Friday, September 12, 2014
I do a lot of speaking, I never take that honor and responsibility for granted. I get to do what I love because people regularly pay me to stand at the front of a room and teach them things. That's still amazing to me.
Yesterday, I got to stand before an audience of a couple of hundred people who had taken two hours out of their busy lives to learn more about education in this country, and that is an beautiful thing. I have no idea what I looked like up there on stage - I hope I appeared composed and calm, because inside, I was bonkers. In the two hours preceding the event, I'd had my own, private Gift of Failure experience. In the interest of viewing every failure as an opportunity, I'd like to take a moment to pass on a few things I learned from my many failures yesterday.
1. All of the streets in downtown Newark are either one way, inevitably oriented in the opposite direction you need to travel, or - and this one was new to me - marked for straight-ahead travel only. As in, yes, there are plenty of streets that run perpendicular to the street you need to get off of in order to go around the block, but that particular maneuver is illegal. In fact, if you try it, LOTS of pedestrians will be kind enough to point (and otherwise gesticulate) this out. Which leads me to...
2. There is a police car parked at every corner in Newark. I have no idea how many police officers the city employs, but it's a lot. And they are all waiting for drivers to try to make a turn off of these turn-less streets to nowhere. Especially the ones with New Hampshire plates. Here's the URL for a handy way to pay traffic tickets online, by the way.
3. The people of Newark are lovely. To the fifteen people I spoke with in search of the Holy Grail of Newark (AKA public parking, see point number 4), you are a beautiful, merciful, and kind people. Good Samaritans all. At the very least, you offered up your pity, which was nice, in its own, quiet and sad way.
4. It only looks like Newark has parking. This is a tantalizing mirage; do not be fooled. I can only speak for my own experience at lunchtime on a Wednesday, but as far as I can tell, Newark only contains "LOT FULL" parking areas, staffed with employees who are very good at the finger wiggle that signifies, "Don't even THINK about pulling into my lot, lady, because I already have six cars too many in here."
5. Even when an event is professionally managed, make sure they have reserved a parking space for you.
6. And that you know where the company parking lot is.
7. And that you have a direct line to the person in charge of the event and the number for the security desk and the number for an alternate person who can call down to the parking garage to insist, yes, it's okay to let the nice, sweaty, nervous lady into the parking garage even if her name is not on the list.
8. They don't let you in to some parking garages when your name is not on The List.
9. Parking garages have security cameras that you will only notice after you have pulled down your pants between two cars in order to change out of your comfy driving clothes and into your not-as-comfy speaking clothes.
10. Sometimes parking garages have no pedestrian exits. True story.
11. I may be late to the party on this one, but high heel shoes have metal in them. Just enough, apparently, to set off metal detectors, so even when you are in a hurry, and you have already been through the metal detector three times, twice without your glasses, they are still going to ask you to "step to the side, and wait for someone to do a manual scan."
12. When all of these things happen to you, you need to take a deep breath before shaking hands with the person who hired you. He or she deserves your best, speaker-ly, pleasant (if sweaty from running six blocks in metal-filled heels) self. Wait until after the event to share your story with a sense of humor, have a few good laughs with the event director over the irony that yes, your book is indeed called The Gift of Failure, and, see what you just did there, learning from your own failure? Finally, thank them so much for having faith in you, as you silently resolve to leave three hours of wiggle room - not two - before your next event.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Monday, August 4, 2014
A couple of years ago, I faced a teacher milestone. One of my students died, someone I'd visited and emailed and laughed with in the weeks and days before his death, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with the odd, not quite parental, not quite friend-shaped hole. In the days after Andrew's death, I wrote,
When I had children, I understood that I was opening myself up for a world of pain; that's part of the deal we make with the universe when we become parents. However, when I signed my first teacher contract, there was no clause for heartache; no asterisk denoting the fine-print possibilities.
That day, I drew on the presence of the students in front of me to fill up the hole created by the loss of Andrew.
Happily, for each one of those horrible days, there have been so many others that overflow their bounds with happiness. As happens when a teacher's life goes on, there are marriages, births, graduations, and career milestones taking place all the time, it seems. With a decade of students out there in the world, it's bound to happen. I have teacher-grandbabies around the world, and I watch their growth on my Facebook feed like some kind of desperate, doting, distant Nana.
Today, however, is special even among all those other, wonderful days. Today, two of my students are married, and as much as I love them individually, I am doubly enamored of their united form.
I once asked Kira, the female half of this couple, when she first had an inking that Min was more than simply a classmate and friend, and she revealed that it happened in my classroom. I'm paraphrasing, as it's been years since she told me this story, but we were working on a project I love, a visual representation of the storm in King Lear. Kira said she watched Min present his project in all its brilliance and insightful interpretation, and she just knew. Knew he was something special.
Fourteen years later, she still knows, and while I was not able to attend their wedding yesterday, I was there, with them, all day long.
Today, I'm planning the lesson for a class I will teach on Wednesday about writer's toolboxes and what Stephen King calls "business English." My students today are the same age Min and Kira were when they created their Lear projects, and while I have no illusions that about marriages germinating among lessons on parts of speech and sentence structure this Wednesday (I'm not teaching Emma, after all), I do hope something of Kira's epiphany persists in every class I teach.
If I do my job right, and I help each kid see something special and good in themselves, others will see it, too.
I said it once*, and I'll say it again:
The students may change, but the waters remain the same. I'm hip-deep in this river, and I'm staying. No matter what the water brings my way, drawn downstream, to drift out of sight.
Monday, July 7, 2014
The gratuitous display, anyway.
The pride is a constant.
I wrote for a long, long time before receiving any money in exchange for my words. I wrote for my high school newspaper, my law school paper, plenty of newsletters, journals, and, of course, for the private pleasure of my own literary navel-gazing. I wrote in exchange for the thrill of the writing itself as well as the miracle of publication. Sometimes I received complimentary copies, now filed away in my "Jess' writing" box in our basement, but more often, I received nothing more than a heartfelt "great job!" note from my mom.
My first paid writing gig was for Michael O. Leavitt, who some of you may remember as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Through an unlikely series of coincidences and a crazy twist of fate, I was invited to help Leavitt write the inaugural speech for his third term as Governor of Utah. We had almost nothing in common - not politics, not religion, not verbal style - but we got along like peas and carrots, and the first time I heard my words emerge from his mouth, I was hooked.
And later, when I got paid? I could hardly believe my good fortune.
I was thirty when I became a paid wordsmith, but my son has me beat, big time. He will receive his first paycheck in exchange for his prose this summer, at the tender age of fifteen.
His review of R.J. Palacio's book Wonder, will appear in the July/August issue of Your Teen magazine (with Michelle Obama on the cover!), and with the generous permission of Susan Borison, founder and editor, I present Ben's half of our adult/teen book review article.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.
Despite the attention to gun violence in recent months, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is markedly lower than it was two decades ago. A new Pew Research Center survey (March 14-17) found that 56% of Americans believe the number of crimes involving a gun is higher than it was 20 years ago; only 12% say it is lower and 26% say it stayed the same. (An additional 6% did not know or did not answer.)
So, takeaway point number one. Chill out, turn off the TV, go back to what you were doing, and remember that the crime rate continues to decline in this country.*
Takeaway point number two: when a teacher notices that something is up with your kid, and gets up her nerve to tell you about it (which is not an easy thing, ask any teacher), LISTEN. Listen with an open mind and know that if she's come to you, she's worried.
That said, PSA over, and here's today's segment on "Navigating the world of troubled children."
Thursday, May 8, 2014
I even got to use one of my new action figures for the piece, and you can read it here.