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.
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!
Just wanted you to know that I posted midterm grades for all my students to see. Of course, because I have open grade books, all of my students have access to their grades at any time in the semester, not just at mid-term. Oh, FYI, by checking the gradebook, any student can see any major graded assignment (and most minor assignments) with a completed rubric or checklist explaining how the grade was calculated (often I include an annotated PDF file for additional accessible feedback as well).
If students complain that I do not give enough feedback, which I hear they are doing quite loudly and inaccurately, please direct them to the individual assignments where they can see all of the work I have assessed as well as any supporting documents. If they have questions or concerns, please encourage them to contact me rather than scrawl rather inappropriate things about me on the bathroom walls. This behavior is costing the college money and cutting into the maintenance department’s bottom line, I have been told.
Students can also, of course, ask me for explanations or help if they come to see me during my office hour or make an appointment. I have always made myself available to students who need help and will continue to do so, but I don’t always have time directly before or after class as I have many classes and other duties, as you know. Oh, occasionally, I am so sorry to say, I must also use the ladies room, though a student once wanted to follow me in there to ask a question. I told him he would have to wait in my office just a minute or two. I trust that was acceptable.
I have been offering the support mentioned above to all of my students for years now and continue to work hard on developing more online resources and updating ones from previous years. If students relate to you any confusing details in any assignments, also which I hear they are doing quite loudly, please feel free to have students record specific information about the assignment in question, including the assignment number, and have them email me that information so that I can make corrections. I can’t correct problems of which I am not aware, you see. I know some students have been saying I must be clairvoyant and have eyes in the back of my head, but I would like to squelch those rumors right here and now. I am not clairvoyant.
In addition, I have always offered an abundance of resources to my students, including thorough explanations and directions for all of my assignments. If students want to know how they can improve their grades, or have been absent from class to go on that cruise with their family, then please direct them to these resources. Of course, you may have to explain to them that there will be no extra credit awarded for opening a resource file. So sorry.
Please know that I care very much about all of my students receiving the highest quality college-level instruction I can give based on my 30 years of experience teaching composition and British literature. When I err, it will never be out of a lack of concern for any of my students but more likely born of fatigue, or short-term memory loss. I am pushing 60, you know.
Any confusing details or dates may even be a simple mistake as I must maintain six or seven online course shells, prepare materials for six or seven seated and online classes, and grade multiple assignments for 90 – 100 students each semester. Don’t forget those pesky contractual “other duties as assigned”–two committees (chair of one), attending national conferences, writing press releases, creating promotional material, planning major events, participating in student clubs and events. Oh, I know, I’m just whining now. Some of those things I choose to do so they don’t count.
Sure, I could make it easier on myself, do less and offer fewer opportunities for my students to practice writing, but I am still convinced after all these years that there is only one way students can effectively learn to compose, revise and edit at the level they need to—by doing it. I know it is shocking for some students to hear that they must write essays in a freshman English composition class (plus revise and edit them too), but my hands are tied, I fear…
by my conscience.
Thank you for your time.
The above piece is representative of work (creative non-fiction) that I would welcome for the spring edition of Teach. Write. Submissions are open until March 18.
A few months ago I was interviewed by flash fiction author Jim Harrington for his blog “Six Questions for…” which is focused on picking the brains of writers and editors to aid fiction writers in composing, revising, and marketing their work. Many thanks to Jim for the feature and for his interesting and informative blog.
The interview is now appearing on Jim’s blog. Hope you will take a look, and if you are now or have ever been a teacher of writing in any capacity, then please consider submitting to Teach. Write. Submissions for the spring edition are open until March 1.
I have a dream. To publish a literary e-zine that celebrates the writing of composition teachers.
The one thing that has helped me most to become an effective composition teacher, besides twenty-seven years of teaching English composition of course, is writing and pursuing publication of my work. Such a process has certainly kept me humble (I quit counting when my rejections reached over two hundred.) and has never made me rich. However, a couple of years, I did make enough to be taxed. (Of course, that isn’t saying much, is it?)
On the other hand, with over two dozen short stories published in print and online publications, as well as over a hundred theater reviews and features for the local paper, five years as columnist for my college, two or three years as an arts columnist, and now approaching the production of my second full-length play, my writing avocation has also boosted my confidence as a writing instructor and given me a certain credibility with my students, some of my students.
Above all, being a writer keeps me mindful of what it’s like to write for a critical audience–a critique group member, an editor, an agent, an audience.
Because I’m a writer, I am reminded of what it’s like
to spend more time revising and editing than composing
to be uninterested, or lose interest, in a project
to be obligated to complete said project
to have a work criticized or rejected
to take that criticism or rejection as a personal attack
to be misunderstood
But it’s not all bad. Because I am a writer, I can truthfully inform my students that good writing, while hard, and often thankless, work is
a valuable skill
a confidence builder
actually can be fun
and sometimes, every now and then, absolutely glorious!
So, the dream is to have this little online publication called Teach. Write. that will allow present and former composition teachers of all types to try their hands at writing out of their comfort zone, to make themselves vulnerable again to constructive criticism and rejection, to boost their confidence and support their colleagues–to write, and in so doing, become better teachers, better people.
The e-zine will be for writing teachers by writing teachers, specifically, but because the style and subject of essays, poetry and short stories will be open for the most part, the magazine should appeal to a general audience.
Although I will consider pieces that are on the subject of writing if they are unusual and compelling, I’m not particularly looking for work that is about writing or being a writing teacher. As I mentioned, this magazine is calling for teachers to move out of their comfort zones, so I would rather they write a literary short story or a flash piece, a sonnet or poem in blank verse, an essay about a night spent in jail–whatever they want to say. These will be the general submissions.
Because I want this e-zine to be useful to writing teachers, I also will have a regular feature called “Writing Your Own.” In this feature I will call for composition teachers to write pieces based on their own writing prompts. For example, the fantasy e-zine, Mirror Dance, published a flash piece called “Waiting for Beowulf” that I had written as an example for a creative writing assignment in my British literature I online class. It is so helpful for instructors to write with their students–it can also be simply fun, yielding strong writing from students and publishable work from teachers.
I have set December 1 as the deadline for setting up the website. At that time, I will begin accepting essays and short fiction of 2,500 words or less, poetry of 100 lines or less (up to three poems accepted in one document), ten-minute stage and screenplays (ten pages), and pieces for the “Writing Your Own” feature (250-2,500 words).
All teacher-writers should include a short (100 words or less) biographical statement, which includes their present or past position as an English composition teacher. This statement is more important to me than publication credits. Of course, elementary and middle school language arts teachers, high school and college-level English teachers can submit, but if they have taught independently for business and industry or as part of a continuing education program, they are also eligible. If they have tutored in English composition professionally or as a volunteer, they may feel free to submit. They should simply mention composition teaching experience in the bio..
From December 1 to June 30, I will accept submissions for the inaugural edition, which I hope to publish in the fall. My desire is to begin publishing twice a year, fall and spring, hoping that contributers who are working teachers can write and submit in the summer and winter, then enjoy, along with their students, their published work in the fall and spring.
I believe it is important to pay writers, but I don’t have much money, so I will be offering only a small honorarium here at the beginning of my venture, hoping that in the future I can offer more. I will let writers know the amount in December.
If anyone is interested in submitting work to Teach. Write., start writing and look for an announcement on Hey, Mrs. Winkler with a link to Teach. Write.
I have had this dream for a long time, but as it is has been with most of my dreams, they only happen when I find the time to do them and set to work. The time is now.