N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Halloween horrors…

I watched (rewatched, perhaps?) The Omen recently, and was shocked at how well it held up.

The very cerebral horror of the late 60s (Rosemary’s Baby, Audrey Rose, The Wicker Man) has such great staying power. And it does not hurt that the 60s loved using that discordant riff of music to heighten the tension in scenes. These movies, which are so much less about “special effects” which tend to be less special over time, make the horror just as striking and horrific now as it was then…even with the nostalgia of the outfits, cars, and technology working against it.

Most of this movie still works…I had to stop it part of the way through (tension and laundry playing equal parts in that – to this day dirty undies is scared to me than little Damien). What is it about little kids and Latin chanting as the background music that is just utterly horrifying?

A recent movie that is very much of this same ilk…and really did make me stop it because I could not bear to watch any more…is The Babadook.

The movie takes place (mostly) in a house with only a mother and son. Essie Davis is stunning in her portrayal of a woman who is trying to hold her broken family together in the face of trying times. Written and directed by a woman (Jennifer Kent), it taps into that very real fear of losing someone and being forced to carry on – more alone than you have ever been before.

If you want a good scare this Halloween, I’d suggest either of these…I know the Omen is on Netflix (and the Babadook was recently, it might still be there – if not, get thee to a RedBox!).

Not that you need movie suggestions from me…just randomly thinking about good movies and how I like horror that is less about torture-porn and more about the mental game.

Telling your story for better or worse?

I was listening to an interview with Marlon James, the Man Booker Award winner for 2015, and was stunned to find out his book was rejected over 70 times.

In response to the interview’s question about advice for aspiring writers he ended with: “remember you are doing good work and you have something to say.”

Something to say…

Something worth saying…

A personal story. Unique to you. Something only you can tell.

But what happens when you can’t tell it? What happens when it is so personal, so painful that you can’t bring yourself to do it?

My wife has often urged me to write about my experiences as a BBW…who most of her life just felt big…no, let’s call it what it is fat and ugly.

I just can’t do it though. I’d love to, I can see how my story could impact other women/girls who plow through the world that is set against them and cutting them down at every turn…I just can’t. I’ve tried, but I’ve spent so much of my life being the comedienne I can’t stand still long enough to write down the real me.

In the same day, I heard this excerpt from Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” (a theater piece)…and was nearly moved to tears by the utterly devastating story he tells about being invited to Homecoming, while laughing my head off as well.

So, I know it can be done…but why can’t I do it?

#frustrated

Delving into Distance Education

The first definition of Distance Education I posted was “Education (both teaching and learning) that takes place asynchronously using a variety of technology to facilitate learning through communication.” I claimed at the time that I wanted to keep it simple, but in my simplicity I missed a few very important elements.

I, of course, didn’t realize this at the time. I though, with the reading I had done I was well equipped to compose my own definition. It wasn’t until I had forged ahead with further readings and spent time thinking about points my fellow students brought up that I realized there were aspects to my definition that were lacking.

First, I left out the synchronous classroom and this means I also left out blended classrooms as well. After doing my readings and writing my essay on the definition of distance education, I became fascinated with the various way in which synchronous and blended classrooms play a part in learning. So much so, I even did an essay (in my 603 class) on videoconferencing in the distance education class. I feel like this aspect of Distance Education is the next big thing, and I would like to further explore it.

I did not include media, and while this might be a subtle shift in my definition it is an important one. When I was considering technology, I wasn’t including the items that the professor might create or offer access to…quizzes, personality tests, e-portfolio examples….things that make the classroom a more verdant space in which to learn.

Finally, I forgot to include an organizing body/institution in my definition. These governing bodies offer similarity between sections of the same class leading to cohesion between classes within the program. It also allows a bit of normalization on the assignment requirements and grading. All of this together allows for all the students of a particular degree program to come away with the same knowledge and thus the same degree value.

Distance Education, as the changes in my definition show, has developed over the first few weeks of class into something more complex than what I started with. That is a very good thing. The more I am forced to realize the complexities of the field I have chosen as my career pursuit, the more I realize what distance education has and must offer its students and instructors both. When first exposed to Otto Peters’ theory of industrialization, I had not considered the impact that mass production had had on education (not just business)(Peters, 2010). Now I can’t help but see the influence, which also allows me to see how we have moved away from that standardization of distance education and into something more fluid like Homberg’s Empathy Theory (2005). This theory encourages us to move beyond what is considered important in traditional education and make the connection needed with students that will never have a face-to-face experience with either instructors or fellow students (Holmberg, 2005). I am sure as I continue, my view of DE will continue to change and deepen as I am exposed to ever more complexities and challenges…I look forward to those changes.

I have always considered myself as someone who could learn in any number of ways (reading, listening, watching) it didn’t much matter, but my view of myself as a learner has been turned on its head lately. At the beginning of this class, I was convinced that I was a perfect candidate for online learning. I love to read, to learn new things and write. I wanted to make new friends in the profession in which I have an interest, in hopes of making lasting professional and personal connections. I took the preparedness test suggested in the MDE Orientation, and got 54 points, I was happy with the result.

“45-54: You will probably do well in a distance education course, but you will have to remind yourself to stay on task.” (Kizlik, 2007)

But now, four weeks into this class I’ve changed my tune entirely. As a matter of fact, I’ve said to more than one person that online learning is harder than any other class I’ve taken. Those from the outside want to look at online degree-granting universities as diploma mills where the dregs of society get a chance to “make themselves better”…but this is no joke. I struggle to stay current on readings and postings and assignments. I find myself mourning the interaction with the instructor that is so easily found by staying after class, as I feel like that interaction helps me understand what they want from assignments. I’ve decided that I miss the standardized interaction found in a face-to-face class.

Does it make me want to quit? No. I’ve never been that kind of person. But it did make me go back to my assessment and look at which questions I’d put a 5 on…and one of them, “helping others with learning needs” jumped out at me (Kizlik, 2007). I realized that I do my best learning by trying to help others understand. It requires me to internalize what I’ve read and try to explain my reactions to others. And while the other students in the class don’t necessarily need my help, by posting I can further examine and try to explain what I’ve gotten out of the topic for that week. Thus I’ve added a personal reminder to read and respond to posts not only on the day I post but right before the content closes on Sunday. This give me the opportunity to respond to the maximum number of posts and see any last minute announcements from the instructor.

I’ve also taken it upon myself to organize my study group. I’ve never considered myself a leader, but again, I like to help people and found myself taking the lead quite easily. Although we got a late start I see good things coming from our first wave grid…and I can see us working MUCH better together in the future now that we have a leader that understands that we need more asynchronous communication going back and forth as well as synchronous meetings to help us finalize our project.

My view of the MDE program has changed dramatically during the past few weeks. When I first decided to join the MDE program, I expected to have a great deal of background knowledge on which to rely during this “foundations” course. I expected this whole process to be a reinforcement of my current knowledge, with an introduction to theories and scholars in the field. Now, I see the program as much more…it not only does everything I’ve mentioned above, but it leads students to new and useful technology and encourages them to use it. MDE is using Twitter to connect students to scholars online, and encouraging an interaction so that these people become less removed and more interactive. Using blogs to develop ideas outside of the classroom materials, thus allowing students to fully explore things that might not be central to the week’s topic, but is important none the less. Using E-Portfolio to go beyond the old-school “resume on-line” and actually present a space that shows our learning process and eventually will trace the development of our interests and passions in the Distance Education Field.

The UMUC MDE program has gone beyond just teaching and has begun to develop, in a very organic way, a multifaceted online professional. I expect to graduate with more than a degree, but an entire array of tools that I have taken time to develop in my classes which I can bring to my employer making me more valuable and useful.

The UMUC Library’s guide to OMDE601 is a great collection of resources for research and guides to things such as APA citations. I used this guide to find additional resources to supplement our class readings, and I used the citation guide to build my APA citations. I actually used, for the first time, the APA citation for “Book read on an e-reader” with our CourseSmart textbooks. I expect to continue using this course guide as I proceed into our next assignments, and am sure I will continue to find it helpful in guiding my research.

References

Holmberg, B. (2005). The evolution, principles, and practice of distance education. Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Available from http://www.box.com/shared/y97qyc7m0t

Kizlik, B. (2007). Getting Ready for Distance Education Distance Education Aptitude and Readiness Scale (DEARS). Retrieved from http://www.adprima.com/dears.htm

Peters, O. (2010). The theory of the “most industrialized education”. In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues (5th ed). Oldenburg, Germany: BIS-Verlag der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Available from: http://www.box.com/s/ktx7ipccetotqrr11mct

Monday Nibble

Wisdom You can have phantom menstrual cramps, trust me.

 

 

You can also find it really hard to break the habit of counting days of the month AND having the split second of fear when you feel a little more MOIST than usual.

 

 

In a house with 3 dogs you will eventually hear yourself turn into your mother and say, “Da…Ve…Gam…WHOEVER YOU ARE, GET OUT OF THE WAY!”

You may also have the unfortunate luck to say, “Stop sniffing that, it is my butt!”

If you have a wife that does not share your love of gardening you WILL find yourself trying to patiently explain why corn won’t ripen off the stalk but tomatoes will…more than once.

And finally, just a tip, if the raccoon momma is teaching her babies how to raid your trash…just let it happen…even if it means being locked out of your house (that momma was scary).

Team Meridian Rain

So, I helped make a film this weekend.
Yup.
Just a short, but omg, I helped make a film!

Renee and Keri working in the rain.

Renee and Keri working in the rain.

It was part of the Disability Film Challenge, and it had to be written and filmed and edited in 48 hours.  And we did it!  Team Meridian Rain did it! 🙂

In the rain, no less.

Day (the head writer on this project) has some great pics up on her site, go check them out!

And I promise, as soon as the contest is over I will share a link to the full thing.  BUT in the meantime, I think I’m just gonna take a nap.

The Classics

Talking with Day on the way home from the gym she said to me, “Haven’t you ever had the urge to the Classics?”

A pile of books, taken by angelskiss31 on Flickr.

My answer was a smile, “No.”

Why?

Well, because I’ve read a few but have never much been into the style of writing that is considered a Classic. What’s worse, I’ve never had the urge to read them. I’ve got too many things on my list I want to read now to force myself to plow though something that will not only take time but will not reward me when I am done. Ok, ok, I think it will not reward me I have no guarantee that is true.

It’s not that I don’t like classics. I really like Shakespeare; I’ve read quite a few of his plays (some more than once). I love Italo Calvino, and must re-read his books when I get them back from my mom and dad. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich. I’m an even bigger fan of Anne McCaffery (seriously folks wrote about gay boys when being a gay boy was not fun nor cool). It’s just names like Hawthorne, Melville, Williams, and Fitzgerald make me yawn mentally.

I have no desire to read anymore than has already been forced upon me thanks to high school, college, and grad school. I’m not itching to pick up copies of titles I have not plowed through before, and when I see those names on the 10 cent shelf at the Library Book Sale I pass them by rather than snatching them up. They are books that can pass me by, movies I don’t need to see, and time (in some cases) I wish I had back. As a matter of fact, I remember a friend READING The Scarlet Letter to me, out loud on my balcony while we picnicked…it was still boring. Perhaps if we were playing paint ball at the time? Even then, I doubt it.

Then again names like Twain, Henry, Salinger, Vonnegut, and Miller make me salivate in anticipation. A combination of required and elective reading has made me happier for having spent time with these authors (although Mr. Miller has a better diary than novel in my eyes). Each name has wonderful memories attached to it for me, quite a few of them related to those wild days of college.

So perhaps a better answer to Day should have been, “I HAVE read the Classics, just not the same ones you have.”

For instance, let’s look at what am I carrying around right now. Stone Butch Blues…a classic, albeit a gay classic.
It is a very good book. I am captivated by it. While there times I am thrown completely out of the story due to badly planned time jumps or awkward dialogue other times I am in heaven. When the author lets us be alone with the main character, just her and us, it is magic. It is a cadence I find song in, and it’s a song that sticks with me when I hit the rocks and convinces me to keep on paddling. See, rewarding me already. Punishing me as well, but seriously rewarding me for my devotion.

In the end I guess my classics and your classics don’t all have to be the same…As a matter of fact, I’m sure if I read the entire library of classics the day I was done another “classic” would be published and pushed upon me.

Serving Improv: 10 Things

Improv strikes again!  Let’s have some fun in our worlds today with…

10 Things

This is a WORLDBUILDING game.  You will need some strips of paper, a container, a writing instrument, a pad of paper and a timer.

Pull a strip of paper out of the container…get your pad and pen set up…put an timer on for 30 seconds and GO!

Wait, what? What are you writing down?  Why 30 seconds?  ARGH!

Ok, ok, don’t panic.  This is a game all about overcoming your preconceived notions about the world you are building.  It is about putting as much information down as quickly as possible on your paper without thinking about it.

So what you want to do is write down aspect of your world: landscape, travel, religion, military, trade, politics, etc.  These should be very wide (unless you know you’ve got something specific you want to reveal more information about) to allow you to get the most out of your 10 things.

Once you have your strips filled out, dump them in a container, and refer to the beginning of the post.  Time to get your paper and pen out, your timer set, and  pull a strip and write!

AS FAST AS YOU CAN, write down 10 things about the subject you pulled.  DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!  JUST GO!

When I played this game in my improv class someone asked the girl next to me, “what were 10 things you wanted to be when you grew up?”

She did fine till she got to 4 when she said: maid.  She got a horrified look on her face, but kept going…at about 7 she said princess and then secretary, then she pulled it out of the fire with dragon and maze.

See, the point of this game isn’t to list things that make sense, but to list things that come to you when you are thinking about the aspect of the world you have drawn but can’t process the “usual” or “normal” responses.  It’s like looking at a star that is too dim to see straight on, look at it out of the corner of your eye and there it is.

You might shock yourself and find out your religion worships only dragons and mazes.  And you might shock yourself even more and see how that could really work.

Give it a try, what is the worst that can happen?

 

 

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a horror writer.

I remember when my wife had a death in the family and it was up to us (being the only ones in town) to take care of her effects.

I remember it being creepy sitting in the same room where someone may or may not have died. There was just this really heavy feeling of finality…of endings…of unfinished business there. Not that there were any spirits or anything, just a kind of…how do I put it? There was a feeling of threads undone that did not put me at ease.

Thus, I was on edge and my wife was on edge and we spent a lot of time being quiet…we could have turned on a radio to speed time along or even the TV but we didn’t…we just worked in relative silence unless my wife was talking to her family on the phone.

One plastic ghost is scared by another.

BOO!

I’ve got to tell a funny story on myself though…we were going through the bags and I startled a little.
Wife: What?
Me: I just freaked myself out there for a second.
Her: How so?
Me: I know I’m not going to find a severed head, or a random toe or anything…but I keep expecting it.
Her: Doesn’t pay to be a horror writer at times like this, does it?
Me: She wasn’t a mad dog killer was she? No serial murderer tendancies?
Her: *laughing* Um, no. Did you see the number of gifts she had stashed away for people? She didn’t have time to kill people.
Me: Good to know.

Then later…oh, this one is priceless.
Wife: Hey, Renee…what’s this? *holding up a luggage tag*
Me: It looks like a luggage tag.
Her: Funny place for a luggage tag.
Me: Where did you find it?
Her: Here by the door.
Me: Bring it here, let me look at it. From here it just looks like trash.
Her: Ok. *brings me the luggage tag, hands it to me. I take it and read the big black words on it*
Me: EEP! ICK! *I randomly throw it into the air and it goes toward my wife, who screams like a little girl and jumps away from it. It falls to the floor.*
Her: What? What?!
Me: It says, “Attach to toe.”
We both look at the toe tags lying on the floor.
Her: Nice of them to leave us the extras.
Me: Yeah, just in case.

Serving Improv: Emotional bodies

Improv is great for writers.  I love it, as I have said many times in the recent past, and I often add games I’ve learned from my improv classes to my writing sphere.  Funnily enough, I’ve found that these games help tremendously, so I thought I would share them with you.  That said, here is the first installment of Serving Improv!

EMOTIONAL BODIES

This is a CHARACTER game.  You will need 2 containers, some paper cut into strips, and a writing utensil.

Take half the strips of paper and write down parts of the body.  Everything from knees to legs to nostrils…you could even get crazy and use things like gallbladder and spleen (but it would help to know what those parts do for a body).

Take the other half of the strips and write down emotions.  Jealous, embarrassed, elated, nervous, etc.

Make sure to keep the strips separate, and put one pile in one container and one pile in the other.

Now draw one from each.  NO PEEKING!

Now you have a body part with an emotion.  Put that body part on your character and write them keeping this body part in mind.

WARNING: Don’t let this body part take over, it is just one part of the whole…but think about the subtle ways it might influence a persons speech, how they carry themselves, and what that emotion might give you about their past.

When I played this with my writing group someone got embarrassed ankles.

He is writing about soldiers in the Revolutionary War, and was reticent about using it, but then we all brainstormed it with him.

1) This man shuffles a lot, even limping, because the ankles are trying to hide behind one another.  This might be the result of an injury…and perhaps one resulting from a dubious action (cowardice, for example).

2) This man constantly fidgets with his pants.  He is unconsciously trying to hide his ankles.  It makes him come across as fastidious.

3) This man may hold himself erect and tall (the posture of a soldier), but his gait causes him to seem unstable and unsure.  People often underestimate him.

4) This man never crosses his legs.  He keeps his feet flat on the ground, which means he’s ready to go at a moments notice.

Now we have an ex-soldier with a limp, who takes very good care to look proper, and thinks of himself as steady and alert while others tend to underestimate him.  His frustration at being coddled (as well as the memory of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his injury) make him reckless in an attempt to prove himself still capable.

ALL FROM EMBARRASSED ANKLES!

Fascinating, eh?

Now you try it!

The Mindkiller

I do not work well under stress, I know this well.  Stress for me (like fear for Dune) is the mindkiller.  Stress does not make me fight to overcome, it does not drive me to produce, it does not build my will into tempered steel.  No, instead stress freezes me into place.  When stress begins to build I stop moving, not for lack of wanting and trying but more because I cannot decide what to do first to relieve the strain.

A dozen eggs with various stressful faces drawn on them, sit next to a hot frying pan.

I have memories (a lot of memories) of myself sitting somewhere totally frozen to the spot because I don’t have a clue what to do first.  My brain screams, “I can’t do this!” or alternately, “What do I do?” and all the while I sit there, my hands clenched and my heart pounding.  It does not last long, and if the stress has gotten bad enough to merit a frozen spell I am usually just a step away from buckling down and plowing through as many stressors as I can…still, building up to that point is horrible for me.

I can see myself getting slower and slower and I don’t know how to stop it.  I try to attack the things bothering me but I am like an ostrich.  I run at it head on until right before I hit it and then serve.  I’m sure all of us do this to a point…avoid the things we don’t really want to do in favor of the things we do want to do and be damned the consequences…but for me it has to build to a mountain AND avalanche all over me before I will address it.

Now here is where things get crazy!

Deadlines are not a stressor for me.  Deadlines are a goal, an achievement…they are something I am working toward, steadily.  Thus the pressure of producing is always being worn down.  I’ve got 10,000 words to catch up on…well look I’ve gotten 4 thousand done over the weekend.  Deadlines are the carrot at the end of a very long stick…and I don’t mind inching up that stick to get to the dangly veggie because that’s what I’m doing, inching forward a bit at a time.  Besides, if it gets to be too much I can always take a break and hit it again later.

Unlike so many other things that have to be done or not writing is a work in progress and because of that I feel like I can face it without fear.

Now if I can only make the rest of my life work that way.