Back to School 2018

Happy Tuesday! I go back to school on Monday. For anyone who has faced a giant chore that they must do, but don’t want to do, you can probably empathize with the giant tantrum that is taking place in my mind right now. A tantrum that serves no purpose other than to fight the inevitable, because eventually I have to put my foot down and make myself be an adult. Making money is something that has to be done.

Luckily the first week back is teachers only, a week for meetings, lesson planning, and setting up my classroom. Thanks to the generosity of readers last year, I have the materials I need to start the year off right without having to buy anything significant. The tough part about this year is acclimating to yet another new school, and planning lessons for four different classes, all of which I have never taught before, and three of which are upper level maths including precalculus and calculus.

One thing I can rely on is my ability to get shit done. It doesn’t matter what is in front of me, I can assess the job and find the most efficient way to get it done. The system I used in the past school year worked very well to minimize my grading load while maximizing how much I could help students understand the concepts within the school day. Kids also loved the predictability of the structure. I’m going to use the same structure, but stretch it across two days instead of doing it every day to give me time to get the grading done faster and to give the kids a chance to interact with the concepts more separate from my instruction. If you are a teacher reading this and would like to know more about my process, please let me know and I would love to share.

Essentially my goal is to always leave at the end of my contract day and keep my unpaid time for me. I want to bring zero grading home, do zero planning at home, and last year that was basically what I did thanks to my method. Plus the data showed that my students did the same or better than the kids in other sections that had homework or overworked teachers. So I’m just gonna keep doing it until someone makes me stop.

Back to school. Ugh.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Expected publication date July 31, 2018

Advanced copy provided by publisher in return for an honest review.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a story told in alternating points of view, between the privileged Chula and her family’s housemaid Petrona. They are growing up in Columbia during the time of guerrillas, Pablo Escobar, and political upheaval. Chula is able to escape to America with her mother and sister, while Petrona is left behind to make her way with her boyfriend and newborn baby.

The story is mostly about the events that led up to Chula and her family fleeing the country. It includes some pretty blatant socio-economic discrimination that I wasn’t real wild about. I got about halfway through and realized that I’m basically watching this story happen in real life in the news. I wasn’t feeling any suspense or urgency. I hate to say it, but I read for fun. I’m okay with a little angst or bad things happening, but I’m all full up on babies in cages with deported parents that were originally seeking asylum and now they have no way to reunite them and when they can, sometimes the kids don’t remember the parents…I don’t know man, I get enough of these stories in real life, I don’t think I want them in my fun times. Self-care, angels.

If you like international stories and understanding historical events through fiction, the writing is very good and the story was good too. I only put it down because of the subject matter. You should give it a try and see what you think.

Some Thoughts on Recent Events

I’ve been out of town for several reasons over the past week: supporting family, being a tourist, attending trainings; but I didn’t want to let these issues fly by without commenting on them. Honestly Twitter and the internet moves so fast and there are probably so many other hot takes out there already, but just in case my readers missed these, here they are!

Insatiable on Netflix

Recently Netflix announced a show called Insatiable. It’s the story of a fat girl who is teased but then one summer she has to get her jaw wired shut. She emerges in the fall newly hot and thin(ner) and ready to take revenge.

The online community exploded and had the predictable argument about how you don’t have to be thin to be powerful (some still adhere to the idea that being fat is 100% unhealthy all the time so there was plenty of anger to go around).

Let me be very clear, if I haven’t made this plain before, I am fat. I am healthy. And if you don’t think I can stand up for myself without first obtaining some idea of attractiveness then you don’t know me. High school girls do not need one more movie or show about how they have to get thin or be like the “popular” girls to get even or be powerful – that’s all we’ve ever had.

Give me a show that shows a fat girl just being a normal person and using healthy methods to communicate and stand up to assholes WITHOUT her being some kind of comic relief. Show me a fat girl just being a person. Maybe even show me a fat girl that is popular and successful, not just clumsy/smart, or all those things combined! I’m tired of fat stories that are just suffering solved by weight loss. I’m disappointed in Netflix over this, and so is everyone else based on the reactions.

Article in Forbes about libraries

A rich, out-of-touch, white, economics professor dude wrote an article for Forbes (which has since been taken down) that described the necessity for Amazon to take over for public libraries to save on tax dollars. His logic was that it gave the taxpayer the freedom to choose whether they wanted to buy the books from the library or not, relieving all people from the tax burden of supporting public libraries.

To say that Book Twitter absolutely exploded would be an understatement.

The professor was complaining because he paid $475 or something like that in tax dollars for their public library alone (I’m not sure how he got those figures). Responses to this included what people would have to pay for the books that they currently have on file if they bought them on Amazon, versus what they paid in tax dollars for the service. One woman had 50 books on hold but only paid $74 in tax dollars to support the library system, illustrating the extreme benefits of having a rotating inventory of shared books and the small price to pay.

The point I want to add to this discussion is that we shouldn’t be talking about money at all. I am so fucking sick of talking about taxes like they are bad. Taxes are necessary. Taxes are NOT just random amounts of money that is being stolen from you. Taxes are amounts of money that you contribute in return for living in a developed, pleasant society. What is bad/good is who you elect to allocate those funds.

Libraries are not just a place to get free books, music, and DVDs. Libraries often provide educational programs, summer programs, or internet access for people who could not afford to have it in their home. It is where people can go for job search resources, community resources, and even where homeless people can go to be warm/cool and spend time doing something enjoyable like surfing the internet or reading a book.

Public libraries are a vital public resource that any community should fund to be sure that everyone has access to everything a library provides, which is legion. In society sometimes you have to contribute to things that you don’t necessarily use because the fact that someone else has access to it makes things better for everyone. (Another notorious tax complaint here is when old people complain about property taxes because they fund schools and since they don’t have kids they shouldn’t have to pay.)

Something that doesn’t directly affect you in your face TODAY RIGHT NOW might benefit you indirectly in ways you don’t or aren’t smart enough to realize. We live in an age where people can’t see past their own noses and entire groups of people are suffering because of it. Keep your fucking hands off my library.

Book Piracy

I did not catch all of this discussion but the general gist of this is that there is a HUGE problem nowadays with the rise in e-books where people convert them to PDFs and then they get shared around the internet for free.

I am writing a book currently (I will pass 50,000 words/200 pages this week!) and so I’ve been learning about the publishing industry and how it works. The basic idea is that royalties are based on books sold. Books sold include both hard copy (either hardcover or paperback) and e-books. Before a book is released pre-orders are very important as they help retailers plan for how many they will need, and the orders that they make are sales right away.

When I buy a book on Amazon, Amazon gets all that money because they have already bought the book from the publisher. When Amazon buys the book from the publisher, that’s the step at which the author gets a royalty. So Amazon (or your local independent bookstore, or even Barnes and Noble) bases its orders to the publisher on the demand for the book. If they notice that they sell about 100 a month, they’ll order more than that, and then reorder once it hits a certain threshold.

The problem comes when people are reading pdfs they found by googling on their personal reading device. They act like Kindle books (or Nook, if that’s your poison) but cost nothing. Someone had to buy it initially and convert it, and it’s beyond me why they would then put it out into the world for free, but that’s what happens.

This falls into the same category as the library issue I was talking about above. A book you can’t afford is available for free on the internet or you can wait to get it from the library for free. Another unfortunate side effect of our technological age is that people want things RIGHT NOW, our powers of rationalization are well developed, and our abilities to understand how our actions affect others are underworked.

Enough people make the “small” choice to get a pdf of a book online, and retailers don’t get as many orders, so they order less from the publisher. Eventually orders reduce so much that retailers don’t order at all, causing a book to go out of print and an author to lose their income. The defense that people have for this is that the author should be thankful that people are reading their work, but it’s past time for us to refuse to acknowledge the idea that “exposure” is a form of payment. Art is a product, you should pay to own or consume it, especially in the publishing world when so many people make so little. Not everyone is Stephen King, but even Stephen King deserves money for the books he writes. Writing a book takes a lot of time, and time is money.

If you currently use book pdfs that are the result of piracy, please consider stopping. You’re hurting someone’s livelihood.

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What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry Angel Novel: 48 Days

The book project I started this summer has been coming alone nicely. There have been days where I haven’t written and days when I’ve written my ass off, but for the most part I’ve been trying to write about 1,000 words every day. Thanks to the #1000wordsofsummer event on Twitter I discovered that this was a habit I could keep up with, and it yielded fast results.

The event that got me thinking that I had a novel series in me, National Novel Writing Month, holds a summer event in July called Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s mostly for people to make progress on a manuscript or some work that is unfinished, as opposed to literally writing an entire novel in one month’s time. I put in what I had written so far in June as my starting point, made 75,000 words my goal for the end of July, and then I was off to the races. Their website keeps track of my progress and gave me these stats as of my writing today.

Screenshot 2018-07-18 at 9.03.38 PM

I am aiming for 100K words total on my first draft, but if I keep writing like I have been (and not the 2250 words per day as suggested by NaNoWriMo), I’ll be sitting at between 65K and 70K (at least!) by the time I go back to school on August 6th for teacher planning week.

Guys, I am really proud of myself. I am enjoying writing this story and I hope that someday people will enjoy reading it. I have never written this much in this short of a time span, even when I was writing parts of my dissertation during my doctoral work. My manuscript is sitting at 93 Microsoft Word pages, and I make that distinction because I have learned that Microsoft Word pages and book pages aren’t the same thing (e.g. 100K words = 400 book pages). The point I am making here though, is over the past 48 days I have written 93 pages of something. NINETY-THREE.

I can’t wait to finish this draft and then go to Staples to have them print and spiral-bind it so I can start revising and re-writing. I want to read about outlining and editing and take time to read books I think would be comparable titles to get inspiration. I’ve already started rereading Six of Crows because I couldn’t wait. I’ve ordered some writing how-to books that will help me strengthen my characters and enhance my storytelling. I’m so excited that I’m already thinking about the next step. I’m acting like this first draft is already finished, because I know that it will be, because I will finish it.

I hope you are enjoying seeing these updates. I am excited to share just a little of my progress with you, my readers, because without you I wouldn’t have this blog, and without this blog I wouldn’t be reading nearly as much as I do, and without all this reading I may never have become inspired to write my own book. Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me. Have a great weekend.

Give Me Your Hand

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Expected publication date July 17, 2018

Advanced copy provided by publish in exchange for an honest review.

Have you ever wondered if the past will come back to haunt you? Whether it is an ex or a family member or an old friend, I’m sure we can all think of someone who, if they showed up in our lives today, would give us that tv moment of shock and slow-mo (cut to commercial). In Megan Abbott’s GIVE ME YOUR HAND, two women who were high school classmates have grown into scientific powerhouses who have been chosen to be a part of an important PMDD study. The only problem is that Diane told Kit her deepest, darkest secret in high school, she knows who Diane truly is, and she thought that was all left in the past. She is scared to work with her again, and afraid of what Diane might do to make sure her secret stays a secret.

The turning point of the novel happens about halfway through. Having Diane return to her world makes Kit panic. She goes on a date with her coworker Alex that she’s been crushing on for awhile, and after a few too many Long Island Iced Teas she divulges that Diane is dangerous, Kit knows her, and that she’s a killer. The next day Alex has left the apartment for the lab early, saying he’s going to handle it for her.

Problem is that Alex isn’t just her crush, he’s also one of the most irresponsible scientists in their lab. Notorious for leaving things dirty, using the wrong materials, breaking things, and taking rats to use without permission, it’s no surprise that when Kit confronts him in the lab while he is working, they argue, and then the cracked pipette he was heating explodes spilling chloroform everywhere and shredding his throat for good measure. He dies, and wouldn’t you know it, Diane is in the next room. Oh no Kit, what have you done? I heard you arguing, he was violent you had no choice! And then suddenly they are cleaning up the scene and sneaking Kit out in Diane’s lab coat, leaving the clumsy Alex to be discovered by someone else.

Even though Kit did nothing wrong, and calling 911 would have made more sense and been easier, her senses were muddled by the chloroform and she let Diane guide her. Now Diane has something over Kit like Kit does over her. They are even. They are equals and must be friends. And honestly, this is when I stopped reading.

I highly dislike books where misunderstandings like this happen, or when someone has too much power over another. By telling Kit her secret when they were in high school, Diane freed herself because she knew Kit would never tell, and when they reconnect she finds a way to ensure that it never does, almost by accident. The rest of the book would be an anxiety-filled will she or won’t she as Kit decides if putting herself in jeopardy is worth the truth being told. Personally I have enough anxiety in my life right now to kill a bull elephant, and while I enjoy a good thriller this novel is just not to my taste.

It was well written and enjoyable, I’m just not into that kind of a plot device. Want to find out what happens once both girls have blackmail material on each other? Go get you some! And then let me know what happens.

Shelter Needs Part 1

This month I have been stressing a bit about the fact that we will be meeting with a Realtor and a homebuilder in August to see if we can actually afford to buy a new construction home. The timeline would be perfect: builds starting in September/October finishing in February/March. Our current lease is up in mid-May 2019, so that would give us a couple of months to transition and get the rental cleaned and ready for inspection.

I’ll be making another post covering my worries about this process later. I wanted to talk about renting houses and apartments. I’ve been renting since January 2005 and if my bumbling experience can help you improve yours, I am glad to share. Today we’ll look at all the places I rented and lived in on my own and in a follow up post we’ll explore my rental experiences with the husband in tow.

The first place I ever rented was a small attic apartment in Bangor, Maine. I had just ended a 3 year relationship (1 year engagement), gotten a new night job as a telemarketer, and was starting my student teaching assignment in the spring term of my senior year of college. Instead of staying on campus in my cozy single room I decided to stretch my wings and live on my own. I would avoid parking issues on campus when I returned in the evening and I would have a shorter drive to both the student teaching and my job. The logic was sound, but an important lesson I learned from this apartment was to keep looking until you find one with a real bathroom. A bathroom with a weird clawfoot tub that you have to buy one of those shower hoses for that falls off all the time and hooks and nails for the ceiling to hang the shower curtain from because there isn’t a shower rod might not be the best choice.

My second rental experience was in extreme northern Maine. My first teaching assignment was hours away from even the most major interstate. It was the kind of town that just has a blinking yellow/red light in the middle of it. The town police chief rented me his house for $395 a month. I had a furnished, 2-story house to knock around in that fortunately had a washer/dryer but unfortunately did not include heat. I didn’t know to ask about this, but when I ran out of heating oil in December and discovered I couldn’t afford more on my $24,000 a year salary, I learned a valuable lesson: NEVER RENT IN A PLACE WITH SNOW THAT DOESN’T INCLUDE HEAT IN THE RENT.

When I left (was run out of) that little town I moved to Arizona to teach and get my master’s degree at Arizona State University. I reserved an apartment using the internet and phone calls. I remember quite distinctly that I said to the woman at the complex “I am going to be living there alone and I can’t afford to fly out to see it. You have to be honest with me, is this a safe place to live?” I was so fucking stupid when I was 22. I drove cross-country in a Toyota Corolla packed full of all my belongings (and my cat Chloe). We arrived just as the complex office was closing to sign the lease and move in. I lived there for one year and had to be fumigated three times for German cockroaches, lost water twice due to water main breaks in the area, had someone break my master bedroom window and try to break in one morning, and had no washer/dryer but (thankfully) a laundry room in the complex. Lesson learned here was not to rent sight unseen, but I didn’t really have a choice and again, I was really dumb/inexperienced.

So as my finances improved a bit (as a result of an influx of student loans from my masters program) I looked for a better place to live. I now had a whole list of things I wanted in an apartment: a real bathroom, clarity about what is included in the rent, safety, and a washer/dryer in the unit. So I moved just a little bit west to a safer area, a gated complex, into a one-bedroom with a washer/dryer in unit. It is one of the nicest places I have ever lived, it was just a shame that I could not afford to furnish it with anything other than my IKEA platform bed, office chair, ad computer desk. My tv and internet router sat on the floor. Any gathering I had was a BYOF(urniture) gathering. If I had stayed longer I probably could have furnished it slowly, paid on my student loans for a while, and continued to gain experience as a band director. One of my biggest regrets was rushing to get my doctorate and leaving what was already a pretty good foundation in a place that I loved to live. The lesson learned here was to always consider leaving an apartment/house carefully, because you might actually already be home. But again, I was 23 at this point, naive and very ambitious.

My next living space was actually the empty apartment of my friend in Phoenix, because she had moved back to Ohio but her lease wasn’t up until the end of July. My lease was up in mid-June, so I got an air mattress and a litter box for my THREE (yes three at this point) cats and set up shop in her totally empty apartment to bridge the gap between my apartment and moving to Indiana. I didn’t stay here as long as I had planned because it was terrible and boring so I turned in her keys for her and headed east.

I had originally planned to stay at an Extended Stay for a bit until I could find an apartment in the college town (learning from lesson of renting sight unseen) but I had an acquaintance/regretful fling that I knew so my three cats and I stayed with him for about a week until I found a place.

Now the lesson I learned at ‘shitty apartment on the east side of town’ was to never rent at a place where people have to walk past your apartment to get down stairs. This is kind of like requesting a hotel room away from the elevator. The apartment was set up like a shitty motel, and so to get to the second floor you would walk up a set of stairs and then down a walkway/balcony to get to your door. My two bedroom, one bath apartment with the literal oldest appliances ever (but a huge built in bookshelf!) was situated as the first door of two on the second floor landing. So my neighbors loved to look into my apartment as they came home, and their kids treated the entire walkway as their playground, including right in front of my door. It was an okay situation for what it was (again, it seemed as though every time I moved I was broke and desperate) but overall it was loud, intrusive, and frustrating.

Up until this point I had always lived alone. I had never had a roommate aside from the brief first semester of college when I was forced into a double room with a girl who ended up living with someone else like two months in, leaving me alone in a double room that I eventually traded in for a single room in my second semester. Most of the lessons I learned from renting on my own were very basic: see before you buy, get a real bathroom, washer/dryer is important, being in a safe area (if affordable) is important, check out arrangement of units for how residents are forced to intermingle.

Next time we’ll move into the cohabitation portion of my history, and I will outline the lessons I learned as a result of having my first (and only) roommate of all time – the husband – and also how we navigated finding places to live together.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Expected publication July 10, 2018

Copy provided by publisher in advance in exchange for an honest review.

This book was genuinely confusing to me. One second it was making me feel one way, and the next another, to the point that I wasn’t sure if I loved it or if I hated it. I think that this is the beauty of this book as it lands in the midst of our socio-economically imbalanced society. You can resent the fact that this woman has the freedom to explore sleep as a valid therapy option while still feeling sympathy for what is obviously a very deep depression that she is struggling with after the deaths of her parents.

She decides to hibernate for a year in an attempt to reset her brain and have a new, emotional approach to her reality. She finds a “therapist” (finger quotes intended) in the yellow pages who is 100% a quack and is willing to help her jump through the insurance hoops to prescribe her every combination of sleep drugs under the sun. The first six months are full of adjustment to the medications – sleep-walking, sleep-talking, sleep-shopping – and she tries to put the pieces together after her blackout events while dealing with an abusive ex, a flighty “best friend,” and managing the resources that her parents have left to her.

About halfway through her year she realizes that she can’t be fully rested and restored if she hangs onto anything from her old life. She partners with an artist she was connected with in her old job and apparently connected with during a sleepwalking episode, to cleanse her space, lock her in, and let the true transformation begin.

This entire concept was so dangerous. The combinations of medications she is allowed to take by a person that so obviously does not have her best interests at heart as a member of the therapy profession. Her only close friend, Reva, is so selfish and self-deprecating herself that you wonder if she is able to keep an eye out for our unnamed narrator. The amount of money that she (the narrator) seems to have at her disposal is constantly the deus ex machina that allows her to continue forward.

As I was reading I did branch out to read some reviews to see how others reacted to this novel. Some said it was an interesting theory that the brain could be reset through extended hibernation and how it might be used in a safer environment with proper nutrition and monitored vitals. Others asked why we should feel bad for someone so rich that their problems are solved by drugs and money. One reviewer said that we should feel compassion for the rich, because so often the riches that we envy them for are the very things that prevent them from learning to struggle and survive, so they lack a very important set of skills that other members of society are forced to curate over time.

I agree with all these takes, although I do not feel as much empathy towards the wealthy as some reviewers seemed ready to have. What was so compelling to me about this book was the familiarity of the depression and the need to sleep. I love sleeping and being alone. I was able to ignore this woman’s wealth enough to live vicariously through her hibernation, especially the times when it really worked for her.

This seems as though it would be a very divisive book, one that would make for a good book group read. How do we give credence to all cases of mental illness while still understanding the real privilege at play in this tale? How can we be empathetic and disdainful at the same time? I love that this book presented me with this challenge. You should let it present it to you as well. Go get you some.