“Don’t Break the Chain”

A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to this blog post about writing: https://www.writersstore.com/dont-break-the-chain-jerry-seinfeld/

In a nutshell the author states that Jerry Seinfeld’s advice for writing is to do it every day, to not break the chain. They even include a downloadable calendar for writing big X’s on. The thought of missing a day and breaking your chain of X’s is good motivation to do it.

I’ve wondered a little about this type of idea. I’ve tried something similar with exercising. I’d reward myself with stickers on days I worked out. Even the Wii Fit gets in on this idea by having you “stamp” a calendar each day you hit your workout goals. And it’s been surprisingly successful…for a time. Eventually I didn’t really mind if a day here and there were missing stickers or stamps. But I’ve never been dedicated to working out. I just don’t enjoy it and think about all the other stuff I could be doing instead of push ups.

Like writing! Writing, for me, is something I feel passionately about. I enjoy it and I think I’m pretty good at it, so I like to do it. I decided to give this method a try. My writing has greatly decreased since 2015, when I started my master’s program (and by decreased I mean its become non-existent). But I’ve graduated now and am hoping to jump back in to writing more frequently.

This seemed like the perfect way to jump start that part my life again. I’ve been doing “Don’t Break the Chain” for a few weeks now. I’ve missed a couple days here and there, but I went on a great run last week. My wall calendar is filling up with red X’s and it is satisfying to see. Here’s the thing though, I’m not really writing…anything.

I don’t have a story I’m working on. There’s no huge backlog of blog posts itching to be edited and posted. There’s no book of poetry or even one poem or one completed short story. What I’ve got is a few private journal entries (I give myself a break on weekends and count journaling as my writing for the day) and a million story starts. A couple of those story starts seemed promising until I actually started writing. Now they seem forced and I have no ideas for moving the plot or characters forward.

The truth is, it seems that my creativity has been sapped away. How, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps the rigors of school have left my brain lazy and hoping for a break. Or maybe I just don’t have any good ideas. Whatever the case may be, I don’t have a story I’m working on so I’m wondering what the point of all this writing is. I make myself do it everyday, but to what end? Perhaps there’s a curve where I have to get my head out of the academic game and back into the creative writing vibe. It’s discouraging and encouraging at the same time. On the one hand I’m glad to be writing again, on the other most of what gets put down won’t be anything more than the start of a story.

But maybe that’s ok. Not every story is meant to be told right? Maybe these characters that appear in a single scene are a part of something larger that will eventually come together and create a great story. Who knows? At this point though I guess I’ll just keep pressing on, writing the starts of stories that go nowhere and putting red X’s on my calendar.

Advertisements

The Stigma of the Online Student

This year I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. I’ve been participating in the program for three years and while overall it’s been a great experience, there is one thing that still rankles me to this day.

I’ll start by telling you about orientation. The event was required. It did not matter if you were an online student living across the country or residential student local to the Seattle area; if you were in the program you had to attend orientation in person in Seattle. And so we flocked to campus brought together by our love of books, libraries and all things of the like nature. When we arrived we were given a name tag to wear. It had our name, program, and whether we were an online student or a residential student. I suppose by adding the type of student we were was a way of helping us find and connect with those we’d likely be in classes with, but it also made things a bit more…segregated.

You see, even in today’s internet savvy culture, there is still a huge stigma attached to being an online student. Being an online student (sort of like participating in online dating) carries certain connotations with it, and they are not positive. Many of the residential students viewed us online students as lesser.

Before you jump down my throat, I know that not everyone thinks this. If you didn’t or don’t good for you! But simply because you don’t think that way doesn’t mean that no one does. I’ll share a couple of examples.

One situation happened at the aforementioned orientation. I was standing around at an event trying desperately to not be super awkward. No one I knew had arrived yet, so I was trying to look approachable and friendly. A couple of women approached me and struck up a conversation. We chatted for a little bit before they asked my name and what program I was in. I glanced down at my name tag and saw it had spun around so my name and information was hidden. Chuckling, I flipped it around and introduced myself. The two women read my name and their eyebrows went up, one smirked.

“Oh, you’re an online student,” the smirker said. I nodded and began babbling about being a single mother, not having the money for childcare while I was doing classes at all hours and the convenience of being able to tackle the weekly work on my own timeline. They nodded, then excused themselves and walked a few feet away from me and chatted between the two of them. For the rest of the event I noticed how the residential students and the online students congregated separately.

I have a second situation as well. During my last year I was able to take one residential class. I was excited because the professor was one I’d been wanting to take a class from since the start of my program and it looked like it was going to be a really interesting course. Another of my online classmates was able to take the class as well.  We were about 4 weeks into the quarter when the discussion somehow turned to online classes. One of our fellow classmates, a residential student, questioned the validity of online programs, including UW’s! The professor did defend the program and talk about how comparatively UW has one of the best online programs out there. My friend also defended the online program, and even posited that it might be considered more difficult since you really only have yourself to be accountable to. The class was one of those 4 hour jobs, so at the break my fellow online student and myself ranted in the hallway about this stigma surrounding online education. The woman who said insulting things about the online program sent an email to my friend that evening apologizing, which was considerate.

Now you may be thinking I’m being overly sensitive. But I don’t think so. There is no reason for the scoffing, smirking reaction I received at orientation and the student in our class was talking about a program she didn’t know anything about. What is most ridiculous about these specific situations is the fact that no matter what program you’re in you have to take the same classes, which contain the same material and sometimes are even taught by the same professors. The only difference between the classes is the medium in which it’s delivered. At the end of the day we’ll both have a degree that says Master of Library and Information Science from UW. So why the snobbery? Why this stigma attached to being an online student?

I think this mostly stems from the years when “scammy” correspondence courses were prevalent and online “universities” were just getting started. These things were not exactly reputable institutions. Indeed when I was looking at library school programs I originally shied away from online programs thinking of them as not as good as a “real” university. If I’m being honest even when I got accepted at UW, for a split second I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get accepted to the residential program. And I have seen my online classmates toss around the words “correspondence course” as an insult to the classes they dislike the most.

But let’s think about a few things. Firstly, back in the day (and maybe even now, I don’t actually know) correspondence courses were probably the only way some groups of people could become educated. I’m thinking especially about women here. Let’s be real and recognize that since the dawn of humans scams have existed. I’m sure there was some first human out there tricking another first human out of their hard earned food, or clothing, or shelter. Scams are a part of life as a human person so we need to get used to it and not think of it as some sort of new invention. There will always be scams, but that should not discredit an entire way of learning. Some correspondence courses were garbage, designed to trick the student out of their money with nothing or very little to show. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

Likewise, there are some online courses out there that are scams as well. You won’t learn anything and you’ll waste your precious time and money if you participate in them. But UW isn’t a scam university. Neither are the other top five universities that offer ALA accredited educations, so assuming their online programs are less than or a scam is simply ignorant. A residential student is not inherently better or worse than an online student and visa versa. We’re all in the same boat here. Instead of trying to push each other out without life vests why not ignore stereotypical stigmas that are patently untrue and support each other?

 

Election Reflection 2016

Last night, when I turned off my bedside lamp, Trump was ahead of Clinton. I couldn’t watch anymore. I went to bed hoping for the best but expecting the worst. When I woke up this morning I discovered that what I dreaded had come to be.

I was devastated. I was sad, angry, shocked and frustrated. What will America become under this president? What has America been all these years without my noticing? What will happen?

Somehow I managed to roll out of bed and get the day started. Jack and I had breakfast and talked about the election. I told him not to be scared, that this was merely a shadow going over us for a time, it would end, I loved him and would protect him with my life. He told me not to be sad, because at least there’s still bananas (7-year-old logic). I told him I didn’t know what we were going to do. He mentioned Canada. I shrugged, “Maybe.”

If we’re friends you’ve probably heard me say on occasion that I would move to Canada if Trump won the election. So now Trump has won and the words of The Clash have been running through my head all day; “Should I stay or should I go now?”

I was leaning heavily towards go. As a middle class, white woman currently living in America I recognize that that statement comes from a place of privilege. Those most affected by a Trump presidency, as a friend pointed out to me, aren’t able to leave. A Trump presidency frightens me. So my statement of intent to leave not only comes from a place a privilege, it comes from a place of fear.

Leaving seemed the best thing for me to do. “Get out while you still can!” my panicking, shocked brain yelled at me. But then I went on Facebook. Facebook has not been a comfort lately (or ever really). So, I can’t pinpoint exactly why I thought checking it would be a good idea. In fact, I made a vow to myself not to check it for weeks. But my will power check failed and on I went.

The notifications were high so I clicked there first and saw one of my cohorts had posted an article on our UW page, so I clicked on it and read. I felt a little fire start to glimmer somewhere inside me. There was still plenty of bus ride left after I finished the article so the Newsfeed was next. Person after person were posting their reactions to the results. There was so much talk of fighting for good, standing up for what’s right and not leaving anyone behind. The fire in me started to spark a bit more.

As soon as I came home I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. It was beautiful and eloquent. It made me realize, I have been silent. I have not fought for what I believe in, I have not stood up and I am ashamed.

So as cool as “Reflections of a Sopping Wet Expat” sounds for a blog name, I am not leaving. What’s more, I won’t be silent anymore. I will fight for what I believe is right. When people tell me to sit down, shut up and don’t rock the boat, I’m gonna tip the fucking thing over. Because equality matters, women matter, immigrants and refugees matter, families and children matter and furthermore I matter. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be awkward. Mostly because I have been silent for so long, letting others do the hard work. That’s not enough anymore.

The next four years could be a brutal, awful, hellish experience. But I’ll be shouting the whole way. It’s time for me to stand up and fight. So, that’s what I’ll do.

A Letter to my Kindergartner

9/17/2015

Dear Jack,

I didn’t expect that I would write you a letter on your first day of Kindergarten. I also did not expect to be so emotional on your first day. I did not burst into tears, but I did feel a welling up in my heart as I watched you walk with guarded confidence away from me and into your school. You did not freak out, you did not cry, you did not cling to me. I did not want you to do those things and I’m glad you didn’t, but I suddenly felt so…un-needed is not the right word, but the closest thing I could think of.

I walked in after your class and watched quietly as you took off your backpack, sweatshirt and hung them in your locker. I couldn’t help myself, I hopped forward and said “Let me help you.” I got out the markers, box of tissues and Ziploc bags we were asked to bring. I piled them carefully in your arms and told you to give them to the teacher. I stood back and watched as the precarious pile fell to the floor. I held back the urge to leap forward and help you again. You leaned down and piled the fallen items again. No frustration, no tears, no need for my help. You handed the items to your teacher and gave her your name, loud enough for her to hear, not shy. I felt my eyes sting and my heart clench and I was astounded.

You are a little boy. A little boy who can walk into your school and find your locker without my help. You are growing so fast.

You were a baby yesterday.

From the moment you were born you’ve been growing so fast. The newborn months gone in a flash. The toddler in you is gone, when? When did it slip away? You are growing up and away from me. And this is the first step. The first step away from me, and again my eyes are stinging and my heart is clenching.

I love you little bug.

Love,

Mama

Book Review: Tear Soup

Disclaimer: Every person is different in what they find to be helpful, spiritual, humorous and comforting, which is why I include a section for general thoughts to clarify exactly what I liked and disliked about the book. This is simply meant to be a guide in helping you find the book that best suits your individual needs as a newly widowed person. I wish you peace on this difficult journey.

Title: Tear Soup

Author(s): Pat Schwiebert & Chuck DeKlyen

Publishing Info: Grief Watch, Portland Oregon 1999

Helpful Meter 1-5 (1 being not at all helpful, 5 being very helpful) 4

Spiritual Meter 1-5 (1 being not spiritual, 5 being very spiritual) 3

Humor Meter 1-5 (1 being not humorous at all, 5 being very humorous) 1

Comfort Meter 1-5 (1 being not comforting, 5 being very comforting) 5

Staci’s Recommendation (1 being pass on this, 5 being read this today) 4

General thoughts and feelings on the book: I received a couple copies of this book when my husband died. This along with one other book (which is due for review next) helped me the most. Tear Soup is great for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or doesn’t like to read. It is short and in picture book format. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s just for kids. It’s great for kids, but also covers a lot of general grief and healing for adults too. There’s a lot of emphasis on each person’s grief being different, and what you might encounter along that journey. There’s also great resources listed in the back and bullet point advice for dealing with different situations. This would be a great book to gift to someone who’s just experienced a loss (after giving it a read yourself). It scored a 3 on the spiritual meter because there was a couple pages on dealing with your faith, which I’m finding most grief books include. It’s not preachy or pushing towards faith either way. The metaphor of making “tear soup” as the grief journey is great and easy to understand. I highly recommend this book.

Quietly Creeping

So I managed to make my deadline. My goal was to have this little book of short creepy stories published by September 30th. September 30th is when school starts for me and I knew if I didn’t have it published by then it would fall by the wayside and not get done until I had completed my Master’s program.

I’m proud say it’s done. It’s published. It’s ready and waiting to creep you out! You can buy it here.

Right now it’s just an ebook but I’m looking into making physical copies available as well.

The whole reason this book came about was because of my late husband Jordan. He was a writing enthusiast, but as far as I know, was never able to finish a story. While going through his things I found a metric ton of his writing, which included but was not limited to, poems, songs and the beginning of intricate, winding novels. I think if he’d had the discipline to sit down and write one it would have been picked up quickly and sold like gangbusters. This is not to say he wasn’t a disciplined person. He wanted to write a novel, it just wasn’t a huge priority. He was a talented man and he spread that talent over many mediums. He sometimes referred to himself as a Jack of all trades but a master of none.

One day I was reading through his many written words and I came across three stories that were similar in nature. They were dark, creepy and examined the differences between reality and fantasy. I remembered him talking about these stories. While I remembered the general gist of the stories I, of course, could not remember all their intricate details. I re-read the writing he had. I pulled them out and put them all together in a binder. I got out a notebook, highlighter and post-its and took on the task of combining and adding to the stories.

I anticipated writing a long mystery novel. What I came up with was another short story. At first I was annoyed. I already had a number of short stories I didn’t know what to do with. As I glanced over my folder of short stories I decided to re-read some of them. I realized they all shared a common theme, fear.

But not in the way you would expect. It was something more subtle. The White Room was written as I struggled with my beliefs. The Child and his Beast explores growing up and loosing something in the process. Oliver Waits for Olivia examines relationships and what might happen if what you thought was real was not. The Roommate delves into being alone and going crazy. Wake Up, 
Travis, which is the story that was born of Jordan’s writing is sort of the odd ball out. Although it does examine some fears, like not having control of your life and not being able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, it does not directly reflect a fear I’ve had to face. But I still put it in because I realized something else as I re-read these stories. All of these stories were written right before or after Jordan entered my life. I decided right then to edit and compile them into a book of short stories.

I knew I could not in good conscience publish this book under my own name. Jordan’s influence was in the very souls of these stories, so I figured a nom de plum was in order. The nom de plume would be a combination of my name and Jordan’s to honor his role in  each of the stories. I know Jordan would love these stories because he had read all but two of them and had told me he loved them.

I hope he’s proud of what I’ve put together and thrilled that one of his stories has been published, even if it’s in a slightly different form than he expected.

Book Review: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

Disclaimer: Every person is different in what they find to be helpful, spiritual, humorous and comforting, which is why I include a section for general thoughts to clarify exactly what I liked and disliked about the book. This is simply meant to be a guide in helping you find the book that best suits your individual needs as a newly widowed person. I wish you peace on this difficult journey.

Title: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

Author(s): Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, PhD

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville IL 2000

Helpful Meter 1-5 (1 being not at all helpful, 5 being very helpful) 5

Spiritual Meter 1-5 (1 being not spiritual, 5 being very spiritual) 4

Humor Meter 1-5 (1 being not humorous at all, 5 being very humorous) 1

Comfort Meter 1-5 (1 being not comforting, 5 being very comforting) 4

Staci’s Recommendation (1 being pass on this, 5 being read this today) 4

General thoughts and feelings on the book: I was intimidated by this book at first because it’s quite thick. But I soon discovered it’s extremely well organized into parts and chapters. It’s also very easy to read. The thing I really liked about this book is that it’s not just a book for widows. It covers grief in losing a parent, sibling, friend, spouse among others. It also offers advice on what children may go through and how to help them. It includes insight on dealing with different types of sudden death from car accidents to suicide. It’s really nice to have all that information in one place. You can not only use this book to help you through your own grief, but also to understand the grief of others.

There’s a general feeling of “spirituality” in the book that doesn’t really focus on any one religion or set of beliefs. It does contain a chapter dedicated to faith which gave it the high spiritual score. So while it does speak a bit about God, faith and personal beliefs it is not preachy or churchy.

It has an extensive list of resources in the back pages from support groups to book recommendations. It also has exercises to help you work through your grief and contains worksheets for preparing a memorial service and eulogy for loved ones.

Even though the book is written by two women it does contain a chapter on how men cope with grief, understanding the differences between men and women’s grief journey and ways to reach out to men.

The great thing about this book is its versatility. Since it contains so much information a lot of it is mostly a jumping off point to explore your own grief. I think it would be overwhelming to attempt to read the whole thing while in the throes of grief, however it’s so well organized that it would be very easy to go to the table of contents or index and find exactly what you need. It can be a little repetitive at times (which may have come from my reading it through), but I think overall it’s a great book to have that would be very helpful on any grief journey one may encounter.