Hazy view from Government Peak
Poems, Songs, Stories

“Alaska,” a parody

I’m not trying to be the next Weird Al, but wouldn’t it be hilarious if he picked up on this post? A girl can dream, I guess.

This post is not about the Maggie Rogers song, but (what I think) is a humorous albeit kind of tragic and almost satirical cover of perhaps the most meme-able song on the Internet (though if you’ve been Rickrolled one too many times, you may disagree).

In light of  wildfires around the state and the longest streak of 80+°F days Alaska has had in quite a while, I give to you, “Alaska,” a parody of “Africa” by Toto, along with “Scabies” — a parody of “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, co-written by some of my fellow missionaries when we thought our teammates had contracted a skin disease — and “(But Really, This is) What Hurts the Most,” a parody of “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts (which I wrote as a freshman on the college ski team, and recently rediscovered.)

Alaska

I see the smoke coming in tonight
But she sees rising flames across the burning Sterling Highway
She’s moving out, 12:30 drive
The dusty pilot cars will slowly guide her towards salvation
I stopped an old man at Fred’s* today
Hoping to find some news about Swan Lake or up in Shovel Creek
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry girl, it’s coming now for you!”

It doesn’t take a lot to drag me to the pool
There’s a lot of harm that eighty-five degrees can do
I miss the rains in Alaska
This is the worst heat wave I think we’ve ever had!

My neighbors cry out in the night
As the 4th approaches, waiting for the burn ban lift from Forestry†
I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as the sun rises smoky red above Mount McKinley‡
I doubt they’ll follow the rules this time, cashing out for fireworks and fun…

It doesn’t take a lot to drag me to the pool
There’s a lot of harm that eighty-five degrees can do
I miss the rains in Alaska
This is the worst heat wave I think we’ve ever had!

[Interlude]

“Hurry girl, it’s coming now for you!”

It doesn’t take a lot to drag me to the pool
There’s a lot of harm that eighty-five degrees can do
I miss the rains in Alaska
I miss the rains in Alaska (I miss the rain!)
I miss the rains in Alaska (I miss the rain!)
I miss the rains in Alaska
I miss the rains in Alaska (ah, this is the worst!)
This is the worst heat wave I think we’ve ever had (ooh, ooh)

*Fred Meyer, which is probably the most popular Alaska grocery store between the Valley and the Kenai Peninsula
The Alaska Department of Forestry, which effects burn bans that currently include fireworks 
It’s Denali now, I know — but that doesn’t flow like Serengeti

Scabies

co-written by Maddy Bradley, Karen Oglesby & Maria Streed

Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
I’m begging of you please stay off my hand
Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
Please don’t burrow just because you can

Your itching is beyond compare
With flaming bumps that raise your hair
With burning skin and nests of eggs unseen

You’re a parasite that brings a sting
Your existence makes me go insane
And I cannot complete with you scabies

Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
I’m begging of you please stay off my hand
Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
Please don’t burrow just because you can

The cream* surrounds me in my sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when I hear your name, scabies

And I can’t easily understand
That just because I shook a hand
That I can’t sit beside my friends, scabies

Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
I’m begging of you please stay off my hand
Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
Please don’t burrow just because you can

You could have your choice of hosts
But I’m the one you love the most
I’m the only one for you, scabies

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, scabies

Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
I’m begging of you please stay off my hand
Scabies, scabies, scabies, scabies
Please don’t burrow just because you can

*To cure scabies, you have to put a special cream all over your body (early) and leave it on for about eight hours, or overnight.

(But Really, This is) What Hurts the Most

I can take the Butte* on a rainy, muddy day
That don’t bother me
I can take a few tears in my shorts when I go out and play

I’m not afraid to fly every once in a while through the snow;
Goin’ down on my skis still excites me
There are days every now and again I think I’m gonna die
But that’s not what gets me

What hurts the most
Was being so close
to the ground with my face
enduring a major scrape

And always knowin’
I’m losing skin
And not learnin’ that real skiing
Is the only kind I should be doing

It’s hard to deal with the pain of losin’ blood every time I hit the pavement
But I keep doin’ it
It’s hard to force myself to keep going, but not with Meredith
and Danielle, Annika, Marian, Olivia, Cassie B,
and anyone on the ski team
at G-A-C,† go Gusties! Let’s go eat pancakes with chocolate chips
And go again next weekend!

What hurts the most
Is being so close
to the ground with my face,
enduring a major scrape

But it’s all good
Cuz I’ve got food
In my stomach and so far
looks like I’ll have some sweet scars!

But really,

What hurts the most
was showering afterward
And havin’ to scrub that scrape
Just to wash the dirt away

And not knowin’
when this song will end
cuz it’s getting kind of old
and the story’s done been told….

This is really getting kind of old,
And this story’s done been told!

*The Butte is a popular hiking hill, which real Alaskans refuse to call a mountain — good for Cheechakos though.
Gustavus Adolphus College, where I went to school

Lake Kivu sunset
Updates

A Brief but Necessary Update

Warning: This post may be insufficient for some readers.

Rwanda hills
Women on the road into western Rwanda

I’ve been back from Rwanda for a week now and “real life” is starting to feel normal again. However, I’m still, tragically, at a loss for words when it comes to letting my friends and readers know “how it went.” I guess we who go on service trips to places so astronomically different from our home countries expect that either A) people won’t care about or understand the things we cared about or found important, or B) they’ll reject our experiences outright and claim they didn’t happen or that they signified something other — and less — than what they did in our lives.

Clear as mud?

Admittedly, expectation B is probably fairly irrational and maybe a little bit unfair to our friends and family. As a writer though, I wonder if it’s even more difficult to embark and return from such a journey — some people might assume (and I’m fairly certain they do) that 10 days in a tiny African country must yield great creative work, or at least the inspiration for one that you will undoubtedly produce after a few days of “sittin’ time.”

But maybe I put too much pressure on myself.

In any case, life goes on, in many ways for the better. Red Sweater Press is finally getting off the ground, thanks to my angel investor (hi Dad), and soon you will be able to purchase copies of all my books under the imprint. ALSO (*drum roll* please), I will be releasing my latest book of poetry, “Stakes,” this coming week!

excited Minions
Feel free to be THIS excited

Most of these poems were written, once again, during Camp NaNoWriMo (April this time), and however quick a turnaround you may perceive this to be, I have to say — I’m pretty frickin’ proud of these poems.

And, as a matter of fact, there is at least one poem about Rwanda in this collection, which I wrote while reading this book. (If you don’t know about the Rwanda genocide that happened 25 years ago, go educate yo’self.)

Once all the books have been published or re-published and ordered, I will be scheduling signings and readings around town for late July/early August, so stay tuned for that.

Finally, I will also be working on edits for The Blame Game, which I would LOVE to publish next year, but we’ll see. It should be doable given the “extra” time I expect to have this fall (though when is “extra time” even a thing?)…

More on that later.

Ciao!

 

Thoughts

Book buying survey results

The results of my book buying survey (shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) are in, and:

ruce

…people don’t buy poetry.

Book Buying Survey Results

Of the 104 people who have participated in the survey so far (primarily my Facebook friends and friends of friends), 82% said they would buy a work of fiction because they knew and liked the previous work of the author. Seventy-six percent said they would buy a nonfiction book that a friend recommended, and 39% said they would never buy a book of poetry.

I can’t say I’m surprised by these results — as my husband said when I showed him, “you’ve never heard of a rich poet.” But it’s somewhat comforting to know how many people might give a book of poetry a shot if a friend recommended it.

I think this survey also would’ve turned out differently if I had asked on the basis of what a person might read instead of what they might buy — I’ve gotten the impression in my adult life that people would rather read something for free than pay for it (and I get that). The results might also be different if I had been able to cast a wider net in gathering data (even though I made the survey public, my network only reaches so far; if you would like to take the survey, click here).

One reason I created this survey was that the data I wanted didn’t seem to be readily available, but there are some other interesting factoids out there. According to Pew Research Center, 74% of U.S. adults surveyed in 2018 (2,002) said they read a book in the last year, and 24% said they did not read or listen to a single book in that same time frame. I’m not sure if this should be upsetting or not, but it’s curious to me that eBooks and audio books are maybe not the motivator for non-readers that one might expect; so why aren’t people reading? And how many of those people who do read actually buy the book(s)?

It’s also worth noting that, according to an article posted by Publisher’s Weekly in 2014, 65% of all online new-book sales — print and digital — came from Amazon. That seems like a pretty big deal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has increased in the last five years.

That said, the American Booksellers Association also found that retail sales at U.S. bookstores were up in 2018.

So what does this mean for readers, writers, publishers and bookstore owners?

Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below 🙂

Thoughts

So…self publishing

This week, I self-published four books: Songs from the UndergroundEver Unknown, Ever MisunderstoodUneven Lanes; and Wabi-Sabi World: An Artist’s Search.

The first three are available as eBooks on Smashwords, and the last is available on Blurb in softcover and hardback.

But that’s not what this post is about (really).

I hadn’t intended to self publish. I admit to being one of those people who turned up their nose at such an endeavor — not because I knock the process, exactly, but because I’ve seen too many self-published books that weren’t really ready for publication. They needed more editing or a better cover artist or just a lot more time to stew in their juices, as it were, to become the best they could be.

I almost went that route once before, with my first novel. I was riding that NaNoWriMo high of achievement, and I thought I was ready. Halfway through — after I’d spent about $30 and was about to spend $300 more — I realized I was wrong. I wasn’t ready. God Only Knows wasn’t ready. The Blame Game wasn’t ready. And I wasn’t about to “blow my career” on a “bad” first novel.

Now, maybe this is somewhat errant thinking. Maybe you can come back from a poor debut. I don’t know. But you can guess what I think based on the fact that I haven’t actually published a novel yet…

My philosophy on self-published poetry, however, is different. To me, poetry doesn’t need much sitting time. You write it in the moment, and usually it’s done (there’s a famous poet who agrees with me, but I can’t recall who…very inconvenient, I know). This makes the most sense when you’re writing in free verse, I think; for form poetry you might want to do some actual revision, unless you’re super familiar with the form, to the point where it comes naturally. I am not that kind of poet.

That said, Songs from the Underground DOES include some form poetry, since I wrote most of the poems for my undergraduate poetry class (under former Poet Laureate of Minnesota Joyce Sutphen — she’s amazing). I’m proud of those poems, and many of them did see much more editing than I usually engage in — but I still prefer to write poems when inspiration strikes, and leave them preserved.

So it’s not that I care about my poetry less (although for some reason I do feel more pressure to produce a great novel than a perfect book of poetry), but that I’m more confident — or at least comfortable — in letting it simply “be.” I also like to keep covers simple, using my own photography and a simple text overlay. I think that’s all a collection of personal poetry needs.

I harbor similar sentiments about nonfiction writing, possibly because I wrote and photographed so many news stories on such a short timeline that I simply had to write, proofread, publish and move on. Wabi-Sabi, like Songs from the Underground, was composed for a college class, and I’d really been meaning to publish it for years now, so its venture into the world this week doesn’t seem sudden.

I should also note that, technically, I’d already published each of the abovementioned books through Photobook America — I just only printed one copy, and didn’t have an ISBN for any of them. So I guess you could call that a kind of revision.

In any case, I can now call myself a published author in a way that people can see and (hopefully) understand. And that doesn’t suck 🙂

***

What do you think? To self publish, or not to self publish? What are your conditions?

Teacher Notebook
Thoughts

A Day in the Life

Yesterday, I set my alarm for 5:20 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than usual. A student had made plans to meet with me at 6:50 to do make-up work and discuss his grade. I didn’t actually get out of bed at 5:20, though, and after a shower I considered my options: Make a PB&J and grind coffee, or stop by my favorite morning coffee stand and grab a latte and a breakfast burrito. It was a Friday, at the end of a long but busy week, so I chose the latter.

I left the house about 6:20. The breakfast stop added on about six extra minutes to my daily commute, and I walked through the doors of my school at 6:52. My student was waiting for me.

He followed me up the stairs to my classroom, and as we set our belongings down at our respective desks, I suggested that he check his portfolio for study materials for a missing quiz. We spent the next 20-25 minutes sorting through what he was missing, with him turning in and completing some assignments and me inputting grades for his late work.

He thanked me and I thanked him for coming in to get caught up, and he left. It was about 7:20 a.m.

I spent the next 10 minutes setting up my computer, ActivPanel with daily agenda, and classroom to be ready for students when the first bell rang at 7:30.

As usual, it felt like I barely made it.

Class starts at 7:45 but students are released from the lobby, cafeteria and library to go to their lockers at 7:30. I usually have one or two students in my room by 7:32, so it’s anybody’s guess how those 13 minutes will go.

You can’t have early students start on bell work that only lasts 5 or 10 minutes, because then they’ll be finished by the time morning announcements start and having nothing to do but let their adolescent brains tell them to talk to their neighbor (or poke him, or chase him around the room). Plus, those who arrive at the last minute will need all those 5-10 minutes I give them at the start of class to settle themselves and finish the work.

But you can’t tell students to leave when they enter your room 10-15 minutes early, because other staff members are pushing students out of the hallways because they’re already overcrowded. However, we’re all supposed to be in the hallways monitoring and greeting students in those 15 minutes, while simultaneously supervising the students in our classrooms who have nothing to do yet, and I promise you — no matter how close you stand to the doorway of your classroom, you cannot keep eyes on both areas at once.

So when a sixth-grader yells the F-word in the hallway, you walk up and remind them of the expectations, and then you will probably have to enter your classroom to remind another two sixth-graders they are not allowed to chase each other around the room (this happened at least twice in the last two weeks).

Anyway.

Period 1 (7:45-8:37)

After morning announcements, there are a few more minutes of silent reading while students are doing bell work and I am taking attendance. The bookshelf managers collect borrowed books, then it’s time for three “good things.” After that, we review the “Wordles” students made the day before, discussing some of the words they chose and why those words might describe the author of our class text (Zlata’s Diary). With not enough time to pass out books and get settled reading, we spend the last few minutes playing silent ball, and they launch with “Give the world a reason to dance!” (a quote from a Kid President video).

After a quick clean up and shuffling of papers, I go to my post at the top of the stairs to monitor students over the passing period and direct them back to the office to get a tardy slip if they haven’t made it to class in five minutes.

Period 2 (8:42-9:30)

On my prep, I checked my email and spent the rest of the time inputting scores for assignments (bell work) my T.A. had graded last period, and grading late work. The entire period. I don’t think I even went to the bathroom, but I did shovel in the breakfast burrito I bought that morning, at my desk.

Period 3 (9:35-10:23) & Period 4 (10:28-11:16)

A somewhat painful blur (or two). These two (seventh-grade) classes have been acting up lately, so it was an effort, to say the least, to get through 10 minutes of silent reading, and three good things, and to review the answers to the Ch. 3 questions for Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Young Readers Edition) without interruption.

In other words, I was constantly circulating to correct behavior and answer questions.

I then gave each class the last 10-15 minutes to make up missing work (in our class or other classes) instead of reading from the book. They needed it — the end of the quarter is next week — but maybe half to two-thirds of each class used the time wisely.

Lunch (11:16-10:46)

Finally some breathing room (except when I was eating, because obviously taking a deep breath with food in your mouth is not a good idea). I had a bagel I snagged before I left the house with cream cheese I left in the office fridge I share with another teacher. And an orange. I ate in my office with a colleague (who usually lunches with my neighbor, who had a sub that day), talking some personal, non-school stuff (like injuries and summer plans), but mostly students we’re trying to reach and the proposed budget cuts and the state of education in Alaska.

We think about these things every day, and the bell announcing the arrival of students almost always comes too soon.

Period 5 (11:51-12:39) & Period 6 (12:44-1:32)

Fifth and sixth periods flew by, too, as we again reviewed and discussed student Wordles. Fifth period is my largest at 31, and sixth period is my smallest at 22, so the smaller class usually finishes early. They got to play silent ball for the last four minutes.

Period 7 – Japanese Enrichment (1:37-2:15)

A lot of students were missing that day (some of whom I had seen earlier, but had either gone home early or been sent to the Student Responsibility Classroom for behavior issues) but I had them all take a hiragana practice test and pretty much all of them failed. Even the five returning students from Quarter 2. So, I had them fill in all their missing answers and record some extra-credit vocabulary and told them they had to get at least 10 characters correct next week to pass the test (at a 60%). Then I collected the tests and had them stack chairs and launch with おつかれさまでした (o-tsu-ka-re-sa-ma-desh-ta) when the bell rang at 2:15, the end of the day.

Sort of.

After shuffling some papers and picking up trash, I poked my head in the hallway about 2:18 to “monitor,” but students were clearing out quickly and I was feeling the pull of work piling up. So after about 10 seconds, I went back to my desk, graded (checked) the hiragana practice tests and sent a weekly update email to a parent who had requested it at conferences a couple weeks ago. Then I realized I had forgotten to take this mandatory online training about phishing scams and the like. I think it was supposed to take half an hour but may have taken longer since I was grading and sorting and picking up around the room as I was listening. I spent the rest of my time at school grading late work (not the 42 book reports I’m trying to get graded this weekend) and a tiny bit of time organizing.

Oh, and troubleshooting with the student whose parent I had just emailed, because he still couldn’t figure out how to submit his book report online, the way I had described in class.

I left my room at 4:55 p.m.and went straight to my parents’ for dinner and to decompress (my husband was still at work and I wasn’t ready to go home to an empty house; also, I had planned to go to the gym, but I was hungry and didn’t feel like sweating in another crowded place).

A lot of our conversation, once again, revolved around school and students (my mom’s a recently retired teacher, so that’s part of it). I spent about 10 minutes writing out the names of all my students from memory (I remembered 155 out of 158, I think), then realized it was after 9 p.m. and probably time to go home.

I arrived around 9:30, I think, and watched an episode of “The Umbrella Academy” with my husband. Then we went to bed, around 11 p.m., after a little discussion of our respective days and some current events.

That was my Friday. Now to tackle the piles of laundry and dishes that have accumulated around the house over the last week or two…

Oh yeah. And grade more book reports. And worry about my students more. And not think about all the things I have to accomplish over spring break, instead of visiting my sister and her new baby.

This is the life of a first-year teacher.