Thursday, September 30, 2010

I See Shoes

Last night, I attended my first Women Writing for (a) Change class. I was characteristically nervous and tense, sitting in that circle, waiting for the seats to fill, until we were able to write--"fast write," it's called here, like the "free write" I used with my own students, an uncensored stream-of-consciousness. Here's mine:

I see shoes. All these women, different ages, different sizes, so intimidating that I want to curl up, I look at their shoes and remember their just like me. Sneakers. Flip flops. Slip-ons. Comfy shoes, mostly. Me, I'm wearing boots. They're a little snug in the toes, and I wish the heels were more comfortable. But these women--this space, so "sacred" with its bouquet of flowers in the middle and candle and tissues reminding us YOU WILL CRY!--aren't so scary when I focus on the shoes. We all walked different paths to get here, and no one's judging my path, just as I'm not judging theirs.

Humbling, though, to think about where all these shoes have been.

I'm excited. There's an energy that comes from writing in a group; I had lost some of that ever since I stopped teaching. I don't think I realized how much I was drawing from people around me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor"

The past couple weeks I've torn through Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" trilogy. Classified as teen fiction, these three books are different from the character-driven pieces I usually read. Set in a dystopian future in which the United States no longer exist, replaced by a central government that controls and exploits twelve surrounding "districts," the books follow teenager Katniss Everdeen as she fights for survival. To remind the districts of its power, the Capitol stages yearly "Hunger Games" -- each district supplies one boy and one girl (ages 12-18) to compete for their lives, all while being televised. At the end of each Games, there is to be only one victor standing.

As sickening as that idea is, Collins said she came up with it while flipping through tv channels years ago. On one channel, "reality" tv. You know, like "Survivor," "The Bachelor," etc. On others were Iraq war footage:

The images blurred in her mind. She wondered whether other viewers could tell them apart.

"We have so much programming coming at us all the time," she says. "Is it too much? Are we becoming desensitized to the entire experience? ... I can't believe a certain amount of that isn't happening."

I highly recommend these books. They are immensely readable and take you away to another place while at the same time giving you pause about today's society. In the districts, as the people scrape for every ounce of food and those in the rich Capitol are ridiculed for being wasteful, even dying their skin shades of green and purple for the sake of fashion, you can't help but think of the disconnect between our own so-called leaders in Washington and the real-life struggles of most citizens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ok, Let's Do This Thing

I last saw Marianne and Daniel in London, 2008. She’s returned to the states (and Daniel is making his first visit!) to tour and visit old friends. Yesterday I drove up to Denison to meet her and some of our friends from the Columbus area. We marveled at how normal it felt to be there on campus; it didn’t feel like eight years had passed since we graduated and walked for hours asking each other, Remember when?! (More often than not, we did).

Today, three of us are writers. One has finished novels and has sent out queries. Another has heaps of stories, some published, some not; some under a pen name, some under her own. And then there’s me.

I’m still stuttering a bit but refusing to fall backwards. I enrolled last week for the fall semester of Woman Writing for (a) Change. The group describes its mission as

Empowering individuals from all walks of life to develop their voices and celebrate their stories, through the art of writing and the creation of community.

The class I will be taking meets weekly, and I look forward to being part of this community. It is for women looking for a creative outlet as well as for ones, like me, who want accountability and feedback as they write.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Most Trusted Man in America?

New York Magazine's feature story this month ("America is a Joke") is on Jon Stewart, that most excellent host of The Daily Show. The article describes a typical day as Stewart and his staff write, rewrite, and edit a 30-minute show (it looks as fun and stressful as you'd imagine!)

Those of us who watch Stewart know him as a (hilarious) voice of reason during a time when the media seem to be pushing narrative over truth. We thought that the election of Obama would dull his comic edge, but quite the opposite has happened. The show is more relevant than ever:

His comedy is counterprogramming—postmodern entertainment but with a political purpose. As truth has been overrun by truthiness and facts trampled by lies, he and The Daily Show have become an invaluable corrective—he’s Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, although in keeping with the fragmented culture, he’s trusted by many fewer people, about 1.8 million viewers each night.

In the article, Stewart talks about his encounters with people in the media after the presidential election in 2000:

The more we got to meet people [in the media], it was—‘Oh! You’re f&@ing retarded! You don’t care!’ The pettiness of it, the strange lack of passion for any kind of moral or editorial authority, always struck me as weird. We felt like, we’re serious people doing an unserious thing, and they’re unserious people doing a very serious thing.

The article is a bit long, but it's definitely worth reading.

Plodding Along.

I had a rather quiet high school experience. Except for that whole getting-hit-by-a-car thing in the ninth grade, my days were marked by slouching down in my chair, hoping not to get called on and holding my stomach, hoping no one would hear my stomach growl. I was scared of and intimidated by the other students, so talented and smart and pretty, and I tried my best to stay invisible. In high school, this is surprisingly easy to do!

I find myself drifting back to that time lately. I don't think about specific memories or classes or teachers; in fact, a lot of that time is rather blurry. While I can remember so many details about my accident and even my first week of college, high school was an endurance race. What I drift back to are the feelings I had. This constant anxiety and frustration over trying to be invisible and yet wanting to be seen. Over refusing to connect, yet desperately wanting to.

During times of change, we hold onto what we know. Once again, I have this pit of anxiety and frustration. Then as in now, there's little logic to it. And so I think about that quiet high school experience, slouching in my chair, hiding. I hold that experience close to me, now, because in the end those daily struggles didn't define me and my life.

So, yes, I'm still plodding.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Running with Cheetahs

This past Sunday, I joined more than a thousand others for the 31st Cheetah Run (I write about last year's experience here). Hard-core marathoners, moms and dads with strollers, and occasional joggers (that's my category) sprinted through and around the Cincinnati Zoo. I came in 578th out of 911 females (the results were divided by gender).

In other news, my 95-year-old grandfather is recovering from a fall. He's out of the hospital and into a rehab facility, the same one my aunt stayed in for a month after her near-death experience last Christmas. For various reasons, he's been taking care of her--his daughter--for the past few years. With the positions reversed, if only temporarily, I wonder how this will affect each of them.

It looks like a beautiful day outside. I think I'll pick out some comfortable shoes and walk to work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stupid is as stupid does

When I taught younger children, transitions were always the toughest. We would have a great activity, like a story, a song, or a show-and-tell, and that activity would conclude. Then we would have to get to the next task, whether lunch, nap, or free choice. The trick would be coming up with a good transition that would guide children from one activity to the next without ensuing chaos. It could be something simple: "Put your hands on your head. Put them in the air. Drop them to your sides. Finger on your mouth." Other times the transition could become an activity unto itself, whether it involved counting or silently lining up in order of height.

But sometimes I dropped the ball. I tried to go straight from one activity to the next without thinking of the transition. I shouldn't have been surprised when children were unfocused and noisy, and I would have to spend an extra five minutes or so getting them settled.

Here I am in my own transition. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Being a bit stupid. Yearning for someone to tell me what to do, both in my writing life and personal life, while knowing that I -- no one else -- am responsible for my choices and the consequences of those choices.

Edited to add: Sorry for the string of self-indulgent blog posts. I'm working through some stuff! Meanwhile, I write.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Vacation

This too shall pass. Of course. It always does. Stripped of my position as "Teacher"--or, more accurately, now that I've relinquished my title of "Teacher"--I'm struggling. Mood-wise, I'm fine. Happy as a clam. Friends are awesome. Family's awesome. But the future, near-term and long-term, is fuzzy. I feel listless.

Maybe it's like that first month of summer vacation. You know, all school year you're working your studying you're constantly accountable to others. You have all these ideas of what you'll do when school ends and your responsibilities shrink. But then, absent the regiment of alarm clocks and classes, you drift for a few weeks. Decompress? Then, after a month or so, bored of doing nothing, you find a new rhythm. Set goals; meet goals. So... my excuse is that I'm in that decompression period.

And I'm starting to feel the disillusionment about the democratic party and the administration that I bet progressives have been experiencing for a while. I don't like that feeling. I don't want to write about it either!

Of course, there's also that anxiety about my savings drying up while I figure out how to make writing a central part of my life. Whine, whine. If this were a tweet, it would include the hash tag #firstworldproblem.