Breaking away from the writing talk…for a rant.

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To Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the National Education Association…an explanation.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, Lily Eskelsen Garcia –  President of the National Education Association (NEA) – made a speech recently in which she made a few jokes. In fact, she breathlessly rattled off a list of things teachers do, including “diversify our curriculum and instruction to meet the personal and individual needs of all of our students.” Sounds nice…but then she begins to list some of those needs and she includes the “blind, hearing impaired, physically challenged, gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and medically annoying…”

There are some people charging that that last part was meant to be “chronically retarded and medically annoying.” Evidently Garcia has clarified that she meant to say “chronically tardy” and that she was referring to kids who are very annoying, but lovable. Hmmm…

There has been a Twitter backlash over this and honestly I’m on board with it. I might be able to buy that she meant to say “chronically tardy,” and perhaps she is talking about annoying kids who are just lovable little skamps…but I’m still not amused. In fact, I’m more inclined to see this as a Freudian slip than a simple misunderstanding. I’d like to explain why.

Whatever your intention, your joke is not funny to those of us with medically fragile children. It is not funny when we have had to fight to the point of exhaustion for our child’s rights. I’m sorry to say that I am more than familiar with teachers who find my child’s medical needs to be annoying. I have had school administrators lie to me about what services are available for my child. I have had teachers become irritable and insulting when faced with making accommodations for my child – and we’re not talking about anything disruptive here, we’re talking about providing an alternate location for a speech or sending a test to a separate room – things that are absolutely transparent to the other kids and not in any way disruptive. I have had to listen to a school administrator suggest that perhaps if my very intelligent child is that sick, she doesn’t belong in Honors Math with the other kids.

The sad lesson we’ve learned is that we can’t really trust our schools to do their best for our children. We don’t attend any meeting without an expensive advocate by our side. We’ve actually had to go into debt to make sure the people who are getting paid by our tax dollars are doing the job they are supposed to be doing and not trying to pull a fast one. And while that might make me laugh ironically while shaking my head, your jokes and accidental attitude-reveals do not.

Writing Angst and Smelly Wrestling

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I am a giant bundle of anxiety today. Anxiety made of one part “What if I suck at writing fiction” and one part…existential angst in general. Isn’t there more than this? What should I be doing? Am I screwing everything up completely? Did I fuck something up in a previous life? Did I fuck everything up in this life? Why does everything have to be so ugly and brutish and uncertain? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were wise gods who would talk to us and maybe sponsor or bless us in our endeavors? You know, so we could feel confident that we were on the right track?

It’s at times like this I’m tempted to run outside and ask someone to smack me. Or to throw myself into the nearest cold body of water.  But since neither of those are particularly practical options, I’m left with what to do about it. Suck it up and just work on my damned contractual work like I’m supposed to be doing? Take the day off and read? Get back to dealing with the stall I’ve encountered in my book? 

Oooh, ouch! That one hit a tender spot. I may have found the source of the problem. I have the rest of my book mapped out…but I’m feeling mired in the swamp of it all and I find myself a bit stuck. How hilarious that all my self-doubt and big god talk would probably evaporate if I could just figure out how to map my next chapter. Do all writers go through this? Does this explain all the drinking?

As I probe this particular sore spot, I’m beginning to realize that the feeling is familiar. It feels a lot like a hard physical work out.  More specifically, it feels like that point where there’s just a half mile more to run or a few more sets of strikes to the heavy bag when that little voice inside says… “Just stop. You’re tired. You can do more tomorrow. Why do you do this to yourself?”

Having been raised Catholic; I’m usually good at being my own drill sergeant. “Suck it up, you maggot!” or something along those lines is pretty normal internal dialog for me.  So what’s the difference? Well, barring physical infirmities, it’s hard to be bad at running. And if you punch or kick the heavy bag wrong, it is immediately and painfully obvious. But what if you’re bad at fiction? What if you put all the blood, sweat, tears, and worst of all, time into this endeavor and people tell you it sucks? What if you started a god damned blog telling people you were going to finish and now you’re panicking??

I wrestle with this a lot. And it’s not a fun, slap and tickle kind of wrestling. It’s a big hairy, smelly opponent that I wish would just go away. And while I know that my unwitting author-mentors would tell me to write and ignore the rank bastard…that’s easier said than done.  I guess at the end of the day, we all have to remember that even successful authors had to go through this and some of them even claim that they still go through it despite their success. And really, even if it does turn out to suck, there’s always time to fix it.

Or so I’m told.

And isn’t it better to do it and find out it sucks than wonder forever if it could have been good? Given the shitty writing that I’ve seen praised out there, surely there will be somebody who likes it?  

Okay…deep breath, fists clenched…once more unto the breach!

“But I know that I can make it
As long as somebody takes me home every now and then”

         — Sam’s Town by The Killers