Hello From the Southern Hemisphere!


Sup, yo?

I’ve arrived safely to Peru, so I thought I’d say hi while I have access to the interwebs.

I think you should know that a cab driver (standing nearby while we were waiting for Steve and Lori to arrive) asked me on a hot date. His name is Neil. Way to start the trip off right, eh? Of course I’m not going, but I thought you should all know that the onslaught continues.

It is definitely higher up here and my head hurts from altitude sickness. That stuff is no joke.

Lori says, “I feel good!” She had coca tea… maybe I should give it a try. :-)

Much love.

On Reading YA and Eating Carrots


“Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.”

 

This quote comes from a controversial article written by Ruth Graham that has stirred up all sorts of debate on the interwebs. Having read a response or two and the initial article aptly titled “Against YA,” I now feel knowledgeable enough to comment.

 

In the article, Graham is unapologetically bold in her diction. Though not mean-spirited, she doesn’t just imply or hint or beat around the bush; she calls some of pop-culture’s current faves, “transparently trashy.” She accuses adults of abandoning “the mature insights into that perspective [the perspective of youth] that they supposedly have acquired as adults.” In short, she implies that grown-ups read grown-up books and teens read teen books… thus, adults who read teen books are not adults.

 

Now, okay, as an avid reader, with interests that range from graphic novels all the way to dry texts written by dead theologians, I feel at least a little qualified to voice an opinion here. In addition to my personal reading choices, I also spend 5 days a week with kiddos, guiding them through the world of Young Adult books and the world of classics.

 

Here’s the deal: there isn’t an easy answer here.

 

Do I agree with NY Times writer A. O. Scott, who asserts that adulthood is dead in American Culture? Yes. (Especially in regards to patriarchy and manhood).

 

Do I lament the unashamedly immature behavior of seniors in high school, who are legally adults? Yes.

 

Do I believe adults should read more complex texts than children should read? Yes.

 

Along that train of thought, do I believe we have a literacy problem in America? Yes.

 

The truth is that I don’t particularly disagree with what Graham wrote, but I do take offense at what she didn’t write. There’s far more to this debate than what a person should or shouldn’t read.

 

So, here are my thoughts:

 

There is a spectrum of literacy and I think people of all ages must consider their identities as readers and human beings, making choices that move them closer to the more literate side of things. That being said, I believe people should address their work lives, family, fitness levels, etc… in the same way. The goal should always be to go from being what we are now to something more, greater, fuller…

 

Think of it like this: when I was a teenager, I remember taking great offense at my mother for poo-pooing my carrot-eating. I was very proud of myself for eating carrots drenched in ranch, because that was far better than my norm of hot cheetos. She said that carrots have more sugar than spinach has… which is true. But a person who doesn’t eat any vegetables should certainly be encouraged to eat carrots.

 

Readers are the same.

 

No one really needs to encourage me to read more difficult texts because I’m on the far end of the literacy spectrum. I read something like 20 books at a time, usually including one graphic novel, one YA novel (or other easy read), one classic, and one book on theology. Of course, there’re almost always a ton of other books I’ve got going at any given time, but the point is, you are reading the thoughts of a reader. Still, even with confidence in my literacy level, I read such a wide range of books because I believe I ought to continually grow.

 

Now, we have to address the fact that everyone is not me. Reading is one of my strengths. It is something around which I build my life. I am not the norm, nor should I be. It is good and right for other folks to have other strengths, and I’d hate to think that others look down on me because I’m not particularly musical.

 

I teach students who have literally never finished a book before. Of course they should read about Percy Jackson and Bella. I don’t give a damn that Bella is an insult to femininity/contains a lot of sugar. A person who is on the extreme low end of the literacy spectrum should read Twilight.

 

Problem: I don’t believe that Graham is frustrated with folks at the extreme low end. I think she’s frustrated with the folks in the middle. She didn’t address low literacy at all in her article, which bothers me. She lumped everyone into the same category and judged strong and weak readers by the same criteria. That’s not cool. People should read books that are appropriate and engaging for them… not for someone who has more or less reading experience than they have. Books appropriate for them.

That caveat aside, I think Graham’s point does have validity. I think it’s even biblical. Adults who should be eating solid food haven’t gotten past the milk stage of life. I think she’s annoyed that adults in our culture have decided not to move up on the spectrum, which is a shame and worthy of admonishment.

 

YA novels are simple. They are emotional. Their pacing and diction cater to the kid.

 

They do.

 

This is unarguable. By definition, Young Adult novels are written with the inexperienced in mind. The folks the author thinks about when writing a YA novel are the type of folks you would NEVER go to for advice, because they are children. They are the fools who plagiarize from SparkNotes, believing that I won’t catch them, because they are either incapable or unwilling to read the complex texts assigned to them. They are pimply, hormonal, and emotionally-stunted.

 

And yet, I read books written for them. Intentionally.

 

And I don’t give a damn if Ruth Graham or Mr. Scott want to judge me for it, because I’m confident that I’m as literate as they are.

 

The thing is, right now, I’m working on both Catch-22 and A Tale of Two Cities. So it’s really different for someone like me to sit down and read The Perks of Being a Wallflower than it is for my not-so-literate peers to read it. If that’s all an adult is reading, I think there probably is something wrong. Probably Graham is right in suggesting that, “we are better than this.” However, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a person only reads one type of book. If I read Looking for Alaska on a plane ride, it’s not because I can’t or even don’t want to read Jane Austen. It’s because I’m on a plane and want the flight to seem faster, and reading YA allows me to finish a book in a matter of hours.

 

Adults should read. They should read books that are more complex than the ones they give to their children, in addition to reading the ones they give to their children. They should read fiction and non-fiction. They should read books that they understand and ones they don’t, because the only way to move up on the spectrum is to get used to eating carrots, then move on to peas, then spinach, then even kale.

 

There should be a difference between what adults read and what children read, and there should be a difference between how adults read and how children read.

 

Mark Twain once said that, “the man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

 

I just quoted that from memory, and yet my favorite series of all-time involves an orphan boy, magic, and the surpassing power in being marked from infancy by love. I can reference Mark Twain and J.K. Rowling with equal consistency. I do not believe I have to love one more than the other or even should love one more than the other. They are both equally valuable to my life. However, my knowledge and skill with literature does mean that I am more literate than many of those who forsake the patriarchs of literacy for John Green.

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle claimed that our brains are like rooms, and we are to fill them with furniture as seems best.

 

I think that’s what reading is about. A person should consider the furniture with which she decorates her brain. She should always be improving upon pieces she possesses, because she doesn’t want her room to fall into disrepair. However, a brand-new homeowner cannot be expected to match the stylings of those who’ve been working on their houses for decades, and a person should not be shamed for finally attempting to make something of a space after decades of neglecting it.

 

Am I against adults reading YA? Absolutely not.

 

I am for everyone, young and old, moving closer to literacy. I am against blanket statements and judgments. And I am certainly against literary snobbery.

 

No adult should feel embarrassed for reading literature written for children. They should feel embarrassed for neglecting their brains, which is maybe closer to what Graham meant to critique. However, she should feel embarrassed for shaming whole groups of people at once, as if reading weren’t personal and intimate. As if one person’s experience reading a book can be equated to another person’s reading of the same book. As if she is qualified and justified in prioritizing  challenging reading over enjoyable reading in my life. As if books and story can be quantified. As if…

 

Life Update


It’s been awhile since I’ve just let you know what’s going on, so here are the headlines:

Peru in 3 Days!

I’m surprisingly chill about my first visit to the southern hemisphere and 5-day trek at altitude in the Peruvian wilderness. I’ve done very little packing or preparation. Later today (written Saturday), I’m headed to REI to make some purchases, but I’m fairly unconcerned about the whole thing.

Here’s the plan: Leaving Friday, flying all over the place, then eventually arriving in Lima, where I will have Starbucks. One of my greatest joys in international travel is taking advantage of the exquisite quality control Starbucks exhibits… my Iced Grande, 3-pump, non-fat, no-whip white mocha tastes remarkably the same no matter where it’s purchased, which absolutely blows my mind.

Next, I will continue on to Cuzco and Amy the dentist will pick me up at the airport. Steve and Lori will arrive a bit after I do and we will acclimate to the altitude for a few days, by hanging out in Cuzco. Maybe we’ll eat a guinea pig and see some old churches.

Then, all four of us will leave for a really long hike (40 ish miles). Day 2 of the hike is the terrifying one because it’s far and uphill. Also, I’m concerned about sleeping because it’s going to be cold and the air will be thin. Sometimes, I get panic attacks in Flagstaff, so I’d bet I’ll feel some physical effects of the ultra-high elevation at the top of Peruvian mountains.

At the end of our hike, we’ll reach Machu Picchu, where I promise not to streak, even if there are a ton of tourists doing so nowadays.

I’ve committed to taking at least one photograph a day during the trip, but I don’t promise they’ll be any good or that I’ll share them here.

Also, note: I’m not going to post much while gone. I haven’t died.

Church and Jesus

Pastor Andy has been doing his job, preaching good sermons and trying to get me to talk more at Surge. He asked me to read the scripture in front of everyone thies Sunday, and while I can’t help the hesitation I feel about handing myself over to the church, I’m trying to try. Midtown church is a good one, and I’m encouraged (and even surprised) that I haven’t found any noteworthy flaws. :-) People are people, of course, and imperfect, but it is what I believe a church ought to be.

My affections for the wrong dude aren’t quite so strong in the shadow of Machu Picchu, which is nice, but I still want him and am still trying not to want him. My anger at that boy is stronger than ever, mostly because my heart won’t allow me to give in and go after the dude I want, while that boy already gave in. I want him to love God enough to sacrifice his own desires, which is also what I want for myself. I see us as living parallel stories, and I’m pissed at every moment he doesn’t chose Jesus.

Writing

I’m doing a revision of my manuscript before I send it out to readers for critique. It’s nice to have a full draft, and I’m constantly thinking about querying it, but I’m also treasuring this last bit of time when the story doesn’t belong to anyone except for me.

During revision, I’ve discovered that I have a pacing problem. In writing it the way I wrote it, I created a relentless onslaught of crises. Therefore, I’m adding in a chapter here and a chapter there in an attempt to let the reader breathe. Also, conflict isn’t interesting unless there are good moments worth protecting. The bad must be off-set with good, otherwise, why the hell do my characters even exist?

In addition to my current revisions, I’m looking forward to being finished with this manuscript so I can move onto a new project. I’m re-reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to prep myself, because I think it might be fun to write an absurd Heller-esque tragic comedy about the state of education. I’m not currently working on it, because I’ll poke myself in the eye if I don’t make a real go at publishing something soon, but I am thinking and paying attention to all of the crazy things that happen on a daily basis in my line of work. I evidently have a social commentary leaning in what I write. Who knew?

Running

In spite of the inspirational running quotes I’ve been posting here, I’m really not feeling up to training for a full marathon anymore. I have recovered a love of running, which I’m afraid to lose. For this reason, pushing myself seems counter-productive right now.

On the athletic front, I’ve got the hike to Machu Picchu this month. Next month, I’m running Ragnar Trail, which is super exciting because it’s my third Ragnar of the year, and I get a special medal because of the specific combo of Ragnar races I’ve run this year. In December, I may run the Tucson Half Marathon. January might be the Rock ‘n’ Roll half or full (depending upon how far I push myself in the next few weeks). February I’ve got Ragnar del Sol. March I’ve got the Distance Classic, which is a half marathon. So I’m pretty well-booked athletically for the time-being. :-)

Home

In a month or so, we’ll be getting a third roommate.

Everything has gone better than I could have expected with Kendra. She and I are equally independent and disengaged from home, so we’ve had no conflicts that I’m aware of… keep your fingers crossed. We come and go, without worrying too much about our relationship. It’s peaceful and restful. When we do cross paths, we watch The West Wing and give little life updates.

Third roommate is Sara – Ashly’s sis. I’ve known her for a long time, and even spent the holidays with her for several years. She’s pretty different from me or Kendra, but I suspect the independent, not worrying about the relationships things are part of her personality as well, so maybe we’ll be fine.

I’m enthused to have the extra income that comes with another roommate, and that allows me to make the rent colossally low for both roommates, while still having nearly all of my mortgage paid by others. Maybe I’ll save up to buy a car.

That’s pretty much all that’s going on nowadays. I’m getting over a slight cold, and I’m canvassing for school board candidates when I have free time, which is rare. I hope all is well with my readers. Thanks for sticking with me. Some of you have been reading STILL GROWING since its inception, which is crazy because that was quite a long time ago. :-)

Much love.

Might as Well


My chest felt tight. Eric worked his way over beside me. ‘Look, I got some bad news,’ he said. ‘You’re not going to win. No matter what you do, you’re going to be out there all day. So you might as well just relax, take your time, and enjoy it. Keep this in mind-if it feels like work, you’re working too hard.”

Weekly McDougall Born to Run 259

Mistaking Silence for a Snore


I’ve been working pretty hard this year to get out of my classroom and talk to other adults.

In all honesty, there are exactly two staff members (teachers, admin., classified staff) at my site who truly know me. By design, my work persona is pleasant and aloof. There are quite a few benefits to this persona. For one, I’m never in competition with the many egos in the world of education. I’m pretty universally liked, and I can often get others to take up causes for me, because they believe I can’t/won’t fight for myself.

If, however, I intend to really do this – education – I feel like I need to give a bit more. Maybe I’m going to teach for the rest of my life. Maybe it’s more than just a job. Maybe I’m okay committing a bit more of myself.

I’ve started stopping into others’ classrooms during my planning period in a first step towards maybe trying for real. I’m playing D & D with a couple of dudes from work, with whom I’d otherwise never hang out. I’m attending association meetings…

in trying I’ve discovered an interesting obstacle in my path.

People think I’m pleasant, but plain, simple, boring, and possibly unintelligent.

I think maybe this assumption people make about me is rather telling about the sort of society we’ve created.

Quiet = unintelligent?

Quiet = boring?

That makes no sense to my brain.

I remember as a teenager thinking a ton about this whole talking about self thing. It was pretty relevant in my life because I was an athlete who received a fair amount of attention. Now, granted, I wasn’t Jennie Finch, but I was in the paper enough times that folks would be like, “Hey – I saw you threw a no-hitter!”

My pitching coach started talking to me about dealing with this sort of attention before I really understood why it mattered, and his advice was that I ignore my stats, the media, and just generally what anyone thought about me. That was probably my natural inclination anyways, and I got very good at redirecting attention.

The thing was, the athletes who talked the most about themselves were always the ones who you didn’t really have to fear on the field. I wanted to be legit rather than well-known, so I pretty much refused to talk about myself. If a reporter asked me about a particular game, I credited my catcher for calling a great game, and I went home and did my homework.

Nowadays, I’m realizing how much no one does that.

Of course, I didn’t do it for the right reasons as a kid. I had a sense of duty and righteousness that allowed me to feel superior for not talking about myself. However, now that I just genuinely do it out of habit (and evidently to my own detriment), I’m beginning to wonder how the hell adults are so bewitched by those who talk about themselves. How are the politics of a workplace so dictated by the belief that folks who talk are the only ones who have thoughts in their brains?

Talking about myself feels pretty unnatural to me, but I think I need to start doing it at work a bit more. I came to this conclusion when a colleague started telling me about this plan he has for me to help him lead something, and he said something to the effect of, “You’ll get leadership experience and become a better human being.”

I smiled and said something about how leadership and being a better human being aren’t always linked.

Then, I thought about it later and realized that he thinks I’m afraid to lead.

In his brain, I’m a very nice girl who has a lot of potential, but needs to be brought along so that I can become an activist fighting for public education.

I don’t see myself that way. Maybe I don’t see myself clearly, but I think I’ve led a fair number of things in my life, and I’m actually pretty comfortable with my ability to lead well. I don’t generally enjoy leading, but that has more to do with understanding the game and thinking there’s better out there than being admired/respected/followed. I also think I live up to my potential pretty well… I just don’t direct much energy into work.

So… I’ve got to figure out what to do here. Am I committed enough to this job that I ought to let folks know me for real?

We’ll see.

Really? That Seems Excessive and Mean


… Harvard scientists had once verified exactly that point by sticking a rectal thermometer in a cheetah and getting it to run on a treadmill. Once its temperature hit 105 degrees, the cheetah shut down and refused to run.”

I would’ve refused to run the second they put a rectal thermometer in… but kudos to the cheetah, I guess?

Weekly McDougall Born to Run 223

The Good Fight


Years ago, I was listening to a Matt Chandler sermon (I don’t remember which one) and he talked about how important it is to have people of all ages in the church. Young folks, he said, have a frantic urgency in their hearts, of which they’re powerless to rid themselves, but older folks have survived a few messes, so they have a calmness in the midst of chaos, because they’ve weathered chaos before.

I thought that was interesting, because I’ve never thought of myself as the frantic type, even though I’m still young. Then, I recently caught myself feeling frantic and urgent about something silly, and I was like, Okay, Matt Chandler, maybe you were right.

Recently, I’ve had my first sort of shocking experience where someone for whom I care deeply and I admire willfully chose disobedience. It’s not that I’ve never seen anyone do that before, but I’ve never seen someone of the highest caliber do it.

I think part of what Matt Chandler referred to in his sermon was that thing where older folks have seen people come and go. They’ve watched good men fall. They’ve read their Bibles enough times to feel less frantic when crap goes down, because crap is always going down in the Bible and in real life. Surviving 25, 30, 40 years in Christ teaches a person how to weather tragedies and chaos of which a younger person can’t even conceive.

For probably the past 6 months or so, I’ve felt far more tempted than I’ve ever felt before. There’s a man who I really want, and I’m fairly certain he’s not a Christian. This is a strange sort of temptation for me because I’m not as confident as I usually am that I have what it takes to do the right thing. I’ve been a good girl so far, you know, not encouraging this man, but I could see myself justifying a relationship with him so easily – he’s so much better than _______ Christian dude because he’s more moral, intelligent, passionate, kind, fascinating, etc… - even though I know it’s wrong.

I know this is terrible, but most Christian men who are at or around my age are disappointing. They always seem a little too much like my students – young, naive, goofy, inexperienced, ignorant, simple, etc… I wish I didn’t think that, but I do. They don’t seem like fully-formed people with thoughts in their brains. They seem like the end of 1984 when Winston “loved Big Brother. The end.” That’s a cool line at the end of a dystopian novel, but it’s not so cool when indoctrination is stamped all over a real person’s identity. I recognize that there’s an arrogance embedded in those thoughts, and I promise I try to combat it. Yet, I haven’t met an unmarried Christian man in a long time who seemed like a thinking, feeling human being – one who I could ever consider for more than one coffee date.

At first, I was pretty disappointed in myself for even wanting the man I currently want. It felt like wanting him is this enormous crisis of faith. However, as I’ve endured for a bit, I’ve started to feel less and less like I’m in crisis… less like a mistake with this man would be the end of my relationship with God, and more like whatever happens, I need God and know that I need Him (and He knows that I need Him). That probably sounds like I’m allowing myself too much grace, but I assure you I’m not. I’m just thinking about God’s relationship to those who belong to Him.

I do belong to Him.
I’m not some fraud who’s been faking it for years. I am not now trying to get away from Him. I do wish I He’d just let me have this man, without it impacting my relationship with Him in any significant way, but I’m still in obedience regardless of my desires.

I think some of the urgency of youth is the fear that one choice can change a whole life. One choice can ravish a person’s identity, family and other relationships, security, etc… but older folks have more of a sense of stability in those things, I think, and in God’s love for them.

I’m so angry at that boy for not fighting harder. I’m angry at him for not listening when people who love him tell him the truth.

In fact, I’m angry at the other people in my life who had similar fights to fight, and they also gave in. I wish they would’ve fought harder and longer. I wish I could say that I watched them struggle for 6 months, making the right choice for as long as they could before they gave in. I wish I could say that they fought admirably… but what I’m forced to say is that people give in so easily.

I don’t know if I’ve got enough fight in me to make it another six months. I really want this man, and I don’t understand why God still has me alone, because I really don’t feel made to be alone.

But I do feel made to be His daughter. And I know that even when God doesn’t provide the way out that I want, He does always provide a way out. I also know that He’s the sort of God who has truly shown steadfast lovingkindness to His people throughout history. If I am inadequate for this fight, He will continue to show me lovingkindness – though I suspect being inadequate for the fight isn’t the defining factor in my win/loss record. I suspect that, “God will fight for me, and I need only be silent,” (Ex: 14:14). I suspect that those people at whom I’m so brokenhearted because they accepted defeat… they weren’t any less adequate than the folks who add another ‘W’ to their records. I just suspect that winning/losing is more about knowing I AM, and recognizing that any victory is His. My role in the fight, when I don’t have any fight in me, can be  limited to silence, without jeopardizing the victory even in the slightest.