Saturday, December 17, 2011

When Just Right is Just Wrong

If Chuck Wendig's TerribleMinds is not already on your daily blog roll, it should be. Among other interesting tidbits, he hosts regular flash fiction contests on his blog. Each week a specific set of parameters is given and everyone is invited to play. You post your story of no more than 1000 words on your blog and link to it in the comment section of his.

This week, I couldn't resist. He linked to a set of 50 Unexplainable black and white photos on Buzzfeed. Many of the photos were disturbing. They were all weird. Perfect story material, right? Here's mine, along with the photo that inspired it.


Just Right
Onyx had never found Papa B’s bed too hard, but when her subversive sister, Goldie, uploaded her first self-produced video to YouTube, it had inexplicably gone viral. Papa may have been cast as a lumbering oaf who slept on an iron mattress, but he was no fool. He turned the den into a B&B and charged extra for Baby B’s room.

Mama B left when Papa sold the movie rights to Hollywood. No one was surprised. After all, they slept in separate beds. While Papa had laughed off the caricature Goldie made of him, Mama hated being seen as a frumpy housewife eating cold porridge and driving Papa off to his hard, lonely bed. The prospect of a nationwide movie release sent her over the edge. She took her share of the advance and hit the road.

Secretly, Onyx was glad. Other than the separate beds, she couldn’t speak to Mama’s relationship with Papa, but she had been best friends with Baby since the third grade. Baby was sad when Mama left, but truth be told, she had been motherless for years. Her real mom had died in childbirth, and a desperate, broken-hearted Papa had remarried, hoping to give Baby a mother.

Desperate and broken-hearted is no way to begin a relationship. Everything about Mama B had been wrong. She was bi-polar, and while Onyx would never fault a person for having an illness, she could fault them for refusing to treat it. Mama only took her meds about half the time which made her highs and lows even worse.

She was too happy or too sad, too mellow or too angry, too trusting or too paranoid. Goldie’s video had, in fact, been an homage to Mama’s earth-moving shifts. Unfortunately, one character trait was constant. She was too freaking critical, and it was all aimed at Baby.

Baby was beautiful, but you wouldn’t have known it if you heard Mama talk. She told Baby one day, that she was too fat to fit in the den and the next, that she was too skinny to survive the winter. Mama railed over Baby’s lush, perfect hair. It was too long, too short, too thick, too thin, too dull, too shiny, too, too, too…it was Mama’s favorite word.

Everyone knew Baby B was just right. Onyx knew it better than most, and she reminded Baby at every possible opportunity. She spent a lot of time in the B’s den working the desk, cleaning, cooking for the guests, and anything else Papa needed done. Goldie was off at film school on Papa’s dime, so her own house felt cold and empty.

Baby had gone into the new family business as well, giving tours and having her picture made with the guests. At night the two of them would curl up on Papa B’s big, very comfortable bed (Papa had taken to sleeping outside) and whisper their dreams for the future.

Onyx’s dreams had not included getting pregnant, but Brad had been so handsome when he checked in late on a cold February afternoon. The fire had roared cheerfully, warm porridge steamed on the stove, and Onyx had been alone. Reservations were light in the winter. People came to B’s B&B to see big Papa and just right Baby, not Goldie’s homely sister.

Brad had been different. He didn’t seem to care that he was in a celebrity’s den. He had eyes only for her. They had shared a bottle of wine over a bowl of just-right porridge, and before she could say, “My what big teeth you have,” Onyx found herself wrapped in Brad’s arms.

The magic of the night had been washed away the next morning when she woke alone in Baby’s bed to the sound of Papa B’s booming voice.

“Onyx! Where are you?”

Wearing her disheveled clothing from the night before, she had slunk out of Baby’s room. Brad sat grinning in front of the fire, and Papa caught on immediately.

“Oh Onyx, I thought you had more sense than this.”

Brad fist-pumped like the frat boy he was. “Big Brad Wolfe strikes again!”

“Get out and don’t come back!”

When Papa B roared, one ignored it at his own peril. Brad made a quick exit, but the damage had been done. When the stick turned pink, Onyx’s shame was complete.

Good friends make all things bear-able and no matter how low Onyx sank, Baby B was there with a kind word and gentle touch which of course was just right.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

We were There!

Last night my son played in the Kentucky 6A Championship game. They played #1 in the nation Trinity High School. I wish I could report that we rose up in feel-good sports movie fashion and knocked off the giant, but as we all know, in real life, sometimes Goliath wins.

You might think that my son and his teammates are crushed. Certainly, they are disappointed, but crushed? Not even a little bit.

We lost and the score was ugly. I'm not even going to post it. You can look it up on the KHSAA website if you want to know. They were bigger and stronger than we were, and their speed? Holy cow...we're talking SEC speed. I say without exaggeration, at least three of their players could start for Kentucky right now. Watching them was a sight to behold.

A bigger sight to behold? Us.

I heard some talk around school last week from both freshmen and upper classmen. "Why would I want to go all the way to Bowling Green (it's a 3 hour drive) and watch us get killed?" "Half of Trinity's roster has already committed to D1 schools." "We have no chance."

You know what I heard from my son? "They're ranked #1, so if we win, we can call ourselves National Champions." That was the last thing he said to me before he went to school yesterday morning. He wasn't being ironic.

Our kids took the field with that attitude. Trinity has this whole gladiator-like routine they run through before the game. They walk out on the field two-by-two like an army. They have twice as many kids on their roster, so it's impressive. They do this call and response thing as they go through stretches like something out of 300.

Our kids didn't even know Trinity was on the field.


I took some pics of my son and his good friend during snap warm-ups. My son is the short snapper, and his friend is the long snapper. They were doing what they always do, getting loose, smiling, taking care of business. When they did look around, it wasn't at Trinity, but at the stadium. I could almost read their minds.


"Man, we are here!"

Our kids played with joy, recognizing that the moment they were in was huge. Those kind of moments come very few times in a person's life. Some of those kids will never again run out of a college tunnel in a big university stadium, but they did last night. The coach pulled a rabbit out of his hat on the first drive and sprung something on Trinity they hadn't seen in our film. Our David may have been ultimately defeated, but we drew first blood on Goliath. We showed them we wouldn't fall on our sword, and the kids were on top of the moon when we took it into the end zone. Whatever the final score, no one on our side of the stadium would have traded that moment for anything.

Our kids played hard. They went up against those mammoth linemen and kept their feet moving and strained with all of their might to make the block or the tackle. I was close enough to see our biggest offensive lineman's muscles straining with the effort on every single play.

Our kids played with heart. Several of our senior leaders went above and beyond the call, playing after they were hurt and inspiring their teammates to play hard. Our quarterback played after he was spitting up blood, and eventually had to be forced off the field by the coach. A senior defensive lineman and our best senior running back played on old injuries that should have kept them on the sidelines, but didn't. Trinity scored, and they went back out and played the next play hard.

When it was over, and I picked up my son and his friend at the school in the middle of the night, I didn't know what mood to expect. What I got was exuberance. Both of them had made blocks on kick returns that took a kid who has already committed to Alabama out of the play. (They had a lot of chances, because we had a lot of kick returns...lol.) They got to measure themselves against the best of the best, and they won the play a couple of times.

They even gloried in some of the ugly moments, in the way that only a true lover of the game can.

"Did you see that punt where I got laid out? Damn!" And they high fived. "Dude, that one d-tackle shooting the A gap..." They both shook their heads and grinned. It's like getting to go one on one with Michael Jordan. You take your licks, but man you're there!

They were there. They were on the field, and even when face down, staring at turf, they were having fun. And no matter how many times they were face down on the turf, they never quit. Not once. They. Never. Quit.

Through the first four games of the playoffs, Trinity had a total of 12 points scored on them. We scored 21.

There are two kinds of people in the world. The kind that say, "Why bother? We can't win." And the kind that say, "We have a chance to knock off the #1 team in the nation."

I'm inspired by my son and his team. You can't win if you don't show up and play. If these kids take that attitude into the rest of their lives, they will win more than they lose. Their lives will be rich with experiences that take them places other folks fear to go, and that, my friends, is a game worth playing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mojo

Bruce leaves tomorrow for Montana to play in the NAIA national semi-finals. Young son leaves Friday for Bowling Green to play in the Kentucky 6A State Championship game. Bruce's undefeated season of glory will either end or stretch to one more game, the National Championship. Young son's undefeated season of glory will end either way, hopefully with a state championship ring.

Me? I'm a wreck just thinking about it.

Both of my guys have a significant challenge ahead of them. My son's team is playing powerhouse, Trinity High School out of Louisville. They are the #1 ranked high school football team in the nation. Bruce's team is playing Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They are the defending national champions and have never lost at home.

What am I doing? The only thing I can...cheering from the sidelines and pulling together every positive bit of mojo available to me. I obviously can't be in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Helena, Montana at the same time. Where do I go? Well, let's examine the mojo.

I haven't missed a single one of my son's games all year, and they haven't lost. I have watched Bruce play via live Internet streaming twice this year, once when they played in Kansas and once when they played in Mississippi. They won both games. The only logical conclusion is that I have to be at my son's game and root for Bruce from afar. (yeah, yeah...this was the only conclusion anyway, but it is supported by the mojo)

What will I be wearing on Friday night? The mojo says I need to wear blue jeans, my red Scott County hoodie, and my Georgetown football stadium jacket sized XXL. It's huge, but it's warm, and best of all, it's LUCKY. My only concern with Friday's wardrobe is my gloves. I have worn my black suede gloves with the faux fur trim for every cold weather game. Unfortunately, I lost one of them two weeks ago after the quarter final game in Louisville. Quite frankly, this worries me. I may very well go gloveless regardless of the temperature.

You think I'm kidding? Not even a little bit.

Saturday's wardrobe will include black jeans, a long sleeved Georgetown football t-shirt under either my orange or black Georgetown hoodie. Both have proved equally strong with the mojo as long as the t-shirt is underneath. I will also be wearing black underwear. Again, really not kidding. I would hate to jinx the whole damn thing by wearing the wrong pair of panties.

It could happen.

I will sit with my son's girlfriend at his game. She will sit on my right. I will hold my phone in my hand throughout the game. I might nervously check Facebook or post from time to time, but that's not where the mojo is. The mojo is in the phone itself. At no time during the game will it go into my purse.

Saturday, I will sit or pace nervously in my kitchen with the computer on the island. I will hold my clicker pom-pom from the 1999 National Championship game in my right hand, clicking furiously at pivotal moments in the game. I can't overstate the mojo that resides in that pom-pom. I've held onto it for 12 years, and bad things happen when it doesn't make it to a game with me. I've even withheld it from small children during close games.

I will yell a lot, prompting the dog to hide from me. My son might join me for a bit, but he generally can't be around me when I get like that, and that's okay. He and I never sit together at Bruce's games, and the mojo is good with that.

Bruce and my son have watched hours of film, practiced in every conceivable weather condition, absorbed their respective game plans until they know them better than their own names. Executing their game day responsibilities is as natural to them as breathing. In the end, do I really think that my clothing, what I'm holding, where I eat, what I eat, who I'm sitting with has anything to do with whether we win or lose?

You better believe it.

Go Cards!


Go Tigers!


Monday, November 28, 2011

What I know about your Thanksgiving

Kids are honest, sometimes painfully so. If I have your kid in my class, I may have learned more about your Thanksgiving than you want me to know.

My Monday-after-Thanksgiving journal prompt is always the same. "Write about your Thanksgiving Break." We don't always share journals. It depends on what's going on in class that day and how relevant the prompt is to the lesson. I generally try to make them relevant, but sometimes, like today, the journal is an island unto itself.

The kids were in a sharing mood today...or more accurately, an oversharing mood. This is what I learned.

Alcohol creates interesting holiday situations

Aunt B's sister went Black Friday shopping wasted. She thought having a few drinks with friends before she went out would make the shopping more fun. My student said it was quite entertaining watching her list to the left as she pushed a cart through Walmart at 2am. Concerned, I asked if Aunt B's sister was driving.

"Only the cart in Walmart, but she ran into three people and knocked over a display of Pillow Pets."

There is no TV or laptop cheap enough to make me fight with drunk, crazy people in the middle of the night at Walmart. I don't think I would go if they were giving them away.

Speaking of Black Friday...

Another student and her mother were standing in line at Bath and Body Works when a rude woman pushed ahead of them and cut line. Not wanting to force a confrontation, my student's mother contented herself with taking the chewed gum out of her mouth and tossing it into the offender's purse. Following Mom's lead, the student also added her ABC gum to the lady's purse. That's keeping it classy.

One young man bragged that his grandmother called the salesman at Best Buy an asshole loud enough for everyone close by to hear. Again, keeping it classy. Anyone tempted to apply for a job in retail?

Thanksgiving dinner can be a minefield.

Getting political during the blessing is just gonna piss everyone off before they take their first bite of turkey.

Says a kid gleefully, "My dad thanked God for Rand Paul during the prayer. He went on so long my aunt slammed her silverware down and left the table. After she was gone, my dad said, Amen!"

The kid was very expressive as he recounted the story, making me think his imitation of his dad is probably spot on. I'm sure his dad would be amused...or not. I was amused.

Another kid, "My mom and her sister both brought corn pudding to my grandma's house. They were mad and yelled at you if you ate the wrong one."

"Whose did you eat?"

"My aunt's. My mom will get over it, and my aunt buys really good Christmas presents."

Mercenary or just good business?

My favorite line of the day..."I'm still sitting at the kid's table. Somebody's gonna have to die before I see the big table on Thanksgiving."

If I was that kid's grandma, I'd be looking over my shoulder.

And now for the good news..

"My aunt found out her cancer is in remission."

"My grandpa was released from the hospital."

"I got to see my cousins."

"I won the guitar I wanted on eBay."

"My mom got me a smartphone for free...well except for the data plan."

"My sister asked me to be the maid of honor in her wedding."

And finally, a cautionary tale

"My stepmom had a meltdown while she was cooking and cussed at everybody in the house. I thought it was hilarious. She apologized later."

Whatever you do or say in front of your kids or your family's kids will make it back to a teacher somewhere. And if I'm that teacher, I'm going to be thinking about it the next time we meet at an open house or a parent/teacher conference. Just saying...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I've Come a Long Way, Baby!

This week marks the two year anniversary of my gall bladder attack. What a lovely thing to celebrate, huh? In fact, there was nothing lovely about the event. I went down on Thanksgiving night. My gall bladder was stone-riddled and so inflamed, I was admitted to the hospital for two days of intraveneous antibiotics. The following week, I was in surgery having it removed. If you're interested, you can read about it here.

I'm not actually celebrating the anniversary of getting sick. I'm celebrating the anniversary of deciding to get healthy.

Spending Thanksgiving break in the hospital and missing the following week and a half of school messed with my psyche in a big way. Compounding my angst was the bout with vertigo I had earlier that same year which caused me to miss the last two days of school. I wasn't even OLD yet, and I felt like I was falling apart.

Yeah, screw that.

Something clearly had to change, starting with my attitude. I was depressed. I had become extremely sedentary over the years, and while not obese by any stretch, I had packed on some extra pounds. I had no outlet for stress beyond chocolate and the occasional night out with friends.

The following January, a friend invited a whole group of us at school to go to Jazzercise with her on their annual One Day Sale. I've waxed lyrical about Jazzercise on several occasions, but I can't overstate how big a difference it has made in my life. I kept going back to class even when I was wheezing, sore, out of breath, out of shape, and just plain pathetic. Why? Because it was fun.

In any given class, you might dance to Britney, J.Lo, Rascal Flatts, an orchestral version of "Kashmir" with Slash on guitar, a Fall Out Boy cover of "Beat It", or "Put the Bass in your Walk" with RuPaul. I dare you to dance to that and not smile!

I did smile...a lot. The mental/emotional results were almost immediate. No matter how out of breath or sore I was, I felt better afterwards. My head was clearer. I slept better. I had more patience, and I pulled myself out of that "I'm falling apart" funk. The physical results weren't far behind the mental. Even without changing my eating habits, I started dropping weight. Burning more calories will do that. When I started dropping weight, I changed my eating habits. Success breeds success.

The strength training component of Jazzercise began to reshape my body and my self image. Feeling physically strong made me feel mentally strong. The rush that came with each milestone has stayed with me. I remember the first time I did a side plank without cheating. I remember the first real push-up I did. I can string together several in a row now. I've increased my hand weights by a total of 10 pounds since I started. Each success makes me want to push harder to get to the next milestone.

Last spring, I started running. The first time, it was because my son asked me to run with him. When my son requests my company with no strings attached, I try to oblige because it doesn't happen very often. Plus, it was cool that my son thought I could hang with him on a run. Honestly, I didn't hang very well, but I finished. I liked that I was in shape enough to finish, so I ran again. And again. And again.

In October, I ran the Race for the Cure in Lexington. It was my first 5K, and I finished under my goal time. Last week, I ran the Southern Lights Stroll, another local 5K. I ran two full minutes faster than my Race for the Cure time, and I did a happy dance in front of God and everybody when I crossed the finish line. I have set two long-term running goals for myself. I'm definitely going to run a 10K in the Spring, and maybe even do the Triple Crown in Louisville. That's a 5K, a 10K, and a 10 mile race each 2 weeks apart. I'd like to do a half marathon within a year.

Those goals are lofty, and I will have to work hard to achieve them, but here's the thing. I'm closer to those goals today than I was to where I am now two years ago. I've gone from sedentary, depressed, overweight, out-of-shape, in the hospital having organs removed to training for a half marathon.

The change came because I decided to make it. I'm a bit hard-headed, and it took a Thanksgiving in the hospital to get me there. This Thanksgiving, I will run before I sit down at the table with my family. I will go to Jazzercise on Friday morning and dance with my friends. I'm healthy and in shape, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Behind and Ahead

I'm frustrated because I am behind on my NaNoWriMo word count. Seriously. I should be at 25,000 words tomorrow, and I'm at 17,043. Do the math. It's not pretty.

I'm thrilled because I've written 17,043 words in 13 days. That's 17,043 more new words than I've written in 6 months. AND I'm not stuck. I know what happens next. My characters are alive in my head and talking to me.

So why am I so far behind in my word count?

Let me show you my Monday...

5:20am -- Roll out of bed, throw on my workout clothes and head to 5:45 Jazzercise. Workout time is absolutely non-negotiable. It is my sanity. Sanity is worth losing a little sleep.

7:00am -- Home again. Shower, dress, attempt to wake the living dead, otherwise known as my sleeping son. The living dead is extra grumpy today. Hello Monday. He's congested, hacking up a lung, and dealing with a souvenir from Friday night's game in the form of a strained back muscle.

7:50am -- Leave for school without the living dead. Call doctor in route and make an appointment. This reminds me to call the vet to get Biscuit's insulin refilled. As soon as I hang up, I forget all about the insulin. WalMart's pharmacy will be closed when I remember it again.

8:05am -- Arrive at school where I immediately make arrangements for coverage of my third hour class as I will be taking the living dead to the doctor during that time. Answer emails, make copies, get bellringer and agenda on the board all while mainlining a 32 oz Diet Dr. Pepper.

8:45am -- Teach first hour.

9:45am -- My much needed planning period, but am I planning? No. I'm sprinting out the door to go raise the living dead. Drag him out of bed, yell repeatedly through the bathroom door that we are going to be late.

10:26am -- Arrive 6 min late to the doctor. They graciously get us in asap because they know I'm a teacher who should be teaching. In fact, the doctor's daughter is in my third hour class which is being covered by someone else. Negative strep test is good. Viral crud that can only be toughed out is not as good.

11:15am
-- Arrive back at school where living dead shuffles off like he's walking the Green Mile. I sprint to the library and ask my colleague covering my class if we're still friends. Thankfully, we are.

11:15am - 3:45pm -- Teach my little heart out. My two sections of regular English were particularly awesome with a poignant reading on Emmett Till as we prepare for TKAM.

4:00pm -- Meet and greet in the library for our new interim principal.

4:30pm - 6:00pm -- Plan tomorrow's lesson because I was dealing with the living dead during my planning period. Didn't mind too much as I am ridiculously excited about starting TKAM.

6:00pm -- Pick up son at football practice. Yes, he is my son again. Nothing raises the dead like knocking the crap out of his teammates. Playoff round 3 is this week, so practice goes long. I catch up on Facebook and blog reading while I wait and wish I had my netbook in the car.

6:30pm -- Drive son from field house to trainer's office to get his back iced.

7:00pm -- Pull into my driveway where son realizes he doesn't have his phone. I call his phone, and one of his teammates answers. He's still in the trainer's office.

7:05pm -- Drive back to school. I know, I know. I should have made him wait until tomorrow to get the damn phone, but some battles aren't worth fighting. There's no glory in victory. Driving back was less hassle than living with a teenager who couldn't text or talk to his girlfriend for 12 hours.

7:06pm -- Call from Bruce who saw me pull into the driveway and then pull back out. He's starting dinner. There is a reason I love that man.

7:30pm -- Finally arrive back home. I actually get out of the car and into the house before I realize I haven't picked up the OTC meds the doctor recommended for the viral crud. I decide I can't face getting back into the car just yet. Help Bruce finish dinner and eat.

8:45pm -- WalMart to get meds. Remember I haven't picked up Biscuit's insulin, and the pharmacy is closed. Sigh.

9:15pm -- Do a load of laundry, read blogs, open my WIP.

10:00pm -- Close my WIP upon realizing my brain is totally fried. In an effort to write something, anything...compose a blog post complaining about being behind on my NaNo novel.

There you have it. I'm behind on my word count. I may or may not make it to 50,000 by November 30. Doesn't matter. I've written 17,043 words in 13 days. I know what comes next. I'm gonna finish this mother.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Victory is sweet indeed!

We are a football family, and this weekend we are celebrating accomplishments worth bragging about.

My youngest son is a junior in high school. He plays guard on the offensive line and does all the short snapping for PAT's and field goals. He also long snaps on occasion. You don't think about the short or long snapper very often. His name doesn't get called. In fact, he's invisible unless he messes up. Then, everyone in the stadium knows who he is. I can say with pride, my son doesn't mess up very often.

Like any good football mom, I beam with pride every Friday night. However, my game day pride goes much deeper than my son's accomplishments on the gridiron. His success on the field every week is a visible, tangible marker of how far he's come in the last six months.

Suffice it to say, young son created some very big problems for himself last school year. Teenagers are wont to do that. Mothers of teenagers are wont to gray hair and bouts of stomach-turning anxiety. Up until the first practice in July, I didn't think I'd ever see him in a football uniform again, and honestly, that would have been okay if that's what he had wanted and not the mess he had made for himself.

To my son's credit, he accepted the consequences of his actions and cleaned up his mess. Things aren't perfect, but he's so far from where he was that I can only be thankful. Every Friday night when he runs out of that tunnel, my heart soars. The cherry on this wonderful cake is that his team is 12-0 and heading into the third round of the playoffs for the state championship. Regardless of whether the team reaches that goal, my family has already won.



An undefeated regular season is a rare, rare thing. I've been married to a football coach for 22 years, so I can say that with some authority. We have been blessed in that the losing seasons have come less often than the winning ones, but we went 2-9 four years straight and suffered the humiliation of losing a job over it. And yes, I do mean "we." Losing a job happens to the whole family.

I'm not complaining. Bruce chose to be a coach, and I chose to marry him. As our son learned this year, we live with the choices we make. And truly, being a football family has brought so much more joy than pain.

And an undefeated season is a rare, rare thing. Not only did my son get to experience that joy this year, but so did my husband. It's almost scary how long the odds are on that happening. I've been afraid to say it out loud up to this point out of fear that I might jinx something. Football families are a superstitious lot for sure.

I can say it now though, because tonight my husband's team won their final regular season game. 10-0.
You want to hear something even scarier?? My son played on the JV team all season as he earned his place in the rotation on the Varsity team. The JV team went 10-0.

My family has not experienced the sting of a loss on the football field since 2010.

It could come next week. After 22 years, I know that. There are only 16 6A teams still playing high school football in the state of Kentucky, so every game gets tougher, every win harder to come by.

Likewise, there are only 16 NAIA teams still playing football nationwide. Georgetown is ranked #3, but at this level of competition, everyone is good.

Tonight, I'm thankful for my football family. I'm thankful for what seeing my son in Cardinal red and white represents. I'm thankful for the blessing of winning, and the chance to play at least one more week.

Go Cards!

Go Tigers!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Oh, the humiliation...and other interesting stuff

I'm cheating a little bit. I've pledged to post at least once a week, but instead of a full blown blog post, I'm mostly just giving you some links to follow. As expected, football on Friday night and Saturday pulled me out of writing mode. I'm behind on my NaNo word count, so I have some ground to make up today.

I did spend some time yesterday catching up on the 200+ blog posts and articles sitting in my Google Reader. I skimmed over a bunch of posts I might have read with more time on my hands, but in my NaNo frenzy, mostly just deleted. Two blogs are noteworthy, however, and if they aren't already in your daily blog roll, I highly recommend them.

For writers: Janice Hardy's "The Other Side of the Story" blog is amazingly helpful and instructive. Janice is the best kind of teacher. She takes difficult subject matter and makes it easy to understand. She discusses the nuts and bolts of writing, and I used her pre-NaNo series to plan my NaNo novel.

For everyone: John Scalzi's "Whatever" always entertains. He is a science fiction writer, but his blog is exactly what the title would imply, whatever is on his mind. He is a tremendously talented writer. I frequently laugh out loud while reading his posts, and when he wrote about the death of a beloved dog, wept unabashedly. I read a piece he wrote about September 11 to a couple of my classes who were getting ready to write personal narratives, and almost couldn't get through it because I choked up. In November, he has a series of Thanksgiving Advent posts where he blogs each day about what he's thankful for. He has written about air-conditioning, his ukulele, people who are good at what they do, and being a goofball, among other topics. He's worth a stop on your daily Internet wandering.

Last, but not least, is a link to article that actually made me stop, read closely, and think. The Rumpus solicited readers to send in short vignettes on the subject of humiliation. This article is a compilation of the best submissions. The pieces are in turn, funny, poignant and downright painful.

I considered writing my own companion vignette, but changed my mind. My excuse is that I need the time and writing energy for my NaNo book, but the true reason is I'm not willing to be as real as the writers who submitted were. Strangely, the compilation is not depressing. The editors were intentional in the way they ordered the pieces, and there is humor sprinkled liberally with the pain. The last piece is almost triumphant in that the author realizes she is only humiliated if she chooses to be.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your Sunday!

Monday, October 31, 2011

I must be out of my mind!

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and as I map out a plan, I've decided I must be out of my mind. I've committed to write 50,000 words in one month.

The two novels I actually completed took 8 and 13 months respectively. Granted they were both in the 100,000 word range, but still...

To hit the 50,000 word mark by November 30, I'll have to average 1,667 words a day. That's the equivalent of about 6 1/2 pages. As I step up to the plate, my internal naysayer is chattering away like a Little Leaguer in the outfield.

November is not only football season, it's freaking playoff season! My son's high school team finished their regular season 10-0 and has a strong chance of making it all the way to the state championship game. My husband's college team is 8-0 with two regular season games remaining and expects to make a deep run in the NAIA championship series.

These are not problems. In fact, November looks to be an exciting month for my family. I plan to carry my netbook around like an extra appendage.

I'll still be going to work every day. School is funny like that. They expect teachers to show up every day prepared to teach. And in about a week, I'm starting a novel with two of my classes that I haven't taught since I was a student teacher many moons ago. I've already done a ton of prep work for the unit, but daily lesson planning will still take time.

Honestly, this concerns me less than the football time suck. My NaNo plan already has the work day blocked out as non-writing time, and discussing a great book (To Kill a Mockingbird) with my kids gets the creative juices flowing and puts me in a writing frame of mind.

In spite of my ever-present internal naysayer, I'm excited about the challenge. I've got a rough plot outline I LOVE, characters I want to get to know better, and a world to create. I view NaNo as a kick in the butt to get me back on a regular writing schedule. The final product will be longer than 50,000 words, so I'm not stressed about finishing the whole thing. A solid start will be enough to knock me out of this slump.

My word count meter is over there on the right, so you can follow my progress and cheer me on. So...on your mark....get set...

GO!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lies of the Beautiful People

I run because it makes me feel strong. It keeps me sane.

As I've increased my distance, I've had to add songs to my running playlist. This isn't something I take lightly. Both the tempo and the tone have to be just right, and the song has to fit with the rest of the playlist. I recently added Sixx:A.M's "Lies of the Beautiful People."

The tempo is perfect. Jazzercise has conditioned me...right foot on the downbeat...so, too fast or too slow, and a song is counterproductive because it drives me crazy. The tone of "Lies" is perfect as well. I need motivation when I run. My songs all have an in-your-face quality to them. The guitar provides that in this song.

I ran to this song for the first time on Tuesday. I put it third on my playlist. By then, I have a comfortable pace going. I'm not tired yet, and my mind is either processing the day or chewing on a writing idea. I'm still breathing easy enough that I can sing, and I do. The song started with that driving guitar, my right foot landed perfectly on the downbeat, and I felt pure synchronicity. I sang because I felt good and because the chorus has a strong enough hook that you almost have to sing along.

I probably should have kept mentally chewing on the writing idea. The words to the song (which I knew, but hadn't thought too much about) pulled me almost completely out of my zone.

Here's the song if you want to take a minute to listen.




If you think real beauty's on the outside,
well that's a far cry from the truth.

I run because it makes me feel strong. It keeps me sane.

Running also keeps me from indulging my frustrations in fried food and chocolate. I'm losing weight. The jeans that thrilled my soul when I bought them last winter because they were a size smaller won't stay in place now without a belt. I'm so close to dropping another size, I can almost taste it.

Maybe all the information you received
You should not believe
There's no proof

My natural hair color is brown. I was a brunette until I was in my mid-twenties. I started dying it then because I wanted to see if blondes really had more fun. (I can only speak for myself, but I've had more fun as a blonde.) I still dye it because it hides the gray strands that would contrast too sharply with brown. And I like being blonde.

Save Yourself
From all the lies of the beautiful people


I'm religious about moisturizing my face, morning and night. I spring for expensive under-eye cream. I'm not ready for baggy eyes and crow's feet.

It's time to run
From all the lies of the beautiful people

I write romance. My heroines are strong, independent women, and while I don't focus too much on their physical appearance, it's easy to infer they are attractive. In my head they are anyway. My Raphael in Sapphire Sins was from the Italian Renaissance, and so I described him as the living incarnation of something Michelangelo would have sculpted.

And if you think real beauty's on the outside,
well that's a far cry from the truth.

I can rationalize. I'm rather good at it actually. Romance is about selling fantasy. You want to touch real life enough to sell it, but not close enough that the story is mundane. We're all pretty in our fantasies, right? Men are strong alpha males who respect our independence, defeat evil, and rock our worlds all at the same time. And they're not ugly.

Besides...the men I find sexy in real life aren't the living incarnation of something Michelangelo would have sculpted. Sexiness starts with intelligence. You can see it in a person's eyes, hear it in their wit. Sexiness lives in confidence. A man who knows who he is, even if strange or different, is sexy.

But we've got these ugly scars
On our infected hearts
Maybe it's time for a change

So yeah, I am working to be thinner. I will remain blonde for the foreseeable future and wrinkle-free for as long as possible. Saying anything else would be a lie. But I'm working on the inside too. The inside is where those years I'm hiding in my hair and on my face really live.

I have used those years to build relationships. I struggle daily to be a good mother to my boys. I never stop trying to improve as a teacher. I've taken on challenges that scare me, both as a teacher and a writer.

The driving guitar stops abruptly. Eminem shakes me out of my mental self-flagellation, admonishing me to keep running "Till I Collapse."

And I run because it makes me feel strong. And it keeps me sane.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Straight, but not Narrow

Happy Sunday! As promised...new content on the blog!

So what have I been doing with all this time I haven't been writing? Lounging on the couch eating bon-bons and watching soap operas? I'm not even sure what a bon-bon is, and I think all the old soaps my mom used to watch have been cancelled, so no, but I've found there are tons of things to do when you're avoiding something, and some of them are even worthwhile.

Our high school offers a wide variety of clubs...Youth Impact, Rocket Club, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese Clubs, Drama, Key Club, Young Democrats, Young Republicans, Chess Club, Art Explorers, Psychology Club, and the alphabet soup clubs, FFA, FCA, FCCLA, BETA, DECA, FBLA, FEA. There are more, but I honestly can't remember them all. Our school is even more accommodating in that we provide time during the school day once a month for these clubs to meet. Participation isn't limited to those who can stay after school and get a ride home.

The club list keeps growing because students are continually thinking of new ones to add, and as long as they can find a teacher to be the club sponsor, they're good to go. This year we added a Hantis club. (Yeah, I didn't know what Hantis was either until the club produced a promotional video. Imagine ping-pong on steroids.) A group of kids discovered it, rounded up a teacher-sponsor, and now play Hantis on club day.

Another group of kids wanted to form a club at the end of last year, but they had a more difficult time getting it off the ground. They wanted to create a local GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance. The group was small at first. Pop culture messages notwithstanding, it's hard to be gay or even a vocal supporter of gay rights in high school.

The administration told them the same thing they tell every group of students who want to form a school-sanctioned club. Find a teacher willing to be your sponsor, and this is where they ran into trouble. Many teachers supported the idea, but for various and sundry reasons said no.

Some were simply too busy. Club sponsorship is one more demand on a teacher's time.

Some were too new. Regardless of how you feel about tenure, it does provide a measure of protection. Without it, a teacher can be dismissed without cause. I like to believe in the better angels of human nature and in the people I know to be of good character in our administration, but yeah, it's easier to believe in those things because I have tenure.

The group was unsuccessful in finding a willing teacher before school ended, but they were undaunted. Over the summer, they grew in number. They elected officers and determined to meet in the evenings at the public library if they couldn't find a sponsor. The leaders of the group are honors students taking AP classes and involved in a variety of other activities including band, chorus, drama, and sports. They even contacted the local newspaper.

Meanwhile, a couple of teachers who had declined sponsorship quietly sent the students in my direction. "Mrs. Owens has tenure and would probably be supportive of your cause." They came to see me the day the newspaper printed the article about their plight.

I didn't say yes immediately. I knew the club was a good thing. I knew the student leaders were exceptional kids. I also knew I was busy. I meet myself coming and going on a regular basis, but if I'm being honest, busy wasn't the reason I hesitated. I wasn't afraid for myself. I knew I might take some heat, but I'm a big girl. I have a good reputation as a teacher, support from administration, and yes, tenure. I can take the heat. I hesitated for 24 hours because my youngest son is still in high school. I wondered if he would have to take heat for my decision, if he could handle it, and if it was even fair for him to have to handle it.

In the end, I decided I wasn't doing my son or anyone else a favor by saying no when my conscience knew the only answer was yes. Studies vary on the suicide rate among gay teens, but most indicate that it is higher among gay teens than their straight peers. I don't need the statistics.

Darren Hall is not a statistic. He was my friend. We both played trumpet in our high school band, and we battled every year for first chair. He always won, and even with my psychotically competitive nature, I was okay with that. He was flat out better than me. He never rubbed it in though. In fact, he gave me helpful hints on how to improve.

We were in school plays together. He played my dad in our senior production of "The Rainmaker." He had to shake his finger at me, and it took everything both of us had to stay in character. Neither of us could take that pretend relationship seriously.

At 17, he totalled his Honda. I was sitting right next to him, straddling the gearshift because we had way too many people in that tiny car. His car was trashed, but his only concern was whether I was okay.

Our senior year, we went to prom together. We had a ball...way more fun than I had with the guy I was actually dating my sophomore and junior years. Darren and I were best friends.

We mostly ran with a whole pack of friends, but we went on "dates" sometimes too. The one kiss we shared ended with both of us laughing hysterically. It was so obviously wrong. We never used the word "gay." It was 1983, and coming out of the closet in our Kentucky town just wasn't done. I took a lot of heat off of him our senior year. Most people thought we were dating. I was fine with that. He was good-looking, smart, hilarious, and easy to be with. Heck, I wanted him to be straight. He would have been the perfect boyfriend.

His parents wanted him to be straight too. They were evangelical Christians. They viewed homosexuality as a burn-in-hell sin. Our last year in high school, I took the heat off with them. They loved me because they thought I had "fixed" Darren. I will never forgive them for believing that Darren needed to be fixed. He was one of the best people I have ever known, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not choose to be gay.

Before we went off to different colleges, Darren and I made a pact. If we were both still single at 30, we'd get married. He was nervous about leaving. I had been a safety net in high school, and I think he imagined me being a safety net for the rest of his life. I wasn't, and our pact was never realized. I wasn't single when I reached 30, and Darren was dead. He put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger long before he reached that milestone.

Darren's upbringing and his own parents taught him that his very existence was an abomination. The love of his friends wasn't enough to overcome that message. Writing this many years later, I still feel the weight of that guilt.

I feel guilty that it took me 24 hours to say yes to the awesome kids in our school's GSA. I did say yes, though. We currently have almost 80 members and we're still growing. My kids have created a support network for their peers who are feeling alone and lost. They are planning an "It gets Better" video and a "Straight, but not Narrow" video. They have big plans for "Day of Silence" in the spring. And on top of all of that, they are giving back to the community. They are collecting cans for our school's big Thanksgiving food drive and have a Toys for Tots plan in the works.

I am proud of my kids, especially the brave few that stepped out on a limb and made this club happen by sheer force of will. I can't change the past. I can't bring Darren back. I can honor his memory by doing everything in my power to make kids see their value as human beings. If someone has a problem with that, I have three words.

Bring it on.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Evolution of an Idea and NaNoWriMo

Change has been on my mind a lot lately. Personal struggles in my life have dictated changes. You either change or you keep struggling. In the past six months, I've been a fan of change. Then, last week I discovered I was losing my boss to another school.

I was in turn, angry, sad, and a little scared. Anyone who's ever worked for an incompetent leader knows the value of a good one. My principal was a good one. I don't know who his replacement is yet. I can only hope it's another good one, but yeah, I'm a little scared.

His departure got me thinking. Maybe something's wrong with me. I've stayed in the same place and the same job for 13 years.

I don't feel stagnant. I have a different set of kids every year, and while I've essentially taught the same pieces of literature, I've changed it up with new approaches. And every single year, without fail, a kid has said something in class that makes me step back, blink, and think, "Damn, I've never thought about it that way."

Those moments make me realize that yes, some changes are necessary, but others would not only be counterproductive, but just plain wrong. I'm a teacher. It's not merely a label describing how I make my living. It's who I am as a human being, an unalterable link in the chain of my DNA.

So change, or the lack thereof, has been on my mind. I sat down Thursday thinking I wanted to write a short story about change. Broad, I know, and honestly, isn't EVERY story about change? So maybe my story was going to be about resisting necessary change...you know, the kind that addresses those personal struggles I mentioned earlier.

You don't hook readers with a theme. You hook them with a good story. I needed characters. I needed conflict. I needed a story.

One of my favorite places to go for ideas is a list of famous quotations. You can search by theme or topic. I searched "change." This jumped off the page.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects change is the cemetery. ~Harold Wilson


Yes! My story would be set in a cemetery.

One of the changes I've made recently in response to my personal struggles is running. Ironic really, since an utter distaste for running in high school threatened my PE grade and subsequently, my GPA. In middle age, I've found solace, mental health, and the confidence to handle a myriad of problems in running. Some evenings, I literally run until the day's frustration is gone.

My protagonist is running in a cemetery. She does this regularly. At night.

Who runs in a graveyard at night? I needed to write to discover the answer to that question, so I opened a new Word document. My pulse always speeds up when I have the seed of an idea and a blank page. New and exciting...anything is possible.

This is what I wrote:

The hair stood up on the back of Heather's neck as she jogged through a pocket of cold air. Running through the cemetery made her feel like a horror movie bimbo. All she needed was high heels and a poorly-timed ankle twist, and the zombies would descend on her for a midnight snack of brains and girl flesh.

Right on cue, a melodious voice broke the silence of the dead.

"High heels would be a nice change of pace. I've grown bored with your
Nikes and t-shirt du jour."

Heather maintained a steady rhythm. "Zombies would be a nice change of
pace."

"You've never met a real zombie. They're an unruly lot."


OH SNAP!!

I wrote three more pages without stopping. I finally did stop because while I had a fun scene going, I needed to think about what happened next. I discover my characters by actually writing them, but I don't plot well that way. I end up following dead ends. I have a folder full of unfinished manuscripts as a testament to that approach.

As I sketched out a plot, I realized I wasn't planning a short story. It was going to be longer than that. Okay...

My mind wandered back to the aforementioned folder of unfinished manuscripts, some of them 15,000 words or more. I have not finished a manuscript since my agent went out of the agent business and said, "You have a good book. Sorry I couldn't place it with the right publisher."

That was the precipitating event, but I'm not blaming him. I'm the one who slumped.

It's time to get unslumped. I'm going to run with my new idea as part of NaNoWriMo in November. Honestly, I'm starting now, and I don't expect to be finished by the end of November. I have work and family responsibilities that preclude the daily word count necessary to do that. HOWEVER, I am using NaNo to hold me responsible for sitting down and getting words on the page.

As part of holding my writer self accountable, I'm also getting regular content back up on the blog. Nowhere is my slump more evident than in the long gaps between posts. I pledge to you faithful blog reader who cared enough to read this far, I will post a minimum of once a week. I hope to do more than that, but I have to start with an achievable goal.

This is the NaNoWriMo badge that I will be posting to the blog, along with a word count widget.

I'm taking a big, deep breath. A journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rock on!

So I've neglected the blog for a couple of months, but this past week I had an experience that was awesome enough that I'm inspired to share.

I saw the Foo Fighters live!!

I know. I know. You're thinking, "Big whoop, Kathy," or some approximation of that.

Except, I SAW THE FOO FIGHTERS LIVE!!

Concerts are outrageously expensive these days. Several times over the last couple of years, Bruce and I have talked about going to this concert or that, and then we saw the ticket prices. We weighed dropping a bundle of cash on tickets, parking, gas (the best shows are never close), food and drink, and of course, the requisite concert t-shirt. Every single time, we decided the show would probably be good, but we just weren't big enough fans to do it.

None of those bands were The Foo Fighters.

I've been a fan for a long time. Before Wasting Light was released in April, I already had more Foo Fighters' songs on my iPod than any other artist's. I haven't bought an artist's whole album since digital download happened, and I wasn't forced to buy the whole thing to get the songs I wanted. Consequently, I didn't have whole Foo Fighters albums, although I did have bits and pieces from every album they had ever released. I saw a documentary on the making of Wasting Light a week before it dropped and promptly bought it on April 12. I don't even remember the last whole album I bought before that.

I rediscovered why buying a whole album is awesome. Some of the best songs aren't the ones released on the radio. "Rope" was the first song released for radio and it's not close to my favorite on the album. I love "Bridge Burning," "Arlandria," "I Should Have Known" and my current favorite "Dear Rosemary."

But I digress...

After I fell head over heels in love with the album, I knew I HAD to see them live. The first tour dates released were big festivals and European dates, however, on Facebook, they kept promising more US dates. I checked back almost every day. (Yes, I'm obsessive when I like something.) Finally, FINALLY, they announced a series of dates in the Midwest that included Columbus, Ohio, only three hours away. Yeah, it was on a Thursday and in the middle of football season (I am a teacher married to a college football coach), but I didn't care.

I found one awesome friend who was willing to throw caution and responsibility to the wind and drive to Columbus with me on a school night. We drove the three hours to Columbus blaring Foo Fighters the whole way, and even fighting construction traffic in Cincinnati, it didn't feel like three hours. We got there early and hit the sports bar across the street for appetizers and drinks. Everyone in the place was going to the concert, and the bar was rockin. I was giddy, euphoric, a kid on Christmas.

Sometimes the anticipation of something is better than the thing itself.

Not this time. Oh hell, no. Not this time.

Holy cow...holy smoke...holy shit! They were everything I wanted them to be. From the first chords of "Bridge Burning" to the last dying chords of "Everlong" (yes, they closed with "Everlong"...goosebumps!), the music was Oh my freaking God AWESOME!

They played for three plus hours. They played every single song I wanted to hear, both old and new. Dave Grohl's voice was perfect in spite of being on tour for months already. The band rocked! The Foo Fighters are no record-company-studio-synthesized-Frankenstein's monster. They can PLAY!

I sang until I was hoarse. I danced like a crazy woman. The next day, I felt like I had been in a car wreck. I know I had a mild case of self-inflicted whiplash. I danced my credit card right out of my pocket and lost it. I danced with my friend. I danced with total strangers...except in that moment, they weren't strangers. They were kindred spirits riding a rock and roll high with me.

That high has lasted. It carried us through the wrong turn that took us to Dayton at 1:30 in the morning instead of south to Cincinnati. It sustained me through the annoyance of cancelling my credit card, apparently right before some moron tried to pay his cell phone bill with it. It gave me the strength to teach my classes the next day on three hours sleep. Yeah, I went to work. I'm badass like that...lol.

For one glorious evening, I let every worry and responsibility go and rocked. I'm including a video I took of "Times Like These." There are better ones on YouTube, but this is mine. Dave starts out acoustically at the back of the arena and then runs back to the main stage. At that point, I kinda forgot I was recording and started dancing again, so I apologize for the camera work. It doesn't really matter though...all that matters is the music.

Rock on!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Inspiration, Perspiration and Beginnings

Before I write I let my mind go blind and let the lord do his thing. ~~Tupac

I admire Tupac's writing, and I have had those glorious moments where the world dissolves around me and I'm in the writing zone. More often though, I've found myself in Thomas Edison's camp. Writing, like genius, is more perspiration than divine inspiration, and nothing requires more work than a good beginning.

Do you read the first page of a book before you decide to buy it or check it out of the library? Without a recommendation from someone whose taste I trust, I do. Either the writer is going to hook me right away, or I’m going to choose something else. I might miss a few good stories, but usually, a meandering opening is the beginning of a meandering plot.

Rooting around in my old files, I found a story I wrote in 2002. The title was “Jumping Rails,” and honestly, the beginning wasn’t good. I described the weather. It was raining.

It was raining outside again. For almost a week now, it had been dark and dreary. The only variation in the weather had been in the intensity of the rain. Yesterday’s cold drizzle had become today’s blinding downpour. Abby peered out of the store’s plate glass window, but could see no farther than the edge of the sidewalk. There was nothing to see anyway. No one was coming out in this mess.

Good ole mood-setting description. If it’s done well, it can work, but honestly, this is meh. The problem here is that not only does nothing happen, but we also get no sense of who Abby is. A beginning should draw you into the story immediately. All we have here is a girl staring into the rain.

I wrote this story for a creative writing class, and when I started, I was drawing a blank, so I described the rain. I do this a lot actually. I describe my way into a story, establishing setting, mood and character until I find a plot thread to follow. My beginnings change dramatically during the revision process, and this story clearly needs more work.

Sometimes I don’t find a plot thread, or I hit a dead end. My files are littered with false starts. I got 15,000 words into Wish Fulfillment before becoming hopelessly stuck.

Rose stared at the clock on the wall. It mocked her, refusing to move. Maybe the batteries were dead. Maybe the gears had frozen. Maybe time had stopped, and she would be trapped in her cubicle forever, locked with her computer in a 3x2 teal fabric prison cell.

Her computer chimed, interrupting her macabre fantasy and informing her she had a new email. She clicked it open and winced. Shit. Rose had promised Solomon a week ago she would have lunch with him, but she had put him off several times since then, citing work as an excuse.

He was apparently tired of her excuses.


Even unedited, this is better than the first example. I’ve included mood-setting description, but it’s interwoven with characterization and a bit of the conflict is introduced immediately.

The opening to Sapphire Sins got full manuscript requests and ultimately an agent.

The rickety staircase spiraled down into the gloom. Diana hesitated. Heading deeper into the darkness seemed foolish now. She glanced over her shoulder at the exit and considered slipping back through it. The crisp night air beckoned, the lights of Manhattan tantalizingly close on the other side of the river. Those lights might as well have been 1,000 miles away.

Her pursuer lurked somewhere in the maze of old warehouses. His soft laughter had echoed between the abandoned buildings, an acoustic anomaly making it seem as though he was right beside her. She shivered at the memory, grateful now for the darkness.

Discretion is the better part of valor, Di. Hide until morning.

Mood setting description, characterization, conflict and action make an appearance in the first three paragraphs. I lost count of how many times I rewrote them. I do remember the first incarnation was a long paragraph juxtaposing the rickety staircase against the lights of Manhattan. I knew my heroine was being chased, but I didn’t know her yet, and I didn’t know who she was running from and why. Once I answered those questions, I eliminated the blind searching I was doing on the page and moved the story forward.

The first two paragraphs of my untitled WIP contain…you guessed it…mood-setting description.

The dim light of the bar suited her. The corner table suited her even more. She was virtually invisible, drinking her margarita rocks in almost solitude.

Almost solitude was perfect, exactly what she wanted. She could sling back tequila, triple sec, and a smidge of sweet flavoring and convince herself she wasn’t drinking alone without the bother of conversing with actual people.

I realize this is my fall back position when I start a story. I’m not concerned at this point, though. I have a firm grasp on the plot thread, and I’m making forward progress. When I have a completed draft, I’ll circle back around and rewrite it. Starting strong is so much easier when you know where the finish line is.

Guess which part of this blog post I wrote last? Yep...the first three paragraphs.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Divine Self

Real life and my WIP inspired me to write a poem. Read it left to right and then read each column top to bottom.

We create

our own

Heaven

We create

our own

Hell

Turn not

in anger
But

with patience
Meet

hate

with love
Face

pain

with compassion


In strength
Fight

despair

In hope
Resist

bitterness

Know peace

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sucky Solstice

The Solstice was rough this year. I felt like I was in one of Jessica Andersen's Nightkeeper books where major shit hits the fan on cardinal days. The first day of summer began with a dispute involving my car and a deer. Both believed they had right-of-way. The deer won, crossing safely while my car got up close and personal with a tree.

You haven't really lived until you've experienced airbag deployment. For a pure adrenaline rush, not much comes close. They should make it a ride at King's Island or something. I'll bet people would line up to experience that life-flashing-before-your-eyes sensation.

Other than a headache and a bit of psychological trauma, everyone is fine. My car...not so much. The body shop guy doesn't think it's totaled, but the insurance adjuster hasn't made his determination yet. If my guy is correct, I'll be waiting 2-3 weeks for my car to be repaired.

Sigh.

I've been driving my son's car for the last 24 hours. It's been a year since I've driven it, and I forgot how to turn his subs off. (If you're new to my blog, you need to read this post and this post about my son's massive sub-woofers.) I created quite a stir this morning at Chick-fil-A when I hit the wrong button in an attempt to mute the stereo. I'm pretty sure I rattled the plate glass windows.

I also discovered the A/C isn't working. When I asked my son about it, he just shrugged and said, "I roll down the windows."

Of course he does. How else would the rest of the world get to experience "that sick drop on the Waka Flocka Flame song." Young son was with me today and made certain everyone on the east side of town felt it. He wants to ride everywhere with me now so he can play with his brother's system. I'm usually glad to have his company. Now I'm finding reasons why he should stay home.

"And oh yeah, Mom, the brake lights are out on my car."

So I get to fix his A/C and brake lights in addition to the $500 deductible on my car.

Sigh.

So yeah, I had my very own Solstice drama. In Jessica's Nightkeeper books, a badass hero helps the badass heroine find the power to defeat whatever demon is threatening. Bruce helped me get the car to the body shop, but I dealt with the actual accident myself. I didn't panic in the face of airbags and a tree. I made sure everyone was okay and got my car back home. All things considered, I'd call that badass.

Friday, June 17, 2011

If you're snooty, you lose

I attended The Festival of the Bluegrass last weekend. My friend, Linda, has been trying to get me there for years. Her family organizes and operates the whole shebang. As much as I love Linda, I don’t love bluegrass music, so I’ve always begged off. This year, I caved, mostly because I decided it would be fun to hang with my friends regardless of the music playing in the background. And it was. This particular group of friends makes any Saturday night fun.

The sun was setting when we arrived, and the hot day softened into a warm June night. We set up our lawn chairs close to the back of the concert area and relaxed with our favorite beverages. Someone succumbed to the aroma and bought a funnel cake, and we took turns brushing powdered sugar off our clothes. (Those things smell so much better than they taste.) We laughed, shared stories, and made friends with the folks around us.

A funny thing happened while we were sitting there. The music became more than background noise. Bluegrass musicians are storytellers, and I love a good story. A good storyteller compels you to sit up and pay attention. I started paying attention when the lyrics made me laugh.

Grandma bought a hog
Grandma bought a hog
If yer thinkin’ bout bacon
Yer sadly mistaken
Grandma bought a riding hog

How can you not pay attention to a song about a Harley-ridin’ grandma? That gem was followed by “I Met My Baby in the Port-a-John Line.”

My eyes were a-floatin’ with love on my mind
I met my baby in the Port-o-John line.

As we were chuckling about the lyrics, Rachel told us her dad had been in a bluegrass band, and so she has a warm place in her heart for bluegrass music. She told us stories about traveling to gigs all over with him when she was a kid. Not a bad way to grow up, meeting new people and listening to amazing musicians.

The lyrics weren’t all silly. The bands I heard played songs about love and loss, joy and pain, faith and hope. The crowd loved them, and if I didn’t love them, I certainly let go of the snooty disdain I had secretly fostered when we first set our chairs down.

Then Mountain Heart took the stage. Holy cow! To say that I enjoyed their music would be a huge understatement. They were flippin’ incredible! Their music was as high octane as anything I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t sit still. I had to dance. On Linda’s suggestion, I moved with her to her reserved seats on the front row. Bluegrass fans are different from rock fans in that the staid old people have the front row seats and aren’t much for dancing. Security insisted that we stay seated so the staid old people could see. (Maybe they weren’t all old, but their insistence on church-like decorum made them seem that way.) Luckily, there were plenty of fans of all ages in the middle aisle who felt the music like I did and needed to dance. I was embraced by those folks and danced my little heart out.

Linda told me later that Mountain Heart wouldn’t be back next year. Their music is just different enough from traditional bluegrass that a lot of the hard core Festival-goers don’t like them, so they are rotating them out, and then bringing them back the following year. Apparently, some of the fans actually left the concert area in protest and didn’t return until their set was finished.

I was dumbfounded. While I heard other good bands, none of them brought it like Mountain Heart did. They actually made me say out loud, “I think maybe I do like bluegrass music.”

I let go of my snooty attitude when I sat and listened to live bluegrass, and then I embraced the music when I heard Mountain Heart play. Unfortunately, the next person won’t get that chance, at least for a couple of years, because a core group of fans has an equally snooty idea about what bluegrass should be.

How often do unyielding, preconceived ideas about what is good get in our way? As a romance reader and writer, I run into it all the time. If it’s romance it must be trashy and poorly-written. Romance fans know that snooty idea is wrong-headed on so many levels, and yet it persists.

My friend, Nick, posted an Esquire Magazine article on Facebook that listed Kentucky as one of the most stylish states in the Union. The comments on his post ranged from incredulous to derisive, and we live in Kentucky. The snooty stereotype that we’re all a bunch of overall-wearing rubes runs so deep, we’ve internalized it ourselves. I haven’t worn overalls since the 80’s when they were stylish for five minutes.

I’ve resolved to be less snooty about things I think I don’t like, especially if I don‘t really know anything about them. What else have I missed out on because it doesn’t fall into a Kathy-approved category?

If you don’t know Mountain Heart, check out the video below. It’s good, but it doesn’t hold a candle to hearing them live. For my Owensboro friends and family, they are playing this Friday night at Yellow Creek Park. Go check them out. I promise you won’t regret it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Are you a Back Row Joe?

I had a moment of self-awareness this week. I suppose it’s something I’ve always known about myself, but I saw it in terms I’d never thought about before.

I am a front row person.

I realized this in a Jazzercise class. My spot is on the front row and has been since the second or third month I started taking classes. I generally don’t look behind me once class starts because I’m focused on my own workout, but Amanda, the instructor, made a comment that caused me to turn around.

“You guys crack me up. Why is there always a huge gap in the middle of the floor?”

When I turned around, I laughed too. Seven or eight of us were at the front of the long narrow studio, followed by an open space, and then 15-20 more people in the back. It almost looked like we were segregated, and in a sense, I guess we were. Except in this case, the segregation was self-imposed and not based on any external trait.

Some people are front row people. You know if you're one of them. Do you hate being a nameless faceless member of the crowd? Do you want to interact with whomever is in the lead? Do you need to feel like you are part of the action? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are a front row person.

Don’t give me this line. “I like the front row just fine, but I’m not very good, so I stay in the back.” Sorry. You are not a front row person.

A true front row person wants the front row even when she’s not the best in the room. I make regular mistakes in the choreography, but I’m not worried about what the people behind me think. I honestly don’t care. I can’t focus on my workout and the writing I’m always doing in my head if I’m looking past people to see the instructor.

There is a gal with whom I frequently share the front row. She’s hilarious, and I love working out with her, but holy cow, she couldn’t find the beat if it bit her on the ass. I say this affectionately because she knows this about herself. When she can’t get the choreography, she makes it up. She has a glorious time working out and doesn’t give a rat’s patoot about the people behind her. She is a front row person.

Given the choice, from Kindergarten through grad school, I always sat in the front row in class. I wanted to hear what the teacher had to say, see the board, be noticed when I raised my hand. And no, I wasn’t that obnoxious kid who always kept asking questions when everyone else wanted to go. I had social skills. I wanted friends. I knew when to shut up, but I felt disengaged in the back. When I chose a back row seat, it was because the class was so boring being disengaged was a natural extension of being in the room.

The front row students in my classes always make themselves known. When the luck of the seating chart puts them in the back, they quietly come to me and ask my permission to sit closer to the front. I try to accommodate them because I understand their frustration. Unless I arrive late and have to sit in the back, I don't. Usually though, showing up late guarantees a front row seat because the world is filled with back row people.

Back row people fall into two general categories: Don’t wanna be noticed or Don’t wanna be caught. When I voluntarily sit in the back row, it’s because I don’t wanna be caught. If I’ve become disengaged enough that I don’t care anymore, I want to daydream, text, write, grade papers, plan lessons, plan blogs, etc., etc. without getting caught. The one place I always sat in the back row as a kid was in church. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

Other back row people don’t want to be noticed. These folks are not necessarily disengaged. They just don’t have the confidence to actively participate. The kid who struggles or is simply unprepared sits on the back row as does the kid who would rather eat glass than have the bright light of the class’ attention focused on him. I’ve seen kids in my class and fellow jazzercisers drift closer to the front as they gain confidence in their abilities.

I know I’m not the best at everything I do. In some areas, it’s not even a close thing, but I have always been driven to try. I’m a competitive, self-driven, type A personality. I hate to fail. It just pisses me off and pushes me harder. I’m pretty sure these qualities are what make me a front row person.

So I guess I’ve outed myself to my friends and colleagues. If they see me on the back row, I’m either late or I’m trying to get away with something.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yeah, I'm a Fangirl. So what?

Jessica Andersen, paranormal romance author, molecular geneticist, and all around rock star, has a new book out. Storm Kissed is the next Nightkeepers book, a paranormal series built around the Mayan 2012 Doomsday Prophecy. In honor of her release day today, I'm reprinting part of my Day Four blog from last summer's RWA conference.

I met Jessica three different times that day and actually had a real conversation with her at the Rita awards dinner. So, yeah, I'm a total fangirl, and I make no apologies. She's awesome.

from RWA Day Four
The coolest part of the NAL/Signet autograph session was meeting Jessica Andersen. She writes the NightKeepers, a paranormal series about the Mayan 2012 myth. I already had the book she was giving away at home, but I took another copy because I wanted her autograph. I gushed like the fangirl I am and asked specific questions about the book. I knew Jessica was a good writer, but I didn't know she was a freakin' rock star. Seriously, she looks like Joan Jett, but prettier.

I was more impressed when I went to her workshop called "Crime Scene Imagination." Jessica has a PhD in molecular genetics. She is not only a rock star, but she can run a DNA test. The heading I wrote across the top of my notes said "Cool. As. Hell." And oh my god, she is. My Jessica story gets even better. At the Rita Awards, I discovered I was sitting next to her publicist. Jessica stopped by and we talked again.

I'm willing to put this not-so-great picture of me out here because she just rocked. I wish you could see the pants she was wearing. Cut-outs ran all the way up both legs. A molecular geneticist who writes steaming hot paranormals and dresses like a rock star...freakin' awesome!

Jessica did the crime scene workshop with her best friend's daughter who is a senior at Sam Houston State. She is a biology/criminal justice major and works on the body farm there, one of only four in the US. A body farm is where scientists study how the human body decomposes in a variety of situations. So we learned tons about decomp and DNA. Guess what? CSI is a pack of lies. They get almost everything wrong. On some level, I knew it wasn't realistic, but I didn't realize how wrong they got it.

So go buy Jessica's new book! Heck, buy them all! Her heroines are strong. Her heroes are hot, and her stories engage both the heart and the head. It doesn't get better than that.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Running

I might have mentioned once or twice that teenage boys are wonderful and terrible, responsible for my proudest moments and my most painful, the joy of my life and frustrating as hell. Just today, I was mimicking the grunts and shoulder shrugs that pass for conversation in my house. So when my youngest asked me this evening if I wanted to run with him, it made me happy, and I jumped at the opportunity.

My thought process went something like this. "How cool! My son respects my fitness level enough to want to run with me. And hey, I jazzercise four or five times a week. I am in pretty good shape. I can do this."

I ignored the voice whispering, "Hey dumbass, you just spent the last 3 1/2 hours hanging with your friends, and you used that social time to consume multiple glasses of wine and an order of nacho potato skins."

We ran two miles. In my head, I thought two miles would be roughly equivalent to the 40 minutes of cardio in a typical jazzercise class.

Maybe it is when I'm not full of potato skins and chardonnay. But today?? Not so much.

I did it though. I made that two miles, and I mostly kept up. Granted, my son ran slower than he usually does, but he is 16 and I'm...not. When we returned home and the burning in my lungs and the spots dancing in front of my eyes cleared, I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

I'm not a runner. Never have been. I've always seen it as a form of self-imposed torture, but my son and I have already decided to be running partners this summer. From where I'm standing, it's a total win. I add something new to my fitness regimen, but the real benefit is the time spent with my son.

We had a real conversation involving actual polysyllabic words. We talked about school. We talked about his friends. We talked about some things he was worried about. Sarcasm, frustration and anger did not raise their ugly heads in our conversation. We just talked. Chardonnay and potato skins be damned. I kept up because I wouldn't have missed that conversation for anything.

Towards the end of the run, our conversation waned. I was breathing hard and focused on finishing. Did my kid mock me? No he did not. He encouraged me.

"You got this, Mom. We're almost there."

On Tuesday, I was so frustrated with this kid, I was shaking my fist at the heavens. Today, he ran in lockstep with me, making sure we reached our destination together.

So I'm a runner now, chasing that elusive finish line where my son is happy, healthy, and mature. Lord knows it's painful, a long distance endurance run with stretches that hurt so much I just want to quit. But I know he won't let me any more than I would let him. We'll get there together.

Next time, though, I'm skipping the potato skins.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Entropy

Today is the last day of school. Actually, it's the last day with students. I still have a week or so of contract days to fulfill because of the voodoo the Board worked with the calendar to make up snow days. But today is the last day I will have this group of kids in my classroom to impart some last bit of wisdom.

I will tell them what I always tell them on the last day. Go forth into the world and be awesome. "You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."

I hope they've learned something from me this year. I have learned from them. I always do. I've had a preponderance of thinkers this year...kids who don't simply regurgitate the information I give them, but who synthesize it with their existing knowledge and beliefs and create brand new ideas. I love those kids. They are always my favorites because they make me think about things I've taught for years in new and different ways.

Professionally, I've had a wonderful year. Some of the brightest kids I've ever had the privilege of teaching have made class discussion stimulating and fun. Seriously, I have some kids this year who are scary smart. My toughest class, the one with five EBD kids and no collaborator, has come so far it almost makes me want to cry just thinking about it. A particularly squirrelly boy in that class told me last week he's learned more in my class than he ever has in a language arts class. That's the good stuff, the reason we teach.

Conversely, this year has been hard personally...really hard. Teenage boys will always give you a run for your money, and this year, mine almost took me out a couple of times. I have asked myself repeatedly, "How can I be so successful as a teacher and struggle so mightily as a parent?" The jury is still out on my ultimate success or failure, but this year has been the hardest in my 19 years as a mother.

The law of entropy says that the universe seeks balance in all things, and this year has been an illustration of that law's truth.

Today is an ending, but every ending is a new beginning, right? I'll miss my students, but after a much-needed break, I'll get a whole new crop, and the challenge will start all over again. As for my own kid, a fresh start is the hope we both need right now.

Happy Last Day of School! I hope your day is as good as mine is going to be. :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

13 Reasons to Smile

When I have a particularly rough week, I make a list to remind myself there are reasons to smile. I really needed that list this week, so here goes...

Little things that made me happy this week:

1. Changing the wallpaper on my phone to Dave Grohl rocking out on his guitar.



2. Speaking of Dave Grohl…The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light album which I have played over and over and over. "Bridge Burning" is my ring tone.


3. Student saying, “You’re a good storyteller, Mrs. Owens. You should write a book or something.”


4. This comment on Facebook when James got voted off of American Idol.

crooked mouth slang singing howdy doody looking still on and not James Omg!!


5. This slogan on a student's t-shirt.
6. Increasing my hand weights at Jazzercise by 6 pounds.


7. Reading Romeo’s dying words for the 70th time.
“Eyes look your last. Arms take your last embrace. And lips, o you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing death.”

And the dead (no pun intended) silence in my squirreliest class when we watched that part of the movie.


8. School board voting no school on Memorial Day.


9. The Dove dark chocolate bunny Bruce knew I would surely need this week. He’s half gone (the bunny, not Bruce). And yes, I ate his ears first.


10. The email telling me there were doughnuts in the workroom, and my friend, Linda, subsequently crediting the “f’n doughnut” for her sudden burst of inspiration.


11. The brownie that came with my lunch today. (I know, I know. I’m drowning my sorrows in sugar…but when you add the cocoa bean to it, sorrows do abate.)

12. A boy screaming “SPIDER!” and the girl next to him rolling her eyes and killing it.

13. The text message from my bff, Pam, which always seems to come at exactly the right moment.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eye Candy and Car Porn

Is it possible to willingly suspend your disbelief in the face of a sketchy plot, eye-rolling dialogue, implausible stunts, and a total disrespect for the laws of physics?

Abso-freakin-lutely!

Fast Five is two hours of totally ridiculous awesomeness. It seems to defy all the rules of good storytelling, and yet I left the theater happy and thoroughly entertained. Why? Fast Five has at least one story element working on all cylinders.

This movie has fun characters, and hidden underneath all that flash and silliness is a good old-fashioned buddy story.

Dom Toretto and Brian O'Connor are likable tough guys. Sure, they're criminals, but they do have a code. Loyalty to each other and to "family" supercedes everything, and they manage to make their law-breaking seem almost righteous. Their criminal activities are aimed at an evil supervillain (okay, a drug dealer, but he's cartoonish in his evilness), and they avoid hurting the innocent, even the federal agents chasing them (unless they get behind the wheel of a car, in which case, whole city blocks full of innocent people are fair game).

Toretto and O'Connor's friendship is believable even if nothing else in the movie is. You can't help but root for their crazy-ass schemes. Their friends are likable as well. Roman is still talking smack, and apparently Ludacris has become an expert in safe-cracking since the second movie. Even more surprising, Han, the cool Japanese drifter, is back from the dead. In fact, unless you see someone take a bullet to the head, dead is relative in this series.

The funniest addition to the cast is The Rock. He strides across the tarmac when his plane lands in Rio looking like he just finished curling 50 lb dumbbells, slathering himself in baby oil, and then liberally spritzing water over his face. He probably needed the baby oil to get his shirt on because it was at least 2 sizes too small. He says very little, and when he does speak, it's something like, "I want to know everything about Toretto, including how many times he shakes it."

O'Connor describes The Rock (Special Agent Hobbs in the movie) as Old Testament Wrath of God -- the guy the government sends in when they just gotta get their man. And in fact, his character is a cross between Tommy Lee Jones' character in The Fugitive and Conan the Barbarian.

And yes....that is exactly as hilarious as it sounds.

Fun characters and a believable buddy story keep Fast Five from being nothing but unadulterated eye candy and car porn. But honestly, maybe that's the real appeal anyway. Of the five movies in the series (Yeah, I've seen them all. Don't judge me), this has the thinnest plot.

It is, however, set in Rio where beautiful bodies abound, and those beautiful bodies are wrapped around the sweetest cars in the world.

Whether you like American muscle or high performance European road rockets, you'll get an eyeful in this movie. I tend to gravitate toward American muscle. The first car I bought with my own money was a red Mustang with a manual transmission. I loved shifting through the gears and making the engine scream. I think I got three speeding tickets in the first six months I had it. Kids happened, and I had to start driving more sensible cars more sensibly, but oh how I loved that car.

Do you see why I like these movies so much? Yeah, the guys are hot, but for me, it's all about the cars. To harness and control a barely contained engine growling underneath me for a 10 second quarter mile...now that's a fantasy.

The next movie may have no plot at all, but as long as Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are driving sexy cars like maniacs, I'm there.