Out of Service

Every few months I have to go to a teacher ‘inservice.’ This is better (I guess) than being ‘out of service,’ which is the way I feel most of the time.

Mid-February is a good time to bring teachers together and force them to absorb new and meaningless acronyms that will presumably make someone a little richer. That is the thinking of our school board.

For teachers, it provides an excuse to pool our cynicism, complain about things and go out for a long lunch.

My thought is this: teachers have taught students for thousands of years without having inservices. Why does education suddenly require fixing all the time?

“Suddenly” in Daxworld doesn’t mean a few minutes ago, or even yesterday. It refers to any time in the last fifty years or so. In the cosmic calendar, formal education has only been going on for a few seconds.

But educators speak a new language these days, and we go to inservices to maintain our fluency. It’s called Educanto. It consists mostly of acronyms and optimistic euphemisms. The 3 R’s are no longer as we remember them; now they are Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. We can’t just sit down and talk with other teachers, ask advice, try new things. Now we must meet in Collaborative Peer Groups or Professional Learning Communities and have an Plan for Action Research. More

Shake the Box

New ideas are the Holy Grail of fantasy novelists. Be the first one to write the story of a time-traveling vampire who falls in love with a hobbit living under a moon rock and you might just make publishing history.

Already been done? Write it in dactylic hexameter. Why not? They turn poems into musicals, musicals into comic books, comic books into movies these days, and probably movies into poems (though I couldn’t find and examples of that sub-sub-genre.) As far as I know, nobody’s claimed dactylic hexameter in a very long time.

When I sit down to write something I hardly ever have a unique idea. My only alternative is to toss my few once-bright ideas around and see what falls out. Those of us who write fantasy know there are so many cliches in our genre that it’s hard not to bump into a few of them when writing.

Bumping into a cliche isn’t all bad. It allows me to think the same thought that every other writer has thought; “Cliche? Aha! Let’s turn in on its head, then! They won’t expect the elves and the dwarves to be friends!”

Actually, I stole that idea (see #22). “Well, they won’t expect the vampires to be the good guys!” Or: “They won’t expect the dragons to capture human babies so they can raise them to fight other humans!” I could reverse cliches all day. More


Assuming that we are all short on time and have a backlog of unread stuff on Google Reader, I will here summarize all the ideas I had this week that are not worth writing 500 words about:

Bloglet 1: I never really enjoy snow days as much as I should because all day I’m thinking to myself, “I should be enjoying this.”

Bloglet 2: Why I hate talking on the phone. Texting is much better. This is because I am an asocial, laconic person and the only people who call me are recorded messages.

Bloglet 3: About those people who come to the door carrying clipboards and asking me to sign things. Then they show me pictures in a plastic sleeve and tell me why I should be outraged that this is going on. Then they ask for money. Then I close the door. Because I’m asocial.

Bloglet 4: I forget to use enough emoticons when I’m being satirical and ironic. :-/ This is because everything I write is satire or irony.☺ People think I’m serious and become outraged. ☹

Bloglet 5: How I learned to eat breakfast without a newspaper. Why do they still publish those things, anyway?

Bloglet 6: Why celebrities give their little girls last names for first names: Madison, Taylor, Harlow. (Answer: because of Daryl Hannah.) I’m going to have a daughter and name her Wachtelhausen.

Bloglet 7: Why writers blog about writing. (Answer: we’re avoiding our unfinished novels.)

There you have it – a week’s worth of posts, 252 words. Look how much time I’ve saved you.

The Sad Tale of the Plagiarizing Poet

The Sad Tale of the Plagiarizing Poet

Once there was a student named John whose teacher told him he had to write a bunch of poems. John didn’t like writing poems, but knew his teacher would give him a zero if he turned nothing in.

Every day in class they wrote poems, but John didn’t come to class every day, so he didn’t write any. After a couple weeks, the students were supposed to turn in at least eight poems they had written.

John had other things to do, so he got on the internet and found eight poems that someone else had written.

He told himself, “It’s just a bunch of silly poems. It’s not like it’s brain surgery or something. Besides, everybody cheats. That’s how people get ahead.”

John’s teacher realized that the poems weren’t written by him and gave him a zero.

John told him, “It’s only poetry. It’s not brain surgery. I haven’t hurt anyone, have I?”

“You’ve hurt yourself,” his teacher replied. And he gave him a lecture about plagiarism.

John had heard all this before. Still, he said to himself, “Copying assignments doesn’t hurt anyone. As long as I don’t get caught, I will continue plagiarizing because it’s much easier than working. Besides, everyone cheats.”

One day John got sick. He had a terrible headache and kept throwing up. After several hours of agony, he went to the emergency room. A doctor examined him and sent him for a cat scan.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said when he saw the results. “It looks like you have a brain tumor. You’re going to need surgery.”

John was worried, but he had no choice. He would die if he didn’t have the operation.

As he lay on the operating table, the surgeon leaned over him and said, “Don’t look so worried, John. I may have cheated my way through medical school, but I’m googling ‘brain surgery’ right now. A lot of surgeons have done this operation before and I’m sure I can just use their instructions. After all, it’s only brain surgery.”


My favorite ugly sweater got kidnapped by a gang of sweats. I found it a little while ago when I was checking the dryer for stray socks. It was pretty badly mauled. The sweats had tried to cover up their mischief, but the linty evidence was all over them.

Unfortunately, my ugly but comfortable sweater is now a rather small, stiff, and sorry felt garment. It is still blue (sort of), still has two holes at the back of the neck where I ripped out the tag in a moment of irritation. But its graceful cables are now rigid columns, its ribbed cuffs and neck, yarny shackles.

In my defense, it was an accident. I was listening (really) when my mother told me about wool and dryers. Laundry is a religion with her. Before sending me out into the world of dormitories and laundromats, she taught me all about sorting laundry, washing sweaters by hand, and using fabric softener. She showed me the correct way to iron a shirt, information I would definitely use if I weren’t so fond of wrinkly garments.

My previous favorite ugly sweaters met similar fates. One developed a few small holes in front, but I continued to wear it. As soon as my mother noticed, she condemned it to the trash, guilty of harboring moths. The rest of my clothing was put in mothballs. I think my wool socks went into a witness protection program.

But that was when I still lived at home. Now I have only myself to blame myself for moths and sweater-devouring dryers. Formerly beautiful sweaters fill my drawer, each a victim of some neglect or lapse of judgement. Ugly they may be; I cannot part with them.

I do not feel a similar attachment to sweatshirts, t-shirts, or any other garment. Sweaters are made of yarn, which reminds me of my grandmother and her annual reindeer sweaters. Don’t tell me that machines made the ones in my drawer; I like to believe there was a grandmother running that machine, putting love into every row.

Holes in a garment usually mean it has to be thrown away, but when I look at all those raveled ends and ladders I see a puzzle that ought to be solvable. My mother used to darn holes in socks to fix them, but my attempts at darning generally end up looking like fuzzy scar tissue.

Still, I would rather wear a beat-up sweater than buy a new one. Wearing a new sweater feels like an act of betrayal. Like the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse, my shabby old sweaters lie in my drawer, waiting for the Magic Wool Fairy to turn them into real sheep. Sometimes, if I listen closely, I can almost hear them bleating.

Jinx: Appeasing Small Gods

I am a rather superstitious person, though I can’t explain why. I suppose that’s the nature of superstition, to defy explanation. If I were in a superstition support group, I would probably realize that many individuals with advanced degrees have silly little beliefs that make no sense, but I am too embarrassed to even find out if such support groups exist.

Still, these notions haunt me. Part of me laughs at it, but when no one is looking, I make sure I’m not jinxing myself.

Re: snow days. There is a myth that says teachers must dance naked on the school lawn in order for these to happen. I don’t believe that, but I do believe that jinxing occurs when too many people start counting on it before the flakes begin to fall.

A teacher’s jinxing power is approximately nine times that of a freshman student. When a ninth-grader says to me, “We’re not having school tomorrow because there’s going to be eight inches of snow,” I know that we’ll probably be in school. But when a colleague tells me on a Thursday evening, “See you Monday,” I am sure we’re doomed. There won’t be one flake. The snow gods are pissed off.

Re: chain letters. More

Spelling is Ded

Give it another twenty, thirty years. Let those of us who care, who do the job interviews and hiring, who decide what gets published – give us time to die. Then you can declare spelling dead.

People complain, “Spelling / grammar / punctuation – I’m no good at it.” The implication is that we should overlook their mistakes since they admit that they make them. It’s like saying, “I’m a jerk. But since I recognize it, it’s okay!”

Spelling and grammar are not genetic traits; they are habits. I can hear you sighing. Habits are not popular things. They are 1) something you don’t want to do but feel like you should; or 2) things you do and feel guilty about. The amount of fun is limited in either case.

If you’re writing, you should care about spelling / grammar / punctuation. Wouldn’t you speak more clearly if someone said they couldn’t understand you? If you are expressing yourself, you should care about how others receive that expression.

I admit that English spelling is illogical, stupid, not based on phonetics, as the spelling of most languages is. It’s a bear. Kids graduate from high school unable to spell ‘immediately’ and ‘definitely.’ If they put spelling on the graduation test, we’d have to fail a lot of people.

Small commercial: this is why people should learn Latin. I have yet to meet a Latin student who hasn’t improved their spelling of English. Once you know what conjugation a verb belongs to, you will never again wonder, “Is it -ite or -ate?”

To be honest, I have little love for English spelling. But I do love the language, and accept the quirky spelling the way I put up with a lover’s annoying traits. It’s not worth arguing about there, their and they’re. Why get all bent out of shape over misapplied apostrophes?

When I was much younger, I thought it would be a good idea to divorce traditional spelling and learn the Shavian phonetic alphabet. With some practice, I got pretty good at it. The problem was that nobody was as enthusiastic as I was. Though everyone complained about spelling, nobody seemed willing to make an effort to change. Books and magazines were printed in standard English, so there wasn’t even anything to read except for my own notes.

That is life. Once you realize that people don’t change unless forced, you will be much happier. Spelling isn’t going to change, and people aren’t going to suddenly improve their spelling, so I might as well just accept it. Or except it.

Owed to the Spell Checker: More

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