a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say #17: Getting it all said and done

What with National Poetry Month and school letting out, and getting ready for my Hamlet trip, I realize I’m remiss in getting out another edition of “Why We Say,” which is a look into the background of those words and phrases that are part of our everyday vernacular.

Why we say: A guidebook to current idioms…

Today’s chapter is all about “getting”:

1. Getting the sack

I’m glad when I go to work everything is pretty much set up for me. I wouldn’t want to lug around desks, books, whiteboards, markers, paper, computers–wow, there’s a lot involved in being a teacher. Although being a trades mechanic around 300 years ago meant I came to work toting my own tools in a sack. If the boss didn’t like my work he’d tell me to get the sack, which meant “Hit the road, Jack.”

2. Getting the third degree

Note: I am getting this down low on the low down about police procedures from this quaint second hand book. Please don’t accuse me of sterotyping, perpetuating urban myths, or promoting wrong ideas. This is a Cyndi Lauper exercise of just wanting to have some fun.

So when someone says, “Did you get the third degree?” you’ll know that it comes from [supposed] police techniques of the first degree being arrested, the second degree getting confined, and then getting reaching the third degree of being roughly questioned. Puts this saying into a different perspective. I’ll be looking for it when watching my next detective show. It guess this goes right along with third degree burn.
3. Getting into a scrape

Who knew deer could be devious? During certain times of the season, deer are known to dig out indentations in the ground to rest in. If someone isn’t watching where he is going he could fall into one of these antler scraped pits. I wouldn’t think so dearly of them deeries after nearly breaking my ankle from the whole hole.

And in summary–a really bad day, back in the day would involve getting the third degree about getting the sack, after getting into a scrape.

All My Bag(s) Are Packed…

I am ready to go. If you recall I earlier announced I am headed to Washington DC as one of the selected thirty teachers who will be part of the first ever Folger Shakespeare Summer Workshop. Though I won a spot, I still pay for the privilege. That was a different post.

This post brings more details. For one: packing.

I am in a firm believer in stow and go. I stuff what I need in my trusty Wally World roller, find an overhead bin and stuff it in. This trip is different. The MEPA, my most excellent personal assistant, will not be traveling with me. Flying six hours with a knee newly escaped from his brace is not on his list of really want to do that. Besides, he grew up on the east coast and has done Washington DC. I’ve not, and I am admittedly nervous. To save money I’m flying into Baltimore and will take the shuttle. I don’t want to look too much like tourist so I opted not to have a wheeled suitcase thumping behind me on the sidewalk. I shall be a bag lady instead. One of the sons left behind a nifty black sports bag and behold, all my stuff rolls up nicely inside. So packing is pretty much a done deal. Squeezing my needed lotions etc in the TSA quart bag proved more challenging (mousse or toothpaste–if the hair looks good do people notice teeth?)

Because I have such an early flight (six-oh-my am) and the airport is about a two hour drive, plus having to arrive for early check in, I splurged and we are booked in at a Red Lion near the airport. I buy the room, the MEPA can spring for dinner. It might equal out because we favor this nice little spot that overlooks the river.

My final travel prep entails my tourist itinerary. Having recently received my schedule I discover we are Hamletting from early morn to late at night. I have one day of DCing: Monday July 5 from 8 am to 3pm. Having scouted internet sources and weighing in opinions I’ve come up with this list of possibilities:

  • The Mall–apparently all the major landmarks harken in this area
  • The Library of Congress–I’ve already applied for my reader’s card
  • The Smithsonian–only if I’m very, very particular, as an entire week could be spent in just one wing. I’m thinking I would like to gaze upon Dorothy’s ruby red Oz slippers or Mr Roger’s cardigan. 

What else, dear readers,  should I go for in such limited time? The Capitol is practically right outside the hotel, the website states. So much to do, so little time….

Reading Challenge #37: Bird by Bird

Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a bit like listening to a marathon of Billy Crystal’s SNL routines as the complainer character: “Don’t you just hate it when…” His character’s kvetching is both comical and annoying, at least to me. And that’s where I stand with Lamott’s book on her approach to writing. Granted, she has reached a measure  of success, yet, the process seems to be so painful for her I wonder if she should try another line of work, one that doesn’t require copious amounts of emotional disarray and therapy. Then again, maybe she likes the worry, grief, angst, and drama that occurs when writing. Actually, if she didn’t have anything to complain about she wouldn’t have anything to write about. 

image: The story behind the title is a life lesson of taking a big task bit by bit.

For me the introduction resonated the best. The rest of the book was more of the same sardonic humor and illuminating bits of epiphanies. I did stick with the entirety and did find several take aways, ones that resonated with me in how I approach writing:

  • “I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore you exist.” (introduction xiv))
  • “The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”(intro xxvi)
  • This one really got to me since I am a bovine believer: “Writing…is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, ad the the cow is so glad you did it.” (intro xxxi)
  • “…putting an octopus to bed [is like the final draft]. You get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers–that is, you’ve come up with a plot, resolved the conflict between the two main characters, gotten the tone down pat–but two arms are still flailing around…you finally get those arms under the sheets, too, and are about to turn off the lights when another long sucking arm breaks free.” (p. 94)
  • “The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell” standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes.” (p. 97)
  • “Writers are like vacuum cleaners, sucking up all that we can see and hear and read and think and feel and articulate, and everything that everyone else within earshot can hear and see and think and feel.” (p. 177)

I do feel like the cheese sometimes. I notice stuff other people don’t and when I point these observations out to them they usually respond with that patronizing smile, you know, the one that indicates that you’re cute or crazy or annoying for noticing what seems mundane.* I also feel like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up sensory matters. Anne missed one analogy though–writers storing all that information are like the back room of an understaffed post office. The information is there but stored in a box, bag, or slot waiting patiently to be delivered.

One chapter I especially related to was “Calling Around.” For her it was tracking down the name of the wire thingy that is part of the champagne bottle. Wire thingy wasn’t working for her and she couldn’t move on in the story until she discovered the name. After calling around she learned it’s simply referred to as a metal hood. Kind of takes the romance out of the champagne experience. For me, I needed to know the name of the clothing ancient Chinese warriors wore. Should be an easy search–right? No. And no again. I wanted to show the character in my story that pants haven’t always been part of fighting garb (who can forget Mel in his Braveheart kilt?). After some searching around I came up with a possibility. I’m still confirming it. It’s not even that crucial to the story, yet I couldn’t move on either until I had put that flailing octopus to rest.

Overall, I was entertained while learning that writing and writers are definitely the cheesiest people around. We are on the outside, capturing how everyone feels on the inside. And that’s a good thing. It makes us a bit crazy but crazy is the new sane. Heigh ho, the dairy-oh….

*NOTE: A spider busily working its weaving web wonder is significant because it is oblivious that its achievement is going to be seen not as a marvel but as a mess needing to be swept away. My mind goes scampering towards metaphors and greater analysis. It’s not just a spider. Maybe that’s the title of a book I need to write about how writers write.

June POM: nice whether

June is an interesting month around my parts. In the time it takes to say “what’s it gonna do today?” the weather changes, so we don’t know whether it will be chilly or hot. At the beginning of the month it has been known to be cold enough to have a frosty wake up, so we light a chill-breaker in the morning, only to run the air conditioner by mid-afternoon due to the surge in temperature. It makes for the school’s outdoor graduation an interesting guess. I’m glad I don’t have to make that call of inside or outside.

This radical rolling of temperature swings causes some bodacious storms at times. The sudden swirl of wind, rattling of angry rain, that tempers out into penitent miffs of drips as the sky clears into blue and friendly puffy clouds  once again. Oh I do enjoy those brief summer storms. I hide out under the back porch to witness these summer snits. I guess they reflect the ocassional temper tantrum I might have tossed about in my younger days ( I’m not admitting anything).

Leonara Speyer captures well that brief snit fit found in summer:

Squall by Leonora Speyer

The squall sweeps gray-winged across the obliterated hills,

And the startled lake seems to run before it;

From the wood comes a clamor of leaves,

Tugging at the twigs,

Pouring from the branches,

And suddenly the birds are still.
Thunder crumples the sky,

Lightning tears at it.
And now the rain!

The rain—thudding—implacable—

The wind, reveling in the confusion of great pines!
And a silver sifting of light,

A coolness;

A sense of summer anger passing,

Of summer gentleness creeping nearer—

Penitent, tearful,



I would be remiss if I did not include a poem that reflects the current situation of June: IT IS REALLY, REALLY HOT, and way too early for such heat–at least in our parts. So here is another side of summer that reminds us that while summer is mostly lovely it can be hot as riding into battle.

To Summer by William Blake

O thou who passest thro’ our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched’st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.
Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o’er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on

Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam’d who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

For an interesting commentary on the poem, check out this link.


Win A Doodle! Hooray!


Mike is one of the funniest bloggers going. Even if you don’t want a doodle, check out his blog. Don’t let him know he’s one of my favorites–I don’t know how he would handle my moment of sincerity.

Originally posted on heylookawriterfellow:


Here’s your chance to win an official Mike Allegra custom made doodle!

But first, a word from Giddy Happy Mike:

This is the cover of the July 2015 issue of Highlights for Children.

Highlights coverIsn’t it great? I especially like this part:

Highlights cover detailThat’s my story!

“Harold’s Hat,” is in the latest issue of Highlights (which is awesome)! And the editors decided to promote it on the magazine’s cover (which is awesomer)!

The issue arrived in my mailbox on Saturday. My son took one look at it, turned to me and said, “You are so cool.”

Best Fathers’ Day Present Ever.

The entire magazine is fantastic, by the way (Highlights is always fantastic). So be sure to pick up a copy for the little ones in your life. OK?

Thank you for indulging me. Now where was I? Oh, yes…


View original 448 more words

The Write Sites or Sites for Reader Ayes

Sampling new websites is as delicious as the free tray at the local chocolatier. Hope you discover some new morsels on this tray, or enjoy a familiar flavor. Here are a few sites catering to readers and writers alike.
A site founded by publishers who blend together industry news, interviews, reviews, and articles. Look for insights about new and favorite books and authors. There are also interesting articles by authors, such as James Dashner’s opinion of what books became the best film adaptations.
Looking for something to read? Or perhaps looking to publish something you’ve written? Check out this site to read or upload material.
Got a question and can’t find it by Googling? I discovered Quora in this manner. I wanted to find out how many time Jane Eyre mentions “dear reader” to add to my lesson plan about the use of archaic point-of-view. Eventually someone from Quora took up the challrnge and came up with the answer: 37. Since then I’ve gotten involved in answering more questions than asking them. I even have three followers and have earned over 1000 credits. I don’t think Macy’s accepts Quora credits yet.
If your thirst for Shakespeare ranges between the serious and the silly–then this site is only a click away. It professes to be “an eclectic collection of mostly Shakespeare-related comics and other miscellany.” It pops out Bard bits on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There are scads of sites which provide reading recommendations, reviews, news, and other bibliophilic needs–yet The Reading Room has the best ever quizzes. They are fun, annoying, illuminating and are great blog fillers. Try this one “What Literary Place Are You?”  *disclaimer: results vary with each participant (New York!?! I shudder at living in such a metro place).

Reading Challenge #33: Lizzie and the Doors of Doom and Delight

I recently finished yet another Jane Austen fan fiction entry: “Lost in Austen.” This is not to be confused with the witty series of the same title that featured a modern girl smitten with Darcy, who through wishful thinking, ends up trading places with Lizzie Bennett. I think Lizzie got the better deal, actually. I would rather reach for Advil than a leech any day when it comes to ridding a fever.

Modern meets Regency image:

The old “judging covers” applies here

Not familiar with choose your own adventure books? Weren’t you one of those 8-10 year olds who dove in those simple, yet exciting stories that allowed you to make a choice of your plotted path? I believe they are the only example I know of where the “you” second person point-of-view is actually used in writing.

Any of these titles sound familiar? image:

They take a bit of effort since the reader must make a decision which direction the story will go. “You come to two doors. If you choose the right one, turn to page 37. If you choose left, then proceed to page 18.” The reader either experiences a nasty turn of events, like being eaten by a hungry lion or can be rewarded, as in by being discovered to be a long lost son of the neighborhood millionaire and receiving an unexpected inheritance. A person could die and live several lifestyles over the course of a reading. I think the short story “The Lady or the Tiger?” is the foundational beginnings of these books.

As for Lost in Austen–mash up all of Jane’s books with the choose your adventure theme and you spend a day pursuing Darcy or ending up as the heroine in one of the other Austen tales of matrimony quest. Without giving away spoilers I will say this: be wary of that Caroline Bingley, especially when walking the grounds of Pemberley.

I applaud the creativity involved in the project, yet I needed at least three bookmarks while reading. One for the Darcy plotline, one for when I had to make my decision, and one for when I died (more than once) and had to go back to my decision point because I would then have to go find chocolate to soothe my disappointment before returning to where I made the wrong choice to begin once again.

I’m wondering–What other classics could become a Choose Your Own Adventure?

How about Alice? “You decide drinking tea with a table of lunatics is unwise, you stay on the path.”

Then there is Robison Crusoe. “You decide one footprint is one too many and immediately build a raft and take your chances upon the oceans towards home.”

Maybe Scrooge? “You feel uncharacteristically generous and contribute to the various charities. After a good night’s sleep you decide to provide stock options to your employees. You live a much happier life, although prove so wonderful you become boring in your philanthropist ways that you are passed over for a Dickens protagonist.

Whst classic adventure would you choose? What if Wendy shut the window after all and Peter found a willing Priscilla or Hortense to sew for the boys?

Summer Reads in the Making

Although school ended June 5th, I signed up for a workshop which prepares me for fall and pays me to be there, so I’m sticking it out until June 12. To celebrate my upcoming release into the almost endless days of summer, which for me involves LOTS of reading, I am finally sitting down to decide on my destinational course of action. I take my Reading Rainbow directive seriously “I can go anywhere. It’s in a book. Take a look…”

My room in its vacated student mode. I’m surprised the desks weren’t more in a tangle from students bolting out the door to summer’s beckoning…  
Here are some possibilities:

King Lear: I’ve watched at least two different dramatizations which were powerfully presented, one with Ian Holm. I even began reading Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres, a modern retelling (didn’t get too far due to her plot restructuring). I’m drawn to this play, being fascinated by Shakespeare’s penchant for family dynamics and the fact he has three women instead of the usual one or two. It’s weird to realize that in Shakespeare’s day male actors having to project the wounds of a daughter, of trying to capture of how a woman would react to a father’s rejection is fascinating because women had to be portrayed by men. Then again, we also have men portraying women–did anyone really believe Dustin Hoffman was a woman? My choice of Lear is one of considerable contemplation. Basically I’m trying to determine if I can switch to Lear from Hamlet in my AP curriculm. Going from a son’s agony to a daughter’s makes for interesting analysis. Maybe I’ll do a comparison. Here I go again–working on my supposed two months off…

Of course Harper Lee’s Watchman is at the top of the list. I will request it at the library and figure my turn will come along in time for Christmas Break reading.

I plan to browse for some middle reads, revisit some friends from childhood such as Homer Price or Henry and Ribsy. I am open to suggestions for newer middle reads, especially series. I started reading Al Capone Does My a Shirts. It has promise to continue. A kid who lived on Alcatraz?

And I am game for trying out BIG name authors whom I have yet to make an acquaintance. Maybe Clive Cussler, or Janet Evanonich. I’m taking suggestions for commercially successful authors because I need to get out of my nineteenth century rut of classics reading. I think its healthy to read a book by someone who’s presently living.

Then there is my TBR. Time to blow dust off the list and begin whittling down the titles. 

And what will you be reading this summer?

Anyone try these out yet?

Boston Girl/Anita Diamant
The Remorseful Day/Dexter
Book Seller/Mark Pyor
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction/James Thorn
Tipping Point/Gallagher
Bird by Bird / Anne Lamott
Hidden Talents-David Lubar
Love, Nina/Nina Stibbe
Juliet’s Nurse/Lois Leveen

End of Year Cheer

Last night rounded out the academic year of 2015. I actually feel somewhat refreshed instead of the usual frazzle.

My, to borrow a phrase, “parting of sweet sorrow,” began early in the day. Having posted my grades the day before, a perk of having seniors, and having already tidied up my room, I decided to plant lavender and poppies outside my school window. One teacher greeted me with “Hey, Miss Maudie!” I took that for a compliment.

I then listened to essays of future AP students–promising beginnings. After that I polished some lesson plans for next year, arranged books in the library (you can take a librarian out of the library, but never the library out of a librarian), rearranged my room, and waited for the final bell. Having no students, I listened for how students would react to their release from captivity.

“Summer!” “I can’t get out of this building fast enough!” 

I’m not sure if those were student or staff voices crying out their jubilation.

After a quick power nap, it was off to help ready seniors for our community graduation at the football field. A few moments of the usual panic–“my walking partner isn’t here yet!” “I lost my tassel!” “The valedictorian can’t find her speech!” “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” but we managed to line them up, march them off over to the bleachers to the repeated strains of commencement’s “da da dada da da”. Many speeches later,  and after no pranks of slipping the principal interesting bits of memorabilia, the class of 2015 tossed their hats in celebration.

Next stop: grad nite.

How to persuade new grads from going to parties and ending a happy day with a series of unfortunate events? Easy. Throw a party for them. Having done this rodeo three times with my own kinder, I help out by selling tickets and wandering around as a floater. Fun, food, and a chance to hug students one last time? I’m all in–at least until midnight. And the band played on until the wee hours of the morning.

This morning? I still woke up at 5:30 am. I guess my body isn’t quite ready for vacation yet.

I am hoping to dust off the laptop and get some writing projects cranking before fall arrives sooner than I hope it will.

Any other teachers, students, or parents embracing the delights of school being out?

Of Hamlet, Conundrums, Cost Factors–oh my

I have decided that now and then it’s important to dip into the retirement fund to fully appreciate opportunities I may not be up for when I do finally retire. When the opportunity came up to apply for the first ever Folger Shakespeare Library Summer Workshop, I swiftly wrote up my reasons why I should be among the coveted twenty-five teachers who will get to study Hamlet. I don’t know if Midsummer Nights Dream or even King Lear would have caused me to leap without much looking. I don’t even recall what I wrote, I was in such an unmitigated hurry to apply.

Whatever I wrote worked for them.  Come July I’m heading out to Washington DC to learn how to teach Hamlet to my students. Even though it’s costing me about a month’s salary (tuition, airfare, hotel–ooh, I have to eat, forgot about that) my hubs and family and friends convinced me to commit by saying: “Just go already.” They’re right. I would be full of regrets at having turned down the opportunity just because I like to save money instead of spend it. ‘Tis better to be filled with memories than regrets. Shakespeare didn’t write that, but I’m sure he thought along those lines when he trekked off to London for the theater.

I will keep you all informed as I get closer to the event.  I think I’m getting excited–reality emails are arriving about getting prepared for the big trip. 

1. I must supply a recommendation letter in order to secure my Reading Room pass. My local library card will not be sufficient. This puts studying Shakespeare into a totally different realization of *special event*.

One thing I’ve noticed as July gets closer and my departure date, I’m more enthused about seeing Washington DC in movies we watch–“Hey, don’t blow up the White House! It’s on my tourista list.” Or a poke to the hubs “I’m gonna get a photo with Abe. I’ll give my regards.” The MEPA is an excellent fellow allowing me to gloat like this.

I’ve only dipped my toe back East briefly when I attended a Chautauqua workshop back in 2008. Is the east coadt still muggy in summer? My part of the planet sports dry  and hot summer fun. Humidiers and air conditioners arr standard issue. 

As for tripworthy goals and accomplishments: I’m hoping Jude Law will stop by. Makes sense doesn’t it? He just did Hamlet on Broadway. I would settle for Patrick Stewart peeking in. David Tennant? I’m also hoping to dig in and get some amazing research done on a Shakespeare project I’ve been toying with the past five years. That Reading Pass will definitely come in handy. Of course, I really hope to bring back such astounfing Hamlet lesson plans that they will transform my seniors into iambic spouting Bardinators.

We interrupt this post with an important update:
“participants should pack loose, comfortable clothing for stage work, including a workshop on swordplay.” SWORDS! 

Being a West Coaster, I am so open to suggestions of what I should REALLY see when finding time to be a tourist in Washington DC.

a bit about cricketmuse

I intend to pack a bit more…

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