Thursday, October 29, 2015

Post-English Subbing

The good thing about subbing in an area outside of my expertise is that it expands my horizons into ideas I haven't thought about for a long while (as I said, around 35 years!).

I've been writing research papers for years. Since I started college in 1993, actually. I was a late-bloomer; I didn't go to college until I was 31. I did things backwards - married, had my son, then went to college. Anyway, with all my writing experience, and my editing experience as a teacher, I see myself as an expert. However, that expertise ended with non-fiction writing. I have loved writing since I was young, but when I tried to write some kind of fiction, I got stuck. Everything I wrote felt trite or uninteresting. I had lots of words, but few ideas. Well, actually, I had lots of ideas, but couldn't express them in a way that made others want to read them. Or made me want to read them.

Here comes the expanding horizons part. The teacher I was subbing for, Ken, is an amazing writing teacher. He has his kids writing and writing and writing, and not worrying about the quality of their first drafts - everything is subject to revision later. He had them read an essay called Shitty First Drafts by Annie Lamott, that talks about "down drafts", "up drafts" and "dental drafts". You can read it yourself, but the gist is that the down draft is going to be revised. Every time. Down drafts are for putting ideas down on paper. Revising those ideas as you go along can actually limit the process. This is a revolutionary concept for me. It frees me up to just write and not filter or revise as I go. It reminds me of the idea behind National Novel Writing Month. Just write. Turn off your inner critic and just get your thoughts on paper. Or in the computer - whichever works.

I've been playing with the idea of writing a novel in November for years, ever since I heard about NaNoWriMo. I got stuck on silencing my inner critic, though. That darn critic is pretty loud! I practiced while I was subbing, though - to circle back to my original topic - and I'm ready to try writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Wish me luck.

Other ideas that came out of this experience - I need to rewrite the essays I submitted with my teaching applications this summer. I'm not sure they were my best work, and my ideas have refined as I've been back in the classroom. It's time to revisit the ideas and to be sure I'm expressing myself clearly. Wish me luck there, too!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

English Subbing

So I'm subbing for an English teacher for a few weeks, which is weird for me, since I haven't had to think about English stuff for oh, about 35 years or so... I tested out of my college level English classes, so I never had to take college English. I have, however, done a LOT of writing in my college and graduate classes, so the concept isn't completely foreign. Certainly not as foreign as, say, math or science!

The students are working on writing ever shorter memoirs in class, and as I prepare for class, I find myself really struggling. I love words. I live by words. One of my fondest memories is of my godfather, my Uncle Bob, teaching me a new word every time I saw him. This was a big deal, since he lived in California, and I lived in New Jersey, so I didn't see him that often. In his last years, he took great delight in forwarding me his Word of the Day email. I have every one saved. For a person with a vocabulary the size of mine to write a SHORT anything is a real effort! The first piece the kids wrote was a 60-word memoir, then a 6-word one, then 140 characters. EEP! I gave it a good try, though, and I tried to follow my own advice to the kids - whatever comes out of my head is valid and good. The only way it could be "wrong" is if the format or style doesn't meet the criteria. Other than that, my words and my message are valid. I hope. (ha.)

So, these are my examples:

60 words:

Moving can be painful and positive at the same time. Starting over is overwhelming and cathartic - paring down years of memories to only essentials. Realizing memories are stored in the mind, not in possessions. Deciding what to keep based on need, not want. Resisting advertising's siren call to buy ever more. I now have a “one in, one out" rule.

6 words:

STRUGGLING! 6 words? So not me!

140 characters:

Food, Yarn, Books, Family, Cat, Bed. All the essentials of my life that make me happy. Add in 70s and 80s reruns and country music, and I'm blissful. (129)

Next up, the kids are doing an encyclopedia in the format of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I expect I'll have an easier time of this one, since there's no word or character limit. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, fall has arrived in New Hampshire in all its glory.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Random thoughts for today

I read an article on the BBC website about a Danish concept called Hygge - the idea of creating a warm, homey atmosphere and good times with good people. It reflects the way I'm trying to live my life these days. Slower, more appreciative of the little things that make life comfortable and welcoming. Good food, good conversation, good company. I'm grateful that I have an abundance of all those things.

So, along those lines, I'm going to hang out at home today, watch football (ok, that's good times for me!), and make a small batch of peach jam with some peaches I've had in the fridge for a couple of weeks. That's about all they're good for at this point, anyway, so why not?

I'm also going to work on the Christmas stockings for my partner's family. I've been chipping away at them for a while, and it's finally cool enough to get some good work done on them.

Hygge for the win.

I took this a few years ago, in Lexington, MA