Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Break

One of the things that non-teachers don't fully appreciate is spring break. Granted, this year, it's felt a lot like Christmas break never ended, what with snow days seemingly a weekly occurrence, but its arrival is appreciated nonetheless. After the last two weeks of essay scoring, entry approving, and portfolio grading, I'm excited to say that I am not thinking of anything school-related until a week from Sunday.

So what are my plans for this break? Well, for one, I plan to stare at the ocean a great deal. My brother and I are headed out early Sunday morning to spend the week with our parents in their winter condo in Murrells Inlet, SC. After not having been to the beach in nearly a decade, this makes my second trip in eight months. Every time I go, I am reminded of how much I really need time at the ocean on a relatively regular basis. It resets me. It clears my head. It calms my heart. It makes me happy.

But beyond that, I have plans to do three things. In between doing whatever the family does, of course, which will probably include golf, shopping, seeing a show or two, daily walks on the beach, and, of course, eating seafood. That's another reason I love the ocean. Fresh seafood. Not Red Lobster fresh. Actual fresh. Anyway, about those plans...

First, I plan to read. To people who know me, that may seem silly since I am always reading. But vacation reading is so much more joyous than reading at home. I get to do it without the guilt of deciding on sitting down with a good book instead of doing some chore that needs doing around the house. At the beach, the faucet doesn't need fixed. The laundry can wait until I get home. The yard work will still be there when I get back too. I'm taking two book books and my Kindle. I like the convenience of a Kindle, but I love the new book snap and nothing beats that new book smell. The book books are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Mitch Albom's The Time Keeper. On my Kindle, I have, among some classics for backups in case I finish all my planned titles, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third in Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy. I've loved the first two and am excited for the finale.

Second, I plan to write. Life has been so incredibly insane for the last two weeks that I have not written one word on my latest work-in-progress. It's not that I haven't wanted to. It's been that being an English teacher with 110 AP Literature students sometimes eats my life. Because we lost so many days to weather, we crammed three practice essays, Macbeth, and an essay test into the last three weeks, along with their portfolio being due at the beginning of this week. Write? I barely had time to go to the bathroom. But this week, grades are all submitted and I promised my kids they would not be getting any responses from me when they email me early stuff for the next portfolio. I am incommunicado. And I'm going to spend a good deal of my time getting re-acquainted with Dee and Harry Shalan and their somewhat-more-romantic albeit slightly dangerous version of good ol' Parkersburg, WV.

And finally, I plan to do some power napping. I find I can't nap on school nights. It's like I have one chance to fall asleep per day and if I waste that on a nap, I will be up half the night, even if it's only a twenty-minute snooze. But I have no such restriction while vacationing. I can nap during the day and still fall blissfully asleep that night. My brain is just more relaxed, especially when the vacation is at the ocean.

So that's the plan. It's ambitious, I know, but I think I'm up to it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Definitely a Writer

The very first entry I made on this blog posed the question of what makes me a writer, meaning when can I call myself a writer. I discussed whether it was getting published or that I write regularly. Well, today, I learned for certain that I am a writer, paid or not. It's baked right into me and that's not going to change.

word countEarly this morning, I would say right before I woke up, I dreamed a short story. I saw the scenes in my mind. They were so real I could even remember specific lines. I woke up, made coffee, and started typing. I typed non-stop from a little before 7:30am to 9:30am, when I realized I needed to leave in twenty minutes for church. I thought for a split second about skipping out, but remembered that the ability to write is a gift from God and I would be an ingrate not to go to church. Also, it was my week to run the visuals during the service. So I took my Chihuahua, Baili, for the shortest walk in the history of walks, fed her, got cleaned up, and was out the door in just a few more than 20 minutes.

I was at church, but my mind sure wasn't. I found myself feeling irritable and impatient, wanting the service to end. After a bit, I realized it was because I needed to get home and finish this story. It was fighting to come out. 

So I hurried home as soon as services ended and sat right down at the keyboard. I wrote non-stop for three more hours, at which time I had a sixteen page story of almost 5,000 words that came to me in a dream. I was so exhausted when I finished that I had to take a nap.

I wasn't planning to write today because I have about 320 essays to score by Wednesday. But I felt like I had no choice. It was in my brain and it had to come out. And that's when I knew I was a writer. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Questions, I Get Questions

Any Questions?

Actually, I asked for questions, so I'm hardly complaining. I saw a blogger I follow do this and it looked like fun, so I posted on my social media pages a request for interview questions with the promise that I would answer them on here. So this is me keeping that promise, albeit a little later than I intended. These are in no particular order.

Q: What inspired you to become a minister?
A: A little context is in order here, I think. I am a high school English teacher and aspiring novelist (I am a novelist--I aspire to make money at it.), but I spent six years as a youth minister at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Parkersburg, WV. I still think of my work with my students as a ministry, but I assume the question is asking about my time working for a church. What inspired me in the larger sense was the firm belief that I have a gift for teaching and a passion for ministering to the needs of teenagers. What led me to church work was, to be frank, the fact that there was no full-time work available in my first choice of vocation: school teacher. So I went to seminary and then took a job as the Director of Youth Ministries at EBC. It was six of the best years of my life, but I eventually missed the classroom and realized that I could touch even more lives in a public school setting than I could in a church.

Q: Was it really necessary to bloody my nose? lol
A: Again, some context. My cousin Jan, who loves to tell the end of this story, conveniently forgets a few things. First, I was what, three? Four? To be fair, she was the same age. She still is, in fact. She still is the same ages as me, not still three or four. Second, she wouldn't give my pedal car back. It seemed like my only logical recourse. If someone tries to carjack you, I think bloodying her nose is quite a restrained response.

Q: If you could be any tree in the world, would you?
A: This question could be read two ways. Does the questioner mean any type of tree, like oak or cedar or sycamore? In that case, the answer is no. If, on the other hand, the question is whether I would be a specific tree, like the White House Christmas tree, then the answer would be, well, no. So I guess it doesn't matter which way it was meant.

Q: Did you really have nothing to do with my grandmother writing on the side of Tammy's car with shoe polish at my wedding?
A: Eric, the main thing I remember about your wedding is watching a large portion of it from the end of a long, black tunnel as I fought not to be one of those members of the wedding party who smashes his nose by passing out mid-ceremony. But I can say without reservation that I absolutely did not aid and\or abet your grandmother in tagging your car in any way. I was, and am, as pure as the driven snow.

Q: What inspires you to write?
A: Several things, really. First, I can barely remember a time when I didn't love writing stories. I have a green notebook in my memory box filled with stories I wrote in grade school. I found my first inspiration to be a writer in John Boy Walton from The Waltons. My parents even found the exact kind of yellow writing paper that he used and gave it to me for a Christmas present. Finally, and I would bet a lot of writers would say the same thing, I can't not write. I have these stories running around in my brain that just clog everything else up until I get them out. I dream chapters and scenes and sometimes even whole stories. While I'm supposed to be doing other things, I am staring off into space mulling over whether to kill off a character or to make a character pregnant or have an ulterior motive for a kind deed. It's just baked in. As to what kinds of things inspire me, I guess the answer would be nearly everything. Everyday events, stories I see in the news, even people. The book I'm working on now began not with a storyline but with a character who was inspired by a young lady who is a former student and now a friend. The story itself isn't based on events from her life, but one of the main characters is inspired by her. Many of my characters have little kernels of the people I know.

Q: What inspired you to become a teacher and how in the world did you become one of the best?
A: I'm uncomfortable answering this question because it seems very self-serving, but I promised to answer any question asked, so here goes. I have no idea how good a teacher I am. Thank you for thinking that. It's humbling. What I know I am is enthusiastic. I love my job and feel blessed to get to do it. I pretty much answered that what-inspires-me question in the one about being a minister, but I will repeat that most teachers, at least the ones who care about making a difference, will say that teaching is, at its core, a calling. If you don't love it, do something else. And another thing that probably makes people see me as good is that I have a blast every day and I think it probably rubs off on my students. If you get to the end of the day and haven't laughed a lot and maybe even cried a little from time to time, you're doing it wrong, in my opinion.

Q: What comes to mind when you see a tomato?
A: Anybody who knows my family history will know that this is the perfect question for me. My Grandpa P. K. Stephens was known in these parts as the Tomato King. All the boys in the family worked in the summers helping to plant and then sell his tomatoes. My dad and brother grow some of the best tomatoes ever eaten on a buttered biscuit, which is possibly the greatest food in the history of the human race. I grow them too, though I hardly hold a candle to either of them. When you've tasted a fresh, homegrown tomato that you just picked and sliced, you'll never again think of those grey cardboard things that they sell in grocery stores as tomatoes. Those sorry tasteless blobs have as little relation to real tomatoes as a tricycle has to a Harley Davidson.

Q: Why do you blog? What inspires you?
A: I blog for the same reason that I write books: I couldn't imagine not doing it. It gives me a creative outlet that's distinct from writing fiction and it gives me a chance to interact with people who may read what I write. As for what inspires me, that depends on what I'm writing about. Sometimes it's a realization I've made while I'm writing, which is where the entries about my writing process come from. Others times, it's a life event that I've reflected on and I want to share my thoughts and feelings with the world. Sometimes it's just this feeling that something's in here waiting to come out, though I don't always know what it's going to be until I look back and see what I've written. Finally, I'm often inspired by the writing of others. Hence, this blog entry. Thanks Megan Elizabeth. :)

That's all the questions I was asked. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, I'd be glad to do a sequel.