Sunday, September 30, 2012

Read This Book. Immediately If Not Sooner.

About two months ago, I accidentally downloaded a book onto my Kindle. Truly, I had no idea that I purchased it until I looked at my email the next day and saw the notification from Amazon. When I saw the email, I actually went so far as to try to see if I could return it because I had no idea about it's premise and the title didn't really strike me as all that interesting. Aside: I'm not a huge non-fiction reader. I do read some of it mostly to stretch my brain, but generally my reading is all fiction. Anyhow, a couple of days later, I had nothing I wanted to read at home, so I picked up the Kindle and began WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

I would like to go on record as saying that this book is one of the best I've ever read. Strayed is a master of the personal narrative and I devoured that book, immediately bought another of hers and began lightly stalking her on Facebook. When I read this book, it was as if I was there. I was the one hiking, I was the one dealing with a lifetime of pain, hurt, bad decision making and heartache. I was the one with feet ground to hamburger by ill-fitting hiking boots. There are few books I have connected with as personally and totally as I have WILD and I have full faith and confidence that this connection is solely due to Strayed's incredible command of the descriptive technique and unabashed revelation of  inner self.

When I finished WILD, I praised it to the skies to anyone who would listen and I felt like I had made this magical discovery, a secret that only I knew.  I actually went so far to write Cheryl and thank her for writing the book and that is something I have never, ever done before with anyone whose work I've read. Thanks to her recommendations online, I've read some amazing essays, short stories and personal narratives. Her column "Dear Sugar" on The is somewhat akin to Dear Abby, only grittier, more honest and definitely funnier; I plowed through the collection of Dear Sugar columns the book Tiny Beautiful Things is made of, loving every minute of it.

Recently though, I read something on Cheryl's Facebook page that rubbed me wrong upon first pass. I'm paraphrasing here but what I took away from her comment was how irritating it was to her and other writers when people say that she "came out of nowhere" and was "unknown" etc. Initially I thought "Oh, just get over yourself. Be thankful people love your book. Who cares if they don't know that you've actually been a working writer for years?" I thought, sheesh, what an insecure egomaniac. But then many other long term, yet "undiscovered" writers also chimed in about feeling the same way. I commented that I didn't think it was ill-intentioned when people make these kinds of statements, but that many of us don't have much exposure to anything other than mainstream resources for new authors to read and that we are for the most part celebrating their work as new to us, not new in general. 

However, as usual, I began pondering Cheryl and the other writer's comments, and tried to think about this from their point of view. Writing is hard work, no matter your subject or style. The great novel was never written simply because someone who had a good idea was able to string some words together. It takes time, effort, dedication and patience to write anything, let alone to write something that's actually good. I do not consider myself a writer by any stretch, but even the basic issue blogging I do takes up a fair amount of mental and emotional energy, as well as time. I guess if I were actually a full-time writer who was already published many times over well before Oprah ever got wind of me, I'd be a little chafed that I was being called "unknown" and "came out of nowhere" too. It's the hard work, dedication and time they've put in to get where they are that is at issue here, it seems to me, not the fame itself.

I do stand by my opinion that it doesn't matter what the public thinks about you being discovered or if you're known or unknown to the masses, but I do think I understand the frustration a little more. There are lots of thriving, active literary communities out there and as I delve deeper into them, I find hosts of people who are yet undiscovered that could easily be the next big thing. I also find myself feeling the need to spread my "book feelers" further than the Oprah show, the New York Times bestseller list and whatever my friends are reading. Thanks to Cheryl's public dedication to honing the craft of her writing, I may actually take the next step and join a writing group, which, to be honest, scares me to death, but is probably something I need to do if I want to grow my own modest skill.

I'll leave you with this quote from Thomas Jefferson that I think is apropos to this post, as well as pretty much any other aspect of life too. Interesting, isn't it?
"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dear Anonymous

I have a hard and fast rule about fighting with people online. Because really, if you get into a fight with someone on the internet, you've already lost if you ask me. However, I have another hard and fast about this being blog being my house. And by that I mean no one gets to come here and be an ass - not to my readers, not to my commenters and for damn sure not to me. That privilege is reserved for yours truly. Anyway.

Here's the thing - I don't owe you a response, Anonymous. But I want to mostly because this is a classic example of thoughtlessly commenting about something you have no idea about. And since I have a commenting system in place, only people who use it can leave comments that are visible to anyone but me. And this same commenting system also does not allow me to respond to comments left through Google when they are left anonymously. So I would like to respond to this lovely comment you left me last week here on my blog so that everyone can see it. Here it is:

 "IMO, this sends the wrong message to kids- if you pout about it, you'll get what you want. Calling the school and requesting changes for a fifth grader? I don't think the principal should have said yes. She got manipulated and so did you. I do think it's important to advocate for our kids, even the "easy" ones, but knowing when and what's really important is key."

You made an awful lot of assumptions. You assumed my daughter was pouting. You assumed she was being manipulative. You assumed I am easily manipulated. You assumed my principal is easily manipulated. You assumed I did something like asking for a class change because my kid was pouting. You assumed I have no idea when or when not to push for my children. You assumed my motivation was simply to get what she wanted, implying that she is some kind of spoiled princess and that I'm basically an idiot.

Here's the thing: you don't know me. You don't know my child. You don't know my principal, my teacher or my school. The other stuff you don't know are the things I left unsaid, like: there are several kids in the previous class who are major behavioral problems and the teacher was having to stop every two minutes for classroom management. Oh, and how my daughter is applying to a super-competitive magnet school for next year, making her learning situation this year critically important. One more thing - I'm pretty sure the principal of our school wouldn't really like any of this either, considering how well-regarded she is as an administrator. Lastly, we were fully prepared to accept the situation as is and carry on - we asked to see if we could get, which is how people who want things get them. 

The reason I know you don't know me is because NO-ONE who knows me or my daughter would have said something this crappy. I can also tell you've never read my blog before because NONE of my readers would have made these assumptions.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I'm a big girl. But I do have a problems with all kinds of inaccurate assumptions being made about me, and I have a  REALLY BIG problem with you making these kinds of assumptions about my child. So the next time you want to leave me a nasty comment, how about assuming yourself up a user name and put it out where we all can see it?

Thanks and bless your heart,
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Meeting The Needs of the "Easier" Child

Towards the end of the summer, my daughter got exponentially more ready to go back to school with each day that passed. She began a countdown, started laying out her clothes, talking about who might be her teacher and what classmates she hoped to have. The day finally came where we could stop by the school and check the class lists, so we did a quick drive by. She was disappointed to find out that she was split up from pretty much all her friends but we decided it would be fine and that she could use this as an opportunity to grow and make new friends.

School began and things were okay. She, as usual, did what she was asked, completed her work, and got along with her peers. But I began to notice that she never talked about school, and that is extremely unusual for her. She was droopy and reserved when I picked up every day. When I asked her what was going on, she didn’t have much to say about it, just that she wasn’t happy with the class she was in. There were several reasons for this, and there was no issue with her teacher, but at the end of the day, a kid who is connected, engaged and excited about school was rapidly losing her joie de vie.

I began giving some thought to asking for a class change. I contacted a teacher friend, my mother in law (a retired teacher) and another friend who had gone through something similar with her child and basically came to the conclusion that Cecilia’s base level happiness at school didn’t need to have some earth-shattering and dramatic reason to warrant being protected. She has been a model student since kindergarten, has made excellent grades, is a leader in the classroom and well liked by her peers. Fifth grade to her was the pinnacle of awesome and basically her perspective of it had been completely deflated.

So we contacted the principal and asked for a class change. I was nervous and felt a little weird pushing for something just because my child was not thrilled, but my position was this: there is no reason for a kid who loves school to fall out of love with school over something as minor as going into the class across the hall. For those of you who do not know, we have moved mountains for our son over the past few years and have gone to his aid more times than I can count. Currently, that effort is paying off as he is doing wonderfully this year, and I could not be any happier about that.

When thinking over all of this, it occurred to me that just because my daughter hasn’t had the same challenges and needs, doesn’t mean that her experience is any less deserving of the same dogged pushing that we did for Will. As a parent, it is instinctual to advocate for your child when they are struggling – there was never a moment where I didn’t want to do a full court press for Will. Sure, it got to be exhausting, stressful, gut-wrenching and more, but that was okay. And I’m extremely proud of all of that and what was accomplished.

But my daughter needed us too, just not in such dramatic fashion. She could have remained in the same classroom throughout the year and being fine, I’m sure. She would have done her work, gotten along with her peers, been a good kid etc, but that’s not enough for us. I think we would be remiss in not having advocated for her as well, just because her issues weren’t as challenging. As parents, it’s hard not to let the “easier” kid just rock along – Cecilia has basically been grown since birth, so we’re used to her being pretty low maintenance. Will on the other hand, has had us hopping since he could walk. Neither is right or wrong, but both deserve equitable consideration.

Cecilia began in the new class this past Monday and is right back to her old self - happy, skipping around, being silly and chattering away about school when she gets in the car every day. And I am again reminded to trust my instincts, and to keep vigilant watch over the emotional health of both children, especially when the needs of one are subtle in comparison to the needs of the other. And so it is with great hope as well as great caution that I say that this may be the best school year ever.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Life Lessons From "The Princess Bride"

On September 27, 1987, a movie was released that earned a little over two hundred thousand dollars at the box office during its first weekend out.  Not a very auspicious beginning for a film that is beloved by many and has earned over thirty millions dollars since its release. Which movie is this, you ask? None other than The Princess Bride. 

A couple of weeks ago, I casually said in passing to a friend that pretty much everything you need to know can be found within the witty and somewhat off the wall dialogue found in The Princess Bride, hereafter referred to as TPB, partly because I’m lazy but mostly because I don’t like seeing the same words over and over in a post. This is unavoidable however, when you are discussing quotes from a singular movie. Now, where was I? 

Ah, yes. I’m sure many of you have seen the movie but for those of you who haven’t, “let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” See what I did there? That was a quote from the movie by the character Inigo Montoya, who has been seeking revenge for the death of his father most of his life. He’s trying to convey what has been going on with Princess Buttercup to her beloved Westly during the time he’s been mostly dead. Here’s the thing: just go watch it. There is just nothing that can explain this movie like the movie itself. 

But getting back to our life knowledge and lessons, here are some of my favorite quotes from the movie and my take on them. 

·         “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Inigo to Vizzini, who is alleged to be the smartest man alive. There are three lessons that can be learned here – one, be sure that you understand your own vocabulary. Two, use said vocabulary correctly in conversation. And three, “irregardless” is not a word. Ever. This quote jumps straight to the forefront of my mind every single time I hear someone say it.

·         “Life IS pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Now, while I do not believe that life is pain in its entirety, you can see what Westley was getting at here. Life is hard, often gritty and always “brutiful”, which is a word a virtual acquaintance of mine has coined over at her site Momastery. Those people who would try to convince you otherwise likely haven’t taken a good hard look at themselves lately. Just look at Facebook and you’ll see what I mean. 

·         “You be careful. People in masks cannot be trusted.” – Fezzick is advising his friend Inigo about fighting the masked man who has been following them for miles. While this would seem somewhat obvious, it doesn’t take much thought to know that you can take this metaphorically as well. When someone is being disingenuous, most of the time it is apparent. Maybe not obvious, though sometimes it is, but often it’s that feeling you get that something just isn’t right. Take it from me, who has oft learned the hard way – trust that feeling. Always.
"    "Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” – You may commence with the awwwwws. Westly is talking to Buttercup after she tells him that she agreed to marry rotten Prince Humperdinck only because she thought her true love was dead. Ask anyone who has ever lost someone they loved – that love doesn’t die with the person. It stays with you forever, both inside and sometimes out. It’s your memories, feelings, recipes, photos, love letters etc. All of those things and then some are about as forever as you can get in your lifetime.

·         “Whoo hoo hoo…look who knows so much! It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead.” – Y’all, there are times in all our lives when we need an expert. Do yourself a favor and let the expert do their thing. Think about all the times when you thought you had it all figured out but didn’t, and finally broke down and asked for help from someone who not only knew better, but could also take care of the problem. Leaping to conclusions about things outside of our areas of expertise can most assuredly lead to rotten miracles. (See?! I did it again, only this time it was a reference and not a quote.)

·         “When I was your age, television was called books!” – Ah, yes. The old “back in my” day stance on pretty much everything is that all things modern are not as good or wholesome as those from days gone by. While I think that there is some truth to that theory across the board, you could also look at that from both sides of the coin. HOWEVER. On one thing I will not compromise and that is the inarguable superiority of books over television. I remember being so so so disappointed in several movies I saw as a child because there is just nothing that compares with the magic of your own imagination. As an avid bookworm, I will shout this particular quote until I’m dead, because it’s the absolute truth. Also because I have a goal to be a curmudgeon and every good grouch needs a slogan.

So there you have it, life in a nutshell, as learned from “The Princess Bride.” There are more where these came from, of course, and if you haven’t seen it, then you really should.  My TPB friends will just smile and think, “As you wish.”

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