Thursday, December 24, 2009

Revision Bliss

In November 2008, I bashed out a 50,000-word middle grade novel for NaNoWriMo. It took me 17 days to finish, and afterwards, I let it sit for two weeks to gain a little distance from it.

Then I revised it.


Next, I read and reread a few chunks to my extremely patient partner, and I let my mother and my sister read and critique the manuscript.

Then I revised it.

Soon after, I found a wonderful, generous, kind-but-appropriately-demanding, adverb-hating critique partner through an online message board and she read and responded to the manuscript.

Then I revised it.

I started submitting to agents and eventually one fantastic agent offered representation, along with excellent notes for revision of the novel.

So I revised it.

The agent started submitting to publishers and quickly sold the novel to a wonderful house. Shortly thereafter, the delightfully insightful editor sent me notes for revision of the novel.

So I revised it.

Then the brilliant and hawk-eyed copy editor read the manuscript and pointed out a few inconsistencies contained therein.

So I revised it.

Next, the extremely thorough proofreader and managing editor read it, and they, along with my editor, made more great notes for revision in the margins.

So I revised it.

After all this revising, I have just three questions left to answer.

Number one. As the creator of all these characters who are running around not knowing when they were born or which houses in their town are for sale or whether or not their feet hurt, shouldn't I be a little more well-informed about the answers to the questions said inconsistencies raise?

Letter B. Inconsistent w/ above. Change to "Number two." How is it possible that eight other people read the novel before the proofreader, but none of them pointed out my bizarre infatuation with the word “briskly”?

And, fourth, "Number three." Wwhat did I do to deserve being a part of this wonderful business? Whatever it was, I'm glad! This is so much fun!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

(More or less) home for the holidays

So I'm walking back from Sunoco in a just-after-dusk winter-is-coming see-your-breath sort of cold, with Christmas lights twinkling on the rooftops of probably a third of the houses directly in my field of vision. Big lights, small lights, blue lights, white lights, bulbs and wreaths and icicles in merry loops and patterns. But there's no question which one is best.

There's a sweet little house just in the bend of the road, a cottage of stone with a neatly-fenced lawn and about two hundred thousand twinkling bulbs in every color of the rainbow. They 're stapled to every inch of the house that could possibly hold a staple. The roof is not only outlined, but colored in. The bushes are shimmering. The walkway is glowing.

My leanings on winter holidays are scattered like the lights. Like a good semi-non-practicing Pagan-ish type, I dutifully light a Solstice fire on the longest night and burn the things I want to do away with for the coming year. But that holiday is a little more stern than I like, because, to take part, I have to admit which things I might still want that I definitely don't need anymore, and I'm a Taurus -- read, a pack rat -- mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I don't just collect trinkets and knick-knacks and about a million useless papers. I collect acquaintances and habits and emotional states that perhaps don't serve my best interests anymore, and I find it very hard to let go of them.

So Solstice, though I practice it, is not my most beloved of holidays.

And here are these Christmas lights.

I'm not a Christian, but I love me some Christmas. Sparkling lights on see-your-breath nights, people singing, bells ringing, that special sound scissors make when they cut through wrapping paper, the smell of Scotch tape and the way kids (and teachers, truth be told) squint at streetlights and headlights to try to discern if the misty rain working its way down out of the sky on a forty-degree night might possibly -- possibly -- possibly be snow, falling on a school night -- I love me some Christmas. Which is why I'm staring at this precious little cottage with its Christmas lights twinkling in the night.

Then my gaze roams from the house. Down its walk. Past its fence. Across the highway.

To the other house.

This one is white, not stone. It's still sweet, in its own way -- or at least you can tell it would be sweet if somebody would just clean it up. Right now, the brown lawn rolls listlessly up to the edge of a pile of trash that's been sitting there for over a month. Past that is the picture window, in which there is a slight green smudge along the bottom of the curtain -- then a slight blue smudge -- and then yellow -- which is the Christmas lights that have fallen from the window frame and are now lying in a heap on the sill, out of sight.

Two crotchety cats guard the door like stone lions, angry and disgruntled, and beyond the corner of the house, you can glimpse the half-a-shed, which is a building that used to be a whole shed before somebody took a sledgehammer to it -- then an axe -- then a car with a tow chain -- and finally gave up and let the crooked thing stand. Its parallelogram frame is marred by broken bits of siding and a scattering of a million bent nails, shining like drops of ice.

That one's mine.

I've got homework to grade tonight, and lessons to plan, and those crotchety cats look ready to move on and find another home if I don't pay them a little attention sometime soon. Just looking at the half-a-shed and the trash pile makes me tired.

But I love this season, with its scattering of holidays, its sparkles and its jingles and its hope. I think maybe I can find it in me to at least re-hang my single strand of holiday lights before I turn in for the night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I love November. November means NaNoWriMo, and thus, it is my favorite month.

Last November, I wrote the first 10,000 words of LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE on November 1. This year, it's November 4 and I expect to pass 10,000 today. I'm taking it a little slower, but enjoying it no less. Of course my students are NaNoing with me, which makes it twelve times more fun (since I have six of them this year and they each count twice).

My favorite part of NaNo isn't the community, although I love that. It isn't the sense of accomplishment, or even the finished book I've got at the end of the month.

No, my favorite part of NaNoWriMo is the NaNoisms -- the typos and senseless phrases that occur when you type entirely too many words in entirely too few days.

My favorite NaNoism from last year involved an evil Twinkie in somebody's eye. I have yet to top that yet this year, but I'm still enjoying myself. Here are a few of my NaNoisms so far this November:

"The red and green lights reflected on the water, but the reflection was broken and choppy like my prose."

"Without paper, I had to jot my notes on the back of a something wrapper."

"As soon as they were out of earshot, I heard them giggling."

This morning's NaNoism is simple. Brief. But no less painful.

"... one hot June day in August ..."

That reminds me of my very first "NaNoism," long before NaNo, when I was seven and writing about a girl named Tina Telanium who wore elbow and knee pads to ride her horse past all the wild panthers in her suburban West Virginia neighborhood. I wrote that Tina had "straight brown curls." If only I'd known what a NaNoism was back then so I could embrace it!

I love November!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rounding to the Nearest Headache


My third-graders are learning how to round to the nearest hundred.

Wait. Let me rephrase that. My third-graders are supposed to be learning how to round to the nearest hundred.


Two Mondays ago, we studied rounding to the nearest 10. We used a variety of hands-on strategies to accomplish this goal, and it was mastered fairly quickly by all students. (That isn’t as impressive as it might be, by the way; I’ve only got three third-graders.)

This past Monday, we started rounding to the nearest hundred.

They did fine. For the first few lessons.

I swear. They knew how to round to the nearest hundred when they left on Monday. And they knew how to round to the nearest hundred when they left on Tuesday.

But when they came back on Wednesday? It was GONE. As if we had never studied rounding before.

Today, it was even worse than that. Today, it was as if they had never even been to school before. They didn’t know how to put their names on their papers. They didn’t know which desk belonged to who. And they DID NOT know how to round to the nearest hundred.

I kept my patience … for a while.

I showed them how to narrow their choices down to two possibilities – the two multiples of hundred that are nearest to the number in question. When they didn’t seem to remember this concept, I made it even easier.

“The two choices,” I said, “are 600 and 700.”

“I know!” shouted Student A. “5,000!”

Just as Student B shouted, “27!”

“Guys,” I said, bewildered, “the answer is either 600 or 700. Those are the only two choices. The number you say either needs to be 600 or 700. So no other answer has even a chance of being correct. So … which is it? 600 or 700?”

“94!” shouted Student B.

“400!” shouted Student A.

Luckily the students left for lunch about that time, saving me from pulling out chunks of my own hair in frustration. They returned half an hour later, refreshed and ready to tackle rounding anew.


After fifteen minutes of rounding torture, I decided I’d better return to safer waters. I put a few two-digit numbers on the board and asked students to round them to the nearest 10. So imagine my surprise when the answers ranged in length from a single digit to six.

Defeated, I handed them their homework papers.

“What do we do?” Student B. asked.

“Circle the number that is in the hundreds place,” I instructed. “That way, when you come back on Monday, we’ll be ready for rounding.”

Student B. wrinkled his brow, looked me in the eye, and asked, “What’s rounding?”

You know what? I’m not sure even I know the answer to that question anymore.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Mean Green Thief

Buddy, I tell ya! What a week it's been!

Oh, sorry. That didn't sound like me. It's just that all stories in my classroom begin the same way. A six-year-old raises his hand in the middle of the spelling test, and when I call on him, he says, "Buddy, I tell ya! I studied, but I just don't know what to make of that one word!" -- or, better yet -- "Buddy, I tell ya! That dog I seen this weekend, he was somethin' else!" To which I say, "That's interesting, but what does it have to do with your spelling test?" To which he usually says something along the lines of, "What spelling test?"

But let me start again.

Buddy, I tell ya! It may only be Wednesday, but I'm just about ready for the weekend!

Before I explain why, let me ask you this: If you were a teacher and you had a child in your class who loved chocolate, would you leave Hershey's bars laying about all over the classroom?

What if you had a child who adored music? Would you play his music so loud he couldn't concentrate on working? In the background, sure, but so loud he couldn't focus?

No, right?

Okay. So I'm justified. I think.

Yesterday, I de-greened my classroom.

All the green -- and I mean ALL the green -- has been taken. Green crayons out of their boxes. Green sentence strips off the word wall. Green icons off the picture schedules. Green stickers off the sticker charts. I swapped green pencil boxes for blue ones. Green computer tickets for red ones.

And all this green contraband, these confiscated green crayons and stickers and second-grade words, they're all locked in the top drawer of my filing cabinet with the other things too dangerous for the kids to touch. Medications, for example. And push pins.

What would possess a grown woman, and a teacher at that, to rob her students of the color green?

Buddy, I tell ya. I got this one kid, he just don't do his work if there's anything green around.

Oops. Sorry. I've been in class too long. Let me rephrase that.

I am entrusted with the education of a pupil who is so intensely interested in the color green, he is unable to focus on learning if there is anything of that particular hue in his field of vision.

There, that sounded a little bit more professional.

My little green-obsessed student has been having trouble this week. And I mean trouble in almost every area of classroom life. The skills it takes to exist in second grade, those are the very skills he seems to have lost over the weekend. Not flipping your chair over backwards, for instance. And not poking your neighbor in the eye with a pencil. Pretty much all the skills you need to practice if you want to be a successful second-grader and not spend every recess stuck against the brick wall beside the teacher.

Which is not my rule, by the way. The last thing I want is for my most energetic students to not run around in circles for fifteen minutes. But I don't have recess duty, so there isn't much I can do about that.

What I can do -- or at least what I try to do -- is motivate my students using what interests them. If it's chocolate, hey, as long as the parent doesn't mind, that's fine with me. If it's music, fantastic. If it's stickers, or computer time, or a coloring sheet, that's great. And if it's doing all of your work with a green colored pencil, well, does it really matter if your spelling words aren't gray like everybody else's?

I think it makes the place a little brighter, actually. A bright spot of green in my ordinarily dreary grade book.

Only sometimes, if there is green in the room, the child just can't concentrate. And this was one of those weeks. And the other kids were pulling their hair out. And, to be honest, so was I. It's difficult to teach -- and especially difficult to learn! -- your spelling words or expanded notation or your reading strategies if somebody is cantering around the room on all fours howling like a wolf, or squeezing his hands over his ears and singing "Slow Ride," or scooting your chair out from under you and laughing when you fall on the rug.

Not cool, green man. I don't like falling on the rug.

At the end of my rope, I finally reclaimed green. I took control of it. I confiscated an entire color. Kids in my classroom have to color leaves yellow. That's okay this time of year, right? But they also have to color pumpkin stems purple and they have to color green traffic lights blue.

It's just for a day or two.

I hope.

Meanwhile, the little green guy, he's working. He's trying to earn back his green. But in his free time, he's also got a project of his own. He's trying so hard to find his missing color. He's looking in every crayon box and under every marker lid. He's checking under the other word wall words. He's looking in the bottoms of the trash cans. In fact, I think the only place he hasn't checked is in the locked top drawer of my filing cabinet.

I'm almost tempted to give him the key -- and to remove the medications and the push pins, of course. I'm almost rooting for the little guy. If I were seven and some mean old teacher took away my green, I would hunt for it, too. I'm very proud of him for trying.

There is a chance that green will reappear tomorrow. I'm not sure. I haven't decided. I want the other kids to get a little peace so they can concentrate, and if it takes having the little green guy work in blue until he earns a green marker, well, that almost seems worth it. Green's not gone forever, after all.

On the other hand, I haven't stolen chocolate from this kid. I haven't taken away a song he likes. That's all I thought I was doing, but now I realize I've stolen his oxygen. I've moved the earth out from under him.

Not cool, Ms. Dooley. Even if it's not forever.

Buddy, I tell ya. I studied hard in college. But I just don't know what to make of this one kid. He sure brightens up my classroom, though.

As for me, I've got some homework to do. Some decisions to make.

I'll let you know what color they turn out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm home -- and almost home -- in a number of ways.

There is an odd sort of disconnect this week between the environment in which I've spent my days and the one in which I've spent my evenings. It stands to reason, since the two environments are more than an hour and a half's drive apart, but still, the dissonance is staggering.

First things first. I am buying a house. This is especially significant if you refer to this post, in which I list the 42 (it's now 44, though) places I have lived. Owning a home will mean that number 45 (actually, 46, since I've got to find a place to stay next week) will likely stick. At least for a while. And my number might not change so quickly or so desperately as it has in the past.

This little house I'm buying from a family friend is precious. It's a small, sweet two-bedroom house with a quarter acre yard for the dogs to play in.

But once we started cleaning up the yard and hauling trash out of the living room, we learned that the people who used to live in this house lost it because of personal problems. And some of the neighbors aren't happy about the change.

Not that I'm happy about the change either -- at least, not the part where someone else lost a home. But my mother's earliest memory is of her mother sneaking her out the back door of their former home while the new tenants moved in the front. On my birth certificate, my address is simply listed as "General Delivery, Mt. Nebo, W.Va." I have been evicted from trailers without plumbing. I have pulled my panicked cat out of a gaping hole in a hotel wall on a school night. I have shampooed my hair in the Summersville lake. I have lived 44 places in my life and I want to go home now.

All of that is serving a double purpose -- simultaneously making me feel guilty and easing my guilt about someone else losing the home that has become mine.

So what does that mean for my house? It means I should be able to move in next week. It also means the house is surrounded by neighbors who may or may not accept me.

In the meantime, school started Monday.

I am in heaven.

My kids are cantankerous little counry kids with attitudes taller than their diminutive statures. But my partner still works two hours from my school, so we've been staying in a motel and I've been commuting an hour and a half to work. Flood plains and country kids during the day. Hot tubs and 70 channels at night. Dissonance. Fortunately, I'm too sleepy to dwell on it.

Between driving and teaching, teaching and driving, I feel like I've spent much of the week in a fog. I haven't even really thought about the fact that by next week, I will be living in a home of my own.

Instead, I've spent the week having conversations like this:

ME (to second-grader pretending a ruler is a guitar): "If your guitar is going to distract you, I'm going to have to put it out of sight for a bit."
STUDENT (pointing to spelling test): "If my spelling test is going to distract me, can you put it out of sight for a bit?"

and like this:

ME (to six-year-old student): "I love how you came in and got right to work!"
STUDENT: "Lady, that's how I come into this world!"

So I haven't stopped to think about the pros and the cons of home ownership in a community that might not initially embrace me.

I'm not that worried about it, though. The house will be great, and I'm excited -- don't get me wrong. But every time I walk into my classroom, I know I've already come home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pub Date Moved Up!

I've got great news! LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE is now set to be published in the fall of 2010! That's a whole year earlier than originally planned!

Wow, I'd better get cracking on that second book!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stepping back into the rain

I wrote this a few weeks ago, before I gave notice at my current job. I never posted it, because I wasn’t even sure enough about the decisions I was making to talk about them on my blog.

But now I’m sure.

I’ve put in a bid on a job that just popped open in the county where I’m about to live. It’s a special education classroom. You know, the type of job I ran screaming from, not two months ago? Well, I think I’m ready to go back.

Here’s why.


It’s raining.

I used to know some kids who would stand shoulder to shoulder with me and watch the rain. Together we pulled the blinds up, turned off the fluorescent lights, and enjoyed how stone gray and gorgeous the outside was. Unlike a lot of people who hunch their shoulders and put up umbrellas, these kids got it. They understood about the rain. How it was necessary. How it was beautiful if you looked at it right.

Today it’s raining and my office has no windows. I keep sneaking out to the lobby to stare at the storm. I pass office after office, each with voices droning, telephones ringing, pagers beeping, papers shuffling. In each office, there are people talking, arguing, maneuvering, complaining when the fluorescent lights flicker.

But I’m all alone out here by the windows.

Outside I see rain so thick I can barely see the interstate, nearby as it is, cutting through the warehouse district. All I can see out there are headlights going from someplace, to someplace. Just like I thought I was doing, back when I loaded up the car and headed out.

The noise behind me is distracting because it isn’t the noise I know. There’s no humming. No singing. No arguing over pencils or popcorn or which movie we’re going to watch on reward day. Nobody is repeating herself about her favorite actor or his favorite type of microwave dinner. Nobody cares about things like that here.

A couple of months ago, I made this post, and in it, I mentioned how you want the rain back once the sun comes out. But the truth is, the sun hasn’t ever come out, not all the way. There have been rays here and there, and once in a while, a silver lining. But while the rain has definitely stopped, the ground is still wet, months later, no chance to get dry.

I left teaching for a lot of reasons. Family reasons. Mental health reasons. I left teaching because I felt there was a bigger difference to be made elsewhere. Because the saying goes, doing an impossible job over and over again, expecting it to become possible, is the very definition of insanity.

But there is safety in numbers. That’s a saying, too. And I used to have numbers. I used to have a whole troop of gutsy kids willing to go shoulder to shoulder with me and do an impossible job together.

I’ve been fighting it for a while, but it’s time to admit that I’ve made a mistake. I've known since the minute I turned my back on teaching that I'm facing the wrong direction.

It's time to turn around. And there's no shame in it, no matter how ridiculous it might look on my increasingly-lengthy resume. There are so many problems in the world that aren't fixable. But this one, I can fix.

Just watch.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's just a carpool. What could go wrong?

Okay, here's a dog story for you. You're not going to feel like it's a dog story at first, but have faith. The dog will pop up when you least expect it (just like he did to us).

Yesterday, I had to travel about an hour to a nearby city for a conference for my job. Two employees from other offices and I decided to carpool. Let's call them Gretchen and Betsy. Gretchen and Betsy agreed to meet me at my office, the central point, to drive together.

After a harrowing car ride during which I discovered a few things about Betsy's lack of talent concerning driving while talking on a cell phone, coupled with her determination to practice as often as possible, we arrived to learn that the start of the conference had been delayed by almost two hours. Luckily, we had parked across the street in the mall parking garage.


Well, you know, malls have bookstores. Me and Gretchen are both writers, and we hit the children's section and happily settled in for a while. Betsy wandered the bookstore to browse for a good mystery, because, apparently, not every late-twenties-early-thirties employee of our company finds the need to frequent the children's section at the bookstore.

Fast forward half an hour. I had shown Gretchen every book on the shelf with my publisher's logo on the spine. She had shown me every book on the shelf that "kinda gives me an idea ..." and was furiously scribbling on the pad of paper that basically stays glued to her at all times.

Eventually, we realized that we hadn't seen Betsy in quite some time.

A quick search of the bookstore revealed that she was, in fact, gone, and of course, that was when the phone rang and we were informed that we were needed across the street in ten minutes. Faaaabulous.

Gretchen is a mom, and therefore, her "worst-case scenario" skills are finely honed. She began to worry that Betsy had been abducted and possibly murdered in the 10 or 12 minutes since we'd last laid eyes on her. She wrung her hands and walked in circles. She was near tears. I thought it was more likely that the Starbucks or Taco Bell had called Betsy's name, so I finally talked Gretchen into walking with me to the food court to see. And sure enough, there she was with a giant plate of Chinese food.

We'll call that entire portion of the story "Misplaced Coworker Incident #1."

Now let's move on to "Misplaced Coworker Incident #2."

The conference, having started two hours late, ended only an hour late, so that was good. Still, we had a long road ahead of us and it was just after six in the evening. Betsy had "just a quick question" she wanted to run past our boss, but Gretchen and I, having skipped lunch in favor of the bookstore and a misplaced coworker search, had been knocking back bottled water like a college kid knocks back Miller, and we had to pee. Bad.

"We'll meet you outside the front entrance downstairs," I said to Betsy. I promise I said it. I remember saying it. You know how sometimes when you say something, it kind of gets stuck in your head for a while? Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, I promise this sentence echoed in my head for quite some time after, so I know I said it.

Gretchen and I waited outside. And waited outside. And waited outside. There was a huge event going on in the conference center -- a ticketed event -- so we couldn't get back inside to check on Betsy. After 45 minutes, I finally snuck past a security guard and took the back stairway up to the second floor to our meeting room -- luckily, I spent a lot of time in this conference center when I was a Young Democrat in college, so I knew the back hallways from the days when I needed to sneak past pompous jerks from other campuses who who wanted to shake my hand and tell me their views on gay marriage when I was too tired and frazzled to defend myself.

Calmer this time, I found that my sneaking skills were even more efficient. But when I reached the conference room, I found it dark.

Oh, crud.

I hurried back outside to let Gretchen know that Betsy had slipped out another entrance, or flown, or Apperated out of the conference center. We hurried back across the street to the parking garage and found that she had started talking to a coworker and walked out the upstairs service entrance with her without a second thought to where we were supposed to meet.

That, in all its glory, was “Misplaced Coworker Incident #2.”

We reached the city that my office is located in at 8:05 p.m. Keep in mind, of course, that all three of us had at least an hour to commute home from there.

Then prepare yourself for “Misplaced Coworker Incident #3,” my personal favorite.

This is where the dog comes in.

So, we were gabbing all the way home, of course, and two exits away from my office, Betsy, who was driving, was just preparing to tell us a great story about a time she got money in the mail when she didn’t expect it.

Her word choice, unfortunately, begged disaster.

“Let me tell you about the best thing that ever happened to me,” Betsy said, and then the semi truck in front of us swerved into our lane.

Betsy managed to swing the car onto the left shoulder and slam on the brakes, screaming the whole time. Because she was too shaky then to continue driving on the interstate, I urged her to get off at the next exit and take the back way.

We were almost to the office on the back roads when we spied a little scrap of white running into the road in front of us. We slammed on our brakes as a little dog – Boston Terrier body with a Jack Russell face – happily danced in the road for a minute before running off into a parking lot.

Betsy, still shaky from her earlier driving experience, was not up to stopping for a dog. Gretchen and I immediately began to worry that the dog was going to get hit if he kept waltzing with the passing cars.

Luckily, we were less than half a mile from my office. Betsy dropped us off and went on her merry way while Gretchen and I hopped in my car and drove back up to the stoplight to try to rescue the little dog.

About this dog. He did NOT want to be rescued. Gretchen hopped out of the car, leaving her purse and keys in my car, and tried to coax him to her. But the dog didn’t want to be coaxed. He darted into the road and began trotting – right in the center of the lane – toward my office.

“I’ll come right back for you!” I hollered to Gretchen, and I followed the dog down the road at the rapid clip of point five miles per hour, preventing any other traffic from flying around a turn and taking out the little white scrap of orneriness.

By the time the dog had gone almost the whole half mile to my office, occasionally pausing to smile over his shoulder at me, I had quite the impressive string of angry traffic behind me. Some saints in a Hummer drove up the wrong way in the oncoming lane to try to block the dog in from the front, but any time any of us hopped out of our cars to try to get him, he smiled huge at us like he was happy we wanted to play, and then he darted out of reach.

At this point, we will begin to refer to the dog by what I would have named him if I could have caught him, which is “Sheriff” because he was so good at directing traffic and he had so many of us pulled over.

After a few minutes -- and many, many honks and hollers from the traffic tied up behind me -- Sheriff darted up over the hill and out of sight. Goodbye, Sheriff. I wish you the best.

I found a place to turn around, checked the local business parking lots for signs of the spunky little pooch, and then drove back up to the stop light as quickly as possible to pick up Gretchen.

Can you guess? I mean, do I need to tell you?

Yeah. She was gone.

I checked Wendy’s in case she’d gone for a Frosty. I checked the hotel lobby in case she was sneaking a free coffee. There was a steakhouse nearby and I thought maybe she needed a cold drink – God knows I did. But she wasn’t there, either. Eventually, after stressing out in the parking lot for a while, wondering – Oh my god, she was so worried about getting abducted and murdered, maybe she knows something I don’t – I finally drove back to my office, where she’d left her car, to see whether she’d found a way back.

There she stood, next to her car, in tears. She had hitched a ride back and passed me on the road.

I gave her her keys. Said good-bye. And sent her on her way, then went on my own. I got home at ten-thirty from a conference that ended at six.

Here's everything I learned at the conference (but don't tell my boss if he asks):

-Usually, the person you're looking for hasn't been abducted and murdered, even if you start thinking that might be a viable option for dealing with their behavior once you find them

-Sometimes poor, innocent little doggies who need rescued are neither poor nor innocent, and they don't want no stinkin' rescue

-The emotional cost of carpooling far outweighs the financial cost of going alone. Next time we have a conference, I will drive myself.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Writer Meme

I'm trying to blog more often. There are three discrete reasons why I haven't been blogging, and they are:

1) I'm not currently teaching, so I haven't been spending my days with nine sources of inspiration, learning stories I just have to share

2) I've been busy moving across state lines, looking for work, finding work, working, disliking work, and looking for different work

3) It's summer and summer is Lazy Time

So, to correct this lack of blogging, I'm going to do a meme snagged from Chatty Anna's blog, and I hope you'll do it, too, so I can learn more about you.


<< Here's a meme to tell your blog readers a bit more about who you are as a writer!

1. What do you write (genre, etc.)?
Middle grade fiction and the occasional lesson plan

2. Got any books published?
I just signed a two-book deal with Feiwel and Friends! My first novel, LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE, will be out in 2011.

3. Current project(s)?
Currently writing TEN THINGS THAT WON'T BURN and revising LIES ABOUT EDEN. Also, I just blew the dust off JUST ANOTHER HILL AND WE'LL BE HOME and I think once EDEN is revised, I might give JUST ANOTHER HILL some serious attention for the first time in three years, because I think I might know what the missing piece was that banished it to the shelf in the first place.

4. Favorite line(s) from said project(s)?

TEN THINGS THAT WON'T BURN: “Wish she prayed a little harder,” I thought as we slid down the last gravel slope toward the campsites. “She might have prayed up something more comfortable than a polyester/rayon blend.” The fuchsia sweatpants were making me sweat and their elastic bands dug rings into my ankles. I figured I’d be like a tree trunk when these things were done with me. You’d be able to tell how many days I’d been wearing them by the number of rings they carved into my legs. I was up to six, so far.

LIES ABOUT EDEN: Eden likes dogs. She likes them so much that she screams when we throw out the toilet paper wrapper with its picture of a soft puppy that I guess you’re supposed to compare to the softness of the product. This has always struck me as weird, but then weird has never bothered Eden. I’m forever pulling old toilet paper wrappers out of the cracks in the sofa cushions, where she’s gazed at them and crinkled them until she fell asleep.

JUST ANOTHER HILL AND WE'LL BE HOME: I don't have a favorite line in this one at the moment, because I haven't read it in three years and a lot of the lines are going to change. When I wrote this book, I was still writing what I thought small towns were supposed to be like instead of what I knew they were actually like.

5. Favorite character you've created?
G, Livvie's best friend in LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE. She's an upbeat, bouncy child who helps Livvie with her picture schedule and struggles with bookbag zippers.

6. Your goals as a writer?
To write what I see, not what I think I'm supposed to have seen

7. Your literary idols & influences?
Cynthia Voight, S.E. Hinton, Patsy Gray, Jean Slaughter Doty, Kate DiCamillo, Audrey Couloumbis

8. What do you plan to write next?
TEN THINGS THAT WON'T BURN -- I'm only 3,000 words in and I have a long way to go. It's a middle grade novel.

9. Your tip(s) for beginning writers?
Don't skimp on revisions. Learn to rip words and sentences and scenes and chapters out of your manuscript even if it feels like you're ripping out your own hair.

Also, more importantly, write what you see. Not what you think you're supposed to have seen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New Job Starts Today

New job starts today. Ugh. Or maybe yay. I don't know yet. This is a new situation, not teaching, and I don't know what to expect.

Of course, with teaching, when you walk in on day one, you hit the ground not just running, but hurtling yourself head-first with desperation. You have to stay a step ahead of eight or ten people you've never met before, already pretending like you know their likes and their dislikes and the things that will motivate them. You call them "Class" or "Boys and Girls" and the words slip out familiar, as if you know each of the boys and each of the girls individually. They never notice the cheat sheet of names sticking out of your pocket. It never occurs to them that they are strangers.


The funny part is, they pretend to know you, too. You are Teacher. Teacher might change names and faces every year, and certainly every teacher has a different management style and reward system (mine's best. So there.) -- BUT -- Teacher can be anyone, that first day, as far as the kids are concerned. It doesn't matter who she is, as long as she can tie shoes and dry tears and wipe noses and call mommy if need be.

Last August, on my first day of my last teaching job, I arrived at school at 5:30 a.m. It was my tenth day in a row working, because I had spent the end of the summer building a sensory room for my students who needed a calm place to be. By the time the students started arriving at 7:25, everything was in place. Desks were clean and facing the board. Chairs were pushed in. Lights were set low and soothing. "WELCOME BACK!" was printed on the board in giant block letters, even though most of my kids weren't readers. I picked up nine cartons of milk and nine blueberry muffins from the kitchen. I smoothed my outfit one more time. And I opened the classroom doors.

Twenty minutes later, the board had been halfway erased by an elbow. The lights were being flicked on and off. Two of the nine milks were spilled on the floor and three others had been gulped by the same person. My skirt had blueberry smushed into it. Desks were askew. And nine people scattered themselves about the room with the same question etched on their features:

"Just what are you going to do about it?"

Little by little, a milk and a desk and a muffin at a time, we put that classroom back into order, and then into a much better order than it was ever in before. We learned things together that nobody thought any of us could learn. We wrote novels together. We sang songs and made paintings. We learned about our government when there were those in the school who thought my kids couldn't even learn their names. We were a team, me and this rough and tumble bunch of kids who gave me such a challenge on our first day together.

Today, on the first day in my new job, I will mostly just be turning in paperwork and watching training videos. There will be no milk and no muffins. No paints and no boards to erase. I do think I'm going to make a positive difference at this job, or I wouldn't have applied for it. I'm going to be helping adults and children with disabilities in a new and perhaps more effective sort of way.

I just hope I know what I'm getting into. And what I'm getting out of.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lies! All lies, I tell you!

I've been tagged by Nora for a fun meme! This will get my mind off of moving (UGH!) and let me have a little fun! Because if you know me, you know there's nothing I like more than LYING!

Sinful Nature

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

Pride -- What is your biggest contribution to the world?
Fluffy pancakes that are done in the middle. It's a gift. My nephew still thinks they come from a box.

Envy -- What do your coworkers have that you wish was yours?

Gluttony -- What did you eat last night?
Fluffy pancakes, of course! That's what I eat every night!

Lust -- What really lights your fire?
Men with ponytails who are bald on top. They're so well-rounded.

Anger -- What is the last thing that really pissed you off?
My partner brought home more books! Where are we supposed to keep putting all these books? There's barely room to walk! We have too many books!

Greed -- Name something you hoard and keep from others.
Spatulas. I get to make the pancakes!

Sloth -- What’s the laziest thing you ever did?
I ate leftovers once instead of cooking a fresh new meal.

I tag the following people:

-Bettie Lee
-That was seven. I promise! Would I lie?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wet pants, wet roads, wet cheeks

It was a damp sort of day from beginning to end.

Even the grass was wet when I tiptoed through it in my turquoise flip-flops to start my morning commute. It was early -- although not as early as I'd planned on leaving, since I needed to stop at Wal-Mart to buy each child in my class something special for the last day of school. Bubbles for one. A fancy pen for another. For the child who wishes it could always be either November or February, a daily planner -- one she can crease open to her favorite months and make-believe to her heart's content, ten months out of the year. For the child who is happiest with the simple things in life, a coveted orange soda. For each child, I searched for some special little something so they would know how much I appreciate them.

Except it's hard to shop for a kid with autism who likes exactly two things in life: his squishy ball and his flip-flops -- and he owns both of those already.

One magnificent giant bubble wand and ten dollars later, I sped out of Wal-Mart now fifteen minutes behind schedule. Having stood in line behind an old man buying a rotisserie chicken (at 6:57 in the morning? Really?), I was starving and ripped open my Slim-Fast bar as I pulled onto the highway.

Slim-Fast bars make me thirsty. So I balanced my giant bottle of water between my thighs and began to work on unscrewing the lid one-handed.

Just as a car slammed on its brakes in front of me.

I slammed on my own brakes just as the lid came loose, and, lo and behold -- an eruption of ice-cold water. Right in my lap. If I were one of my students, I would have adjusted my schedule to include an extra bathroom break at the mere sight of me.

Of course, because it was the last student day and we would spend much of it stacking chairs and sweeping floors, I had dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans. I couldn't find my belt this morning, and the denim, now heavy with water, sagged mercilessly. All I wanted was to stop somewhere and shake the spare water loose from my outfit, but I was mired in morning traffic and it took 15 minutes to find a place to stop. By then, my jeans were soaked through, all the way up to the back pockets and nearly down to my knees.

Now twenty minutes late, there was no time to give in to temptation and stop at Wal-Mart to buy dry pants. Instead, I rushed into the school building, carrying a half-empty water bottle and wearing the rest of it on my clothing. Luckily, one of my students who wasn't quite toilet-trained yet wore roughly the same size as me and kept spare pants at school. I wore his baggy blue shorts all morning while my sopping jeans were in the dryer.

"It's okay, Miss Dooley," one student commented when she noticed my ordeal. "Everybody has accidents sometimes."

Speechless, all I could do was shake my head and give her a hug.

Just after ten, one of my students was picked up early. The minute I said goodbye to him, I knew I was going to lose it at some point today. But I held it together, gave him his gift (a daily planner so he can keep track of the weather over the summer) and waved goodbye.

We didn't do much work today, opting to play Yahtzee and stack chairs and dust shelves in the classroom. The rest of the school was locked down silent, taking end-of-year exams, so we couldn't leave our classroom, but that was okay; we didn't want to. Although the children didn't know yet that I wouldn't be coming back next year, I think they could sense something was amiss. We all took the day slow, basking in each other's company for one last long high school day.

Just after two, another student was picked up early. I gave him his orange soda and sent him on his way.

On Fridays, we watch movies. Or I guess I should say, on Fridays, we used to watch movies. You know, back when I was a teacher. The students worked all week for the privilege and then they took turns bringing in films. Today was Wednesday, but it was the last day of school and the general consensus was that it was sort of like a Friday, so we watched Twilight, which one child had been begging for months to watch. Normally, I spend movie time at my desk, using it as my weekly planning time. But today, I sat with my kids to watch the movie. There was nothing left to plan.

At two forty-five, a third student was picked up early. He didn't like hugs and couldn't wait to get home and play with his new bubble wand. So he wouldn't say good-bye. My eyes were starting to water. I gave the remaining kids their presents, packed book bags, changed diapers, untied knots in shoelaces, brushed hair, found missing earrings, and tried to deny that the clock was carrying us all closer and closer to 3:01.

At 2:59, teachers got an e-mail saying school would not let out until 3:05 because of testing. Sweet reprieve, a whole four minutes.

But the bell's ring came anyway, and with it, a tide of parents and buses taking children away from me before I got to say a proper good-bye. Before I knew it, one student was out the door with her new poster, and another with her coloring book, and another with his Yahtzee game. This last, I followed down to make sure he got on the right bus, and we sat outside playing Yahtzee in the post-three-o'clock-on-Wednesday-June-10 chaos that was the end of the school year.

Three fives. He rolled again and got a fourth. Then again and got a fifth -- the first and only true "Yahtzee" of the whole school year.

"Rockin'!" he screeched, hands in the air.

There was something yellow in the distance. I tried to deny it till it pulled up and flashed its stop sign. No matter how hard I ignored the bus, it wouldn't go away.

And wouldn't you know it, this kid didn't like hugs, either.

Blurry-eyed, I somehow ended up back in my classroom, lost, looking around in bewilderment at the stacks of papers and supplies. Worksheets I ran off that we never got to finish. Craft supplies for a group time unit that never got taught. There were books with bookmarks in them, half-read, and someone left their cake on the table, half-eaten.

There was still a half-empty bottle of water on the table, too. But that wasn't the cause of the dampness in the room, not this time.

I dried my eyes when I heard the assistants coming. Things were always tense between me and my classroom assistants, and try though I did, again and again, I was never able to make things right. That's okay. Three more days of entering grades, boxing up materials, filing papers, and Clorox-wiping surfaces, and they can go back to plastering Easter crosses all over the classroom and requiring the kids to pray before meals. It won't be any of my business anymore.

Still, when one of the assistants accused me of procrastination because of my messy desk -- a desk buried in the paperwork that just didn't top the priority list when there were so many other things to do -- I lost it a little. Which is why, when ten after four rolled around, I was still in my classroom, boxing and bagging and sorting, determined to prove her wrong.

Because she wasn't wrong -- at least -- not entirely. My desk was messy. Ridiculously messy, in fact. But that's what happens when you are teacher to eight kids who are always moving. There are always problems that need solved, diapers that need changed, children who need encouraged, tears that need dried. And sometimes, even as the tower of papers on my desk climbed sky-high, I just couldn't do anything except stand, and watch, and enjoy my kids while I had them, knowing that it wouldn't last forever.

Of course, if I hadn't stayed late to prove wrong something that may well have been right, I would have made it home before the sky broke open. The storm hit halfway home, so sudden and with such force that my Bonneville nearly slid off the side of the highway. I pulled it straight and slowed to fifteen, inching through the torrents of rain that bounced back up off the road so thick, it was like both Heaven and Hell were raining.

I found shelter in a gas station, where old men in flannel stood lined up in front of the window with their coffee, gabbing about cattle feed and taking in the storm. I sipped coffee, too, and borrowed a phone to call home and let my partner know I would be later, even, than usual. Did you know old guys in flannel talking about cattle feed carry cell phones? Once the call was made, I holed up in my car with my coffee.

The storm kept pounding for almost an hour before I felt like it was safe again to make the remainder of the drive. There was a time, once, when I would have been impatient for the end of the storm. After a long day at work, I would have wanted nothing more than to get home, take a shower, and have things go my way without a hitch. I wouldn't have wanted to spend an hour outside the Texaco, watching shoppers dash to and from their cars as the sky got darker and darker.

But there was streak lightning blasting sideways, just over the mountains, and I'd never seen rain blow quite so sideways before. So I sat and I sipped and I watched the whole world get watered down to match my day.

Of course, because I had those rare moments for quiet reflection, my mind kept going over the goodbyes -- and the lack thereof -- that had punctuated my day. It hurt to say goodbye to those kids. Supposedly, according to wise men, I was supposed to take comfort in all that I had taught them. Calendar facts. Time-telling skills. How to go to the restroom, tie their shoes, and do the laundry.

But sitting in my car at the end of the last day of the privilege of being their teacher, I was much more concerned with the things they had taught me. To write a novel, for one. To play Yahtzee. To care about the weather. To draw accurate Beauty and the Beast characters. They taught me that sometimes it's okay to count on your fingers, and that sometimes you need to have cake even if you're watching your waistline. They taught me that anyone can dance, to any song, any time, no matter what people think.

And they taught me that when it's raining, there's no point in getting impatient and there's no point pretending it's not beautiful just because it's a tad inconvenient. You might as well give into it and sit. And watch. And enjoy it while you've got it. 'Cause you're not going to have it forever, and no matter how tired and frustrated it made you, you're going to want it back once the sun comes out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Does everybody else have to do absurd things to get through the day?

The reason I ask is, our toilet is clogged and our landlord has already left for work. And when I say clogged, I mean it is demolished. I've tried every trick I know, and I can't get it to unclog. Which means every, oh, three or four hours, I'm driving up the road to the gas station to use their loo.


In other, absurdity-related news, my West Virginia apartment search brought me to this building, which I used to live in. In fact, I used to live in the apartment featured in the photograph on the top right -- the apartment described in the text as "smaller."

Yeeeah. That's one word to use. Our bed quite literally took up the entire living area of this efficiency apartment. I'm glad to hear they remodeled the place, since, when I lived there, the freezer smelled like rotten meat, the oven only heated to a balmy 70 degrees, and the bathroom sink was both clogged and leaky, so we had to bail it out a couple of times a day to prevent overflow.

Like I said. Absurd.

What absurdities do you have to embrace to get through your day?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Losing touch with eight unique souls.

For months, I’ve been looking forward to the end of the school year. It’s been a rough year and I’ve been tired and burnt out. Most of the problems – eviction, loss of friends, financial difficulty – did not originate at school, but they certainly took their toll on my school performance. I’ve been tired and a little short tempered in situations that used to make me laugh. Instead of calm, collected Ms. Dooley, the kids have seen another side of me – a side that prompted one student, when playing a vocabulary game, to answer the question “Do teachers have feelings?” with “Yeah, they feel tired!”

So the end of the school year has been shimmering in the distance as a very good thing, something I couldn’t wait to reach. The end of the school year signaled freedom from my two daily hours of commute time and the sore feet, dehydration, and stress headaches that come from teaching all day with no planning, lunch, or other down time. I’ve been rushing headlong toward the end of the school year for months, unwilling to look back.

Until today.

Today is when it hit. Today I realized something awful.

I will, in all likelihood, never see these children again.

I will never again see James, who plays the air drums and answers the daily question “How are you?” with “Not much.” I will never see Dana, who speaks of herself in the third person and writes knock knock jokes on the board in her spare time. After Wednesday, I won’t get to spend any more mornings scrubbing purple marker chicken pox off Eliza, who keeps hoping I’ll fall for it and send her home early. I won’t get to talk about High School Musical with Leah or sign about horses in the hallways with Simon. Garret won’t get to apologize in advance before uttering curse words about me anymore. Robert won’t start the morning by shouting, “Dooley! Shut up!” and then kissing me on the cheek. Brett won’t look me in the eye and say, “No, I don’t have gum! I swear!” thirty seconds before blowing a bubble.

My life is about to get boring. Or at least a whole lot more boring than it is right now.

I thought that was what I wanted.

I’ve decided to move home because I want to live closer to my family and because something about living in West Virginia just feels right, in a way that living in other states never has. I know the social rules in West Virginia. I know when to wave back and when to look the other way. I know how to drive on the back roads. I know the lingo. Other states are nice and I’m glad I’ve lived in a few of them, but the Mountain State is home and I’ll be glad to return to it.

Only there are eight extraordinary people here I’m going to miss once I’ve gone away. And I know, although there will be other children in my life, that there is no one, anywhere, that will take the place of these eight unique souls.

God. Why didn’t I spend more time teaching them to write so we could stay in touch?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sometimes your characters need to run out of toilet paper.

I write characters who wear shoes that don't fit. They tug at crumpled hemlines and try to suck in their bellies so they don't look quite so funny in their pieced-together outfits. My characters have tangled hair. Broken glasses. They eat Doritos or cheese toast or fried eggs for dinner. They fight with their sisters over the last of the toilet paper.

My partner and I had an argument tonight. Not over anything. That's the trouble with being broke. More...It doesn't take two seconds for an okay evening to disintegrate into a bout of venting and taking stress out on each other. When you've just dusted a silverfish off your only "clean" plate so you could share the last piece of toaster strudel for dinner after a long day of -- him, job hunting in an impossible economy, and, me, teaching and an hour-long commute in bad traffic, well -- you just don't have the patience left for somebody to say to you, "Honey, did you remember to pick up the toilet paper?"

If I had, it would have been with our final dollar. I've been hanging onto the thing all week for exactly this moment. The number of non-toilet-paper items I've used as toilet paper this month is astounding even to me. Paper towels, of course -- that's a given. But we're never actually in possession of those. Coffee filters, but you have to crinkle them a while first so they're worn and not so crisp. Paper shopping bags. The empty toilet paper roll. Eventually it gets to the point where you just have to jump straight from the toilet to the shower. This is the reality of being flat broke and I've moved past being ashamed of it -- after all, I work hard for what living I make. I get up at 4:15 to hop on the computer and write until 6:00, when I embark on the hour drive to the high school. Once there, I spend eight and a half to nine hours straight with the kids, with no planning time or lunch and only the briefest of bathroom breaks (although there is usually toilet paper there).

Then I rush home to relax with my partner. Sometimes this means watching ghost-hunting shows and spooking ourselves silly. Or we get down on the floor and wrestle with the dogs. A lot of times, we relieve our stress by giggling uncontrollably while stretching our dollar at the grocery store. We've gotten really good at budgeting. We've also gotten quite good at alienating other shoppers, who happen to be passing by when we, for example, scoop up entire fistsful of the sample butterscotch chips lying out in the baking aisle. Or make the fish in the seafood section talk to each other. Or name the veal. Or wonder aloud what it might taste like to fry Jello.

Only when we get really down low -- when there's no food and no money and the landlords are mad because of the ink stain on the carpet and our basement apartment is filling up with ugly basement-type bugs -- When we get really low, there is less relaxing than there is verbal sparring. Not that we're not in love, because we are. Quite deeply. But we're in our fifth year of hollering such sentences to each other as, "Babe, will you bring me the coffee filters?" and frankly, it's easy to get cranky.

I know there is true poverty in this world, and I know that it's not us. After all, in this very post, I've mentioned having a television, a car, and a computer, all luxuries I relish after years of dreaming of them. I understand that what we are is just good ol' fashioned broke, and we are certainly not alone. I also realize that being broke has made us good at things like finding our way out of jams and making dollars stretch for miles. And I have a hunch -- a very strong one -- that I get my characters from being broke, and I wouldn't trade my characters even for a lifetime supply of Charmin. So, usually, I try not to wallow or to dwell on what we don't have.

But an Angel Soft commercial just played and I sort of feel like my hair is on fire.

Well, my partner just interrupted me to give me a kiss on the cheek and a bite of his sugar-free, fat-free pudding (45 cents at Go Grocery). Now he's trying to close the computer with his foot. So I guess we're making up. Which is the good thing about being broke. He and I have been through so much together, we can't bear to stay mad long.

Anyway, this was all by way of saying:

When you're writing -- or when you're out in the world, dealing with people -- just try to remember that some people are a little chafed from using coffee filters in ways God never intended, and they didn't plan on wearing plum PJ pants with a green sweatshirt to the grocery store -- that's just sort of how it happens. I hate to read over and over about characters who are always rested and clean, with dinner foods at dinner time and a magical supply of endless toilet paper. Sometimes characters just need to be crabby and messy and frustrated and griping at each other for the heck of it. That's life. And it's usually a good read, too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Places I Have Lived

In almost all of the stories I've written, the protaganist is either moving to a new home or attempting to find a new home to move to. I guess that's because I've lived in 42 different places in my life, and each one is a story.

I think they're in order, but I can't promise.

1. The Uncle Lewis Place in Mt. Nebo, WV. I don't know why it was called that or if there was really an Uncle Lewis. It was an old, white, haunted house where we lived till I turned one. When I say it was haunted, I mean both that it was listed in a book of haunted houses and that when you used a camera in that house, sometimes there were snakes in the photos that weren't there in real life.

2. Bent Tree Farm, somewhere, I'm not sure where, in West Virginia. We raised goats and chickens and a cow or two. When I say "we," I mean Mom, who also took care of us three girls. Dad, too, of course, but I think he also worked in the mines at this time. I'm not sure; it's a little fuzzy. I know the chimney burned once. I know there was a swimming hole. We left when I was three because somebody vandalized the place so bad we couldn't live there anymore, and a neighbor's dog killed the goats. Years later, the whole house burned. I think it was actually burned on purpose as a practice exercise for the fire department. There was a neighbor called Jug who sat on his front porch with a jug. Years later my sister drove me back to find the place, and there Jug still sat, like not a day had gone by. Waved just like he knew us.

3. The brick house in Cottle, WV. This was a little brick house and I remember that the neighbors had a cook-out and I lost my jelly shoes. We left when I was ... still 3? Four, maybe? This house also burned later.

4. Williams Road, Craigsville (I think), WV -- a green house where we took care of a stray dog for a while. I had nightmares a lot. We had a yardsale. It was the first place I noticed that mist made me nostalgic. My sister accidentally cut herself on a neighbor's knife. We made up imaginary friends named Dusty, Waggy, and Marbly. I was four. I carried a lunch box and desperately wanted to go to school.

5. Coke Road, Craigsville, WV. This was actually called Bottle Plant Road, but we called it Coke Road. I had my first best friend, named Amber, but I didn't really like her. Her grandmother made good chocolate chip cookies. We made cornhusk dolls. I think I was still four. This one also burned later.

6. Pine Trailer Park, Summersville, WV. There was red carpet. I started Kindergarten at the Christian Academy. My mother worked there and after my half-day classes, I bounced around the halls on a bouncy horse. My horse-loving root, I guess. I wet my pants a lot. I wanted Snuggle Bear from the dryer sheet commercials as a pet.

Edited to Add: 7. Lee Street. White house with black shutters. We had a puppy named Sunday, but we only got to keep him from one Sunday till the next before we had to give him back. We walked out at dusk to get ice creams from the U-Save gas station. We had a cat named August who got hit by a car right in front of us and killed. This house always seemed creepy to me, though not for any real reason.

8. The Carpenter House in Mt. Nebo, thus named because we rented it from people named the Carpenters, but I also thought it was because the house was wooden. We three girls shared a room at the top of the stairs, and I liked to stand on the top step and watch storms. My favorite song was "Wake Up, Little Susie." My sisters and I played Civil War and Wild Horses and Gold Rush. I stepped on a hamster in the sandbox and it crunched. We liked MacGyver. I rode an imaginary horse everywhere I went. We had a brown Chevy Suburban named Teddy Bear. I was six.

9. Uncle Emmett's place in Mt. Nebo, WV. I don't remember an actual Uncle Emmett, though. My sister grew crystals for a science project. My other sister won a red ribbon in a social studies fair. There were two dogs, not ours, but they loved us enough to chase the schoolbus We walked down to the gospel sing to use the payphone. There were bunkbeds. I was seven. I started the first of three elementary schools I would attend in my second-grade year.

E.T.A. -- 10. Summersville Place, a retirement home, with my grandmother. We weren't allowed, but we did anyway. I remember watching Westerns and eating strawberry candy. There was a lady upstairs we thought was a witch. I don't actually remember sleeping there, but Mom says we stayed in Grandma's bed and she took the couch.

11. At a Christian bookstore in Muddletly, WV, for forty days and forty nights. The owners let us use their back room and I think my mom helped in the store. We weren't allowed to read. There were prayer meetings and the lady we lived with kept a bowl of glass-like green candy, which I loved. There were bees in boxes, and a stream out back. I remember we had a snow day once. I wanted a horse. We got a little gray car that my parents told me dropped from Heaven, and I never did know where it came from. I switched to the second of three elementary schools in second grade. My second-grade class shared a room with the third-grade class and it was too cold to use the playground, the whole time I lived there. We decorated shoeboxes for Valentine's Day.

12. With Yvonne in Canvas, WV. There were plastic runners on the carpets, and one whole white room of furniture that nobody, including Yvonne, was allowed to use. A mirror jumped off the wall during a prayer meeting and shattered on the living room floor. Yvonne had shoulder pads and liked Cool Whip on peanut butter sandwiches. Maybe this was where we weren't allowed to read. Or maybe it was both. There was a room in the back she didn't use, and that was our hideaway for Mom to read to us. Or maybe that was at the bookstore, too. Yvonne finally sat our stuff out on the sidewalk. Luckily, my parents had gone out and found us a place that very day. I'm not sure what we did about school, but I never did go to one in Canvas.

13. Maria Estates, in Glade Creek, WV, for two delicious years, my eighth through my tenth. We stopped going to church. We were off school during Indian Summer because of the teacher strike of 1990. We had a cat named Panther J. Andrew Cade who could knock on the door. My mom read us everything. The neighbor had a horse, but she didn't like us at first. Then she taught me to ride in the back meadow, and I don't remember being scared. We were convinced the meadow was haunted. She was my first real best friend. I liked listening to "Back in the High Life" by Steve Winwood and "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley.

14. In the car, moving to and from Illinois. I don't remember much, only that there was a rest area with phones that you could pick up and they would automatically tell you the weather. I thought it was magic.

15. Camp. This is to say, my grandmother's camp in Mt. Nebo, WV. I started fifth grade at the same school I'd attended for a couple of months in second grade. I made a friend who liked horses, and she broke her arm on the playground. My grandmother didn't have indoor plumbing and we washed in basins outside with water from the well. I ate peanut butter toast in the dark before school.

16. Dotson Trailer Park, Glade Creek, WV. There was a horse named Diamond who lived down the road. He was my best friend. I was eleven. There was a blizzard that winter and we made roads in the snow. There was an orange cat named Misfit. The neighbor boys and I built a fort down in the valley. I remember spending a lot of time walking in circles and brooding. My bedroom was in a corner of the living room.

17. E.T.A. -- Camp again, apparently.

18. Battle Run Campground in Mt. Nebo, WV. We couldn't afford rent, so we moved into the campground. We had to switch campsites every two weeks, as per their rules, so actually there were lots of little moves in between. We had a brown Nissan truck, and sometimes we rode in the back and held our tents, still pitched, against the wind while Dad drove us to a new campsite. It was easier than taking them apart and putting them back together. We hid out in the shower houses during the biggest storms. Of all the summers to live on Summersville Lake, we picked a drought year, the year they drained the lake early. There was a lot of mud and dry, cracked earth where there ought to have been water. I started seventh grade from the campground and yelled at the campers next door, who played a song about a muddy river over and over until one in the morning on a school night. I had a different best friend every week because the old ones would stop camping and go home. I did my homework in the laundry room. My roller skates went through the side of my tent. I had a boyfriend who was gay, like me. He took me to horse shows. I was twelve.

19. An old post office, Canvas, WV. My sister and I had a mail slot between our rooms. The walls didn't quite reach the ceilings. There was a horse a mile away named Star. Just past her lived my best friend, Kari. There was a swing in the back yard. I danced by the creek to classical music. I kept a journal of my daily activities with my imaginary horse. I wrote my first novel, about a magical land of horses called Aquilla. I was twelve.

20. A red cargo van, first moving to, and then back from, Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It just didn't feel right once we got there.

21. Harold Court, Summersville, WV. Hidden Springs Farm was a mile away and I got a job there cleaning stalls in exchange for riding lessons. Kari rode there, too. I met my best friend Stacie. My sister moved away and came back several months later with a baby. It was sweltering hot and it was my other sister's turn to live in the living room. I had a cat named Mikey who stole tomatoes off the counter. We lived there for three years and I started high school.

22. A haunted green house in Enon, WV. My father and my uncle built me a barn and I brought my first horse home from Hidden Springs Farm. Stuff and I rode for hours up and down country roads. He was scared of calves. Best friend was still Stacie and she learned to drive and visited a lot. I lived in the attic. Something knocked on the walls from the other side. My sister and I watched the X-Files religiously and I learned to bake cakes with green X's made of sprinkles to celebrate the release of the X-Files movie. My other sister visited on weekends with the baby. Kari and our other horsey friends visited and we bet dirty socks and broken hair bows on the Kentucky Derby every year. I lay on Stuff's back for hours and hours, reading horse books. We had a cat named Carter who slept on Stuff's back. He was killed by a car when he was one. We got a cat named Milagro next. I did my homework on the barn roof. I was seventeen.

23. Kintacoy. This was a half-finished apartment in a barn in the wilds of Mt. Nebo, WV. I lived upstairs. My parents lived downstairs in the kitchen, and Stuff lived up the hill in a rough, half-finished little shed. My parents spent a lot of time at the neighbor's haunted house. I was too scared, so I stayed alone at Kintacoy. We had our first computer with Internet and I built a website about my horse. I read a lot of X-Files fanfiction and watched Sports Night religiously by holding onto the TV antenna to get reception. There was no indoor plumbing. Or outdoor plumbing, either, once the porta-john got repossessed. I remember freezing my private parts peeing on the ground in January. It was one of the coldest winters I remember and I was very, very moody. I was still seventeen.

24. Hester Hall, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky. I spent one semester majoring in journalism. I had a best friend named Annie. I minored in equine science and came home after one semester to be with my own horse. Found out western Kentucky was too flat for this mountain girl.

23, revisited. Kintacoy again. Still moody. Stayed part time with my sister in her apartment in town. She drove me to Glenville College's Nicholas County campus, back when there was one. We fought tooth and nail to keep Sports Night on the air, of course a losing battle. We drank Dr. Pepper and I attended her entire distance learning lab with her without an instructor ever knowing. We ate lemon poppyseed muffins and argued politics for fun.

25. Buskirk Hall, Marshall University, Huntington, WV. My sister and I lived and breathed Election 2000. After a sleepless night watching the returns, which proved to be mostly pointless, I crossed campus to Jenkins and changed my major to education. We drove back and forth across West Virginia nearly every weekend.

26. First Avenue, Huntington, WV, with my sister and Stacie. I came out as a lesbian. I rode the bus out to Barboursville to work with an autistic teen and to ride my horse.

27. Fourth Avenue, a little efficiency apartment, my first solo place, Huntington, WV. I had a balcony three stories above the street. I lived above the deli and the Chinese restaurant, and just across the street from the bus station. I started dating. Eventually I started dating a woman named Tracy, who later came out as a transgendered man named Jake. I got a cat named Sage, and then found a cat named Henry (see cat-hat in userpic) in Wal-Mart.

28. Tenth Avenue, a haunted, scary house, with the campus gay and lesbian group. We rented the downstairs and our friends rented the upstairs. Something kept locking and unlocking doors and scratching mirrors. The gas got cut off and I learned to take cold showers. We got our first truck, an '88 Ford Ranger.

29. A trailer with no plumbing. Huntington, WV. The wheel fell off the truck and we started walking the mile and a half to catch the bus. I was supposed to start student teaching, but the wiring failed and we had to move into ...

30. Jake's sister's dorm room for three consecutive days at a time, the maximum allowed. Then my friend Steve's apartment for a night. Then back to Jake's sister's room. All the while student teaching.

31. Linden Circle. Huntington, WV. A pretty apartment, but with scary neighbors and a scary neighborhood. Jake and I broke up. He moved out. I graduated college and bought a gold Chevy.

32. With an opera singer, Brevard, NC. First by myself. Then Jake moved to NC to be with me and we got back together. My first year of teaching special education. Stuff, my beloved first horse of nine years, got sick suddenly, and I drove all night to be at his side when he passed away. My cat Sage disappeared, but came back three weeks later. We were asked to leave.

33. At the boarding house, Brevard, NC. It was gorgeous. It was perfect. We lived there till school was out, then left for Virginia, where I'd accepted a job. I was given a sick horse who turned out not to be too sick. That was Magnum. We rode in a show in the rain and got a blue ribbon.

34. With my sister in Charlottesville, VA, for a few days, on the floor of the office.

35. A sublet in a scary neighborhood in Charlottesville, VA. I started teaching at a private school. We had a dog named Hunter who hated apartments.

36. A farmhouse you got to by driving through cow fields in Afton, VA. We brought Magnum home and got him a pet goat, a Nigerian Dwarf. Learned that goat fencing must be water tight. We drove our car without insurance. My sister moved away to Philly and it was just me and Jake with the animals. Something knocked on the door in the middle of the night, most nights, although we were the only house for miles. We got evicted with five days to find a new place, and we had to part with Pete the goat.

37. A horrible hodgepodge week where we lived in our car, drove back and forth from my parents' apartment in West Virginia, and stayed in cheap motel rooms. Our car broke down and was towed away and that left us stranded in a cheap motel with a hole in the wall. I pulled Henry-cat out of the wall by his tail. He was traumatized. We maybe all were.

38. My parents helped get us into a cottage on a horse farm in Staunton, VA. We kept Magnum there and worked in the stable while I also commuted 45 minutes to the private school. The horse farm owner possessed a strong personality and the farm was never peaceful. We got rid of Hunter because she was sick and we couldn't afford her care. We knew we were about to be homeless. My Henry-cat couldn't take the stress and ran away in January. I found him dead on the road in March. He was four. We were finally asked to leave. We left the dead Chevy sitting there next to Henry's grave.

39. With a friend named Julie, for about a week. She was awesome. So was her dog. Sage was lonely. So was Jake. So was I. We didn't talk much. We drove a tan minivan with 300,000 miles on it.

40. Back to the boarding house in Brevard, NC. I count it separately because it was so different this time. The cast of characters had changed. I taught preschool, then started my third year of teaching. I got my dog, Lola. Jake got his puppy, Buddy. Lights flickered willy-nilly and there were disembodied footsteps that walked through the house. I wrote LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE. We were asked to leave. Jake came out as trans and changed his name. We ditched the van and bought a Bonneville from my coworker. Still haven't finished paying.

41. A rental in Asheville, NC, with a friend named Erika. Obama was inaugerated. Erika moved back to Florida. She was the perfect roommate and I miss her like crazy. This was the first rental in a long time that I don't regret.

And, finally,

42. A basement apartment that is half apartment, half dank, creepy, unfinished basement. No kitchen cabinets. A jazz band practices down here once a week. Occasionally, somebody taps you on the shoulder, even if you are alone in a room. This is where I live. I'm twenty-eight.

In just a few weeks, Jake and I are moving back to West Virginia. We're not sure where to, exactly, so we might be doing the campground thing again. I kind of hope so. Of all the places I just listed, it was one of the most fun.

So now you know why I write what I write. I just listed 42 novel ideas, minimum.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One of those days.

The first student to arrive was cussing when she entered. Students two and three argued heatedly all morning, while students four, five, and six fought over breakfast, even though it was plentiful and all the same. Student seven came in crying, and student eight (who came in wearing fuzzy zebra slippers) sat down just off the school bus and refused to enter the building.

So of course, it was IEP day -- a major meeting, mid-morning. Promising a reluctant student she could paint with me when the 11: 15 bell rang, I ran to the office for my meeting. Upon returning -- at 11:17 -- she was waiting and grabbed me as I came through the door. We started painting together, but that was when another student started crying and cussing on the other side of the room.

Of course by this time, one of my two classroom assistants had left for a doctor's appointment, and they had been unable to find a sub. There was no one to leave for supervision, so I leveled a gaze at my little painter and said, "Paint goes on paper. Not on you. Promise?"
She nodded and gave me a big thumbs-up and a winning smile, so I crossed the room to help a student deal with a tragic loss at UNO which, apparently, was grounds for heartbreak. Ten minutes later, the UNO loser was still in tears and pounding the table, refusing to wash his hands or to budge from the table for lunch. Meanwhile, my artist was purple to the elbow and grinning guiltily. I confiscated paints, dunked her hands in the sink, and scrubbed her, while calling over my shoulder to my remaining assistant that if she would stay with the UNO-er, I would take the others to lunch and send back-up.

Balancing three styrofoam trays at a time, I managed to get most of the kids settled, and, as promised, I sent a member of the administration as back-up to help with UNO-kid, one of my few kids verbal and aware enough to benefit from administration back-up. Soon after, my assistant and my heartbroken student arrived. I had to beg the child to get a lunch, since he insisted food would give him a headache and that food was stupid and probably responsible for his loss at UNO. Eventually, he picked up some pizza, took a bite, and immediately became all smiles. Low blood sugar, perhaps?

Meanwhile, another student, finished with his lunch, began to run around the table, snatching bits off of other students' trays. And my little artist, still vaguely purple, thought it would be funny to snatch napkins from the assistant principal rather than getting some from the napkin holder.

Back in the classroom, I settled four kids in the kitchen doing laundry, and four others in front of the TV to work on sign language vocabulary. One child, quite mysteriously, grabbed her backpack and ran for the restroom. When she returned, she was clad in pink fuzzy pajamas to match her slippers. This was one of those moments where I wished I could subscribe to the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy; unfortunately, I don't keep a set of PJs at school.

After the sign video, I popped in a reward movie one child had brought with her from home. It turned out to be the magic of WEE SING IN SILLYVILLE, a video with which I am intimately familiar, thanks to a college buddy of mine who also happened to be a ten-year-old Wee Sing fanatic. My student signed, "Green frog," and seemed immensely shocked when I understood that she meant "Frugy Frogs." So then she added, "Red baby," and I asked, "Baby Bitty Bootie?" She was thrilled. I was horrified that I still remembered these details after three years.

By the time I sent the kids home, I had myself convinced that it must be Friday by now. Unfortunately, convincing me and convincing the calendar are two separate things.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What's your writing root?

Have you ever seen the movie But I'm a Cheerleader, where a girl gets sent away to a "straight camp" when her parents suspect she's gay? Remember the scenes where all the gay (and presumed-gay) kids are trying to figure out their "root," the one childhood memory that was responsible for their homosexuality?

Perhaps this is an odd leap, but Sruble just posted a set of questions for novelists that got me thinking about my "root" as a writer. In my response to her questions, I described my own writing "root," which occurred when I was six:
When I was six, my mother read us The Outsiders (not a typical book for a six-year-old, but I had older sisters and Mom read to us all together). When she revealed that the author was only 16, I decided at that precise moment to become a novelist. I knew grown-ups wrote books, but no one had ever told me kids could write! I started "noveling" that very day, in a green notebook I found in my mom's purse. My handwriting was big and clumsy and I could only fit ten or so words on a page, but for several days after, I happily chronicled the misadventures of "Tina Telanium, horse rider." All I remember is that she wore elbow and knee pads to ride her horse, and that she at some point battled a panther (probably because my big sister had recently read me Danger on Panther Peak.)

So writing a novel as a grown-up made sense; ever since I picked up that green notebook, I've been trying.

I'm curious. Do you have a "root," a moment in your life when you decided you would be a writer? Did you know you would write what you do, or did you just know you had something to say, even though you hadn't figured out yet how to say it? Were you taken seriously when you announced your intentions? Did you take yourself seriously, or did you just have this nagging feeling that you might be a writer, like it or not? Whatever your writing root, I would love to hear more about it!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I sound like a kazoo.

I sound like a kazoo.

But we'll get to that in a minute. First of all, it's important to know that everyone is all right. My father had a heart attack Sunday -- or, rather, my father realized he had a heart attack Sunday. He actually had the attack last Thursday, in the middle of a county land auction.

Apparently, it went something like this:

Auctioneer: "Do I hear 350?"

Dad: (wordlessly raises number, while noticing crushing pain in chest and arm)

Auctioneer: "I've got 350. Do I hear 375? 375?"

Dad: (disoriented, wordlessly raises number again)

Auctioneer: "Uh, Mark ... You've already got it for 350, but I can go higher if you'd like."
And then Dad stayed to bid on two more parcels, after which he headed home over the mountains to look after his granddaughter for a few days. Then drove her back across the state to her own home. Then back across the state to his own home. My parents live in a small town -- population 1,477 -- in West Virginia, and my mother doesn't drive. By the time Dad decided to drive himself the hour to the hospital, three days after the attack, the heart damage was so bad that they immediately rushed him to Roanoke. Which, of course, left my mother stranded and sleeping in a car in West Virginia.

I didn't know any of this when I got up for work Monday morning. I only knew that my mother had left a brief message for my sister saying she and my father were heading for the hospital "as a precaution." I also knew I had the beginnings of a head cold and that if I did, my kids probably did, as well. By ten, I'd had one kid puking and one seizing. By twelve-thirty, I'd sent both home. Meanwhile, a third was running a mild fever and my mother still wasn't answering her cell phone. Plus my cold medicine was making me dizzy and I was feeling a little out of sorts.

Ten till one, my mother answered, with the news that my father was in a Roanoke hospital and mom was still stranded in West Virginia, waiting for a ride. Turning down my immediate offer to head in that direction, Mom swore she had a ride on the way.

I was running a fever when I left school that afternoon, and had the beginnings of a migraine. I went to sleep early and woke the next morning to toss the dogs into the fenced yard, grab a couple of changes of clothes, and head for the mountains to see my father.

My mother didn't want me to make the trip, but I didn't tell her. She found out anyway by calling the school and discovering her daughter playing hooky. I was halfway there by then and came on, even though the Google Map's promise of 4 hours turned out to be wrong by two. My partner was experiencing a severe sort of anxiety about driving on the Interestate, and every time we went up a mountain, my sinus pressure increased till I started seeing spots. So, we weren't exactly the safest of drivers.

We made it as evening came on, and surprised my dad -- in retrospect, probably not something you want to do to a heart attack patient. But he seemed thrilled to see us. My mother had also made it to the hospital, driven there by her sister. Apparently, in addition to turning down my offer of a ride, she'd also turned down an offer from my 13-year-old autistic niece to "come pick her up if she needed a ride." I'm not sure whether my niece was planning to come on her scooter or her bicycle, but it couldn't have been good, either way. At any rate, we all sat around for a while, listening to my dad crack jokes about his heart monitor. He was surprisingly jovial for someone who had just walked around for four days after a heart attack. When we headed for the motel that night, everyone felt a lot better, now that we were together.

The next morning, I woke with a fever, and so much congestion that I couldn't talk. If I did manage to force my voice past the blockage in my throat, it came out sounding like a kazoo. I daffy-ducked my way through the morning before heading home. By this point, I was completely unable to drive, a fact which caused my partner's anxiety to raise markedly. I called the school and let them know I would not be back this week. We took it slow and grabbed a $30 motel room halfway home.

Fortunately, our pepto-bismol-colored motel room happened to be directly across from a haunted seafood restaurant, so the evening was not a total loss.

That brings us to this morning -- I still sound like a kazoo, and I'm about to embark on the rest of my road trip -- but Dad made it home from the hospital safe and my partner is feeling a lot better about driving this morning, so I guess we're doing all right. Plus, who would have thought a 30-dollar, pepto-bismol-colored room would have free wireless?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Funny Thing About Leaving

One of my students is on a joke-telling kick, except he hasn't quite gotten the hang of it yet.

"Why did the cow cross the road?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"To eat the grass."

In fact, several of my students are interested in the joke-telling process, but few have mastered the art. They're sitting around this morning, listening to the rain and kicking joke attempts back and forth.


"Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"

"My grandma!"

"My grandma who?"

"Just my grandma! She visits every Sunday!"

The funny part is, they all dissolve into laughter at the end of every joke, whether or not it made any sense at all. To my kids, it's enough that an effort has been made. This is another reason why I love them.

Speaking, by the way, of the rain, it has been coming down in buckets all morning. A toad-strangler, my best-elementary-school-friend's father used to call it. A gauly-washer. Except it was pronounced "golley-warsher." I share this term with the kids and they shriek with delight, then return to their jokes.

"Why did Ms. Dooley run down the hall?"


"'Cause she was late for a meeting!"

How well they know me. He's right, too; I am late for a meeting. I scoop up an armload of IEP paperwork and run for the front office.

The conference room is dark because of the rain, and everyone is a little bit sluggish. We all laugh lazily and talk softly, until the self-care portion of the meeting rears its ugly head and I'm forced to utter the phrase "complete the feminine hygiene repertoire independently" in front of my middle-aged, male school-to-work coordinator. He blushes to where he used to keep his roots and I rush to get back on safe ground, which, in this case, is cooking skills.

By the time the meeting is over, the lights have dimmed twice and thunder literally rattles the windows. I hear in passing that the auditorium has flooded, and think of those little theater students -- clothes dampened, spirits not -- huddled in the hallways, telling more traditional, and somewhat raunchier, jokes than my kids have thought up.

Back in class, I hear,

"Why did Ms. Dooley buy an umbrella?"


"Because it's raining!"


"Why did the fire truck go to the house?"


"To put out the fire!"


"Why did the lady go to the doctor?"


"Because she was sick!"

and more torrents of laughter and rain, and I think, no matter what choices I've made about leaving public school teaching, that there is nowhere I would rather be at this particular moment than here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Careless Driving

It's Derby Day. I love Derby Day. When I was 17, I skipped the prom because I wanted to stay home and watch Derby coverage. My friends and I used to bet dirty socks on the race when we were in junior high. When I was eight, I had a pink stick-horse named Unbridled. I have always loved Derby Day.

As part of the Derby Day festivities, I was going to go see my horse, Marvin, but it's pouring rain and he lives in a mud pit, so I decided to wait till tomorrow. Instead, I went to see a horse show at the ag center.

When I arrived, the English classes had just ended (darn!) and the arena was full of ten-to-twelve-year-olds warming up for Youth Western Pleasure. They wore sparkling vests that matched their hair bows, and their saddle cloths, and their ... cell phones?

Sure enough. A twelve-year-old girl was cantering her Appaloosa gelding along the railing at a fast clip, completing loops and figures of eight, all the while talking on a cell phone she held to her ear. Twice, I watched her almost run into other horses. Twice, the other riders high-tailed it out of the way with their mounts. She chattered happily through her entire warm-up pattern and rode out of the arena, still gabbing.

I want to comment on this occurrence, but I'm just not sure what to say.