Monday, July 27, 2015

The Bully

The teacher was over six feet tall.  He walked around with a scowl on his face and was always angry with everyone. One year he was assigned a classroom down the hall from me.  By then I knew him well.  Suffice it to say I was not one of his favorite ethnic groups.  It didn’t bother me, but that dislike included the majority of the students that made up our middle school.
His hate targeted the young men who looked and acted like street gangsters.  Most of those kids were just that – kids.  Some did have more street smarts than they had school smarts, but their attitude almost always was a front to cover their inability to do the class work and the homework.
He picked on those boys in the privacy of his classroom, but when they fought back and sassed him, it spilled out into the hallway.  The teacher would yell close to their faces, goading them to hit him. Once they took a jab at him the teacher then had a “legal right to defend himself.” His anger toward these boys was so intense he relished getting them into trouble. Most of the boys would walk (or run) away and turn themselves into the principal’s office; a few would throw a jab and the man (twice, sometimes three times their size) would then hit them in return.  The boy would get expelled for assaulting a teacher when the administration, the faculty, and the students knew that the teacher was to blame.
I have never understood why people go into professions or jobs where they hate the client or the customer.  I have known doctors who do not like their patients.  I have witnessed many a salesclerk with an attitude.  This man hated kids, so why was he “teaching?”  
Though we closed our doors during class time, we could hear the teacher berating someone every day out in the hallway. 
It got really bad one day.  The man was out of hand.  He was yelling obscenities and racial slurs at a young man.  No one could teach over the fracas, and I knew what was going to happen next, so I walked toward the classroom door and started outside.
My students, all Latinos themselves, begged me not to go outside.  “Don’t go, Miss.  Don’t go.  He’ll hurt you too.”
I smiled at them and told them that if he did, they were to go get the nurse. Pronto.
I stepped out into the hall and in my best teacher voice, I yelled, “Mr. X, do you need help?  Should I send for the principal?” 
He snarled something sotto voce at me but I repeated my offer again.  Other doors opened and other teachers came out.  With so many witnesses, the bully backed off the skinny young teen. 
I turned to my classroom and yelled for one boy to go chop-chop and get the principal.  I clapped my hands at him to go fast.  One of my own lovable thugs took off in a sprint.  I yelled down the hallway to Mr. X that help was on the way.
Within minutes, the student and a vice-principal returned; both were running. The boy was escorted to the office, and the mean old bully snarled at me and went back into his classroom.
From then on, I made it a habit to step outside every time the teacher yelled at a student. He hated me more than ever but I didn’t care.  I thanked the teachers who had come to my rescue and knowing it would happen again, asked them to continue backing me. The man was twice my size, and did I mention, he hated me? When I asked the principal and vice-principal why they allowed that man to bully his students like that, they gave me some spineless answer.

In the years that followed, while I still worked on that campus, we never taught in the same hallway again. I was told “he calmed down a little.” I have no idea why, but maybe he knew that too many of us were on to him.  He might bully the kids and the administration, but some of us (like the kids who took a jab at him) weren’t afraid to try and stand up to him.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Day I Ran Away

I was eleven and tired of being the middle child, the one who had to help my older brother with his chores after doing my own, the one who had to look after my younger sister and make sure she didn’t cry.
I decided to run away that summer because I felt no one ever noticed me unless someone needed to be blamed for something.  If I ran away, I doubted anyone would even notice.
I stayed awake for several nights in a row to listen for Dad’s snores and my mother’s and grandmother’s deep breathing. It signaled they were fast asleep.
During the day, I counted the steps between my bed and the front door, and I practiced opening the lock with a minimum of noise.  Since I would be running at night and the house would be dark, I tried doing it with my eyes closed.  My grandmother scolded me for my pantomime, and my mom yelled at me to go outside and see about my sister.  
I made a hobo pack out of an old scarf and hid it under my pillow every night when I went to bed. Inside was a full set of clothes, a flashlight, and a box of matches I stole from my grandmother’s smoking supplies.  I tied up my life savings ($1.83) inside a handkerchief, and I took a map of Texas from the junk drawer in the kitchen. I had no idea where I was headed, but any place was better than here.  
The night of my great escape, I took my bath and went to bed early.  When my grandmother asked, I told her I was tired.  Instead of pajamas, I wore a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and covered myself up to my chin with the bed sheet.  I told my grandmother I was afraid of the mosquitoes.  My tennis waited under the bed and my hobo pack was under my pillow. 
All I had to do was wait for the cover of night.
Several hours later, I started out of bed when I heard my father snore, but my mother scolded him and their bed jiggled, and the house was silent again. I counted to one hundred, then quietly grabbed my things.  I tiptoed into the hallway and on the tenth step, the floor squeaked.
“Who’s there?”  My mother asked from her bedroom, her voice groggy from sleep. 
I didn’t answer, so she asked again, but this time louder and more demanding.
“Me.”  I whispered.
“What are you doing?”  Her voice sounded more assured now that she knew it was me and not a burglar.  If she got up, how would I explain the clothes and the hobo pack?
“I was going to the bathroom.”  I answered.
“Well, go then,” she scolded, “and then get back into bed.”
 I could hear snuffles and movement coming from the bedrooms. Others were waking because of our noise.  Shoulders sagging, I marched into the bathroom and forced myself to pee, then I trudged back into my bedroom and into bed.
I thought about trying again at a later time, but the idea of it all had lost its drama.  If Mom caught me a second time, she would have tortured the truth out of me then topped it off with a spanking.   If I was really serious about running away, I could have just walked out the front door, right under their noses. 
But I stayed.  I stayed because in those few minutes as I tiptoed my way in the dark down the hall, I realized that if I succeeded, I would prove myself right – no one cared that I existed.  I had been planning this in front of all my family for weeks and no one cared to ask what I was doing.  
That night, I prayed someone would stop me, yell at me for trying such a thing, spank me for even thinking it.

Thank goodness, my mother came through.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Critiquing As a Gladiator Sport

          While compiling information about how to ensure a good critique, I ran across an interesting analogy.  Critiquing should not be a match between gladiators.  One person should not end up as the winner, instead both parties should benefit from the experience.
Writers, like ancient gladiators, go through years of strenuous training and harsh criticism.  They parade their “wares” before numerous critique partners, literary agents, and editors, and all for a brief moment of recognition and very little monetary gain.
Critiquing another person’s paper should never reach gladiator level.  It should be a helpful and valuable experience, so here are five steps to consider:
1.    Both parties prepare for the work ahead.
The author chooses one target area he/she wants edited:
·       Structural/content suggestions: What was said? How well was it said? Does it make sense? Is it clear? Was something omitted or overlooked?  This includes anything concerning the plot, pacing, character development, continuity, dialogue, conflict, etc.
·       Line/sentence suggestions: This focuses on prose, word usage, clarity of expression, sentence construction, format, aesthetics on the page, etc.
·       Copy/proofreading suggestions: These are the basics, like grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax.

2.    Step into the arena and execute the directive.
Read the manuscript twice:  once as a reader; once as a writer (but stick to the writer’s target area). Make notes, either marking on the manuscript or on sticky notes to help pinpoint suggestions.

3.    Applaud work well done.
If there is little change to suggest, provide examples of what worked well and why. Share these with the author and with others so that everyone can learn from good examples. Telling an accomplished author that their story “reads well” is not helpful, especially as they struggle with the next installment of their manuscript. Everyone needs direction and encouragement.

4.    Show some humanity.
If the emperor was not present to decide the fate of a fallen gladiator, the decision went to the second in command of the games.  Ironically, this person was called the editor.  (Really, no lie.)
If the manuscript needs work/revision/edits, learn how to present the critique and suggestions so that they are not viewed as criticisms. Be aware of the emotional impact words have on the author.
Be sincere but use a careful tone.  Never be condescending, reproachful, or derogatory.  Brutality, bullying, and cruelty should never be masked as honesty.  Remember that negative comments are hard blows and do not encourage writing or good will.  Writers are more open to a critique than they are to a criticism.

5.    All parties learn from the practice of critiquing.  
A good critique puts the onus of improving the manuscript on the writer.  It encourages the writer to learn more about the craft and employ those skills into the writing.  Giving a good critique also forces the “editor” into analyzing the manuscript, learning what works and what doesn’t, but then stepping back and allowing the author to take ownership of their work.

Always state your critique/analysis/suggestions in second or third person, never in first person.
Ask “what if” and open the discussion to suggestions the writer could probably use. It will be the author’s decision to choose which (if any) option he/she wants.
Focus on the manuscript (and not on personal preferences) and lead discussions that offer several solutions the author might consider when (and if) he revises the manuscript.

Practice examples:
Instead of “I got bored on page two so I stopped reading,” say something like, “The story seemed to wander on page two and the pacing seemed off.” Point to the sentence or the paragraph and have everyone in the group study and suggest possible solutions.

Instead of “If I was you, I would rewrite the whole second page,” suggest,” What if you introduce some dialogue on page two and have the two characters act out the scene?”  
Or “What if you wrote this in third person instead of in first?”  
Or “What if your character says yes instead of no?”

Try these out and let the games begin.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Rise and Shine Deadline Club!

Your reunion is next week and you never dropped the forty pounds you gained since high school graduation.
The book report on War and Peace is due Monday and you never read past Chapter One.
You were one of the several million sweating bullets at midnight on April 14 while you downloaded IRS forms.
Welcome to the Rise and Shine Deadline Club! 
We pray for mercy and hope no one notices the weight we gained, the book we didn’t read, or the headaches we gave ourselves because of our procrastination. 
Given another chance, we vow to never do this to ourselves again
If you are truly serious this time, here is a guideline.
1.      Define what the goal (diet, deadline, demand) means to you. 
Is it as important as the demands everyone else makes of you and your time? Is it important enough to affect change in your habits?  It is not going to happen magically.  It is going to take work, lots of work, so are you willing to scuttle your ships and get up off your duff, and do something about it?

2.     Realign your work schedule. 
Make time and portion out your day so you can make time for your family and obligations, church and work hours, AND YOUR OWN PERSONAL GOALS. 
We each have our own circadian rhythm, so when are you the most productive or most able to work on your goal?  Scheduling time to work on your goal is imperative.

3.     Design your work area. 
Preplan for optimal success.  If you are easily distracted by your surroundings – tempting foods not on your diet are readily accessible, your work or study area is too distracting, then move things, get rid of things, and find ways to help you focus.

4.     Redline your output. 
Figure out how to get the most out of yourself.  Notice it says “the most” not “more” out of yourself. Give yourself a daily goal, a weekly goal, even a monthly goal.  Make it the most you can expect of yourself on an optimal level.  Make it measurable - so many minutes per day to work out, so many portions of food per meal, so many words read or written per day, so much done by a certain date, etc.  
Remember also to allow for setbacks.  Give yourself a week or a month cushion time before a deadline.  It not only allows for setbacks but for “real life living,” times when you cannot fit in a workout or a diet plan or a day to do paperwork.

I use an egg timer to keep myself on task in the little pockets of time throughout the day I can work on my writing.  If I have to read and review a book by a certain date, I divide the number of pages in the novel by the number of working days minus one week, so I can finish the book ahead of time.  
If you work on using time to your benefit, you will have lost that weight, read that book, kept up with your finances. 

Before you know it, you will outshine your deadline!