That means that I make my living through my knowledge of the writing process, my own writing, and my paycheck hinges on my ability to communicate through little symbols on paper.
Not everyone is a professional writer. And I know this.
Most of my students learn as much writing as is needed to write reports, essays, or applications. That’s fine. I do, however, expect them to try and learn basics like sentence structure and critical thinking skills. Over the years, I’ve had students who learned barely enough to do this. They complained, year after year, that writing was hard, but they never made the effort to change that.
Recently, though, I helped a new student.
While she’s an English Language Learner, she’s from South America, meaning she doesn’t have the tether other ELL students have by having Mexico so close. As such, she had to deal not only with a new language, but also with cultural adaptation. Her first essays months ago were choppy, barely-legible series of sentences. She wasn’t dumb. Far from it. She could speak well enough, though it took some translation to get her ideas across. As she continued to visit us, though, and as I tutored her a few more times, I noticed a definite improvement in her writing.
Her last session with me was her reflective essay on how she’s improved as a writer. It was actually a well-written essay and had a line that I’ll never forget.
“I still think of writing as climbing up a hill, but at least I get a great view when I finish.”
That right there is the sentiment I wish EVERY student held close.
The writing process, like I’ve written before, is HARD. I’m not sure many writers actually enjoy the process, but we all love the final product. It also highlights the kind of attitude I wish more people would foster.
Yes, the ride may be rough. Yes, you’re not going to have a blast pouring over notes. Yes, the headaches and lost free time suck.
But guess what? You’re better for it at the end. I hear so many students complaining about this or that being hard. They don’t have enough time. They have too much to study and it piles on later.
Wake up earlier. Learn to make quick meals. Make a schedule.
None of these things are particularly fun, but I’d rather have a little annoyance spread out over my day than one HUGE problem later. Good grades, or whatever the goal may be, don’t just arrive at your doorstep. They wait for you. I didn’t decide to wait to just meet some publisher who would give me a huge advance so I could sit and calmly write my book. I’m working part time and taking odd teaching jobs so I could write it as I saw fit. And that’s what she and other students have done. They’ve taken the initiative.
Few things in life get handed to you. The things you really want? You have to go after them yourself.
I remember the moment I became interested in politics and world events. When I grew up in Mexico, I heard from someone that the United States had gone to war. To me, the United States was a magical land where people could find jobs, where you could be anything you wanted to be, where I could go to McDonald’s. That was my youthful, limited view of this country. I’d lived here when I was much, much younger, but before the age of ten, the United States was still a mysterious place where anything could happen. I mean, come on. It had Disneyland.
Eleven years ago, I was in my room while practicing for an upcoming choir competition. I had just popped in a tape (wow, I’m dating this) with the instrumentals to the songs we needed to learn. I was halfway through “Danny Boy.” I was just past the line about all the flowers dying when my mom called me to her room and said something had happened in New York City.
I wasn't about to waste an egg on this. I like eggs.
February 3, 2012
You know that stereotype that you have to be really dumb to be racist in a world as connected as ours? That it takes a really thick skull to not accept that we are all more alike than different? Even better, there’s my theory that you have to be purposefully ignorant to vote Republican when the entire party’s mission is to give more money to rich.
We now have proof that not only are conservatives dumb, but racists are also dumb. And we did science!
It seems a new study shows that low IQs are linked to racism and conservatism. Let’s make one thing clear, though: IQ tests are very controversial. They don’t account for cultural or socioeconomic background. That being the case, I should also point out that it’s almost impossible to completely account for every variable in a study dealing with people over such a long stretch of time.
However, it looks as though the researchers did a pretty good job, and they’re not claiming that all conservatives and racists have low IQs. I think this gentleman here put it best. Correlation is not causation. It’s too early to tell if a low IQ really does link to conservatism and racism, but for me, I’ll take it.
What? I’m ignoring the scientific method in order to broadcast my own beliefs about someone? Have I gone over to the dark side?!
No. I’ve lived. I’m basing this on my own first-hand experiences.
One of the early articles on this site explained that most liberals had a college degree. This, conservatives claimed (and still claim) meant that universities were indoctrinating students into a liberal mindset. Another likely explanation, though, is that an education and being forced to live and work with people of varied backgrounds help people to be more open-minded. Exposure to new ideas allows us to see that there are more than just simple answers to complex problems. From my experience, such an environment can change a conservative into a liberal, or at least make a conservative more centered.
The crux of the explanation is that a low IQ can translate into low critical thinking skills. Lacking such skills, someone tends to gravitate towards simple solutions and simple worldviews. Conservatism and racism both offer the easy view that things are the way they are or entire groups of people can be classified by a few simple stereotypes.
We need to defund Planned Parenthood because they do abortions (even though abortions are a tiny percentage of the health care Planned Parenthood provides to women who can’t afford that healthcare otherwise).
Lack of critical thinking is a terrible thing, but the Right’s actually turned it into a positive trait to have. Don’t go to college. Don’t read liberal websites. Don’t think about it too much. Be as the children. Also, don’t expose the children to any new information or else they’ll start question the beliefs we’ve forced on them.
Does a low IQ mean you’ll be conservative or racist? Not necessarily. But it helps.
See you all on Monday, and don’t forget to visit the Youtube channel, share those videos, and keep sharing links!
Let’s all now share some Jason Statham playing the same character he’s played in 95% of his movies.
It’s Mexican Independence day! To me, this is a bittersweet holiday. Yes, it marks Mexico proclaiming itself a sovereign nation. On the other hand, the country is enslaved by the cartels. Right across the border, just a few miles from where I wright this, two people were tortured and publicly displayed for writing negative things about the Zetas. We have a long way to go, but I’d like to start by ending this stupid war on drugs.
And speaking of things that were probably influenced by drugs, let’s get some links out there and catch up with the week’s stories.
To all the new freshmen in college, please, for the love of Bob, don’t do this.
And speaking of bad decisions, could celebrities please stop taking naked pics of themselves with their phones? You, the thing that can be hacked? Unlike that camera that you need to physically get to retrieve said pictures? The reaction to Scarlet Johansson’s leaked nude pics has ranged from everything from an FBI investigation to the internet having a collective seizure. Because the internet, as you know, has been seen naked boobs and butt.
Nancy Upton entered a contest for American Apparel. She satirized what I can only describe as really unflattering images of women that look like they need a sandwich. Her pics were… well, they were unique. She’s confident, has a sense of humor about herself and the company, she looks wonderful and natural, and she won the contest by a large margin… and now American Apparel is saying they won’t go with her because she’s not targeting their demographic. Hypocrites, anyone?
Disney does not have the best record when it comes to acknowledging the audience’s intelligence. However, some of their older animators didn’t react too kindly to the higher-ups changing the name of a movie to make it more descriptive since audiences “might not get it.” The result is pure sarcasm and gold.
And finally, Nice Peter came out with another Epic Rap Battle. Mister Rogers all the way! Represent! And I’ll see you all on Monday!
It's a university. Of course it's liberal and hates Jews!
September 15, 2011
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion. No one is entitled to his or her own facts. If you’re going to make a claim, if you want to make a point about something, you better have more than just your hearsay and point of view.
Apparently, one Sarah Grunfeld, a senior at York University, lacks the kind of reasoning skills that allow most infants to not try to eat their own diapers.
Professor Cameron Johnston, a 30-year veteran of the university’s faculty, was teaching a class where he sought to show that not everyone is entitled to an opinion. Some opinions, he said, are dangerous and unacceptable. To show his point, he used the example, “All Jews should be sterilized.” Being Jewish himself, Johnston used the phrase to show a point of view that was not grounded in anything but racism and hatred, a blatant example of the kind of “opinions” that are out there.
Grunfeld, however, was apparently playing Angry Birds, or checking Facebook, or who knows what, because all she heard was “All Jews should be sterilized.”
After she sent her complaint to a Jewish advocacy group and the allegation of blatant anti-Semitism spread through the community and people called on Johnston to resign, the truth came out. She didn’t hear the whole thing and, worse, she was unaware the professor who said it was himself Jewish.
And once everyone knew the context of the statement, of course the whole thing blew over. After all, this had been hyped in the media and a professor with decades of experience being pressured to resign.
Well, no, it wasn’t over.
While the backlash against Johnston is gone, Grunfeld refuses to apologize. She’s not even sure that making that statement as an example is any more acceptable. To her, the fact that someone used this phrase, regardless of context, is a crime against the Jewish community.
I’d like to invite Miss Grunfeld to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. They have quite the collection of World War II films and propaganda. Some of it is quite horrifically racist for obvious reasons. Would Grunfeld say this museum needs to be shut down because, ignoring context, the museum is promoting hatred of Jews?
Grunfeld is either too stubborn to admit she made a mistake or she’s actually dumb enough to believe that a word, regardless of context, is insulting. If I was the dean, I would force her to apologize to Johnston in a very public forum. Barring that, I would make sure she retook every one of her college classes until she learned the basic logic skills possessed by rudimentary cabbage.
And now, here’s something that also has no brain, but it’s actually entertaining.
Back in my day, we didn't tax the high GPA makers! That creates more students!
August 19, 2011
Well, it’s back to school again, and, as most of you know, those with the highest grades will be asked to give away some of those GPA points to students who didn’t try as hard so everyone can have a chance at a better education and job later on.
Oh, that’s not how that happens?
Fox sent out a camera crew and recent college graduate to a few campuses to ask students how they would feel if they were asked to give some of their GPA to lower students so the people with lower grades could have higher GPAs. Obviously, this did not sit well with ANY student. How then, Fox asks, do we justify taking MORE money away from the wealthy in the form of increased taxes and giving it to the lower and middle class? Isn’t that the same thing? Taking away from the people who worked for their money and giving it to people who don’t work hard so they don’t get as much?
A student earns a GPA over a long period of time. It takes years. To get that grade, you have to study hard, do your work, and if you want to bulk up with transcript, you have to take AP classes that sometimes don’t even give you extra points or anything like that. They didn’t for me, and while part of the Honor Scholars Program at DePauw University, I had to take classes that were an order of magnitude harder than any other class I’ve ever taken, and said classes didn’t even count for extra points. And I still made the Dean’s List several times.
For several decades, the upper class has received what can only be called “corporate welfare.” They actually get taxed less than people who make WAY less and can write off any number of expenses. For Fox’s analogy to make sense, students with higher GPA should have had to do less work to get better grades over time AND people with lower GPAs should have had to give up a portion of their grades to people who were already getting good grades.
Let me put it another way. Billy works hard but can only ever get a 2.5 GPA. Tommy lucked out nearly on his freshman year and got a 3.8 average. The school then took some of Billy’s points and gave them to Tommy to keep him in the highest percentile. Now, Billy has to work harder for his points, but Tommy can cruise along knowing the points he gets from the bottom of the ladder will offset his lack of work and keep him higher up.
Students with high GPAs generally work VERY hard to get those grades. I know I did. The upper class in this country gets a free pass and politicians in their corner to make sure they stay up there. There is an entire infrastructure just to keep the rich rich. There is no such system in place for students. Lower grades don’t always mean you’re not working hard. Most students give it their best. Job-wise, I work my butt off and make less per hour than the dean’s secretary. Stop pretending like people who are poor don’t work hard. Try teaching. Try being a sanitation worker. Try being a gardener, migrant worker, police officer, firefighter, or even a babysitter. That’s damn hard work.
People who rely on hedge funds to GIVE them money? Must be nice.
In short, Fox sucks, students rock, have fun on the first week of school, students and teachers, and I’ll see you Monday with the new Weekly Muse story. Keep voting!
Stress is the fuel of creativity. Either that, or an ulcer.
My personal stress has been compounded by teaching a class of twenty or so middle school stud4ents how to write and think like writers. The first day, as I made painfully aware, involved trying to wrangle some unruly ragamuffins.
I let them know exactly what they were thinking and even got one to shut up about games “being for people with no lives.”
I met my fiancée through Dungeons and Dragons. Natch.
Then, today, I had the biggest shock of my teaching life. One of two kids I had to take aside the first day walked up to me. The class thus far consisted of teaching the parts f speech (nouns, verbs, conjunctions, etc.) and the parts of a sentence (subject, verb, object) and today’s class involved watching a very wholesome episode of Bizarre Foods.
A very fine episode, to be sure, and I had previously gone over the parts of the paragraph I wanted them to write go through. I wanted a topic sentence, evidence for why they liked or disliked the show, and an explanation. For example, if they thought it was good, I wanted something like “The show was funny because Andrew was scared when he had to dive into the dark cave. It was wet and he was freaking out.”
Most of them did well. A few of them were still sketchy on the concept of “evidence” and the grammar could have used some work.
Except for one kid.
The first day, I help him back to talk with him. He talks, he looks around, and he barely pays attention. And he got it in one try. I didn’t have to tell him to change anything. He did everything I asked and he barely tried. I could tell form the way he looked at me that he was sure he’d made a mistake.
It’s always a joy to see students realize they’re smarter than they thought.
Now I have a conundrum. It’s not that lesson is too easy. On the contrary. I’m pushing these kids as far as they’ll go. I’m teaching them like I would a high school or freshman college class. I’m not a behavioral expert. Best guess, the kid may have ADD. It wouldn’t be far-fetched, but it’s not definite. The other option is that he really does know all this stuff, but doesn’t understand he knows it and is just bored.
Either way, I don’t know if I can keep his attention without sacrificing the teaching time for the rest of the class.
I guess the only thing I can do is to try and dial it up just a bit, maybe give him extra work on the side…
And you know what? I’m excited if I get to teach him and help him improve. I’m making him my personal challenge.
Wow, that title sounded way less pervy when I wrote it.
I started teaching middle schoolers yesterday and let me tell you something. Standards have dropped in a few departments: manners, common sense, and subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, though. Most of the kids were great. They were excited, they shouted their answers, and they took their notes. I had a handful that felt my classroom was their personal playground and I was a glorified babysitter.
Oh, the ignorance of youth.
They learned that I’m a pussycat. They should meet my mom.
I did notice something that I’d known subconsciously for years, but I really got to observe as I watched them do an assignment. Their body language tipped me off to which kids would be trouble from the very beginning. These were the things that I’ve seen students do time and time again.
Future teachers or current students, take note.
When answering a test, a student will hold on to the pencil or pen at all times if he or she is engrossed in the task. You hold on to a pen when you‘re ready to write, and most people generally want to write the answer as soon as possible. Putting the pen down takes time away.
Watch the legs. Legs bent under the table and bobbing up and down signify stress. Legs outstretched for long periods of time mean relaxation. Students with legs outstretched aren’t taking your lecture seriously and aren’t engrossed.
When we’re young, we tend to suck our thumbs or otherwise fiddle with our fingers. I twirl pens in my hand when I think or get nervous. Likewise, every student that chewed a pencil or otherwise twirled something was thinking about something. The only five that didn’t were occupied with something else, talking, or just looking around.
Seating is key. The front rows were full. The kids who want to learn or at least hope to get something out of it go to the front. The second row was likewise full, but the third row was mostly empty. The last few rows had the rest of the students, and, combined with the aforementioned mannerisms, I quickly pegged the ones I would have trouble with.
And I was right.
Long story short, I took away one kid’s chair and made him stand. Hey, if he’s not mature enough to use a chair properly, I can’t very well trust him with it, can I?
Cooking is an art. It’s like writing in many ways. You can add a dozen spices and spend hours working on something like Indian food, a dish that has more plants in it than a greenhouse, and get something that mixes flavors in unique ways to create new sensations. On the other hand, you could use five or six ingredients and make pico de gallo, slow-roast some pork, and you have dinner. Likewise, writing can involve in-depth research and Alan Moore-like layers of meaning and reference, or writing can involve a simple poem on a greeting card that will nevertheless move a person to tears.
Everyone should know how to cook, and you don’t have to make anything fancy. In fact, some of the best meals are the ones made from scratch with only a few ingredients, and if you’re on a tight budget (what artist isn’t?) allow me to share a few of my favorite recipes and some tips for artists who wish to stretch that food dollar.
Keep in mind that I’m assuming you know how to boil water, cut vegetables, and otherwise not murder yourself with a fork.
If you have a Sam’s Club or something similar nearby, get membership and go shopping. Trust me. The bill may seem huge, but remember that you’re buying olive oil, spices, and canned goods to last at least several months. Don’t buy fresh fruits and veggies here, though, since you’ll likely not go through them before they expire. Instead, stock up on the following:
It really depends on what kind of cooking you want to do, but I find that almost everything I make ends up using sweet leaf basil, cumin, dill weed, crushed red peppers, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. If you prefer, you can also get Lawry’s Salt since it’s already a combo of several spices.
I also highly recommend stainless steel pots and pans. Stuff with Teflon tends to chip and wear away if you use it a lot.
While it might be tempting to just buy instant meals since they’re so darn quick, think about all the sodium and other crap you’re going to be putting into your system. While we may have been brought up with the image of mom slaving away over a hot stove for hours to make a great home-cooked meal, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of preparation for quick dishes, and even things that take hours usually just require you check in on them every once in a while. Also, do the math on how much it costs to make your food from scratch versus buying ready-made meals.
It’s a HUGE difference.
For a budget, chicken and fish are king. Think fresh veggies or, if you know you won’t use them for a while, canned. In general, avoid things with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
You’ll even find that eating healthy isn’t some yuppie dream. It’s affordable and preferable.
My dad and I both cook using the dump method. You take the meat, you put it in a pan, and dump a bunch of spices, veggies, whatever.
Done. You made dinner.
Let’s be more specific.
Get a batch of fish fillets. Tilapia works just fine, although Mary and I have also used catfish. I’ll use lime juice, dill weed, minced garlic, and a touch of butter for fish, and then fry them in olive oil. You could also poach them in the pan with a bit of white wine on low heat, reduce the wine and fish oil, and you end up with a thick sauce for your freshly cooked fish.
Chicken? That’s easy. Mix a cup of white wine and two cups of orange juice, then add a dash of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and a little rosemary. Let the whole thing simmer on low heat for two to three hours. All you have to do is stir it to make sure it doesn’t stick, and when the whole thing is reduced to about a cup or less, you end up with an amazing orange glaze you can use on chicken. Now cook the chicken and add the glaze before it’s cooked all the way.
Beef usually calls for a marinade of beer (cheap 40’s will do), sea salt, pepper, marjoram, lime juice, cumin, and a bay leaf. Let it marinade for an hour or so, or overnight if you can, then cook the meat on its own, reduce the mixture the meat was soaking in, and you’ve just made beer gravy.
You may notice a pattern here. Pretty much everything involves liquid, preferably booze, being simmered down into a thicker sauce for the meat itself. The process is slow, but worth it. It does take between two to three hours depending on how much liquid you have (sometimes minutes for really small amounts like with the beef), but the end result is the same. It’s quick to put together and requires little preparation beyond just getting to know the ingredients and knowing what goes good with what.
You can even make your own tomato sauce by mashing a handful of tomatoes, some wine, and adding basil, oregano, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Add some water, let the whole thing boil until it’s reduced to a thick paste, and you’ve got the best pasta sauce you’ve ever tried.
Once you’re comfortable with a few dishes, start adding things like pasta and mess with different techniques like baking, frying, poaching, etc.
Being an artist means sacrifice. Unfortunately, part of that sacrifice translates as a tight budget. I’ve found, time and time again, that just following a few simple rules and taking the time to learn how to cook is one of the best things anyone can do to not only
Plus, the girls dig it when you can whip up beef burgundy with a side of garlic-vinegar French fries.
And finally, if you need more proof that it doesn’t take much to make wonderful art, check out this video. One woman. One looper. One voice. That’s it. See you Friday! Also, let me know if you try anything on this article.
If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.
As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.
Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.
I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.
Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas? The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?
What’s that? An alien ship approaching your interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.
Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.
Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?
Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?
Would you rather have an artificial weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?
This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?
Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.
Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.
It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?
Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?
I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?
Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.
In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.