The Novelist by L. L. Barkat

tea2Concise? Even the word concise is too long to describe this novella –but only at first glance. Coming in at a mere one hundred pages a reader can handle this during an afternoon tea. And some might do just that. Read it. Drink tea. Move on. The English teacher in me couldn’t do that.

At first read I kept growling because the main character just wasn’t delivering for me. She wasn’t writing the novel a fellow Twitter acquaintance had challenged her to write. All she managed to type was “The End” and then freaked out. She dances around it so many ways that for a bit you get nauseous. She infuriates you with her choice of men to the point of wanting to reach into the fibers of the paper and thrash her into some semblance of self-respect. Then there is the on-going search for the elusive tea basket which only serves to remind you of things you have misplaced and yet to find. And let’s not forget the influx of family and their stories. Or the poetry and I am an English teacher but some of this poetry is far beyond my synapses to process. To top it off she tosses in a bunch of well-known authors, some of which you have read and some of which you know you should have read but haven’t, all sharing tidbits of advice. All of which only serves to feed her doubts about being able to write the damn novel in the first place.

When I finished the first read I simply put the book down and was ready to move on. I had three more books ready for my attention. But the cover stayed open. I had bent it around the book as I read and now it just didn’t want to close. My mind couldn’t close it off either. I was just so unsatisfied and I knew I was missing something. So I dove back in. This time with my colored pens. It’s what we English teachers do, color coordinate things. One color for all the authors mentioned and their advice; one for Geoffrey the pompous “boyfriend”; one for anything tea related; one for family; one for poetry; and one for her doubts. There were less than five pages unmarked and that was because they were end of chapter pages with next to nothing on them.

Finishing the subsequent reads I was mesmerized. How the hell did she fit all that into one hundred pages. Not only that but the weaving and intricacies of meshing those stories together to YES end up with a novella that could very well turn into many novels. I don’t want to read the one about Geoffery. First I just had to call him Jeff all the way through because he pissed me off so. Second, she deserved so much better in the way of a relationship. Really, 28 motel rooms? In two years? Bite me! As for the tea and poetry my tastes are not refined enough. I love tea and know what I like and don’t and imagine having no trouble experimenting with more flavors but that would be a learning process I wouldn’t mind. The poetry was just like the tea. Some of it was right up my alley and some was way beyond where my passport credentials could take me. A sestina? I can’t back down from that and I wasn’t even the one challenged with it but I can see it being on the to do list for summer. And the family stories were delightful and terrifying but real as they come.

But the part I really want to share with you (in case you aren’t compelled to read this novella multiple times for yourself) is some of the interplay of author advice and writer doubt. See if you can find anything useful in the author advice or yourself in the writer doubts.

Writer Doubt: A novelist would remember these things.

Author Advice: “Being a writer is like having an insatiable parasite inside you.” Thomas Wolfe

Writer Doubt: Her laptop was plugged in, though, and the Word file was still open on the desktop—a single page of a novel she had never started, with the words “The End” typed smack in its center. As she sank to the floor, she managed a laugh. “The End”. They‘d think it was a suicide note, wouldn’t they?

Author Advice: “Pull your chair to the edge of the precipice and I will tell you a story.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writer Doubt: Laura did not like heights, or precipices, or conflicts. This felt ridiculously problematic.

Author Advice: Writing stories is an exercise in freedom and quarreling. Mario Vargas Llosa

Writer Doubt: Writing like Pynchon was an option. (Not trusting her own voice)

Author Advice: The main character must be booted through the doorway, into “the great unknown “ or the novel would get boring. James Scott Bell

Writer Doubt: It had probably been a mistake to start her relationship with Geoffrey via a sestina. Yeah that was the problem in that relationship; a sestina!

Author Advice: Stories have the power to make things present; make it possible for a person to look at things never looked at. Tim O’Brien

Writer Doubt: If she was going to write a novel, she felt defeated before she began, because someone might be coming along to pick it apart, looking for symbols.

tea

There are many more for you to discover as you read this magnificent novella that will exercise your brain as if it were a series of interlinking novels. Don’t let it sneak up on you like it did me. You have been warned, there is a lot of material packed like loose tea leaves for a long journey; physical sustenance and good for the soul.

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Burning On. . .The Proposal

In teaching, there is a belief that if you make it through the first three years you are likely to make it ten.  If you make it ten, you might make twenty.  If you make twenty, you might as well stay all the way.  Quite the defeatist attitude and one I never bought into.  Why bother starting if that is your premise.  In reality, most teachers burn out somewhere between years 12-17.  And if teachers are not diligent in their calling they will leave the profession before they reach retirement age. For those teachers that stay in too long and reach burn out, it is a well known fact that they are difficult to remove from the classroom.  They become ineffective in numerous ways:  effective instruction, student engagement, communication with stakeholders, parents, guardians, are often technotards in a digital warp age, and unlikely to try new and improved methods or stay connected to their professional organizations for current methods and pedagogy. 

I know these truths all too well.  I am in my 22nd year.  I have faced burn out and for a while feared it had me.  Turned out to just be a health issue wearing me down.  How do I know?  I know this because I dragged myself to work four weeks after a total knee replacement (four weeks earlier than most people are allowed back to work) and every time I stepped in my classroom those kids rejuvenated me into delivering the goods again.  From morning bell to afternoon bell I was running with the ball, making first down after first down, gaining yardage every where I could.  Sometimes it took a sneak play to get over on them and sometimes the play was a standard run-of-the-mill drop back and pass the lesson to them.  Once in a while I fumbled but once in a while I made a touchdown.  And that makes all the difference.  The constant personal evaluation of what am I doing, why am I doing it, and is it working for these kids?  Better known as WithItNess.  Not every teacher has it.  But every teacher needs it and more importantly every kid deserves it.

Standard operating practice in my classroom from year one was writing a lot.  As a high school English teacher I needed to see what they wrote to know what they learned.  Being a National Writing Project Fellow this is what I know best:  writing is reading, reading is writing, both are learning.  Participating in The National Writing Project the year after my internship and before my first year of teaching was a unique situation.  It set up my teaching career to deal with this burn out phenomena.  But more on that later.  Writing was an important way for me to get to know them and connect to them individually so we journalled and I commented back to them; reading every word they wrote and making sure they knew I had.  I wrote back to them in the margins, in between sentences, above the brainstorming, on the back, anywhere I could or needed to in order to respond to their writing and to them.  I never used a red pen either!  I didn’t bleed all over the paper regarding their mistakes.  I simply read their thoughts and responded.  Then there was the phase of state mandated writing instruction requiring a piece of writing be produced each week by each student.  Try assessing over 150 essays every week.  Hard work!  And that is beyond teaching literature, reading, grammar, etc.  To top it off start with a class load of students behind their grade level in reading. 

Even though I continued to look for those fresh ways to connect the content with the students and their world or use the technology and their media to my advantage, I struggled with the paper load it produced.  And then there was the total knee replacement fail.  Three revision surgeries and rehabs made sure I didn’t make it back to my previous position.

After the knee revisions forced my role as English teacher out of that classroom and into another one, I found myself recreating my remaining teaching career.  I am now a credit retrieval teacher.  This computerized program allows students that failed courses to regain their credit by mastering the content via a computer course.  My job is to facilitate and monitor their progress.  Chosen because I was good with computers, very detail oriented, knew how to and often used data to drive my decisions in the classroom, but most importantly I had the knack of reaching those students that other teachers often turned tail and ran from in sheer panic. 

Now after three years of this transition and having successfully regimented the credit retrieval program to run in a more ethical and efficiently systematic way than previous to my arrival, I find a need to do more for our school and its ambition to be the best.  More important than my need is the need to do something for my principal who has had the vision that every educator should have; kids deserve the best learning experience we can give them. 

So I have written a proposal that will probably shock my principal who more than likely thought I was down on my last knee.  He will think I have lost my mind or have suffered a concussion.  Spring break is coming and then the mass of state testing followed by graduation and another summer break.  Since my principal is a fermenter when comes to ideas I need to give him time to think on this one.  My only qualm now is should I gift wrap it or is that over the top?

Stay tuned for more. . .

Writer Voyeurism

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Voyeurism is a problem for some people; for others not so much.  True voyeurs may want to move on now.  Nerd voyeurs keep reading.

Get a group of writers, lovers of language, and one brave author chatting on Twitter and suddenly you have a new reality tv show.  WriteTv aired today with author Ksenia Anske opening her sacred writing time to all her Beta Readers and writing friends interested in watching her work her craft. All in all there were 217 views over the four-five hour writing session.  People popped in and out; wrote their own texts while hanging out with Ksenia writing her novel; tossed Bless Yous; asked about the ambient music; and listened to Ksenia sing along –no talk aloud her thinking/writing process as it formed. 

All in all it seemed just like anyone’s writing session.  It had all the accoutrements a writer depends on for the comfort it takes to open one’s self so completely in order to fill the page.  There was a visibly comfortable sweatshirt/sweater sans elbow patches, hell sans elbow fabric.  No doubt from countless sessions of this author’s elbows firmly planted on the edges of sanity, or a desk, holding a head full of ideas in two hands trying to wring out cohesive thoughts.  I know that is what happens to the patches on the flannel shirts I wear as I toggle the edge of sanity scouring for that elusive word.  You know the one on the tip of your tongue synapse that won’t fire across to your fingertip synapse so you can put it down in the midst of that sentence glaring at you with the big hole in it? Grrrr with me people!  There was that mug of liquid jolt juice, for Ksenia-coffee, for me never coffee.  No one wants to see me on coffee.  So apple cinnamon water for me or sweet tea.  And there was ambient music.  Something to massage one side of the brain while the other cerebrates and the third, yes I said third, while the third writes.  There used to be a theory about right-brain/left-brain; one side as the creative side and the other as the analytical/mathematical side.  It has changed over the years to a triune format to signify the more complex interplay between our various intelligences.  No wonder we drive ourselves silly?  So much malleable mayhem up there. 

The best part about watching another writer write were the numerous ‘best practices’, as we teachers call them, that were confirmed.  Check, check, check; I’m doing it right.  First, there is the one I learned as a National Writing Project Fellow.  Writing conferences work.  In any format they work.  Everybody present in one learns and grows as a writer.  Today’s was unique because for the most part there was one writer writing and an audience of cyber passive observers.  We didn’t do anything more than watch and listen but she knew we were there watching and listening.  IF she wanted interaction she could have it but this wasn’t a ‘conference’ set up.  It was just writing.  And writing she did.  Beyond the initial distraction and discomfort of doing something new for the first time, I don’t think we got in her way.  I hope not. 

Other confirmations included writers’ quirks.  Well at least Ksenia and I share them lol not sure about the rest of you.  There was the head turning to the right as if just over there was the rest of the thought, rest of the sentence, figment of the character spurring you on, or vision of the setting or conflict unfolding as you watched to get all the details.  There was the hair issue.  The loose strands that need to go back behind the ear or back in the ponytail or back around the fingers to be twisted into releasing the next idea.  Don’t have hair?  I got nothing for ya except you shouldn’t have twisted so tightly!  There was the brow action; creasing, raising, furrowing, scrunching, all of it happening and then those fingertips massaging the creases up and out into the hairline.  And last but not least was the lip action.  The pursing, pouting, pressing, and for me pulling and biting.  All in an effort to get out what brews inside of us be it story or poem or song. 

Ksenia Asanke, author of Siren Suicides, thank you so much for letting us in today.  It was a blast to connect and observe, watch and learn, listen and write with you!  That hug is for you!

What I Am Reading and Why

Reading for me is something I have to steal and sneak snippets of time to accomplish.  Between work, new love, family, wanting to write, wanting to knit, sew, make jewelry, learning to bake bread the old-fashioned way and hundreds of other want-tos and should-dos–reading falls into many “need niches” of my life.  I am often reading something spiritual, something for writers or the writing craft, something for personal growth, something for work, and of course something for pure esape.  The problem with reading for me is that I am an eternal learner  so as you can see there is that journal there in the middle where I have to cogitate what I read.  My current pile below is heavy on the craft of writing.  As a teacher I find myself heavily writing during those school breaks and there is a one a coming J.   Four of the six are on the topic of writing or writers. The other two consist of one spiritual growth and one personal growth on forgiveness.  It is still open because boy is that a long process sometimes.  There is no pure escape book because I am having trouble finding somethig that suits my need after having ravished both E. L. James’ 50 Shades and Stieg Larsson’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogies.  Anyone have a suggestion for me?

My current reading stash along with my journal
My current reading stash along with my journal

Quick facts about PTSD include the estimate of 5 million people who suffer from PTSD at any one time in the United States and the fact that women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

 

Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert D Enright

This blue book is open because even after a six week workshop with my therapist and a wonderful group of women seeking empowerment in our lives, I am still struggling with completing the cycle of forgiveness regarding an event in my past.  Suffering from PTSD is what brought me to therapy and my faith, while sustaining me, has suffered a crack in the foundation of what I was raised with and what I am now as an adult choosing to re-believe or affirm.  This book is a gut wrenching journey through the forgiveness process but well worth the turmoil.  Once you till the ground that hardened and lay fallow from years of avoiding the issue, the book helps you prepare for sowing seeds of forgiveness that may or may not sprout.   What it has done for me is remind me that the person in question is certainly more than the one sin I was focused on just as I am more than the one event that reaped my PTSD.  I am still in the book four months later because I still have work to do and it is a process.

Dancing the Dream. . .the seven sacred paths of human transformation  by Jamie Sams

My current spiritual growth book is rooted in Native American wisdom regarding our path lives.  According to Sams we have seven sacred paths that are never forced on us but present themselves to us as opportunities and each path allows us to expand as humans.  These paths are not linear but dovetail and allow us to embrace lessons on several paths at the same time.  The seven paths are:

East Direction:  We become illuminated; see a purpose for our life

South Direction:  We learn to rise above our childish human reactions, compulsions, and unhealthy emotions

West Direction:  We learn how to heal our pasts, our bodies, self-esteem

North Direction:  We learn to share wisdom; live with compassionate non-judgmental open-hearts

Above Direction:  We embrace unseen worlds of spirit; heavenly realms; unknown parts of universe; intangible forces in Creation

Below Direction:  We learn to perceive unseen force; connections to spirit in all living things; how to bring our own spirits fully into our human body

Within/Now Direction:  We gain access to all life in our universe within our human body and walk through life in a state of full spiritual awareness without separation or judgment

The connection throughout the reading to “mindfulness” is helpful as I grow and transform my PTSD self into my SELF.

“We all have energy and direct our thoughts/feelings into the world.  That energy can implode on us and penetrate who we send it to resulting in loss.  We carry invisible burden baskets containing our limitations, thoughts, emotional wounds.”

Mindfulness can help us break free from our fears and live a purposeful life not a purposeless life.

Rumors of Water by L. L. Barkat

As managing editor for The High Calling and four time novelist, Barkat shares what we all need to be reminded of —writing comes from life.  What I enjoyed best about her novel was that she spoke about her life in reality, included how writing flows through her daily mindfulness and how it extends letting me follow where it goes, and the chapters were manageable for those of us needing quality guidance on a tight schedule.  The reality of her conversation with the reader about writing and how it seeped into the day and presented opportunities and trifled with her or stumped her kept me shaking my head in the affirmative as to having the same experiences and enjoyable or angst filled moments as Barkat.  So she makes you feel like a writer if you are working from your real life stance.  Creativity has to have a foundation and why it can’t have it in your real life is beyond me.

The mindfulness of when writing enters her thoughts and how those thoughts flow through her are a journey I am sure I have never been still enough to capture in myself.  The ride is well worth the ticket.  As a teacher it tickles me best that she has fostered the love of writing in her daughters and they have the same connectedness to writing that she does.  Even when the writing thought gets tangled and lost in an interruption, you can’t write without living.

“Writing starts with living.  Living starts with somebody caring so much about something that they need to

drag you out of your writing chair and take you where you’ll be surprised to find your words.”

The manageability of the chapters meant, for me, that even after a 12 hour day of teaching (yes they exist) I could still treat myself to a one-on-one session with Barkat about the writing craft and maybe just maybe be rejuvenated enough to craft a draft before crashing for the night..  Not only that, but each chapter seemed to have a tangent I could take somewhere.  Thanks Barkat!

As for the rest of my stack the next three books that I have yet to crack but will tonight include

The Novelist by L. L. Barkat  The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner & The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Will I juggle all these books at once?  Yes, I will.  Will I try to write my own creative texts while I am juggling?  Yes, I will.  The book I am writing with my boyfriend; the one I am writing by myself, a poem/story I am writing for my six year old granddaughter—that only means another two have to be written for the five year old and two year old so they each have their own story from Gran’Ma.  In my world, life is juggling and even when things drop there is something in that to capture from the pieces.

No More Excuses

My techiliscious boyfriend introduced me to Nokia’s Lumia 920 phone.  Now, I am not a shopper.  I don’t venture out to the malls and would starve if Sweet Bay was not on my way home from work.  I am one of the fortunate few that has a Sweet Bay that is never crowded and has the nicest staff ever found in a grocery chain.  But I digress–not a shopper.  It is post Thanksgiving and here I am with a new phone; a smart phone and I didn’t have to go find it among the masses of lunatics with credit card debt to amass.  I called my provider on Tuesday and the phone arrived Friday.  Here we are on Saturday waiting for the Seminoles to swamp tromp the Gators and my renegade man has guided me in setting up the phone with all the necessities including one of the most important—Wordpress!  No more excuses!  Write! Write! Right?!

Writer’s Block

Oh Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr is me!  I  missed the free download of the writers block book.  But on the other hand WOOOOHOOO is me that I found a writer actually willing to admit to it and give tips.  I once spent a day at a writer’s home for a writing workshop and my question to him was, “What do you do with writer’s block?” His answer was most unsatisfactory.  He neither admitted to getting it or dealing with it.  Even though I missed the free opportunity, I won’t miss out on the tips.  Ordering it with my next Amazon order.