Saturday, October 14, 2017

My narrative nonfiction example

My students are working on an assignment in which they have to interview someone and then use that interview as the basis for their own narrative nonfiction piece. They were having a hard time with the assignment, so I wrote my own example.


When the woman who would someday become Michael’s wife first asked him what he planned to do after college, he said, “Become an audio engineer.” An infinitely more cool answer than what he actually became: a computer programmer.

Michael had decided to become an audio engineer while he was still in high school. In middle school, he’d started his first band (Burnt Toast), and after a few years of performing at middle school talent shows, for high school bashes, and in friend’s garages with a revolving cast of bandmates, his mom brought him a brochure advertising Middle Tennessee State University’s renowned audio engineering program and said, “This looks like what you want to do.”

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”

As a teenager, his life revolved around music. In addition to the successive string of garage bands, he played percussion in the marching band and bass in the jazz band. In middle school, he’d discovered grunge, and later he’d gotten into emo - real emo, not the watered-down, pop-punk emo wannabes that became popular in the early 2000s, but the underground emo that emerged out of hardcore punk in the 90s. Bands like The Get Up Kids, Jets to Brazil, Hum, and Sunny Day Real Estate. He grew his hair long - all the best rock stars had long hair - and it was so soft and shiny that his friends started calling him Pantene. His parents were proud of his musical endeavors, but they hated his long hair. “If you don’t cut it off,” his dad would threaten, “then I will.”

The first week of college, Michael met the most annoying person he’d ever known, a guy named Patrick, who lived on the same hallway in his dorm. Despite his annoyance, Michael and Patrick ended up in an overlapping circle of friends, and eventually, Michael could tolerate Patrick, then they sort of became friends, and then they decided to start a band together. They added a drummer (Brian) and a bass player (Lee), and Michael’s longest running band, Skipping Mad, was born.

Their original practice space - in an old run-down warehouse down by the railroad tracks - had a true struggling band vibe: dirty and smelly with barely-working electricity. At first, they shared a space with another band, but soon they started playing more gigs and practicing more often, so they rented their own space. After a year or so, Patrick and Brian moved into a rental house with a large, finished garage, so they covered the walls with eggshell foam to dampen the sound and turned it into a practice space/recording studio.

Over the years, they were able to record several EPs and one full-length album. Michael and Patrick took songwriting lead, taking turns bringing the band half-written pieces of songs that they would then flesh out into full songs. Maybe Michael would start out with a verse and a chorus or Patrick would bring a guitar riff, and then together, the band would mess around with the music to see if they could mold it into something they all liked. Usually, the person who wrote the lyrics would take lead on vocals while the other person was free to experiment with harmonies and counter-vocals. Because all four members of the band had differing musical backgrounds and contrasting tastes in music - Brian preferred heavy metal while Patrick had a singer/songwriter bent - Skipping Mad ended up with an eclectic, hard-to-define sound that some compared to Failure and others to the Beatles. One friend commented that Skipping Mad reminded him of a cross between Tool and REM.

When they released their full-length album, Skipping Mad booked a show at a local club in Murfreesboro and invited some of their favorite local bands to play with them. Skipping Mad had been the headlining band several times before, but since this was their CD release party, it felt different to Michael. The club was packed with friends and fans. Michael remembers feeling excited and hopeful that they could make a go of it - that they had a chance to be a real band.


When Michael met the woman who would someday become his wife, they were performing at a church talent show. He and his brother were scheduled to perform first, and since she was performing second, they began chitchatting backstage. “I’m studying to become an audio engineer,” he told her.

Three weeks later, they met again at a church dance on a riverboat. Since neither one of them liked to dance, they stood off to the side, talking - first with a group, then by themselves, through a few songs, and then the whole night. He told her, “Just this week, I switched my major to computer programming.”

“Really? Why?” she asked, a little let down that this cool, guitar-playing, future audio engineer was secretly a computer nerd.

But his answer won her over: “Everyone I know that has gone into audio engineering, all they do now is go around getting people coffee, and to sacrifice like that and to spend two or three years running errands for a studio without much to show for it, well obviously you can't start a family when you're just running around getting people coffee.”

Nine months later, they were married. Two years after that, they started a family.

At first, even after they were married, he tried to keep the band going. For the first year, he was still in college, and she supported them both on her full-time salary, even paying the bulk of the recording costs for Skipping Mad’s album. They spent several nights a week at the practice space and every weekend at a bar or club. She was his biggest fan, the band’s most reliable groupie. She mouthed the words to every song and cringed at their tiniest mistakes - the kind of miniscule mix-ups that only a person who had heard the same song a thousand times could notice.

When she was pregnant with their son Cole, she continued to show up for every rehearsal and performance, hiding in corners to protect her bulging belly from drunken fratboys and second-hand smoke. They hoped that even after Cole was born, they’d be able to keep up the rock star lifestyle. It would probably take a few weeks, maybe months, to adjust, but eventually, they’d figure out. But the first time they left Cole with a babysitter, he refused to take a bottle and screamed the whole night. “You have a terrible baby,” their friend announced when they picked him up. After that, Michael kept up the rock star lifestyle alone.

By the time Cole was six months old, Michael had been working a lousy part-time job for a year, but his wife’s job still paid the bulk of their bills. She had an hour-long commute, felt exhausted all the time, and longed for more time with her baby boy. “I can’t do this anymore,” she told Michael. “You can be in a band if you want, but during the day, you have to get a real job.”

All of the members of Skipping Mad had been in indecisive limbo for awhile. As recent college graduates, they were struggling to decide the direction they wanted the band to go - either take it seriously, record another album, go on tour… or give it up. When they saw Michael struggling to make up his mind, it was the last straw for them all. Brian announced that he was moving back to Oklahoma, and Michael landed a computer programming job at a startup in Washington, DC.


The woman who became his wife knew within their first few dates that Michael was the man who would become her husband. How could she not be smitten? He wore Rivers Cuomo glasses, had gorgeous sideburns, and played the guitar in a rock band…

Today, he wears math humor t-shirts, has a full beard, and lets his guitar gather dust in the basement. He looks like a computer programmer.

But he’s turned a room in their basement into a practice space, bought one kid a drum set and another a bass, and lectures all three kids about real emo on every road trip.

One day recently, Cole announced to his mom that he had figured out what he wants to be when he grows up: “A hip-hop star.”

“Really?” she asked incredulously, eying her white, middle class, suburban son. “I didn’t know you even liked hip-hop.”

“I don’t, not really,” he replied. “Mostly, I want to make the music that’s in the background of the songs.”

A few days later, recounting the story to Michael, his wife stopped mid-sentence, understanding crossing her face. “Oh, Michael,” she said. “I just realized what Cole wants to be when he grows audio engineer.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Well, he did it


Massanutten 2017


We spent another spring break at our timeshare in Virginia. Mostly, we kept it real low key, watched a lot of HGTV and Cartoon Network, read some books, played some games, and slept. But we through in a few other activities to spice up the week.

Fling Golf


Massanutten 2017
Massanutten 2017


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Eli's Birthday

Massanutten 2017

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nine Questions with Michael and Erin Peters

Vox has a series where they ask prominent figures in American society nine questions. I think they're interesting questions, so Michael and I answered them.

What’s the first piece of media you consume every day?

ERIN: I listen to podcasts on my way to work. 

MICHAEL: podcasts

Name a writer or publication you disagree with but still read.

ERIN: A little more than a year ago, confused by Trump's rise toward the presidency, I began reading National Review online. After the election, I subscribed to the print version as well. A lot of the times I'm horrified by the things they say (and even more horrified that they don't think there's anything wrong with saying it), but I also think they occasionally make good points and present a refreshing flip side to the mainstream media coverage. At the same time, anytime I've taken a National Review with me out in public, I've been too self-conscious to pull it out of my purse.

MICHAEL: Robert Rush. He's an economist that worked in the Clinton administration. He has some good insights on things but can be too partisan.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?

ERIN: Thomas Jefferson, even though he and I recently had a falling out.

MICHAEL: Tim Hartford. He wrote The Undercover Economist, and I think he does a good job explaining where markets do a good job and where they don't do a good job in the world.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?

ERIN: I recently listened to a TED talk about how scientists need to revise how they teach people about science, and I realized that all of the arguments I've had with Michael over the years about why I don't have faith in science are really because my science teachers did a bad job of teaching what science really is. 

MICHAEL: I recently changed my mind about Java being a horrible programming language. Now I just think it's mildly annoying.

What’s your worst intellectual habit?

ERIN:  Even though Facebook's algorithms have turned my Facebook feed into a boring stream of memes and status updates from people I don't even know, I can't convince myself to stop getting on Facebook.

MICHAEL: Confirmation bias.

What inspires you to learn?

ERIN: Everything is awesome.

MICHAEL: That's a hard one because I just enjoy learning. How do you get inspired to do something that you just like doing?

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?

ERIN: That people are basically good. I don't actually believe it, but since I need to believe it, I lie to myself daily.

MICHAEL: That most people are trying to do what they think is right.

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?

ERIN: Mormonism?

MICHAEL: The saxophone is a horrible instrument.

What book have you recommended the most?

ERIN: A Monster Calls.

MICHAEL: The Name of the Wind.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sibling Wars

SIBLING WAR! Answer how YOU feel about you and your siblings.

1.Who's the smartest one? Dad
2. Most spoiled? Rylan
3. Most sensitive? Rylan
4. Worst temper?  Cole
5. Most social?  Rylan is a Chatterbox
6. Most stubborn?  Cole
7. Most organized? Not Rylan!!!!!
8. Best cook?  Cole makes delicious cookies. Eli makes delicious smoothies and milkshakes.
9. Who's the funniest?  Eli
10. Who was the bad kid? Cole was the worst baby. Rylan was the best baby.
11. Who has the biggest heart?  Eli got the Team Player Award for Outstanding Cooperation at his 6th graduation. Basically, kindest student in the 6th grade. I could not have been prouder.
12. Who's the quietest? Eli
13. Who's the worst driver? Rylan is the only one who has any interest in cars.
14. Who was born 1st? Cole
15. Who is better at sports? Mom. Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!
16. Best hair? Rylan at 6 months
17. Most kids?  Tied at zero for at least 15 more years
18. Coffee drinker? None unless they are sneaky
19. Who is loudest? Rylan
20. Who is most conservative? Cole says he is most liberal in wanting changes in the parental government.
21. Most expensive taste?  Cole currently has an obsession with buying Adidas and Nike.
22. Who's the tallest? Cole for now.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Krispy Kreme Challenge 2017

I ran the Krispy Kreme challenge again this year, and Michael decided to run as well. It was a cold day in February, but we both survived.




Thursday, January 19, 2017

1/19/17 (Distracting myself from thinking about the inauguration by worrying about other things instead)

Do y'all remember that horrible viral video that was going around a couple years ago where the school resource officer was called into a classroom to remove a stubborn student, and he ended up throwing her across the room? And afterward, how there were a bunch of people commenting about the girl's home life and criticizing the teacher for not being more aware of the girl's personal problems because if the dang teacher had just called home he would have known to handle the situation more sensitively and it all could have been avoided? Thinking about that today...
In just the past couple of weeks, I've had students uncharacteristically come into class, put their head down, and refuse to work. I've had students disappear from school for a few days with no explanation. I have a senior that I've begged to stay after school with me to bring up his grade, and he never shows. I have a student that I know is functionally illiterate and scared to death that his peers will figure it out, and I'm plagued by the fact that there is so little I can do. I have a student with 20+ absences and a baby at home who just got suspended for who knows what. I worry about every single one of them every single day. But I have 75 students.
As a teacher, there's a constant nagging worry that the time you choose to nurture your personal life or your family life rather than making sacrifices for your students - that's the time it will turn out that you've neglected a student who really needed you. There's this constant pressure as a teacher to save every single child who passes through your classroom. But you can't. You just can't.
The SRO behaved badly, the teacher didn't handle the situation exactly right, but's really complicated.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snow Week 2017

2 Facebook posts from the 2017 snowpocalypse:

January 7: I don't understand people who mock the South for our inability to handle snow. I mean, you Northerners go ahead and pat yourselves on the back for your ability to drive in snow while I spend the next 48 hours lying in bed drinking hot cocoa and watching a Gilmore Girls marathon.


Two days later: Dear snow and ice, I've enjoyed the lazy days we've spent together, but now I need to be able to back out of my driveway. It's time for you to go.





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