Thursday, July 26

School of Life

My parents made sure I knew that education was the key to success in America. My father and his family were from Russia, and he grew up really poor--like no food on the table poor--and my mother was from an American family, but she was never really given the option, I don't think, to go to college. Girls went to secretarial school back then or got married.

So doing well in school was THE most important thing in my house. My father is an atheist, so we didn't go to church. We didn't play sports. We studied. I skipped a couple of grades, graduated early, got a scholarship to a private university. Seems like Dad's plan worked.

But the thing is, the BIGGER thing is, my father also sneered at education. He told me from the time I was in third grade that my teachers weren't ANY smarter than I was. They just happened to go to school for teaching. So I should never be intimidated by them, I should ALWAYS question their authority. And I shouldn't believe anything they told me unless I verified it from independent sources and formed my own opinion. Also sensible--I mean, you can't believe history books all the time. You can't believe anything--you have to search for your own truth.

However, what was really important in terms of school was I was educated in the school of life. My father made me read the NY Times every day from the time I was in first grade . . . I HAD to read a paper each day. My mother didn't just read--she devoured books. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV at all--but books overflowed from my nightstand.

My father was a classic pain in the a**. If you had an opinion, you had to defend it. And woe to you if you formed some kind of snap judgment of war or politics without a solid basis to defend your beliefs.

So when I look back on my education, granted it was a little unconventional, but the message I got was the school was important, but education was more important, even, than school. The piece of paper is important--but it's nothing if you just grab it without having LEARNED in the process.

How about you? What did you learn from the school of life?

Sunday, July 22

Fun Health

I'm jumping in here a day late (sorry!) but I've been in a remote Alaskan lodge and its surrounding lakes and rivers for the past week and am just now getting back to a computer. So if you don't mind, I'm going to take you back to last week's subject of Health for a spell and then we can get back to what Lauren, Jen, and Erica are discussing this week.

When I was in Alaska, I got to hang out with a beautiful lady named Judy, who lives in Achorage. We went kayacking and she told me about how she and about 30 of her girlfriends have something active planned for every single day of the year. They do miss days from time to time, but there's always something going on so no one has the excuse (or luxury) of saying "there's nothing to do." They go mountain biking, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, boating, snow mobiling, running, walking, hiking, climbing, etc, etc.

I'm going to be honest with you. I'm in an exercise rut. I bought a punch card at a new gym that's only 10 minutes away (that's very close because I live in the country), and I've only been able to go to power yoga twice. I have three little boys, and finding someone to take all three is nearly impossible. Not to mention I'm totally behind on my writing and I'm planning a writers' conference for October, and time is getting away from me.

So I asked Judy if she was this physically active when her two boys were little. She said no, and that my time would come. That made me feel better. So I'm going to do whatever exercise I can (like jumping on the trampoline with my boys), when I can (like when the baby's sleeping and the laundry's drying), and enjoy my kids and my writing. Because another important part of health is being happy. :)

Talking about the Summer???

It's probably no surprise that my favorite subjects in school all had to do with reading and writing. But I wasn't always an A student in every subject. In fourth grade, having transferred midyear to a new school, my science teacher sent a note home saying, "Lauren doesn't seem to have a clue as to what is going on." And later, in high school, I had one teacher tell me I'd never go anywhere in life because I couldn't take proper instruction. A guidance instructor at the same school, dismayed that I'd only applied to three colleges, all of them good colleges, urged me to apply as well to a rinky-dink school. Clearly, he didn't believe I'd get into any of the places I'd chosen. Well, I refused to apply to the rinky-dink school, telling him if I couldn't get into any of my three choices I didn't want to go anywhere. I got into all three, proving that sometimes people's low opinions of you are just plain wrong. And I would add that one of life's best revenges against naysayers is to go on to be a success in your chosen field. My chosen field is writing, and while I may not have the commercial success of a Meg Cabot or the literary success of an Ian McEwan, I've had seven books published since 2003 with at least five more due out in 2008, making me feel successful enough, even if it's just me thinking that.

But returning to my favorite subject in school, I did indeed love English and I used to get a thrill at the idea that homework could actually consist of reading great books, and I loved writing. I often credit my eighth-grade English teacher with first putting the idea in my head that I could be a writer. We'd been given an assignment to write stories that had to use three seemingly disparate elements - a priest, a nun and a camel - and I wrote a steamy little tale ala The Thorn Birds. My teacher liked it so much, he had me read it to the class three days straight, which probably made them get sick of it but did succeed in making me believe that maybe I had stories to tell that people would want to hear. Later, in high school, a school where I was mostly classified as a loser because I refused to fit neatly into any one defined group, I took the one Creative Writing course they offered. Again, a teacher fell in love with one of my stories, only in this instance she was the one who read it aloud. My classmates loved that story and it was only after she'd read it that the teacher revealed I was the writer. I could feel thirty heads swivel in my direction. Did it make me instantly popular? No. But every time we were in that class, every time I ran into any of those thirty kids outside of that class, I would catch them looking at me differently. Apparently, they were seeing something more in me than what they'd seen before.

Writing, reading - no one will ever convince me you can be good at the former if you haven't done a lot of the latter. And my favorite reading experience in school? Discovering Shakespeare. It wasn't a direct journey. In high school, we read one or two plays, but it was tough to get excited about anything that came with so many footnotes. Then, in college, I signed up for Shakespeare I. The professor was just plain awful. He'd come to class and just read from his podium - he was not a good reader - doing nothing to bring the material to life. It was only by some grace of the universe that I'd signed up for Shakespeare II before realizing how much I wasn't enjoying myself and then being too lazy to drop the second class. Good thing. My new professor was one of those magical teachers everyone should encounter at least once during their education. He made it all come alive. He made me see Merchant of Venice clearly - not as an anti-Semitic play, but rather as the indictment of the prejudiced Europe of its time that it is. He made me want to sit at a table with Falstaff and Hal, raising a tankard to England. And when he closed out The Tempest with its Epilogue, "But release me from my bands, With the help of your good hands...As you from crimes would pardon'd be/Let your indulgence set me free" - Shakespeare's plea for the audience to put their hands together and clap him into retirement - I listened with tears in my eyes, sad that the plays and the class and my time with this magificent teacher were at an end, happy that I'd been granted the opportunity to take the journey. My love of Shakespeare didn't end there - indeed, I used money from my first paycheck upon graduation to purchase the one-volume complete set of The Globe Shakespeare that I still have twenty-four years later. My love for the Bard has never wavered and I fully accept Harold Bloom's thesis that Shakespeare invented us.

So what are the morals of my ramblings today:

1) you don't have to accept other people's low opinion of your potential

2) a good teacher can make all the difference in the world

And now I've gassed on enough for one day, so if you will let your indulgence set me free, I'll simply close with the questions:


Thursday, July 19

Fast Food Kingdoms

I wish I could say I was health conscience during high school, but I wasn't. I played sports for a couple of years until I moved to a new school and my new friends weren't exactly pro-sports. :)

One thing that didn't change with the move was that I was a total junk food connoisseur. If a food restaurant had a drive-through, I'd probably been through it. heh.

My top faves: Mickey D's, Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy's.

And still I have my weak moments and revisit these know, for the memories.

Here were my favorite meals from these Fast Food Kingdoms:
Mickey D's: Big Mac (hold the pickles), fries and a coke.

Taco Bell: Big Beef Burrito Supreme or Mexican Pizza or Nacho Supreme, with a coke.

Burger King: Whopper with cheese (hold the pickles), fries, and a coke.

Wendy's: Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, and a coke.

These days, I've come to my senses--as much as I'm able ;)--and order salads. There's one fast food kingdom I've been waiting for years to open, though. A chain of Pizza By The Slice drive-throughs. I mean, come on, think of the bank someone could make!

Fess up, which was/is your fave fast food drive-through?

Monday, July 16

Nicole's baby and you

Okay, I'm sure I'm not the only one worried about Nicole's baby. There are the drugs, the ciggies, the alcohol, the lack of food...

I'm really hopin' all you teen readers out there don't think looking like Nicole is worth it. (And does anybody even think she looks good and not like a sickly bird?)

There was a time, when I was in my teens and dancin' (ballet) up a storm, lunch consisted of diet pop and an orange. I don't think I had full-fledged anorexia (didn't last long--I think I got too hungry), but it was pretty darn close.

I think we all make at least one big health-related mistake during our teens. The trick is realizing when things have gone too far (I think I just got too hungry) and facing the fact that what you do now could have repercussions later--even activities you think are harmless.

I've seen too many pot smokers suffer from a combination of short and long-term memory loss. I've seen too many smokers in general get cancer. I've seen drinkers get fat, depressed, and suffer from liver damage. I myself suffer from osteopaenia (next stop, osteoporosis) as a result of calcium deficiency. (My doctor told me it's the amount you ingest in your teens that's all important. Whoops.)

Yuck, I'm sounding all old and preachy--I'm probably causing some teen to pick up a ciggie just to stick it (ha-ha) to me! So tell me, wise writers and teen readers, how do we spread the living healthy message to teens? Let's explore!


Friday, July 13

Best Friends Forever...

What is it about some friends, that you needn't see each other for years yet the relationship is as tight as it's ever been?

I experienced this recently when I went back to the UK. I met up with my very good friend Louise - we've known each other since age 11 and have been friends from age 16. Despite not having seen or been in contact with each other for three years (the last time I went back) it felt like only a week ago. Our conversation flowed, we talked about everything... and I mean everything. And not only that, I gave her a hug... which she was very excited about. I didn't used to do hugging but in NZ everyone hugs so I had to learn to do it.

What about you, do you have any lasting friendships that have stood the test of time?

Thursday, July 12

Reelin’ in the Years

This week’s topic is relationships, and honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. My life is pretty much ruled by relationships, my books are about relationships, and all of my memories, trailing back as far as I can remember are framed by relationships—being more about who I was with, than where I was or what we were actually doing.

I used to assume it was this way for everyone, until a few years ago when I caught up with an old high school acquaintance. As I sat across from her, reminiscing about one wild time after another, I started to squirm when I noticed how she wasn’t exactly joining in. And just as I wondered if I’d somehow imagined it all, or confused her with someone else, she confided that her memories were organized by the events themselves, that the people she’d been with at the time were merely incidental.

For me it’s the opposite. There was the friend who taught me to ride a horse, the one who shared my love of fashion and Adam Ant (um, it was the 80’s what can I say?), the one I went to concerts with, the one I went to art galleries with, the one I hung in LA with, the one I traveled all over Europe with, the one who taught me to drive a stick shift, the one who’s responsible for me meeting my husband—and even though a few of those old friends are MIA, I’m happy to say that through the grace of e-mail, myspace, and, I’ve managed to stay in touch with most all of them, and every time we get together, it’s as though nothing has changed. Because even though our lives may have gone in (drastically!) different directions, the memories that bond us together remain, shaping us in ways I never could’ve imagined at the time.

What about you—are your memories based more on events, or relationships?
KISS & BLOG- “A definite winner!” -TeensReadToo. In stores now!
SAVING ZOE- “5 STARS—GOLD AWARD.” –TeensReadToo Coming September 2007

Tuesday, July 3

Entertainment - for teenagers!

What's a teen to do on the weekends?

When I was a teen - especially before I had my drivers license, my friends and I had a hard time figuring out what to do on weekends. We felt there was a limited amount of fun to be had. Here were the choices:
Go to a movie
Go bowling
Go eat
Go to the beach (only in summer - we live in Chicago)
Hang out at someone's house (which was usually Wendi's house because she had a kitchen that was carpeted - great to sit, eat, and hang out)
When hanging out with friends, we did the bowling/movie thing a lot. But when I got a boyfriend, life changed. Now to be added was trying to find a place we could be alone, just the two of us. Insert drive-in movie theatre. Those killed two birds with one stone...seeing a movie and being alone. The movie theatre by my house closed down and I don't even know where one is anymore.
I forgot to mention Great America, the adventure park near where I lived. It would have been great to go there, except I'm afraid of roller coasters. In fact, I think I'd pass out if I went on one.
For teens out there, what unique activities can you come up with for entertainment? With friends and with dates?
Let's help our teen readers figure out what to do!
~Simone Elkeles
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation nominated as a Top Ten Teen book by the American Library Association!
Leaving Paradise a Book Sense 2007 summer pick!
How to Ruin my Teenage Life, the anticipated sequel to How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, is in bookstores now!