Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hip Hop Write: A Metaphor

I'm a bit of a gym junkie, but I'm not an athlete. Working out just makes me feel better, especially as a middle-aged woman whose joints get a little stiff and whose biological clock stopped long ago. I like the way endorphins decrease my stress level, and at my age I'm concerned about bone density, which improves with weight training.

I prefer group exercise classes to working out alone, although I did hire  a personal trainer for six months when the Gold's gym opened as I know proper use of equipment improves my workout results. My trainer showed me how to use the complicated machines correctly and how to maintain proper physical form to maximize my workout results. 

Gold's Gym, Pocatello, Idaho
Recently, I've attended Hip Hop aerobics classes. Jen, an amazing instructor, helps me forget that I have two left feet. She teaches hip hop by doing hip hop and by breaking down the routine into manageable eight-count chunks.   

Jen is very pregnant, and I marvel at her ability to hip and hop while cueing the class and running around the fitness room. I rely on Jen working out with the class. She is my model, and my eyes follow her every hip thrust and box step. It's the only way I can make my limbs move.

Tuesday, however, Jen ran out of energy. I would, too, if I were a mere few weeks from delivery. About half-way through the class, Jen said, "I just can't do it today. I'm sorry, but all I can do is mark." 

Without Jen's example, without her to follow and model, I was lost. 

Working out in the group classes is like that. I need an instructor present and engaged in the exercise routine, whether the class is Kettle Bell Fitness, Tabata Boot Camp, Body Pump, Zumba, Body Combat, or Hip Hop. I'm lost without the teacher, and I choose classes at the gym based as much on the instructor as the time and class. I will avoid an instructor who treats the class as her personal training time or one whose physical form is flawed. 

Group fitness instructors are my mentors and role models. As a writing teacher, I need to model for my students, too. Writing teachers should be more like fitness instructors.

All of the classes at the gym offer modifications. For example, in Kettle Bell I use a 25 or 30 lb. weight, depending on the exercise, but when I began attending the class, I could only handle a 10 or 15 lb. weight. My skills have improved over time, and Monica, the instructor, graciously points out when I compromise my form. She pays specific attention to new class members. 

Body Pump, Body Combat
Writing teachers do something similar when we conference with students and when we write with them. Several of my favorite pedagogical works make this point, including Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle, What's the Big Idea? by Jim Burke, and Write This Way by Kelly Gallagher. It's the philosophy inherent in Jim Vopat's Writing Circles

Tabata, Kettle Bell,
Body Pump
My gym wouldn't consider suggesting members attend group exercise classes without a qualified, certified instructor. Indeed, at the gym an instructor may not even sub in a class without the proper credential, so the gym only has one Tabata and one Kettle Bell endorsed teacher: Monica. 

If having a qualified teacher present at the gym goes without question, how do our policy makers justify  the backlash against teachers that has resulted in unprecedented firings and a push toward online classes? 

Similarly, language arts teachers need to approach teaching writing with the same participatory philosophy we find at the gym. Without our example and direction, students too often flounder in their efforts to make sense of the various writing routines (read: modes) we teach. They become like me when I must go it alone at the gym, muddling through the motions but unable to maximize their writing workouts. 

It's time to hip hop write and move to the writing groove with our students. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

"The Color of Snow" by Brenda Stanley: Blog Tour Review

What do a gypsy curse and the celestial kingdom envisioned in Latter Day Saints theology have in common? And really what color is snow anyway?

These essential questions work in thematic harmony in Idaho writer Brenda Stanley's haunting novel The Color of Snow (2012 Tribute Books), which tells the story of Sophie, a beautiful young girl raised in isolation with her father Luke until her late teens and whom the press calls Caladora, the name given to her at birth by her paternal grandfather. 

When the only past one knows comes from the oral history told by one's father, what's a girl who has known no other human contact for most of her life to believe? Haunted by the tragic stories her father tells to protect her from the gypsy curse her maternal grandmother cast on a powerful and rich rancher, Sophie discovers shocking truths about her mother's untimely death, her father's role in a near-fatal shooting, and her own culpability in perpetuating family tragedies. For with each new revelation about the past, another premature death seemingly follows the curse.

Sophie's world is turned upside down when she is forced to leave the only home she has known in the Arbon Valley and move to Malad, Idaho. There her paternal grandmother shares yet another version of truth, one grounded in mystic teachings about being reunited with the mother she never knew. Which version of reality will Sophie choose?

The Color of Snow takes readers on an intense geographical journey as well as a psychological one. Several eastern Idaho towns figure prominently in the novel, including Malad, in the far southeastern corner of the state; Pocatello, north of Malad where Interstates 15 and 84 converge; and the Arbon Valley and American Falls area west of Pocatello. In my mind these three points form a triangle that function as bisecting angles on Sophie's geographical journey, although she does travel to Boise once.

Arbon Valley, Idaho (Google image)
This triangular geography reminds me of an historic area in Pocatello called "The Triangle," which created geographic and racial boundaries in the town during the heyday of the Union Pacific Railroad. 

I see these two triangles functioning metaphorically in The Color of Snow, although whether or not the author penned the novel this way by design is in question. Yet the geography isolates and divides on cultural and racial lines, and Stanley gently reminds readers of subtle racism against Mexican agricultural workers in the Arbon Valley scenes.

She extends the critique to religious bigotry that can work in subtle and overt ways. This is an important talking point this election cycle as our next president may, indeed, be LDS, and to many observers, the religion is one that creates similar geographic and cultural boundaries through its theology. That Stanley omits many important details about the religion is a regretable omission.

The further a reader journeys into the novel, the more mesmerized and surprised she becomes with the myriad twists and turns in the plot. The alternating first and third points of view and the flashbacks to the past that alternate with Sophie's first person present narration keep the various plot threads clipping suspensefully along. However, I would like to have seen more atmospheric elements in the descriptions as at times these would have heightened the suspense even more and given the book a moody Gothic feel.

The English teacher in me appreciates the attention to irony and the reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, although I would have liked to read more about why Sophie loves Harper Lee's classic. Additionally, I favor syntactical structures that rely less on being verbs and more on action verbs to increase the reader's sense of immediacy. That said, I noticed the being verbs less as I read deeper into the book.

Although The Color of Snow is classified as a Young Adult novel, it reads more like a haunting romance in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier, minus the ocean cliffs and gabled houses.  I suspect the genre label comes primarily from the protagonist's and other major characters' ages. Still, it's a novel older students will enjoy as will adults. It's a perfect beach read for tech savvy readers tethered to their Kindles and Nooks.

So what do a gypsy curse and the celestial kingdom envisioned in Latter Day Saints theology have in common? And really what color is snow anyway? There's the rub. We each learn various versions of the truth. Through fiction we find answers. All we have to do is look far enough into the horizon and deep enough into a book. You didn't really think I'd tell you, did you? 

Favorite/Most Provocative Lines: 

Being a teenage boy and Greek Orghodox in the solitary village, was like being a piece of coal dropped in the center of a snowfield.

I believe that you do the right things for this life, not for some afterlife.

One of these days you are going to wake up and realize you've gone from one cage to another, and that's no way to live.

Faith will suck every last  ounce of common sense from you.

Sometimes the people you think you can trust are the ones you should run from.

People need religion because they need something to blame terrible things on, or give credit for the good. It's used to make people feel guilty so they do what's right. I admit it often works but that doesn't mean it's true. 

I was being bounce around the dance floor in a wicked game of pinball.

Dead people must spend a lot of time looking out at what is going on without them.

Mirrors are the devil's portal to the soul...

No matter how hard and terrible life may seem, there is always a reason to go on. 

Things aren't always what they seem, and just because you were taught or told something doesn't mean it's true.

For the first time in my life I was anonymous, and it was liberating. 

*The following information is provided courtesy of Tribute Books: 

The Color of Snow Summary

Can a troubled young girl reenter society after living in isolation?

When a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Sophie is found sequestered in a cage-like room in a rundown house in the desolate hills of Arbon Valley, Idaho, the entire community is shocked to learn she is the legendary Callidora--a baby girl who was kidnapped from her crib almost seventeen years ago and canonized in missing posters with portraits of what the fabled girl might resemble. Authorities soon learn that the cage was there to protect people from Sophie, because her biological father believes she is cursed.

Sophie is discovered after the man she knows as Papa, shoots and injures Damien, a young man who is trying to rescue her. Now, unsocialized and thrust into the world, and into a family she has never met, Sophie must decide whether she should accept her Papa’s claims that she is cursed and he was only trying to protect others, or trust the new people in her life who have their own agendas. Guided by a wise cousin, Sophie realizes that her most heartbreaking challenge is to decide if her love for Damien will destroy him like her Papa claims, or free her from past demons that haunt her mind.

Brenda Stanley's Bio:

Brenda Stanley is the former news anchor at her NBC affiliate KPVI in Eastern Iadho. Her writing has been recognized by the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Hearst Journalism Awards, the Idaho Press Club and the Society for Professional Journalists. She is a graduate of Dixie College in St. George, Utah, and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Brenda lived for two years in Ballard, Utah, within the Fort Duchesne reservation where the novel is set. She and her husband live on a small ranch near the Snake River with their horses and dogs.

Helpful Links and Information:       
Author Brenda Stanley

#thecolorofshow on Twitter


Brenda Stanley on Facebook 

Brenda Stanley Goodreads fan page

ISBN: 9780983741893
ISBN: 9781476172309
Pages: 413
Release: June 1, 2012