Thursday, April 28, 2011

So What?

As someone who works with teens I have spent a lot of time discussing appropriate relationships and signing forms where I promise to behave correctly and that I understand behavior appropriate with other adults or between the teens is not (always) the same as behavior that's acceptable between adults and teens.  Now I recognize that I'm doing this in the context of a religious organization and that the rules for teachers are often stricter. However, there are things where I bang my head and wonder why that adult thought that was okay and there are also things where I think, "So what?". 
So, it turns out that a high school English teacher also writes erotic romance novels.  Now, I accept that she doesn't work in my school district or teach my kids, so my stake in this is non-existent, but I say, so what? Here's why. 
1. The teacher, from all reports, is a great English teacher.
2. She has not suggested that her students read erotic romance - in or out of school.*
3. She wrote the books under a pen name.  Now people who are good with the google fu can (and, in the case of one parent, did) figure it out.  But she had taken steps to keep the identities separate so that a student cruising Amazon or their library or bookstore wouldn't happen on to it and think, weird, that's my teacher's name.
4. -She has not done anything illegal. I would also posit that nothing immoral, unethical, or salacious has occurred.  I recognize that your mileage may vary on that, but writing a novel that may contain material that is inappropriate for some ages is not causing harm to anyone. 
5. The suggestion that because she writes about sex, she will be unable to engage in appropriate relations with her students is ridiculous.  A - because in a multi-decade career it appears that she has managed to demonstrate such and B - because writing about consensual adult relations is no way correlates to engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior and C - because if writing made it so, then Bart Simpson would have learned his lesson a long time ago.**
6. The suggestion that her students will now be unable to not think about sex is funny of so many levels.  A - because yes, it is the rare high schooler who thinks about sex.  (Not.) B - Because um, when several of my teachers got married or got pregnant (or got their spouse pregnant) I was, due to the knowledge of where babies come from imparted by my very school, able to deduce that they were having sex.  Yes, it was kinda weird.  It's part of growing up - figuring out that these people, be they parents or teachers or the cashier at the coffee shop all have lives that have nothing to do with you. 
7. The teacher, from all reports, is a great English teacher.
As, SB Sarah pointed out, the comments on the news site are heartwarming (unlike, you know, a lot of new site comments.)
So, I find it sad that this news outlet considered this news and ran this story without any of the lovely comments from parents and students who think she is a wonderful teacher and could care less what she does in her spare time. 

*I am not saying that I don't think high schoolers are old enough to choose their reading material.  I do. 
**Yes, I know Bart is fictional.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Books are not Vegetables

I read two interesting and seemingly unrelated articles. One was a link to discussion about how we have developed a great system for identifying and nurturing athletes, and yet do not have corresponding type things for writers (or artists, mathematicians and so on).  The other was about how after high school/college, a huge number of people never buy another book.  (Yes, it's less than half, I still think that's huge.)  Now, admittedly, the link states that book can be fiction or non-fiction, short stories, poetry or prose, but still that's a lot of people who are using something other than books to fill their leisure time (assuming they have some).  Now, as far as I can tell, that book reading doesn't count reading newspapers, journals and magazines or even reading up on the internet (seriously, can't you just get lost in a rabbit hole of Wikipedia?  Just me?).  And while I appreciate that these things are not books, the point I'm making, is that these people may not have given up on reading (beyond shampoo bottles and cereal boxes) they may just have given up on books.  And a lot of people seem to feel that books, much like dissecting worms*, are things that most of us don't have to do anymore once we finish school. 
One of the things that always annoyed me was that summer reading always had a boring list.  (I tell the high schoolers today they are so lucky, I don't think my list ever had anything written after 1950. Some of them are reading Scott Westerfeld.) I read more than the required number of books each summer, they just weren't all on that list.  And if the point is to keep kids engaged with reading as something potentially wonderful, wouldn't letting them choose five books be fine?  Or let them choose three of them all by themselves.  Or something. 
I once saw a nutritionist talk about how telling kids to eat their vegetables to get their dessert teaches them that dessert is good and vegetables are good for you (aka boring).  And I think we do that with books.  We turn them into boring, laborious, things and if you think those assigned books are a representative sample, well, who could be blamed if you turn to TV or the internet or video games? Imagine if you didn't know about TV and then you got one but the only channel it got was CSPAN.  You'd think TV, while occasionally interesting, was ultimately a really dull format. (Maybe not dull, but not, you know, exciting much,)
And then we get to the second part of the issue.  Most people agree that there are books that are not vegetable like, but those are all bubble gum.  Yes, genre fiction, it's out there and some people read it, but unlike those very serious, often depressing book club type** books, or those very enlightening, remind you of a text book they are so heavy, non-fiction books*** that are the vegetables and possibly fiber for your brain, these are terrible and will rot your brain.  No, don't read romance, or if you do, don't read sci-fi, or, eek, if you are out of college for sure don't be reading kids books (unless reading them to a kid).  And well, mysteries, some of those are probably okay, but only the ones with dark covers, the rest are bubble gum too. 
And you know what, that's why people don't read. The books they enjoy they are told are bad for them and the ones they don't like, or slog through, those are supposed to be the good ones.  Now, this is not to say, that you shouldn't try all kinds of books.  I am in favor of that.  And this is also not to say that I hated every book I had to read for school, I didn't.  But every time I hit one that made me think - wow, this is considered the good stuff - I had a broad base of other things that I knew were out there that were good. 
Much like people that lament that all TV is bad for you, or that there's never anything good on TV, there are tons of books out there.  (And okay, that may be the third issue - there are tons of books out there.)  Try one.  I swear it won't kill you.

*Unless your current life includes dissecting worms. 
*Your book club may be cooler.  Yay for you.
**Yes, I know, there are awesomely written non-fiction books to.  Not talking about those.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Training Season

Tis the season in my job where we train lots about how to do and talk and communicate better.  But you know, sometimes - while you kind of know what the right thing should probably be, it's hard to imagine it.  We all know what it looks like when someone tries to pass the buck or sort of gloss over an issue, but what does it look like when you admit an error, accept responsibility apologize and provide a plan for addressing it?  Well, I imagine it might look like this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What She Said

I am going to direct you to this lovely post over at the Monkey See blog - "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going to Miss Almost Everything" -  not simply because I was percolating on something similar, but because it is great and true.  And frankly, a relief to me. See, once you accept that you cannot do it - you cannot watch all the great TV, see every wonderful play, read every amazing book, listen to every beautiful song, attend every fabulous party, meet every awesome person and see every cool place - not without access to a time machine, well, I find it a relief.  And of course, as is pointed out in the piece, there are infinite metrics available for attempting to figure out in advance which were the great TV shows and which are the awesome people and which is the transcendent art, but you know what?  None of them are perfect.  It's all subjective, so invariably you will spend some of your time on the books you find dull, people you find boring and places you find derivative.  And that's okay too.  Seriously, this seem terribly dark and depressing but instead I find it really freeing.  Because once you realize you just can't, you say, okay hopefully I'll get to that book/person/art/TV/music.  But am I doing something I like right now?  If so, yay!  If not, please proceed to the next thing in the hopes that it will be better.  Have fun out there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

20 Things: The Reunion Edition

Someone recently forwarded a meme where you come up with things you would have told your fourteen year old self.  Now, I do occasionally get to pass on bits of wisdom to high schoolers but there are somethings they don't need to know (or that I haven't found a way to sneak in) and some things that are just such givens about their lives today.  Things other than they changed that whole SAT eons ago, so the thing I took is obsolete.  (Thank goodness I don't need that anymore.) And in honor of my impending reunion, here's 20 things I would love to pass on to my high school self. 

1. The internet is awesome.  You don't even know.*
2. Someone will create things like Facebook (friendster, etc) where you can re-connect with folks from camp, high school and college who moved away before they got your last snail mail.
3. Someday, your high school English teacher will leave the most amazing status update on Facebook, proving that she is still awesome.
4. Remember how you wrote a book for your senior project, that will become important again later.
5. You are very beautiful.
6. Almost all the plans you have right now, will work out differently than you expect.
7. It's okay, it works out pretty awesomely.
8. Later you will end up getting a job right near high school.
9. You will start going to church regularly.
10. You will end up at a church right near high school.
11. So, yes, for whatever reason that road, seems important.
12. Oh, and you do get your driver's license.  Soon even. 
13. College turns out to be hard, but not really that much harder than high school.  (Apparently they are keeping that a secret.)
14. You will probably never again have as much free time as you do in college.
15. Take advantage of all those opportunities to have great, in depth discussions with people about things.
16. Do your best to listen and try to understand why they may disagree with you.
17. The sooner you learn that some people cannot be swayed by even the best logic, the better.
18. Get to know lots of people who know things you don't.  You never know when having friends who know about nuclear reactors will come in handy.
19. Someday, most of the shows you loved in high school will be made available in little packages for sale.  It's awesome.
20. Try things you don't think you can do.   You'd be surprised how many people are faking it out there.

*Yes, I know the internet existed when I was in high school.  But I didn't have access to it at the time, it used to be hard and require fancy equipment. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Piece of my Childhood

I understand all the economic reasons behind the cancelling of iconic soaps "All My Children" and "One Life to Live", even if, much like Conan O'Brien's brief reign at the "Tonight Show" one has to feel for the cast and crew that upended their lives not that long ago to LA only to see this happen. 
However, these two cancellations make me very sad, even if I haven't really tuned in for a while (and therefore am part of the problem), I liked knowing they were there. 
My mother was a big believer in nap time.  When my sister and I were in morning pre-school, we would come home, eat lunch and then take a nap.  My mother somehow wrangled a deal for both me and one of the kids in my carpool so that we came home with the pre-schoolers on Wednesdays our first year in all day school.  And on weekends, my mom often enforced nap time, as well as on school vacations.  When we got old enough to start resisting this, we graduated to quiet time, which meant that for the hour we had to be in our rooms and could do anything we could come up with as long as it was quiet.  (We did not have TV's or any other media in our rooms at this point, so quiet was mostly reading or making the dolls and legos whisper.)
But, my sister and I figured out that sometimes mom wasn't napping, she was in our parent's room (which did have a TV) or sometimes on the couch in the living room watching  "All My Children" or "One Life to Live".  Sometimes she was watching with her eyes closed.  So,every once in a while, we were allowed to - quietly, of course - watch with her.  So, my sister and I knew about Erica Cane and Palmer and Opal, and we knew about Clint and Vickie.  And one summer (well after I had graduated from nap/quiet time) I dove into them full on.  And gave "General Hospital" a try.  So I know about the rock on the ranch that sent Clint and Vickie back in time.  I know that Jesse and Angie's parents didn't approve.  I know that Nina didn't really die in that helicopter crash. And for a while I was making use of the newspaper recaps, and the phone in recaps to keep up while I was in school.  (That's right kids, back before every site on the interwebs did recaps, it was hard.  And you had to walk five miles.)
So, from a nostalgia point I am sad.  And as the number of daytime soaps dwindle, I think we lose - not only a great place for actors, but also a great jumping off point for storylines.  Daytime soaps, perhaps because of the sheer number of episodes, were faster to diversify their casts, they were fast to introduce storylines where characters revealed to their parents that they were gay or bisexual, they addressed drug abuse, and rape, and all manner of mental health issues (and okay, most people with multiple personalities do not have one that is a prostitute, but it was there, and people talked about it).  They had characters dealing with AIDS and lupus (something I actually don't think I've seen on prime time at all) and partial paralysis and yes, sure, these things were blended in with time travelling rocks and people kidnapping their family members or having secret twins, but still, they addressed a huge number of issues. 
And, as night time soaps dwindled, other drama's out there started developing the arcing storyline, pieces of the plot that - soap-like - didn't get resolved for several issues. 
And, let me tell you, for all the terrible things that happen to soap characters, there's an amazing message of hope in there, because let's face it, most of these characters forgive each other for the most egregious offenses (yes, in part because some of them would have no one left to talk to otherwise).  (And sure, on a different soap on another channel, my friend and I once had a long discussion about how come attempting to sell your baby sister on the black market did not appear to even result in being grounded.)  But also - if your spouse dies or leaves you, you rarely have to wait long to either find someone new or to have your old spouse return from a long trip where they have now seen the error of their ways. People survive just about everything thrown at them, and often, even if it is in a terribly unexpected way, their dreams come true.  The most awful of schemers can be redeemed - often by love - whether romantic or for a child.  And on the holidays, most of the drama pauses briefly so you can enjoy the people in your life this year.

[And yes, I realize all the soaps aren't quite gone.] 

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Thing About Libraries

Inspired by Courtney Milan's wonderful post about libraries, and in celebration of the government continuing to function (keeping the libraries in DC open)  I thought I'd chip in with my own.  Growing up, my mother was a big fan of free and cheap things that could be done to entertain small children.  So, we went to most of the museums in the Smithsonian, stared at stained glass and gargoyles in the National Cathedral, played at local parks and, of course, went to the library.  Since we were near the DC/MD border we frequented both the Tenleytown branch of the DC system (which has now been redone into an architectural wonder) and the Little Falls and Bethesda branches of the Montgomery County libraries.  We also bought books, particularly at the now long gone Cheshire Cat bookstore (which also hosted a bunch of free events with authors). 
So, at a point in my life where I didn't even get an allowance to spend, I was introduced to reading with great assistance from the libraries.  I got to pick out my own things - although my mother certainly looked at them, I don't recall her ever telling me no, other than limiting the number I could take home.  The biggest issue we ran into was that, particularly when I was reading shorter kids books, I finished them all really quickly thus bugging my mother for a return trip sooner than she had planned. 
As I started getting an allowance larger than a dollar, and saving up for things I wanted, the library was still there.  Sure I bought books, but I also wanted to buy candy and lip gloss and so the library helped me spread out that allowance.  Later I had summer jobs (where I kept half my pay and saved the other half for college and such) but since they were summer jobs making minimum wage (or sometimes less) the library was a tremendous resource in filling my reading habit, especially when we would take those family vacations to somewhere with no TV so we could get away from it all.  (Yeah, these were a huge hit to a teen, oh, let's go look at swampland.*)  Books were portable and while they took up some space in my bag, it allowed me to have something to do in those down times. 
In college, I had tons of assigned reading, but would set aside times to read fun stuff that hadn't been assigned.  I had the local library there and the local bookstore that had a decent sales wall, but again, my budget was limited, so I borrowed from the library at least as many as I bought.  One book I read entirely at lunch each day for about a month.  (One of my college roommates enjoyed torturing me by discovering my book and telling me she had read the last chapter. Yes, I actually consider that torture.)
Out of college I had a job.  I had several jobs.  The first few, I was paid irregularly (the joy of small businesses and such.)  So, the buying and borrowing continued.  Eventually I got a job that paid me on a regular schedule.  (It had benefits too.) And slowly reached a point where I could buy books almost exclusively.  Some of them I bought used, but the library card was getting less use. 
But the point, as Ms. Milan, so graciously made in her post, is that the library got me through those times, so that as a decently paid adult, I became a book buyer.  A really big book buyer. 
I have been told that Disney's goal is to get you to visit at least four times - they figure the first two are when other adults take you, the third with kids, and the fourth, well that's the one where you spend the big bucks. So, the idea is that they have to make every one of those first three visits so amazing that you make that fourth visit (and you know hopefully that one to and so on).  And libraries help serve that purpose for readers.  Libraries allow people to become and maintain this reader thingy. Otherwise, particularly in this day and age, you could go play minesweeper or Angry Birds for a similarly cheap investment.  You could watch more TV.  There are all sorts of low budget activities you could fill your time with instead of reading books. 
So, the point (and I do have one) is that libraries are not stealing book sales.  Libraries are establishing readers.  And libraries offering ebooks isn't killing sales, it is, again, establishing and maintaining readers.  Readers aren't saying, "Gee, I could buy this book or just borrow it free on my couch."  They are saying, "I could buy ten books, or I can fill up the gas tank.   Hmmm, maybe I won't buy books this week."   Sure, that's not everyone's experience, but the assumption that library borrowers are just borrowing when they could buy, is well, naive. 

*Yes, we went on "good" vacations too.

Monday, April 04, 2011

I'm Not Sure What it Means

It probably says something about me that I find this, hilarious, but if you have ever ridden a bus (or other form of public transport) and/or had someone question your hobbies, I suggest you go here

7 Things: Addiction

A roommate got me hooked* on "Intervention".  It sounded like train wreck television, but I think it does really attempt to show a balanced look at what addiction does both to the addicts and families, and then, of course, offer assistance to both the addict and the families.  Intriguingly, the addicts agree to get help far more often than the families, although certainly the addicts sometimes bail on treatment after a few days, or experience relapse.  "Intervention" continues to follow the families, providing new updates (and sneakily getting me to watch reruns over and over), and following the successes and failures as they occur. "Intervention"  - according to this article about it has a higher success rate than a lot of programs (and we're not just talking about TV programs here).
If it were up to me (which, you know, it isn't) I also think "Intervention" should be shown to kids as part of drug and alcohol awareness. 
So, here's my seven things I have learned from "Intervention".
1. Addicts do not look as cool drunk or high as they think they do drunk or high. 
2. Addiction is an equal opportunity offender - rich, poor, city, country, religious and not, famous or not, all races, and both good and bad parents have ended up with addicts in the family.
3. Siblings are often the most pissed off, both at losing a sibling and at their parents letting the sibling behave that way. Older kids of addicts will also be supremely pissed off.
4. Family members will often buy into the most ridiculous stories to avoid realizing that their relative has an issue.
5. Everyone's bottom is really different.  I have seen tales of addicts who at the start of the show were homeless.
6. I am about as good at predicting who will be most successful at staying sober as I am at predicting sports.
7. There is a certain sameness to it, that after a while you begin to see what meth addicts or opiate addicts or coke addicts or drunks look like.  It's not unique.  No matter how awesome they think they look or seem high.

*Sorry, couldn't resist.