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One of the greatest blessings to have happened to me this year has been the discovery of my writing partner, El Farris, of Running from Hell with El.
In January, El and I concocted our plans to write our novels together and provide each other with weekly pages and honest feedback, and it is amazing how just a few months later we have crossed over from blogging friends to real life friends.
We talk to each other almost daily, and our conversations do not have a start or stop. They simply continue. El is a pantser, and I’m a plotter. El writes fast and furious and says things like: “I’ll go back and fix that in the next draft,” where I can’t move forward until I feel I’ve connected all the dots. We work well together. If we were on the color wheel, we would surely be the other’s complement.
There is much to admire about El, and I’m so happy to have her here during my blogoversary month. Folks can find El on Facebook — there’s a reason she has over 6,000 fans — and you can follow her on Twitter at @runningfromhell.
• • •
Running on Empty
I’ve learned a lot of important driving lessons over the years. Some of them might seem pretty obvious, but I have a history of learning the hard way. For example, I realized I made a poor decision driving my Subaru for the first time (before I received my driver’s permit) when I drove the car into the front yard. A few months later, I found out how important it is to yank up the parking brake when coming to a stop at the top of a steep hill when the same black Subaru slammed into Dad’s beloved cherry tree. And finally, I learned to ignore the man-child thwacking the rear window with a cherry Twizzler only after the out-of-town police car flashed his lights and handed me my hundredth speeding ticket. That was the last ticket I received. I think.
As slow as I have been on the uptake while behind the wheel of a vehicle, I am even slower at learning how to navigate the churning waters of social media. I have spent a lot of time developing my online persona via Facebook and Twitter; Once my book is published, I hope that social media will help me to sell my book. For the moment, however, social media wraps a web around me that sometimes makes it hard for me to breathe.
How is this so? We’re talking about a virtual world right? Well, yes, and no. For each comment or request that someone makes to or about me on Facebook, Twitter or on my blog, a real human being stands behind and is represented by the words he or she types. And I care about each human being. I care very much. Maybe too much.
One of the Facebook groups I help administer is dedicated to suicide prevention. Even though we are not officially a crisis hotline, the fact is that once in a while, someone is in dire straits and I am part of the last line of defense. Either as a member of a team or all alone, I grasp hold of a lifeline and extend it to someone who has swallowed or is about to swallow their last pill, and most of the time, I would not have it any other way. I would prefer to lose a few hours of sleep than to lose the man or woman holding that line.
The other night, however, it got to be too much. I was tired. I had pushed my body to its breaking point by running more than 100 miles in 10 days. I craved sleep. I needed a break from needs and commitments and pressures and even friends.
But instead of taking a break, I jumped into a Facebook conversation with an acquaintance who lives in another country. I do not need to describe the particulars of our conversation. Let’s just say it took about 60 seconds to determine that “Lin” needed to get herself to a hospital. I follow a set of guidelines when speaking with someone who is suicidal. I ascertain whether they are safe; determine how present the risk of self-harm is; tell them I care about them and, more than anything else, I keep them talking until they promise to get professional help.
This story is not about preventing suicide.
It’s about taking care of my needs and my family’s needs.
The night Lin was in crisis, I sat glued to the computer. I skipped dinner and hardly spoke to my husband. When my children interrupted me too many times, I grabbed my Smartphone and went for a walk under a darkening sky while I continued what really felt more like hostage negotiations than a talk with a friend. I walked and talked and typed as fast as I could for well over an hour and, when my phone ran out of batteries, I dashed inside and continued working with Lin.
At one point, my middle son tiptoed into my bedroom, where I sat typing on my iMac and asked for a kiss. I held up my hand and started to snap, “Not now,” but I caught myself and gave him a brief, cursory hug.
Later, my youngest clambered into my leather office chair and refused to leave until I answered his long list of nighttime questions. Annoyance gave way to guilt. I turned away from my work only after Lin promised to go to a mental health center and allowed myself to spend a few minutes of quality time with my children.
I did not, nor do I, resent helping Lin. It is my honor and my duty to throw a lifeline to a human being who needs assistance. But providing that kind of assistance takes a toll on me and my family. The next day, I wandered around my house like a ghost. I remained quiet and worried. I received updates from Lin. She was safe, but I found it impossible to ignore her private messages. She seemed to need me, and I felt compelled to respond.
In retrospect, I learned a lesson from all of this that I keep forgetting. My own needs must come first. Too often, I overextend myself and this leaves me feeling as if I am running on empty. It’s okay to drive around and pick up desperate stragglers, but I am the driver of my own life. And I must leave enough gas in my tank to get me to my next destination.
How do you keep from overextending yourself? And what do you do to keep your tank full?
This is, of course, extremely important because students use lots of tweets in their papers.
Mostly, it’s important because the MLA realizes nothing new has happened lately in the world of grammar.
And booksellers like to sell updates to their many style manuals.
You know, to stay timely.
And students always need to have an up-to-date handbook to instruct them how to properly cite their research.
Now I suppose for certain types of papers, one might need to cite a tweet.
(Please, Lord, don’t let me get those kinds of papers.)
So this is good for me.
I have a heads up.
Now I can tell my students that tweets are not to be used in papers.
I can tell them they will need to go out into the world and actually interact with other human beings — even experts in their fields — and collect interviews.
And of course, I’m being snarky: I understand the MLA is acknowledging the fact that the Internet has changed the way everyone conducts research. Educators have to know how to cite everything from Facebook pages to PDF files to online video games. As teachers, we have to know how to cite all of these things properly because if we aren’t armed with the right tools, we open ourselves up to problems with plagiarism.
And that is the biggest pain in the butt.
So, um, like how do I cite a Facebook comment on someone’s Fan page?
Is there a rule for that yet?
Until I hear more on that, my work here is done.
What little nugget of information did you learn today?Does not have to be school related.
The other day I was looking for conversations about #teachers, and this post caught my eye:
I couldn’t help but reply:
I was trying to be funny.
Fayth didn’t think it was funny.
She read me the riot act.
She told me to stay out of her business.
Instead, I went and read her profile.
So I learned that Fayth is Faith.
And that she currently weighs 91 pounds.
Her goal weight is 75 pounds.
Let me give you some perspective.
My son, Tech Support, is in 7th grade.
He is 5’3″ and weighs in at a whopping 88 pounds.
(He is like a walking skeleton. For reals. The kid is all elbows and knees.)
Anyway, I got worried.
The more I poked around, the more I could see that Fayth was struggling: with school and self-image. She admitted to cutting herself.
Something else was troubling Fayth, too. But she wouldn’t share, even when we shifted to direct messaging.
Fayth shares some disturbing images on her Twitter page. Pictures of her hipbones. Her ribs. Blood in a styrofoam cup. The food she eats (puffed wheat and diet cranberry juice). Directions about the fast she was on.
I tried to tell her that her photos and her words caught my attention.
That she scared me.
We private messaged for a little while.
She shared so little.
She is used to withholding.
I did lots of typing.
For a few days, Fayth disappeared from Twitter altogether.
But the other day, I saw this post:
So now I know this high school student weighs less than my son.
And today, I saw this:
I let her know I’m still here.
If she needs someone to rant to, there’s a stranger who cares.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do with this information.
I wish I knew where Fayth/Faith lived because I would drive over to her house and sit on the floor with her. I would be quiet and let her cry. Or not cry. She could be mad if she needed to be mad. But I would do my best to get her to whisper whatever her big scary thing is. Even if it meant telling her my biggest, scariest thing. Someone needs to pay attention to this smart girl who is doing dangerous things. To this young woman who is too tiny to wear a size 00. To the pretty young woman in the baggy clothing. To the beautiful young woman who just got her hair straightened and spends all her time counting calories.
Because she isn’t going to be here for long if someone doesn’t help her find her broken places so she can repair herself.
And it is possible to fix yourself if you’ve got the right tools in the tool belt.
Do we have any responsibilities to each other on social media? Or do we just shrug our cyber shoulders?
I am fortunate to have Piper Bayard as a guest blogger today. I met Piper when I was learning how to tweet. She was the first person to actually recognize my flailing say hello to me in a civilized manner, and kind of introduce me to her friends in the Twitterverse. I so appreciated that. Since then, I have read Piper’s words voraciously. She is a real researcher and she knows how to weave some great fiction in with some real-life facts. I guess that means I’m trying to tell you that Piper is a fabulous writer. So enjoy and comment on Piper’s tale today and, and then head over to her place “The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse” HERE. You can also Twitter stalk her at @PiperBayard.
• • •
The Power of a Swift Kick
I took my daughter to school one morning last spring. Like most middle school girls, she’s convinced my mission in life is to embarrass her, and I take my work seriously. It’s not enough that I walked through the school doors pronouncing that Miley Cyrus looks like a two-bit hooker on Discount Day in one of her videos. No. I even talked to my daughter’s classmates. . . .
“Jordan,* stand up straight. You’re far too pretty to have poor posture. . . . Kyle, do not spit in the presence of ladies. That is most ungentlemanly behavior, and you’re better than that. . . . Young lady, you seem like a nice girl, but are those shorts legal? How do you expect the boys to learn anything in math with you looking like that? . . .”
Now, you’d think these kids would have told me to %*!# off, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t. Jordan grinned and stood up straighter, Kyle blushed and muttered a shy, “Yes, Ma’am,” and the young lady in short shorts laughed and rolled the legs back down to where they were when she left the house that morning. That’s when I realized that it had happened. I had grown up to be my mother.
I don’t mean my biological mother, Big It rest her soul. I mean the woman who saved me from being the queen of a double-wide trailer with five kids and four baby-daddies going to court every week for child support. That would be my middle school music teacher/mentor/friend/other mother, Elmarine.
Elmarine knew all about surviving life’s apocalyptic events. Born in 1917, she had polio as a child. She spent a third of her childhood away from her family at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Shreveport, Louisiana, undergoing nine operations to help her walk. Let’s face it, those guys may wear funny hats, but they do amazing things for kids. . . . Without tv’s or computers, Elmarine entertained herself and the other kids by riding around in her wheelchair, playing her ukulele. . . . I threw that in to let you know there really are ukulele players out there. Who’d have thought?
She married an engineer who developed the welding process used on ships during WWII. He died suddenly, leaving her in poverty with two daughters to support. Lucky for me, she went back to school and got her teaching degree in music. At that point, she wore a brace and sometimes used crutches, and back in that day and time, employers actually said outright that they wouldn’t hire her because she was ”crippled.” She kept at it anyway. . . . What else could she do? . . . And finally she found a school district two states away to give her a chance.
During her many years at my school, she was anything but crippled. She taught us stray cats proper posture, proper social interaction, and, more importantly, self-respect and perseverance. There wasn’t a sob story we could tell her that she couldn’t relate to, and she always had the same answer. “That’s tough, Kid. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
Over the years, I’ve found her singular reply to be the answer to all apocalypse in a nutshell. “That’s tough.” Acknowledge the problem. “Now what are you going to do about it?” Meet it with action. Sometimes, the action is to face myself and/or others. Sometimes, it’s to change my ways. Sometimes, the only action possible is to endure one more day. But she did all of that and tolerated nothing less from me.
Elmarine dished out loving ass-kickings. I think those kids at my daughter’s school can tell that’s what they are getting from me, and that’s why they always smile and say hello when they see me. I’ll bet you Jordan stands a little straighter next time, too, and Kyle will at least only spit behind my back.
I dedicate this blog to all of the teachers whose loving ass-kickings keep stray cats from having four baby-daddies.
Who gave you your “loving ass-kicking”? What were the tools they gave you?
If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who IThink Scored / Teachers Who IThink Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction.
Way back on Monday, April 25, 2011 at precisely 8:07 AM, I emailed Clay Morgan from EduClaytion.com. He and I had established an “easy, breezy, beautiful” rapport; we’d talked on the phone a few times, and for a while, we were on the same cyber-page. But suddenly, Clay had a Twitter icon on his page. And I didn’t.
What the deuce? I thought. So I tapped out a quick note.
Dude, I seriously need to understand Twitter. I either need a 15 year-old girl. Or you. Can you call me?
Clay responded like a firefighter would to a burning building. He emailed me and assured me Twitter was “pretty intuitive” and that I could probably figure it out. He said he had faith in me.
Still, I had every intention of making Twitter priority #1 on my list of Things To Do. (You know, after I got back from Florida. And all the grocery shopping was done. And I had unpacked and put the suitcases away and done all the laundry and scrubbed the baseboards and taken out the garbage and fed the animals.
(Note: We have no pets. Not even a goldfish. Not even an ant.)
I was a little bit horrified that I had so easily morphed into one of the typical student-types: the kid who pretends the deadline hasn’t come and gone, but never goes to talk to the teacher about it.
But Professor Morgan was onto me.
Clearly I was delaying. We set up a time to conference around noon.
After my massage.
(What? I have a long-standing back injury, people.)
On the day of our exciting teleconference, we started with the simple stuff.
Clay explained that, for a writer, the purpose of Twitter is to help network with other writers, to acquire followers, and to spread one’s writing around to other interested readers. He said Twitter can be a place to gather with my fellow writers, where I can find people to hold me accountable to achieve my writing goals, and where I can find people willing to critique my work.
That all sounded good.
He explained it also meant supporting and promoting the people whose writing I adore.
I heard “cheerleader.” I was a cheerleader in high school. I may have lost my splits, but I can still cheer. And if tweeting and re-tweeting my favorite writers’ stuff was going to help them, I could drink that Kool-Aid.
So Clay taught me the basics. About the Timeline. And how to check my Direct Message Box — to see if anyone has sent me a private message.
“How do I know that?”
Clay patiently explained.
He also told me I should always check Mentions to see if anyone has tweeted any of my posts and, if they have, that I should be absolutely certain to send that person a short thank-you.
“It’s Twit-tiquette,” Clay explained.
He taught me about how to set up a list of my most favorite bloggers. And while we were on the phone, I understood everything perfectly.
Clay was extremely patient and gracious. And then, like any good therapist smart person with outstanding time management skills, after one hour, he announced our session was up.
“I haven’t mastered this yet!” I whined.
He assured me that I’d figure it out if I played around with it a bit.
I thanked Clay for “eduClayting” me, and I messed around on Twitter for a while.
I tried to send messages to the people I knew best.
Eventually, I got a response from Clay himself.
Whaaaaat? I was sending messages to myself? Awk.Ward.
I tried to figure out that mess. And I set out again.
After a few weeks, I saw I got my first retweet! And then I got a RT from Mark Kaplowitz, someone whose writing I really like:
And then that started to happen more and more.
Eventually, I figured out the secret language of hashtags: the weird letters that come after the numbers’ symbol (#). Like #MyWana. Or #IYKWIM. For a while, I felt like I sitting alone at a table in the middle school cafeteria, and everyone knew everyone else and everyone knew what they were doing – everyone except me. But then I learned that you can Google these letters after the number symbol and find out the inside joke. And boom, I was instantly sitting at the cool kids’ table because I was speaking the same language.
And guess what, writer tweeps are a lot nicer than the mean girls in middle school.
The big moment came when author Kristen Lamb sent me a tweet. I would post it, but it’s kind of like looking into the sun. Too much truth. Your pupils might burn, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.
These days, I have myself on a strict Twitter diet. I check in three times a week, spend 15 minutes responding to people, sending thank-yous, and trying to connect with one new person. I literally set a timer. It is really easy for Twitter to become a time suck.
Alas, now that all this time has passed, I don’t remember how to add people to that list Clay helped me to create. Also, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that list. I think it was supposed to save me time somehow. I’m not really sure. So that’s not great.
I told Clay that I was going to write a blog about how much he helped me.
I estimated that I would have that post written by late August.
So I’m a little ahead of schedule.
But I really need to work on my fall curriculum. And my book.
You remember, my book?
The thing that started all of this…
It’s calling me.
Do you use Twitter? If so, who taught you? And what do you get out of it? Any funny stories about stuff that has happened to you while you were learning to tweet? What are your Twitter woes?
As I sat waiting inside the local college field house, miles away from the actual school my nephew attended, I couldn’t help but think about my own graduation in 1985.
First, I have to admit that I have absolutely no recollection of who spoke at my high school graduation. (My sincere apologies, Mr. or Ms. Graduation Speaker. I am sure you were very good.)
I do remember sitting in my white cap and gown. (The boys wore red.)
I remember looking at my fabulous white high-heeled pumps and thinking about my tan. My tan was very important to me, as tans were to many of us back in the mid-1980s. We were not a very serious bunch. I mean, we were serious but in an 1980s kind of way. Which was not very serious. Yeah, we were going to college – but we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. At all. Maybe that was just me. But seriously, I don’t think so.
Where my nephew’s graduating class was focused, we were distinctly goofy. Of course some of us were more self-propelled than others, but as a class, we were more about fun. I may be making this up but I kind of remember someone pretending to trip and possibly even staging a fall as he walked to get his diploma. I wore a green lei around my neck during the graduation ceremony. On two separate occasions, the vice principal told me to remove it (and I did), but I slipped it back on before I walked across the stage for hand-shaking and hugs.
In 1985, I was more interested in the social interactions that high school had to offer than its academic challenges. I joined the “fun” clubs. I was a cheerleader. I danced and rode horses. I also got a lot of detentions; I even managed to earn myself a 3-day in-school suspension. Hell, I wore blue to graduation when we were clearly instructed to wear white or light colors. As a group, we did a lot of pushing the proverbial envelope.
In contrast, my nephew and his peers seemed pretty serious.
Maybe they have to be.
Given the current economic prognosis, they can’t afford to mess around the way we did in the decadent 80s.
I mean, it’s good to be thinking of more than just developing “a great base tan.”
The night of Alec’s graduation, as we celebrated his accomplishments with pizza and watermelon, I was surprised by how content Alec was to just hang out with his family. He played his ukulele, chatted with his grandparents, sat outside on a chunky patio chair with the men, their voices blending together in a low hum.
He seemed unfazed that he was leaving for camp the next day. He said he wasn’t too worried because he knew he would be able to keep in touch with his closest friends.
Immediately after my high school graduation, my clan of Best Friends Forever (The “BFF’s”) gathered in a parking lot to sip champagne from plastic glasses, and I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief and freedom.
Along with a side order of sadness.
Because I really didn’t think I was going to see any of my them ever again.
Let’s forget for a moment that the 1980s featured a lot of apocalyptic songs which suggested that we were all going to die in a nuclear war. (Think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” or Rush’s “Distant Early Warning”; Genesis’ “Domino” of Modern English’s romantic ballad “I’ll Stop The World and Melt with You.” Oh and Nena, the chick who brought us “99 Red Balloons.”)
Seriously. I didn’t think we were going to make it to our 10 year reunion.
But on a less morbid level, there were no cellphones back in 1985. No Facebook or Twitter. No texting.
I remember smiling big but feeling internally frantic. I could feel change on my skin as sure as I had felt the sun baking my shoulders for all those weeks leading up to graduation. Just like my nephew, I packed my duffel bag and trunk and headed off to (same) summer camp where I planned to work for 8 weeks as a counselor. Unlike my nephew, I felt loss in my bones.
I imagined myself standing in line waiting to use a dormitory payphone. But I knew I would never have enough quarters to call my friends as much as I would like. I also knew that even if I called, the odds were, they would not be around.
I knew I would have to find new people, and that I would have to work to make new friends. But I also accepted this as the natural order of things: growing up meant breaking bonds to form new ones.
After speaking with several graduates of the class of 2011, I realized that they are less sad than we were. With the advent of social media, friends need never disconnect from one another. Unless a person wants to become invisible, it is absolutely possible to remain in touch with one’s friends from high school. On a daily basis.
It remains to be seen if all this connection will be a blessing or a curse. I wonder if today’s students will remain perpetual teenagers, clinging to their childhood friendships, finding it difficult to move on and forge fresh bonds with new people, or if they will plunge into adulthood, embracing new opportunities while maintaining constant contact with old friends from back in the day.
As I watched graduates from the class of 2011 pose for photographs, then stop to text someone, thumbs a-blazing, I thought about what graduation really meant for me.
I was able to go to college and start fresh.
I made a conscious choice to stop being “the flirty girl” and reinvent myself as “the studious girl.” Would such a transformation have been possible if I had people from high school constantly reminding me of my flakiness? About how dumb I was in math? About the time I spilled the bong water? Or the time I started cheering “Block That Kick” when our team had possession of the football?
Is it possible to move forward and evolve when people are urging you to look back and stay the same?
What do you remember about your high school graduation? How do you think social media will impact future generations?
This is the fun part of the show where I get to tell you about some great reads that you might have missed this week. As usual, I try to get one from the chicks and one from the dudes. This week, I even have one from “The Queen.”
From The Ladies:Abby Has Issues is a hilarious blog by Abby Heugel. This week she wrote a piece called My Marriage Proposal that had me considering the concept of a Sister Wife. I decided I really wanted Abby to move in with me – and my husband. Why? Because Abby has decided she would like to be a Consolation Prize Wife, which is not to be confused with a Trophy Wife. Abby’s totally cool with being a consolation prize, and she gives a lot of convincing reasons why you should be too. Let’s just say, she had me at Swiffer Wet Jet.
• • •
From the Dudes: Paul Waters has a very funny post for all you little history buffs in the house. Or for folks who like naughty words that aren’t supposed to be naughty but they totally are. Poor Bastards. His piece is called “Are You SURE You Want To Take His Name When You Get Married?” I can’t say more without ruining the funny. Paul is one of the very first people I met when I landed here in the Blogosphere, and I have been enjoying his writing for a year now. It’s time to stop hogging him to myself. Read more of Paul’s stuff at Blackwatertown.
I am so glad I did not make the mistake about writing about writing. But I almost did. A teacher for 20 years, when I decided to start blogging, I figured I’d write about writing. My son (age 10 at the time) rolled his eyes and said, “Mom, that’s so boring. You don’t have to always be the teacher. You can also be the dumb one.” And he was right. I have so many stories where I am the Chief Twit-in-Residence, so instead of always having to be Mrs. Smarty-Pants, I can also be the wisenheimer. So instead of being locked in to talking about commas and semi-colons, I left room for options. Which is one of Kristen’s points. They don’t call her “The Queen” for nothing. (Well, they don’t. But I do.)
Before you check out these amazing writers, can you explain what’s up with that cat?