Archive for June, 2016

Writers and artists of various sorts always talk about their inspirations. It might be another artist or an event or the sun set just perfectly while they were walking their pet wombat through the swamp on the winter solstice…I’ve heard some interesting ones. Inspiration is something that we all need. Maybe it is inspiration to convince us to do something. Maybe it is inspiration that brings about a new idea. Maybe it is inspiration to push ourselves to be our best. No matter how much intrinsic motivation someone has, extrinsic inspiration is always a factor in ones actions and choices (I really just wanted an excuse to show that I could use the terms “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” intelligently!)

Anyone that knows me or that has read enough of my blogs knows that my grandfather has been a huge inspiration for me. So has my wife, son, parents, and many of my students. However, every once in a while I will stumble upon a new inspiration. These inspirations might not be life-changing, but they give you something new to look up to for a while. This happened to me just a couple of years ago. I was in a Master’s degree course talking about grading using a rubric, and we were given a rubric on how to grade someone’s public speaking presentation. We were then given a link to a video showing a young lady, about 12-13 years old, who was not only giving a public presentation, she was giving a presentation at a TED Conference. All of the students were amazed. The content of the presentation was excellent as was the style in which she presented it. I have taught students her age for fifteen years and I don’t think that I have ever taught one that could have presented with such poise and confidence in front of such an audience, and I have taught some talented folks. To make matters more interesting, she was already a published writer. I have to admit that this was inspirational to me…mostly because I was annoyed that it took me until I was in my thirties to become a published writer! The nerve of some overachievers…

Just a couple of days ago, I stumbled upon another TED talk by this same young lady, although she was older (maybe 17-18), and she spoke very intelligently about the inaccuracy of using test scores to judge a student’s merit (if you are a teacher, you are probably nodding your head vigorously right now.) Once again, she provided a great speech and made excellent points. I was impressed.

So what does any of this have to do with inspiration? Well, I have to say that this young lady has inspired me in a couple of ways. First, as a writer she has shown me that talent knows no age and that words do still impact the young. For a time, I think that we were all frightened that the internet would kill reading. As a teacher, she has inspired me by showing that there are those out there that understand what some of the true problems are in education, and that they aren’t all the fault of teachers. As both a teacher and a writer, she has also inspired me with hope that writing and teaching to a higher level than reality television even thinks exists will still reach my students and readers. Watch the speeches of Adora Svitak yourself and tell me what you think.

What about you? What inspirations have you found?

 

Featured image credit: tnooz.com

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I think that if you have read much of my writing or heard my vlog, you can probably guess that I was an unusual kid. The thing is, that was true in a lot of ways. One of the more unusual things about me compared to kids in todays society was that I never moved to a new house as a kid. I lived in the same home from the day that I was born until I got married after college. Sure, I lived in the college dorms or apartments while I went to university, but my official address didn’t change for over twenty years. These days people move on a regular basis. It’s made me ask the question, why do people regularly pick and leave the place that they have made into a home just to try and do it again someplace else.

Naturally, there are lots of societal reasons. We can move now without packing everything into a covered wagon and spending months traveling and wondering if we will ever see our new home. There are also all kinds of economic considerations. The locations for work as well as appreciation in the value of your house may convince someone to pick up and move. Those have all been factors in the multiple occasions that my wife and I have moved. Those things answer why we go from one house to another. None of them answer why we move our home.

It took me a little while to come up with a reason for this, but I think that I finally figured it out. I had to think back to when I was getting ready to go to college. My goal was to go to a college that was about three hours away from the home that I had always lived in. My mom came up to me one day and said “Chris, I hope that you get that scholarship, because if you don’t, you might have to go to the community college for a couple of years first and keep living here.”

The idea of staying in that house another few years hit me like a ton of bricks. “Mom, I’ll join the Army before taking that route.” That was not meant as any dig at the army (anyone that knows me knows the respect I have for our service men and women.) Both I and my mother knew that I was not physically or mentally conditioned for the military, but that was a risk that I was willing to take to get out of the house. I had seen those same four walls for my entire life. We rarely went on vacations or long trips, so my whole world had consisted of my hometown and that house. I knew that there was a lot more out there. I had friends that talked about the places that they had been and the things that they had seen. I was ready to find out what there was in the world, both good and bad, and I couldn’t do it in the comfort and security of the home that had been the only home I’d known. I got a scholarship and returned to that home four years later with a degree and news that I had a fiance’. I got married six months later and moved out permanently. I still see that house regularly. My parents still live there.

So what did this tell me about why people move? Honestly, I think it is because we are restless. Each generation is being exposed to more of the world and finding out what is outside of their city limits. Now that we know that there are other ways to live, I think that we want to experience them. Sometimes, that can only be done by moving. For thousands of years, home was where your family had set down roots. Now it seems that home is wherever we decide to park our bed, recliner, and computer for a few years to see what the place has to offer. Some people see this as a decline in family cohesion, and I can understand why they say that. There is something about living in the same place that your family helped build over generations. If you are content with that, then welcome home. I think that for most people these days, it isn’t an option, and that is fine with them as well. After all, what is a home if not simply the place where you and your family go to for comfort, security, and love? A change of address doesn’t matter in the end.

 

 

image credit: http://www.businessinsider.com

No one likes to appear ignorant. I have known people that will make stuff up in a conversation just to make it sound like they know something about the subject. Okay, I admit that it was me. Because of this desire to always sound informed, it is natural for authors to write about things that they have a great deal of knowledge on. Write about what you know. But is this true? Is it necessary? That’s a subject that I try to explore in this week’s vlog.

 

Whenever a person reads what someone else has written, there is always an expected level of judgment. The reader is going to judge whether the topic of the writing is something that they are interested in. They will judge the writer’s ability to express themselves or to describe a situation, act, person, or object. The reader will ultimately judge whether the writer’s work brought them any satisfaction. All of this is expected and probably required if writing is to have any meaning. However, do you ever judge the writer as a person based on the content or style of their writing?

I’ve never been the type of person that likes sacrificing realism for the sake of self-censorship. I oftentimes feel that such self-censorship robs the reader of a more insightful, fulfilling experience. That having been said, I have self-censored myself many times out of concern as to whether people will judge me based on what I write. In my case, it isn’t as much of a concern about people liking me as it is a concern for my career. In my profession, certain images are expected to be maintained. This is not a construct of my imagination. I have seen a colleague receive a complaint because a family saw them at a local restaurant drinking a beer. Witnessing this left a lasting impression on me, and I have always been extremely careful of both content and topics in my writing.

This begs the question as to whether it is appropriate or accurate to judge a writer’s character based upon their writing. I used to enjoy the writing of one particular author, but as time went past, the books being published by that author revealed a definite political leaning. While I didn’t agree with that particular point of view, I still tried reading the books because of the joy I had gotten from reading their previous books. Eventually, the constant political diatribes became too much and I stopped reading the newer books. I tried not to judge the author because of this, though. I thought that they might just be writing to a particular audience. When I found that author on social media, I happily followed them. It turned out that they were just as outspoken in person. So perhaps we should make certain inferences based on a writer’s work.

On the flip side of that, I can look at my own writing and know that it would be a incorrect for someone to judge me based on some of my characters or topics. In Pup: A Novel of Accidental Heroism I have some characters that aren’t very hospitable or friendly. Some  enjoy bullying the main character. That is certainly not something that I support or think is necessary. Some characters in my writing can be foul-mouthed and crude. That isn’t what you would see from me in public. Still, I worry that some people might  get an image of me based on those characters, so I sometimes self-censor.

Do you judge writers based on their works? Have you ever read a story or novel and thought “I really don’t want to ever meet that person”? Perhaps for some, separating art and life isn’t easy. Some of those people are readers. Some of those people are writers. I guess, like so many other things in life, we can only decide with each individual situation

We all want to put everything that we have into everything that we do. It’s considered a sign of true character and proof of your determination and commitment to your work. Still, is this the best idea? If you put everything that you have into your first story or book, what happens when it is time for your second story? Watch to see what got me thinking about this and my logic behind the idea that you really need to hold something back.

Image credit: leadershipfreak.files.wordpress.com

Well, this was my last full day on vacation. We dedicated the entire day to the beach. I made a realization while we were out there. I had never gotten around to some of the revisions that I had told myself that I would do on this trip. That’s when I realized something about my writing lately. I explain what it is in the video.

Well, I started to relax a little bit more on the third day. The tropical storm was nowhere nearby and we were starting to learn where everything was. I really spent the third day getting a lot more experiences, and that matters. It not only matters personally, but it also matters as a writer. Details can make a world of difference, and I want to start making those differences.

Well, I survived my drive down to my vacation, now it was time to do some stuff. I wish that I could have gotten video of things as I did them rather than just try to describe it to you later, but, to be honest, I like to focus on the experience, not recording the experience. I know it makes it less exciting for you, but it makes it more enjoyable for me, and this is one time when I will think of myself before my audience. I give a brief explanation of why I am recording the journal and try, very badly, to describe some of what I did. I’m certain that there are several people that look at this and can’t believe that a 38 year old man is just now doing some of this stuff. Well, that’s part of why I took this trip and recorded the journal. Because I really AM just now getting around to doing this stuff!

 

I have just returned from my first real beach vacation. I know, 38 years old and finally going to the beach for a vacation to play in the ocean. I can be a little slow on things. I was going to keep a written journal each day, but my family and I stayed so busy that I didn’t get a chance to. Instead, I kept a video journal and will be putting up one video journal entry a day for the next few days. Been on a beach vacation? Did it help you relax and reboot or make you wish that you could stay? Let me know how these things work out for you.

 

There are times that I can be a terrible friend. I can be a bad relative. I’ll even admit to sometimes being a bad husband and father. There are lots of reasons for this. Some of them are character flaws. I am the first person to admit when I have a flaw, and I have a ton of them. One of the biggest reasons for this is because I never feel like I have enough time in the day to dedicate to the people, the career, and the activities that matter to me. I have to put my attention and energy where I feel that it is most needed, and because of this something always gets missed. I apologize to my friends, past and present, if I have given the attention to you that I should. I apologize to my relatives for not visiting as often as I should. I most sincerely apologize to my wife and child for not having the patience or energy that would allow me to be the husband and father that you deserve.

As a society, we have held aloft the ideal that we should work hard and play hard. Work hard in your career and on project and on any kind of labor. Put as much energy as you can into your recreation and pour yourself into the experience. I feel that I’ve been doing that for a while now, and I’m exhausted! One of the reasons why I don’t have as much time and energy for friends and family as I’d like is because I pour so much of myself into my job and into my work and even into my hobbies that I don’t have energy reserves left. I’ve been out of school for a couple of weeks now and this afternoon was the first time that I finally said “I’m going to rest!” I did for a while, mostly to fight off a sinus headache, but I felt guilty the whole time. There is so much to do, and I feel like I should always be doing it! We all pride ourselves on the idea that we must constantly exhaust ourselves to get ahead in life. I am beginning to wonder what it is that we are trying to get ahead of.

Don’t misunderstand me. I cannot stand laziness and apathy. I have to fight against that all the time with groups of people. However, when did we decide that spending some part of the day doing nothing was such a horrible thing? I’m not talking about spending half of the day staring at a wall and contemplating the purpose of your belly button. I’m just saying that we all might find a little bit more energy in our lives and maybe even more appreciation for our work if we can set aside a little time each day to breathe. Not play, not get on the computer, not even talk on the phone. Just to do nothing. One of the wisest things that I’ve heard came from the movie Tron: Legacy. “You’d be surprised at how productive doing nothing can be.”

I’ll never stop working hard. People depend on me and they deserve nothing less. I’m also in awe at those people that can seem to find the balance that allows them to take care of their kids and do their jobs and even provide food for potluck meals (I’m a bit of a joke at my school. I always volunteer to provide the plates, cups, and plastic ware!) I hate that I will probably never be one of those people. But to those friends and family that I have not given the time that I’d like to have given, I’m going to try to take some time to do nothing. Hopefully then, I will have the time and energy to be the friend, father, or husband that you deserve. If you’re reading this, maybe you should consider a little time for nothing as well. I think we all need it.