Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill"-- Buddha

If Buddha is correct, then I am doing my part to destroy the future minds of America.

Some of the funniest incidents come from misuse of words, and if you teach English to teenagers, you will find yourself giggling (or screaming) a lot.

Or, if I am your English teacher, you'll find yourself giggling (or screaming) on the way to your therapist.

Available from Cafe Press
On the second day of the new school year, I used to teach students about the difference between Standard American English, slang, and dialects to help them understand why certain situations call for certain ways of speaking: you wouldn't use Standard American English when socializing with friends just as you wouldn't use slang with a teacher, employer, or anyone else not from your generation.

One year as I was transitioning from slang to dialects, I announced quite loudly: "Okay, now we are moving on to dicks." Immediately after I heard my diction faux pas, I threw my arms in the air like a referee signalling a touchdown and shouted, "Day two everybody!"

Forty pairs of wide eyes stared back at me.  That their teacher even knew what a dick was seemed to have stunned them.

Last year, while reading from "Narrative of Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson"--a horrific account of her imprisonment to the Native Americans in 1675--I managed to turn a scene of violence into a snuff narrative. After reading about "bowels being split open" and a nursing mother and her child being shot through, I concluded by saying, "the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon [the pilgrims] over their fornication."

I stopped. The last word was supposed to be "fortification." I pictured a bunch of pilgrims doing it doggy style while shooting up at the Indians on the roof.  I couldn't help sputtering a few Beavis and Butthead chuckles.

I know. There's something wrong with me.

Of course, I was the only one who laughed because the students had no idea what "fornication" meant, even though they probably engaged in it more than I did. So, instead of seeing this humor in my mispronunciation, they watched me giggle at the idea of innocent men, women, and children being slaughtered.

Then there was the time I told my students to "put away their notebooks because I was passing the testies out." I was trying to play off a persona that is so not me: cutesie and playfully condescending (I'm naturally sarcastically condescending).

And I often say fuck-tion instead of "function."

I could be on Law and Order Special Victims Unit. As myself.

I really threw out a good one the other night during the Advanced Composition class that I teach at the junior college during the summer. This class was dedicated to diction: denotation, connotation, phonetics and such.  I end the class with a lecture on the phonetics and purpose of profanity. Clearly, I cuss a lot during this lecture.

I had decided to give the students a break beforehand. As they were getting up to leave the room for a break, I overheard a student utter to another student a phrase that included the word "fuck" as a noun, adjective, and adverb. I smirked at the versatility of the word, which alerted the student that I could actually hear him. Embarrassed, he apologized for his language. To put him at ease I was going to say, "Don't worry about it, I'm going to say 'fuck' a lot after the break."

But, that's not what I said.

I forgot a word.

(drum roll while readers try to figure out what I did say)

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Instead, I said, "Don't worry about it because I'm gonna fuck a lot after the break."

Let's just say no one was late coming back from the break.

And my second period seniors will not forget to turn in their composition notebooks on Wednesday. Why? Because when I reminding them, I said, "On Wednesday, I am going to start collecting your condoms."

From the silence, once small voice utters, "Well, we know Ms. Vance had a good weekend."


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Qurious Quirks

Good thing I'm pretty, because I'm not too bright.

Almost jacked-up the blogfest. 

But, I've regrouped and am ready to OWN IT!

I wrote my first novel when I was 16, while grounded for a very long time (I fucked up big, yo).  It started as a Stephen King It rip-off and has been through several revisions since. The exploding YA market combined with the fact that I was a YA when I wrote it makes it the logical next project. 

It is horror, of course, called The Gifted, the Cursed, and the Wicked.

It has eight main characters. Eight. And about 5 supporting characters.  As much as it hurts--deleting a character feels a lot like murder--I need to scale down.

Luckily, I stumbled onto this great blogfest:

Hosted by Paper Mountain
I am going to use it as an opportunity to a) fine-tune characters developed by my 16-year-old brain and b) figure out which ones can go. *tear* I am to develop five questions that will bring out a "quirk" in one of my characters. Those participating will answer my questions in the comments and I will do the same on theirs!

Those of you not participating, answer the questions for yourself! Or answer them from the perspective of your favorite fictional character! Or, or answer them from the perspective of someone you would find intriguing.

I'm going to develop my questions around Kristina Knight.  She was supposed to be me, or what I wanted to be, and now I feel she needs to be her own person and not my ego, so I think she's a good candidate.

1. Which bad habit of your character drives other the characters crazy?

Kris will open up a can of Diet Coke, drink part of it, and then forget about it and go open another one. She'll have six cans scattered through her apartment by the end of the weekend.

2. How would your character communicate "I need help" with just body language?

She crawls into her boyfriend's lap and contracts into a fetal position.

3. If your character had only one night in Las Vegas, what would he/she do?

Kris would hit the night clubs and dance all night long.

4.  How does your character regard his/her cell phone?

An onerous necessity. She keeps it on her so that her friends don't bitch at her for not responding to their messages right away. But it's not a smart phone; it's not decorated. She does not cross off the days of her calendar anticipating when the first day of her early-upgrade window. 

5.  What habit will your character never be able to break without some kind of intervention?

Chewing on her cuticles while watching television.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Minz, what did you put in this wine?": Submission Day

I might be drunk. I've had ONE glass of wine, but I am pretty sure that Minz put something in it. I'm sitting here, giggling at nothing.

Or, I might be punch drunk.

Or, it's The Crazy.

JennyB, Minz, and I have been submitting to agents all day.  We call these "submissions days." I know really creative. Or as Minz suggested: "Our motherfucking postal days."  We try to have one every few months.


My submission day picture is not appropriate for public view.

My back hurts, Minz's ass hurts, and JennyB is getting angry, which is pissing me off because I am the angry one.

We've been at this for 6 1/2 hours.

When Minz asked, "Is it time for wine?" JennyB and I nearly shrieked, "Yes!"

I've stopped sending queries because at this point, I'm going to replace, "May I send you a partial or complete manuscript?" with "Stop fucking around and publish me already!"

We had plans to go to Restorative Yoga, but that went in the shitter, because now Minz is drunk.

JennyB just said, "I submitted eight! Eight is enough, get it?"

Ya, that's where we are at.

Now, Minz and JennyB are exchanging French phrases.

I don't know what's going on.

Update:  JennyB snagged an agent yesterday! And, Minz had a short story accepted! Ladies, please comment about the details of your success. The rest of you--go to Missed Periods and congratulate JennyB!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why are teenager's so stupid?"

As my recent post indicated, I teach seniors in high school. It is 8 days until graduation. I no longer stand in front of a room extemporizing on the beauty and relevance of literature and rhetoric while 40 pairs of wide, shining eyes gaze up at me, eagerly hanging on my every word. No more hands shoot into the air as students cry, "Pick me, Ms. Vance. Pick me!" No more do I hear the phrases, "That poem was awesome!", "This novel changed my life," or "I am learning so much in here."

Because you know that shit happens every day in my classes.

Regardless, right now, I am just trying to stay alive. My most conscientious seniors won't do anything--except ask me 1000 questions about graduation procedures even though I have ZERO to do with coordinating the ceremony. But, I am bombarded with calls from counselors and parents concerning failing seniors, wanting final grades even though finals weeks isn't even here yet; juniors who just now decided to ask me about making up that test from February; papers that I've procrastinated grading; one principal telling me to teach until the bitter end while another one tells me to turn in my textbooks, NOW!

To quote a colleague: "My brain is hammered right now."

Still, I am trying to maintain some fraction of decorum. I still enforce showing up on time, I refuse to take any late work, I've assigned each class a "project" to keep them busy (which we all know I probably won't grade) and I have not shown a single movie!


But I am losing my grip, finger by finger.

Thank God teenagers can be so stupid--it is keeping me entertained.

One of my senior classes took a final today on the novel Frankenstein. Multiple choice. Fifty questions.
After writing question #49, my brain just died. Fizzled out. Shut down.

Shouldn't have done all those drugs in high school.

So, I tacked on this question to the end of the test:

50. Ms. Vance is all EXCEPT:
            A. Brilliant
            B. Beautiful
            C. A man
            D. Funny
            E. The ruler of classroom R102

Out of 38 students 35 answered C, 2 answered B, and 1 answered A.

Two students think I am an ugly man; one student thinks I am a stupid man.


I pondered not changing their answers on the scantron and making them take the one-point hit on their grade. Yes, I found the error (or prank) hilarious, but what I found even more funny was the fact that they forgot to take into consideration the fact that I HAVE TO MAKE AN ANSWER KEY.  Instead, I changed their answers and then sent an email to the entire staff at my school about the incident (leaving the students' names out, of course), but the aid that is in my room during that class called me immediately to asked which students, so I told her and let the power of rumor do its work.

I don't just open a can of worms; I open a vat of worms. My inbox blew up with not only sarcastic retorts, but also affirmations that I was pretty and that I was smart and that people liked me dammit! I oscillated between laughing and saying "ahhhhh" for the rest of the day. I think my favorite was the phone call from one of my colleagues, who has also been a good friend for the fourteen years I've taught, asking, "Is the stupid, ugly man who rules R102 available?"

I should have said, "No, because he's with your wife," but I was too busy laughing.

By the following day, rumor had done its work. The three confused students (or pranksters) rolled into class wailing with excuses and apologies for their error while I feigned offense for all about 5 minutes. They claimed that they though they were marking what I was, not what I wasn't.

I love adolescent back-peddling.

But, when the Assistant Principal popped into my class to discuss the importance of graduation and how it represents all that they've accomplished, he jerked a thumb at me and added, "I mean, you've had to put up with this ugly, stupid guy all year."

The class exploded in laughter.

Bravo, sir. Bravo.