We’ve clearly hit a tipping point in our country. Truth is constantly in question. Morality is debated the same way we debate Star Wars vs. Star Trek. (What, everybody doesn’t have that debate?) Fact is called opinion, and opinion is called fact. It’s a topsy-turvey world, that’s for sure.
It’s getting a little harder to see the forest of America through the trees. So I’ve decided that from now, every time we encounter a tense or difficult scenario in this country, I’m going to ask one question:
If this were a Harry Potter book, what would happen next?
Let’s try this thought experiment and see what happens.
SCENARIO: Host of second most-watched cable news show in America suggests that diversity isn't good for people.
PLEASE EXPLAIN: Tucker Carlson, the same dude who used to wear snappy bow ties and debate tax laws with Rachel Maddow, pontificated in front of an audience of almost three million people that maybe diversity is a bad thing. No, not in 1965. This happened just a few weeks ago, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT IF THIS WERE HARRY POTTER? Actually, this WAS Harry Potter. Remember Purebloods and Mudbloods? Voldemort tried to erase all Mudbloods from existence because he claimed they were too different from Purebloods and all that diversity of human blood and thought was ruining the wizarding world.
And we all know what happened next. Hermione Effing Granger came rolling along with all her Mudblood brilliance and helped blow them away into no existence at all. Diversity for the win, Death Eaters. They should have been so lucky to have Hermione on their team. Hopefully they all figured that out in Azkaban.
So I guess this makes Tucker Carlson Lucius Malfoy? Which also means that eventually the power he thought he wanted will become too much for him to control, and he’ll lose everything in a rather anticlimactic moment that only about half of his audience will remember.
And we’ll all kind of shrug as he disappears from our consciousness. Maybe some member of his family will appear in an Epilogue looking vaguely apologetic.
SCENARIO: President Trump says that 3,000 people who died in the aftermath of a hurricane didn’t really die because they were denied the resources and supports needed to stay alive. The whole thing is a lie, a conspiracy against him!
PLEASE EXPLAIN: It happened via tweet, as so much of our government communication does these days, despite the fact that the death toll after Hurricane Maria was calculated by a completely independent and unbiased group of people. Even Rick Scott was all "Dude, no, 3,000 people died."
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT IF THIS WERE HARRY POTTER? This is a Dolores Umbridge move. Her entire job was basically to claim that Hogwarts students were making up horrible things about the Ministry of Magic just to make them look bad. She’d call them all liars for saying that people died after Hurricane Maria and then make them all carve “I WILL NOT SAY 3,000 PEOPLE DIED” into their skin over and over for hours on end.
BUT OBVIOUSLY she would not break them. They would figure out a way to keep spreading the truth that actually, yes, people did die, and now their memories were being disrespected. Sure, some people would still believe Umbridge. Why? That's a mystery as old as Argus Finch. But Dumbledore’s Army would eventually get away from the blood-seeking quills and make sure the public saw that real truth does exist in this world, and real truth can be proven.
Anyone know where we can get a Room of Requirements? We should probably speed things up on creating that DA. Maybe it already exists over on Twitter. I’ll check.
This tweet is my life, everyone.
I cannot tell you how many 10k manuscripts live in the graveyard that is the Documents file of my computer. There they sit, abandoned, crying out for attention. Will I ever get a second act? Whatever happened after that third major plot point? But is the MC’s brother’s cousin actually the villain after all?
Poor abandoned manuscripts. It was a bit of a rough writing year for me. I did a lot of editing projects and worked on some things with other writers, but my own work just kept falling flat. Every time I started something and got excited about it, that excitement died somewhere around the 8-10k mark and the poor book ended up in the graveyard of lost and loosely plotted souls on my computer.
This went on for about seven months. And any writer will tell you that seven months of feeling unproductive and creatively stifled makes you second-guess a lot of things. Like whether you’re cut out to write this long-term. Whether you’re good enough. Whether you’ll ever produce anything worthy of being read again.
Clearly I’ve had A Lot of Feelings for a while.
I took some time at the end of this summer and stopped trying to write anything new for a few weeks. I kept working on editing projects, but I actively stopped trying to create anything. I was worried my brain, and maybe my heart, needed a break. Some space from feeling like all I was going to do every time I sat down at the computer was create another new character who would be lost to my Google drive before they even became three-dimensional.
I struggled some more as I threw myself back into writing this fall, but recently things have been coming together again. I just hit 20K on a manuscript that I actively am really enjoying. I’m in that delightful stage of writing a new novel where I relish waking up every morning to write my next scene. What brought on this sudden bought of renewed creativity? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the time off. Maybe my muse and I were finally in the same room at the same time again. Maybe maybe maybe.
I wish writing felt more linear sometimes. I wish I could follow the trains and lines of my creative process with a better idea of where it’s going. But I can’t, and in a publishing world that’s as much of a roller coaster as the creative process, I know better than to hope for a linear existence in writing. It would be nice. But it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
I teach college writing to freshman, and we talk a lot about embracing moments of struggle in the writing process. Working with them, not against them. Trusting that growth and improvement will come if you put in the work, even if it doesn’t come at the same rate as it does for the person sitting next to you.
So as I’m staring down the graveyard of manuscripts in my documents folder today, I’m trying to remember that each of these books were meant to die in the ashes of that folder. They have been part of my journey to improvement. They are not lost weeks and months of writing, as they sometimes seem to be. They are part of everything I will ever write in the future, every word I will produce on this computer, even if they never got their own second act.
To all the manuscripts I’ve loved before: thank you. Forget everything I said when I was swearing about how your secondary characters were flat and your plot had no focus.
You’re wonderful, even though you’re terrible.
My friend's son, H, stayed with us last week. He’s obsessed with all things Marvel, and his mother gave us permission to watch some of Thor: Ragnarok with him. You know, special treat, stay up late, see Thor shake his hair out of his ponytail a lot and lose his hammer.
At one point H looked up at us and asked, “But is Loki a good guy or a bad guy?”
I was tempted to whip out some fanfiction and go through all the tomes of creative work that have tried to answer that question. But the poor kid is still in pre-school, so I kept things a bit simpler. “Sometimes he makes good choices, and sometimes he makes bad choices,” I told him. I waited for the follow-up, but H became engrossed with an action scene. The conversation died there.
Then John McCain passed away yesterday, and the question of what makes someone a "good guy" or a "bad guy" is on my mind again.
John McCain has always been, from my perspective, a heroic figure fraught with complication. He was a war hero who was far, far braver than I could ever have imagined being. He put forward bills and government policies that I often admired and supported. In a political era where so many people seem unable to put the good of the country above their own power, he was frequently willing to do so. And, possibly most importantly, he was almost always able to work with those of other parties and other beliefs.
But there were also times when he seemed to make choices that were more in his own interest than the interest of the country. There were moments when he made choices that certainly hurt people, all in the name of supporting his own career or keeping his party in power.
Here I could start waxing poetic about how there are no good guys or bad guys and it’s all a matter of perspective, but I don’t believe that for a second. That type of thinking has always brought dangerous consequences to humanity. There is objective, moral truth in the world. Some choices Loki makes are objectively good, and some choices are objectively bad. Some choices John McCain made were good, and some were bad. Some choices I make each day are good, and some are bad. None of us are all one or the other, and none of our choices are exempt from being held to objective, moral standards.
Today I am very sad that John McCain is gone. I do believe he acted out of good intentions far more often than he acted out of bad or selfish intentions. When we look at the history of his record, that record reflects that he was a “good guy” more often than he was not. And I like to think that’s the measure we’re all judged on at the end. None of us will leave this world with perfect records. But what will our balance sheets look like? Which column will stack up higher? Loki will get to work on his balance sheet throughout the course of Marvel’s existence. (Unless Avengers: Infinity War never gets a sequel.) The rest of us only have a finite amount of time to work with. None of us will ever make all the right choices, and none of our heroes will either. But John McCain’s record shows, I think, that he was worthy of many of the capes people have placed on his memory.
RIP, John McCain. Thank you for working across party lines. Thank you for fighting for this country in ways most of us can ever imagine doing. Thank you for reminding us that we all must grow out of the phase where we see “good guys” and “bad guys” so that we are able to see people for their individual choice and moments--for their actions taken and not taken. Thank you for all of the incredibly difficult actions you took on behalf of others during your life.
I hope John McCain, like Thor and Loki, gets his own sequel someday, somewhere. In fact, I hope all of us do.
Here come a few more book suggestions from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account. We've covered poetry, some nonfiction, and a few serious 80s throwback covers. My big rec right now is actually a movie--the Netflix movie of Jenny Han's book TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE, which just came out this past weekend. Lana Condor is amazing in it, and if you are also a rom-com lover you cannot possibly be disappointed by this film. You're welcome in advance.
I definitely have the right friends in my life because no fewer than four of them shared the Cards Against Humanity call for contributing writers on their social media feeds this week. That’s right: if you’re witty enough, Cards Against Humanity wants YOU to create funny-and-potentially-inappropriate cards for their collection. They’ll even pay you to do it.
Obviously I was tempted to apply. Who wouldn’t want to get paid forty dollars an hour to make jokes about Greek yoghurt? Sounds like The Life.
There’s just one problem: I’m not actually all that funny.
This has become abundantly clear as I’ve been working on edits for my latest novel. The last three or so rounds of revision notes have all come back with the same notes over and over again in the comments—all from different people, I might add. Make this funnier! Add humor here! This line needs to be funny!
Gee, I keep thinking. I thought it was.
I’m fairly certain my husband is the only person on the planet who consistently appreciates my sense of humor and laughs at most of my jokes. It should be noted here that his sense of humor is just as bizarre and misunderstood as mine, and sometimes he tries to tally how many of his students actually understand the jokes he makes while he’s teaching. I do the same thing…and neither of our numbers are ever all that high. Basically, we spend a whole lot of time laughing at each other’s jokes to make up for the fact that other people aren’t.
Normally I’m not bothered by the fact that my sense of humor is about five steps away from everyone else’s. Editing this manuscript is the first time where I’ve actively worried that my inability to make jokes others find amusing may hurt my writing career. I can’t write angsty novels about people in deep dark pain for my entire life, after all. I’m not George R.R. Martin.
It’s not that I don’t hit an occasionally good punchline in real life or in my writing. It’s just that funny doesn’t really come naturally to me, and the things I do find amusing tend to hinge more on the sarcastic or punny. Sometimes this works. It’s just not working in my current manuscript, apparently.
(Sidenote: any other 80s children remember when Paula Danziger used to write entire novels in puns? I blame her entirely for my humor problems. Apparently if you binge-read too many puns in your tween years it permanently affects your sense of humor.)
So! I’m on an active quest to become as funny as I think I am. I’m planning an intensive study regarding which of my jokes do get laughs and which do not during the upcoming school year. (I’d apologize in advance to all my students, but the bad jokes were going to happen either way, so this really won’t change anything.) I’m going to pause my recent Dr. Who obsession for a moment—because I don’t think British humor is going to help me curb my sarcasm—and cue up more Melissa McCarthy on Netflix. And I’m going to apply for the CAH job. Not because I think I’ll get it, but because more practice can’t possibly hurt at this point.
And, naturally, I’ll keep writing blog posts that I think are hilarious. If my history is any indication, you won’t think they’re nearly as funny as I do. But you’re still reading this one at 583 words in, so maybe there is some hope after all.
I give you: a few book suggestions from the @rileyandjohannareadstuff Instagram account. I cannot recommend ALL'S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson and FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway enough. Both books kept me up until one in the morning. I suspect THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR will do the same, so maybe I'll try to start reading that one at a more normal hour.
If you follow this blog, you've probably noticed by now that my friend Riley and I love to talk about all things books. We had a great time re-reading some of the Baby-Sitters' Club books from our childhood, and we decided we wanted to keep doing some type of online book chat together. So we've taken our weekly book chats to Instagram. Follow @rileyandjohannareadstuff to see what we’re reading, what we recommend, and how many times we can squeeze pictures of Winnie (Riley's pug) and Ra (my very sedate cat) into our book photos. I'll also be cross-posting some of our Instagram posts and conversations here.
Uh...better late than never? Riley and I talked about the Ann M. Martin classic Mary Anne Saves the Day and the Baby-Sitters' Club Club podcast about it a while ago...but somehow I never got around to posting our conversation. Huge apologies, team baby-sitter nostalgics. (That may not be a real word. But I like it, so it's staying.)
I'm not sure if Riley and I are going to keep this series going in this same fashion or change things up. We definitely had big dreams about hitting up the BSC Super Specials next. But life, the universe, and everything keep happening, and lately I've been cheating on Ann with Judy Blume. So we'll see.
This blog and website will likely be offline for a bit while they get some much-needed sprucing, but during that time Riley and I will reform our plans and maybe even catch up on Dawn Schafer's life. Watch this space, as they say.
I’m a teacher. I teach part-time in a community college and part-time in an elementary/middle school. This means I spend a lot of time practicing lockdown drills and watching safety videos. During our most recent video viewing, my college students decided the filing cabinet awkwardly placed in the middle of our classroom would be what they’d use to block to door should a shooter ever come through the school. Whenever someone in one of my classes says something like this, I imagine we’re all thinking the same thing: I know they’re joking, but let’s all make sure to remember that suggestion, okay?
Then another school shooting happens. And the next day we all look real hard at that filing cabinet in the corner of the room.
Every time another school shooting happens—and I can’t believe I even have to type out that phrase—people start talking about how teachers need to start carrying guns. But after the Florida shooting this past week, that suggestion seems to be coming up more than I’ve ever heard it before. Suddenly the whole internet wants me to bring my own AR-15 into my fifth grade reading class. I guess I’ll just keep it next to our copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
More than ever this sentiment—that I should be expected to arm myself in my own classrooms—is ratcheting up my blood pressure. I’ve written before about how I’m not anti-gun. Neither is my husband, an army vet and gun owner who now works in the same community college I do. Neither of us think the second amendment needs to be struck down. But both of us want reasonable gun control measures in place that would keep our students and our schools safe. Neither one of us understands why this country thinks that arming our teachers is somehow a better solution than keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists like the Parkland shooter. Neither of us understands why, instead, everyone want to talk about how teachers should carry semi-automatic weapons around with us while we try to teach things like Aristotelian appeals.
Here are just a few of the reasons my blood pressure is so high right now.
First. I am not a person you want carrying a loaded weapon around your children. I can spot a comma splice from a mile away, but I can barely tie my shoes without falling over. This plan likely won’t end well for any of us.
Second. There was an armed guard at Parkland. It didn’t make any difference. Every teacher in that school followed protocol and did everything right. They, like the rest of us teachers and students, have gone through hours of lockdown and shooter drills. They knew exactly what to do. But that shooter knew what their drills were, and like the terrorist that he was, he destroyed all their protocols and used them against his victims—because that’s what terrorists with deadly weapons do. That’s why we need to make it hard for terrorists to get access to deadly weapons.
Third. Don’t I get a say in this? You keep shouting about how I need to be armed and you’ve never even asked me if I want to be. I didn’t join the military or the police force, and neither of those decisions were by accident. And even my husband, who is trained in tactical maneuvers and very good with a weapon, wants nothing to do with bringing a gun into his classroom. YOU DIDN’T EVEN ASK US. Every day we go into classrooms and get paid basically in Monopoly money to potentially throw ourselves in front of your children should a shooter barge into a classroom—and a lot of us would probably do it in a heartbeat. But what the hell am I being asked to make that sacrifice for? What are you honestly asking me to die for here? My students and I are supposed to lay down our lives so that you can keep complete and total access to weapons that no hunter or sportsperson ever actually needs to own? So that you can pretend you have a means of fighting back against a government that has nuclear weapons? So that gun manufacturers can continue to disgustingly twist the second amendment in order to make as much money as possible? Or are you just asking us to sacrifice our lives so that you can keep your hobby?
Nope. Please stop asking me to die for that. Please stop asking my husband to die for that. Please stop asking my students to die for that.
Stop telling me I need a weapon in my classroom. I don’t. I need fellow Americans who care more about my students than they do about themselves and their gun collections. I need fellow Americans who will stop putting this problem onto me and put it back where it belongs: on the people in Washington, who are so bought and paid for by the NRA that they can’t even talk about gun violence without sounding like hostages. I need fellow Americans who aren’t so enchanted by gun manufacturers that they honestly think the solution here is putting a gun in the hands of an English teacher and asking her to train for days and weeks and months on how and when to use it as opposed to training on, I dunno, teaching reading.
And if you disagree with me, please don’t even comment on this article. I’m done with conversations on this topic, and I’m done with debate. I’m the one walking into my classroom every day, so I get the final say here. And you know what my answer is? NO. I will not arm myself in my classroom. And the day I’m forced to is the day I leave this profession for good.
You can find someone else to teach your kid how to read. I hope they’re willing to die for your love of that high-capacity magazine.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of pieces from parents expressing how frustrated they are with being “judged” by other parents and the parenting community at large. You know the essays: please just let me parent in the way that works best for me is usually the general gist. I find myself oddly drawn to these pieces. I nod a lot as I read them…which is slightly strange because I have no children. Just the one cat, and the only time I ever feel judged in my pet ownership is when he doesn’t behave himself at the vet. And even then they’re usually fairly understanding. So I’ve been trying to figure this out: why do I feel this kinship with parents who’ve decided to boycott the blogosphere?
Then I spent the past week watching teachers have arguments on Twitter and Facebook about whether or not Accelerated Reader is the best thing ever invented or the Destruction of Childhood Reading as we know it. The conversation has frequently gone something like this:
All teachers who use AR are doing terrible things to students. and it must be DESTROYED!
He/she is right! AR once attacked my dog and then peed in my Cheerios! Everyone who uses it should be judged on social media IMMEDIATELY.
Wait, I sort of like AR and my students tell me they love it and want me to keep using it…
GASP! How dare you like a teaching tool I have deemed unworthy! You are ruining children!
All of the sudden, it became quite clear why I find myself nodding along with those “don’t judge my parenting” articles.
I should note here that I actually have no super strong feelings for or against Accelerated Reader. I find AR to be like most teaching tools out there on the market: either incredibly useful or incredibly damaging depending on how it’s used and the context in which it’s used. As we teachers know best, no classroom and no two students are the same. One size rarely fits all, and what works well in one context can actually be a very poor teaching tool in another context.
Which brings up an important question: why are teachers jumping on the internet and telling each other all the things we’ve decided everyone else is during wrong? And full disclosure, I’m sure I’ve done this too. Probably somewhere on this blog, in fact. We teachers tend to be incredibly protective of our teaching practices. While this is often a good thing, it also can make us far more likely to vilely detest things we’ve had bad experiences with and to also be extremely protective of those tools we love.
But there’s danger in that type of thinking. Sometimes at night when I'm feeling particularly self-destructive I try to imagine what my first year of teaching would have been like if social media had been around in a big way back then. I usually come to one conclusion: thank goodness it wasn’t. Your first year of teaching is dangerous and scary and filled with self-doubt. Now imagine having several million voices screaming you’re doing this wrong every day and adding onto that self-doubt. These days I’m secure enough in my own teaching practice (mostly) to agree or disagree when someone tells me I’m doing something I shouldn’t be, but back then? I probably would have just been in tears every single night. Even more than I already was.
I appreciate that the teaching community is a place where people want to teach others and mentor and share ideas. That’s what makes our community strong. And we certainly shouldn’t be shy about expressing what’s worked and not worked for our students in the context of our classrooms. But when we start shouting down ideas, tools, and practices with the level of judgement I’ve seen this week? All we end up doing is sounding like those horrifying mom blogs everyone seems to have run away from.
Maybe we could just curb our language a bit. Rather than using 140 characters to say “AR is the worst thing ever and we all need to back away from it” we could say something like “I’ve found AR doesn’t build a love of reading; others with diff experiences?” Or instead of “Remember what a terrible teacher I was when I gave timed math tests” we could say “Here’s some research on neg effects of timed tests.” Or whatever fits into 140 characters that won’t terrify the brand-new teacher who is trying their darned best and has a lot of other people telling them why timed math tests are important.
If there’s one thing most teachers I know hate, it’s the idea that “research proven” is a real thing in education. Because we all know that what research shows in a public middle school in Woodland Park, CO is likely not the same thing research will show in a private middle school in New York City, New York. We generally dislike when companies and politicians shove “this is research proven” down our throats. So why do we do the same thing to each other? Just because it’s our own research doesn’t make context any less important.
To the parents out there: I applaud you for ignoring the judgement. I could never do what you do; I like sleep way too much. To the teachers out there who promote conversation and mentorship: I applaud and appreciate you. Let’s just try to tone down the judgement a notch. I’ll try to do my part.