NaNoWriMo Kick Off

On your mark, get set, WRITE. Best of luck fellow NaNoWriMo-ers!



NaNoWriMo READY (despite Sandy looming!!)

In preparation of the storm, I went to the store to buy myself a pre-writing gift: a wireless keyboard for my IPad– a necessary tool in case I lose power because my IPad holds far more battery charge than my laptop. I’m actually panicking that Sandy will delay my start to writing. And I am OH SO ready to begin.
The upside of this 6 week lead-in to writing without actually having the ability to write has been the luxury of prep time. Never before in my writing have I pre-written so much material and done so much prep work. Here’s what I’ve accomplished:

1) synopsis/summary
2) join NaNoWriMo & invite writing buddies to form a network
3) character sketches and photos of what I envision my characters to look like
4) plot outline, including sub-plots
5) a complete and I mean COMPLETE bio of my main character
6) research of dating sites, dating site do’s & don’t’s, middle school information (mostly in the form of interviews): student & teacher stories, middle school play options, blogs, Adam Levine (who my main character is obsessed with) and Sex in the City (which I’ve never seen, but my main character can write a book on it)
7) establish a voice for my main character
8) gather my materials/logistics- laptop, IPad, keyboard, beret (of course, what writer doesn’t own a beret???)
9) Kick-off party at school planned
10) Sit back and wait, day dreaming about my main character and her escapades, while praying that hurricane Sandy doesn’t literally rain on my parade

I’m ready whether Sandy decides to take my power away or not.  I’m prepared and excited and scared all at the same time, but I’m ready. Best wishes fellow NaNoWriMoers!! Let the writing begin!!

My Guardian Angel

I believe in angels; in fact, I know I have several of them watching over me in heaven, but none more dedicated to me than my grandmother. Throughout my life, and since her passing, I have felt the love of Angela Mary Boccia Carofano more unconditionally than any other single person. I miss her everyday; sometimes, it even hurts.

She has often come to me in dreams; my proof that she acknowledges what I believe. Once we were sitting together at her kitchen table, as we had so many times before. Unexpectedly, she got up to leave, and I felt a pang of loss, immediately recognizing the same feeling on the day she passed. But before she disappeared, she placed a note in my hand. I opened the note that read, “No matter what, I will always love you.” It was then I knew, she is with me, even on the other side.

Another time, I had been facing some obstacles. I was in my bedroom, crouched down looking for something in a drawer. I felt a wave, like a light breeze, pass from behind me & I smelled the scent of the powder she used daily. I looked up, and there was nothing there, but her scent lingered in the air– her way of telling me that she is still beside me. (And I found what I was looking for).

She passed eight years ago, tomorrow, October 29th. The irony I find in that is that the worst of this hurricane Sandy is expected to hit tomorrow. The weather people are comparing it to the storm of 1938, which is especially scary because no storm I’ve ever lived through was as bad as that. I know this because I heard stories from my grandmother about that storm. I have seen pictures of my grandfather, water wading up to his waist, in the middle of the street. I remember living at my grandmothers during hurricane Gloria in 1985. The electricity was out for a week. Doing my homework in candlelight was something I groaned about, and my grandmother responded– “This is not the worst…be thankful that our house is standing and that we are safe.”

Angelique, I affectionately called her, and Gigi– a name my son had given her– was always the person I could be completely honest with about everything; there wasn’t any subject that was off limits with her. She has taught me so much about life and living, and even death. I cherish the memory of her everyday, and I’m thankful she is the angel I have watching over me and my family.

Logistics: NaNoWriMo-STYLE

With less than a week to go, I’m finding myself working out the logistics before I actually begin. These include but are not limited to clearing my schedule of all unnecessary obligations, organizing my work schedule to not include the correcting of any take-home papers/essays and the like, preparing my lessons a month instead of a week in advance, hiring my culinary-student son to be November Chef, clearing my dining room table (which will be my primary work space), uploading preparatory IWriMo documents to Dropbox and taking a test run on using my Cloud On App for typing a Microsoft Word Doc. to be sure my writing can be portable. Check, Check, Check….
I’m ready. I think I’m ready– at least it appears that way. The plan is to write during my prep periods at school, when I get home from work and after dinner. That sounds like a do-able, sensible schedule. I’m thinking 3-4ish hours of writing time per day. Can I swing it? Of course I can. I’ll just pretend it’s summer in the fall. I’ll forge ahead the way I did when I was taking grad courses, mommying and working simultaneously. The truth is, I do work best under pressure. I’m a much better time manager that way!
To get the students at school pumped up for their NaNoWriMo journey, we’ve decided to host a kick off event where we take an in-school (a.k.a. library) field trip to spend 2 & 1/2 hours writing, all together, armed with our smart devices, our ideas, black berets (we have to look the part), coffee (and more coffee!!) and brain food, of course! Part of the allure is establishing a community of writers. Even though, they aren’t my students (I’m just tagging along on my colleague’s coat tails for this one), I have actually written novels, so I do feel as if I have valuable advice to pass on and an experienced level of support to lend.
So, bring it on, NaNoWriMo. I’m ready!!

Why Wuthering Heights?

When someone asks me what my favorite novel is, the answer is always the same– has been for the last twenty-seven years when I first read it in my British Literature class at college: Wuthering Heights. I must have read this novel twenty times since, never tiring of it, for it’s one of the most complex and satisfying novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Emily Bronte is masterful at creating a gothic, love story that is so undeniably embedded in the setting where she was born and raised. She’s been called by her sister, Charlotte, “a product of the moors” as is her (questionable) heroine, Catherine. I say questionable because both “protagonists”– Catherine and Heathcliff– are also viewed as antagonists. I’ve been teaching this book for eleven years, now, and what I love so much about teaching it are the different reactions it elicits. I love Catherine and Heathcliff, but not everyone does, some actually feel contempt for one or both of them.

Emily Bronte sets up such a complex narrative that it becomes arguable over whether these two characters are the protagonists of the novel. Told from the outermost perspective of a traveler who happens upon the settings of this novel, Thrushcross Grange (a regal and lush estate) and Wuthering Heights (a “misanthropist’s heaven), Lockwood becomes a tenant to Mr. Heathcliff, who upon our first meeting with him is a dark, brooding, bitter character. Eventually, Lockwood comes into contact with Nelly Dean, the keeper of Heathcliff’s property, the Grange, where Lockwood will be lodging for a time– she takes Lockwood back to the beginning, as an observant/ 1st person participant narrator. We trust her objectivity, mostly; though she’s sympathetic to Heathcliff, she favors Catherine’s character (just a few years her senior and her primary care taker and confidant since the early death of Catherine’s mother).This is not unlike Emily’s experience in that she lost her mother and was looked after by her aunt and father for most of her childhood.

Inherent in this novel is the life and mind of Emily Bronte. The second youngest of six children (3 of them would publish novels within a year of one another that would go on to become classics: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s Agnes Grey, all published under pseudonyms), she spent most of her life in Haworth, a small village, on the edge of the moors. I had the opportunity to visit her home, the parish, walk the moors and see two of the buildings she’d fashioned her primary settings after. I can only liken that opportunity to a religious experience of sorts; I felt part of the landscape she so accurately depicts in her novel. While rustic, it is overwhelmingly majestic. Emily never strayed far from her home, leaving only twice to become terribly homesick, so her novel is as much a part of the landscape as it is the representation of what lived in her mind.

She also never experienced a love, which has been recorded, so strong as Catherine’s for Heathcliff and vice versa. She’s an anomaly really– that she could be so strong and independent (having the gall to publish under a man’s name) yet so innocent in never straying far from the vicinity of her upbringing, but instead, creating worlds of people in her mind. There is evidence of the wooden figurines it is said that the Bronte children played with, creating collaborative stories (“The Gondal Chronicles”) which they would then scribe in teeny, tiny notebooks. That Emily would have such insight into love and human nature is incredibly fortuitous. The spirituality of the novel does not surprise in that her father was curate of the parish, adjacent to their home. Likewise, his religious rantings appear in one of her characters in the heights, Joseph, as does the erratic behavior of her brother, Branwell in the character of Catherine’s brother, Hindley. She draws upon what she knows and fills in the many gaps of experience by what she creates which marks her as an incredible visionary.

Human nature in Wuthering Heights is portrayed in polarities: love & hate, storm & calm, high class & low class, right & wrong, inside & outside. Through her themes and motifs, Bronte begs us to question all that we know and realize we can’t know one polarity without having had experienced the other.

Bronte sets up a love triangle where Catherine is made to choose between the man she loves and the one society has taught her would be the better choice. In making her choice to marry Edgar, while Heathcliff believes she is denouncing their love, she is instead choosing the life that would help her advance Heathcliff. Though naive, Catherine believes she is making the only choice she can– a selfless choice. However, through, Bronte’s masterful storytelling, she allows the reader to judge Catherine’s decision as selfLESS or selfISH.

Through Catherine and Heathcliff’s love, which transcends not only generations but earthly and heavenly existence, we are called upon to question our own beliefs about the differences between loving and being in love, about the eternal idea of soulmates, about spiritual love extending beyond corporeal existence, as we know it, (regardless of the decisions we make) into the FORever-after.

Elevating the Senses

I am definitely a proponent of experiential, multi-sensory learning. I believe that people learn by doing.
There are a couple of activities that I do with my film class which are good examples of this kind of teaching/learning. A teacher knows when he/she has had a teachable moment or several, and these lessons always satisfy me because the students leave the room talking about how engaged they were in the lesson and how much they learned as a result.
The basis of the course Reading Literature/Reading Film, one which I co-wrote the curriculum form, is seeded in the need to facilitate a student’s understanding of visual media. Students (and people in general) all too often are passive about the visual media they take in (whether it be film, video games, social media, ads…) without having the ability to take a critical look. We decided to take what that can & do think critically about– literature, using it as a basis to teach visual literacy through the medium of film.
Some students come to us having taken Video Production as an elective at our school; some come with no background knowledge at all. So, before we can begin engaging in the conversation of analysis visual images, we need to establish a common vocabulary to do so.
Using literary devices as common ground on which to begin, we talk about how we recognize plot, setting, character and theme in films. From there, we move onto theatrical device, referred to as mise en scéne in the film industry, to discuss how acting, costume, make-up, set and props continue to the understanding of the literary elements. Only then can we move onto the teaching of the cinematic devices that are utilized to make meaning in a film. These include: framing, camera angle & movement, focus, lighting, sound and editing.
Instead of providing students with a laundry list of terms, I try to get them to become active learners through the process. Here are some activities I employ:

When teaching students to understand framing, camera angles and movement, I hand out a letter size blank piece of paper and ask them what it could be used for. Among the myriad of possibilities, their wheels spin and some shout out, “a storyboard,” “something to deflect light,” “a clapper board” … the list goes on and they really can be quite focused and inventive. I roll up the piece of paper, and, immediately, they get it, mimicking my movements as I look through the make-shift lens.
I ask for a volunteer to stand at the front of the room. Typically, the most extroverted are the first to raise their hands. I choose one asking him/her to stand at the front of the classroom. I direct the “cameramen/women” to move freely about the room to actuate the shot I’m looking for. We start off with a medium shot which I explain to be neutral; a discussion ensues about the effects of a medium shot on the viewer. We move on to a close-up and long shot. We discuss the shared features of a long shot and establishing shot. By the time they get to angles, I have them standing on the chairs of their desks or the subject doing so while students get him/her in a low angle. Immediately, they begin making connections to standout scenes in films that most are familiar with. I have camera person sitting on my rolling desk chair while the “subject” moves about the room and the camera person needs to dolly after her, maintaining the medium shot all the while.
One student asks if she could take pictures, and, before I know it, we are featured on the front of our school news website.

While the camera lesson is ever bit kinesthetic, the sound lesson is similarly engaging but focuses on the hearing sense primarily. Using short clips from Scent of a Woman and The Truman Show, I have the students turn their desks away from the screen, prohibiting the visual sense. In their journals, I ask them to record what sounds they are hearing and what they infer those sounds to be while listening to the clips. For the first clip, it’s the scene where Chris O’donnell’s character awakens from a sleep on the couch only to find the blind character played by Al Pacino, disassembling and reassembling a gun while O’donnell times him. At first, students think the tinkering of the gun parts are utensils clanking on dishes, but as they continue to listen, they become aware that it’s a gun being assembled once they hear the cocking of it. A few astute listeners key in on O’donnell waking up as they hear the rustling of sheets and a belt buckle.

Next, I ask them to turn their desks toward the screen and I play the shower scene from Psycho and the big wheel scene from The Shining with no sound. For each frame, I ask them to journal what they think should be heard with the visuals in the shot. They do a pretty good job.

I try to choose films they are not too familiar with. There was only one student who had seen 3 of the 4. About 1/3 had seen The Shining, but as far as the others– less than a few for each film.

When the students continue talking about the lesson after I’ve concluded it, I know it’s been successful. I LOVE teaching this course!! One of the things I love most is that I primarily show only clips which keep the students wanting more; it’s a way of enticing them to borrow some of the classics they might not have otherwise seen.

Sources for these lessons:
Reading in the Dark, John Golden

Reading the Movies, William Costanzo


Along the Way

There are times in life when you want to say something, when you should probably say something, but social norms and etiquette dictates that it’s better to remain silent. Other times, you miss the opportunity to make a statement. And often, it is better to keep your observations to yourself because it might incite conflict…unless you have a blog. Below are five things I’d like to say, but can’t…but here I can.


(The following are in random order.)

1. 速い茶色の孤は不精な犬を飛び越す。

2. If you wish someone ill will because they have wronged you, it’s still bad karma to remind them that “karma is a bitch”. You just perpetuate your own bad karma…that is, if you believe in karma. If you don’t believe in karma, then it doesn’t makes much sense that you’re reminding them of this.

3. Please don’t spit in the trashcan. It’s just all kinds of nasty. Have…

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IWriNo Limbo

15 days. I have sufficiently character-sketched Claire (to death, well… not literally!)
But I certainly can say I know her well. Now I’m stuck in limbo– WAITING. I’m never very good at waiting. Panic is setting in…
Can I do this?
Did I take on too much?
What if this idea isn’t sustainable? I can’t just quit & start fresh. I need to keep going.
Is my story getting too complex in my head? Because I want to finish A DRAFT by the end of this.
My mind is swirling thoughts and thoughts and thoughts. I just want it to begin already. I’m afraid if I set it aside for the next two weeks, I’ll lose the momentum– the eagerness to begin.
Breathe, I tell myself. You are really liking what you know of this character already… her quirks make her who she is. You can do this… even though it’s unlike anything you’ve done before… that’s part of the challenge, remember. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it will not be perfect. Allow the imperfections; write through them.
I have written 8 pages of character sketch. I have written 5 pages in her voice. I recorded a day in the life. Copied and pasted random pix of who I imagine these characters to look like. I’ve researched. I wrote a loose plot outline; I don’t want it too tight, the imagination needs room.
Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting.

Exquisite Dining

This weekend, I had the opportunity to dine at Stars at the Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham, Cape Cod with my girlfriends. My son has been working at various restaurants at the Inn since the end of June for his externship, as he is a student at The Culinary Institute of America. About a month ago, he was promoted from the Beach House Grill to Stars. He has really enjoyed working as a chef over the summer and has learned so much as a result. So when I knew I’d be going to the Cape for a girls weekend, I seized the opportunity to eat at the restaurant where my son works.
We had the most exquisite meal from start to finish, most definitely one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Not only was every course beautifully presented, but it was equally delicious and unique. The service and ambiance were equally impeccable.

I was so proud to know that my son contributed to the making of such a delicious meal. It was an unforgettable experience.