Category: school

Back to School: 2022 Edition

And they’re off! MC and Daniela started school today, heading into fourth grade and ninth grade, respectively. (Denisa also started her latest semester, though I have no idea how many this makes for her.) It feels like I’ve written so many of these over the years, that writing new blog posts about the first day of school no longer really have much for me to say.

Writing that, part of me feels bad for MC. By the time she’s going through all her “firsts,” they’re “thirds” for Denisa and me. That does tend to take away some of the shine and attention those events garner. When I think of Tomas heading off to Kindergarten for the first time or going to Middle School, all of those things were huge steps, and we made a big fuss out of them, simply because we were so clueless about what was coming, so we had to make a big fuss as we tried to understand them.

On the other hand, MC also very much benefits from that experience Denisa and I already have accumulated. We know what to expect as MC goes from grade to grade, and we can help her much more than we could help Tomas. He broke ground, and groundbreakers get a lot of attention. But the people who come after those groundbreakers are able to go even further because of the easier path they have at the beginning.

Either way, a first day is a first day, and it’s to be celebrated. Things are pretty crazy and hectic for me as well, as with the start of the semester comes all sorts of new things I have to balance. (Trying to get the Makerspace up and running, but we just got two brand new machines that no one knows how to use. Guess who’s figuring it out? I printed a picture on my phone case yesterday, and today I was laser cutting puzzle pieces.) It’s been fun to see all of your first day of school pictures. And it’s a huge relief that this year seems (at the moment) to be mostly back to normal-ish, which is about all I’m expecting these days.

Happy Tuesday!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Music Composition

My Bach class is finished now, and I have to say how much I enjoyed it. Yes, it made my Tuesdays insanely busy for five weeks in a row, but I got to learn about things I didn’t know a whole lot about previous to the course, and learning is something I really like.

In addition, it turns out that the lab part of the class was focused on composition. I’ll be honest: in the lead up to the class, I didn’t really pay any attention to what it was going to be about other than Bach. I like Bach. That’s all I really needed to know. The public lecture portion was going to be $150, but I could take the full 1 credit class for a $50 fee, since I get a tuition reduction as an employee of the university. $50 is less than $150, so . . .

I took the full class.

We would learn about different composition concepts: counterpoint, chords, and modulation being the three I focused the most on. For our homework, we had to take the concepts we were learning about through Bach and apply them in original compositions. I haven’t really done much in the way of music composition, so this was a really new thing for me, and I discovered I really enjoyed it. I looked forward to the assignments: trying different things out. Seeing what I liked. What clicked for me and what didn’t. I have no idea if they turned out well by anyone else’s standards, but the results were good for me. I was happy with them.

We used a platform called Flat to record them, so I thought I’d share them with you, now that the class is over.

  • Our first assignment was to take a simple melody and make a variation of it somehow. I did one for Winnie the Pooh.
  • From there, we focused on counterpoint: having two lines that are both melodies, which fit together. I ended up writing a basic canon.
  • Next, I wanted to figure out how to modulate from one key to another, so I came up with a new piece to do just that.
  • Finally, we were asked to dabble in chords. For that, I put down eight chords pretty much at random, and then worked to get a melody that would make those chords sound intentional.

Will I keep composing? No idea. It was a lot of fun, but I’m also very busy, so we’ll see if I make time for it. But the class itself was a blast, and I hear they’ll be teaching a new one on Jazz next semester. I’d say it’s very likely I take that one, if my schedule matches up . . .

Take it with me!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Back to Bach

I know I’ve been complaining about how busy I’ve been this semester, so you would think I would have been reluctant to add anything else to my already bursting schedule. After all, I’ve been working on doing less things, not more. And yet, I still added an honest-to-goodness college class that I’m taking as a student, the first one I’ve done in years. Why in the world would I have done that? Well, a few reasons.

First of all, Denisa’s taking the class with me. We’ve been wanting to find something to do for dates other than “go to movie” or “go to dinner.” Where we live, the options aren’t exactly abundant, so when this class came along, it felt like a good excuse to get us to actually go out, and I think that’s important in and of itself.

Second, the class doesn’t last that long. It’s just 5 sessions, once a week. That’s a pretty low bar of commitment, and since (again) it was something to do with Denisa, it made sense.

Third, it’s about Bach, and it’s taught by the illustrious Steve Pane, who can really make a class on music shine. He’s great at teaching hard-to-understand concepts in a way that’s easy to grasp, and his lectures are a lot of fun to listen to. So I knew it would be a good class going into it. No need to worry about being bored or anything like that.

Fourth? We could take it for free. It’s a perk that comes with working at a university that we’ve rarely taken advantage of. Why not finally put it to work?

That’s four good reasons to do it, and the only reason I could come up with to not was that I’m busy, But since I knew if we didn’t take it, then the odds of us going on dates were slim to none this semester, it made the decision that much easier.

We’ve now gone to two of the five classes, and we’ve enjoyed them both. We’re learning about the Goldberg Variations (which, it turns out, aren’t written by a guy named Goldberg, as I assumed all these years . . .). It essentially means that my Tuesdays start at 7am and don’t finish until 8pm, so it’s saying something that I’ve been having a good time in spite of that. We’re also being challenged to try our hand at music composition. That’s been much more challenging than I even guessed it would be, but it’s a good kind of challenging.

Honestly, when you’ve got so many other things going on, it can be a nice change of pace to do something completely different now and then. Something you don’t have to do, but which you’ve chosen to do in spite of that. I’m still extra super duper busy, but I’m glad we’re taking the class in spite of that. Definitely a net gain for my sanity this semester.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Trauma of Middle School

In our class this semester, we begin each day with a question. Nothing too deep, but a chance for the students to go around the room and tell us a bit about themselves. “What’s your comfort food?” That sort of thing. Today’s started out as “Who’s someone you admire and why?” I went first, and I said right off the bat, “I admire my thirteen-year-old daughter, because she’s going through middle school right now and doing a tremendous job.”

From there, the entire class started talking about how horrendous middle school is, to the point that the question changed. Instead of “who’s someone you admire?” it turned to “what’s something traumatic that happened to you in middle school?” (For me, it was the time we were taking class band pictures outside, and someone kept throwing grass at my head. I finally got sick of it, picked up the grass, turned, and chucked it back at the guy. That’s when I realized he was a football player and much bigger than me. We got in my first (and only) fight at school. A fight I lost in about three seconds, leaving me a sobbing wreck on the ground. It was not fun.)

But as we went around the room, with everyone telling these stories, it made me reflect once more on how universally un-fun those middle school years are. (I suppose there must be some people out there who loved being in middle school. Right? But they’re in the vast minority.) Everyone is going through so many changes. Trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in, and really desperate to fit in. Or to stand out. Or to show they’re unique.

It was so encouraging to see all these students talk about where they were just five or six years ago, and to see where they are now. (I also realized in the middle of all this that these students of mine are last year’s seniors. The COVID class, who had to deal with their senior year being full of distance learning and quarantines.) And to understand that in the middle of all that struggling to fit in or stand out, most of us end up fitting in along with everyone else: by feeling like we don’t.

At the same time, I also wondered about the fact that none of us were talking about the times we provided the trauma for others. After all, it’s not like all that trauma just comes from “those people.” We inflict it on our peers in the same way it’s inflicted on us. Often unintentionally, usually without thinking, and sometimes with long-lasting effects.

Did I provide trauma for anyone in middle school? As I thought it through, I definitely did. The story that stands out in my mind is the time I wrote an article for my friend’s ‘Zine. It was intended to be a humorous piece, and it was something to the effect of “Top tens ways [Student A] is better than [Student B, who shared the same first name.]” Student B was, to us, much more popular than our friend (Student A), and so it felt at the time like that was a totally reasonable thing to write. And then make multiple copies of. And distribute throughout the school.

I still cringe to think about it, looking back. It was really a horrible thing to do, and I didn’t even blink at doing it. Not because I was a malicious person or out to get Student B, but because I didn’t even think it might affect Student B at all. I was too tied up in myself to be able to think about others, and I’m sure there are multiple other instances of that.

In middle school, I can’t help but think we all leave a trail of carnage behind us without even realizing we’re doing it. And while we’re doing it, other people are providing the carnage for our own lives.

So there’s your cheerful thought for the day. But I don’t want it to be too much of a downer, because as I said: it gets better. We get through those years, and we figure out who we are and what we want, and we stop trying to tear other people down to get ahead ourselves. (Or at least, many of us do. I suppose I shouldn’t speak for everyone.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Teaching by Surprise

If you had asked me at the beginning of the semester how I thought the semester was going to go, I would have told you, “It’s going to be busy.” That’s my typical response, and it’s always accurate. This September’s actually been one I’ve kind of been dreading. Between the impending kitchen renovation, the return of early morning seminary drives, an upcoming novel revision (with a deadline), my continuing church commitments, getting kids to school on time when Denisa’s teaching early, and getting a Makerspace on campus up and running, I definitely had more than enough to keep me busy.

So if you had said, “What if you added teaching a class at UMF to all of that?”, I probably would have laughed you out of the room. Where in the world would I have found time for it?

But as with many things in life, our preconceived notions don’t always match up with the choices we make. And last Tuesday, I was asked to pinch hit as a teacher for a freshman composition class. And I agreed.

Now, before you just say I’m crazy, allow me to explain why I said yes. First, it’s for a friend, and team teaching with another friend. That helps on many different levels. For one thing, it’s a huge motivation for me to pitch in and help out. I have a hard time saying no when I know someone’s in a bind. For another, since I’ll be team teaching, the course was all set up and ready to go. All I had to do was step in and pick up the reins. And I won’t be there alone; I’ll have someone helping me as we go.

Also, it’s a course I’ve (sort of) taught before. Way back in the murky days of “before I moved to Maine,” I taught numerous classes on writing. Freshman comp and advanced comp. Since then, I’ve done a fair bit more writing myself. So when it comes to teaching about writing, I’m not really worried about it. (If the class had been about teaching physics or biology, then I’m sure I wouldn’t have been asked, just as I know I wouldn’t have said yes.)

Where am I going to find the time for all of it? I’ll be coming to work early and staying late, because I all this teaching is in addition to my librarian duties. (I’m plenty busy as a librarian already. I wouldn’t be able to find the time to teach within those 40 hours each week, even if I could.) It’ll actually help that I’ll be taking Tomas to early morning seminary, then. I’ll be going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. So I’ll mainly be taking time away from my “zone out in front of a show at night” time, which I was going to have to do anyway.

And surprisingly, I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve now taught for two classes, and it’s been a lot of fun. I have plenty to say when it comes to discussing writing and reading, and they’re a good group of students. It’s twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) from 9:50-11:30 and 12:00-1:40. I’m squeezing in work while I eat my lunch in the break between class. (And yes, they’re paying me for the course as well, so it’s not like I’m doing it all just for the love of teaching.)

That said, this semester looks like it will be especially busy. So if there’s something you’re thinking about asking me to do beyond the things I’ve already got on my plate . . . odds are very against me saying yes at this point. I just don’t have any more time to squeeze out of my schedule for more things.

Wish me luck.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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