Reading: Rebecca Skloot

Christmas has come early: I actually went to a reading/lecture this past Thursday. She could have been terrible and I still would have been happy- I was at a big university, on a weeknight, with old students, knowing that my baby was in good hands (with his dad). Plus there was traffic, so I got to listen to Serial

Early last week an old student/friend told me that Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was going to be giving a talk at UCR. After further investigation I found out that it was totally free (even parking), and the fact that it was local added to the appeal. 

So I went, and it was great. 

The two people I was going with lined up early, so we had pretty decent seats (they should have done it in a lecture hall, though not a huge conference room). Skloot talked for about forty-five minutes, first describing Henrietta's story (if you haven't read it, read it) and then about the process that led her to writing it. She had heard about Lacks when she was a high school student taking community college classes (she had failed out of the traditional system) and was instantly intrigued. Lacks stayed with her as she entered her veterinarian studies in college, and after she was convinced to pursue science writing instead of animals, she started investigating Lack and the HeLa sells even more. Originally she planned to use this as her thesis, but the process took over a decade (she ended up turning it in a getting a degree eventually).

She spoke mainly for the students in the room, encouraging them to not get "tunnel vision," the condition that plagues so many students, forcing them to think they "have to study law" or "they must be a doctor." Her lecture was very polished- she's obviously done this a time or two (I must say that I do prefer readings  that seem a bit more organic, or natural, but I understand that she's been on the circuit for two or so years). She took several questions afterward, two of which came from little girls that appeared to be in elementary school. They were more articulate that many of my students... and peers. It was pretty adorable.

If you can ever hear her speak I highly recommend it. For someone like me who enjoys both the literary and scientific arenas it was perfect. 

Did I mention I got out of the house, alone, on a week night? 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. Why do people ruin things with raisins?

2. I'm currently reading The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion and while it's a quick read, and mildly entertaining, I think it's a bit silly and lackluster so far.

3. I've been listening to Serial, the Podcast by This American Life (NPR) and am completely hooked. For those unfamiliar with it, it's a true-life murder mystery from over a decade ago being investigated. The host, Sarah Koenig is perfect and the pacing so far impeccable. I actually don't mind being stuck in moderate traffic on the way home, since it means I get to listen longer (as long as Sawyer is quiet/happy/asleep).

4. I think I'm taking a stance against those little pouches of baby food that are all the rage. I've read a few articles that they're really bad for kids' teeth, plus are crazy expensive. Not to mention that I have a massive aversion to Gogurt, and these seem a lot like that. The one thing that is a bummer is that they have some really great, healthy flavors (like kale quinoa). Time to bring out the Baby Bullet!

5. Speaking the offspring, we've been reading Skippy John Jones Snow What and the Curious George Thanksgiving book. I am such a sucker for cute holiday books.

6. My husband and I made a small splurge on our financial diet. We shelled out the $16 to sign up for Cards Against Humanity's Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa. Basically, they send you presents for ten days, and in the past they've been pretty cool. I love getting mail, so this should be pretty great. Sometimes you just need some comic relief.

7. I made this cake for my grandpa's 83rd birthday last week. I made the template for the numbers out of wax paper and everything. Alert the Pinterest.

[octogenarians love sprinkles]

8. I've started reading the Best American Short Stories of 2014, edited by Jennifer Egan and have really enjoyed some of the ones I've read so far, including those by TC Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lauren Groff. I give so much credit to short story writers- it's so difficult to write a good one.

9. My husband and I watched the first episode of Jane the Virgin on Hulu the other day and it's pretty safe to say we'll be watching the rest. I can't believe something that witty and satirical is on the CW. Also, in TV news, what the heck Parenthood? WHAT THE HECK? You leave me hanging about Julia and Joel and then the next episode they're not even mentioned? What a bunch of ratings-grabbing crap.

10. I save the best for last: I think I'm going to a reading tomorrow night! The first since the little bambino was born. Rebecca Skloot, the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is going to be at the University of California, Riverside campus tomorrow giving a free lecture, so I'm going to attempt to go. Fingers crossed the baby cooperates and I can leave him with my husband for a few hours.

Books on Your Back

[Me and My Tee Shop; $40]

It's been awhile since I've done one of these! I saw this shop on etsy the other day and instantly fell in love. 



Diary of an Unmotivated Writer (Week 3)

[sub out "caffeinated" for "drunk"]

Time for a weekly check up! This week has been weird- we had Tuesday off for Veteran's Day, and then I was in meetings all day Thursday and Friday. Sawyer had a few incredibly rough nights at the beginning of the week, but seems to be thankfully back on track. That being said, I actually got done more than I thought I would this week.

One interesting thing that I noted this week while writing is that I write much better about bad/negative/depressing things than good/positive/happy things. The dialogue flows so much easier in those situations, as well. Honestly, I'm not surprised. When I daydream or worry it's always these elaborate scenes that involve worst-case scenarios. 

This week:

Week 3
Words: 24,308 (+680, +180 from goal)
Actions: 3 blog posts (1 scheduled), 680 words, 3 books read
Plan: 300 words (this week is crazy)

My Crash Course in Dystopian Literature

[Fabulous print from Kevin Tong]
After the last ten days of reading, researching, and unit-building I'm fairly confident that we're all going to end up robotic, brainwashed servants of the government devoid of morality, ethics, and originality. Guys, we're screwed. Let's just all pop some soma and watch everything burn.

I'm on a committee that's redesigning the curriculum for The Common Core changes- I'm sure you've heard me complain about it before. This month's task wasn't so bad, though. Dare I say... fun? The unit we decided we'd work on next dealt with dystopias, suggesting that the tenth grade teachers in our district use the texts Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, 1984, and Brave New World. I had only read Fahrenheit 451, but know enough about the other three to BS my way through basic conversation. Knowing we'd have to get a little specific I decided that I'd hurry up and read the three I never had, both because I'd need the knowledge, but also because it was pathetic and strange that I had not.*

I read Animal Farm first and of course appreciated the allegorical and satirical aspects. Orwell is a genius and his book has become so engrained into pop culture that most people don't even realize how heavily it's referred to. I do have to confess that I hate the notion of talking animals. And animals that build things. Animals that write. Animals that sing. You get the picture. This is a "me" issue- I have  deep-rooted dislike for cartoons, so I think it's connected. 

1984 was next, and while it took me awhile to get into it, I ended up really enjoying it in the end (not quite as much as I like Fahrenheit, but probably more than the other two). I adore reading what the future is like when the future being written about has already gone. The propaganda component would provide an infinite number of possible lessons, and so many great conversations could arise in a classroom about the government's influence over us (plus the idea of spying and the NSA).

Finally, I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Sex! Drugs! Rock and roll! Machines that emit sound and smell! The idea of creating a "designer population" was disturbing and the juxtaposition between London and New Mexico well done. Watching the changes in John (aka The Savage) and Bernard was simultaneously predictable and fascinating. I am curious how a more reserved, conservative teacher would approach this, though, since there is a great deal of promiscuity and drug use.

After reading these three and reviewing Fahrenheit 451, I met with my team and we designed a series of lessons that were centered around dystopian literature. The goal is to create four (or so) tasks and a larger project that could be used with any book, or series of short stories (like "The Lottery," "The Waters of Babylon" and "The Pedestrian"). Basically, they have to be generic... but specific. We ended up having students do some basic activities like a Socratic Seminar, using a graphic organizer to compare what was going on in the writer's time period to the events in the text to our current time period, and some deep reading activities. At the end of the unit they will be given a scenario about the government wanting to put tracking devices into citizens and will have to either create a series of editorials or commercials arguing for or against (along with providing textual support and all those other things English teachers require). We found a lot of interesting non-fiction resources and I'm thinking that there's potential for the kids to actually really like this one. Unfortunately, I'm not teaching it, since IB has their own curriculum, but that's another story for another time. 

I don't want to launch into a huge discussion of Common Core, but I will say there's a lot of misinformation floating around out there, both within the educational community and outside of it. I am by no means an expert, but I think this sort of unit is a good representation of a sort of shift that is occurring, and for the better. We're still using literature, we're still teaching important reading and writing standards, and we're still bringing in creativity. We are bringing in informational text, though, and we are trying to bring in real-world aspects (like creating more than just a standard written essay). Just my take. 

As a whole, I enjoyed catching up with some classics. This isn't my normal genre of choice (although I do love Atwood), so it was a nice opportunity to get outside my literary comfort zone. While reading I became really reflective on the idea of patriotism, though, and what it means to love your country... or love your country. How does intellect connect? Can you love your country and still hate the government? How much control should the government have? At what point to we sacrifice safety for privacy? Or vice versa? Obviously thought-provoking literature. 

*I hate the idea of feeling guilty for not have reading a certain text that "everyone" who is well-read has. Guys, there are a lot of books. We cannot read them all.