Thing a Week: A Friendly Interview

About a million years ago, a coworker asked me to be part of his experiment in podcasting, and even though I had no idea what I was getting into, I make it a practice to support other people’s ideas at work when I can, and so I agreed. Fast forward a bit and 91 episodes later, I invited Lisa Brown to be our guest on our new podcast series — in which we ask someone to recommend a book to us, we read it, and then we all discuss it together.

It’s my new favorite thing– book discussions that are publicly shared and others can enjoy the conversation and even join in through the comments. I also really enjoy interacting with people in conversations about books and reading. It’s fun to talk about what we think we like, discuss  what happens when we try new things, and notice how reading and discussing books changes us.

In a highly divisive and politicized world, talking about books is also a relatively safe way to get to know people and expand my understanding of their perspectives and world views.

hush lisaListen to the podcast and read more in the show notes. We talk about the ocean, and swordfishing, and desperate choices, and unknown last moments–and also Aaron Burr, and Captain Picard and Harry Potter. Because, while publicly recommending a book is a bold and defining action, no one is defined by only one favorite book. Conversations about books open up a world of possibilities, create reading and viewing lists, and spark further conversations. It’s pretty wonderful, actually.

I invite you to suggest a book for You Made Me Read It!

I’d love to read your recommendation and talk about it with you on the podcast.

Lissa

 

Advertisements

Thing a Week: personal poetry on a deadline

I’m attending the ” Storytelling in the Classroom and Boardroom” workshop tomorrow at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita.

Their description: The use of story is one of the oldest forms of communication. Apply story to leadership to as a way to ‘speak from the heart’ to move the hearts of those you’re trying to influence. This workshop will prepare you to use your own story in multiple settings including classrooms, boardrooms, churches and one-on-one interactions. Come prepared to practice and immediately apply telling a powerful story in an area of life where you’d like to move forward.

For the pre-work before the workshop, I had some assigned reading and listening, including stories from The Moth and also a Where I’m From poem based on the work of Kentucky’s 2015-2016 poet laureate, George Ella Lyon.

In about 24 hours, this is what I came up with, using the prescriptive (and helpful!) template in my course handouts. This is a poem about where I’m from, that I will use as my introduction tomorrow at the storytelling workshop.

Where I’m From by Lissa Staley
I am from storybooks
From Corningware and steaming casseroles
I am from the pile of chipped rock in the gutter along the street
Black, freshly oiled pebbles, never strong enough to hold back that trickle of rain water.
I am from the thick prickly zoisia grass
The pink surprise lilies we delighted in calling naked ladies
I’m from laundry basket hideouts and always using coupons
From Mary and Dennis
I’m from taking on too many projects
And hand-me-down handmade furniture
From “get your nose out of that book!” and “how is your mother doing now?”
I’m from voices singing Amazing Grace by candlelight,
resisting the tug toward the Sunday morning alter call.
I’m from Collinsville and Taco Bell
Cardboard frozen microwave meals and Grandma Staley’s briecelets at Christmas
From the hats my dad wears for protection in the sun,
The other parent waiting two weeks for my sister and I to move back in,
waiting for things to go back to how they were.
Some people are still there, some are long gone.
Where I’m from is a glossed and glittered version of the stories that survive.
I can go home to their new houses now.
I can make new memories.
Lissa
p.s. You can make your own Where I’m From poem  – many resources and examples are available at George Ella Lyon’s site.

Thing a Week 9: School Carnival

First off, the entire school carnival almost didn’t happen because we truly didn’t know how to get started with something so big. Waiting for someone else to offer to do the planning wasn’t productive, and sending notes home asking for people to board our visibly sinking ship was also not the best use of our time and photocopy budget. Live and learn.

One challenge of taking a leadership role in a volunteer organization is that if you don’t find someone else to do the work, it either falls to you or doesn’t get done. I’m still processing and trying to apply what I learned at the Kansas Leadership Center You. Lead. Now. Training last November when I used PTO leadership as my challenge and received the group’s feedback. Of course, that feedback is about the core competencies for KLC and their leadership principles, encouraging adaptive work, and this year has been highly focused on the fire-fighting of many, many technical challenges.

All of this is to say that instead of documenting what happened for this year’s carnival, I plan to write out notes for next year’s carnival committee, knowing full well that this might realistically be one long note-to-self.

But first, let me share this carnival highlight:t.

When I put out a desperate call for volunteers, my writing group friend Lisa signed up to help run a carnival game. I was so busy at the carnival trying to send people to places that needed coverage that I could barely even tell her hello that evening, but she still managed to save the day.

My biggest personal crisis at carnival was the moment around 6:30 pm when Travis was tired and overstimulated and wanted me to take him home. It doesn’t matter how many responsibilities I’m juggling, if my kiddo needs me, everything else drops pretty fast.

After snuggling him close and talking quietly for a few minutes, I let him know that Lisa  really needed some help running the fishing game inside. He agreed that he would help her, and let grandma take him there!

13076805_10154306319502784_3917366439489470556_n

Lisa and Travis as “fish” at the fishing game at the McCarter Carnival

Carnival Reflections and Feedback April 2016

  • Assume that once the carnival setup starts that the people on the planning committee will be busy handing other people who have just arrived the tasks to do and will not be able to do any of the actual work themselves. Plan so that it works that way and that everything can be handed off.
  •  The only things we sold were wristbands for $5, Meal tickets for two pieces of pizza and a drink for $3.50, Drink tickets for $0.50, Single slice of pizza tickets for $1.50, and raffle tickets for $1.
  • I asked volunteer preference for inside or outside, only put staff or very trusted adults at money tables or food service, and didn’t assign any volunteers to particular areas until they arrived –because honestly we didn’t have enough people to go around. I used signupgenius to try to get volunteers but mostly people didn’t like it at all and emailed, called, texted or told me in person that they could help. Paper sign up in teachers lounge is still the best way to get teachers to sign up, and thankfully many of them did!
  • The only things we sold were wristbands for $5, Meal tickets for two pieces of pizza and a drink for $3.50, Drink tickets for $0.50, Single slice of pizza tickets for $1.50, and raffle tickets for $1.
  • I asked volunteer preference for inside or outside, only put staff or very trusted adults at money tables or food, and didn’t assign any volunteers to particular areas until they arrived, (because honestly we didn’t have enough people to go around). I used signupgenius to try to get volunteers but mostly people didn’t like it at all and emailed, called, texted or told me in person that they could help. Paper sign up in teachers lounge is the best way to get teachers.
  • Have Carnival on the day that school is out for teacher in service
  • Setup during the day as much as possible.
  • Some parents/teachers can help with setup during the day, or at 4pm.
  • Carnival tickets and food sales at 5pm with games from 5:30-7:30
  • Selling advanced tickets before and after school a few days in advance helped
  • Consider selling tickets/wristband online in advance with pickup at carnival
  • Need more $1 in cash boxes than we had this year, need three cash boxes — at front, food and raffle. Maybe even two cash boxes at the front during the busiest time at the beginning.
  • Feedback on food was that simple is good – pizza and drinks, with drinks serve-yourself to the point of being almost on the honor system
  • Volunteer assigned to bring other volunteers (free) drinks
  • Volunteer assigned to check on other games and refill prizes
  • Need Volunteer assigned to relieve game people
  • MORE prizes everywhere – check game play on games to make sure that bigger prizes require either luck or skill to win
  • If we are going to have lots of community attendees, plan on that and recouping costs on games/prizes
  • Free photo booth was very popular
  • Bouncies were popular
  • Consider outdoor games in field for next year
  • HUGE signage everywhere for directional with arrows and names of things to find that direction
  • Signage for classrooms was good, teachers were reassured that everyone was encouraged not to mess with classroom stuff, desks in a circle blocking everything was great– add cleanup instructions
  • Game instructions – add cleanup instructions and add that everyone playing needs to have a wristband
  • Ask for feedback on two games per classroom. Seemed good? Maybe put two different games in classrooms instead of the same game to make it more fun to play both while you are there? Ask for feedback on this
  • Better/cooler decorations
  • Plan ahead and have a carnival THEME and have all teachers have kids create artwork along the theme to decorate the school. Have kids vote on the theme? Help purchase supplies for the artwork
  • Study on Pinterest the cool carnival games that families could make and donate. Have this all done in winter. 🙂
  • Make sure the kids have bags to put their prizes in.
  • Line up someone awesome at being a carnival barker and crowd management to run the cake walk and the stuffed animal walk. We were lucky to have awesome people this year. Buy some stuffed animals. CAN people bring gently used stuffed animals for the stuffed animal walk? Check on this.  The pack of 50 small animals from Oriental Trading were fine.
  • At the cake walk, encourage people to bring cupcakes, small plates of cookies, candy bars. Things that serve 1-2 people and assume that kids might stop to eat right then. Ask the cupcake bakers directly if they would contribute in this way and if we could advertise them as business contributors.
  • Auction off the big awesome cakes.
  • Sell raffle tickets in advance. Use that claim-a-number system again so people who want to buy a bunch can easily write their number on and then we can look up who it is from the list.
  • Help the teachers run contests in their classrooms for supporting carnival. Check in advance to see what they think would work well.
  • Check on the game play for each game to make sure it is fun to play and satisfying to get a few tries at the game after waiting in line. Have games that are super easy win cheap prizes. Have games that require some skill or luck to win get better prizes.
  • 600 suckers at the lollipop tree was no where near enough. Buy 900 but have the white color be the result that you didn’t win anything, with one color being that you win the lollipop and then some other colors for better prizes.
  • Find out what we can do in the two gyms. Consider more field day activities like relay races, jump rope contests, outside etc.
  • Consider raising cost of wristbands– Or adding a wrist band for adults?
  • Learn more about facepaint. Is it possible to do in an interesting way and quickly on many kids?
  • Have the teachers vote on whether they want to participate in some sort of pie in the face or dunk tank type activity, and which one. Determine how this money raised should be split between the teacher’s classroom and the PTO fundraiser.
  • Do your best to get all games staffed by community members not parents/teachers. Involve the staff at the money tables and in other ways. Invite previous staff members.
  • Ask about the soda and water allotment. Also get a reminder on what brand we are required to buy.
  • Ask 5th graders to volunteer at carnival — Or ask previous 5th graders and older students to come back and help.
  • The giant bean bag toss contraption is heavy and not that fun to play – how can we improve its game play.

There were no moments on April 22 that I was positive that carnival would be a success, but we survived and we are willing to improve for next year. And that’s close enough to success for me. Go Mustangs!

13043710_1002473099831007_8395837455451973742_n

The Spouse and I were still able to smile half-way through the carnival! (And at the end we had tired but happy smiles also!)

Thing a Week 8: 90 cards for Nana

My Nana turned 90 this week. I can’t even conceptualize it, truly. She was born in 1926. I just wasted 15 minutes reading about 1926 trying to better understand how much the world has changed during her lifetime. The answer is: a lot.

People born in 1926 include Queen Elizabeth II, Miles Davis, and Marilyn Monroe. Model T cars stopped being made the year after Nana was born, and the state of the union address in 1926 talked about cotton surpluses and the brand new 40 hour work week. She has lived in a world before television had been invented, through to a world in which communication through animated gifs and facetime are commonplace. (I wish social and economic  equity had more cheerful updates to share.)

My kids and I talk frequently about life and death and the goal of living your whole life. Sometimes I use this terminology to try to help them understand that everyone dies eventually. I also talk to them frequently about community helpers, and being helpful, and making the world a better place, and putting good into the world. This morning I introduced the idea of karma, quoting directly from Mikki Burcher’s presentation at the library this week.

This is all to say that at 90, some might assume that my Nana has lived her whole life, but in fact she is still busy putting good into the world. Sewing for charity, growing flowers to cut for bouquets,  keeping up with lifelong friends and relatives, caring about those around her and those far from her — these are just a few of the things I’m aware of. To be honest, I suspect she’s the kind of sneaky good person who is probably doing many other kind, helpful and useful things that most people aren’t even aware are happening.

From 5 hours away and in the middle of the work week, the options to celebrate in person for a 90th birthday party were limited. So my sister and I invented a card shower to try to get family, friends and other people we know to 90 cards for Nana’s 90th birthday. Promoting in her church newsletter and through our Facebook pages, we encouraged people to send Nana cards and letters.

  • 27 by Monday
  • 6 on Tuesday
  • 11 on Wednesday to bring the total to about 50 by her birthday
  • 17 on Thursday
  • 5 on Friday

So, from the updates my uncle has sent, I think she received 66 pieces of mail during her birthday week, which isn’t 90 but is still a lovely celebration.

thenana

I won’t stop mailing cards just because her birthday week is over. I’ve been in the habit this year of printing out the pictures I post of the kids on Facebook and mailing them to her once a week or so. I might even try to write better letters – more than the occasional scrawl across the printouts. And perhaps just as important, as often as I am dropping a card into the mail to Nana, I’m trying to put kind, helpful and useful actions into the world. In fact, yesterday, when at the library someone needed a stamp and an envelope, I gave them the one I happened to have handy to send to Nana. I think she would approve.

Thing a Week 7: Gentle Reader

So, for this year’s Community Novel Project, we are writing a collection of alternative history and speculative fiction stories set in Topeka, KS.  I wrote my story in an intense few days in mid-April. This is the first draft, and it is currently open to feedback from peer writers before revision.  While I love writing fiction and hanging out with fiction writers and reading fiction, I very, very rarely revise or share my own fiction writing. That isn’t the fun part for me. But, that said, this whole process of having actual reader feedback and then improving the story from that feedback has been interesting. I don’t want to post spoilers first, so look for more commentary after the story:


 

“Gentle Reader”

Login successful 4/14/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: EMMA BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

ThomasG.:I did not find this story of youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance to be my particular cup of tea.

KateP: DUDE. If you copy and paste from wikipedia, use quotation marks and a citation. And referencing tea doesn’t make your answer more British.

KateP: How am I supposed to receive the benefits of a quality public secondary education online if my peer group is completely lacking?

ThomasG: Pardon me. The book is an archaic 211 years old.  The concerns and difficulties of genteel women in 1815 Britain are no longer relevant in 2026 Kansas.

ThomasG: And in case you haven’t figured it out, the anti-plagiarism software only checks whole sentences, not phrases.

KateP: Again with the wikipedia. Did you even read this book? Seriously. Did you? Did you casually swipe through the pages on the ebook for the completion credit while actually watching a vid?

ThomasG: I read it. Duh. Although it was weeks ago and no one has ever posted in this discussion board before.

ThomasG: These English credits fill my graduation requirements with less hassle than any course with a virtual lab or -heaven forbid – groupwork. The reading and quizzes are no trouble, but requiring 20 posts on a discussion board that no human will ever read is already trying my patience.

KateP:  I’m human. You quote from wikipedia and you don’t like people. And yet here we are discussing literature in our free time. This day just keeps getting better.

ThomasG: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Was Jane Austen describing you here? Or would even Austen deign to find you likeable?

KateP: Quoting the first line isn’t proof of anything resembling comprehension. And personal attack is unnecessary. I’m sure Jane Austen would find me to be a delight.

ThomasG: Austen liked EMMA. She’s baseless and tasteless. Okay, pop quiz time. Which of these characteristics best describes you:

  1.       Handsome b. clever c. rich d. spoiled e. headstrong f. self-satisfied

Just seethe silently if your answer is “all of the above.”

KateP: …

KateP: That wasn’t silent seething. I was just speechless. Didn’t you learn anything from this book?

ThomasG: This book is irrelevant in our modern world. It tells me that career-wise a man can be a lawyer, doctor, businessman, or vicar.

ThomasG: We both know that our illustrious online public school isn’t the path to any of those professions, not anymore. A private tutor isn’t such an anachronism in 2026. Plenty of rich kids have them.

ThomasG: In fact, this book firmly reminds us that that we are in the working classes, the people who are almost invisible in Austen’s world.

ThomasG: So why do you or I even need to complete secondary education to take our place among the laboring class?

KateP: Rant much? And you know even the entry level jobs require a diploma now.

ThomasG: Honest discussion isn’t ranting. And the truth about the dismantled public education system hurts.

ThomasG: The diploma isn’t an accomplishment or a rite of passage, it’s just one more way to oppress and control us.

KateP: Harsh!

ThomasG: What community service did you do during daylight today?

KateP: Point taken. At least my school issued device screen looks great in the dark, since that’s the only time I log in.

ThomasG: Are you avoiding the question? Or are you too rich and spoiled to have a service assignment?

KateP: Ouch! I didn’t realize we had moved into true confession time.

KateP: No, I pay for school with my community service hours just like everyone else.

KateP: And if you must know, today I harvested mixed greens and lettuce for 5 hours. What about you?

ThomasG: Good thing you’re young, since that sounds backbreaking. I pollinated apples by hand, 2 hours on foot and 3 hours off a bucket truck.

KateP: Ha! You’re quite the sex machine. And such stamina!

ThomasG: I prefer “fertilization specialist”.

ThomasG: And not to redirect you away from flirting with me too much, but back to the book we are supposedly discussing here.  What about relationships?

ThomasG: The romantic take-away of Emma is that your true love is likely almost twice your age and already your brother-in-law.

ThomasG: How was anyone supposed to meet anyone else in Austen if they didn’t already know them?

KateP: Much like my life, where the only people my age that I see are down the agriculture row from me, or across the aisle of the transport bus.

KateP And conversation is discouraged, always.  How is anyone supposed to meet anyone else in Topeka if they don’t already know them?

ThomasG:  You can meet people at dances. Austen is all about the first impressions at country assemblies, you know.

KateP: That’s Pride and Prejudice, not Emma.  How many Austen books have you read?

ThomasG: All of them. You can check the discussion boards.

ThomasG: I believe that you and I are the only secondary students in public online school in Kansas to read a book by Jane Austen in the last 5 years.

KateP: That’s so sad. Why?

ThomasG: With thousands of public domain books to choose from, students choose shorter books and modern language as the easy way out.

ThomasG: What character deficiency are you trying to remedy by choosing Emma? Do you look like her AND act like her?

KateP: I call phishing on that question. If you’re going to compare me to Emma, then let me ask a personal question.

KateP: Are you actually 37 years old like George Knightly?

ThomasG: As poorly-monitored as this educational discussion board is, I assume they still screen for that. They may not hold us responsible for what we type, but they don’t want anyone to hold them responsible for any of this either.

ThomasG: The great migration to self-directed online-only education is all about the plausible deniability of everyone involved. Emma isn’t the only intentionally clueless one.

KateP: This is the best literature discussion I’ve ever had.

KateP: I can’t believe I’m going to type this, but I wish we could meet in person.

ThomasG: You need to get out more.

ThomasG: You assume I’m not willing to meet? Or you assume we aren’t in the same town?

KateP: What?!? Yes, I assumed both. Sorry?!?! I just clicked your profile and see we are both in Topeka.

KateP: Can you get to the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday?

ThomasG: 8 am at the cider press?

ThomasG: How will I know it’s you? Will you be attractively posed like Harriet in Emma’s watercolor painting?

KateP: I’ll be the clever, headstrong girl with the obvious character deficiencies.

ThomasG: Obviously.

 

 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Login successful 4/28/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

ThomasG:  I appreciate that the status-conscious friend, Mr. Darcy, is disdainful of local society, as he reflects my own views.

KateP: Let me counter your generic wikipedia with this relevant quote from the novel: “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”

ThomasG:  If we lived in Austen’s time we probably would never have met. And I can’t imagine you mortified.

KateP: We still haven’t met, in real life, so you only get to imagine me.

KateP: Not that you care, obviously, but I waited for you that day.

KateP: …

KateP: Did I speak the unspeakable??

ThomasG: “You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged.”

KateP: Deflection using Darcy. Well played, although the wound to my pride of being stood up like a cliched old teen movie clip still smarts a bit.

KateP: I was caught up in the fantasy of human connection. I lost myself to the romantic fictions and the stories of the past.

KateP: For me, the far better educational outcome is to focus on my reality and stop trying to exceed the low expectations set for me.

KateP: Wanting more than a diploma and endless hours of manual labor is a waste of energy because it’s not my fate. So thank you, for disappointing me, it’s just what I needed.

ThomasG: This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed!

KateP:AAANND  I set you up to throw that Darcy quote in my face.  Great. Your faults aren’t heavy. My future feels extra bleak today.

ThomasG: If we lived 10 years ago we might not have met then either.

ThomasG: Did you know that Topeka High used to have two thousand students?

KateP: And now it sits empty, with a very public legal battle, hallways full of bats, and an aura of despair.

ThomasG: The bats might not be roosting in the hallways. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

ThomasG: My dad went there. He told me that before it shut down, everyone had devices issued by the school, just like now, but they showed up at the school building every day and used their devices all together

KateP: My mom dropped out to help her family. She finished later, online. She doesn’t understand how what we are forced to do now is any different than what she did 20 years ago.

ThomasG: My grandad knows how bad this is, although he expresses it mainly by reminiscing about his own high school years.

ThomasG: It’s strange how it changed so fast. From the one room schoolhouse of his grandparents to the no-room schoolhouse of his grandchildren.

KateP: What do we really miss though? I’ve read books and seen vids from the early 2000’s. What do they have in those physical buildings that you want?

ThomasG: Crowded hallways. Passing periods. Parking lots.

KateP: You’re nostalgic for loitering?

KateP: What do you think is the biggest drawback with online virtual public school? That’s what I struggle with when I talk to my mom. She hated high school and thinks I have it better now.

ThomasG: My grandad talks about prom as a right of passage.

ThomasG: But the American Dream got all jacked up and he wants me to have milestones I can look forward to instead of a “bleak and meaningless future of underemployment doing mind numbing labor.” .

KateP: So you want to go to prom?

ThomasG: No! Even my dad only went to prom with his gay friend to make a political statement. My grandad wants me to…well he wants an alternate universe where I look forward to prom with my high school friends at our school, where we loiter around all day together without work assignments or overuse of technology.

ThomasG: Grandad phrases it more nicely when he’s ranting about it.

KateP: This is perfect! Let’s go to prom together okay?

KateP: I’m asking you because of course I’m a feminist and because I don’t want to assume you’ll ask me. Promposals went out of style long before the current economic depression.

ThomasG:What prom? Online virtual schools don’t have dances.

KateP: But that patio in front of Topeka High doesn’t look too scary. I wouldn’t go inside the old high school, of course. That building should clearly be condemned

ThomasG: You want to meet someone you met online while trespassing at a condemned building?

ThomasG: This seems unwise.

KateP: I want a lot of people I’ve only met online to meet on the courtyard for our senior prom. And get dressed up a bit. Maybe stay out all night.

KateP: Your grandad is right. We need something to look forward to.

ThomasG: You might be crazy.

KateP: Is that a yes? I’d feel better if I knew I had a date to the prom before I go to all the bother of create it out of thin air and all.

ThomasG: My hesitation is this: I don’t know the etiquette for this situation, but it seems like a gentleman wouldn’t let a lady plan and execute her own prom alone.

KateP: Excellent! If you’ll help, we can be the Kansas Virtual School student government prom committee, Topeka Chapter. I’ve been reading the school handbook and the legislature left the structure of extracurricular intact even though they stripped the funding.

ThomasG: Why would you read the school handbook?

KateP: I was researching the possibility of a book club. This prom idea is so much more fun!

ThomasG: Are you sure I can’t talk you into a book club?

KateP:   😛

KateP: That’s just a bit of extra emoticon nostalgia for you and your grandad.

 
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Login successful 5/20/2026 Discussion Board Population=2

ENGLISH LIT 499-SELF-GUIDED DISCUSSION BOARD

TOPIC: PERSUASION BY JANE AUSTEN, BRITISH LITERATURE

ThomasG: Much like our modern situation, Persuasion marks a break with Austen’s previous works, both in the more biting, even irritable satire directed at some of the novel’s characters and in the regretful, resigned outlook of its otherwise admirable heroine, Anne Elliot, who gives me, as the reader, much to ponder in regards to my own romantic endeavors.

KateP: I’ve missed your Wikipedia quotes.

ThomasG: The energy and appeal of the Royal Navy symbolizes for Anne the possibility of a more outgoing, engaged, and fulfilling life, so please don’t tell me your next big idea is for us to join the military.

KateP: My current community service hours are fulfilling enough. How are you holding up?

ThomasG: I hold in my mind the memory of your bright blue skirt, of spinning you around and catching you in my arms.

KateP: That skirt was very twirly and gauzy. Completely impractical for agricultural work. I love it.

ThomasG: I’m sorry we got arrested for trespassing before I had a chance to kiss you.

KateP: Me too.

KateP: In other news, I wrote your name in as the cosponsor of our new book club. Now that we aren’t graduating this summer as planned, we have another year of unpaid manual labor and literature discussions to look forward to together.

ThomasG: And after that?

KateP: I’m assuming you aren’t phishing for information about my feelings, and instead want to discuss our unique position within society to lead our generation to greatness. I think the answers are obvious though.

ThomasG: Second annual prom?

KateP: You betcha. But next time with less misdemeanor citations and contacting of parents and guardians. It turns out the online virtual school handbook has some provisions for events, which I found while I was filling out the forms for book club.

ThomasG: Information which would have been useful a month ago, back when we were naive and trespassing seemed like an innocent endeavor. What are we going to discuss after Austen? We are halfway through her six novels already.

KateP: The form required a community volunteer adult to sponsor the club or we can’t hold in person meetings. He might want some input into selections also.

ThomasG: He?

KateP: Your grandad. He and I hit it off at the police station after prom.

ThomasG: …

ThomasG: This is me being speechless.

KateP: In Persuasion, Austen says: “My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’
‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.”

KateP: Between talking to your grandad and reading the handbook, my mind is swimming in ideas right now. Good company really is the best.

KateP: Did you know the original online school plan was a desperate measure to avoid the courts shutting down the schools altogether. But that was before the stock market fraud and the collapse. We were still in grade school when the emergency legislation closed most of the educational attendance centers.

KateP: Your grandad is convinced that even that would have been okay, but then the community service opportunities were privatized and the Ag lobbyists convinced the legislature to double and then triple the requirements to increase food production.

ThomasG: You sound just like grandad. And while I like eating food, I don’t like growing it, and subverting child labor laws isn’t particularly on the up and up.

KateP: But I don’t think it has to be this way. The economy is picking up in other states, I’ve seen the news trickling out. Supplementing Kansas agricultural work with student labor can’t continue forever.

ThomasG: The State Board of Education reports to the legislature don’t even admit that the current system is anything less than successful. Why would they change?
KateP: Because we’ll make them, of course.

ThomasG: You and me?

KateP. And your grandad. And anyone else we can convince that this is important. The second annual prom committee may be a bit less about dressing up and dancing, and a bit more about some of the other things we are lacking from the high school experience.

ThomasG: I’m in. Although I’m prioritizing our prom night kiss next time, in case we get arrested.

ThomasG: Obviously.

KateP: Obviously.

KateP: 😛

 

 

 


 

The Facebook post I shared with my writer’s group online describes both my inspiration and motivation behind this story….well, these ideas plus the deadline that was looming over me….

April 13 at 12:06am

I make too many unrelated jokes about plot ideas for the community novel project alternate history/speculative story and also about teen romance. And I finally got a short story idea…
So I’ll take my idea of a futuristic prom night and try to write the most breathtaking poignant love story that the systematic dismantling of public education has ever seen.
‪#‎claimingit‬

I welcome your feedback, especially if that feedback is sent before my June 1 revision deadline!

Week 6:When Catching Up is a Thing

According to my calendar, I think I should be writing either Week 8 or Week 9 right now. But sometimes catching up is a thing that must be done.

Procrastinating one deadline in exchange for another is a special kind of prioritizing for the extremely busy and slightly dysfunctional, so now, as deadlines press in from all sides and expectations and anxieties run high, I’ll take a few minutes to update my blog. I also took a few minutes to talk to my dad, stop to get a snack, read and comment on some writer-friends’ recent blog posts, and check Facebook, twice.

For some reason, I think I should quote John Hughes here in the voice of his iconic character Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I looked around, but I didn’t blog about it in the moment.

Here are the things that I considered writing blog posts about as my “Thing a Week” for the past few un-blogged weeks. I don’t think any of them will turn into blog posts now, because the moment has passed. I posted about them on Facebook or talked about them with others or simply experienced them and mulled over those experiences, but trying to recreate them in a fresh voice here would feel inauthentic

1.Taking my kids to the Democratic caucus. We spent almost 3 hours at Landon Middle School eating sweets and waiting for 500 people to re-register to vote so that I could say a number out loud and be counted and finally get to leave. I would have had more to say in the week following the experience, but of everything that my kids might see in this election cycle, I’m glad they saw two groups of their neighbors excited to be part of the democratic process and supporting a candidate they believed would be a good leader for our country. Someone gave my kids sticks with ribbon streamers tied on the ends that they are still waving around the house 3 weeks later, although I’m not sure if they can still name the candidate we caucused for.

2. Podcasting at the library — reading a book suggested by a guest and then discussing it with them on the interview. We recorded Lean In and Tell Me Three Things in a short timespan and both were fabulous.

3. Editing Workshop at the library with Morgan Chilson. Just as wonderful as the writing workshop that I did blog about, but without blogging.

4. Teen Tech Fair at the library – I showed how to publish print and ebooks yourself, and my kids and spouse stole the show (as far as I was concerned) with demonstrating homemade, kit and store-bought robots.

5. Never-ending gardening. Trying to share what plants and things we have but don’t need, which worked better in theory than practice.

6. Picked a statistically improbable number of NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament game picks correctly. 27/32 in the first round. It was sort of fun at first but I didn’t want to be watching basketball so it made the winning less relevant.

7. Drove to my hometown to visit relatives with my kids and spouse. If I blogged about this, I think it would turn into a reflection on going home and growing up and identity and distance, which is a thing, but not a thing that needs to be articulated here. Twice in five days I saw cars with a window sticker reading “Slow Down in Work Zones in memory of Jeff Staley  May 2, 1966 – May 24, 2006″Jeff was my dad’s cousin’s son. My daughter spotted her last name on the sticker and then we had to talk about what it meant.

8. Traveling with kids, during spring break, after a time change, trying to keep some normalcy and routine when so many new things are being introduced. It’s overwhelming and certainly not a vacation in any normal persons definition of the term. Our most traumatic moment of the trip was when a young girl was pulled out of the hotel swimming pool to be revived with CPR, right as we were getting out ourselves because it was too crowded and rowdy. But everything about those few days of the trip was big for our kids (and for us, trying to explain and help them understand it.) We invented a game where we muted the commercials between basketball games and added commentary about what healthy behavior that commercial was actually trying to advertise. And my sheltered-from-television-his-whole-life son made the awesome comment about the big blue airplane commercial “I can’t believe I’ve seen that same commercial SIX times. The same one. What are they trying to DO showing it that many times?”

9. On my first day back at work after a few days away, I happened to have a routine dental cleaning scheduled first thing. And I was excited, because it meant I could legitimately procrastinate checking my work email a few more hours — I had turned it off on my phone throughout the trip in an attempt to focus on my family. Sitting in the dental chair, I mentioned this fact to my hygienist and dentist, who were both immediately intrigued by how many messages I might find. We discussed briefly how different jobs were easier or harder to disconnect from (Dentist is apparently an easier one, because another dentist covers your patient emergencies when you are away). Being silly, and because the inevitable moment was almost upon me, I offered to switch on the work email on my phone so we could see. We watched in horror for a few seconds as the notifications icon flashed quickly to 15 and then began to quickly climb – 45 — 90 — 150 — until it topped out at 227. The dentist asked if I was a coffee drinker and then gifted me an “East Topeka Dental” travel mug to help me face my day. The thing about all these many things in the blurred together weeks that make it possible to become thing a week things is finding the thing that makes it worthwhile. Not checking work email for a week wasn’t worthwhile for the effort of disconnecting, or the effort of trying to catch up when I returned. It was worth it for the story, and for the bonding with other humans over the challenges we face, and for the bright blue travel mug.

Okay, I’m feeling like this is a sufficient amount of catching up to be a thing.

Until next time,

Lissa

Week 5: Little Boy who had a Bucket

I wrote this story out for my kids when I worked last weekend and then called them to read it to them. It wasn’t so close to reality that Travis complained, which is always a success in stories without dragons, fairies or other obvious fantasy elements. Like many stories that children enjoy, the parent is depicted as fallible and capable of being taught a valuable lesson, while the child’s persistence and imagination lead them to achieving their goals.

Here it is:

Once upon a time there was a little boy who had a bucket. He carries the bucket with him wherever he goes.

And in the bucket, he has buttons, switches and knobs. On the back of each button, switch and knob there is some adhesive, which is like glue. And covering the glue is a piece of paper to keep everything from sticking together. Sometimes, as the little boy is exploring the world and going about his day, he notices things. When the little boy finds a situation he wants to change, he uses a button, switch or knob to try to make a difference in the world. But things don’t always turn out the way he hopes they will.

One day, the little boy was walking through the garden outside his house. Now, the little boy liked the garden, generally. But his mom was always busy working in the garden, pulling weeds and pruning rose bushes and raking out old leaves. On this particular day, his mom was trimming back the vines that were growing on the side of the house. The little boy wanted to play soccer, but his mom kept saying “just a moment” and not coming to play. The little boy’s bucket was banging against his leg while he kicked the soccer ball through the yard and waited for his mom, who again said “just a moment, please be patient”. With one big kick, full of frustration at having to wait, the boy kicked the soccer ball right into the middle of his mom’s favorite flowers, a patch of bright yellow daffodils.

When the little boy carried his bucket over to the flowers to retrieve his soccer ball, he had an idea. His mom always noticed the flowers and plants that needed the most attention in the yard. Surely, if her favorite flowers needed her attention, she would notice them and come find the soccer ball and remember her promise to play with him.

The little boy reached into his bucket to find the perfect button. He took out a tiny one, peeled off the paper from the adhesive on the back, and stuck the button onto one of the green stems of the daffodils. He held the button firmly in place for 5 minutes, until the adhesive was stuck. And then, with a glance over to his mom to make sure she was still nearby to notice the flowers in need of attention, the little boy pushed the button.

He took a step back, frowning. Nothing was happening. He hoped that the flowers would droop over, or maybe even turn brown at the edges. But the flowers still looked beautiful and healthy. The little boy looked over at his mom, and then, seeing that she was reaching high above her head to pull at some vines, he quickly reached down and pushed the tiny button again. And again. And then five more times. He stood back to look. The soccer ball was still there, in the middle of the daffodils, but it was harder to see now, behind the leaves and the flowers. The daffodils were not drooping over to the ground in need of attention. The little boy took two more steps backwards in surprise.

The daffodils looked beautiful and healthy and the little boy worried that they were taller than before. Either that, or his soccer ball was shrinking. The little boy took a few more steps back, with the handle of his bucket clutched tight in his hand, and decided that the daffodils were definitely getting taller, bigger, by the minute. And his soccer ball was trapped in the middle of the daffodils, which he worried would seem suspicious when his mom noticed what was happening.

The little boy worried. He couldn’t decide which was worse. Should he act surprised that the daffodil stems and leaves were now taller than he was, with flowers as big around as his head, or should he scream for help to get his mother’s sympathy before she realized this might be his fault. The little boy stopped to think about it, and before he could decide, the daffodils grew taller than roof of the house and one extremely bright yellow flower seemed to attack the guttering on the way up, ripping part of gutter right off the side of the house. At the noise, his mother turned away from her vines, glanced over at the little boy, and then screamed as she saw the clump of huge green leaves and stems, which were now almost twenty feet straight up into the air. The yellow flowers were as tall as the little boy, waving against the bright blue sky, high above the roofline of the house.  New leaves were coming up from the ground as the clump of daffodils continued to grow and began to spread.

As the little boy’s mom ran over to pull him farther back from the monstrous, towering plants, one of the new leaves pushed something out from between the clump of huge bright green stems, which were now as wide around as tree trunks. The black and white spotted ball bounced down, rolling until it landed right in front of the little boy and his mother as they looked up in horror at the shockingly tall, enormous plants with the explosion of bright yellow blooms in the sky.

The huge plants shaded the section of the yard where the little boy and his mom were standing. The little boy stretched out his foot and nudged the soccer ball toward his mom.

She smiled and said “Something tells me that I should take a break and play soccer with you now.”

The little boy smiled back. But he didn’t kick the soccer ball. Not yet. He said “Mom, just a moment, please be patient”. He walked over to the biggest stem of green, right at the edge of the clump of daffodils, and kicked at something on the base of the plant. Then he reached down and picked up a tiny button off the ground, and dropped it in his bucket.

By the time he scored three goals against his mom, the clump of daffodils had returned to normal size. Except for one giant yellow bloom, as big as a bathtub, suspended in midair at the roofline between the gutter and the house.

The End