RunKeeper!

I’ve wanted to write about how much I love this website for a few weeks now, but I figured I should wait until the end of the month to ensure that I had met my personal challenge in one way or another.

On January 1, I joined Runkeeper.com. I didn’t have any specific goal in mind as to the number of miles run. I had in the back of my mind the idea of running a 5k, but I also just possess a lot of curiosity when it comes to my personal endurance and will power. In other words, I like to see how hard I can push myself. I’ve never really applied this endurance idea to physical activities. I pretty much hate exercise, and I hate healthy food even more.

So, I put this to a test. I tracked runs (on a treadmill), hiking (outdoors), and cycling (on a stationary bike) for the month.

And I’m happy to see that my grand total was: 41.56 miles.

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Simple!

As is normally the case when I’m supposed to be grading a stack of essays, I decided to revamp my blog a little. And, by revamp, I mean shut it down. The original “Watchtower” is now offline, but I decided to do that only after setting it to private last night. I realized that authorizing readers was going to be a pain. So, I did a little research and found that it is remarkably easy to move a WordPress blog from one place to another.

With stricter security settings, a private Twitter account, and the removal of my last name in the address, here is my “new” but old blog.

I realized last week when one of my students told me “you’re really easy to find” that I needed to clean up my online identity. That’s not to say that there’s anything out there that’s inappropriate, but I do enjoy a relative amount of privacy. Plus, for those who insist upon googling me after I’ve asked to be left alone, I’m hoping this will help somewhat.

At any rate, major kudos to WordPress for making this so simple!

Trees and things.

Whenever I go hiking, I’m always on the look out for trees. Not just any trees, but climb-able trees. The annual New Years hike that I do with friends is no different. I was absolutely delighted to find not one, but two trees that were perfect for climbing.

I don’t know what it is about climbing trees that intrigues me so much. It’s part happy childhood memory, part “because-I-can”, and part communing with nature.

My dad taught me how to climb trees. I still remember the first time I was in ever in a tree. I had to be about three years old. He had me sitting on his shoulders. All I had to do was hold on to the top of his head, and up into the tree he went. In my memory, we were high in the sky. As I think about it now, I realize that, as with most things in my life, I was shown how to do things and then left to explore them on my own. On my father’s shoulders, there’s no way that I ever thought I would fall.

Later, we had a tree in our backyard and my brothers and I would stake out the best branches and sit up in the tree. We must have spent hours in that old tree, throwing things and seeing how high we could climb. And from how high we could jump.

When I did my first silent retreat, we were left to meditate in silence for hours and hours at a time. It was with absolute glee that I sat in a tree for four hours, listening to the stream below and the wind above me. In some ways, I learned to pray that way. Just by listening and being still.

Ah, but that “because-I-can” attitude is the best. It’s so me. I love calculated risks. I study the trees before I get into them. I make sure there’s a safe way up. It’s not often that I consider a safe way down, but, well, that’s beside the point. I love that people will stare. Or that people think it’s silly.

When my friend sent me this picture of my triumph at the top of this tree, I laughed a little, but it also made me a little sad. I’m not sure why I thought of this at this moment, but I really thought about the fact that the day would come when I would not be able to hoist myself up into a tree. So, I figured that I should make it a point to get up into the trees as often as possible, but I also figured that I should probably teach someone else to do it.

A Teacher's Glee

I teach three sections of a Junior-level English class (or American Literature).

When I was hired, I was repeatedly warned by my principal and my department chair that the students were behind grade level. “No problem,” I said. And, truthfully, no problem is exactly what I thought.

Then I received their first assignments, which were assigned as a summer project, via email the first week of the school year. I’m almost sure that if tears didn’t actually spring from my eyes, I most certainly felt like crying.

“Not a problem,” is what I said to the 80 girls who entered my class every day.

“Huge,  huge problem,” is what I said in my head.

Every idea, every plan that I had was instantly swept from my head and erased from my computerized lesson plans.

“These are not quite what I was expecting,” I told my students as I handed their assignments back to them, “but we can completely fix it. By the end of the year, your writing will be exactly what I want. You’ll be writing essays in your sleep. No problem.”

And they wrote. And re-wrote. And wrote again. There were tears (not mine) and multiple drafts. There were countless discussions, tutoring sessions and crash-courses on thesis formation. For the entire first semester, we worked on crafting simple essays. We walked through a series of five essay topics in the first four months, all following the same format.

When we returned to school from Christmas break, I instituted a new plan. Every essay they turned in to me had to be at least their fourth draft. (They had a bad habit when we started  of typing, ignoring any suggestions by Microsoft Word, and hitting print.) I handed out a new rubric and a timeline for the assignment on the second day back from break.

Today was the sixth class meeting of this unit, and I had a student come up to me at the end of the last class.

“Ms. S, I have a huge, huge, horrible problem,” she said.

“Well, let’s take a look. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t get the thesis. And mine is terrible. I just don’t get it.” She handed her paper over to me. I skimmed the first four sentences, written exactly as I said they should be and came to the thesis:

Through interactions, dialogue, and actions it is very clear that Washington Irving characterized Tom Walker as a greedy man.

I can’t begin to describe my absolute joy at this sentence, which was a four-month transformation from the:

The Scarlet Letter would be about a girl who was embarrassed.

It really makes all of those Saturdays that I spent 8 hours parked in a coffee shop writing individual comments on 80 essays totally worthwhile.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr

There is not much need for my own commentary, other than to say that truth stands the test of time.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.

Letter From Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

So this guy walks into a bar…

Makes a swirling motion over my head, which apparently is some sort of code for I’m buying this girl a drink.

Takes a seat next to me, kindly leaving one barstool between us.

(And yes, I was alone, it was 3 p.m. on a Friday. I’m a teacher. It’s what I do.)

Pushes a business card across the bar with a little twist so it’s face up when it gets to me.

Says, “this is me.”

Makes me laugh.

Says, “well, I’m off to a good start because I made you laugh.”

–Actually, I was laughing at him.–

Points out the second line on the card which lists his profession as “drinker.”

–More laughter from me.–

Asks what I do.

Informs me that he barely graduated high school, reads at a sixth grade level, but that doesn’t matter because he hates to read.

Yammers on for fifteen minutes about I have no idea what.

Stares bewildered as I place my empty glass of beer on top of the ridiculous business card and walk out of the bar.

Notes to the universe:

  • Never, ever, ever put your hand anywhere in the vicinity of over my head.
  • If you’re over the age of 30, your business card should not list your profession as “drinker.”
  • I’m a teacher. I love writing. I love reading. Don’t think that your illiteracy will be a point of connection.

Shameless Self Promotion

I ordered some notecards the other day with a picture that I had taken across the front. I chose to write the word “kiss” in the bottom right hand corner. It was just the perfect word to describe how I feel about the sun.

At the same time, I was having a conversation with my business partner about starting an Etsy account for our photography. As always, I set up a personal account just to try it out. That’s probably why I have an subscription to every blogging site, twitter site, and artwork selling site under the sun, but I digress.

The image for my note card was still on my desktop so I threw it up there along with a couple of other things, so here we go:

janateresa by janateresa on Etsy

Posted using ShareThis

Haiti & Partners In Health

My simple statement on the earthquake in Haiti is that it’s positively heart wrenching. My prayers and thoughts are with the people and all those working with the relief efforts.

Rachel Maddow featured Tracy Kidder on her program, and I just wanted to pass along the information for the work his organization does.

The PIH Vision: Whatever it takes
At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.
(Partners in Health, http://www.pih.org)

I am extremely picky about charitable organizations, and I have to say that this one is especially encouraging to me because it works with Haitian doctors, supporting, and thus empowering, the Haitian people to provide help for themselves. It is especially moving at this time, as the world converges upon Haiti, to remember the dignity,  power, and spirit of the Haitian people themselves.

Moving Past the Post-Its

So the big non-secret is that in the past ten years I have written out the plots, settings and character sketches for three major stories. I say major because they have the potential to be novels. Or movies. Or TV miniseries. Just kidding on the miniseries, but that’s the amount of thought that has been put into these stories.

One came from lucid imagination. I dreamt the characters, and they started interacting. I put them in situations and they started responding. I simply wrote it out. That one is the oldest. It’s probably close to eight years old. It’s also 72 single-spaced pages.

The second came in college. It has a fabulous timeline. It’s part fantasy of mine and part fiction. The character is amazingly stable, and the story sits in a half-completed state.

And the third came to me in a dream. I dreamt the entire story. I dreamt the characters. The location was eerie though. I had no idea where it came from or where I had seen it before. I didn’t think I had. Then, one day I was doing research for a shorter posting I was writing for one of my blogs, and there appeared this picture on the PBS website. A picture of my dream. So I pulled this out. My sketches. Not of the place exactly, but of the layout of the town. And all the beautiful characters on the pages. Then, there was the plot.

My…umm…biography of sorts is about 20 chapters in. That has gotten the most work in the past two months. It’s easiest to see the progress on it, I suppose. And I will admit that the handbook I am partnering with a friend on sits with its first chapter written, begging for more.

The truth is I love to write. And I would love to create a schedule for myself. I really would. It just has never worked out in the past because I tend to jump from project to project or I share the stories prematurely and then feel that they are no longer mine.

But I realized as I provide my students every day with a very deliberate method, schedule and checklist for their own writing that it would not be that difficult to do it for myself. Well, minus the sheer exhaustion (as one students said to me today, “Ms. Sosnowski, don’t you EVER get tired?”). But I figure if I can take 2 hours a day to craft positive comments and constructive feedback for my students, another 20-30 minutes to work on this reflection of my life, I can simply steal moments here and there to start with this creative business again.

So I’m starting with the last one. Only because I truly thought it was a sign when I came across the pictures of my dreams…

And as one of my students said to me one day, “Wow, you’re like a real writer.”

Nope, not yet, I said.