Emo Durham Part II

So every day in my class we takes turns on who the class scribe is.  They record the events of the day, and then find a clever way to present them the following day.  Today I recorded them and tomorrow I present.  Every day we seem to outdo ourselves and this is round two so everyone’s raising the bar even higher.  It’s not competitive, but I’ve never meshed so well with a group of teachers before (probably because there are no students around and no stress).

So for tomorrow they’ll be watching a video I made similar to my book’s commercial where I play sad music (see post from a few nights ago–that’s the song), and then hold up cards where I deliver the notes.  We’re ending week three and the inside jokes are a’plenty.

But I wanted it to come off really sad, even though everything on the cards is funny, so I started thinking about how I’ll miss them, and some other sad stuff and actually produced REAL TEARS!  They aren’t visible until the end, but apparently I can cry on demand like a real actor.  I did make it a little sappy at the end, so hopefully it makes them laugh and cry as well.  That’s my new thing–well, not really new, but I want more than laughs now.  I want the full spectrum of emotion from the things I write.  I don’t think there’s a scene in my book (wow, he almost went 3 paragraphs!) where the reader would cry.  Maybe in revision I can strive for that.  There’s an opportunity midway through for sure.  Actually at the first pinch point.

Did any of you go to Poison tonight (Def Leppard also on bill)?  That would amuse me.

And no, I’m not sharing the video (I drink at the end of it).


Ever do this with an assignment?

Have you ever been so freaking clueless on an assignment that you do it anyway knowing damn well it’s wrong, and you do it your way in spite of the bad directions you’re given, or maybe you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, or after you read the assignment it’s so much work you think, “That can’t possibly be the directions?”

Well, that’s how my week 7 revision went.  I was to list all of my background scenery as well as props, doors, and other moving parts in each “stage” that I wrote every time it was the first time that stage came up in the story.  I have a lot of stages, and half of them aren’t described at all, so honestly, it only took me two settings today to realize I suck at snapshots.  I asked for further explanation on the message board and was given one word answers, very terse in fact.  So I felt sorry for myself while I did the assignment.  There were a total of 3 scenes (out of 57) where I properly described everything and those will still need revision as well.  This process is hard without hearing vocal instructions, but I’ll plow through.  I at least know what I’m doing wrong.  I’m assuming there will be weeks and lessons in the future that show me how to correct it.

This next lesson is about finding theme, and it’s the last major pick-apart before I start actually cutting things out of my book.  (I already know what needs to be cut for the most part–Brittany helped me with that this spring).  But I need to add two or three major scenes as well.  I have them mentally outlined.  Up the stakes!

Wow, I think that’s all I have today.  I just needed to vent about that lesson.  I recall being this lost in high school and college as well.  It happens.  You survive.  Get help when you can.  I guess the good news is I don’t cry anymore when I get this frustrated–haha!


My little town

Today in class we did location-drawing brainstorming.  I’ve already done that two or three times and since I was allowed to, I drew up the town/area for my novel instead of my childhood.  The Hayden house where Angel lives is in the top left, and then everything else is mildly labeled.  It really helped to map this out.  On the back of the sheet I freewrote about the town in general hoping to point out things that aren’t obvious about small towns to readers who aren’t from one.  I kinda take it for granted.  In schools where there are under 150 in each class you end up knowing the name of most of the people in the class in front and behind you.  And you even know a good deal of the kids 2 years ahead and behind you.  People date younger/older people because there isn’t as much depth in each grade so it’s not a big deal.  I forget these things.

I got my two new jokes to work at open mic tonight including the one about America’s sick fascination with a woman’s “post-baby bod” (that’s sick, right?  Stop trying to be sexy and take care of your child two weeks after giving birth.)  The other is about how divorce couples act on Facebook.  A little dark, but that’s what the heart of comedy comes from.

It’s been great seeing more people posting lately.  I haven’t had a chance to read through them and I want to be able to give them my full reading attention.  But keep writing, you’ll be glad you logged these salad days.



Without Naming Names…

Our class rosters for next year are already on IC.  (No I can’t look up your schedule.)  They’re highly likely to change quite a bit, but I can already see problems (OK, I’ll name one name, no Austin yet), but there are other students who I’ve known since they were sophomores who I get along with, and I have a feeling they’ll clash with other students who I’ve known since they were sophomores and it’ll be like my friends in real life where I love them all, and they hate each other.  It’s important to keep rules consistent for everyone (not to mention I have golfers who I’ve known for 4 years), to avoid any trouble.

Wait until you hear all the changes I’m making as far as just freewriting!  Students will be in charge of the prompts after the first two or three weeks.  (Not the music, obviously, I can’t give up the 10 favorite minutes of the day).  I’ve doing research on how to improve attendance (absences and tardies), and establishing some strict ground rules on that.  Have a pass from a teacher?  Great!  Write me a half page why you were late still–I don’t care about yer stinkin’ pass!  hahahahaha

The Prettiest Song of the Year

Yes, this is the 4th blog today.  I must be procrastinating something.  Anyway, I heard this on XM after they interviewed the duo who made it.  It’s about how after so many years in love, spouses often turn against each other as rivals in things.  Such a sad concept that I hope to never reach, but I think it happens to a lot of married couples.  Anyway, give it a listen and try not to bawl.

(re)Revised draft of this essay about Beth’s miracle FINAL COPY

EDITOR’S NOTE: I worked on this another hour or two in class today because I couldn’t quite figure out what I was trying to say.  What was the point?  Plus I kept finding wording and phrasing I didn’t like.  Hopefully this is the final final…

What I’m really learning this summer is how hard of a task revision is, but I’m getting so much better at it.

Accepting a Miracle

By Rob Durham

My wife, Beth, talks in her sleep. She drifts in and out of consciousness like a cat under a sunbeam on a living room floor. One night, early in our marriage and after a long day of desperate job-hunting, she said a prayer before bed. “Dear God, thank you for the nice day, and thank you for all that we have. Please help my knee feel better, and if you could get back to me at 618-608-5048 I would appreciate it and hope to talk to you about this opportunity at your soonest convenience.”

I looked over at my wife–her eyes already shut and her hands still folded by her head–as she was completely unaware that she had just left a voicemail to God.

When we first started dating she scared me with a real voicemail. She mentioned that she had to go in for chemotherapy. According to her, when I called back I sounded so stunned that she wasn’t sure she’d ever see me again. After a little more communication, she explained that every six months or so she has chemotherapy to battle her rheumatoid arthritis. It wasn’t a big deal, and she got the next few days off of work, but if our relationship was to continue, it was something I needed to be able to deal with. I assured her a disease would never sway me from her because I was in love.

As Beth became a bigger part of my life, so did her condition. Bottles and bottles of pills, doctor appointments and blood work, and the grinding and cracking of joints whenever she walked around the apartment were all part of the norm. Her arthritis was a secret to others, because she was more active than anyone I’d ever met.  When we did tell close friends and family, they were surprised, but no one ever doubted the terrible news.

Her disease was not contagious, but her spirit was. On Saturday mornings I found myself gasping through her fitness classes. On top of her new full-time job, she also taught Pilates, spin, and my personal favorite, 5:45 a.m. boot camp where she let us experience pure pain while she howled her enthusiasm. “Just five more! You can do it!”

Around the time we were married, Beth ran her first half-marathon. I watched as she sobbed with pride on the homestretch during the final mile, the Arch guiding her towards the finish line.

Life isn’t a Nike commercial though. Eventually her joints worsened. We were terrified when her neck became infected and stiff. Her elbow no longer allowed her to continue the new hobbies she tried to pick up like golf and fencing. And her right knee–it was the worst. If her rheumatoid arthritis had a ground zero, it was her knee. “You shouldn’t run, you shouldn’t wear heels, you’ve got to take it easy,” and other requests by her doctor were usually ignored, and I wasn’t about to ban my wife from wearing her favorite shoes.

Beth still got up sometime in the four o’clock hour for her morning workouts. “It keeps me loose all day,” she explained. After work it was the same thing. “I don’t like to sit still. I lock up.” Despite all this fitness, her condition grew worse, and she had to have elbow surgery to move a nerve back into place.

Life continued, and long gone were the days of teaching fitness classes and running races. Doctors couldn’t help her knee. It was out of cartilage and filled with bone spurs. It swelled and her limping became more noticeable. Finally, as the leaves fell in 2016, she had it replaced. When we told people about it, they sympathized but never doubted the awful news.

My poor Beth was more than sure she wouldn’t survive the operation. “Am I dead?” were her first words upon waking up from the anesthesia.

I didn’t think I’d still be in my thirties when I finally had to attach tennis balls onto my wife’s walker. For weeks and weeks she suffered through the worst pains of her life wondering if the surgery was even worth it. However, the walker was replaced by a cane, and then eventually she was able to walk on her own again. After almost twenty years, she would be able to get from point A to point B without any discomfort. Or so we thought.

A month later with a new stride, she found the arthritis had been in her right foot all along. Previously masked by the limp of her knee, it was now ready to take its turn on her spirit. “I just wanted to be able to walk without pain,” she said. We were both devastated, but not surprised at the disappointing news.

In our culture, when you have a condition, you gain the “benefit” of everyone else becoming your medical advisor. Miracle cures, diet changes, and breakthrough science worked for so and so, maybe it would work for Beth. For two decades she was willing to try anything: a water diet that locked her body up for three days, holy water from a holy spot that did holy nothing, probiotic supplements, and even the frigid cryotherapy which led to an entire month of battling pneumonia. And yes, she tried going gluten-free.  It fascinated us how many people believed they had the answer.

Last December we attended mass on a Saturday evening at our usual church. The priest announced that anyone who wanted to, could stay for the anointing of the sick. My wife and two dozen senior citizens all took part in a brief ritual where the priest put oil on each person’s forehead and wrists, followed by a short prayer. He delivered each blessing with a precise sincerity.

On the way home Beth became emotional, so I asked why she was crying. “All of those people are sick,” she said. “They’re so old, and have so many things wrong with them. They’re the ones who needed it.” I tried to comfort her, but she couldn’t get over how many of them there were among us.

The following day, which was a Sunday afternoon, we relaxed by watching NFL games and drinking wine at the bar in our basement. Though we’ve discussed them, kids were never really part of our plan. Beth reiterated that she would never want a child to suffer through the daily pain she endured. Mid-sentence, her words froze and her fingers started tapping on the bar. Her hand began to fan the surface in front of her like she was wiping something away. “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone,” she repeated as the swiping of her hand increased. Finally, it reached her wine glass, knocking it to the floor. Stunned, I tried to get her over to the couch. She began to babble and could no longer form a sentence.

“W-w-w-what?” and other broken words spewed from her mouth.

We’ve done some crazy things after drinking on vacation over the years, and like I said, my wife talks in her sleep, but this seemed more intense.  One moment we were at the two-minute warning of a game, the next, she was convulsing on the couch.  Her back arched and her feet kicked while the stuttering words continued.  I thought she was talking in her sleep, but this was much more hostile.

I held her hand and then helped her upstairs, but she only collapsed on the living room floor. She stared through me and continued to babble.

“Did you eat anything?  Are you going to be okay?” I asked, but I was no longer there. She pushed past me and stumbled into the bathroom where her stutters became shouts of more shattered syllables.

Something was terrorizing her. “W-w-w-why? W-w-what d-d-do you w-w-want?”

A smart husband probably would’ve called 911, but for some reason it never felt like an emergency. I still can’t explain that to myself.  The thought to call for help never felt like the right thing to do. I just had to get her to fall asleep. Minutes later I heard her moving around in the bathroom. Her gibberish continued and it was even louder, “B-b-b-b–” and the same noises poured from her mouth. She was awake during a nightmare. I opened the door and guided her to towards our bedroom. She was aware of me again, but seemed extremely frightened. Why can’t she fall asleep and let this pass over?

“Don’t leave me,” she cried as I placed her head on her pillow. I held her until the trembling stopped, and then sat down as close as I could. Her body convulsed as if her waist was being pulled by strings. I held her hand as her back arched again.  She was still fighting.

I thought it was over when she fell asleep. A few minutes later, it all continued. Babbling, convulsing, and shaking. This went on for almost an hour though not as intense each time. Whatever she was battling might have been winning at first, but was starting to weaken.

I did my best to comfort her, and I never let go of her arm. She still couldn’t form a sentence to tell me what was wrong.

At last, she sat up. “He’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.” The same words that opened this spell, but this time she was lucid. I told her she was okay, and she finally fell asleep before the sun set on that Sunday in December.

We both slept through the night, and I woke up to my alarm at six to find her midway through her morning routine. She had woken up at 4:30, completed her workout, and was getting ready for work like any other weekday.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. Somehow I already knew the answer.

“Well, I finally stopped having those weird dreams.” She went to pick out the day’s shoes.

“That wasn’t a dream, Honey. You went through some really weird stuff yesterday.” How could I even explain it? “I bet you feel great though.”

“I do, how’d you know? I haven’t felt this good in–” she looked up to the ceiling, “since I was a kid.”

I confirmed my theory. “How are your joints then?”

She started bending her elbows and wrists. “I really don’t feel any pain today. At all.”

I decided to explain the events of yesterday with a little more detail. She kind of remembered a little, but didn’t know what to think of it.

“Do you think it has anything to do with the oil the priest put on you?”

Her eyes widened as she raised her hand to her mouth. “I didn’t even think about that.”  There was no placebo effect.

After twenty years of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, my wife was now in remission.

Beth refused to call any of her physician, because she wanted to see if she noticed anything different in her upcoming check-up. Her x-rays came back surprising her doctor. “We hadn’t x-rayed you in a decade, and not one thing looks any worse than it did back in 2006.”  There was no medical explanation.

What were we missing in all this? How did it happen? I wanted to believe it was as simple as it felt, but the reluctance was there. It’s not like God bats 1.000 for us in prayer requests. We’re told everything happens for a reason, but we’re never told why this time, but not that.

It felt like there was more to do. Do I share it on social media? Do I write to Guideposts? Do I find the lawn of a local university and start preaching the good word? What are we supposed to do with a miracle?

I tried to contact the priest from the service that night, but only got an email back from the deacon.  He chatted with us the following week after mass. “These things happen sometimes, but I’ve never heard of anything this dramatic. Just like accepting bad news, you have to realize to accept the good.” Why did we need further explanation?

I’ve told this story to close friends and family. Beth isn’t as keen on sharing, because she doesn’t want people to think she’s weird. Even our inner-circle of people showed some skepticism. It was a coincidence. There’s always a scientific explanation. The mind is a powerful thing. Whenever I shared the bits of bad news about Beth’s health, no one would ever debate the facts. Bad things happen all the time, right?

Had I told them all it took was a gluten-free diet or a really good chiropractor, they would’ve all nodded along and said, “Of course!”  That would’ve made sense to me too.

But what happens when that voicemail we leave is answered even when all we did was ask? Why are we afraid to share a miracle? Can we accept it as easily as the bad news? Are we afraid to jinx it?  If we can’t accept when good things happen, why do we ask for them in the first place?

No matter what you believe in, the tendency is often to think you don’t deserve a lot of what happens unexpectedly in life.  We’re led to believe that the universe is on some karma payment plan to logically reward or punish us based on our actions. You can’t guess as to what or when it will happen.  Miracles will be given to you, but at their soonest convenience.

College Advice

  1. Sleep– Dorm life can feel like one giant slumber party because even though there are “quiet hours” those aren’t really the same as lights out at your summer camps of childhood.  People stay up all night.  Establish with your roommate (you should have a roommate agreement with your RA in that first week, a la Sheldon Cooper), when you go to bed and expect the lights, TV, phone conversations, etc. to be done with.  Get your 8 hours in, because as boring as some of your high school classes were, a 90 minute lecture in a much more comfortable theater-type chair is VERY hard to stay awake during.  I had a method where I could rest my head and hold my pencil in my hand, and when I fell asleep in class, my pencil would drop and wake me up.  As I think back, I fell asleep in A LOT of classes–sheesh.
  2. Eat better.  The days of iron stomachs (inside and out) are nearing an end.  If you put on bad weight in high school, it’s because you probably didn’t sit down for dinner every night with the family.  You ate Chick-Filet, pizza, subway, etc. Cafeteria food is going to have healthy options and probably be really good (the days of bad cafeterias are long gone!), so eat there often on your meal plan rather than spending your Student ID money or other cash on pizza.  It’s tough because Papa John’s and other places will prey on dorms.  “We’ll deliver a large 1-topping pizza in 8 minutes for $5 on Monday!”  Fight it off.  Walk to the cafeteria.  And my gosh, use the gym at your school–they’re so nice now!  Even the new one at UMSL is amazing.  Once your start drinking (we’ll get to that soon), your stomach doesn’t work like it used to.  Just eat vegetables with your food, aight?  And try to avoid the unlimited soda at every meal.
  3.  Go to class.  Always–the rules are different.  Show up early.  It’s okay to sit up front.  Chat with your neighbor ahead of time.  People are as lonely as you.  At some schools, professors are still allowed to lock you out after class starts.  Forget all the BS of Rockwood’s standards-based grading.  There are no do-overs, late papers, etc. so handle your business.  Books–My biggest problem in my grades is that I didn’t read what was assigned.  At a university, you’re often supposed to teach yourself the material.  If books are too expensive at the bookstore (they will be), 99% of the time you can get away with the earlier edition of at half.com.  So if it’s your psych 101 class and the text book says 7th edition, try to find something 5th or 6th or even earlier.  Same stuff is in there.  There are math labs for extra help, as well as writing centers.  Use your resources!  They’re out there, the difference is no one is going to tell you to get help there, you must take initiative.
  4.  Time management–even though you’re in class for maybe 3 hours a day, it seems to backfire against you.  You get too much time, which means you can put things off until later.  When you have to walk a block or three to get to lunch, eat, and then come back, you’ll probably be ready to nap or Netflix instead of reading those 2 chapters you were assigned.  You’re given too much freedom and it’s all up to you on how you spend it, so the reason time management is hard is because of self-discipline.  If you’ve established this skill ahead of time though–this first year will be a breeze.  Other things happen though–new friends, new boyfriends/girlfriends, part-time jobs, exercise time and intramural sports–you’ve gotta be selfish when it comes to your studies.
  5. Cars on campus aren’t necessary.  At most schools they’ll make you park so far away it’ll be a chore to even get to it.  I made it until my senior year sans car.  Yes, once I was in an apartment, I had to carry groceries like a champ, but your first year you don’t really need one.  Stay on campus.  The parallel parking skills alone are possibly beyond you.  And tow trucks…they lurk everywhere around campuses.
  6. Your boyfriend/girlfriend who isn’t at school with you needs to be dumped.  Sorry, it’s over.  Especially if they’re still in high school.  If they’re off somewhere else, they’ll meet someone else before you do.  I’m sorry, it’s just the way it is.  No one is loyal at college.  There are too many other fish out there at too many parties with too many drinks.  Break it off with a semi-happy ending this summer, and if it’s meant to be, he/she will be around in a few years when you’re ready to be a grown-up.
  7. Money–Welcome to being thrifty!  Ween yourself off of whatever allowance ma and pa are giving you if they even are, and learn to budget.  DO NOT sign up for one of those credit cards they’ll be practically handing out on campus (“Fill out this application and we’ll give you a $50 gift card to blah blah blah even if you’re rejected!”).  Again, you’re being preyed on, and before you know it, you’re $2000 in the hole and your credit is screwed until you’re 27 years old (or later).  (If you haven’t already, read about starting your credit score.)  Spend what you have, and figure out ways to have fun that don’t involve a $6 drink whether that be Starbucks or a beverage you bought with your older sib’s ID.
  8. DO NOT START SMOKING–Why would you, right?  Well, nicotine feels good, and better when you’re drinking, and you just had the worst day, and you didn’t take my advice and you found out your boyfriend at KU is with some other chick–too bad, DO NOT START SMOKING.  It’s 2017, no one who you want to date/should date will like that about you.  Think about how 5th grade you would feel.
  9.  Be careful going out.  Take a friend.  When you drink, you say and do things you don’t normally do.  Yes, there are some funny stories that will happen, but I don’t know how many times I should’ve been beaten up for my dumbass behavior.  Why wasn’t I beaten up?  My 6’3″ 240 lb. friend named Marcus.  A few other times was just luck.  Plus the bad decisions you make.  I could be more specific, but I think you know where I’m going with this one.  If you have a friend who can’t handle drinking, stop going out with him or her.  Do not become a permanent babysitter. We’ve all seen videos of drunk college girls (and guys), right?  Plus you can actually injure yourself or catch the worst STD of all-time, a baby.
  10. I’ll stop at 10 before this gets any more TLDR.  There’s someone on campus to help you.  At Ohio State, I got 10 free therapy sessions a semester–turned my life around. There’s a medical center, so if something hurts, or doesn’t feel right, go check it out. Insurance will cover it.

Give everyone a chance.  Meet people completely different than you–that’s the secret to life.  Network and as you help people out, they’ll usually repay the favor.  I hope this helps some.  Don’t be afraid–you’re entering the most ($%&*-ing) fun era of your life!

Thinking is hard

Sometimes I make really stupid mistakes.  I think I had mentioned how my gift card from my golf team that was supposed to be $215 was only $25 and I had to contact someone about the receipt and we were set to meet at Deirberg’s to handle the expensive error.  On my way to Deirberg’s yesterday, it dawned on me–“Hey, one of your students gave you a $25 gift card.  Maybe you confused them, stupid!”

I did.  A dig through my wallet and a phone call later, I realized that yes, I had the $215 gift card in there all along.  I’m pretty sure I cussed myself out for a good hour after that, because I wasted someone else’s time.  At least I didn’t get all the way to to the Deirberg’s manager.

So I started lesson 7 of my novel revision last night (only 15 left!), and it’s a doozy.  I basically go through each different scene location in the entire book and note things I have, don’t have, etc.  I don’t quite understand the lesson (I never do after the first try), so I have to go post on a forum where hopefully someone answers me correctly.  This is the trouble and downfall of online classes.  You have to wait and wait for answers, and then if you have any follow-up questions, you have to wait for those too.  I’m an auditory learner, so that makes it even harder I think.  I’ll figure it out though.  I did last week’s lesson 6 in one sitting last night.  I looked up and it was almost midnight.

From what I can tell though, I’ll basically be rewriting the whole book scene by scene and everything in between at some point.  With each week I learn more of what I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

Speaking of, I’ll post about the college advice later on (probably tonight), so if you have any last questions, you can comment or email me (thanks to those who did!).

That’s Life

My best friend, who lives in Detroit now, just got engaged.  He’s been with her close to two years, and we went to the Bears game with them last fall.  She’s dying of cancer.  Her chest is covered in tumors and she doesn’t have long to live, so he bought her a huge ring and they’re doing the courthouse thing.  It’ll be her last happy moment in life.  It’s hard to even type this.  She was an incredibly nice woman who my wife got along with right away.

My other best friend is getting married in August.  His future wife officially became a doctor last night.

Life will deal you rough hands sometimes, and sometimes things work out.

Now fielding questions about college…

I forgot to give my unsolicited advice (isn’t it always?) on college this year!  My blogs have grown dull, so I’ll take questions and then answer them the best I can (you can leave comments or email me at durhamrobert@rsdmo.org).  I’ve spent the last 2 weeks at UMSL and Harris-Stowe and I feel sorry for, and yet somewhat envious, of the undergrad students.  I’ll give you a few days, so fire away.


In other news, my Kahoot game went over well in class this morning.  My second presentation is in about an hour, but it’s more just a lesson, not a presentation with formal stuff.  I hope it’s long enough.