A conversation between brain, hands, and heart.

“Dudes, what’s going on down there?”

“What do you mean, Brain?”

“There’s no writing going on.”

“Well, you see, the words go through us, but they come from you.  So answer your own damned question.  We’re busy steering a starship, here.”

“But Tajen and his crew have arrived in the Sol system!  They’re about to discover the remnants of the Earth defense forces in the asteroid belt!”

“That sounds good.”

“And then the zhen will jump in-system, and there will be a long game of cat-and-mouse in the outer system and the belt!  And then the zhen will nearly kill the Antares and her crew!  And they’ll crash and discover the horrible secret the Empire’s been keeping for hundreds of years!”

“That all sounds great!  We’ve finished this mission; let’s fire up Scrivener and go!”

“… I can’t.”

“… Why not?”

“Well, you see, I taught all day.  Freshmen.  And they totally sapped my energy. I got ‘nuthin.”

“Oh. Ok.  Well, there’s some Maas shipping out by the Touchdown L-Point, so we’ll go relieve them of their goods, then.”

“But we need to write!”

“And this is our problem how?”

“Well, you’re the hands.  I already came up with the story, just write the scenes!”

“We can’t, dude.”

“Why not?”

The words come from you!  Not just the ideas, man.  The words!  We’re just machines; you’re the goddamned brain!”

“But I’m tapped!  I literally have nothing left to spend on storycraft.” 

“Uh.. excuse me, guys?”

“Yes, heart?”

“I got this.” 

“But your job is just to push blood through the system.  And aren’t you tired from that recent arrythmia episode?”

“Brain. Seriously.  That was weeks ago.  I’m better now.  And hands?  You know, Brain does a lot, but he doesn’t do it alone.  We work best when the words go from me, to him, to you, right?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

“Good then.  Hands, get ready.  Brain, get your whining over with and get in gear.  We’ve got words to write.  The books won’t write themselves, and we won’t be signing any unless we start publishing them first.  And we won’t be publishing any if we don’t write the goddamned things. And seriously, do you want this story still stuck inside your head for the next five years?”

“No, not really.” 

“Right.  So get your ass in gear!  Not you, Butt.  You stay in that chair.  Now, let’s WRITE!”

(A thousand-or-so words later)

“That was a good night.” 

“Indeed.  Goodnight, hands.”

“Good night, brain!”

“Good night, heart.”

“G’nite, guys.  See you tomorrow.”

A Painful Day

Today my mother would have been 63. I have never liked this day. I should be calling her and celebrating her. Instead I am remembering that she has been gone almost my entire life.  I don’t mean to dwell on that, but it’s hard not to.

My mother died when I was four years old and my only blood-related sister was 10 months old.  My sister has no memory of our mother at all; and that’s both a blessing and a curse for her.  Me, I remember my mom.  It gets harder, as I get older, to recall her face perfectly, or to remember her voice, but I remember just enough.

She wasn’t perfect.  Had she lived, there is no guarantee my life would have been much better, and in many ways it could have been worse.  But what does that matter, to a man who has felt the loss of his mother for his entire life?

It’s easy, at times, to forget that I was not the only person affected by her death.  But my mother was the favored daughter of her father, and he was haunted by her death, only speaking with me about it in the last few years of his own life, finally telling me stories of my mom I’d been asking him for for years–not the funny stories he told me as a child, but the other stories, the stories of mistakes she made, the funny-but-not-funny stories where she messed up.  And he told me of the day he found out she was dead, and how he had felt that day.

And my aunt, her sister, lost her sister and gained responsibility for her children.  She did what she considered the best for us at the time, and I have seen her regret that things for me did not work out so well.  My adopted family was not a good thing–it started well, but went downhill as my adopted mother’s illness progressed–and the mistreatment I went through at her hands made my aunt feel guilty for years.  And now, as she acts as my daughter’s grandmother, I know there must be times when she would love to talk to her sister about me, or my daughter, or other things going on in her life–and she can’t.  That has to hurt, in a way I don’t know, because I never had a close sibling.

My sister may not remember our mom, but she, too, lost a mother, and while her adopted family has been largely positive, I know she must sometimes wonder what might have been, had we been raised together.

And, of course, my daughter, who asks questions about my mom, who understands that she should have had a grandmother that she’ll never meet.  I look at her, and I realize by the time I was her age, I had lost both my beloved grandmother and my mother.  This is, of course, why I take no more chances with my health, why I’m working my way back to fitness, and why I seek a new path of less stress.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying “I miss my mom.  But I am not alone.” So tonight I will raise a glass to her, and to the memories I have.  And then I’ll move on in my life.

Nebula Awards Weekend

I’m planning to attend the Nebula Weekend (though probably not the awards banquet itself; haven’t decided, yet).  I figure, I may still be only an aspiring author, but it’s an opportunity to learn more, and that can’t be a bad thing, right?  And I just realized Ann Leckie will be there, so yes, I’m going, if only to get to meet her and maybe pick her brain a tiny bit.  

Anyway, if any VP alumni, from any class, will be in attendance, I’d love to meet up at some point.  Perhaps we can do a VP dinner, or breakfast, or what-have-you.  

Still here, plugging away.

The cool thing is, I have passed 30% done on the first draft.  Mind you, I’ve got 70% to go, but still… considering that I basically started over after I got back from Viable Paradise in mid-October, I’d say I’m doing pretty good.  Some days I struggle to get a couple of hundred words out, other days I shine and get 1000 or more through the fingers.

Day job is taking much of my energy, but it’s getting a little better.  Many of my worst problem students are removing themselves from the classroom via getting expelled for their behavior, or transferring to other schools.  Upon being gently prompted to leave a personal conversation and return to his desk on the other side of the room and do his work, a student told me “I ain’t fixin to do my work no more.  I’m not going to this school no more starting next week.”

I didn’t waste time pointing out that he’s still here for the rest of this week, because frankly he’s done so little that even if he were an A student for that time, he’d get an F-.  And this is with not one, but TWO teachers (in this classroom, with a few others in his other classes) trying to motivate him since September.  What can you do?

I am quickly coming to the attitude, frowned upon by some colleagues, that I’m there to teach all students, but if they’re not going to meet me halfway, that’s their problem.

This weekend I’m taking time off writing, as I’m going to Reno for my wife’s birthday trip.  With luck I’ll win some, but I’ll be happy to break even or just not lose much (all disposable income only, with limits).  See you all on the other side.

State of the Michael: In which I learn so much about my students, it hurts.

Work

Had a really rough week with my students, culminating in a blowup in 4th period on Wednesday.  If I was a single guy, I think I might have walked away from my career, I was so angry.  I calmed down, and I know that I lost it a little bit, but not without some reason.  I am teaching a group of kids who seem to think school is useless, who refuse to even try easy assignments like “write a paragraph about your favorite activity,” and who regard being asked to return to their assigned seat as if they’ve been ordered into the showers at Auschwitz.

The next day, I decided to try something.  I had them all write down their biggest complaint about the class, anonymously, and then wad the paper up and throw it in a box.  Then I took each paper, read it out loud, and set it aside.  Like a Milton critique, I didn’t comment on any of them.  Most of the papers actually complained about the students who disrupt class constantly, but a few called out behaviors I do that they don’t like.  Some of them were silly things that aren’t going to change, but a few were things I didn’t realize I did, or misreadings of things I do where I’m joking but they don’t realize that.  So I’ll be modifying my own behavior based on those, in return for them trying to modify their own behavior according to the rules of the classroom.

Then I had them write down “anything at all that you want to get off your chest, but haven’t been able to say openly.”  Again, it was anonymous, and this time some of them broke my heart.  Some wrote about parental problems–either they’re under too much pressure from parents who regard anything that isn’t school-related as unimportant and unworthy of discussion, or their parents are unrealistic about their academic prospects (getting furious that their child didn’t get an A when the kid worked his butt off for a C+ or B- and should be proud of their hard work).  Those were hard enough.  But some wrote about the death of family members in senseless violent acts.  Some wrote about how they wish their parents would stop fighting.  A couple talked about being gay or bi, and how afraid they were to come out.  One said she lies awake at night, wondering if God will reject her because she’s attracted to other women.  Another thinks her mother is literally going insane, and worries for her father’s safety.   One said she would kill herself if she didn’t have five younger siblings who depend on her, since her parents are disengaged from their kids (Yes, I urged this child to either talk to me, or to several on-campus support possibilities, and also put the Suicide Hotline number on the board and made every single student write it down even if they didn’t think they need it, so the one who does could remain anonymous.  I’m also working with our school psych specialist to see what can be done).

All in all, it was pretty eye-opening, and my heart goes out to them.  In the process of talking about these things, I gave them some of the less-icky details of my life, and some of them were completely surprised that I knew some of what they’re going through from the inside.  One kid came up after class and shook my hand, telling me he’d been wrong about me.  Another spoke about his anger issues, and told the class where they came from–he’s had a lot of trauma in his life.

It didn’t make everything all better–but it certainly began the process.  We’ll see where it goes and how far.

Writing and Mental Health

This has gone horribly this week.  I’ve done, all week, about 400 words.  This is disheartening.  I’ve been hearing that idiot voice in the back of my head that almost kept me from sending my VP application.

I’m on a scene that is just. Not. Working.  So I’m skipping ahead, and I’ll come back to that scene when I can figure it out.  I know the shape of it, so I can go on, and fill in details later or just cut the scene if I decide I don’t need it.

Physical Health

I’m adjusting to my medications.  They don’t make me exhausted anymore.  But life has made it hellishly difficult to get to the gym for the last two weeks, so I haven’t done any working out.  And I don’t like it.  It’s not like I work that hard, and I have to take it easy another couple of weeks until I see the cardiologist and he clears me for cardio again, but good grief.  So I take walks at lunch when the weather permits.

The diet… well, it is ongoing, and I’m still losing, though not as quickly as the first 50 pounds.  I need my activity back.