cry it out at first, but there’s nothing wrong.  Otherwise, we’ll never get any—.

“Okay.  Well, I’m sorry I forgot…you were going to put her down as well.”

It’s fine.  What did you want?

“Umm…well, I couldn’t find the remote.”

College announces new hires, promotions — Ivy Tech Northeast News

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Ivy Tech Community College Northeast announces the following new employees and promotions: Nicole Treesh is a new librarian. Steven Lively is a new assistant professor in English. Jeffrey Ewen is the new social science program chair. Jason Summers is the new humanities program chair. Christopher Riley is the new student services professional. Tammy Henry has […]

via College announces new hires, promotions — Ivy Tech Northeast News

“Burying Agnes” by Tom Noyes (2003; reviewed 2016)

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Blog Note:

This is the first of potentially multiple reviews of Tom Noyes’ debut short story collection Behold Faith and Other Stories (Dufour 2003).  Mr. Noyes, at the time of this book’s publication, was teaching creative writing at my alma mater Indiana State University.  Also at that time, I was teaching at a small, rural 7-12 public school about 30 miles away. Mr. Noyes was gracious enough to visit my creative writing club members and give a brief talk about the craft.

This first review is over a story I’ve very recently read.  Seriously, it was about thirty minutes ago*.  I’m not a professional reviewer, so I’m not sure if I’m breaking protocol by not “sleeping on it”** or “thinking about it”*** before I just write about it.  Luckily, I can blame my amateur review on my lack of review training and knowledge of such rules (stated or unstated).

*I started the story (and this blog) yesterday and was able to finish this morning.

**I actually did…now.

***Did that too.

End of Blog Note:  Actual blog below little line below.

“Burying Agnes” is perhaps an appropriate title for what transpires.  Wait…am I allowed spoilers here?  Um…let’s see.  Well, Agnes is not a human, and the title suggests she’s getting buried, so I think I’m okay.  Agnes is the main character Cal’s elderly dog.  Her death is imminent, and Cal’s first appearance in the story shows him preparing for her wintertime death by deciding to dig a hole in the back yard prior to the ground freezing.  It’s Labor Day weekend, and Cal is half a decade away from retiring.  His impending retirement, one must conclude, is stated only for us to know his approximate age and hint that he’s one of those fixed-in-his-ways kind of guys.

Because Cal and his wife Jan apparently have no children of their own, they have perhaps a closer relationship with the aging dog.  Jan’s not pleased with Cal’s decision to dig the hole for obvious reasons.  This is her baby too, and she’s nowhere nearly as prepared for the rapidly approaching death of the dog as much as Cal is.  This doesn’t make Cal cold; it makes him sensible.  If the vet is right that Agnes won’t make it to Christmas, then he’s doing her a service by having the hole prepared for her final resting spot.  It’s senseless to put his own health in jeopardy by digging in much colder conditions into an icy landscape.

The heart of the story soon changes to an impromptu Labor Day family gathering among Cal’s neighbors–who have both grown children and half-a-dozen young blond grandchildren.  The party, now fourteen in number including Cal and Jan but not counting any pets whatsoever, is a traditional American cookout-and-pool scene.  There is a sense that Cal and his neighbor Ernie have become something of friends but only by geographic limitations.  Perhaps this is meant to speak to a common acquaintanceship one has in American suburbia.  We get older and lazier and befriend the closest people out of convenience.  Cal’s role throughout the day is rather minimal.  He’s not meeting Ernie’s kin for the first time, but he’s also not the type of man to demand educational and professional updates from each member of the family.  Rather, he drinks beer and mildly offers to help once the grilled food is prepared for consumption.

Cal and his wife Jan are not fighting–at least, there’s no true evidence other than the opening exchange about the hole-digging–but their relationship is not in the ballpark of lovey-dovey either.  They’re post-50.  They don’t get that way with one another.  There seems to be a heavy emphasis on Cal using humor to keep things upbeat between them.  Jan, about three-quarters into the story, elects to take advantage of the one hour of pool time allotted to the adults.  This is mildly surprising in that prior to her submersion into the water, one would suspect she’d be the kind of woman who would offer to clean up after the meal and rest under a ceiling fan.  They’re little more than roommates that stay together for the sake of the dog or the insurance or both, but that’s not atypical of American marriages with- or without children at that stage of life.

The action of the story is intentionally laid-back, presumably to mirror Cal’s lifestyle.  He takes things as they come, and there appears to be no suggestion that he’s had an erratic reaction to anything in his life.

The final scene involves Cal stoically observing the children’s whiffle ball game while keeping things lively through his alcohol-induced wit, including his amusing verbal play-by-play of the children–all of whom he calls Blondie.  His noted apathy toward the children secure an interpretation that children were never part of his life-plan and are at best a nuisance.

Then again, he’s fairly jovial in every human interaction within the story.  Yet, it’s impossible to know if this jokey disposition would be present throughout his day-to-day life if he had ever been a full-time dad.  He’s more of a “funny uncle” whose responsibilities are only vaguely present when he’s within a certain radius of the children.  This haphazard jurisdiction, in the end, makes him ultimately guilty of the unsettling climax–a crime he does not directly commit.  When one of the young boys end up at the bottom of the pet grave due to his understandable ignorance of the hole, Cal is obviously sorry but appears more so for the fact that the shovel was down there as well.  What truly redeems his merit and absentmindedness is his reaction to the event.   He hurries to the boy but relinquishes immediately once the boy’s father reaches him.  He’s mute throughout the chaos and silently agrees to stay home when his wife suggests he not accompany the large party to the hospital.   In short, he’s humbled by the event, knowing perhaps that electing not to procreate was a solid choice.  Some men, Noyes might be suggesting here, are better suited to be just funny neighbors or uncles.