What to Read…and Watch

wpid-wp-1412120806165.jpegRecommended Reading: Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Recommended Watching: Outlander TV series on Starz

Several times in the past month I have been asked about the books I’m reading. Typically, I’m a fickle reader—having several books going at the same time to meet my mood. However, this year…yes, this entire year…I have been engrossed in the Outlander world.

Outlander, a series of novels written by Diana Gabaldon, defies classification. I wouldn’t classify the novels as “romance,” per se, but there are some erotic scenes. I also wouldn’t label them historical fiction because there’s also time travel. Readers, writers, and publishers have attempted to classify these novels for years and have failed, so I won’t rehash that here, but whether you like fantasy, romance, historical fiction, or sci-fi, you will like these books.

The series first attracted my attention simply because of the Gabaldon name. Diana Gabaldon hails from my home town: Flagstaff, Arizona. My family knew of her family: first, because of her father, Tony Gabaldon, as a state senator; second, because my eldest brother attended the same grade school; third, my sister Patricia attended a class or two with her at Northern Arizona University. Gabaldon doesn’t know this…I doubt she had much interaction with my family…but what matters is that this slight family connection introduced me to her books. I started with a beat-up copy of Outlander when I was home from college in 1995 and quickly fell in love with the characters. They jumped to life on the page, and I enjoyed the action, the strong female protagonist, the landscape, the historical accuracy, as well as Gabaldon’s style.

In fact, I love the books so much that each time a new one is announced (about every three years or so), I reread the entire series. (I also read the John Grey series.) I’m usually finished just in time for the new book to arrive. It works out perfectly. The 8th book, Written in my Own Heart’s Blood, came out in June of this year, and I began rereading the series in January. I finished the 7th book just in time for the pre-purchased 8th one to show up on my Kindle. I expected that I would finish the 8th book and then move on with my life away from Outlander, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’m more engrossed than ever because of the TV series.

When I saw that Outlander was being turned into a TV Series, I was a bit worried. I had a clear image of the characters, the landscape, and the events in the books. I didn’t want that demolished. One of the pleasures of reading is to imagine new worlds and people. I don’t always want these places or people to come to life on a screen. In most cases, movies created from books I’ve loved cannot compare with what I have created in my own imagination, and I am horribly disappointed. I didn’t want this to happen with Outlander, but I couldn’t stay away from the series. I had to see it for myself…see if these characters could come to life for me in a different way.

With trepidation, I watched the pilot. Just like with the books, I fell instantly in love. The characters weren’t exactly how I imagined physically, but their personalities were just right: Claire is sassy, strong, feminine, and self-conscious; Jaime is humorous, strong, masculine, and gentle. The TV series doesn’t exactly follow the books, and it works. The spirit of the books is respected, such as Claire’s strong character, but some changes had to be made for the television audience (such as the timing of some events). The show is also different enough to add excitement to keep the hardcore fans guessing. It is also different from other current popular shows.

I love seeing the characters come to life, and I love that Starz is sticking to the spirit of the books while making some sensible changes. The network is rewarded with a large following, and fans are rewarded with an early renewal for a second season.

For me, the result is complete immersion in the Outlander world. I have watched every episode at least twice, and I am rereading the first book. I enjoy following along and analyzing the differences between the books and the TV series. It’s also a way to stay connected with the characters while waiting for the next episode. The mid-season finale was this past Saturday, and I have a long time to wait for the next installment (April 2015!). Until then, I’m reading the Outlander novella The Space Between and watching some of the TV episodes over again. If I’m ever tired of the repeats, maybe I’ll be able to move on to different books by different authors. Until then, to answer your question “what are you reading,” I’m reading Diana Gabaldon.

For a complete list of her books, visit her website: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/.

What are you reading?

~ K

Write On

wpid-20140911_141009.jpgAs most of you know, I am on sabbatical writing a creative non-fiction narrative (a.k.a. memoir). From the start, I have struggled. I’ve read countless articles on writing a memoir, getting past procrastination, getting past writer’s block, and many more.

Much of the advice is the same: schedule your writing time, write in an environment conducive to writing, and no matter what, just write…even if you don’t feel like it.

Although the advice might be similar, everyone is different, and just like weight loss, you have to find what works for you. So far, these points work for me:

  1. Get out of the house.
    • It seems that I do better out of the house first. If I have somewhere to go, getting out of bed is easier. So, I go to a restaurant or coffee shop, get my caffeine, and start writing. The energy of the strangers surrounding me helps feed my creativity. After an hour or so, I’m ready to go home and write more in silence.
  2. Be comfortable.
    • Some articles advise writers to get up and dress as if you’re ready for work. This hasn’t really worked for me. I need to be comfortable. Maybe because I’m doing personal writing, and perhaps once I’m in the editing stages, I’ll need to change this behavior, but for now, I seem to do better in my comfortable clothes like my sweats.
  3. Write in short bursts.
    • What writer hasn’t heard of freewriting? Well, it works! (Not just for writing, as Fly Lady will attest to.) I start with 15 minutes…that’s it. I don’t pressure myself into thinking I have to write for 8 hours straight. That’s too overwhelming. I start with 15 minutes, and pretty soon, I’m engrossed in what I’m doing, and several hours have passed. At times, those 15 minutes seem to drag. When that happens, I’ll take a break and then come back to it a little later. Even when I come back, I tell myself that I’ll write for 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes gets me started and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Turn off the critic.
    • This is the hardest part for me. Stephen King calls it “writing with the door closed.” It’s hard to do. I ran into some friends of mine at Starbucks the other day, and all I could talk about was how much crap I was producing. “Yes, I’m writing every day, but it’s crap. It’s all crap,” I said. Ugh! That might be true, but I’m nowhere near ready to make that judgment. If I keep thinking it’s all crap, then I won’t finish. I just have to keep writing and worry about the quality later. By far, this lesson is the hardest to learn, and obviously, I have a ways to go.
  5. Finally, find your own rhythm.
    • Similar to the backpacking lessons, I have learned that I don’t have to follow in anyone’s footsteps. I can use their advice, but ultimately, it’s up to me how much I write, when I write, where I write, and what I write. As long as I’m writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night. It just has to get done. Joseph Finder says it best, “Just write the damn book already.”

So, these are the lessons that I have learned and am still working on adapting in my life. No matter what you have to write: a research paper, a letter to your mother, a book… I hope these lessons help you get started.

~ K

Backpacking First-Timer: Dos and Don’ts…

Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Entering the Cloud Peak Wilderness on my first solo backpacking trip.

Weighing 280+ pounds, several years ago, I took my first backpacking trip up into the Big Horn Mountains. I went with my husband, and I remember an unrelenting trail. I fell backwards once and needed help getting up like a bug who could not turn itself over. We never made it to our original destination, Big Stull Lake–a regret I had until this year.

This summer, 100+ pounds lighter, I took the same backpacking trip; this time solo but not without my trusty dog, Nikko. My destination was 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Big Stull Lake. Things didn’t quite go the way I had planned, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned on my first solo backpacking trip.

#1 Don’t overestimate the amount you can carry. Chances are when you’re hiking, you aren’t going to need a lot of clothing. One pair of shorts, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain gear, thermals, and a jacket for high elevations is probably enough. On my first backpacking trip, I ended up with too many clothes and as a result, I could barely lift my backpack. At one point, I tripped on a tiny stump in the middle of the trail and ended up face first in the dirt. With a smaller pack, I could have kept my balance.

#2 Do pack and repack. If I had followed this simple rule, I would have realized I didn’t need 6 pairs of underwear, three shirts, and two jackets for my two-night backpacking trip. Repacking and packing can help you stick to the minimum requirements as well as give you practice packing. Make sure to try on your backpack so you’re not stuck with a too-heavy bag when you get to the trailhead, and it’s always a good idea to consult an expert about what you should or should not bring.

Stull Lake Campsite#3 Do know where you’re going, and have a contingency plan. Experts say not to hike alone, but I knew the trail, I let people know where I was going, and I had a contingency plan. I planned my trip based on the previous hike my husband and I had taken years ago. We had not planned well, so we found ourselves stuck searching for a camping spot in the dark during a thunder storm. It turned into a pleasant camping trip, but without good luck, it could have been a disaster. On this solo trip, I planned ahead and had a contingency plan. I wanted to make it 3.7 miles to Coney Lake with a short stop at Stull Lake, 1.6 miles from the trailhead. I ended up staying at Stull Lake and hiking on to Coney Lake the next day without my pack. I would not have made it through the steep, rocky switchbacks with my super heavy pack. Instead, I had an easy hike and more “me time” next to quiet Stull Lake.

#4 Don’t forget the mole skin. No matter how much you think you’ve broken in your new hiking boots, there is always a chance of chafing. I put several miles on my hiking boots before this trip, but the rocky terrain and up- and down-hill hiking took its toll on my feet. Thankfully, I had mole skin in my first-aid kit, and I managed to cover the hot spots before they developed into giant blisters.

#5 Do pack water shoes or sandals. I was grateful to have my water shoes. They had nice traction for walking in the lake and on the lakeside trail, and they are nice to have if you have to ford any deep creeks. Luckily, my hike was in late summer, so the creeks were dry enough to expose rocks for crossing. Look for shoes that can be easily attached with a carabineer to the outside of your pack, and pick shoes that are light…again, refer to Rule #1.

#6 Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t think you’re going fast or far enough. Yes, there are hard-core hikers out there who count their miles, and you may or may not cover as much ground. Who cares! It’s about your ability and about taking time out for you. Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Focusing too much on your speed or the miles you’ve covered can leave you forgetting why you wanted to backpack in the first place. Remember that it’s not a race. If you plan your time accordingly, you won’t have to rush to the campsite and you can take time for breaks, pictures, and bird watching.

Most of all, be proud of what you accomplished. So what if someone else went farther or faster. The point is that you got outside, you had fun, and you experienced something new.

Happy Hiking!

~ K

Stull Lake

Are You Small Town or Big City?

NewYorkCityOn July 31st, at 2:00 AM, I sat in a 24-hour deli having breakfast in downtown Manhattan.

Some people would consider this unwise, but I was amazed at how safe I felt. In fact, after finishing my coffee and yogurt, I walked to Times Square with my mother’s voice repeating in my head, “Nice girls aren’t out after 10.”

I have always been a night person, but I rarely go outside that late because of the supposed dangers lurking in the shadows. I have also always considered myself a small-town girl, and I never thought I would feel comfortable in a city like Manhattan. I expected to be intimidated, self conscious, and hurried. Instead, I was energized, fearless, and confident.

As I sat in the deli, I realized that I could get used to the city life. I could imagine living there writing, walking at night, and loving the fast-paced lifestyle during the day. The other side of me–the side that loves the solitude of the wilderness, fishing, hiking, and just listening to the birds–wonders how long it would take before I would need to escape the city environment.

Despite the fact that I live in a small town, I’m not exactly a hick. I have lived in and visited urban neighborhoods before. In fact, I had been to New York before. I have also lived in Tucson, Arizona, a city of 520,000+, for over 6 years. I also lived in Lincoln, NE, not quite as big as Tucson, but still bigger than Sheridan, Wyoming. I’ve also visited Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Stockholm, London, and Paris. In Paris, my traveling companion refused to be outside after dark. Maybe that’s good practice, but I longed to see the Eiffel Tower lit up after dark. I wasn’t brave enough then to venture out on my own.

This trip to New York was my first experience in a large metropolis alone, so I was completely shocked with how comfortable I felt as I walked down 7th Avenue towards Times Square. Several people were around…men and women dressed in various styles. There were police officers, city workers, and even some homeless people out and about. I did get some strange looks…it was probably completely obvious that I was not a New Yorker…but for the most part, people left me alone, and I felt completely comfortable.

I didn’t have much time once I got to Times Square. I had to catch the airport shuttle at 3:30AM, and I still needed to check out, so I hustled back to the hotel completely energized and not really wanting to go home.

Today, back in Sheridan, I feel out of place. I tried walking at midnight in my neighborhood, but I was uncomfortable and frightened. Without really understanding why, I rushed back to the comfort of home. (It’s possible I realized internally what this study found.)

I don’t really know what to do with myself now. I suppose I’ll settle back into my “normal” life in Sheridan, and New York will be a distant memory. Until then, I have realized that no matter how much I think I know myself, I should remain open to new experiences and new places…because who knows, I may find that I’m a city girl after all.

~K

Spring Fever

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Melting snow in the Big Horns

It’s spring, and despite the snow and cold wind, I can taste summer. I can hear the birds’ arrival, and I can see signs of spring in the baby bunnies outside my office window, fawns grazing at the side of the road, and green-tinged tree buds scratching at the glass as the wind blows. I feel a deep restlessness in me as well. I don’t want to wear my jacket or long sleeve shirts. I’m tired of wearing tights and thick pants. I want to go play. I want to be outside hiking, biking, breathing the mountain air. I don’t want to grade papers or discussion posts. I don’t want to answer student emails. I want to be done with the semester already. But despite these feelings, a sense of duty drags me out of bed, gets me to work, and helps me complete my to do list.

On top of having spring fever, next semester I will be on sabbatical working on a writing project, so I’m having an extra hard time getting anything done. I describe it to my colleagues as having senoritis: that feeling of new adventures beginning and old ones ending and the feeling that “now” doesn’t matter much. My fingers itch to write, and my brain is consumed by other projects unrelated to grading and teaching English.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. It’s this time in the semester when my students stop turning in work, or they turn in sloppy work. It’s also that time of year when we’re all weary…weary of winter and weary of routine. Often, some students will disappear. They may resurface at the end of April suddenly aware that they have to pass the class. Hopefully it won’t be too many, and hopefully it won’t be too late. I remember having these feelings as a college student. I would resist them when I could, but sometimes I skipped class to spend time outside or to simply sleep.

As an instructor, it’s more difficult to skip class. I could take a personal day here and there, but often, they’re accompanied with guilt, and there are still emails to answer and grading nagging in the back of my mind. That carefree irresponsibility I felt as a student no longer exists. Perhaps I’ll experience some of that on sabbatical, but I really don’t know.

I’m not sure what to expect on sabbatical. I’ll have a project to complete, so I’ll keep a schedule, but there won’t be anyone around to make sure I’m producing my self-assigned number of pages. It will be a different type of work…a different focus for me, and I’m excited. I’m also a little bit worried–especially with how I feel right now. What if I just don’t do it? What if I can’t do it? What if all this time I have been working hard to convince others to pay me to write, and then I just can’t produce?

Are these fears that my students experience? Is this perhaps why they don’t do the work or the reason they procrastinate? I suspect this is part of it. I also suspect there are other mitigating circumstances that I’ll never know or perhaps understand. This is why I get so upset with Complete College America. I want my students to succeed, but I also want them to work hard at it. A degree should be earned, not given. I want students to complete college, and I believe our society is better off if our citizens have an education. But what bothers me most is that legislators wants to tie our funding to how many students finish a degree. This puts the responsibility of learning squarely on teachers’ shoulders, not on the students’. This is the problem.

I can give my students every opportunity to learn: provide them resources, spend hours responding to their essays, spend time talking them through the assignments, and provide feedback on every missed quiz question or misleading discussion post. However, if the students do not do the reading, don’t show up for class, don’t access the resources, or don’t do the work, they will never learn. And this is what the completion agenda does not address.

I can only do so much to motivate my students. In the end, they have to drag themselves out of bed when they have spring fever. They have to talk themselves into doing the work even when they don’t feel like it. They have to decide to make education a priority in their lives, and they have to decide to stick to it and to do everything they can to learn. I can’t do it for them.

So, dear students, I know how you feel, but together, we need to hang on and get it done because come summer, we can either have a sense of accomplishment or disappointment. The choice is yours.

~ K