Wednesday, March 28, 2012

With apologies to Todd Rundgren...

I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on the keys all day!

I miss writing. Now that I’ve returned to the M-F workaday world (at least temporarily), my writing time is all but nil. Add in the class I just finished teaching, and the book I’m editing (for pay!), and keeping the house running, there’s no more time for me. Hubby and I have wondered repeatedly, how did we ever have time to raise kids?!

Of course any of us who write seriously know it truly is work, just not (for most of us) the paying kind. Which means we have to spend too many precious hours on those pursuits which do bring in the money necessary for little things like food and housing. And I suppose Mr. Rundgren would say the same about his drumming. It reminds me of the memes floating around the Internet lately picturing what the world thinks of this occupation or that and what the job really entails. Serious writing is work, and deadlines, and frustration, but for me, it’s also life. I need to write.

I’m pushing deadline for the book edit. Fifteen-plus pages to finish rewriting by Friday night, since Saturday I’ll be at the Antioch Writers Workshop genre session all day (working, not writing). Class is done; all my narrative evaluations for the students have been submitted. I still want to write a few paragraphs in review of each research paper for personal communication with the students, and I’d like to have that done before spring quarter starts in a few days, but I have a bit of leeway with that self-imposed assignment.

So maybe, just maybe, if I survive this week, I’ll be able to turn my attention to the long-neglected novel which needs more TLC before I pitch it at the Mad Anthony Writers Conference in two weeks. Then of course there’s the short story anthology piece for my Tuesday writers group which I haven’t started yet, and resubmitting several recently-rejected pieces, and all those new ideas that flit through my brain as I’m falling asleep or daydreaming through yet another meeting...

Where’s that drum keyboard...and the hours?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To teach is to learn twice. ~ Joseph Joubert

Winter quarter has ended. No, I’m not back in my perpetual role as a student, although I often wish I could be. This time I took the leap I fought for so long: I became a real (!) teacher.

I’ve taught short classes before: workshop sessions and conference presentations (maybe an hour or two each), and day-long computer classes in Word, Excel, Publisher, and the like. But this was my first foray into an eleven-week session with students I would see more than once. And after our first meeting, they came back! I was thrilled.

As my nervousness eased (speaking in front of a group has never been a favorite past-time), I found I was enjoying myself. Even though I stumbled around a bit when they asked for examples of concepts, I made it through. They kept coming back.

And I learned. I learned to think on my feet at least marginally better than I did when the term started. I learned to adjust my expectations as the students became individuals, with different needs and abilities. Hubby, consummate teacher that he is, has often told me how much explaining a concept reinforces the lesson in his own mind; by breaking a process down into its simplest parts in order to teach it to a newbie, he solidifies his own understanding. As is so often the case, he was right.

While teaching how to read critically, I found my close reading deepening. While teaching the importance of critical thinking in media consumption, I took greater pains to evaluate and analyze what I was taking in as well. And while teaching organization of thoughts on paper, I began to see ways some of my works-in-progress could be improved by following those same lessons.

I learned less syllabus-oriented things, too. I heard about a church I’d never known existed, even with all my past religious studies. From the class discussions, I realized how much we all had in common in some areas, and how different we are in others. After spending most of the past few years working alone in my office with the dogs, the social interaction was invigorating.

An ice-breaker question during introductions reminded me not everyone is an enamored of writing as I am. Several students consider it a chore, one even labeled writing as punishment! Her response led me to set a personal goal of changing her mind. I’m still not sure I succeeded.

During our time together, I was reminded to “Never judge a book (or a student) by its cover.” Looking at the strangers who faced me expectantly on that first night, I would never have picked out the young woman taking classes at not one but two universities; the grieving parent; the struggling mom juggling far too heavy a workload; and so many other nuances of personality that will remain in my memory.

And as a writer, maybe find their way into my stories. I warned the class upfront: careful, you’ll wind up in my novel. But don’t worry, the names will be changed to protect the innocent.

In some ways, I’m sorry to see this class end. We’ve forged a tenuous bond of sorts. I hope at least some of the class will want to keep in touch by email or Facebook (yes, I’m still out there, complaining all the while). But I’m also ready to move on. I have other demands on my time, new projects on the horizon. And next week after I get through grading ten research papers and recording evaluation narratives, I hope to return to my own writing. It’s been sadly neglected this quarter, albeit for a good cause.

I’ve been learning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When the mind is ready, the teacher appears. ~ var.

A wise friend shared that expression with me years ago, and it often comes back to remind me to pay attention to the lessons the universe is throwing my way. These past few weeks are yet another example.

I’ve taken a temporary contract job, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is enough of a shake-up of my usual work-at-home routine. I have to be up (and dressed), and at least marginally sociable with someone other than the dogs for forty hours a week. Yes, I admit it; I’ve been spoiled in my writerly life. But I’ve done the work-week thing for over thirty years, so it hasn’t taken long to get back in the rut groove.

The greatest lessons lie beyond the physical demands. I’m working as research assistant to the president of a small, all-black seminary. Those of you who know me, let that all sink in and you’ll understand the challenge for me.

Race isn’t an issue for me; never has been. I’ve long believed if the world would simply stop focusing on skin color and start relying on character, we’d all be better off. But I confess it is odd to be in the minority as one of only a handful of light-skinned employees on staff. Lesson number one: empathizing more fully with those who find themselves at odds with the majority, for whatever reason. I’m often there myself, of course, with my many out-of-the-norm philosophies in a cookie-cutter society, but those internals are more easily hidden than the color of my skin.

More difficult, and apparently the more-needed lesson, is the religious aspect of my surroundings. I wrote my senior undergrad project paper on religion (“Why God?” – send me a comment if you’d like to read it), studied it for years from a variety of angles, including as a ’70s Jesus-freak evangelical, and know more about churches in general than many who attend on a regular basis. But this is different. Here I spend my days in the midst of those for whom religious belief is a daily focus, a way of life I look at in bafflement. As I perform my research duties helping the president – a vibrant, energetic 70-year-old trail-blazing woman – I’m exposed to authors I would never encounter in my world, Christian credos I’ve long since discarded, and cultural norms (religious as much as racial) that keep my brain buzzing.

Lessons indeed. Most telling for me is the realization that I couldn’t have done this job even a few years ago. During my undergrad work in the World Classics curriculum at Antioch McGregor (now Midwest), when we spent a quarter immersed in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I spent much of the class railing against the sins of the church in all its forms. I know now I was working through past issues, but it’s taken a good number of years to reach the point where, instead of reacting from a defensive posture, I can step back and take in the topic more dispassionately. I still have to work at it, but it’s getting easier each day as I continue my assignment here.

Guess my mind was finally ready for the next big lesson.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. ~ Lord Byron

Another Super Tuesday is history, thank goodness! The political campaign season in the United States is entirely too long, consumes far too much energy and resources (read: money), and does little to endear any of the narcissistic candidates to an increasingly cynical public.

IMHO, of course. I know there are those who revel in the process.

As I have for every election the four years, yesterday I worked the polls. I’m one of those largely thankless temp workers brought in by the Board of Elections to man the precinct tables, checking IDs, distributing ballots and the lovely “I Voted!” stickers, and generally ensuring the system works.

Most of the voters we meet in the course of our very long (up to 15-hour) day are patient and friendly. A very small handful do take time to thank us for our service. It’s always an interesting day, and since I’m a regular in my assigned precinct, I’m learning names and faces of my fellow townsfolk. It’s a joy watching the senior citizens arrive from Friends Care Center, independent, determined and so very proud to cast their vote in person as they have for untold decades. We have a few homeschooling families who use Election Day as a practical civics lesson; it’s an honor to be a part of their educational process. Equally joyful are the teenagers voting in their first election. Their smiles are often outshone by the proud parents leading them through the maze.

Unfortunately, as with any public encounter, there are one or two individuals who seem to delight in mucking up the works. One gentleman in particular always arrives at our precinct table in a belligerent, confrontational mood and it generally goes downhill from there. He’s pushy, rude, insulting to every one of us who try to figure out his always-shifting demands, and generally an unpleasant person all around. I dread his appearance every Election Day, and am only too happy to hand him off to the presiding judge. I don’t have the patience for his bullying, and as a quasi-public servant for the day, I can’t speak my mind and tell him to take a hike.

As is customary in my musings, I try to connect my posts to my writing life. This week is a bit more challenging. All I took away from Super Tuesday 2012 was a sense of relief that it was over, a borderline migraine, and fodder for this blog. Using writing as my therapy will have to be connection enough.

Does writing help you process difficult situations?