Back to The Factory… again.

Reader B4thugthagod asked if working from home wasn’t easier than being at The Young Human Factory. The truth is, I never stopped going to work. Because it was a “pause” and not a state-mandated shutdown, my colleagues and I were required to work regular hours.

And because it was a shutdown, I worked 9-12 hour days, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. Recording instructional videos, converting in-class work to Google-friendly documents, and answering dozens of questions (mostly by cutting-and-pasting the directions the students didn’t read) took extra hours.

Last week I stopped offering a daily 8-12:30 Google Meet-ups because of proctoring tests. The only students who used the virtual meetings were done with their work and lonely. (One student showed me his entire rock collection and motherboard repairs for over an hour.)

There have been recurring problems; e.g. the students mark work as “done” so their parents are happy, but they submitted nothing – or nonsense. For example, a student wrote ” “I like cheese” instead of an introductory paragraph. I tried to nip this behavior in the bud by contacting all parents of “missing work” students the first week. I printed off each nonsensical document, scanned it, and emailed it to the child’s parents.

Some – not all – students corrected that document, which I re-ran and graded. But most played the same trick later. After I entered zeroes in the gradebook, the parents cracked the whip. Last week, my inbox was flooded with hundreds of notifications about work submitted 15 to 20 days late!

There’s a misconception that The Factory is a utility company. When the electricity is shut off, students finally pay the bill and the power comes back. In truth, students are like jobbers who shirk work and then, on payday, are outraged that their neighbors are flush with cash.

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m writing this while waiting for lunch to finish cooking, after which I must go to The Factory to finalize the Marking Period. (After which, everyone will decide to Pay the Utility Bill.) Then I’ll set up the weekly lessons (and a test over a novel!)

Things are going to be ugly for a while longer.

April Update: Writing

The Factory is swallowing my free will time, so I wrote this Sunday night. I hope everyone is having a good week in my stead!
***

I decided to finish my series in its entirety before looking for a publisher. It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, I resisted the idea.

While working on Book One’s second draft, I found myself writing vignettes for later use: scenes and dialogue growing naturally from the denouement. I suspected this scribbling was creative procrastination – or worse – a form of Doing It All Wrong. As everyone knows, a Real WriterTM finishes a book, sells it, and then figures out whether it’s worthwhile to write a sequel or a series.

Two things made me reconsider whether it might be a better option than write-stop-repeat.

The first happened when I studied popular children’s books. I read stand-along books but revisited the first books of two series.

All the books featured young protagonists making consequential decisions. The authors kept the tension high with fast-paced events but reminded the reader of the character’s goals. It didn’t take much, either: an omniscient sentence or a bit of dialogue.

Yet there was a marked difference in emotional continuity (for lack of a better term).

Some authors maintain it well. For example, I enjoyed re-reading a novel because I knew how budding friendships would grow and bloom in subsequent books. Despite adding and substracting characters later in the series, the author kept the protagonist’s original friends. Without those relationships, the series would have been a fantastic string of episodic adventures in the protagonist’s life. But not such a pleasure to re-read.

The other series-starter was fantastic, but it underscored why the series disappointed me. In the second book, the interesting protagonist suddenly (and maddeningly) became shallow. The author kept the character’s exterior, but pushed a reset button on character growth. The heart-rending climax of the first book, foreshadowed from the beginning and presented with dramatic irony, raised an expectation of emotional repercussions in the next story. No such luck. The author introduced a new leading character with trauma of his own. The girl-hero became little more than a follower until a tidying-up-one’s-past scene in the final book.1

I decided that a re-readable series, regardless of plot intricacies and grand themes, is one in which plots and character dynamics make sense across various books.

How could I do the same?

I began writing timelines for three adults whose backstories and relationships with the child-protagonists are of particular importance. There was an immediate Book One reward: A supporting character has a better motive – foreshadowed in the first chapter – to help a stranger he meets in Chapter 8. But one conflict in particular won’t be resolved until perhaps the last book.

I realized, too, that one of my favorite characters doesn’t seem to exert any influence on the protagonists in a later section of the timeline. I wonder why. I don’t want to kill him off; he’s fun to write and makes a great foil for other characters.

Writer David Farland gave me the second reason to write a series instead of stand-alone: to make it a selling point for publication. He explains better than I can at The Story Doctor.


  1. I refer to the original series. The author has written sequels and prequels. I’ve heard that retcon (literally: retroactive continuity) shored up some plot holes. However, the author still uses emotional crises as character motivation in a way that is out-of-balance with on-the-page relationships from the prior stories. No, thanks!

April Update: Minimalism Edition

I finished the 12-week Uncluttered course. It was interesting, motivating, and irksome.

Interesting: Seeing how other people live. Despite demographic and geographic differences, I had a lot in common with a widow in a tiny NYC apartment and new parents in a UK two-up-two-down house. We minimized cherished belongings to free time and space for the here-and-now.

Motivating: The weekly goals and participation helped a lot, particularly when another participant would confess, “I’m behind.” Plus, occasionally someone would balk at a weekly assignment and other attendees offered work-around ideas.

Which leads me to…

Continue reading

April Update: Factory Edition

Yes, I’m still alive. (In answer to Nann’s query.) However, everything around me seems as if it’s in a suspended state of animation. And on fire.

The latest coronavirus “pause” has been extended. “Pause” means The Young Human Factory, located in a county-wide hotspot, is closed to all but staff and a few choice young humans who need extra quality-control.

The Great Lakes State is in the throes of a surge (along with our neighbour Ontario). The official response is maddening. The state requested more vaccine doses; request denied. But good news: the US Department of Education (DOE) waived the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. Surely the students will be safely home for another week.

No. The DOE denied the state request to waive spring tests. Thus, the Factory is closed to students – except for mandatory test days.

I am already running around like a headless chicken. This latest is just “the sugar on the frosting,” as a sweet French-speaking lady put it.  

Late-breaking news… %&*$&#!!!

Today is Sunday. Churches have just opened again for normal operations, so I was gung-ho to attend and going through my last-minute check.

Stockings without a rip? Check.

Mask secure? Check.

Ringer turned off? Check… wait a minute. What is this notification from work?

I scanned it: “Please check your emails…. face to face pause… increase in Covid cases….”

GAH!! The Young Human Factory is closing again!!

We’ve been through a lot, particularly those who have been quarantined more than once already. Yes, more than once. The quarantines are based on contact tracing, which is like a game of Six Degrees of Separation, but less fun and no Kevin Bacon whatsoever.)

After all the restrictions, all the care the kids have been taking, the assigned seating at three separate lunches and two separate cafeterias, not to mention their teachers getting vaccinated* – my students will be freaking out and furious tomorrow.

Heck, I’m freaking out and furious TODAY. I just hope by waiting until after lunch, I won’t have as much competition for the printers and copiers. (Then again, making packets for nine days of absence is a lot of printing and copying!)

*****

*The first shot was on a “snow day,” when inclement weather cancelled classes. It was kind of cool to see all the administrators, teachers, and support staff who braved the trek.

Minimalism Progress Report: Week 5

BE MY GUEST!

I just started the fifth week of the 12-week class Uncluttered, run by American minimalist Josh Becker. It’s the wardrobe clean-out week. I figured I could skip it after the autumnal closet-cleaning.

Looking again, I found scarves and a thermo-insulated gloves that other people could use. I also tossed a beautiful blue-and-pink sweater. It’s comfortable, warm, and matched other articles of clothing. I have worn it weekly since December, but keeping it presentable is too much work. Every single time I wore it, let alone washed it,  loops of yarn came loose and had to be pulled to the reverse side with a crochet needle. 

It’s interesting to see photos of other people’s homes and swap stories. Many people thought all Americans live in big houses, until a “shutgun house” owner and a NYC resident posted photos.  I will say this: we like big living rooms even in small homes. 

An Englishwoman explained what “two-up-two-down” means. When we compared our respective square footage, we weren’t surprised that mine is bigger – but not by much.  Our proportions differ greatly. My kitchen is luxuriously spacious; her two bedrooms are larger than my three (one of which is technically a nursery).  

When I posted “after” photos of the guestroom (above), everyone commented on the black-white-and-red color scheme. Evidently, oxblood is unusually bold. 

 A funny aside:  The more we minimize our belongings, the more we rationalize purchasing more.

Our instructor and our peers reminded to hold off on buying anything – organizers, paint, etc. – until we finish the course.  The impulse was certainly running through in our group, like a bargain-hunting phantom. 

I’m glad I committed to another year of Mindful Buying. Temptation was trying to talk me into  purchasing a really nice belt to replace the cheap ones I threw out. I already have a nice belt. Just not a REALLY nice belt!

I fell in with a good crowd…

My parents tried their best to keep me and my siblings from the Bad Crowd, but no one warned me about the good crowd. I am now three weeks into a class on Minimalism, signed up for a 5K in April, and sorta-kinda tagging along with my Year of No Spending (YNS) buddies.

While the Bad Crowd keeps terrible hours and spends their waking moments drunkenly stealing from their lovers, the Good Crowd goes to bed promptly because Tomorrow is a Big Day.

The latter is also sore and every morning uses an insufferably minty toothpaste because YNS has a use-it-up policy. According to my peers, eventually I will see the fruits of these difficult days. I will be healthier, happier, and have gleaming floors.

The Bad Crowd hopes I like prison.

Caterpillar of the Apocalypse!

Woolly Bear Caterpillar with fallen cedar bits as a comparison. The little guy doesn’t look impressive in the photo (and its russet middle doesn’t show well). That’s a ruse….

Must be dead, I thought when I found it on the driveway. Even at noon, the 21F/-6C temperature was much too cold for caterpillars.

After lunch, I prepared to go back to work. The woolly-bully was closer to the car. If I squinted, its tiny feet seemed to be moving! Slllooowwwwly, though. It’s also curling a little in on itself, as woolly bears do when threatened.

When I came home at sunset, it was motionless as I took the photo. I had no doubt it was still alive. I didn’t want to accidentally squish it under the tires or scrape it up with a shovel of snow, so I tried to flip it onto an oak leaf. It “stuck” because its amazing grippy feet were clinging to the tiny grooves in the cement. Gently, I rolled it onto a leaf and put it in the flowerbed.  

Today it was gone.

A charming custom in Eastern and Midwestern USA is to look for woolly bears (“woolly-bullies” where I grew up) in the autumn. The length of its black bands was said to predict the length and severity of winter. If that were the case, what apocalypse is foretold by it hightailing in the dead of winter?!?

Nostalgic

Every year, I buy myself a Christmas present that’s frivolous or nostalgic. This year, it was both.

I was in an office supply store, of all places, when I spotted a suitcase-style record player bearing the Victrola stamp. I hadn’t seen portable record players in years, not even in antique stores. This particular model (The Journey) boasted Bluetooth, headphone, and RCA options.

The manager said that the store was sold out – as were others whose inventory she checked. The floor model was a “dummy” with no working motor. Such a shame! I had Baby Brother’s hand-me-over record player, but it wasn’t working out for me. It had no built-in speakers, sounded tinny when I hooked it to the receiver, and was too wide to fit in the bookcase.

Long story short: I searched online for new-fangled Victrola players with the right features and good reviews. The best-priced was an American flag version, which made me even more nostalgic. One of my older cousins had a record player with a Spirit of ’76 sticker and other Bicentennial decorations.

As soon as it arrived, I sent it on a “shakedown cruise” with trumpets: a couple of albums by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, followed by The Jonah Jones Quartet’s Swingin’ ‘Round the World. My stars, it sounds good! Vinyl records may pop and crackle – especially the ones from the ’40s and ’50s! – but they have a full-bodied sound that I missed.**

** For readers wondering about my record collection, suffice to say that it’s mostly inherited from my paternal grandfather, plus garage-sale finds and “Do you want this?” from friends.