Saturday, September 17, 2011

Literary Responsibility in the Digital Age

After reading Across the digital divide , a blog post about poverty and the digital age, I started to wonder: Am I a digital elitist?

I love my Nook. I do, and I know some of you might stop reading because of that one sentence, and that’s fine. It’s not like I’ve stopped buying print books. Actually, I have several books in both e and print format. It’s that I’m a forgetful person. I tend to find myself sitting in the pickup line at school, wishing I had brought the latest book from the To Be Read pile. My Nook is like my netbook. It’s always in my bag. Now, I am never without a book to read. It’s also handy when I’m doing critiques for my writer buddies.

After reading the above mentioned blog, I started to think about how this fast moving train into the digital age really has the potential to prevent some of our countrymen from advancing their lot in life. And, because you know I love lists, here are a few reasons why. (I should add that, while I can find all kinds of articles that support my OPINION, there are even more out there that support the other side. This is my blog, and thus my thoughts. You are free to disagree with me, and I always welcome opposing viewpoints, but please keep it civil!)

1. Eliminating cursive writing in the schools. BAD IDEA. I’m not an expert in linguistics or psychology, but I am willing to bet the teaching cursive writing has a positive correlation with reading ability. The more a kid studies the letter, the more they write the letters and form words has to have influence on not only reading speed, but also comprehension. I’m a fast reader. I mean fast. When I was in 8th grade, we had reading class once a week and we read those short stories and then answered the comprehension questions. Then, once our minds were turning, we would take a speed reading test. I aced that class. I couldn’t get enough of it. Yes, the stories were often lame and it was the one time I found myself leaning toward non-fiction pieces over fiction, but I got to sit in class for 90 minutes and read. I should also mention that, while I don’t show people my handwritten work often, I normally get compliments on my cursive writing once a week, if not more. After a quick Google search, I found several articles to back up my claim. Here’s one that talks about the writing-reading relationship.. On a personal note, my kids will be learning cursive, no matter what. As a fan of dystopian, I know, one day, the world is going to plunge into turmoil, society will collapse and eventually non-electronic communication will be difficult to come by. My future generations are going to make a killing by sending and reading letters for people!

2. Removing print books from schools and issuing each student an iPad in an effort to save money. This actually sounds good, at first. With school budgets being slashed, our schools must come up with ways to stay academically viable on a shoestring budget, though I would question how purchasing, even a discounted iPad could be cheaper than handing down used books from class to class. But here’s the problem. What happens when Tommy, a seventh grader, drops his iPad. Or worse yet, what if it’s stolen. Since Tommy’s dad just lost his IT job and they’re living paycheck to paycheck on his mom’s nursing income, can they afford to pay for the replacement? If not, does that mean Tommy can’t complete his homework assignment? It’s not like he can handwrite the five page paper that’s due on Friday because he never learned cursive in the first place and his print writing is horrid. And forget studying for a test. How’s he supposed to read the information? It’s on the missing iPad.

3. Just as, in my opinion, handwriting is an art, so is studying. I remember learning the a couple of different study methods when I was in middle school and let me tell you, all of them involved books and writing. Now, I’m sure there will be new methods developed that don’t require such rudimentary tools, but until then, what is little Tommy’s family supposed to tell him? Sorry son… I guess you’ll have to wait until college to learn anything? (Assuming Tommy can afford college after having to replace the iPad.)

4. Finally, the digital age and libraries. Do you know that there are people who actually want to do away with libraries? And then there’s the camp that says, “Sure, keep the library, but just do away with the books and make everything digital.” I’m not much for grabbing a pitch fork and torch, but those people would probably be at the top of the “To Do” list if it ever comes to that. Because here’s where little Tommy has a chance to survive school. He can go to the library and use the computer to turn in that assignment. He can ask the resource desk to do an inter-library loan to get the textbooks he’s lost. After all, there are probably going to be some communities where the parents are going to stand up and demand that some of the fundamentals of education still be observed. At the very least, they can be ordered from

5. One more, mainly because I can’t resist. It turns out, when (and if) little Tommy goes to college a lot of professor prefer students NOT bring their iPads and laptops to class. *collective gasp* I know you’re wondering if I’m making it up. I’m not. In addition to being a great educational tool, these electronic devices can also hook up to the internet, giving students the opportunity to completely tune out a boring Western Civ lecture by watching videos of cats and dolphins playing together. They can also download apps, like Angry Birds and Farmville, which, in my opinion, would have made my math classes go by a lot faster! Hmmm… I wonder if the same thing could happen in Tommy’s seventh grade class… what’s the teacher going to do? Take away his game, I mean textbook? Yeah, that will go over well. Parents just LOVE it when you pick on their kids!

Please don’t mistake that I’m saying technology in schools is bad. It’s not. We live in a world that is run by man and machine. I just don’t think we should embrace the future by pretending the skills upon which our society was built are now obsolete. And we certainly shouldn’t do it until we can ensure that everyone, from the richest or the rich and the poorest of the poor, has a chance to live the American dream!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the expanded version of Stephen King’s The Stand is waiting for me on the Nook. (No way am I lugging that book around in print! Though, if I ever run into one of those down with library creeps, it could come in handy!) Regardless of technological preferences, always BE PASSIONATE about your life and future!

Monday, September 12, 2011

17 year old MC description

Hey all! I'm revising my pages and this is what I came up with to describe my 17 year old protagonist. Let me know if you can get a clear picture of both her and her mother. (Feedback desperately wanted)

I may have my dad’s eyes [denim blue], but the rest of my looks and my inability to lie come straight from my mom. A lot of people say Chloe looks like Isabella Rossellini if Isabella was ever seen wearing white paint splattered overalls and her hair pulled back in a loose, messy ponytail. People say I look like her, and maybe I do, but I definitely lack the undeniable assuredness that radiates from her when she walks in the room. If Chloe's the movie star, I’m the awkward assistant with a pencil behind her ear and a coffee stain on her shirt.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time to Write, but First…

I love the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. I would say I watch it at least twice a month, mostly as background noise, but still, I know almost every line. In the opening scene of the movie, Sandra Oh’s character, Patty, comments, “Actually, if you knew Frances [Diane Lane’s character], you'd know these [brownies] are avoidance [of writing].”

Most of the time, I would rather spend my free time writing than anything else. Pounding on the keyboard is therapeutic. Each time I start with a blank sheet of paper, it’s like heading off on a literary hike. I can obsess over edits to the point that frozen pizza becomes a mainstay on our dinner menus. I actually pay for Pandora One because the allotted 40 hours you get with the free versions doesn’t come close to the hours I need it.

But then there are the times when I will do anything to avoid writing. I can’t exactly blame it on writer’s block, because when I finally run out of things to do on my avoidance list, I’m ready to return my WIP. So, in the interest of avoidance and the role it plays in the creative process, I thought I would share my go-to vices.

1. The Latest iPhone app: First, it was Angry Birds, then Frog Toss, Words with Friends, Hangin’ with Friends, 80 days (think Bejeweled with puzzles and global theme), and now it’s Prize Claw. Originally I thought I would only play these games when I was waiting in the doctor’s office or while I’m waiting in the pickup line at school. Ha. I tried to ban myself from this, but it didn’t work. However, there is timer on my iPhone as well… and I use it to tell myself that play time is over… GET BACK TO WORK.
2. Facebook: I have been known to be inspired by quizzes I’ve taken on this social networking site. The appearance of Cherubs in my first book and a reference to Amelia Earhart were both inspired by a quiz (and half a bottle of wine) and those parts turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. And then there’s the not so helpful aspect of Facebook. Remember that girl in junior high who used to pick on you, but now, through the goodness of FB, you can spend too much time looking through her pics and analyzing every moment of her life through her status updates? No? Me either, but let’s suspend reality for a minute and pretend you did: Facebook gives you the perfect avenue to waste hours “reconnecting” with friends. And we can’t forget the apps they have! I’m willing to bet at least half of you have or had a Farmville farm at one point in your FB career. I have one. Of course, I also have a Steward (my friend Jessica) who hacks my account daily and tends to my flock since I’ve imposed a FB ban, which now limits me to updating my fan page (please feel free to “like” me:!/pages/Sarah-J-Schmitt/132681246744714), checking in on a few statuses as well as posting some so people know I’m alive. Sorting through pictures of people I haven’t seen in twenty years is strictly prohibited… unless it involves kids, dogs, or cats. Come on! Who can resist those pics?
3. Baking: Like Frances in Under the Tuscan Sun, I like to bake. I wish I liked to cook more, but unless the recipe comes out of Taste of Home, I’m helpless. There are times when I have several different types of cupcakes going at the same time, followed by cinnamon rolls and homemade doughnuts. It’s also not uncommon, when I am procrastinating in this way, to make a couple different types of cookies (not from scratch, mind you) and sit back with the munchkins and dip them in ice cold milk.
4. Go to the Gym: I hate the gym. I would love to profess that I am a reformed couch potato and now feel horrible when I don’t go to the gym, but I can’t. I don’t like to work out. Even when I was a student athlete, I hated work outs. It’s the fact that I HAVE to go that makes me crazy. Except when I’m in a slump. There are a couple reasons for this: First, when I spend all day sitting at my desk, every part of me aches the next day. Second, some of my best ideas come through the zen meditation I enter when listening to Lady Gaga on the treadmill. Third, I’m around people. Granted, I normally avoid eye contact, but as an extravert, that human connection can be grounding and revitalizing.
5. Cleaning: Ask anyone who knows me, when I’m cleaning, it’s a desperate cry for help. I’m not talking the type of cleaning that involves filling the dishwasher or washing machine. I’m talking about that move the furniture and clean the baseboards type of cleaning. Some people have that part of them that pushes them to keep a neat and orderly home, and I’ll admit, I wish I was one of them, but I’m not. I am who I am and that’s all that I am. When I hit this point, there is only one answer, and that brings us to my last vice.
6. Escape to coffee/movie/girls night out with my best gal pals. I belong to a book club called The Cacklin’ Bs… at first, I thought, yes, I can have a great discussion about books with women I don’t get to see all the time. But this book club has become something more. It has become a support network where I can vent about my insane neighbor, remember that my husband isn’t the only one to say stupid comments at the wrong time, and to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine, for the body and the soul. Trust me, after an evening with the CBs, I have been healed.

That’s it. My six top vices. My go-to avoidance mechanisms. And rather than looking at these activities as a distraction, I look at them as a way to refill my creative cup and get back to work! Whatever your writing process is, BE PASSIONATE in everything you do!