How to Make a Million Dollars

I don’t know whether to laugh out loud or rage loudly when someone–usually my dad or daughter, who share political views–parrots the far right Glen Beck propaganda that teachers make millions of dollars over our lifetimes and, with the underhanded workings of powerful teacher unions, have more millions of benefits.

If only teachers’ egregious salaries could be reigned in, perhaps we would turn our hearts and minds to educating the country’s rosy-cheeked young. Greedy teachers would then no longer be the ruination of the economy. My daughter actually said to me that Big Education was as bad as Big Oil. But I could hardly hear her over the roar of the engine of my private jet.

I am a professor–a poor one. Not all of us are created equal. Salary is often based on your discipline. The more “marketable” you would be in the real world, the higher your salary at a university. For example, since presumably a marketing major in the corporate world would make significantly more than an education major, business profs make more than I do. Etc. Also, professors often obtain grants to fund projects and supplement income. Problem is, I don’t research anything that could get funded. I’m a theorist. The public generally feels there is enough theory floating around already. I have colleagues who are paid during the summer to transcribe recordings of student teachers talking about their experiences. Or comparing whether students should practice for 10 weeks or 30 weeks before getting certified to teach. Not that these questions are not important. They are. But so also is social commentary about how culture and politics interact and interrelate to schools and schooling. It’s just that nobody throws any money at that one. 

In one of this week’s USA Today’s Life sections, there was a feature story about a woman from Minnesota who works in a nursing home, lives with her mother, and has just signed a 2 million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press for her e-books. I’m just recalling general details here, but I do recall that she primarily writes about trolls. I believe she also wrote a vampire novel. She has sold her e-books for an average of 99 cents each, and has made a couple of million in sales. That means, yes I paused to think about it, that two million people bought an e-book about trolls. 

This woman has a web site and blogs about what she’s writing, and has her e-books for sale there. Her sales have been so significant, that she began attracting the attention of publishers–publishers who had sent her rejection letters over the last few years. It is really, really hard to get a book published in the conventional way. Now, though, the companies are competing for her work. Although, their opinion of its quality is still about the same. One representative from St. Martin’s said that although they were thrilled to print and promote her troll work, they believed she could benefit from some MFA classes with the Iowa Writing Project. 

The following is from a conversation between me and a friend of mine when I was telling her about this story: 
Me: She writes about trolls. This is a very niche market to a very limited group of people. People who like to read about trolls. These people are looking for her and her work. Nobody is looking for me. 
My friend: Let’s keep in mind the fact that you haven’t actually written anything…

I have watched Hoda and Kathie Lee all week, and all week they have had a series called “New Year, New You.” Day after day, experts talk about setting and achieving goals. Mainly they suggest you identify your goal and name it, the idea being if you can name it you can do it. This is different from making a new year’s resolution. A resolution made in early January is little more than a public acknowledgement of something you are in need of improving. It’s like what Mary Poppins calls a “pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken.” Goals like I–and Hoda and Kathie Lee’s experts are talking about–are different. They involve more than taking off 20 pounds or adding fiber to your diet. And, it’s ok if you backslide on them, they are still there, and do-able, and you know your life will be better in big ways if you just work toward them. 

I’ve been a poor professor for seven years. I have taught 20 different classes, volunteered for committees, been to countless meetings, wrote a book, and got tenure. I will have lived half a century in a couple of years. And after 30 or so years, I have figured out what I want to do. I want to make my living “by the pen,” as Anne Hathaway said as her best British accent in Becoming Jane. And while I may never earn a dime, there are many, many meanings to “making a living.” And I will most likely never write about trolls.
More on this later.

Liking Tim Tebow

I remember when Tim Tebow played for Urban Meyer at UF. As Tide fans, my family and I spent hours of quality time discussing the overratedness of the young quarterback. We speculated at how much of the hype was brought about by Coach Meyer’s public affection and admiration for him. Watching Tebow and the Gators throughout the season, we were sure that he was pretty much all Florida had offensively. Devoted Bama fans, we were also sure that Coach Nick Saban drew that same conclusion and would therefore shut Tebow down and win the 2009 SEC championship game. Which was exactly what happened. Tim Tebow had seemed to be the Florida offensive strategy. My family fairly scoffed at the site of him sobbing after the game. We had been right all along. 

And then came Denver. I don’t follow pro football like I do SEC college football, so I only understand the basics, which I am interpreting loosely. Tebow was drafted by the Broncos, but did not make starting QB. After a 1-4 start to the season, though, Denver’s coach decided to give him a try. And they began winning. Even then, Bronco’s vice president and living legend in Denver, former QB John Elway said that Tebow wasn’t going anywhere in the position, that basically he wasn’t the fit the Broncos were looking for. In the meantime, Denver’s record went from 1-4 to 8-8, with a shot at the playoffs. 

Taken together, it would seem like the Tide, my family, and I would be satisfied that Tebow had gotten what he deserved. But we aren’t; because that just paints part of the picture of Tim Tebow. I guess one of the reasons we scoffed at his hype and his coach’s regard for him was his religious expression. Rather, his public religious expression. He talked about Christ at press conferences; he told about his mission work with his family. And on the field, he did what is now referred to in reverence and derision–depending on who is doing the referring–as “tebowing,” kneeling down to pray after plays and games, etc. I have to be honest, I didn’t think too much of that when he was playing against Alabama. 

But, again, then came Denver. Keeping in mind that my family are staunch Christians, I guess, as my mother would say, the continued talk about him got noticeable. The smugness we had felt at Tim getting his bell rung by the Alabama defense faded as one commentator after another, not to mention comedians, Tweets, and talk show talkers would find ways to work Tebow’s faith into discussions of his football playing ability. And most of them were not giving him much respect for either. And then last week Bill Maher–with whom I usually fall on the same side of the fence–made just a crude, un-funny remark about Tebow and Jesus. He worked in Satan and Hitler, too. More crude and even less funny.  Bill reminds me of that guy you sat across from in homeroom who mocked everybody, making you afraid to say or do anything that would attract his attention lest you were next. 

Lots of guys (and gals) play sports and are religious. Thanking Jesus and Mama after the game, dropping to one’s knees after a touchdown, and joining the other team for prayer in the endzone are all commonplace. Likewise, guys (and gals) who played Heisman caliber college sports in college who find the pros a little more challenging. That, though, is fair game. Over Thanksgiving my son, who thinks sports news is the actual news, watched two commentators named Mike argue for an hour over whether Tebow should be an NFL quarterback. But the undercurrent of religion was there. It, not his propensity to avoid the forward pass, is the source of the mockery in their voices. And that is out of bounds. 

Talking about Tebow is never uncomplicated–and no, apparently it is not an option to not talk about Tebow. He won games for Denver but lost the last three in a row. He prays and wins; he prays and loses. He is both praised and criticized for both running and passing. I have a friend, for example, who sees him as a total hypocrite. “All that ‘tebowing,’ and I bet he gets laid a whole lot. I don’t know. But, would those two be mutually exclusive? Is celibacy also a requirement? Would that help his passing game? During yesterday’s bowl game marathon, I saw his “I ‘preciate that” commercial and I thought it was a pretty healthy response. Here’s the link.

So that’s my Tebow rambling. I know undoubtedly it’s connectable to larger thinking, but I don’t want to expend the thinking right now to sort out exactly what. 
More on this later. 

On the Couch With Bill O’Reilly

Last night after our traditional family Christmas drama, daddy referred to something I had mentioned in passing–that I see a therapist. The second he asked about it, I regretted it. Actually, I thought he knew; my mom has known for months, so I assumed they had talked. No. So, he asked me about it. He asked me why I’m going to a therapist. “What are you going for?” he asked. Two things here: If I knew why I was going to therapy, I wouldn’t need to go. And also, it’s none of his business why. I thought everybody in the world knew to have enough tact not to aske this question. It is right up there with age and weight. But my daddy does not mind asking questions.

So, despite spending the previous hour processing Xmas drama by using tools from the past year’s work, I knew I might as well give him some sort of reasonable sounding answer. He asked me specifically if it was for anger, which gives me pause because I don’t put that reason high on the list despite being asked about it by 3 other people including the therapist. Maybe I’ll bump it up. Anyway, I talked about needing confidence and tools to trust my decision making ability. I said I wanted to be more productive and explore why I avoided writing, when it is something I really want to do. And, I said–which is the highest actual reason on the list–that I wanted to explore what it was about me that had made me succeptible to losing myself as a young woman in a marriage that I just barely escaped. I still have dreams that I haven’t yet, and it terrifies me. Whatever I said, daddy nodded, but I could see the situation was just beginning to gel in his mind. This was not going to be the end of the matter. He asked me whether it was loneliness. “Would living closer to family help?” I had to restrain myself not to say “GOD no!” He kept looking for the “Big Issue.” There isn’t always a “big issue.” When my voice started to quiver because I was breaking up in spite of myself, we turned our attention to anything else.

Tonight, while reading Bill O’Reilly’s book on Lincoln, he said, “Hey, talkin’ about your therapy, is your therapist, a Christian or a athiest, or do you know? I’m just reading here, you know Lincoln got down during the war and he said the Bible was his best solace and counsel. Of course, I don’t understand.” I know what it is. Daddy is afraid I’m searching for something. Happiness. The Meaning of the Universe. What’s It All About, Alfie. So I told him; I’m not. And, I don’t exactly need a moral compass or spiritual strength. I am really truly a Bible believer. Already. So I told him my therapist suggested prayer and the Psalms, which seemed to be enough for tonight.

A year ago when I told Mother I was seeing my therapist, she thought about it and then over coffee one day said, “If you’d just get back in church you wouldn’t need a therapist.” I didn’t have a good reply to that either. But then, 6 months ago, she had reconsidered. We were talking, like we do, about nothing in particular and everything all at once. I said that I always felt like they didn’t know quite what to do with me. And she said something I will never forget; it cut right to it. “No, we never did know what to do for you.” That kind of changed everything. Then she ended with, “I want you to keep on going to that therapy.” I’m thinking back on this, now that I am coming out to my daddy as a therapy patient.

I know Lincoln fought his demons, which is how I consider depression and meloncholy. Lincoln was a quipper, and he had a public persona and a private self and he was expert at keeping them separate, most likely even from Mary. Or maybe especially from her. Yet, he spoke–and I think really believed in–the better angels of our nature. I like this very much. Faith and hope that came from somewhere very deep. When Bill Clinton was physically moving into the White House, he said he was going to set about doing what every new president must: “get in touch with his Lincoln.” I’ve been doing that a little too. But all of this I cannot express to Daddy.
More on this later.

A Long Way from Starbucks

Littleville, Alabama, doesn’t have a Starbucks. In fact, from the time I leave my apartment, conveniently located behind my local Starbucks, until I arrive at my parents’ house, I don’t even pass one. That’s 250 miles with no Starbucks. That must be the longest stretch in the country without one.

That got me thinking. It’s a long way from Starbucks in more ways than one. My daddy told me once–and I agreed with him–that it took me a few days of being home to get back to my old self. I started thinking about what my old self vs. my new self must look like. He meant it takes me that long to relax, to let go of “city life” and the stresses it brings. I think it is something different.

I think it takes me a few days to become accustomed to people again. I don’t often appear that way to causual observers and acquaintances, but I am a solitary person. I myself didn’t even know I am an introvert for a long time. I was grown when I found out. It’s quite a shock to go around for 30 years thinking you are an extrovert only to take some inventory and find out otherwise.

I like living alone, just me and Duncan. And he’s a quiet little guy. I don’t prefer to be alone, but I am mostly really content when I’m by myself. Starbucks living suits me fine. There I can be with people and still be alone. In fact, that may very well be the secret of Starbucks: bustling solitude. It’s comforting and makes me happy. There’s a verse in the Bible that begins: “be still and know…” I like that, being still. So, even though I live in the Metro Atlanta area and am a professor and travel all over giving presentations or seeing this or that attraction, I can get in balance in my daily life. But, there aren’t any family members in it.

That is what it takes me a few days to remember in Littleville. People are sometimes messy and noisy. People require tact and patience and compromise. People will ask you questions. And note, when you are by yourself a great deal of the time, it’s amazing how you get used to not answering questions. It’s a little thing, but think about it. I also have to get used to being in another place, to sleeping in another bed. This is an odd adjustment because for so many years, this house in Littleville was home to me. It was home when my heart needed a home.

To end, what I am not saying is that I become aware that I need people and to reconnect and feel love. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I know already that I do and that I will and that I feel it. It is the awareness, the adjusting of my self. The sharing of my self with other people, with family, that I learn to do again after a day or two in Littleville. That, and accepting the sharing of others. I can note that now without nostalgia or homesickness. I’ll try to nudge the process along a little. There’s nothing to lose.

Over River Through Woods

As happy as I was puttering around my new place, it’s two days before Christmas, so I had to pack up the car and go to Alabama. Being directionally impaired to the point of anxiety and not being a fan of interstate highways, I set the TomTom to find me a new backroads shortcut. Took me 6 years to learn the shortcut from my old place–that’s how bad I am. But TomTom–for whom my motto is TomTom: We Get You Close–kept planning routes that involved I-75, one of Georgia’s busiest and most crowded interstates. Barely out of my apartment complex’s entrance, I pulled over and searched Google Maps on my phone. The shortest route, as I knew in my heart, was a path through the lakes and mountains of my home state.

So, I proceed through unchartered (for me) territory, manually scrolling through directions on my phone and leaving TomTom on to catch up. This he did after two hours of replanning the route every half mile. “Turn around when possible. Turn around when possible.” Why do I put up with this from TomTom? Because, once adjusted, he is a rather pleasant and comforting travel buddy. Somewhere past Rome, Georgia, he gave up trying to route me along the interstate through Chattanooga (yes, Tennessee to get to Alabama from Georgia) and accepted that I was taking the backroads. With him on board, I breathed a little and sat back to enjoy the ride.

I started trying to remember a Christmas visit home when the sky was not dreary. It was today. A dreary sky over brown fields makes everything have a gray cast to it. It makes industrial stretches hewn into sides of mountains look more isolated and lonely looking. I passed historic marker signs pointing me to “historic downtown” Cartersville, then Rome, then Centre (“Crappie Capital of the World”), and I worried a little less about the grayness when I realized that the pretty little quaint signs of life were just off my backroads. Past Centre, near Weiss Lake, I noticed the flat farmland give way to huge bluffs around the lake and couldn’t help thinking this place with its water source and ready-dwelling places had been inhabited by the Cherokee people. The first people to fish from these waters had been collected and led along this very road on what we now know as the Trail of Tears. Another historical marker informs me. There is more to my Alabama than meets the eye.

Whenever I go home, I make a point to chat up (gab, we call it in Alabama) a chashier at a local gas station. No station in particular, no town in particular; in fact, I like to vary it up some. I do this because I like to hear what we sound like. When I talk to the woman who has just sold me gas and a Diet Mt. Dew, I catch the drawl again and keep going. Sometimes, I look around the store pretending to shop for sardines and crackers so that I can hear her gab with local men on their lunch break buying lunches so greasy that the white bags are spotted with the oil seeping through. Today she told one young fellow, “I know y’all ready to be gettin’ home. You have a merry Christmas.” Of course I can’t capture the resonant lilt of her voice. Can’t capture how it sounded like a smokey bell ringing out.

More on this later.

Two and a Half Days Till Christmas

I was in a PowerPoint frenzy at Starbucks. Outside, the storm was raging, and not unexpectedly, the store began to fill. Now, if you stay any place long enough, you see many people come and go. I think of that stop-action photography in the movies. For hours there was a quiet lull, then when I had finally gotten into the work, a young child, a girl around 5 years old, asked the man working beside me in the long half-booth if she could have his chair. He said sure, and she dragged it across the floor. Then she came to me and asked me if she could have my chair. I said sure, and off she went. It was then I began looking to see who was going to sit in all these chairs. Two families were gathering to have a mini-Christmas get-together at Starbucks. Three kids were decked out in Christmas outfits–two girls with iridescent dresses and gold shoes and a boy with a christmas vest. The adults were also dressed more for a party than a rainy evening at a coffee shop. I thought it was odd. 

As soon as all the adults had their specially brewed beverage, they broke out coloring books for the kids. They were the kind of parents who make a show of making their kids be polite and say “please” to them a lot in the process. They were the kind of parents whose kids don’t bother me nearly as much as they do. The kids spent half an hour tearing all of the paper off all of the crayons and leaving it in a big pile on the floor under the table. Adults still talking, the kids got up and began running back and forth from the table to the pastry case–which amounted to the entire length of the store. Finally, one of the employees yelled–very politely, I thought–PLEASE DON”T RUN! Then, the “can-you-say-thank-you-Sally dad jumped up declaring it was time to go. 

I can tell you not one scrap of paper was picked up and not one chair was put back in its place. On the way out, I overheard one of the mom’s say, “Maybe I”ll see you tomorrow if I get tired of being cooped up in the house with kids.” I read today in the Huffington Post about a family getting kicked off an airplane from NC to Chicago for having too many young children. I bet those people on the plane were glad. I know I was, but I was really aggravated at the crayon paper.

Knowing full well how cantankerous (old) I sound here, I wish there were more kid-restricted places. Restaurants. Coffee shops. Why would you bring your kids and have a get together in a coffee shop where, if you look around you will see people reading, studying, writing (one hopes), or chatting quietly. There are no tvs on the wall. No tapes of Dora the Explorer playing in a loop. No toy boxes. No legos. 

Perhaps the AARP could take this on as a new project. 

More on this later. I had to write it down before I forgot it.

Three Days Before Christmas

Don’t think I’m romanticizing SBX. Plenty has already been written about why people come here. Most of us have perfectly good living room chairs or desks where we could work. But still we come. We come alone and with people. There is something simple and anonymous and inviting about a coffee shop. If I come here i have something to do: chat, visit, eat a cup of oatmeal, or like today: design a PowerPoint for a course I’m about to teach. If I’m at home, I will spring from the recliner to do anything to keep from working on a task. And that includes cleaning out sock drawers or toilets. Or just looking up and becoming entranced at the television; something profound, like Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. And in the event there is a marathon, I’m done for the day. Of course, creating a blog about the ordinary is definitely not the same as designing a PowerPoint. But, in the world of an academic, nothing is not related…

On Saturday the cable guy came to hook up my digital, hd box (just in time for the Tabitha marathon!). Sometimes I”m in the mood to talk; sometimes I’m not, but that night I was. The cable guy was a talker, so it didn’t take much. I mentioned that after 30 years, I have found my career path: I want to write. So, Paul (the cable guy) started sharing his expertise on blogging and tweeting and getting one’s work out there but more important–getting down to work writing! Now, I am a master at making excuses for not writing: too much school work I’m behind on, too tired, meetings, toilets to clean…My excuse for not blogging–for I had tried it before–was that it seemed such a waste of time when there was so much other writing to do (for which there was also an excuse; notice the cycle). But in this case, Paul the cable guy was right. Blogging isn’t academic. It doesn’t even have to be cutting edge about politics or celebrities or music or anything in particular. It doesn’t even have to be read

So, this is my small, ordinary start. Whatever else I can say about today, I can say that I have been writing. And that feels doggone good. My posts are not intended to be as profound as Huffington’s. In fact, if they are profound at all, it will be in the ordinariness, daily life-ness of them. I am really, really good with that. 
And I have just enough battery left to make a dent in a PowerPoint. 

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