Friday, November 19, 2010

My Name Is Paul, And I Am A Writer

With the holidays among us, I can pretty much guarantee the following:
  1. I'll be running into people I haven't seen in a while.
  2. Many will be people I do not want to see. 
  3. They will not want to see me either, but for some unknown reason, we will both pretend.
  4. They will ask me what I'm doing.
  5. I will not have an answer, or at least not the answer I want to have.
Following college, I enjoyed running into people on my old stomping ground.  I was working a great job.  My school district was one of the best.  I had a salary (one considered highly desirable for a 22 year-old), the best benefits I could ask for, and a lot of perks.

But more importantly, I felt good.  I LOVED my job.  I was good at it; my feedback and evaluations ranked me equivalent to a veteran teacher.  My colleagues and mentors praised my professionalism, creativity, and work ethic.  My relationship with the kids and community was positive.  I went back for my M.Ed.  With all that in my back pocket, I was proud when I ran into people and could fill them in on my post-college life.

Now, not so much.

Working as a part-time tutor and tirelessly searching to fix my life is hardly the conversation I want to have with old friends.  And I can't really call myself a writer, even though I write seven days a week for at least four hours. 

Or can I?

Thanks to this amazing and timely post from JM Tohline, I realize I can.  He helped me put things in perspective.  A writer, simply put, is one who writes.  That makes make me a writer.

True, I am not published.  True, I have not completed my manuscript.  True, I'm not as talented or skilled as the professionals.  But those are things that make someone an author.  And every successful, award winning, best selling author begins exactly where I am now - alone, in front of a computer (or piece of paper), writing.  I do the EXACT same job as the rest of the industry.  I've had ideas, created a story, and written words.  Therefore, I do not have to consider myself an aspiring writer.  I can simply tell people, when asked, I'm currently a writer.

Below is JM's post that helped validate my feelings.  I highly recommend his site; this guy knows his stuff!  Thanks to my virtual colleague for helping me (and many others) feel accomplished. 

Hi, My Name Is So-And-So, And I Am An Aspiring Writer

the writer of a literary work (as a book)

one who writes

All the time, I see people who say (on Twitter, on facebook, on blogs, on colorful neck tattoos, etc.) that they are "an aspiring writer."

As soon as you put words on this page, you are a writer.

It's only been over the last few months that I've been able to tell people I'm an author (actually, I'm not sure I've told anyone that yet; it's quite the habit-adjustment to change from saying "I'm a writer" to saying "I'm an author"), but I've been telling people since the age of 15 that I am a "writer."

I feel like you're selling yourself short when you call yourself an "aspiring writer." Buck up! Have some confidence!

Unless, of course, you only aspire to write. In which case...well, the road ahead is long. You better pack a lunch.

From the blog of JM Tohline

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Ten on the Tenth: Songs I'll Always Blast

The top ten songs I will always blast:

My list this month was almost impossible to generate.  There were many strong contenders, but naturally, I can only select ten.  After drafting my original list, I decided to make my cuts based on how long they have been around, allowing the songs that have been part of my life the longest to have seniority.  (Funny, don't I always complain about this concept in public education?)

So, without further ado, here is a list of the top ten songs I will always blast in my car, never skip on my iPod, and sadly, sing along to at the top of my lungs (much to the dismay of those around me).  Enjoy.
  1. Living on a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
  2. Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
  3. Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)
  4. Summer of '69 (Bryan Adams)
  5. Pour Some Sugar on Me (Def Leppard)
  6. Separate Ways (Journey)
  7. Private Eyes (Hall and Oates)
  8. More Than a Feeling (Boston)
  9. I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye)
  10. For the City (Stevie Wonder)
What song ignites the same mood in you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meet Michelle: My First Guest Blogger

For the past eight months, Michelle has been actively reading and critiquing the manuscript for Rejected, my first YA novel, which I expect to finish up next month.  Michelle, who earned a degree in Literature from Ramapo College, has been an amazing critic and consultant throughout this process.  She is one of my greatest supporters and always keeps me motivated.  I'm beyond thankful for her efforts. 

I'm excited to introduce her to my readers and allow her to share some thoughts on this project and its content.  Here is her guest blog (my first ever!)

Dear All Awesome Paul Readers,

Hello! When Paul asked me if I was interested in doing a guest blog, I was pumped. I'm one of Paul's coworkers. In the past year, Paul and I have become great friends. We commiserate together, share our frustrations with not having teaching jobs, and somewhere along the way, I managed to weasel my way into reading his novel in progress. I've always been an avid reader. I have a special place in my heart for YA Literature and young characters. Previously, I worked for a NJ Public Library where I coordinated the youth service activities and spent a lot of time exploring this genre.  There's nothing like seeing a teen grab a book, then go hide in a library corner excited to read it.  My heart goes out to them!

Anyway, I thought I could share a story related to the nature of Paul's book.

In my junior year of high school, I was a bit of a floater. I was part of the popular crowd, but had also been a counselor for two summers at a camp called "The Teen Institute of the Garden State." This camp was all about accepting people for who they are, resisting peer pressure, and being a leader. I LOVED it. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I definitely took away a new sense of bravery.

I'm not going to say my popular friends were bad people, because they weren't. They just weren't particularly open people.  They didn't step outside the box or care to meet others.  On the other hand, I wanted to be friends with everyone.

One day, I was sitting at lunch with my usual crowd. For weeks, I had noticed  an extreme punk-rock-grunge kid sitting at a table alone - reading. He was a year older than I was. I decided to grab my courage, leave my friends mid sentence, and walk over to him. I asked if he would like someone to eat lunch with for the day. He had a VERY suspicious look. After reading books like Paul's, I understand why. Who was I walking over to him? Why was I there? Was it a prank? Pity? How would he know?

But he allowed me to join him. I noticed a bunch of patches on his bag for obscure bands. Lucky for me, I always liked different types of music and had a good friend who let me in on the scene early. I talked to him about the bands. He opened up more. I asked about what he was reading. I asked about if he had friends assigned a different lunch period. All eyes were on us for a while.

Lunch ended. I offered to sit with him whenever he wanted company.  He replied, "Uh, thanks." I never sat with him again, but I frequently said hello in the hallway. When my friends questioned my motives, I said, "If it were me, I'd like it if someone gave me a chance." They didn't ask for more. I wondered for a long time if it was a bad mood - maybe it embarrassed him, or made him angry. Maybe he chose to sit alone. He graduated, and I never heard from him or saw him again.

That is until about three months ago, when he contacted me on Facebook. I received a message saying, "I don't know if you remember me at all, but a long time ago in high school you came over and sat by me in lunch one day. I just wanted to tell you that it really meant a lot to me. I thought about it a lot. So. I just wanted to say thank you. In case I didn't then."

That message meant the world to me. It ended all the worrying thoughts I had about my actions. It reminded me to take a step forward and be a good person. It also made me think about how vitally important Paul's book and subject matter  is.

I am a firm believer that Paul is writing something magical. I can not wait to read the rest of his chapters. The dedication Paul has for keeping his novel authentic is amazing. Count me on board till the end!

Thanks to Paul and Paul's readers for the opportunity to share this story.

- Michelle from

Thursday, November 4, 2010

ATTN: Politicians! Here is how you will get my vote!!!

DISCLAIMER: When I originally posted this last week, I was unaware one of my former districts had just been slammed by the media over contract negotiations (That is NOT okay, nor is it my point).  This posting is in no way a reflection of any of them, nor does it reflect my views of their current dilemma.  I FULLY support those teachers; they are some of the hardest working individuals I know.  And honestly, they deserve better.  It's a freakin' tough job!  My thoughts below are more a reflection of the system - the way we do things now, that for me, simply doesn't make sense.  Again, I am not referencing teachers I know specifically.  If you read further, please keep this very important fact in mind.

One of my best friends called me last night.  She was on the way home from a psychology class she is currently taking in the name of continuing education, since apparently, going to college and graduating with honors is no longer enough to get ahead in this world.

Anyway, we started chatting.  My friend currently works as a high school instructional aide, which I feel partially responsible for.  She wants to become a teacher, and I told her this was a good way to begin your career (as I followed the same path).  Unfortunately, shortly after she was hired, a meteor struck the field of education and we have not been able to fully repair the damage it caused.

Our conversation evolved, and we started talking about one of our favorite topics: BAD TEACHERS.  And I don't mean the awful educators who do detestable things like write poems for their students or advocate to prevent the loss of instructional time.  I'm talking about the just plain rotten teachers who should not occupy a classroom.

Unfortunately, there are many.

This is a hot topic for myself, my friend, and just about everyone in my current office, as we have all had to watch undeserving (and unqualified) teachers move inside classrooms we desperately wanted.  And I am not bragging, because I by no means think I'm the cream of the crop.  I have a lot to learn.  At the same time, I know I am better than some who are out there.  Many others are as well.

Here is the key - I'm willing to learn.  I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to perfect my craft and be the best I can be for my students.  And I'm sorry to say, but I happen to think I was doing a fairly good job when I had a job.  I have a file of evaluations that say so.

So, it got me thinking.  The past few weeks, politicians have worked countless hours trying to secure my vote.  And you know what?  I figured out how you can do it.  I will not only vote for you, I will register for your party and fully support you.  I will campaign for you and volunteer on your behalf.  All you have to do is one simple thing:


That's it.  If you do that and allow the rest of us unemployed, starving teachers the chance to show you what we can do, you will have my vote.  I don't care if you're a democrat or republican, a male or female, white or black or Asian or Native Amercian or a combination - I will vote for you if you do this one thing.

Hmmm, so what exactly constitutes a "bad teacher?"  Well, I'm no expert, but here are some examples from real life that I would consider to be hogging a contract (and paycheck on the tax payers dime) that should be carefully reconsidered:
  1. The teacher who will do anything to get out of teaching: host a student teacher every year, attend every single workshop offered in a 50 mile radius, use all sick and personal days, take a "professional sabbatical" to "write a thesis" that most of us do while teaching simultaneously, sponsor clubs they know will pull them from the classroom, leave school early for "personal reasons," and more.
  2. The teacher who does nothing but assign busy work: "I want you to read chapter 6 in your textbook and answer the questions at the end.  When you are finished, write down ten new things you learned.  If you still have time, you can read silently."
  3. The teacher who refuses to differentitate instruction, modify assignments, or make accommodations because "that is not my job - I'm the regular ed. teacher."
  4. The teacher who will not do anything not specifically stated in the contract: help students before/after school, chaperone dances, write college letters of recommendation, attend field trips, decorate bulletin boards, etc.
  5. The teacher who coaches so many teams, their lesson plans include very little beyond crossword puzzles, worksheets, movies, and word searches.
  6. The teacher who does the same bloody thing every single day: "Okay, you know the drill.  First we'll go over the homework, then I'll show you some new samples, and then I'll assign tonight's homework."
  7. The teacher who doesn't insist the kids write because they don't have time to read it.
  8. The teacher who doesn't make the kids read (or read a different book) because then they would have to do more work preparing.
  9. The teacher who assigns a very detailed project, makes it due the last day of school, and then places them in the dumpster once the kids leave for summer.
  10. The teacher who assigns a writing assignment but never reads them.
  11. The teacher who takes forever to grade things but expects the kids to move forward before receiving appropriate feedback/knowledge of what they are doing wrong.
  12. The teacher who makes up or "fudges" grades because "I know what they are capable of - I don't need to read this."
  13. The teacher who does everything at the 11th hour.
  14. The teacher who assigns a project that will take 4 months to complete, therefore accomplishing a 4 month lesson plan (and vacation) for them.
  15. The teacher who gossips with students about other students.
  16. The teacher who inflates grades for students, as long as they are on their team/in their club etc.
  17. The teacher who passes everyone because "it's just easier than dealing with the aftermath when they fail, even though they can't read, write, add, or think."
  18. The teacher who doesn't correct spelling and grammar because "I'm not an English teacher."
  19. The teacher who doesn't use correct spelling and grammar because they don't know how.
  20. The teacher who will never see the other side of things, even when an exception is clearly present.
  21. The teacher who pushes their personal beliefs on the students - and penalizes you for not conforming.
  22. The teacher who sits in a desk, places the class in a semi-circle, and "shoots the breeze" for an entire class period.
  23. The teacher who constantly complains about not having enough prep time, therefore, will not do anything extra for the kids.  (Seriously, just out of curiosity, exactly how many prep periods do you expect???)
  24. The teacher who "hangs out" with their students outside of school.
  25. The teacher who does not grasp the subject they teach.
  26. The teacher who is the King or Queen of excuses, but disciplines the students for making excuses.
  27. The teacher with low expectations - or no expectations.
  28. The "Packet Princess."
  29. The teacher who never changes a test or quiz, and wonders why the kids save their materials and pass it to the kids the year below them.
  30. The teacher who REFUSES to learn and incorporate technology (or update a web site) - Sorry, but it is 2010!!!  Get on board.  (P.S. My web site was fantastic - I miss it....)
  31. The teacher who hands out a "ditto" with a copywrite date of 1973 in the footer.
  32. The teacher who will not monitor the hallway between classes because that is his or her break from the "little monsters."  (And unless you are teaching a class to Lady Gaga fans, you probably should refer to them differently...)
Okay, I better stop.  I could go on for at least another 6 days.

Have something to add to my list?  Leave a comment below!

And P.S. - I ABSOLUTELY SUPPORT good teachers.  There are many.  It is a VERY DIFFICULT AND CHALLENGING job that you can NEVER fully grasp unless you have done it yourself.  I'm just sick and tired of "tenure" and "seniority" protecting people who don't actually DO the job they were hired to do.

Seriously, why is that okay???

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Thoughts

You Decide 2010

For those of you who clicked this link thinking, I'm finally going to find out who Paul voted for, you're wrong.  It's not those kind of "thoughts."  However, I have been pondering some things the last few days, and figured now that the votes have been cast, I can finally share.

I'm not trying to anger anyone.  I'm not pushing my beliefs on anyone.  These thoughts have nothing to do with my political beliefs - they are geared towards my beliefs about politics.

Yesterday, I was cancelled from work.  Naturally, I grabbed my laptop and USB and headed to Borders for some extra writing time.  As my favorite barista steamed the nonfat milk for my Pumpkin Spice Latte, she asked if I had voted.  I told her I had.  The rest of our conversation went something like this:

Barista: I'm going after my shift at 5:30.  That's horrible - do you know what kind of a mad house it will be?

Me: Honestly, I walked right in this morning.  I've passed my precinct four times and never once have seen a line.

Barista: Ugh!  I want everyone out in line. 

Me: It doesn't seem like there has been a great turnout in our area.  Honestly, I almost didn't vote because all they do is attack each other.  The only reason I voted was so I had the right to complain later on, and because I appreciate the privilege to do so.

Barista: It's awful - all they do is attack the opponent.  I don't even know what their positions are on the issues, and I don't want to go to the Internet to find out.  They have enough commercials on TV and the radio that I should know who is going to do what.

It was her last comment that had me thinking, you are absolutely right!  If they are going to annoy me with messages, signs, and commercials, they better include some facts.  Ironically, every campaign ad seems to talk more about the opposing candidate.  I think that is why a lot of people don't vote.  They don't know who to vote for, and the campaigning doesn't help us decide. 

My second thought: I'm a former social studies teacher.  In these classes, we talk a lot about voting, yet are told to remain neutral and allow the students to make their own decisions.  I believe in that 100%.  Therefore, I get offended when my news feed on facebook is inundated with comments like these:
  • Remember to vote right today.
  • Get out and vote, as long as you're voting democrat.
  • Happy Election Day!  Just don't vote republican!!!
  • Vote Republican - show Obama what we think of his leadership.
Sorry, I don't think that is appropriate.  In fact, it may actually sway people (like myself a lot of the time) to not vote at all. 

Voting is a privilege.  We perform that privilege based on our personal BELIEFS.  That is why they are called political beliefs.  If the correct answer existed, we wouldn't be voting at all.  I do not think anyone has the right to tell someone else what their opinion should be.  We all form them based on who we are and what our ideas, morals, ethics, and yadda yadda yadda are.

Therefore, I was disturbed to see comments like this today:
  • The [gosh darn] south screwed us again.  Why do we even let hicks vote?  Can they even read?
  • America, you baffle me.  I thought we were composed of intelligent citizens.
  • I live in a country with idiots.  I hope you are proud of what you have done.
You get the idea.  And I'm sorry, but it's not okay.  You can't tell someone they are stupid for having an opinion, even if it happens to contradict your own.  You can't make fun of someone, belittle them, or attack their judgment simply because you believe differently.  That is why we have the right to think for ourselves.  And even though your beliefs differ, they obviously voted for what works for them.  We all have that right.

It's anecdotes like these that make me remain Independent (even though I typically vote the same way every election).  I don't want to be associated with a party, or members of a party, who attack, make fun of, and bully the competition.  Again, focus on yourselves and convince me I should vote for you. 

I hate when someone tells me who I should vote for (i.e. my parents, friends, or the teachers union).  It is MY vote, and I'll decide who I feel is going to work best for ME -without help from anyone else.  I don't post my opinions and I don't share which lever I pull.  And guess what, I don't need to know who you voted for either.  Or who you think I should vote for.

I often wonder if politicians are helping spread the exact opposite of the anti-bullying message many of us try desperately to get across. 

Just something to ponder....

I'm off to the gym!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November Nonsense

Happy November!  Does anyone else feel like October never happened?  I sure do!  And September, too, for that matter.

It's a bit cold for my liking.  I love the traditional fall climate, and am not quite ready to be subjected to temperatures in the forties.  Okay, I'm NEVER ready for the cold, but I still feel I should have more time before it invites itself into my life.

AND, as I am typing this, a Pampers commercial is airing on the TV behind me.  It's playing Silent Night.  It is DEFINITELY not time for the Christmas commercials, in my opinion.

For the first time in years, I did not celebrate Halloween.  I just wasn't in the mood.  Part of it was the fact I'm in a funk.  Another part is Halloween brings back a lot of memories that will never again be the same.  When I taught, it was one of the most exciting days of the year.  The school spirit club put on a kick-ass assembly and my fellow teachers and I had some of the best moments preparing our skit.  My first year we were Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders.  Year two - the cast of High School Musical - dancing and all.  For someone who appeared in seven high school productions and acted as a theater club officer, it was a lot of fun. 

This year, I couldn't even bother myself to come up with a costume.  So I didn't.  No parties, no festivities.  What has happened to me?

Thankfully, I had fantasy football to distract me.  With 172.86 points, my team had a PHENOMENAL week.  We scored our fifth consecutive win, the most points in the league (for the fourth time this season), and surpassed our previous high score, as well as the highest score previously earned in the league.  For a fantasy football virgin, I think I'm doing alright.  (And there are a few people I know who should start eating their words right about now, but that is all I will say about that....)

Novel Update:
Number of completed chapters: 19.0
Anticipated number of chapters total: 25.0
Current word count: 65,861
Anticipated word count total: 75K
Projected date for full manuscript to be completed: December 12, 2010

Finally, I am beyond thankful this election is almost over.  No more visitors, no more pre-recorded phone messages.  And no more of this catty, out of control, you verses me garbage.  On my way home tonight, I heard a commercial on the radio.  The commercial went on a rant about all the things the opposing candidate does wrong, making fun and calling him names (which I consider bullying, but what the heck do I know).  Meanwhile, the commercial did not share ONE THING about the candidate behind the commercial. 


I'm not interested in your thoughts on the competition - I'm interested in what YOU are going to do for ME.  How YOU will make things BETTER.  Is there a reason you can't tell me about that?

Just another reason I never cared for politics.

COMING SOON: I'll be posting a special guest blog later this week.  Stay tuned to read what my friend and editor, Michelle, has to say about Rejected and its significance in YA Literature.