Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Heartbreaking

This is my friend Jan's family's house in Pass Christian, Mississippi (near Gulfport). My high-school friends and I have so many good memories of this place ... Mardi Gras holidays in high school, a few days here and there when the weather was nice and we could get away, weekends when several of us were home from college or our professional lives and just wanted to spend some time with old friends. We'd head out to the Pass, air out the house, and just hang out for a few days.



As you can see, the house was not spared by Hurricane Katrina. It had a covered porch (see the steps that led up to it), and I spent so many happy hours lying in one of the two hammocks on that porch, reading books and looking out at the Gulf (the beach was just across the street from the house). I've watched it rain from that porch, and somehow it always felt like such a safe, dry place--such a great vantage point for watching thunderstorms. This time, however, nothing was safe.

The pictures of New Orleans and Slidell have been bad enough, but this picture hits me especially hard. This house was a part of me, as it was a part of all of us who spent any time there.

My deepest condolences to Jan and her family.

Note: This was a summer home, not a permanent residence. Jan and her family are safe and sound--however sad--in Louisiana.

Monday, August 29, 2005

First Day

Today was the first day of school. It was only a half-day. So why do I feel utterly exhausted?

Blogging may be light (as usual) over the next few days as I adjust to this extraverted non-cubicle life.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

School & Katrina

School starts for the kids tomorrow, but instead of planning the first day, I've been watching The Weather Channel. It looks like Hurricane Katrina is headed straight for my beloved New Orleans. After that, we'll probably have a lot of bad weather and flooding here in western North Carolina. My birthmom, Sherry, and my sister, Rebecca, have evacuated north to Mississippi. My dad's in Plaquemine (near Baton Rouge) and is keeping us posted about how things are (not bad) there.

It looks like this may be The Big One for New Orleans. Every year we fear it, and every year it bypasses us. I was living in Louisiana during Andrew in '92, and that was a nightmare. But Katrina looks to be even more destructive than Andrew was. I know I don't need to say this, but please keep the New Orleans folks in your prayers. I have a lot of friends and family who live there.

Time to go to bed ... big day tomorrow.

I'm in Last Place



OK, so I'm the big slacker in the Practicing Pact this week. I've spent most of my waking life at school (in-services and preparation), and when not at school I've been at my desk at home, working on lesson plans, or (ahem) reading the summer reading requirements for my students so I can test them on it.

Others did better, though. And it's my hope that I'll be more "in their league" this week.

March practiced the dulcimer (solo practice and rehearsals) for 415 minutes. She's a member of a group called Pas de Deux that plays a mix of classical and traditional pieces. Among the traditional pieces are compositions by my beloved, bewigged, and bejowled one, including Sheep May Safely Graze, Sleepers Awake, and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Much to my delight, she provided a link to a clip of Sheep May Safely Graze (a slower version, for guitar and flute) for our listening pleasure. She writes about her group, Pas de Deux, in her blog this week.

Hilda the oboist practiced for 210 minutes this week--an amazing feat, considering all of the job-quitting excitement in her life these days. Her repertoire includes "Funeral March of a Marionette" and the two Preludes from the "Well-Tempered Wind Quartet." Hm, "well-tempered" ... yes, she's playing music by The Man as well. Her few posts this week have all been about music, so I'll just link to the whole blog. It's so exciting and inspiring to read about (1) her love affair with music, and (2) her dwindling time in corporate America. Been there, done that, and am glad I did it!

Pei Yun logged 150 minutes on the double bass for this week (though I have an inkling that she practiced more than that, since she's Pei Yun and all). She's working with the orchestra on Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto. Her blog this week featured pictures of her orchestra playing at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, as well as pictures of an ensemble she played with (along with other pictures from her Scotland trip). She writes, "I have learnt that one way to keep myself interested and disciplined in playing on my instrument is to find a group of like-minded people to make music with. Then we schedule dates to rehearse together, regularly, and soon I find myself practising more than I would when I am on my own."

Good advice. It sounds like everyone who logged minutes this week (except me) plays with a group of some kind. And everyone (except me) logged lots and lots of minutes! I logged a big 60 minutes for the week, and half of that was practicing the tunes for this morning's pre-service praise music at church.

Great job, all. Feel free to post your minutes for the week of August 28 (today) through Sept. 3 (Saturday) in the comments to this post. All amateur musicians are welcome to participate. Let the practices begin!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Who Made This Test, Anyway?

Never in my life have I been called a mathematical genius. Boy, do I feel smart!

Your IQ Is 125

Your Logical Intelligence is Above Average
Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius
Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius
Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

The Thrill of Words

"Isn't it funny the way some combinations of words can give you--almost apart from their meaning--a thrill like music?" --C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Arthur Greaves

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Open House

We had Open House at school tonight. I got to meet some of my students. When I finally put faces to some of the names on my class rosters, I thought to myself a couple of terrible questions:

What if I turn these kids off to writing? What if I make them hate literature?

Perish the thought!

They are going to have to read a lot and write a lot and do a lot of work. And even doing all of the work won't necessarily guarantee an "A."

I would be devastated if I were to cause my kids to hate English and writing. It would be almost as bad as causing them to hate Bach. Maybe even worse.

Reason #241 that I'm Never Bored

I started making some educational wall decorations for my Elements of Literature class today. With the help of Word's clip art feature, I invented this little fellow:



I laughed and laughed, and laughed some more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

School and Blogging

Well, we've had three days of teacher work-days (read: in-service classes) with two more to go, and then the students start on Monday.

I'm thinking of having a class blog and there is a good chance that folks from school will find their way to this blog, so I'm not going to be super-specific on school-related issues, good or bad. But I know that you, dear readers, are clamoring for details (hee hee!), so here's how things are going so far ...

Good. Things are good. They could be better (I could have, you know, my own classroom), but then again, they could be a lot worse (I could have, you know, a dragon for a principal).

But I can't complain. I have so much love and respect already for the people that I'll be working with. I think the world of my principal and vice-principal, and the teachers are just amazing. Smart, friendly, godly, humble, funny, giving, kind ... I could go on, but you get the picture. They are very real. I like that. The other English teacher, who has been at this school for a number of years, has been extremely helpful to this newbie, and for that I'm unspeakably grateful. The secretary, who was a friend of mine before I got the job (and who is a big reason I have the job at all), has been so patient with me and my zillion "will-I-have-a-classroom" questions. The employees of this school are just good people. I am humbled by them, and I am honored to be working with them. I know that sounds dorky and syrupy, but it's the truth.

I haven't done much this week in the way of preparing for school. I've just been so tired upon arriving home each day, and I've had meetings every night. I cancelled this evening's piano lesson (Bad Waterfall! Bad Waterfall!) because tomorrow night is open house and I haven't done a thing to prepare for it. Plus, the Hubster has a late meeting and I really just needed some quiet time.

*********************

So, I'm thinking of starting a class blog for my English lit class. They have to keep a pretty intensive reading-response journal, and I thought I might require that one entry a week be posted on the class blog. And I could require each student to post a certain number of informational "literary" posts per quarter. Nothing major, really--no more detailed than the "Happy Birthday (or death-day), Famous Person" posts that I write here. But our computer teacher has a requirement to teach "web-based research" and doesn't know much about it herself, so it might be a good joint-teaching effort for the two of us.

Speaking of Blogging, I think I'm going to shut down my "First-Year Writing Teacher" blog and just post all education-related posts here at A Sort of Notebook. Originally, I created a separate blog for it because (1) it would be a niche blog, and (2) I didn't want to bore you, dear readers, with my teaching-related woes. However, I don't post on it that much, and I have enough homeschooling-mom readers that my education posts may be of some use to them.

So, if this blog were to have themes, you can add education to the existing themes of music, piano, writing, literature, cats, hiking, and navel-gazing.

Enough of this. I need to get some things ready for Open House!

(P.S. There are two things I miss about Cubicle Land: Listening to naxos.com all day, and having time to look up things and provide links on music-related things.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Arguing, Debating, Whatever

I don't like to argue. I'm not a "can't-we-all-just-get-along" person, but I don't like to argue, either. Maybe it's because, to me, most things don't seem worth arguing about. And most of us don't know squat about the things we attempt to debate ... so what's the point? Whenever I find myself with an argumentative person, my approach is more to say, "Really? Can you tell me more about your opinion on the subject, and why you think this way?" than to argue with him (or her). Because really, what do I know? Too often, probably, I assume that everyone knows more about everything under the sun than I do.

Also, whenever an argument advances (descends) from polite interchange and intelligent discussion to dirty looks, dismissive coments, and the like, I just start to feel sick. A weight just sinks to the pit of my stomach, my throat swells and closes up so it's hard to breathe, and I start trembling. And I don't even have to be a participant in the argument (I'm usually not, anyway).

So tonight when the poetry group descended from talking about poetry and celebrating a birthday to an argument (debate) about intelligent design (ID) and evolution, I started to get that sick feeling. I wasn't very much part of the argument, though I did put in my Nancy Pearcey-inspired two cents. Then the dismissiveness started, the looking down upon, the ugliness. And I got a sick sense of something very ... sinister. Perhaps that's not the word I'm looking for. It was just a negativity. I can't explain it. All I knew was that I had to leave. I had to get out of there.

So I packed up my stuff and said, "I'm sorry, y'all. I'm tired and I just can't deal with this [insert expletive] tonight." And I walked out.

I know it was rude and not the best way to deal with a situation, but it's what happened. I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I always feel that way whenever arguments start up in this or any other group, but this time, whether it was from my exhaustion, or all the stress of starting a new job, or whatever, I felt like I had to leave. Immediately. No questions asked.

I hate arguments. Some people thrive on them, but I'm not one of those people. I do wish I responded less negatively to them, though.

School Has Begun

I wanted to write a little post on it yesterday, but after I left school I had a piano committee meeting, and then I had a literacy council roundtable. Too busy. Tonight is poetry society.

Sigh. This introvert is way too involved.

I have a few school-related stories to tell (one involving personality tests), so stay tuned. Blogging may be light for a couple of days while I focus on getting ready for the big day (August 29--when the students begin!).

Moog Dead at 71

Asheville resident and inventor of the music synthesizer Robert Moog died yesterday. He had brain cancer. NPR did a couple of good stories/tributes regarding Moog yesterday.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Practice Totals for Week of 8/14



One week of the Fall 2005 Practicing Pact is now complete! Before I give the results, I want to welcome anyone who might want to participate. We had quite a few posting their minutes last spring, so I hope some of y'all will start posting again. Meanwhile, three of us kicked off this fall's challenge.

In first place was the ever-dedicated Hilda, the Dominican Oboist in New York, with 310 minutes. She recently posted about practicing here, and I love what she said about the joy of learning to play:

Almost 9 months since I started I still periodically tear up when listening to really beautiful playing. Either that or I smile broadly. It's just so pleasing to me. So I always wondered if my own playing would be pleasing to me or if it would always be a bit stressful. Well tonight I decided to play just music for fun and I think I got a glimpse of something good.

I got a big smile when I read that!

In "second place," practice-wise, is Irksome Girl Marcy (300 minutes), who plays hammered dulcimer. She's been working on a whole slew of things that include "traditional" tunes with delightful titles ("Snowy Path Slip Jig," "Devil in the Strawstack," "Miss Gordon of Gight," and my favorite, "Spootiskerry") and an arrangement of "For the Beauty of the Earth." For the hymn, she writes, "I worked out a dulcimer, flute, and singer arrangement for a wedding earlier this year, and decided I'd like to learn to sing it and accompany myself." Now that is something I'd like to hear!

Coming in last is pianist Waterfall (that's me) with a big 150 minutes of practice time this week. That's more than I've managed for most weeks this summer, so I'm glad I was able to practice as much as I did. I'm still doing the usual stuff, though I'm hoping that Chopin A-flat Ballade is just around the corner! (And if I'd practice more, it just might be!)

Great job, everyone. For those who want to participate this week (August 21-27), just post your minutes in the comments for this post. Remember, be sure to include what you're working on (even if it's just scales and arpeggios), and let me know if/when you post practice- and playing-related thoughts on your blog so I can link them here.

(See, that's another advantage of participating ... free blog linkage!) :-)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Speaking of Hiner ...

Here's Nike's new "My Butt is BIG" ad. (Hat tip: Intellectuelle)

This is what it says:

“My butt is big and round like the letter C and ten thousand lunges have made it rounder but not smaller and that’s just fine. It’s a space heater for my side of the bed. It’s my ambassador to those who walk behind me. It’s a border collie that herds skinny women away from the best deals at clothing sales. My butt is big and that’s just fine and those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it. Just do it.”


If my hiner butt is my ambassador to those who walk behind me, should I refer to it as "Sir," or probably "Madame"?

If I try to imagine a butt that talks to people, you know, like an ambassador would, the only sounds I can imagine coming out of it are of a rather crude nature.

My butt is my ambassador. That has to be one of the silliest lines of advertising I've ever read. Which means it'll probably be wildly successful.

From now on, I'm referring to my butt as "Madame Hiner, the Esteemed Ambassador."

Not really. But I bet it made you giggle!

Word Mispronunciation

A recent post by dulciana, along with Lynn's comment to my "chimley" post earlier today, had me thinking about words we mispronounced as children. I said "bo-dell" for "Band-Aid." That one's not too exciting. My little sister was much more interesting: she said "ella-wee" for "elephant" and "hiner" (rhymes with "shiner") for ... behind. As in butt. As in, "That lady has a big fat hiner."

So, I'd love to know ... what are some of the words that you, dear readers, mispronounced as children, much to the amusement of your elders?

Congratulations, Cousin Stacey!

You are visitor #20,000 to this blog!

(Kinda funny, 'cause you one of the first people who ever knew about my blog, which means you were one of the first visitors as well!)

The Ribbon of the Appalachian Trail

On the AT list I subscribe to, a hiker, one who didn't complete his thru-hike, has been asking what gets thru-hikers through the hard times and enables them to hike all 2,160+ miles from Georgia to Maine (or Maine to Georgia). We all have our answers, and he wonders if phrases like "live in the moment"--phrases that show up a lot in our "answers"--are merely platitudes.

It's hard to explain why some people make it and some people don't. One wise hiker simply says that we're insane, and another that we're just too stupid to quit. That may well be true. I definitely kept hiking out there when it would have been much smarter for me to quit. But I couldn't quit. I'd set out to hike the whole thing, and by golly, I was going to hike the whole thing.

So anyway, this is what an AT hiker by the name of Sloetoe wrote in response to the thread. I liked it, so I'm posting it here.

What does it mean to "live in the moment" here? It means to recognize that the trail is a ribbon laid out over a marvelous landscape, a wholescale geologic slideshow, done in realtime, just for you. Hike faster, and get a sense of this ribbon, and look at the forest instead of individual trees; look at the changing ecological bioms, instead of the singleton scenes captured with a rest stop; hike a mountain range, instead of an incline, and feel with your feet how this mountain fits into the greater tapestry. How does your body react? How does the water taste on this side? Is the wind different? How different do the woods smell? A thousand things to notice, a thousand answers to questions unasked, but if you don't hike the ribbon, you won't have a clue.

Fun with Dialect

Now, I was born and raised on the edge of Cajun Country, so I hardly have the right to be amused at people's southern accents. Even though I decided, when I was in ninth grade, that I didn't want to sound like a "dumb southerner" anymore and worked very hard at losing my accent. It worked, to a great degree; when people talk to me, they can tell I'm from the south, but the accent is only very slight.

Living in Western North Carolina, however, has added a bit of twang to my speech. I'm kind of glad. It was silly of me to lose what was a very respectable Plaquemine/Baton Rouge hybrid of a dialect.

But I'm not posting this to talk about me. I want to tell y'all about our roofer.

This guy was obviously born and raised in western North Carolina. Like most folks from here, he's very friendly, if a bit rough around the edges. And when he drawls, he draawwwlls.

The other day, he said, "It's all rotted around your chimney," only it came out as, "S'all rodded roun' a-chimley." And "chimley" was pronounced "chimlih."

It's so delightful. We're supposed to pay him today, but I think I'd give him a dollar just to say "chimley" again.

Now ... if my students say "chimley" ... I suppose I'll have to correct them. :-(

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back Home Again

I'm home. And tired. School starts Monday. I was starting to feel stressed about it (mostly due to another schedule change), so I locked myself in a room with George the Piano and didn't come out for two hours.

I'm better now. Life is good. Piano saved me again. I'm glad I decided not to quit my lessons.

I promise, I'll blog something interesting and/or funny and/or thought-provoking soon. Just not tonight!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Field Trip!

No blogging for a couple of days. Y'all be good, now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

New Gadget, & TNP Progress

I've added yet another gadget to my sidebar, a little bar that shows my progress on TNP (the novel I'm writing). School preparation has unfortunately encroached upon my writing time. That's the bad news. The good news is that I'm still plugging away at it. I'm estimating that the draft will be 500 pages (which means the first revision draft will be 300 pages, and the second revision fewer than that ...).

I hit a milestone yesterday in the story. Or, my two main characters hit a milestone. So that's good.

I'm surprised at how macabre some of this book is. I thought it would be an intense little story, but I never expected some of the disturbing scenes of pain and death that seem to be flowing from my pen. Perhaps I am just building my writing muscles by writing some things to the extreme, and am destined to edit them out in the subsequent revision. Then again, maybe they're supposed to be there. I'm just writing what comes to me, and don't worry about it as long as everything fits into the overall framework in my mind.

I haven't been blogging much lately. Between school preparation, writing, piano, and tennis (yes, tennis! Ha!), I haven't been plugged in to the online world very much of late.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Practiced?



The most exciting and popular (OK, the only) practicing pact in the blogosphere is back. If you're (like me) someone who wants to practice piano (or oboe, or cello, or double bass, or guitar, or ...) but needs to somehow feel accountable to a person or group in order to make practicing a priority ... you've come to the right place!

Simply log your minutes/hours each day in the comments to this post.* To find this post, you can click on the link in my sidebar (beneath the piano icon). I'm also interested in knowing what you're working on, so feel free to include your pieces--and any triumphs, struggles, or frustrations you're having with them--in the update. In addition, if you've posted something on your blog about a practice session, a jam session, or any other music-related activity, let me know, and I'll link it in the end-of-week roundup.

You don't have to sign up or be "approved" or anything. So feel free to just join in. Most of us here are amateur (i.e., non-professional) musicians who have jobs, kids, house payments, and other everyday responsibilities that always try to get in the way of studying and practicing music as much as we'd like.

There are no prizes or awards--the real reward is the practice time you've made for yourself. Each week (probably Saturday or Sunday), I'll post the "top three" folks who put in the most practice time (along with any practice-related links submitted for the week).

Happy playing!

*Post minutes for August 14-20 in the comments to this post.

Tar Heel Tavern

The Tar Heel Tavern, a carnival for North Carolina bloggers, is up at Mandie's blog. She's done another great job of hosting, this time using pictures with blurbs to show what "flights of fancy" North Carolina bloggers have been pursuing this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Someone's Thoughts on Mozart & Education

News, the Universe, and Everything has a thought-provoking post on Mozart, education, creativity, and what it might have been like if Mozart had been educated in today's American public schools.

I want to write more on this and am, frankly, posting this now so I'll remember to go back to it later.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Piano is a "Go"

I've decided, against the helpful, thoughtful, and unquestionably wise advice of many, to take piano lessons this semester. No, I don't have time for it, and no, I can't really afford it, but ... I don't want to quit. Deep down inside, despite what everyone is saying (and despite what I'm telling myself), I don't want to quit. I've taken and quit, taken and quit, taken and quit so many times. It's the story of my life, piano-wise.

I've studied with Deborah for a year and a half now, which is about how much time I usually stick with a teacher before I quit again. If I stop this time, it'll be just another lesson-taking stint of mine, come and gone. I'll have the best intentions of going back, but you know how life tends to get in the way of all our best intentions ...

So, piano readers, I'm back. The practice pact starts up again on Sunday, August 14. Participate if you want; I'll post more information on it later. Long, boring posts on practice sessions should resume, too, once the sessions themselves resume.

La la la, get ready for more effusive praise of my Beloved, Bejowled, and Bewigged One!

"Ugh" is Right

I've been looking for a good instrument for Sebastian (my Bach action figure) to play, but I don't think he would like this. Found it over at The Well-Tempered Blog, under the heading, "Ugh Factor."

Guess I'll go with the fold-up paper clavichord instead.

Oh and, speaking of music, composer blogger Forrest Covington seems to have returned to the blogosphere after a month of computer problems.

Spiritual Gifts

The principal at our school gave us a personality test to take home with us, with the instructions, "Take this test before the in-services start on August 22, and don't wait until the night before!"

Well, you know me. I'm a sucker for personality tests, so I took it. The test is supposed to tell you (1) your spiritual gift(s) and (2) your MBTI-style personality.

Mrs. Gwen, get ready to laugh.

My top four spiritual gifts were, in the following order:

1) Teaching
2) Knowledge
3) Discernment
4) Encouragement

My lowest non-gifts were:

1) Evangelism
2) Pastor/Shepherding
3) Hospitality
4) Serving/Ministry

OK, so I'm not a people-person. We all knew that.

The "personality test" section says that I'm a "C/I/S" type: Competent Influencing Specialist. My highest personality style was I, which means "Active/People-oriented," with "I" standing for "inspiring, influencing, inducing, impressing, interactive, interested in people." Sounds very ENFP-ish, doesn't it. My second-highest personality style was S, which stands for "steady, stable (ha! ha!), shy, security-oriented (moi?), servant, submissive (huh?), specialist. (Ah, there's the introversion!)

It was an interesting test, but I don't find the results as accurate as the Myers-Briggs. Neither will my mom, regarding the spiritual gifts. She is the goddess of discernment and will laugh heartily when she reads that I scored highly in that area.

I always felt that I had discernment ... I just didn't always choose to listen to it.

This test was the Uniquely You test. It'll be fun to compare my results with the other teachers at the school.

I can't wait for school to start. I met the other teachers this week, and I have a really good feeling about our group.

So, does anyone else know what their spiritual gifts are supposed to be? I've never taken a test like this, and to be honest, I've never really thought about what my spiritual gifts are or are not. I feel exceedingly giftless in that area, in fact. I just know I like to write and make music, and that's what I've always been good at doing, and that's the way that I best connect with others.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Nine Years Ago Today

Nine years ago today, the lovely Belle Cleveland of Churchville, Virginia, gave birth to four babies, pictured below.



Nine weeks after that, I became the mommy of the brilliant and mischievous little fellow on the left.

Happy Birthday, Beau!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Today is My Daddy's Birthday

It's Mr. Hugh's birthday. I'd hoped to write something sweet and humorous like I did last year, but, to be quite honest, I've had a long, frustrating day and just don't have it in me tonight.

So, here's a very tired HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Mr. Hugh!

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Hopkins Music

EarthSweetEarth, of gerardmanleyhopkins.net, tells of The Alchemist, a 2-CD collection of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry set to music by vocalist, musician, and songwriter Sean O'Leary. Hopkins himself was interested in music and even tried to learn violin and piano, as well as a bit of composition, but was never able to pursue any of these things to any great degree. Good thing he at least had the time and resources to write poetry!

For some reason, O'Leary's contemporary acoustic folk-style music isn't what I expected to hear for Hopkins's music, but I do like acoustic folk music, so I am enjoying listening to the samples. And the more I listen to them, the more I like them.

Plus, it's always pleasant to hear poetic lyrics in songs. :)

Listen to the music samples here. O'Leary sings all songs, with soprano Belinda Evans singing backup vocals.

You can find more of my Hopkins-related posts & poetry here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Wow. That's a lot of heres.)

Another Post on Writing

The High Country Book Fair in Haywood County this past weekend was a huge success. Osondu Booksellers sold a bunch of books, and the Writers Alive! writing group was thrilled to see so many authors and book lovers alike attend the event.

I got to meet a number of authors, including Thomas Rain Crowe, Fred Chappell, and the delightful Kerry Madden. I also met a poet, Michael Beadle, who recently quit his English-teaching career to become a full-time performance poet ... and he had lots of advice for teaching ninth-graders! The whole day was a lot of fun.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm (mostly) back into my routine of writing in TNP every morning. The going has been slow. I've crossed out a lot of pages. But I'm still plugging away at it; in fact, TNP is my next destination after I post this!

I still don't have a good answer for people who ask me what the book is about. My stock answer has become, "A journey." How that for vagueness?

I am tired of people automatically asking me if I'm writing a "romance novel." No, I am not writing a romance novel. I've written on my feelings on that matter in this blog before. And someone asked me the other day if I was writing "chick lit." I had to look up the term "chick lit" on the internet. And no, it's not "chick lit." My two main characters are a fortysomething man and a young girl. Come to think of it, I have nary a modern-day chick in my lit.

I get caught off-guard when people ask me how I'm going to publish TNP. Publish? Right now my focus is on writing it. Until I get it written (and it's still a draft or two away from that), I'm not even going to think about publishing.

Still, at the book fair this weekend, I found myself a little jealous of some of the authors. Not in an ugly, green-eyed-monster kind of way, but in a way that made me ask myself, "Self, why don't you ever think about publishing anything you write?" My one published book was something that I didn't really pursue ... the opportunity just kind of fell in my lap.

I could have taken on some editing projects this summer, in addition to some freelance writing. I could have worked on several in-progress essays, brushing them up to a level that I'd feel comfortable sending them off to "little magazines." I could have worked on TNP a lot more than I did. But I didn't. I chose to do other things instead--like working at time-consuming, low-paying jobs, preparing for the teaching year, and reading up a storm. It can be argued that taking the teaching job was yet another way of avoiding trying my hand at a full-time freelance writing and editing career.

But it been a good summer. I learned a lot from those low-paying jobs, got a lot of important school-related work done, and relished the opportunity to read with abandon. But I do wonder why I so often hesitate to get my writing out there. It sure would have been nice to have two or three books to offer at that book fair this weekend, instead of just one.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Running with the (Beo)wulves ...

You know, I'm excited about teaching English. Part of me relishes the opportunity to share the wonderful world of literature with kids, and to share it in a way that they won't be turned off to it. (At least that's my hope.)

But I have selfish reasons for wanting to teach as well, and I'm not just talking about summer vacations.

A big reason is that I now have an excuse obligation to read and re-read Great Works of Literature and study them on my own. No, it's not necessarily required for my job ... but who cares about job requirements? Better to know the subject too well than not to know it well enough.

So, since I'll be teaching Beowulf, I've taken the opportunity to read Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney. Folks raved about this translation when the book was published several years ago, and I put it on my ever-growing list of Things To Read Someday.


Beowulf: one of these days ...

See, I don't remember reading Beowulf in high school or college. I know we read it; I remember buzzwords, catch phrases, and names from it: Hrothgar, Grendel, "Lay of the Last Survivor," etc. I remember trying to plow through those first few pages of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I, wondering at the awkward phrasing and thinking English Literature was going to be a hard subject. ButI didn't really remember reading Beowulf itself. Which means I must not have enjoyed it very much, because otherwise I would have remembered it.

So, last week I checked out a copy of Heaney's Beowulf from the library. I read the entire thing aloud (I'm getting to where I have no desire at all to read poetry silently, to myself). I read part of it to the Hubster. I just finished it a little while ago.

It's good. Gone are the awkward-sounding phrasings of previous translations, and they're replaced by Heaney's sensitive poetic voice. I found myself enjoying it ... and Hubster found himself distracted from his computer work to listen to the battle between Beowulf and Grendel. We don't have this translation for my English Lit class, but I'll definitely have it with me when I teach Beowulf, and read sections from it in place of their drier translation.

Hopefully, they a student or two will enjoy it enough to remember reading it after the class is over (or at least in time for the exam). And if you're looking for something different to read, I recommend it. Really! I promise not to test you on it! (Or, if you'd rather, you can wait for the movie.)

Here's an Old English rendition of a section from the Lay, or Lament, of the Last Survivor. And you can see it written in the Old English here. The "last survivor" is the last survivor of a race of men, and he buries all of their treasure in a safe place underground. Here's Heaney's translation of the Old English passage that I've linked to:

I am left with nobody
to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets,
put a sheen on the cup. The companies have departed.
The hard helmet, hasped with gold,
will be stripped of its hoops; and the helmet-shiner
who should polish the metal of the war-mask sleeps;
the coat of mail that came through all the fights,
through shield-collapse and cut of sword,
decays with the warrior.


Anglo-Saxon Helmet

Question: Am I unusual in remembering so little of this text from my high school and college days? Do you remember reading it in your English Lit class(es)?

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Life is Good

I just played George for two hours. He's sadly out of tune (again), but he was happy to bask in my attention.

Thanks to my busy and unstructured schedule, George and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship all summer. Lessons have also been intermittent (only one lesson last month), so poor George has suffered much neglect recently.

This week is my last piano lesson of the summer. If I don't take lessons this fall, it'll be my last lesson for a long time. I'm leaning toward taking the lessons in the fall, despite the wisdom of taking some time off so I can focus on teaching. Right now, my lack of funds (and, to be honest, some reluctance on my part) is what stands between me and those piano lessons. Darn teacher salaries ...

There is much to blog about regarding this past weekend ... meeting poets and writers at the High Country Book Fair ... spending quality time with the Hubster (and letting him win at Scrabble) ... playing the piano well at church this morning ... more teaching preparations ... reading, reading, reading ... and a strange disorder that I recently learned about and want to blog about when I have more than 10 minutes at the computer.

Life is good for me these days. So pardon me while I go snuggle into bed with the cat, wait for Hubster to get home, and read, read, read a bit more.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Happy Birthday, Cousin Stacey!

Today is Cousin Stacey's birthday, and, according to my watch, I am 57 minutes before the deadline in wishing her a happy, happy birthday.

Hope you had a good one, Stacey!

Seven Pages of Muddling

Now that my camp job is over, and now that I have a mere two weeks before school begins, I'm getting back into my writing routine of Three Hours Every Morning. The first of those three hours is spent journaling, and then the next couple of hours are spent reading (sometimes) and then working on the novel. I should try to spend all three working on the novel, but that takes too much out of me.

So anyway, when I first start novel-writing for the day, the first few paragraphs are usually what I call "muddle," a sort of aimless warming-up as I adjust from the real world to an imaginative one. But generally, the muddle will turn into something of real direction, and I'll write happily for four or five pages.

Today was nothing but muddle. I fear that most of the seven pages (and possibly all) will not make it to the revision. I just threw words on paper because I wasn't sure what the characters were supposed to say. Kind of like when you get into a conversation with someone at a party, and neither of you knows what to say, so it's just kind of awkward.

When I'm writing the scene, though, it doesn't have to be awkward. I can come back later, when I figure out what's to be said, and write it, and no one would ever have to know about the initial "awkwardness." My only problem this time was that I'd put off writing this scene for several days because I wasn't sure what was supposed to happen.

I know what I wanted to make happen before the scene (and it did), and I know what's to happen in the next scene, and I knew that this scene between the two needed to have certain features ... argh.

So today I thought to myself, "Self, you just need to write something. You can always come back to it later. Just get through this scene and on to the next. Once you're back on solid ground, maybe you'll get more perspective about this amorphous scene that you've been floating around in for a week."

That's what I did. I wrote seven pages of muddle. I got through the scene, mostly. I'm starting to feel the ground again, like I'm getting back to shore. This is good. I was stalled, and I don't think I'm going to be stalled anymore.

And I got to page 200 today! Page 201, actually! Life is good!

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Overcome with Gratitude

Would I be overcome with gratitude or overcome by gratitude? Guess I need to bone up on those prepositions.

Whatever it is, all I know is that I was very recently jumping up and down, grinning ear to ear, and hugging my exciting new gift.

My friend Andye sent me my own Bach action figure. Out of the blue. Just because she's happy that I'm going to be a writing teacher.

I want to e-mail her and thank her profusely for this wonderful gift, which is now sitting proudly upon George, but I don't have her e-mail. So I'll thank her publicly.

Thank you, Andye! I LOVE it!

What shall I name my new action figure? Hmmm ... how about Wolfg--no, maybe Ludw--hmm. I know! I'll name him ... Sebastian!

Andye, please e-mail me (my e-mail address is in the sidebar, toward the top) so I can thank you in e-person! Love ya!

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Did You Know ...

... that you can sing iambic pentameter verse to the tune of "The Pink Panther"?

Try it ... it's loads of fun!

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

--William Shakespeare

Hopkins Presentation Tonight

My poetry group meets tonight, and it's my turn to do a presentation on a poet of my choice. There is some hostility to "traditional" (i.e., Christian) religion in the group, and I'm a glutton for punishment, so I selected Gerard Manley Hopkins--a Jesuit priest whose poetry's focus on the Christian God reminds me of Donne, Milton, and Herbert--as my poet.

As usual, time didn't permit me to study this poet in the depth that I hoped for. But I was able to spend a few days reading over the poems, looking at a few commentaries, and learning (re-learning) some of the "vocabulary words" for reading Hopkins. (He made of a lot of his own words and terms in describing his poetic style).

Contrary to what I said in my opening paragraph, I actually chose Hopkins (1844-1889) for my presentation because I love his poems "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur," and I remember liking him when I read him in college. Other than that, I really wasn't very familiar with his work. Somehow, I made it through graduate school without studying him in any depth, so this was really the first time I've concentrated on Hopkins' poetry since college, many moons ago.

Whew, but this is a hard poet to read at first glance! (And second, third, and fourth glance, too ...) I'm glad I was able to take a few days to study his themes and his own statements about his poetry prior to tonight's poetry meeting.

One of his "vocabulary words" is inscape. I won't attempt to define it here, but will only say that it refers to the essence of a thing ... the "rockness" of a rock, or the "treeness" of a tree. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and very devout, and "inscape" could be extended to have a religious significance, too. The "rockness" of a rock is that essence that God has given to the rock, and in its "rockness," it reflects some small part of God's glory. Same goes for the tree, and everything else. He has a wonderful line in "As kingfishers catch fire" where he says that everything reflects God's glory, just as He desires, the way a tucked (plucked) string sounds the note that it was tuned to sound. A nice image, even if you don't agree with it.

So what about humans? What about our inscape, our essence? Our human-ness? Hopkins believes that humans are meant to do the same, only their "human-ness" is Christ, or the essence of Christ. In everything we do, we are meant to reflect Christ and what He has done for us: we are His hands, feet, eyes on earth.

I love Hopkins' poetry because, like the Romantics, he focuses very specifically on the wonders of nature--for him, nothing in nature is trivial. But his poetry and his perceptions are always in the context of his devout Christian beliefs, and everything points back to God. A rock may seem a trivial thing, but God gave it its "rockness," and it is up to us to be able to see it, and maybe get an inner glimpse of its greater significance as part of the God's creation.

I remember reading Hopkins during my atheist and agnostic days, wishing I had the belief to be able to see the world and its creatures as having the same great significance and meaning as he did, but I couldn't. Hopkins appealed to me then, and I hope he'll appeal to my poetry buddies tonight.

But I'll leave off my ramblings for now and let Hopkins take over. Yes, you read his "As kingfishers catch fire" a hundred years ago in school, but there's a reason it's so heavily anthologized ... it's really a wonderful poem. (For those less familiar with poetry, the little accent marks above some of the words simply mean that a stress, or slight emphasis, is to be given the word when reading aloud.)

As kingfishers catch fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Monday, August 1, 2005

Vocabulary Enthusiasts, Unite!

I found a link to the Vocabulary Reclamation Project (VRP) through Semicolon. I'm a word-nerd, so I thought, "Hm, this looks like something I should probably check out."

And I got all excited when Ariel (the VRP blogger) wrote that a Master's degree in English is required to join the VRP. Finally, finally, I thought with glee, my degree comes in handy! Oh joy!

Then he said he was just kidding. Oh well. He writes, "The only prerequisite [for joining ... which I think means being listed in his blogroll] is a genuine love for words."

Yep. I still qualify.

I know I'm not the only word-nerd out there. Check out Ariel's VRP site, as well as his other blog, BitterSweet Life.