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.

 

Thoughts

Let’s talk about that earthquake

By now you’ve probably heard the basics:

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on Friday, November 30th, 2018, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Southcentral Alaska. No deaths, no serious injuries, not much structural damage, but significant road damage.

Of course, there’s always more to the story.

This post’s featured photo, from the Associated Press, was taken 2.1 miles (as the crow flies) from my house, which was undamaged — practically untouched. The location of the road damage is 20 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, which lies on the edge of Cook Inlet.

Google earth map
A map I made of places relevant to the earthquake, and where I was at the time.

In the moments before the quake struck, I was at Colony Middle School, 30 miles away, supervising 24 sixth-graders as they silently worked on Chromebooks at their desks. Some were taking quizzes, others were working on book reports, a few were starting to type up their personal narratives.

Then the room began to shake.

Loudly but calmly, I said, “Alright, everybody under the desks!” Books began to fall off or out of desks, so we knew it was serious. Then the lights started to flicker, and ceiling tiles began to fall, and the whimpering and yelling and crying began.

I yelled at everyone, “QUIET!” so they could hear me when I started giving further instructions, as soon as the quake ended. Only it wasn’t ending. In fact, the building was roaring.

The lights went out, dust filled the air and several of us began to cough. At least two students said “I think I’m going to puke,” to which I responded, “That’s OK, you can puke if you need to.” Then it was, “it’s OK guys, it’s gonna be OK. Breathe. Stay calm. Keep breathing, guys.”

The shaking continued, but it was growing quieter. When the movement appeared to have ceased, I told the kids to stay quiet and stay put, and stood up. What I saw was unreal. Not an inch of floor space not covered by a desk or a ceiling tile or other fallen debris. Dust particles still filled the air and lights hung down a couple feet, ripped from the grid.

(Since we were on the second floor, in a room with South-facing windows, it wasn’t quite pitch black — the sun hadn’t risen, but had just started to show a glow over the mountains. I think someone’s phone light had clicked on, too, so there was just enough light for me to see the degree of destruction.)

“Is anyone hurt?” I asked. Not a sound. “Say something if you’re hurt.” Nothing. (I was fairly certain no one could have been seriously injured by anything in the room, so I was sure students would be able to verbally respond if they had been hurt at all.) I said, “OK, stay where you are, I’m going around to check things out.” I took big, slow steps over the tiles and books and chairs in my path and made my way to the door. The chatter began again, starting with “Can we call our parents?” and I shushed them, harshly.

“You guys know that you’re not supposed to have phones in class, but yes, if you have them you can call your parents. I’m going to see if there’s anyone in the hallway telling us what to do,” I said, and opened the door.

Other students across the hall were standing in a doorway already, and when I looked around the light of a cell phone shone in my face. It was the school nurse, or the health teacher — both came by, I don’t remember who said what, when — who said students would be getting their jackets and preparing to go outside.

“Go to their lockers?” I asked. Yes, was the response.

Back in the room, I told the students to get up carefully. Some expressed their surprise in a  “whoa, cool!” kind of way, but most were silent. I remember I told them to close the laptops and go get their coats from their lockers, then head to our fire drill location at the front of the school.

As they funneled out, I grabbed the emergency backpack and went back to my desk for my roster, asking the paraprofessional in the room to grab our red-green safety sign with my name on it. I went into my office to grab my coat with my phone and car keys in the pockets, and waited in the classroom doorway, with the three or so students who didn’t want to go to their locker, or were trying to ask me something. I’m not sure, because the shaking began again.

“DOORWAYS AND DESKS! IN DOORWAYS OR UNDER DESKS!” I shouted as a few students came running back from the hallway. Some went in my office, some stayed with me. When the shaking stopped, “No more lockers!” I yelled, less dire but still firm. “Everybody out!”

Students were quiet and quick. Even in the moment I was a little proud, seeing my students follow directions so well. One girl I had seen before but didn’t have in class was standing on the stairwell with her phone out, facing the wrong way. “Let’s go,” I said firmly, but she ignored me. “Now,” I said as I walked past, and I was afraid she wouldn’t come, but another teacher — her teacher, I assume — finally urged her on.

At the bottom of the stairs, students started to go different directions, so I yelled, “Out front! Buxbaum’s class, out front!”

Another tremor and we hurried faster, out into the freezing dawn.

The snow in our usual spot was about an inch deep, so I encouraged students to stand on the cleared part of the sidewalk, perpendicular to our usual line. One crying student said she was cold, so I handed her my coat and started to take attendance. I had lost track of the aide who had been in my class (and I later found out she had not been able to grab the safety sign). Several students from my class were missing, but most had been spotted going outside in the other direction, toward the bus lot, the students said. I believed them, but I told them I couldn’t count them “here” unless I saw them in front of me with my own eyes.

I can still see the tear-stained faces of so many students in my mind so clearly, and probably will for a long time. One girl asked, “Should we have our parents take us home?”

I looked her in the eye and asked, “Do you wanna go home?”

“Kinda,” she said.

“Then you should go home.”

Soon, parents started arriving, and I told my class that if they wanted to leave, they had to tell me who they were going with and bring that person to me, or bring me to that person, so I could verify the identity of the adult later if necessary. If a student wanted to go with a friend’s parent, I said they had to call and let me know who said it was OK, and that both parents had agreed to the pick up.

I had not been told to do this, I just did it. I wanted the students to do what helped them feel the most safe, but of course I wasn’t about to let them wander off with someone without showing me that person and telling me who they were.

Things are a little less clear after that, I imagine, because the danger had begun to seem less immediate, and a twisted sense of normalcy began to set in. We were able to locate my missing students, get a blanket out of my car for kids in t-shirts, and send some texts and phone calls, until the service went out again.

After about half an hour outside, I think, we were cleared to go back in the building, down to the gym. The lights were still out, and would be for a long time, but with the help of a few hundred cell phone lights (maybe changing my in-class cell phone policy now), we were able to safely make our way down the stairs and get somewhat organized. Sixth graders were to be in one area, seventh in another, and eighth in another. Some siblings of course ignored this rule, but once they found their brother, sister, cousin or whatever, we convinced them to go back to their respective areas.

gym floor
Broken ceiling tiles became survival souvenirs for students, some of whom used pieces of the chalky debris to make their mark on the gym floor.

I’d say I remember probably five or so aftershocks over the next 3 hours, and each time set a new surge of fear (and waves of nausea) into those of us left. The lights came back on around 10:30 I believe, and as the adrenaline ebbed away, I realized I had not eaten breakfast, or consumed anything that morning, except for most of a 12-oz. vanilla latte (which had  miraculously survived the quake, but was kicked over outside when I was taking attendance. Figures). I had planned to remedy that during my prep, second period…

One of our generous staff members was handing out candy though, which I gratefully accepted.

I finally left the gym after all of my first-hour students and most of the students from my other classes had been picked up, and was told to ask our assistant principal for permission to go upstairs and retrieve my purse. Unfortunately, he was preoccupied, listening to a screaming parent, who I felt for, but couldn’t help. It was out of my hands, so I walked away. An admin-in-training gave me the go-ahead to enter what might aptly be called the warzone.

I walked up the stairs quickly, but slowly down the hallway, where the damage was minimal but visible. It’s hard to describe what the next moments were like, but I’ll do my best.

Entering my classroom in the daylight, my heart sank. I couldn’t understand it then, but I guess seeing the damage was like seeing my students’ fear manifest in the physical. It was devastating.

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As I quickly snapped photos of what really has become a second home, it occurred to me that I was in mourning. I have often felt, in the last few years of my life, that it is not the tragedy itself that saddens us, but the reminder of the feelings we had in the moment that weigh us down. Maybe it’s selfish. Maybe it’s inevitable. Life goes on.

In the 36 hours after the initial quake, Alaska experienced 162 aftershocks of magnitude 3 or above, including one of 5.7-magnitude 5 minutes after the big event. Not everyone felt all of them, of course, but the ones I did experience gave me a little insight into how PTSD works. Even being back with my husband and in-laws, and later my parents, didn’t quite calm the nerves that stood on end every time the house trembled.

But it could’ve been so much worse.

The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake (yes, this one was on a Friday as well) registered at 9.2 on the moment* scale, which I recently learned is logarithmic, thereby indicating a 100-fold difference between what we experienced on Nov. 30 and what happened 54 years ago. During my relatively brief but prolific stint as a reporter, I interviewed at least two people who recounted that moment in history: former Frontiersman reporter Debra McGhan, and Willow resident and World War II veteran Joe Rayfield. I couldn’t understand then, and I barely do now, but I’m grateful, beyond grateful, that I haven’t had to live through a disaster like that. According to Anchorage Daily News, 139 people died that day. This week? Not a one.

We can’t predict what Mother Nature will throw at us (although Alaska’s meme lords may illustrate imagined foreshadowing). What we can do is learn from our mistakes, appreciate the policies in place that protect us, and move on.

That said, I saw a tweet or something somewhere that says, “Don’t talk to me like I’m the same person I was before the earthquake,” and I want to echo that. We are not the same.

We are better.

 

*Edit: As I understand it, the Richter scale is now obsolete. The magnitudes of the 1964 earthquake and the 2018 event were measured on the moment scale. For more information about how the measurements work, click here.

Thoughts

Well it is NaNoWriMo, after all…

You could say I’m inspired, at the moment, which is why I’m breaking my blogger silence before anything “big” has happened.

I’m talking about publishing, of course.

I’m still working on beginning that journey, doing more than dipping my toe in that vast ocean of chance. But I write to whoever is out there now to say yes, it is possible, yes, you can do that “both,” and so will I — a day is coming when we will do more than just write, and talk about writing. We will put our money where our mouths are, and get our work out to the audience it deserves.

In the meantime, we let ourselves be inspired to keep going with what we’ve got.

I recently re-watched the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Harry Potter movies, after seeing “The Crimes of Grindlewald” in theaters last weekend. Whatever the Potterheads have to say about any of the films in the franchise, these few reminded me what it means to take risks with what you have and turn the previously unknown or unexplored into something unexpected and amazing. We have more to work with than we think, and when we realize that, we have all the motivation we need to keep putting pen to paper, as it were.

This is National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve written half my goal of 8,000 words…which was previously 10,000 words, and 11,000 before that, and 20,000 before that.

badge

Shameful, I know, right?

Wrong. It is OK to adjust. Have I written less than 20 words in a single day, some days this month? Yes. But that’s more than I was writing every day before November 1st, and it’s more than I’ll write on other days this year. I know. The point is, I’ve contributed something to at least one of my novels every day for 22 days in a row. And that is significant.

So find your significance. Every day. Write when inspiration hits. Don’t wait. Watch, listen to, and read what you love — whether that’s the Harry Potter series or the score to Pirates of the Caribbean or classic literature that’s always been on your “To Be Read” list but never made it into your hands, soak it up. Remember why you started.

And keep. Going.