Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Authors: Why do you write? My answer.



Authors: Why do you write? My answer.

On January 5, 2017, I saw the movie, “Hidden Figures.” It’s a great movie. I encourage you to see it. People were applauding during the film and there was a standing ovation by many in the audience at the end.
What does seeing a movie have to do with why authors write?

I’m glad you asked.

When watching a movie, one tends to forget the process that spawned that audio-visual experience. At least that’s what the producers hope it does!

That was my experience while watching “Hidden Figures.”
It was after the movie ended that two thoughts struck me.
        1.   Someone wrote that script.
        2.   I’ll bet it’s based on a book.

Both book writing and script writing are forms of writing. While there are similarities, there are significant differences between those types of media.
Scriptwriters focus on dialog. They include some stage direction and set design, but they rely heavily on the directors and actors to provide setting, pace, and tone.
Book writers have to create their entire world inside the mind of a reader. Hopefully, not just one reader but many, many readers. That type of writing requires more written detail in setting, pace, and tone of the story.

It is safe to assume that most writers of a published story of any kind would like to have a lot of people read it . . . after buying it!
The five reasons for writing I provide below are not in a conscious order of importance to me. They are in the order I thought of them.

One reason I write is financial. I’d like to make some money.
I’d like to make at least enough money to cover my expenses of writing, editing, promoting, and publishing every story.
Another reason I write is that I like to write. To be honest, this is the number one reason. There’s something about engaging in the process of developing a story around characters that become real to me—and hopefully to my readers—that is highly motivational.

A third reason I write is the therapeutic value of the writing process.
Writing allows me to express ideas and complain. I don’t do this often, but when I do, I feel relieved of a burden. When I’m writing fiction, not a single character has ever done anything I didn’t want her/him to do. I never wrote a student off. In fact, I never had a lot of discipline issues when I taught. I know that this reason I write is something that helped me hone my ability to focus on the good of teaching and deflect the “outside influences” that are ever-present in that field.

Fourth reason: I also do reflective writing. While I’ve listed it as a separate reason, the therapeutic value of reflection to me cannot be overstated. I feel strongly about that difference. I find myself remembering valuable lessons when I am engaged in the reflective process.
The two areas I reflect upon with regularity are my teaching career and my faith in God. I have four continuing blog post categories.
       1.   The focus of A Science Guy’s Almanac is my teaching career. I reflect on the incredible good fortune I’ve had in working with the best colleagues and students I can imagine—and I’ve got a good imagination.
       2.   The Timeless Truths series is a reprise and restructuring of over twenty years of sermon notes I have. I am awestruck by the insight into Scripture that I’ve been allowed to experience.
       3.   Expressions of Faith is my personal reflection on a verse or a few verses of Scripture. These short homilies are formulated in my devotions.
       4.   A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer concentrates on the writing process. This post is in this category and is a combination of reflection and the next reason.

The fifth reason I write is to inform. I suppose this post qualifies for inclusion in this reason. I hope you, Reader, find some tidbit of information you can bite into and savor. I lump many topics into this category: writing tips, teaching tips, science concepts are the front-runners. Although there is overlap with other reasons, I’m lumping all my science-teaching products here, too.

I’m stopping at five reasons. There are other reasons that I write. They are hard for me to describe in a way that conveys my definition to my satisfaction.

Without a transition of any type, other than this sentence informing you, Reader, that I’m not including a formal transition, I’m going to keep my promise of closing the loop on the reference to the movie, “Hidden Figures.” [BTW: My Hemingway app marked this a “very hard to read” sentence. That’s true. I blame that on the lack of transition.]

As I stood with the others in the audience watching the credits of “Hidden Figures,” I wondered
        ·      if the author of the book was aware of the influence of the book on American society.
        ·      how the now-deceased characters portrayed in the film might feel about the story of their struggle finally being given a voice.

It was then that I realized the fundamental reason I love reading and writing stories.
Good writing moves minds and hearts.
 Write on.


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Monday, January 23, 2017

A Science Guy's Almanac: How to break your ankle without really trying


How to break your ankle without really trying

Twice each week the soccer team started practice with a run of about two miles on the streets around Monte Vista. In a post about coaching track and field, I described how we used the significantly inclined slope that ran down to the right of the school’s entrance. These soccer runs went left.

I ran with the team. Not because I like to run distances. The best part of every long distance run is the end. I ran for two reasons.
1.            It was good for me.
2.            It kept some of the less dedicated troops from cheating by cutting the course.
I had only one rule.
You had to beat me, or you had to run again.

 On this particular day, three of the ne’er-do-wells were 30-yards behind me after about 400-yards of the run. I knew what they were planning. Stay behind coach until the last minute and sprint past him to obey the letter of the law.  For some reason—probably our W/L record—that strategy did not sit well with me that day    .

The street was at the tipping point where the downhill slope increased dramatically. Without stopping, I turned around enough to see the laggers.
“This isn’t what I meant by beating me,” I hollered. “If you don’t keep in front of me the whole way, you will run again anyway!”

An aside. My youngest son would run with me on occasion. On this particular run, we had our dachshund along and were running laps of the middle school’s oversized athletic fields. We also had one of his buddies with him.
We took off. Well, they took off. I did what I always do, I started jogging. Within seconds, I overheard the following brief conversation.
“What’s up with your dad’s pace?” the friend asked.
“That's his starting, middle, and ending pace. It won’t change.”
My son was right.
Fast-forward, actually, it’s fast-backward, because the event I’m describing in this blog happened at least 12-years before the brief dialog just reported.

The recalcitrant soccer players looked shocked. I swung back around to continue my run. I never quite made it 100% back around.
Spring Valley, the unincorporated area of San Diego County in which Monte Vista is located has paved streets. With no municipal government to oversee such details, the maintenance of those streets can best be described as spotty.
My left foot found one spot on the street that needed attention but didn’t get it. A chunk of asphalt had broken loose and was lying on top of the pavement. My foot hit the chunk. It rocked to the right. I rolled my ankle and crashed to the ground.
 
Not the same hole, but an admirable representation of the infamous spot on Sweetwater Springs Blvd.
I was more worried about my hip and back than any other body part as I hit the ground. I’d had spinal fusion twelve years earlier, and I did not want that damaged. Besides my hip aching, my left forearm and elbow were bruised and scraped.
The slow-running soccer players sped up and clustered around me.
Briefly.
“Are you okay, Coach?” I’m not sure whether the motivation for that question was altruism or fear.
“Keep running,” I managed through tightly clenched teeth as the pain from my ankle finally registered in my brain.
The trio ran off down the slope.

I sat for a couple of minutes contemplating the stab of pain that flashed through my brain as the arteries in my outer ankle contracted and relaxed with each beat of my heart.
When all the soccer players were out of sight, I struggled to my feet.
I took one step.
It really hurt.
I limped slowly for about 75-yards.
When the street leveled off, I decided to give slow jogging a try.
That worked pretty well until my left foot hit the ground.
I limped the last 300 yards to the steps leading down to the football/soccer field. There are 45 steps in the stairway. Holding on to the handrail with my right hand, I managed to make it to field level. By then, the first of my cross-country runner/soccer players had arrived back at the field.
I started them on a passing drill, limped over to the bench, sat down, pulled up the left pant leg of my sweats . . .
And saw that someone had stuffed a softball into my sock.
Okay, so it was really my swollen ankle.
I knew better than to take off the shoe, so I went ahead with practice. After all: no pain, no gain. Right?
Practice lasted all of about 25-minutes. That’s when I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.

The coaches’ office at Monte Vista is one level of  steps—at least 25 risers—above the 45-step staircase. It took some time, but I made it.
Once inside, I grabbed a five-gallon bucket, tossed in a generous amount of ice from the ice machine, and added some water. I limped over to a chair and sat the bucket down. Then I sat down and removed my left shoe and pulled my sock down to expose the ankle.
My leg immediately achieved the same circumference from mid-calf to my toes. The skin now stretched tightly over my ankle area was multiple shades of purple.
I pulled the sock back up and stuck the foot into the ice bath.
I sat in a state of oscillating pain from the injury and pain from the icy water for about ten minutes. The door to the coaches’ office opened. The girls’ varsity basketball coach entered.
“Whatcha doin’?” he asked.
“I rolled my ankle. I’m icing it.”
“Looks painful,” he said.
“It is,” I answered.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
I started to answer when he continued.
“You not going to get any sympathy here. You should go home.”
With that, he went into the coaches’ locker area to change.
It took me maybe 5-seconds to make a decision. I dumped the ice water into the deep sink. I limped into the locker area, got my “biology teacher” clothes, and limped out the door heading for my car.

My biology room was about one of the furthest-distanced rooms from the PE area. I parked in the faculty lot closest to my classroom. I limped quite a long time/distance in one shoe and one cold, soggy sock.
At the time, I drove a 1968 VW Bug. It was yellow with red Naugahyde interior to mimic Monte Vista’s crimson/gold motif. It had a 4-speed manual transmission. [That sentence is italicized for a reason.]
I opened the driver’s door and tossed my clothes onto the passenger seat.
I climbed in.
I shut the door and put the key in the ignition.
I pushed in the clutch.
. . .
The next thing I remember is snapping my head back while awakening after passing out from the pain from my left ankle while pushing in the clutch.

There’s more.
But not until another post. Click the title below.


Next Almanac: Confirmation of ankle damage and just plain weirdness

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Authors: Why do you write?

On January 5, 2017, I saw the movie, “Hidden Figures.” It’s a great movie. I encourage you to see it. People were applauding during the film and there was a standing ovation by many in the audience at the end.
What does seeing a movie have to do with the topic of this blog post?
Keep reading. I promise to close that loop by the end.

If you think back on your writing life, you can list a number of motivators for your efforts.
       ·      School assignments
       ·      Love letters and poems
       ·      Letters (maybe emails, but probably not tweets or text messages)
       ·      For fun/Because you like to write
You might have more in your list.

If you are a “writer” and some of your motivators include
       ·      Financial gain
       ·      I have a story I want to tell
       ·      I have a contract/deadline
Again, you might have more on your list.

I asked a group of high school creative writers, “Why do you write?” The question was unannounced and with no explanation other than I was going to write a blog post on that topic. Here are some of their responses.
  • To express my creativity in a way that only I can.
  • Make something new
  • To create new fantastical realities. I’m discovering a moral that I can pull into actual reality and make the reality better.
  • Reading what others have written helps me . . . Maybe I can help someone else.
  • To put an aspect of myself in at least one character.
  • Look at how writing reflects the author’s world. I want to do that.

Quite a spread in thought content, depth of thinking, and grasp of the power of the written word. I was encouraged by the desire to help others. 
"make the reality better," 
"Maybe I can help someone else," and 
"I want to... reflect [my] world." 
Having worked with this group of students for over 16 months, I know them well enough to know that they mean what they said. I've read their writing. They are working hard on accomplishing those things.
I'm proud to be associated with them.

My plan was to close the loop I opened in the introduction before ending this post.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve had a nagging thought—not as bad as the ear-worm song “It’s a Small World”—but naggy enough to change the direction of this post.

Change direction isn’t quite accurate.

Ah, ha!

. . . naggy enough to alter the timing of sharing my conclusion and closing the loop.

My next writer’s blog will finish this line of thought. I hope that between now and then that you will think about how you would answer

Why do you write?

Until then, write on!


Next: Authors: Why do you write? My answer.


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My website is: www.crdowning.com

I'd appreciate your feedback!


Email me at: chuckdowningauthor@gmail.com

Monday, January 9, 2017

Coaching Futbol – Part 2: I thought it was a good idea at the time


While I coached both my sons in youth soccer, I didn’t coach high school soccer again until the 1980-81 season. I coached varsity soccer until the end of the 1982-83 season. There is some question to this day about how much coaching I accomplished in that three-year period.


The varsity soccer coaching assignment was a revolving door between my two tenures. When I saw that the job was open again at the beginning of the 1980-81 school year, I went to my principal.
“I’ll coach the soccer team for five years,” I said. “If nothing else, that will provide some stability for what’s become an orphan program.”
He agreed.
I found an assistant and began preparing for the season.

By the time tryouts were held, I’d organized a cadre of my AP Biology students as ball chasers. There were only enough certified soccer officials in our area at the time for one official per game. I had budget money for two officials, so I paid my ball chasers out of that fund.
The job of a chaser was to run along the sidelines, keeping even with the ball. Each ball chaser carried an approved extra ball with them. When I ball was kicked out of play, the ball chaser on that side of the field dropped her/his ball by the sideline and chased the errant kick.
You can see two ball chasers in the background. The one showing only half her body is carrying the ball.

It sped up the game.
It also ticked off some officials, more opposing players, and even more opposing coaches.
Since soccer has a running play clock, many teams use the time spent by the opposition chasing down an out of bound kick to regroup—especially if it was one of their defenders that kicked that ball out of bounds.
Officials refused to let my ball chasers do their jobs at two of our games. The other times, complaints were the order of the day.

The team had 14 underclassmen. The lack of experience showed. The 1980-81 varsity soccer team ended the season with a 1-16-1 record. The win and the tie were both against the only team in our league weaker than Monte Vista that year.
In a not so subtle jab at our lack of success, the school yearbook chose this photo of my to include among the team pictures. 
 There were good things that came from the experience.
     ·      My freshman goalie ended up as an All-League selection in his senior year.
     ·      Several of the players have contacted me and hold no grudge.
     ·      There were no serious injuries. Except to me. More on that during my next Almanac post.
    ·      We won more than one game in each of the next two seasons.

I bowed out of that coaching assignment after the 3rd year. It was obvious the program needed more expertise than I would ever have.


Next Almanac: How to break your ankle without really trying

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