Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Idiot's Guide to Christmas Gifts

Gift-giving can be tricky during the holidays. First, you have to decide whom to buy for and whom not to buy for without offending either. You buy for someone who didn't buy for you leaves them feeling guilty; you don't buy for someone who buys for you leaves you feeling guilty. 

Drawing names and Secret Santa helps in avoiding this problem, but since I had to roll it like Greece (austere living with a bad attitude) this holiday season, I avoided the whom-to-buy-for conundrum this year by not buying for anyone I don't share DNA with. 

So when I found a gift in my mailbox at work, I was pleasantly surprised and slightly worried. When I saw that the present was from my department heads, I breathed a sigh of relief--as my superiors it was their obligation to buy me a gift in the spirit of morale. 

I took my present back to my classroom, shoved the 150 research papers that I would be grading over my Winter "Break" aside, and immediately opened my festive, cellophane gift bag, drew out the red tissue paper, and unwrapped this: 

My boss had bought me a pygmy pen. Cute. We English teachers can never have enough pens. 

Like all children, I wanted to play with my gift immediately, but I couldn't figure out where the tip of the pen was. I popped off the cap, and like a child whose parents forgot to buy the batteries her new toy needed, felt disappointed.

Well shit, my pen was broken. The tube of ink seemed to be missing. Putting the cap back on, I examined my pen more closely and realized that it didn't seem to be a pen. But what the hell was it?

An eraser? 


I was completely befuddled. But wait, I had seen my friend and colleague, Laura, in the lounge with hers clipped to the collar of her shirt. Walking a few classrooms down the hall, I found her with another colleague working on a state report. Flinging the door open, I held up my mal-factured gift and asked, "What the hell is this?"

I popped off the cap again, "What, is it for? Drugs?" Do my bosses think I do drugs, and if so, are they encouraging me to stay off of them? Do they know that I don't do drugs and are encouraging me to start?

Laura guffawed, cast a side-glance at our colleague, then straightened up and with her widest, most condescending smile said, "A stylus." 

That answer did not help me at all. 

"For your iPad." The district had bought our department iPads a couple months back so we could be more "mobile" when using technology for instruction.

I shrugged and shook my head. 

"So you can keep your screen clean."

Smallest damn screen-cleaner I'd ever seen.

"Now you won't get your dirty fingerprints all over the screen," Laura clarified. "You can use that instead of your finger."

Lightbulb. "Is that what this rubber tip is for?" I said.


I wish I could say that my lapse of intelligence was due to mental exhaustion. I wish I could say that it was due to mentally already being on vacation. I wish I could say it was due to just being mental. But, if you've read my other posts on technology, you know I can't blame it on anything else than the fact that when it comes to anything digital . . . 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why This Blogging Shit Might Be Worth It, Take 2

It was brought to my attention that maybe some of you fellow bloggers may want to know why it is I keep blogging; why this shit seems to be worth it.

I started blogging about 2 1/2 years ago out of necessity. Frustrated by what seemed like hundreds of agent rejections, but knowing that I am publishable, I needed a new approach.

So basically, my ego brought me to the blogosphere.

First, my ego brought me to desperate measure. As I pondered how I was going to seduce an agent and fornicate my way to the publishing house, Jenny Baranick announced that she had found an agent.

Damn her. I mean, I was ecstatic for her.

Because Jenny is much, much more benevolent that I'll ever be, instead of hording her good fortune, she shared her path to it. The key to getting oneself noticed was to blog.  Mindi, the third of our writing group, already had a website, so now it was time for me to get on the social networking train.

I really, really didn't want to.  But, Jenny's benevolence is spiced up with action.  When she decides she is going to do something, she does it. Immediately. When she decided that I should start blogging, she meant for me to do it. Immediately. 

Oh, the whining; oh, the moaning on that first day. What am I supposed to blog about? I write fiction. Novels. Am I supposed to put up excerpts from my novels? I wasn’t sure I could write about writing; I wasn’t sure I had anything to put out there besides the fictional projections of my demented mind.

Jenny said that my blog would develop its identity over time and to just start writing.

Just start writing? Without a plan? Without a plot outline? I thought she was nuts, but I forged ahead based on her faith in my ability to blog.

And here I am--still blogging. Here I am--still without an agent. But then, a blog post evolved into a "creative nonfiction" piece got published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. “Language of Love” would not existing without this damn blog, so ya, it may have finally gotten me published, but not in the way I originally set out to be.  Still, when a fellow blogger ask for a bit of backstory to encourage everyone else in my boat, I sat back and really thought about it.  

What has blogging done for me?

It has given me the opportunity to experiment

Most of mine have been utter failures.  The "fact or fiction" series did not turn out as I hoped; I find it almost impossible to post any kind of fiction, let alone promote my fiction; and any attempt to host a blogfest to build up my followers has been nothing short of nothing.

The experiment that did work? Writing about teaching. Instead of sharing my teaching adventures via oral tradition, I have begun to blog about them. As much as I like being able to make my friends laugh, there's something glorious about being able to make strangers laugh.  I may not hear the laughter, but I can see it of "hits" a post gets.

Also, blogging about teaching escapades is therapeutic and has probably taken a critical role in keeping me employed. 

Another success would be writing about language; in fact, that's what "Language of Love" (hit the link, yo) is about.  I had been writing and teaching long before I began blogging, so I have always had a curiosity and love of words, but writing about them has deepened the relationship. Instead of them just being tools for me to build fiction, they have become spiritual entities I channel. 

It has helped me find my voice

Jenny Baranick, creator an author of Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares, said that “blogging really helped me find my voice.” 

Ditto, my friend.

For me, the key has been the "my" in "my voice."  I had a voice for my different fictional characters: I knew how to be Corey Malone, Clark Stein, and Brian Little on paper, but I didn't really learn how to be Holly Vance on paper until I began to blog. And even though I am sometimes teacher Holly, cougar Holly, technologically-challenged Holly, each with her own distinct voice, blogging has given me the opportunity to see myself in a new way.

It has redefine my writer persona

I went into blogging a horror and crime thriller novelist.  How I was going to produce anything worth a shit in under 500 words baffled me.  I tried flash fiction, and those posts never left me feeling satisfied. And they are not amongst the frequently viewed.  I have always been funny, but not a humor writer.  I have always been open about my life, but never a memoirist. But in the arena of blogging, I had the opportunity to produce a lot of it and get feedback about it.

Much to my chagrin, I have been told by many that I am a better nonfiction writer than a fiction one, so blogging has also given me a bit of an identity crisis.

It reminds me why I write

As writers trying to get published, what agents and publishers think of our writing is critical, but honestly, don’t writers want the praise of other writers? Maybe those of us running in the same blogging circles aren’t any Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Scott Turow, J.R. Tolkien,  or JK. R0wlings but that doesn’t make any commentary or praise from a less “successful” writer any less valuable. Especially when that praise comes from other bloggers, who don’t ever have to read a word you write or say jack shit about it, just one or two of those every four to five posts is priceless.  It reminds me that I don't write to be rich and famous; I write to be read. I write to entertain and connect--and blogging allows me to do that. 

I've learned a few things no related to writing by blogging as well. 

I learned that a lot of people hate me: the most read post it the Final Destination post where I create several scenarios in which I die a horrible, violent death. And I am very careful to make sure that my students won't stumble across this blog.  Or maybe there's a huge underground cult who worship the Final Destination films and were duped by my title.

I learned that if you try to promote your blog in the public arena of Facebook, every porn site in the universe will "comment" on your blog. 

I learned that agents aren't spending hours online, searching the gazillion blogs looking for a new client. 

Bummer. Guess I better got back to figuring out how to fornicate my way to the publishing house.