Posts Tagged With: postaweek2013

A is for Apathy

This month I’m happy to be participating in the Blogging A to Z challenge. I love a good blogging challenge and this one happens to mirror my current habits–write Monday through Saturday, chill on Sunday. So for today, I was overrun with ideas for A: Austin (where I am heading next weekend for VegFest), Alpine (the gorgeous little town on the edge of the Big Bend where I received my MA), Archetypes (one of the my favorite literary elements to discuss), Margaret Atwood (the best writer in the history of life), Avocados (the food I’ve grown to love after years of hate) . . . so many options!

Instead, I decided to talk about apathy, a crime of which I am certainly guilty. When my students come to me with their excuses for why they haven’t don’t their work/come to class, I usually tell them I don’t really need to hear the excuses. They interpret this as apathy, that I just don’t care. And in some cases I don’t because they are lying to me or have made a habit of lying to me. More often, I do care and want to help them, but I have set up rules in my syllabus to keep me from getting taken in by the liars and letting students scam grades they don’t deserve. It’s my protection from taking everything in my classroom too personally and being completely apathetic.

Another frustration I find in the classroom is my students’ apathy. It often seems that they care about nothing. They don’t read, they don’t watch movies, they don’t do anything that I can connect with–I often end up saying in frustration, “What is it you do care about?” because I can’t find anything other than texting in my class that they show any passion for. From a writing standpoint, I often have to tell my fiction students that their characters must want something (as Kurt Vonnegut says, even just a glass of water), that apathy is boring to read about. We want to read about people who want something, who feel something, even if it seems silly. At least it’s something.

In life, apathy is dangerous because now it’s so easy to say “I don’t care” or its eye rolling cousin, “Whatever.” There is too much in the world that threatens to mash our hearts that apathy becomes our protection. We can’t deal with the terrible things we see and hear, so we make the call not to care. Or, we select two or three things we care a great deal about and focus on those. I am guilty of that crime–my apathy extends to things not in my “wheel house,” so to speak. The problem then, as a parent, is how do I keep my children from the dangers of apathy while protecting them?

I don’t have an answer (as I get older I find the number of questions outweighs the answers); instead I have my instincts which tell me to keep it simple. We should not be apathetic to suffering. We should not be apathetic to joy. We should not be apathetic to making the world just a little bit better each day.



PS. Since I am blogging A to Z, any letter specific topics anyone wants to see?

Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

Potent Quatables: Atwood Writes Loud

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My Daughter, Gloria Gaynor

Young love is a fickle thing. Just a few weeks ago my daughter got her first boyfriend. This week, that romance came to cruel ending.

The little boy, who we’ll call S, had a birthday last weekend. Liliana spent the better part of Saturday cutting, pasting, drawing, and folding to make him a birthday card. She even had her Papa print off a special balloon picture to include. When her masterpiece was dry, she tucked it in to her backpack so she wouldn’t forget it Monday morning.

Monday afternoon I came home from work to a heartbroken little girl. When she presented S with the card, he wadded it up, threw it away, and told her he didn’t want her anymore. Although it is not a completely unexpected action from a six-year-old boy, it was still unkind.

But before we just write this off as first heartbreak, here’s who she responded to his dumping her:

“I don’t even care. Girls like me don’t need boys who treat them bad.”

As a mother, I could not be more proud to type that sentence. My colleague called it perhaps the greatest response to a break up ever. Now the truth is, she was hurt, although more that he tore up something she made for him than the whole boyfriend thing. And at home she shared her bruised feelings with us and we tried to soothe them. Her daddy took her on a walk and explained that no matter what friends or boyfriends or girlfriends may come and go, she’d always have our love.

All that considered, I am so blown away by the way she handled it in public. Just looking at myself and my friends, how much better would our lives have been if we stopped and said this to that guy who did treat us badly? Or even better, to ourselves? Because girls like us don’t need boys who treat us bad.

In honor of Liliana, let’s all have a little disco party with Miss Gloria Gaynor who always reminds us that we will survive.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Potent Quotables: Pain for Gain

This morning I am up at the before the crack of dawn to drive two hours for a meeting. You can’t see my face through the computer, readers, but it’s not a happy face. I detest meetings, especially on Fridays when it is my coffee-cat-pit bull-SVU day. Instead, I’m about to take back roads in the dark. In the end, it is for something important, but that doesn’t make me want to do it at this moment. So a huge thanks to the person who posted this on Facebook; I needed a reminder.



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Just Push Play: Two Princes

Today marks the end of the BlogHer Love and Sex Post a Day month. Although I’ll continue to post many times a week, I am not officially doing a blog a day for March. But there will be some groovy stuff coming your way.

As a send off for this month, I’ll share a little song that for reasons beyond me, I desperately love. Like “Semi Charmed Life,” “She Drives Me Crazy,” and “Dancing Queen,” I let out an ear-piercing “squee!!”when I hear this song. I know every word. Heck, even the introductory strains send me into a frenzy.

So close your office door, crank it up, and enjoy this trip with a two-hit wonder from the 90s. Just go ahead now.



Categories: Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Heavy Leisure: The Homework Problem

Yesterday as I was paging through my new issue of Brain, Child magazine (which, if you aren’t reading, you should–it’s the best parenting magazine on the market), I came across a section where parents where asked the craziest thing they had done to help their kids with homework.

Expecting things like late night runs to Wal Mart or helping hands on craft projects (which were present), I was shocked to find parents who admitted to–nay almost bragged about–doing their kids homework for them, refusing to make the children do homework, or telling the teacher that her definition of homework didn’t work for them and she should accept what they termed as homework.


Our country continues to fall behind in academics, students go to college and the workforce unprepared with poor work ethic, and we wonder why. It’s not the action that bothers me (okay, so it bothers me a little), it’s the attitude. That students deserve plenty of leisure time and education is infringing on that. With younger kids, I get not loading them down, but I also think that having something for them to do each night that relates to school is important.

As they get older, many students and parents seem to think leisure time and after school activities should take precedence over homework. My colleagues and I constantly receive emails from our dual credit students telling us they cannot do their college work because of their extracurricular activities. Apparently they don’t understand the extra part of extracurricular. More than that, a number of my students of all types are just lazy. They are annoyed that I ask them to do things outside of class.

I suppose I do have some nerve, asking them to read and write essays for a college writing class. Or asking them to turn things in on time even thought they have basketball practice and have known about the essay for three weeks.

Last week I was watching PBS in my hotel room at an assessment training conference. Charlie Rose was interviewing former DC superintendent Michelle Rhee (I first became aware of her in the documentary Waiting for Superman). Rhee made the point that education is not, as we treat it, a social issue. It is an economic issue. I’d never heard it articulated like that before, but she’s dead on. Education is not for socialization (that’s a side-effect); it’s to create a strong workforce. So when parents don’t make their students complete homework, they are modeling a poor work ethic whether they realize it or not.

Yes, I agree that there is a difference between homework and busy work. Yes, I agree students should have some down time. But many students seem to think they are only accountable during class hours (never mind those that bring their leisure time into my class as well–phones are the bane of my existence). Homework is the chance for them to work on bettering themselves, establish what they do and don’t know, and attempt to demonstrate the skills without someone looking over their shoulders.

So if your student comes home with work, teach them time management, answer their questions, guide them, but for their sake, make them do it.



Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kiss Off In Review

Last year after writing a number of love letters, which I have been reposting this month, I did a stint of Dear John Letters, breaking up with Kathryn Heigl, James Patterson, George Lucas, House MD, potentially Chelsea Handler, McDonalds, and my grey yoga pants. Many seemed like omens–George Lucas sold Star Wars, House ended its run, and I became a vegan a shortly thereafter. It was hard to pick just one to repost, but in the spirit of literature, I’ll give you my Patterson break up as it still represents our current status.

Dear James Patterson,

Ours is a complicated relationship, without a doubt. I have never shown you public respect, likening your books to potato chips–easily consumed with little substance. But in private, I enjoyed reading them for distractions, in particular the Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club Series. When I didn’t feel I could stand another foray into free indirect discourse or political allegory, I’d grab one of your books and lose a few hours. You were essentially my book booty call.

I will say that you have a great sense of pacing and twists and so for that I’ve been willing to overlook your lax character development and often ridiculous dialogue. (FYI, groups of women, particularly professional women, do not refer to each other as ‘girl’ or ‘girlfriend.’) Our relationship was fine for what it was and I appreciated it when you did try to stretch yourself, although sadly that often showed why you should stick to what you’re good at.

So here’s the issue: your series have no end game. How many times can Cross have a girlfriend/wife/lover who ends up dead/kidnapped/in witness protection? How many times can we have the same masterminds interfering? I just can’t commit to you because you can’t commit to any sort of logical series arc. And to make matters worse, you co-write a bunch of this stuff. Really? You need help with that stuff?

I just can’t keep using you like this. You don’t fill my needs and I think we both know it’s time for me to delete your number from my phone. I promise, no more drunk dials for you, even Kiss the Girls. I wish you the best.



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Potent Quotables: Twelfth Night

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Little Minnow Me: Welcome to Ploughshares

The New York Times once called Ploughshares Literary Magazine “the Triton among the minnows,” which is an impressive way of saying they are the cat’s meow. Aspiring writers should, if they don’t already, read the magazine because they continue to publish some of the best short fiction today (along with other things). Personally, I have a collection of old issues guest edited by writers I admire like Sherman Alexie and Elizabeth Strout.

Last November, on a Friday where I was supposed to be grading but found myself messing about on Twitter, I discovered that Ploughshares was looking for bloggers. Maybe it was the stress level inherent in the end of the semester or maybe it was too much coffee–whatever the reason, I thought I’d take a shot in a barrel of fish and submit a proposal. It was one of this things I send off into the universe every now and then, never expecting to hear back about.

Of course I did hear back (or there wouldn’t be a story). The invitation to join Ploughshares was followed by a flurry of emails between myself and my dean as I had to get permission to take outside employment since the publication required me to sign a contract. Waiting for confirmed permission with the deadline for accepting the invitation looming was probably the hardest part. In the wee hours of the last day of the semester, I got the all clear.

All that exposition to share that today my first post went live. I’m nervous, I’ll admit, as I sit here in my Ploughshares t-shirt. I’ve watched the other new bloggers post over the past few weeks and my resume is decidedly less impressive. Their posts have been witty and often cerebral as they approach reading and writing; mine is about why we like cowboys. I definitely feel like a minnow. So, even if you don’t care about cowboys or literary journals or literature, go take a look at my post for one reason: I am just a lowly teacher from Texas who is working for someone prestigious just because I had the audacity to say, “Why not me?”

“The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 1: Peculiarly American”



Categories: Get Smart, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bedside Companions

When people find out that I am an English teacher, they generally ask me one of two things. The first involves telling me that my field is becoming obsolete because no one reads, no writes, no one cares, and there is no career or purpose in the study of literature. The question here is basically, “Don’t you agree that your life’s passion is useless?” Depending on the asker and the company, I have several answers to that, none of which are relevant to today’s topic.

The other question I get, usually from older people, is: “I would like to encourage my child/teenager to read. What do you suggest? What do you read?” My response is always the same: “Well, what do you read?” The majority of the time the parent just looks sheepishly at the ground and admits they aren’t much of a reader. Some are bolder and just tell me point blank they don’t care or don’t like to read. But they want their kids to? This is a point I could argue for hours, but instead, I start by saying, “I read everything I can.”

This is the truth. I read novels, I read non-fiction, I read plays, I read newspapers, I read magazines . . . generally if it’s in print, I give it a whirl. That being said, I am still not as well-read as I would like to be. I have friends who rush out the day a book is released and buy it. It usually takes me a few months to get to something, unless it is a work I have been anticipating. But whether or not I’m not reading a new release, I am always reading. Reviewing the pile on my nightstand at the moment, a series of categories emerge that I find to be highly indicative of my reading style and tastes.

Something New This represents the intellectual category–books that I have never read before that actually require me to pay attention. Sometimes, they are just works of well-crafted fiction, sometimes they are more challenging reads. Most of the time they aren’t even particularly new works–they are just new to me. These more challenging reads I have to save for summer because I can’t focus enough during the semester to really process the work.

Fluff My fluff readings are also books I haven’t read yet, but tend to be paperbacks or commercial genre fiction that require little to no concentration. I don’t just deal with chick-lit (in fact, I rarely read chick-lit unless I hear good things from other people); this category also includes light-weight thrillers (such as Dan Brown or James Patterson) and the YA fiction which is often times better than adult level works.

Reruns Very rarely do I get rid of a book when I am finished reading it. Even if I hated it, I generally will keep it to go back later and reread. It’s funny how tastes can change. For example, I was in college when I read Bridget Jones Diary and I thought it was utter self-indulgent crap. Five years later I picked it up again and was surprised that once I wasn’t in a shroud of undergrad pretension, I actually enjoyed the unique nature of the character Fielding had created, along with her sly little winks at Austen’s prototype. (I still, however, think the second one is crap.) In this category, I seem to cycle through books that I have read before. Sometimes I will read something that I have only read once. But more frequently, I reread the same roughly twenty works, most of which have been read at least five times.

School Related or Non-Fiction This tends to change depending on my academic status. When I was a student (I like to take graduate classes when I can to get hours above my masters and improve my overall knowledge. Plus, it keeps my brain from getting soggy). During that time this space was occupied by things like Renaissance Drama: An Anthology and an overload of philosophical texts on the role of ‘other’ and Aristotle in justification of native treatment during the Spanish colonization of Latin America (and most of those were even less interesting than that description, save the one on Native witchcraft). This spring I gave myself a pass on school and instead read a variety of non-fiction works, most about WWII from my grandfather’s collection.

Magazines This is probably the most random pile of them all because magazines are my short handed way of indulging all of my vices and virtues. The top of the pile is Entertainment Weekly, a magazine I have gotten since junior high. It’s on top because it’s the only weekly one. It’s also the only one I tend to read cover to cover. Then there’s Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. I try to read as much of these as I can, but anyone who has cracked the cover of either one can tell you that some of those articles need their own zip codes. National Geographic is a family tradition and I generally read all its articles as they are concise and enlightening. But lest you think I am too scholarly in my magazines, the pile also contains Better Homes and Gardens, Elle, InStyle, and at the moment FitPregnancy and Pregnancy and Newborn.

In general, I read roughly four books and a slew of magazines simultaneously. What I pick up on any given day depends on my mood, level of focus, and time constraints. On a day when my daughter is at school, I am more likely to pick up one of the more challenging works. If I’m reading with Monsters, Inc. or Up playing in the background while confirming to my daughter that, yes, those are balloons, it’s more of a fluff day.

I could give a long list of books I suggest for every occasion, but I think I will save that for another day. My main plea, no matter your age, is to read anything you can, even if it’s just an article about how to make the perfect chicken nugget. And for those who complain of being slow readers, reading is like running–the more you do it, the stronger you get.

Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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