Daylight Savings Time: An Extra Hour to…Blog? :/

So I have a little extra time this afternoon, and it’s time to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here!

  1. The book: is in its final galley edits, and from what I understand will head off for publishing mid-December. You can pre-order it or read an excerpt here: https://kicamprojects.com/shop/permanent-marker-memoir/

Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life, wrote a blurb for it–which I’m so excited about–and it will go on the cover somewhere. 🙂 Right now, I’m awaiting word from the Ohioana Book Festival for my inclusion, and guess what? A national organization wants me–yes me–as keynote speaker at their national conference this spring (I’m just awaiting “official” word)!

  1. School: We have just entered into our Canterbury Tales unit, and the storytelling competition will be sometime this coming week–yay! Each student takes on one of the pilgrims and tells his/her tale to the rest of the class in a competition a la the classic piece of Chaucer’s writing. Winner gets a gift card for food!! Also, in the homeroom pumpkin decorating competition, I’m pleased to say that ours–a version of Cinderella’s carriage after midnight has struck–won THIRD place! 110 pumpkin
  2. Home: Jackson and I decided to throw a Halloween party. Can you guess who we are?

    Cinderella and Phil

    Cinderella and her Prince Charming, Dr. Phil. 

  3. My beautiful daughter Natalie and her amazing boyfriend Ryan dressed up as Danny and Sandy from Grease, and then guess what? He surprised her with a proposal after dancing to “You’re the One That I want”! Of course, she said yes! An Autumn 2018 wedding is now being planned! 

Advertisements

A Haunting We Will Go

Once upon a dark and stormy night in early October, as lightning flashed and thunder grumbled (really—it’s no cliché), several Redbird ¹ staffers arrived at my doorstep for what is now—seventeen years later—one of the highlights of my teaching/advising career: a ghost hunting adventure!

The kids (mostly juniors and seniors) had asked if I would be willing to accompany them on their quest into the greater Mohican area to investigate local ghost legends and “haunts” for our autumn issue. I agreed to our foray into darkness for several reasons: one, it sounded like a good way to achieve “togetherness” (which every good adviser hopes for); two, I didn’t want my staff getting in trouble (trespassing) to get a story; three, because it had been a long time since my own adventure in ghostbusting; and four, because we had an upcoming extended weekend for the Loudonville Free Street Fair.

And so, I organized our field trip: I planned when and where to meet, packed up the emergency medical forms and cell phone, and waited to see who would show up. Who would have thought that fifteen teenagers would want to spend one of their NON-school fair nights traipsing through the woods in the rain and thunder with me, their teacher? I was impressed.

After we split up and piled into a couple cars, our tiny caravan left town, maneuvering the roads less traveled to head into the woods. I honestly can’t tell you where we drove to, because it was dark, it was a long, long way from the village and paved roads, and it was a property that someone in our group had talked to someone else about because he knew the owner who said he wouldn’t care if we took a look at this haunted house. Or something like that. (You know how teenagers ask permission.)

We parked, collected, and started walking, and when our parade of flashlights, whispers, and giggles had reached the destination, we were staring at the site of nothing less than The Blair Witch Project’s abandoned house. But someone had already been there—someone who knew we were coming. A small cross made of twigs was leaning against a tree, and the beaten-up hitching reins of a horse were on the ground surrounding a headless, naked Barbie doll. Sure, it sounds creepy now, but I wondered, as did the kids, if we had been set up.

Definitely not frightened, but not disappointed, either, we turned our attentions back to the old house and its graffiti’d barn, shuffling between them en masse while shining our flashlights to and fro hoping to catch a glimpse of something scary. Nothing happened.

“Where to next?” someone shouted, and teenaged voices criss-crossed over top of each other in the damp, eerie air, still palpable with ghost hunting curiosity and excitement. The kids were in agreement that more important areas were waiting to be investigated, and as we hustled back to our cars, someone mentioned a natural spring near where a murdered girl’s body had been found several years ago.

We decided to check it out, but when we arrived, no one would get out of the cars. The creepy ramshackle cabin and its surrounding craggy, barren trees not only looked sinister, the vibe they put off felt that way, too. This involved an actual killing and not some freaky legend that area teens pass around, so we left just as quickly as we had arrived.

cry baby bridge

We spent the next few minutes back on the road, heading to our main target—the BIG ONE, as far as local hauntings go—Cry Baby Bridge. Every town has one, and the stories are all mostly the same: supposedly, a small baby was sacrificed on the railroad tracks a long time ago by a local, weird cult, and at the stroke of midnight, if you drive your car under that bridge and turn off the engine, then go figure, it won’t start.

Now, by this point of the evening, I’d almost had enough. Yes, nothing had happened so far, but the whole feeling of that place gave me the creeps, especially after our last couple of teasers. We were out in the middle of this particular nowhere, and it was oh-so-very-quiet. We were also smack dab in the middle of the road, hoping not to get caught by any local law enforcement.

I encouraged everyone to go on ahead up on the bridge, while I stood by my car and waited. I could see every one of them clearly, and I knew—hoped—there would be no shenanigans at this late hour (approx. 10:50 p.m.). As we had already suspected, the supernatural world must have decided that our group was just too darn eager to be approached—skeptics are more fun to mess with, I’d guess—and again, nothing happened. No train noises, no babies crying, and no one being pushed from behind by a ghostly figure.

It was time to go home—in this particular instance, no news story about a haunted evening out with students was a good news story, I figured, and we could just chalk this one up to fun. Our group divided back into vehicles, and as the other one started to leave, I realized, believe it or not, that there, parked on the side of the road just feet from Cry Baby Bridge, my car wouldn’t start.

Instantly, panic struck at my heart. What was happening?

“Maybe you’re not using the right key,” Dan said from the back seat.

Beside me, Jason agreed. “Yeah, maybe you just locked up the steering column,” he said.

And in my head, I thought, Okay, true, but what if . . .

Our other vehicle pulled alongside me, and Elaine leaned out of the driver’s side window.

“You guys coming or what?” she asked, laughing at us.

“Uhhhh,” I started, already knowing how this would sound. “I can’t get my car started!”

The other car erupted into loud laughter, as Elaine said, “Ha ha ha. Real funny. Let’s go already.” And she drove away.

So there we were, in the dark, late at night, on the side of the road at a known scary and legendary place where cars aren’t supposed to start, half of my group had left, and there are three teenagers waiting on me, wondering what the hell is wrong with me and/or my driving abilities. (They seemed more frustrated and tired than scared out of their wits, as I was.)

I decided to try Jason’s suggestion one more time. I took a deep breath, moved the steering wheel ever so slightly, turned the key in the ignition, and realized that the overwhelmingly lung-crushing feeling that came from just a few moments of horror had gotten me to this—the climax of the evening.

And then the car started.

We laughed together, the group made fun of me the whole way back into town, and yet, I still sensed their collective relief that we had not encountered the ghost of Cry Baby Bridge. I admitted I had probably locked up the steering wheel when I first got in the car, but who really knows? For all of us, it seemed like the most plausible answer—maybe even the only answer.

The story ends there. My newspaper staff’s moral to the evening? Save your time and your sanity and just go to the fair. There’s probably more of a story there, because the Mohican area ghosts aren’t ready for large group tours yet.

My advice? If you are feeling middle age creeping your way, and you know you aren’t quite ready for it, try this: Take a group of teenagers out in the woods some creepy, stormy October night to look for ghosts and you might just find that you haven’t gone ‘over the hill’ yet at all.

The End

¹ The Redbird, the high school newspaper of Loudonville High School, Loudonville, Ohio. I was the adviser for 12 years.

Local Haunts Note: The real Cry Baby Bridge, at least for this area, can be found just off of state route 39, traveling east into Lucas from Mansfield (Richland County). Storytellers say that a woman named Mary Jane killed her infant son by throwing him from the bridge onto the tracks underneath, and if you visit the night of the murder—Halloween night—you can hear the cries of the baby. (Supposedly, this woman was also known as Bloody Mary, and the same Mary Jane who was considered a witch and buried under a tree marked with blood in a cemetery in Lucas; also known as Mary Jane’s grave.)

P. S. If any of you out there also remember this fun night, let me know!

14 Misconceptions about Teaching High School Seniors

  1. They act their age.

Hah. Only if the true age range of seniors in high school is anywhere from 5-13. Maybe 15. Sometimes 17. Yeah, okay. And 18, too.

  1. They’re too old for candy, bubble gum, or cookie rewards.

No one is ever too old for candy, bubble gum, or cookies. Or ice cream, or cake, or chips, or granola bars, or fruit snacks, or…you get the idea.

  1. They don’t care about saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Yes, yes they do. And some will argue with those who don’t stand for it, cross their heart for it, or say it.

  1. Senioritis doesn’t kick in until after Spring Break.

Riiiiiiiight. Contrary to this outside-of-school popular belief, senioritis kicks in sometime during their junior year. Trust me.

  1. They just come to school because they “have to.”

Hah. Seniors still heart school. Ask them.

  1. They spend more time on Snapchat than truly talking to their friends.

Nope. Most of them spend their time together sharing stories and laughing ABOUT snapchat—more than they do snapping.

  1. They complain relentlessly about school lunches.

Not really—they actually LOVE mashed potato bowl day and ask to go to lunch early!

  1. They’re great big bullies who pick on underclassmen.

Most of them only pick on the underclassmen that need set straight before they catch the school on fire or poop on the restroom floor or trash a building on a field trip.

  1. Friday Fun Day isn’t fun any longer. Especially after twelve long years. And especially in Senior English.

Friday Fun Day is ALWAYS fun, even after twelve long years, and especially in Senior English.

  1. They don’t care about school spirit or leading the student body.

Wrong: they create the absolutely palpable buzz of both!

  1. They won’t read a book or write a paper or do their homework any longer.

You just have to find the way in, because yes, they will. Especially if they love the class.

  1. They’re scary to anyone 10th grade level or lower.

Okay, that’s not a misconception. I’ll concede that one.

  1. Eight o’clock in the morning is a perfectly reasonable time to discuss Beowulf and the epic poetry of Anglo-Saxon culture.

No, no it’s not. Not for seniors, and not for the teacher. Phew.

  1. Seniors in high school are apathetic, lazy teenagers who have no respect for anything or anyone.

Not the teenagers I’m around on a daily basis. They make me laugh, make me feel alive, and make me so happy to still be teaching after all these twenty-five years. (And to all my former seniors reading this, I miss you!)

Wahoo! It’s done! I wrote a book!

Last week, I happily submitted the entire manuscript of Permanent Marker to my publisher, complete with an epilogue I am quite proud of. (See last post.) I not only met the contracted deadline, I actually beat it by almost a month!

(And guess what else? The VP of the company actually called it, “a really damn good book.” Which is so so so so so so sooooooooooooooooooooo cool.)

Alas, summer is over now. I return to school and educating future writers, until the book launches in early 2018, and then I’m sure there will be lots more excitement! Especially since we all know who’s getting a new tattoo very very soon….in a very very exciting place!

I think it should look like this, don’t you?

aimee sig

And don’t fret–I’ll still be blogging away, letting you all know how school and life are going. Thanks for following the book writing/publishing process with me!

Writing the End

When I teach students the structure and content of that ever-dreaded five-paragraph essay, I find that it’s the conclusion that gives them the most difficulty. So how do I help them? I like to refer to the conclusion as the “b.s.” paragraph to alleviate some of the stress of writing it.

By the way, don’t panic. I never say the actual words, just the “b” and “s,” because students already know what it means–no need to clarify. And anyway, it’s true. What does the conclusion do? Restate the thesis, sum up everything you’ve already said, blah blah blah. Yeah, I point out it’s a nice way to tie a little bow on the package of the essay, but why is it really necessary?

And then a few weeks ago, I managed to get to the end of my own book—a two-hundred-and-some pages, many-paragraphed, gigantic essay—and I couldn’t just b.s. the conclusion (hereafter referred to as the epilogue). It wouldn’t work. And my own stress grew. And grew.

It was the epilogue, for goodness sakes. The ending. I’d already done the hard part, so why couldn’t I get anywhere with it? I tried everything. I knew the update I wanted to give, but I just couldn’t come up with any neat little catchy ways to finish off the epilogue.

First I tried an ending similar to this:

“Thanks to The Trifecta of Shit, I’m on my third life.
            That’s how I figure it, anyway.
My own trilogy. A triple. Another trifecta.
My first life ended with a broken heart.
But I survived, rehabilitating myself enough to push through into my second life and the trials that would forever mark me: leaving home, moving away from my children into not one, but three other places, and the legal dissolution of my marriage.
My second life ended with a broken body.
But I survived that, too, resuscitated with new life—one whose permanent marks required nursing and care and healing. Number three.
The magic number. The magic marker. The third time really is the charm.
This life, one of sublime happiness. This life, one I didn’t know that I needed until it was mine.
I still remember Jackson’s first text message to me one Saturday in July, after I had sent him my cell number on Facebook.
“You waitin’ on this?” it asked, full of an irony I wouldn’t understand until years later.
Uh, yeah. I guess you could say that, Jackson.
For a couple of lifetimes, at least.”

I mean, it’s cute, right? It ties things up neatly, and Jackson and his adorableness get to be the last thing people read. Plus, that really happened, his first text to me. And it makes so much sense now, right?

But it just didn’t fit. So then I went a different direction with the book’s last words:

“Almost seven years have passed since the accident—almost five since plastic surgery—and I no longer see any doctors for related problems. But it has been seven and a half years since my heart attack, and I still see my cardiologist once, maybe twice, a year.
The heart may be the strongest muscle in our body, but this tells me that it must also be watched over and protected carefully: the heart is the seat of our soul. The heart is where love resides.
And I know the answer to my question—finally. I know why I’m still alive.
Because of love.
The answer is always love.”

But it’s too cliché. And as my editor pointed out, it’s the trending bumper sticker phrase right now. Totally not what I’m going for.

So I fell back on—what else—what I knew better than anything—being a teacher. And it worked. I guess you really don’t have to go looking any further than your own back yard. Stick to what you know, right? Treasure is always where your heart is, too.

I’d like to share the ending with you, but I just can’t, because it’s the very end of the book…and I don’t like to ruin endings. But it has to do with storytelling and why we do it. And I think you’ll all like it.

But more importantly, THE BOOK is done. PHEW. And…hooray!!!

Now what am I going to do with my time?!

AimeeRoss-166

Time to celebrate finishing the book! (Photo by Kari Reidenbach)

 

 

How to Get Your Favorite Writers to Blurb for You (and Yes, Luck Is Involved)

Blurb (blərb/): noun; a short description of a book, movie, or other product written for promotional purposes and appearing on the cover of a book or in an advertisement.

This week I started what I thought would be the arduous task of finding “blurb-ists” for Permanent Marker.

I asked four writers (two of whom are big guns in the memoir writing world, Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping, and Darin Strauss, Half a Life), the pioneer of writing as therapy, one famous teacher, one famous Latino singer’s manager, and two other prestigious teachers for a grand total of nine, and guess what? Six of them—almost 70 percent—said yes!!! Another said he’d try, and there were two others I haven’t heard back from at all. Pretty good odds for my blurbs, right?!

So how’d I get them to say yes, you wanna know…especially those big gun writers.

1. When I read writing that moves me, I look up the writers. Or if I read an article about someone interesting (like the famous teacher), I look him up. After finding out whatever I can about them, I find them on social media and friend request, message, or follow them. That way, not only are my feeds filled with writerly things, but I have a way to connect, even if only in a small way. Then, I take the opportunity to comment on or “like” the writer’s posts or sometimes even retweet, if on Twitter. I’ve even messaged one to get more information, and guess what? He answered. You have to allow social media to work the way it’s supposed to.

2. I’ve looked up writers’ email addresses to try to connect them with my classroom. In one case, the writer agreed to respond to questions my students wrote to him after we had finished his book.

3. I also did a free monthly upgrade on LinkedIn to try to connect to someone there….nothing yet, but at least it’s an avenue.

4. I know these don’t seem like secrets, but today, social media allows us to help spread the word about others as a form of publicity, and once you’ve made yourself a part of that person’s “network,” your help for their cause could get you noticed, and that’s great for your own writing.

5. Which is what happened to me. When I reached out for blurbs, particularly with Thomas and Strauss, also with the famous teacher, I made mention of how we were/ or had been connected, or how I felt about their work, what it had meant to me personally. I was so excited that they even responded!!!

6. But guess what? It worked. I know that many different workshop sessions I’ve sat in on have called all of this being a good literary citizen, and I think I’ve only scraped the surface. Even though I still have a long way to go at understanding social media and making it work full force for me, what I have done has been successful—surprisingly. Social media has made the world a lot smaller, so why not take advantage of it?

And once they agree to those blurbs, then freak out full force because those award winning writers are going to read your writing. And phew. That’s some scary shit. I hope I don’t disappoint them.

(P.S. If Ricky Martin’s manager ever gets back to me, the world will know.)

My Silver Anniversary “Commencement” Address

I just finished my twenty-fifth year of teaching high school English. I spent the first 12 years with sophomores, but for the past 13, I’ve taught seniors. At the same time, because of my own life circumstances, I’ve acquired some pretty significant wisdom. In fact, if anyone asked me to give a graduation speech, this, right here, would probably be what I would say.

Commencement: the act or instance of BEGINNING; the granting of diplomas at the END of an academic year.

What an oxymoron.

Okay, whoops. Sorry. Oxymoron: a figure of speech which creates incongruity and contradiction, like “cruel kindness” or “jumbo shrimp.”

See it now?

Anyway, it really doesn’t matter how literally you want to take “commencement” or what it stands for.

Life is about beginnings and endings. Even though some things could just be means to an end, not ends in and of themselves. But at the end of the day, all good things must come to an end, and that’s just not the end of the world. After all, when one door closes, another one opens, right?

All clichés we believe in, live by, and preach. They must hold true.

But do they? Really?

I tend to believe that life folds one moment into the next, ever moving forward, braiding moments into one another, until before you know it, your youngest child, a handsome, witty, intelligent eighteen-year-old young man on the verge of the rest of his life has completed his last year of high school, graduating and leaving you, an educator of the school where both he and his sisters attended—a child (or children) there on the property with you for the last ten years—alone.

(I think I might be suffering from empty school syndrome.)

But it’s not an ending, really. Those who graduate are not finished visiting the school or attending school events (they always come back), and they are certainly—God knows—not done learning. They are not done communicating with their teachers or coaches or friends, and they are most certainly not done being made fun of, gossiped about, or held up by peer pressure.

At the same time, this doesn’t feel like a beginning, either. It wasn’t as if the graduates all woke up the day after graduation to something different than the few days they’d had since completing school before everyone else. Some slept in, some went to their summer jobs, and some sat around bored, playing video games and surfing social media, secretly wondering in the back of their minds if this was the way “adulthood” was supposed to feel. Sure, some will go on to further education and travel and careers, but there will be no switch flipped for that to begin. It will happen as everything else does: one moment morphing into the next, not stopping or pausing or waiting for anyone to say, “Okay, go! Now!”

So, this is my unsolicited “commencement” speech to anyone who’s ever graduated anything or had a New Year’s resolution or decided to start a diet on Monday. You will find out that life happens one moment at a time, no matter what you decide or how well you organize. There will be crazy course-changing moments, some random and some planned. There will be moments that make you and moments that break you. And there will be moments that force other moments to happen, splicing and intertwining until you can finally see how far you have come from whatever moment on the spectrum you choose.

And I think it’s best to be open to all of them, as long as you stay focused on one thing: becoming your ultimate best self, no matter the moments that happen.

“Since when,” he asked,
“Are the first line and last line of any poem
Where the poem begins and ends?”

― Seamus Heaney, Irish poet

FullSizeRender (2)

Connor Young, a 2017 graduate and beautiful son of his extremely proud mama.