This summer is very different than last, which is not a bad thing, of course. However, I am getting out more and doing more that is keeping me away from working on the podel (podcasted novel), but I have episode one of the second season for listening pleasure (I hope).
Also, if you have something to submit to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal, then I will welcome it. Submissions of the fall/winter 2021 edition are open until September 1. See the submission guidelines for more information
The promised book reviews will be coming tomorrow. I hope.
Working things out takes time. Here I am at 61, still trying to wrap my mind around exactly who I am and why I’m here. I thought that was something young people did. On the way to figuring that out, I got caught up in creating this crazy podcasted novel that I call a podel. CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. is a social satire about higher education in the South, and it’s a blast to do. I’m learning so much, screwing up a lot, but not caring, probably offending Lord knows how many people and not caring about that either.
I like it.
Last episode, one of my characters did a highly unusual striptease. Yes, HE did. In Episode 11, The Spooky Cat Head Biscuits, a Zombie band, perform at the club rush/advising/registration day, and during the performance, two of the fairy godteachers have to rescue Jack Spratt, a student who thinks math is beautiful, from the wiles of the devil, or rather a vampire, who tries to trick Jack into drinking hallucinogenic mushroom tea.
So, sometimes I’m a novelist/playwright/actor/singer/podcaster, writing about being a teacher, which I also am. And sometimes I am the editor of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It’s a little more normal, I think. I also like doing this work and would love to read your writing, especially if you are a teacher or you write about teaching. But I publish other types of work, too. Why not give it a whirl? I am accepting work until September 1 for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition. You will find the submission guidelines here,
Next time, I will be a blogger/book reviewer and talk about my latest summer read,
17 or so years ago, John planted a Japanese Maple in our front yard–one of my favorite gifts from him. About ten years ago we had the front deck rebuilt, expanded it, and added a cute bistro set. When John plants flowers every year, he creates the perfect spot for my summer reading.
One of the things I cherish about my work is having the summer’s off so I can spend more time reading and writing. I haven’t done as much writing as I had planned yet (I’m determined to get caught up before summer’s end), but I have done what is for me (I am a slow reader) a great deal of reading. Since last post I have read three more–one non-fiction, one German young adult fiction, and one popular suspense/sci-fi/horror/just for funsies fiction.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dusk, Light, Dawn, Anne Lamott’s collection of essays about dealing with difficult times and emotions, about growing older yet continuing to learn and grow. I’ve always enjoyed Lamott’s self-deprecating humor and often beautiful prose.
From the chapter “Lunch-Money Faith,” for example, Lamott discusses the importance of listening: “Here Elijah meets God, not in the usual special effects of the Exodus tradition not the roar of hurricane or flames, but in a still small voice. Jewish and Christian writers have seen in this a reminder of the importance of contemplation, of quietness, of listening….Growing up, learning. I am slowly making my way from a hypnotized engine of delusion and self-obsession to being a bit more real, a smidge more alive more often. I’ll take it. I am learning to live more often in reckless love” (106).
I like how open Lamott is about her failings, both past and present, not to dismiss them, but to demonstrate how living through dark times has shaped her for better or worse. She writes of learning to forgive herself and others, of the importance of loving and caring for people for no reason other than they are people, how that includes loving herself–Maybe it sounds Pollyannaish the way I’m describing it, but the book is definitely worth a read. It encouraged me, which is something I always need during my summer-reading-on-the-front-deck therapy sessions.
My sister-in-law Bettina loves to read. She frequently gifts me with books in German. My German is not very good I’m afraid, and I often give up pretty quickly on the books she gives me. She gifted me Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s lovely, bittersweet little book Oskar und die Dame in Rosa years ago, and this summer, determined to work on my rusty German, I finished reading it for real this time.
I’m so glad I did.
It is an epistolary novel made up of letters to God written by Oskar, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal illness. Die Dame in Rosa (The Lady in Pink) is a very old woman who is a volunteer nurse at the hospital, the oldest one, although I suspect that she may be an angel because she appears almost magically just when Oskar needs her most and brings comfort to the boy by suggesting that he write the letters, even though he, at first, does not believe in God.
His letters take us through the reality of life in the hospital but also through Oskar’s imagined life, one that he will never be able to live. It is a lovely book and not difficult for a rusty reader of German to practice on before moving on to a more difficult gift book from my thoughtful sister-in-law.
I took a break on the meatier books and read a fun popular thriller for my latest, another sci fi/thriller/horror book by Dean Koontz. I have enjoyed Koontz’ books since I read his first big blockbuster novel Watchers. I especially liked the genius golden retriever in that book. They made a movie of it, but don’t bother with that. The book is so much better. My good teacher friend once gave me a coaster that I still have on my desk at the school that says “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” Very true. Very true.
I have read many Koontz books since then, and although Watchers is still my favorite, I almost always enjoy a Koontz thriller, and I enjoyed The Other Emily as well, despite occasional gratuitous scenes of detailed meal descriptions–those irritate the heck out of me.
The author returns to his common theme of a basically decent person who is struggling with his past and is caught up in extraordinary, often supernatural, situations, battling his own demons as well as horrendous evil in a dark world.
Pure, horrific fun in many ways with terrific suspenseful passages and lively action, The Other Emily has its moments of deep insight and poignancy as most Koontz’ books do. At one point David quotes one of the most famous lines of Keats’ poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”–Beauty is truth, truth beauty”–then goes on to say “Love without truth isn’t beautiful. It’s not even love” (336).
Then there’s more action and the usual twists and turns of a good Koontz suspense thriller. A fun summer read.
Now, what’s next?
It’s not too late to submit your work to my literary journal Teach. Write. I love to get the work of retired or currently working English composition teachers, but I accept work of all kinds from anybody. Submissions are open until September 1, so you have plenty of time. See the submission guidelines for complete information. I would love to hear from you.
Episode 10 of my podel (podcasted novel) CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is now available. This chapter features Dr. DAG, the chancellor of the Enchanted Campus, with its fairy godteachers, gnomes, dwarves, vampires, zombies and boojum (kind of like a yeti), among other assorted creatures, like teenagers, grumpy faculty members, and inept administrators. Dr. DAG has a regular afternoon liaison with his beautiful secretary Ms. Subowski, but it is NOT what you think.
If you have a poem, short story, or essay, why not submit it to my literary magazine, Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal? You still have plenty of time! Submissions are open until September 1, for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition. See the submission guidelines for more information. I would love to read your work.
Michele Harper is an emergency room physician, and her book The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir reminds me of how much teachers have in common with doctors. I’ve blogged about the similarities before. Harper offers more confirmation of my perceptions, especially in “Chapter Two: Dr. Harper: The View from Here,” when Harper describes her internship in internal medicine before completing her residency as an emergency room physician.
In the chapter, she describes one of her professors, Dr. Jaiswal, a “forceful character” (33) whom all the interns feared and loathed. Harper describes how Dr. Jaiswal was particularly cutting and brutal to Harper during the author’s first presentation and in front of the patient, berating Harper for not completing a thorough patient history and for being ill-prepared for her presentation.
Some people, me included, would have been tempted to give up or simply been angry and rejected anything Dr. Jaiswal said out of bitterness and contempt, but Harper learns from the “breaking.”
“I never forgot that encounter,” she writes. “For the entire intern year, I made sure to ask too many questions of my patients….To the best of my ability, I not only read about the topics I didn’t understand, I also read around them. I reviewed the history in my head and practiced my assessment and plan, making sure the reasoning led to a logical conclusion….That was the last time I was unprepared for Dr. Jaiswal’s rounds. What’s important was that in that very long year, she helped me become a better doctor because I saw the good in her, in the value she placed on meticulous preparation and critical thinking” (40-41).
I am not advocating being “deragatory and cruel” (41) as Harper describes Dr. Jaiswahl, but I don’t mind being tough. I don’t really think I am all that tough actually, but in today’s ultra-sensitive world, I am perceived as such by some students, parents, and administrators. I wish I could help them all understand that all I want to do when I challenge and push students is motivate them to stretch themselves–ask too many questions, read about the subjects, read around them. I want them to learn how to think!
Harper offers many stories of encounters with people in her work and personal life who break her or come to her broken, in need of healing. She writes of what she learned from them and how she has come to embrace not the brokenness itself but the lessons that inevitably come from it.
In Chapter Three, Harper writes, “We had all been broken in that moment–broken open by shock and grief and anger and fear. I didn’t know how or when, but this opening could lead to healing. After all, only an empty vessel can be filled by grace; but to get there, we had to help each other rise while we shed the same tears. We had to get up and start again” (68-69).
Another chapter in the book I liked was “Chapter Four: Erik: Violent Behavior Alert.” Harper laments the bureaucratic bull that she has to put up with on her job that does little to nothing to help her patients. Man, can I relate. She speaks about a 2011 study that exposes the myth that most ER patients are uninsured. Not true according to the study. Most are insured and come to the ER for various reasons, including, she says, because they feel “so entitled from unchecked privilege that even polite questioning causes them to blow a fuse” (77). Again, man can I relate.
Harper touches on other issues that doctors and teachers, especially women, experience similarly, including the inequity in how female professionals are treated in the workplace and false perceptions of doctors, but the positive aspects of her work are similar to mine too–helping people, challenging them to take action, to move forward into a new and better life.
The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir is well-worth the read for anyone, not just doctors and educators; we’ve all been broken, and we all can learn from that breaking–something I want my students to understand.
Harper, Michele. The Beauty in Breaking: A Memoir, Riverhead, 2020.
The next book I finished is the young adult fantasy novel Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin. In this imaginary world, the people of the Lowlands are blessed, or perhaps cursed, with magical gifts–some seemingly benign, like summoning animals, and some dark and sinister, like the ability to twist limbs or melt flesh and bone.
Two young people, Orrec and Gry, friends all of their lives, must face the consequences when they refuse to use their gifts, refuse to take life only to help others retain power.
In the end, the true power lies in friendship, sacrifice, and love.
It also lies in storytelling.
One of my favorite passages in the novel is when the narrator discusses how storytelling empowers us:
“My blindfold and my mother’s illness worked together in one way that was good: we both had time to indulge our love of storytelling, and the stories carried us out of the dark and the cold and the dreary boredom of being useless” (194).
This is why I love to write. It carries me out of the dark and the cold. It gives me purpose.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Gifts, Harcourt, 2004.
Most writers I know aren’t happy keeping their writing to themselves. That is why I started Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. I wanted to offer a place where other writers out there, especially writing teachers like me, could share their work. Until September 1, I am accepting short fiction, poetry, essays, and more for the 2021 Fall/Winter edition of Teach. Write., and I would love to consider your work. I am especially interested in the work of those who teach writing, but I am open to all. See the submission guidelines for more information.
ANOTHER EPISODE OF MY PODEL (PODCASTED NOVEL), CAMPUS: A NOVEL THAT WANTS TO BE A MUSICAL, IS COMING YOUR WAY THIS WEEK! NOW’S YOUR CHANCE TO LISTEN TO THE PREVIOUS EPISODES SO YOU WILL BE READY FOR EPISODE 10. IT’S GOING TO BE A DOOZY!
I love it when my summer reading plans fall into place almost magically. In April, for my birthday, my nephew Timothy, a total bibliophile (I love it!) who blogs at The Mugwump Diaries, gave me the book Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. For one reason or another, I was unable to read the book until later in May.
Another thing that was put off was my correspondence with potential contributors to Teach. Write. Turned out that one of the writers, whose work you will read in the next edition, mentioned W. G. Sebald in his cover letter. In the acceptance email, I told him that I was reading Austerlitz; thus began a brief correspondence about the work and the author that helped solidify some of my thoughts about the work. He suggested that I read another of Sebald’s books, The Emigrants, which I have added to my very long reading list for this year.
In his excellent review of Austerlitz on the website The New Canon: The Best in Fiction Since 1985, Ted Gioia, music critic and book reviewer, writes that Sebald “has written a historical novel that appears to exist outside of history, yet this represents less an escape and more an exile. That dislocation is both the tragedy of Austerlitz the character, and the wonder of Austerlitz the book.” This statement reflects my understanding of the book as well.
Austerlitz is a displaced person, growing up in the UK from the age of five, feeling different and not understanding why until his adoptive parents explain his origins. As he travels through life, drawn more and more to the seemingly immutable architecture of Europe, he also explores his history and the trauma of his childhood. Further highlighting his isolation, Austerlitz tells his story not to a friend or relative but to the narrator, whom he meets by chance at a zoo in Antwerp. Their intermittent friendship develops slowly over the years when the narrator is invited to the various places Austerlitz lives, especially London, where the German-born Sebald lived and worked for a large portion of his life.
The unusual style of the book is part of its appeal. Like Nick Carraway, the narrator shapes our vision of Austerlitz. We only know what Austerlitz reveals to him and what we see in the various photographs like those below, displayed throughout the book. (You can see why I think of The Great Gatsby now, can’t you?) The long narrative passages with no chapters and very little paragraphing are often punctuated by the words “Austerlitz said,” reminding us that this is not the narrator’s story.
Also unusual are the long sentences and dialog without punctuation. The effect is not exactly stream-of-consciousness, but stream-of-conversation or narration, like when listening to an elderly relative recalling events from childhood, moving seamlessly from one memory to the next, digressing when the recollection leads to some topic of interest or area of expertise.
As a teacher and a writer, I find the digression from the story that speaks about the difficulties of writing particularly interesting. The narrator has come to visit Austerlitz at his home in Alderney St., London; photographs of architectural wonders from around the world are scattered all about, but before Austerlitz can begin taking up the story of his life once again, he explains how he, recently retired from teaching, now wishes to compile his thoughts and ideas about architecture but is having trouble focusing:
“All I could think was that such a sentence only appears to mean something, but in truth is at best a makeshift expedient, a kind of unhealthy growth issuing from our ignorance, something which we use, in the same way as many sea plants and animals use their tentacles, to grope blindly through the darkness enveloping us” (124).
I don’t know a writer who has not felt this way at some point and time. Austerlitz goes on:
“I could see no connections anymore, the sentences resolved themselves into a series of separate words, the words into random sets of letters, the letters into disjointed signs, and those signs into a blue-gray trail gleaming silver here and there, excreted and left behind it by some crawling creature” (124).
And so I hear the words of the reviewer Gioia again–Austerlitz’ tragedy is the wonder of the book, that the character’s growing displacement can bring all of us, not just writers, not just survivors of childhood trauma, but anyone who feels displaced, into a community, giving us a place to belong.
Sebald, W.G. Austerlitz, 10th Anniversary Edition, Modern Library, 2011.
I feel that I am developing my own community of writers through editing and producing Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It is devoted to writing teachers who want to publish their writing, but you don’t have to be a teacher to contribute. I welcome writing from anyone.
Submissions for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition are open until September 1. Follow this link for submission guidelines. I would love to read your work.
And, no, I have not forgotten my podel (podcasted novel), but I am having some issues, not unlike those encountered by Austerlitz. I am tooling along ,though, and quite proud of the nine episodes I have produced so far and having fun, which is not the only point but a big one. If you would like to hear the podel so far, then follow this link: CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical.
Episode 9 of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is now available!
I had fun putting together this episode of my podel (podcasted novel)–CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. If you haven’t listened to all of the episodes, they are available all at the same place when you click on the link above. Many podcast platforms carry CAMPUS, so just search your favorite application.
If you like the show and are able, please consider becoming a supporter. I’m not looking to make any profit, but I would like to pay a composer and sound tech to help make the podcast better and maybe invest in some education (hey, there’s a novel idea), so I can improve my skills, just because. Wow! The support button is available on the podcast’s landing page at the link above.
In Episode 9, the plot thickens when we meet the villain of the piece. Oh, you thought it was Dr. DAG? What a lightweight! He’s nothing compared to Mr. M., who isn’t too pleased that the fairy godteachers have chosen Jack and Jill as their proteges and sprinkled them with fairy dust. He has his own plan for them, and it doesn’t include enlightenment or inspiration.
The Spring~Summer 2021 edition of Teach. Write. A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal is available free online. If you would like a print copy, they are available as well.
Maybe you are a writing teacher on summer break and would like to work on a writing project of your own. Why not consider writing a short story, poem, essay, or ten-minute drama to submit to Teach. Write.? I am accepting work for the 2021 Fall~Winter edition until September 1.
Although I prefer to publish the work of writing teachers of any kind, at any level, I am open to all writers and most genres. If you are interested, see my submission guidelines.
I would love to read your work.
I am getting back into the reading groove as well. My nephew Timothy, whose blog, The Mugwump Diaries, I have mentioned in previous posts, gave me a book for my birthday that I am finally starting to read–Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. I just started it so more about this interesting book that won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2019 and has been listed as one of the top 100 novels of the 21st century.
I’m also reading a memoir, The Beauty in Breaking, by Michelle Harper for my Western Carolina University Alumni Book Club and Maranatha Road by my friend Heather Bell Adams. She has a second book out, so I need to get on the stick. I also sneak in a chapter now and then of one of my favorite British mystery writers books–Many Rivers to Cross by Peter Robinson.
I told everyone I would be mainly reading and writing this summer.
One thing I love about creative work is serendipity. What a wonderful occurrence when things just fall into place. It was last summer when I was writing every day to finish the rough draft of CAMPUS when I started doing research to find the right piece of music that I imagined would inspire a fifteen-year-old girl, uninterested in the concert of classical music she was “forced” to attend.
On the Kennedy Center’s website, I found a short article, written for young people, about The Moldau, by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. According to the article Smetana was inspired by his love for his country and for the Moldau River that runs through the Czech countryside and into Prague.
It is a musical poem, telling the story of the river’s journey as it encounters the people and landscapes that Smetana loved. There is even a musical description of whitewater rapids! (“Down by the River”).
Being a musical novice, I appreciated the simple language of the article that explained how the French horns and trumpets could represent hunters chasing deer through the forest and violins playing a polka at a wedding feast. Flutes become mermaids in the moonlight. Below the description of the piece was a video of The Moldau being performed at the Kennedy Center.
I knew I had found the piece that had inspired my character.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Now, I had to find a recording in the public domain that I could freely use. Would it be possible? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I support creative commons for a reason, so that’s the first place I went and I wasn’t disappointed. A simple search led me to a recording of The Moldau in the public domain provided by Musopen
I learned that, I’m quoting from their website, “Musopen is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources and educational materials. We provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Put simply, our mission is to set music free.” I discovered all sorts of things that will help me with this project and more. The website even has a free streaming classical radio station that I’m listening to as I write this.
But there’s more!!! I uploaded the music into Audacity (another open source that I love) and then just started reading the lyrics to my song, “The Liberal Arts.” It was such an incredible experience—without planning or manipulating anything, the lyrics of the song just seemed to fall into place with the music. Is this what musicians feel like when they are improvising? Whatever it is, it’s a great feeling.
Now, full confession—the piece was too long for my song, so I did cut some out of the middle, so I could have the ending that I love so much. Sorry to you musical purist out there, but not really. I am creating, feeling free from the shackles of having to do anything any certain way. Good or bad, this podel is mine, and I love it.
May 7 will be the last day of the spring semester for me, and I am looking forward to a summer of reading and writing. The last few weeks have been filled with taking care of my mother who was hospitalized in March and then getting caught up with school work after taking time to help her. I still managed to get the Spring~Summer 2021 edition of Teach. Write out, though. Yay me. You can find links to both the online free version and order copies of the print version here.
However, I have had to put off working on CAMPUS, my podel (podcasted novel). I just haven’t had the time, but I have seven episodes in the first season that you can listen to here. My plan is to have the first episode of the second season published no later than Sunday, May 9. That is if all goes well. I have a lot of grading to do between now and then.
It has been a strange semester for me, not just because of the pandemic, but also because I have had so few students. Most semesters in the past few years I have had over 100 students in five or six classes. This semester I have half that number, and I am finally able to be the kind of writing instructor I wish to be. I am taking a professional development course about improving online instruction and in the course, over and over again, the material emphasizes the importance of personal relationship when teaching online.
How can this kind of relationship be developed when teaching so many students? Only when we begin to value the individual student over sheer numbers can we really begin to help our most needy students. I don’t know if I will be able to finish out my career teaching fewer students, but I know that if I can, I will be a better teacher, and my students will truly reap the benefits.
Change the subject
My mother and I were able to talk quite a bit once she was home from the hospital and started feeling better. I was working on one of my classes and describing some of my my methods to her. She said I should write a book about my teaching methods when I retire.
I kind of like that idea.
I have a great many plans for my retirement.
Dreaming of what I might do when I’m free keeps me going.
I don’t know how much I will be able to write between now and May 7, but I’ll be back, and so will CAMPUS.
Last ten days of classes begin tomorrow. Summer can’t come soon enough.