"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, October 14, 2013

Respect is good, but latinum's better.

I was coaching a soccer game last week and something happened that has stuck with me enough to kick-start my long-neglected blog. (Just don't expect this to become a habit again.)

Okay, so the other team was leading 1-0. But that's not the thing that happened.

This is what it feels like when doves cry.
When your opponent scores first, things get tense. Your players on the field get anxious and start fouling more. On the sideline, your players on the bench start grousing more and want to tell the referee what to do. And you, the coach, yell a lot more, as if anyone on the field can actually hear what you're saying. There's this burden that wasn't there just a moment before: a weight on your shoulders or a wall to climb or a monkey on your back, and with every minute that passes without a reciprocal goal, the weight gets heavier and the wall gets taller and the monkey gets angrier.

One of the opposing team's captains was this bigger kid whose mere presence on the field controlled a lot of the game. At one point he was fouled and went down loudly, maybe in pain, maybe just to get attention, and he stayed on the ground longer than necessary, as soccer players around the world are wont to do. The bench on our side began to murmur in earnest, commenting on this player's acting and whining skills. But he got up and play resumed and within moments the ball was out of bounds near our bench. The muttering about the other team hadn't petered out yet, and one of our managers (a young lady who takes down stats like shots and goals and yellow cards) said, clearly but not loudly, probably to no one, "That kid just whines about everything."

A defender from the other side had picked up the ball, just to the right of our bench. He seemed ready to throw it in, but instead he turned around, glared right at this girl manager and jeered, "Can you tell me what the score is?"

I immediately said, "Hey!"--like, what else am I going to say? "Screw you, kid!"? I did use my most outraged tone, and I physically stepped towards him, cutting off as much visual access to my bench as possible, like a mother bear protecting his cubs. I knew that he had heard what the manager had said, got offended himself, and decided the clever retort was to counter by reiterating the score, the only thing that mattered in the long run. A logical move, to be sure, but still a taunt, and despite it happening quietly on the field between players all the time in every game, taunting is one of the taboos in high school soccer (indeed, in all high school sports) that could lead directly to a red card and possible further action against playing in the future.

I promptly recuperated from my "Hey" and lobbed a "No one's talking to you" and then a "You can't talk to the players on my bench." This kid just smugly turned away, but before he threw the ball in, called back over his shoulder, "You respect me, I respect you."

That's it. That lame, self-serving, know-it-all saying. That's what stuck with me.

I've heard this before. Many students in my classroom make similar, if not exact, statements: "If you don't respect me, I don't respect you."

I can't count how many of my students have employed this notion in order to give me attitude about any little thing, whether I ask them to focus on work in class or I take away a distracting cell phone. Just this week, a girl in class was blaring music through her headphones so loudly she didn't even notice I was asking for her phone, so when I grew riled and reached to take the phone away (I knew she wasn't going to give it over willingly), she jerked her hand away and said, "You don't pay my phone bill. My own dad doesn't get to take my phone away." And while I contemplated the kind of parent who wouldn't take away his daughter's phone when she deserved it, no matter who was paying the bill, she added, "You can't disrespect me and snatch away my phone." The rest was chaos and the class laughed and the bell rang and she walked away, having saved face in the wake of my overwhelming disrespect.

I'm not sure how much of that story is just me needing to rant at how inconsiderate the KIDS TODAY are, but at least some of it has to do with my point.

The licence implied by such a philosophy (Respect Me, Respect You--isn't that a Lionel Richie song?) allows me to react callously at the slightest provocation. If you don't show me respect, then I can say and do anything I want to you because you were mean to me first. I mean, it seems like so many kids--is it just kids?--are walking around locked and loaded, angry at the world, at their circumstance and misfortune, expecting at any moment, someone, some adult, will disrespect them. How else are they supposed to react?

Their default is not to begin in a position of respect, despite the station or rank of the other person. There is no automatic respect given to teachers or police officers or parents or Presidents of the United States. No, the default position is to wait to until they are disrespected, because, ultimately, it's going to happen, isn't it?

It's the self-satisfaction that gets me the most. Our children have learned that this behavior is totally expected. That they need to be tough and not take any crap from anyone. That they have the right--nay, the duty--to be nasty if someone is nasty to them first.

I don't think I'd wake up Jake the Dog.
One obvious problem with this knee-jerk reaction is, what if there is no disrespect intended? What if you've misinterpreted the situation entirely, but you react like a jerk anyway? I don't go around asking myself how I can disrespect my students every day. But lots of them seem to think I do. How dare Mr. Wescott interrupt my nap time and ask me to write a stupid college application essay? Who does he think he is? Maybe if I just ask him what the score is....

Of course, my soccer manager meant the disrespect. She was being mean. So was the whole bench. So was I, for that matter, because even though I said nothing, it sure seemed to me that other team captain was being a bit of a baby. Therefore, the player who spoke to my bench had every right to taunt them with the simple fact of the score, right?

Except, why can't he simply be content knowing that the complaints from the opposing team come from the frustration of being beat by his team's superiority? What does it take for my students to get past the automatic defenses and understand that no matter how I treat them or how they perceive I treat them, their education is more important than saving face?

I know this sounds largely naive to a lot of people, youthful soccer players, high school students, and upstanding adults alike. I know this is like harassment, that perception matters as much as, if not more than, intention. But what if our young people learned not that if someone shows you disrespect, then you get to disrespect them back, but instead that if someone shows you disrespect, then you should just continue to show that person respect anyway? Isn't it more respectful to understand that the person insulting you is merely frustrated, not personally hateful toward you and your soccer team? Isn't it more respectful to see that your teacher is just doing his job and doesn't want you to fail and drop out and live in a ditch because you can't distinguish between a simile and a synonym?

I know at the very least we'd save a lot of time.

Now, watch the video for "Say You, Say Me" and marvel at the wonder that is Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines dancing. Respect.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Tree and Other Irritations

So, mostly I just gush about the boy all the time around here.

But I'm noticing our Christmas tree over in the corner and it's looking sad. In the past, dozens of different kinds of ornaments have adorned its branches. We don't follow any certain style; over the years, we've collected a variety of flavors. Some fancy crystal, some homemade felt. Some green and red balls, some tourist souvenirs. But place them all overlapping the festive blinking lights, fill the room with more eclectic tastes of the season, and the tree appears downright elegant.

Here's what it looks like this year:
That looks even worse than in real life. Here. It looks slightly better with the lights on, but you can't really tell how the ornaments are distributed. It's just such a mess, I'm embarrassed to even post these pictures.

Any guesses why it looks this way?

Generally, Xander's pretty great. But the fact that he's turned our Christmas tree into this mockery of a Christmas tree is distressing. I understand I shouldn't expect much else. He's a precocious toddler with nothing else to do but run amok throughout the house. But he's broken at least four of the ornaments and I've punctured my foot on an ornament hook when he generously distributed a bunch around the floor. It hurt.

So I'm in a mood to discuss a few other annoying aspects of the toddler and his ways.

I wear glasses. Always have. My wife, too. If you're blessed with infallible eyes, I won't be able to explain in words the importance of fitting a pair of spectacles so well that you forget they're on your face. Seriously, when that child doesn't want to be held and he reaches up to grab your glasses when he knows how much it infuriates you...I can't even end that sentence. But once he has the temple in his little vice grip, you can't just move your head or he'll snap the little plastic piece in two. You can't reach up to stop him; your hands are full and busy holding on to his wiggles and squirms. He knows very well he has the advantage. You just have to let it happen. He takes the glasses off your head, and depending on his own level of frustration, might send them flying across the room or restaurant or holds them away from you, smiling broadly, a game of keep away at full tilt.

This happened to me once.
But it was a soccer ball, not a toddler's foot.
The whole issue is aggravated when he accidentally smacks his face or foot or something else into your glasses. Right there on the corner of the frame where the joints are so precariously fitted, so perfectly formed that the glasses stay comfortably on your nose without slipping, without pinching your ears. And when you collect them and put them back on, the chances of them being slightly askew, which means infinitely maddening, are so high that you almost just want to throw them in the trash and start over at America's Best in the morning. Of course, how would you get there if you couldn't see?

And you already know my feelings about the detritus that gathers on our hardwood floors. As the boy gets older and has graduated from a high chair to a booster seat at the kitchen table, the detritus has only gotten worse. He's still strapped down because if he weren't he would hardly eat anything before slipping under the table and running away with a curt "bye-bye" and a wave. So when he's through eating what's on his plate, he simply grabs it and dumps the remaining contents on the floor. It happens so quickly, no amount of watchful hovering can stop it. There is no defense. The food ends up on the floor, and whatever is left on the table is then brushed off with his hands, quick like a bunny, because he's anything if not courteous enough to clear his entire place from the dinner table.

He knows how to say "I'm done," or at least "Down." But he doesn't. Then he runs off and leaves the sweeping to Daddy.

The last item on my list today is the "No" as first response. Throughout the day, your questions might go something like this:

"Xander, do you want some cookies for dinner?" "No."

"Is it time to play with your trains?" "No."

"Do you want to wear your monster jammies or your monkey jammies?" "No."

Xander also does a smashing "Ka-Chow!"
And then all you can do is giggle.
"How about some Cars 2 tonight?" "No...Yes, my daddy." He says "My daddy" and "My mommy." Like, I say, "Say thank you, Xander," and he says, "Denk oo, my daddy." It's pretty freakin cute.

But I digress. What was I saying?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Boy Bed

I don't know where my son is right now.

I'm pretty sure he's in his room. I'd have heard the door open if he'd escaped. But exactly where he is in that room? That's a mystery. I could check. A good inch-wide gap separates his bedroom door from the floor, the result of wall-to-wall carpeting however long ago. These days we go with naked hardwood. If I lie on the floor a little ways down the hall, I can get something of a view inside the room. But right now, I think all I'd see is blankets piled on the floor, tossed off the bed.

Not long ago, a monkey foot wrapped in footie pajamas forced its way under the door in an effort to escape the confines of the room then got stuck there. I had no choice but to open the door and replace the monkey boy back into his big boy bed.

Thus began Xander's first night sleeping without a crib.

A couple of days ago, the boy was committing some random terrorism around the house and ended up in time out. His mother and I put him in his crib while we went to clean up whatever mess he had made. We returned not more than 30 seconds later and entered his room to find him smiling proudly, lounging in the armchair we'd put in there a few days ago while he was up all night coughing his lungs out and not sleeping much. The plushy armchair is more comfortable for a parent sitting up with a sick child, but apparently we'd left it too close to the crib because he'd figured out he could use it to his advantage and stage a prison break.

It was a watershed moment.

I removed the chair, all the while knowing any day now the boy would discover another way out of the crib. After all, a handy rocking chair had sat next to his crib for two years now. It was a much shorter drop than to the floor.

Then today at 1:59 p.m., I received a text from my wife declaring the following:

Put Xan in his crib for a nap. A few minutes later he opened the door and ran out to give me a hug. Huge grin on his face. Guess what we're doing tonight?

I laughed out loud. When I got home the first thing the boy did was show me how he could climb out of his crib by balancing precariously over the corner and dropping kind of sideways onto the rocking chair. Easy peasy. How proud he was.

So we turned the crib into a big boy bed. Four walls no more, the cage is gone, replaced by a guard rail that's supposed to keep the child from rolling onto the floor, but which facilitates an easy climb in and out of bed.

"Are you ready for what's going to happen tonight?" I asked my wife when the bed was complete again.

"No," she answered, but didn't offer any words of wisdom. Please refer to the Great Sleep Debate of 2012 to remind yourself of what we went through to get the boy to go down and sleep all night in the first place. Now I was worried the debate was about to start up all anew.

Bedtime rolled around tonight. Mommy conveniently found a way to leave the house. I read him a few books, watched some of an episode of The Last Airbender until he was sleepy, then put him down in his new big boy bed. He curled up in his blanky like he does, turned over, and seemed to get right to sleep. We've trained him well, I thought. Mom will come home and be so impressed. No debate necessary.

I exited the room, closed the door tightly so he couldn't open it. The door jam is sticky, so even if he could turn the knob, he couldn't open the door. I figure that's our next hurdle.

Is this so terrible? With my oldest daughter, we strapped her into her bed until she would request it before we left the room at night. Otherwise she never would have stayed in bed long enough to fall asleep. But her mother and I hadn't trained her like we've trained the boy, so I figure only a few nights of blockade will be necessary for him to learn that sleep happens in bed, not on the floor at the door breathing the radiance creeping in from whatever party Mommy and Daddy have going for the rest of the night.

So, after sticking one foot under the door, emptying out several of his dresser drawers, crying the dark because he'd turned off his own nightlight, sitting with Mommy after all because she came home and couldn't stand him crying in the dark, he has chosen this:
Atta boy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trains and the Two-Year-Old Boy

At two-years-old, Xander can't get enough out of trains.

He wakes up in the morning calling out, "Choo choo!" Mom and Dad hear it through the baby monitor, and it's enough to make me want to ditch the whole system. If he wants me to wake up, he can climb out of the crib and say "choo choo!" at me in person. I don't think Mom is there yet, though.

When we finally pull him from the crib, then, he runs to wherever he was last night with his trains before being forced to give them up in favor of a pacifier and cup of milk. He carries at least three trains in his arms, wanders around the house, sometimes putting the trains on a track, sometimes just pushing them around the floor or couch or table or bathtub, always with the mantra, "Trains. Choo choo. Trains. Choo choo" on his lips.

And the perpetual smile is kinda creepy.
He watches a variety of train-related videos during the day. Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the favorites, much to my chagrin. At least it's changed from earlier incarnations. Even with George Carlin or Ringo Starr narrating, I could never get past the soulless faces on these engines and the plastic humans, standing in place, as if someone were literally filming a train run around someone's model track in the garage. Now it's computer animated, so the trains actually speak their lines and the background doesn't look like it was built by Radio Shack, but it's not like they now produce Pixar-quality stories. It's still just an excuse for a toddler to watch trains chuff their way down the tracks.

"Chuff," by the way, is a word I've only recently learned. It's the sound the train makes as it goes, as in, "Thomas chuffed around the tracks, showing he was a very useful engine." We found a book called Choo Choo by Petr Horacek at the library, and it demonstrates that there are several interesting synonyms for train noises that a young boy might want to know.

Lately, though, the boy wants to watch a movie called The Little Engine That Could. Wildly original, I know. But it's a new movie, computer animated, and Whoopi does a voice, and so does Patrick Warburton, so it could be worse. Xander will watch this movie over and over and over. He calls it "Train" and Thomas and Friends is called "Choo Choo."

When we want to feel like good parents and limit his TV time to a mere several hours a day, we have train-based iPhone apps that he fiddles with. They're mostly Thomas puzzles and interactive books, and some are just train pictures with train noises, but the boy can't get enough. He'll sit on the couch touching the screen in the same place to see the same picture or hear the same chuffing, again while holding three trains in his other hand against his chest, like if he drops them or even lets them out of his sight for a minute, the train might go away, his fascination might require some other diversion.

Then last week, he turned two, and he got the gift of even more trains. Trains of different sizes to go on different tracks. It's a racket, but we willingly bought into it. He now has trains more fancy than the blocky, plastic ones he used to carry around. It's Thomas and Percy, wooden, metal, and even electric. He doesn't really like the one that has an "on" switch to make it go by itself. It's loud and creaky. Perhaps it reminds him of the nasty hair clippers. Or perhaps it just takes away his own fantasy of moving his own engine by his own power, hauling some kind of precious cargo over the hill because he knew he could.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New 'Do

Here is the boy at the local skate park. I swear there are kids tricking (Is that the proper skate term? Sounds wrong.) out there every time I look. Don't they have school? Or homes? Except the area was uncommonly deserted this day when Xander discovered that the skate ramp makes a pretty good slide.

No longer satisfied with wholesome Bieber bangs or even a faux-mullet, Xander had opted for the who-has-time-to-think-about-his-hair 'do. We had a couple of options:

1. Do nothing, which would mean we'd have to get him a board. Maybe a longboard to start? Then just send him over to hang with the cool kids. He's already got the hoodie.

2. Take him back to Sport Clips. The first time we did that has been previously chronicled. Not a bad option. But I believe that when you're getting a haircut, you should get your hair actually cut. Which brings me to option

3. Break out the clippers and shave his head myself.

You can see for yourself which option won the day.

Full disclosure, in case she's been saying otherwise, this was done with full permission from his mother. I'd always wanted to do this with either of my two daughters as they were growing up. Every time they'd scream as I was brushing knots out of their hair--which is to say, every time I brushed their hair--I'd ask their mother once more if I could just shave their heads and save us all a couple of months of grief. That never happened, and my thirteen-year-old still whines about brushing her hair. Even today she needs a good buzz cut. Imagine how that would go over with my ex-wife.

So with both parents in agreeance (it's a perfectly cromulent word), we strapped the boy into his booster seat, put the chair on the back porch, and clipped away. He didn't seem to know what was happening at first, so he didn't move when he heard the quiet buzzing of the clippers near his ear. But the moment the clippers snagged on a too-long strand of hair, the hummingbird whisper became a chainsaw growl and the boy started howling and the world descended into total anarchy. You can imagine. Dogs and cats living together and such.

You can see we all survived, brilliant countenances intact, so it wasn't as bad as all that. But I doubt Mom will let Dad do it ever again.

At first I wasn't exactly satisfied with the results. The extremes were too severe, from too long to too short. And as his hair grows now, every missed hair sticks out more, which diminishes my once professional-level ability with the clippers.

But now I think he looks older, more debonair, like a more youthful David Beckham. Which can't be a bad thing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lil' Kickers

The Boy is nearly two-years-old and it's about time he learned how to kick a ball. I mean, Ronaldinho was juggling a futebol de salao right out of the womb, right? Xander's behind schedule.

As for me, I started playing soccer when I was five. It was the mid-seventies and soccer was exploding in popularity all over America. "Soccer Made in Germany" was broadcast semi-periodically on PBS. Pele was paid millions to play out his waning years for the New York Cosmos. And the AYSO's "Everybody plays" policy helped extend the Sixties nearly into the Eighties.

At some point I realized that I was rather comfortable with a ball at my feet, so my parents put me on a team. I played my whole young life, then didn't for many adult years, then started coaching a few years back, and now I'm consistently playing again. I play indoor, managing maybe three minutes without keeling over, and somehow I end up stepping on an opponent's toes nearly every game. Also, we keep losing to the same teams, which gets old, but I can't complain because I'm playing soccer. Complaining would be antithetical.

The club where I play offers the Lil' Kickers program which starts kids at eighteen-months-old. Last week we were able to sign up Xander for a free trial with the "Bunnies." In a couple of weeks, once he turns two, and if we decide it's the worth the pricey fee, Xander will be put on the "Thumpers" team.

They started with ten minutes of "warm-up," which consisted of about eight toddlers roaming around one end of the indoor soccer field, at times picking up and carrying a size three soccer ball, other times kicking it, everyone in their own space. As parent I tried to keep a leash on things. I passed a ball to Xander's feet as often as I could. He kicked it back by stumbling into it. Mostly, he just wanted to run.

I mean that literally. That's all he wanted to do. It didn't matter where. It didn't matter what was in his way. He was out of the confines of our small home, free to cavort as though he had all the time and space in the world.

Which he didn't.

He discovered early that the long, air-filled tube separating the Bunnies from the Thumpers was easily moved. All he had to do was tumble headlong into it and it would roll away from him, reducing the space allotted to the Thumpers. More than once the dividing tube nearly steamrolled over another small child on the opposite side.

He also didn't have nearly all the time he desired. After that first ten minutes, Coach Jill attempted to engage the players in organized activities. First, she wanted them to sit on a colored mat then tell the group their names and what color the mat was. Why she thought anyone less than two-years-old would be able to do that, I don't know, but at least all of the other kids were able to sit in one place while their parents doled out the information. Xander wouldn't sit down, let alone still, so I held him upside down like I do when he's too squirmy to hold onto properly and told the group who he was.
Not a great photo, but you can certainly see his enthusiasm.

After that we were supposed to run together across the field to the opposite wall. Xander wanted to run in whatever direction he chose. Then, Coach Jill handed each child a few orange field cones and demonstrated how to make a tower then kick a ball at the stack. Xander didn't mind stacking up the cones but didn't wait to put a ball at his feet before knocking over the tower. Next, hula hoops. Roll them around. Chase them. Run into other children. It's all part of the fun. Then with the squishy balls. Each player started with one, but Xander likes to carry more than one of anything, so he pounced on any unattended ball as quickly as he could and tried to carry them all around. Very little kicking was involved. In fact, few team or group activities were involved on the Bunnies soccer team.

Until Coach Jill pulled out the parachute. The other kids threw their squishy balls onto the parachute, circled up, and grabbed hold of an edge. Xander wasn't sure what to make of it. We tried to make the balls bounce around the middle. Then we flew the parachute up, and pulled it down over ourselves so everyone was underneath. Everyone except Xander. He'd found his calling. From outside, he ran back and forth from the parachute, attacking the airy bulge at every open point. More than once, he crashed into a child underneath, before I had to grab him again and pull him aside. The only time he held still the whole hour was when we put the kids on top of the parachute and the parents made a Merry-Go-Round out of it. I got dizzy myself from the circles, but the kids, even Xander loved it.

He ran away again as soon as the turning was done. The other kids were getting their hand stamped and picking up papers to give to parents, and I was still chasing after my boy.

The lack of actual soccer notwithstanding, we'll be taking him back. I'm disappointed that Xander didn't demonstrate grand promise as a future soccer megastar, but he clearly enjoyed  himself. Perhaps the Thumpers and the two-year-olds will show him the one true way. In today's competitive climate, we can't afford to wait until he's five.

Before we left, as if to punctuate something, I put him on the bleachers to change his clothes and to get a few pictures, when he chose to step off the bench in the instant I took my hand off him. I reached out to catch him, smacking him in the mouth, but slowing his descent to the floor enough that all he got was a bloody, fat lip.
Seconds later, pow, right in the kisser!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wherein I discuss Nonfiction for a tick

I got no excuses. Except for the plenty of reasons I have to continue to neglect my blog. But it's still October. Two posts for the month ain't bad.

To the point, I've been reading a bunch of nonfiction lately. Partly for work. Partly for fun. And I don't say that lightly. I'm not in the habit of reading nonfiction for fun. If I'm looking for fun and can't get to the mini-golf course, I go in for the fiction reading. Which goes to show these must be some extra-superb books, right?

Let's begin with a book I haven't even finished yet, but can't wait to explain to people. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer purports that soccer effects everything from small communities to society at large, from ganglords in war-torn Bosnia to political divisiveness in America. At least those are the two chapters I've read so far.

I picked it up and read the last chapter first because it was about the United States and how when soccer became a popular children's recreation in the seventies, it was basically a hippie construction, an extension of the sixties, a contrast to the militarism of Pee-Wee football and the competitiveness of Little League baseball and was viewed as anti-American. Thus, red states and blue states can be identified by how many people let their kids play soccer. Fun, right?

Fascinated, I returned to the first chapter which explains how throughout the nineties a man gained Serbian national acclaim due to his leading an army of soccer hooligans in defense of Slobadon Milosovic. Apparently, it's common practice for a soccer club in Europe to recruit and hire groups of fans to be the team's official hooligans. And apparently, in what started as Yugoslavia, these hooligans did more than just taunt fans of the other team. One psycho criminal was given charge of the Red Star fans and led them to commit atrocities against Muslims and Croatians during their war. After reading this, I stifled my innocent giggle at being labeled "Unamerican" because I play soccer. I'm a little embarrassed for my sport. But certainly fascinated by this book.

Over the summer, I read the book The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. This book chronicles his attempt to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in about a year. Jacobs published the book in 2005, and I figure he must have started his quest just as Wikipedia was gaining traction online. He discusses reading CD-ROM versions of the Encyclopedia, but unfortunately doesn't discuss what impact online fonts of information have done to the necessity of the Britannica.

What was most interesting to me was something I realized early on in my reading. Jacobs formats his book alphabetically, giving his own versions of a chosen few encyclopedia entries while incorporating a memoir of his experience. He cleverly uses a current encyclopedia entry to be able to tell a story about what is going on in his life at the time he read it. For instance, he uses the entry on "vital fluid" to tell his story about going on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and crapping out at 1,000 dollars. So, basically, Jacobs spent his days reading, then writing about what he read as he made progress. Then it became a bestselling book. And I just kept thinking. I read. I write. Where's my bestselling book?

These next two books are crazy cool. But I think you have to be a total nerd to think so. Or an English teacher. (Go ahead. Make the joke. I'll wait.) Thomas C. Foster has written two books about reading called How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels Like a Professor. The second is really just a continuation of the first, but he only uses novels as examples instead of including poetry or drama like he does in the first book.

Anyone who loves reading should read these books. Foster shows you what you should be looking for to help you construct a deeper meaning from a text. He explains why an author might make certain decisions and use certain language. He explains the necessity of understanding allusions and symbols and choices of point of view and story structure.

I've studied and taught literature for most of my adult life, and this is the best, most succinct, most clear and easy to comprehend text I've read on the subject. I find it so enlightening, I've decided this is the new summer reading for my IB Literature class. The kids will love it.

The books show you how to be a better reader, but I've tried to incorporate some of the ideas into my own writing. A character totem here, another symbol there. Foster will have to use author Brent Wescott as a brilliant example in his next book, right?

Now, because I was stuck in my latest work in progress, I picked up a book called Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. A successful novelist I met at a conference in September recommended it to me. It's a book about screenwriting, but she said it was the best help to her for plotting stories that she's ever read. And it's certainly helpful. If you're a screenwriter and you don't do what he says about structuring your story, you're likely screwed. Snyder outlines the three acts of a film and shows you how to outline your story beat by beat. But my concern is as a novelist, not a screenwriter. I can see the benefit of following the structure for story, but I can think of too many novels that don't. Too many great novels I've read that don't follow traditional structure. I'm likely to use Snyder's suggestions to get out of my WIP rut, but the rebel inside of me will likely make it difficult. Tradition, conformity, structure. Bah. I can do it however I want, right? If only the publishing industry thought the same.

Lastly, I will just mention that in tandem with Save the Cat, I have begun reading The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, which uses Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces as its guide through story, myths, and archetypes. Just one more way to add some depth to my stories and make me a genius. Right?