Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Revision - embarking on the scary journey

The past couple of weeks I've had to suck it up and dive into the part of writing I've been dreading since I started writing - and rewriting - each draft I've started of this crazy novel that I swear someday will be finished: revision.  I've never voiced that I'm scared of the whole undertaking until now but I am.  I even procrastinated an entire month of writing time between critique sessions because I didn't know where to start or how to go about it.

There.  I said it.

I started this current draft with a fairly basic outline and well-thought out characters which was new for me having been a purely discovery writer on all the earlier drafts.  Even with an outline, I was still doing a fair bit of discovery writing between the sign posts.  I already knew I needed to revise parts of the beginning to match where the ending had morphed to during writing so it should have come as no surprise.  But I still had to slap myself and put on my big-girl panties just to dive in.

What I found after three excruciatingly hard weeks of writing sessions with little to no changes in overall word count is this:  Just like everything else it seems when it comes to writing, you just have to do it and it gets easier the more you do it.  I had to get over my OCD of a perfectly formatted word document and start hacking things up and making side notes in the margins and deleting them when they were checked off.  This meant reading and rereading to make sure there was continuity between the old and the new - constantly tweaking a word here and a sentence there. 

(Does it surprise you that I found a way to have a checklist even in this area of my life?  I guess it shouldn't, right?)

After three weeks of doing nothing but rewriting, I can report that chapters one through three have gone through the first revision gauntlet and I have polished chapters four and five to submit for critique at tomorrow's writer's group.  It is amazing to have blown past this obstacle and know it has no power over me.  No longer will I cower on the sidelines worried that I don't know how to revise.  I know I can and do it I shall.  Which is good because do it I must if I plan on finishing this thing.

The beauty of having a well established writer's group is that they keep you honest - and writing.  Without knowing it, that's exactly what mine did for me this month.  Without these three amazing women, I would not be where I am today.  Period.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wait, it's not November!

What the hell is wrong with me?  I go back and read my own posts circa November and I see how determined and motivated I was to write.  And how I vowed to keep it up until I was done with my rough draft.  Fast forward to present and what have I been doing for the last two months since my last writer's group meeting had me motivated to polish three chapters of my NaNo writing for submission?  Nada.  Zilch.  Nothin'.  Well, not really - the last two days I finally got off my lazy ass and started my late night writing sessions again and have a whole chapter to show for it.

Yes, I might be PMS'ing... why do you ask?

Every once in a while I get down on myself like this and rant and rave to Hubby who calmly reminds me about all the things that I do in addition to writing.  Like a forty-hour a week job, twenty-hours a week of being on-call after hours, our two kids I'm basically raising by myself while he works in the evenings, training for another Ragnar in June, etc, etc.  And that most of the people I'm comparing myself to don't have jobs other than being Moms.  I get this and I understand that I'm being hard on myself but that doesn't stop me from going to this place when I feel overwhelmed by trying to drive myself to accomplish everything I want out of life.  Being an overachiever has its costs - don't let anyone tell you any different.

Thank god for my writer's group who have agreed collectively to hold ourselves to producing writing this year.  They and are keeping me honest by demanding new material to read and critique every couple of months.  If it weren't for them, "tomorrow" would always be when I was planning on writing and I wouldn't have that shiny new chapter of "showing" in place of the three sentences of "telling" that was there before.

This post is also driven by the fact that I got to hang out with some old friends who we haven't seen in about five years this past weekend.  One of the women, who I've always looked up to and admired, shyly tells me that she's been writing fan fiction and got so obsessed with writing that she's also written a novel.  IN. THREE. MONTHS.  I wanted to shout 'Are you fucking kidding me?!' at her and throw my napkin down in a fit of anger then stomp off to anywhere else to wallow in the fact that it's taken me years and I don't have a single completed draft to show for it.  Instead I told her how amazing that was and gushed about how I couldn't wait to read it because that's what you do when other people do the things that you want to do and haven't yet.  There is a silver lining.  I found out that one of our mutual friends is an editor so when I have a completed manuscript I know where to go for the next step and it will be someone I trust. Plus my competitive nature has kicked into full gear which helps drive my late night writing sessions as well now.

If you need me, I'll be brewing pots of coffee and depriving myself of sleep in pursuit of this crazy dream!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Being ballsy paid off!  Within two hours of sending my email to Big Sister's principal, I got a reply that she wanted to discuss my concerns with the fourth grade team and the district curriculum specialist and then would get back to me.  I figured that would be the end of it... a nice little sweep under the rug and hope I went away.  But, I got a personal phone call from her two days after my email. 

Bottom line, she and the district curriculum specialist both agreed with me.  The worksheet the teacher created to go along with the social studies book they are reading emphasized the wrong things and they will be working with her to re-do it.  The subject was that of immigration in general and the background on the Mormons was a small part designed to show the cause and effect of why they decided to push further west than the current boundaries of the United States. 

Additionally, the principal sent me a photo copy of the chapter the questionable worksheet had been created from.  It was refreshing to see how far-reaching the subject matter was with the following section headings:

     Who Were the Mormons?
     To the Rocky Mountains
     The Mormon Trail
     Planning the Trip
     The First Two Pioneer Children
     The Advance Party
     The Salt Lake Valley at Last
     African Americans Come to Utah
     People by the Thousands
     The Long Trip
     A Daily Routine
     Working on the Trail
     Crossing the Rivers
     Buffalo Chips!
     Don't Get Hurt!
     Pesky Insects
     Handcarts Across the Trail

My favorite part is the last page of the chapter with questions on "What Do You Think?"
  • Do we have the right in America to join any religion we want to, or join none at all?
  • What could help us be more tolerant of people who believe differently than we do?
  • Can you think of other groups in history who have moved to new places so they could live their religion without being persecuted?
  • There are many different kinds of persecution.  Talk about what it means.  Talk about why we should try to treat other people fairly.
  • What would you have disliked about the trip to Utah?  What would you have liked?
  • Can you remember where in the West the pioneers who were not Mormons going?

It was so refreshing to be thanked for bringing such a matter to the attention of the principal.  I had feared I would be labeled a troublemaker.  And now I know that at least the educators at my local school really do have the best interests of my child's education at heart.  (And that they are in fact teaching diverse subject matter!)

I even got a follow-up email several days later making sure I had received the copy of the chapter and whether I had any additional questions.  I am now the biggest fan of our principal and know that she was sincere in telling me she wants parents to bring these kinds of concerns to her.  If only all educators were this committed.

Go me for standing up for what I knew wasn't right and knowing I made a difference in my child's education because of it.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ballsy Bitch

It's been so long since I had something really great to rant and rave about and the Universe must have realized I needed an outlet for it because it delivered up an opportunity so rare this week I almost can't believe it. Here's some background so we are all on the same page...  I live in the glorious state of Utah where the lines between Church and State are more often blurred than not.  Contrary to popular belief, not every resident of Utah is a Mormon.

(OOPSIE, did I mention this is a religious and political post?  Here's your disclaimer and chance to bail as if the fact I warned you I would be proceeding with a rant and/or rave wasn't enough, right?)

Big Sister is in the fourth grade and I found a gem of a fire-starter in the sty of her backpack.  It was a worksheet with twenty questions where you have to fill in the blanks to complete the sentence.  When I saw it I was so enraged and immediately asked Big Sister what it was.  She said "Mom, before you get mad, Ms X told us to make sure when our parents got mad that they were teaching religion at school to tell you that it is against the law for her to teach us about the beliefs of any religion and that this is just about the history of Utah."  Clearly the teacher suspected that there would be flak in regards to this little worksheet.  She was not wrong.  Which begs the question, why proceed when you already know it is questionable material?

In response to this worksheet I drafted the following letter which I sent to the principle via email:

Dear Principal,

My fourth-grade daughter brought home school work from what she says was Utah History but which appears to have nothing to do with Utah History.  Instead, it is teaching her about Mormon specific church history.  Where is the separation of church and state when it comes to curriculum?  When I questioned her about what it was, she had already been given a response from the teacher - Ms X who is not her homeroom teacher - who had apparently told the students how to respond when their parents asked why they were learning about religion.  Her rationalization was that because she was not instructing them on the belief system of a religion then it was okay to teach since this was about how Utah was founded.  While there is no disputing the historical fact that Utah was settled by Mormon pioneers escaping religious persecution, tell me why the following questions (taken directly from the worksheet) were relevant to that discussion:

Mormons was a nickname for people who belonged to a new church.
Joseph Smith was the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The church was started in New York state in 1830.
Mormons sent missionaries to teach about their church.
Wherever the Mormons went, they were always forced to move, because no one liked them.
They moved from New York to Ohio, to Missouri, then to Illinois.
People did not like the Mormons, because Mormons believed their church was God's true church. (Not teaching about beliefs?)
Mormons religious beliefs often upset people who were not Mormons.
There was also problems with their neighbors over politics and land.
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed in Illinois by a mob.

Out of the 20 questions on the worksheet, I believe only the following statements would be considered relevant to UTAH history:

Moving west took much planning.
The pioneers were going to move more than 1,000 miles.
To help the Mormons move, there were only wagons, horses, mules and oxen.

However, I also believe that the not-so questionable statements could be presented even more non-religiously by referring to them as pioneers instead of Mormons.  With respect to the settling of Utah, it is completely irrelevant what religion the pioneers who first came here were.  Besides, there were Catholic missionaries here long before the Mormon pioneers if we are talking about historical facts...

I expect that if my child is learning the history of the Mormon church that she would also be required to learn the same story about where the Catholic church started, who the first Pope was and when the first congregation was established in the Utah valley.  Same with the Protestants, the Baptists, etc.  I know I am not alone in my concern with the way this curriculum is being presented and would appreciate your addressing it immediately.  If you would like a copy of the worksheet I can provide that as well.

One of my closest friends who herself is the mother of a fourth grader at the same school told me I was the only person she knows with balls big enough to actually send that to the principal.  Is it my outrage at the social injustice of the matter or is it merely my argumentative and bitchy nature that fueled my sending the letter?  It's probably a little bit of both.  Having grown up here "in the land of Zion" amidst all the religious overtones and outright judging where your choice of religion is the number one topic of inquiry when you first meet a person, I'm a little sensitive to protecting that pesky right of religious freedom that was given each American in the Constitution.  I believe that extends to the right of my children to be educated by the public school system with zero inference or interference by any religion.  Period.  Before you get all outraged, I stand by the last paragraph of my letter.  If they wanted to introduce a world religion class that gave equal time to studying the basics of every religion of the world, not only would I embrace the prospect of my child learning more about diversity, I would not react to this subject matter since it would then be a valid form of school work.  But they weren't teaching that, were they?  Nope.  This was supposed to be either a History lesson or at the furthest stretch a Social Studies lesson.  Either way, giving my kid facts about a single religion's history instead is not acceptable

In my opinion it's no different than giving your own spin on history just because you like your version better than the plain old facts. But then again, we do that every Thanksgiving where we celebrate the Pioneers and the Indians and their harmonious feasting, don't we?  Instead of sugar coating what really happened in our past we should own it - we came here, declared the native people savages, took the land from them, slaughtered them when they defended themselves and in the end rounded all the survivors up to be banished to the crappiest land around, never to leave it.  That is what Thanksgiving really celebrates... but that isn't what we tell our elementary aged children.  And this is just one example.  Lucky for my kids, they have parents who round out their education at home in both religion and history.

Religion is a deeply personal thing and as such should be taught in the home, not the school.  But, I live in Utah where every Junior High and High School has a little annex building just barely off of school property where any kid who wants is allowed to have a free period to walk there and attend Seminary classes - but only of the one religion...  Hubby was even ranting the other day about how another religion - I think the Catholics but don't quote me on that for sure - were wanting to purchase land for the same reason near the site of a new high school and were being blocked from doing so.  How is that fair?

Bottom line, I wish the separation of church and state was taken far more seriously in our country and especially in my own public school system.  Look at where the Middle East got when they decided to rule their country based on their majority religion.  We need to take religion out of the political arena, too - who cares what religion any one candidate is?  By judging his or her religious beliefs as being better or worse than any other candidate's it fundamentally erodes their Constitutional right to freely practice whatever religion they choose free from discrimination and persecution.  If I'm not mistaken that's why the Puritans came to America and *oddly enough* the Utah pioneers came west.  But I digress...

I did get a response from the principal that she would be looking into the situation and would get back to me.  I can't wait to hear what they have to say about it all!