I know it’s been a while, but…

No, I didn’t intend for this post to be at the end of a long hiatus (not to be pronounced, “Hate-Us”). I’ve been spending the last few weeks with family, friends, looking and applying for day jobs, and trying to get my house in order in case I get one of those day jobs. Somewhere in the middle of it, I remembered that I’d left you all waiting, and suddenly I had a topic for this blog post.

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Ooh, hot fudge...

I can not count how many times I’ve had a blog, a social media site, any kind of writer’s group, or anything where people expect you to participate regularly and I’ve had to say, “I know I haven’t been here/on/posting in a while, but I’m still here, and this is the update of my life!” I don’t now if I’m that busy, that easily bored, or just that easily distracted, but even if I can get into a rhythm of things, I often get off track for a while and have to catch up or apologize because I’ve been gone. (fun fact, rhythm is the only word in the English language without a proper vowel in it!)

The thing is, we’re human, and we’re not going to be perfect. It’s the whole sad truth, but there it is. Even those of us that are driven and punctual have stuff happen and make them late and miss things, or so I’ve been told. Life happens, and we WANT it to happen. So why to we feel so guilty when it does? Why do we feel like we can’t go back to that writer’s group or gym or blog every time we miss a few sessions? Do we really have to cancel membership or start a whole new blog to keep going?

No! We need to get back on that elephant and ride it to the bazaar!

Every time my favorite bloggers and online comics take a break, I am saddened and slightly adrift. At least until I remember how many thousands of other blogs and comics there are on the web. But then when they come back, it’s like Christmas! I get ridiculously excited to see what new things are going to come out of my favorite minds. Sometimes they are whole new projects, sometimes just new things that are informed by what those minds were doing that took them away in the first place.

And that’s the thing about having a life — it might take you away from what you want to do for awhile, but it almost always brings you back to it, and it will add depth and interesting things to whatever it is once you’ve returned. “A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource,” said Jorge Louis Borges. So appreciate those resources when they happen and for however long it takes to happen. Just make sure you tell us all about it when you get back.

Henry David Thoreau said, “How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.” If that means that writers need to take a little time off for living, do it! Now to apply that same pep talk to my yoga practice…

“Hi, I’m Caitlin, and I’m a writer…”

This is your cue to chorus back, “Hi Caitlin.”

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David H. from strobist.blogspot.com, "Book Club"

Again, I am being facetious (and if you don’t know what that word means, you should go look it up). While this post is about support for you and your writing, I don’t really think that every writer should be part of a twelve step program. While Anton Chekhov said “If you can not write, don’t,” (well, it has been attributed to many different people, but I heard it was Checkov), I don’t really see it as something we need to recover from in that way.

What I am talking about is support for you so you can write. If you have to take care of a day job, a night job, full time schooling, children, parents, a spouse, a house, a roommate… or any  combination of these things, you probably find it difficult to find time to write. While we have all heard about the people who have all or most of those things and still manage to eke out the best novel of the year that wins a dozen awards before it’s even published, it is much easier to write if you have help with the rest of your life.

This occurs to me this week as I celebrate my wonderful family for many different reasons. My daughter turned one, my grandfather is turning 89, my brother is turning 34, my dog and cat are both turning two, and it’s mother’s day, so we’re just partying as often as humanly possible. I am planning or helping to facilitate many of these parties. I stole time away while I’m baking a birthday cake to write this (hooray mutlitasking).

Obviously every parent needs some sort of support just for life, and if you can use that support to help you write, then you don’t really need this post. If it’s never occurred to you to use that support to help you write, then maybe you should start there and figure out if maybe grandma and grandpa can take the little ones for a few hours every Tuesday and Thursday or something like that. I see it as a blessing and a necessity for every writer to have someone who supports and validates their work.

And to that end, I would say that if you don’t have a very supportive family, you should seek out other like minded individuals. When I was in college, I had a group of friends who were all English-ly inclined, and we decided that we were interested in reading each others’ work and getting feedback on our own in a less formal setting. We started Girl’s Write Out, and we had a great time getting together, reading and commenting, generally kibitzing, and drinking too much coffee. It is pretty likely that someone in your area already had this idea, and there is some sort of writer’s group around that you can investigate joining.

It is important to be careful about the writer’s group that you join because some groups are far too critical of everyone’s work and some far too little. You really need to sit in on a few sessions, maybe ask them a little bit about your own work, and feel out if they are a good fit. While it’s a huge benefit to be in a group that you work well with, a bad writer’s group is much worse than not having a writer’s group at all.

Writing can be too solitary an exercise, and a writer’s group can not only help you move out of your shell and improve your writing, but often it helps you network and meet people who can help you with editing, publishing, and maybe even some day, cover art.

Back to the Basics

It’s a good idea to revisit what we already know to be true. One of the things that I have been blessed to do in the last two years is take another look at the building blocks of English writing in academia, mostly from a ‘how do I help these students understand what I mean’ perspective. I do think that this closer look at something that I feel like I have known forever has made me a better writer and student myself, and I was surprised to see how often these ideas and techniques came up in my graduate level classes, too.

But now I’ve graduated and have yet to find a teaching job, so what am I doing?

Going back to the basics.

Basics in almost every way. In career ways, I am on a job search like I haven’t done since I was first in the job market. I do have more experience and I have more skills, but the availible jobs don’t seem to have changed much.

Also back to basics in the things I am doing to keep busy and maybe make some money in the meantime. At least basics for me. I am going back to my original idea that if I am going to make money in a creative way, I’d better have more than one creative endeavor. I’m revisiting my novel, for instance, and digging out the notes that I’ve gotten back on it. It’s time for that fourth draft (watch this space)!

I’m crafting again: beadwork, knitting, and crocheting. These were originally taken on as a hobby, but it made sense to try to add that to the list of things I could do to make money. Shameless plug #2: Check out my Etsy page!

We’re planning on doing music again, as well. The summer reading program is about science, which isn’t exactly spot on with our stuff, but we certainly don’t dislike science-y songs, we just need to learn some. And we can get back into songwriting in the schools, as well, with a little more official paper to back us up (as in, my MA, of course).

And then there’s the basics in my personal life: my family. I changed my verbiage just a couple weeks ago. Instead of “I’m unemployed since I graduated.” I switched to, “I’m a stay-at-home mom since I graduated.” I remembered that we were expecting me to have a little bit of a wait before a job opened up for me, and the complete gift that I am getting from this is getting to stay home with my daughter who is almost a year old. Anyone who is a parent says, “Enjoy it, this won’t last!” and I am very grateful to have the time with her while she is small.

And you want to talk about basics, there is nothing more basic than helping a child grow and learn. How do you help the child learn to talk if you aren’t sure how many words the child understands? Can you start a child learning to read before they can talk? How can you help them learn more than one language at once? I expect to get many great ideas and stories for my classroom from this kid.

So for now, I’m focused close to home and working out my building blocks for the next step. But don’t worry, I’ll still have stuff to say here, so you won’t miss out!

(not like you’ve been missing out for the last year while I was busy finishing my degree and having a baby.)

And so it begins…

In like a lamb, except that I’m talking about a period of four months, not thirty-one days. I do hope that the ‘out like a lion’ isn’t going to apply to this school semester, but I’m willing to pay the price for my metaphor if that’s how it works.

But I do have to say, right now I am pretty sanguine. The difference between my nerves last semester at this time and this one are night and day. I’m coasting on a finished syllabus and a bare-bones first paper, and feeling pretty high and ahead of the game. I had to get to finals week (when there wasn’t anything I could do about anything, anyway) before I was this comfortable with my class.

Granted, I have a class under my belt. My greeness this time of last semester does not escape my memory. The sheer number of times I had to revise the schedule is proof enough of how untried my teaching skills were.

But now, after meeting my students and even getting most of their names, I am pretty calm about the whole thing. I’m looking forward to reading their papers, and I think a lot of them are looking forward to writing them. I supposed that’s a boon — this semester the students got to pick which section they were in, so they picked Narrative and Descriptive. Pair that with my penchant for that type of writing, as well, and you’ve got at least one explanation for my unexpected chill.

I know that the semester of teaching was most of it, though. I went through a class, I taught 24 students some things, I passed most of them, and I got good evaluations (except for one, but one outta 24 ain’t bad, right?), and none of them threw anything at me. My boss is happy with me, and so is her boss, and the whole department is still behind me. At least, that’s how it feels. Have I mentioned that I am EXTREMELY lucky to be at the school I’m at?

So, if I could tell my past self one thing, it would be, “This, too, shall pass.” I mean, I’d probably be annoyed with my future self for telling me something I already knew, but it really is the best advice I could give.

Nose to the Grindstone

I’m still at the point in semester (as in before semester starts) that I’m just nervous. I know there’s excitement in there somewhere, but right now, I’m sure that I won’t get anything done, and I’ll get to the first day of class and have forgotten to put on my metaphorical pants that morning.

‘Course, it doesn’t help that I was in denial about the beginning of the school year until about a week ago. Summer lasts forever, and this summer has been long in comparison. “Endless horizon, time hurrying by,” as a great songwriter I know once wrote, and that’s particularly true when you start getting eighty-degree weather in May. We joke that summer is the day we play baseball, then we plan a whole year’s worth of stuff to put in that day.

So now is the time to knuckle down and get myself ready for the school semester. Due to updates, I can’t work on the online portion of my class (which is a lot of fun… like putting together a puzzle!), so I’m working on my syllabus.

The syllabus is a lot of scheduling, a lot of policy writing, and a lot of careful reading (now, I did put that assignment after the introduction, right?). I feel like a lot of it is unnecessary, but I know it’s not. I know that I don’t want to get into that situation and not  have the policy. I know I want to avoid the embarrassment of having the wrong assignment in the wrong place. I want to have everything in clear black and white so there aren’t any possible questions, and we’re all on the same page, literally.

I do know that the Syllabus is really only looked at the first day, and occasionally after that when someone can’t remember what’s due. The only important  thing to the student is the schedule. I also know that most of my students will lose their copy the first day of class and rely on the online copy that I post.

This is okay, especially if I have to change the schedule, something I did a LOT last year. And as long as I have given them a copy, I know that I will be okay whatever I have to enforce. Also, the syllabus is more like a guideline if there are issues… you can’t teach all 25 students exactly the same, and the policy may need to be stretched every now and then.

Really, I just need to take a deep breath, close Jewel Quest, and get to work. It’s nearly painless, and once it’s done, I’ll be far happier about the whole semester. I’ll know that I’ll have something to talk about on the first day, anyway.

But I’m writing a blog post instead…

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