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.