Have Some Whine

At lunch a couple days ago we were talking about blogs.

One of my colleagues asked, “Why does everybody want to have a blog? Nobody cares what they think!”

“To complain about stuff,” I said. “It’s hard to whine when no one’s listening.”

He replied, “That’s what the teacher’s lounge is for.”

The teachers lounge reverberates with whining. I contribute a fair amount myself. But I want to find a larger audience, reaching random people who stumble on my blog while looking for a picture of a pig sitting at a desk.

Even as I vent my frustrations and pet peeves, I know that most people don’t want to read 900 words about cellophane wrappers that are too tough to rip open, or people who leave their turn signals on when they have no intention of turning. More

Plagiarizing Poet, part 2

The Plagiarizing Poet has struck again. How can this be? Was I not stern enough the last time?

It is (according to him) my fault. Did I really expect him to write eight poems?

(Tiresome excuses continue as Dax rolls eyes and uses body language to say, ‘Do I look like an idiot? Or are you one?)

Dax: Well, the good news is that we can now answer the question, “Am I passing?”

PP: Do you mean that I have an F?

Dax (palm itching to slap own forehead): Why, yes. If my math is correct, zero plus zero still equals zero. More

Good Vibes

The year I graduated from high school, the USA sent Pioneer 10 into space along with directions for finding us, should any aliens want to meet us. Assuming that aliens could tell that the naked creatures waving from the picture were the ones who made the craft bearing the message, we hoped that they might friend us and send back pictures of themselves — or maybe even visit.

Back in 1972 we were pretty much open to anything, except for people over thirty, whom we did not trust. The Peace Movement and the Summer of Love had left a sticky imprint on our national consciousness. We grew up to be Boomers, who don’t trust anyone under thirty. Though we are now lawyers and doctors and conservative talk show hosts, at heart we still believe that if we would all just make love, not war, everything would be groovy.

Stephen Hawking is enough older than me that he evidently never experienced Peace, Love and Understanding. Obviously he never turned on, tuned in or dropped out. In his uptight grown-up mind, humans are not naturally peaceful and full of good vibes. He has said, “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

As for transmitting good vibes to aliens, he thinks we’re asking for trouble. More

The Aftermath

The promised tornadoes did not make an appearance last night. I was ready for them. I had a blanket and a bag full of bagels and peanut butter in the basement. And water. I don’t drink a lot of water, but I imagine if my house fell down and I was trapped in the basement, I’d suddenly realize that I was thirsty. There’s the wine cellar, of course, but I don’t think we keep a corkscrew in the basement. (Note to self: put extra corkscrew next to wine rack.)

I know the weather people are very disappointed; today they have little to talk about. They will show us some big hail stones that somebody took a picture of, and reporters will be sent out to check on tree limbs that fell on cars, but nobody really cares.

Last night they had us glued to the set, watching that yellow-orange amoeba creep across the map towards us. Even when the tornado watch expired, they didn’t give up. “We may still experience some severe weather,” they warned us. “Stay tuned.”

But I went to bed instead. There was no fun in it anymore.

Ever since Ike came through here a couple years ago, we’ve been pretty hard to impress. More

Words, Words, Words

For a writer, word count is a measure of progress. I like being about to say that I wrote a thousand words in an hour. If a published book would magically appear every time I reached 50,000 words, that would be even better.

Instead, I count words. Some days I delete more words than I write, but those aren’t necessarily wasted days. Revision is all about cutting superfluous words.

I try to set myself a daily goal, but it’s hard to know what is reasonable. During NaNoWriMo I averaged 2000 words a day, but that pace nearly ended my marriage. I finished, but of the 50,000 words I produced, about 40,000 needed to be deleted. I swore I wouldn’t do it again; but check back with me in October.

The best thing about NaNo is having a goal and the support of a group trying to achieve the same goal. As I’ve wandered around the internet, trying to avoid facing my NaNo-under-reconstruction, I’ve found a few goal-oriented groups that look interesting. I haven’t joined any, but I book-marked them in case I need inspiration. More

Digital Natives

If you’re starting to think about summer vacation, here’s a great idea: whale watching — in Lake Michigan!

For several years, I’ve used the Lake Michigan Whales website to teach my students an important lesson: not everything on the internet is true. <gasp!> Usually students find the site, see what it is, but never grasp the obvious: there are no whales in Lake Michigan.

They probably would have thought about it more, but they were busy checking their email and looking for music online. They never do just one thing at a time. If they try to think about just one thing, their minds begin searching out another distraction.

I like to think they would have questioned it, but I know that many would not. When the school was offering swine flu vaccine this winter, one girl told me that she wouldn’t risk it because she’d seen a video of a woman who could only walk backwards after having the vaccine. I asked her if she thought that something like that could be faked. She said, “No — I saw it! It was on You Tube!”

It’s become a commonplace: more and more distraction, less and less thinking goes on. A lot of blogging, texting, tweeting. Instead of thinking about something, we can Google it. Technology is about to replace critical thinking. More

Grading a Short Story: A Checklist

A few days ago I posted some notes on grading stories for my high school creative writing class. A couple people wanted to see my list, so here it is. It has been through several versions as I have added more detailed questions based on the kinds of errors I see in student stories.

Keep in mind that the stories I grade are written by novice writers for a high school elective class. The questions are very basic. I am not suggesting in any way that these same questions are a valid way to evaluate the stories of more experienced writers.

You will notice the first item: Is it a story? This may seem like a ‘duh’ question, but I occasionally receive strange documents that bear little resemblance to a story. If a student hands it in, and it’s a story, they get half the points. The remaining points are harder to win. When I compare the results of a checklist assessment with my gut feeling about a story, they are usually pretty close. If you can think of any questions to add, please suggest them!

A Checklist for Grading Short Stories More

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