Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thinking Out Loud - Adventures in Self Publishing

            This is the first in a series of blogs about my experience with self publishing including my progress and what I have learned. I have more questions than answers, so this really is just me thinking out loud. I was just going to write one blog about it. It soon became obvious that my ramblings on this subject could not be contained in one blog post. I want to take time to address each section of my “stupid book stuff” as it has become known around my house.

How it all started: A little over a year ago, my sister, my best friend and I were sitting out in my gazebo talking about all our favorite paranormal romance series as we usually do. I told them that I had a few story ideas myself but could never get passed the first chapter. They were curious, so I told them about a few. They loved my ideas and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t write them down. I was surprised by their enthusiasm, but I thought it would fade as time went on. Nope. They kept hammering at me, so I started to write.

I had written a lot of poetry and short stories, but I just didn’t have the discipline to finish a book. It was the one writing goal that had eluded me for years. I got off to a great start, but as usual, it became so overwhelming I quit. I didn’t quit so much as take a break. I didn’t like the ending. Months passed. My sister and best friend continued to pester me. Then a few days before Memorial Day weekend this year, I was talking to my husband about it. He asked me how much I had left. Just a few scenes and the ending I told him. He said “What’s stopping you?” I realized I didn’t like the ending. It was missing the “WOW” factor. It was predictable and boring. Once I figured that out, I couldn’t stop writing. That 3-day weekend I was tethered to the computer. I wrote 12-14 hours a day. I barely ate. I didn’t get dressed. I was mad when I had to go to the bathroom, but I finished it.

I can’t tell you the amazing feeling of accomplishment I had when I finished that book. The one writing hurdle I had never been able to master. That high was short lived though because I could see the finish line. I immediately started editing and revising. I hooked my talented brother who happens to be a graphic artist into designing a book cover. I made contact with a good friend of mine, Thomas Amo, who was also a self published author and began hammering him with questions. Together we got my book uploaded to Amazon as an ebook and Lulu for paperbacks. I thought that was the hard part. I stared at my Amazon page with a stupid grin. I was a published author. Let the adventure begin…stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bullying in Schools Part Two

            After last week, I felt the need to write a follow up to my last blog post on bullying. Oddly enough when I called the school that Monday, the principal told me that they were doing a series that week to address the issue of bullying with the students. My daughter got in the car that Thursday, and I could tell something was bothering her. She started to cry saying that they had been watching a power point presentation about bullying in schools (the program the principal talked about). My daughter said that the teacher told them about several kids who had committed suicide due to continuous bullying including some as young as 8 years old. I thought that was what she was upset about and was prepared to talk to her about it since I knew it was coming. However, she blindsided me with something I was completely unprepared for. What bothered her more than the suicides was the fact that some of the kids in her class were actually laughing about it. She started crying harder and said “Mom, what is wrong with them? How can they think a second grader who would rather die than go to school because of bullying is funny? He felt so alone in the world. Like everyone hated him. How is that funny?” With all my years of education and experience in psychology, I didn’t have an answer. It made me sick to my stomach.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see videos of young people committing random acts of violence and filming it while laughing. In our local news, they recently showed a video of a young man who stood on the sidewalk of a shopping center and hit a middle aged woman in the face when she walked by. Then he ran off laughing, and you could hear his friend who was filming it laughing as well. There was also another story in the national news of a teenage boy who went into a convalescent home and poured a pitcher of ice water on an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He thought it was so funny, he brought back several of his friends to do it again. They thought it was funny too. What about the trend where young people were going to fast food drive thru windows and throwing liquids or other substances on the employees working there? Are you sick? You should be. All you have to do is spend a few minutes on YouTube and you can see all the random violence you want. YouTube does try to remove these videos, but there are so many uploaded per day that it takes time to find and remove the bad ones. Plus, there are other venues for posting videos.
Which brings me to another problem – how technology has aided in bullying. My daughter is constantly bugging me for a cell phone and Facebook account, but she admitted that many of the bullied kids reported being harassed 24/7 on their cell phones and on social networks like Facebook. Parents need to check on their kids cell phones, Facebook accounts, and the online histories of their computers. I tell my kids they only have the privacy I allow them.
Finally, I know this is a hot topic for debate, but I have a real problem with some video games. No, I don’t think video games cause people to be violent. My problem with video games is more subtle – desensitization towards violence or an erosion of compassion. In my opinion, when video games reward people for antisocial behaviors like robbery, theft, rape, car jacking, murder, etc. and the more violent the better, you can’t tell me that somewhere along the line that doesn’t have an effect on young people. Some kids spend hours playing games where compassion is a weakness and even a hindrance in progressing to the next level. Parents have to be aware of the games their kids are playing. Movies and music can also carry violent antisocial messages. Pay attention to the ratings and warning labels.
Reading back over this I'm thinking I sound like an old person criticizing movies, music and video games. When did that happen? Despite all of this, I don’t think the world is going to hell in a hand basket. There are plenty of good people around. We just have to be more vocal. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend things will get better as our kids get older. As parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, teachers, grandparents, adults in general, we need to be aware of what is going on with our young people. As a working parent, I know that time is precious and checking up on our kids’ cell phones, social networks, games, music, movies, computer websites, etc. can seem overwhelming. My question to you is – Can we afford not to?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kill the Beast - Bullying in Schools

         I know there has been a lot of press recently about the increase in bullying and the horrible consequences among our young people. Unfortunately, we have experienced that firsthand. The usual playground teasing easily deflected with “I know you are but what am I” is gone, and it has taken on a sinister twist that crosses into inexcusable cruelty. This is my daughter’s story.

Four years ago, my daughter, Megan, got accepted into the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. She started the 4th grade in a GATE classroom at a brand new school. Soon after she started, there were several girls (led by one girl in particular) who started harassing her. She did not know these girls and could not understand why they didn’t like her when she hadn’t done anything to cause them to dislike her. Can’t tell you how fun it is to have a conversation with your children telling them that sometimes people will not like you and there really is no good reason. I told her to ignore them and to focus on the kids who were nice to her. What I didn’t understand at the time was the depth to which bullying is allowed to go these days. I say “allowed” because while the schools put on a big “No Tolerance” policy for bullying, there really is very little that is done to control it. I’m not even sure what schools can do to stop it and when did it become the job of schools to teach children not to be cruel to others. That should start at home. Where are the parents??

            I admit, I should have been more proactive when it started, but I had no idea how far it would go. Megan came home several times upset about the way these girls teased her in class. I tried talking to her teacher and she said she would do what she could. After a few months, Megan came home crying uncontrollably. She handed me a note that the bully ringleader had given to her. It read “If you hate Megan sign below.” She had gone around the class and had all the kids sign it (willingly or not). Then she gave it to Megan and said “See, everyone in class hates you not just me.” After taking some time to calm my own “seek and destroy” mother bear instincts, it became clear this was no regular case of playground teasing. I went to the principal with the letter and voiced my concerns about the constant harassment. The principal assured me action would be taken. The bully ringleader was sent home for the day and was given some kind of lecture about her behavior. That was it. Of course the behavior continued.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and followed the girl until she met up with her mother. I then talked to her mother about the incident. She apologized and asked if we had received the apology letters from her daughter. When I told her we had not received any letters, she again apologized and said she would try to remember to have her daughter do that. Try to remember? Since when does your child being completely cruel to another child not register on your priority list or set off alarm bells in your head??!! I continued to talk to the girl’s mother and even befriended her to keep her daughter away from Megan while constantly fighting my own urge to beat some sense into her.

Thankfully, things got better for Megan.  She is now in the 8th grade and has a lot of friends and is doing well. However, yesterday, we were reminded of the cruelty that still exists. I had been away on a short trip with the kids and when we returned, my husband was laughing and saying that I needed to listen to the messages on the answering machine. He said there were several crank calls from some kids who were most likely from Megan’s school. He said they sounded funny. Our digital recorder is old and sometimes the messages are difficult to understand. There were three of them (two from a boy and one from a girl), and I had to listen several times to be sure of what I was hearing. Among the silly rambling, all three messages included “Megan you are fat and ugly.” One even ended with “Megan you are fat and ugly. Suck my dick.” Are you kidding me??!! The caller ID was blocked of course, so there is no way to track them. I will be going to talk to the principal on Monday when school starts back after break even though I know there is nothing they can do. Megan keeps bugging me for a cell phone, like we really need her to have a direct way for kids to harass her.

Compassion is not like breathing and swallowing. It has to be learned and it needs to start at an early age. Parents have to be the first line of defense against teasing and bullying. It has to matter to parents when their children are being mean to others. It has to be taken seriously by ALL parents involved. This can no longer be tolerated as “kids can be cruel” sometimes. If it takes a village to raise a child, we need to get out our torches and pitchforks my friends because there is a beast among us and it is called “Bully.”