Kindles and Nooks and iPads. Oh my.

No Telling

Before I start getting all middle-aged-scrappy, let me fess up about my level of techno-intelligence. Like many Generation Jonesers (1955 to 1965), I know enough to be moderately tech-cool, but not enough to keep those damn Gen Y kids from making fun of me.

Well, they won’t be laughing at me here, because I’m about to launch into a full-blown I Told You So about e-readers. Everyone knows Gen Y isn’t reading anything that doesn’t flash through on their cell phones. That’s a shame, too, because they could save a fortune on textbooks.

E-readers were never meant for them anyway. Kindle, Nook, and the Sony E-Reader were meant for geezers like us who still read books and who can’t see well enough to read Eat, Pray, Love on a tiny iPhone screen without two pairs of reading glasses.

Then the iPad happened and sent all those overpriced e-readers scrambling. Prices are dropping like mad. Rumor has it they’ll be giving them away with book-bundle purchases soon. How many times did you look at your Kindle and say, Hey. I wish I could get online with this thing -?

Not me. I’ve got a laptop and a Blackberry-like phone and about two thousand real books. I’ll only consider an e-reader if, 1) the price drops down below fifty bucks, or 2) someone gives me one as a gift. After Christmas #1 might make it easier for #2 to happen. I can wait.

And the iPad? Well, it doesn’t have any actual keys, so probably not. I might be willing to play fast and loose with my tactile reading experience, but not with the punch and click of writing. The price ($499-$899) is too dear for just trolling the internet. I’d rather use a laptop or one of my old manual typewriters anyway. Don’t judge.

The problem is that technology is changing so quickly it’s tripping all over itself. No one wants to believe the $300 e-reader they bought last Christmas will be obsolete before the next one. Gamers are used to this sort of nonsense, but book buyers aren’t.

Which reminds me of my last trip to Barnes & Noble in west Little Rock. The joint was filled to the gills with folks strolling through the shelves, drinking coffee, flipping through magazines, and generally having a fine literary afternoon. Inside the front door was a Nook kiosk complete with a smiling and knowledgeable B&N employee.

Everyone walked right past him. Just sayin’.

I Love Her Despite Those Janky Ballpoint Pens

No Telling

My only daughter has disappointed me. Nature vs. nurture? I know I didn’t teach her this, and I’m convinced my genetic code was pristine on this matter. Clearly there is some throw-back DNA from her father’s side. And bad friends. There’s that. Why else would Em prefer trashy, generic ballpoint pens?

It’s not my fault. I come from a long and distinguished line of scribblers who appreciate fine writing instruments. Since my baby was able to make a little biscuit-fist I’ve given her only the sharpest of new crayons, the slickest Ticonderogas. At my writing desk, she’s had a life-long cotillion class of paper and pen.

Montblanc, Parker, Waterman – where did I go wrong?

The preacher’s kid rebels by breaking Commandments. A teacher’s kid skips school. My girl flaunts the cheapest of ballpoint stick pens and leaves them everywhere just to watch me cringe.

I‘ve tried to pretend they don’t bother me so I won’t feed the monster. This is a parental smoke screen I used with a particularly unsavory beau she wouldn’t shake. It didn’t work then, either.

(Honestly, I’d rather spend the rest of my writing life with a nasty ballpoint in hand than see that particular young man again. Things could be worse. It’s all about perspective and deciding which hill to die on. Don’t tell Em.)

The upshot here is The Perfect Grandson. Our hours at the desk together give me hope. Lay out one fine pen next to the trash his mother scribbles with – he’ll choose the Waterman every time. He may grow up to wreck cars and young girls’ hearts, but I’m guessing he’ll do both with a decent pen in his pocket.

He has to. I’m counting on him.

Growing a Writer

No Telling

The Perfect Grandson loves a good story. Always has. And it’s a good thing, because he’s surrounded by women who write and love to tell tales. Until recently, he’s been an appreciative audience when he could sit still long enough to hear the end of something. But that’s all changed now. The Perfect Grandson has learned the power of telling, and now we are the audience.

That picture, for example, is not an errant scribble. It’s an epic story of good versus evil, the treachery of power, of fighting snakes and roly pollies. The insects win, of course, because they are balled up and patient while the snakes ultimately turn on each other. There is no love interest in The Perfect Grandson’s story, but there is a great deal of grimacing and growling. I took this picture quickly, since his stories (much like his block-towers) are made to be erased/wadded up/knocked down. The MagnaDoodle is a perfect medium for such a writer.

Two days ago a bunny wandered into our yard and he spent the better part of five minutes talking to it from the window in a very personal way. The next five minutes, and until the bunny was frightened off, he made a story of how the rabbit came to be there, what he was planning, and where he was going after bounding off into the azaleas.

He’s figured out that everyone has a story. Some of these begin as nonfiction, take a left at creative non, eventually throttling full-down into the fictional straightaway. The Perfect Grandson went to the zoo yesterday, where he saw a few impressive snakes. Later, he and I poked around in our small garden where more than a few roly pollies scattered from under the clay pots. Voila.

I haven’t heard a serpent vs. rabbit story yet, but I will. I can count on it.

His mama started out this way, though not with erasable, bloody epics. Em sang her stories, playing fearlessly with sound and word combinations. Sometimes she’d stop suddenly, then begin again singing the song with alterations both verbal and melodic. I spent hours in the yard scribbling down her Singing on a Swing creations, knowing she was in full experimental/editing mode. One afternoon she slid triumphantly out of the swing, looked at me, and lisped “Princesses don’t have days like these.” Em pushed her hair out of her eyes and fell back into song. I understood completely.

Now she follows The Perfect Grandson around, taking notes because it’s her turn. Not long ago he came home from preschool crushing on a new girl. “I love Lilly,” he said, “She’s pretty like butterflies.” Em always seems a little gut-punched by his casual poetry, although some of that is an irrational fear concerning garage bands and hidden tattoos. He’s not yet three. God knows what he’ll do to break her heart by the time he’s sixteen, but I’m sure it will be something ridiculous she never saw coming. Better to relax while you can, I say.

When he’s not busy trying to put a baseball through my china cabinet, The Perfect Grandson and I spend time at my desk, writing. Already he has an eye for fine pens and reams of unlined paper. All he needs now is power over the alphabet and a some hand-eye coordination. A few days ago I was labeling his latest art story as he sat in my lap. Scads of carefully constructed diagonal lines.

“Put a name here, Mimi.”

“Okay, what’s this one about?”

“Snakes inna Rain.”

So I wrote down the title in big capital letters. He looked at one and pointed.

“Whas dat, Mimi?”

“That’s an ‘S’, punkin. It goes ‘sssssssssssssss'”

“Like a snake.”

“Exactly,” I said. And so it begins.

Save the Words

No Telling

Finally, a cause I can get behind. Somebody hand me a Sharpie and some poster board because I feel like wearing a peasant blouse and having a sit-in. Where did I pack those Gloria Steinem aviators?

Wayne State University has it’s academic fist in the air to save our language. No, no, no, this isn’t about non-native speakers or official languages or anything whatever to do with immigration, so don’t turn away. This is about saving the wispy, many-layered, pungent, specific bibelots of our language that are disappearing faster than we can tweet.

Their site is called Word Warriors, and they’re saving the language one word at a time:

“In early 2009 Wayne State University launched this Web site to retrieve some of the English language’s most expressive words from the dank closet of neglect, in hopes of boosting their chances of a return to conversation and narrative. Some of these words once were part of the common speech (it was hard to be a writer in the late 19th century, for instance, without “indefatigable”); others have capered in and out of the language like harlequins, dazzling and then just as suddenly departing; others — the wonderful “numinous,” for one — may never have been heard every day or even every year. Some, like “galoshes,” just went into hiding for no apparent reason.

But no matter why especially marvelous words have disappeared from everyday use, we believe the following selection that we and visitors to this site have made still deserves to be exercised freely in prose, poetry, song and story. Otherwise, we simply aren’t painting our speech with a full palette.”

The the Word Warriors’ 2010 List of “sadly underused or overlooked but eminently useful words that should be brought back to enrich our language” includes delights as bamboozle, mendacity, festoon, and scuttle. My brothers and sisters, there’s not a Southern writer living who could write a check without using at least two of these. These words falling into disuse is a sad first step leading inevitably to everyone grunting and pointing in 140 characters or less.

Here are a few more on the endangered list: conniption, dastardly, fetching, peccadillo, skedaddle, and zaftig. Can you imagine losing these words?

Luckily, you can participate by suggesting words that need rescue. Nominate a word on the Word Warriors site, then go out into the world and give these beauties a workout. Wave them like Old Glory before all the Southern lawyers die and take these with them to the hereafter.

We shall overcome.

(Image via Artworld Salon)


No Telling

I‘m never so inarticulate as I am in the final days of NaNoWriMo. All my words are used up. Near the end, characters and scenes take up all the room in my brain, jettisoning important functions like remembering to take out the trash or the words to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I wrote the final scene last night. Not the last scene, but the one I’d been saving as a word count present for the end. Writing out of order makes me happy and provides an interesting jigsaw-puzzle-rewrite.

My God. Rewrite. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

At any rate, I finished the scene, checked the word count, copied and pasted that bad-boy into the NaNo verifier, and TA-DA: 52,596. It’s a funny thing, finishing this 50k challenge. When it’s over you want to go tell everyone you know that you’ve climbed the mountain, seen the future, won the lottery, invented Velcro. It’s an incredible feeling.

But you’ve used up all your words and can’t say anything coherent. The characters in your head begin giving each other awkward, blank looks. It’s that wobbly moment at the end of a carnival ride when you have to remember how to unfasten the belt and rediscover your land-legs. You begin thinking in second-person and have no idea why.

As a favor to everyone, I’m going to find a cup of coffee and take the day to reorient.

Procrastination, Exhaustion, and Inarticulate ADD Rambling

No Telling

Friday the 13th seems like as good a day as any to begin my Christmas Wish List. After November is in the rear-view mirror, I’m going to deserve something delightful even if I have to buy it for myself. The Poem Cup is a good example. Piled next to it I’d like a ridiculous stack of Moleskine XL ruled cahiers – the color doesn’t matter, although I understand they make these in a festive holiday red now. Add a few dozen Parker gel ballpoint refills and I’ll be golden.

Can you tell I’m procrastinating?

Time to work on that novel. I’ll be thrilled when it’s finished, but right now I’m just as tired as everyone else. No matter. It’s imperative I stuff the NaNo word count before Monday. That’s when someone appears on Oprah hawking her new book and I’m already feeling a rant coming on. Can’t help it. She brings out the very worst in me.

You know, if I had that Poem Cup right now I might write faster and perhaps my hateful attitude toward someone would improve. I’d be a better person, you see, if I indulged a bit now instead of dangling this carrot another couple of weeks or so. With that cup on my desk I might actually get to heaven.

Well, enough of that. The only gift I receive tonight is in writing the scene where the mini-van mamas abscond with a tractor trailer full of feminine products and baby wipes. I’ve saved this gem for a moment just like tonight – it should perk me up considerably, with or without a fancy teacup.

No more procrastinating. Time to gas up these mini-vans and hit the road.

Blogiversary: Because there’s Telling and there’s No Telling

No Telling

t caught me by surprise, what with all this National Day on Writing and classes and broken elevators and hugging The Perfect Grandson and such. In fact, I almost missed it.

Today’s my second blogiversary.

Celebrating such a thing publicly is odd. I don’t want to be that person in the office who walks around telling everyone it’s her birthday. What exactly are you supposed to do after such an announcement? Prompted congratulations are thin at best. Besides, I’m sure there are several dozen Southern etiquette violations involved, and we all know you go straight to hell for breaking those.

You’re the ones who deserve something, not me. So I’ve got a little something here for you.

I started this hayride for a reason. Two years ago I found myself telling my writing students to scribble incessantly, fearlessly, and then I went home after classes were over and realized I hadn’t written two creative words together in months. Months. My personal writing had taken a backseat to my everyday duties and became that thing I planned to do after the grading/laundry/phone calls/paperwork/planning/meeting/___________.

I wasn’t writing at all. Worse than that, I’d made the very thing I enjoy most into a dangling carrot I’d never quite reach. So I started this blog and decided to make myself get to the page on a regular basis. Absence did not make the heart grow fonder, it made me articulately weak and stumbly. For a couple of weeks I wrote in someone else’s voice – in fact, I channeled a whole slew of mysterious voices.

More than a few times, the frustration of my misplaced voice made me angry enough to quit altogether. Remembering the old days when making words was effortless only compounded the issue. How had I slipped into such a state?

Eventually, it became easier. I added what I now call my Scribbling Hour into my day – an appointment with myself to sit down somewhere and just make words. It’s the only appointment I never break. Between that and this blog, I healed enough to slam out a novel in thirty days last year. I am Writer, hear me roar and all that.

The thing is, I started walking the talk and things turned around. This blog was a big part of that and I’m thrilled I can share this with you. Writer’s block? Hell no. I don’t believe in that boogeyman. Self denial is real, though, and so is procrastination. Neither one can hide under that rock and call itself something swanky. Do I still have crappy writing moments? All the time, but they pass and even the worst of days can leave me a line, a name, a gesture that turns into something stunning later.

So in honor of the National Day on Writing, and as a present to yourself, go write something. It doesn’t matter if it’s awful or tragic or otherwise unsightly. Just do it anyway. If you really hate it when you’re done, then delete the mess or throw pages in the fire or whatever makes you feel better. Then open the same present again tomorrow. Keep doing it until your voice loses the rust and awkward pitch, because it will.

Everyone has something that needs telling. Go tell it.

The Future’s So Bright, I Have to Wear Tinted Bifocals

No Telling

I gave my students a writing prompt today that bubbled up little pockets of angst here and there. Nothing wrong with that. In eighteen year-olds, frowning end-of-the-world moods tend to mean they’re actually thinking about something other than what to post on Facebook. I call that a win. The prompt was simple: Imagine yourself five years from now. What are you doing and who is around you? Five years from today, right now this minute, who ARE you?

The results were fascinating. Oh, to be young in a world full of possibility! Strangely enough, most of the young women saw themselves married at 23. Clearly they’re all snagging older men, though, because the gentlemen in my classes overwhelmingly said no to that sort of thing. They’re all waiting until they’re thirty-ish to marry. Probably a good idea, that.

Four classes of writing students – most of whom haven’t yet chosen a major – told me they will be gainfully employed and driving nice cars. A few wise ones said they’d still be in school, graduate school, and eating ramen noodles for another few years. Most anticipate careers that involve a minimal work for maximum cash, bless their hearts. I hope it all comes true for them.

It’s important to note that not one student mentioned anything about worrying themselves bald over paying off college loans. I guess it’s a lot like giving birth – you don’t believe the negative hype until someone tells you to push.

Of course, I wrote with them. Always do. In five years I’ll be fif…forty…um…six. I’ve been going backwards for a few years now and the math’s starting to confuse me. No matter.

There’s officially a lottery here in Arkansas now, and I’ve decided I’m going to win the Powerball. That’s the first thing. A gal needs a little pocket change to make it into her declining years without eating catfood, especially if she teaches for a living. The Powerball prize need not be in the ridiculous millions, either. I’ll be happy with 25 or so.

Five years from today I might very well roll the speedometer on the 2001 Avalon past the 80,000 marker. This may take a few extra trips to Little Rock between now and then because right now I’m on the cusp of rolling it over to 40k and it’s been a while. No, I won’t buy a fancy new ride with my Powerball money. I’m confident the Avalon is good for another ten years, easy.

If I wait long enough, maybe those flying Jetson cars will finally hover the showroom floors. I’m hopeful.

The Perfect Grandson will be in second grade in five years. I figure I can either shower him with gifts and sports camp money until he graduates, or hand him 10 million for four years of college. It’s likely I’ll do both while making a geriatric pest of myself in Em’s daily life. I can multitask.

Despite being flush, I’ll probably still teach. Can’t imagine not doing that, although all that grading might eat into my book tour. I wonder if I’ll be the first one to grade essays in Oprah’s Green Room? Guess we’ll find out.

There are some other things I wrote down about doing yoga and being thin, but that made me almost as angsty as my students, so I’ll stop there.

I told my classes that imagining themselves in a future place is the only way to actually get there. Making throw-away lists and having drunken epiphanies are unproductive and sometimes lead to a life in mom and dad’s basement. Several of them nodded, so I guess they must have uncles I went to school with.

Yes, it’s a hell of a curve-ball to throw the future at them this close to a Friday night. That’s fine. Like any coach, I plan to throw a few more until they’re swinging clean from pure muscle memory. In writing and in life, that’s the way it should be.

Serving up Freshman

No Telling

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
– Douglas Adams

I won’t pretend to be philosophical tonight. My eyes hurt to much from grading and commenting on my first batch of freshman comp papers. Some of them are quite good. Some could stand another rewrite. A few others make me want to hunt down their previous school districts and have a talk with someone in charge of curriculum.

This is nothing new. Freshman composition is the great levelizer. Students come from subdivisions and trailer parks, farm roads and apartments to push hopefully toward some larger imagining of themselves. They’re scared. They’re pressured. They’re free. Regardless of their previous schooling, they all need to clear the same bar by Christmas.

It’s not an easy thing to go from big ‘ol catfish to minnow in a pond where you can’t quite see the bottom. Sometimes my students write about this transition and I can tell that the act of writing it is part of the larger process of growing. I like those papers. They’re spring from a variety of topics, but all of them center around an awareness of change.

Write your way through it, I tell them, find out where you’re going and the essay will follow you there. Here, try this.

There are other papers, the ones students think they’re supposed to write about topics too distant from their experience. In high school they wrote research papers with titles like “World War II” and received glowing scores. Some only want to write about my Forbidden Topics – cloning, abortion, gay marriage, global warming, any war – because they assume all writing is a large undertaking suitable only for weighty subjects. They want to begin with answers instead of questions.

Some argue that eighteen year-olds don’t have enough personal experiences to write about. It’s true, some don’t. They will, though, and soon enough. In the meantime, we weigh out the miracle and frustration of the everyday.

As I sit here with this half-graded pile of papers, there seems to be a sort of developmental rite of passage either crossed or not. Some are ready for what comes next, others need more time to cook.

For our second paper, I’ll adjust the temperature a bit.

Good Friday

No Telling

It’s been a pretty damned nice day. Really.

I have a friend who once astounded me by keeping a Gratitude Journal. She’s that kind of person, glass half full and all, and kept whole scribbling book just to write down those things that happened to go well. She sees the lovely in everything, and I’m a little envious.

Not that I’m some old crank screaming at kids to get out of my yard or anything. Not yet, anyway. I’m like everyone else – smooth mornings, trying afternoons, exhausted evenings – sometimes too busy with the minutia of the everyday to stop and say, hey, that was a delightful moment.

Well, I’m doing it right now.

There was a time this morning when I looked at my 11:00 Intro to College Writing class and saw My Reason. The one I get up for every single morning. There they were, two fresh weeks into the semester, terror and self-consciousness gone. My students were writing and talking about their writing in little clatches here and there. I floated from group to group listening, smiling, nodding. One group helped a friend with his essay’s opening. The ideas flew. Another group laughed about a piece one of them had just read aloud, and as they remarked and responded, the writer scribbled furiously in the margins of his own paper.

At 11:00 I had a classroom of students who owned the writing. There was no need for me to stand at the podium and pontificate about audience and structure. Something clicked in that room today, and my students collectively and independently became writers. Not students in some composition class with an assignment – writers.

My gratitude is in being there to witness it.

At 2:30 I rode with Em to pick up The Perfect Grandson at pre-school. This was my first time to visit his school, to see his new life outside of our little house. Em led me down a hall and into a room filled with two year-olds chatting and resting and playing – a whole rainbow-coalition nest of other people’s perfect grandchildren. It’s such a tremendous responsibility taking care of other people’s beloveds, and those women whose names I don’t yet know who nurture these delightful fat-cheeked toddlers are angels. I’ve made a mental note to tell them them this, because they need to know.

Then The Perfect Grandson came careening from across the room with his crazy hair and big light-up Spiderman shoes.

“Meee-Meee!” and buried his little face in my skirt. That knee-hug was a moment so fine I want to weave 2:30 today into a scarf I wear around my neck until I die.

I am indeed the luckiest woman on the planet.