Archive for September, 2010

Writers’ Conference and Confidence

September 28, 2010

Writers’ Conference and Confidence

      This past weekend I went to the “Wrangling with Writing” conference in Tucson sponsored by the Society of Southwestern Authors. I finished my novel and hoped to get an agent or editor interested in it. The way it works at this conference, you pay twenty dollars for a fifteen minute interview with an agent and/or editor you choose from those who are looking for clients and manuscripts. I signed up to see three agents and an editor after checking out their bios and googling them.

     We were told to practice a two sentence introduction to our books, bring a one page synopsis, and the first three chapters. I also brought a few copies of my completed manuscript, knowing that no one would want to lug all that paper home, but not willing to miss an opportunity.

     The first workshop I went to was “Mastering the In-person Pitch.” I figured I could use all the help I could get. The presenter, Chuck Sambuchino, was fantastic! I figured out how to improve my pitch. He told us not to give the agent anything. All contact would be by email afterwards. The best that would happen is the agent or editor would give us their card with instructions on what to send. He was right!

     I met with the first agent and made a big faux pas. I started with the sentence, “I’ve finished an 80,000 word contemporary women’s fiction novel.” The agent pointed out that I had committed one of her pet peeves, that it’s redundant to say “fiction novel.” I explained to her that I was just nervous and of course I know it was redundant as I was a retired librarian. After this stumble, the rest of the interview went well. She wanted to see the manuscript but she was an “exclusive” agent. This meant I could only submit to her. I told her I had three other appointments and couldn’t make that commitment. But I was ecstatic that she wanted to see my work. All of my writing buddies experienced success.

     Imagine my shock when I returned to the room that afternoon, after getting two more requests for my manuscript, and found one of my writing buddies in her nightgown under the covers. She was having a crisis of confidence. I know this feeling well, when the inner child says you aren’t good enough, what makes you think you write well enough to be published, etc. I haven’t seen this in another woman since my dorm days of college. It made me feel less alone. We helped boost her spirits and in just a little while she was back to feeling like the confident, competent person I know.

     So how many of you out there get these feelings? And how do you conquer them? I didn’t have a hypercritical parent or husband but I do remember these feelings of inadequacy from junior high on. When you live alone, you have to be your own cheerleader.

I’m so Happy I’m Retired!

September 17, 2010

I’m so Happy I’m Retired!

     This past week I substitute taught in Phoenix for a second grade class. I was scheduled to work in the same classroom for Thursday and Friday. As soon as I saw the teacher had a left a pass, already filled in, for a student to spend time in another classroom, I knew there might be a behavior problem. I’ll call him “S.” Her note also pinpointed three other children who might be behavior problems. Well, I was a principal for gosh sakes! I can be firm, I can be charming, and I can manage second graders!

     I went out to the playground for morning duty. It was warm, even at 7:40 in the morning. I stood in one place too long and found an ant on my arm. My shoes squished in the irrigation water logged grass. The students swarmed the playground equipment and looked like they were having fun.

     When the bell rang I led my students to the classroom. When I took attendance, many were absent, including all of the students pinpointed as problems! After a few minutes it was time for the students to switch for reading. I got a whole new group and they were enthusiastic, well trained in procedures, and a delight.

     Five minutes before the end of reading, one of my homeroom students came in. He was late. And the one whose name was on the already filled out pass. He wasn’t happy when I told him to stay with me, that it was the end of reading, but he accepted it. When the students switched classes, he ran out of the room. Uh-oh. When my homeroom class returned, all of the problem children were there. They weren’t absent, only tardy.

     Next came “push-in” tutoring. This is where two classroom assistants take groups of students into the hall and work on phonics while the teacher keeps a group to do the same. The teacher, bless her, had given herself all the problem students. “S” started rapping about “blue.” Gang colors? His favorite color? The kids copied him. I dutifully followed the discipline program. He thwarted it. Instead of moving his own star to step one, he moved someone else’s. He paid some attention and I found out her could do the work. It was a long forty minutes but I made it. The class came together again and we did spelling. He was still rapping and not following directions. I suggested he use the pass to go to the other room, and he jumped at the chance. Twenty minutes later, on the way to lunch, he joined the class again.

     In the teachers’ lounge at lunch I found out that the teacher I was subbing for had been urged by her fellow teachers to take mental health days. It was her last year before retirement and they were worried she’d have a nervous breakdown. Poor thing!

     After lunch things escalated. He came back for a few minutes before Art. He wasn’t allowed to go to special classes. Poor kid! He was very likable, just had no impulse control and needed a different environment to succeed. After Art, he came back and held it together for about twenty minutes. He followed directions. He listened attentively when I told a folktale. Then he poked a hole in his water bottle and used it like a squirt gun on other students. I sent him back to the other classroom, a special education resource room for which he has not been staffed. The other “problem” children were very manageable.

     “S” came back fifteen minutes before the end of the day. He called me a “bad witch” and mimed shooting the students in the class. I called the office and they said they would send someone but he escaped from the classroom. I called and told the office and they replied it was okay since the bell was going to ring! I told the secretary that I needed to speak to the principal after school.

     The assistant principal came to the door as I leaving to take the students to the bus bay and do bus duty. She said she would do that for me. I had spoken to her in the hall, just before lunch, about “S.” She relayed that the special education teacher said that “S” had had the best day of the year and he liked me. I told her that if he was going to be in the class the next day, I wasn’t. I wrote a note to the teacher about my day, gathered my things, and went to the office.

     The principal talked to me. She could not guarantee that “S” would not be in my room the next day. She knew he needed services, but the district office was not cooperating. Unless things have changed that much since I was principal, I didn’t buy it. I was able to get services for student to succeed. You have to willing to be the persistently squeaky door.

     I told her I would not be back in the next day. She urged me to pick up another job for her school and to come back and substitute again. So some unsuspecting substitute teacher was going to have the Friday from hell.

     Never in my life did I feel so glad to be retired and in charge of what I do.

“What a Wonderful World”

September 11, 2010

“What a Wonderful World”

     I was sitting on my porch in Munds Park, Arizona this morning, cradling a cup of hot red tea. I’m feeling much better, recuperating well from my surgery. The sun is shining in a cloudless azure blue sky. My trusty dog Sparky is lying on his Suns towel, soaking up the sun and snoozing. As the song sung best by Louis Armstrong says, “What a Wonderful World.”

     My three sons are on a camping trip with their families this weekend. This warms the cockles of my heart. When I am long gone, the boys will still have each other as family. A few years ago this was not in the cards, but my youngest son is back from the brink of disaster (addiction.) I have one grandchild and one on the way. The cycle of life.

     I get to write every day, read the newspaper on my porch, enjoy the company of friends and family, listen to live music, act in plays, date, and have tea parties with my granddaughter Abby.

     Tragedies have intruded on my life, but I refuse to let them define me. I own my reaction and do not feel responsible for the hands fate dealt me.

Annie and Sparky on the front porch at Munds Park

I invite you to sit a spell, counting your blessings.

Single Surgery

September 4, 2010

Single Surgery

     I had surgery on Tuesday. All day out patient. My son took me there but left before I went back into pre-op. He’s freaked out by hospitals since his brush with death and eight week stay in one in 2008. They kept me longer than I predicted so I had a friend pick me up. I really didn’t think about the fact that I was alone until the next day. I know I’m a strong woman, but I didn’t miss having someone at the hospital because I was doing fine and just wanted to rest and sleep. It seems to me that when you’re young, your parents take you to surgery. When you’re married, your spouse does. (Or doesn’t and friends do, more about this below.) And when you’re older, your children do the honors.

     The first surgery I had was when I was married the first time. My husband, a lawyer, was too busy to take me, so a friend did. So much for the idea that if you’re married, your spouse will be there for your for health problems.

     I had major surgery when I was a single of mom with daughters aged one and seven. My friends took me and stayed with me at the hospital while my mother, from New Jersey, took care of the kids. When I broke my elbow on a Saturday night a few months later, I called a babysitter. She stayed with the kids while her parents dropped me at the emergency room. It was close enough so I walked home.

     My second husband did take me to surgeries, but did not hang around at home afterwards. He wasn’t fond of infirmities. I had my mother or friends look after me.

     A friend called me last night and said she sprained her ankle. When she described it, I suggested she might have broken it and she should go to the Emergency Room. I was up in Munds Park and couldn’t offer to take her. This morning she called on her way to the hospital. She was driving herself and it was painful to use her clutch. I was aghast that she didn’t ask her sister or a friend to take her. Her husband lives in Hawaii, so he wasn’t available.

     Now that I’m single again, it’s either the kids or friends who are there for me in times of medical need. Both sets are very reliable. So when people ask me if I’m afraid to grow old without someone to take care of me, I smile. My experience is that kids and friends are better caretakers.

     By the way, I’m recovering well.