Shotgunning Memories

So much as happened lately that it is hard to know where to begin. Let's throw some memories down a shotgun barrel like nickels and start there, firing at random:

  • I nearly dropped out of school with straight A grades because I felt discouraged. Not just a little, but like, what the hell am I doing in school, I have no time for anything, I cannot write--
  • My grandfather passed away.
  • I opened a licensed home business in the state of Washington called Distracted Dragon and sell my 1.5” buttons, magnets, keychains, magnetic keychains and 3.5” drink coasters online, effectively throwing off the albatross of FIVERR.com 

    2016-11-16-13-12-28b

  • A ten minute conversation with a valued teacher re-affirmed my belief in myself and I went from seven to fifteen credits (full time) for Spring 2017 semester at North Idaho College.
  • I got tickets to a fancy book reading by the lovely Sharma Shields, who signed my book, which I then scanned and turned it into a drink coaster/memory.2016-11-18-21-01-10b

2016-11-18-19-11-35b

    • I saw Doctor Strange in theaters. It is weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch with his British accent and hear him speak with an American one.
    • I've learned about non-fiction, about essays (personal essays, segmented essays, short essays, lyrical essays, on my!), about literary journalism and about work-shopping peer material. I wrote a personal essay about my own trichotillomania which I'll be workshopping in class in a couple weeks.
    • I cried uncontrollably during—and since—the Presidential Elections.
    • I made a video about how I became the Distracted Dragon:

  • I've since had a longer conversation with my valued teacher and once again re-affirmed my belief in myself and was asked to “give myself grace” about not writing, and was given this analogy about my anger at not writing while in college: “It's like being an apprentice chair maker and being upset about making fewer chairs while you're learning to make better ones.” Ok, that is something I can understand. Leave it to my Creative Writing teacher to spin it in a way that makes sense.
  • I have listened to Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and now Goldenhand (all by Garth Nix) in the past year. Sabriel still remains my favorite in the series.

    My cat Boo Boo LOVES to "watch the printers how" as it prints off buttons and coasters.

  • I had all my teeth extracted, healed for two months, and am transitioning to dentures. I am now more embarrassed by adjusting to dentures than to people seeing me without teeth. It's been kind of a secret, many people have not seen me for months (and would not normally see me anyways). It was an easy decision to make, I had an incredibly kind dentist, Mason went to all of my appointments with me, and I have learned to eat soft foods for the past few months. But the hardest part was not changing my diet or hiding my mouth: now, the real battle is learning how to speak, how to eat and how to smile. I've spent much of my adult life hiding my mouth when I speak; there are no photographs that I have taken that show my teeth. Soon, there will be, because it is quite a nice smile—just lacking confidence, which will come with time. My dimples remain intact. Now I have one more thing to claim I share with my biological father: dentures.

    2016-11-08-13-30-02b

     

  • I am re-watching the TV show “LOST” with Mason. We just finished Season 2 late last night (after my Anthropology paper and quiz, but before work-shopping two non-fiction stories for class the next morning). Watching TV shows makes me wish I had more of an interest in script writing or video game writing.

    2016-10-20-06-13-17I found this picture and thought it was funny.

  • I stopped drinking extreme amounts of caffeine, including coffee and Mt. Dew. I now only drink it when I am away from home—which, recently, has been very rarely.
  • I made some safety pin buttons for a family member who feels threatened by the current political climate.

    2016-11-19-00-08-52b

  • I failed at National Novel Writing Month and have managed to not get inconsolably mad or sad about it. Apprentice Chair Maker, after all.
  • I met my boyfriend's daughter “officially” as his girlfriend and no one caught on fire. She's quite adorable and likes me—a situation I had avoided all my life (children), and now find myself uncontrollably attached to one. A true, potential red-headed step-child.2016-10-30-13-17-52-1b
  • I negotiated a beautiful logo for my business, and you can also bother the artist (and my sister) Stephanie Skiles at her website and Facebook page here.etsy-banner

From First to Final Draft: my first college essay

Note: This blog entry spans the course of three months during my Fall semester at North Idaho College. Specifically, it details my experience of writing my first college essay at age 31. This won't apply to everyone, but in the hopes that some aspiring writer will read it and remember: "Hey, we all start with a first draft, I can do this!" then it's worth every moment it took to write. It's meant to be a reminder that we all start, and finish, somewhere. This was my first experience in a college classroom. I was overwhelmed, I was a bit terrified, I was self-conscious. I thought I was going to fail. This is the story of how I didn't. (Yes, yes, I realize the class is "English 101" and you could argue that it's the easiest--and I'd tell you to be quiet, and let people dream, damn it. "English 101" or not, it's my first English class, my most important class, the only class I couldn't handle failing if everything else fell apart. This is important to me.) #

Finally. My first writing assignment in English 101. This is what I've been waiting for, right?

I was excited. A little scared. It was a Narrative Essay on an event in my own life that changed my perspective of higher education. We were asked to write a 1-2 line description first, so I'll share it here:

In order to understand my perspective on higher education, you must know...

A memory.

About my father, who was illiterate, and the night my mother read him a story I wrote because he couldn't read it himself. I knew the value of education through what my father did not have; and what it would mean for me.

I proudly wrote my first draft, printed it and brought it to class over the course of the week. We had something called “Peer Review.” This was where our first draft was handed to other class mates and everyone was given a review sheet. An anonymous review sheet.

If you're interested in viewing the first draft of my narrative essay, I've made it available as a .PDF; I've included a watermark for my website. I've included this not because I believe it is an excellent first draft (we know that isn't true), but I wanted to fully document my experience, and sharing the first draft is a part of the experience as a whole.

Something happens when you give students something anonymously. Well, when you give anyone an anonymous task. There's a good chance they're going to be a dick. I didn't photograph my own review of my peer's work—but I can assure you that I was constructive with my feedback and polite. The two stories I read had viable strengths and weaknesses. At the very least, I don't believe my feedback was... comparable to what I received.

peer-review3 peer-review2 peer-review1

I was more angry than heartbroken, I think. I said a lot of bad words for a very long time. I may have crumpled the review sheet in frustration. I may have considered “losing” it. I let it set by my desk for a few days.

I had two friends read my first draft of my Narrative Essay. They agreed, perhaps, it wasn't as awful as my peer reviews suggested. (That's a very biased opinion, however, as they are friends of mine. Other people may read it and hate it, but that's the risk you take as a writer!)

And then the night before the final draft was due—I began my revision process. I accepted that my conclusion was not very concise, and that I struggled through the story to get to the point. I denied that my story wasn't descriptive enough (the couch is dusty blue!). So I began to rework it, trying to take some of the feedback and incorporate it.

My revision took around four hours to complete. My Narrative Essay went from 676 words to 1,000. If this is indicative of how I'll be editing the Trials of Blood—2 hours for every possible page, and an increase of 40% word count—I'll end up with 427 pages and it'll take me 620 hours to finish! On a side note, I'm wondering if I could utilize some kind of peer review to help me find all the problems in my first draft instead of me trying to find them all, which will be impossible...

All the eventual edited versions, I saved as their own file.

 

 

Revision 1

I use Open Office (update 01/2016: I've switched to the more supported Libre Office) and they have a feature called "Track Changes." The yellow/golden rod text indicates any changes made to that specific document. It's really helpful to keep track of changes you've already made. It can be a little messy, so when it gets too much to handle: I'll accept the changes, save it as a new file, clean it up just a bit, and start a new revision sweep. On to Revision 2!

 

ne2


 

ne3

I realized after I turned in my paper that my concept of “higher education” technically focused on secondary education (mostly the disadvantage my father had from dropping out of middle school). I waited anxiously for my English Teacher to return my paper—but I had also resolved myself to a grade of a C based on stories from other college students. I had to accept that my writing style and skill may not be satisfactory to my teacher.

As awful a realization as that was—all I could do was wait.

Impatiently.

Three weeks later—my paper was finally graded. I understand my English Teacher has many students, and I didn't expect it to be completed soon, by any means. I had hoped it would, of course, so that I could get over some of my initial fears of, “Did I understand the assignment right? Was I writing about the right topic?"

My teacher provided feedback about my Narrative Essay in the form of small (but meaningful to me) remarks in the essay itself. I took screenshots to share below.

screen1b


 

screen2


 

 

screen3


 

screen4


 

screen5


 

The most meaningful addition to my graded paper was my teacher's recorded response. Two minutes and forty one seconds of his voice changed my entire writing experience. The conversation was one-sided, but he was speaking to me about the essay I had written and I hung on every word. I won't share my teacher's voice online but I'd like to share the transcript because it meant a lot to me personally.

“Hey Michelle, this is really nicely made, I think that you're doing a lot of things here that are quite nice and quite sophisticated in a lot of ways too. One of the things that I'm most taken with in this essay is the way that you are weaving in the idea elements throughout it, that's something that I think that non fiction is especially adept at doing and you've really taken a hold of it here, and that you open up these ideas early in the essay, that are not just scene setting, they do set the scene, and they give us information that we need, in terms of like your father's education, but they do a lot more than than scene setting, right, they sort of lay in the kind of themes, that are going to come through the story itself and will emerge on the other side, fuller, for having taken this journey through the story, and you kind of set that up in this essay. You build it really fluidly, in a way that allows the reader to move in to the scene and out of the scene and to have this sort of whole thing that comes out of it, so I think that's really quite good. And I think you should be pleased with the result. Another thing that I think is quite nice is that you have this move, you know, you're setting a lot of things up early in the essay, but then around the top of page two, you begin to move in to the scene, and you kind of slowly shift in to it, and there's this nice sort of quietness and subtlety to the shift, to the moving the camera in to the scene, and then once you get in to the scene, it's this really quiet scene, and it moves kind of patiently, and I think that you are using the sort of tone and pace of the telling of the story to echo the content of the story and similarly you use details that are quiet—because, there you are, you're hiding and you're listening to this quiet interaction between your parents, and all the pieces are sort of reflecting one another in a way that makes the essay feel very whole. And I think that that's great, I think that you're doing some really nice work here. I like the move at the end to begin to reflect on some of these things and to begin to sort of pull them together, and ultimately I think that you're just doing some really nice and, as I said, very sophisticated things in this essay. So, good work. Keep up the good work. And I think this sets a great tone for the term for you. Nicely done.”

In the end, the reality is this: it's English 101, arguably a basic English course. Is that to say that I cannot be excited, at 31 years old, to be doing well in a class meant for students presumably aged 18 to early 20's? Probably. Does that fact stop me from being damn proud? No. And it shouldn't stop you from being proud of yourself or your work. Am I going to be convinced every time my teacher says something "nice" and "constructive" about my writing, that somehow, they're just passing me through the class because they have a hundred other students? No. I'm going to believe that my teacher is giving me the kind of attention I am giving the essay.

Update (06 Jan 2016): I had a total of four papers and one annotated bibliography for my first semester in English 101. I didn't score anything less than a 95% one each and every paper. At the end of the year when we were having our chat with the teacher, he asked for feedback about his process. Timidly, I told him that his audio feedback was very helpful. What I didn't include was that it was helpful from a self-esteem perspective as well as from a literary one. Now, I know teachers are not in the business to be mending self-esteem... but he did, and it's hard to be vulnerable at my age, so I'll take any kind of triumphs that I can get. So, thank you, Mr. Frey, for having your own life, opinions and a professional career--and not forgetting that your students are just what you once were: aspiring writers.

If you'd like to read my final draft, I've also made it available as a .PDF. It's a personal memory (albeit distorted by time) from my youth about my mother reading a story to my father, because presumably he could not read it himself, and how that moment changed my perception of the importance of higher education.

This concludes my first experience as a non-traditional college student and aspiring writer. It's not going to be easy, but I'm looking forward to what I can learn and will take my knowledge in stride. I very happily enrolled in "English 292: Creative Writing: Fiction" with the hopes that I'll succeed, with effort, in a class I'm more comfortable with.

As a reader, I hope that this experience inspired you, from first to final draft. I hope that I can look back and remember I was once terrified of English 101, and it wasn't as scary as I thought, because I had a teacher who made it work for me.

Basic English course or not--I'm stubborn, I'm creative, and I am dedicated. I AM MIGHTY.

This blog was written between October 2015 and January 2016: it seriously took me that long to get back to my computer long enough to finish writing this.