Let’s Stop Blaming Young People for What They Aren’t Taught

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We’ve all seen them – stories circulating on Facebook and social media about young people (dreaded millennials) who don’t know how to use rotary phones, can’t write in cursive, and puzzle over analog clocks. Take a peek at the comments and you’ll see in a matter of seconds how absolutely cruel and condescending people are towards an entire generation – for things that are, in reality, not their fault.

Let’s start with the cursive thing. Somewhere along the line kids stopped learning handwriting in school. Now, who made that decision? The students themselves? Of course not. It was the adults running the school and planning the curriculum. But when those first graders who were never taught to scrawl their names in anything but block lettering reach middle school and high school, somehow teachers, activity coordinators, and perspective first-job employers are scoffing at their inability to produce a signature. These young people are immediately judged for their lack of a basic life skill that no one ever showed them – at no fault of their own.

It’s the same with analog clocks. When I was in elementary school, learning to read a clock was part of math class. I remember hating it and struggling with it, just like anything having to do with numbers. But I was required to learn it, and eventually I did. So if educators eliminate this basic skill from math class, and parents fail to teach it at home, how can we mock the children who simply were never taught a skill by the people who are meant to help them navigate the world?

One thing millennials are made fun of for is their inability to know how to use a rotary phone, and this one irks me to no end. First of all, I know how to use a rotary phone because I’m an “older” millennial and my grandparents had one in their basement until I was probably seven or eight years old. My cousins and I spent lots of time playing with the heavy contraption, spinning the dial as fast as we could long after the thing had been disconnected. But the millennials who are five or ten years younger than me simply never came in contact with one – just like our parents and grandparents probably never came in contact with gramophones from the twenties or a washboard from the 1800’s.

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Is someone stupid or incompetent if they don’t know how to use an invention that became obsolete before they were born? Of course not. But for some reason we’re treating this new generation like they are.

Think about it – were women in the sixties and seventies stupid because they didn’t know how to tie a corset? Are people in the military inept because they wouldn’t know how to load a musket? Were music fans in the 90’s daft because they didn’t know how to use an 8-track player? No. Our world is constantly changing, evolving, and improving. Eventually old technology is going to become obsolete and only a handful of people will know how certain things work. Or a lack of knowledge about this once-new or popular technology shouldn’t automatically brand someone as a brainless zombie.

I realize that writing in cursive, changing a tire, cooking basic meals, and preparing your taxes are things that not a lot of people in my generation and those younger don’t know how to do. And I completely agree that these are important skills needed to navigate the world. But we aren’t born knowing how to do these things. And some of us don’t have parents around to teach us. So I stand by my opinion that teaching these skills needs to be a priority in schools. While it is important that kids learn how to use new technology, it is also imperative that we don’t have scores of graduating high school seniors who don’t know how to use a screw driver, bake muffins, or communicate face-to-face with another human being.

Even more important than teaching these skills is realizing that if a young person doesn’t know how to perform one of these tasks, more than likely it isn’t their fault and it doesn’t dictate their intelligence, worth, or potential as a human being.

Lets’s stop writing off an entire generation as mindless idiots simply because they were born in a time like the world has never seen.

In the words of Mark Twain …

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How Time Blocking Helps My Writing (and My Life)!

In this blog, I talk a lot about how busy I am and how I constantly have multiple balls in the air at once. Juggling two jobs, my writing, my husband, family, dog, house, and social life can sometimes be complicated. But today I’m going to tell you about one of the biggest factors that has helped me navigate this balancing act, and that is time blocking.

I first learned about time blocking from an awesome group on Facebook called 10 Minute Novelists. Not only is it a vast resource of information, but the community is always supportive and inspiring. Its main focus is helping writers balance their life and work by teaching you how to write a novel (or whatever) 10 minutes at a time.

So what is time blocking? Well, it’s disciplining yourself to a certain task for a predetermined chunk of time, which is reinforced by setting a literal timer. The amount of time is up to you and your schedule and goals, and can be adjusted depending on how many projects you have going or your work style.

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Now before I go any further, I know that the general opinion is that the best writers and artists are messy and disorganized, but this is one characteristic of a creative mind that I don’t identify with. I’ve always been a tidy and hyper-organized person, and being surrounded by mess, regardless of how small, actually impedes my writing. If there’s a stack of unopened mail on the dining room table or a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I almost can’t concentrate on my craft knowing that something disorganized is happening in the other room. I even have trouble sleeping in a room, where, say, the blankets aren’t tidy or a drawer is open a crack. So in my life, a neat space is a must if I want to be creative.

The amount of time that is most popular for me is thirty minute increments. I’ll set the timer on my phone for half an hour, open a writing project (manuscript, blog, or networking) and work on NOTHING BUT THAT for the entire time. When the timer goes off, I’ll finish up the sentence or paragraph I’m in the middle of, then walk away. This can be difficult if my creativity is flowing beautifully, but the benefit of walking away is that I always have a well to draw from once I return, whether it be an hour or a day later. Sometimes I’ll allow myself an extra sixty seconds to jot down notes so I’m not totally blank when I return to the task, but in general I find this practice extremely helpful.

What do I do when I walk away from a writing project? you ask. Well, any number of things. Most of the time it’s boring adult stuff — laundry, dusting, dishes, that sort of thing. (This is how time blocking helps my life too). But sometimes I change it up by walking my dog, running an errand, checking my email, or making a phone call. Occasionally I even slap on an exfoliating mask and read for thirty minutes. And when that timer goes off, guess what? It’s back to writing.

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During the week, I use this practice for only an hour or two. After getting home from work and making dinner, I’ll read for half an hour. Then I’ll clean up the kitchen and do the dishes, then it’s back to writing for a bit. Then I walk the dog, watch some Friends or hockey with my husband, then return to writing. The best part of time blocking is that I can tailor it to my needs for that day or for the project I’m working on.

For example, on Sundays I sometimes stretch the time block into hour long chunks. I can get A LOT of writing done in sixty minutes, then I take a time out and go grocery shopping or clean the bathroom, then return to my craft. One you get in the swing of things, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish in your writing life and your adult life by disciplining yourself with a simple timer and a “to do” list. I also find that it makes agonizing tasks like housework more manageable. You can tackle anything in small pieces, after all!

Have any of you tried time blocking? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the practice.

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Stuck in the Middle

I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I’m in a funk.

The thing that sucks the most about this particular funk is that nothing is really wrong. But nothing feels particularly right either.

With the exception of the writers’ conference a few weeks back, I feel like I haven’t had anything exciting happening or anything fun to look forward to since before the holidays.

Maybe I’m still coming down from the high that was London. Maybe the holiday hangover is sticking around extra long this year. Or maybe I’m just wanting too much too fast.

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I feel like I’m stuck in the middle or in a transition period in most aspects of my life right now —
at my 8-5, the company is opening another location near our facility, so the prospect of change is very real. We’re just not sure what (or when) it’ll be.
I’m still adjusting to the new car I bought a few weeks ago, and as Murphy’s Law dictates, my husband’s SUV starting having its own issues, but we can’t afford two car payments right now.
Our house, which we worked so hard to purchase, has some un-fun repairs that need completed, and we both feel like we’ve outgrown the place and our neighborhood far before we anticipated doing so. But again – not enough funds to move anytime soon.
I had a successful year with my writing by getting a few things published and pitching to an agent, but I still haven’t gotten paid for any of my work and I feel like my networking has hit a brick wall.
J and I crossed a big item off of our travel bucket list by going to London 5 months ago, but now we’re faced with the reality that we probably won’t be going on vacation at all this year. That’s a particularly hard pill to swallow considering that two of our very good friends are moving to Holland in just a few short weeks.

So I really don’t like things right now. It’s an uncomfortable and boring place to be. And what makes it even worse is the knowledge that I while I’m thankful for everything I do have and everything I’ve been able to accomplish, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but keep pushing and striving to accomplish more and make things better.

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J is kind of in the same funk that I’m in, in all the same aspects — work, finances, creative outlets, etc. While we were venting to each other the other day, I kept trying to think of ways to put aforementioned funk in perspective. While doing so, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that he and I have been through much, much worse in our eleven year relationship. And when I thought about those terrible times where one of us was jobless or had a sick or dying parent, I tried to recall how in the hell we made it through.

The most recent down time for me was about five years ago. A mere three months after getting married, I found out that my time at my job was limited. While I had been miserable there for months, and spent every waking minute applying for any other position that might have me, I was faced with the reality that I was probably going to be forced out rather than have the opportunity to give notice on my terms. After living in our house for less than a year, I realized that being an unemployed newlywed was a very real possibility. To make matters worse, J was working second shift while this was going on, so I was alone in the evening without anyone’s shoulder to cry on. I knew I somehow had to find a way to make it through the dreaded emotions and grim reality I was facing, and I remember forcing myself every day for several weeks to find the good in my life. At that time, literally the only thing I clung to were to very basic facts — that I had a warm, comfortable bed and a sweet dog to come home to every night. These bare minimum positives are what carried me through those daunting, lonely days.

I know deep down that this funk is only temporary and sooner or later things will start looking up again. Spring is coming — slowly, begrudgingly in western PA, and seeing the sunshine again always helps. We have two weddings to attend, one in the summer and one in the fall, and we may see if we can swing a long weekend trip to a nearby city we’ve never visited. Eventually J’s coworker will come back from medical leave, my company’s new facility will someday be finished and whatever changes await the employees will be known. And maybe sometime before I’m ninety, I’ll be able to call myself a professional writer.

Until then, I just have to keep reminding myself … “this too shall pass.”

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Writing Day Workshops – Pittsburgh

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On March 9th, I attended a one day writers’ conference hosted by Writing Day Workshops in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

Since this was my second conference, I was considerably less nervous than I was for my first one, even though this would be my first time pitching to an agent (more on that later). In general, I walked away with lots of resources from this conference, and it wasn’t the least bit overwhelming considering it was only eight hours instead of three days. Most of the speakers were extremely informative and motivating, and they did a really cool session where several agents read “blind” copies of the first pages of some attendees’ manuscripts and gave a quick critique as to why they would or wouldn’t continue reading had the manuscript come across their desk. I was disappointed my first page wasn’t one of the randomly selected, but it was helpful to hear why an agent may decide to continue to read or pass on a submission.

Lucky for me, one of the first speakers of the day gave a lot of good information about pitching to (or querying) an agent. My pitch was scheduled for 10:10am, so her words were fresh in my mind when I exited the conference room and headed to the other side of the hotel for my very first pitch.

If you read my blog regularly (thanks BTW!), you know that these last few months have been a challenge for me, anxiety-wise. A week prior to the conference, I was seriously considering skipping it because I was having tons of random panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on something as simple as a recipe, let alone preparing a pitch. I spent days writing and re-writing a script for myself, and probably had about twelve incomplete versions before I gave up completely. A mere two or three days before the conference, I got a very helpful message from another writer in a Facebook writer group saying “Stop. Just tell yourself, like a mantra, ‘I know the words that come out of my mouth are perfect. I give the best pitch.’ Say it with total confidence and trust.”

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And this is what I did. I of course had a general idea about what I was going to say, but I had been obsessing over what order to say it in and what to emphasize. Eventually, I limited myself to one practice run a day.  Then the morning of the conference, I rehearsed it in the shower and once more when I parked my car. I didn’t think of it again until I sat down and shook hands with the agent I’d picked out three months ago when I registered.

Leading up to the conference, I’d heard some horror stories about new writers butchering pitches or completely blanking out once they sat down, regardless of how prepared they were. A friend of mine pitched to an agent last year, and she said the woman was like talking to a stone and seemed shocked when my friend offered her hand and introduced herself. And when I attended a webinar last fall about what to expect when pitching to an agent, the host warned that most agents simply sit and wait for you to start talking with no prompts or questions whatsoever. I did my best to prepare for these scenarios, but I’m so glad my experience was totally different.

The agent I pitched to was young and friendly, who smiled throughout the entire ten minutes. She nodded as I spoke, asked me questions, and told me she was looking for stories with several specific elements mine just happened to have. She seemed intrigued and excited that my novel had some mental health themes and focused on a woman in her mid-twenties, both of which are apparently under-represented. We seemed to click right away and I was completely GEEKED when she gave me her card and asked me to email her my query and first three chapters. Somehow I was able to contain my excitement and ask relevant questions, like whether or not it was okay for me to send the apparent dreaded prologue that so many people in the writing industry detest, and scribbled down her instructions so I could refer to them later.

After the pitch, I took a timeout in the ladies room, where I very briefly cried tears of joy and reapplied the deodorant that hadn’t held up a lick while I was pitching. Then I strode back to the main conference room feeling like I had just won the Academy Award for best screenplay.

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The rest of the day flew by, and I’m proud to say that I initiated several conversations with other writers sitting near me. Although I still only gave out one business card, I spoke to another young woman about writing about mental health, and lamented with a few others about finding reliable beta readers and critique groups while holding a day job.

The last speaker of the day was JD Barker, an international best-selling author who was somehow both inspiring and discouraging. He gave hope to us amateur writers by telling us that he was sitting at a conference as an unknown writer a mere five years ago, and he threw out some great resources for us to research. But most of those resources were websites and services that, quite literally, cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, which he just happened to have even before making millions selling books. So. There’s that.

On my way home, I texted my husband to order pizza and stopped to pick up a six pack of my favorite beer to celebrate my successful pitch. That night, I began working in the necessary evil that is the query letter, and am hoping that by the time this post goes live, I will have sent my best to the agent.

Fingers crossed!

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WDW hosts conferences in several cities throughout the US every year. Check out their website if you’re interested!

Writing Day Workshops

Small Announcement (& a Question)

 

Hello all and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I wanted to take a quick second to let all of you know that I’ve recently set up a Twitter account for my writing, and though I have next to no idea what I’m doing, I’m eager to follow other writers and bloggers and of course get some follows back myself.

If you’d be so kind to seek me out, my handle is @StacyAnneWrites and if you have any writing or blogging accounts you can recommend I follow, feel free to let me know either here or in the Twitter-sphere.

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I also have a question relating to something else I’m considering adding to my blog. I’m sure many of you have seen writers and other artists have links for Patreon on their website, where you can “buy a cup of coffee” aka send a donation, if you like what you’re seeing or hearing. It’s an interesting way to help support writers and artists of all kinds, but of course you have to pay for an account in order to, well, get paid.
But I recently received an email with a link for a similar site called Ko-fi and here you have the option to set up a free account. Of course, paying $6/month gives you more perks, and although that small amount of money isn’t going to break the bank even for someone like me, I can’t help but think “is it worth it?”

Although I am eternally grateful to anyone who regularly reads this blog, buys my books, or follows my Facebook (or Twitter) account, I realize there’s only a handful of you … for now. I’m always working on expanding my networking to gain more followers and reach more people, but I realize that progress can be slow. And if that’s the case, and I’m only making, like, $10/month with this “buy me a coffee” button on my website, is it worth even setting up the account or going further and paying $6/month to have other people pay me?

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So my questions to you, the readers (and writers) are:

  1. How likely are you to donate to someone who has a Patreon or Ko-fi button on their website?
  2. How much do you usually give?
  3. Do you think it’s a worthy “investment” or would you suggest sinking that money into something else, like a paid WordPress site?
  4. What have been the most effective and most affordable ways you’ve expanding your networking and reached more readers?

I really appreciate any input any of you have. I’ve seen my “following” numbers become a bit stagnant over the last few months, so I realize I have to do something different to take the next step towards making writing a bigger part of my life, and possibly getting paid, even just a little bit, for doing so.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!

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Seeing as it’s Women’s History Month…

*** This is NOT a book review ***

I recently finished a novel by Tracy Chevalier called Remarkable Creatures, which tells the story of two real-life women from the 1820’s who had a huge impact on modern science, but sadly not many people know about.

Considering March is Women’s History Month, and I haven’t done much recently to help fight the patriarchy, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the book and its two real-life characters that struck a chord with me.

Remarkable Creatures follows the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two women who spent their lives combing the beaches of Lyme Regis, England looking for – and discovering – fossils.
This may not seem like such a big deal to us twenty-first century dwellers, but two hundred years ago, it was huge (and sometimes unsettling) news.
In the 1820s, people still weren’t sure how old the earth was. Almost no one believed it could possibly have been around for more than a few thousand years. Charles Darwin wouldn’t publish Origin of the Species for nearly four more decades. And no one dared to suggest that God had created creatures who eventually became extinct.

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But when Mary Anning was just twelve years old, she and her brother Joe found one of the first ichthyosaurs on the beach in what is now known as the Jurassic Coast. Along with her friend and companion Elizabeth Philpot, Mary would spend the rest of her life scouring the beaches for ammonites, belemnites, and vertebrae. Selling her discoveries to wealthy men and museums helped pull Mary and her family out of poverty, and she lived quite a unique and remarkable life for a woman of that time period.

While I’m not overly interested in fossils or geology or the like, and I found the novel a bit slow-moving,  I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and sometimes saddened by Mary and Elizabeth’s story.

Some male scientists, geologists, and businessmen doubted the authenticity of her finds, and a few of them took advantage of her seemingly natural ability to discover these thought-provoking fossils. Though she had next to no formal education and zero professional training, Mary discovered, preserved, and documented her fossils with expert precision. But once the wealthy and professional men paid Mary their fees, several of them took credit for the scientific breakthroughs, and hardly anyone knew who was behind all the hard work.
Mary was never permitted to attend meetings of the Geological Society, and neither was her friend Miss Philpot, despite the latter’s higher social status. Despite the fact that these women were the ones with dirt under their fingernails and lines around their eyes from cleaning the intricate details of their discoveries, it was the wealthy men with high social rankings who benefited most from these breakthroughs.

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While there is now a museum dedicated to Mary in Lyme Regis, and she and Miss Philpot have been given credit for their finds in the British Museum and elsewhere, I can’t help but feel frustrated and sad that these women never got to fully enjoy the recognition they so deserved. Aside from making incredible contributions to science and geology, they deviated from the strict rules of society by never marrying and spending their time outside getting dirty instead of sipping tea and sewing. They maintained their independence and focused on what they were passionate about, and in Mary’s case, she may have even saved her family from the workhouse with her discoveries.

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Stories like this are what make Women’s History Month important. And it’s the unjust treatment that makes me realize how far we’ve come as a society — but also how far we have yet to go.

It may seem like we’re fighting losing battles when it comes to equal pay, toxic masculinity, paid maternity leave, and control over our own reproductive rights. But women like Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot strike inspiration by being quiet pioneers of movements essential to the growth of society.

Even if fossils aren’t your passion — even if they don’t strike your fancy for a hot second — I encourage you to read the novel or do some of your own research on these two amazing women who were far ahead of their time. At first glance, a reader may think that Remarkable Creatures is about the long-extinct and fascinating animals preserved in coastal rock. But upon closer inspection, it’s evident that the Remarkable Creatures in this book are the very real Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.

** Here are a few websites I found useful and informative when I started researching Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot on my own:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/mary-anning-unsung-hero.html

https://www.famousscientists.org/mary-anning/

https://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/collection/mary-anning/

https://trowelblazers.com/elizabeth-philpot/

 

all photos courtesy of Google images unless otherwise noted

 

 

Lifting Spirits

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Another Tuesday or Thursday night, another three hours cleaning empty banks for an extra few bucks a month.

I was feeling bitter and lonely, unsuccessful and unfulfilled, and the bitterness only increased as I dusted, mopped, and emptied garbage.

By the time I made my way into the lobby of the bank where the ATM was situated, I was feeling so deflated I could hardly bring myself to care whether or not I was leaving streaks on the glass as I went over it with my squeegee. How was it possible that I was working two jobs and still feeling like it wasn’t enough? Not only were finances still tight but I felt like nobody — NOBODY — cared about how I toiled away at an 8-5, dragged myself to a second job two nights a week, took care of a husband, dog, and house, and still managed to devote any extra time in my life to writing.

Was a little recognition too much to ask?

As I turned to address the smudges on another pane of glass, an older black woman entered the lobby and made her way to the ATM.

“Hello,” I called halfheartedly. I always made it a point to greet customers so they knew they weren’t disrupting my cleaning.

“You’re doing a good job,” she replied without missing a beat, as if she had read my thoughts from mere seconds before. “We appreciate you.”

I bit my lip and held my breath to stop the tears from flowing. For a few moments the only sound in the lobby was the series of beeps from the ATM. “Thank you,” I eventually managed. “I kinda needed that tonight.”

The woman withdrew her receipt from the machine and shook her head. “Hey — it doesn’t matter if you’re the janitor or the CEO or the President of the United States — we all deserve recognition.”

“You’re right,” I replied, relief and gratitude flowing through me like ocean waves.

She chuckled. “Don’t know why I said ‘President’ though. He ain’t doing a very good job of anything right now.”

I laughed too. “I can’t argue with you there.”

She paused in the tiny lobby and we eyed each other. Me — white skin, dirty-blonde hair, mid-thirties, dressed in an old t-shirt and bleach stained sweatpants, cleaning up other peoples’ messes. Her — black skin, tall, and curvy, wild curls sprouting playfully from her head, a pair of red glasses perched on her nose, clad in heels, dress pants, and a knee-length trench coat lined with faux fur.

“I’m sixty-four year old,” she continued. “And I thought we were making some progress in this country.” she paused and shook her head. “But now we’re literally building walls to separate people.”

I shook my head too. “It’s not right.”

“We gotta look to what brings people together, not what sets us apart,” she went on. “I mean who would have thought you and I had anything in common?”

“I know what you mean,” I replied. “But I’m fighting right along with you.” Somewhere deep inside my dejected heart, I summoned a spark of hope. “We just gotta keep going.”

“Girl, we’re gonna be okay,” she told me confidently, and beckoned me closer with a wave of her hand. “Now come here and gimme a hug, sistah!”

I grinned and stepped into her embrace, taking comfort in the refuge of a perfect stranger and the unfamiliar scent and texture of her skin and clothes.

“You have a good night,” she said, stepping back out onto the dirty sidewalk to face the bitter cold.

“You too,” I called, heaving a shaky sigh as I watched her disappear.

I turned back to my bucket of wipes and sprays, my heart feeling infinitely lighter.

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