Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Last Week = A Wash

Last week was a wash, and I’m not talking about the rain. Three weekdays off work, and I spent more time watching “Veronica Mars” than working on my book. It wasn’t for lack of effort – I stared, I tried out paragraphs, I edited, I researched, I reread portions – but the words weren’t flowing.

I’m torn between espousing the merits of the wonderful “Veronica Mars” and complaining about my struggles. I think, ultimately, it’s better for me to figure out why I’m having trouble, so I’ll save Veronica for another day.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was adding another point of view to my work-in-progress. I had been telling everything through a narrator who could only see through one character’s perspective. Eight chapters later, I realized that the story would improve by getting the perspective from another important character. It wouldn’t be too difficult, I thought, to insert chapters from this other point of view.

I’ve written two and am halfway through a third. But I’m struggling with the voice; it’s still third person, but now it goes inside the head of a teenager. The forty-year-old woman was easy compared with this fifteen year old.

I’ve said, mostly joking, that I hate teenagers. They’re loud, impulsive, and squirrely. They made me uncomfortable even when I was one. I don’t understand them—and I need to in order to write from the perspective of one. I don’t want to simply write a character who’s “wise beyond her years.” Obviously I’m generalizing here, and part of my solution will be to create someone who has her own traits, her own interests. Maybe I need to take time to write a character sketch, to write her diary entries. Maybe I need to know her better before plopping her in my fictional world. I think I’ve avoided doing that because I know the plot.

There ya go. That’s what I’ll do. I doubt I’ll reach my 40,000 word goal by the end of May, but I’ll try for 50,000 by the end of June. That will give me a little more breathing room.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Value of Education

followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. [They] found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.
They point out that resources at college are increasingly directed toward fitness centers and sports complexes, not on academics. They also argue that
[t]he authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.
Who's to blame, here? It's easy to point fingers at the students. After all, it is their responsibility to take advantage of their classes and instructors, to make their learning meaningful. While I often questioned my own skills as a teacher, I reminded myself that students will get out of a class what they put into it: I can't open up a student's head and deposit knowledge into it. And I regret that I didn't make the most of my own undergraduate experience: while my grades were good, I rarely put 100% into my studies. If I could get away with not reading the text, I would. But then I might have missed out on watching "Pulp Fiction" at 4am, or traipsing across campus at midnight for Taco Bell.

There was never a question of whether I would go to college, and I didn't think twice about the price of tuition, or student loans, or choosing a practical major. The four years I spent there would help me transition from a shy little girl to a more confident person with a degree. I know without a doubt that my learning there was meaningful and essential.

But considering the rise of for-profit colleges and the increase of high school graduates going on to college (and taking out huge loans to pay for it), the lack of value suggested by the NYU researchers should give all of us pause.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Great Weekend

Friday night I went to a Reds game to see the first in their series against the Cardinals. Here was my view for much of the game:
But with the game tied in the tenth, he and his intoxicated posse left, I had this great view:

The Reds won with a Joey Votto single in the bottom of the tenth and went on to win Saturday and Sunday, sweeping the series and taking the lead in the central!

Last night we headed again downtown to Cincinnati's Music Hall to see The National play. The band members grew up in Cincinnati but are now based in Brooklyn: this was sort of their homecoming. (Side note: when I graduated high school, we had our ceremony in Music Hall!) Anyway, it was a great show. My only concern was the amount of wine the lead singer was drinking; his stumbles increased throughout the show, even requesting to start one song over. Is it strange that I worry about this stranger?

I'm rarely off work on Saturdays, so weekends don't often have the same charm they did when I was a student. My days off are usually Tuesday and Friday--Saturdays are requested a couple months in advance. But this weekend, even though I worked Saturday, was pretty great.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tough Out There

The other day a man came into the library. He's been in a few times, always to use the computer, always to apply for jobs. The first time he came in, he was trying to apply to a grocery chain. As he answered page after page of questions, he kept getting error messages. He entered something incorrectly by leaving a space in an email address, or he left something blank. Finally his time would run out and his session would end, automatically, and he'd lose all the information he had spent an hour entering. When he started over, I helped him create a name and password, in case the same thing happened.

A week or two later, back at the computer, he was applying for a different job. It was janitorial. He was stuck on an early part of the application process, where it asked him to upload a resume. He didn't have a resume, let alone one that he could upload. I suggested the free workshops that the library offers at our main branch to help write resumes; he didn't ask for any details, but I hope he follows up on it.

He was extremely kind, and even more patient. I feel bad that jobs that have nothing to do with computers have this extra technological barrier. But it's tough out there--people who are very computer literate and college-educated are competing for many of the same jobs as others with only a high school diploma. (That isn't to say that a college degree is required for computer literacy--I know many, both of my brothers included, who are more savvy on computers than their educated counterparts!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your Happiest Moment? Your Saddest?

My boyfriend asked me these questions yesterday evening, and I had no answers. First of all, I'm not good at serious discussions after sunset. My mind is settled on more pressing issues, like "Who got kicked off American Idol?" and "Is it late enough to go to sleep yet?" Second of all, they're not easy questions.

But today, the sun is out and I'm fully imbibed with caffeine. My mind returns to those questions, and I wonder: Do most people have their happiest moment crystallized in their heads? Is it a vacation? a birthday? a first kiss? Likewise, their saddest? A death? A break-up?

I worry that I missed my happiest moment; I failed to record it in my mind as such and now cannot retrieve it. Was my happiest moment playing cards with new friends my freshman year of college? Was it touring Giverny, France, with my father at age 23? Or was it earlier? Designing obstacle courses or building pen museums as an eight-year-old? Was it sitting on my grandmother's lap watching Lawrence Welk? Or lying in bed as my mom told me stories?

Or maybe it hasn't happened yet; maybe that moment is still to come. I'll try to be more vigilant and catch it when it does.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Carrying Memories

Story Corps is attempting to record a story for each of the nearly three-thousand victims on September 11, 2001. A wife or child, for example, describes that day, her emotions, and how she carries forward. Or he might describe their last conversation. The first one I heard on NPR was three or four years back; I was driving to school to teach a Composition class and showed up with red eyes. A little boy had described his grandfather who'd perished in the twin towers.

This morning I cried as a woman described being on the phone with her husband, 9:30 that morning, as he attempted to find an escape route. When the smoke became thicker, and his fate became clear, the two stopped talking about escape routes. She said she wanted to crawl through the phone line and lie with him, and he told her that she needed to keep on living for the two of them.

I didn't cry on September 11. It was too big, too abstract. I was 21 and so worried about our retaliation--who were we going to bomb, what innocents were going to die--that I'm not sure I processed the individual tragedies here at home.

But each of those victims--in the twin towers, the pentagon, Flight 93, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere--has a story. Nearly ten years later, I think I'm better able to grasp these losses. And I take comfort in thinking that someone who loved them carries their memory; shares it. So far, Story Corps has over one-thousand stories of September 11 victims. What an important treasure.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Maybe Things Change

I got up early this morning to get downtown for an 8:30 meeting. It took me an hour to make the twenty-mile commute. And while I want to complain about the traffic, the slowness of drivers in the rain, and the fact that I spent more money on gas today than I did on parking, I'll instead thank NPR.

Driving is always better when I get to listen to Morning Edition. Its intelligent reporting and insightful analysis are especially valuable after something like bin Laden's death occurs.

Maybe his death doesn't change anything. Maybe Al Qaeda is as strong today as it was April 30th. Maybe the troops won't come home from Afghanistan any earlier than they would have.

But maybe it does--and that's my hope.

** A Few hours later; I thought I'd add to this rather than do a new post. I've had a really sticky day writing. Everything's come out forced and fake-sounding. I finally moved on to another piece I'm revising for a read-around at my writing class tomorrow evening. Blargh. I'm ready for some sunshine. 40,000 by the end of May will be tough at this pace!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A to Z Challenge: A Look Back

First off, thanks to the organizers of the challenge for keeping us connected and motivated. Visits to my little blog more than doubled throughout April. And you weren't just lurking, you were reading and commenting. I greatly appreciate that. Thank you, thank you, thank you - and over the next few weeks, I hope to spend more time visiting and commenting on more of your blogs.

Writing every day in April (except Sundays) was more challenging than I'd expected. I'm accustomed to blogging whenever I want, about whatever I want. Suddenly I had to write about "g" words and "x" words! Some days I couldn't wait to write; others, especially days when I worked eight hours, I dreaded having to do it. I have a greater respect for those who work full-time and are still able to make themselves blog with gusto on a regular basis.

I'm looking forward to being able to write whatever I want this May. But even with the letter "restrictions," I kept to the themes I'd always visited: writing about writing, writing about family and childhood, writing about interesting words and pictures.

My friend George, inspired by our challenge, decided to make May musical, every day writing about a different band beginning with the next letter in the alphabet. Today, May 1, check out "A is for The Allmand Brothers Band." Best of luck, can't wait to see what you come up with for Q!