An Educational Adventure – CoronaLife Day 194

Remember snow days? Weather would be bad and school was cancelled. With remote learning, you aren’t dependent on if the buses can get through to have school. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a “snow day”. In the spring semester when remote learning was still new and we were all just trying to get through each day, our town had a power outage. Not from snow, I can’t even remember why, but the town was out for about 2 days. No school!

When it’s the whole town, you know you don’t have to worry about your kid missing anything. This weekend, though, our modem died—poof, no internet at the house. And since it was just us, I knew my daughter would miss school for the 2 days it would take the modem to come. That’s a lot of work to make up. So what’s a remote learning parent to do?

FIELD TRIP!

On Monday and Tuesday, my daughter and I nestled in our car next to the school so she could hook up to their internet. Their schedule is live teaching for 4 hours, then lunch, then the afternoon is their pre-recorded specials classes and live meetings with teachers as needed. So we spent both mornings camped out so my daughter got her lessons and didn’t fall too far behind. We pushed off the afternoon pre-recorded specials, as they are only once a week and aren’t due until next week’s class, so she can do them over the weekend. Four hours in the car per day was enough!

Our new modem arrived Tuesday evening, just before I had a scheduled virtual meeting, so at least that worked out.

I hope that is the end of our adventures in education for a while. Now we just have to figure out how to co-exist with each other as my daughter, husband, and I all fight for bandwidth during the day.

Anyone else having remote learning adventures?

Routines and Revisions – CoronaLife Day 187

This is my daughter’s second week of remote learning, and we are settling into a routine again. Unfortunately for me, every school-time routine means I don’t get enough sleep. No matter how hard I try, it is always later than I want it to be before I get to bed, and that alarm goes off awfully early in the morning.

However, a routine is helpful. My daughter is old enough now that she does not need constant help with her schoolwork. Unlike the spring remote learning, where we were all simply trying not to drown, her teacher is online live with her and the class for 4 straight hours (with small breaks in between lessons so the kids can move around, go to the bathroom, etc). Then a lunch break, then my daughter goes back up to her “art studio” to do her Specials work and anything she hasn’t finished in class.

Since she also makes her own breakfast and lunch, that leaves my day more open than it has been all summer. It’s still hard to concentrate, because my daughter pops down at every break to chat, but I can get some work done during the daylight hours (if I can stay awake!). As a result, I have been able to work some more on revising Veritas later in the afternoon and evenings.

As I said in a previous post, I have been using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius to revise, but I got hung up on what she calls the third rail—those competing desires that fuel the inner conflict of your protagonist. I wasn’t quite understanding it, or at least I could not clarify it enough to find one that felt “right” for Veritas, until I spoke to my friend Kathryn Craft, who is a wonderful developmental editor. She reframed the idea for me, coming at it from several other angles, and at last I “saw” what I needed.

I have spent the past week chipping away at the rest of Story Genius, laying the groundwork which will both support and propel the story. I feel like it’s finally coming together. This is a major revision of an already well-polished story, and what I am finding is that all the pieces I needed were already in the story—I just have to put them together in a different way. So, yay to my subconscious for knowing what needed to be in there, even while my conscious brain missed the point.

My plan from here on out, now that I think I grasp what I need to do, is to use Cron’s Story Cards concept to examine my existing scenes and align them with my new insights, and figure out if any more need to be added (or deleted). We shall see how it goes.

How are you settling into your fall routine? Is it much different from your summer one?

Amazing Times – CoronaLife Day 180

This week began school for my daughter. Like many other schools, ours is remote for the first marking period. And as I walked up to the school the other day to drop papers into the drop-box, I thought, “What an amazing time we live in.”

Now wait, I hear you thinking. There’s a pandemic going on. Amazing is not the word I would use for our times.

I get it. The whole pandemic thing is awful. It’s stressful. It’s a life we never expected to be living. For many people their lives have been irrevocably changed by loss of work, loss of their own health, loss of a loved one. Our world will never be the same.

But here’s the thing. We are still living in amazing times. I wrote a manuscript set in 1922 Philadelphia. The ghost of the 1918 flu pandemic still hung heavy over people’s lives. So I necessarily did some research into the 1918 pandemic.

When the flu hit Philadelphia hard, they shut everything down. For a while, even coal stopped being delivered to the town–in winter. And the schools, of course, closed. Many parallels to today.

One thing was vastly different, though—technology. When those 1918 kids were home from school, their education stopped. There was no TV, no phone, no internet, even radios were still not ubiquitous. Many kids had parents who were themselves not well educated. Some were lucky enough to have teachers in the family, but most kids had no education at all.

Our kids have remote learning. They have their teachers coming into their homes 4-6 hours a day to educate them. They have assignments, they have access to online tools, they have their teachers available to help them outside of class hours. Is remote learning ideal? No. Are there still wrinkles to iron out? Of course. Even with last spring’s experience, this is still new. But it is vastly superior to what the kids had in 1918—nothing.

So even though I am as tired of this pandemic life as the next person, I am grateful for what we have. I know remote learning is difficult for some families. I know there are some families that are straining to get this done, for whom juggling work and school is a hardship. But we are doing it. We are uniting as a community like never before. Parents, teachers, and students are working together to get our children the education they need

And for those who still worry about the kids falling behind, that what we (parents, teachers, kids) are doing is not enough, remember this: Those kids that were quarantined with no school in 1918 grew up to be part of The Greatest Generation.

We will all be fine.

And we live in amazing times.

Flexing Social Muscles – CoronaLife Day 173

One thing about the social distancing and quarantine…as an introvert, having a reason not to be social has been great. Staying home has worked for me on many levels. I really appreciated not having to run my daughter to her numerous activities, and just being able to hide out in my little nest.

The problem is, introverts need to force themselves to be social in order to keep up the skill. Not having to be social on a regular basis is making my social muscles flabby, as another writer said. I think there is a real risk I will not want to come back out of the house even when it is finally all clear to do so. And I might have forgotten how to have a conversation, as well.

This week I exercised those social muscles a bit. PTA meeting on Monday, orthodontist with the child on Tuesday, handed off info to the new PTA treasurer Wednesday, and picking up my daughter’s school supplies from school and meeting her teacher on Thursday. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest. I have an anxiety disorder, which has not made the stress any easier through all of this, and it makes it hard to move from a “hunker-down” mindset to a “gotta do stuff” mindset.

I am looking forward to sinking back into my cozy safe haven for the next few days, until school starts on Tuesday. It will be remote, but I expect the first week will be quite the adjustment. For one thing, night owl me will have to start getting up early again to make sure my young one is up and fed in time for check in. Still, while having no routine was nice for the summer, it is time for us to get back into it. Maybe with my daughter having a routine, I will find a groove and start getting some work done again.

Happy September, everyone!

Slow Days of August – CoronaLife Day 166

This week has been slow for me, although productive. My Board of Education duties took up a great deal of time this week, with policies to review (they are good for curing insomnia).

I am also beta-reading a manuscript with my daughter. My friend Keith Strunk wrote a middle grade book and asked my 10-year-old daughter to give him her thoughts. I am reading it with her because she is always scared to read a new author alone, and it is a fun thing we can share. I was also glad to do it because I have been hearing about this book for a long time and couldn’t wait to finally see the finished story!

In my own work, I had gotten hung up with revisiting my story Vertias. Lisa Cron’s Story Genius was guiding me well, but then I ran aground on a concept I could not quite wrap my head around. I felt I was very close to crafting a compelling “third rail,” but I knew I didn’t quite have it. So I turned to my friend, author and editor Kathryn Craft, who simplified the concept and came at it from another angle so my pandemic brain could comprehend it properly. I need to re-read all that she put in her insightful and detailed email to me, but once I do I think I will be able to move forward with more confidence. I feel that if I can get this right, get the beginning right, the rest will follow more easily.

As summer comes to a close, we are preparing for a new school year. It will be unlike the beginning of any other school year ever, but we are up for the adventure and we know we will all get through it together.

How are you spending these last weeks of summer?

Family & Frustration – CoronaLife Day 159

We got tested for coronavirus at the end of July and it took 2 weeks to get the results. We got tested because we were trying to get my daughter together with her best friend for a long weekend, so both families were going to get tested. That didn’t work out, but we decided not to waste our tests, so we went to visit my parents for only the 2nd time since February.

We had a nice visit outside, distanced, with masks when we had to use the rest room, but this time we visited longer because it didn’t rain on us. My mother is recovering from back surgery, so it was good to see how she was healing. Our visit made the day feel almost normal, like pre-COVID times.

The writing front was not so fulfilling. I reported last week that I was making progress with Veritas by using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. For a brief time I thought I finally had figured out my character’s “third rail” – what she wants vs. a misbelief that holds her back. But now I am not so sure I managed it, and the frustration has returned. I am hoping for some inspiration, or for something to “click” but sometimes I think maybe this just isn’t a story I am capable of telling.

I wonder how much of my struggle is the pandemic pressure. We have all been home pretty much 24/7 since mid-March, and my introverted self is feeling oppressed by it all. That and the constant anxiety suppresses creativity, at least for me. But with no end in sight, I will have to figure out how to work through it, because NOT writing is galling to me.

Hopefully next week I will have more forward movement to report on Veritas. I’m not giving up!

Moving Forward – CoronaLife Day 152

So last week was a bad week. I felt so completely stuck in so many areas of my life, I was quite down about it. This week has been better because I had a plan and I actually followed it!

I have been avoiding returning to my YA sci-fi Veritas. I did a major rework of it last year, and managed to make it worse instead of better. So back to the drawing board, but I have been struggling with the lack of energy and motivation that comes with anxiety and prolonged stress.

I have sporadically reworked the opening chapters since January, ending up with about 14,500 words done. But then I ground to a halt, because I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. So I returned to the notes given to me by my trusty developmental editor Kathryn Craft, looking for clues as to how to move forward.

Kathryn did not let me down! She suggested I use Lisa Cron’s Story Genius book and Jennie Nash’s Inside Outline to zero in on motivation and connecting all the emotional/psychological beats that would make the story compelling. I was already familiar with Story Genius, having read it and used it for another story, and knew I would find it useful for this one. After I looked at the Inside Outline, I knew I couldn’t use it at this point. I am not an outliner, and just looking at it made the enthusiasm drain right out of me. But it will definitely be a tool I will use after I complete the new draft I am working on.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. So I decided to set a goal of doing one step in an exercise from Story Genius a day. If I wanted to do more, fine. But one was the goal. And I have been doing that. Walking through Story Genius, I am getting a handle on the inner conflict that drives my protagonist and the misbelief that must be resolved by the end of the story. I am getting more excited as I see thing more clearly. I finally feel like I am making progress.

Granted, it’s not actual writing yet. But I think once I get all this straight in my head, the manuscript words will come more easily. And even though I haven’t added words to my manuscript with these exercises, I have written 1,500 words of exercises. Which is something.

So I am finally moving forward with my writing, and it feels good.

What have you done lately to get yourself moving forward?

Stormy Weather – CoronaLife Day 145

We got hit by Tropical Storm Isaias on Monday night into Tuesday. It was not the worst storm to come through here, but we did lose power for 11 hours, and part of our fence came down. The fence will be relatively easy to fix (the nails just pulled out of the support post), and the power is back on. Thankfully the past couple of days have not been as dangerously hot as the past few weeks. Many in the area are still without power, with estimated times of return as late as Saturday. I hope they get it back sooner.

Inside my head was pretty stormy during the blackout, too. Everything had been building up on me and the blackout was the final straw. I retreated to my room for a good cry. After a cathartic amount of wallowing in “life sucks” and “I’m a failure at everything,” I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back downstairs. I’m still a bit fried today, but pushing onward.

The hard thing is trying to figure out how to shake this all off and get back to something that feels more like “me”. So much is out of my control, and the things I do control I seem incapable of controlling. I think I just need to pick something and do it. When I used to travel to VA from NJ once a month, packing myself and my then-infant up, there was always a moment when I felt so completely overwhelmed with packing I would just stand in the middle of the room, paralyzed. The only way to overcome it was to just do something. Anything. Just start with one thing, complete it, and move on to the next. Maybe that’s the key here. Life can feel overwhelming. So I should just pick one thing, even a small thing, and get it done.

On the good news side, I am happy that my mother’s back surgery went well and she is a week post-op today. She is recovering nicely and keeping my dad hopping with chores to do. I wish I could go over to visit, but the coronavirus makes that dicey, especially as cases are rising in both our areas.

I have no idea how much longer all this will last. It will be on the order of months, for certain. I am rather surprised it took me 5 months to reach a crash point. If I last another 5 months before the next crash, it will be January 2021, and hopefully the new year will be a new direction for all of us, and we may see light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope everyone impacted by Isaias is recovering, and that power is restored soon. We all could use some light in the darkness about now.

Headaches – CoronaLife Day 138

I’ve had headaches for most of the week. A lot of it is eye strain, I’ve been on the computer a whole lot lately. I always get eye strain from that. But a lot of it is stress, too.

I have a headache because yesterday my school district held its Board of Ed meeting to vote on the reopening plan we will submit to the state Department of Education for approval. Some parents were okay with it. Some were not. I can honestly say not one person is really happy about it. We all want things back to normal, but normal is not on the table this year. So we follow the guidelines and do the best we can, knowing that at any moment a directive can come down from above and change absolutely everything in the plan. I understand the issues people have. I hear them. But given the guidelines we have, this is the best we can do with the resources we have. My heart hurts for all of us.

I have a headache because my mother had back surgery Wednesday. I’ve been worried. Back surgery is always tricky. She came through it great, so far. If it wasn’t for COVID, I’d be going over to help get the house ready for her to come home. Maybe stay a few days to help out. But I can’t do that, and that squeezes my heart.

I have a headache because I have pandemic fatigue. Don’t we all? I am tired of being careful. Tired of thinking about it. Tired of tracking the numbers (going back up in my state, by the way). Tired of waiting for someone I love to get sick. Tired of keeping my kid home. Tired of never being alone. Tired of parenting 24/7. Tired of never, ever getting a break from any of it. Tired of seeing so much precious time with my parents missed, so much of my daughter’s irretrievable childhood slip away in pandemic limbo. My heart cries for all of us.

Maybe it’s not headaches after all.

Maybe it’s all heartache.

The Waiting Game – CoronaLife Day 131

I don’t know about you, but I have gone through many times in my life where I feel like I am waiting for something—although a lot of times I didn’t know what. Just that feeling that something was going to happen. Like you are marking time.

I’m feeling like that this week, although this time I have a pretty good idea of what I am waiting for. There are long-term things: a coronavirus vaccine, a slam-dunk treatment for COVID, the November elections. But the ones more on my mind are the short-term things. Next week our district decides what to do about school in September. Next week my mom has back surgery. Next week my family gets COVID tested so we can hopefully have a visit with some friends also getting tested.

Lots going on next week. The anticipatory anxiety is killing me this week. It feels like a wire inside me pulled so taut it hums with the stress. I want it to snap, to relax, but at the same time it feels like the only thing keeping me from falling to pieces. Anticipatory anxiety sucks.

We did go out this week—to the dentist. My daughter needed her checkup, and I am glad I decided to brave it and go because she has 4 cavities—2 in baby teeth, 2 in permanent teeth. Time for another lesson in brushing. In an odd juxtaposition, the Tooth Fairy also came this week, just a day or two before the dentist appointment.

So that’s where I am this week—playing the waiting game. Something’s coming. I guess I won’t know what that something is until it gets here. I hope it gets here soon, because the tension is draining me.

How about you? What are you waiting for? Something you’re worried about? Something you are excited for?

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