2020: My Year in Review (and what I have learned)

Porch life

Reading my Kindle on our front porch while my husband reheated food on the grill during Hurricane Sally.

Small is almost always better than big . . . the circle of people in your life who care enough about you to help you when things go wrong is really small. They’re a lot of peopleyour friends on Instagram or Facebook or whatever, in the fake digital world . . . but the actual number of people who will take affirmative steps to help you is very very small . . . it’s like eightso your loyalty always has to be to themyour family and your closest friends, above anything else. Period. And anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that your real loyalty has got to be to some larger group of peoplesome political group or some group of people who look like yougive them the middle finger. Those are your enemies. They are trying to destroy the fortifications that will protect you through life, which are the people you love and love you back. — Tucker Carlson

For me, this year was the eye in a storm that included a pandemic, civic unrest, and a hurricane. My university abruptly shifted to online classes in the middle of the spring semester, my daughter’s school closed, and my husband and I found out we were having another child. Being stuck at home for months helped me learn a lot about myself as I reflected on what was going on in the world beyond my little world at home.

I learned that our country is reenacting a civil war, divided not into blue and gray but red and blue (and mask-wearers and anti-maskers). Regarding the masks, I am somewhere in between. I liken wearing a mask in a store to wearing a shirt and shoes, but I don’t wear masks when I’m outside, in my car, or my home. I never realized until this year just how little people respect other people’s space and property.

I learned that public schools are essential, and their purpose shouldn’t be so that both parents can work (school is not a daycare); school should be about educating the population. A quality grade school education shouldn’t be limited to the wealthy; I want to grow up in an educated society. When we lived in a more agrarian society, not everyone had to be as book-smart educated as they are now.

Because schools are essential, teachers are essential workers. We live in a society where both parents often have to work (when people are poor, survival always trumps education, just as paying rent trumps dentistry or eating what’s cheap trumps eating healthy). Homeschooling takes time (which many parents don’t have) and an incredible amount of dedication. Teaching is also a skill. You can be well-educated., but you are not a teacher if you don’t know how to explain something in a way someone else can understand. I’ve learned that it is so much easier to do than teach (though teaching is doing) because teaching depends on our patience and ability to help students overcome obstacles such as a short attention span, learning disabilities, et cetera. If your child has special needs, homeschooling is even more challenging.

I realized that it was a pretty great system when one parent (husband or wife) could work while their spouse could take care of the house and kids. I work from home, my husband pretty much takes care of everything else (though I pitch in on the laundry and dishes whenever I can), and we both homeschool. Our house stays clean and neat, and our meals are wholesome and delicious.

It’s a scary thought, but I realized just how dependent our society is on public school and how much lower-income children need it for education, food, health screenings, counseling, socialization, and so forth. It is deeply disturbing that due to the lockdowns, there are children who are shut up in an abusive house and cut off from the world, with no one to advocate for them. These children may be protected from bullying by other children but not from the adults who are the worst kind of bullies.

As for higher ed, virtual and remote school works for many courses (college students should have the proper scaffolding and be self-motivated enough by that time to distance learn), but most young children need face-to-face instruction. I remember there used to be a rule about no more than two hours of screen time, but I guess that doesn’t apply anymore (though it still does in our house; our TV is rarely on during the day, and I’m not motivated to teach with a tablet).

I keep homeschooling simple: I instruct verbally, using a whiteboard to illustrate my points. We read paper books, do art projects with tactile materials, and use physical objects for math. However, what I teach her is not limited to academics. I teach her the house rules and why they exist. She learns about fitness, nutrition, and proper self-care, as well as having manners, morals, and knowing her intrinsic value. I teach her about having faith in God, the importance of family, and being a good friend.

I realized you can’t be too much of a minimalist if you are homeschooling. I have a whole library of books for bedtime stories, Homeschool Book Club, and ones specifically used to teach children how to read. We also have stacks of games and puzzles and a closet full of art supplies. Everything gets enjoyed.

I realized that my time is more limited than ever. I used to blog thrice a week; now, it’s mostly once a week and only because I have back-up posts, and that’s okay. 

I realized Shirley Jackson is overrated. Many of her stories just end.

I realized how sleazy child beauty pageants are. I used to think they were harmless fun of little girls playing dress up, but with all the child trafficking going on, I realize these pageants sexualize little girls, and it’s abhorrent.

I realized that a Facebook friendship (unlike the Supreme Court) is not a lifetime appointment. And that goes both ways. When a woman I’d thought would be a lifelong friend unfriended me because I disagreed with her on a political issue, I realized that we live in a world where people with different beliefs, if they dare express them to one another, even in the nicest way possible, probably can’t be friends but in the most superficial way. 

I realized that if the holidays are stressing you out, you are doing them wrong. Even though I design all my Christmas cards, not everyone has to get one every year. We use the same Christmas decorations year after year, many of which we got from after-Christmas sales. We plan our holiday menus a month in advance to stock up on items when they are on sale. Also, don’t be afraid to regift (provided what you are regifting is in mint condition and is something you truly believe the other person may like. It’s always lovely to sweeten it up with a little gift card to a lunch out somewhere to support a local business).

I’ve realized that as much as I’ve enjoyed being a student, I’m ready to move on (especially since I have a few lit classes I dread taking). My priorities have changed, and I look forward to having more time for my writing and family. However, I will finish uni because I want to be an example to my daughters that you finish what you start—that children are not a barrier to accomplishing other things besides their raising.

So achieving my other goals may take me a little longer, but I will be doing other great (and fun) things in the meantime. However, it’s okay to admit that being a mother requires sacrifice. If you try to have it all, you’ll end up having to do it all, rather than enjoying all you have.

Cheers to 2021!

How to schedule posts ahead of time on your Facebook author/business page

This semester, I chose Professional and Technical Writing as one of my electives.

One of our assignments was to create a set of instructions.  Immediately, I thought of something I already knew how to do, which was how to schedule Facebook page posts ahead of time.  I spend about a day or two before a new semester starts, scheduling posts three days a week for the next four months.  (It helps to have plenty of content.)  I also have my Instagram set up to automatically post to my Facebook page.   

This instruction set got a 100% and some fab feedback, so I felt confident enough to share it.  🙂  Let me know how it works out for you in the comment box below.

Front page

Click here for the full instructions:  Resdesigned Facebook instructions

Micropoetry Monday: Social Media

She pined for the days
when people were more sophisticated
than their technology,
yet she loved the technology
that allowed her to watch the movies made
during those days before
that technology had come to be.

Because she gave respect
without it having to be earned first,
she found that she often received it.
When someone lost her respect,
she did not disrespect them,
but rather,
left them to their own electronic devices.

She scrolled down her friend list,
unfriending those she had never known,
but who had been watching her life
more than she ever knew.

Sweet Little Nothings

Start a game of tag with your friends

Jill, Kelly, & Sabrina—
Charlie’s braless angels &
Bosley’s femme fatales—
found themselves 40 years in the future
where they were doubly appreciated,
for everything old had become new again.
When each gal spotted the man they believed
to be the enigmatic Charlie,
they scattered to follow him,
tagging themselves on Facebook
& checking themselves in at random places
to find one another again.
When they reconnected,
they found not the time machine
that had brought them there
but saw,
in themselves,
the time capsule they were.

15 More Things I’ve Learned (so far) as Editor-in-Chief of the Student Newspaper

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Collaborations can be cluster!@#$s. Just as too many chefs spoil the stock, too many writers (not editors) can be confusing. It is better to give a cub (i.e. newbie) a small feature that requires little writing and have someone mentor them than have them share a bigger story that is perfectly capable of being done by one seasoned reporter. My job is to get the paper out, however I can make that happen.  Plus, who the hell wants to share a byline?

Create a mock layout for your layout editor. It serves the same purpose as the outline of a story and will make their job much easier.

Sticking to deadlines will help separate the wheat from the chaff.

If you love to create and tell your own story, you’re a writer; if you love to gather data and tell the stories of others, you’re a reporter.

Don’t contribute to “fake news” by giving people credit who did not contribute to the final product or service; contribution can be as small as editing a story, selling an ad, or even delivering newspapers. Coming to meetings does not count. (We don’t get paid for coming to them.)

AP (Associated Press) style needs to adopt the Oxford comma for clarity.

E-mail to set up a time to do interviews, not conduct them. Giving people too much time to think about what to say takes away from the immediacy.

The newspaper is not a newsletter (i.e. lists of names, calendar of events, et cetera). It should tell stories with words and pictures (which is why captions should accompany all photos).

In the Arts and Entertainment section, covering actual events on campus, like plays and concerts, are far preferable to reviews about random things. Reviews don’t require any legwork, and the Internet is flooded with them. A humor or opinion piece that ties in to the school is much preferred.

Group shots are unavoidable; action shots are preferable. The former says, “We were there”; the latter says, “We were there doing this.”

Steal from your competitors, then elevate what they have done. For example, a competitor that shall remain nameless has a page called “The Briefs.” We upgraded ours to “Pirate Briefs” (the pirate is our mascot)—a photo collage of unrelated events (with captions, of course).

Give your photos a name, so they’ll be easier to find (no IMG_2020).

A few of us conducted a poll/survey of at least 75 students (100 is optimal, but hey, we’re short-staffed) for an infographic. We could’ve just included boring statistics, but we decided to humanize our findings by including student comments. This is a fantastic way to get student names in the paper (btw, headshots NEVER belong in an infographic), because don’t many of us, when reading a controversial blog post, go straight to the comments section? (After reading the original post, of course.) What’s more, when we conducted these polls, many of us asked professors’ permission to use a few minutes of class time to get a bunch of these surveys filled out at once. That said, in the interest of a diverse pool of respondents, we only did this in classes where the course was a general requirement, or where all the majors weren’t just English or healthcare or cybersecurity. (In other words, don’t get a bulk of responses from a poetry or creative writing class.)

If your newspaper has a Facebook page (if it doesn’t, get it one), you probably won’t have enough content to post daily, but if you have archives that aren’t available online, repost covers, stories, et cetera, that tie in to current events (if possible). This is a great way to utilize content that is otherwise sitting in a storeroom. https://www.facebook.com/eCorsair/

Create a reference book (both physical and digital) for the next Editor-in-Chief, with the newspaper email and passcode, ad brochures and contracts, How-To’s (i.e. screenshot tutorials on how to upload PDFs to the site), et cetera. This will help with a smooth transition. 

Sweet Little Nothings

Like someone in person

He’d been a friend of a friend,
till she wasn’t friends with that friend anymore.
She’d liked what he’d collectively share
with 149 other friends,
family,
& acquaintances.
When she finally met him,
keeping her identity secret,
she shared all that he couldn’t touch
through a screen.
“You remind me of someone,” he’d said,
& she knew then
what he would’ve never told her
anywhere else,
for with the 1 sense he knew & liked,
she had put a face with the other 4 he loved.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling

coffee

Journaling is the purest, rawest form of writing.

If you don’t like the idea of a diary, create a journal for a fictional character. Get to know them, then write your story.

Live to live, not to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.

I’m a scrapbooking collagist when it comes to journaling, meaning heavy on the photography & “graphic design,” & light on the writing. I’ve included newspaper clippings, greeting cards, event programs, badges (for example, my college press pass), & many more.

Always have a notebook (& pen) nearby: on the nightstand, in the glove compartment, in your purse/murse, etc. Ideas often come at the most inopportune times. It’s easier to keep up with several books rather than having to remember to always carry the same one around with you (unlike a cell phone).

Have a “theme” journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember” theme. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/joe-brainard-i-remember. I am doing a “Precious Moments” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only,” &, in the spirit of Tom T. Hall, “I Love.”

Start a reading journal (this is best for poetry). Unlike a book review, which analyzes the text with a critical eye, a poetry reading journal is about what the text means to you.
Journaling isn’t just about the product, but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing.

In the Irish film, The Secret Scripture, the main character has a Bible in which she keeps her journal, writing in between the lines, in the margins, et cetera. You can do this with any book that profoundly affects you.

Though there’s something intrinsically beautiful about a handwritten journal, don’t feel you have to write your journal by hand. (Better to keep a digital journal than no journal.) There are many journaling apps online. Think about it. Most of already journal every day, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, our Shutterfly Share site, WordPress blog, etc., though hopefully, we’re not posting our deepest, darkest thoughts—that should be between you & your journal, whether on paper or paperless.

 

The Last Leaf

Navy mom

Betty Ann Booker: Apr. 23, 1953-Mar 6, 2018

I’ve always considered myself the unofficial family historian (my parents the genealogists). Documenting the lives of those I love has always been my way of honoring their memory.

Last night, my mom passed away following complications of pneumonia, which she contracted from a cracked rib she sustained in a car accident a month ago.

I am thirty-six years old, and still too young to lose my mom. My daughter is four, and too young to lose her grandma. I can’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t my mom’s time to go; the suddenness of it all makes it feel that way—the fact that I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye because I didn’t know the last time would be the last time.

 

My mom was a survivor, having beat breast cancer twice. The second time she told me she had it, I was distraught, for how often did lighting strike twice in the same place?

This time, when I found out she had a fractured rib, I thought, broken bones heal.

When I found out she had double pneumonia, I thought, Dad beat that (complete with a blood clot on his lung) seven years ago.

It wasn’t until she took her last breath in hospice that I accepted she was truly gone, after having pleaded with her to wake up, but she had already lapsed into a coma.

The same doctor who had saved my dad’s life seven years ago hadn’t been able to save hers.

 

Before she passed away, while she was still in ICU, I was able to read her a story—Many Moons, by James Thurber, my favorite children’s book (she liked it, too)—about a girl named Princess Lenore who asks her father for the moon to make her well. I’d thought about reading Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer—one of our favorite novels—but maybe, in my own way, I didn’t want to start what I didn’t believe I would finish.

 

I am so grateful for technology—that I was able to play my daughter’s laugh from a handful of videos I had uploaded to Facebook. I even sang Amazing Grace to her (with no one close enough to hear me, of course)—all things I have done with my daughter, who loves to laugh at herself.

My mom has always considered a sense of humor a vital character trait, and I like to think I get a little bit of that from her. I have learned that having one has nothing to do with your ability to laugh at something funny, but everything to do with being able to laugh at yourself.

I told her that I loved her, and to say hi to some people for me; I told her that I appreciated her more than she ever knew.

The last thing I did was play her favorite song (or one of them)—Saginaw, Michigan, by Lefty Frizzell. It didn’t even finish before she had gone.

I was told by one of the nurses that the hearing was the last to go, and so I am glad she was able to hear her granddaughter—the one she nicknamed Hannah Banana—one last time.

I remember thinking, Gee, I hope you were this glad when I was born! But every mother should want their mother to love their child so much.

 

Time with Mom while she was in the hospital became like silver, if all the silver in the world had been mined. It became as precious as life itself.

I am so sad there won’t be any more memories to be made with her, but I showed a picture of her to my daughter and asked her who she was. She immediately said “Grandma!” and when I asked her what Grandma did with her, she said, “Build an ark/arch!”

Whenever Grandma came over, Hannah would bring the blocks and Grandma would build with her.

I will show my daughter that picture every day and ask her who she is, and what she did with her, so that there won’t be a time Hannah won’t remember her.

 

Technology has taken over our lives, so I’ve always tried to live “in the moment,” and then write in retrospect, but I say to anyone who will listen—take more pictures, shoot more video. My brother’s girlfriend shot this past Christmas, and there is Mom, just a couple of months ago, hamming it up.

That, that was who she was.

My brother played some voicemails she left on his phone, which he will save forever—voicemails which I have asked him to send to me, because the fear that I may forget her voice makes me incredibly sad.

For now, I am trying to piece together a thousand little memories; every scrap of paper with her face on it has become priceless.

But she left behind so much more than memories—she taught me how to be a good person by being a good person. At the time of her accident, she was on her way to help a family member in need.

I will miss her, but not forever, because she is in the forever—that forever she taught me about–so that I could find some measure of peace amidst the seemingly insurmountable grief I am experiencing now.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #414: Connection

Broken Connections

She kept him alive for the world,
breathing through machines.
Through his cell phone she did this,
texting his friends and family
in that language of his she knew so well,
posting on his Facebook account,
Photoshopping and age-progressing his pictures,
crafting the narrative of the life he’d wanted to continue living,
so that people continued to wish him a “Happy Birthday,”
long after he’d had his last.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 414

 

Micropoetry Monday: Social Media

She was one vacation picture away from losing her job,
he, one tweet away from losing his career,
& so they chose to be judged by their actions
rather than their thoughts.

She scrolled down her friend list,
unfriending those she had never known,
but who had been watching her life more than she ever knew.

It took a body hours to die in Earth space,
but years to die in cyberspace,
for families kept the social media accounts
of their loved ones alive,
hoping one of their messages would reach
Heaven.

Her son’s Facebook page–
deactivated after his death by his wife–
was like an erasure of the man she had loved
longer than his wife ever would.

They each lived a double life,
sharing a secondary one.
They each had a spouse,
who knew not what their other half did,
for their lovemaking
was merely the tapping of keys.