Author Archives: tonyvarrato

About tonyvarrato

I teach, write YA novels, take random pictures, and tell bad jokes.

Mommom’s Bid for Hollywood

Mommom passed a few weeks ago.  She was the 97-year-old incarnation of independence who raised three kids by herself in the 50’s and let no one hold her back from doing what she wanted to do.

I believe all people have a story–that one event that should be made into a movie, but it never gets published. Hollywood never hears about it. And sooner or later it just disappears because no one remembers it anymore.  

Certainly her previously-blogged eye freakishness could be an interesting subplot, but I would imagine surviving a terrorist attack as the main attraction.

In 1973, Mommom, along with with her sisters and families, boarded the Sounion for a cruise to Israel.

Sounion cruise ship

While they were docked overnight in Beruit, two men set a bomb on the ship and probably set it to detonate once the ship was out to sea the next morning. I say “probably” because they botched the job and blew themselves up right then and there.  Certainly this still caused the ship to sink, but since the ship was in port, nearly all passengers made it off alive.  The newspaper reported no casualties; however, Mommom claims one couple didn’t make it off.  A man had a heart attack and his wife chose to help him instead of saving herself.

 

That’s not the only place her story differs from the article.  The article states all passengers spent the night in a hotel.  She told me it was a warehouse where they stayed until they could prove their US citizenship in order to return home. . And the article says everyone climbed aboard a plane the next day and continued their trip.  However, the passengers escaped in their pajamas, with little else.  Certainly, jewelry, wallets, and passports went down with the ship.  How would they be able to continue their trip? If you read the article, you’ll pick out lines that tell you this is a cleaned up account of the events.

Mommom’s version involves a lot more yelling, threats, and huddling together for comfort for days. Her perspective makes it real, makes it different than the accepted truth, makes it her story.  

So you know people.  They have stories.  You have a story.  Write it down.  Write the truth.  Don’t let it disappear when no one’s left to remember it anymore.

 

 newspaper

 

 

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This Summer’s Ambitious Book Stack

This Summer's Ambitious Book Stack

Summer is officially one day shy of two months this year, but I think I can tackle these. Several are recommendations from friends and students, and the rest I picked up throughout the year.

Feel like checking out reviews of these or past recommendations? Click the photo.


Perspective

Me, 5 years ago: 59 degrees?  Screw this.  It’s too cold to run.

Later:  50 degrees?  Ok, I’ll wear a long-sleeve shirt.

Later: 45 degrees?  I’m going to need gloves.

Later: 40 degrees?  And maybe a hat.

This morning: 38 degrees?  Cool, I can wear shorts.

Perception is reality.  Change the first one and you can make the second one whatever you want.


Infographics in the Classroom

     Today was my 4th snow day this month, and I was getting a little itchy.  So I started reading an educational magazine and spotted a cool article about creating infographics to help demonstrate curriculum to our students.  This is certainly common-core appropriate, since we are supposed to give our students access to multiple mediums of content.

     But then I thought, actually, it should be the kids creating the infographics.  This would be a worthwhile formative assessment where they have to synthesize information and figure how best to show it to their peers. They might enjoy a little variety from the usual posters and PowerPoints.  Certainly History, Sociology, and Science classrooms would benefit from this.  And I would think clever ELA teachers, like myself, could think of a use as well.  So I made one about my snow days.

How I Spent 4 Snow Days (1)

As you can see, I used piktochart.com.  There are many other infographic generators out there, but this is the one I selected at random.

In order to give you an idea of time required for classroom activities: it took me 45 minutes to create this.  That includes registering and skimming the options. I chose the blank template because it would take more time starting from scratch.  Also, I had no idea what information I would put on the graphic until I started playing around. Then I actually chose images and backgrounds and created the charts.  All that was 45 minutes.

Therefore, I would assume a small group who has already gathered their information could easily create one of these within one class period.  Research and presentations would take additional time.

For more quick formative assessment ideas, you can check out No Time Like Real Time.

 

 


The Big Break…and Bigfoot…and unicorns…Chupacabra…

2013 is the year when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

Not the year that I decided that I wanted to write books—that was many years ago.  But the year that I decided I wanted to write.

My usual pattern has been to write a book, revise it, and sell it.  Then begin next book.  That pattern is, at best, one-third writing and two-thirds waiting.  And the goal isn’t to be a waiter.

So, to change things up, 2013 was the year I said “Yes” to all writing opportunities that came my way. 

“Do you want to write an article for my magazine?”

“Yes!”

Followed by: “Would you like to write some short stories?”

“Yes!”

Followed by: “Would you like to write an educational e-book?”

“Yes!”

Followed by speaking gigs, Skype visits, and Twitter Chat.  And because why not, I put my name in to instruct at a week-long writer’s conference.

2013 is the year I learned that writer’s write.  Each opportunity led to another opportunity, which will hopefully lead to more in 2014.

For most of us, the Big Break is a myth.  Waiting to be noticed, waiting for that one chance, waiting for Powerball–waiting is not going to make things happen. I think, instead, it’s all about accepting the little breaks which will build up to help us become that thing we’ve dreamed of becoming.

Have a happy New Year.  Make 2014 everything you want it to be.


Technology Error. Old School Mode Activated.

That’s it.

I wrote before how my smart phone is out to ruin me by randomly deleting some notes and choosing to back up others.

So today, I implemented my new crash-proof device: the waterproof notepad.  My spiral Batman notepad did the basic job.  But spirals bend and the pages get wet and/or rip out.

Image

So I got this in the mail yesterday and started scribbling in it today.  So far, I’m feeling pretty Steinbeck.

My son’s critique:  “What if you lose it?”

My answer: “Then I’m just as bad off as I am now.”


Today’s Lesson: Back It UP

I learned the hard way over 20 years ago on a computer with no hard drive.

10:00 at night, finalizing an exam, I nearly cried when the power went off. Now I save and re-save and USB and email myself to back up all my projects. I lecture my students about backing up everything because weird things happen. I lectured one kid who stayed after school until 6:00 to finish his ginormous multi-class essay. He dismissed my advice with a wave of his hand. The power went out at 5:55. I think he knocked a couple chairs over. So I back up all projects. Always. OCD style. Every time.

But before they are projects, they are just little embryonic idealets punched into Notes on my phone. When I get an idea while at the deli counter…. Thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb. And I’ve got it to fit into something that I haven’t even thought of yet.

And during my daughter’s swim or ballet lesson, I might piece a couple of the ideas together or maybe outline a progression of these ideas.

And life is good.

Until I open Notes this morning and watch the screen blink once. Then my 12 pages of notes became 5 pages of notes. Minutes later, I scrape my jaw off the floor. This never happened when I used a spiral notebook.

I head for my nearest tech expert, my 15-year-old son.

“Yeah, that happens to me sometimes. You should back it up to your Cloud.”

File under: “Things I Needed to Know before I Lost 7 Potential Novels.” But OK. I’m wiser, right? Grumble grumble. **kicks desk.**

So, gentle readers, back it up. All of it. Often.

Or get a spiral notebook.