Friday, November 10, 2017

Kudos to an Early Childhood Heroine: Sesame Street's Joan Ganz Cooney

A note from Ami: My friend, Denise Fournier, is getting her certification in Early Childhood Education. One of her class requirements was to write about one of her heroes in early childhood education. She chose Joan Ganz Cooney. 

Today, as Sesame Street celebrates its 48th birthday, I got Denise's permission to post her paper here:

My early childhood heroine is Joan Ganz Cooney.  She is the primary founder of Sesame Street and is a true early childhood heroine in my eyes.

Joan was born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1929. She was the youngest of three siblings and was born in an upper middle class family. Her parents were Sylvan, a banker, and Pauline, a homemaker.  She attended Dominican College before transferring to University of Arizona.  She wanted to major in acting but her father did not think this was an acceptable major so instead she studied education because being a teacher was considered an acceptable career for women in those days. She graduated in 1951 and began working as a typist for the state department.

She worked here for a few years before taking a job as a reporter and later a job as a publicist.  While doing this she became involved with educational television.  This topic really interested her and she was surprised to learn it existed.  She later became a producer and produced a number of educational programs.  In the winter of 1966 while hosting a dinner party, Joan and some friends discussed the possibility of creating an educational television program for preschool aged children.

Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969 and took the nation by storm.  Children’s television existed at this time but never before had their been a show like this that not only entertained children but also set out to educate them and to help children be prepared for school.  Studies done over the last 35 plus years have shown that children ages 3-5 who watch Sesame Street come to school ready to learn and already knowing many skills that they had not previously knew before Sesame Street premiered.  Teachers have actually had to change how they approach teaching young children due to Sesame Street.
I really feel that Joan Ganz Cooney is an early childhood heroine.  She pioneered something that didn’t exist at her time during a time when women were often not taken seriously.  She saw a need and was not afraid to speak up and point out that need to people who were in control of television and its programs. She revolutionized the way young children view television. Sesame Street prepares children, especially low-income children, for school in a way that no show ever had before. Of course we have educational programs galore now but nothing will ever compare to Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is a show that recognizes that the world is full of all sorts of types of people and these people are featured on the show at any given time.  There are people with special needs, people with various different ethnicities and cultures and families of all different kinds on Sesame Street. Children can always find someone that they can relate to.  When children feel they can relate they are more likely to be receptive to the lessons that are being presented to them.  This and many other things makes Sesame Street an awesome show and makes Joan Ganz Cooney a true early childhood education heroine.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Musings on a Movie Biz 'Do at the French Consulate in Beverly Hills

Last night I attended
What those in the movie business
Call a "party"
At the French Consulate in Beverly Hills.
I, and the other clients of my agency,
Which is hosting a writer's retreat at the Beverly Hilton,
Were invited so that empty seats might be filled
While major French publishers
Touted their wares --
Often in labored English --
To Hollywood, hoping for a movie deal.
Or at least a TV series.

Mingle, we were told.
This is a golden opportunity to meet people.

So --
Though what I really wanted to do
Was return to the hotel
(Hosting its own limo-encrusted extravaganza)
And hole up in my overpriced room,
Lacking both coffeemaker and refrigerator,
And maybe soak my tired feet
In the thimble of a tub
In its pocket-sized bathroom --
I mingled.

I sipped Perrier,
Listening for those fluent enough in English
To be able to strike up a conversation
Without making things more awkward
Than they already were.
I spoke with one producer who was happy to chat with me
Until someone more famous happened along.
But I always ended up being drawn like iron
Back to the magnet of the people I already knew --
Friends of a few hours:
Fellow agency clients.

And then,
Standing around a table,
Backlit by the glow of the swimming pool that
Vainly beckoned for someone --
Anyone --
To make a splash by falling in,
I met a wonderful woman,
Charming. Graceful. Authentic. And real.
She owns a flower shop --
Has owned a flower shop in Beverly Hills
For decades.
We fell into conversation and instantly felt
As if we had known each other
Forever.

She wore earrings of silver angels
Which had been made in Oxaca
And bestowed upon her by a dear friend,
Now long gone.
We paid homage to loved ones who have left us too soon,
Sang the praises of children we loved who loved to read,
And sampled delicate pastries presented on silver platters.

The world, with its forced minglings, fell away
As she captivated me with photos of the floral art she creates
For clients, well-known and unknown, who love her designs.
And for the first time in all my visits to this part of the country,
I thought, "I love it here."
Because of this lovely soul
Who beautifies the world every day
And who agrees with me that the strawberry-topped lemon cookie wedges
Are just divine.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Writer's Armory: In Praise of the FitDesk!

For the past few weeks, I've been spilling the beans about some tools that I've recently begun using that have revved up my writing and tripled my productivity.

The first was the "MSD," an amazing low-tech boon for under $5, that helps me keep every project fresh, in front of me, organized, and on-track.

Last week, I confessed my love for Leo, my Neo2 Alphasmart old-school wordprocessor. Using Leo keeps me from the distractions of being online and helps me produce usable first drafts in record time.

The final tool that has been a real writing revolution is my FitDesk. A bit pricier than the other two tools I told you about -- but I'd rather spend money on something like the FitDesk than an HDTV. This was my to-me / from-me birthday gift this year, and I couldn't be happier with how it's working out.

The FitDesk is a combination desk and stationary bike. Yes, I know it sounds rather Rube Goldberg-esque. Well, don't laugh till you've tried it. As you probably know, writing has two major drawbacks:

One is in the lifestyle choice of sitting on a couch or in a chair for long quantities of time (often stuffing one's pie-hole without much thought to actual nutritional content).

The other is the creative's dilemma of having the exact answer to your plot problem drop in the moment you leave the couch and decide to get some exercise -- with nowhere to record your brainstorm.

I got the FitDesk 3.0, though there are other brands of desk / bikes out there. I strongly suggest that if you're interested, you shop around and see what features you like the most.

Things I love about my FitDesk:

It has a small footprint. My house isn't big, so I couldn't have some enormous piece of machinery taking up a ton of space. My FitDesk fits perfectly in a sort of dead-end hallway that has always been a place to throw laundry baskets and accumulate cat fur. If I wanted to, I could close up the FitDesk -- it folds up to roughly the size of a large upright vacuum cleaner. But I leave it set up so it's ready to use when I want it.

It's comfortable. My FitDesk has an ergonomic seat with a back, comfortable pedals (if I pedal in my slippers, rather than putting on shoes, as one does), and nifty, nubbly roller things for me to rest my forearms on while I type. At first, I thought the roller-deals were the dumbest things ever. But it didn't take me long to see the error of my ways. Anyone who spends a lot of time typing knows about repetitive stress. Voila! Nubbly rollers help keep that stress to a minimum.

I use it. Ok -- this might sound stupid, but it's true. I dithered about getting the thing because I didn't want to be one of Those People who acquire a piece of fitness equipment and the only exercise they get from it is when they dust it. But, for some reason, that is not the case. I have my notes, my coffee, and my computer or Leo (see last week's post) -- and I'm off! My FitDesk is positioned in front of a window, so I can look outside and see what's going on. I just sit at my desk and start writing. The pedaling comes naturally; I never miss my couch.

So that's what works for me at the moment. Thanks to my MSD, Leo, and FitDesk, I have streamlined my writing process, getting far more done now than I did before I used them as part of my daily routine.

Now it's your turn. What writing tools would you be lost without? Do tell!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Writer's Armory, Part II: Long Live the AlphaSmart!

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd recently begun to use three tools that have revolutionized my writing and tripled my productivity. The first tool was the cheap, charming, and utterly indispensable Mini Smiley Diary.

My Neo2. I have named him Leo.
This week, I shall share the secret of how I broke my internet addiction, which was actively corroding my ability to stay focused and eating into my writing time. It was simple. Instantaneous. And inexpensive. I bought a NEO2.

(Though the Neo2 was made by Renaissance Learning, the original company that Renaissance Learning bought was named AlphaSmart. Hence, many writers who use these puppies call them "AlphaSmarts." Whatevs. I have named mine "Leo.")

The Neo2 is a word processor that is literally old school. Back in the 90's and early 2000's, school districts used to use them to teach keyboarding at a time when it became obvious that computers -- not typewriters -- were the wave of the future, yet schools didn't have the tech or the funds to bring in a computer lab. Enter the AlphaSmart, a self-contained word processor that (and this is key) does not get online.

Leo is a simple little powerhouse. Whatever you type is stored directly into its RAM. It stores up to 200 pages of text in up to 8 separate files. To download a file I connect the AlphaSmart to my computer via a common USB cable and hit send. Beginning wherever my cursor is, in whatever program I happen to be running (Microsoft Word, Final Draft, even Blogger -- it's all the same to Leo), the device from yesteryear downloads the draft of my file onto my tablet or computer.

Things I love about Leo:

1.) It is a WORKHORSE. It's tough. It's built to handle (::shudder::) schoolchildren, so it's very forgiving of the occasional danish crumb. With a full-sized keyboard and decent feel to the keys, it feels much like my computer. Yet because I'm not online, there are no distractions. I sits and I types. And, because of the old-school display, I'm not inclined to begin micro-editing. Instead, I simply focus on getting the words out of my head.

2.) It has a simple screen. What some might see as a drawback, I consider immensely useful. Leo's "screen" is simple, unformated, block text. I can see what I've typed -- and scrolling through a lengthy file is simply a matter of using the arrow keys -- but I'm not obsessed by it. I use Leo for drafting, which, for me, is the longest, most tedious part of writing a book. I do my editing on my computer; it's better suited for the task.

3.) It has no glaring backlight. When I write on Leo at night, or in the wee hours of the morning, when I'm done, I simply turn it off and go to sleep, with no residual "screen burn" flickering on my retinas. Aaaaahhhhhh.

4.) It has a battery that, after two months of regular use -- sometimes up to 5 hours a day -- shows no sign of weakening. I've heard some AlphaSmart users say their batteries last nearly a year. I'd be OK with three months. When batteries need replacing, all I need to do is provide 3 AAs.

5.) It's cute as anything. Seriously: it's adorable. Though my productivity has tripled since I've begun using Leo, every time I use him in a public place, people come and ask me What The Heck Is That?

I purchased Leo for around $30 on ebay. Am seriously thinking of getting another one and putting it aside... just in case Leo ever wears out.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Writer's Armory: In Praise of the Teeny-Tiny Notebook

"Slow and steady wins the race."
The Tortoise is my writing spirit animal.
True confession: I am not a fast writer. Not by any means. Which explains why my blog posts are often few and far between. If I'm working on a major project, since the good Lord has seen fit to only give me 24 hours in my day, I generally choose to spend my writing time slogging forward on the Thing that Needs Doing.

However, in the past four months, I have acquired three new tools in my Writer's Toolbox that have tripled my productivity.

Tripled. 

So I felt inspired to share.

Two are small, portable, inexpensive, and indispensable. (One is the subject of this post. The other I'll discuss next week.)

One is large and a bit pricey, but OH MY STARS how it helps ratchet up the productivity. [Patience, Grasshopper... I'll talk about that in two weeks. Promise.]

For the first -- the simplest; the easiest; the least expensive -- I credit Yi Shun Lai.

Earlier this year, when Yi Shun was a featured facilitator at a #Write2TheEnd writer's retreat I helped to produce and sponsor,  she gifted me with a Mini Smiley Diary (MSD, or "Misty," for short). Yi Shun has an affinity for quality paper, while I have a collection of vintage mini-notebooks. (As you may know, for writers, paper obsessions are very, very real.)

The little thing was similar in size to my phone, with an inane little proverb embossed on the cover ("If you laugh tomorrow will be fun"). It featured six sections, some lined, some blank, with different colored paper. It was saddle stitched, so the pages wouldn't fall out with use. It was so cute it bordered on twee. But its adorable appearance couldn't mask its power.

The Mini Smiley Diary costs under $5 on Amazon, and it is an absolute godsend. I bought a gross and started gifting other writers. After some trial and error, I've hit upon a system that makes my notes easy to take and easy to find. It works for me; perhaps it will work for you as well. Here's how I use mine:

In general: Each new project gets its own MSD. When a Work-In-Progress is my top creative priority, I carry its respective MSD with me everywhere. As in *everywhere.* It is as much a part of my personal detritus as my phone, my glasses, and my keys.

Footnote: Perhaps you're wondering why, if I exist in the 21st century and have the cell phone required for daily life, do I not just make my phone my notebook. To be honest, I have tried. I really have. But I haven't found an app that is as satisfyingly simple and userfriendly as Misty. See earlier paragraph re: my affinity for old notebooks. There's something wonderfully creatively energizing about paper.

1.) The first of the six divisions is lined. I use it as my constantly available note pad. It actually has nothing whatsoever to do with my writing project. Here's where I scribble my random notes, to-do lists, grocery needs, etc.

This serves several purposes. It obliterates the blank-book syndrome ("Oh, it's so cute! Much too cute to ever use.") It also allows me do what I'd do anyway -- because I know me. No matter what, if I need something to write on RIGHT NOW, I'm going to use the first thing I grab. If I tried to allot the first section to something critical for my project, I'd be setting myself up for failure the first time I ever needed to remember to buy toilet paper.

2.) The second section consists of blue blank sheets. This is my Big Picture section. On the first page, I write the one sentence "pitch" of my book. On the back of the first page, I list the themes of the work in progress.

At the top of the next blue pages, I write out the general story beats for the whole project. (For fiction, I use a modified Save the Cat story beat approach. I don't outline, but I don't begin a journey without knowing my destination.) As my project progresses, I use these pages to write notes on advancing themes and make sure major events happen when and where they should.

3.) The third section is lined. Here is where I write cool quotes, turns of phrase, snippets of dialogue that come to me, overheard conversations I'd like to revisit, and other things my characters might say.

4.) The fourth section is blank pink sheets. I use these for any illustrations or diagrams I need to draw out. House plans, maps, character descriptions & tics all go here.

5.) The last lined section I use for taking research notes about things that pertain to this project.

6.) And the final section -- green blank pages -- is reserved for the "don't forgets." Here I note the things that will need to be salted in, key connections, and loose ends that need to be paid off before the end.

That's it! Can you use any little notebook? Of course. But, for some reason, this system has helped me keep my notes more organized and be more productive than any I've used before. Thought I'd share.

Next week: the tool that helped me kick my Twitter habit, streamlined my drafting process, AND helps me sleep better...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Where's the Waldorf? -- Fascinating Vintage Advertisements for Toilet Tissue

I attended a lovely country wedding this weekend, held at the Michigan Flywheelers, a vintage tractor museum in South Haven. In addition to having lights nestled in antique tractor hoods, their Ladies' loo features an assortment of framed vintage bathroom-specific ads.

Here's the first one that caught my eye:

After I got past the "goshes and "goodnesses," I was left to ponder a world in which a woman had to literally show a man a piece of paper full of splinters in order for him to realize "no wonder it caused trouble." This was a world, evidently, in which providing an update on the amount of toilet paper remaining in the house was the most appropriate thing to say to someone who has recently received a raise.

However, this ad, visible as you walk through the Ladies' door, may be my favorite. >>>

It begins with pure 1930's clickbait:

WOMEN ARE ESPECIALLY SUSCEPTIBLE, Doctors say.

Then it hits you with the lede:

"There is no form of human illness quite so humiliating as rectal trouble."

Mmm-kay.

Now, I grew up on ads featuring the hapless, slightly skeevy Mr. Whippley, who is forever telling customers not to squeeze the Charmin, even though he can't help himself from doing the same thing.

Mr. Whippley never talked about splinters. Or used the phrase "rectal trouble." Or suggested that not using his precious Charmin could cost you your job or your health.

Mr. W. was derpy, sure, but those earlier ads meant BIZNESS! And HOW!

With T.P. on the mind, I came home and mucked around on the interwebs looking at vintage loo-roll ads. As one does.

Some of my favorites include this 1940's terror-inducing PSA which puts using the wrong toilet paper on a par with an invasion or act of war:


There's this gem, which makes me realize that today's advertisers don't use the word "inflamed" nearly as often as they used to:


And then there's the nightmare-inducing "Mr. Thirsty Fibre" of the 1920's -- a sort of potty paper Slender Man who, inexplicably, appears to be spoiling for a fight:


Remember Tim, who Almost Lost His Job?

Well, Waldorf ran a whole series of those comicstrip-like ads with headings such as "He Blamed Himself After She'd Gone," "Joe's Temper Almost Broke Up Their Home," "Her Mother-In-Law's Visit Saved the Day," and "Ruth was Left Out of Everything." Each one is every bit as cringeworthy as you might expect.

But "They Used to Call Bobby 'Crybaby'" takes the ever loving cake. From "It hurts Daddy, it hurts bad," to a man who calls his wife 'Mother' -- (Gosh, Dad!) -- to the payoff of a kid who beats up bullies, thanks to the healing powers of toidy roll, it's a freaking cornucopia of WTF-ery. [A lifetime ago, I once worked for an advertising agency. I would *love* to see the statistics on the effectiveness of this particular gem.]


In case you were wondering, in 1890, the Scott company was the first to come up with the idea of putting TP on a roll. Before then, the product was sold stacked, much as today's tissues are sold.

In 1391, the first toilet paper ever was used -- reportedly used by the Chinese emperor. Created in sheets measuring two-feet by three-feet, the paper intended for this purpose was only available to royalty. (For more fascinating TP Trivia, check out this rather exhaustive Toilet Paper Timeline.)

These days, toilet paper ads abound. But one could argue that TP is no longer a novelty as it was at the turn of the 20th century. Nor is it full of slivers, splinters, or hemorrhoid-inducing-chemicals. It's a staple. A necessity. Which really begs the question:



Friday, July 14, 2017

How to Respond When Someone Asks You To Write for Free

or: Don't Say "No," Ask for Dough

"You're a doctor?" says the person you've just met. "That's great! I thought about practicing medicine, but I just didn't have the time, you know? Hey--"

Here, they lift up their shirt, baring more than you wanted to see, especially at the grocery check-out / wedding reception / gas pump.

"I've got this pus-filled invasive weeping sore. How about you remove it for me?"

You tell them you'd be happy to do the job -- just call your office and make an appointment.

The shirt comes down. The scowl comes out. "An appointment? Pay you! You should be honored I asked. It would be good exposure for your practice. Hey -- I'll tell ya what. Do it for free, and when I make modern medical history, I'll split whatever money I get from the AMA."

Mmmm-hmmm...

No.

If you have difficulty imagining that scenario, then you are probably not a writer. Because we writers live countless versions of this Every Dang Day.

This summer, a writer friend whose novel is currently shortlisted for a veddy prestigious prize had an exchange that went something like this:

Movie Maker Acquaintance: I'm looking for my next project. Thought I'd do your book. What do you say?

Whoa, Tiger! All this talk of fundage harshes my creative mellow.
Writer: Sounds interesting. What option terms did you have in mind? Send me a contract and I'll consider it.

MMA: Whoa, Tiger! Who said anything about contracts or money? Sheesh! I thought it might be nice for you to work with a friend on a fun project. I'm not a mercenary like some people.

Whoa, Tiger indeed. For reasons that escape me, people who would never dream of asking an electrician friend to re-wire their house have no such qualms about asking a writer to make her skills available gratis.

Too often when writers suggest that they expect to be compensated for their time and expertise, they hear: "I can't pay you, but it'll be great exposure."

Exposure: not what it's cracked up to be.
No.

Writers know: Money pays the heating bills. A person can die of exposure.

I know writers who refuse to tell other people what they do because of the inevitable "OmiGod! You should totally write my story. I don't know the first thing about publishing, but it's a great story, sure to be a bestseller. OmiGOD! I just had the best idea ever! You should totally write it for me and we can split the money it'll be great! It all started with a dream I had in 1987--"

We don't want to be rude. We don't want to say, "That is the worst story I've ever heard" or "Pleasepleaseplease don't tell me about your horrible childhood" or "You lost me at 'the day the aliens abducted me.'" But believe me when I say -- and this is important -- NO MATTER WHAT THE STORY IS, NO WRITER WANTS TO WRITE IT FOR FREE.

So.

If, as a writer, you ever find yourself accosted by the equivalent of a pus-filled sore asking a doctor for freebie surgery, there is no need to get offended, nor are you obliged to listen to the entire "write my story" pitch. There is a way out. Act like the professional you are. Here is a handy script to help:

Thanks for thinking of me. If you're serious, I would be happy to talk to you more in-depth about this project at a later time. Expect a project of this magnitude to take 6 to 9 months for completion. For work of this nature, I charge $60,000*. One-third is payable up front. One-third is due when the first draft is completed. The final installment is due me upon delivery of the completed manuscript. I make no guarantees that the work will be published when it's complete: it's your story; that's up to you. Would you like me to draw up a contract and we'll get to work?

* Here in the Midwest, 60 K is a nice tidy sum of money that makes most projects worth a writer's while, should someone decide to retain their services. In areas of the country where living expenses are more aggressive, make it $160,000. The point is: don't be in a hurry to say "no." Remember that not writing someone's story for free isn't personal -- it's business.