Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Don't You Blog About it?

One of the most difficult things to capture with the written word is tone. How many times have you written an email or a facebook/twitter status update only to have it completely misconstrued by your intended audience?

How did you read the title of today's blog post? Did you perceive it as an honest question, a helpful suggestion? If you did, you would be wrong. Allow me to provide context.

Once again, my principal, in his infinite wisdom, has pitted the faculty and staff of our school against one another in a year-long team competition. I did, in fact, blog about this during the last school year. You can read those entries here and here. I am self-aware enough to know I'm a very competitive person. I'm a sore loser...I've admitted it before and I'll say it again. HOWEVER...I never let my competitiveness devolve into personal attacks. the most recent competitions, my colleagues have thrown the title question of this post in my face. The first time, I was merely clarifying the rules of the karaoke contest before we began. A lone derisive voice from across the room says, "Why don't you just blog about it?" Uproarious laughter. So Will, here ya go. I'm blogging about it.

Today, we had a homeroom fight song contest. Two members of one of the teams proceeded to announce the winners, putting themselves in first place. I piped up, "Hey! That's a conflict of interest!" Their response? "Why don't you blog about it Owens?" So Robin...Kathy ya go. I'm blogging.

Now, I realize they were teasing me because I've blogged about these team things before, but come on guys. The only person I've given a hard time to was myself. Okay...and Linda, but at the time she was on my team, and we have a relationship where I can do that.

My blog has elicited varying responses from my friends and colleagues. Most are entertained and mention something they liked or had a thought about. A few are mystified as to why I'm doing it. They don't see the point.

I blog because I am a writer, and I want to be read. Until I get that book contract, this is my forum. So beware of asking me "Why don't you just blog about it?" in that oh-so-snide voice. Because I probably will.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time Keeps on Ticking into the Future

Bless me Father for I have sinned. It's been 11 days since my last blog entry. Only five total posts this month. I've missed my goal of 10 posts per month by 50%. One might think I've been totally slacking, laying around eating bon bons, kicking back, watching the leaves change.

Not so much.

I'll avoid the OMG I've been so busy, the laundry list of things I've accomplished and things I haven't because frankly, we're all busy. My life is no more crazy than any of my friends' lives. We all have more on our "to do" list than we have hours to actually do it. Time is a more valuable commodity than money.

Time is on my mind. I celebrated another birthday this past week. I've never been one to bemoan the passing of time, and I'm still not. Every year has been a gift, and I'm grateful. This particular birthday hit at a time when I feel tired and overwhelmed, so I actually spent a day thinking, "Damn, I feel old." Because that sentiment is out of character for me, a step back was in order.

I reminded myself that not only is every year a gift, but every moment, every second of every day is a gift. Those moments are finite. At some point, hopefully in the far future, the clock will tick down to zero. I'm not going to spend my moments whining about being tired and overwhelmed. I'm going to view the curve ball life has chosen to throw at me as an opportunity to swing the bat and meet it head on.

Just typing those words makes me feel better. I've shaken off my blog ennui. I have topics brewing...I shaved 5,000 words off Sapphire Sins and entered it in RWA's Golden Heart contest. I read the new Dan Brown and the new JR Ward, and my students' book talks last week were interesting. So here's to taking a deep breath and getting on with it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Word Clouds

I discovered the coolest thing ever on Nathan Bransford's blog. Word Clouds! is the site. You simply paste in a block of text or a website url and voila! You have a word cloud. A block of words in itself is just generally awesome, and you can play with the font, the color, and the layout until you get an aesthetically pleasing cloud, but for my fellow writers out there, the cloud has an added benefit. The cloud is created out of the 150 (a default number which can be changed) most used words in the block of text. The most used words are the biggest words in the cloud.

I've posted two clouds. The first is made up of words from the most recent entries in my blog. The second is from my novel, Sapphire Sins. I pasted all 107,000 words. Can you guess the names of my main characters? I've been working on yet another edit of the book, and I knew I was using the word "look" too often. Could a word be more lackluster and boring? Obviously, I still have some editing to do.

This will be fun to use with my students. They can see the words they've used the most in their writing. I visualize printed word clouds all over my classroom.

Yes, my geek is showing, but come on people...Word Clouds! 'Nuff said.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mohawks and Mad Grandmas

Let me preface this post by saying I have permission to share the story.

My friend, Linda, is one of the most open-minded people I know. She has an eclectic group of friends, including mountain climbers, Pentecostal preachers, and Broadway actors. (She once had a walk-on role in Rent.) She is just as likely to invite me to a drag queen show as she is to a Band of Brothers marathon on the History Channel. Acceptance of others is at the core of her belief system.

Linda's daughter and grandson live with her. Since Linda's daughter split up with her son's father, they share custody. It's complicated because the father moved back to New Jersey, and she still lives here. Everyone is amicable, and they shuttle the boy back and forth at regular intervals. The other set of grandparents are Jewish, and they want their grandson to learn Hebrew. Linda loved the idea and decided she would learn with him. With the help of boy's father, she set up a chart of basic English to Hebrew words. She's excited to learn, and subsequently, even I know one or two Hebrew words.

All was well. We are the World. Kum-ba-ya and all that.

Then they messed with the baby's hair.

During his last visit to New Jersey, Linda's grandson got a haircut. It wasn't his first haircut. He's two now. No big deal, right? Wrong. For some bizarre reason, the other grandma thought a mohawk would be cute. She didn't ask either of the baby's parents. She just went and did it...a for-real, shaved on both sides, spiked tall in the middle mohawk. On a two year old.

Oh. My. God. Linda had a cow. For a week at school, she ranted about that poor baby's hair. She sent me pictures on email. She laid awake at night fretting about it. When her grandson returned to Kentucky, they discovered his hair was shaved so close on the sides he would be bald if they shaved off the middle. So they've kept it combed down until the sides grow out, but Linda says he looks like baby Hitler with that one strip of hair combed straight forward.

I discovered the limit to my friend's acceptance lies on her grandson's head. She's still teaching the Hebrew words, but she's added one phrase that wasn't previously there.

Allah Akbar.

When she told me this, my eyes got wide and I almost fell out of my chair. "NO! You didn't!"

Linda waved her hand dismissively. "The baby's father and grandpa will think it's hilarious."

"Are you sure?"

"They've both got a great sense of humor."

"Okay..." I was dubious. "What about grandma?"

Linda got an evil glint in her eye I've never seen before. "Oh she won't like it at all."

Don't mess with the grandbaby's hair.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Lighthouse

Several years ago, for a graduate class, I wrote a personal narrative. This is breast cancer awareness month, so to honor my mother, I'm sharing it here on the blog.

The Lighthouse

The late afternoon North Carolina sun beat down on my burnt skin. Heat shimmered off the pavement. I reluctantly crawled out of the air-conditioned car and stood in the parking lot next to the lighthouse. I felt gross. After a day at the beach, I was sunburned, windblown, had sand in my shoes and that itchy feeling that comes from swimming in saltwater. My two boys, then eight and five, were tired and whiny.

“Why do we have to stop? We can see the lighthouse from the road.”

“I’m thirsty. I want to go to the pool.”

I explained for what seemed like the fiftieth time, “Because this is what Grandmom wants to do. You got to play on the beach all day. Grandmom wants to see the lighthouse.”

Actually, I was thirsty too, and the cool water of the pool sounded a lot more inviting than the inside of a musty old lighthouse. But my mom loved lighthouses. She collected little lighthouse figurines with the strict criteria that she displayed only the ones she had personally visited. My whole family vacationed on the Outer Banks every summer, but for some reason we hadn’t managed to visit the Currituck Lighthouse, even though it was the closest lighthouse to where we stayed. This year my mother was determined to visit it.

Two months earlier, my mom had been told that the breast cancer which had been “gone” for two years had spread to her liver and the bones in her right hip. She was in the sixth week of an eight-week chemotherapy cycle and would be flying home early to receive her weekly IV cocktail of cancer drugs.

She stood looking up at the stately red brick structure.

“I want to go to the top,” she announced.
“Do you think you can make it?” I asked anxiously.

My mom was a strong woman. Her quiet will and determination were legendary in my family, but I knew her hip had been bothering her, and she was weakened by the chemotherapy. My chest tightened as I imagined her slipping on the narrow staircase.

“I want to go to the top,” she repeated firmly. “Bruce can follow me in case I slip. It’ll take a while, but I can do it.”

I sighed. Of course, the decision had been made the moment she announced her desire to go to the top. The kids were delighted by the idea. Suddenly, the lighthouse seemed more exciting, an adventure to be had. They raced ahead with my brother and his daughter. My mom started slowly up the iron staircase with me in front of her and Bruce behind.

It was excruciatingly slow. She stepped up with her left foot, grabbed the rail with her left hand, and then painfully pulled her cancer-riddled right hip up to the next step. She labored up and around that spiral staircase. Step, grab, pull. Throngs of people passed us, and the kids went up and down twice as we slowly wound our way to the top. We didn’t talk much. Mom was concentrating all of her energy on the next step. Step, grab, pull. Two hundred fifteen times she repeated that painful process.

I was so caught up in the rhythm of the climb, looking behind at Mom instead of ahead to the top, that it took me a bit off-guard when we finally reached it. I stepped out of the damp, dark lighthouse and onto the platform. The sun shone brilliantly, blinding me for a moment as it reflected off the waters of the Currituck Sound to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The din of voices and the sound of people clamoring up the iron staircase were abruptly silenced, replaced by the steady rush of the wind.

Mom limped to the rail and gazed for a long time at the sea. To the stranger’s eye, I’m sure she appeared small, weight and hair lost to the harshness of chemotherapy. I have never seen anything as strong and beautiful as my mother in that moment.

She smiled at me and said, “I made it.”

I wondered how I could have ever doubted she would. Her reverie was eventually interrupted by her three grandchildren as they ran over to show her all the things they could see from the lighthouse. She was as excited as they were, pointing out every familiar landmark on the narrow island. Finally, it was time to go back down. The descent was slow, but somehow it didn’t seem as hard. Mom was energized by her achievement and its reward.

Mom made it back to the Outer Banks two more times and added the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island Lighthouses to her collection. Throughout my life, my mother taught me the value of setting goals and working hard to achieve them, but never was the lesson more powerful than when I stood next to her at the top of that lighthouse.

I keep a picture of the Currituck Lighthouse on my living room wall and my mother’s strong steady light in my heart.