School Violence: A Real Solution

Bonus Blog #2
Columbine Shooting Security Camera.jpg
We have all seen school violence on the rise over the last two decades. I will never forget April 20th, 1999. I was getting ready to graduate high school, looking forward to the prom, and didn't have a care in the world. Then on that fateful day, the Columbine shooting occurred and it stunned and shocked me beyond belief. I was an 18 year old sheltered, suburban, athletic scholar. It opened up my eyes to the evil in the world; I realized, truly realized, that there were bad people out there that were capable of hurting innocent people. Having been bullied relentlessly in middle school due to being smart, short, scrawny, with braces, glasses, and a perm that didn't seem to want to grow out, I knew what it felt like to feel like life was hopeless, to want to get revenge on those who made it their goal to put others down. Never would I actually even contemplate doing what Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did.  
And why didn't I? Well, I was a well-adjusted child who knew better things were coming; in fact, life became so much better as soon as high school started. I can't remember who taught me to look to the future and to turn my cheek to the bullies. Somehow I knew that I was a better person than them, and I knew that these bullies were taking it out on me because they hated themselves in some way. I'm sure it was my parents who instilled these values in me, and seeing my older brother struggle worse with the bullying situation helped me deal with it. But what about the kids that don't have supportive families? What about the bullies who act out by hurting others? Somehow, somewhere they feel as if there is no other option but to take out their anger, pain, and negative emotions physically on others, resulting in such horrors as Columbine.
Many school shootings and violence have occurred since Columbine, including the one mentioned below that occurred on my birthday . Only the media didn't go rampant in the past. Actually, the first reported school shooting was in 1760, and they have become more frequent in the present years (most likely due to the notoriety the media gives the assailants). It is obvious something needs to be done. Everyone has their own solutions but nothing is actually being done. My sister-in-law has started a petition in hopes to make the government do something, and her weapon against violence is education.  

Guest Blogger: Tracy Pucciarelli Borne
December 14th, 2012, was a day that changed me forever. The events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary left me – and many other Americans – feeling completely devastated.  Aside from the shooting itself, what made me feel so hopeless was how that unspeakable tragedy divided this country in two: the anti-gun group and the staunch 2nd Amendment supporters.  After I had asked God a million times, “Why this? Dear God, why THIS?” – the prevailing questions I began asking myself were, “What can I do?  What can be done?”  Many months – and many more shootings and killings – had come to pass before I found my answer.
Fast-forward to April 9th, 2014, when I had just learned the news of a high school stabbing. Again, the questions returned: “What can I do? What can be done?” I thought of my little 7-year-old who was in her first grade classroom at the time.  I had volunteered many times in her classroom, and it was always something that filled my heart with joy.  I began thinking about my daughter’s teacher, Ms. L., and thought what a wonderful job she did every day at not just teaching these children how to read, write, and do math and science, but also at teaching them how to love and accept one another.  I thought about the song they sing every single morning, “My hand says hello, my hand says hello!  Every time I see my friend my hand says hello!”  After they sing the song, Ms. L starts by bumping fists with the student nearest her and says, “Good Morning, [student name], I am so glad you are here today.”  Then that student passes the message onto another, and that student to another, and so on, until the entire classroom has been welcomed.  Ms. L calls her first grade classroom a “first grade family” instead.  There are messages of love and acceptance woven into every facet of her classroom. In doing so, she leaves no room for hatred or bullying.
A common theme in so many mass shootings/stabbings has been that the perpetrator was bullied, or angry, or felt he didn’t belong.  What if these perpetrators had learned the psychology behind bullying, and understood that the bully is suffering a personal hell that is far more than meets the eye? What if those who had bullied and those who had committed these horrific acts of violence had been equipped with the skills of being able to talk about their feelings?  What if they were taught acceptance and compassion for others by having acceptance and compassion for themselves first? What if these people and everyone around them just knew that each and every one of them unconditionally belonged?  I believe with every part of me that the outcome would be vastly different than what we are seeing now.  Well-adjusted children who are comfortable in their own skin grow to become adults who are well-adjusted and comfortable in their own skin.  And that is a gift that keeps giving, generation after generation. This is why I’ve created a PETITION to urge President Barack Obama to make the mental and emotional health of our nation’s students a priority by incorporating mental/emotional health classes into every school curriculum in the United States. It is time we treat mental health and emotional health with equal significance to physical health. It is time we teach the whole child, not just part of him/her. It is time we realize that nothing changes if nothing is done to facilitate that change.
If this PETITION is successful, we will see an incredible future here – and it is bright.  We will see a happier country where each child inherently knows his/her importance, and inherently knows that he/she belongs.  We will see steadily declining shootings, stabbings, suicides, and acts of violence in general.  We will see less bullying.  We will see less alcohol and drug abuse.  We will see kids looking at their classmates as family members instead of fellow students.  We will see love, kindness, and compassion, and a whole lot of it.  Something CAN be done. Things CAN change.

Please take just a moment to make a difference by signing this petition through the link below. Share it around as well. The more people and support, the closer we will be to a brighter future. 


"Don't Judge a Book by its Cover"

Idio(t)m # 2  Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

This is wise worldly advice right? Think again. It is virtually impossible to not judge, as in preconceive a person, idea, thing, or situation. This doesn't make you a bad person but merely human, fallible, and no one is perfect. Part of the human experience is making mistakes and a large part of that is judging someone or something incorrectly, but realizing you misjudged is the important part. If you ignore the fact you are wrong, that you misjudged, then you learn nothing and have a closed-minded or stubborn disposition. 

On a daily basis, we judge others off the way they dress, talk, walk, their actions, and more. We judge a person in a relationship off our (dis)regard for his/her significant other. OMG why won't she leave him; he's such a prick! We judge parents off of their children, which is recently a new phenomenon for me. I can't believe how awful some other parents can be and they blindly think their children are perfect angels while your child is the spawn of Satan (which yes, I would be Satan in this example). And childless people are the worst. Some believe these spawns belong on leashes and should be locked in cages. Okay, maybe not that drastic, but I've seen them give my child that look because he's too loud. You know what lady, he's only squealing with delight at the excitement of a busy store. I'm sorry that he loves life and finds pleasure in everything. You give him that look one more time and I'll set him off on a tantrum while we stand behind you in the long line. Trust me lady, he can get louder. 

Judging happens everywhere and we're all guilty of it. We look at a small piece or sliver of a situation, or one moment in a person's life and draw a conclusion. It's a hasty and ill informed conclusion as we don't see the big picture. Even with close friends, we don't see behind the scenes, them at home without company. We don't see how well their significant others may treat them behind the scenes. We don't see how good of parents they are at home--we fixate on that one minute of time in which we judged: an argument, a tantrum. And we completely forget that us judging makes others self-conscious. After all, we can tell when we are being judged.

We know we are being judged when our child shouts out, "Yes! Toys! Oh so happy!" as my son did at Target. That kid is out of control, spoiled, and no wonder, look at his mother. I better get out of here before he throws a tantrum for not getting everything he wants. I'm sure something like this went through this woman's head from the look on her face and it's far from the truth. If my son is spoiled, it's by affection not toys or giving into his every whim. And I see this "out of control" behavior as a boy full of life who might have hyperactivity; those who know us well can vouch that it runs in my family. And I've been blessed so far to not have my son throw any full on tantrums in public places. Then again, I try not to take him out when he's tired. And as for judging me, the woman probably couldn't discern my age and thought me younger. It happens to me all the time. In retribution, I shoot her a dirty look. Who the hell do you think you are to look at me like that lady? Then she scampered off a bit embarrassed because I non-verbally called her out. I showed her that I was aware that she was judging me. I told her you are being judgmental and I'm onto you. So we judge and people know we do. What do we do then? Is it a hopeless case? I don't think so. Yes, this idiom "don't judge a book by its cover" is impossible, and I don it an idiotm, yet we can strive to be better people. We can try not to judge so that it happens less. I'm trying, with great difficulty, not to judge people. I had made it a New Year's resolution. So far, I've seen that I tend to judge those I feel judge me. I judge them negatively off the fact that it appears they are wrongly judging me, which causes a vicious cycle. As for others, like a random lady who blew through the stop signal last week, I try not to get angry or judge her as a reckless, despicable human being, but invent a back story instead. After Barbara hung up the phone she jumped into the car thinking of nothing but getting to her husband as fast as possible; he was brought to the ER by paramedics only moments ago in critical condition. As silly as it sounds, this little exercise helps keep the creative part of my brain necessary for writing active. And more importantly, I've learn that we all have motivations behind our behavior, and even when we are at our worst there might just be a valid reason behind it. Try not to judge.

What People Think About You Actually Matters

Resounding Moment #6

Last semester, a student of mine said to me in reverent awe that "as a teacher you're always in front of people trying to make a good impression and saying the right things"; he was speaking in reference to his choking performance during a presentation. He could not speak in front of others without worrying about how his peers were viewing him. I laughed it off and told him that with age you lose your insecurities and concern for others' judgments. As soon as he left the classroom, I asked myself, though, was that really true? And more importantly, is it a good thing to not care what others think?

First, his comment about a professor's job floored me. I probably never say the right thing (pop culture references and allusions to their partying sometimes takes us on tangents) and I probably rarely make a great impression on students (was that joke a bit too self depreciating? Did I undermine my authority trying to relate to them?). Yes, there are those amazing days that happen frequently where students are interested, understand the material, and I feel like I'm really getting through to them. And then there are days that I feel like I'm talking to a room full of the walking dead. A concussion bomb could go off in the room and no one would even flinch. I could claim that I don't concern myself with what others, especially students, think of me, yet I do. I want to be the professor whose class they can stand going to, that they look forward to, make them proclaim they like English for the first time. The fact this only happens a few times a year is sad, but there's only so much I can do. Not everyone has the passion for reading and writing that I do.
Over the last couple years I have begun to get comfortable in my role, perhaps too much, and that strict totalitarian professor teaching style has completely given way to a laid back older sister role: they love me and hate me but know they should listen to what I have to say. Most professors would cringe and scold me for not keeping my distance, keeping things in line, being professional. However, I truly believe, at least with this generation, being a cold authoritarian in the classroom does not yield results and students don't learn as much as they would have in a more comfortable environment.

My student with stage fright had a very good point. He viewed my role as a professor the way a student would discuss a high school teacher, one who must make a good impression and say the right things. He has reminded me that these first-year students I get each semester fall in this quasi-adult role, not a child yet far from an adult. I can always tell a freshman from upperclassmen; there's a glaring naivety to them, a lack of life experience, and I must always remember that they are still growing as individuals and it is part of my job to foster that.
About two years ago, I changed as a professor all due to a student of mine. He was a return student, as in he took me for a prior course. He was a great student, but at the end of the first course he missed classes, his grades slipped, and even though he gave me a documented excuse, I wasn't sure what else I could do for him. His best friend had committed suicide which affected him drastically. A couple weeks later, he seemed somberly adjusted and his grades were back on track. Summer break occurred, he returned in my next class, and all seemed well until the one day he asked to speak to me outside before class. He was very preoccupied, and when I asked what was wrong he burst out crying. It was supposed to be his friend's 18th birthday and he didn't know why he was so upset but he just couldn't deal with it that day. I knew exactly what it was. I watched him stagger briefly in life and then suppress his emotions about his friend. All it took was the stress of midterms, loneliness, a struggle over majors (doing what he loved versus a more lucrative major that would satisfy his family), and homework about a suicide poem to set him off into a spiral of depression. He was having a breakdown, in front of me, right when I had class starting and 19 others waiting for me.
I was able to calm him down by listening, understanding, explaining to him that we all need help dealing with these things, and that he hasn't fully faced it head on until now. I could see that he had no one that understood him. I was it. He hugged me, and I soothed him as I would my own son not caring if it was breaching academic decorum. After insisting he go to counseling services (I was very insistent on the point) I had to go in and teach two classes back to back. I "performed" well considering my thoughts were with him, and I was very worried he could possibly take his own life as well.
Thankfully, he went and spoke with counselors, afraid I would be mad if he didn't (okay, I was frighteningly insistent he go) which was very true, and they helped him tremendously. After that day, we would talk; he'd talk to me after class, sometimes walking me to my next classroom across campus or visiting me in my office. Sometimes they were serious conversations, but mostly trite everyday conversations. I realized he needed someone, a friend, and by sparing him ten minutes a day I could make a huge difference in his life. And he did mine. He made me realize being a professor isn't just teaching material and grading papers. It is being a friend, role model, a helping hand. This boy reminded me that they are not adults yet, that they do need help growing up, and professors are a part of that whether we like it or not.
I see this student still from time to time and he always spares a few minutes to catch up. I can tell he's doing much better and how grateful he is for my help when he needed it. And it fills me with gratitude to see that I had the power to change someone's life, that I made a positive impact.
I'm pretty sure it was this student, and several others that I've dealt with since, that nominated me that year for an Apple Award. The recognition is one thing but to see and hear students tell me I made a difference matters much more. As daily life and stress builds upon me, I try to remind myself that I am needed, that I do have an affect on people, that how I behave does matter. And so, this innocuous comment, "as a teacher you're always in front of people trying to make a good impression and saying the right things," reminds me that my daily attitude matters. I must care what people think, must make a good impression, and most importantly, try to say the right thing--at least when it matters.

Cut out the Middleman?

Mission Impossible #5

You've heard about writer's block and may have experienced it; I rarely do. If there's a blank computer screen or fresh lined paper in front of me, I can just fill it up in seconds with my chicken scratch. My imagination is limitless, always on, and I'm always daydreaming. At times, if I cannot record my ideas in one way or another, I end up with sleepless nights where the characters and the scenes I'm mentally drafting plague my mind and dreams. When I'm well rested, I can even lucid dream. I invent characters, stories, and lands that I refine and develop. They even get away from me and I realize when something happens beyond my control that I'm actually asleep. In these precious moments when I begin to lose control of my thoughts, some really neat ideas come across that I would have never thought of on my own. Freud would proclaim my unconscious comes through, but I'd like to say there's something true to the muse inspiring me, almost as if it's an entity of some sort. The muse is always good to me, seeing that I can always write; it may not be the best work at times, but the point is there's an abyss of ideas always bubbling up to the surface.

No, my problem is different. I move from one project to the next, always creating something new without doing anything with the former finished draft. Of course, I edit and revise my manuscripts to death, but I rarely attempt to sell them, which is completely stupid of me. I've been doing this as long as I can remember. My problem is I enjoy the creative process. I write because I have to and love to. Writing for the sake of writing takes up a lot of time, so to continue to write like I had in my former days I would need to try to make writing a lucrative career. In short, writing will have to be cut from my life (as it has a lot already) unless I can make money off of it. It's a terrible way to view my favorite passion, but true. After digesting the fact that I have to look at my hobby as a job, I've learned that trying to sell a book sucks. Besides the fact it is time consuming, I just hate the business side of things. To be honest, researching publishers and agents, drafting letters, sending off emails, then the waiting game, etc. is not at all interesting to me. I am not a disciplined person either, so crafting an interesting story or reading a new book beats out researching every time. I guess you would say that I don't have writer's block, but I have business block. And if I can break through it, maybe I can be successful one day. As I said in one of my prior blogs, it takes dedication and time to be successful in becoming a writer or anything in life. I now have the time, so I've got to be dedicated, set some goals, and be sure I enforce them.

First on my business list this summer was to get a feel for the industry. Or, since I did try to find an agent a few years ago, reacquaint myself with the industry and oh my how things have changed. I'd like to think in a good way. About three years ago, when I was looking to get published the only options seemed to be to self-publish or to acquire representation in the form of a literary agent via a query letter. The former, I couldn't afford and rarely yielded large profits, while the latter I find hard and exhausting to do. How can you sum up who you are and your entire novel in one short letter? It is so difficult despite the fact I studied the form, had a published colleague help me redraft mine, and changed it various times. Unfortunately, I had the most requests for portions of my novel from the very first naive draft I had made.

Now, the industry is very different. Many self-published authors can yield decent profits without a lot of overhead. Also, many publishers will talk to unsolicited authors making the idea of an agent, in some respects, redundant. Some publishers will even view your entire manuscript and not a just a query letter, so your work speaks for itself taking the hassle out of trying to sell your image in a one page letter. I kind of like this idea, since, with most publishers, the percentage of the book's retail cost seems to go to the author. The normal 15% given to the agent becomes redistributed. Basically how it works, and this is oversimplifying it, is if you get an agent, who gets 15% of the book's profit, you will get an advance, as in a chunk of money in good faith that your novel will make money. After your novel has made that advanced amount, you will then get a portion of the book's profit that is contracted, otherwise known as royalties (rough average from 1-10% of novel's price tag, but many sources conflict in these numbers), which are usually paid out twice a year to the author. However, due to reasons beyond my understanding (my uneducated guess is that it is due to an over-saturation of the market), advance price tags have dwindled over the last few years; agents can't take the chances they once could and lose money on a book that bombs. Another way the industry can pay, is by skipping the middleman and getting a publisher yourself, which usually will not get you any advance but you would get a larger portion of the royalties (15-40% roughly, and again multiple sources conflict). The publishers have less to lose due to eBook format. If the book isn't successful, then you won't be. It is my understanding you are expecting through this route to help with marketing the book. Then there is a rare flat fee rate an author may take in a one time payment. Of course, self-publishing is different--you do it all and make it all. The problem is no one knows has real figures because every book out there is a different case, contract, demand, situation, etc.

I put the question to an old college friend of mine, since she is the only person I actually directly know who is published; she seemed to agree with what a lot of people are saying--"the pendulum has swung in the other direction because now it's so easy for writers to get their stuff out there, you don't even need a publisher anymore." Her opinion is well validated as well since she got her deal by directly pitching her idea to a publisher. She does admit that agents most likely are a necessity for the big time deals, but jokingly laughs it off with, "That ain't my life." And I think she is completely right. Wouldn't it be great to just simply be published and to supplement your income off of royalty checks?  After all, a large book deal is extraordinarily rare. It is the pinnacle to one's career, not usually a starting off point. To be frank, and perhaps a bit too hypercritical, some of these big time deals are not exactly great books. True, we'd all love the big bucks, but at what price? Would we writers have to produce fluff with cookie-cutter-insert-yourself protagonists? Then again, "selling out" and awaiting an agent for a five series, six figure, international sales, and movie rights to boot deal sounds absolutely amazing. I could be very satisfied to sit at home, raise my son, and write my heart out.

So, in the end, which option is better? I'm really torn and not sure where to go from here. Do I hold out looking for an agent that I hope can yield me a larger profit? Or do I seek out a publisher and cut out the middle man? I'd love to hear opinions, so please comment, especially if you're in the industry.


Tales in Publishing: Query example

Tales in Publishing:  Query example I'm sharing my successful query to others in hopes it exemplifies what to do and helps other au...