Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where's My Clone? And Other Questions From One Writer's Heart

E made her confirmation Sunday with Jewel at her side. The ceremony was very touching, especially in light of how far she's come. Afterward, we celebrated with family and friends.

This morning E practiced for graduation with the rest of her class. The ceremony is tonight. E's sister S needs to arrive 45 minutes early because the choir's singing at the ceremony.

Have I had time to sit butt in chair given the excitement of the last couple of weeks? Aside from a scribble here and a note there, no. I'd love to say otherwise. I'd love to report that I've produced chapter upon chapter in my latest re-visioning of KM. Saying so would mean lying to myself and my muse.

I've a twinge of guilt thinking about how many days have gone by without communing with my characters. But here's the thing: I'd feel even more guilt--life-long guilt--if I didn't enjoy these last few weeks to their fullest, giving my daughters their all as they wrap up another school year.

My characters can wait. Concerts, confirmation and graduation are life events that come only once.

Am I rationalizing? I hope not. I prefer to embrace the belief that even when we're not writing, we're feeding our muse. I'm reminded of advice once given by a former Vermont College writing advisor of mine, Jane Resh Thomas. Once in a letter or workshop, she said the following (in a much more eloquent way):

As writers we must embrace the lives we've been given. We must live in the world, not outside of it, because it is from our experiences that our stories are born.

Given Jane's quote, I prefer to believe that if we don't embrace our lives to their fullest, anything else is fiction.

In the midst of it all, I can't help but look backward as I look forward.

Wasn't so long ago that we were wondering whether E'd make it through her 10th birthday. She's come so far since then. From standing at death's door after suffering an ruptured brain aneurysm to learning to walk and talk again to where we are today: looking forward to freshman year of high school, and worrying about what to wear under her graduation gown.

I've been quick to tears all day.

More later when things calm down.

Edited 5:45 p.m.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

14th Carnival of Children's Literature: The Fiesta Edition

For a feast of book reviews and insights, and a dash of multicultural spice, check out this month's Carnival of Children's Literature here at Chicken Spaghetti.

My contribution to this month's carnival: a link to my post entitled Wild About Art and Music.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Attention Writers, Artists, and Fellow Creative Souls: Looking for a Diverting Reason to Procrastinate? Try this Quiz

What kind of flower are you? I'm a daffodil.

Thanks to fellow daffodil Kelly Herold of Big A little a for sharing the link.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, Part III, and Finding My Groove--Or Not

Yesterday, I was working on KM, finding my groove inside K's head when the phone rang. Though I usually let the answering machine pick up calls during my butt-in-chair time, I couldn't ignore this one. It was the school calling with news about E. She had a slight fever and was complaining of being achy. I gripped the phone a little tighter. Aches along with a fever often mean E's temp is about to soar. I started the Tylenol as soon as we arrived home.

The Tylenol has been enough for now. I find hope in this. I wish my characters agreed. They're less than cooperative today, finding all sorts of reasons why not to be honest with me. Not that I could do much about it if they were. Taking care of E when she's sick leaves me precious little uninterrupted time to return phone calls, let alone sit in one place for the hard work of writing.

I detest taking two steps backward each time E's ill, and hate that I can't predict when I'll next have enough uninterrupted time to enter the zone with my characters. But this much I KNOW: E's been sick often enough during the last six years for me to trust that I will sit butt in chair again.

Some days--especially days like today when E's called for me one time too many--this Truth is the only thing that keeps me going.

Most recent read: One of my Mother's Day presents: the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic--The Long Way Home, Part III by Joss Whedon. Boy, I miss Joss' TV shows.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Enter the Forest

The May issue of Edge of the Forest children's literature magazine is now live on cyber newsstands. Just a few of this month's features:

1. The latest news on attempts to ban The Bermudez Triangle affair, along with links to a cyber petition to voice your opinion on the matter.

2. An interview with Tracy Grand, creator of Jacketflap (a phenomenal resource for serious children's book writers, reviewers, and industry types).

3. Oodles of children's book reviews.

4. An inside look at one children's book writer on retreat authored by yours truly.

Surf on over, kick off your shoes, walk the paths, or forge your own. Stay for an hour or a day. The Forest is yours to explore.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Battle Report: E's IEP Meeting, Assumptions, Enlightenment, and *gasp* New Hope for a Writer's Life

The showdown went better than expected on Monday.

One word sums up how the high school views/deals with kids with disabilities: enlightened.

A large part of me wants to trust the talk. Another part--a more vocal part--hesitates. Why? We've been burned too often by assuming key team members for any given school year were reading our children's IEPs and planning ahead on how best to implement what was outlined there. We also mistakenly assumed that team members felt empowered by administration to ask for the resources they needed in order to provide for our girls (as outlined in the IEP).

Silly us, we assumed the IEP was worth something more than the paper it's written on.

What we've learned over the years: Don't assume the IEP is enough to make things happen.

Yes, parenting a child with special needs is exhausting. Yes, the IEP is a contract. No, even though it's a contract between you, the school, and the State Board of Education, you can't assume it will be followed.

No matter how exhausted you might feel, no matter how often you wish you had a true advocate on the inside, the only true advocate for your child is you.

This means finding creative ways to check up on and check in with your child's IEP team...ways other than parking your butt in your child's classroom to ensure the right things are happening. I've friends who meet monthly with the team to ensure what's outlined is actually being done. Others require logs be completed so behavior can be tracked and modifications made as needed to foster greater independence. We visit, trade emails, and use a communication notebook so we can keep in regular contact with the teacher.

Finding reliable ways to keep in touch with your child's teacher and other team members is especially important if your child (like mine) is unable to articulate whether or not something's being implemented. For example, because of E's extremely small size (imagine a child the size of a two year old playing team sports with eighth graders), gym class requires creative modifications to allow for safe participation. Unfortunately, this follow through doesn't always happen.

In sixth grade, one of E's units was volleyball. I assumed the teacher would ask E to serve the net with a beach ball or the equivalent. The teacher, apparently unable to see past the double class she was teaching to think creatively about how E might be included in play, determined E should sit out instead. I found out about this decision after the fact. Um, no.

Enter the high school at Monday's meeting. Turns out, they offer an adaptive PE class. We lobbied without success for the middle school to put one of these in place. The school thought it was doing an adequate job without one. The opinion of a former PE teacher of E's: modifying the game so E can play would mean impinging on the rights of the other children. Excuse me? P physically held me down in my seat to keep me from launching myself at the teacher.

The ADA laws were made for ignorant people like that. Seems to me the values she's instilling in her young charges have more to do with winning than about teamwork and opportunity and honoring differently abled peers.

Learning that the high school has a PE class dedicated to adapting activities as needed only added to my opinion of the team in charge there. I like the talk. I want to believe it. After years of bird dogging E's and S's various IEP teams, I'm left with hope. Hope that finally, we've found a team we can trust.

I can taste the possibilities. Trust in the team, means less meetings, less micro-managing. An opportunity to redirect my time and energy, and pursue my true passion: Writing.

Summer school for E will prove whether or not the talk is only talk. *crosses fingers and toes* Here's hoping the high school team makes good on its promises.

Edited: 12:42 p.m.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Showdown at High Noon--E's IEP Meeting Today

P and I attend the second part of E's IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meeting today. The first part, held a couple weeks ago, was held to hear results of tests assessing where E's at intellectually/socially/physically/etc. since the last time she was reviewed, and to determine her eligibility for special ed supports and services for next year.

That was the easy part.

We meet at noon today to finalize a transitional plan from middle school to high school, to discuss and write goals for the next year, and to approve accommodations so that E is guaranteed equal access to her education, and related before- and after-school activities.

Between both of our younger girls, we've attended at least two dozen of these meetings over the years. We should be experts at it. We're not. And unfortunately the longer I'm in the system, the more I realize that the special ed child's advocate isn't the classroom teacher, the school principal or the rep from special ed making sure the papers are completed properly. The ONLY true advocate for a special needs child is the child's parent. (Which makes the IEP only as good as the paper it's written on, unless that parent has the time/patience/energy willing to ride the system to make it otherwise.)

Fie! Without a doubt, thinking about attending these meetings leaves me feeling as if I must gird my loins and pay obeisance to the gods to ensure a successful battle.

If you're reading this post between noon and three central standard time, wish us luck.

Appetite for writing: Ravenous, but will have to wait until after our marathon meeting. Hmmm. Perhaps our real-life battle will inspire some good scenes for KM.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wild About Art and Music

We attended the girls' art and music show last night. Fabulous. Chorus with S included a refreshing mix of traditional and contemporary numbers. Some of the more avant garde selections: basketballs bounced to a hip-hop number, and pulsing glow wands and glasses timed to the music. The art show featured artwork in various mediums by S and E and their classmates, and live demonstrations by a potter and jewelry maker.

Of particular note: the lively, interactive shows seemed to engage everyone, even the most reluctant and/or inexperienced art afficionados. As a writer I can't help but believe this observation relevant for my own art. Questions that come to mind:

1. How can I as a writer apply the show's successful elements to my own art?

2. What will engage my readers so completely that when they close my book they'll be compelled to shout about it?

3. These and other questions will be on my mind as I continue my forward progress through KM, which by the way, has undergone a major transformation thanks to insights gained during last weekend's retreat.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Retreat Report

The retreat was awesome. Twenty of us attended, all in different places in our writing lives, most everyone seeking uninterrupted time to connect, discuss craft, and write.

The Cenacle retreat center was an excellent choice. Run by the Cenacle Sisters, the center offers groups and individuals opportunities for community, communion with spirit, inner reflection, most anything the personal journey requires.

Located along a tree-lined street in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, we were walking distance from Starbucks, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Lake Michigan. The food was tasty, the company delicious, and the price was right...a fraction of the cost of Vermont College, yet the weekend left me feeling invigorated, energized, and inspired, in much the same way I felt after returning home from a residency at VC.

Writing wise, my muse must have loved the set up. On Saturday alone I wrote 10 new pages for KM.

On my must-do-again-soon list: booking a room at the center for myself (they even offer very reasonable day rates) in a couple or three months. The price is right, and the benefits to my muse immeasurable.