Too much to do to blog much, essays in one class and essay exams in another. All autograded assignments and integrated software doesn’t do the real work of teaching composition–them writing, me assessing it, and communicating back to them where they can improve next time. That’s pretty much it.
And, by golly, it works. It’s difficult, painstaking work for them and me, but it works.
Just wanted to share some happy news before I get back to it. After almost two years of not publishing anything (I haven’t had much time to market my writing), I found out yesterday that I published a little flash piece with a relatively new online writing site, The Secret Attic: Where Writers Write.
A little background for the story. My sister Ronda died of cancer in 2011. For years she owned several beautiful Arabian horses and kept them on my grandmother’s property in rural Alabama, not too far from Auburn University. We grew up riding horses together. I miss her terribly, and this story is for her:
My summertime project is to complete a rough draft of my new novel, CAMPUS: The Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. Full disclosure. It started out as a musical, but then it decided that it wanted to be a novel but one that wanted to be a musical.
I know. It’s incredibly weird, but so am I, so it seems fitting. I am afraid, too, that it might offend because it’s horribly, deliciously satiric, a social and political satire of higher education in the South.
Many of my colleagues already know about the book. Back when it was a musical, I shared some of the ideas and songs with them. I have worked on the project off and on again for several years already, especially when I became particularly infuriated with perceived obstacles blocking my path to providing my students with the best education possible.
Oh, my. I can be so pompous at times.
My attitude is changing. Perhaps it was attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference with five of my fellow English instructors, talking about our work and seeing how passionate we all our about our work, but also enjoying each other as human beings–as fathers and mothers, as friends, like family.
My attitude is changing. Perhaps it’s all the months teaching in isolation. Did it take that for me to value the roles of others in my institution? Perhaps. Not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but now, wow, I appreciate it more.
My attitude is changing.
But my convictions have not.
So the play wanted to become a novel, but the novel did not want to lose all of the biting satire of the play because it’s just so darn fun. So, it didn’t. Still a satire. A kinder, gentler satire, perhaps (It hasn’t decided yet), but a satire nonetheless. And I’m still keeping the “I want to be a Nazi” song. I can’t help it. I just want to. And it’s my book, so I will.
But you say, Katie, how can you have musical numbers in a novel?
And I say, how can I not? I know it’s weird and different and really out there. It may not work, but who cares? It makes me happy. It’s creative. It’s about work but not about work. It is helping me vent my frustrations so I will be less likely to take them out on my colleagues, supervisors, and students. Plus, it’s more than just satire. It’s also an Appalachian fantasy with gnomes, elves, the Moth Man, Moon-faced people, hellhounds, wizards, fairy godteachers (yes, really), vampires, zombies, and at least one boojum (aka Bigfoot). It’s also a love story (actually more than one) and a glimpse into the heart and soul of an aging teacher (guess who).
Can you tell I love my book and don’t care that it’s goofy?
So, I’m writing this summer, and it’s time well spent.
Here is the first verse one of the songs:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” From “Ode to a Grecian Urn”~John Keats
Truth and Beauty
That’s all there is and ever will be
I see truth and beauty
When I look into her eyes
It’s been an amazing ride
Since I’ve met her.
My world has opened wide
I’ve only just met her
The Belle dame sans merci
This beautiful lady
And her eyes are wild.
Just to have her near
Just to see her face
Just her voice to hear
Just to feel her fingers brush my cheek
Nothing else remains but she
The belle dame sans merci
Have mercy, have mercy
Help me to see
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
But I feel it, but I know
Truth and Beauty
I see it when I look into your eyes
Truth is beauty.
I see it when I look into your wild eyes
Beauty is truth, truth beauty
That is all there ever will be
I see truth and beauty
When I look into those wild, wild eyes
Are you a teacher writing this summer? I would love to read your work and consider it for my literary journal Teach. Write. Submissions are open for the 2020 fall/winter edition until Sept.1 See submission guidelines for more information.
I have listened to my “Working Music” folder a great deal this week while I transition all my classes to online delivery. I chose to randomize my playlist and have been so amazed at some of the great music that has come up to soothe my soul.
Here are a couple of my faves:
The Canadian Chamber Chorus’s version of Tabula Rass by Don MacDonald. The translation of the words are beautiful and have spoken to me during this time and is a meaningful message to give my students right now:
In my arms, breathe.
Life without limits.
Light of day, dark night.
Sleep, dream, rest in safety.
With your heart, your soul, listen and know this truth:
Within you are boundless futures, if you are given freedom;
freedom to grow,
freedom to learn,
freedom to touch,
freedom to feel,
freedom to imagine,
freedom to love,
freedom to be loved.
Another great song, totally different style–I’m Alive by Dean Dillon / Kenneth Chesney / Mark Tamburino and performed by Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews.
The lyrics are also very timely for my students and me. Go to this link to see them: I’m Alive Lyrics
So I take a listen. I take some big breaths. I make a cup of tea. I start grading more papers.
Ah, the teaching life!
The horrible looking ad that is probably showing below kind of ruins the effect of my post–thanks Word Press
My summer is winding down. On August 13, I head back to work. To say I’m ambivalent about doing so is an understatement. Reading emails about re-accreditation responsibilities and changes in policy are already making my insides churn, but I will NOT go down a road of resentment and bitterness that is sure to get me nowhere. I will focus on the only thing at work I have any control of–the classroom. In my next blog, I will continue to write about some of the changes I am making in my instruction, but for now, I have some unfinished summer business to attend to.
First of all, I have extended the deadline to August 15, for submissions to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Check out the submission guidelines here.I have also decided to OPEN UP SUBMISSIONS TO ALL. I realized that writing students (virtually everyone has been a writing student) as well as teachers need to have a voice in Teach. Write.However, I do request that in your required third person bio that you include your composition teacher experience, if you have any, or explain the impact writing instruction has had on you. I am open to both positive and negative experiences as long as you don’t blame English teachers for everything that has gone wrong in your life.
Secondly, I am still not finished with either the play Death or Love?, about the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, or my novel Flood. I have hope that I will finish the play, but the novel will not get finished this summer. It just won’t. I am excited about it, though, because I have made great progress in developing the plot, as well as doing meaningful research and revision. My personal deadline is now December 31.
To make completing the novel a real possibility, I am once again going to participate in NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). This time, however, I am going to attempt to involve my students by providing times, places, and maybe even snacks, so we can write together during the month of November.
View from Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, photo by Katie Winkler, June 2018
Finally, I should report on my greatest successes of the summer: incredible trip to Germany to visit my brother and his family, two meaningful and inspiring writers’ conferences–one at Brevard College with Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire mysteries, and the other in Raleigh with Elaine Neil Orr, whose latest book Swimming Between Worlds has won praise from Lit South and author Charles Frazier, who wrote Cold Mountain.
Eye surgery was virtually painless and has resulted in 20/20 far-sighted vision in both eyes. I will have to wear reading glasses, but the difference is simply amazing. My surgeon, anesthetist. nurses, and other hospital personnel were friendly, thoughtful and comforting. I can’t say enough about my regular eye doctor and his staff who have taken good care of me for years. They were all so efficient and helpful.
My greatest success was spending quality time with my husband and daughter. I don’t have enough time in this blog post to recount how great it has been, so I will simply say that I have been refreshed–body, mind, and spirit.
Now, my new goal–to not wait until a vacation rolls around to give myself the care I need to be the most effective teacher I can, helping my students become better writers while developing the soft skills they need to navigate an increasingly complex world. I am a teacher, but I am also a writer, wife, mother, friend, member of more than one community. I can’t wear all of these hats only in the summer. I can’t ever wear them all at once. Self-care means moderation and balance, sloughing off the worry that wastes precious time and produces nothing.
Economists and lawyers like using words like “nonpecuniary.” Perhaps to keep from falling into cliche; however, if the cliche fits…and when it comes to education, it certainly does–Education should not be all about money. Amazing thing is, even economists (those trusted above all others in our society these days) frequently do studies on the benefits of various aspects of our lives that do not involve money but make our lives better.
One such study, “Priceless: The Nonpecuniary Benefits of Schooling” appears in the Winter 2011 edition of the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Philip Oreopoulos and Kjell G. Salvanes, economists at Toronto University and Norwegian School of Economics respectively, explore the nonpecuniary benefits of schooling in a well-researched article (32 pages with 142 citations) that offers compelling empirically-based evidence that the more schooling individuals receive not only benefits them economically (p. 159), but also in a myriad of other ways, including
higher employment prestige ratings (p. 163)
higher job satisfaction (p. 163)
higher O*Net (Occupational Information Network) achievement scores (p. 163)
lower unemployment (p. 163)
better physical and mental health (p. 167)
lower divorce rates (p. 167)
lower smoking rates (p. 170)
very low arrest rates (16+ years of schooling) (p. 170)
All of the tables including relevant data show statistics before and after conditioning for income with the same result of increased rates in these various areas as education increases.
Oreopoulos and Salvanes do report some predictable negative effects of higher levels of education, including time constraints and increased stress (p. 171). However, these aspects of higher education are greatly mitigated by the numerous positive effects, including those mentioned above, as well as less tangible benefits, including improved parenting (p. 167), higher levels of trust (p. 167), increased patience (p. 170), and even higher levels of happiness (161).
The authors conclude that more qualitative research needs to be done concerning pecuniary and nonpecuniary benefits to higher education, but their research indicates, as these two lauded economists say far better than I could, that the non-tangible benefits of a higher education beyond a two-year degree exceed even the economic benefit:
In our opinion, the estimated returns are too large to support
the theory that most students are optimally trading off costs and benefits when deciding how much education to acquire. Some people are missing out on significant welfare-increasing opportunities (p. 181).
Many students may be myopic. Parents with teenagers can attest that
youth are particularly predisposed to downplaying or ignoring future consequences…. When teenagers and young adults make their choices about school attainment, it may be especially easy to see the immediate costs and harder to grasp fully the long-term benefits. Exploring these issues more thoroughly would shed further light on the overall education attainment decision-making process and help identify ways to make individuals recognize the large returns from schooling. Large amounts of money appear to be lying on the sidewalk. Of course, money isn’t everything. In the case of returns from schooling, it seems to be just the beginning (p. 181).
On a more celebratory note, I have mentioned in my blog before that I had a piece published in the anthology Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South. Since publication last May, several colleges have begun to use the anthology as a text in courses on Southern literature and culture.
Several months ago, writers included in the anthology were asked if they would like to participate in a panel discussion at the 40th Annual Appalachian Studies Association Convention. I am happy to report that the proposed panel session was accepted by the association, so four of the 26 writers, including yours truly, as well as editors of Bottom Dog Press in Huron, OH will travel to Cincinnati to attend the conference. I will be reading from my story, as well as discussing the meaning and inspiration for it. Of course, I will be part of the Q&A after all writers have completed their readings.
The conference is during our spring break in April, so my intention is to take along some copies the new edition of Teach. Write. to share with editors and publishers, so there isn’t a better time to submit to the spring edition. Submissions are open until March 1.
What a great start! Last evening, before and during dinner I was privileged to have casual conversations with two great writers whom I greatly admire–Robert Morgan and Jane Smiley, both so pleasant and unassuming.
Then, after dinner, Sy Montgomery, the non-fiction group facilitator, joined the other two writers for an incredible discussion of the conference’s theme, a sense of place. Here are a few highlights–
Robert Morgan read from an article he recently wrote for Epic Magazine about growing up in the Green River Valley in Western North Carolina and how that physical landscape pervades his work
He also talked about the “landscape of language” and how it the luster of language is equally important to a work
Sy Montgomery is a writer I haven’t read but now definitely plan to and share with my nature-loving friends. She is a naturalist and writes often about ocean life. She spoke about discovering new languages when encountering new landscapes often alien to humans–like breathing underwater. She spoke eloquently about the transformative power of her underwater experiences.
Jane Smiley spoke about learning of the importance of place when reading David Copperfield and how truly great novels are often dependent, at least in part, to setting, which is tied to theme.
Robert Morgan mentioned the paradox of writing that can be regional, even local, that is at once extremely specific and accessible to readers universally.
Robert Morgan also spoke about how it is sometimes counterproductive to actually visit or re-visit the place of which one is writing–sometimes better to let it live in one’s imagination.
Sy Montgomery talked about seeking out people who have lived in a place and interacted with it to discover new things about it.
She also said, “Pour yourself out like water and feel yourself with place.”
Robert Morgan mentioned that it is important to include details but just enough to accomplish what you need to accomplish
All that and more in just an hour! I am certainly getting my money’s worth.
That was day one. I have much more to say about today–Day Two, but it will have to wait. Tonight we have the banquet, reception and Jane Smiley ‘s reading. Stay tuned!
I do not usually get this personal on my blog, but somethings tells me that now is the time to share this story and struggle with you. What I am about to share with you is a story about calling, and I share it because I believe that stories, purpose, meaning, and calling are all…
I’m very excited to be working on a stage adaptation of Frankenstein that is as faithful to Mary Shelley’s novel as I can get it. It is a tremendous amount of work, but is a joy. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that before except when I was writing “A Carolina Story.”
Anyway, working hard on the play has kept me from posting on my blog, so when I read a great editorial about the failures of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s educational reform efforts, I had to post. Many state governments have drastically changed polices and programs, poured resources, especially administrative and faculty resources, into initiatives promoted, and only partially paid for, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Now that many of these initiatives are failing, the foundation is beginning to pull out, often leaving the educational systems to fix the mess. Many educators, like me and some of my colleagues, have tried to warn administrators about the potential problems with these plans, but to no avail. Why listen to the people who are in the classroom day after day and work most closely with students? What do they know about education? Let’s allow people who know little about education but have lots and lots of money and political power dictate to dedicated educators with years and years of experience how best to spend money on reforms. Yeah, that makes sense.
Of course it doesn’t, but this article, printed from the Jacksonville Daily News does: