22 July 2013

Dog Days?

Ah, we're deep into "The Dog Days of Summer."
Ever wonder about that phrase? It is attributed to Roman astronomers who believed that the Dog Star, Sirius (yes, that's where J.K. Rowling got the name for Sirius Black), added to the sun's heat to make these summer days more uncomfortable. During those ancient days, Sirius rose and set with the sun. Now the passage of time and movement of the universe has shifted our view of the constellations, so Sirius rises and sets on a little different time schedule, but we still call the latter half of July and first part of August "The Dog Days." In the Northern Hemisphere these tend to be the most uncomfortable weeks of the season with high heat and higher humidity. Everyone is cranky and whiny. Tempers flare from the tiniest sparks. Thunderstorms boom and put on fantastic lightning displays.

Growing up, we had a big old mutt that was terrified of loud noises. Originally meant to be a hunting companion that ran home at the first gunshot, this great big animal would tremble and hide under tables when thunder rumbled in the distance. His name was Skeeter and he was generally considered an ugly canine. Half collie and half German short-haired pointer, he had a huge head and a tiny bob of a tail. He was fearless when strangers came to the door or when wild critters visited in the night. But summer storms sent him into a panic, poor thing.

Me, I love thunderstorms. I love watching the lightning, seeing what patterns the ripple through those heavy black skies. I'm still waiting for a nice thunderstorm at my house this summer. They've skipped over, downing power lines and flooding washes everywhere else in Tucson but here. One could say the storms have been "dogging it" around my place during these dog days, but that would be a different bone to pick.


12 July 2013

The Vital Importance of Education

 This is taken from today's Huffington Post. Click on the link to watch the video of this courageous and intelligent young woman speaking at the United Nations today:


The Huffington Post  |  By Posted:   |  Updated: 07/12/2013 11:54 am EDT 
malala yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai spent her 16th birthday demanding compulsory education for young people worldwide.

In a speech Friday at the UN in New York, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head in October 2012 for speaking out about her right to education, talked about how she represents some 57 million children around the world are not going to school.
The UN declared her birthday as "Malala Day." Introduced by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Malala spoke out about terrorism, poverty and a united front calling for education.
"'Malala Day' is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights."
See the 10 most inspiring quotes from her speech below.
"We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced."
"One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first."
"This is what my soul is telling me: Be peaceful and love everyone."
"There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights, but this time we will do it by ourselves."
"So, today we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity."
"Let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness."
"We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The extremists are afraid of books and pens."
malala yousafzai
"We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back."
"[Extremists] are afraid of women, change and equality."
"Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights."

Please, support your local educators. Children are eager and willing to learn, if only we give them the opportunities and tools. 

01 July 2013

Learning From Teaching

Whenever I'm asked to speak to a group or participate in a conference or seminar, I try to seize the opportunity. Perhaps you've heard the old adage, "By their pupils, the teacher is taught." It's true. You learn from sharing knowledge with others, especially beginners.

I had the wonderful chance to help young writers this past weekend through an endeavor with Gecko Gals Ink, our five-author Tucson group. We offered Word Magic For Teens, a short (two-hour) writing workshop. Our students were between twelve and fifteen, most in seventh grade heading into eighth. Though we had a small group, I was quite impressed with all of them.

One of the exercises we asked them to do was to choose two photos, then develop character traits. We gave them five questions to complete for each photo:
1) What is the character's name?
2) Where are they from?
3) What do they do?
4) What do they want from life?
5) What are they most afraid of?

The results were amazing. We had characters emerge from Nepal, Egypt, Washington State, Oregon, the Philippines, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, and Ghana. Fears ranged from being scared of monkeys and spiders to fear of starvation to getting caught for committing murder. Enthusiasm filled the room with the scratching of ink or pencil on paper. None of them hesitated, but they pondered and wrote intently for the entire allotted time. We talked about how their characters might meet, what they might say to one another, how their fears might affect their actions.

What did I learn? I learned to think from another perspective. Some of these children are from refugee families; their fears are completely different from the average American kid. I learned to think about reference points they would understand and in doing so, clarify the objective in more simple and direct terms. That helps me simplify my own thinking. We get so cluttered with details sometimes that our characters loose focus.

I'm going to use these questions myself and see how well they assist in defining the characters in my next project. And I can't wait to meet with these kids again and see how far they took their writing.