Saturday, June 28, 2014

It's a Beautiful Morning!

There are so many things to be happy about this morning. I mean beyond the normal stuff that I tend to forget to be thankful for, like having a roof over my head, plenty to eat, and a job I love. It's just been a good couple of days.

First of all, it's Wimbledon time! I'm mildly interested in tennis all the time, but I start really paying attention in early summer with the French Open. My interest borders on obsession at this time every year. I'm a diehard Anglophile anyway, and that love annually peaks in late June and early July. There's just something exciting and romantic about those beautiful grass courts. I can vividly remember rooting for my tennis crush, Chris Evert, against her fierce rival, Martina Navratilova. Now I have no crush (actually, it's still Chris Evert), but I watch all of the matches that I can. It's definitely high on my bucket list to get to Centre Court for a fortnight.

Another neat thing happened this morning while I was out getting stuff to make breakfast. I had to shop because, other than eggs and bread, I had everything I needed for egg sandwiches. Before shopping, though, I needed to gas up my car. While I was doing that, a guy asks me what happened to my back window. I told him it just fell out. Turns out he works for Safelite and, despite the fact that his company didn't do that type of repair, he took the time to tell me who did. So thanks person whose name I don't know. If I ever need a windshield replaced, you gained yourself a customer today. Looks like I won't have to buy an entire new top for my beloved Ellie.

Since the focus of this blog is generally my writing life, I saved the best for last. As I put on Facebook a couple days ago, I had a positive occurrence this week. As you undoubtedly know if you follow me, I've been querying agents and publishers for over a year with no positive responses. I was (and still am) about to start the process of self-publishing. But I subscribe to a neat blog by a wonderful author named Hope Clark. It's all about helping authors get published and known. I recently followed a link to a small publishing house that was taking queries. With no real hope that anything would come from it, I sent the requested letter and excerpt. Almost immediately, I received an actual email from an actual human saying thanks for the query and that he would get back to me as soon as he could. Even that was different. But then, just less than a week later, I got another email from him saying that he LIKED MY EXCERPT AND WANTED TO READ MORE!

That's known in the business as a partial. I only know that from reading about others' experiences because it's the first time it's actually happened to me. As I keep telling others (and myself), it's not an offer to publish and I need not get excited. I may not even hear from him again. And yet, I am excited. Just as I'm ready to give up on querying and publish it myself, a ray of hope breaks through. Even if nothing comes from this, even just this tiny bit of positive feedback is so meaningful to me. Someone in the publishing business read and enjoyed my writing. How can that not be good?

But I'm not getting my hopes up. Except I am.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ode to Boring

The school year's over, exams are read, and I'm back home to my boring life. Oh, how I've missed it. I now have five weeks of routine. Work all week, work around the house on weekends. Yes, it is what some would call dull, but dull is good. Dull gives me time to think, to contemplate, to pray, to be calm. It gives me time to keep my grass mowed more often than every two weeks (sorry neighbors), and clean the litter more than once a week (sorry cats) and actually get some writing done (sorry to my mind and soul, which were about to burst open from being too full).

Contrary to what normal people think, writers are writing even when they don't have time to actually write it down, which causes our heads to fill beyond capacity, often leading to the above phenomenon.

Yes, I do have to work all summer, but summer school, being all online, is shockingly low maintenance. I check the program every 5-10 minutes, open tests when needed, grade assignments periodically, and spend the rest of the time doing writer-y stuff. I got 650 words written this week, which sounds like nearly none, but it was the first 650 words of a brand new Shalan novel, so it's kind of a big deal to me. I'm also trying out writing on a new program that's built specifically for novel construction and there's a bit of a learning curve, so I've spent as much time trying to figure out the actual process as I have writing. I don't know yet whether I like it. I'll let you know.

After summer school's over, I'll have a grand total of three weeks off. That sounds like a lot to people who don't teach, and, in reality, it is. But first, teaching is a high-stress job. If you aren't in need of time off at the end of the school year, I posit that you aren't doing it right. And second, I'll be prepping for the upcoming school year during that time off, for which I will be paid exactly no extra dollars. I'm not complaining. Teaching is my calling and I willingly do what needs to be done. If I weren't, I would know I'm ready to retire and move on to other ventures.

Yes, I like routine. I like having an alarm set every single day. I like having a groomed lawn and flowers in the flower bed and tomato plants that aren't covered in suckers and drooping to the ground. I like quiet time for reading, thinking, and praying. Some may call that boring, but I have always maintained that only boring people get bored. If you're bored, that's about you, not about having nothing to do.

So here's to (not being) boring!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Final Thoughts on Louisville

I'm back home, overseeing a lab of students taking summer school online. A group of kids who somehow, be it lack of attendance or lack of interest, couldn't see their way fit to pass a 9th or 10th grade English class, despite the begging and pleading and wheedling and offers of help from their teachers.

Such a far cry from the time I spent last week. People seem dumbstruck when I tell them that I enjoy going to the AP reading where I'll read around 1500 essays on the exact same subject. That I'm sitting in a cavernous convention center hall with several hundred other people hunched over tables trying to decipher the handwriting of student who were rushing to write three well-developed essays in two hours. That for seven days, I have to wait in line for everything, from elevators, to coffee, to elevators, to snacks, to elevators. Did I mention waiting for elevators?

People ask me if I get paid. Yes, and all my expenses are paid and I'm fed quite well. But that's not why I do it. They ask if I get to do fun stuff in the evenings. Yes, Louisville's a fun place. I saw a baseball game, a roller derby bout, went to dinner with delightful people, and took walks and runs along one of the most scenic riverfronts in the country. But that's not why I do it either.

Contrary to what I thought, Roller Derby is still alive and well. Corinne, who is on a team in
 Marietta insisted that we go see a bout. It was hard to follow at first,
but once I got the rules figured out, it was an amazingly fun, fast sport to watch.

So why do I do it? Don't get me wrong--those things are all great. I definitely won't give the money back and would never do it for free, but that's just because my time and expertise is worth the money to them and I'd be cheating myself if I didn't get paid. And I do love Louisville and all the fun I have there. But the real reasons I do it are two: it's the hardest professional development I've ever loved and I'm surrounded by other people who love literature and words and ideas just as much as I do.

How is reading 1500 essays professional development? Well, I learned a lot of things to tell my kids NOT to do. But it's just as much about the discussions we have over the essays before, during, and after the reading itself. We exchange ideas. How do we fix this issue with our kids? How do we get them to care as much as we do?

And, even if I don't get specific methods or ideas, I get a shot of enthusiasm that will carry over into next year. These are, bar none, the best teachers in the country. And a big part of the reason for that is their passion. Believe it or not, some teachers aren't in it for the love of what they do. But for a week each summer, I bask in the glow of hundreds who are. And it almost makes it worth telling them they don't need to pay me.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Louisville Update Part Deux!

It's been a good day. I broke a personal record for number of essays read and it looks like our room is doing quite well.

But the fun part of the day was after the reading when my table leader and my roommate from last year and I went to a Louisville Bats game. The game itself was a stinker. The Bats, the AAA farm team of the Reds, hit pretty much like the parent club. We gave up after the 7th inning and made our way home. It was fun, though. The ballpark is gorgeous and the company was nice. Here's the ballpark:

On our way back, we walked along the river and, while I think the view of the Ohio at Parkersburg is quite pretty, it simply doesn't compare to this:

Two more days of reading and then it's back home to summer school. This is genuinely hard work. I read over 300 essays today. But it's also genuinely fun to be around this many people with like interests. I'll miss it and pray I get invited back next year. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Louisville Update!

It's Thursday night, so in AP English world, we're finished with hump day! At lunch, we were exactly halfway through the reading. Well, unless you're a Language reader. Apparently they're running behind. I hope they catch up because Corinne is riding with me.

Tonight was a dine out night. Corinne and I joined my table leader from last year and a bunch of other folks. We were the only two not from Texas. We were going to an Irish pub that I went to last year, but found it was out of business, so we ended up in another place across the street. We had a good time despite the fact that our waiter was a bit slow--in pretty much every sense of the word. On our way out, Corinne and I noticed a statue of a Southern colonel, but something didn't seem right about him. See if you can figure it out:

We asked why he had no top on his head, but no one knew. The host said he'd always looked like that.

Yesterday, I took a walk and saw this:

Yeah, I have no idea. But it was a nice walk. 

I would tell you about all the essays that made me laugh today, but I signed an agreement, so I can't. It has gone well, though. I've enjoyed my table mates and ran into a lady whose husband went to PHS. Small world.

My brain hurts. Signing off now. Probably have pics from baseball and roller derby over the next couple days, if you can believe it. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Made It!

There was no small question about whether we would make it to Louisville yesterday. About 25 miles outside the city, traffic ground to a complete stop. After we sat for a few minutes, an ambulance came up the shoulder. Then a fire truck. Then a couple of state police cruisers. Things weren't looking good. Eventually, we started moving--slowly--and closed into one lane. When we got to the bottle neck, it turned out to be a horrific looking semi-truck wreck. It had taken out several hundred feet of guardrail and was sitting in a twisted heap over a slight bank. One of the front wheels was completely gone. I was told by someone who came by later that they called in a hazmat team, but I don't know for what.

But we're here! And we're finished with day one of reading. I had a nice run early this morning and Corinne and I had breakfast together before going our separate ways--me to literature and her to language. I was excited to see my table leader from last year. She's just a few tables away and remembered me. Have I mentioned she's an angel? I also ran into my roommate from last year. He remembered me too. :)

After we finished and had dinner, I ran into Corinne on the way out. She was going skating and I just wanted to sit, look at the river a bit, and read. You know you're an English teacher when you read all day and the first thing you want to do when you're finished is read some more. I also wandered around the riverfront park and took some pictures. It's quite pretty here. I'm not a professional photographer by any means, so they aren't composed or whatever they call it. I just pointed at stuff and clicked. So here they are:

I have no idea what to make of this.

This is what I affectionately call the hobo bathtub.

This is the atrium that links the two towers of our hotel. Oddly enough, I'm typing this blog from inside it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Off to Louisville Soon!

At this time last year, I was both excited and quite anxious about leaving for my first AP reading. I was the proverbial acorn. I wasn't sure what to expect. I can recall writing at that time that I had no idea if I would measure up, whether I was going to be the dumbest person in the room. I'm happy to say my fears were unfounded--there were lots of people dumber than me!

This year, I'm no longer an acorn, but I am a little sapling. Despite having done this before, I still worry that I'll slow down my table or I'll be the bane of my table leader's existence as she'll have to constantly remediate me. Last year, especially by the end of the week, my table leader, an angel named Joyce Herr, said I was more than holding my own. But, me being me, I still worry. What if I don't get along as well with my new table leader as I did with Joyce? I mean she's a tough act to follow. What if my fellow readers and I just don't jibe? I guess it's not that important in the grand scheme, though, since we spend the vast majority of our time with our faces in books of essays.

This will be my nightly view!

The main thing I'm excited about is getting to spend the week in one of my favorite cities. I hear people complaining about Louisville not being as nice or as big as some other cities where they could do the reading. First of all, for a guy from a true small town, Louisville is plenty big enough for me. And besides, how much can you do when you're busy the entire day with the reading and half brain-dead every evening? I go for runs along the riverfront and to a baseball game (AAA baseball is the best entertainment value going in my opinion--I got a front-row seat for $10 last year) and I'll have a room that's basically a luxury apartment with gorgeous views of the river. It's within walking distance of great restaurants, museums, night clubs--you name it and you can literally walk to it in under half an hour. Why would anyone think that's not enough?

So as the week goes on, I'll post pictures and reflections on my time there. Check back often!

This is the river boat that anchors right outside our hotel.