Sunday, May 29, 2011

Manipulating lives

As I approach the end of one story line, of Equiano's sister Olu, I have decided to make her hard life even more difficult. Of course she was kidnapped at the age of 12, and enslaved on a rice plantation for over 20 years, then had a harrowing escape, and now finally when things are looking up for her, I'm going to hit her with post-partum depression. Why? It's hard to describe why as a writer I do certain things with my characters. I have an outline of how the story will go, and how it will end, but as I write at times the characters lead me, and I find myself following. I tend to think through scenes and passages before I write them; that's just the process I go through. Think, write longhand, type. That's my process. So although one part of me wants Olu to just be happy, the writer in me feels this stage in her life is right, it's appropriate, it fits.

As I near the end of this storyline I find myself slowing down in my writing, not wanting it to end, just as I do when coming to the end of a good book. I will need to read and edit and revise for weeks, maybe months to come, but the writing of this storyline is nearing an end. And I am beginning to miss my characters already.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's amazing how much one can accomplish while procrastinating. During the past week I have managed to wash windows, feed the dog, take her for a walk, do laundry, grade, feed birds, take a nap . . . all while avoiding sitting down and writing. Now that school is over, I have loads of time -- it stretches out in front of me like an endless desert -- to write. And I have told myself, and many others, that this is the summer I will, I will, finish my book. So now it's here. And it's so hard to get started.

Yesterday I wrote 5 pages. Today I wrote 5 pages, and hope to write 5 more. Olu is leaving the Virginia area, with a few other ships headed north to New York, although they will actually land in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. I'm still trying to decide when her baby's daddy (soon to be husband) will catch up with her. She escaped from the plantation without telling him, but he's been looking for her since she left in December. It's now July 9, 1776 -- in the book, at least.

So as you think of me send out a prayer that I would be diligent to complete what I have begun -- and complete it well.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

End of semester lessons

With only two classes left, and no actual teaching, I can accurately state the semester is about to come to a close. The fun part, and the hard part, has arrived. The end of a semester is the very stuff of life -- its essence. Some students have succeeded, and some have failed. Some have tried their best, but it wasn't good enough. Some haven't tried hard at all. As in life, I tell my students more than 50% of success is showing up. Success is helped along by effort, and the providence of God. (I don't give much credence to 'luck' - whatever that is.) Lessons they learn in class go beyond subject/verb agreement, how to reduce anxiety when speaking, and lessons Odysseus learned on his odyssey. They are learning the importance of showing up, putting in effort to achieve a positive result, working well with others, persevering, taking responsibility for failure and taking pride in success.

In my Comp 1 classes, students need to pass a writing proficiency test to pass the class. Most of my students are anxious about passing, and very relieved when they find out they have passed. Some are not surprised when I tell them they have failed, and some remain in disbelief.

Today I had the joy of telling 90% of my students they had passed the test, and the class. A few students actually whoop and holler, no kidding. A few students hugged me. Others smiled and offered thanks. When I tell students if they passed the test, and inform them of their grade in the course, I look them in the eye. Some are comfortable with that, while others avoid looking at me. I know it may be cultural in some cases, but I think it's important to deliver both good news and bad news directly -- no matter how much it hurts (both them and me).

So the last week of the semester is full of joys, and trials, triumphs, and failures. But there is always next semester. There is always tomorrow -- another life lesson.

Monday, May 2, 2011

End of semester

Why is it that we teachers look forward to the end of the semester with so much glee? I love teaching, and I enjoy most of my students. But somehow, when the end of the semester comes, I can't wait for it to be over. Of course I look forward to the beginning of a new semester as well. Teaching is very cyclical. Like the seasons, it has a beginning and end. More definitive than seasons, which often take their time getting started, getting warmer especially. But there is an ebb and flow that is comforting, that feels natural. Semesters have a beginning, and an end--both of which I look forward to. So by next week the spring semester will end. Some students will be happy, some disappointed, and a few probably discouraged. But there is a new semester waiting, and with it another opportunity to learn, to achieve, to make new friends, to succeed--both for the students and for us teachers.