Ladies in Red, Purple and Every Other Color

I have a brilliant and talented friend named Kristie.

She was a year ahead of me in college. She and I lived in the same house, and had the same major (English Language & Literature).

She went on to get a masters from Harvard and then became a high school English teacher that I would love to have my daughter study with.

I went on to become . . . well, me.

Just a short time ago, Kristie made her first venture into the world of blogging (she blames me for this). Her first post at Schmidtty First Drafts reveals her wit and way with words. Her second post, entitled “Not Yet, Boba Fett” shares an honest look at the challenges many people, especially women, face as we enter that bizarre between time known as midlife. Her post inspired this post. I would love for you to pop over and read Kristie’s post before continuing with this one, but in case you don’t, she writes about a scene in Postcards from the Edge where Shirley Maclaine, dressed in a glittery red-outfit performs the song “I’m Still Here” at a party that was supposed to celebrate her daughter. Kristie writes:

“As I enter midlife, my disdain for Maclaine’s poorly timed and skewed self affirmation has tempered and transformed. In a culture that devalues those growing older, especially women, her declaration now seems about so much more than simply shouting “Look at me. I need attention right now.” It serves as a siren call, one beckoning us to look first at ourselves. In my midlife world this necessitates a temporal exploration. Who was I? Who am I? Who do I now want to be? That confident (though sometimes needy and sometimes selfish) bravura woman in red, where did she go? Because she existed.”

In some ways, I’ve always been the lady in red. Although, just as often I might be the lady in purple or hot pink or some other bright color that says “Look at me, I’m here.”

I wore red at a mini reunion with Kristie (with the white coat) a couple of years ago.

I wore red at a mini reunion with Kristie (with the white coat) a couple of years ago.

While this isn’t really about the color of my clothes, there is a pattern to how I wear clothing. When I most want to hide, or feel down on myself, I wear grays, blacks, neutrals. When I need a confidence boost, or when I have to make some kind of presentation, I’ll either where a professional looking black or the bright reds and purples of a woman who wants to be seen. This doesn’t mean I want or need to be the center of attention, its more like a statement that “I am here and what I say matters.”

Too often in my life I’ve felt invisible and unheard. Yet, the lady in red always wanted to come out. She wanted to sing to the world “I’m alive and full of fun and fabulous ideas!” So I added color to my wardrobe, and began to find ways to be heard,

Except when I wasn’t.

Now, like Kristie, I’m not willing to simply fade into the background as I enter midlife. I’m not willing to disappear as wrinkles and gray hair begin to make their presence known. I’m not willing to accept the status quo. I intend to create a path into the future filled with passion, ambition, adventure and possibility.

I plan to wear a lot of red (or purple, green, yellow,  and maybe even orange)  while doing it.

 

 

I am Not Your Mother

Dear Students,

I am an under-payed adjunct faculty person teaching introductory courses in theatre, courses that you take to fulfill your arts requirement.

Although I am not a full-time faculty person, I am still an experienced and well-trained professional. I hold an MFA in directing and have directed numerous successful and well-received shows. I also hold a Ph.D in theatre with a specialty in Theatre for Youth, which means I’ve read, researched and written on a wide range of subjects. In addition to teaching Introductory courses, I’ve taught advanced level courses in Non-Western Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Feminist Theatre, Studies in Drama, Theatre for Social Change, Puppetry, and Theatre History among others. I’ve also, which is unusual for many professors who specialize in one field, taught Intro and advanced level courses in Writing, Research Writing, Honors and Education. In other words, I am a well-rounded, experienced teacher.

The Day I received my doctorate.

The Day I received my doctorate.

My job, as I see it, is to:

  • create a course that lasts the entire semester
  • develop a syllabus that outlines this course (I spend hours on this, and try my best to stick to it).
  • prepare for lectures and or course presentations for each class, as necessary
  • create interesting assignments that reinforce or support the learning goals of the course, and explain my expectations for those assignments
  • grade assignments in a timely fashion
  • answer your questions or meet with you when you have problems
  • keep tabs of your attendance and participation
  • lead class discussions
  • answer your e-mails
  • turn in grade reports and other official documents required by the school, in a timely fashion

In addition, as a concerned teacher in an arts discipline who likes to challenge her students and explore new ways of teaching, I try to:

  • create interesting assignments that ask my students to think creatively
  • create assignments that allow for students to use their strengths. While I believe it is important to have written assignments, I try to provide assignments that will allow people to use presentation or art skills as well.
  • since this is a theatre class, provide opportunities to make presentations, act, and/or try some of the other skills required in the world of theatre.
  • avoid doing things like testing memorized facts, but rather ask my students to think about how what they are learning in my class might relate to their lives or the real world.

Nowhere in those lists does it say that I am supposed to be your Mother.

As one of the assignments for this class, I asked you to attend a performance of a production put on by your peers at the college, and write a review of this. I selected this production because it was less expensive than attending professional theatre, especially with your student discount, and it was on campus, so you shouldn’t have had any difficulty finding it or finding parking. I told you about this assignment on THE FIRST DAY of class, and reminded you as it approached.

“Where is it?”

“How much does it cost?”

“Where do I find tickets?”

“When is it?”

These questions dominated the classroom for several weeks. I did my best to answer them, repeatedly.

Then, this past weekend, mother nature threatened us with another storm that (upon initial reports) could have been of epic proportions. It fizzled out to be a cold, slimy, mixture of rain and snow that didn’t do much except create an incredible wonderland this morning.

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However, to be cautious, since I thought the shows might be cancelled, I came up with two alternative options of other shows that would happen on campus later this semester. I sent that information out to you. Some of you, it seems, have chosen to pursue those options instead, and I can’t penalize you for that. But, that’s not what this letter is about.

It’s about the fact that I am not your Mother.

After I sent the e-mail with the options I got numerous e-mails asking things like:

“How do I know if the show is cancelled?”

You all walk around with these fancy pieces of technology that have the power of accessing the internet to look things up, and–even more amazing– can enable you to talk to other people and find out information. If you wished, you could pick up these amazing pieces of technology to either look on the school website to see if anything has been cancelled, or call the box office for news. This is how I would find out myself, so why must I do it for you?

Because you want me to be your Mother.

Dear, dear students. You are adults, or on the verge of being adults. It is your decision if you want to come to class and be there on time, although class participation does affect your grade. It is your decision whether or not you do the reading, although I often do check-ins on the reading which is part of your grade. It is your decision whether or not you want to do the research and preparation required for your group projects. I am willing to help you with suggestions, but I cannot do it for you. On the creative projects, where I ask you to make design choices and present things to the class, I specifically created them to allow for all types of presentations. I have given you the guidelines, but I refuse to give you line by line instructions. If you are not willing to break out of your comfort zone, and want me to spoon feed you all the information and details as to how to approach a project, then you are in the wrong class.

I am not responsible for your inability to organize your schedule around my class. I don’t ask for much, just that you come to class. I know that this assignment was outside of class hours, but I gave you plenty of notice (approximately 6 weeks) so there should be no reason you can’t arrange your work/play/ or whatever schedule around seeing one show.

When you miss class, I am not responsible for making sure you know what you’ve missed. I’m not responsible for sending you the handouts and making sure you know what assignment is coming up. I’m happy to send that material to you, or make it available on-line (where you can find most of it already), if you contact me about your absence, but you must initiate the contact. If you have been absent for a long time (because of illness or something else major), and expect to turn in all of your assignments, it would help if you contact me before you’ve missed the classes, not after you got back.

I’m not an ogre. I’ll work with you and help if you have situations, but I’m not your Mother. I’m not going to just allow you to do things on your own time because I feel sorry for you. You need to show some initiative, take responsibility, and acknowledge that my time is as valuable as yours. I am not at your beck and call 24 hours a day. I am not responsible for taking care of your issues the moment you have them. While I check my e-mail often, I don’t have a phone that notifies me every time someone wants to send me something. Nor do I want one. I actually have a life outside of this job, and I try to keep that time separate from the time I work.

Even though work often bleeds over and my paycheck gets smaller and smaller.

I am indeed a Mother. Yet, I try to teach my daughter some responsibility and initiative. This past weekend, we went on a family outing to a winter festival at the nearby botanical gardens. “Bring your snow gear,” I said to my daughter. “We will be outside.”

She brought them, and then left them in the car. “I didn’t think I needed to carry them,” she said.

“I don’t tell you to bring things just because I want to tell you to do something,” I said. “You can go back to the car and get them, or you can do without.”

She did without. Should I feel bad? No. She made her choice, and she suffered the cold-handed consequences. She still got to pet an alpaca, however, which I think is pretty cool.

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I humbly request that you recognize that there is a difference between an Instructor and a Mother, and act accordingly.  Actually, I hope that you show more respect to your mother than you currently do to me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kramer

So You’ve Written a Manuscript . . . Now What?

Manuscript babyDespite my lack of words when it comes to blogging and/or new work over the past couple of months, I have slowly but steadily been working on editing the manuscript of my YA/NA novel that I finished a full draft of last December. Along with that draft I had written a sample Agent Query , a sample Submission Cover Page, and a summary. I sent that (along with a revised chapter) to my Instructor for the course I was taking, all before my father passed.

To tell you the truth, the day after my father passed away, I completed a major edit of  the full document because I needed to focus on something other than my sadness. That may seem weird but it was what I needed to do.

As I waited for a response from my instructor, I sent the draft to some readers, and then did another revision based on their feedback. I finished that completely last week (or maybe two weeks ago, I don’t remember). The response from my instructor came about a month ago, followed quickly with my “diploma” for having completed the course. His comments and suggestions made me feel like I had a solid submission packet ready to go, with a few minor corrections/changes.

Still, it took me a long time to face the process. I kept finding excuses, such as I was waiting for updates on publishers or didn’t have time to find agents, or my office was too much of a mess to work in, or I forgot to bring the notes I needed to make the edits, no matter how minor, or . . .

The real problem, beyond my personal struggle and sadness, is my fear of rejection. If I send it out there and get nothing but rejection, will I ever have the courage to publish it anyway? Or will it lie gathering dust in my pile of discarded dreams, along with the manuscript of Giving Up the Ghosts that I gave up on long ago?

Here’s the reality that we all must face as writers. There are, of course, those of us who write purely for the pleasure of putting words on the page, with no intention of sharing those words. (I have journals and journals of those kinds of writing). However, if you have even the tiniest desire to have someone else read what you write, then  you must do something to put it out there, to have people read it. It does no good sitting in your computer or printed out in a pile of manuscript pages where it does nothing but gather dust.

An unread piece of fiction is nothing more than words without a home.

So what do we do with these manuscript babies?  In our world we now have several options:

  • Find an agent (which means being prepared for many rejections or simply non-responses)
  • Try to submit to traditional publishers on our own (which is hard as so many publishers want agented submissions only, and it also means being prepared for many rejections)
  • Self-publish

I’m not against the self-publishing option, and may end up going that route. However, over the past year or so I’ve read a lot of self-published books. Some of them have been excellent. Many of them could have been excellent if they had a once over from an editor or an outside-eye. It’s difficult to edit our own work, especially for beginning authors. Add to that the pressures of doing layout, creating covers, and promoting our own works and sometimes the work seems to suffer.

I don’t want that to happen to my work.

So, I’ve decided to try the traditional route first. I’m looking for agents. I may submit the full manuscript to one or two publishing houses that accept unagented works. While I wait, I intend to look into formatting the manuscript for a professional looking self-publishing approach and decide on the best platform if that ends up being my path.

All of this, of course, requires a plan and action on my part. Something which I find challenging at the moment, except in brief bursts of focused energy. Yesterday I finally got over my excuses, brought the notes, fixed the edits and prepared the material to submit to the one agent I had already selected. Now I need to buy some ink, and send it off. Once I had done all that, I began to search for other possible agents. I found a couple who looked interesting, who only accepted submissions on-line. The ink excuse no longer worked. So, I cut and paste and submitted. (I also had to write a one page summary which has now been added to the materials I am ready to submit.)

Today I signed up for a writer’s conference this May (I wasn’t really procrastinating on this one, there was a big mess-up with my pay this month so I had to wait until I had some money). I plan on submitting the first chapters for a feedback session at the conference.

Excuses are no longer acceptable.  The book is written, now it needs a home.

My Words Have Stopped

I’ve stopped writing.

I’ve stopped reading.

I’ve stopped talking.

I’ve stopped commenting.

I’ve stopped.

I look at this blog and think, I have nothing left to say. It’s not writer’s block. It’s something deeper than that.  I have entered the darkness at the bottom of depression and it has controlled me for a few months now.

I have lost my ability to think.

I have lost my ability to organize.

I have lost my ability to motivate.

I have lost.

Today I sit and wait for a birthday party to end, so I can pick up Sarah. I think I’ll find the topic, find the words, find my voice.

Yet all I can write is this.

Empty words on an empty screen.

Written out into the void of emptiness.

I want my words back. I want myself back. I want my life back.

It’s time.

Today You Are Ten

Dear Sarah,

Ten years ago, I entered into the unknown, when you decided to make an entrance in your own way. You didn’t want to wait for a doctor. You didn’t want to make me push and push while your head got squished. You said, “I want out, and I want out NOW!” The doctor ran in and caught you.  A half an hour later, you had your first stage appearance when a nurse borrowed you to show a group touring the facilities what to expect.

Sarah_1

Sarah_1 1

It was the scariest and happiest day of my life, especially when they handed you to me, and I swear you smiled when you heard your Daddy’s voice.

You are no longer that tiny child who needs me every moment of the day.  You are, almost too quickly, turning into a young woman who still wants to make an entrance in her own way, always in a rush for the next exciting thing. You are now old enough to read these words and to form words of your own. You are now old enough to challenge, and question, and grow in ways I cannot imagine.

Sarah turns 10

I’ve learned so much from being your mother as I watch the miracle of your growth.  Sometimes I feel like I’m on the outside, looking in, as you become this incredible person with only a nudge here and there from me.

I know I’ve made mistakes along the way. I know that I’m not perfect. I hope, though, that someday you understand that my goal is always about providing you a path to a happy, fulfilled life. I want nothing more than to see you love and be loved, and to give you the tools to create your own path in this world. I want you to have the confidence that you can achieve anything. I want you to believe in yourself, and always know that you have the support of your family and all the people who love you so very much.

Yesterday we talked about the importance of inner beauty. That, among other things, is one thing I want you to learn and carry with you throughout your life.  There are so many other things I hope you learn throughout your lifetime. Here are some videos which put into words, in a much more powerful way than I can, some of the things I hope for you.

I can’t wait until you come home from school and I can share this post with you. Sarah Kyoko, you are a blessing in my life.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Mommy

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