IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! PART 28

HELLO!  It’s once again time for me to do my annual birthday post.

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So I can tell (a little) that I’m getting older, but like, I don’t feel it, you know?  I’m 28 years old and literally half of the things my parents say still makes me giggle from the double entendre.  (I went over there one Sunday for dinner and they were staining the deck while I was there.  Their stain stirring stick was like 3 feet long and my mom kept hitting it.  She said to my dad, “Would you get that stick out of my butt?”  I lost it.  And they called me immature for it.)

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My parents, talking about me.

Anyway, I’m 28, but I don’t necessarily feel like it.  I laugh at fart jokes.  I say slang that my family just looks at me like, “Huh?” for when they hear it.  I know what fashion trends are popular more now than I did when I was in high school.  And all of that is because of my students.  Middle school, man.  It’s interesting.

Oh, and for my birthday dessert?  I asked for homemade Rice Krispy Treats.  Of all of the desserts I could have asked for, that’s what I went with.  But they sound delicious, especially since my mom has a s’mores variation that’s delicious.

But also, there are times when I do start to feel my age.  Like when you realize a movie you grew up with turned 25 years old.  Or when I hear a song on the radio I haven’t heard in a while and then realize it’s because it came out 18 years ago.  Or when I realize that my students are now half of my age.  It’s horrifying stuff.

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Y’all, this debuted in September 1993.  Feel old yet?

Still, this has been a good year for me.  I bought a house, I’m now one of the choreographers for my school’s show choir (which was terrifying at first but I love that I’ll play a bigger role), and I really and truly feel like I’m becoming a better teacher.  My instincts have been honed after 5 years.  I feel more settled in my life than I have in a long time.  I love that I can decorate my house and make it feel my own.  (And I have a library!  In my house!  And a room I call my art studio for painting and other crafts!)

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Anyway, I’m pretty much going to be celebrating today as I do every day: by reading and trying not to melt in the heat.  This half-red head Midwesterner does not handle the heat well and it’s over 90 here.  So I’ll be inside reading and probably working on my choreography.

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The drama. The passion. The biceps.

Have fun today guys!  🙂  I will be!

Why I Can’t Watch Netflix’s Mr. Iglesias–Even Though I Want To

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Ok, I have to do this.  This is one of my pet peeves.

When I saw that Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias was getting a sitcom, I was stoked.  My family is a huge fan of Gabriel.  We quote him all the time.  (“HEY!…’Mere.”)  I think his jokes are on point, he’s got a good heart, and he’s just entertaining.

And I was so excited that his show was going to be about a history teacher.  Immediately, I started wondering what kind of history jokes he’d make, which are some of my favorite jokes of all time.  History + Comedy = Nerdy Fun.

…and then I watched the first episode.

Look, I think the show has a good heart.  It’s following kids who normally don’t do well in school.  Your slackers, your kids who have to work to support their families, your kids who simply struggle with school.  I love that, since those are the most like my students.  And being a comedy, I knew it would have heart while still being funny about it, which I appreciate.  (The really serious teacher movies like Dead Poets Society are great, but I can’t watch them often.)

But my God, this show plays into all the stupid–an inaccurate–teacher tropes.

Let me go through a few of them.

1. The principal gave the teachers an assignment on their hour long lunch break.

I literally almost laughed out loud when I heard that.  First of all, my lunch is 30 minutes at best, just like the kids.  If I need to make a call or run copies, that means I’m usually eating my lunch in about 15 minutes.  And also, if your principal is at all respectful, they’re not going to give you an assignment over lunch.  Most of the time, they give you longer than your lunch break to complete something unless someone screwed up.

2. Their “last day of school” was way more chill than I’ve ever seen.

The first episode takes place on the last day of school–which makes the rest of the plot that much more unbelievable.  On the last day of school, no one is just calmly walking around like that or even talking about school.   There were no finals, lockers were still full of books, and teachers didn’t look like they were about to die.  Clearly, none of the writers have been in school for a while (a point that was abundantly obvious).

3. Teachers were in the “break room” more often than their classrooms.

This irks me so much.  As a teacher, I rarely have any time to go to the bathroom.  Yeah, I said it.  So the fact that they’re all just standing around singing songs, making coffee, chit chatting, etc., it’s ridiculous.  We’re all frantically running around trying to get things done before the next class comes in in 4-7 minutes, depending on the length of your passing period.  Only one of your class periods is open as your prep, and more often than not, you have planning to do during that time.  That’s it.

4. PUBLIC SCHOOLS CANNOT COUNSEL ANYONE OUT.

Ok, let me pull in my rage here a little.  The entire crux of the show is that the principal and the guidance counselor are trying to “get rid” of the lowest performing students to boost the school’s numbers.  They delivered letters to those students via their lockers (um…unprofessional much?) and let the kids know they’d basically been “let go.”  Private schools can do that.  A student of mine came to my school from a private school because she broke dress code too many times.  Public schools are required to take everyone.  This is why public schools often have lower test scores.  By law, they are required to take anyone who comes to them.  We can expel kids for serious infractions, like drugs or weapons on school grounds.  Sometimes even bullying or fighting can result in that.  But let me tell you, even that doesn’t guarantee an expulsion.  One of my kids last year was so violent that we knew he was going to go off and hurt someone–an adult had to shadow him all day long.  But we couldn’t do much because he had an IEP–an Individualized Education Plan.  He had emotional issues that meant he was quick to anger, like trigger-quick.  We had to wait for the parents to pull him after he was suspended more often than not.

Excuse my language, but public schools get so much shit because we can’t help what we are.  All these politicians who keep saying public schools are failing (including John Delaney on the first Democratic Debate) simply fail to understand how public schools work.  They keep pushing for all schools to be charter/private schools.  But guess what?  If you’re going to make it mandatory that every child be in a school–and you do away with public schools–then your private schools are going to turn into public schools.  Someone has to take those students.

The fact that this show played it up like public schools could just “let go” of poorly performing students was insulting and severely misinformed.  I get that the point of the show is that Gabriel is trying to nurture those students, but this?  No.  Sorry, school doesn’t work this way.  And it’s just feeding the perceptions people have about public schools that are grossly misleading or plainly false.

*****

I think what the show is trying to do is good.  And Gabriel’s history jokes were so funny.  But I can’t watch a show that so inaccurately represents my profession and that of so many of my friends at a time when our jobs are being attacked on virtually every front.  I take so much crap for it and I’m tired.  I’m tired of defending myself and my students from outsiders.

Introducing…Fantastic Writing Fridays!

Hey everyone!  So I felt like I needed a little something extra to post about every week and I settled on focusing on writing.  Usually with this blog (and most others I see), we tend to focus on the characters, the plots, the conflicts, the themes, the books overall.  We rarely focus on the writing unless it’s bad.

I’ve been really moved by a lot of writing lately.  The complexities of it, the amazing metaphors writers come up with, etc.  I’ve been watching Songland on NBC (Tuesdays at 10!) about the songwriting process and I’ve got to say, every song I’ve heard on it has been beautiful.

On top of that, I just feel like writing in general is undervalued.  We should be celebrating authors that are amazing and who hit us square in the feels with a perfectly worded quote or advice or pose the question that just doesn’t leave us.

I’m going to have some fun with this.  I hope you will too.

Fantastic Writing

This week’s Fantastic Writer is…

Tahereh Mafi

This wasn’t even a question when I first actually sat down and started planning out this post.  Mafi’s quotes (especially from Juliette in any of the Shatter Me series) have always had a way of getting to me.  This one about loneliness painted such an amazing picture that I think about this a lot:

“Loneliness is a strange sort of thing.
It creeps on you, quiet and still, sits by your side in the dark, strokes by your hair as you sleep. It wraps itself around your bones, squeezing so tight you almost can’t breathe. It leaves lies in your heart, lies next to you at night, leaches the light out of every corner. It’s a constant companion, clasping your hand only to yank you down when you’re struggling to stand up.
You wake up in the morning and wonder who you are. You fail to fall asleep at night and tremble in your skin. You doubt you doubt you doubt.
do I
don’t I
should I
why won’t I
And even when you’re ready to let go. When you’re ready to break free. When you’re ready to be brand-new. Loneliness is an old friend stand beside you in the mirror, looking you in the eye, challenging you to live your life without it. You can’t find the words to fight yourself, to fight the words screaming that you’re not enough never enough never ever enough.
Loneliness is a bitter, wretched companion.
Sometimes it just won’t let go.”

-Tahereh Mafi, Unravel Me

Or this one about time:

“Killing time isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I’ve been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.”

-Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

I haven’t read much that Mafi has done outside of the Shatter Me series, so that’s basically what I’m going to be basing this on.

What I love best about Mafi writing as Juliette is how she plays with language.  Both of these quotes personify abstract ideas in a way that makes them feel so different from how we’re used to thinking about them.  And I love that.  I love that loneliness feels jealous of success, that time is represented as mortal.  It’s fascinating how she’s put that all together.

She also plays with language in the way she frames some of her writing in a way that feels like poetry.  She doesn’t always use punctuation, especially when she’s trying to show a decline in Juliette’s mental state.  She also plays with the crossing out of words in the story to show what Juliette feels and how she’s editing it.  It’s so bizarre to see this that I fell in love with it pretty quickly because of how it helped enhance the characters.  Here’s an example of that poetry sound:

“He’s breathing like he’s lost his mind and he’s looking at me like something has broken inside of him, like he’s woken up to find that his nightmares were just that, that they never existed, that it was all just a bad dream that felt far too real but now he’s awake and he’s safe and everything is going to be okay and
I’m falling.
I’m falling apart and into his heart and I’m a disaster.”

-Tahereh Mafi, Unravel Me

As Mafi has gotten older, her writing has tended to be more thoughtful.  She relies more on those Big Questions that drive most of us in some way, how we look for those universal truths in literature.  Who am I?  What do I want?  What does real love look like?  In A Very Large Expanse of Sea, she really dives into those questions as she writes (in a fictional way) about what she and others endured as Muslim women after 9/11 and the ignorance many people showed them.  Here’s a quote from that book that moved me:

“The more I got to know people, the more I realized we were all just a bunch of frightened idiots walking around in the dark, bumping into each other and panicking for no reason at all.
So I started turning on a light.
I stopped thinking of people as mobs. Hordes. Faceless masses. I tried, really hard, to stop assuming I had people figured out, especially before I’d ever even spoken to them. I wasn’t great at this—and I’d probably have to work at it for the rest of my life—but I tried. I really did. It scared me to realize that I’d done to others exactly what I hadn’t wanted them to do to me: I made sweeping statements about who I thought they were and how they lived their lives; and I made broad generalizations about what I thought they were thinking, all the time.”

-Tahereh Mafi, A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Mafi is a brilliant writer with stunning prose that leaves me captivated every time I pick up her books.  She twists language in ways that I didn’t know it could go and it makes me, as an English teacher, fangirl with delight as I read it.  Language is power and Mafi understands that.  Her metaphors are incredible and you end up seeing the world very differently after each book than you did before you started it.  That’s the sign of a powerful writer.

In the comments below, please leave your favorite Mafi quote!  What’s moved you?  (If you’re having trouble finding one, Goodreads has a lot of them!)

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR

Hey everyone!  Now, I know I’ve struggled with some of my recent Top Tens, but this one?  Yeah, I’ve got no problem with this one.  So let’s check it out and see what’s on my list and why!

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Ok, so in the last 6 months or whatever, I’ve become kind of obsessed with this story.  I’ve watched the musical (with Hugh Jackman) countless times in this time span.  I watched the PBS mini-series starring Lily Collins and David Oyelowo.  Like, I’m starting to feel like I could write a dissertation on these characters without ever having cracked the book.  But that’s why I want to read it now.  I want to know how faithful these adaptations are because between the different versions, there are some significant differences.  And I just want to see why this was so popular back in the day.  (Apparently Civil War soldiers carried a copy of this with them throughout the war.  Like, thousands of them.  It’s so thick, I suppose if you were going to read it around a fire, it’d take a long time to get through, thus killing a lot of time.)

2. The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

This book (and the next two) have been on my to-read list since about 2009.  It’s actually getting ridiculous.  I still want to read them, but it’s getting harder to find them on the shelves of my library.

3. East by Edith Pattou

A friend recommended this book to me in high school.  I’m now less than a year away from my ten-year reunion (OH MY GOD).  I think it’s about time I read this.

4. The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

When I was first getting into Goodreads, I kind of went on a spree adding books to my to-read list.  This was one of those I saw and thought I should read.  10 years later, it’s still sitting there on that TBR shelf.  This is the summer of trying to flush some of those out.  (I’ve already gone through and deleted a number of them that I’m no longer interested in, but this keeps surviving the purge.)

5. Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia

I have this ARC sitting on my Kindle and y’all, I’m dying to read it.  Zappia is one of those authors I think I’ll always gravitate toward.  This one doesn’t deal with mental health in the same way her previous two books do.  Instead, this one is about being blamed for a crime our MC didn’t commit.  (I’m kind of hoping the Addams of Addamsville means it’s going to be crazy and creepy like the Addams Family, but I’m not holding my breath on that.)

6. The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters

It’s about Edgar Allan Poe!  I love Poe.  His writing is clever and fantastically layered and I love how weird he was.  Winters has only disappointed me like, once, and that was when she went away from YA for a time.  But her YA books have been seriously On Point, so I have a good feeling about this one.

7. My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray

I bought this like a year ago.  I mean, it’s Eliza Hamilton’s story and Dray did a fantastic job with America’s First Daughter, the tale of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter.  So I know this is going to be excellent as well, but I just…I keep putting it off in favor of library books that have a due date.  I need to just make time.

8. Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

The last book in the Throne of Glass series, I just need to read this and be done with the whole thing.  But I always get weird out because it’s been so long since I’ve read the other books that I know I’ve forgotten things.  Not that I’ve forgotten how the other books ended, but I know I always forget important characters and details.  And I don’t want this reading experience to be bad by not remembering those things.  But I’m not going back and rereading the other books right now.

9. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

I’ve heard so much about this book in the last year or so that I know I need to read it.  I love fantasy, but for some reason, this one has just never quite grabbed my attention from the synopsis alone.  Guess we’ll see.

10. Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

I picked this up from the library on a whim.  It looked interesting, but it’s been sitting around for a few weeks now and I need to just grab it and read it one of these days.

American Gods, Season 1

Image result for american gods season 1Hello everyone!  I found this at the library a few weeks ago and, being bored, I thought it might be a show worth watching.  I have not read the book, but I’m a fan of mythology and the idea of modernizing it, mixing these old gods with today’s world sounded fascinating.

Shadow Moon is a man with a dark past.  Now, his ultimate goal is to live a quiet life with his wife.  But when he gets word that his wife has died, his life is thrown into chaos.  As he flies home for the funeral, he meets the mysterious “Mr. Wednesday” who seems to know more about Shadow than he should.  Mr. Wednesday is insistent that something is coming and he needs Shadow to help him.  From this moment on, Shadow’s life will never be the same.

Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start with this.  This was fantastic.  I’m actually terrified to read the book now because I don’t know how it can possibly be better than the show.  The show is that good.

Being a STARZ show, this is definitely meant for *much* older viewers.  Profanity, nudity, and more abound.  There were moments when things happened that I didn’t even feel like I was old enough to be watching it.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I would have been highly uncomfortable watching this show with another person.  It’s….graphic.

But let me tell you, the story is wonderfully told.  Even though the story isn’t exclusively told from Shadow’s perspective, we basically only know as much as he does the whole time.  So when weird things happen, we don’t understand it either.  When something shocking happens, we’re as shocked as he is.  There’s this air of mystery the entire show where you know enough to have a general idea but not enough to know everything until the end.  I loved that, the slow unravel of the story as we got to know the characters better.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, and by multiple, I mean probably close to a dozen when all is said and done.  There are 2 episodes of the 8 that completely take you out of the main narrative to explain something that happened in the past to show how we got to this point.  I actually really enjoyed those episodes.  But also, at the beginning of most episodes, we get a little bit of a look at the lives of people as they came to America (Norsemen, slaves, Hispanics, etc.) and the gods they believed in.

Ah, there’s still so much I want to say and I don’t want to forget anything!

Ok, characters/actors.  Look, these actors are phenomenal.  Particularly the guy (Ricky Whittle) playing Shadow.  He comes off as cold and aloof a lot of the time, but I always felt like even though he seemed so stoic, I knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling.  That’s impressive.  I was also a fan of Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney.  Emily Browning, who plays Laura, is so good as well.  The stuff she has to act through…man, there’s no prep for that.  And she played it so well.

This show really allows all of the characters to have their own quirks.  Mr. Wednesday is definitely quirky and sarcastic while Shadow is, as I said, kind of stoic.  But he’s also slow to make decisions and thoughtful about what he’s seeing around him, no matter how incredible it is.  Laura is selfish and completely self-centered to the point of cruelty.  Mad Sweeney is hilariously unlucky and there’s far more to him than meets the eye.  I loved watching all of these characters evolve throughout the story.

Social commentary.  There was so much about this that felt timely and politically charged.  (I was about to change my wording of “politically” but then I remembered about 4 different scenes that actually do seem political, so I’m leaving it.)  Some of it was horrifying, some of it was eye-opening, so of it was simply human nature.  All of it was relatable.  I thought it was fascinating, though admittedly there were a few that made me squirm or were just hard to watch because of how well it matches what’s on the news.

I really enjoyed this show.  I would have been able to post this a week ago except halfway through watching the show, someone put the DVD on hold and I had to return it for a time.  That was a long week, not being able to watch the final 3 episodes.

I was always into it.  And I was usually yelling at the TV too, like this:

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I don’t normally watch dramas, but this was so much better than anything I’ve seen in a long time and I can’t wait to see Season 2.  It’s getting crazy up in here.

Speak Easy, Speak Love

Image result for speak easy speak loveFirst Lines: Benedick Scott was on his way to freedom or profound failure or, if the usual order of things held up, both.

I heard about this a long time ago, but it’s kind of just been pushed to the back burner.  Every time I saw it, I kind of shied away from it for one simple reason: I actually hate the 1920s culture.  I hate the lawlessness, the disregard for Prohibition, the excess of the times.  (Looking at you, Gatsby.)  But…it’s a modernization of my favorite Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.  So it was inevitable that I would try it eventually.

After getting kicked out of her boarding school, Beatrice Clark is taken in by her uncle on Long Island.  But his home named Hey Nonny Nonny isn’t what it seems.  In the basement is a speakeasy run by Uncle Leo and his daughter, Hero–but the speakeasy is struggling and may not survive the summer.  Desperate to save it, Hero and Beatrice will do what it takes, but they’ll need some friends to help.  There’s Prince, the poor man trying to prove his worth; John, Prince’s dark brother who may be part of the local mob; Benedick, the handsome trust-fund dreamer who wants to be a writer; and Maggie, the talented speakeasy singer.  Despite the danger, love is in the air.  And more than one couple is going to find themselves in love before the summer ends.

Honestly, this was brilliant. We see the story from multiple perspectives, namely Beatrice, Benedick, and Maggie (who, in the original play, is a maid named Margaret but here is a singer at the speakeasy). This allows us to see about 3-4 completely different stories happening at once. Not only is it about their circuitous route to love, but Beatrice, Benedick, and Maggie all have their own goals in life. (This is the upside of making this a “modern” story–marriage is not the end-goal for any of them.)

The setting and everything to do with the ’20s felt realistic without smacking us in the face with it. I felt like I could picture the house, the coastlines, etc. They use some ’20s slang without going overboard with it, which was a nice touch. But it was mostly the references to the world around them at the time that was the best. Lindbergh, women’s right to vote, etc. It felt more realistic because it was more tied to the world, even if it was something mentioned casually, it’s exactly what we would do.

Oh, and the banter! Beatrice and Benedick sling mud at each other like it’s a sport and I was not disappointed by the banter in the least. There were times reading it where I was flinching away from a barb one of them threw. It was awesome. So clever, so biting.

I also want to add that Dogberry and Verges are included in this in the best possible way. The fact that their characters in this are based on real people makes it even better. Those two…holy Moses, they’re ridiculous. I loved it.

This was great. It started off a little slow, but it wasn’t long before I was pulled into the story. It’s cleverly written, makes wonderful updates to the original play, and was just a good entertaining read. I am so hoping she updates more Shakespearean plays because she has a knack for that.

(P.S. If you don’t know if you’ll like this, I totally recommend watching Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  It’s modern as well and also fantastic.  ‘K bye.)

The Leaving Season

Image result for the leaving seasonFirst Lines: Nate called it a shade box.  “A shade is a memory,” he once told me.  “What’s left of a person or place after they’re gone.”

This book has been on my radar for years, but it’s only been recently that I decided I finally needed to do something about it.  I always assumed, since it was supposed to be sad, that I needed to be in the right mindset for it.

Middie calls every August the Leaving Season–the season when high school graduates pack up and leave town for college.  But this year, it’s her boyfriend Nate leaving.  Nate, who’s so perfect she can barely believe it.  Nate, who’s strong and hopeful.  Nate, who promises to come back to her after taking a gap year in Central America.  But when tragedy strikes, Middie’s left trying to understand what happened.  And no one else understands what she’s going through–no one but Nate’s best friend Lee.  Middie and Lee have never gotten along.  Different personalities, different outlooks on life.  But with her life looking drastically different now than it did before, Lee might be the only one who can help her find stability once more.

This was really good.

I figured this was going to be a sad, grief story, but that’s only partly right. It’s also about how an ending can be a new beginning and how we can be lost even when everything else feels planned.  The sadness is truly only part of the story.  And while you feel Middie’s loss, this was not the kind of book that left me in a puddle of tears or anything.  So it’s sad, but not depressing.

Middie was a good lead for this because she was so interesting. Before everything hit the fan, she’s a hardworking student with her whole life planned out. She’s Nate’s Girlfriend to basically everything and they know exactly what life will be like for the next 5-10 years. They’ve planned out everything. And then, suddenly, she’s left trying to discover who she is now. And as she begins to change a little at a time, you see her starting to redefine herself. I liked that.

I really enjoyed the themes of this book. There are so many different ways to look at it and take meaning from it. It’s even surprisingly quite a feminist story, though it’s never super overt about that. That took me by surprise, but I liked it. (It comes out more in the themes than anything else and it’s never a focal point necessarily, but I saw a connection.)

The plot was good and I thought the timing was good too, which I don’t always say. The whole story takes place over something like six months as we see some Before and a lot of After. I think it really helped to have all that time because it felt more realistic. For anyone who’s suffered a shocking loss, you know you don’t recover from that overnight. It takes a lot of time, especially when that Loss is tied to who you thought you were. So yeah, we needed to see Middie dealing with the time aspect.

The only thing about it that I didn’t necessarily “like” (and I’m using that term loosely because I still enjoyed it, but I started nitpicking it) was some of the stuff near the end.  I’m definitely not going to spoil anything, but let’s just say some of things that happened felt much less realistic than what happened earlier in the book.

I really did enjoy this. This was emotional and entertaining. (I hesitate to say “fun” when we’re talking about loss, but I had a hard time putting the book down. And there were parts that were funny.)