Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This time last year ...

I lived in a rural county and there was a blizzard on. Most of my days were spent in the office with the orange walls and blue gauzy curtains. The view out the window was of the preacher's house, giant metal star above the door, trampoline laden with snow in the back yard. No children ever played there. Stray dogs crisscrossed the highway over and over until they were killed. My fingers stayed on the keyboard, but my mind refused to go someplace else. I was stuck there, frozen like the neighbor's purple asters.

Sometimes I feel like I will never completely leave that room.

But I have.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blizzard of 09

Blizzard of 09

bony dog chained by the tracks
ached for comfort
we threw her a bone
behind us in the window
the christmas tree twinkled
rickety and frail
one bulb blew and the whole thing went dark
off in the distance the train moved slow
whistles and lights before anything else
fading in through a blizzard
pushing snow off the tracks
I broke the ice on the trash pile
to search an empty box
for a spare christmas bulb
I knew wasn't there.
I didn't have a whistle
and I didn't have a light
I was uncoupled cars and impenetrable drifts
frozen to metal
trying to gain traction

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NaNo Check-In

Tell me how I'm supposed to get any writing done?

I'm 33,000 words into my NaNoWriMo novel, and because I started it eight days early, I'm supposed to finish it by tomorrow.

It's okay that I'm not going to make it. My definition of a successful NaNo has changed over the years. I now consider the month a success if I manage to NOT change plots 17 times, and if I end up with something I'm actually going to use. This unfinished 33,000-word novel? I am smitten! This, I'll use. Most of it, anyway -- I might cut the part where I went off on an accidental rant about corn.

So how is November treating you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Revision Checlist

1. I spelled "revision checklist" wrong. First item on the revision checklist: Revise the spelling of revision checklist.

2. You know how sometimes if you're at the lake, you can watch a storm come across the water, and you can literally see the line on the water where the rain starts, and that line is moving closer to you? Well, I just described that in my book. I said it was like "a deadline moving closer." Whoops, the author is showing.

3. Question. Can my Pagan character feel rapturous?

4. Let's go with euphoric.

5. You know, my editor has a very fair point. If my main character had really written this paragraph on the wall of a bathroom stall, she'd have run out of space in the ladies' room and had to duck across the hall to the men's room. Maybe I should buy her some paper. I'm the author, I can give the kid paper. Be mean not to.

6. Yeah, she's not getting paper. She's just writing something shorter.

7. My editor's penciled note: "No one got hungry?" has me stumped. I've been over and over and over this chapter and I just can't find a way to feed these people. Can this be one of those places where teachers have their students write a missing scene later? "Now, class, you'll notice that the characters didn't eat in this chapter. The author probably did that on purpose to give you a chance to write a missing scene about how the characters find food ..."

8. I, on the other hand, am having no trouble finding food, and eating lots of it, from revision stress.

9. I don't understand. How can my editor write "great" at the end of a paragraph that's more pencil marks than original text?

10. I've been sitting at McDonald's, which was the only place I could find open to sit and work on revisions after dropping my husband off at work at 4 a.m. But now my computer's almost dead and the only outlet here is at an uncomfortable-looking table near the counter, which is like sitting next to the teacher's desk. It's later now. I'm going to go find something else that's open. Something with better coffee and less beeping.

11. If I revise my own setting, does that count as revision progress?

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Few Pages

I drove Jake to work at 4 a.m. Could have gone home after, but the air was sharp with autumn, and out in the world, there was internet and coffee.

I've got everything I need: a coffee, a laptop, revision notes.

Not doing much, except dreaming.

Revisions. That's what Jake and I have made to our lives. I mean, it sounds cheesy. Obvious, and a little painful, that a writer would draw parallels from revision notes to life. But it's almost six and the number of cups of coffee I've had has now outpaced the number of hours of sleep I got. So it makes sense to me at the moment.

Six years ago, when Jake and I started our life together, there was no wise editor to pencil notes in the margins. Of course we had parents and siblings and friends, but they each had separate chapters. Nobody could step back and look at the plot arc, make sense of the characters and warn us of the plot holes.

Six years ago, just as fall began, we stood on a balcony in our small city and looked down on leaves and people.

But this morning feels more like five years ago, the end of our first year together. Already we'd survived two moves, two kittens, one broken-down truck and the public bus system. But now it was autumn again and we lived in a trailer on a hill. The nearest bus stop was a mile away, but a mile and a half if you walked the long way, the graveyard way, which wasn't as scary as the other way. Better silent gravestones than shadows not quite silent enough, following us through the darkness of the bad neighborhood down by the interstate. Better we walk an extra half mile and make it to our destination.

Jake worked at a pretzel place then. And the fall was long, but the winter was longer. We walked the cemetery way in the pitch-black, frosty mornings, me accompanying him because he didn't like me staying in our trailer alone, and I didn't like him walking by himself.

We were punchy, giggly, a little nuts with cold and tired. He had bronchitis and I had a foul mouth and we stood by the road waiting for the bus to top the hill, hoping the driver could see us in the dark. Christmas lights and balloon Santas decorated the path to work. All morning, he made breakfast for people while his stomach growled, while I sat in the aisle eating the free pretzels he snuck me and scraping up change for coffee, writing on the backs of already-filled pages and hoping this writing thing would take us places someday.

Pages turned a little quicker once spring came. And chapter after chapter went by.

The changes came slowly. Something added here. Deleted there. A few changes of a character's name, a few shifts in setting, a few unexpected plot twists. The notes in the margins weren't the guide for the change, but the record of it. A scribbled year on the back of a photo, a crumpled notebook page scattered with pencil marks and pretzel salt. And the taste of autumn air that can always take me back to the opening paragraph.

I've got to admit, this is a convoluted tale. The plot arc doesn't make much sense and the character motivations haven't always been believable. But I love the suspense, and a lot of the prose. And sometimes, on fall mornings, I like to re-read Chapter One.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Launch Party Recap

"Emmett, I'm filming you!" my husband sing-songed, joking around with our four-year-old nephew.

"No you're not!" Emmett giggled ... before promptly flipping backward over the arm of his chair and crashing to the floor.

This was only one of the many exciting events that took place during the LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE launch party!

Taylor Books in Charleston, WV, is a wonderful, cozy bookstore. Yesterday, it was packed with people ready to celebrate the release of my new novel. I was touched by how many people came. High school friends. Writing group members. Family, of course. But the coolest thing was when strangers walked up, wanting to talk about, and buy, and read, the book I wrote!

In addition to reading a chapter of LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE and signing the books that were purchased, I also collected books for Hanover Public Library in southern West Virginia. They lost much of their children's section in a flood in June. It was wonderful to see people buying cherished children's books for kids I used to teach. I hope to collect many more books for this library, and I'm really grateful to everyone who already donated.

Oh, and don't worry. After his fall, Emmett bounced back up, ready to take on the world. His plan?

"When I'm a grown-up guy, I'm gonna be a 'offer' like you! I'm going to write a scary story about scary pirates! It'll be scary!"

I can't wait until THAT launch party!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


It's August! That means LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE will be released THIS MONTH!

In honor of August, I have immersed myself in Windows Movie Maker for the weekend and created a book trailer. What fun! I'm going to be setting all the family photos to music now using this program! It's my new favorite hobby and procrastination method!

Anyway, here it is -- the brand new Livvie Owen Lived Here book trailer:



August, and with it, temptation

It's that time again. August has rolled around and teachers everywhere are getting back into their classrooms after the floor-polishing and wall-painting and building maintenance that takes place in July.

The posts are already starting to pop up on Facebook:

Got into my classroom today.


Starting on bulletin boards, ugh.


Anybody know of any good math centers? I'm setting up this week.

Three years in a row, I have quit teaching in June. Two of those years, it only lasted till August. When those "Got-into-my-classroom" posts started cropping up on Facebook, I started opening a new tab. Cruising the local district employment websites. Placing a bid just to see if I'd get it.

Always do.

I'm determined this year not to return to public schooling. Last year, I was off my game. Tired. Negative. I did my best by those kids, but my best wasn't as good last year as it was in school years past. I did not leave with a sense of having done well, of having made lasting changes. I left with the sense that we had, all of us, just barely kept our heads above water.

Bad metaphor, actually, given that the town flooded not two weeks after I left it.

I will teach this year, just not in a public school. I will work with children, but I will not have a classroom. This is both good and bad. It's good because I can focus on the needs of each individual child in the program that's offered me work come fall. It's also good because I won't be staying in public education long enough to completely lose my faith in it. But it's bad because ... because ...

Man, I really like having a classroom.

I'm happy with my choices. This is a good move, mental-health-wise. It's a good move, career-wise. It's a good move, interest-wise. So I'll stay strong as my Facebook friends dangle lesson plans and teacher's desks and literacy centers in front of me. I will pour my creative energy into writing instead of materials creation. I will block the district websites from my computer.

But if anybody needs a bulletin board created? I'm your girl.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My odd computer-geek analogy for home

It's kind of like a computer game. The menu screen of the computer game. I have this image in my head of a map, and it's full of areas of the game you can visit, but only certain ones can be active at a time. Some of the places on the map are dormant, and when you mouse over them, they don't light up. You can see them, faintly, just the image, just the outline. But you cannot open them and go inside.

I'm back in a town I first lived in a decade ago. I lived here for six years and left for four, and now here I am again, driving familiar streets, shopping familiar stores. It is startling how little changes when you leave a place for a while. How easy it is to slip back into the routine of living there.

On my way to Kroger, I pass the building that once housed the offices of the job I held at the time. Below that building, in the alley out back, is the first gay bar I ever entered, out and proud, and scared to death, at the age of 20. I remember my sister taking me there for my 21st birthday. I remember watching her dance months later with a boy who would break her heart.

I remember dancing there myself with a girl I barely knew, a girl who is now a man named Jakob, my husband. I mean, who could have predicted that, on a dance floor seven years ago? Who could possibly see where the map would lead and which sections I had yet to unlock?

Kroger has great produce, but their freezer section is lacking. Which means I turn around and head for Wal-Mart. And on the way to Wal-Mart, I pass a bus station that used to make me cry. I pass a balcony I used to stand on at sunset, looking toward the horizon, thinking about the future. I pass a college I used to attend, a house, an apartment, a trailer I used to live in. All of these so vivid, so familiar. But I can only see the outline now. I can't click. Although the memories are so vivid I can taste the oatmeal cookies I used to bake and smell the laundry detergent I used to use, these sections of my life aren't active anymore. They don't light up when I mouse over them.

Just past Wal-Mart is a little yellow house. It isn't mine, but I've got high hopes for it. I can't help but look at it and wonder whether it's on the map. Whether the outline is there, waiting to become active so I can click on it, so I can enter. I can't help but hope for oatmeal cookies in that place, for the homey smell of laundry detergent and a headful of memories I've yet to know.

Once, I walked past a kid in a dance club and half-turned, thought, I'm going to know that person someday. And once, ten years ago, I walked around this city fresh, without knowing a single face, a single building.

It's funny how many times you can walk past your home and not know it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Heather Kelly and P.J. Hoover are both offering LIVVIE as a contest prize!

Also, I'm sorry for not blogging lately. I've been busy:

Monday, June 28, 2010

My sister's tribute to Robert C. Byrd

I don't often post just for the sake of sharing a link. In fact, the only time I ever do this is to share something one of my sisters wrote.

From Jennifer's blog, a farewell to the senior senator from our home state of WV, Robert C. Byrd:


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Three little stairsteps

It's a bright Tuesday morning, post-rainstorm, in Huntington. Cat's in the window like she's never seen a guy with a shopping cart before, even though the same guy makes his way down our alley every day at about this time.

I haven't found my own routine here yet. Yesterday when the shopping cart rolled by, I was playing with the dogs in the kitchen. The day before, fixing lunch. The day before that, breakfast. Today I'm still working on my coffee and writing, listening to music and waiting for the mail truck to bring me work to do.

What I'm doing most of this morning, though, is I'm missing my sisters. I mean, I always miss my sisters. But today it's at the forefront, heavy in the room. One's 45 minutes away. That's all. Just 45 minutes. But my car won't start and she doesn't have gas money. We post on each other's Facebook wall. We call, once in a while, when there are minutes on our phones.

The other is in Philly. Not sure how far that is, but it feels immeasurable. Haven't seen her in a year and a half now.

We used to hate it when people called us "three little stairsteps." Three little blond girls spaced almost evenly, two years apart. Jennifer, Heather, me. Except eventually Heather and I had to switch places because I grew taller than her. Became the middle step even though I'm the youngest. You could see us around town almost daily, when we lived up that way. Sitting on the stone wall outside the laundromat, outside the courthouse, outside the movie theater, scribbling with our blue pens in our college-ruled notebooks. We were quiet kids in jeans and canvas sneakers and these odds and ends of T-shirts that came from big black trash bags people inevitably handed our parents. Shirts that thought they were clever. "Pobody's Nerfect" and "Never trust a smiling cat." We wrote till we got bored, got free candy from the theater, held contests to see who could suck on a fireball the longest, bought ten-cent cups of ice from U-Save to cool our tongues. Then started writing again, in tandem.

I don't think it ever occurred to me that someday we might live in separate cities, with separate stone walls to sit on.

Heather's got a guy and six cats in an apartment in the city, and Jennifer has a husband and three beautiful children. I'm engaged to be married and I've got this great new place. We have good lives, the three of us. Three separate, beautiful worlds.

But I don't know what kinds of shirts my sisters are wearing today or what color ink they use. And this kind of morning feels familiar, feels old. A little cooler than usual, post-rain. I'm wanting to sit elbow-to-elbow on the wall outside the courthouse in our little small town, tap our heels against the stone, suck on fireballs and write about our futures.

Miss you, Dooley girls. One lone step doesn't lead anywhere.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I snuck in between floods.

A couple months after one. You could still smell the mud. Still had to dodge the crumbling edges of highways.

They banded together, those people, in that flood. Cleaned up their school together. Cleaned up their roads together. I slid in late, and, having done nothing to help, became a spectator, pretending to understand the words and looks that communicated whole paragraphs between the people who were there to see it.

I never fit in that school, that county. Never particularly wanted to. I was nervous, anxious, the whole time I stayed. Trying not to say the wrong thing. Trying not to do the wrong thing. No one was unfriendly, but I didn't make friends. Didn't know how to relax into the rhythm of a place that felt so desperate, so distant. I was homesick for any other county, any other school.

My kids were all right. They bounced back. Just, every once in a while, one of them would stop typing or reading or coloring and look up at the ceiling.

"The water came up real fast that day."


"We was out playin' and Mommy hollered for me to get in, it was floodin'."


"This computer won't work. Did it get flooded?" and "My marker's out of ink. Did it get flooded?" and "This rug smells yuck. It musta got flooded."

Sounding every bit like some little old man embellishing the tale for his grandkids. So matter-of-fact. Uphill both ways in those kids' days. They were six and seven and eight years old and they knew more about mud and water and shifting foundations than I ever hope to know.

I loved them, but I couldn't wait to leave. Consumed by the selfish, by the desperate. Eaten up by anxiety and guilt, not about the flood, not about anything in particular -- just the way the gray sky and gritty air down there will make you desperate. I wondered how any of the older kids managed it, the desperation, the will to leave. You could see it on some of their faces as early as fourth grade, fifth grade.

But -- not on as many faces as you'd think. So content, some of those faces. So unaware that the sky could be any color but gray. Or maybe they just saw blue in places I didn't.

Maybe I was seeing gray in places nobody else did. That's part of why I loved those kids, and why I never understood them -- they could see home, shining bright, beneath the tiniest sliver of blue sky, while I couldn't spot home anywhere, even in bright sunlight.

I got out, finally, feeling scarred and still desperate. Glancing over my shoulder, shivering, trying to shake off the grit and the gray. Still not seeing blue. Still not all the way gone.

Then Saturday dawned lovely, if rainy -- a soft, gentle gray I hadn't seen in a while. My best friend took me wedding dress shopping and we put the perfect gown on layaway. Had lunch out. Tried on shoes. I felt good. Distant. Like I'd finally escaped.

That very moment, back down in that county, the creeks were escaping their banks again, claiming gardens and bridges and basements and churches. Sneaking into hallways and whispering down alleys.

Now I'm back in this odd state of being half-gone. In my head I keep seeing hopeful gazes, hearing matter-of-fact little voices. Want to gather them up and rebuild their basements, help them structure their hopes around something dry and solid.

But I'm gone.

And life there continues without me, like it did before me: wet and gray, oddly hopeful in the face of things I've never seen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Starting to wake up

I don't post much anymore. Not so much because I don't have anything to say. But because of three things:

1. I have too much to say and I'm too lazy to narrow it down.
2. My dear, sweet old painters-taped laptop has gone to a better place. I've been getting to know my new machine, which sports no tape and not much personality yet.
3. I'm getting married in July. Apparently weddings do not plan themselves.

But those are excuses. The real reason is that I'm tired. Tired from school. Tired from moving. Tired from being tired.

Tired multiplies. If you wake up feeling tired, you're going to feel tired all day. Then you're too tired to sleep. And that causes you to wake up tired the next day. Tired eats up entire hours of your writing time. Deletes passages from your brain before you have the chance to type them.

I've let myself be tired for too long. I'm firing up the coffee pot. Buckling down at this new machine. Remembering why I moved here in the first place.

It ain't to nap. I'll say that, at least. Nap time's over. See you soon.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Call the factory! Brilliant!

Okay, this is maybe my favorite kid quote ever, and it just happened half an hour ago.

"Miss Dooley? M - O - N - D - A - Y should says 'Mawn-day.' It's s'posed to be M - U - N - D - A - Y, Munday. Call the factory and tell them they made a mistake!"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Quotes speak for themselves.

Here are a few of the best student quotes that have stuck with me over my four years as a special education teacher:


"Will you tie my shoe up? It tied down."


"I wish I had me a pet monkey. The big kind. I wish I had me a pet ... a pet bamboo."


(Writing on the board) "I hate ... how do you spell Miss Dooley?"


STUDENT: "I likes dogs. Dogs is good. I likes dogs."
ME: "I like dogs, too, but I like cats best."
STUDENT: (rolling eyes) "Okay, Miss Dooley. You likes cats. I likes dogs eating cats."


(At the start of geography class) "Look, we can live without them maps, okay?"


(Upon my return from bus driver training -- the WRITTEN course, not the driving course) "Oh, Miss Dooley! You're back!" (Hugs me) "I was SO worried about you! I did NOT think you were going to make it!"


"Move moon that-way please!"


(As I was eating a carrot) "Miss Dooley? Why does old people like carrots?"


"My grandfather gots penguins on his pond. Or, not penguins. What are those white things?"


"I saw them squans on my grandfather's pond!"


ME: (pointing to a picture of a dog in a magazine) "Is that the kind of dog that bit you?"
STUDENT: (looking at me like I am very stupid) "Well, now, he was a hair bigger."


And, possibly my favorite kid quote ever:

STUDENT: "Is 'dang' a school word?"
ME: "No, honey, we should probably avoid using that word here."
STUDENT: (long, tired sigh) "I wish this was a school where we could say 'dang'!"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pledge of Allegiance

(as recited by one of my second-graders)

"I pedge allegiance to the flag
of the United Stakes of Amer'ca
And to the republic
of which it sands
one nation
ubber God
with libbery
and justice
for all."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rainy spring days in the classroom

"June and July is brothers, ain't they? I was layin' awake thinking about that last night."

I'm leaving public school teaching. For real, this time. But I'll never stop working with kids completely, and this is why. Nobody but a third-grader would think of something like that -- and not only think of it, but lie awake at night going over it in his head.

What I love just as much is how his classmate understood completely:

"Yep, 'cause they got J's. And April and August is sisters."

"That's right. But February ain't got any brothers and sisters. It's all alone."

"Nah, it's lucky."

Every spring, sometime shortly after I've decided to leave public school teaching (and this is the third spring I've made that decision), I have a rainy morning full of IEP preparations and paperwork and hoops to jump through -- mornings like today, and like the one I blogged about last year -- and on each of those mornings, the kids manage to say something that make the paperwork and the stress and the craziness stop, just for a second. And I remember why I'm here and why I love them. And also why I'm leaving.

What job will let me work with the kids instead of ignoring them for paperwork? Does that job exist? If so, I want it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Montcoal Mine Explosion

Two days out from the deadly mine explosion in Montcoal, and here in West Virginia you can still feel it in the air. I don't mean the explosion itself. West Virginia coal towns are thick with a layer of grit and coal dust anyway, but the air here is heavy with more than just the filth of the way our state makes its living.

I keep wanting to write "sadness," that the air is heavy with sadness. But sadness would be appropriate. Sadness would keep family members in their beds -- but sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, they don't have the luxury of sadness. Late last night, three generations of West Virginians got out of bed and trudged off to work just the same as they do every evening, heavy boots clanking down into coal dust, disappearing into the earth.

The children of West Virginia grow up like any other children, planning to be doctors or marine biologists or storm chasers or circus clowns. Then they reach twenty and there is no money and a lot of times, there is a baby on the way. And the flyers go up on all the twisting, knotted back roads: JOB FAIR. The letters look so bright. The pay, the benefits, they look so bright.

And the boys and girls of West Virginia spend the next thirty years under the earth. Or they spend forever there. Whichever comes first.

I wasn't going to write about the mine explosion. I wasn't going to write about the huddle of nineteen-year-old mountain girls with fiery attitudes flaring, then dimming as they huddled next to the fire trucks waiting for word. I wasn't going to write about the quiet boys with their backward caps, good ol' boys who days ago nothing could touch, today so serious, so serious, more serious than we've ever seen them because we raised them to be joyous and full of hope.

Kids that age aren't supposed to be quiet. Not here in the mountains where there isn't much to live on except your own voice and your will to be happy.

Sadness is too clean a word for the coalfields today. The mountain air is heavy with hopelessness. Our children will get out of bed tonight and go back underground and grow up and grow quiet. And we as a state, we just don't know how to stop them. What to teach them instead of what we've taught them.

We do know, this -- and here's another thing that's floating on the air, thick enough to touch. We know there has to be a better way than this.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I spent much of yesterday leaning over the shoulders of my third-graders, trying to telepathically remind them that sentences need capital letters at the beginning and periods at the end. They didn't notice me, though. They were too deeply ensconced in the state-mandated writing assessment, which requires students to read a brief prompt and then respond with their own perspective in five correctly-spelled, appropriately-punctuated paragraphs.

The test was miserable. It was two and a half hours of nervous mumbling and restless shifting and hovering teachers trying to prevent computer glitches. I'll say this for my little troopers: they hung in. For two and a half long, grueling hours, they scribbled, erased, typed, backspaced, searched for commas, searched their souls, and filled up computer screens. I am ashamed to say I wasn't sure they had it in them.

Their teacher, on the other hand, had to pee. Which made two and a half hours seem like five.

Eventually, my little group completed their tests and I was permitted to release them onto the playground, where fingers that only moments ago were "about to fall off" became recharged with spring air and gripped swing chains. Birds sang and pebbles flew from under scuffing sneakers. The kids were once again permitted to be kids. For fifteen minutes, anyway.

And their teacher was permitted to run to the bathroom.

Afterward, I picked up one of my younger, as-yet-un-writing-assessed children and got him ready for inclusion. One of my inclusion periods is a P.E. class in which I provide behavior support, which means I get to watch nineteen first-graders circle the gym at high speeds and bounce basketballs off each other's heads. I'm not exactly sure some days whose behavior I'm supposed to be supporting, but we've all come through it alive and well so far.

Because of make-up picture day in the gym, though, today we were supposed to be going to the art classroom instead. I had my charge next to me and the other eighteen P.E. students behind him in a line. We made it halfway to the art room when their regular ed teacher popped out of her classroom and announced, "The gym's free. They're supposed to be going there now."

"Oh. Okay." So I turned the line around and walked them back up the hall to the gym (which is, of course, at the furthest point possible from the art room). Sneakers squeaked on linoleum and little voices whispered. My own charge walked next to me because he so doesn't do lines.

But there was no gym teacher in the gym.

So I turned the nineteen restless children around and headed them back down the hall. This time, there was a lot more whispering and muttering -- bad, since a few students from another group were still finishing up the writing assessment. I worked on getting the children quiet without raising my own voice -- quite a feat, to telepathically tell nineteen children to quiet down, but it seemed to work -- and took them back toward the art room.

Halfway there, their regular ed teacher met us in the hall again. "The gym teacher's on her way."

Oh. So back up the hallway we went toward the gym. The whispers grew like wind in the trees. My telepathy failed me and I had to clear my throat several times, but we managed to stay quiet, and my own little charge handled this string of changed plans quite well. He was still calm and seemed to think the whole thing was rather funny.

The gym teacher met us in the gym and announced, "I'm so glad everyone's finished testing!"

Uh ...

I broke the news to her, gently, that there were still a few students testing, and she informed me that we weren't supposed to be in the gym if there was testing going on in the building because we make too much noise. So we lined them all back up and we walked them back down the hallway toward the art room. By this time, half the class period was over.

The gym teacher walked at the beginning of the line and I brought up the rear with my little charge. Just as we at the caboose passed the computer lab, the exhausted computer teacher burst into the hallway and announced:

"DONE! Thank God!"

Oh, Lord Jesus.

I signaled the gym teacher and we stopped our line, turned them around again, and marched them back to the gym. The gym teacher permitted them to skip their exercises and just play a well-earned game of duck-duck-goose, since they'd already gotten their workout marching up and down the hallway.

Ten short minutes later, gym class ended and I returned the first-graders to their teacher. My little charge and I retreated to our classroom.

"That was a fun gym class," he said, kicking off his gym sneakers and pulling on his street shoes. "I liked that gym class."

I gave him a smile and sat him down with a phonics box, more than a little tired. At least he enjoyed the confusion! I guess it's a matter of perspective.

My little positive-thinker worked on the phonics box silently for a while, matching plastic objects to the pictures they rhyme with. Then I heard a small, worried giggle, and I approached him.

"Everything going all right?"

He held up a plastic plum and a plastic pear. "What rhymes with mango?"

I don't think I even knew what a mango was till I was twenty, but here this child thought both the plum and the pear were mangoes. Worn out as I was, this struck me as beautiful.

I nudged the plastic ants off of the card with the picture of two people dancing. "Tango," I told him. "Tango rhymes with mango." Because we can work on fruit tomorrow. Today, I'm going to try to see things the way he does.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is my new shirt!

Question. Why would you put a snow-white, long-sleeved, brand-spanking-new shirt on your second-grader with autism and then send him into the den of ketchup, chalk crayons, and nose blood that is a special education classroom in springtime?

I have been following this child around all morning with a Shout wipe. Because, here's the thing about second-graders (with or without autism):

1. They are natural magnets for ketchup, markers, mustard, chalk crayons, and the grubby little hands of their classmates.

2. Their noses sometimes bleed during allergy season.

3. They can't stand to have spots on their clothing.

"This is my new shirt." That's the mantra of the day.

"Sweetie," I tell him, "Don't rub at it. Let me get the Shout wipes."

"This is -- this is my new shirt." Followed by a nervous giggle. Which tends to be followed by a mega-meltdown.

Quickly, I drop the third-grade spelling list and swoop in with the Shout wipe. Disaster is averted. For the moment.

I turn back to the third-graders and resume their spelling test. "Setting. The setting of my story is in rural West Virginia in the present day. Setting."

Just as my third-graders, without exception, write S-I-T-T-I-N-G on their papers, I hear a very nervous giggle behind me. I turn to find my second-grader surrounded by markers with no lids. He is a rainbow in shades of green -- lime, forest, kelly. He looks perhaps like he was pleased with himself for a moment. But then it sinks in and the giggle pops out.

"This is -- this is my new shirt."

I am out of Shout wipes. We teeter on the brink of crisis.

"This is my new shirt, too," I lie, tugging at my own worn old green school shirt. "See? We match."

The giggle fades. A true smile blooms.

"We match. We must be best buddies."

Crisis averted. At least until his parents see what's become of his brand-new shirt!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To Orange Cat


Winter held

... and held and held ...

and I was stuck in a snowdrift,
couldn't cut a path
out to find you.

This is wrong.
I was not given the gift of poetry.

I was granted prose instead --
rambling long --
thinking in complete sentences
with punctuation.

But sometimes wrong is all there is.
That winter
didn't end ...
... and didn't end ...
... and didn't end ...

so where would the period go?

No, this has to be a poem
Phrases shattered out of sentences
and scattered across endless snow

White and white and white and white

And one little dollop of orange.

With the spring thaw
came healing
for everyone but you --

found shattered and scattered
on the very first day of spring.

I wish there was no period
at the end of your sentence.

-- To Henry-Cat, who went on his way March 21, 2008

Friday, March 19, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

I just got hit in the head with the teacher's lounge door.

And I mean, I got hit with some considerable force! The teacher coming out of the lounge was on the run, having dashed to the restroom between classes. She was hurrying back to meet her class of twenty first-graders, and I was walking with a hand on my little repeat-offender runaway's shoulder to make sure I didn't lose him, when I spotted one of my other students hiding behind a door down a hallway.

I knew he was supposed to be with the speech therapist, who was standing nearby, seemingly looking for him. Because this child is also a repeat-offender runaway (I have three runners this year), I knew I needed to check with the speech therapist and make sure she knew where he had gone.

Let me paint the picture for you. Second-grader darts full-speed down one hallway. First-grader hides behind a door down a different hallway. Special education teacher, in heels and a skirt, charges full-speed after the second-grader while looking over her shoulder to check on the first-grader. First-grade teacher bursts from the teacher's lounge at top speed. Speech therapist shouts a belated warning.

Door collides with special education teacher. Door wins. Teacher nearly falls.

Second-grader stops running and first-grader comes out of hiding -- they are laughing too hard to continue plotting escape.

My ears have been ringing ever since. Or maybe they were already. So far today, I've broken up two fights and three screaming arguments, taken the same child to the office twice, been shouted at by an irate parent, kept two kids in at recess to finish a test (which is totally against my religion, so you know I had to be desperate) -- and then watched a third-grader LITERALLY EAT the test paper he'd just stayed inside twenty minutes to complete.

And then I ran into a door.

So let me ask again: Is it Friday? Because I barely know where I am at this point, let alone what day it is! Please tell me it's Friday!

It is? Pshew!

Uh oh, I pshewed too early. Here comes my next group. Too bad that door didn't knock me out!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A little trouble and a lot of fun

This summer, my partner and I are moving back to the town where I went to college. He's going back to school to study culinary arts -- YUM!

Yesterday was the application deadline for the summer term at this college. Said college is two and a half hours away from our house, so you would think he could just mail in his application.

But. There is an application fee. And we didn't have the money till Saturday.

I had a doctor's appointment anyway, so I took a day off work yesterday and we planned on heading out of town early in the morning to get everything done.

We slid into the car at five and turned the key in the ignition.

Nothing but crickets.

Okay, so we knew this day was coming. For weeks, the car has been refusing to start at random moments, then roaring to life minutes later as if nothing ever happened. You'd think we would have taken the car to the garage at that point to find out what was wrong.

But garages have never been kind to Dooley-Lilly cars. We take our cars to the garage and the mechanic humanely euthanizes them. Our cars do not get clean bills of health. They get the kiss of death. Garages are where Dooley-Lilly cars go to die.

So we tend to procrastinate about seeing a mechanic. Just a little. And if the car was willing to pretend that nothing ever happened, well, then, so were we.

Then last week, the car shut off while Jake was doing 50 on the twisted back roads of our county. Thank goodness there were no speeding coal trucks on his tail. But by then, we were broke and waiting on payday -- no money to take the car to the garage and find out whether or not it would live.

Saturday, there was high water all around us. The creeks and rivers in our county were on the verge of bursting their banks. All over the state, reports came in of floods, of closed roadways and wet basements and flood shelters in churches and fire stations. Facebook was nothing but a constant stream of photos from various corners of the state: "High water in Charleston." "The Greenbrier is up." "Check out my wet basement." "This used to be a trailer park."

We, being us, decided to make a quick run out to see the creek at its highest point. Because we're stupid like that. We also decided to take the dogs, just in case we couldn't get back. We made it just a few miles out of town and realized that more rainclouds had blown in and that if it started raining, the creek that was lying next to the road, touching the bridge and sending small waves across the yellow line, was going to flood the road completely and block our path home.

The first few drops of rain fell just as the car died.

Screeching, laughing, scaring the dogs, we wrestled the car to its senses and zipped home before it could shut off again. We made it just as the storm came.

So we were pretty sure we needed to see a mechanic, and we planned on stopping by the garage on our way out of town early, early, early Monday morning. Which we would have done, had the car started. But it was no longer willing to pretend.

No big deal, we said. We'll call a tow truck, ride with it to the garage, get this handled. We can still get Jake applied to school. We can still make it out of town.

Town. Ah, our little town. There's only one tow guy listed, and apparently, he sleeps late. It all came down to Joe the Tow Guy, who apparently was having a bit of a lie-in Monday morning. He Would. Not. Answer. His. Phone.

At eleven, six hours after we planned on leaving and in utter desperation, we called a tow truck from several towns away and he came as quickly as he could, which was none too quick. While we stood outside waiting for him, something large and red caught my eye for the very first time:


Apparently this billboard has been at the gas station across from my house, facing my front window, for weeks. I swear on all that is holy, this is the first time I ever laid eyes on it -- twenty minutes too late for it to help us!

We rode in the cab with the tow guy while he stopped to run a few errands, finally dropped us by the garage, and charged us sixty bucks for his trouble. The garage guys doubled over in laughter when they found the problem. A loose battery cable. Nothing. They didn't charge us, figuring we'd paid enough for the tow bill.

So, sixty dollars poorer and quite relieved that the car survived its garage trip, we finally dashed across the state to get Jake's paperwork done. The rest of the day went off smoothly. He got his paperwork completed. I got to listen in on a lecture from one of my favorite professors. We had food that did not originate in our remote and limited county. And we got to see old friends we'd missed. Plus, we went to a bookstore and a Starbucks, neither of which we'd seen in months.

The power was off in town while we were there, which was odd, but not unpleasant. It was nice to walk along in our old favorite spot, a riverside park with water so high only the tops of the trees stuck out. It was dusk and there were no streetlights, no store lights, no traffic lights reflecting on the water. The only lights shone from the bridge, way down the river. We stood together and thought about how in a few short months, we will live close enough to visit the park every day if we want.

It can't come soon enough.

Just after nine, we finally headed home. Or, what I mean to say is, we headed back here. Home is where we'll be heading in a few months' time.

I just hope the car keeps working till then. But if not, I know the number of a tow place.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Day in Quotes

TEACHER: "You've only got three problems to finish. Come sit down, okay?"

STUDENT: "Miss Dooley? You know better than that!"
(After which he flopped onto the floor and refused to work.)


TEACHER: "Who can summarize what's happened in the novel so far?"

STUDENT: "Ooh! I can! He went to the thing and they said he -- he said he wanted to and they said he couldn't, and then, and then that one guy, he -- he flew back to the place and the one kid wanted taco chips and she got them at the store and he had wings."

(And, so help me, every other kid in the classroom understood what that meant.)


STUDENT WRITING: "I aet all the vechfebils."

(I was quite impressed by this try at "vegetables.")


And, my favorite:

STUDENT: "Miss Dooley, is it hard being real old?"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My sister blogged about Asperger's.

Please go read my sister's blog. Oh! It's gorgeous.

I'm a liar again! Only ... not so much?

On her blog, Cynthia Willis was kind enough to nominate me once again for this award, in which nominees are asked to conceal a single truth in a long list of lies.

While I'm grateful, of course, to Cynthia for passing this along, I do have to wonder. Should I be proud of being honored for my lying skills twice in the space of two weeks?

Well, I am. I was raised that if you're going to tell a lie, you should make it a good one. But it also got me thinking. Are we writers liars, really? I mean, if you read Livvie Owen Lived Here, you'll find that of course it is fiction -- but -- fiction with a lot of fact concealed within, just like the list the Creative (Liar) Writer award asks nominees to compile.

Sure, there is no Livvie (although there is a girl who organizes her kitchen dishes and hums to herself, and there is another who calls her parents by their first names and who used to use third person when she was upset). And because there is no Livvie, there is no way she could have lived in over twenty different places in a single county (although somebody did -- actually, five somebodies, of whom I am the youngest). And none of those places could have been an abandoned Nabor post office (because of course Nabor doesn't have a post office, as it's not a real town -- but Canvas, WV, had a post office-turned-apartment and any little girls who happened to live there really did have mail slots between their bedrooms).

In fact, each of the places Livvie lived in the town of Nabor comes straight from my memory. With some changes, of course. Some fictionalization. Some little lies.

So this Creative Liar award has got me wondering. Am I the only one who hides so many of my truths in fiction?

Surely not.

Maybe "fiction" is the biggest lie I've been telling.

So, this award. I'm supposed to nominate seven people to tell me a whopping list of lies. I nominate YOU. Post a comment in which you tell me something true that you have hidden in your fiction. Make me feel better about not being a very good liar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Challenge

March 1! Spring is in the air! (Disguised as snowflakes. Still.)

I just wanted to pop in and mention Denise Jaden's March Madness Writing Challenge. I'm jumping on board to try to add 31,000 new words to my WIP. It's like a mini-Nano, but with prizes -- gotta love that! Anybody else want to come play?

Also, I dreamed about my novel last night. Nothing useful. I dreamed the MC was living in her father's garage, selling paper mache animals at parties, and I think her father might have been Santa Claus. No more lemon pie at bed time. I think those particular plot points can safely be left out of this draft.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Excuses, excuses

I've been offline most of the week and will continue to be for a little while. I've been negligent in checking e-mail, commenting on blogs, posting on Facebook, and all the other little things I enjoy doing online.


Many reasons. A bad school week that's left me with a lot of need for introspection, which is hard to do when you're flitting around the Internet. A dog who keeps yo-yoing between sick and well and sick again. (He's well now -- but not quite himself -- still not sure we're completely back to normal. He threw up during the night -- first time in a week. He's going back to the vet in the morning.)

But I won't lie. The main reason I've been offline?

This work-in-progress.

On Throw Momma From the Train (one of the funniest writing movies ever), the main character's advice to the writing class he teaches is, "A writer writes. Always." Which is true, and not true, of me. Sometimes writing means reading. Sometimes it means interacting with other writers. Sometimes it means researching and learning all I can about this craft, this business, or some obscure fact I need for my latest novel.

But this week?

Writing means writing. Writing something very different from what I usually write, something so powerful it has already left me twice in tears and once in a fit of laughter -- and I'm only 10,000 words in. So if you don't hear from me for a while, I hope you'll forgive me. Hopefully someday you'll get to read why.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two quotes and an award

STUDENT: "Is it time for snack?"
ME: "Not quite."
STUDENT: "Hey, no fair!"
ME: "Well, don't look at me. Tell the clock."
STUDENT: "I can't! It doesn't even gots ears!"


STUDENT: (Looking at an atlas during reading time) "Oh my gosh! Did you know there's a New Mexico?!"


Also, Jon gave me an award on his blog yesterday, and I totally missed it! Something about godawful school days followed by parent teacher conferences tend to limit my time online. But what a nice surprise to wake up today to a snow day and the realization that somebody out there thinks I'm a good liar!

The rules of this award are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link them.
Thanks, Jon! Everyone -- go to Jon's blog and follow the drama of the snowflake method. You'll be glad you did!

2. Add the award to your blog.
Ain't it purty?

3. Tell six outrageous lies about yourself and one truth.

1. I am excellent at math.
2. Sometimes I visit friends just to use their shower.
3. I hate brussel sprouts.
4. I don't like dogs. At all. Actually, I'm scared of them and find them quite smelly.
5. My childhood dream was to be a supermodel.
6. When I was four, I swallowed a nickel.
7. My three favorite things are standardized testing, IEP meetings, and diets.

Which one is true?

1. I am terrible at math.
2. TRUE! Shameful. But true.
3. I LOVE brussel sprouts!
4. Buddy and Lola and everybody at French Broad River Dog Park in Asheville, NC, know this one is a lie.
5. My childhood dream was to be an author! (And an Olympic horseback rider. *snort*)
6. Actually, it was a quarter.
7. Shoulda been the word "least" in there somewhere ...

4. Nominate six creative liars ... I mean, writers and link them.

1. Floot -- This lady turns out some seriously frequent writing exercises on her blog. She likes to NaNo, which is cool. Also, she happens to be a stunning writer.
2. Paul Michael Murphy -- Murphblog. 'Nuff said.
3. Bettie Lee -- She sells plumbing parts! How cool is that? She also shares her writing and editing journey on her blog. Plus, she's about the most faithful blog commenter anyone could ever ask for.
4. OgreVI -- One of the nicest people you will ever meet, this guy can also write your socks off. And it's all true. Which is why I want to see him lie.
5. Wendy Allen -- Her blog is fascinating, and I know her lies will be, as well.
6. Granny Kate -- Yes, she's my mother. No, that's not why I'm passing this on to her. Mostly I'm doing it because I want to see her lies. Also because she's the one who taught me to lie, so it's only fair! Her blog is a delight to read. There are poems and observations and runes and sometimes recipes for things like dandelion wine.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Three Quotes and a Book


Teacher: "How many more red cubes are there than blue cubes?"
Student: "I know! Red!"

Teacher: "Six plus one equals ..."
Student: "Nineteen? Oh, no, wait! Sixty-one ... Sixteen? Six plus what? Wait."

Test question: Check Ray's work. Did he do the problem correctly? Explain your answer.
Student answer: "Yes, he is rite. Becaus he used his hed."

AND MY BOOK! Got my bound galleys today -- GORGEOUS!

It's book-shaped! It looks like a book! It walks like a book! It talks like a book! I THINK IT MIGHT BE A BOOK!!! I'm so happy I could spontaneously combust! (But I don't have to, because I've got matches -- see on the cover?)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Photo I have to share.

This is so off-topic, but I just took this photo and I have to share it. This is my dog Buddy, who is recovering from Parvo and is obviously feeling a lot better today, sharing a little love with my cat, Tater Tot.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A few good things

You know how when you're little and you get a new toy, you wake up with that feeling that something wonderful has happened but it takes you a few minutes to remember what it is?

I woke up this morning with that feeling about the new book I'm writing. :)

I got out of bed and headed to the kitchen to find my sick-dog, and he met me with a wag and eyes that seem brighter. I think he might finally be on the mend.

Our foster pup made it through another dry night in his crate. I'm almost ready to officially declare him potty-trained.

And it's Friday.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Inspirational Surroundings

Inspired by Macmillan's fun new blog, Get to the Point, which routinely features various Macmillan staff members sharing the fascinating and sometimes mysterious-sounding contents of their desks, I want to share with you the current contents of my own hallowed workspace. And then you'll understand a little more about why I am the way I am. (It involves being acutely disorganized and overrun by animals.)

On my desk (which is actually two desks shoved together) at this moment, you will find:

1. Laptop – much-loved old Gateway held together with painter's tape
2. Cat (Sage, six-year-old notebook-obsessed Tortie)
3. Notebook with several versions of a scribbled outline by which to revise my current work-in-progress (under cat, of course)
4. Pedialyte (for my sickly and dehydrated dog, Buddy)
5. Syringe (with which to squirt the aforementioned Pedialyte down Buddy's throat every hour on the hour)
6. Worming powder (for our foster puppy, Rupert, who was diagnosed with worms based on his awful gas problem)
7. Candle garden (Valentine's Day present from my honey) filled with scented candles (to try to mask the aforementioned doggie gas problem)
8. Singing bowl (Birthday present last spring from Mom and Dad)
9. Collection of Feiwel and Friends books
10. Coffee cup (sadly, sadly, sadly empty – I am trying to cut down on caffeine and it is no fun)
11. Cough drops (getting over the flu)
12. Tissues (multi-purpose – for mopping up coffee spills, cleaning up sick-dog vomit, and dabbing at splatters of Pedialyte) (Oh, and blowing nose)
13. Little figurines of a roan horse and an orange cat who represent two dear pets I used to have
14. Several vet bills and receipts
15. And my feet.

(Feet not pictured. I'm not agile enough to take a picture of my own feet on my desk without flipping over backwards. And yes, that is Facebook, not my WIP, on the screen. Ssshhh.)

What's in your workspace? Spill! (The beans, I meant. Not the contents of your desk.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Washing my hair in a bucket on a snowy morning and thinking (in that order)

(Because any time you wash your hair in a bucket on a snowy morning, you weren't thinking to begin with)


-Toilet paper for coffee filters
-Coffee filters for toilet paper
-Paper towels for both of the above
-Paper plates for glass ones
-Paper towels for paper plates
-Coffee filters for paper towels
-Cereal bowls for coffee cups
-Coffee cups for cereal bowls
-Empty coffee cans for both of the above
-Forks for spoons
-Butter knives for forks
-Dishpans for sinks
-Sinks and washcloths for bathtubs
-The cost of grocery store gallon jugs of water for your monthly water bill
-An electric kettle for a hot water heater


-Good plumbers (Anybody know one?)
-Wacky families and the friends who appreciate them (Got this! Appreciate it now more than ever.)
-Good books (Got lots of these! Reading an awesome one from my crit partner now)
-Hot baths (you can get clean without them, but there is no substitute for the emotional value of a hot bath)
-Buddy Sunshine (Keeping this one at all costs. Which is why we will be basically sledding to the vet again today.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spring is coming. I hope, I hope, I hope.

I despise lists. Here, have one.


-Finished rewrite. Love the result.

-It's February. That's the month before March. Which means spring is coming.

-Still groovin' on this gorgeous LIVVIE OWEN LIVED HERE cover. Love it, love it, love it. They got it just right.


-Lost a good family friend, and it was too snowy to make it to her funeral.

-Buddy Sunshine is very sick. He's currently in a sad circle at my feet, probably dreaming of all the poking and prodding that goes on at his daily trips to the vet.

-Because of a water leak, we still don't have running water. Let me just point out how difficult it is to disinfect a whole house and yard with NO RUNNING WATER. And because we just basically spent every cent we had on vet bills, we're not likely to get the water leak fixed any time soon.

-The car is currently starting when asked with approximately 75% accuracy. (The other 25% is when we're in a hurry.)


-Did I mention we don't have running water? You oughtta see my hair. I look like I've been electrocuted. Also, Buddy and I are competing to see who can smell more like ... well, Buddy.

But spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Joy

Things you do when you're eleven tend to haze out in the remembering, get fuzzier like old socks or recycled paper. You know you wore jeans with holes in the knees, but you never remember them being too tight, or too short, or too anything except exactly what they are in your simplified image: jeans with holes in the knees, a sign of being eleven in autumn. And your hair. The truth was that you probably drove your mother crazy with the snarls and the tangles. But in your mind's eye? Your hair caught the sun, it flew on the breeze raised by biking.

When I was eleven, my mother answered an ad in the newspaper. I don't remember this. I don't remember the first writer's meeting or how awkward it must have felt, pulling up in front of a house in a neighborhood so different from our trailer park.

What I remember, in that haze of looking back on eleven, is feeling completely at home in that house. Curling down into wicker and pillows, or soft sofa, or a corner of the floor, and listening to a sweet southern voice warm the cold places that winter and drip down the insides of the windows like condensation. I was a flighty kid, couldn't stand sitting still for more than half a minute, but I remember that voice lulling me, hazing out my rough edges even then. It almost didn't matter what she read.

But what she read – what she read was so real and so honest it should already have been written, not dashed out in a ten-minute session during a writer's meeting. What she read, it was so obvious – of course that's the way of things – of course that's how things are – except that nobody else ever quite found the words for it, as sweet and unassuming and matter-of-fact as she did, and even when she didn't read it – even when you read it yourself – you could hear it in her voice, honest and truthful and warm.

Eleven hazes out. Twelve is a little more clear. Then thirteen. The years kept passing, but the voice was always there. Filling up the cold spaces and giving us all her straightforward but oh-so-rare version of the truth. That voice, it was as much a part of my childhood as bikes and torn jeans and tangled hair, as much a part of my childhood as books and paper. Looking back, I learned a lot of truth from that sweet warm voice that slipped around me half-distracted, as matter-of-fact as oxygen.

I miss you, Joy. I miss your sweet voice and your warm words and your truth. You were well loved.

(In memory of Joyce Herndon Lackey)

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Writing Routine

Do you find it helpful to have a routine to your writing? A rhythm?

I feel like I'm supposed to develop one. I mean, that's what I tell kids when they ask for homework tips. Designate a specific time and place for your homework. That way, it will become routine and it won't seem like such a chore.

So I try to follow my own advice and develop a writing rhythm. Up at four, feed the dogs, make coffee, write from 4:15 till 6:30, get ready for work, go to work.

Some days, that's how it looks.

This morning, it looked like this:

The alarm goes off at 4. Hit the snooze button three times.

Get up at 4:30.

Let three dogs out to go potty. Bring two of them back in. Holler myself hoarse for the third, who likes to lurk in the furthest and darkest part of the frozen yard and not come in.

Pour the last drip of water from the jug into the coffee pot, then search for the half-empty water bottles I know are lying around somewhere. Did I mention we have a water leak, so our water is shut off? Yup, no running water in the Dooley/Lilly house.

Call for dog again. To no avail.

Feed the cats.

Get chewed out by cats for not having any wet food.

Fill cat and dog waterer with the next-to-the-last of the half-empty bottles.

Step in waterer. Replace socks.

Call for dog again. To no avail.

Remember to put coffee in the filter.

Pin blanket that serves as office door open so the heat can travel, since the space heater is currently in the bedroom.

Plug in computer.

Call for dog. To no avail. Remember to push "start" on the coffee pot.

Re-tape computer with painter's tape so it will stay open.

Visit Yahoo mail, Google mail, 1 and 1 mail, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Verla Kay's Blueboards, Absolute Write, and Livejournal. Realize that 45 minutes have passed.

Hear an odd squeaking noise outside. Get scared. Then realize it's Dog Number 3. Let him in and feed him. Give other two now-whiny dogs an extra handful of breakfast to appease them.

Trip over angry cats.

Remember to pour a cup of coffee.

Now that so much time has passed, visit Yahoo mail, Google mail, and Facebook again to see if anything has changed. Squeeze in another trip to the Blueboards and LJ. Realize that another twenty minutes have passed.

Take a sip of coffee. Notice that it's lukewarm. Add hot coffee to warm it up.

Visit 1 and 1 mail and Twitter in case anything has changed.

Remove cat from revision notes.

Open novel file. Re-read two chapters to find your place and get your momentum.

Remove cat from revision notes.

Realize your fingers are too cold to type.

Take computer to bedroom. Sit on floor in front of space heater and type slowly and quietly to keep from waking partner.

Remove cat from revision notes.

Write one paragraph.

Remove cat from revision notes.

Write three more paragraphs. Remove cat from revision notes. Then realize it is 6:58.

Hurry to splash cold water on face from the last bottle, brush teeth, brush hair, and try to find some clothes that aren't covered in dog and cat hair. Put on pants. Remove cat from shirt. Put on shirt. Dust cat hair off of shirt. Remove cat from shoes. Put on shoes. Remove cat from jacket. Put on jacket.

Frantically look for coffee. Realize that it's cold. Chug it anyway.

Go to car.

Go back inside and turn off coffee pot.

Go to car.

Go back inside to get lesson plan book. Remove cat from lesson plan book. Go back to car.

Go to work.

Speaking of work, I want to share a couple more quotes from that nifty place with you, because they're totally worth it:


ME: "Hello!"

STUDENT: "Ms. Dooley, I'm sorry, but you're a terrible computer guy. 'Cause one time, on the bicycle computer game, you went straight instead of turning. But don't worry. I'll show you. You're not a terrible bicycle guy, you just have to learn to ride a bicycle. Just a bicycle on computer. And don't wreck when you, uh ... uh ... What was that word I was looking for? Oh, yeah. Just learn tricks and then just call ... just call ... Hey, do you know my phone number? Well, call me and I'll tell you how. I just live right up the holler if you need help."

ME: " ..." Cue crickets, chirp chirp!

STUDENT: "Hello! What are you doing? Why aren't we working?"


And my favorite quote from today:

STUDENT: "Miss Dooley, if you promise to leave, I'll fill in for you!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What a child told me

One of my students just informed me, "You're not magic anymore. And you're not cool."

After six hours of pouring snow, the same child left his desk to stare out the window for five solid minutes. At the end of this time, he whirled around, slapped his hands to his cheeks, and screamed, "Dear God Jesus! It's finally snowing!"

During a refusal to come to his desk, he informed me that his imaginary friend wouldn't let him work. I asked him to tell his imaginary friend that his teacher needed him at his desk. He stared at me for a full minute -- so help me, unblinking -- and then said, "Uh, Miss Dooley? He's imaginary?"

Feeling quite foolish, I replied, "Well, that's why I need you to tell him for me. Because he can't hear me."

He sat down slowly, shaking his head in wonder. "He gots ears ..." he muttered under his breath.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A lot of moving, a lot of rolling

When I was in the single digits, my big sisters and I would stay up all night. Or, more often, one of us would wake up before the sun and wake the others, and it would feel like we'd been up all night, sitting together in the dark, with no grown-ups, looking at old yearbooks or playing with the cat who wasn't supposed to be in the house, giggling like crazy and listening to the trucks on the highway.

I think they're called jake brakes? Those loud, machine-gun rattles on the distant highway? Always distant, back then. They were away across a meadow, behind a mountain, beyond the horizon.

I teach eight-year-olds, and sometimes I don't give them credit for being dreamy, distant souls. Then I see that look in their eyes. The one that reminds me of the sound of those trucks.

We talked about them a lot, back then -- where they were going, what they were hauling. What it must be like to be out on the highway at four a.m., nothing but the radio and maybe a dog for company. I thought there could be no better career than truck driver. I hatched a secret plan then and there to learn to drive just as soon as I could reach the pedals.

I didn't actually know then that the sound was made by brakes. By somebody stopping. My sisters had to explain to me that the noise even came from trucks. I only knew the sound was associated with travel, with the road, with green road signs and white numbers that meant we were getting closer -- closer -- closer to somewhere. Or, more often, further -- further -- further from the place we didn't want to be anymore.

We took a lot of trips back then, some of them church trips, some of them just because we were restless and there happened to be gas in the tank that week. There was always a point on those trips when we each thought of what it would be like, never to come back. We could sleep there -- work there -- eat there -- play there.

And then there would be brake lights and usually rain and sometimes tears and the numbers would reverse, drawing us nearer and nearer again to the thing we could never escape.

I wasn't sure what that thing was, then. Still not sure I know the name for it.

I think the carpet in that living room when I was eight was yellow-green and had dirt and hair ground down in it from all the years. In daylight, we listened to Don Henley on the record player and we danced, and the whole trailer shook. It seemed light and airy and full of possibility. I remember thinking we could move at any moment and I hoped we did, even though I liked the trailer, because moving was something fun to break the monotony of hateful neighbor kids and earwax-colored carpet and trucks on a highway I'd seen once or twice but never taken far enough to not turn around and come back.

I live in a small town, the smallest of small towns. There's a sign when you roll in that says "No Jake Brakes."

I find myself thinking, "That's not fair." I find myself thinking, "That's hateful, is what that is." Across a mountain somewhere, some kid might be sitting in her living room, needing to hear those highway sounds. Needing to think about numbers on signs, and how the roads that start in this town lead out.

The more time I spend in this town, the more listening I do for the highway. And this time my sisters aren't here to explain things. This one's gonna be all me.

I don't know what the signs are going to say, or where the numbers on them will lead me. I only know two things: that my goal is to sit in a living room someday and not strain my ears listening for someplace else.

And that this is not that time or place.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Five Things you Don't Want to Hear

Five things you don't want to hear in an elementary school classroom:

1. "Uh oh!" (This is usually preceded by a crash, a splash, or a scream from another child.)

2. "Miss Dooley, I think I gots fleas on my head!" (It turned out to be a shred of paper from a spiral notebook, and not what I thought he meant at first, thank goodness!)

3. "Miss Dooley, my tummy hurts --" (Because they never tell you until they are at the furthest point away from the trashcan.)

4. "My mommy says I can --"/"My mommy says I don't hafta --" (This is usually followed by a description of whatever it is you've just told the child she can't do/must do.)

5. Silence. (They're either sick, missing, or hatching a plan. Occasionally all three.)

Unfortunately, all five happened yesterday in my classroom -- numbers 1 and 3 more than once. Five was definitely the most frightening, as it resulted in a school-wide game of hide-and-seek. I'm hoping that one drops off the list entirely today, but I know I can expect to hear at least three or four of them. I love my kids, but I'm really glad it's Friday!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Day in Quotes

STUDENT: "Did you leave my game open?"

ME: "Yes, it's still open."

STUDENT: "Good, because I'd hate to have to call your parents and get you s'pended. Then who would play wif me?"


STUDENT: "Miss Dooley, can I make a suggestion?"

ME: "Sure thing."

STUDENT: "Zip it!"


STUDENT: "Mr. Dooley? I mean -- Miss Dooley?"


Also, why do students never aim for the trash can -- or at least the linoleum floor -- when they get sick? Why must they aim for the beautiful, brand-new alphabet rug?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ten Ways to Get Off-Task

After a two-week winter break and seven snow days in a row, it's Monday. A school day. And a two-hour delay day (which means an alternate schedule -- and let me tell you how much my kids with autism love schedule changes. They don't. At all).

In case you find yourself going back to elementary school for any reason (and I hope for your sake that you don't), allow me to pass on some wisdom I've picked up today from my students.

Ten Ways to Get Off-Task

1. Untie your shoe so you can ask your teacher to tie it for you. Do this at least six times per hour.

2. Untie your shoe and then trip over the laces. Fall. Fake a cry and say you "broke yourself" and you are "gonna dead."

3. Ask your teacher for a hug. Give your teacher a hug. Then tell your teacher you are made of Velcro and she is made of felt and you are stuck.

4. Choose an object from the "draw box" to inspire you at the writing center. Make sure it's something that rolls, like a miniature basketball. Roll it out of sight. Then tell your teacher you lost it and you need to find it so you can finish.

5. Place your pencil on the blue rug. Tell your teacher your pencil is at the bottom of the ocean. When she tells you to "swim over and get it, please" (read: when she gives you an inch), tell her you have to "dress appropriately" and then procede to suit yourself up in imaginary "flippy feet," "jar of breath," and "snorkel nose," one garment at a time (read: you take a mile).

6. Tell her you are "simply exhausted" and you must sleep. Then, when she directs you to your quiet space, stop at every desk on the way to tell each student to "keep your stupid voice down" because you need to rest.

7. Be six years old and imitate an extremely inappropriate scene from South Park.

8. Pick up the fake bird's nest from the phonemic awareness kit and burst into tears. Announce that your teacher is the meanest lady in the world for killing the baby birds and taking their home. Then repeat this to the principal when you pass her in the hallway.

9. When walking down the hallway, stop to hug every single teacher you see, especially the subs who don't know that this is your M.O. Then tell them you are made of Velcro and he or she is made of felt and you are stuck.

10. Read nineteen of the twenty words assigned. Then skid to a halt before the last word, which is your name, and tell the teacher that you never learned to read.

Friday, January 8, 2010

My Decorated Laptop

When I wrote Livvie Owen Lived Here, I lived at a boarding house in western North Carolina. The house was shared by the landlady, her daughter, two local fellows, my partner, me, six cats, and five dogs, and we all -- well, all the humans anyway -- shared one computer.

So when my landlady's daughter offered to sell me a laptop with a broken screen for $25, I bought it in hopes that I would be able to fix it, or at least plug it in to an external monitor and make do.

A month of saving, an Ebay spree, and a YouTube tutorial later, I installed a new screen. The laptop has worked beautifully ever since, save for one crash last year that was quickly resolved.

So, okay, my partner and I like to throw snowballs. I mean, is that a crime?

According to my 20-pound Rat Terrier, it is. When a stray snowball hit the window this afternoon, Lola apparently darted under the desk, clotheslining herself on the power cord and smashing the computer to the floor.

Don't worry. It still works. If it didn't, you would not be reading this. And I'm so relieved that the screen didn't break, because, without my partner's help, I would never have been able to get all those tiny screws into all those tiny holes to put the laptop back together the first time, and I didn't fancy going through that again only a year later.

The problem is, one of the ... hinges, I guess you'd call it? Broke. Now the screen sort of ... wobbles around. I have to line it up right to get it to close. There's a jagged edge of plastic held on by one of those tiny screws I can't get undone, and part of the frame sort of ... popped loose and won't pop back.

There are many who would turn to a professional. But I'm broke, I've got no car, and there's a blizzard on.

Okay, so. Duct tape? Nope. I don't seem to have any. Electrical tape? Seems to have all gotten used when my cousin installed our baseboard heat. Superglue? Dollar Tree brand, which I'm not putting on my computer.

Aah, yes. Painter's tape.

When we moved into this house, we had high hopes and big dreams. We bought complimentary colors and began painting with gusto.

Six hours later, we were permanently done. Not the house, I mean. Just US. The trim still hasn't got painted. In fact, there's still painter's tape up in my office, framing the unpainted trim that I've just never gotten around to. Luckily, there are also still six unused rolls of painter's tape out on the porch.

And half a roll holding the screen onto my laptop.


I love this little machine, though. It's a trooper, that's for sure. It'll be a sad day when I actually have to replace it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Never be hungry.

Yesterday my niece e-mailed me to share her "main" New Years Resolutions. (From what I understand, the original document was two pages long, single-spaced, and included such gems as "Meet Jennifer Garner's parents" and "Go to school less." But those didn't make the "main resolutions" cut.)

She shared with me the following Main Resolutions:

-Do more fun stuff.
-Meet Rihanna.
-Get more money.
-Never be hungry.

My niece is 13 and a budding gourmet chef. The problem is, she doesn't eat what she cooks. The rest of us do -- it's really good stuff -- she cooks from recipes she finds on the internet, using ingredients she often purchases from her own tightly-clutched coin purse.

Over the summer, she went through this phase where she wouldn't eat anything wet. Or anything that was wet before she cooked it. Or anything that would get when she chewed it. Fresh veggies that needed washed? No. Pizza? Yuck, it has sauce. Oatmeal? Nasty. Cereal? Of course not, it's got milk. Dry cereal? Well, she'd still have to chew it, right? Which didn't leave a whole lot that the child would consume.

She's changed a lot since summer. She's moved from Simpsons-obsessed to Rihanna-obsessed. She's inches taller. And she eats. Not much, but more than she used to. So I hope this New Years resolution is one that she manages to keep.

As for my own resolutions? I've got just one: To see my niece more.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cars Wrecked - 1. Marriages Destroyed - 1. Dogs involved - 16. What a Holiday.

I'm really glad tomorrow is another snow day. That means the number of clean, dog-hair-free, more-or-less-professional outfits I have to find for this school week has been reduced almost by half.

We used to do laundry at the home of one of my partner Jake's relatives, Michael. That, by the way, is not his real name. Since this man is my future relative, too, I tried not to feel uncomfortable invading his home to do my laundry. He swore he didn't mind, said he understood that we were without water at the moment, thanks to a leak somewhere in our underground line and the constant snow that's kept us from fixing it.

Our laundry invite has since been revoked. Even if I could drive to town to do laundry at Michael's house, we are no longer welcome there after nearly breaking up the man's marriage last week.

That's when the car still worked, of course.

Christmas. Let's go back that far, because that's the last time things went according to plan. Of course Jake and I knew we ought not drive as far as my sister Jennifer's house, because, from the moans and groans coming from our old Ford, we could tell the vehicle no longer wanted to bear weight on all four wheels. The right rear tire was held together by little more than the grace of God and a can of Fix-a-Flat as it was. We were pushing our luck driving two hours over the river and through the woods.

But my niece has autism, which means she's a head and shoulders above the rest of us when it comes to event planning. Everything was ready, down to her detailed maps of sleeping arrangements. She had even knitted new collars for my three dogs and wrapped them in notebook paper so the animals wouldn't feel left out on Christmas. Canceling our trip now, on the heels of my niece's other aunt, my sister Heather, announcing that she couldn't make it in from Philly, would be akin to killing Santa Claus.

So we drove across the mountains, dodging patches of ice still clinging from last week's storm. And the worst that happened on the trip was that the puppy peed in the laundry basket. Yuck, yes, but he's done worse. The car held up and the family had as smooth a holiday as a blended family with several members in various positions on the autism spectrum can have. Jake and I even stayed an extra night, even though we hadn't brought enough clothing along, and the clothing we had had been puppied.

Then we made our first mistake.

We started back.

I guess the first bad omen was that the dogs ate the muffins. Good Heavens, did those muffins smell good. I woke the day after Christmas from a nightmare about slipping on ice and falling on my rear end, but I promptly forgot the dream because of the smell of baking muffins. Jennifer sent us on our way with a butter tub full of them, but we weren't a mile out when the dogs pulled the tub out of my overnight bag and ate every last crumb. I still don't know how they opened the container. All I know is that those muffins were tragically taken before their time.

Jake's sister Mandy happens to live at the halfway point between Jennifer's house and our own, just across town from Michael. Jake decided to visit his sister, but because she and her family have eleven dogs already – for real, eleven – there was no way we could ask her to let our three pooches stay, especially not with Buddy being the size of a Budweiser Clydesdale and still growing. So I agreed to take the dogs home and spend a night writing, planning to return to town for Jake in the morning, at which point we would do a load of laundry, as was our weekly routine thanks to Michael's willingness to share his appliances in the interest of us not smelling bad. Mandy even offered to send her cell phone with me in case I ran into any trouble. But I assured her and Jake that all would be fine.

I made it halfway home from Mandy's house.

We'd made this CD to get us in the Christmas spirit. It was mostly the Trans Siberian Orchestra and my favorite song had just come on. The headlights of an oncoming Chevy flashed at me, so I slowed down as I entered one of the many U-turns my stretch of southern West Virginia byway makes between the nearest town and the heart of my county.

When I saw the fire truck, lights flashing, and the firemen milling about in my lane, I slowed nearly to a stop. I say nearly, because there is no stopping completely when you find yourself on a solid sheet of black ice, especially not if you're a bad driver like me.

To the crashing crescendo of Carol of the Bells, the guy behind me hit my bumper.

It took me about thirty seconds to realize I'd just been hit, after which I started panicking as I inched by the firemen so I could get off the road. After we all stopped and it was clear that nobody was hurt and the worst that had happened was that my bumper had a new ding and my littlest dog was suffering from PTSD, we all went on our way to get home before the roads could get any worse.

At this point, I'm pretty sure what happened was that I hit more ice. There was water gushing across the road, after all, and it was more sluggish than usual by the time I reached it. But I was so freaked out by the accident and so distracted by the insistent stress-barking in the back seat that when the Ford took a shimmy to the right, I did a U-turn and went back to the nearest open business.

Open, actually, was not a fair assessment. The Mor-for-Less Grocery was scheduled to close less than two minutes after my arrival. Only then did I think of Mandy's cell phone, still in my pocket. I pulled it out only to find that, of course, of course, of course, it did not get a signal down in my mountains. Luckily, the manager of the Mor-for-Less was generous and after about six tries, I managed to dial Mandy's landline. She and Jake agreed to come and get me, since I was afraid to drive the rest of the way home.

After sitting in the Mor-for-Less long enough to learn their floor-waxing procedure, to witness three separate visits by a worried father to warn his cashier daughter that the roads were getting slick, and to finally be kicked out into the parking lot so the store employees could go home, I spied Mandy's Jeep. Nobody fancied driving the Ford in this weather to ascertain whether anything was wrong. Because a formidable mountain stood between us and home, and because Cashier Girl's worried father had already declared that particular mountain “slicker'n spit,” Jake and I decided we would have to go back to Mandy's for the night.

Did I mention she drives a Jeep? Yeah. A Wrangler. Soft-top. And Jake and I have three dogs -- one of whom is Buddy, who is sort of like keeping a gentle grizzly bear for a pet. So I piled in the back seat with all three dogs, and of course of the three of them, it was Buddy who was most frightened and who insisted in sitting on my lap the whole way. All hundred and twenty pounds of him.

It took over an hour to make the 45-minute trip to Mandy's. By the time we got there, we'd worked out a plan to deal with the dogs. Rather than inciting a riot by trying to take them into Mandy's already-dog-ridden home, we would drop them off at Michael's house, the place where we usually do our laundry. It would only be for the night, after all, and he only had two dogs instead of Mandy's eleven, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Yeah, well, his wife disagreed with us.

Worried that we were causing marital strife between Michael and his wife, we decided to pay him a visit at his place of business. He works nights and we found him caught up in his work. His coworker assured us he would be with us just as soon as possible. Then she kept looking at us after that. Just looking. I guess we must have looked hungry, because she finally said, “Have some of this.”

Where she was hiding such a gigantic tin of sugar cookies in that tiny little office, I don't know. We tore into the cookies like they were going out of style, which, I guess, since they were Christmas cookies and it was now an hour and forty-five minutes into December 27, they kind of were.

After the cookies came peanut butter fudge, and after the peanut butter fudge came warm, flat Pibb Extra from a 2-liter bottle. Then, at long last, came Michael.

We discussed our doggie invasion of his home and he was quite patient and understanding, given the circumstances and the hour and his wife's repeated phone calls. (“Michael, I think it's your wife,” his coworker said on answering the phone. “It's hard to tell – there's lots of barking --”) Reassured, we took his coworker's parting gift of caramel corn and headed for McDonald's, whose 24-hour drive-thru might as well have had magical beams of Heavenly light beaming down on it from the night sky. Hot food! And, at long last, we headed to Mandy's.

The next morning, dodging the phone and ignoring the voice mails about our puppy's transgressions on Michael's kitchen floor, we hurried back down to the wilderness to rescue the car. Only problem was, when Jake drove it, it didn't feel quite right to him. So Mandy drove it. Same conclusion.

“Crud, I've gone and messed up the car,” I groaned, wondering what on earth we were going to do with our kitchen-full of unwelcome dogs and our new lack of transportation.

“I can't just leave you all stranded down here,” Mandy pointed out, which, actually, was an excellent point given the fact that we have no phone at our home and it's tough to schedule a tow and a garage visit if you've got neither car nor phone.

So Mandy took us to feed my cats, who were delighting in their time alone with the house. On the way back to town to walk the dogs before putting them back in Michael's kitchen just for one more night, Jake nearly panicked at the sight of a car upside down in the creek. We stopped and he slid down the bank to make sure no one was inside, but whoever they were, they'd gotten out. I'd been feeling guilty all morning about the craziness, and wishing I'd made it home without incident, but seeing this car, off the road and upside down at the foot of the mountain I was moments from descending when I got rear-ended in the first place, I was suddenly grateful I'd gotten stopped before I made it any further.

We walked the dogs and dodged the daggers of hatred sent our way by Michael's wife. Now all that was left to do was get comfortable and settle in for the night.

You know, when I graduated college, I remember sitting on a hard metal folding chair thinking about all of the things that were about to change. No more classes, no more professors, no more all-nighters to finish term papers.

But believe it or not, it didn't occur to me to wonder whether I'd ever make another middle-of-the-night Wal-Mart run for clean underwear. I just assumed that after college, those days were over.

No such luck. Now four years into my teaching career, I found myself at Wal-Mart at a couple of minutes past midnight, buying underwear and socks because I could no longer stand wearing the ones I'd been rotating since Christmas Day. It was now the wee hours of the 28th and we still weren't home.

Later that day, we were finally able to schedule the towing and mechanic work on our Ford, so Mandy drove us over to pick up the dogs. After an ugly scene at Michael's home, we left in haste and shame, toting three disgruntled pooches and the understanding that it was entirely possible they had single-pawed-ly wrecked my future relative's marriage.

And thus, revoked our laundry privileges. Crud.

We made it home without further event, and the worst that's happened since is that we learned the car was damaged not by the accident but by a problem it had already been developing. A twelve-hundred-dollar problem. Since that's most likely above the car's blue book value anyway, the Ford is currently sitting in our driveway, good for nothing more than a trip to the grocery store less than a block away.

My hastily-purchased Wal-Mart socks and underwear are all dirty now, and we have no way to get to a laundromat, or, better yet, to any other relative's houses. I've got one carefully-protected clean school outfit hanging from the curtain rod in the living room, and after that I'm going to have to get creative.

So I'm really, really glad that tomorrow is another snow day. Not just because I've got nothing to wear, but because, after my Christmas vacation, any day spent at home and off the roads is a good day in my book. Biased as my book may be.