Staying on Track

Procrastination is the thief of time. Two weeks into the spring semester, and I finally made my eBook free on Amazon, something I do a few times throughout the year. Some people ask why I continue to do this since it doesn’t “boast my numbers,” and my reply is always the same thing. I didn’t write the book to get rich. I wrote it to help students.

Without fail, each semester, students ask some of the same questions and make the same mistakes. They want to know how many tests there are, what the written assignments are, and how the final grade is calculated. They come to class late, miss due dates, turn in written work that looks nothing like the guidelines, and sometimes they get discouraged and just quit coming to class (or logging in if it’s an online class).

Yes, there are students who know what to do from Day One, and there’s information in the book designed to help them too. Right now, however, I’m thinking of the ones whom I’ve already identified as being precariously balanced on that fence between passing and failing, between staying the course and leaving the game. I’m wondering who Diehard is, someone who wrote asking how to get started with the “online thing.” Unfortunately, he (she?) used a gmail account, and I have no idea who the person is.

Since my classes are all online this semester, those students are the ones with whom I’m most concerned. Here’s a little something I want them to know:

“My best advice is to navigate around the course to see how it’s set up. Where are the quizzes and tests? The discussions? And what about the written component of the course? How much does everything count? How are grades calculated? How often does the instructor expect you to log on? And about that logging on, do you have to communicate through email, discussion board, or both?

“Participation in a traditional environment includes showing up for class and staying engaged and focused. In addition to emails and discussions, participating in an online class includes posting a profile picture. What message are you sending the teacher when you refuse to post one? Teachers count on that tiny snapshot of you to forge a connection, however tenuous. Occasionally, students have ethical reasons for refusing to post a personal picture. In that case, check with your instructor about posting something that represents an interest or vocation.”

 

And from the students who graciously provided quotes and opinions for the book:

“Generally, the student is also the teacher in an on-line course. You have to control your classroom (prevent interruptions, avoid distractions like the phone), plan your activities, and schedule a time to study – then stick to the schedule.” Heather

“Online classes require the student to be a good organizer and time manager.” Susan

“Online courses are my favorite. I personally don’t like to drive to class to sit through a lecture because I am much better at reading the material and teaching myself. I love online classes.” Denise

“The challenges are staying on track. There are a lot of distractions here. Phone calls, knocks on the door. And you don’t actually get to meet your classmates. But there are benefits as well. You can do your school work at 1 a.m. in your pajamas if you need to.” Chris

“Tips for success would be to keep an open mind to new ideas that may certainly work better for you than what has been done in the past. Online classes have been the easiest for me and less time consuming than going to class room, I have been able to maintain my life while still attending school, and I’m never late to class.” Scott

 

As a psychology instructor, I believe that learning and applying psychological concepts such as self-efficacy and positive reinforcement can improve a person’s life, and I KNOW that the application of the principles in this book will help the reader to be a more successful student and effective person.

 

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Text or Visit?

“I hope you can think of something to write about,” my husband said as he left this morning.

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “My mind is a jumble of things I want to write about. The problem is getting it sorted out.”

“Well, before you do anything, just make sure you call the bank and get that problem with your debit card straightened out.”

“Yes Daddy. I mean, Yes Dear,” I replied as I shut the door behind him. Amused at his reminder, I thought Some day I’m going to write about the miracle of how I’ve managed to survive all these years without daily guidance and instruction. But that’s a story for another day.

Here’s this morning’s story. A couple of years ago I wrote a book on student success in two-year colleges, and as I thought about making it free on Kindle at the beginning of the semester, I wondered whether it needed updating. After checking the major topics, I decided that the suggestions and recommendations were still valid.

But….If I had the energy and inclination to revise and reupload the eBook, I’d include more information on staying in touch with teachers/instructors/professors during office hours. In a two-year college, students usually visit only for help with advisement on schedules, but stopping by for other reasons can be of benefit.

I recently heard a podcast that addressed the importance of office visits. The speaker, an author and a professor in a four-year university, was lamenting the fact that students rarely come by during office hours these days, and she was speculating on the reasons. The one that was an “aha moment” for me had to do with our day of electronic efficiency. Students, she said, had rather respond via text or email than actually sit down and talk with a teacher/professor.

Why is this? One reason is the busy, busy, busy nature of life. Another is that with the consistently growing dependence on texts and emails, she suspects that students have forgotten how to respond face-to-face. They’re accustomed to reading something and pondering over it before responding. Engaging in conversation that takes place in the moment is challenging for them, especially if they are trying to make an impression.

That’s too bad, I thought as I listened to the podcast. Students just don’t realize how helpful it could be for them to actually stop by the professor’s office during office hours. Teachers like to know what’s going on in their students’ lives, especially as it pertains to their course work. Teachers can be mentors, and at the very least, they can write letters of recommendation, something unlikely to happen if the they can’t even recall the student’s face or have never spoken to them.

Regrettably, when I checked my eBook, I discovered that I had written only one measly little paragraph about the importance of staying in touch with teachers.

Stay in touch with your teachers and ask questions about your progress. Without hounding them to death or saying things like, “I have to get an A in this class to get in the nursing program,” students need to communicate with their teachers. This is especially important for those who are teeter tottering between grades or who are considering throwing in the towel when there’s still hope of completing a course successfully. Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College & Beyond (pp. 73-74). Jayne P. Bowers. Kindle Edition.

After I bring some closure to some other projects, maybe I’ll consider updating the book. For now, I’m going to remind my students about the importance of staying in touch with their teachers. And then I’m going to make the eBook available free for three days on Amazon.

 

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Big Magic

I’m not sure why Amazon won’t publish this review of Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s a marvelous book, one that will sell you on the dual elements of hard labor and fairy dust in bringing one’s work into being. Undeterred, I decided to post the review here in the hope that you’ll be motivated to buy the book and follow its suggestions.

A big Elizabeth Gilbert fan, there was no way I was going to pass on this book. Although I knew it would probably be filled with some of the same old/same old “you can do it” verbiage, I also knew that no one could say it in quite the way creative, fun, quirky, motivational way. I was right.

Throughout the book, the reader increasingly senses that something unseen and unknown can actually be working with people courageous and disciplined enough to say yes to an idea and then get to work. Gilbert mentions British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” And then she adds, “But the best part is I don’t need to know that.”

Gilbert writes about several mentors who have assisted her along the magic path, including her parents. Like other writers and artists, at times she has been tempted to put something aside without completing it, and then she recalls the words of her mother who always said, “Done is better than good.” Gilbert concurs and says that a “good enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect one meticulously written never.”

To further encourage people to find the “big magic,” Gilbert adds that the essential ingredients for torpor and misery are laziness and perfectionism.  She goes on to quote writer Rebecca Solnit and states, “The perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

For those who are still a bit timid about stepping out of their comfort zones for fear of what others might say, Gilbert offers all sorts of advice. My favorite is that of W.C. Fields: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” She reminds the reader that people will have their own opinions of your work. So what? Let them.

If you have an idea to share, one that just won’t leave you alone, then say yes. It’s showtime.

 

 

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When She Looked Up

One of the most valuable books I’ve read about writing is A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It’s a compilation of advice, stories, anecdotes, and prompts-365 of them. I’ve been using those prompts for practice, and  lately I’ve submitted some results to my critique group for discussion.

The following is something I wrote to the prompt When she looked up.

My head hadn’t hit the pillow until long after midnight, and at few minutes before five, I didn’t recognize the insistent buzz of the phone.

“Hello?”

“Jayne,” my brother Mike said. “Calling to let you know we’re in the hospital with Daddy, and if you want to see him alive, you need to come now,” my brother Mike said.

“What? I didn’t even know he was having problems again.”

“I’m just saying you need to get here as quick as you can.”

“So it’s serious?” I asked, even then knowing it was a ridiculous thing to ask.

I jumped out of bed and briskly crossed the hall to my daughter Carrie’s room. Cracking open the door, I said, “Sweetie, I need for you to get up. Granddaddy is in the hospital, and Mike says I need to come now.”

“What time is it?” Carrie asked groggily as she raised up on one elbow to stare at me, her dark wavy hair a cloud around her face.

“Around five. I’m taking a quick shower and hitting the road. I need for you to come with me.”

Twenty minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway, tired and yet strangely alert. Minds racing with what lay before us, we rode through the predawn October morning silently noting the familiar sights. There was Coastal Carolina, streetlights glowing along the still quiet avenues where sleeping students likely dreamed of happily ever after. Lucky them.

We stopped at the intersection of University Boulevard and Highway 544 and looked at Hillcrest Cemetery square in the face. I had attended numerous graveside services at Hillcrest and had even mentioned being buried there at some point in the distant future. Having traveled that stretch of 544 thousands of times, I associated the area with life and energy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a final resting place in the hub of so much coming and going?

This morning, however, seeing the shadowy shapes of tombstones and trees filled me with dread and apprehension. Would I be standing in another such location 115 miles away before the week’s end? I squelched the thought and turned right towards Conway and Highway 501, the thoroughfare we would follow to Florence.

Stopping outside of Florence at what used to be called Jimmy Carter’s to fill up with gas, I placed the pump handle in the tank and called the hospital room for an update. My sister Ann answered on the first ring.

“We’re on our way,” I told her.

“Too late,” Ann said in a brisk, staccato tone.

“What do you mean, too late?”

“He’s gone. About five minutes ago. Mike was shaving him, and Allen was holding his head up. They felt his head drop and knew something had changed.”

“Can’t believe it,” I said.

“Mike finished the job.”she said matter-of-factly.

“What job?”

“The shaving.”

I could well imagine my brother and brother-in-law looking at each other in the moment of realization. Knowing them, I knew they had kept the knowledge private until my father looked presentable and clean-shaven.

I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.

“How’s Mama?”

“Not sure. She was in the hall when it happened and is just now taking it all in.”

Leaning against the car, I could see, feel, hear the activity in the room where my father’s strong spirit had slipped away from his weakened body. My poor Mama. Why didn’t someone call me earlier?

“How far away are you?” Ann asked.

“Almost to Florence. Can’t talk anymore. Bye.” I looked up at the predawn sky, wondering how long it would be before sunrise.

I put the pump handle back in its proper place and got back in the car with Carrie. Sitting there, I tried to wrap my mind around the events that had taken place sixty-five miles down the road while I’d been speeding through the darkness.

“What’s the matter, Mama? What did Aunt Ann say?” Carrie asked.

“She said…she said Daddy died just a few minutes ago.”

“Oh Mama. I’m so sorry.”

“I know, I know. It’s too much to take in right now. Why couldn’t we have been there? Why didn’t someone let me know earlier?”

“Want me to drive?” she offered.

I looked at Carrie’s pretty young face, tear stained and weary and realized the magnitude of the moment. “You really want to? I mean, do you feel like it?” I asked.

“Yes Ma’am,” she said. We switched positions, Carrie in the driver’s seat and me as her passenger.

I looked down the road ahead. It was so dark.

The above, by the way, is after making the changes suggested by one critique. When I finish incorporating the others, it might be quite different. 

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Sales Associate, Dental Hygienist, Social Worker…….

A couple of years ago I wrote an eBook about how to succeed in a two-year college—for students, that is. Now I’m working on one about how to survive, I mean, succeed as an instructor.

First, a few words about the former book. When looking back over it this morning, I realized that the truths therein remain the same. For instance, people need to have some goals before beginning a course of study rather than drifting willy-nilly from semester to semester. Many are like a young sales associate I met recently who earned a medical office certificate and graduated with a 3.7 GPA.

“Why aren’t you working in the medical field?” I asked. “I mean, that’s not an easy certificate to earn, and well, I just thought you’d want to get a job related to your major.”

“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. But I didn’t really feel that excited about it once I graduated. I got a new plan now.”

“Oh really? What’s that?”

“I’m going into the dental field. I hear you can always get a job doing that.”

“You mean being a dental assistant?” A hygienist?”

“Uh-huh. And I know I’d never get tired of that. I just love looking at people’s mouths.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly conscious of my teeth. Did she think I needed to floss?

The thing is, she was clueless about her skills, interests, aptitudes and the career fields that correlated with them. She’s not alone. In fact, I was like her once upon a time. Fascinated by demographics, culture, mores, societal changes, and social institutions, I earned a degree in sociology. If someone had asked me what I planned to do with that little piece of paper, I would probably have mumbled something like “be a social worker.” I was clueless about what it took to be a social worker or what an undergraduate degree in sociology would do for me.

I’m glad the social worker position never materialized. My career would have taken a totally different trajectory, one I wouldn’t have enjoyed nearly so much. “You don’t know that for sure, Jayne,” some of you might be thinking. Believe me, I know. I’m a teacher, and there’s no profession (for me) more rewarding than that.

While the rules and guidelines haven’t changed that much since writing the student success book, many students’ attitudes have. Most understand the importance of managing time, meeting deadlines, going to class, and doing the work. Others feel more of a sense of entitlement and have a “something for nothing” attitude.

The attitudinal change is manifest in many ways. It can be an insolent manner, a brash “in your face” defiance, or an argumentative stance. While these changes are not pervasive in what I refer to as “the system,” they’re occurring frequently enough to cause teachers to stand up and take notice. A colleague recently shared an incident in which one of her students gestured for her (the teacher) to “zip it up” while the student was explaining something to a classmate. The student in question, by the way, was failing the class and had already overcut her allowed absences.

Second, a few words about the next book. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do know this, however. For teachers, knowing your subject inside out and upside down is  just part of the job, the easy part. The people issues are the ones that challenge your psyche and tax your resources. In the book I’m working on now, I’ll explore some problems and possible solutions. (I could say challenges instead of problems, but candy coating situations isn’t always the best approach.)

Somehow, successful teachers learn to change with the times and to deal with “them.” What’s your strategy?

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Learning the Craft

My writing group is becoming increasingly helpful. It’s scary to submit one’s work, yes. But if you don’t, how will you know if you’re improving? And if you don’t belong to a group and you aren’t taking classes, how are you learning?

When I first joined the group a few years ago, I wrote what I called “flat out writing,” my term for writing based primarily on an introduction, main body, and conclusion. I always started out letting the reader know what to expect, and after making sure each paragraph had a topic sentence, I’d include illustrations, explanatory phrases, and descriptive terms to get my point across. Then I’d close with some sort of summative paragraph–or sentence.

It worked but was kind of boring. (I hope no one in my writing group reads this because someone would definitely scold me about using “it.”)

I still do a good bit of “flat out writing,” but now I’ve learned to mix it up with other types. For instance, my group encouraged me to try using dialogue. And then someone suggested that if I wanted to write fiction, I could try changing the pronouns from first person to third person. I became Ellen or Lillie, whoever I wanted to be that day.

From listening to the fiction writers in the group, I discovered that name choices are very important, so I chose Ellen because that was almost my name. My mother wanted to call me Jane Ellen, but my father was against it. Apparently, there was a bratty little kid named Ellen in one of his elementary school classes who was the bane of his young existence.

And Lillie was my great aunt, one I never knew because she died at five years of age. I saw her tombstone a few years ago at a cemetery behind Racepath Baptist Church, and until that moment I never knew of her short life. The stone said “Darling Daughter Lillie,” and as silly as it might seem to readers, I feel that using her name is a way of keeping her memory alive.

It’s hard to break away from factual writing, to make the switch from nonfiction to fiction, but I’ve been experimenting with it. This summer, I wrote a piece filled with I, I, I, but after taking heed to my group’s advice, I changed I to Ellen and submitted the story to a journal. It was accepted! I think changing I to Ellen made all the difference. Plus, I used some descriptive words just like the group members recommended, something that wasn’t that hard to do once I began really focusing on the scene and characters.

The group met Thursday morning, and I was determined to have something to submit. I didn’t want them to see my BIG PROJECT yet, so I sent four short pieces that I’ve recently written to prompts. I’ve used prompts before, but it wasn’t until I heard Bob Strother, a North Carolina writer and the keynote speaker at our recent workshop, that I realized it isn’t  necessary to follow adhere strictly to the prompt.

For instance, in A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves, the prompt for September 13 is “She left a note.” A few months ago, I would have used that phrase word-for-word in whatever writing it inspired. Now I’m thinking of using the prompt for the way my protagonist (Ellen) felt when she got in her car and read the note, “Ice cream and juice.” Stay tuned. It’s going to be good.

I’m over my 500 words, the recommended word limit for blogs, but I have to include a quote from Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic. “I will fall asleep with my face in my dinner plate if someone starts discoursing to me about the academic distinction between true mastery and mere craft.” She then goes on to say many other clever and funny things that I might share in another post.

For now, I’m learning the craft and am aware that I’m a long way from mastery. But does it matter? I’m learning and having fun doing it. What about you?

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Write On!

Does it bother me that no one reads these blogs except for Laura Lilly? Not really. I’d love it, of course, if more people read and commented on my posts, but developing a readership wasn’t my primary intention for creating the blog. The purpose was to share information and insight on the things I was reading and writing. If people wanted to read them, that’d be swell. If not, it was good practice for me.

Whether anyone ever reads my ramblings or not, writing is something that I have to do. I could just keep my thoughts in a private journal, but anyone can do that, right? While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s something else I’ve been working on (in addition to practicing the craft): being more courageous about getting it out there.

It saddens me to think of the people I know whose voices and abilities are much superior to mine but who are reluctant to let anyone see their work. They’re afraid of censure, ridicule, or rejection. Some of you who are reading this might be thinking, “Well, maybe they just want to write for therapeutic reasons and have no intention of anyone reading their work.”

Fine. That could be true. However, I know literally dozens of people who want to share their thoughts, sometimes with primarily family and close friends, but in some cases with a wider audience. An acquaintance has written a manuscript about a controversial topic and is reluctant to share his ideas, even on a blog. He’s afraid people might “hate” him and dismiss his work as rubbish. I say, “So what?” I also say, “You can count on it, Buddy.” No matter what you do or how sterling the work is, people will ridicule and criticize.

Does it matter? Not really.

Advice on dealing with criticism abounds, and here are a few of my favorite quotes from people I admire.

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Aristotle

While the esteemed philosopher pretty much nailed it, I have to add one little thought. Often people will criticize you even if you say nothing, do nothing, and are nothing (in the world’s estimation), for they will say you are dull or socially inept or lazy.

I wanted to include these lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson because of a conversation some friends and I recently had about weeds. Yes, weeds. The gist of the conversation was that some weeds are indeed beautiful and we wondered who it was who declared them as valueless, undesirable, or troublesome plants. Even little children are attracted to them, and I have often been the recipient of glorious yellow dandelions from my grandchildren.

“Once in a golden hour

I cast to earth a seed.

Up there came a flower,

The people said, a weed.”

And finally, Dale Carnegie’s reminder that “Nobody kicks a dead dog” is funny, short, and right on target. Be alive and moving and creating even if it makes you a subject for derision or scorn.

Encouraging other people to write and to share those stories, pieces, articles, essays, poems with others wasn’t my original intention, but evidently it’s something I feel strongly about…and perhaps something I need to pay attention to.

Write on!

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Chocolate Truffles or Chocolate Covered Cherries?

It could have been the dark chocolate truffles or chocolate covered cherries. Or maybe it was the Rice Krispy treats that Kathryn brought. Whatever the reason, our writing group was super energetic, almost wired, last night. The meeting wasn’t about critiques. It was about workshops, past and future, our next book, and some additional learning and growing opportunities that will begin in January. The discussion got so lively and rich that LaShella and I actually had to take notes to make sure we remembered it all.

Our first writing workshop was Saturday, September 26 at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Technical College, and we spent most of our time last night going over the evaluations of the attendees. The venue, food, speakers, presentations, topics, panel discussion were evidently enjoyed by all who took the time to complete an evaluation form—about 50 percent of those who attended. Had the other 50 percent taken the time to submit evaluations, the discussion last night might have been different.

High marks don’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. Although writers and wannabe writers liked the food, many were dissatisfied with lunch—specifically with the staleness of the bread and the lack of vegan choices. They enjoyed, however, the breakfast and snack items that were available throughout the day. Also, while attendees enjoyed the sessions, many wished they had been a tad longer. A couple of people also mentioned that they’d like a mix and mingle time.

Since we had more than one topic to discuss, our fearless leader and chapter president smoothly moved on to the next item on the agenda: our next anthology. Earlier this year we made the decision to publish a book one year and hold a workshop the next. Alternating years makes such projects more doable and successful. Whether hosting an event or compiling a book, we want our group projects to be quality.

This part of the evening, from my perspective, is when the discussion got revved up a notch or two. As we threw our ideas into the proverbial pot, everyone became more animated. Well, just about everyone. I think our newest member was second-guessing her decision to join our group.

Among other things, our first priority was deciding on a theme. Families, connections, universal themes of humanity, “heart” stories, or what? Did all entries have to be nonfiction as in our previous book or could a fiction piece or two be included? Should we divide the book into fiction, nonfiction, and poetry sections, or should we submit whatever we wanted to and then organize the selections according to theme and place them in appropriate chapters?

We decided the latter was the best choice for now, and I look forward to reading some good stuff soon, especially a story about men and feathers, a topic introduced by one of the members. We also decided that this time around, there would be some parameters about submission quality. Every piece would be critiqued in the group first, thus saving the editor(s) a lot of unnecessary labor. And everyone would have to follow some other guidelines about font, format, spacing, and other manuscript musts. No using the tab key to indent paragraphs!

By this time, LaShella and I had pretty much devoured all of the Rice Krispy treats, and there was still one more item on the agenda: improving the craft. We made a tentative plan to study Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a group, and since our newest member, Ashley, has organized such sessions in North Carolina, she agreed to be our facilitator. But that’s for January.

This evening, as I review the goings-on of last night, I wonder why more people don’t join critique groups. Do they not want to improve their writing? Don’t they want to get together with like-minded individuals that will encourage and support them?

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Rainy Days and Mondays

We’ve had quite the deluge here in South Carolina. Some people were hit much harder than others. Here on Brook Drive, we have water, power, dry floors, and reasonably clear streets. We have food too, and I’ve been practicing my culinary skills. Fortunately for us, we also have enough space to move about without bumping into each other 24/7.

Although I’m a little reluctant to admit this in view of so many others’ plights this afternoon, I’m going to risk the resentment, ire, and backlash to say that in some ways I’ve semi-enjoyed the days of being sequestered. If the roads were clear (and still there), I’d likely be traipsing off to Wal-Mart, meeting a friend for lunch, or setting out on an adventure of some sort.

As it is, however, I’m confined to the house for a bit and am determined not to harp on the horrid conditions or do what Albert Ellis refers to as “awfulizing.” It’s awful that bridges are out, homes are flooded, cars are floating, and people can’t get to work. It’s also awful that people are without power, water, and internet access. Some people have died. It’s all awful, and I don’t want to add my negativity to the already full slate of it.

That said, one of the things I’ve done to prevent cabin fever is read a lot and write a little. Yesterday I reread bits and pieces of A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. Later today, I’ll likely write a review of it, but for now I just want to offer kudos for one of the best-written, most interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, serious, educational books I’ve read this year.

Somehow Jacobs, an agnostic, has written a book that discusses everything from polygamy to homosexuality and tithe paying to snake handling without being offensive or preachy. He reports interviews with rabbis, a Jehovah’s witness, an Amish man, fundamentalist Christians, red letter Christians, atheists, and dozens of other people, and he does so with respect. No one would be offended by this book, and every one (every open-minded one) would be better informed.

Another book I’ve revisited is An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. The story of an older woman living in Beirut who spends her days translating books into Arabic, the novel reveals much about her beloved city and books too numerous to mention. Having worked in a bookstore for decades, the protagonist, Aaliya, has become quite learned and frequently refers to passages in books and their authors. She also mentions classical music that has moved her.

Reading the novel inspired and educated me. While reading about Aaliya’s life, I jotted down several titles, authors, and musical pieces that I plan to investigate. In fact, I’ve already begun listening to classical music playing softly in the background while reading. (Amazon Prime makes this easily possible.) There’s something profound on just about every page of Alameddine’s book. Here’s an example: “Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.” And a page or two later, “Beginnings are pregnant with possibilities.”

Yes, Aaliya, you’re so right. The rest of the afternoon stretches out before me, pregnant with possibilities of things to experience. One of the things I realized while reading An Unnecessary Woman was that no matter how dire the situation around her, including bloodshed, bombings, attacks, and malice,Aaliya’s life went on as “normal.”

No one’s life in South Carolina is “normal” today, but like Aaliya, mine goes on. For this afternoon, I think I’ll start with tackling an ant invasion (small black ones) and then move on to some school work. After that, I’ll consider waxing a newly painted bookcase, and later, I’ll again check on my fellow South Carolinians.

Posted in A.J. Jacobs, Rabih Alameddine, reading, storms. books, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

27 Buzzards

I got a rather cryptic message from one of my brothers yesterday. “27 buzzards” is all it said. Assuming there would be more to follow, I forgot about those old buzzards for a while and went back to recalling this past Saturday’s creative writing workshop in Camden.

Judging from our turnout, the happy faces, and several positive comments and emails, I think it was a successful event. After our local writing group meets to discuss its pluses and minuses next week, I might be singing another song, especially after looking over the evaluation forms that evening.

From today’s perspective, here’s what many seemed to like:

*The facility. Held at the downtown campus of Central Carolina Technical College, the building provided ample classroom space, up-to-date technology, and the perfect layout for moving about and for moments of conversation along the way.

*The setting in the heart of the city was perfect. Two out-of-owners stopped by Friday evening as we were setting up and asked for restaurant recommendations. We offered several in the downtown area, and they       opted for Sam Kendall’s located a skip and a hop from the campus.

*The food. We provided lunch prepared by The Everyday Gourmet, and most people seemed pleased with the three choices. While having veggie and gluten-free options might have added more satisfying options for some attendees, we had decided to abide by the KISS principle and Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Throughout the day, we provided fruit, various breads, gluten-free crackers, granola bars and donuts.

*The classes and presenters. Although I haven’t seen the evaluations, the buzz in the hall was good, very good. And get this. A friend emailed me to say she had picked up something in the family history class that changed her life. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Because we felt that learning the craft was important, we chose to focus more on writing “first one word, then another” than on publishing. Telling stories, creating poems, writing memoirs and family histories, and revising one’s work were the topics of the four classes. The keynote speaker, Bob Strother, shared ideas about listening for the story and reminded the writers that stories are virtually everywhere.

*Panel discussion. During lunch, we had a panel discussion on topics ranging from publishing options to the value of critique groups. We were happy that participants had questions, and I particularly enjoyed the responses to inquiries about daily writing routines. One panelist, Kim Blum-Hyclak,  reminded the audience that even when she wasn’t sitting at the computer, she was still writing. Ideas can come while folding laundry and mixing salads.

*Helpful hints. Bob Strother talked about using prompts, and while  I’m familiar with this process, I’d never considered sharing a prompt with another person until Saturday. Each day someone shares a new prompt with a partner, and by day’s end they report back to each other with what they’ve written. Bob further suggested six-word stories, six-sentence stories, and a variety of other possibilities. There’s no judgment involved, just a way to get the muse mojo going.

Ah, 27 buzzards. Now I get it. That’s a prompt from my brother. Sounds like he got some valuable advice from the workshop. Now let’s see what I can do with his prompt. What would you do with 27 buzzards?

Posted in Camden Writers, family histories, memoir, writing, writing workshops | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments