In the early morning sun before the coffee perks open her senses she waits-- inhales and exhales her ambition which does nothing except to fog the window to her opportunity known as her cell phone. Another twenty-four hours have passed: one thousand four hundred forty minutes she's wasted, thinking she'd be something by the twenty fifth hour, but her inbox remains as empty as a gluttonous pit never filling never satisfied always hungry for something, anything-- Hell, she'd eat spam if it dropped into the void. The villain is hungriest at 10PM after its victim has spent another workday trying to convince herself that she doesn't suck that maybe someone listened and that not all children are stupid enough to consume laundry detergent. But by 10 PM she is too tired to fight, so he slips in quietly as she clocks out of her shift, playing piano on her eyelids thumb-wrestling her heart and tripping down her weak ladder of confidence known as her spine. There he waits, assuming his post like a corrupt quartermaster who slashes her sails while she sleeps, leaving her windless on an ocean with no harbor on a boat with one anchor and two chains-- one for the boat she's not yet welcomed to sail and another as a necklace in her size.
My current MS under revision:
YA Contemporary with Speculative elements called Just Jo.
First: my two boys. Being a mom has reminded me about the wonderful innocence and sadly the loss of that innocence as we grow. My children love creating friends, names, and songs, and my high school students often confide to me that they feel lonely…so why can’t they or don’t they do the same?
Second: my love of strong, female ensemble stories. I was watching one of my favorite movies Now & Then months ago and walked away going… “huh…why can’t I think of some good YA books like that?”
Lastly: my love of cooking and baking. I was raised by men and women who believed the strongest families were the ones who cooked together, who sat down for at least one meal a day together, and as a working mother, I completely agree. Many of my students LOVE taking culinary in high school, so why couldn’t I find more stories about teen chefs?
Just Jo centers around the life of Josephine “Jo” Bennet, an aspiring teen chef suffering from social anxiety who finds comfort through cooking & talking to an imaginary friend. After being forced into marching band to break out of her shell, she finally makes real friends. She begins to break away from the predictable and starts writing her own recipes. But when a boy who appears to be identical to her childhood imaginary friend walks into her home room, everything changes…
This story is what happens when you rethink Meet Joe Black and throw in the strength of a female ensemble like the one found in The Start of Me and You.
The Style of the Novel…
Just Jo is told in first person point-of-view from Jo’s perspective, but what makes it unique is that it weaves in chatrooms, bucket lists, and lots of Jo’s recipe cards within the narrative.
(The recipes are actual recipes from my collection. I hope that teens who read this some day will feel inspired to try cooking!)
When I was thirteen I cried every day on my bed from the bullies and brats who whispered about my big nose and frizzy hair, saying I was a dork a freak ugly. When I was thirteen I obliterated them in poetry, rhyming like a bad-ass child, so they would rue the day they came after me-- death by fiction isn't a crime after all. When I was thirteen I fell in like with my best friend who was a foot-and-a-half taller than me, who called our landline when only my father was around to answer it; the snakes stayed away for a bit. When I was in high school they slithered back out of their cool rocks but a posse of marching trumpeteers saved me-- their bugling cries stopped them, squished them. Poetry took a vacation and Harry Potter became my salvation. When I was in college I heard one foul conversation about me, and I turned off the music set down the pen closed the book and strode into their venomous pit to suck it out, and I did-- slowly. When I was twenty I found my voice not in a song not in a phrase not on a page but in my heart hardened now brave, ready to conquer the serpents in their cowardly convenient caves with my big nose frizzy hair and more gumption than they could ever try to strangle.
Recent Twitter posts and conversations with friends and family have moved me to post something about “balance.” What kinds of balance am I talking about? Sadly, I’m not qualified to talk about physical balance as I am someone who consistently trips going up the stairs and who slams her limbs and toes on door frames.
The balance I’m going to talk about is the one so many of us face. For me, it takes on this form:
Wife + Mother + Teacher + Writer
I have so many new writer friends who are in the same boat as me, right? We are in a perpetual state of moving backwards, sideways, forwards…but only for a step or two before something knocks us back to our “place.”
But did you see what’s missing in the formula? What about HUMAN?
Sounds ridiculous. “Of course I know I’m a human, Cassie. Maybe it takes a cup or three of coffee to arrive there, but I’m a human for goodness sake.”
Are you? Because here’s what I’m starting to notice. We women, we are not as human as we used to be. We have lost our balance. And in doing so, we have lost a piece of our humanity.
Please understand, I love my husband. I consider myself blessed to have found someone like him, and I can’t imagine my life without him. It’s terrifying when I think of what would happen if I didn’t have him. And that doesn’t make me less of a woman to say that I need my husband. I just think that part of my spirit and soul awakened when I found him.
I love my children. Dear LORD, they try my patience every day. Some days, I yell. Some days, I cry. Some days, I consider myself lucky and on top of my A game if I remember to brush my teeth, my hair, and remember deodorant. Can I get an Amen?
I like my job. I’m not going to lie, teaching is not the same as it was when I was a student or when I started ten years ago. When a kid fails or has a zero, I’m to blame. When a state test isn’t passed, I’m to blame. There are a few situations and classes that make me smile, but is it worth the constant struggle? To be decided, folks…
And last, Cassie, the Writer. Cassie the Writer has always existed, but was silenced a long time ago by the fear of “not having money” or “inconsistent job market.” So Cassie the Writer became Cassie the High School teacher. She majored in English, and contrary to the recent, offensive post by Diana Gabaldon, “English Major does NOT equal ‘you want fries with that.'” Screw you, Diana. You just lost a follower and someone who was planning on reading your books.
But back to being human. The point of this post was not just to rant about the crap and stress of being a working mother, teacher, and writer. It was to show you that you are not alone if you find yourself with the same “list.” It was to show you that you need to remember to be HUMAN with everything else. What does that mean? Here are some ideas:
- Take a personal day. Take a few. Take a sick day to prevent sick days. And you know what? That decision does not need to be approved by your spouse, your children, or your co-workers. Because it’s your mental and physical well-being at stake, not theirs.
- Take a day or two away from your children. They’ll survive. And to be honest, they probably won’t remember it. They’ll remember the fun times they had camping and hanging out with Dad eating chicken nuggets on the floor of the living room. And the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Totally true. Just because you did the single-most extraordinary thing in the world that any human could do (child birth), doesn’t mean you have to lose who you are because of it.
- Learn to say “no.” Single friends or friends w/o kids want to go out? All you want to do is stay home in your PJs and watch Netflix or your DVR. Stay home. And don’t let anyone guilt you about it. Hubs wants to go out? Let him. He needs time away too. Boss needs you to take an extra shift, but there are others he/she could ask. So say “no.” Volunteers needed for an extra work-related thing. Say “no.” There are other people at work w/o children, without your grading pile, without your stresses. They can do it. Maybe you do decide to do it. Cool! Then treat yourself to something afterwards.
- Teachers, teach smarter. What does that mean? It means cut back on what you bring home. How? Make students responsible for self-assessments. Studies are now showing that homework is not as beneficial in comprehension and analysis or critical thinking as we used to think. What’s the best way for students to learn how to analyze, you ask? READING for pleasure. Go figure.
It took me ten years to get here, but I’m happy I am. And I feel ZERO guilt about it. Because the truth of the matter is quite simple: if I don’t start taking care of myself, it won’t matter what my titles are; I will lose all of them when I lose myself. When I fall ill. When I develop depression or ulcers from stress.
Think of that one person you work with who is so bitter and angry every day. The one near retirement and/or the younger ones who are too ignorant to understand the biz. Now ask yourself, do you want to be that person in 10, 15, or 20 years? Do you want to be that person just going through the motions? Miserable? Exhausted? Wishing you had done something else?
I didn’t think so.
Find balance, friends. Find it now. Seek it out. And follow it through every. single. day.
You are not selfish. You are not alone.
You are remarkable for all that you do and balance already in your life. But take care of yourself, okay?
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change a poopy diaper.
Oh, the irony of it all…
Ready the horses
Take hold the reins
Pen battles paper
The war of words begins.
A journey of one
Through crusades of many
Bearing torches in trenches
And truth blurred in folly.
The double-ended sword
Rejection turns to reflection
Forcing a fine-tuned chord.
She is the shield
Who chase the grail
Of publication’s plenty
Her pen battles paper
While her life spins and falls
But her words save her spirit
When she answer’s the author’s call.
Today, we celebrate teachers: the protectors, the leaders, mothers & fathers, and big dreamers. So I thought I’d jot down some things you may not know about what we do…
1. We parent. All the time. Every day.
This is not to say that you don’t parent your children, but we are with your kiddos for several hours every day. So we do quite a bit of “hard life” lessons and “real life” consequences. We are mothers to the motherless and fathers to the fatherless. For some, we are the only smile they receive.
2. We are exhausted. All the time. Every day.
We bring an A game with every class and long after our coffee runs out (always a low point). We stay up late trying to wind down. We stay up late trying to finish our grading and planning. And we stay up late thinking about our students: what will they be like tomorrow? Where was so-and-so? I hope they’re okay…I hope they’re fed a dinner tonight.
3. We are sorely underpaid. All the time. Every day. If you truly knew the amount of work we did at work and what we take home, you would agree with this. What finishes as a 40 minute lesson can take days to plan and longer to assess. Think on that.
4. We fake it. All the time. Every day.
We are the world’s best pretenders and actors. We know how to sell it and how to jump through hoops even a gymnast couldn’t manage.
5. We just want to TEACH. All the time. Every day. We love your attention and your concerns, but ours is and will always be preparing your children for the real world. So let us. Let us reward them when they do well and acknowledge that sometimes bad days happen. Trust us to know what is best developmentally. It’s what we do.
Back us up. Don’t put us down. Be our support, not our road block.
COMMUNICATE BEFORE. Not just after.
Let us teach.
This is the calm before the storm
The moment before the strike
Leaves you feeling your lowest low
So you forfeit the life-long fight.
This is the moment of roughest sails
Of squalls, rogue waves, hard hails
While you cry your aching heart out
On the sleeve that hides the marks of
Shame and self-blame and self-hate
When they spat, you took their bait
Like a hungry fowl you fed their voices to allow
Them to succeed—to win. And why?
Because they, the voices, your head
Ran out of things to cry
So they tried and tried and tried to
Find a soul to beat and hide.
The days are long
With no moon to change the tides.
This is the calm before the storm
A bully in full frontal form
Who creates a world of hate
Of racism of isolation of ill-fated dreams.
But you, sweet you,
Dear wonderful, beautiful you,
You stand for what they lack—
Creative, original, sunlight through black
Storm clouds that they blow and
Rumble and tumble through.
And in their wake you felt what you had to do
Was to give yourself to them
Bend, break, bottle, they win.
But even embers can grow new flames.
Small courage can even tame
The hell you’re in and beat it again
And again and again and again.
Turn your face to every dawn
Let your soul feel every song
That was written for you and only you.
“A person’s a person no matter how small,”
So rise up and look around
At the beautiful mess of graffiti of it all.
This is the calm before the storm
When the strongest of us are born
When we fix what’s broken and torn
And walk and triumph over thistle and thorn.