Friday, September 30, 2011

(Almost) All You Need Is Love

I know it's 2 in the morning. I know I have to go to work tomorrow. But I was so blown away by this article that I had to mention it.

When I say blown away, I don't mean that the ideas in it are so revolutionary. In fact, they're so basic, so down to earth, and so obvious that it's just fantastic to me that people don't understand it.

Read it here.

No really, read it. It's a little long, but definitely not boring.

There were a few specific points that I particularly liked.

In case you're far too lazy and boring to click on my link, here's a paragraph from it that contains the gist of the subject.

Although I’m a passionate advocate of whole language I believe it’s perfectly possible for whole language to fail in the hands of a rude, thoroughly nasty teacher who hates children. Similarly, although I feel that the teaching of phonics outside meaningful texts is the least efficient way to teach reading, I believe absolutely that a joyful, enthusiastic, experienced teacher who uses phonics and only phonics, will nevertheless have a large measure of success in teaching her students to read. That’s the influence of the affective.

People have done so much research on methods, and had so many arguments about which way is better, that they've forgotten a kind of important aspect of learning to read: Passion.

Another part I liked:

The passion I am asking for from teachers is a passion beyond the pay cheque. It’s a passion for children’s books, as well as for their own reading, for if teachers don’t love to read why on earth should children?

Why should I learn to do math if the person who is teaching me hates to do math? What possible reason could I have to learn to play the trumpet if music is so hateful to the person I am learning from?

And this:

Asked to describe the year in one word Marian said: ‘Blah.’

‘Blah?’ I said. ‘Describe blah.’

‘Blah means all on one level. It means we had a steady, predictable routine. There were no dramas. There were no highs, no lows. We did lots of worksheets about nouns and adjectives and verbs and stuff and I guess we learnt it but we didn’t use it. We wrote very rarely—less than ten stories the whole year and when we did the teacher never got excited. She’d write: “This is a good story, Marian,” and you’d wonder what kind of good it was but she never said so you didn’t get excited about the next story. We wrote a lot of reports but they went nowhere, just sort of into the desk and you thought why make the effort? When we had to write she sat there eating and reading the paper. I guess she wasn’t a bad teacher it’s just the whole year was sort of grey and forgettable, like mud not fireworks.’

Mud, not fireworks. I've yet to hear a metaphor that describes the difference between a bad school year and a good one better than this does.

She associated books with cuddles on the rocking chair on her mother’s lap, sweetly learning to read first words, then pages, then whole stories in the happy relaxed knowledge that she was the centre of her mother’s focus and pride. Her emerging literacy was greeted with so much encouragement and praise, with so many and hugs and kisses, that she learnt to read fast, without a moment of strain or tension, doing her best to please her mother because it was so obvious that her mother adored her and was excited by her progress.

Duh. And yet, no one seems to get it. Thinking that worksheets and drills and stress are the best ways to accomplish things. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy anything that was stressful to learn about. Part of the reason I still can't play the piano, probably. It was work, not fun.

And my favorite line of all:

Their inherent passions and the love that flows through them freshen up an often dry and meaningless education system, enabling it to become more affectively orientated and therefore also ultimately more effective, by capturing hearts so minds will follow; they make a school year like fireworks, not mud;

By capturing hearts, so minds will follow. I can't say it any better than that.

The Beatles were almost right. (Almost) All you need is Love.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I don't usually do this, but...

The day started off normal. Everyone's did. Well, except for a few "pilots"...

The rumors started around lunchtime. Which, in high school, was more like 10:45 or 11. They were vague, and I didn't hear any directly. They just floated. Whispers from invisible mouths.

There was something about a bomb threat, but this was Rustburg, Virginia. It's not like that hadn't happened before. And no one ever followed through.

Just at the end of lunch, someone started panicking. Something about blowing up Lynchburg.

Why the heck would someone nuke Lynchburg, of all the places in the world?

After lunch I had history class. I would have been in 11th grade then, so it was Ms. Lipscomb. She took us into Mr. Singleton's room, but I still haven't figured out why. The tv was so snowy that, even if I had known what was happening, I couldn't have figured out what the reports were saying.

A lot of the kids didn't care. But the teachers didn't notice. They both sat, staring at the snowy screen, looking pretty grave about something.

The rest of the day was blurry. I think we stayed in history, but I don't really remember. I just know that no one in the school actually told us what we were supposed to be concerned about.

I only found out the details over the next few days, and not from school (ironically). By that point I was more annoyed about the hype than concerned with the tragedy. Who cares about a stupid tower in New York?

But I should have cared.

Only twice in the history of our country have we been attacked so blatantly, on our own soil. the first was Pearl Harbor. But at least then we had a face to go with it. Japan more than paid its dues.

Hundreds of people died for absolutely no reason. National security was breached in a major way. Money was siphoned. Equipment was destroyed. People were thrown into complete panic.

I should have cared. But I didn't.

Learning about all the people that died was like talking about Antietam in history class. The bloodiest day in the history of our country. 23,000 dead in one single-day battle. But it happened a week short of 139 years before 9-11. And I didn't know any of them. It was just a moment in history.

I didn't know anyone in New York. Or Pennsylvania. None of my family or friends were flying anywhere that day. The biggest effect it had on me was that school was practically empty for several days. Which was kind of fun.

I was 16. Old enough to take things more seriously. But I was too sheltered. It was too distant. Unlike so many other people in the country, I wasn't afraid to go to school, or to sleep at night. And I didn't really understand why I should be.

9-11 didn't really affect me at all. Not then, at least.

But ten years have passed since then. I've learned a few things over the years. That people can resolve their differences when something more important is at stake. About what patriotism means. That our country was strong, and wouldn't take such things lying down. About how quickly people forget...

People are back to their same old problems. Their same old arguments. Their same old complaints about the failings of America.

I don't think it will be too long before 9-11 day becomes just like Pearl Harbor day. Without cheating, how many of you even know what day that is?

Maybe I should have cared more. Been more concerned. Thought about the broader perspective. But I didn't. And I was okay.

Think about it. One of the biggest things that has ever happened to the American people, and how many of them didn't get hurt? How many didn't lose someone, didn't get stranded somewhere, didn't get too scared to sleep?

Even when we're in the middle of a direct attack on the people in New York City, we're still lucky. We're lucky that we have the freedom and safety to be complacent. We're lucky that we could just sit around not caring about 9-11, and nothing happened to us.

We didn't have to flee for our lives, or board our windows. We didn't have to suffer through hundreds of attacks.

We should care. I definitely should have. But I'm incredibly grateful to be living in a country where I'm safe enough and free enough to escape such a momentous event so completely unscathed.

Even if you take 9-11 for granted, don't do the same for our country.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Some people write because they have a story bursting out of them, and they can't not write it down.

Some people write because they love making words go together in cool ways.

Some people write because they are good at it. It's a living.

Some people write because they want to be famous, but they suck at singing.

There are lots of reasons. And there are lots of people who write. Seriously, lots. And you thought there were too many who wanted to become pop/rock stars.

And I guess I have a little bit of all those things. (In differing levels, of course.) But wanna know my favorite thing about writing?

Watching people squirm.

Awful, I know. And maybe a little weird. But I love being the puppetmaster. Nothing in the whole world is cooler than seeing someone freak out, or cry, or fall in love, or hide under their sheets, all because of some words you typed into a laptop at 3 am.

When people need to get up early, but they stay up all night reading your words.

When they cry at the devastating plot twist that your character just experienced.

When they hate your guts for a cliffhanger ending.

This makes everything worth it. Everything being all the years of agony and late nights go into every decent novel. (Emphasis on decent.)

Lots of people say, "I'm not writing to get published. I'm just writing for me."

That's all fine and good for some people. But I'd get bored.

I don't write for the paycheck, or the publishing contract either, (though these things would be nice). But I need an audience.

And that is my confession for today.

Yours Truly,

The Puppetmaster
*sinister laugh*

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

The wind blows, no longer a summer breeze. It is colder and stronger. It whips through the trees, howling just a little.

The first crackly leaves fall from the branches and skitter across the pavement. In the dark, the sound is eerie.

And it is dark. The streetlamps make it that way. They are too far apart, and only serve to deepen the shadows.

The walk was pristine long ago. But the trees have taken over. Their roots have twisted under the concrete, breaking it apart and leaving it a hazardous pathway. Here and there, slabs of asphalt have been pounded into the gaps left by the collapsing walk, but it was carelessly done, just like everything else on that street.

Navigating the path is hard enough in the daylight. At night, it becomes treacherous. The occasional lamp destroys night vision. The perception of depth is almost non-existent.

A shoe catches a jutting root.

A low-hanging branch scrapes a cheek.

Farther down the road, the traffic slows. In the distance, lights flare. A car emerges from a cloud of dust. The headlights are blinding. It passes slowly.

A person emerges suddenly from a side road, their approach hidden by the lights of the car. They hurry past, shooting a suspicious glance behind them.

The wind shifts. More dry leaves fall.

The turn is up ahead.

Another dark side road appears. To the left, a young man clad in black blocks the path. He stands just outside of the light, waiting. To the right, it is clear.

The road is half gravel and half asphalt, dusty and uneven. A car approaches too quickly. It passes by, but only just. The driver is completely unaware of the pedestrian traffic.

On the other side of the road, the walk becomes smoother. The wind dies down, but the leaves still scuttle along.

A thin, rickety stairway rises three stories. It groans with each step. There are no lights.

Keys are fumbled in the darkness. At last the door swings open, squeaking in protest.

Closets and cupboards hang open, blocking the hallway. The door screams again, shutting with a resounding bang, leaving everything in shadow.

(This is obviously not the same street, or the same time of year. But I thought this pic I took on University Avenue had the appropriate air of 19th century foreboding.)

As it happens, Provo has some interesting horror potential.

Melodramatic... certainly. But this is a cumulation of my last few walks home.

Point of note, though, it wasn't actually scary. I thought it was really cool, so I had to share. Although Provo really does have to do something about those sidewalks. Pounding asphalt into holes seems to be their answer-all.