Today’s How I’m Learning to Write: Stream of Consciousness as a Very Rough Draft

Today, except for a trip to the bank before it closes at 3:30 (remember, I live in a small country in the Caribbean–population of country is about 40,000; population of whole island (2 countries within the space taken up by Los Angeles, California,with room to spare) is roughly 80,000.  But that gives me plenty of time to write a stream-of-consciousness piece that I’ll develop  into an actual post for the next submission.  That means I’ll be editing out as well as adding and improving.  I’m not going to set a time limit for myself–if it takes 10 minutes, great; if it takes an hour, that’s OK, too. I’m just trying to get words on “paper” that will give me some sort of shaky structure to the final product. Getting myself involved in a new business venture.

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Very recently, I became involved in a business organization that promises big payouts if you work hard and follow their plan.  I got involved in it not because it had anything to do with my former training (education and educational psychology on the research side of the house) but because I really liked the products and could see myself falling into a niche that would serve the Boomer population as effectively and efficiently as the support garments sold in pharmacies and medical supply stores, and the nutritional supplements sold in health food stores or by the big vitamin giants, such as NutraLife or Amway’s nutritional supplements.  Both are top quality companies, but neither can provide the service or match the cost of the limited range products offered by Ardyss, an American minority-owned business originally founded on an instant-slim undergarment and a nutritional supplement that promised an energizing and antioxidant effect that would also build up the body’s reserves of energy for a faster slim-down.  That was 25 years ago.  Today, the company boasts a whole line of slimming and support garments for men and women who are on their feet all day, and nutritional supplements that help people with diabetes Type II control their insulin levels, provide energy boosts, guarantee slimming faster without giving up totally on favorite foods, and help keep the brain cells from deteriorating while promoting better mental acuity.  There are garments–especially tops for women–that slim down the torso area if a more supportive garment is not needed (although they look fabulous over those garments, too), or help shape the chicken wings women acquire as they age.  There are garments–both tops and support types– that slim the thighs or the whole leg, some of which an be worn as leggings for full control from the waist down, and others that target specific problems.

My interest in the undergarments that lend support to aging backs and give firmness and support to the abdominals at the same time, all by also helping redistribute fat, was what sold me on the products.  I’ve already mentioned back problems.  There are at least 5 garments that lend from light to reasonably strong back/abs support that work better than the ultra-expensive medical supply items that add bulk and force women and men to wear loose clothing that make one feel like he or she is wearing a tent to cover up the visible bars that support the back.  My back problems are severe, and my posture has gotten so bad that I go from a somewhat straight position as I walk and stand to a question-mark profile view in less than 10 minutes.  Sure, those “medical” garments help, but for me they are neither enough, nor do they help me continue to feel as attractive as any 65-year-old woman can possibly become.

Specific Ardyss garments work just as well as the “scientifically developed” medical ones, are scientifically designed as well, and allow me to wear even clingy pencil-style skirts and dresses without feeling like all the “bones” of the support garment are showing through and making me look like I am wearing water pipes underneath to keep me straight. Thus, garments that were developed primarily for the more youthful body to slim and smooth and lend various levels of support are also helping an old woman feel like the question mark is turning into an exclamation point.

Since I’m new to the company, I have had my share of purchasing both garments and supplements that I’ve been using for various lengths of time–from three weeks ago to just trying something new this morning before I got onto the computer.  So far, the products I’ve been using have really helped.  And I felt a difference when, during the last two days, I was running late or was too preoccupied to remember to put on my garment or take my supplements.

Now, there’s a bit of a story here about fatigue that goes back to September of 2014, when I suffered a bleeding ulcer attack that required a transfusion of 6 units of blood.  I probably lost 8 or 9 during the episode, but you never get as much blood as you’ve lost because the idea is that your body will make up the difference reasonably quickly. When I had type of blood loss episode in November, after my ulcers had healed, and the there was reason to believe that a large section of my colon was the cause because of all the little sacs that form in the colon over the years.  What happened was that I continued to get weaker in the interim two months instead of stronger.  There was no loss of blood through the colon, as the doctors on the island believed, but no new blood cells were being produced and I was so anemic that I couldn’t even drive my car without scraping the passenger side on posts and walls, and I was having trouble driving straight.  My night vision became bad so rapidly that I could only drive the one kilometer into the resort town to get to the pharmacy or doctor’s office, or the same distance to the market in the opposite direction–and that at great concentration and the hope of a big parking space that allowed me room to maneuver so I wouldn’t scratch another vehicle while pulling in or out.  The spine problems meant I couldn’t turn my head enough to look behind me, and we can’t afford a new car with all the distance from object detectors and a video screen on the dashboard.  All of this turned out to be the result of the anemia that the doctors in the hospital were convinced were from problems in my colon.  All this turned out to be wrong, as we discovered on a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Florida in December.  The sacs in my colon turned out to be very small and not the “instant death” form bleed-out that the doctors at the island medical center predicted.  In fact, all I needed was iron supplements to “restart” my blood cell production and some rest until I regained strength.

Several years ago, the Los Angeles campus to a university I worked for was shut down for good.  That was bad enough, but then I learned that I needed another surgery on my back.  That’s another story in itself, and I won’t go into it here, but that took me out of the “unemployment” market before I even got started, and was followed too quickly by another unexpected surgery that was discovered during the MRI for the prior one.  Totally out of the unemployment market now, and becoming clinically depressed, not for the first time.  We had moved to Beverly Hills when I got this job, and the rent although affordable while I was working, took on (generated? forced?) a life-style change.  No longer could we afford to eat out when the mood struck us, but became a Special Occasions event only.  Not that we didn’t do take-out. Believe it or not, there are plenty of inexpensive yet healthy and nourishing restaurants in the BH area that helped keep us within budget if I was too depressed or in too much pain to do anything worthwhile.

My doctor, both “back home” and here, kept prescribing anti-depressants to me, and changing them every six months or so.  I kept telling them that the happy pills were just bringing me down more, but they are the doctors and knew what was best for me, right?  So I felt like I was not only in a depressed state of mind, but that I was also crumbling away.  Looking for a job in the States became a lesson in futility as I was rapidly approaching the age of 60, and no matter what the law states, agism is a factor not discussed by employers.  The only thing they had to do was look at my undergraduate graduation date to guess at my age.  Here on the island, I was already past retirement age when we got here (it changed upward within a year, but I was too close to that age to make a difference), so there was no purpose to trying to get a job. Instead, I tried for some consulting work in special education–something sorely lacking on the island–only to discover that there was much talk about helping children with disturbances and learning problems, but the preferred solution was incarceration in a juvenile facility.  I switched to volunteer work until I got sick.  Until recently, I was too weak to go to physical therapy–in my mind, anyway.  But as I started to feel my strength return with the help of the products I had purchased through Ardyss, I realized that I was right about the effects of some of the products on the aging body.  And I was glad I decided to get into the business end of things instead of just buying a membership that would offer me the same discounts but no shot at producing an income of some sort.

So yesterday a new order arrived.  I had decided, with the advice of my friend who signed me up, that I needed to specialize in certain products and order enough to provide samples of the supplements whenever possible, and garments in enough of a size range that could be sold or used for potential customers to try on for that personal demonstration touch.  Some of the items in the order were new to me and I was anxious to try them out.  For starters, I had ordered cappuccino-flavored instant coffee mixtures that contain collagen development or weight-loss formulas.  I ordered the new chocolate flavored nutirshake blend for meal replacement, and more slimming and strength- and mental acuity-building formulations.  One of these formulas sells like hotcakes for its apparent libido-enhancing qualities, especially in men, but also in women.  This is not why I ordered it–I ordered it for the strengthening properties.  But if it sells to men of any age to help with “peformance,” I’m OK with that, too.  And there are certainly enough testimonials of the latter by men using PowerBoost on YouTube that it gives me hope. Many of these testimonials come from older men who gave up on Viagra and other prescription formulas because of various side-effects.  This is an all-natural product made from nutritional supplements that have been studied for years in the health food industry.

The beauty of the products I received in this and the preceding shipment is that there are tons of testimonials, and no articles that I could find on the internet that does anything more than caution people with high blood pressure not to consume a small handful of nutritional supplements.  One smart person is selling the PowerBoost on Amazon.com, but at a price that is higher than I can provide to a customer.  That means it is time to re-establish my vendor account with Amazon and let their warehouses handle some of the products for people who do not want to join up as a member to reap the 40% wholesale reduction.

Now, I have to talk a bit about some of the garments.  The most popular one–and the overall most support-giving one–requires some time to learn to put on.  As a newbie, it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes for me to get into mine, even after watching the video of how to get it on by literally dancing your butt into the garment and pulling up.  I don’t think I mentioned that I also have arthritis–especially in my spine, but that has nothing to do with my garment problem.  It’s my hands.  For maximum effect, once you dance your way into the Body Magic, you need to literally stuff excess fat toward your back to hook up the front.  If you have a partner around willing to help the first few times, you’re in luck.  If, like me, your partner is already at work when you are ready to put it on, it is an interesting process of lying on your back–preferably on a hard surface or an extra-firm mattress–and recognize that, until you “break in” the garment to shape and support your body, it might take 15 minutes or longer to get it closed–not an easy feat with arthritic hands.  So I traded my original spanking new garment for a slightly used Body Magic in the next size up.  It still takes a while to get everything in, and it closes up at the tightest row of hooks, but it is also a bit large.  Today I am going to try to get into the one in my size–working on the farthest hook row, which is just a smidgen smaller than the tightest hook row on the current garment.

But there’s another “new” for today.  I am trying the weight-loss formula coffee beverage for the first time.  Interestingly, it contains green tea, and has no caffeine.  I also am trying the ThermogenTea beverage mix which, taken about 20 minutes prior to a workout session (in the pool for me), increases the metabolism via nutrients that add “heat” to the body to generate more energy.  This is one of the products that should not be taken by people with diabetes or heart conditions, but since I have neither and am anxious to shed the 15 pounds I gained through inactivity and the addition of red meat–and three additional meals–to my normal diet to increase the efficacy of the iron supplements to build up my mature blood cell count (I had plenty of immature blood cells in my body after several weeks on iron and red meat supplements, but that ratio is hopefully changing as the blood cells have matured).  And I can now eat less while keeping up my blood levels, although I still need to have them checked every three months or so.

So I am gradually becoming the before-and-after image you see in many advertisements for weight reduction, and I need to get the before-and-after support garment images to share, as well.  That’s the next step in my business campaign.

The greatest thing about the way this company functions is that the whole team shares in the profits from sales.  It’s not just the individual seller, who makes a profit primarily based on sales and sign-ups at the beginning.  As one becomes more experienced and has a bigger group of people under his/her tutelage, one raises in rank, which is accompanied by greater incentives–especially of free pre-offering items to try and, at a higher level with more people reporting to him/her and more levels below a car allowance)–there is no reason to believe one cannot go from a “part-time” or “bottom level” seller to the next level and the one above that until it is no longer a part-time income generator but a full-time business.

In all, I try to take new products for the first time when I will be near or at home, as no one can predict the effects of a product on anyone else’s body.  Aside from restrictions of some items if a person has high blood pressure issues (that does not respond to concurrent medications) or has diabetes-related restrictions with two or three of the nutritionals–and the company is very strict about this, making one fill out a medical form for the advisor to use in advising a potential consumer–so far, every item I have used seems to be producing the desired effects that I am seeking–support for my spine, energy gain, and–according to my daily weigh-in on my trusty digital scale–slow but steady weight loss (hey, it’s only been a couple of weeks for the energy drink and my first day with the weight loss coffee), and increased energy levels, I am truly happy with the products I’m selling.  I’ll be selling a lot more, I’m sure.  Not necessarily on the island, but also back home in the States.  All I need is to set up a few demonstrations–possibly in meeting rooms at strategically selected hotels–and take out a few ads to promote the event, and things may start to happen for me.  I’m looking forward to some hard work, but I’m also looking forward to becoming my own testimonial.

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That’s pretty much stream-of-consciousness for me.  I can’t stand spelling errors when I notice them, so those were changed.  In a few places, I had to delete text because it simply did not fit or my right hand moved one key to the right as I typed.  Otherwise, this is the beginning.  From this, I will re-write a post that makes more sense.  Maybe I’ll take out portions related to my health, maybe I’ll take out or move “product placement” information.  Maybe I’ll enhance or highlight certain areas that I skimmed over.  I don’t know yet what this will look like in the end, because I am not ready to review what I wrote to indulge in serious editing.  To do so as soon as a manuscript is typed has always been a bad idea for me.  I have to let it sit and rest a day or two or five.  But next week, I’ll have a more polished version of the manuscript to publish.  Instead of discussing line by line the changes I made (as I did last time), I am going to introduce the general redesign, show you the “finished” product, and then discuss in more detail what changes I made and why–for example, why I removed whole sections of material, or why I moved things around.  I already know that the introductory information needs to be redone, as does the ending.  But I don’t know what I will do with the middle yet. So come back next week and find out.

#educ_dr

Posted in About Writing, improving my writing, learn to write, Learning to Write, Stream-of-consciousness draft, writing, Writing process | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Just an Announcement

There are still a few slots available for the small private writer’s group. If anyone is interested in participating–passing around parts of works in progress AND critiquing others’ work in a private group of up to 10 people–please let me know by posting a comment to this post.  I will review your blog site and decide if you would fit into our group.  We are trying to maintain a small group size, but some people may drop out, making room for others to be able to join.  The group meets on a different blog site.

If you were in April’s Writing 101 class on WordPress and you left comments on my site, I will have your email information on file already, but you need to let me know you are interested in joining.

All comments by new visitors go through an initial approval process; once your first comment is approved, you are at liberty to make comments without pre-approval.  However, if you are using the site for any reason other than commenting on my posts, you will be removed from the approval list forever.  Just to let you know, getting comment approval does not give you access to other commenters’ information.

Thanks for your understanding.  Hoping to hear that you would like to join our small group of writers helping writers.

#educ_dr

Posted in About Writing, How I Learned to Write, How to Write, learn to write, Learning to Write, writers group, writing, Writing 101 | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

And Now, the Revised Version of “Today: First Draft”

Note: This is the revision of the last post.  As much as possible,

Revision Photo

Second Draft

Sitting on the computer today, with an unusually slow internet connection, started me thinking about the type of writing I grew up with.  I don’t remember any formal preparation for writing creatively.  I recall learning to write book reports in grammar school, and then research reports in high school.  Even in college, creative writing was not part of the freshman writing curriculum.  We wrote in reaction to passages or poems or articles, and we learned more about writing academic reports.  Again, no instruction or even time to write creatively–to just write a story that came into our heads.  I did that on my own, keeping a composition book in which I would make up short stories.  There was no authoritative help on these compositions–no one said, here’s how to develop a plot or here’s how a conversation might really start.  No one offered prompts to respond to creatively.  All the writing I learned through educational study was of the dull, boring report type.

We read a lot, I can tell you that.  Perhaps Most of the teachers expected us to pick up creative writing/fiction writing from our reading.  All I know is that after all my Master’s level work, I needed to take creative writing classes anywhere I could find them to write sensitive yet accurate reports on the progress of my special education students.

For years, even while taking such courses, I would spend hours on a single weekly or quarterly report on each individual student in my class–whether the class consisted of eight students or fifteen.  Thankfully, most were due on Monday, so I had all weekend to ignore my family and/or stay up most of the night to write the reports.  I could have taken the easy way out and written cold, clinical reports that said what needed to be said, but –ones that sounded like they were written by a robot.  That type of report was the kind that focused on blatant progress or regression, but never included the child’s tiny milestones, the smile that was partially hidden when improvement was noted on a math paper or reading progress chart.   It never told anything about the minute improvement in one particular behavior which, to both me and the child, was a major milestone. [Commas were added, but underscore is hard to see.]

When I was working taught in Pennsylvania for an intermediate unit in a “consortium” classroom of children from four abutting school districts in the our county, the reports were generally quarterly.  Progress was usually noted on some chart during team meetings that included the traveling psychologist who was my actual supervisor, the support teacher who traveled around to classes in the event of particular trouble, the social worker, the teaching assistant, and me.  Often, I had no idea what those notes actually contained or how the report on a single child was eventually written up, as the process was slow because it was in the days before computers were in general use.  So my quarterly reports dealt with the progress I saw in the classroom, and the expectations that were met or needed revision.  Because these reports went to parents as well as school officials, it was important to start and end with something highly positive.  The middle was reserved for the behavioral and academic progress.  But I always felt a need to explain circumstances that deterred progress some months or enhanced it during other periods. I wanted the child to be seen for who he or she was becoming as a functioning human being.  I wanted to highlight the little changes that helped lead to the sometimes huge leaps.  And I felt myself unprepared to write a good enough report that painted a picture of the whole child, not just the part that was so readily visible to anyone who entered the class to observe.  The latter were too “clinical” to me.

These reports became so difficult and frustrating for me that, after about 10 years, I simply left teaching to become a computer programmer.  Interestingly, my time in the special education classes prepared me for working with executives in major US firms, and I almost always was able to read the meaning of what they actually needed between the lines of what they asked for on paper and in conference.  When I returned to teaching special education after ten years in computers, it was to a school that catered to children with much more serious problems so that less progress could be seen in their development.  And I started taking writing classes in earnest while also taking courses at the local university to bring my teaching credentials in line with a different state’s requirements.  So I was now ten years older and having to write more serious reports.  What I discovered was that it was the creative writing classes–the ones I did terribly at in terms of creativity or story-telling ability–that helped me learn how to more quickly and efficiently paint a picture of each child.  This was especially important because these reports being written weekly instead of quarterly. as in my previous position in a different state.

I sucked at creative writing.  And still do.  But I am continuing to improve little by little, taking online collaborative classes such as those offered by WordPress’ Blogger U.  Each class improves my writing a bit more, and maybe by the time I’m 90, I will finally put together a short story–maybe even a short novel.  We’ll see… And to help with the process of genuine critique of my writing, I have started to invite some people who I think have excellent writing potential to participate in a small private workshop to which we can submit some work for positive but honest criticism, or help with plot ideas or continuation, or whatever each of us needs at a given point in time.  I have noticed that some people in the Writing 101 class I participated in during April had wonderful potential, but were writing in English in a way that was clearly not their strongest language.  I have worked with adult English language learners, and can offer positive assistance in that respect.  I have found that I am pretty good at recognizing young adult books that will become major contributions to teen literature–and the Twilight Saga was never in that category, no matter how much money that series earned for the author in book and movie deals.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, or the Harry Potter books I recognized as being top notch from the first book in the series, often long before the critics began to laud the authors’ work.  I generally believe I can do that with adult books, too, but there are just too many of them to even begin to “discover.”  But I saw enough good writing during the writing class, and received enough positive feedback when I suggested smaller private writing groups, that I asked WordPress to make one of my blogging sites into a miniature version of the Writing 101 class.  They did so, and as of today, there are four people in the group, each of which whom has all the privileges of the editorial level in a group collaboration for writing improvement.

Originally, that was a long and complicated paragraph.  If you read it without your eyes glazing over, commend you for making sense out of a lot of words that probably don’t fit together very well.  I should probably go back returned to edit and shorten some sentences, make sure I didn’t say the same thing twice, etc.  But I’ll save that for tomorrow or the next time I blog on my writing progress.  That way you will be able to see what happens when I stop a “story” from taking over and go back and improve it. Now I am ready to share the updated version.  After all, what is the sense of sharing how I learn to write if I show you nothing but the finished process?

So next time, I will edited this blog and explain showed every step that helped me improve it.  So stay come back for the next post of how I learn to write.  Where changes were made or wording was added, I underscored those places. At one point above, I even bracketed a “side” comment to make sure you saw the commas I inserted to make the phrasing a bit smoother.  Everything that was in the original but taken out has been “struck out.”  Most of the information removed was not relevant to the gist of the post, so it was deleted.

This is still not a perfect piece.  However, I am not unhappy with it.  Next week, I’ll try a “stream of consciousness” post that will need a lot of editing before a “cleaned up” copy is posted.

#educ_dr

Posted in About Writing, How I Learned to Write, How to Write, Learning to Write | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Way I Was Taught to Write and How I Am Improving That Process

File May 11, 7 45 18 PM

Today: First Draft

Sitting on the computer today, with an unusually slow internet connection, started me thinking about the type of writing I grew up with.  I don’t remember any formal preparation for writing creatively.  I recall learning to write book reports in grammar school, and then research reports in high school.  Even in college, creative writing was not part of the freshman writing curriculum.  We wrote in reaction to passages or poems or articles, and we learned more about writing academic reports.  Again, no instruction or even time to write creatively–to just write a story that came into our heads.  I did that on my own, keeping a composition book in which I would make up short stories.  There was no authoritative help on these compositions–no one said, here’s how to develop a plot or here’s how a conversation might really start.  No one offered prompts to respond to creatively.  All the writing I learned through educational study was of the dull, boring report type.

We read a lot, I can tell you that.  Perhaps most of the teachers expected us to pick up creative writing/fiction writing from our reading.  All I know is that after all my Master’s level work, I needed to take creative writing classes anywhere I could find them to write sensitive yet accurate reports on the progress of my special education students.

For years, even while taking such courses, I would spend hours on a single weekly or quarterly report on each individual student in my class–whether the class consisted of eight students or fifteen.  Thankfully, most were due on Monday, so I had all weekend to ignore my family and/or stay up most of the night to write the reports.  I could have taken the easy way out and written cold, clinical reports that said what needed to be said, but that sounded like they were written by a robot.  That type of report was the kind that focused on blatant progress or regression, but never included the child’s tiny milestones, the smile that was partially hidden when improvement was noted on a math paper or reading progress chart.   It never told anything about the minute improvement in one particular behavior which to both me and the child was a major milestone.

When I was working in Pennsylvania for an intermediate unit in a “consortium” classroom of children from four abutting school districts in the county, the reports were generally quarterly.  Progress was usually noted on some chart during team meetings that included the traveling psychologist who was my actual supervisor, the support teacher who traveled around to classes in the event of particular trouble, the social worker, the teaching assistant, and me.  Often, I had no idea what those notes actually contained or how the report on a single child was eventually written up, as the process was slow because it was in the days before computers were in general use.  So my quarterly reports dealt with the progress I saw in the classroom, and the expectations that were met or needed revision.  Because these reports went to parents as well as school officials, it was important to start and end with something highly positive.  The middle was reserved for the behavioral and academic progress.  But I always felt a need to explain circumstances that deterred progress some months or enhanced it during other periods. I wanted the child to be seen for who he or she was becoming as a functioning human being.  I wanted to highlight the little changes that helped lead to the sometimes huge leaps.  And I felt myself unprepared to write a good enough report that painted a picture of the whole child, not just the part that was so readily visible to anyone who entered the class to observe.

These reports became so difficult and frustrating for me that, after about 10 years, I simply left teaching to become a computer programmer.  Interestingly, my time in the special education classes prepared me for working with executives in major US firms, and I almost always was able to read the meaning of what they actually needed between the lines of what they asked for on paper and in conference.

When I returned to teaching special education after ten years in computers, it was to a school that catered to children with much more serious problems so that less progress could be seen in their development.  And I started taking writing classes in earnest while also taking courses at the local university to bring my teaching credentials in line with a different state’s requirements.  So I was now ten years older and having to write more serious reports.  What I discovered was that it was the creative writing classes–the ones I did terribly at in terms of creativity or story-telling ability–that helped me learn how to more quickly and efficiently paint a picture of each child, these reports being written weekly instead of quarterly as in my previous position in a different state.

I sucked at creative writing.  And still do.  But I am continuing to improve little by little, taking online collaborative classes such as those offered by WordPress’ Blogger U.  Each class improves my writing a bit more, and maybe by the time I’m 90, I will finally put together a short story–maybe even a short novel.  We’ll see… And to help with the process of genuine critique of my writing, I have started to invite some people who I think have excellent writing potential to participate in a small private workshop to which we can submit some work for positive but honest criticism, or help with plot ideas or continuation, or whatever each of us needs at a given point in time.  I have noticed that some people in the Writing 101 class I participated in during April had wonderful potential, but were writing in English in a way that was clearly not their strongest language.  I have worked with adult English language learners, and can offer positive assistance in that respect.  I have found that I am pretty good at recognizing young adult books that will become major contributions to teen literature–and the Twilight Saga was never in that category, no matter how much money that series earned for the author in book and movie deals.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, or the Harry Potter books I recognized as being top notch from the first book in the series, often long before the critics began to laud the authors’ work.  I generally believe I can do that with adult books, too, but there are just too many of them to even begin to “discover.”  But I saw enough good writing during the writing class, and received enough feedback when I suggested smaller private writing groups, that I asked WordPress to make one of my blogging sites into a miniature version of the Writing 101 class.  They did so, and as of today, there are four people in the group, each of which has all the privileges of the editorial level in a group collaboration for writing improvement.

OK. That was a long and complicated paragraph.  If you read it without your eyes glazing over, commend you for making sense out of a lot of words that probably don’t fit together very well.  I should probably go back and shorten some sentences, make sure I didn’t say the same thing twice, etc.  But I’ll save that for tomorrow or the next time I blog on my writing progress.  That way you will be able to see what happens when I stop a “story” from taking over and go back and improve it.  After all, what is the sense of sharing how I learn to write if I show you nothing but the finished process?

So next time, I will edit this blog and explain every step that helped me improve it.  So stay come back for the next post of how I learn to write.

#educ_dr

Posted in About Writing, Learning to Write | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

How Do You Learn to Write?

A week ago marked the end of an intense Bloggers U class from WordPress that was called Writing 101.There must have been over 130 people registered for the class, with about 110 actively participating.  Each day we were given a writing prompt, or a topic to write about; we also received a “twist,” which could be anything, such as telling a story in the voice of a twelve-year-old, or a particular length–no more than 100 words, or at least 400 words, or pretending the story was being told to a perfect stranger on a train, or… well, you get the idea.  Two of the hardest assignments involved a prompt of expressing a greatest fear and discussing something that made us anxious.  Many of the participants had to set these two assignments aside for a day or two because, as many comments indicated, the topics were either too difficult to deal with, or decisions needed to be made about an anxiety or fear each of us were willing to share.  Prompts about a favorite pet or a loved object were much easier to handle.  And some people found that an open topic (“write about anything at all for 20 minutes without stopping for spelling or grammar corrections”) were the most difficult.

For quite some time, I thought about these and other prompts.  Some prompts did not lend themselves easily to a story–sure, some people were able to come up with a story right away, or were able to take another’s point of view to write.  For many of us, both the prompts and the twists were difficult.  Other people wrote right away, and I was amazed at how quickly words could pour from their fingers into the open writing space.  Some people found some assignments too heart-wrenching to write about immediately, and put the assignment aside for days or even weeks.  Today is the last day to catch up on assignments missed, and to comment on any new or old posts that we could not get to right away.  I figure I made enough comments now–encouragement, minor stylistic changes that would make stories stronger, that kind of thing–and so yesterday was the last day I read anything that was posted this late.

Despite all the difficulties with prompts and twists, most of us managed to cobble out an assignment on time most days, or no more than a day or two late.  Some people found themselves sharing their souls in public for the first time ever.  Thus, this turned out to be a class that was not for the faint of heart, and is perhaps one of the reasons we ended up losing members as time went on.

We had writers from all over the world, which meant that English was not their first language, so all of the assignments became that much more difficult for them, especially if their culture frowns on baring one’s soul.  Other people never mastered some of the basic aspects of English grammar–and most of these were English speakers!–or used a “street” voice or other vernacular to tell their stories.  To me, this was their own personal style, and I kept stylistic criticisms to myself.  A few people used poetry as their medium of choice, and at least two participants were more inclined to use photography or graphic arts to share their stories.  As I said, this was not an easy class, and there was much variation in style and ability.

For some strange reason, although I meant to use a blogging sight I created a few years ago for practicing my writing but never actually used before, my writing defaulted to my main blog site that was dedicated mostly to topics on Education.  I realized that, even though I had (and continue to have) a lot of thoughts on education, as the years passed I had less and less to say, found fewer and fewer blogs on education I thought were interesting enough to share when I couldn’t come up with my own topics, and I stopped blogging on anything even approaching regularity of some sort.  I was too busy, or I couldn’t get the words down right, or… There was always an excuse.  The writing class gave me no excuses, and instead of trying to fit my writing into the purpose of my blog, I ended up simply reacting to the prompts and twists and continued posting on my education site.

After a week or so, I realized that I was learning, and that one of the purposes of my teaching blog was to deal with issues of teaching and learning.  I finally posted a blog that explained that, in my mind, what I was posting was how I learned–my journey through the learning process that could be used by any teachers still reading my blog to use creatively to teach their own students, or to see how I improved my own writing style and learn for themselves.  Of course, it didn’t help that I often forgot to post the prompt and twist, either at the beginning of the piece or the end; so there may have been a lot of confusion about why I was posting a particular piece of writing. The reality, of course, is that I had lost followers along the way when I went long periods of time without posting, and picked up very few readers along the way.  Readers often find blogs using searches on a particular topic, and often choose not to follow a site with only one or two articles that relate to what they need.

But that is beside the point.

At the end of the class, I posted an item asking for advice. Do I continue using this site for education, or do I change it into what the sight name implies: just my ramblings?  There was a mix of responses, from keeping this blog about learning, but maybe change it to learning about writing, to separating the two blogs and making this site just for general thoughts and topics, to keeping both sites as education-oriented blogs.  It took a while to decide, but decide I did.

My decision is this: although my other site is geared more toward educational professionals, I think I should make it into a more general education site.  This site, then, can be used for writing practice–perhaps indicating what prompt was used from other sources or even something I read in the newspaper or a book–and playing with different twists to address the prompts.  Thus, it truly becomes more about how I learn to improve my writing, and what I do to accomplish my goal.

And my old lady ranting page will remain with http://www.liloleladypress.wordpress.com , where all my reflections on aging will go, with no particular prompt and no particular voice.  We’ll see where the three blogs go.  Obviously, I won’t be blogging to each site every day, but I hope to finally get into a schedule, such as blogging on education at http://www.blog.emillereducation.com (Teacher Talk) on Mondays, practicing and learning about writing here at dremiller.com under the category Eleanore’s Ramblings on Wednesdays (or maybe Thursdays, since I take drawing lessons on Wednesdays), and sharing my thoughts on aging and my family and friends on http://www.liloleladypress.com (Li’l Ole Lady Press) on Fridays.

Or some other schedule that keeps me focused and writing.  I’ll let you know…

#educ_dr

Posted in Blogging U, writing, Writing101 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Thanks for the Liebster Award Nomination!

THE LIEBSTER AWARD

Liebster Awards Graphic 1 Liebster Awards Graphics

Thank you with all m my heart to Finkelstein, Gunroswell, and Jabrush1213 (in opposite order of nomination) for the honor of nominating me for the Liebster Award. Not just one nomination, but three! I am beyond humbled.

Here are the Award rules:

Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.

– Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.

– Nominate 10 other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.

– Ensure all of these bloggers have less than 200 followers.

– Answer the ten questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make ten questions of your own for your nominees.

– Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.

The word Liebster is German for the following:

Per the rules of this award, I have nominated 10 writers whose material or style of writing catches and holds my attention.  It was difficult to narrow the list to 10, but I did the best I could, limiting nominations participating in a writing class.  Each of the writers listed below possess one or more of these traits. Each is an amazing writer. Each has a unique style.  Some have been writing for years; others are new to the field; yet others were writing to the WordPress Writing 101 in a language not their own yet still made an impact through the content of the stories they told more than had they used Oxford or Chicago style manual rules.

My nominees in absolutely no particular order are

These may be my official nominees, but there are several others I would have added to the list.

Because there were three nominators and limited space, I am selecting 10 questions that are a mixture of the ones asked by each:

  1. What drew you into blogging?
    • I had a lot to say about education, especially with all the major changes that have been occurring over the past decade or more—some positive, some detrimental to the teaching and learning processes. I needed a forum to express my views.
  2. What political party are you and why?
    • I am registered as a Democrat, although I am actually an Independent. The reason for my registration is that, at the time, it gave me a chance to help in the nomination process during primary elections. Now the rules are changing and whether one can participate as an Independent in the selection of candidates is dictated largely by the state in which one lives. (sigh)
  3. Who did you look up to as a child and has that changed?
    • President John F. Kennedy was my hero during my childhood, and in many ways remains so, despite the personal character flaws that have been coming to light for decades. He remains someone for me to respect because, while in office, his focus was on serving the US to the best of his ability, and he had been trained throughout his life (as were his brothers) to separate politics from personal opinions or religious beliefs. Too few politicians follow this policy any more, to the detriment of the US in particular and world politics in general.
  4. What is one of your favorite quotes?
    • “…People don’t alter history any more than birds alter the sky; they just make brief patterns in it.” Terry Pratchett, Mort (1989)
  5. When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?
    • Free time? What’s that?
  6. If you were President, what is the first thing you would do?
    • I would work on Congress until they got tired of me and gave in to dump lots and lots of money into education—at all levels, and especially the post-secondary level. And believe me, I can be a real pest when I feel strongly enough about something. I’d just wear Congress down. ;)
  7. Blogging or writing?
    • There is little difference to me. Blogging gives me the opportunity to get “the word” out sooner, but writing—the art of it and creating more than can be put in a blog post—that’s what I’m working to be better at.  I will never be a best-selling author, and will probably never be published at all (except for self-publication on Kindle), but it’s the process of writing anything that excites me.
  1. When was the last time you had to laugh so hard you’d cried and why was that?
  • Recently I went through a period of depression over serious health issues and, during convalescence, the loss of my two 5-year-old cats within two months of each other, maybe less—one to a freak accident, the other to severe illness which was simply not treatable in a timely manner here on the island of St. Martin. I turned to my 40-volume set of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and laughed and laughed, with tears often flowing from my eyes. I read all 40 books in about 45 days, and it was while reading these books that I came out of the depressed state I was in.  Between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (whose newest book of short stories came out during this period and who co-authored a book or two with Pratchett), I laughed with tears flowing freely.  I needed these authors to help me through a difficult period.
  1. What do you think is the most important lesson we need to instill on boys?
  • Boys need to learn to respect women. It may start with respecting their mothers, but needs to go far beyond that to make certain that their “macho” friends don’t change their minds as they grow into adolescence.  Perhaps we still have time to change the focus of the world’s masculine “power” and remind our boys to share power with girls and women, and always assume that when a girl or woman says “no,” she means it.
  1. What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?
  • Good chocolate.
  1. Looking good or feeling good?
  • You can’t look good if you don’t feel good.

My ten questions:

  1. Why do you write?
  2. What is the difference between writing and blogging?
  3. Why do think education is or is not important?
  4. Given one million dollars and your choice of how you spend it, what would you buy?
  5. What is your favorite song or recording artist/group and why?
  6. What is your passion?
  7. Cat or dog (or other pet) and why?
  8. You are on a deserted island with a huge villa and all the comforts you could possibly wish for. What is missing, and why do you desire it?
  9. Do you prefer sunsets or sunrises, and why?
  10. Which is your preference: photographic art or hand-produced visual art (any media you choose)? Why is this your preference?
  11. You have the power to change the world. How would you proceed?

Best wishes for much success in your writing, whether in book form or in blogging! Love you all!

Posted in liebster award, writing, Writing 101 | 9 Comments

Intense Writing 101 Class is Over…but Education or Writing? Help me decide.

It was with both relief and regret that I posted my final assignment to WordPress’ Bloggers U class called Writing 101.  The idea behind the class was less to improve blogging than it was to improve writing in general.  As with many writing classes before, I wanted the writing aspect of the class, not so much the blogging aspect, and I came away from this intense class wondering if I should maintain an educational focus to this blog.

In truth, I have an education blog that I’ve barely used recently called Teacher Talk and hosted on GoDaddy.com.  This class made me wonder if one education-related blog site was enough for me to maintain, and maybe this site should be geared more toward developing my writing skills based on prompts that can be found in several books I have on writing. Maybe you can help me decide.

In many ways, exposing my journey through the writing process can be educational in nature, as I commented in an unrelated (directly) post some time during this class. I wanted to explain to anyone following my education blog that my journey through this class might be helpful to teachers and learners of writing.  My intent was not to become a professional writer–I think at my age I’ve missed the boat on that one–but to show how a writing class can help one’s own skill with words grow when involved with a group of like-purposed individuals.  In all, there were well over 100 participants from around the world taking part in this class, and there was much to learn from each in terms of style, interpretation of prompts and “twists,” and general intra-participant comments.  Some participants posted comments directly to my blogging site, while others posted on the class “Commons.”  The latter were for use strictly by participants, while the former were posts left directly.  In both cases, I learned a lot–about what people like, what they say in their comments, etc.  Too often, regardless of where posted, comments tended to be complimentary or simply “liked” as one would approve a post on Facebook or other social media.  That is not a lot of feedback, but in a 101 class people tend to be reluctant to give constructive criticism.

That leaves me in the continued dilemma of whether to turn this into sharing my writing progress or continue as an education-oriented only spot.

Your response to this post is much appreciated.

#educ_dr

Posted in Fixing Education | Tagged , , , , | 41 Comments

Day Twenty of Writing 101: The Things We Treasure

Treasured Things

The Island

It’s just another island holiday… Monday it was the King’s Birthday, yesterday (Thursday), the Queen’s Birthday, and today is Labor Day.  This series of holidays seems to always fall at the end of the island’s Carnival celebration. Sint Maarten–the Dutch half of the island of St. Martin–is pretty much the last Carnival during “High Season,” the months that are cold up north, and Americans, Canadians, and Europeans flock to the island for warmth.  Labor Day made the work week two days long this year–well, every year actually–and the one thing that is irritating to this expat American is that no newspapers are printed on the Dutch side during holidays.  On the other hand, it gives the non-working population of the island an extra day of leisure.

Most island residents spend Labor Day at the beach.  It is almost impossible to navigate any Dutch-side road near a beach until closer to nightfall, because islanders think nothing of parking the way I’ve seen Native Americans on the Navajo Reservation park: it there’s room to open the doors, it’s a parking space.   It’s even better when you can just leave your car wherever it happened to stop, but sometimes you have to part between cars, and if the road is almost blocked when you stop, that’s not a problem.  If I were a tourist, I’d be annoyed I that I couldn’t get closer to the beach, or that I will undoubtedly put a long scrape into my rental car as I try to maneuver my way cautiously down the road.  But I’m not a tourist, and have come to think more like an islander, and just stay put or drive to the French side, whose holidays tend to fall on different dates that celebrate their own special occassions.

Island life has nothing to do with today’s post–the final assignment for Writing 101, the last day when I am forced to take my thoughts along a different path assigned by the class moderator, the last day–until the next writing class–that I have a prompt and “twist” to words I type to the computer’s screen.  And today I will be writing about something I treasure.  And that is a “diamond ring.”

The Treasure

Just over two years ago, as I unpacked the boxes containing those pieces of our lives that didn’t get sold or sent to Good Will or tossed or given to neighbors and friends, I came across a tiny suede pouch on a plastic string.  The pouch was something my son picked up at a fair or something when he was very young.  Inside the pouch was a ring he purchased for me during his school’s Christmas Bazaar when he was in second grade.  It is an adjustable “gold” ring of cheap metal, and set in the center of this ring is a “diamond,” a roughly cut piece of some sort of glassy material.  I had given him the 50 cents he needed to make his secret purchase–he was short of cash because he had bought some holiday cookies–and he had done an extra chore around the house to repay me afterwards.

For three weeks he kept it hidden, wrapped in a scrap of school drawing paper, a corner piece probably ripped from one of the art projects he was  doing in class. On Christmas Eve, with our tradition of opening one gift each before going to bed, Josh could no longer contain his excitement about his little purchase, and handed me a tiny packet of crayon-covered paper, neatly folded into an oblong, with the ends tucked under and roughly cut so the ends overlapped each other the length of the “main” section.  the little bundle was wrapped in so many layers of cellophane tape running east-west and north-south that it took quite a bit of time to break open the gaily colored wrapper.  He watched me intently as I tried to open the packet without harming the wrapper on which he had painstakingly drawn a candy cane and some holly, as well as an attempt at Santa Claus–all on a scrap that turned out to be no more than three inches square.   Inside, I found the ring.  “It’s beautiful,” I said.  “Is this why you needed extra money at the bazaar?”

He nodded solemnly, eyes blazing with pride at having selected such a beautiful piece of jewelry, and a blush spreading across his creamy skin.  I watched him speechless as a hint of doubt suddenly dampened the light in his eyes, and a small frown appeared where the expectant smile had just been.  I hugged him fiercely, and told him again how beautiful it was, and thanked him for his thoughtful little gift.  “I heard you tell Aunt Berni,” he said, “that the next time you get married you’d make sure you at least got a diamond ring first.  I keep thinking you and Dad will get married again, and I thought if you had the diamond ring you’d be happier and you’d marry each other again.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.  “Sweetheart,”I said as a drop of salty water fell along my nose and on to the scrap of drawing, “I’ve tried to explain to you that Dad has Dale now and they are getting married soon.  Dad can’t have two wives, and we don’t love each other that way any more.  I’m so sorry.  But the ring is beautiful, and I will wear it every day, just because it is a gift from you.”

My daughter Amy, older than Josh by two and a half years, stormed from the living room with its brightly decorated tree, covered with hand-sewn ornaments I had made every year of the thirteen that I had been married to their father.  A few more had been added since we separated, as I was determined to keep up the tradition for as long as I could.  It gave me a sense of continuity to have those ornaments on the tree–the only meaningful items I had rescued from the house my son grew up in until he was almost four.  Each year, the ornaments the kids made at school were added to the tree as well, and each year since the divorce we would decide which of their and “my” hand-made ornaments would be put on the front of the tree, and which would be relegated to the back of the tree.  Every once in a while, one of the kids would decide that an ornament he or she had made needed to be thrown out.  I, of course, could never throw out something they had made with their own little hands as the years went by.  So even if an ornament didn’t even make it to the back of the tree, it simply remained in the ornament box, waiting for the other ones to join them until the following year.

But just right then, neither of us was thinking about ornaments.  Josh and I sat on the sofa with our arms wrapped around each other in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts as tears washed down our faces.  Terra, our young dog, climbed up on our laps to give us some comfort,  while Tiger the cat slept quietly under the tree branches on the handmade tree skirt.  Tiger had pushed away gift boxes to make himself a nest, and my eyes fell on him as I held Josh and absently scratched Terra behind the ears.  Funny thing about Tiger, I thought. He doesn’t seem to mind that the tree is artificial.  He’s sleeping under it the way he sleeps under the branches of the fir at the side of our garage.

Suddenly, my daughter re-entered the room and threw something at me.  To be honest, I don’t remember what her gift to me had been.  Anger flashed through her eyes like a burning branch, so different from the light in Josh’s eyes when he gave me his gift.  Her cheeks were flushed not with his bashfulness, but with rage.  Frankly, it hurt when her gift hit my chest.  “You might as well open this.” Her words were like a slap in the face.  I tried to get her to sit down with us, as Terra approached her to calm her with her presence.  But Amy turned on her heel and raced up the steps to her attic room, just opposite Josh’s.  Her bed was almost above the sofa, and I heard the impact of her body hitting the mattress and straining the wheeled bed frame.  Josh and I exchanged a look, and he nodded, indicating I should go check on his sister.

Stifled sobs came from Amy’s room as I approached her door at the top of the stairs.  I knocked, as I always do–it’s just a little courtesy I tried to instill in the kids and followed myself.  “Go away!” she screamed through her sobs.

“Can’t do that,” I said.  “You’re my daughter and I want to make sure you’re OK.”

“Just leave me alone!” she shouted.

“When you’re ready to talk about what’s bothering you,” I replied through the firmly shut door, “I’ll be downstairs waiting for you.”

“Yeah? You’ll be waiting all night, then.”

“Then I’ll wait all night,” I responded, and descended a bit more shakily than I ascended.”

Back in the living room, I asked Josh if he would like to watch one of the Christmas movies we had on VCR.  “Pick one out and put it in while I make us some hot chocolate,” I told him.

“With a candy cane to stir it with?”

“Of course!” I replied.  “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a candy cane to stir the cocoa!”  We exchanged a smile, and I walked into the kitchen, with was on the other side of the staircase.  As the milk was heating under a very low flame, I climbed the steps to Amy’s door again, and invited her down for cocoa.  She didn’t reply, and I returned to my task, raising the flame under the pot of milk, making certain that there was enough milk in the pot for all three of us, even if Amy ignored the lure.

Cocoa powder and sugar melted and stirred thoroughly back into the milk, I poured out two mugs, tore the cellophane from two blue-striped candy canes (both kids’ favorites), and carried the cups into the living room, setting them on the glass-topped coffee table in front of the sofa.  Terra sniffed at the steam still drifting from the mugs, and decided she wasn’t interested in the contents.  She wouldn’t have gotten any regardless, as I had no idea how much or how little chocolate would sicken a dog.  Tiger was still curled up among the rest of the gifts under the tree–the ones marked “from Mom” or from friends who always remembered the kids at Christmas (my son was eight and was just beginning to wonder if Santa was real, and I wasn’t willing to break the enchantment just yet).  Josh pushed the start button on the VCR player, and snuggled up to me on the sofa, letting his cocoa cool a bit.  “Is she OK?” he asked.

I sighed.  “I hope so.  We’ll find out later, I suppose.”

“She misses having Christmas with Dad,” he stated.

“But he’s picking you up tomorrow to spend Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa K.” I replied.  “I think something else is bothering her.  She’ll talk when she’s ready.”  Terra nudged between us just as Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer began to play.  “You love this tape, don’t you?”  He nodded, put his head on my shoulder, crowding out the dog, and watched the TV.  Half-way through the show, Amy came down the steps as though nothing had happened.  Her eyes were still red, but she passed by the living room to the tiny bathroom we all shared.  A few minutes later, she came out with her face a bit damp from the water she had splashed on it, and walked into the kitchen.

“Is this for me?” she asked, apparently spotting the cocoa still in the pot.

“Yep.  Pour some for yourself and unwrap a candy cane,” I called out.  “Just stir it up a bit before you pour or all the chocolate will stay in the pot.”

Soon she settled onto the sofa next to me, but leaving several inches of space between us.  “This again, Josh? Don’t you get tired of that stupid reindeer?”  Josh ignored the remark and reached for his cocoa, which had cooled enough that it wouldn’t burn his tongue.  “You didn’t open my present yet.”  She spoke at me almost accusingly.

“Wouldn’t dream of opening your gift without you here,” I replied.  “Mind if I wait until Rudolf is over?”

“Sorry I threw it at you.  Did it hurt?”

“Barely noticed,” I replied, although I knew there would be a mark on my chest when I changed into my nightgown.

“You’re wearing Josh’s ring,” she noticed.  I nodded, but said nothing.  “You mad at me?”  I shook my head, no.  She closed the bit of space between us, holding her mug as if to warm her hands.  I set my mug down on the table and wrapped my empty arm around her waist.  We all sat like that until the end of the tape.  As Josh got up to rewind it, he asked his sister if there was something she wanted to watch.  This was an unusual request from my son, and Amy stared at him in surprise for a brief moment before shaking her head.  “No.  Whatever you pick is fine with me.”  Another surprise for me.  “Will you open my present now, while Josh is changing the tape?”

I picked the thin box off the table and carefully unwrapped it.  Inside was a plastic-encased bookmark with a cord tassel.  It featured a rainbow and a Care Bear.  “I love it,” I said.  “I needed a new bookmark.”  She smiled.  I had been complaining a few months back that it would be nice to have something other than torn newspaper to hold my place when I closed a book.  She remembered.  “Before you start the next movie, Josh, I think each of you should choose a present and open it.  You both wanted me to open a gift first, so now it’s your turn.”

Each grabbed a box so readily that I knew they had chosen their Christmas Eve present earlier.  Amy opened a book from her friend Sara; Josh opened a box of Matchbox cars from my friend Terry.  As they sat on the floor in front of the tree examining their gifts, I turned on the VCR which played Miracle on 34th Street (the original, for those who know it’s been remade with fresh actors).  They each grabbed a toss pillow from the sofa and made themselves comfortable on the rug.  After a few minutes, I stopped the tape and suggested they get their sleeping bags so they’d be more comfortable.  They raced each other up the stairs and dragged down unrolled sleeping bags.  Neither bothered to open them, and there was a bit of a tussle as each tried to get more comfortable.  I helped them out by pushing the coffee table out of the way to give them more room.  As they lay near my feet with their heads almost touching, I remembered that they would be leaving early the next day to spend a few days with their father, Dale, and their paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  But they would get up as soon as the sun was up, racing downstairs to get me up so that the rest of the gifts–including those that Santa would leave later that night–and then they would be gone for several days.

Next year they would spend Christmas with me, but this year it was their Dad’s turn.  I would miss them, even though I would be driving up to spend the day with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and their two young children.  I put on the ring Josh had given me, and wore it the whole day, even though the kids weren’t there.

Treasure Past and Treasure Future…

As I moved from one state to the next–after marrying Joe–I was always surprised when I unpacked and found that little “diamond” ring among my belongings.  It has been replaced by a real diamond ring, since Josh made sure Joe knew that it was part of the marriage contract.  But I still have that first one–the adjustable one whose band has become green with age, and the sparkle has dulled with years.  It was only a few weeks ago when I had the energy to sort out some of my belongings that I last saw it and placed it on my finger.  It still has the power to bring on the memories of the day I received it from a little boy with sparkly eyes.  I still have the Care Bear and rainbow bookmark, packed together with other bookmarks I’ve collected over the years–from bookstores that are now closed because of computerized mail-order and electronic volumes read on my various devices.  The Care Bear bookmark was the one that started the collection, although I rarely look at it now that I read e-books almost exclusively and rarely need something to mark a page.

Interestingly, it is not that bookmark that recalls that Christmas–the first Christmas in our very own house–but the little ring.  That’s probably because the bookmark is in a clearly marked expanding envelope, while the ring always appears in the strangest places.  Both gifts are treasures, even though they are not kept together.  Both remind me of my two most precious gifts–Amy and Josh.  I may not come across the ring and bookmark all the time, but I think of my children every day.  That my daughter and I are currently estranged, and that Josh has very recently stopped calling on Mother’s Day and my birthday (in support of his sister? because his wife and I had a falling out?) do not make me love them any less.

When I came across the little ring last, I placed it back into the little suede bag that also holds a little horseshoe necklace from Josh.  Instead of putting the bag into my “I’ll never wear this again” jewelry box, I put it into the box holding my pearls and the garnet necklace from Joe.  This way, I’ll come across the little ring more often, and recall that first Christmas in our very own little house on the outskirts of Little Italy in Trenton, New Jersey.  My happiest few years were spent in that house, before we were forced to rent it and move back in with my parents, before I married Joe, before my daughter refused to move to California where Joe lived and where Josh and I would move.

Amy was thirteen then, and broke my heart–not for the first time, not for the last.  Until recently, when Josh patched up his differences with his second wife and married her for the second time, he never broke my heart–exasperated me during his teens a number of times, but never broke my heart.  I know the source of my daughter’s anger, but not the source of his.  And that makes it more difficult to cope.  He doesn’t return my calls or my texts, and I’m pretty certain it has to do with his wife, although I have some doubts.  His wife Raven believes he is like his father, but when early in my first marriage I had problems with my new mother-in-law and asked my husband to “stand with me,” he refused, despite the differences he had with his own mother.  He told me that, no matter how she had hurt him, she was still his mother and it was up to me to either patch things up with his mother or not–that I was never again to ask him to step between his mother and himself or to choose me over his mother.  It rather hurts that Josh isn’t enough like his father to do the same.

Maybe that’s why I hold on to that little ring–one of the few items that has meaning to me that isn’t sitting in a storage unit in Glendale, California, with the rest of the items that are dear to me.  Among them is the ancient book of poems in Belarusian that I can barely read, but that my father gave to me before I moved to California.  It was his most treasured possession, by a poet that inspired him as a boy and always gave him hope.  That book of poetry that I can’t read without much difficulty and the little ring–the two possessions that are the dearest to me of all my belongings.

I’ll have to make a trip to California soon to open the storage unit which has been unvisited for almost 15 years.  I need to empty it of items no longer needed, items no longer wanted, items to be sold or given away.  Except for a few science fiction paperbacks and a few comic books still in their plastic wrappers, that belong to my husband, nothing is worth the fee we pay each month for storage.  But mostly I need to retrieve the book that belongs with the silly little “diamond ring;” the two items that bring back memories both joyous and painful, but mostly fill me with a sense of love.

I live on an island where love overcomes poverty and government corruption.  I embrace the culture of which I can never fully partake, partly because I am not of the island.  But the people of the island cherish their families and enjoy complaining about the government they elected.  On this island, family differences never overshadow love for family.  In many cases, it is the differences that bring individuals back together.  They talk things out, not shut out the relatives.  Family is family, and that’s that.  Shutting out family is worse than committing a crime or a sin that damns one for eternity.  Family.

All of these feelings hit me harder here when I come across that little ring.  Perhaps that’s why I have given the ring a place of honor.  It brings back memories.  And this story–all of it is because of a ring given to me by a little boy with love and with hopes that were shattered somewhere along the line, perhaps years ago, perhaps more recently.  I can only guess.  The ring means something different to me than it can possibly mean to my son, although we talked about my great surprise as I unpacked it when Joe and I moved here.

The island.  The ring.  The need to retrieve my father’s book.  I am aging, and yet I find the need for two items so strongly that I will sacrifice financial burden to retrieve the one not in my possession.  These items will have no meaning to anyone else–not to my children, not to my grandchildren.  Certainly not to strangers or even friends.  My treasures won’t change the future or the past.  They won’t save mankind.  They won’t even save me.

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Day Nineteen of Writing 101: Don’t Stop the Rockin’

Just write–at 400 words, no stopping, no self-editing, no going back and making changes. Just write.

It has been a rough week. Not that any recent weeks have been good, but this one seems especially rough, and I think it’s because my husband has a lot of time on his hands during this between-term period.

We live in Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin (the other side being French).  The island is part of the few tiny islands that literally have one edge on the Atlantic Ocean while the rest of the island luxuriates in the Caribbean Sea.  That makes for interesting seasons, and a turn-around in vacation “high season” from what one would expect back home in the States.  High Season lasts from about mid-November, just before American Thanksgiving, and lasts until the very beginning of May, when it begins to get unbearably hot and humid.  Soon the hurricane warnings will start, everyone will be storing bottled water and cans of food that can be eaten cold or heated on a propane/charcoal grill.  Freezers get cleaned out of anything left over from last year, tinned and bottled goods get donated to food drives (as long as the expiry date hasn’t been reached), items outside that can be blown away in high winds are secured or placed in such a way that they can easily be carried away.  Big bowls, plastic wash basins, any other containers that can catch drips from water finding its way through the roofing tiles are set up within easy reach.  Fresh or bigger cold chests are purchased, in the event of days-long power outages, etc.

I have a four-wheel drive ancient SUV that we purchased two years ago when we moved here, and that tank can get me through a lot of water, sand, and mud–but only if I have my back passenger door fixed and the door handle replaced.  Tourists drive these dinky little Hundais (the cheap Korean version of a Honda) that get excellent mileage but drown in the flooding waters of the storms and hurricanes we get.  My island car, although beat up and rather scraggly looking, has a high motor and battery, so I’m good unless the car gets blown away.  Since you can’t get an older vehicle insured for damages to your own vehicle, I’m glad my old X-Trail is heavy enough to stay put.

This is the only island I’ve ever lived on, and it took some getting used to.  I had to learn that many stores are closed on Sundays, that gas stations are open only until about six in the evening, that grocery stores shut down at 7:00 PM Monday through Saturday, but are only open until 2:00 PM on Sundays.  The little bodegas are usually open until about 9:00, but have been known to shut down earlier if there have been no customers for more than an hour.  But that’s on the Dutch side.  On the French side, grocery stores are open on Sunday until at least 7:00, but the bodegas close at six or so. And when all stores are closed on the Dutch side because of a legal holiday, everyone who can runs over to the French side where, right now, most places are taking an even exchange on Euro versus US Dollar.  Funny how most of the Dutch economy here prefers American dollars to their local currency, called Gilders, and is based on the pre-European Common Market exchange of Euros.  It’s different here, and I have yet to find a place similar to a K-mart or Walmart that carries everything.  Shops here specialize; and I had to learn the hard way that you can’t buy certain health-related items in the grocery store–they’re limited to pharmacies or beauty supply shops, depending on what they are.

Sint Maarten is pretty much the last island in the Caribbean to hold its Carnival.  Ours started a little more than a week ago, and will continue until early next week.  Tomorrow, on the celebration of the (Dutch) Queen’s birthday, there is a parade that begins at 7:00 AM, and continues to about 4:30 PM.  According to today’s newspaper, major roads into and out of Philipsburg–the seat of government and home of all major businesses–will be shut down at various times.  The streets were all named, but some of the street names are not the same as those found on the latest island maps.  To me, that means that Philipsburg is literally under Carnival siege until sometime around sunset.  People who grew up here light up when they talk about Carnival, despite the lack of safety in recent years–gangs, robberies at gun-point, fights with opportunistic weapons such as your standard switchblade and make-shift weapons made by breaking a bottle’s bottom off so that it becomes a weapon much more frightening than any knife.  So, as older folk, we have chosen not to participate much in Carnival activities because our “safety senses” are not what they used to be, and our reaction time has slowed.

Now here is my problem.  I think I’ve shared that I am starting a new home-based business, basically a watered down and maybe  better organized version of Amway.  The company is Ardyss International, and it is based on direct to consumer sales and on establishing a community of sellers beneath you.  So when is my kick-off?  You guessed it.  Tomorrow(Thursday) late afternoon, at the precise time that access out of Philipsburg, which sits in the center of the southern part of the island, is shut down.  And I am on the western-most coast of the island, just a kilometer or two from the French border.  (sigh)  But my sponsor thinks it will be fine, and there will be lots of opportunities to host more fun and business events to introduce products that slim, nurture the body, and ease the effects of the equatorial sun on skin.  So in the morning, I will run out to purchase some more frozen heat-em-up appetizers (mostly vegetarian, as I am expecting several Indian guests who do not eat meat–except chicken and fish) and some wine and soft beverages.  And ice.  I’m going to need lots of ice, even if it ends up melting in the cooler.  At least the lure of a pool-side evening (bring your own towel and wear your bathing suit) may help get people here.  We’ll see.

I’m sorry that a major “free pro membership” will unlikely be sold, but the interest in the products that reduce your body by 2 to 3 dress sizes is of interest ot a few people, while others are interested in the support features of several garments.  The fact that these latter can serve us aging Boomers without the bulk of some of the medical store garments , and that there are styles for men as well as women, is a major reason why I took my sponsor’s challenge.  And worst case scenario, I’ll finally learn something about the business side of things, especially the leadership aspects.  But I’m still nervous about a kick-off on a day that is both a major holiday (remember? Queen’s birthday?) and the Grand Carnival close-all-the-roads Parade.

Since I’ve already reached more than 1180 words, not counting the title, I’ll leave this post as it stands–with me experiencing a major sleepless night as I type at 3:30 AM, and will probably do something dumb like try drawing one of the figures my drawing teacher sent me home with, just to become a bit more comfortable and (hopefully) sleepy.  I mean, all my pain relief and muscle-relaxing meds are taken at night.  The pain reliever is a mix of some form of narcotic and over-the-counter pain reliever that I can’t take during the day because I would get nothing done, but that obviously also doesn’t put me to sleep. Maybe a few more cups of Sleepy Time tea will help…

If you got this far, please post a comment to let me know you read all the way through.  This is the most boring post I’ve written to date, and if you are still either reading or awake at this juncture, just say something like “reached the end.”

And thanks for your patience with this somewhat stream of consciousness assignment.  Remember, “reached the end.”

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Day Eighteen of Writing 101: Hone Your Point of View

The Neighbor

The neighborhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember.  She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away.  Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income.  She’s fallen behind in the rent.  The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

That’s what Mom just told Mrs. Jenkins, who lives next door.  This is big news in the neighborhood.  The Pauleys are old—like Gramps and Gran.  When Mr. Pauley died, Mom went to the funeral, but Dad had work, and I had school.  Since then, Mrs. Pauley almost never comes out of the house.  For a while, I thought maybe she had died, too, and that Mom forgot to mention it.  Or something.  Mom said that the Pauleys’ children didn’t even come to the funeral—of their own dad!  Mom says that happens sometimes.

I’ve lived here all my life–all twelve years of it.  Mom says they moved here a few months after she found out she was going to have me.  The apartment they had was too small for the two of them, she said, and definitely too small to raise a baby, too.  So she found this house, and I was born, and I think I saw Mrs. Pauley almost every day my whole life.  She always had a nod and a smile for me.  I always nodded back.  But I never really knew her—not like I know some of the other people around here, especially with kids who go to my school.

Huh.  Why aren’t Mrs. Pauley’s sons—Mom says there were six—coming around to help their mother?  Why did they all leave town?  Why haven’t I ever seen them?  Even Mom says that once the last of the sons moved out—not long after we moved here—she’s never seen any of them visit.  Why wouldn’t they want to visit their own parents?  Why wouldn’t they come home?  Do they know that their father died?  Did Mrs. Pauley call them to let them know?  If she did, didn’t they care?  Even if they didn’t like their father, what about their mother?  Don’t they care what happens to her, either?  What’s she going to do now?  Will she become homeless?

Wow!  Six sons and none of them care??  What will happen to her now?

The furniture is being moved out of the house.  It looks so old and ratty.  Mom would never keep furniture like that at home.  She buys a new sofa every few years because the cat scratches it up and the dog makes it smell like—well, dog.  By the looks of the sofa the men with the police and landlord are putting at the curb, every cat in the world has had a shot at that sofa.  And the round burn marks all over it…and all over the table and chairs they’re bringing out now.  And why is Mrs. Pauley wearing a long-sleeved sweater now, in the middle of June?  Is she cold?  Did the landlord cut off her heat?  Wait.  That’s stupid.  It’s too hot to need heat.

Still.  I don’t know what to think.  They’re taking some clothes and throwing them over the furniture outside.  Why is there almost no food?  There are a couple of tins of stuff in a small cardboard box, but… Maybe the workmen got hungry and ate all her food?  Nah.  No one could be that mean, could they?

I watch until the landlord put padlocks on all the doors and the workmen finished boarding up the windows.  Mrs. Pauley is just sitting on top of the clothes—all really worn and raggedy—and just staring into the street.  I don’t know if she can see me watching from the porch.

Mom comes out, walks past me, and goes over to Mrs. Pauley.  She’s too far away for me to hear what she’s saying.  But Mrs. Pauley isn’t answering.  Mom tries to take her arm, but Mrs. Pauley pulls her elbow away as though she’s mad at the world.  She’s still staring at the street.  Mom stands looking down at her for a few minutes, then turns to come back home.  Her face—Mom’s face—looks like a stone statue.  No smile.  Jaw shut tight.  Eyes facing directly in front of her.  She comes up the porch steps without looking at me.  I watch her walk in the front door, and hear it slam behind her.

I look back at Mrs. Pauley, still sitting and staring at the street—not really at the street, just at sort of nothing.  As I get up to go back into the house, I hear Mom talking to someone on the phone.  “But you have to help her or find a place for her.  You can’t just leave her on the street.  Can’t you police do anything for her?  Is there some agency that I can call to help her?  Why don’t you know?  Is this the first time someone has been evicted from a home in this town?  Shouldn’t you know an agency or charity or something…someone I can call to help her?”

I go to my room and dig out the earphones I tossed onto a pile of stuff last night.  I put them on and plug them into my iPod.  I don’t want to see any more of Mrs. Pauley right now.  I don’t want to hear that no one can help her.  I know Mom will try calling everyone she can.  I just get the feeling there’s no one that will take care of her.  And I don’t want to hear Mom get angry or start to cry because she can’t do anything to help Mrs. Pauley.

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