Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Back to Class

Tumisu via Pixabay
Today, I spent some time in the classroom. That doesn't sound like such a big deal for an educator but this particular educator has spent the past few Wednesdays on Zoom listening to student presentations. It was kind of nice to eliminate travel time and I was proud of the work my freshman presenters were doing.

 It wasn't until this past Monday that I felt weary of the online life as I headed for my computer at home for the usual Monday Zoom sessions. The timing was perfect; it was the last day of presentations.

I was back in the classroom yesterday, but today's classes were different. I'd been seeing my Tuesday/Thursday class in person, one half at a time, even during my recent Zoom run and it wasn't until today that I realized how much I missed having that opportunity lately with my MWF groups.

I'm sure this all sounds rather mundane but it's one of those little things that's worth appreciating in a semester that's been weird and, quite honestly, a bit scary. If you'd asked me in August I'd have told you that I preferred a fully online semester to one where desks are six feet apart, masks are required and hand sanitizer and cleaning products grace every classroom. But, that wasn't an option, so it was time to make the best of things.

Time in the classroom now in nos way resembles anything I've ever known but, as it turns out, I'm still  glad to be there. One of my fears (on the low end of the spectrum) was that I wouldn't be able to learn the names of students I saw in person only in masks.

And today proved that I can, I did, and I have. Those unmasked Zoom sessions probably helped (even if it took me longer than usual). I'm grateful for every opportunity to socially distance and still teach, but there's still something special about being in a classroom, even now.


Monday, October 19, 2020

A Writing Connection

skeeze via Pixabay

Last Saturday, my writing accountability partner and I met for the first time in more than six months. We met over Zoom (of course), after briefly debating the merits of Zoom over FaceTime, and it was wonderful! We did no actual writing this time -- just lots of catching up and sharing of goals -- much as my critique group did the first time we met (via Zoom) after our COVID-driven hiatus.

You'd think that writing would be a lonely and competitive profession and I suppose it can be, but my experience has been very different. More than two decades ago, my writing mentor invited me to a critique group meeting. I resisted at first but, once I started going...well, I've been going ever since. From there, I discovered Pennwriters and now, of course, there's social media. If we choose whom we follow carefully, we can end up extending our network of colleagues in a very positive and supportive way. 

And my writing accountability partner? Once upon a time, we had the same agent...and we live in the same geographical area. In the end, it was a Starbucks connection that fostered the writing accountability partnership. We started meeting to talk writing, then to actual do writing and nudge each other forward in our projects. A shared love for writing, despite its ups and downs, has grown into a cherished friendship.

It's really easy to find negativity but one thing the writing community has taught me is that, if you look for it, it's easy to find support, too.

And that's definitely something we all can use right now.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Feature: Don't Let "Murder Hornets" Bug You

I don't usually write -- or read -- about insects. I'm just not that interested and, to be honest, I'm a little creeped out as well. But, when I saw the "Don't Buy the 'Murder Hornet' Hype" headline, I had to check it out.

I'm glad I did. 

In a time when new worries seem to multiply faster than rabbits (See what I did? I went for cute and furry instead of six-legged and creepy), it's always nice to be able to shed a little light on misinformation that can get under our skin and leave us in a tizzy.

So, what's the truth about these insects?

Yes, they're here (a small number of them in Washington state), but their "real name" is Asian Giant Hornets. "Murder" implies not only an intent they don't have, but an unlikely outcome as well.

No, I don't want to run across them.

Yes they sting. But, frankly, they're just not that into us. 

As with many insects, if we don't bug them, they won't bug us. And, amazingly enough, entomologists speak fondly of them, while still encouraging us to give them a wide berth. Their stingers (the hornets, not the entomologists) can penetrate thick clothing and they don't fall out, so they can live to sting again . But, unless you're allergic to insect stings, you'll live to swat at them again, too.

But I wouldn't advise it. 

While I'm unlikely to wax poetic about these (or any other) insects, I am nevertheless happy to know that the name Asian Giant Hornet is both descriptive and accurate while the moniker "murder hornet" is not.

One less thing to worry about. Even if you live in Washington. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dishing on the Porch Swing

Hello, readers! I thought I had one more installment of the first draft of the Casting the First Stone sequel to share with you but, when I went over the remaining pages, they were pretty unimpressive. So, instead, I've invited Jim's sister Nicoletta to the porch swing to dish about brothers, mothers and why Jim's not really a bad guy.

Bets: Not really a bad guy? You've got be kidding me!

Marita: Shh! Bets --

Bets: Aw, c'mon Ri-Ri! Good guys don't just walk out when the test stick turns positive.

Marita: Yeah, but...(she nods toward first Nicoletta, then Angel)

Nicoletta: Oh, I'm right there with you. But that was all Mama.

Bets: No offense, but if he's old enough to do the deed....

Marita: Have you met Jim's mother? She's--

Nicoletta: "Let me finish that for you. A force to be reckoned with. Don't get me wrong, she's my mother and I love her, but she's not a warm-and-fuzzy, milk-and-cookies kind of parent. She makes the law and if you live in her house, you abide by it. She had big plans for Jimmy."

Marita: (chuckles) It's funny to hear you refer to him as "Jimmy." Angel, do you ever call him that?

Angel: (shakes her head) I've only ever known him as Jim. But you're right about the plans, Nicoletta. Jim told me all about it when we dating.

Nicoletta: My brother is the only boy in an Italian household. He was raised to be a prince. 

Angel: Didn't that bother you and Alessi?

Nicoletta: Sometimes. But we also had less pressure than he did. We had to help out at the restaurant -- we all did -- but at home, the rules were very traditionally male and female. There was never a thought of Alessi or me going to college, unless there was money left over after Jimmy made his choice. 

Bets: That's so unfair!

Nicoletta: (shrugs) I always wanted a husband and babies. School was never my thing. I was too outspoken for our private Christian school --

Marita: I can identify with that!

Nicoletta: Not that it stopped me. But I wanted to be somewhere where I could be myself and be in charge. Like Mama, only softer.

Bets: What would your brother have done if your mother --

Marita: Stop! I don't want to know.

Nicoletta: I couldn't tell you if I wanted to -- I really don't know. I know Jimmy was scared but I only ever heard fragments of discussion  -- mostly Mama yelling. I don't know whether he was scared because you were pregnant or just scared of Mama. I don't think Mama gave him a chance to have any feelings about it. 

Angel: But you're so different! I mean, I've seen you with your kids. You are the milk-and-cookies mom.

Nicoletta: But I'm also the disciplinarian -- just like how I grew up. I have Mama's sass and Dad's ability to keep the peace. It's a good combination most days, honed by working as a waitress. I know just how far I can go before I cross a line -- most of the time.

Bets: You're on the right porch swing!

Angel: So, tell me. I'm surrounded by moms. What advice do you have for me?

Nicoletta: Spare the rod -- and make sure Jimmy does, too. Mama was quick to smack or swat. Didn't shut me up, but it definitely kept Alessi in her shell. She's still afraid to speak up about anything.

Angel: I can't even imagine --

Marita: Me either. But Charli has always been so easy. My mother had the icy glare.

Bets: Oh, don't lie. You have the evil eye down.

Marita: Yep. But I've never raised a hand to Charli. My voice plenty of times....

Nicoletta: Angel, you'll find your way, and you'll be just fine. You are so full of love. Just make sure you draw the line and don't let that little girl wrap you around her finger. 

Angel: Marita, you and Charli seem to be more like friends than mother and daughter.

Marita: It's a fine line. A lot of that is because I was not much more than a kid when I had her. But my father gave me the same advice Nicoletta just gave you -- make sure she knows where the line is. 

Bets: If that advice had come from Rosemarie --

Marita: Can you imagine? 

Bets: Sounds like you and Nicoletta had the same goal -- not to be your mothers.

Angel: Something else we have in common. But that's a story for another time.

Monday, October 12, 2020

I Could Get Used to This

Last weekend, we opted to quarantine at the beach. This only intensified my desire for a home away from home, but that’s not what this post is about. 

For the first time in months, I felt relaxed. I had a regular Friday -- teaching classes via Zoom from the screened-in porch, answering emails, doing some grading, and submitting mid-semester warnings and kudos -- but it all had a different feel. 

One I could get used to.

It didn’t hurt that the weather was sunny and perfectly October, or that there were three outside spaces for this usually-content-indoors girl to work and rest in. As an added bonus, everyone was happy to be exactly where we were.

For the first time in a long time, I felt as though it was okay to just be. I fell into beach mode automatically, mixing sketchnoting, reading, and writing projects in among the school work. Relaxation came easily and, with no pressure to be productive, I made progress on a writing project I'd been stuck on for a while. 

Among other things.

Not everyone is happy to spend 14 hours on the porches, though. Some people like to actually do something while they're away, so I had to leave my porch from time to time. While I can't complain, I do stuff all the time at home. I loved not doing stuff for a change. 

I know breaks are important, but when deadlines and responsibilities loom, it's hard to justify long, luxurious ones. Still, when we take them, they can set us up for success. Somehow, although I know that, I still put off the breaks. 

I'm back home, posting this blog much later than I'd hoped, another day of teaching from the usual spot behind me, grateful for the opportunity to recharge. 

And that is a feeling I want to hang on to, indoors or out.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Friday Feature: Not-so-Empty Nest

Lately, grouchy has been my go-to mood more often than I care to admit. I’d grown accustomed to a sort of ownership of the house when everyone else was at school or at work but, until recently, our small house has been full on a daily basis.

At first, I was grateful for every day that my husband worked from home and thrilled to have our daughter safely back under our roof. I’m still glad we’re all here together, but, some days, I struggle with what that means for my daily rhythms, especially since fall semester started and my deadline-driven work intensified.

As it turns out, I'm not selfish and spoiled (well, maybe a little), nor am I alone. Way back in April, Oprah magazine published an article about how empty nest parents and their young adult children were adjusting to all being under the same roof again. What I love most about this article is that it opens with the obvious -- the love is there -- but that doesn't mean the adjustments are simple.

When my daughter left for college (and things were simpler), I couldn't think about never having her home again. It took several years to baby step myself into that reality until, as her wings grew in full and strong (figuratively, of course), I became comfortable with it. 

And now we're in a new reality.

I'm grateful for every day we wake up healthy and together but now, I also understand that I'm not alone in that which makes me grouchy. Even better, perhaps I can expend the energy I was wasting on guilt and self-disgust on something more useful.

As soon as my husband stops rattling the plastic bag every time he reaches in for another bite of his snack.

Some things don't change.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Showing Up

It's always fun to see my work pop up in new places. Sometimes, I get busy and forget I've submitted it in the first place. Other times, an article that appeared in one spot pops up in another when I wasn't expecting  it to.

Both happened within the past week.

A post from last March ("4 Reasons to Love Arguments in Fiction") was part of Carnival of the Indies. I found out when Joel Friedlander retweeted my post the other day. 

Last week, an editor I work with regularly emailed me to let me know that one of my articles that had appeared in their back-to-school issue was being featured on their Facebook page.

It's been a challenging six months, for so many reasons. It's nice to get a reminder from time to time that I am a writer.

More story next week.