because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Shecky the Meckyl and His Technicolor Groove: My Seussian Self-Help Book

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A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, Ohio
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When my son was in 5th grade, he went through a rough patch socially. We had moved to a new house – which meant a new school for him, and there was one douche-bag boy in particular who made his daily life difficult.

In an effort to try to deal with what my son was feeling, I created a little picture book with weird little drawings of a funky little creature named Shecky the Meckyl — who just so happened to be getting teased by some other “Meckyls.”

My son let me read it to him.

Once.

When I finished, I asked him what he thought about my book. He exhaled with the kind of exhaustion that seemed too dramatic for a 5th grader.

“I get it, Mom. I’m Shecky. And some day some people will appreciate me for who I am. I just have to wait it out.”

In hindsight, my son’s annoyed tone wasn’t inappropriate. I was trying to simplify a complex problem. I was telling him “Be Yourself!” when he knew all too well the person that he was — his core self — was being rejected daily. He felt attacked, defenseless, and friendless.

Over the weekend, we found the old manuscript in a bin.

He didn’t remember it, so we read it again.

I thought I would share it. It may not have worked in the moment, but it reminds me that the woes of youth are, in his case, quickly forgotten. And perhaps my little story might offer something else to someone who is going through a rough patch.

• • •

Shecky the Meckyl & His Technicolor Groove

Shecky the Meckyl had a technicolor groove

He’d leave colors in his wake whenever he’d move.

Sweet Shecky had colors where shadows should be

He made rainbows on sidewalks for Meckyls to see.

Shecky loved colors, as most people do,

But Meckyls turned up their noses and said, “PICKLE-POO!”

Which was not a nice thing for a Meckyl to say.

It made Shecky sad, and his colors turned gray.

Said one nasty Meckyl on one nasty day:

“We don’t like your colors; we don’t like your hues

We step in your shades, and get stains on our shoes!”

“You are too bright!” said this nasty fellow,

“Your pink is too pink, your yellow, too yellow!”

“Why don’t you keep all those shades deep inside?

Lock them up tight,”

And so . . . Shecky tried . . .

He held in the purple

He held in the green

He held in the fuschia

And aquamarine.

But once in a while some blue would appear

And the Meckyls would laugh as they though he was queer.

Shecky was puzzled as Meckyls could be

He missed the bright hues which had filled him with glee.

Shecky sat himself down on a cold piece of birch.

And his smile flew away alone in that prickle-perch.

He was sitting deserted on his bum in the street

When who do you think Shecky happened to meet . . .

But his friend Schmeckyl Meckyl who was out for a walk

And when he saw Shecky he stopped for a talk.

“Where are your colors, Shecky? Where did they go?

Can’t they come back, Shecky? Please make it so!”

Shecky answered sadly, a tear in his eye,

“Other Meckyls don’t like them, so why even try?”

“Don’t let those Jabber-Flabbers rain on your parade.

I like you, Shecky and all the colors you’ve made.”

“Please make a rainbow, you know what to do.

Those Meckyls are just cranky. Don’t let them change you!”

So Shecky straightened the glockins which grew from his bum,

He squeezed and he pushed and hoped they would come.

And it started to happen, as things frequently do,

Shecky smiled a smile, and his colors shone through!

With colors flip-flapping, once more Shecky was high,

Ready for anything under the sky.

Some Meckyls still look at Shecky with shlock in their eye,

But now Shecky is thankful he is a colorful guy.

My son doesn’t like to discuss 5th grade, and he rolls his eyes at me when I mention it. Meanwhile, I remain on amber alert.

Just because he is able to “straighten his glockins” and refuses to allow the “Mean Meckyls” of the world to be his undoing, I’m not so sure the same can be said of his mother.

What would you do if you found out your kid was a “Mean Meckyl”? When do you let kids fight their own battles? And when, if ever, do you move to intervene? And would you ever have your child call to apologize to another?

I'm Going To Do a Book

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Enter my free reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE

I have been writing a manuscript for almost 8 years.

When I write that sentence, it is only slightly less embarrassing than when I say it out loud.

Some writers pop out books every other year.

Not me.

I used to joke that I felt like I was giving birth to twin elephants; the gestation period for one pachyderm is 2.5 years so I allowed  time to double it; after all, when I started writing my book my son was five years old. He was active, building LEGO creations and dancing and leaving goldfish crackers all over the house. He went to school under 3 hours a day. The nap had evaporated. I had my hands full.

But here it is — seven years later — and I am wondering what is wrong with me? Why won’t this baby come out?

Kristen Lamb (author of We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) once suggested it is possible for some writers to get stuck “rearranging the chairs on the Titanic,” and I wondered if she was talking about me.

Was I that crazy woman adjusting the furniture when the ship was going down? I could hardly bear the thought of my baby sinking.

Rather than despair, I decided to remind myself that I am surrounded by greatness, and I figured I’d plug some people who I know in real life who have written and published some good stuff.

1. Michael Wexler: The Seems • Young Adult

2. Pam Sherman: The Suburban Outlaw • Non-Fiction Essays

3. Cynthia Kolko: Fruit of the Vine • Fiction

4. Betsy Petersen: Dancing with Daddy: A Childhood Lost & a Life Regained • Memoir

5. Chet Day: The Hacker • Thriller

6. Steven Mazie: Israel’s Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State • Political Science

7. Jeffrey Hirschberg: Reflections of the Shadow: Creating Memorable Heroes and Villains for Film and TV • Film Theory

8. Victoria Wasserman: Damage Control • Fiction

9. Rebecca Etlinger: To Be Me: Understanding What It’s Like To Have Asperger’s Syndrome • Picture Book

10. Janet Goodfriend: For the Love of Art • Fiction

11. Wendy Vigdor-Hess: Sweetness Without Sugar • Cookbook

*SOON TO BE RELEASED!*

12. Rebecca Land Soodak: Henny On the Couch • Fiction • 

And if that isn’t enough, I also have some cyber-budddies who have recently landed agents after attending writing conferences, so I keep writing and telling myself my time will come.

So now I’m looking into getting my ass to a writing conference.

Stat.

All these people keep me inspired, as I try to remain optimistic that a book I have authored will — one day — make it on a shelf where I can see my name, written sideways on the spine, sandwiched between other legit authors.

That is if there are still bookstores with bookshelves by the time I’m done with this book that is sucking a piece of my soul.

Once I asked an author friend of mine about what I could do to help move my baby towards the birth canal.

She suggested that I stop whining and just push the kid out and see how he fares in the world.

I said he wasn’t ready yet, that he still needed time in the oven.

But she is right.

So I am dilating.

Seriously.

Right now I’m about 2 centimeters, and I need to move things along.

It is time to get this alien-monster out of my belly and into someone else’s laptop.

Okay, that was a metaphor fail.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m working hard on revising.

And when all is said and done, if my baby is dull or no one thinks my sweet thang is sparkly or bedazzled enough, well, I can bundle him up and tuck him in a folder called Manny Manuscript, age 8.

I can wax nostalgic about how much fun I had creating characters and setting and symbolism and sub-plots. I can laugh about how Manny kept me up at night and wouldn’t let me to sleep until I’d written down what he wanted me to say. I can talk about how much paper he ate, that crazy Manny.

But honestly, if Manny is never going to be a real-book, well… Manny has a sibling who has been patiently waiting to be born.

And maybe it’s her time now.

What keeps you inspired when you don’t feel like you are moving forward? More importantly, what is your favorite part of that video clip? And why do I want to throw the cheese?

The Giver: Thirteen Years Later

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The Giver
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It’s happening.

My son is reading a piece of literature that I used to teach.

He is reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the story of a young boy named Jonas living in a highly controlled community some time in the future. The novel fits into a larger genre of cautionary tales called “dystopian literature.” If a utopia is a society in which everything is perfect, a dystopia is the opposite: everything has gone wrong. The novel explores Jonas’s encounter with memories of “the past,” a time when people still had the freedom of choice.

When I first taught The Giver, the book had just come out, and it was controversial. In fact, it was banned in many schools for its disturbing content and ambiguous ending, but I taught The Giver to 9th graders in an independent school, so I had a lot of freedom. The Giver explores an age-old debate: Should government let people have freedom or seek to “protect them”? Should we value individuality or the greater good? Are emotional highs and lows better than the steady middle ground?

Fast forward. My son is now in 6th grade. Oh, he can handle the language and the concepts just fine. He is a voracious reader, and he seems to understand the book thus far. I have struggled over the last weeks because, really, I want him to discover the book himself. I want him to be stunned when he learns that the main character’s father has lied to him, that it is his father’s job to kill babies. To nurture them, yes, but also to decide which one’s live and which one’s die. Jonas watches his father administer a lethal injection to an otherwise healthy infant twin because the community has decided there can be no twins. And he learns that his father will have to “release” a baby that has been living with the family because he simply cannot sleep through the night without crying.

So I will be waiting for his response.

Because right now, he thinks The Community is a pretty good place to live.

No one has to worry about money, he insists. The climate is controlled. The birth-rate is controlled. Jobs are determined by Committee Members based on careful scrutiny of children and their personality traits. Kids who like to build become engineers and kids who like to play with children become Nurturers. There are Laborers and Birth Mothers. All kinds of jobs. My Monkey likes this kind of order. It seems logical, and it appeals to him.

“Sameness eliminated fighting and wars,” Monkey said matter-of-factly. “There is no more racism.”

“True, but people can’t see or appreciate colors. Everything is kind of beige, so they can’t appreciate hot pink flowers or the blue of an ocean,” I said. “And they don’t know snow or sunshine because of climate control,” I suggest.

He shrugged his shoulders at this. He isn’t far into the book yet to know what is coming.

While he was out today, I re-read The Giver from beginning to end. And I am struck by how Orwellian Lowry’s vision is. And I am amazed by all the ways the government has slowly intruded into our lives since 1993. Post September 11, 2001, video cameras are everywhere. Everywhere we go, we are being filmed. If we purchase something, our credit card transactions are tracked in a way they weren’t before. When we go to the airport, we are made to practically strip down – and we agree to do so, in the name of the greater good; we take off our belts and shoes and put our liquid products into baggies to be searched. We have caller identification so we no longer have to answer the phone. And every prank phone call can be traced back to the place of origin. The government is more involved in public education than ever, practically dictating to teachers the curriculum that needs to be taught. Textbooks, which have been approved and distributed throughout our country to our children, are filled with hundreds of factual and grammatical errors and people do not seem to be outraged. The latest version of Huckleberry Finn has had the “n” word removed. (Sure, you can still get the alternate version, but tens of thousands of students will never even know that another version exists because it is easier to edit the language of difference.) Journalism has become entertainment, and few people read primary sources. Most people just pop onto Blackberries and iPhones and read commentary (read: secondary sources or the ideas from “specialists” telling us what to think) about everything from the food we eat to the latest shooting. I see people forgetting how to think critically. I know people who do not know much about our Constitution. They could Google United States Constitution and read about it, but most folks would rather read Status Updates on Facebook or download the latest App designed to make us forget that our country is engaged in a war.

“There is no war in Jonas’s world,” Monkey said, his chin angled up defensively.

“True,” I said, thinking to myself but there is no love either.

And I wonder how many civil liberties my child might be willing to give up if the Government told him it was for the greater good.

Interview with Janet Goodfriend • Author

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When my old summer camp friend, Janet Goodfriend, decided to self-publish her own book, For the Love of Art, my ears pricked up, and I took notice. There are differing opinions about self-publishing. Some folks feel that it is the kiss of death for an author but  others swear that if sales are brisk and reviews are good, it can springboard an aspiring author’s career. Here is a little bit about Janet’s new book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, etc.

Born in Rochester, New York where I spent most of my early childhood along with fading memories of Fort Devens Massachusetts, our family eventually settled in Ithaca, New York — the setting for my first novel, Straight Up. After earning a B.A. in English with a teacher’s certification from Fredonia’s State University of New York, I made my way to the Boston area and picked up a Masters in Literacy and Language Arts from Framingham State as I began my teaching career. The last several years have been devoted to raising a family and pursuing the dream of becoming a novelist. Though successful on those fronts thus far, selling a book in an extremely down market is an entirely different story. My hope is to be just success enough to allow me to continue to do this crazy thing called writing.

How did you develop an interest in writing? Did you go to school for writing?
My debut novel, For the Love of Art, is dedicated to my grandmother (a school librarian) who first passed down her profound fondness for literature and education. With a mother who kept me immersed in books and a father who nurtured my interest in poetry, it is no wonder that writing became a favored activity. After being editor of my high school literary magazine, I went on to pursue writing for my college newspaper. There, I was reprimanded before the entire newspaper staff because my journalistic style of reporting was considered “overly creative.” Though I concurred, the dreaded task of  reporting “just the facts” sent me packing. I have written poetry and prose over the years and, now with three novel length manuscripts, I find myself pining after a fourth. If only the business of publishing were not so all-consuming. For now, I will just have to be content for now to let that next book percolate among my thoughts a while longer.

Author, Janet Goodfriend

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?
I am so not good with favorites. Always reading something, I often find myself having “I’m-not-worthy” moments as I amble my way in awe over the pages of another author’s cunningly lucid descriptions. Though I do have a penchant for contemporary fiction, I read all kinds of things. This year my favorite novels are The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Shelter Me by Juliette Fay, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, and The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. If I had to pick favorite books that truly stand the test of time, my mind would dance over everything from The Lorax to Catcher in the Rye, to anything penned by Shakespeare, to The Diary of Ann Frank before comfortably landing on To Kill a Mockingbird.

What is For the Love of Art about?

A novel of hope, this literary mystery is about three mothers (one a writer/teacher) vacationing sans children, on Martha’s Vineyard, who become embroiled in an art heist. Their escape ironically turns into a pointed quest giving the reader an intimate look at some of the locals. The cast includes love’s lost painter, a visceral and passionate sculptor, a besieged poet, an introspective detective, an art teacher, a salacious reporter and a homeless man. It is my hope that people will not only be entertained but better value what seems most basic in life, recognize their part in tending our earth, raising its children and ultimately feel compelled to preserve art that moves us and validates our worth.

Where can people buy your book?
Currently my book is for sale on www.janetgoodfriend.com via Amazon. However, the publishing company will donate $5.00 per book to your school if purchased directly through Painted Wood Press, P.O. Box 1006, Upton MA 01568. Just send a $20.00 check to Painted Wood Press along with the shipping address. Price includes tax, shipping and a $5.00 donation to the education fund or school district in your town toward its Arts fund. In a book club? Consider Skyping me into one of your meetings! Contact Janet at: janetgoodfriend.com for more information.

What words of advice or wisdom do you have for aspiring authors?
With so much negativity about the economy and dooming words about how print is dying, it is nearly impossible not to absorb such stifling chatter. In spite of the stone cold anonymous face of the publishing industry, if writing is in you, you must do it because you love to write and have something to tell. Only after you have completed your masterpiece, should you agonize over how to go about piercing a market clad with impenetrable locks and barriers. Upon your final rejection  — and you’ll know it’s the last one because you will have stopped keeping track of the rejections, and feel as though your manuscript might actually combust inside your computer from the continuous fingertip friction upon the keyboard or, worse, you will be ever aware of your inner-quakings due to the punishing silence from publishers and agents who simply cannot respond personally to the 300 plus queries they receive on a weekly basis.) That said, you can polish your work as well as a professional editor and publish it yourself. We’ll see how it goes. Ask me again next year.

What are your plans for the future?
For the Love of Art is my debut into the bursting at the seams world of print. With any luck and sustained support for this title, I plan to bring Straight Up to the press in 2012 and follow it up with Surrender Flash.

Be sure to check out Janet’s website as she adds more books to her repertoire!