Monday, June 17, 2019

It's HERE! (Part 2)

Special thanks to Barb Szyszkiewicz for creating this visual
Today began like any other Monday. I was awake-ish before the alarm, but stayed in bed until my preset snooze alarms had gone off. I got up, did some stretches and created my weekly calendar/to-do, thinking today's list might be a tad optimistic, but figuring I could nudge a few things forward if I needed to. Then, I went off to teach my summer class.

When I got home, there was a package on the front porch. I made a mental note to grab it, then went inside to eat the soup I'd picked up on the way home. After lunch, I went out to get the package, expecting it to be for my husband, as I hadn't ordered anything, at least not that I could remember.

But the box was for me. And it was on the heavy side.

And it was from my publisher.

My books!!

There are few things in life more exciting than opening a box that contains the culmination of years  of effort, and this box didn't disappoint. Though I'd looked at the cover, posted the cover, created additional posts that incorporated the cover, etc. over and over in the past few months, there's something even better about finally seeing it up close and holding it in my hand. Flipping through the pages is ever so much better than skimming through a PDF. And that new book smell? The best.

Know Thyself is now a reality. No more writing, no more edits. It's a done deal. There will be celebrating and parties and signings and, in the midst of it all, there will be more writing, beginning even before the festivities end. The next project is, with any luck, right around the corner.

My daughter was kind enough to videotape the unboxing, which you can find here.

Not bad for an otherwise unremarkable Monday.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Feature: The Joy of Books

Last weekend, I got very excited over a seemingly small thing.

I finished a book.

I read a lot, but I rarely sit down and curl up with a book, and this time was no different. The book I finished was Michelle Obama's Becoming (which I highly recommend) and I had listened to it, sentence-by-sentence, chapter-by-chapter, in the car.

Mind you, I don't really spend that much time in the car. It takes me seven minutes or less to get to work (when there's no construction) and most of my other driving is around town. Still, when I read an article last year about how to read more books, I decided to put the suggestion of listening to audiobooks to work. I'd downloaded Audible last summer so I could listen to books on the beach. Why not try adding a little reading to my commute?

I'm really glad I did. Listening to Becoming, as read by the author, only enhanced my experience. Listening to it a little at a time allowed me to savor it as well.

But back to reading a lot, but not sitting down with a book. It wasn't until I read this article in the Harvard Business Review that I actually credited myself with reading a lot. I absolutely fall into the "consuming more information...than we ever have before" category, reading not only the e-mails and social media tidbits author Neil Pasricha cited, but online articles as well. 

That's still reading.


Yet, I don't make time for books. 


A funny thing happened when my audibook habit collided with Pasricha's article. My appetite for reading actual books was whetted. 


I have no intention of quitting my audiobook habit. Currently, I'm cycling among Billy Crystal's Still Foolin' 'Em, Brené Brown's Dare to Lead and Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, depending upon my mood and my destination. In addition, I've turned my attention back to several of the bookmarked books on my physical bookshelf, determined to hit the finish line with those as well. One didn't make the cut and is now destined for the library donation box, but two others are in regular rotation again. 

For writers, when "free" time appears, finding the reading/writing balance can be a challenge, but it's a challenge I'm ready, willing and able to rise to. 

What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Let's (Not) Go to the Tape

It's here! Know Thyself is now in stock at OSV

Last week at this time, I was agonizing over a video presentation. This week, I'm just a few days away from an actual presentation

The latter makes me much less nervous. I've always assumed it's a matter of familiarity -- as an educator, I'm much more accustomed to speaking in front of a live audience. In addition, I hate how I look on video. I probably look the same in real life, but I can't see myself, so I don't think about it. I only think about sharing the content.

Then yesterday, I was listening to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead. In her "Note from Brené" at the beginning of the book, she talks about the give-and-take of presentations and how she chooses to focus on the people in front of her.

Suddenly, it all made sense.

While a video is me staring back at myself, talking to an imaginary audience and trying to figure out where to look so I'm making eye contact with an invisible viewer, a presentation is interactive. It feels more like an actual conversation. Sure, I'm nervous at the outset, but as I talk and get actual feedback from those in the room with me, it gets easier. Even if the audience is quiet or reserved, there's a sense of actual human contact.

Geralt via Pixabay
So, this Saturday, I'll endeavor to not only engage my audience, but also engage with them. While this isn't new to me, the understanding of why I prefer going live to going to the tape is. And, with any luck, the next time I go to the tape instead of going live, perhaps I'll have a few new lessons to make the process easier.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Learning a Lesson or Two

JillWellington via Pixabay
It's Monday. It's raining. My favorite Starbucks ran out of chai. I caught the back of my sandal on the basement steps this morning and envisioned myself going headfirst onto the concrete floor one flight below (I didn't).

And it's the first day of class.

Teaching during the summer is a fairly new development for me. This is only the second year I've signed on for summer session and, in the abstract, it's not something I look forward to. After spring semester winds down in May, I love flipping the switch to writing mode (or, as has been the case this year, book promotion mode). With no papers to grade, no lessons to plan and, best of all, no alarm to set, it's easy to settle in and tackle the things that fell by the wayside in the busyness of the last few weeks of class and to pour my creative energies into my works-in-progress.

But, somewhere along the line, I get excited. I read over my students' evaluations from spring semester, combine them with my own "do this differently" notes and reconfigure my syllabus and assignments accordingly. Looking at the course through a different lens and set-up forces me to reconsider the value of my assignments, streamline some things and rearrange others to fit a time frame that is both condensed (fewer weeks) and longer (classes that are nearly twice as long and that meet twice as often). I mix in new ideas from teacher blogs, tweets and newsletters and take a new approach to some things, while also holding on to the tried and true.

TeroVesalainen via Pixabay
All of this appeals to my creative side and almost makes up for the tedium of (re)writing a syllabus and timeline, the former of which always takes multiple revisions. Before I know it -- and usually, before I'm ready -- it's time to meet my new class.

I like the longer class period (now that I've figured out how to break it up a bit) and the continuity created by the fact that we meet every day (except Friday) and I really like having a class that's one third the size of my usual classes. The smaller numbers invite discussion and are perhaps less intimidating for those students who don't like to speak up. By the end of the first class, I know everyone's name and I look forward to digging into a new set of adventures in child and adolescent development with a new group of students. Summer session also brings in different majors  and a slightly wider variety of majors as well. While the education and nursing majors outnumber nearly everyone else during the semester, summer brings history, sociology and even computer majors into my psychology class, which adds layers and textures to the discussions.

Pixabay
While I can't say I look forward unequivocally to getting off the sofa and back into the classroom, I can say that I have fun. Adding new twists to old favorites keeps things interesting and sometimes gives me new strategies to carry forward as well.

So, while the early part of summer requires a temporary flip of the switch back to instructor mode, I still manage to get a little bit of writing in, and maybe even come up with a few new article ideas while I'm at it. Then, I have half of July and much of August before I need to change hats again.

One thing's for sure -- it's never dull.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday Feature: Critical Thinking

This week, I've been putting the finishing touches on the syllabus for my summer class (a more condensed -- and therefore intense -- version of a class I teach in fall and spring semesters). I've reviewed my objectives and assignments, read the course evaluations from my spring semester students and done the usual tweaking. It's ready to go, as is my to-do list of tools to adjust and create.

In other words, I've engaged in critical thinking.

As adults, we don't think of it that way. But any time we listen to someone else's perspective, make ourselves aware of our own biases or choose to accept someone we care about despite an egregious difference of opinion in one area or another, we're practicing this skill, even if we don't label it as such.

As an instructor, sharpening this skill in my students is one of my priorities and therefore one of my stated course objectives in every course I teach. In a world where it's easy to confuse clicking the "like" button with forming a considered opinion, I want to, at the very least, teach in a way that encourages my students to exercise their brains.

Is this merely an academic exercise? I don't think so. In fact, I think teaching college students how to think (for themselves) instead of teaching them what to think is one of the most important things we can do for them. While this may seem like a luxury when a year of college costs more than most cars, it's a skill that transfers to the world after graduation.

Case in point: an article in Inc. that focuses on mental exercises that will make us (in the real world, not the educational world) better critical thinkers. Author Larry Alton "is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship" -- in other words, someone with his feet firmly planted in the world outside academia, which is my students' desired destination.

Alton's article had me nodding and smiling, in part because of the connections he made (critical thinking can improve creativity), in part because the ideas were so easy to do, and, in part because they're the very things I seek to incorporate into my classes.

While some students of my students embrace critical thinking, others fight it. Among the evaluations I received last semester was one advising me to teach only the material that would be on the test.

Not gonna happen.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Nice Place to Be

silviarita via Pixabay
Yesterday, I had the honor and pleasure of attending a retirement lunch. To call it a luncheon is to overstate it; it was, as most teacher functions during the school day are, a take-out food and sheet cake extravaganza held in the school cafeteria.

But the food didn't matter. The company did.

It was the first time in several years I'd been back to the elementary school where I spent the last nineteen years of my career. The entry had changed, reflecting the greater need for security that all schools are feeling in light of the uptick in shootings but, once inside, I felt as though nothing had changed at all.

It was beyond wonderful to see everyone again, to watch the bittersweet tributes created to celebrate those who were retiring, to share in hugs and conversations and catch up on one another's lives. I've stayed connected to a number of people, but have fallen out of touch with a number of others, and there was much catching up to do. Yesterday afternoon, two hours flew by and the seven years between my last day of school and theirs evaporated.

During a post-lunch conversation, one of the teachers asked me if I "missed it." I hesitated, and that moment of silence was enough to trip both of us up. He chivalrously covered, citing the passage of time and how it had probably allowed me to move beyond missing my former career, while I stuttered and struggled, trying to find my way past the "no" that immediately rose to my lips. I was at once so happy to be back in that room with all of those people and so ready to leave at the end of the event and return not to a classroom that had to be cleaned out, but a whole list of other responsibilities I'd carved out for myself in the seven years since I'd walked out those front doors for the last time.

I apologized for sounding hard-hearted and told him the truth -- that I missed the people -- the wonderful colleagues buzzing around the room as we spoke, absorbed in hugs, reminiscences and goodbyes. I ticked off things I didn't miss at all (code red drills, restraint training).

It was a complicated question.

Now, seven years from my last day in that building, I'm working at least as hard -- and some days harder -- than I did then. But I have more freedom. More flexibility. More autonomy.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Today, still absorbed in the glow of reconnecting, I miss the people all over again, and a part of me always will. Freedom, flexibility and autonomy are great things, but so is human connection. During my tenure as a school counselor, I worked in three different districts, each one dramatically different from the others, but with one thing in common: a core group of dedicated, big-hearted professionals who took care of not only the kids, but each other as well.

I love my life now, though it's very different from the life I loved then. I have more time for pursuits beyond the classroom -- like writing -- but less real-world contact with other people. That contact is double-edged, its presence and its absence both exhausting and exhilarating -- and while I miss the exhilaration, the persistent tug at my sleeve that was part of my job as an elementary school counselor's is something I willingly left behind.

pixel2013 via Pixabay
Today, a feel a swell of gratitude once again for all those incredible people who made my time at school so much more than just a job, but I also know that I am where I am supposed to be. Do I want to do a better job of keeping in touch, planning lunches, checking in? I do. But today, I can honestly say that I'm grateful in equal parts for where I was, where I am, and where (I think) I'm going.

And that's a pretty nice place to be.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Too Much of a Good Thing

Gellinger via Pixabay
When I was in high school, my mom could always tell which boys I liked by the frequency with which they made it into our conversations. I never had much of a poker face -- or whatever the verbal filtering equivalent is -- and I still don't. Nearly three decades as a school counselor have taught me  to measure my words more carefully, but when I'm excited about something, I'm like the Pointer Sisters song -- "I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it!"

And the thing I'm excited about right now is my book that's coming out this month. Every little detail, change, development or event is share-worthy!

Until it's not.

Lately, I've been feeling as though I'm straddling the line between the eagerly anticipating Pointer Sisters and The Big Bang Theory's work-the-fact-that-I've-been-to-space-into-every-conversation Howard Wolowitz.

Too much?

Yes. Yes, it is.

While I don't think I've quite crossed the line, it's definitely in sight without need of corrective lenses. In my defense, self-promotion is now part of the author package. Limited budgets at publishing houses put the task of getting the word out right back into the lap of the person who wrote the words in the first place. It's expected that we'll share our impending release with friends, family and everyone within shouting distance of us on social media.

It's not all bad. I've discovered that I really enjoy creating visuals to post -- using sources like Canva to create graphics that take small segments of words off the page of the book and illustrate them. This has led to my spending more time on Pinterest pinning these visuals and building boards, as well as finally opening an Instagram account (after some nudging from my publisher). And, although I'm pushing myself to take advantage of more video-based opportunities (I'll be on the CatholicMom.com Facebook page on Thursday at 11, for example), I haven't yet decided if this is an area I want to pursue or one I'll abandon, deciding I don't have to be good at everything.

This seemingly small decision is actually a really important one, especially since each day still has only 24 hours in it. I've heard many authors complain about how promotion takes too much time and it's hard to balance such tasks with writing time. I can't disagree. But, if my goal is to be an author who sells books and wants her writing to be a career, I need to invest some of my time and energy in promotion because that's a part of the business I have chosen. That's also why I choose to invite other authors to the porch swing from time to time. Who better than another author to understand that every little detail, development or blog post is exciting?

All that said, I do try to keep the porch swing as advertisement-free as I can, updating the Know Thyself information over at Organizing by STYLE since it's more relevant there. Sometimes, though, I get a little excited, sharing events and updates here. If that happens, I hope you'll sit with me for a while and share in my joy.

Or, if you'd prefer not to stay, just type Wolowitz in the comments and come back another day.

one_life via Pixabay