Monthly Archives: January 2012

Event + Response

While DGW percolates I’m working on a new book, and it’s like I wrote two different people for one character, and said character isn’t supposed to be split personality. Not a good thing.
Interesting moment last night working on it. I thought about scrapping the story and starting something completely new. I kept working and thinking this is too hard and logging on to twitter and facebook. I even did dishes instead of working on the story. I read HuffPo and Perez and tried channeling Karen Templeton and Sharon Sala. It didn’t work.
And then it hit me.
Those authors I love don’t just snap their fingers and end up with works of art. They work the story and the words and they write and write and write some more before they end up with the stories I love.
It’s funny I needed the reminder that revising isn’t always easy since I teach my kids to give themselves permission to write crap because you can’t fix a blank page. I build my entire curriculum around the word revise.
I told a friend Sunday that Event + Response = Outcome. That applies to everything in life…including this. I gave myself permission to write crap. The bones of the story are there, but right now, I’m facing some serious work to whip it into shape. Still, it’s better than a blank page.
Back to work.

The List of Laters

Life.
I talk to so many people who say they’re going to live their dream “later.” When they’re “done with school,” “done with this lesson,” “done planning this party,” “done losing this weight,” “done moving,” “done cleaning house, raising kids, getting the perfect job.”
I’m as guilty as the next girl of putting life off until I’m done…whatever.
But, you know what I’ve discovered?
I can put the art off until the end of time if I wait until my list of done’s gets done.
The simple fact is there’s never a perfect time to create. There’s ALWAYS something else to do.
But my art is worth my time. Putting it off until I’m done with the million things that need doing will leave me sitting in my easy chair swearing I’ll get to my book “tomorrow.” And you know how those tomorrow’s go. One day you wake up and ten years have flown by.

Your Right to Dream

Hey, You, Stop That!

Seriously. I’m talking to you.
Remember back when you were a kid and had dreams of writing, editing, publishing, (designing, drawing, painting, sculpting, singing)?
And then you went to college and tests, papers, projects, parties took the place of the dreams, but they were still there, jolting your memory every once in a while.
And then you finished college and got THE JOB that was supposed to pave the way to the dream, only it didn’t because instead, it cannibalized the dream.

STOP.
Find a quiet place with a journal, some chocolate, a bottle of wine and rediscover the dream.
Don’t let the job destroy it or your family. Your passions. Life.

You have the right to a life outside the job. Don’t let work destroy you, even if you love work.
Don’t sacrifice your family, your heart, your body for a paycheck.
Remember the old saying Work to Live, not Live to Work.

And hey, you there in the mirror, it’s never too late. Remember that!

Done. Whew!

I finished the second set of revisions and the full synopsis on my new book today, so it’s back to blogging as usual.
I’m going to let the manuscript sit and percolate before going back in for one more revision. If I get a request from the agent I’m targeting I’ll go back immediately. If I don’t hear from her, I’m going to let the book sit a month while I work on a different manuscript that’s about half done.

I don’t know what the weather’s like where you live, but this book revision ended with the winds roaring. My house smells like dirt, and the sky is a nasty shade of red brown that accompanies 50 mph wind gusts.
On the bright side, it’s not freezing.
On the not so bright side, I’m sick. I don’t know if it’s the dirt or if I’ve picked up a a bug. Hope it’s the dirt!

Quick Update

I’m not writing many blog posts because I’m working on DGW. When the first revisions are done, I’ll be back. I just wanted to post that my new website is live: http:/marybethlee.com AND to throw this out to the universe: I WAS INSANE TO WRITE A DUAL FIRST PERSON PRESENT TENSE book.
Be back in six chapters!

It’s All About WHY

Today was one of the best days I’ve had at work in a long time. The yearbook still has a bajillion pages due, and most of those pages have no pictures because of deadline issues, our ad sales are down by $7k and book sales are down around 140 (around $10.5K), I ate THREE cookies–not the diet nasty things that taste like paper but the yummy frosting topped sugary scrumptious melt-in-your-mouth buttery delights–AND still it was one of the best days ever.
One of my kids fell in love with journalism today. She fell in love with the power of writing stories that matter, stories that can change the world. She was in J-1, and she kind of sort of liked what we did and LOVED the first amendment discussions and debates we had, but STORY was an extra add on she had to muddle through to get on staff.
Today I talked to beginning staff about the difference between an assignment and writing stories: Assignments are what you turn in to English teachers. Stories need to say something powerful in a way that resonates with the student body. You search for stories, you talk to people, you feel the words when you’re writing them, and when you’re done, you look at everyone in room and say This IS AWESOME, and you know it is because you did the quality reporting to make it awesome, and then you wrote and revised and wrote some more until the story was there and it made you feel something, something more than the blankness of looking at words on paper that mean nothing even though they follow the news or feature format. Last semester two of our papers were filled with stories. The last one was filled with assignments. We never want a paper of assignments again. Ever.
Back to today:
We’d finished looking at samples of assignments vs. stories, and I told the kids I wanted to see their questions for their first stories by the end of class, and the girl said, “But, Mrs. Lee, I don’t know what to ask. I don’t get it.”
That confusion is normal for cub reporters, but she was really frustrated by it. I gave her some people she needed to talk to and started to give her some question ideas, but I could see her frustration was growing worse than ever, and in that moment, I realized she hadn’t completed step one of writing. She didn’t know WHY she was doing the dating violence story.
So I asked her why.
And she said because it was the story she’d signed up for.
And I said, nah, that’s not why you’re doing the story. I have a paper filled with stories and you picked this one. WHY?
And she said because it’s important.
And I said what does that even mean? Be real here. WHY are you doing this story? It certainly doesn’t have to be done. WHY does it matter. WHY?
And her eyes filled with tears and she said BECAUSE IT DOES. IT MATTERS. And I said “That’s right. It matters. It matters so much. You did the research yesterday. You saw the numbers, and they’re huge. You saw the outcomes, and they’re horrible. You see that there are girls on this campus in violent relationships who feel alone and isolated and desolate and they don’t know where to turn or how to cope or what to do. And you’re going to show them by telling others’ stories that they’re not alone, that there is help out there and that they don’t have to stay in the relationships. You’re going to talk to the people who can help. You’re going to give them HOPE.
Then we talked about how to write the questions. I always start with what I want to know, what interests me, and I build from there.
She left my room on fire to find those stories. She’s bringing her questions tomorrow.

I have no idea if she’ll finish the story. I hope she will. It’s a tough first story to do. But I do know I remembered the power of the high school journalist, the importance of the high school reporter, and the absolute necessity to do something more than fill our pages with assignments.
What we do matters. We just need to remember WHY we do it.

Resolution: Happy New Year!

My beginning J kids often try to start their stories with a definition and I make them come up with a new beginning because the definition lead is so cliche, but this post needs the definition lead, so here goes:

res·o·lu·tion[rez-uh-loo-shuhn]
noun
1. a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group. Compare concurrent resolution, joint resolution.
2. a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something.
3. the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.
4. the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.
5. the act or process of resolving or separating into constituent or elementary parts.

The last two months have been a time of change for DH and I. We made a decision to change some foundations in our lives and that hasn’t been easy. Work has been stressful, and I forgot how to embrace the fun of that stress. Writing has been almost non-existent. I’ve decided to venture into the business world and will be meeting with the small business development center to help with that process. And I want to get actively involved in real school reform.

Resolution in any of the above isn’t always easy. All of the above should be less intense. Let go, let God. I know that. But as always, I struggle. Since the first of our life changes deals with church, for some reason it’s a little easier to believe absolutely that He’ll take care of us. The job should be easy, too. I mean, after 17 years, I should know how to let go. But it’s harder this year than it’s ever been. The writing issue is an easy resolution. New words every day. The new business: definitely a let go and let God proposition. I’ve done my market research, I have my mission, vision, values and goals, at least for the short term. The school reform, that’s a passion of mine. Two things I can work on non-stop for hours: The First Amendment and Effective Schools. The problem with wanting to put school reform into effect is I’m a teacher, and teachers can only do so much. In a perfect world, I could have a small test group of students and we’d radically change the business of education. We’d do away with grades and go to a strict mastered objectives (pass) or not (red0) system. Right now we have this Focus on Learning mantra, but in reality, most of the students and their parents care about the grade and not the learning. If the kid brings home straight As, yay! If they make a B or C, but they learned more because they’re in more challenging classes, dump the more challenging course work and get back to the A. The 4.0, or 5.0 in my school’s case, is all that matters. If you strip grades would students still work to master the objectives and be able to prove that mastery on an exam and with their writing? Could teachers use formative assessment without attaching grades to those assessments and still have a real idea of where their students are performing? Could students take responsibility for those objectives and realistically judge their progress on the road to mastery? Would stripping grades and changing to pass (mastered objectives), redo (didn’t) get the focus back on learning instead of grades, which don’t mean anything really? At the end of the year would this shift translate into higher scores on summative exams? Would having a system like this which addresses the questions of what to do when kids don’t learn AND what to do when they’ve already mastered the objective make for a better system? Would parents and students embrace this?

Yeah…like I said, it’s on my mind a lot.

I looked into going back for my EdD and moving into the effective schools consulting direction, but my students are what I love most about my job. Same thing for shifting into administration.

The reality is my job is going away. The whole focus on grades means the students I used to get are picking up an extra 5.0 class or two, and they don’t want the responsibility of deadlines. Something has to change or my program is going to die. I can’t change deadlines: I’m a journalism teacher. I can’t change the workload of the class: we produce awesome newspapers and yearbooks.

Yet another area I have to let go and let God, however, I can resolve to at least attempt to keep the program going.

So there you go. My resolutions this year are pretty close to what they were last year: learn to let go and let God and be the best I can be at what I do every day. And, of course, I’ll be working on the weight thing because I always am!

My new youtube vlog. Not sure if this is the ultimate narcissism or super cool. Going to do it anyway. 🙂