Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My First Sub Job, Part III

There are things I would handle so differently now. Take Marta, who was in her third trimester of pregnancy. She wanted to eat in class, which I didn’t allow. Now I would let her eat, but I would make one requirement: None of those vending machine Doritos. It must be healthy. I’d even bring snacks for her if necessary.

I had one student who had to have his assignments sent to prison. He was 18, so he’d been charged with rape as an adult and his family couldn’t make bail. I don’t know his story, but he never felt threatening to me in the slightest. In fact, he seemed like a very nice kid. Only one student in that school truly scared me.

I never knew if Rolfe's instability was natural or induced or what, but I always felt I had to have my “spidey sense” tuned to his direction when he was around. Once it was not…and another student rested his long legs in the book basket under Rolfe’s chair. Rolfe lost it so badly that I was afraid of what he might do to the other kid.  I had to move his already-up-front desk positively next to mine so that I got the joy of being next to him every day.

As if that weren’t bad enough, he never turned in his work on time, so he got detentions with me on a regular basis—so I got extra time with him as well.

He wrote his final essay on why he wanted to kill a police officer.

(Next week: Part IV)

Conversation overheard between two ninth-grade girls while one was putting makeup on the other: “Just cake on the makeup, because I like a lot. Did you know you’re not supposed to share makeup with other people? I used to share makeup. But not really, because it was just Haley, Madison, Taylor, Brittany, Micah and Sierra, and we were all best friends. But I got a sty. It’s probably because I never washed my eye makeup off. You’re supposed to do that, too.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Improper Poll: When Bears Attack

My kids have been home for Thanksgiving, so of course I’ve been distributing the items that my daughter calls “Momish.” You know—winter coats, cold medications…and pepper spray.

I purchased the pepper spray in a large sporting goods store. I couldn’t figure out what sport required pepper spray, however, so I asked at the front desk, where the girl told me it was in the “huntin’ department.” She said it like, “Duh.” Like any fool knows pepper sprays are part of hunting.

So what I want to know is, what animal does one hunt using pepper spray? Are there really hunters out there chasing after deer and frantically squirting? I have a hard time envisioning this.

So I asked my daughter. She said she heard they really do sell it as a defense for bears. Yes, bears. I think if I were going to get so close to a bear that I could reach it with pepper spray, I would want a more effective weapon. “Better than nothing,” my daughter said. Maybe, but presuming one is in the woods at the time, wouldn’t a rock be better? Or a strategically placed stick? Even running away. Or playing dead—which I’ve heard is the proper response for bear attacks, anyway. Do you play dead and then squirt if they are sniffing you to check? Or if they aren’t fooled?

So today’s poll is less a poll than a serious question. Do you know what gets hunted using pepper spray?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #39

I guess today is BLACK Book Blurb Friday, thanks to Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff. Her weekly challenge is to “write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.”

So I hope you will buy this book, which I think went on sale at 40% off if you bought it at 1:00 A.M. today only.  The blurb is 150 words.

~The Black Friday Games~

It was considered the best reality show ever. Fifty top shoppers—one from each state—were chosen to compete for $50,000 in toys and electronics awaiting the winner who could ascend Mount Bluelight Special and be the first to claim the prizes.

And Margie Poffenburger of Iowa, the self-described Bargain Barbarian, knew that among the toys was the coveted (and back ordered until February 2012) Botox Britnee doll that her granddaughter wanted.

Contestants, armed only with shopping carts and assaulted with piped-in soundtracks of screaming babies and an endless loop of “Winter Wonderland,” were stuffed with turkey dinners and then released at 2:00 AM with only one day to scale the mountain.

Though outright murder was ostensibly frowned upon, contestants were allowed—and even encouraged—to maim and wound fellow contenders at will.

Murder and mayhem were no problems for Margie; the question was, could she haul herself up 9000 feet?

About The Nutcracker Suite: Who believes that a young girl on the brink of womanhood would fantasize about a hideous wooden kitchen tool with a mustache and beard? It’s like having a crush on a whisk. Why can’t he look like Baryshnikov from the start? ~Cynthia Kaplan, Leave the Building Quicikly

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My First Sub Job, Part II

I was subbing for a woman who had obviously had a nervous breakdown after her husband left. But it was the kids who told me she had also started dating one of her students. I told them it wasn’t nice to spread rumors, but I later found out it was true.

A lot of bad stuff had gone on, and I was under a great deal of pressure to restore order.

When my last class of the day finally filed out, I breathed a sigh of relief. There, on my desk, was a folded piece of paper. A welcome note! I thought. Yes, I actually thought this. Have I mentioned I was fresh from college?

I carefully opened my note. I still remember the exact spelling, even. It read:

We goan cut you all to pesc.

Now I know enough to save it. But at the time, I gasped and threw it away as quickly as possible. And found myself looking at my empty hand. I think I was looking for blood.

And they tried. Gracious, how they tried, some of them. On the way to work each morning in those first few weeks, I used to think how much I wanted to turn around and drive home. Every bone and fiber of my being wanted to drive in the other direction. Drive to Mexico, maybe. Every cell, every hair, every molecule wanted to run. All the strands of my DNA. Every atom. On the drive home, sometimes I would cry.

During that time, my father had a stroke on top of it all. It was the first time in my life I felt positively assaulted from all sides. And unfortunately, not the last.

(Next week: Part III)

Those things that hurt, instruct. ~Ben Franklin

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Improper Poll: More Embarrassing Checkout Experiences

It's that time of year again for purchasing Thanksgiving groceries. I like to pretend that my grocery purchases are somehow sacred and that the store workers don’t notice what I’m buying. But I once went through the lane with nothing but a box of tampons and a large bag of chocolate…and the Checkout Dude and the Bagger Dude exchanged giggles.

This was a few years ago, so by now I figure they’re old enough to be married. And I hope their wives send them to the store for the chocolate and tampons, and I hope the checkers laugh.

Have you had any embarrassing Checkout Experiences?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sub Notes: My First Sub Job, Part I

I wasn’t just the sub. I was, by the time you reasoned it all out, the sub for the sub’s sub. Third person in line not counting the teacher, about whom no one spoke. I was the non-singing Sister Maria, come to save inner city Friedrichs and Liesls and Brigittas, those little imps.

And there were a lot of people not speaking about why the teacher was gone—representatives from the school board, administrators. They had gathered to meet me, a fresh-from-college girl who was, when you figure that I started school a year early and some of my students were a few years behind, shockingly close to some of her high school students’ ages. It would be…a challenge, they warned me. There hadn’t been much…discipline. I didn’t like the way they exchanged glances or the care with which they chose their words.

The teachers were less shy. “Nutjob,” they mumbled while gulping chewy cafeteria tacos in the teachers’ lounge. The worst was her study hall, they said, because it was right outside the lounge and no one wanted to have to hear the kids during their only down time. No discipline at all, they told me. I would have to come down hard on them.

By that time I already knew there’d been something terribly wrong with the teacher. The teacher next door filled me in on a little. Youngish woman. Had a small child. Had a husband, but the husband left. This is where everyone clammed up and began using euphemisms. She struggled. Had a hard time. Her work suffered.

There were no grades in the grade book. Nothing written in the plan book. When I asked her students in each class what they’d been working on, they said they’d been having discussions. About what? I’d asked. This was English class, so there were only a few choices. A book? A story? A poem?

Like if you’re in a relationship and the person leaves you, they said.

Each hour I heard the same scenario. Each hour I got a chill when they said it.

My last class of the day was theater. And what had they been working on? I asked. Improvisation, they said. Snort. Still, I was a tiny bit heartened. It sounded like an actual theater class assignment. What kind of improvisation? I asked.

Like you pretend you’re in a relationship, they said. And the other person leaves you.

(Next week, Part II)

“You missed it. Yesterday was ‘Talk Like a Trucker’ day.” ~A.P. English student talking to a friend who’d been absent

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Improper Poll: The Writing is…Everywhere

Anytime you get writers together, conversation inevitably turns to reading. Writers always seem to read more than one book at once. Usually there’s a short, light read for travel purposes, another light book that’s kept at home, the not-so-light read, the one they’ll talk about for a while, and the next one in line. Sometimes there is even a bathroom book, á la that-one-Seinfeld-episode, which is usually an anthology.

I can’t read that many at once. Three is my absolute upper limit, and that’s counting the inspirational book I still have in my car leftover from the days when I had to drive my children everywhere.

How many books do you read at once? What are you reading right now?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #37

Hooray for Book Blurb Friday, a meme hosted by Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff! The challenge is to write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) to go with the pretend book cover.  The goal is to write a blurb so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.
My offering this week is 141 words.

~Survival of the Finnest~

Twelve-year-old Ian Spindly was not tough. He was the sort of boy who preferred to stay indoors and read. When his father forced him to join the Fun in Nature (FINs) club, they both knew it was really an attempt to keep the bullies at bay.

But during the big campout, Ian got separated from his group and went missing. When the day turned into weeks, no one held out any hope that Ian could survive.

Ian Spindly had a secret weapon, however—one that everyone underestimated: a thorough knowledge of Jack London, Gary Paulsen, Jean Craighead George, Scott O'Dell and others. Ian, it seemed, wasn’t quite as helpless as everyone thought.

Survival of the Finnest is a story of parents who must survive a decision that probably killed their son…and about the remarkable boy who must survive so much more.

Mind what you have learned. Save you it can. ~Yoda

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sub Notes: Classroom Clairboyant

Many years ago, while I was subbing in seventh grade, I got the children working and then walked around to make sure they didn’t have questions. One little boy raised his hand as I walked by. “What day is your birthday?” he asked.

I’ve always thought that was worded oddly. Not “when is your birthday,” but “what day.” But the weird part was—that day was my birthday.

“Today,” I blurted out, shocked.

The little boy nodded sagely. I didn’t want to encourage him to ask personal questions rather than doing his work—anything to get out of working for some of them—so I kept walking around the room.

Then I realized how weird that was. I didn’t know the kid or anyone related to him. I hadn’t said a word about my birthday to anyone. It's not a question people typically ask, let alone children.  I backed up. “Why did you ask me that?” I asked. He smiled shyly. Then he just shrugged. "No kidding," I said.  "Did something tip you off?"  He just shrugged again.

Kids say the darndest things.

An open mind is the beginning of self-discovery and growth. We can’t learn anything new until we can admit that we don’t already know everything. ~Erwin G. Hall

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Improper Poll: Out of Sight, Not of Mind

So last week when I mentioned Halloween candy, some people responded that they freeze their candy or end up throwing it out when it gets stale. I can’t quite grasp the concept of having chocolate long enough for it to get stale. The exception was the healthy chocolate that was almost 100% pure cocoa. As in, they’d barely added any sugar or creamy stuff to it, so it was lean and black and dense and bitter. Mean-bitter. Chocolate should never be something you have to fight. It was so wrong.

So anyway, to get rid of my remaining Halloween candy, I resorted to standing at the end of my driveway (in bedroom slippers) and hollering at passers-by, “Does anybody want the rest of this bowl of candy?!” Which, under any other circumstances, would have made me the Lady-You-Run-From. As it was, one adult politely took a piece the way you would do with a crazy person you were trying to humor.

Usually at that time of night, all that’s left is teenagers. And sure enough, I eventually stalked a gang of them and practically forced it on a large but slightly scared-looking mouse.

Then I had some birthday cake last week that I tried to foist off onto friends. “Just freeze it,” they said. People always say that, and I don’t get it. What is the point of freezing? Do some people not know how to open a freezer door? Because I do. It’s almost as easy as opening a refrigerator door. And frozen cake is still cake. In fact, it’s sort of good frozen. I’ll even try setting up obstacles for myself by double-wrapping with the really clingy stuff and then sealing it in various containers so that I have to really want it to get through all of the barriers. Problem is, I usually do want it that badly.

Do you have a food you just can’t resist?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #36

I’m off work today and grateful for the time to get caught up. I was going to (unofficially) attempt NaNoWriMo, but so far it’s NaNoWriNO. Is it possible to get caught up when you’re this far behind? It’s a question I ask myself a little too often these days.

But for inspiration, it’s time once again for Book Blurb Friday, a delightful meme hosted by the equally delightful Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff. The challenge is to write a blurb of 150 words tops to go with her pretend book cover. I apologize to the talented Christina Claro for the changes I made to her beautiful photo. My blurb this week is 127 words.


When neither her mother nor social services would help Sheba La Grande after her stepfather tried to rape her, 15-year-old Sheba got on a bus and stepped off in Cincinnati, where she ended up living in the city’s abandoned and little-known subway. There, Sheba found herself adopted into a new family that consisted of the blind Mother May-Eye, the kind but delusional Fredo San Luci, the microwave-cart-wielding Princess Diva, the ghost of Mr. Finkelstein, and a pet squirrel named Justin Beaver, among others.

What resulted was the story of an incredible—and incredibly successful—family. A family that grew out of necessity and love.

Welcome to Suburbway, where you may find yourself redefining the meaning of dysfunction—and having a jolly good time while you’re there.

Close friends become family and family is the true center of the universe. ~Dave Marinaccio