I’ve Been…

  • Going through a career change. Teaching was so draining that I felt like I didn’t have the energy for anything else: writing, a social life, etc. I’m doing content writing and curriculum development now. It’s been an adjustment. It still is, but I’m starting to feel a bit more confident. I’m nervous even writing that because I don’t want to jinx myself!
  • Slowly working my way through beta feedback on Frozen Heart. It’s always difficult opening yourself up to criticism, and in a way, beta feedback and editing is like going to someone and saying “please rip this apart” and then cringing while they do. The most painful feedback often ends up being the most helpful though. One beta reader was very critical of this draft of Frozen Heart but I think she also pointed out some issues that I’m glad that someone noticed before I published it. But it’s hard get yourself in the right headspace to tackle those criticisms.
  • Writing some short stories. I haven’t really decided what to do with them yet, but for some reason I had several ideas that lent themselves to short fiction (not my usual medium)
  • Discovering the joy of “have done” lists. I’ve never liked keeping “to do” lists. It feels daunting to see everything you  haven’t done yet listed in front of you. I feel like I’ll never get it done. But when I keep a list of things I have done I feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Even if the things I put on aren’t major things, seeing them written down gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even started doing things that I’ve been putting off because it means I’ll get to write it down on my list!
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    Reading good books. In addition to my Persephone Readathon reads (Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski and Flush by Virginia Woolf, both of which I recommend highly) I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Binge watching
    • Schitt’s Creek– How have I not seen this show before now? It’s silly but it’s great for turning off your brain and having a laugh.
    • The OA – Weird. Very weird.
    • A Discovery of Witches– I definitely liked it better than the book (which had too much filler) but it’s still not my cup of tea.
    • Bodyguard– I’d had this as a “to watch” for a while but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad I finally did.

I’ve Been…

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  • Working. Hard. Mid-Winter break has just started and I find myself needing it desperately. I think that if teachers didn’t have these breaks we’d go absolutely insane. The kids would too, but teachers? Definitely. If you’re a parent and you don’t think teachers work hard, think about how difficult your kids are. Then picture 30 of them in a classroom. Try to manage their behavior. Plan lessons. Be accountable for their learning. Add some administrative responsibilities. Get the idea yet? I love my students but I definitely like being able to give them back at the end of the day. That’s how I know I’m not ready for kids of my own (well that and other reasons!)
  • Polishing up my Beautiful manuscript. In the next month, I plan to send it out to a few more beta readers just to make sure that all the wrinkles are smoothed, and then compile the whole thing, send out some advance copies to reviewers and see what happens! When I first decided to publish it, it felt like I was daring myself to do it. It still feels like that but in a more real way. Like it’s actually happening.
  • Working on the (so far) untitled follow up to Beautiful. I’m about halfway through which is a tough point. You’re not at the beginning where it’s new and you’re excited anymore, and the end is still a long way off…
  • Watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is living up to the praise I’ve heard. I got a 30 day free trial of Amazon prime a few days ago and I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can before it runs out. Recommendations are welcome!
  • Reading a lot of the Belletrist book club picks. It feels sort of weird to choose books based on the recommendation of a celebrity, but Emma Roberts has good taste! So far I’ve read The Rules Do Not Apply, Sex and Rage, and South and West. The Immortalists and An American Marriage are also on my TBR.

I’ve been…

  • Teaching. I just survived the first week of school which somehow felt like it was about a month long. I have a good class (I think). The kids seem really sweet. But it takes stamina. It’s like those muscles got out of shape over the summer and I need to build them up again!
  • Reading Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. In it, the author argues that we’ve been misreading Austen’s work all these years. An early 19th century audience would have picked up on references and allusions that a 21st century reader misses. I agree with this much. Austen was far more serious than she’s typically given credit for.  Her novels have also been acknowledged as having a degree of social criticism, but that’s seen as secondary to a prim and proper romance with a slightly mischievous sense of humor. But Austen was less prim and proper than we think. Just the fact that she employed a marriage plot, meant life or death stakes for her characters. Marriages could mean financial ruin for families. Death in childbirth was just a fact of life.  If you read between the lines (which 21st century readers have to do, whereas 19th century readers would need to do far less) it becomes clear that there are many sexual indiscretions, out of wedlock pregnancies, and affairs. However, at times I felt as if, in researching some of what Austen’s novels reference, Kelly was looking to confirm her thesis, which leads to some bias. She also has a tendency to disregard whatever doesn’t support it. While I agree that certain characters have been misread, I don’t interpret everything in the same way that she does. But at times I do agree, and it’s always an interesting perspective.
  • Watching. I’m on season three of Grantchester and still really enjoying it. Though am I the only one who can’t completely embrace Amanda as Sidney’s love interest? Something about her just seems slightly…off.   I also recently discovered The Good Place which is a lot of fun. It’s sort of like Parks and Recreations meets Lost, meets Sartre’s No Exit in sitcom format.

End of Summer

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Today is my last official day of summer vacation. Starting tomorrow I head back to work for two weeks of professional development before the kids come in. Usually that means lots of

  • Ice breakers
  • Discussions of procedures
  • Discussions of curriculum
  • Setting up classrooms

But sometimes it can vary a bit. While I’m excited to start the school year fresh, with a new group of students, there’s always a little sadness at the end of summer. I think that’s true of teachers as much as students.

In some ways teaching is a great “day job” for a writer, because it provides you with lots of inspiration. No two days are ever the same. You can never predict what a kid will say. I love hearing their points of view, because they often see things in different ways than adults do. I also think that I pass on some of my love of reading and writing to my students. They start to see it as something they choose to do, rather than something they have to do. Or maybe a better way to put that, is to say that they know they have to do it, but it’s not as much of a chore because they see the fun in it.

In other ways though, teaching can be a very challenging “day job”. Because it doesn’t end when the kids leave. When the kids go home I need to get everything organized and prepare for the next day. I need to:

  • think about what I need to photocopy
  • think about what supplies I need for whatever we’re doing the next day
  • answer parent emails
  • write lesson plans
  • grade assignments that they students did during the day….

There are also things that people don’t think about teachers doing. For example, if you’re doing an activity involving various materials, you need to think about how and when you’re going to distribute the materials and direct your students to use them. You need to think about providing points of access for different kinds of learners. Where will pictures and diagrams help visual learners? What manipulatives will help kinesthetic learners? There’s a lot of thought that goes into preparing for each day, and that’s having already spent an entire day teaching.

I know that a lot of people see teaching as an easy job. One evening, I had just got home from work, and I stopped at my mailbox to pick up my mail. One of my neighbors was doing the same and we said a quick hello. He mentioned that I looked stressed and I told him that I’d had a rough day.  He asked what I did and I told him that I taught primary school. He said “but that must be such a fun, easy job! You sing songs, and read stories and play with kids all day.” On that particular day,

  • One student had vomited on my shoes
  • There had been a bitter playground dispute over a game, so that when the kids came in after recess, there were tears and hurt feelings to sort through. Not to mention calling parents.
  • I was trying to get through my students’ reading evaluations, which is very tedious and time consuming.
  • One of the copy machines was broken, meaning that the line to use the other machine was about 3 miles long.
  • After work I’d had a long staff meeting.

So when my neighbor said that, I kind of wanted to throw my mail at him! (I didn’t actually do it, but I wanted to!)

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Please people: be aware that your teachers (or your children’s teachers) work hard! They care about you/ your kids. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing their best. Yes there are a few bad apples, but the vast majority of teachers want to do their jobs well. Be kind!

People in all jobs have days like the one I just described. Well maybe not exactly like that, but everyone has long, tiring days sometimes.  In teaching there are a lot of days that do go well. Where a lesson goes better than you ever imagined. Where a kid who has been struggling, has a break through. When you see how much progress your students have made. When you see them showing kindness to others.

Having a creative outlet outside of work can be a great way to distance yourself from the rough days a bit. It can help to see myself as something other than just my job. Last year, while I was working the later drafts of my Beautiful manuscript, it was really nice to escape into a fantasy world after those rough days.

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Now I’m gearing up to release it though. Hopefully I’ll have an official release day soon!  It’ll be the first time I’ve ever published a novel. That’s scary. Exciting. A dream come true. But scary.  So I find myself wondering if writing will be the refuge that it’s been in the past. Fortunately I am working on a follow up novel and some shorter fiction, so hopefully that will give me something to run away to as I comb the Beautiful manuscript for typos and try to format it as an ebook. It’ll be interesting to see how all that goes as I’m working full time. And of course trying to make time for other things too!

Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a great year!