Shaping a child…

So, first parents are expected to shape their children. Fair enough. We bring them into the world, so who else should have the responsibility of making them viable members of society? Well, the second most important influence on our children should be their teachers. And of that group, a child’s first teacher is the most important.

It is that teacher that shapes the child’s learning experience for years to come. It is his or her influence that will dictate how the child perceives school from their first day on. I should know. I have just gone through an insane school year with my daughter.

Now at first, we planned on home-schooling the child. The schools in the area we lived in were not what we felt was conducive to learning anything above basics. So, in our naive way, we opted to not enroll her in pre-K. I’ve never understood what that was anyway. I mean, isn’t kindergarten where you start learning?

Apparently not.copy-cropped-rendering12

This is the public library in Bay Shore, NY. Where we lived. We took our daughter there every weekend where she learned to read. Voraciously. Then we moved to Florida, land of opportunity. We love it here and everything is perfect. By the Gods, we even got our daughter enrolled in a Cambridge “A” school!

Then we met Mrs. Rodriguez…Grumpy Cat as I call her.

We spoke to her, letting her know that our daughter had never been in a classroom of any kind. We told her that she could read. She said “Oh good. She can read simple children’s books?” We answered “No, she can read the Wall Street Journal.” The teacher gave a condescending smile and explained to us that kindergarten was far different that what we expected. From what I gathered, kindergarten was the new third grade.

My daughter’s handwriting was atrocious to say the least, but her reading skills were phenomenal to say the least. Every day, my wife would pick up my daughter and Grumpy Cat would berate her, saying that my daughter’s writing needed improvement. We worked hard with her and we were seeing improvement coming steadily. Grumpy Cat apparently wanted it instantly.

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So began a year of misery. We couldn’t understand why the teacher never saw any of the good. The above-average grades in everything, and the improvement of her handwriting. Instead, Grumpy Cat chose to continue harassing her about her writing, even in front of the class. Soon enough, my daughter was ostracized from the rest. They made fun of her, refused to sit or play with her and then, the bullying started.

She came home one day without her juice cup. When we questioned her, we found out finally that another girl took it away from her and threw it out. Then we found out that she was being pushed by some of the children.

We were furious.

We went to Grumpy Cat who casually told us she never saw anything like that. But, she did remind us that her handwriting needed work.

Fuck!

So we decided to go above her and spoke to the assistant principle. She in turn directed us to the counselor. The counselor investigated and a few days later, assured us that any bullying would stop immediately and that my daughter would be tested. It seems that Grumpy Cat said she was a disrupting factor in the classroom now. Perhaps, the problem was that she was bored in class or it may be something else.

According to Grumpy, she was in need of some child-restraining drug like Ritalin. Her report said my daughter was hyperactive, disobedient, disruptive and rude. A prime case of ADHD.

My wife cried for days as we waited for the doctor to examine her. My wife works for the best neurosurgeon in Miami. He checked my daughter over and gave my wife this diagnosis. “She’s five. She does what every normal five year old does. I’m not prescribing anything for her. Nothing is wrong.”

This was the beginning of a long battle with the Cambridge “A” school.

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For the rest of the year, we fought with the teacher. Her gems of wisdom started with “Kindergarten is not supposed to be fun! It’s for learning!” and ended with “Maybe if your daughter didn’t show she was smarter that the other children so often, they would like her better.” Yes, you read that right. The teacher suggested we dumb down our daughter to make the rest of the class happier.

Meanwhile, my daughter was getting worse. She would complete her work, long before the other children, and with nothing to do the trouble started. She would get up and go to the bathroom and decide to go check out other things along the way. We suggested the teacher give her something to do to keep her in her seat and were told “I don’t have time to see to one student.”

Testing showed that Alexa…my daughter…read at almost a fourth grade level. Not only could she read the words, but she understood what they were. Therefor, all of her other subjects were coming easily to her. The only problem, it was almost the end of the school year. There was less than two months of school left. No point in moving her to gifted now. Grumpy Cat had been refusing to do that all year.

Yesterday, we went to Alexa’s graduation. Each teacher got up and gave awards to the children in their class that excelled. Grumpy Cat’s turn came and she started handing out awards. When it was time for “Excellence in Reading”, my wife and I sat up a little taller. Then, we watched another child get that award. We watched Alexa’s shoulders slump. The teacher herself had admitted many times that Alexa was far beyond any of the other children in reading.

Fuck…again.

I wanted to write this as soon as we got home. There would have been way too many f-bombs had I written it then. I was angry. The first teacher of any child should understand that they will shape the way that child sees school for the rest of their days. Grumpy Cat didn’t care. She showed my daughter that school is not the fun place we had led her to believe it was. It wasn’t the place where she would learn so many new and exciting things.

It was the place where she would be ridiculed for the single area she wasn’t proficient in despite her advances. It was the place where other children would ostracize her and the teacher didn’t care. Finally, it would be the place where the teacher’s spite would cheat her out of an award she deserved.

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I know a lot of very good teachers. Teachers that understand exactly how important they are, especially to children just starting school. I respect and admire these men and women that take on this responsibility. They are underpaid, underappreciated and overwhelmed most of the time. They take money from their own pockets to help their children. They work long, tedious hours for them. They are everything that is good in our school systems. They are what insures our future in this world.

I wish my daughter had one of them.

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Memorial Day

To some people, Memorial Day means the start of summer. It means a day at the beach, barbecues, a trip to the mall or any of a dozen other events families plan. It means a day off from work, maybe some fishing or just some quality hammock time.

Memorial Day is certainly about all of those things. It’s also about one other thing. It’s a day we put aside as a nation to honor and respect those that have sacrificed all to keep this country free and safe. It doesn’t matter that sometimes that threat to safety and freedom was just made up by money-hungry businessmen. Our sons and daughters still paid the ultimate price.

Yeah, I know I’ll catch hell for saying that but I really don’t care. If anybody thinks the Viet Nam war was about anything but making money for a select few, or that any conflict in the Middle East is about anything other than making more money is delusional. Listen, I love this country, but that doesn’t mean I have to walk around with a flagpole stuck up my ass and the banner draped over my eyes.

Patriotism, like religion is fine in itself, but in the minds and hands of the extremists, the fanatical, it becomes very dangerous. There are people that think war is necessary to keep other countries in line. Don’t laugh, there are. Except we don’t win wars anymore. Certainly not like we won WW2…when you saw the defeated leaders signing documents and being humble.

But they still shout out that war is good, that we kicked ass over there and that we stopped the threat to our freedom. They glorify war, making it sound like every mother’s child should bang at the door until they’re let out to play in it. I write about war in my books. Every story is about a great war building or happening. But my books are fantasy. And yet, even in them, I try to keep the fact that war is good relegated to the very real bullshit column of life.

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So just remember, while you lie on that beach and rock that tan, men died while running to the beach from troop transports in France. Men died while running from helicopters in some god-forsaken Asian jungle. Men died when bombs exploded under their vehicles near towns surrounded by sands.

Memorial Day is the day we remember these people. We honor them and say a silent prayer for them and their families. We pause for a moment to look at the flag and think not of what it stands for, but the men and women that died defending it.

It’s not just sun-tan oil and Sweet Baby Ray’s Sauce.

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Marketing…the devil’s time

OK, so you slave over pages, wrack your brains out over editing, wring your fingers while searching for the perfect cover and then finally let an exhausted breath out after it’s published. There it is. Your baby, your masterpiece. Your book.

You stand there and gaze at it lovingly, almost seeing the sales flittering by like an old movie gadget that shows the calendar shedding pages, showing the march of time. You’re done, finished, at the end…or so you think.

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Now comes the absolute worst part of being a writer. Now you have to sell your book. You have to create a market for it. WTF! You know your book is good. Of course it is. Why then, don’t the masses know???

Well cupcake, they don’t know. For whatever reason, they have not been able to pierce the veil of your mind, and so they have no idea how good your book is. You have to show them. And no, you cannot put up a banner saying “My book is good – Buy it!”

Now comes the time of the devil. You walk around the home/den/holding area and try to think of ways to sell your book. Yes, there are the obvious ways…blog tours, interviews, standing on the corner with a big sign…but you want more.

Every writer has their own little “secret” pearls of wisdom when it comes to the more in marketing. My first pearl was to use business cards. Of course nobody else does this. Then I saw a thread in a very popular writer’s site where everybody and their mother used business cards. MEH!

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Yes, my razzmatazz did need more shizzle. But where could I find said shizzle? It was somewhere in my mind, but the devil had a firm grip on it and kept it hidden behind memories of  Vicki Shumacher’s purple bikini and that episode of Star Trek where Kirk fights that alien lizard guy.

Then, one day in the movie theater, while Satan went to get popcorn, it fell out. There it was! The perfect idea! The one that would send my book straight to the number one spot on the NY Times Best Seller list!

I stared blankly at the movie marquees for coming attractions and it hit me. Why not make promo spots for my book? Pictures that conveyed a scene from the story with a small excerpt to go along. Frikkin’ genius!

Surely, nobody had ever done this before! I even gave them a name and included them in my book cover design business. I named them PromoSpots! I know, pretty damned clever on my part. At the risk of being too forward, here is one for my book.

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The idea is to pepper the social media scene with these and hope that it intrigues a person enough to say “hmmm…I better read this book before everybody else does and I don’t know what the hell the conversations about it are…”. So there is a whole series of them, nine as of now, just running about out in the world. They stimulate conversation, add intrigue and just make people need to buy the book.

Or so I hope. Any idea by any writer is an exercise in faith. Anything we do is nothing but chance at best. Indie writers have to topple giants to get people to look at them. They need reviews that say their work is refreshing and new and reminiscent of so-and-so when they were young writers. But to get those reviews, they need to market. They need to roll their sleeves up, hand off their scrunchies or beer cans…or both…and open a can of whoop-ass on the devil of marketing.

Grab him by his pointy ears and shove a foot up his ass. Get their work out and into the public’s eyes by any damned means possible! Make the masses realize that their book is the best book ever written!

Then, it’s time to kick back, open that special wine spritzer and wait for Disney to call with their movie offer…

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The Hard Truth About Being a Professional Writer

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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I happened to see this meme (above) on Facebook and I lost it laughing. This is such a great metaphor for what it is like to be a writer. In the beginning I was a rose, then I learned to become the dandelion. The dandelion might not be as pretty, but it is prolific and it is a survivor.

When I decided years ago to leave sales and become a writer, I had a far more glamorous idea of what it was like to be a professional writer (pieced together from movies). Additionally, it didn’t help that my first “novel” was so much fun to write.

Of course it was fun! I didn’t have to be constrained by these pesky things called “rules” and “craft.” I was like some kid banging away on a piano believing I was, in fact, making music.

Yet, when I joined a writing group and…

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Monday Musings: “Your Books Are So Good, I Shouldn’t Have to Pay for Them.”

This happened to an author of my acquaintance. She got an email from a “fan” and the gist of it was this: Dear Ms. Author. I really like your books. I think they are well-written and I …

Source: Monday Musings: “Your Books Are So Good, I Shouldn’t Have to Pay for Them.”

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Eye-Opening Writing Tips

Damned helpful

Mundus Media Ink

4815205632_632ee48a71_bA lot of people think they can write or paint or draw or sing or make movies or what-have-you, but having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell fifty million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way earned him a sprawling rejection letter regarding the reasons he should simply give up writing all together. Tim Burton’s first illustrated book, The Giant Zlig, got the thumbs down from Walt Disney Productions, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial On the Road received a particularly blunt rejection letter…

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What is Religious Freedom?

I have to be very upfront about this particular article I am about to write. I am not against religious freedom in any way. Except when it infringes upon human rights.

To start, we must ask, what is religious freedom? The State Department says this on the subject; The International Religious Freedom Act defines five violations of religious freedom:
Arbitrary prohibitions on, restrictions of, or punishment for: (i) assembling for peaceful religious activities such as worship, preaching, and prayer, including arbitrary registration requirements; (ii) speaking freely about one’s religious beliefs; (iii) changing one’s religious beliefs and affiliation; (iv) possession and distribution of religious literature, including Bibles and other sacred texts; (v) raising one’s children in the religious teachings and practices of one’s choice.

Now, the State Department will list what they call a Country of Particular Concern if the government is determined to have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. A list of examples is posted and reads as;

  • torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • extended detention without charges;
  • causing the disappearance of persons by abduction or clandestine detention; and
  • other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or security

Now then, we have established that the State Department will list a country for a flagrant denial of the right to liberty. Let’s move on.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says this;

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Places of public accommodation are hotels, motels, restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, and concert halls.
The United States Constitution started right off with religion in the First Amendment and says this;
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In plain English, that means the First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.  It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.  It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.  It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.
The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.
So the United States Government is prohibited from taking actions that favor one religion over another. Or over a lack of religion.
So, at what point does the State Department list the United States as a Country of Particular Concern? At what point does the Justice Department start issuing warrants for breach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? At what point does the Federal Government step in and say “Enough is enough! We created the laws that say we can’t do that!”
Mississippi now joins an alarming number of places that provide “Government endorsed discrimination” and do so openly and proudly.
I’m trying hard to understand why. If your religion says “don’t be gay”, that’s fine. Show me where it says to hate those that are not of that religion and are gay. Show me where it says to make life difficult for those that do not adhere to the same religion. Show me where it says, I’m allowed to hate and ridicule others because they don’t follow my religious beliefs.
What I see, is a bill that allows a deeply religious Christian, Baptist, or any other group to say “I own a restaurant (a place of public accommodation) and I refuse to allow gay people (Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) ) to eat in my restaurant.
What happens if this same person feels a deep resentment towards the Jewish Faith and decides he will no longer allow anyone of that faith to eat in his restaurant either? Or Black Southern Baptists? Under this broad law, the possibilities are endless.
So I return to trying to understand. My faith teaches me to be tolerant. It tells me that all people are my brothers and sisters, and I have no right to judge them or their lifestyles. My religion tells me to be kind and helpful, to care for those that cannot care for themselves. My religion tells me to allow the rest of the world to worship as they please. My religion tells me to be responsible for my own actions.
Yet my religion is attacked on a constant basis. Most likely, if my religion was made public, I would not be allowed to eat in that Mississippi restaurant either.
Apparently, religious freedom in America means that you can follow any religion, worship in any structure and read any religious materials…as long as it conforms with what the states with these Freedom of Religion Acts follow.
Thank God our forefathers had the insite to make laws escaping religious persecution.
Wait…
What do you mean, “which God”???

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