My Baby Dragon Changed to a Shape Shifter.

This book is going to take a while…

I’ve been planning on giving birth to a baby dragon. I’ve planned for the dragon. I even consulted Daenerys Targaryen for parenting advice. She told me to leave room for the dragon to grow, and she threw in a few coupons to Pet Smart (thanks Danny). This is before she pillaged and went a little nutso.

I’ve planned for this dragon for years. It turns out I’m not having a dragon. I’m giving birth to a shape-shifting beast who mocks me. I don’t know what kind of book baby I’m having because the damn thing keeps changing. I’m in no way giving writing advice, but my advice is NOT to think the first draft is the final draft. Go ahead and file for a first draft divorce. You are going to lose your favorite scenes—the ones you wrote with flowing prose and perfect pacing, but they don’t move the story along. Your main character might not be your main character. (I just figured this out, and the anguish and grief will wane soon.) The setting might be off. Your POV may change. So, your baby dragon will look nothing like a baby dragon when you are done. If you can un-marry yourself from parts of the book that slow it down, don’t make sense, or are downright unnecessary, then you have done yourself a favor. 

Here is scene feedback from my editor.
YEAH!

The scenes where you are dumping backstory, but nothing is happening, NEED. TO. GO. I’m learning to imbed the back story into the scene structure. But, this in itself, while keeping up pacing and weaving in theme and character arc is like juggling a knife, monkey, and a small child.

One thing I’m learning about writing is that I know nothing about writing. Here’s the epiphany that keeps my masochistic obsession going. I’ve always strived to know the most I can about any subject. Peeling back the never ending layers of the writing onion is daunting. I dissected 140 scenes. I came the harsh reality that many of the scenes do not move my story forward. I loved and nurtured those scenes. I fed them dragon food and stayed up with them at night. I’m uninviting them to the party. It doesn’t matter how fun they are or how much I like them. Ok, so cut, delete, slash..what’s left?

I will unearth the bare bones and scrape away the layers of dirt covering my story. Once I see the skeleton, I’ll add the flesh and other vital organs.

From here on out, I will outline all future writing projects. It makes more sense to start with the skeleton instead tearing into the body of a Frankenstein monster first draft.

I have another conversation with my editor on Friday. I’ll have my shovels and picks ready. Here’s to writing, never giving up, and loving your inner shape-shifter.

K.

First Draft Pity Party

My cursor hovered over the send box on the email. I got up, walked into the other room. I was about to send the first draft of my manuscript to my editor. I took a deep breath….SEND. It was off to cyber manuscript world. What had I done? Oh My God. Shitty First Drafts

I started this book twenty years ago. So, picking up where I left off was more of a challenge than I expected. Over the summer, I wrote a thousand words a day until I reached my goal of 80,000. I ended at about 86,000 words. I knew the book was far from a literary gem. I knew that the characters were underdeveloped. Yah, I’ll get back to them. I knew that third person omniscient would put anyone over the edge. But, I thought it was important for the reader to know what everyone was thinking all of the time. Not a great plan. I knew that some of my descriptions were coma inducing. I just wanted the reader to picture every detail down to the condensation rings on the table left from a glass. I was dreaming of the characters. I didn’t see them or talk to them when awake, but I was close. It was time for an editor.

I sent my synopsis out to a few editors. The one I chose liked the premise. She wanted to talk to me to see if we were a good match. No one else offered this. I hired her. She told me that as soon as I sent the manuscript, to start on another writing project. So, I did. The new project was shiny and fresh. It didn’t talk back, and it was at my mercy. It wasn’t being abused and ripped apart.

Two days ago, I got my preliminary edits. OMG. If you want to have a thicker skin, then send out a manuscript for someone to edit. Seriously, this is shock therapy. My husband did not understand why I was upset. He’s an engineer and sees only black and white. You wrote a book. You have edits. Make the edits. No big deal. Logic had no place in the beginning stages of my pity party. Logic wasn’t invited.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

My dialogue soon turned into a pity party (and as everyone knows, only one person is invited to your pity party.) “I suck. Why would I ever think I could be a writer….blah blah blah.”

Here are some of her edits out of context. It’s much more fun this way.

Does he own this store?

Has she been to her mom’s yoga class?

There’s no consequence for Tracy’s repeated assaults?

Why would he have towels so close at hand?

Do we need access to this character’s unspoken thoughts?

We’re in Lou’s head now.

The morgue is upstairs from here?

So, Domenico is sober right now? It seems like this scene belongs before the one with the fingernail.

More unprovoked assault without consequence for the bullies. Visit to/from the gnomes, Lou.

This seems unlikely.

Why would he do an internal exam at all?

Is this frog punishment ever unpacked? Bobby clearly has issues, and putting his frog in the forest doesn’t do anything to help him — it only ostracizes him from the other children. Ms. Aubry seems relatively enlightened, but she never questions the practice of public shaming.

The principal’s behavior here feels implausible.

This is the 70s, right? Big bushes were in. And why would a psych nurse help her shave her bikini area? This is my favorite.

Tonight, I spent an hour talking to my editor about her feedback. She was spot on and showed me how to make my book the story I’m trying to tell. I had imagined her wielding a red pen over my manuscript, laughing maniacally. Yah, it’s a Word Doc, but being dramatic fueled my pity party. She told me that these are normal first draft edits. She gave me suggestions that I would never have thought of. She sees what’s hidden beneath the madness. She sees what’s possible. She understands my story.

Every first draft sucks. This is a long process. I have homework. I’m to outline my current draft by scene. From there, I change POV, strengthen character development, and make sure the settings are true to the period. My editor will review, then I work on my second draft. Then she reviews again in a hard edit and gives me more homework. There will be another draft or two. I’m sure by then my bruised writing ego will get a hold of herself.

Half of Ninety…

Many things have happened this year. I just had my forty-fifth birthday. I know I am half of ninety, and I round up to fifty, but I feel this year will be one of my best. I am still doing what I love at work. My daughters are amazing people. My suburban village is steady and strong. And I have a chance to open up my heart again.
I still need to reconcile being forty-five. I can say things like ‘thirty years ago’, ‘back in the seventies’, and ‘I ruined my Sean Cassidy bell-bottoms in a biking incident.’
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Forty-five is also-
  • the atomic number for Rhodium. 
  • a record
  • the dialing code for Denmark
  • a gun
  • an Elvis Costello song
  • the speed limit
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This year, we welcomed 90 drama students (that number again). We are producing three plays: Peter Pan, Hamlet (modified for younger audiences) and Alice in Wonderland. I will be living in Wonderland and Neverland, while trying to kill off all the characters in Hamlet on an elementary school level.
I thought about making Hamlet a lost boy, or the King of Hearts. Maybe later…
We read through Hamlet and I was explaining the plot. The conversation with my Hamlet cast went something like this:
Me: “Think of the Lion King. It’s the same story, but with animals.”
SILENCE
Cast: “OOOOHHHHHH”
Ophelia: “Everyone dies in this play.”
Horatio-“Ha, I don’t die!”
Marcellus: “Yah, but you are  all alone.”
Hamlet: “When can we practice the sword fights?”
Me: “How about light sabers for the sword fights?” (No weapons in school.)
Ghost of Hamlet: “Hamlet, I am your father.” (In a creepy ghost voice.)
I have a friend who is helping me with drama club. I’m not sure she realized what she got herself into. She is directing Alice in Wonderland. Thank goodness she is taking out the murderous oyster scene. There is no real justification for me to kill everyone in Hamlet, and save the oysters. Maybe it’s the bonnets? Maybe it’s because they are so trusting and BAM they are eaten?
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I am grateful to have this club. It is cathartic to me, and the kids keep me laughing and hopeful.
 In the very last scene of Peter Pan and Wendy, Wendy’s daughter (Jane) tells her mom she can’t fly anymore. The grown ups are not the heroes in this story. Eventually, the they lose the ‘ability to fly’.  I imagine this is because life knocked them around a bit?
I was reading through my archived posts, and it is so interesting to see how things change in the span of a couple of years, months, or even days.  I realize that each event brings you to the next experience, even if you don’t have control over any of it. But we really don’t ever have control; we just think we do.

My  foundation was cracked and my trust in people faded. Our wounds heal, yet those imprints remain. I am learning to sift through the yucky stuff, and find the things that made me grow, reflect on my own foibles, understand what I deserve (better yet, what I don’t deserve) and move on with more wisdom and fewer regrets.

I can relate to Alice trying to find her way, Hamlet seeking truth, and Peter Pan not wanting to grow up.

Happy New Year.

K.

Inquiry Science-Ten Questions or Fewer-L…E…S…S…

Thank you Publix for fixing all of your lessess to fewers. It is a step forward for all grammar kind. I felt pure joy when I saw these new signs. I looked at the people around me, and they were just counting their items to make sure they didn’t go over quota. I count mine too, and even have guilt when the eleventh item makes its way into my cart. Then there is always that poor soul who didn’t see the sign, and has placed sixty-five items on the conveyor belt thingy. We all know because not only do we count our items, but we also count the items in the cart in front of us. Again, this brings me to my thoughts on inquiry science and the manner in which instruction is changing.  It happens, over time-even if it looks and sounds unfamiliar, like the cadence of fewer versus less.

Publix-2-0012

One of the last classes I took to complete my specialist degree was physical science. The class was inquiry based-or what I call  McGyiver science.

My professor insisted that we never give students the exact materials for an experiment that will guarantee the desired outcome. Science is about trial and error, acknowledging variables, and persevering.  She asked us if we were expecting perfect results, or encouraging students to re-work hypotheses, collaborate, and discuss the work? It may turn out that the growth is in the mistake.

That summer was complete with my ill constructed foam roller coaster that had neither a loop nor a hill, a defunct lemon battery, and toy cars breaking down because the load was too heavy. It reminded me of my home economics class where my decorated cake looked like abstract art, and my A-line skirt was used as an example of what can go wrong in sewing.  The other day, I was faced with a vacuum cleaner and a bag. The vacuum mocks my inability to get the bag to ‘snap’ in. However, I did use that vacuum cleaner to fight a snake in my house-so I used what I had available.

This year as a gifted teacher, I have focused on inquiry science with my 3rd graders. Part of teaching inquiry is letting your personal control freak go. The first step is to admit you are a control freak teacher. Then it is time to let go a little, and let the kids do the learning.

Things are messy. Stuff spills. Students have odd ideas of what will and won’t work. They are determined that a pound of bricks weighs more than a pound of feathers.

I asked them what they thought about inquiry labs:

“You never know what is going to happen.”

“We can do things on our own.”

“We have to figure things out.”

“We got to use duct tape.”

I will say that if you add duct tape to any classroom activity, you will have the undivided attention of your class. I don’t know why, but it is true. Of course, we had the discussion about DUCT tape vs DUCK tape.

“How do they use this tape on ducks?”

Asking questions is an art of sorts. I have been asking questions my entire life, and I now find myself teaching my students how to ask questions. If I were to get philosophical, I would say that we could use the Inquiry method to drive all our life choices. We are given some random supplies and a task to complete. We try to figure it out. If it doesn’t work, we change something and try again. Getting upset over a failed outcome doesn’t help anything. We have to figure out what went wrong. Sound familiar? We are challenged daily. The results of our efforts don’t always come out the way we expect, even if we use all of our supplies.

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Design a boat that will float with 100 pennies.

The 100 penny lab was a great one to start with. Kids were given duct tape, tin foil, 100 pennies, a pan full of water, and a task to design a boat that would float with all 100 pennies in it.

I asked about the variables and the answers I got were very interesting:

“The design on the duct tape. The ink may weigh differently depending on how many colors are in the tape you choose.”

“How fast or slow you put the pennies in.”

“How smart the people in your group are.” (I admit, this was one of my favorites. )

I loved how these kids persevered until their boats floated. They were so excited, because THEY figured it out.

So, I became a little zealous.  The made duct-taped boats float, so they can build a bridge out of pasta!

“This isn’t working.”

“Are you sure you got the right pasta?”

We will be revisiting that activity with stronger pasta.  The kids did their own research on bridges that day. They told me what structures and shapes are stronger than others. They are re-designing the bridges for next week.  To think-I was ready to scrap the entire thing because it didn’t work out the first time. The kids assumed we would be doing the pasta activity again.

My students taught me my own lesson. Then I began to wonder how often I have scrapped something because it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted it to? We cannot teach without bringing these lessons home, because ultimately that is what we want our students to do. It is unlikely that a potential college or job will ask a candidate to build a pasta bridge.  But, isn’t it about the perspectives in which we perceive our obstacles?  And isn’t it great that eighteen third graders reminded me of this with their perseverance?

Here’s to using all the materials available to me (even if they aren’t the ones I wanted).

K

Gratitude.

Collective grief is the only way to describe what happened in our school the Monday after the Connecticut school shootings. During car duty, I thought about the parents who kissed their children good-bye that morning. I thought about how those parents didn’t know that they would never see their children again. Without talking, I knew we were all thinking about our own children, and how we couldn’t survive such a tragedy.

The new years come without our permission. We may have unfinished business, or maybe we are still wondering what would happen we had made alternate choices. What could have been different?

When I see a car accident, sometimes I think, That could have been me, if I were here five minutes ago. And usually, I think about what may have delayed me. I wonder about our place in the world, and how many times I will be afforded a coincidental delay. It just isn’t enough to fully appreciate our lives when tragedy happens. But, sometimes we do.

We look for messages in tragedies. There is no message in the Connecticut incident. Sandy Hook Elementary is the new school for the survivors of the shooting last month. I read this quote from the attached article:

Sandy Hook Elementary School parent Vinny Alvarez says he took advantage of an open house at his daughter’s new school to thank a teacher who helped protect her class from a rampaging gunmanSandy Hook

This scenario isn’t something for which we could ever be prepared. How does a teacher shift from teaching, to saving the lives of his or her students? Where did that courage come from? Is it in all of us? I am amazed by the human condition.

We wonder how we got here, and how to prevent such events from happening again. I still think of the faces of the victims. I think about what must have happened that day; I cannot fathom any of it. If the domino had fallen another way, could the outcome have changed?

As the holiday season comes to a screeching halt, and I begrudgingly resume my episodic days, I can only be grateful to have a rut. This year, for me, has been a challenge. My nineteen-year marriage ended, I sent my eldest daughter to college, and I earned another degree. These life events are insignificant when images of that day fill the minds of parents and educators across the country. It didn’t happen to us. But, what if it had?

The moment 2012 came to a close, I felt nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for the ugly parts as well as the momentous occasions. Gratitude for my daughters, my family, my friends, my job, and for a few coincidental delays.

K

A Midsummer in Oz at the Chocolate Factory-and a Lonely Goat

This week, we are auditioning 85 kids for three plays: Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wizard of Oz, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is our third year of drama club, and like a distant memory or a faint dream, I can’t quite place the moment it all became real.

Over twenty kids are auditioning for Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am thrilled that there is such interest with fourth and fifth graders. Of course, I’m sure there is hope for a sword fight, a chase, and a few fairies causing havoc. (The boys are bent on a sword fight.) Then there is the bizarre fascination with the donkey head.

I went to the Leaf Festival in Asheville. While the Moody Blues inspired parade passed me, I had costume inspirations for Midsummer. I can’t use stilts, and I’m still a little bitter about that. That was the my first inkling of my  mild theater obsession. You see, graduate school is over soon, and I must fill my time with another endeavor that will encompass me, completely.

The Wizard of Oz has been done so many times; I am driven to do it a little differently. I could have them set in the future, like that Julius Caesar play I saw in high school. Dorothy is wearing space boots, and the Wicked Witch needs them to find her space voyager monkeys. Glenda is tired of green witch’s shenanigans, and she sends her off in a space shuttle-for eternity. I’m not sure what to do with the munchkins in the space scenario.

This story has always been a metaphor to me. I mean, Dorothy-searching for The WIZARD of OZ? And for crying out loud, he was such a let down.

Her real world is black and white, which could mean a myriad of things that only Dorothy could discuss with the right therapist. Her colorful world could illustrate her awareness of her issues. Her best friends need a heart, courage, and a brain.  We have all been there. Wouldn’t it be lovely to always be courageous, intelligent, and full of love and compassion?  But, it usually comes down to our friends shaking us apart, and telling us to scrape up the last bits of courage from the remnants of the day. I hate when they do that.

The Wicked Witch is a sad little green thing. I can’t imagine being allergic to water. No wonder she was neurotic and a shoe obsessed.

I sat with Shannon, doing drama club paper work, and we sang “I wish I had a Brain” over and over. Sometimes we don’t have brains, and that is really okay.

Oh, I could tell you why The ocean’s near the shore.
I could think of things I never thunk before.
And then I’d sit, and think some more.
I would not be just a nothin’ my head all full of stuffin’
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry, life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain.

I tell you, life can be a ding-a-derry. Whatever that means.

My friends, Margarita and Victor, who have kept our community theater afloat for the past couple of years, posted this on my FB timeline:

Dancing Goat Theater

As I am becoming embroiled in our school theater productions, I am saddened by the fact that this wonderful theater is close to shutting down. This is where we saw, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, A Thousand Paper Cranes, Macbeth, Macbeth Junior, The Holiday Hootenany, Ensler’s monologues, and so many more amazing performances. This is where I performed with my daughter, for the first and last time.

When I think of this theater, I think of some of my dearest friends; Daniel chewing wood while directing Shrew, Margarita encouraging me to have the Macbeth narrators dance to Liza Minelli’s All that Jazz, avoiding the giant MACBETH boulder in the middle of the theater, and most of all-laughing through our creative spirits.

I think of my personal growth as an educator, because I saw the need for theater arts in our elementary school. We have 85 drama club members, within two grade levels. That means something. That is huge. Sometimes, that is overlooked.

I think of how quickly hours of work can become a wrinkle in time, because the cause is so very worth every single, tiny, moment spent, working with these kids. I think of our volunteers, who came together from diverse backgrounds, to keep the heart of performing arts beating in the theater.

My hope is that by some miracle, Oz is real-somewhere. Maybe, in our little theater? Maybe, in the hearts of our performers? Maybe in our audiences? Our community? Because without them, we have no theater.

GLENDA WHERE ARE YOU?

“Now I know I’ve got a heart because it is breaking.

– Tin Man”
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Here’s to theater.

K

When the Time Comes, Pick the Top One

It all started in Helen, the fictitious German town in north Georgia. In Helen, gnomes walked among us, and people wore Bavarian hats, willy nilly. Beverages were poured into plastic boot mugs.  There were people playing air guitar to Jimmy Buffet cover songs. I saw one Fräulein, in full Oktoberfest garb, walking her dog all over the city. Yes. Her hair was in braids.

I knew my fun and frolicking couldn’t last. Maybe it was the cool mountain air. Maybe it was the enchantment of fake Germany in Georgia. Maybe a troll jumped in my trunk and has been tormenting since the Helen weekend.

The next day, when I woke up, I had a slight cough. No big deal. I did the Sunday chores as usual. I did take a nap, which is unusual for me. The nap was more like a light coma. But, I thought nothing of it.

Monday morning, I was feeling warm, and a little light-headed, but I figured I needed coffee and more sleep. So, off to school I went. I was teaching math, and it was one of those Ally McBeal moments when the kids started looking like they were moving in slow motion. I still kept teaching.

ME: Order of operations. Parentheses, braces, brackets. PEMDAS

Student: Do the parentheses go first, or do the brackets? Wait, are the brackets the twirly things or the boxy things?

ME: Yes.

Student: ooookay.

After class, I went to the nurse to take my temperature. She had this new thingy that she ran across my forehead. It read 100.9.

I went home. I slept. I fell into a level of sleep that is yet to be identified. I woke up long enough to swim out of the puddle of my fever to email my professor. I remember writing: Not coming. I’m dying. I didn’t really write that. But, since I was feeling particularly dramatic, it seemed concise. I actually thought I was going to make it to work the next day.

Delirium sets in when a fever takes over the body. My dreams were lucid and freaky. You would think that in the throws of a high fever, I would have serene, calming dreams. But, no. I had one of those waitressing dreams where I couldn’t get to all the patrons. I dreamed that my laundry was piled up to the ceiling. I also dreamed that I was replaced at work because I had missed school. Yes. Sad. But true.

By Tuesday night, I had one of my suburban village friends take me to the after hours clinic, which was closed, after hours. I ended up in the ER. There was an IV and a doctor who was a Christopher Walken look-alike. The people in the waiting room were suspiciously similar to those in Helen. It was a Twin Peaks/Mork&Mindy episode

Wednesday happened. I just don’t remember it.

Thursday, I trudged into school to teach my math class. Bad idea. I looked like the Goldi Hawn character in Death Becomes Her, where she has a hole in the middle of her body, and her head is twisted and contorted in the wrong direction. People in the hall scurried away from me. I don’t blame them. I went home and fell into another coma. No grad school. Sleep.

Friday!!! I can go to work!!! No fever!!!

I taught my math class. I was dizzy. I sat at my desk and had children come to me.

I went home. I slept.

One friend told me that I don’t hold the world up, and I could take a week off to recover from the evil virus. My other friend sent me threatening text messages, guilting me into staying home and keeping the world safe from my germs. My explanation of the horse-pill antibiotics meant nothing. Another friend sent me a text, “Have you met your maker?”

There are times when your body says enough is enough. I scheduled my life so that I had no time to sit in silence and reflect.  Because sometimes, reflecting isn’t pretty. And sometimes, the silence is deafening. Sometimes, movement is easier than stillness. Hitting the wall is a mild description. I slammed up against it, splattered a bit, and had no choice, but to be still.

My Suburban Village showed up again. They were like superheroes, swooping in, with their capes flapping behind them.

Today, I took my daughters and some other little people to eat Chinese food. My fortune said, “When the time comes, pick the top one.” I asked them what it meant, and Courtney, Violet’s friend, said, “You will know when the time comes.”

She is ten.

So, I’ll slow down, maybe a fraction, and wait for the time when I have to pick the “top one”.  Apparently, I’ll know when the time comes.

Here’s to friends, family, and little people with infinite wisdom.

K