Still Here

alphabet class conceptual cube

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My last brief post from the National Council of Teachers of English conference was kind of a waste, but I wanted all my loyal fans (HA!) to know that I’m still alive and kicking. Perhaps I’m trying to convince myself that I am, but I AM HERE!!

YES, I AM!

Here’s some proof!

  • Grading, with comments, over 40 freshman composition research papers in four days, while grading numerous other work, and preparing for classes and uploading the final resources, assignments and exams for my online students, and (because I’m a glutton for punishment and take late work) assessing those inevitable Hail Mary assignments from students who kept saying to themselves, “I will do that essay later after I play just a few more hours of Call of Duty 4 and Mario Kart because, hey, it’s just English. It’s not like I’m going to need to read complex text or write professionally later in life.”
  • Attending the North Carolina Writers’ Network Fall Conference as a board member, held in Asheville this year (over ten events in three days as well as hanging out with my writing buddies that I only see a couple of times a year). I will write more about the fall conference in a future post.
  • Attending the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in Baltimore with four of my esteemed colleagues (many, many events and conversations over four days), with plenty of soaking in new ideas, validating some tried and true methods, talking shop, strategizing, and just having fun together. Best professional development in a long time; I will write more about it in a future post.
  • Writing 51,027 words in 30 days as I participated (for the third time) in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO). I took every opportunity I could to write. For example, at both conferences, I deliberately picked workshop sessions that gave me opportunities to write so that I could work on the novel. No matter what the prompt, I found a way to write material to help with the novel, whether brainstorming, character and plot development, back story, or dialogue. I also wrote in the morning when I first woke up and in the evenings before going to bad–no matter how late or how tired.
  • Taking days off.  I gave myself some downtime when I didn’t do anything but watch movies, play computer games, talk to my family, and take naps. I took partial days off and whole days off–not many, but enough. Thanksgiving Day I took totally off, and I was grateful that I felt well enough to cook, which is one of the joys of my life.

Furthermore, I did these things WHILE I HAD A BAD COLD!!! It started almost two weeks ago on the morning we flew back from Baltimore, and it still lingers today on Pearl Harbor Day, but I will not let it defeat me. I’m going strong, and….

I’M STILL HERE!!!!

But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my college, my immediate supervisor at work, my colleagues and fellow writers, my closest friends, and most of all, my husband and daughter.

Just one example: I was feeling pretty low, being overwhelmed with grading and not feeling well at all, when my husband discovered an article by computer expert Leo Notenboom, who has a blog named Ask Leo.

John read part of the article to me, and it was a balm to my troubled soul because it was about how he, a prosperous former computer programmer now running a lucrative business as a blogger, author, and consultant, wished that he had worked harder in his English classes because, he says,

People judge you by the words you use. And how you use them.

It may not be fair, but it is real. You can object, you can insist that it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

If I had to do it all over again, ’d have taken more English classes.

Later, my husband read one of my favorite passages in the article:

Regardless of your profession, writing, especially in this internet-enabled age, is becoming more and more critical. The ability to express yourself, clearly and even entertainingly, is often the difference between being good at a job and being great at it, a blog post being shared or ignored, or an email being understood or discarded.

Sitting there listening to my husband read, I was reminded why it is still important for me to be here, to be present, to put my heart and soul into my work.

Because writing well matters. It makes a difference in people’s lives.

And, if I am present, truly present, by not only standing in the classroom and marking essays but also by growing as a professional writer and educator, then I can make a difference in this world.

A difference for good.

 

 

Mrs. Winkler Goes to Baltimore

turned on light crane

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I am still here! But not where I normally am.

I am in Baltimore for the National Council of Teachers of English 2019 convention. I had such a full day yesterday that I was unable to blog, but I am sneaking some blogging in between sessions. Getting ready to listen to a session called Beowulf in the Spheros, it promises to be an interesting blend of Ancient and modern technology.

Here we go!

More later.

The Quality of Mercy

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Maggie Smith as Portia–BBC

I just finished grading my British Literature I online students’ responses to The Merchant of Venice. Their words prompted a very long response of my own, which caused me to re-evaluate the “quality of mercy” in light of recent events.

When I get discouraged, it’s teachable moments like this that keep me going. 

Here’s my response:

After reading the responses to the exercises, I wanted to clarify a few things:

Number One– Shakespeare’s view of Shylock is based on white, Christian views of the16th Century, but there are many indications that Shakespeare did not espouse these views completely. The society was inherently anti-semitic, and yet, Shakespeare writes a powerful statement against racial and religious discrimination in Shylock’s most famous speech in the play:

To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Shylock said it, but Shakespeare created the character and put those incredible words in his mouth. 

Number Two--Portia tries to save Shylock, but she MUST fully represent the law. I urge students to read some more commentary about The Merchant of Venice or go back and read through the play again, especially the courtroom scene. Portia gives Shylock multiple chances to show mercy, AND he is offered his money back, plus some (Portia is willing to give her new husband , Bassanio, enough gold to pay Shylock twenty times over in order to save Antonio’s life), but Shylock refuses to show mercy because he wants Antonio dead in return for the way he has been treated. Understandable perhaps, but not noble, not admirable, not justified. 

In the most famous passage of the play, Portia begs Shylock to have mercy because the law, that she represents, can only render justice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant
there.

But Shylock will have none of it and then must face the consequences of his actions just as he was insistent that Antonio pay in full for his. 

Number Three–Shylock does not lose his life, and a portion of his property is returned. It is the duke (perhaps taking Portia’s speech to heart) who spares Shylock’s life. Antonio also shows some mercy by allowing Shylock to keep half of his portion of the money until Shylock dies. The harshest thing, however, to our modern minds, is when Antonio insists that Shylock become a Christian, but in Shakespeare’s day, even this would have been seen as a merciful act, because the conversion means Shylock will not suffer for eternity in hell. Modern readers will no doubt find this analysis unacceptable, but I urge students to see the play in the context of Europe in the 16th Century.

We have a superb modern example of Portia’s idea of mercy, admittedly a Christian view of mercy, in Brandt Jean’s forgiveness of the former Dallas police officer who shot and killed his brother, which has reignited the age-old debate about justice and mercy that we see in The Merchant of Venice

Read about the debate and see the clip here: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi

Publication of Fall/Winter Edition of Teach. Write. Delayed

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Preview of Fall/Winter Cover by ttroslien via morguefile.com

Teach. Write. is a one-woman show, but it is important to me, and I have some wonderful writers whose works I want to share with you soon.

However, life is life, so although my publication date for the fall/winter edition of Teach. Write. is September 1, today, I know I am not going to make that deadline. My hope is to publish no later than September 15.

So, hang on, Sunday’s coming!

 

Blog Share–Jeff Goins’ “The Essential Sadness of Art”

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First day of classes but have to write. It’s the only way I can cope. But I have to give my primary attention to my students. They have to come first today. So I will just take a little break and share this terrific blog post by Jeff Goins, author of five books, including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Funny that this article would come from one who writes mainly about the business of writing.

That’s what makes it so great.

Here are some highlights from “The Essential Sadness of Art”:

“We want broken and beautiful, real and raw. Sure, we want abundant life, but we know it comes at a cost. And when you don’t illustrate that cost well — with sacrifice and toil — we don’t believe the story.”

“What a beautiful mess this life is. Beautiful and broken and begging to be redeemed. And for those who are listening, this is a truth that resonates.”

~~~

My students like to laugh, and we did today, but the vast majority of them have not signed up for one of my English composition classes expecting or wanting fun and games. They want to learn how to write well, or at least well enough to get the grade or the skills they need to move on to the next class.

Some of them, during the moment, might be glad if I spent the time joking around, playing games, giving “fun,” undemanding assignments, but when they moved on to the next class, they would no doubt resent the heck out of me, and rightly so, when they realized they wasted their time and money on entertainment. Writing is difficult work and effective writing can be disturbing and uncomfortable, dredging up old hurts or even creating new ones.

Writing, even expository writing, can be a very intimate, personal experience. It is often hard to get poor grades on writing assignments. No matter what the professor says about not taking grades personally, it’s hard not to. I know. I have had enough editors, agents, and fellow writers tell me not to take rejections personally, but I can’t help it. Nothing can stop the sting of rejection. It hurts.

But the goal of life is not to avoid hurt. It’s masochism, of course, to seek the hurt, but it is courage to attempt difficult things that may very well result in pain and failure that we then have the privilege to struggle through and become victorious over.

Because then we will grow.

So I will ask my students to read sad and disturbing essays and stories. I will assign them difficult tasks to complete that may cause some of them distress. I will confront them when called for and discipline them when necessary–to help them learn and grow as students and people.

I will seek to break out of my own comfort zone, go into the dark places–for the sake of knowledge and truth, even if it causes momentary pain.

In the end, we will laugh out loud and know what it means to be truly happy.

“2 My brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”  –James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

 

 

 

Best Laid Plans

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I intended to keep up better with my blog.

I intended to finish a novel and a play.

I intended to market my plays and obtain an agent, or at least work more toward that goal.

I intended to have all of my classes completely ready to go for the new semester by this time.

It didn’t happen. Life intervened in fabulous, fulfilling ways as well as horrible, heart-breaking ways.

The privacy of my family will not allow me to go into details, but I am learning that life and work will rarely ever be in balance. Perhaps for a few fleeting moments, but the balance we all seek, and should, is a lofty one and largely unreachable. We will be out of balance more often than not, but we will find ways to cope, to compromise, to hope, to find our way.

These best of times feed and hinder my work.

These worst of times feed and hinder my work.

It isn’t a balance.

It is something else altogether.

It is a body.

A mind.

A spirit.

Altogether corrupt.

Infinitely holy.

Intertwined. Inseparable.

All of this is crazy. What do I mean?

I don’t really know what life is.

But I love it.

I just wish he had, too.

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The submission deadline for the Fall/Winter 2019 edition of Teach. Write. has come in the midst of this frenzy. I contemplated extending the deadline, but I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the things I would need to do to make that happen.

So, I will print the lovely pieces that I have, and I will find the other work I need.

Or I will write them myself.

Publication is still slated for September 1.