Saturday, December 31, 2011

Guys Don't Ask for Directions. And Boys Read.

You know what I am going to say.
But I have to say it again,anyway.
I'm going to say it until people stop saying boys don't read.
I think people who say this need to understand that this is what they are really saying:
"It's a shame boys think the earth is flat."
This is stupid and insulting and destructive.
I was in a Big Chain Bookstore the other day because I had a gift card and a coupon. I need books for my classroom. I was in the "YA" section, which is not near the children's books, but is in the middle of the "Adult Fiction" section.
A mom and her son came over to the section, the son slightly trailing, the mother determined.
"I know this must be in alphabetical order," she said to the boy.
The boy didn't say anything. I didn't blame him. He was sweating slightly next to a shelf of Paranormal Romances.
I immediately become fierce. This boy wants a book. He has an author and a title. He must have this book.
"What book are you trying to find?"
The mom looks at me.
I was not dressed to impress. I was not accessorized. I didn't have a name tag. I was wild of eye and hair.
However, I was wearing a huge SCBWI t-shirt. So I smack down those credentials.
She relaxed a little.
I ask the boy what the book is. He tells me. His mom is still trying the alphabetical strategy, which will not yield fruit. I go to one of those customer service screens and I look up the book.
The book is not in the "YA" section. It is in the "Juvenile Readers" section, which is right next to the picture books.
I do not want to tell this boy that his book is in the "Juvenile Readers."
I mean, my I.Q. went down just typing the phrase "Juvenile Readers."
"The book is back there," I say.
He nods, says thanks, and the look in his eyes is just made me want to weep.
He just wanted a book.
He did not want to ask for help.
He's a guy.
And tell me, please, anyone, why the hell a kid should be made to feel like an alien in a hostile environment when he is in a bookstore?
A vein pops out on my forehead. I know this looks scary, so I get a bunch of good books.
Michael Grant, Andrew Smith, A.S. King, James Dashner,Patrick Ness. You know.
His mom stands near a stool.
"The book is in the other section," I tell her. I set the pile of books on the stool.
"These are books my boys like," I tell him.
His eyes are on the books.
And I leave, because the very last thing this boy needs is some stranger telling him what he should read, or watching to see what he chooses.
It turns out that one of the books I want is in "Juvenile Readers."
Except it isn't.
But the computer says it's in the store.
I find a human being to help me. She looks harried and I feel sorry for her.
"The computer says the book is in this section," and I can't say "Juvenile Reader" so I just point.
I tell her the book.
"Oh," she says. "That book is on a display."
The display is over by the bathrooms, which are next to workbooks full of worksheets that cause frontal lobotomies in kids.
I look at the salesperson. My forehead vein is throbbing. I am now wilder of hair and eye than I was before.
I thank her.
I am at the cash register and the clerk asks me if I found everything I wanted.
No, I didn't.
But this wasn't the clerk's fault.
I go home and brood.
Here's what I want.
1. I want a section in every bookstore that just says something like "Books Guys Read", and I want this to be in an area of the bookstore that is not next to workbooks full of worksheets that give kids frontal lobotomies. In fact, I don't want those workbooks in a bookstore.
2. This section should be full of books that guys read. I do not think this is difficult.
And then guys could actually find books. They wouldn't have to trail behind their moms or be accosted by the well-meaning but scary forehead-veined lady.
Boys could browse.
And then we might stop hearing stupid things about boys not reading.
And boys would have the opportunity to see that there is this whole world that recognizes them, and they don't have to stop at "Juvenile Readers" or skip past everything else to the science fiction section.
It is no surprise that guys hang out with the books about other worlds and aliens.
I just want them to be able to hang out in this world, too.
That's what I want.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Things that No One Should Ever Say to Kids. A Rant.

I have a great job. Teaching is a joy because of the students.
Adults can make my life really hard, though, because they can be so utterly and sincerely cruel to the kids.
Here are some tips for things human beings should never say to other human beings who are not yet independent and look to adults for support and guidance.
1. If you get pregnant/get someone pregnant, I'm throwing you out of the house.
This is one of the cruelest things I have ever heard. Because what your kid has just heard is that your love is conditional. What you have just done is severed a communication artery, and your kids can't trust you to hear them. Let's say the kid does get pregnant, or gets someone pregnant? Who are they going to talk to?
Not you.
There are plenty of ways to communicate to your kids about sex and sexuality. Don't be cowards about it. Giving information is giving power to make better choices.
Say something like this to a kid? Your kid will never trust you again. Nor should they.
2.Your kid tells you he's gay. You say, "You are not my child."
I can only understand saying this if your kid is Charles Manson.
Your kid is who he is. Sexual orientation is part of who he is. This may make you uncomfortable. That is not an excuse for saying something that you can't ever take back. Ever.
3. "Only losers get B's in school."
Here's what I say to my students, with thanks to Harper Lee: "People of character do the best they can with what they have."
I want kids to be challenged. Sometimes that means they work really hard and end up with A's, or B's, or C's.
Sometimes they slack off and need to work harder. Reality check: Did you do your best on every single assignment you ever had in the history of the world?
A lot of times if students aren't doing well they are struggling with other important stuff. Like working to help pay the bills. Like not having enough to eat. Like being worried that mom's new boyfriend is going to show up in her bedroom.
This does not make them losers.
This makes them human beings who need help and guidance.
I've been teaching for over twenty years, and I have dealt with the fallout of these statements. These wounds go soul-deep. Because kids believe stuff adults say for a long time. It's easier to believe that bad stuff.
It's hard to be a parent. It's hard to be a kid. It's hard to be a teacher.
Forget your label. Remember that you are a human being dealing with other human beings. Compassion goes a long way.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Year with Joy, if Not Comfort.

There was a whole bunch of stuff to be unhappy about in 2011.
I do not like 2011.
But, and this is a big but:
There was also a dizzying plethora of stuff to be happy about.
I read many, many good books.
I met, virtually and face-to-face, many fine human beings.
I am listing some of them here, in no particular order.
Stick, by Andrew Smith. All of Andrew's books are intense and give me hope. My students love his books. I have a deep and abiding affection for Andrew's blog and the community of his blog. I love how he writes. No one writes like Andrew.
How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. I have written about Sara's impact on me, and on my writing. Sara's blog is also a happiness--music suggestions, inspiration--always some new insight. Her writing is so lovely that it makes my heart hurt, but in a good way. Her books are always out of the classroom library as well.
Matthew MacNish provided some of the merriest moments of the year. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Matthew yet. But I have learned a great deal from his blog, which you should visit if you haven't yet. Among other things, he is a query-maestro, and he and his community of followers critique queries. Near Halloween I was visiting my mother, and Matthew did a blog about favorite monsters.
The monster in this post was the dreaded, and dreadful, Gelatinous Cube. My mother and I had several intense and entirely serious discussions about the GC, which I relayed to Matthew by email. My mother's conclusion, after several email exchanges with Matthew, was that Gelatinous Cubes and lawyers are pretty much the same thing. Talk about trenchant insights.
Joe Lunievicz is this incredible human being. I mean it. I haven't met him, either, but I read his book Open Wounds because Andrew recommended it. I can't, and don't want to, forget a single thing about this book. It is beautiful. I am devoted to one of the characters, Lefty. Joe is a competitive fencer. He is a rugby fan, and played the game for a long time. (I am getting all this info from his webpage). He served in the Peace Corps and works in so many ways to make the world a better place that you have to read it yourself Plus, my students who have read Open Wounds still talk to me about it. One of my students took it out to read over the holiday break.
Another highlight was the Bridge to Books event, The Why Chromosome: Why Boys do Read. I know boys read because I teach, and my students read. What chaps my hide is when people talk about boys like they are stupid, or "other". I have written about this before. So there was a lot of joy at this event, where a panel of men who write talked about writing. I bought all of their books from the fabulous hosting venue,Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, and each of these men gamely autographed them "to the Angel Potatoes", which is what I call my students.
But wait, there's more.
I met so many people through this blog and other blogs.Non, Jessica, Wiley, Emma B.,Christina, Farawayeyes, OldKitty, Annie, Donna, Peggy, Jonathan, T.B., Helene, Carrie, Michael, Matthew--all of you. This is a big happiness.
Peggy Eddleman and Shannon Whitney Messenger are two people I know through the blogosphere whose hard work paid off with sales of their books. This gives me happiness.
Michael Grant's books are awesome. Read them. Also, following him on Twitter makes me happy because he tweets rarely but they are always worth reading.
Daniel Kraus. Rotters. The Rat King. I am obsessed.
Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star was creepy and real and true. Happiness!
I have so much more, but I don't want to be the person thanking the Academy who still talks through the music.
In many ways, 2011 was a relentlessly cruel year.
All the more reason to celebrate the kind, the true, the human.
Joy to you all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hard-wired for Pain? Is this a Writer-thing?

Okay, so you know I have had bronchitis for a month and an emergency root canal in the last six weeks. These facts are actually pretty boring, and dance at the edge of naval-gazing.
At first I was all excited about the Enhanced Cough Syrup. I tweeted about it and everything.
It just gave me bad dreams.
Today I had to get a temporary crown, and a filling for the root canal.
My dentist has known for twenty years that it takes a lot to get me numb.And stay numb. He explained this to the endodontist. Both of these people are delightful.
For the root canal, she had to use three times the normal amount of numbing stuff.
She was concerned.
"You metabolize painkillers really fast."
And this is just great, and proves that the universe is laughing its ass off. Because if life were fair I would metabolize pie really fast and hang on to the painkillers.
She gave me one milligram of an Intense Medication to Create Relaxation.
I don't relax.
I try.
I stare at the soothing video of snow falling on tress and stuff. I smell lavender.
I am wide awake.
So she gave me another.
I talk to her about the best books I read this year. I give her a list.
She goes out to my husband, and says, "She's not asleep yet."
My husband tells her that even when I sleep I'm not asleep.
So she gives me a third milligram of the Intense Medication to Create Relaxation.
I feel really guilty. Because I am not tired. I am not relaxed.
"It's okay," I tell her. "I'll deal with it."
And I am bummed, because I have heard of these Awesome Relaxation Drugs and I thought, well, that would be nice.
It wasn't meant to be.
Then she has to give me some more numbing shots.
She gave me tablets with codeine. These were not helpful, so I stopped taking them. I took them back to the pharmacy for appropriate disposal.
Three years ago I had to go to the ER for an abdominal thing. It hurt. They start a drip. They go away. I am in pain. I wait for them to give me pain meds.
After a while they check on me.
"I'm really sorry," I say, and I'm sweating because it hurts. "Will someone give me something for the pain?
And they send in a drug counselor, because they have given me a full dose of morphine and I can't feel it, which means I must have Drug Issues.My husband becomes irate.
I don't have drug issues. I don't even drink, except for the very rare occasion when there is really good whisky and something to celebrate.
They offer Vicodin. I wave it away.
The dentist and my doctor say I have some seriously weird hardwiring. My body does not want to kill pain.
Is this some kind of Abject Writer's Lesson? Writers must feel pain?
Or is this final, irrefutable proof that the Mothership should beam me up for adjustments?
I don't mind, really. I'm puzzled. Pain can be funny; my students loved how I talked last week.
A great deal of things that cause pain aren't funny.
Dealing with pain.
I'm going to think about this.
And how it relates to writing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tread Softly? Sorry, Yeats. Dreams Got to Be Tough.

Yeats. One of my passions. Unrequited, of course. But a girl can dream.In high school I read this poem he wrote about dreams. It is beautiful. But now I don't agree with it.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B., I love this picture.And I hope your spread your dreams to someone who said, "W.B. Dreams got to be tough."
There are a lot of people who will use your dreams as a welcome mat to scrape their shoes on. Who will strap razors to shoes and tap dance on them. There will be the mincing and the well-meaning who will gently tell you that you can't do it, you are no good, and especially the ones who start out with, "I hate to tell you this, but..." And those ones are the worst, because they actually love to come and drip all over, not in a passionate thundering storm but in an endless, heart-wringing drizzle, so dreams dampen and wilt and mildew.
And there are the good and true who will tell you, with absence of malice, what they honestly think of your work, your dreams, and their courage is a big gift, and a hard one to give, because it's tempting to tread softly.
I think it's better to tread kindly, and speak truthfully, because that is a gift.
You have to be tough to dream. And discuss dreams with kindred spirits, avoiding the "lean and hungry" who will be pleased and fulfilled by pulling you down.
Dreams deserve better than to be the daisy on a piece of astroturf.
Weave your dreams with the colors of your life, all of them: ash gray and cobalt, crimson and spring green, iridescent and raw.
Tough doesn't mean rough or insensitive or brutal. It means having a dream so strong that it can repel despair when it knocks,or blows the door down, as it always does. It means the dream is strong enough to fight for itself when you face doubt. It means that you surrender to the dream and its demands, and honor it by having honest people reflect back to you true things that will make you, and the dream, stronger.
Then the dream will be strong enough to help you, too. Blood for blood.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Laughing in the Savage Face of Fate.

So I had a root canal and some other stuff done on Friday.
It turns out that this was the best thing ever, according to my students.
Because I can't talk. Not really.
Or I can, but it sounds...weird.
I needed to be at school because my students had this ginormous cross-curricular project due. I don't like being absent.
What I Said:(earnest)I am so excited that you have worked so hard and today you will feel really good about this assignment.
What My Students Heard: Ah ahm toe ettited tat you hab wooked so hawd and today you wiw feew weewy gud abot tis attinement.
Students: Stunned silence.
What I Said: It's okay to laugh. I sound funny. I needed to be here because I was worried about your stress level.
What My Students Heard: It otay to waf. I tound tunny. I needit toe be hewe becaud I wat wowwied about tor trett wevew.
Students: Laughing now. Like, really laughing.
Undaunted, I plowed on, explaining the day's schedule. Several students translated. For example, I think I said "speech" and what they heard was "peet."
No one knew how to translate "peet." I had to write it out and have a kid read the note.
And even the kids who were trying really hard not to laugh, laughed. The kids who were already laughing were undone.
And you know what? I had to laugh, even if it hurt.
Because to see all these anxious kids looking completely baffled or laughing helplessly and not being stressed anymore made my day.
So of course this made me think about writing. How we write and struggle and send stuff out into the world and how the reactions we get may not be what we expect.
And sometimes that's the best thing ever.
Here's to laughing in the savage face of fate.
Or, as I would say, waffink in tuh tavag bate of bate.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Root Canals. Hard Work.

So yesterday I had a root canal.
It was not the worst thing.
Turns out that this poor little root was dead. The doctor showed it to me, because I wanted to see it.
It was all sad and white and dead.
This made me think.
About roots.
Roots should not be sad and white and dead.
So I thought about all kinds of roots--family roots. Writing roots.
Andrew Smith is in New York City right now, and his posts about this trip and what he is doing will help your writing roots. Go read and be happy and awed and inspired.
Take care of your roots.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Part Three: Listen and Improve Your Life. And Music Library.

This list continues to be a source of happiness to me. I hope that you find some new gems and gain appreciation for some oldies. Songlist of a high school guy to renew your faith in the human race.
Songs 1 through thirty can be found in earlier posts.
31.The Hush Sound--Lion's Roar
32. Ian Axel--This is the New Year
33. Ingrid Michaelson--The Way I Am
34. Jack's Mannequin--Dark Blue
35. Jaron and the Long Road to Love--I'll Pray for You
36. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts--Crimson and Clover
37. Journey--Don't Stop Believing
38. Kate Earl--Melody
39. Keane--Somewhere Only We Know
40. KISS--New York Groove
41. The Last Goodnight--Pictures of You
42. Lifehouse--Storm
43. Lost in the Trees--Walk Around the Lake
44.Michael Buble--Hold On, Everything
45.Michael Franti and Spearhead--I'll Be Waiting
46. Mumford and Sons--Winter Winds
47. New Radicals--You Get What You Give
48. Norah Jones--Don't Know Why
49. One Republic--Apologize (original version), Good Life
50. Pink--Raise Your Glass
51. Pat Benatar--Shadows of the Night
52. Peter Gabriel--The Book of Love
53. Phil Collins--Take Me Home
54. Queen Latifah--I Know Where I've Been
55. The Secret Handshake--TGIF
56. Semisonic--Closing Time
57. The Temper Trap--Sweet Disposition
58. The Ting Tings--That's Not My Name
59. Stray Cats--Stray Cat Strut
60. Tracy Chapman--Fast Car

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Songs Everyone Should Know to Improve Life, From a Student

So on Monday I posted a partial list. I am going the next twenty-two songs so that you can enjoy without being overwhelmed.
I have never heard of Dear and the Headlights, but I am glad now that I have. And my boy includes Frank Sinatra and the Eagles.
Kids are amazing.
8.Band of Horses--Is There a Ghost?
9.Barry Louis Polisar--All I Want is You
10. Brandi Carlile--The Story
11. Brendan James--The Lucky Ones
12. Bryan Adams--Heaven
13. Cat Power--Sea of Love
14. Chase Coy--Mockingbird
15. Chris Medina--What are Words
16. Cold Play--Viva la Vida, Fix You
17. Cute is What We Aim For--Hollywood
18. Dashboard Confessional-Until Morning(Acoustic)
19. Dear and the Headlights--I'm Not Crying, You're Not Crying, Are You?
20. Dexy's Midnight Runners--Come on Ilene
21. The Dodos--Fables
22. Duran Duran--Hungry Like the Wolf
23. Eagles--Desperado
24. Eve 6--Here's to the Night
25. Filter--Take a Picture
26. Fleet Foxes--Battery Kinzie
27. Foreigner--Juke Box Hero
28. Frank Sinatra--Strangers in the Night
29. Hootie and the Blowfish--I Only Wanna Be With You
30. Human League--Human