How to Print Essays at the Convenience Store

netprintAs usual when I teach, I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them.  Last week, the first draft of their essays was due.  Most of these kids are either in a home-stay situation or in a dorm, neither of which allows much access to a printer, so they ran to the computer center at school to print out their essays.  However, a few of the students had their essays ready, so I asked them about their method of printing. It turns out that the convenience stores, which are omnipresent in Tokyo, have a system called NetPrint.

The first step is to pick your favorite brand of convenience store – most likely the one closest to your house. Then go on their website, which will be only in Japanese, to sign up for a NetPrint account.  Once you are signed up, you can upload whatever type of document you want to the site and in return, you will get a confirmation ID.

Then you can go to any convenience store at which you have signed up for an account.  So if you’ve signed up for the Lawsons account because it’s closest to your house, you can use the Lawsons store right by your office or school as well.  It’s only one program for every branch of the shop.

The NetPrint machines in the shops often speak a little English on their touch-screens.  All you have to do is enter your confirmation number and the document you’ve uploaded will print.  You can’t edit from the convenience store machine, but you can change some formatting.  If you don’t upload the document, but have it on a USB key in PDF format, that’s okay too.  You can’t print a .doc or .xls, but you can print a PDF from the key.

You pay right at the machine, inserting coins as needed. It’s 10 yen ($.10) per page for black and white, 20 yen ($.20) per page for color.

To my students, I say sorry – no more excuses for an unprinted essay.  To everyone else, I say, geez, I love this city.  What a system!

Education – A Privilege

AUW logo with white backgroundYesterday the Japan Support Group for the Asian University for Women (AUW) held a film screening to benefit the university.  The film, a PBS documentary, “Peace Unveiled” which is part of the series “Women, War and Peace” showed how women are fighting to have a voice in the politics against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It is the exemplary work of filmmaker Abigail Disney and it reaffirms the commitment of American Public Broadcasting to bring the issues to the community.

The stars of the day, however, were the two young women, second-year-students at AUW, who flew from Chitagong, Bangladesh to be with us.  They, along with the vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Fahima Aziz, talked about the school, the opportunities it offers and truly gave the audience a taste of the bravery it takes to commit to an education outside of one’s home country when gender issues are rife in the area of the world from which they hail.  One of the girls is from Afghanistan, and she talked about the opportunity to learn as well as the very political and strong act of writing. Writing one’s story, she said, is as important as getting into politics. She, who essentially fled the Taliban and grew up in a refugee camp, has discovered her voice.   The other young woman is from Nepal.  She talked about learning not only the lessons her wonderful, international teachers teach her, but also about finding herself and being a role model for the girls of her home village.

Dr. Aziz, committed fully to the needs of these young women, spoke passionately about the students, their abilities and their hard work. From her I heard how every day is something new and different – these girls  appreciate everything they see and have and do. She talked about the girls’ internships, learning experiences, and leadership. They all have such very bright futures.

The entire afternoon was an inspiration.

My children were in the audience, and later, we were able to talk about how lucky they are to have the opportunity to go to such wonderful schools in Tokyo now, and the presumed university educations in their future.  Education is something to appreciate, not take for granted.

Thank you AUW, Dr. Aziz, Raihana and Rasani for being an inspiration to us all.

Happiness is a DESK

writingpicTo be filed under “news of the new year,” I am teaching again at Temple University’s Japan (TUJ) campus.  Writing at teaching writing are my passions; they’re the two things that get my blood flowing and can bring me to a boil in seconds.  My husband likes to quote from the movie “The Flamingo Kid” when he says, “In life, there are things that you like doing and there are things that you’re good at.  If God is smiling at you, they’re the same thing.”  Well, God is definitely smiling on me with this one since I often cannot believe someone pays me to do this work that I love, and I get pretty good reviews on it, too.

The road to get to my first class this week was a pretty tough one.  I’m the last adjunct hired in the first-year writing department at TUJ so if a class is going to be canceled due to low enrollment, it’s going to be mine.  I wasn’t able to confirm that my class was running until the night before it was supposed to begin.  Luckily, because of department regulation, I had to write syllabi and plan classes well before the deadline, so I was ready when it started.  I suppose it all could have been for naught if both of my classes had been canceled (only one was canceled), but I am lucky that one is running.  Class planning is never useless though; flexing that academic muscle is good for the brain.

Professors at TUJ do something that no professor would consider in the U.S.: they sit in cubicles, bull-pen style.  There’s no privacy and no privilege that comes with walls and a door.  It’s a very Japanese approach to work, as most offices function this way in the country.  It’s just not something we’re accustomed to as Westerners.  Since coming back to work at TUJ last year, I’ve never had my own cubicle, though.  I either teach on Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs and they assign met to a desk that I share with a person teaching the opposite days.  This term, for whatever reason, however, I got my own desk.  I don’t know if someone felt badly that both of my classes didn’t fill or about the late run-notice or something else, but it doesn’t matter.  The point is that I have my own desk.

The desk is nothing special, nor is the chair.  There is a good, usable computer on the desktop with a wireless printer attached.  It is light, and near a window.  It’s at the back of the big room and ensures a small measure of privacy.

Best of all, it’s mine for the semester.  I can work here whenever I like, no matter if it’s a teaching day or not. I can come here and write instead of feeling distracted at home.  I can come to school and be inspired by students and other professors as I go through my projects and make progress.  I will be able to get out of the house and see other people every day if I want to when I go use my desk and computer at school.

I have a number of projects and ideas in the hopper, and I can hardly wait to get started.    It all begins with a desk.  A desk with endless possibilities.

How do you find your muse?  Can an inanimate object help you?

I Miss Writing!

I am lucky that I have two passions: writing and teaching writing.  For the past four years, I pursued just the writing and I wasn’t teaching at all.  Some people claimed it was a waste of a good doctorate, but I didn’t care – I just worked on my freelance career and a whole lot of fiction.  Last year around this time, I decided to pursue an advertisement in a local magazine for a writing (English) teacher at a local international high school.  It’s important to note that it’s an international school, because it’s not primarily Japanese and it runs on an American calendar, not a Japanese one that begins in mid-April.  If I am going to work outside the home, I need to make sure that it doesn’t affect the kids in any real way, and part of the kids’ lives – and mine – is a long summer in the U.S. with family and friends.   Well, I got the job.  It seemed perfect – just mornings and though it was every day, I’d be done by 11:30am.  Of course when you have a job is when it’s easiest to get a job, and I got an email from Temple University (there is a Tokyo branch of the Philadelphia school!) that they needed adjunct instructors.  I had worked there in the past and loved it – it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.

Well, autumn came and I started teaching every morning and two afternoons a week for only 2 hours.  It was busy, but I could do it.  Then I found out that two courses were available to me if I wanted them at Temple, starting from January.

So since January, I’ve been teaching at the high school every morning and then three afternoons a week, I teach at Temple from 12-5.  Between actual face-time with students and prep work, things have been more than slightly out of control.  House stuff has been shunted aside.  I haven’t been fully present for the kids in the evenings because I’m constantly thinking about something else.  And our healthy eating habits have been slipping.

But here’s the worst effect: I haven’t been writing.  I have been pretty good about the blog and my writing for “A Hopeful Sign” but other than that, nothing.  I haven’t written an article in months and not a single word of fiction.  I miss it so much!  I have characters running around in my head with nowhere to go.  I have article ideas and no time to pitch them to potential editors.  My time has been just that limited.

The good news is that the university classes end in just over a week.  I still have grading to do, which will take about a week, but right away my time will be my own in the afternoons.  And I’ve decided to give up the high school completely.  It’s not fair to our lives for me to work every day – other things really slip through the cracks.  A few times a week is perfect.  Of course, Temple is having enrollment issues, and there might not be classes for me to teach, but I’ll be okay with whatever they have.  So after the long summer break, I will come back to a modified schedule.

I can’t wait to start writing again after next week.  I wonder what I’ll do first.  Articles? Fiction? Creative nonfiction?  Who knows!  All I knew is that I will have the time to write again and I will be overjoyed.  I miss it madly now and can’t wait to re-start.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons this school year and hopefully some of them stick.  The best part is the clarity I have on what balance looks like for me.  Balance doesn’t look the same for every person and every person has to find it for himself, but for me, balance has more writing and less teaching in it.

The knowledge is power.  Onward ho!

Writing As a Teacher – New Adventures

Recently a lot of the writing I have done has been for school.  I am teaching freshman composition at Temple University’s Japan campus, but I am also teaching at The International Secondary School (ISS) part time in the mornings.  I teach one class of 7th grade English, one class of 8th grade English, and then one class of Multicultural literature for 12th graders.  Trust me when I tell you that it is never boring.

This is the end of the first marking period and right now I have just finished writing report card comments, the first I have ever done in my life.  Wow, what a challenge!

As a parent myself, I know what those comments mean.  Parents search within them for clues to how their child is really doing, regardless of their grade.  If the grade is low, they search for reasons why.  If the grade is high, they lap up the positive comments like a parched animal.  Every word is subject to interpretation and therefore, misinterpretation.

The key is to make the comments nuanced enough so the parent can understand what the concerns are with their child, without being outright negative.  No one wants to believe something bad about their own child, and bad news is difficult to deliver.   Even good comments have to be phrased in such a way that is cautiously optimistic, lest the parent think that the child is fault-free.

It took me a long time to craft the right message to the parent about the kids.  It is a whole different type of writing than that to which I am accustomed.  I’m not saying that it was a bad experience; just different.  How’s that for nuance?

More Learning WITH my students

A fellow teacher gave me a book a few weeks ago titled, Story Starters on Ancient Japan.   She is the middle school humanities/history teacher at ISS, and I am the writing teacher.  She thought we could collaborate – I would teach the eighth graders to write a story, and she would bolster the content.  It seemed like a grand idea.

The book goes through a series of steps to writing a narrative – just like I would teach my kids.  First, create a character and get to know him as well as you know yourself.  Figure out his name, how he looks, what he does – everything about him.  Then, figure out where he is – at home, at work, in a garden – anywhere.   And then give him action – a plot.  We need an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and a resolution.

Because it focuses on ancient Japan, it gives examples in that vein.  It lists details about shoguns, samurai, geisha and other ancient Japanese stereotypical people.   The settings involve shrines, battlefields, or music halls.  The plots involve intrigue and battles and the occasional espionage.

On Monday, I enlisted the help of my children and I actually photocopied the pages onto card stock and cut out to create the character, setting, and plot cards.  Then on Tuesday, in my eighth grade class, I threw them across the table, telling them to choose – match them up – and create the bones of a story.

Well, the students ate it up!  They found a cool guy, put him in a weird spot, and made him do radical stuff – as they said.  I just sat back and watched as they were off and running.  The process is going to take the better part of this week as they create the outline of what they want to accomplish – and then next week they can start drafting.

It’s a purely methodical way to write a story – matching ideas until they come out whole as the story in your head.  But whatever works for these kids is what I’m going to try.

And then, lo and behold, I am going to put together a few story cards of my own; stack a deck, if you will.  Because my own writing could use a little kick.  A formula might be just the push I need.

When Teaching Informs Writing – or How I Can Resucitate My Character

I met with my writing group earlier this week, and as always, they give me excellent suggestions on what to do with my manuscript.  I am working on a novel, my second (though the first has yet to be published), and I am determined to whip it into saleable shape.

The main advice the group had for me was to take the character and really make the chapter *hers*.  Don’t just use her as a device to open the book – bring out her story.  I stewed on that for the afternoon and evening before sleeping.  I think I even dreamed about the character – someone who I know so well that she could walk into a room and I would recognize her.  I didn’t work on it all the next day, preferring to let it lie.

Then, at school two days later, I gave a lesson to my 8th graders on CPR.  This is not the usual type of CPR, however; this is writing CPR.  No, I’m not trying to resuscitate my manuscript. I am talking about character-problem-resolution.  In class, we did an exercise where we devised a character – Susan, who is new in town.  The students had to work on the problem and solution.  They came up with Susan being lonely, and the resolution was taking walks around the city until she got to know it and ultimately met people.  Of course, being middle-schoolers, there were some pretty gross and frightening iterations of that scenario that I will not share here.

Then finally, as I was going to bed that night, it hit me.  MY character needed some CPR of her own.  I was so busy worrying about how to introduce the book, I had not considered my character’s central problem.  And man, does she have a concrete, identifiable, but solve-able, central problem.  All I need to do is listen to her voice, and let her tell me of her resolution.  From there, the writing will be a piece of cake.  It will all come from the character.  (Reminder: all writers are somewhat schizophrenic – according to the writer Joyce Caroll Oates.)

Since today is my long day of teaching, I’ll have to see if my character and I have time to talk this evening, or if we should wait until tomorrow to converse.  But now I’m so excited about the whole thing.

This is the first intersection of my teaching and my writing, but rest assured, it will not be the last.