My Literary Club

I just read an article from Booksparks, a comparison of literary salons and book clubs. I must say that the article simplifies the role of each type of assembly. After reading this funny piece and in response to Booksparks question (“Check out our fun and silly infographic comparing literary salons and book clubs. Which novel group do you belong to?”), I have to change my definition of my own book club and now call it a “literary club.” Mine is a literary club because of its combination of a literary salon and a book club. How so?

How does my club differ from the typical book club and a literary salon?

According to Booksparks, literary salons are a selective gathering of likeminded intellectual individuals discussing the topic of literature. Book clubs, on the other hand, are a collection of people who found enough time in their busy schedules to talk about a book they half-read.

My Literary Club: What I used to call my book club has now evolved into a literary club. (I do not like the connotation of a salon with reference to academic matters.) There are 232 of us, a selective gathering of likeminded intellectual individuals who found enough time in their busy schedules to discuss about a book they finished.

If a member does not finish the book by the next face-to-face gathering, he or she is encouraged to excuse self from that month’s discussion and try again with the next book. We do not “half-read” a book, nor should anyone do or admit to doing such a thing.

How do we select books?

In planning ahead, the organizer solicits book suggestions from members on interesting and unique books that will cover months of reading. We respond with choices of what we would like to read. She sends out the titles of books that we gave, and we vote. The winning books are targeted for each month, so that we know months ahead what we are reading and can secure our books any way we wish.

Also, the organizer can suggest a number of books that she thinks are of literary significance and offer those. We share our opinions, and if we agree with her, those books/novels enter our reading list and are marked for an applicable month.

Who is invited to my club?

All book lovers are invited: scholars, academics, professors, pretty, single people, rich, retired folk, people with a spare hour, parents, college students, hopeless romantics, daydreamers, and bookworms. I find myself in as many as 10 of the categories here, but as Booksparks puts it, “Can we all agree that the best part of any reading group is the book?” Yes, we can! 

For how long do we meet?

The meeting is set for an inflexible two-hour duration. We begin promptly with food ordering, find a seat, and begin with introductions and networking while the chef prepares our food. The restaurants we go to are also mindful of our two-hour meeting time. Therefore, they get our food ready within minutes.

Where is my literary club held?

We do not meet “online or in a neighbor’s toy-littered living room.” We meet in swanky eateries around town. For the first few minutes after we arrive, we greet each other, order our food, and we make small talks as we get to know each other. This is also a chance to network, and I have met some interesting people from all “works of life,” and colleagues: college professors and other teachers. We eat first and discuss the book after the tables are cleared.

What do we wear?

No member has shown up yet in clean yoga pants. We dress up for the event, not necessarily in designer cocktail attires, but we dress the part.

What food and drinks do we eat and drink?

As I indicated above, we gather in swanky eateries that do not serve alcohol so that we can focus on discussions and contribute intelligently without the inebriating effects of alcohol. Each person orders what he/she wants or none at all. With my high food allergy history, I stick with fresh fruits, fresh vegetables/salad, and water.

What do we discuss/do?

On a day with good attendance, we usually close off almost the entire restaurant. We do not discuss “kids, spouse, politics, upcoming events,” and any other personal and distracting matters. For the two hours of our gathering, we focus on the books in clicks of five to ten people since we try to confirm with the restaurant set up. We tried in the past to combine all the long tables, but it proved difficult to hear everyone, so we now stick with discussions in groups.

On book exchange days, we bring free books to give away to others and pick up books we would love to read. If someone picks up a book you brought, you can give a 30-second review on it. Because of my love of reading, I always take several books in a bag and bring home several books to devour.

After the major focus, which is the book, and if people form closer bonds, they stay behind and discuss kids, spouses, politics, and other upcoming events. I have done this with different people over the years since joining the literary club.

Thanks to Bookspark, I now view my book club (I mean, my literary club), in a different and in a more appreciative light. The image below was provided by Bookspark.

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Essential Macro-Editing Checklist

Frances’ Essential Macro-Editing Checklist:

  • Breathe and listen to the air! Punctuation is in the breath we take.
  • Feel the pulse: Allow tension to soak through every weighted word.
  • Packed sand bag: Weed and whittle the pages to mid or high one-hundreds. The luxury of the 500-page story is no longer for our contemporary and impatient generation. Pack the pages tighter with fewer words.
  • Kaleidoscope/Rainbow. See and feel the rainbow. Sprinkle color with a light hand to make the reader ecstatic.
  • Return the Heartbeat: Resuscitate the manuscript with the “innate relevance” of imagery. Let imagery show (not tell) its story.
  • Usher poetry into the novel and allow her/him to surprise the reader with sweet talks and melodious sounds.
  • Light at the end of the tunnel: Editing can go on forever! An inflexible publication due date nips procrastination in its bud.
  • Sprinkle the salt-and-pepper combination of flashback and foreshadowing. They add spice and dynamism to mundane events. Avoid backstory. Use flashback instead. Foreshadowing is the spice/pepper that quickens the reader’s interest and page-turning fingers.
  • Other ears hear better: Read the story out loud for the tongue’s benefit. Allow others to hear the words during editing.
  • See the people! See characters as people, real people with believable qualities and features.
  • Throw MICE off balance: Distribute milieu, idea, character, and events disproportionately for maximum effect and success.
  • Motifs, refrains, and themes tug at the heart. Use them effectively to endear the reader to the plot.
  • Manuscript must pass the SWSB/plot test: Someone wants something, but… What drives the protagonist? What/who is the “But?”

Like editing and revising a literary piece, this list is a work in progress. It is not a one-size-fits-all-writers suggestion.

My Uncle’s Obituary

 uncle died on December 21, 2016, one month today.

 Before then my big concern was to see “Collateral Beauty” with my daughter and son-in-law. I thought of the review I was going to write on how I admired the concept of the movie, the originality of it all, and about how all the actors and actresses gave five-star performances.

That was on December 17, 2016.

Then my uncle passed away, and I have been obsessed with the theme of that movie. I want to write letters to Love, Time, and Death. I will write those letters soon. In the meantime, this is my uncle’s obituary.


De Sylve: The Last of the Truth Generation

De_Sylve_OhanenyeI had planned to see my uncle, De Sylve, last month, December 2016. I called him in October 2016 to tell him my change of plans, that I will see him in June of 2017. Without mincing words, he told me the truth outright: “That means I will never see you again.” I did not understand his words. 

Since December 21, 2016, these thoughts have been prevalent in my head: My uncle, Sylvester Ohanenye, Esquire, was the last of his brothers and sister to leave us. He was the youngest of them and the last one to leave this earth. My uncle is what I call the Truth Generation, people who breathe truth like air, people whose first nature is to tell the truth without thought no matter the situation and regardless of the consequence. 

My father, Chief Martin K. Ohanenye, loved his brothers and sister beyond words, but he seemed to have a deeper fondness for his youngest brother whom he sent to Ireland and to England. That fondness and love for my uncle poured into me unconditionally, and he loved me unconditionally. De Sylve had a huge heart and loved deeply and completely. His son, Dr. Desmond Nkemakolam, and my aunt, Dorothy, were the center of his world.

He sent things home from England. That I love polka-dots today was that my uncle sent us polka-dot materials, and my mother made us dresses.

My parents talked about him and worried about him. When he was still in England, I found De Sylve’s high school science notebook and used it to pass my science classes at Girls’ High School, largely because De Sylve took excellent notes and had the most beautiful penmanship. I held on to that science notebook.

When De Sylve came back from England, I followed him around. What gave me the greatest joy was taking care of him before he married my aunt Dorothy, Dora to family and friends. I cooked for De Sylve and ran errands for him. De Sylve gave me my first job as his secretary when he opened his first car dealership. My uncle was strong, tireless, and had the energy of ten people. He was always moving, always doing, and always thinking and planning, and was never tired. My uncle was so many things: entrepreneur of many business ideals, councilman in the local government, mentor, adviser, seer, father, brother, husband, uncle, and many more. 

Hanging around De Sylve made me so much wiser and funnier. I loved to hold conversations with my uncle. He had many adages, some of them were funny sayings that made me a funnier, a better, and a smarter person. De Sylve saw things as clearly as they were. He told the truth regardless of the consequences. He was a profound thinker, a prophet, and a realist. He and his wife were my literary audience on whom I practiced my way with words.

When I told him that I wanted to be a secretary, and without mincing words, he said, “You are more intelligent than that.” Some relatives tell their younger ones what they should be. De Sylve and my father told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and they supported my dreams no matter what I chose to study.

De Sylve inspired me in uncountable ways. He, my brother Eugy, and my father are the reason I went to America. My only consolation in this meteoric death is that they are all together now, the Truth Generation. I thank my uncle for helping my parents to make me into who I am today. I still do not understand this sickness that took him away within five months.

Rest in God’s perfect peace, De Sylve.

Keeping up with the Smiths

We borrow film critic Mick LaSalle’s six qualities that make a great movie to analyze the dynamic husband and wife team of Willard “Will” Smith and Jada Koren Pinkett-Smith. The couple has two movies playing in theaters as we write.

Theory: Jada Pinkett-Smith accepted the movie (Bad Moms*) offer knowing how minimal and how inconsequential her role would be and knowing that it will do nothing for her career. The movie belittled her amazing talent, or she took it just to get out of the house because she needed a break from directing and producing.

Theory: Will Smith took this movie (Suicide Squad) knowing how much glorified his role would be. The movie exalted his amazing talents, and he dominates (more like shares the limelight with Viola Davis, who was so BAD that the bad guys called her cruel!).

Will’s movie and its cataclysmic topic gave Jada’s movie a serious disadvantage. Pitting terrorism against incompetent mothers lopsided the scale. Will Smith’s heavy-hitting plot trumps Jada’s light and so humorous one. Suicide Squad grabs the audience from screen opening to the last scene.

Attributes of a Great Movie

Jada

Will

Topical Unrecognized and unappreciated struggles of overworked mothers √√ Random terrorist attacks must be nipped ASAP. √√√
Timeless human values √√√ Sadly, terror has become the way of the world. √√√
Great performance  (Not her fault, just the script’s fault) √ √√√
Overarching consciousness Mila Kunis and her friends gave it overarching consciousness. Deadshot/Will Smith gave an overarching consciousness. As bad as his character was, he seemed to bring the self-serving characters into humanity. √√√
One memorable scene The party scene was it, but Jada was not in that scene. Several memorable scenes, but most memorable is (Will Smith) Deadshot helping his daughter with complex math problems. √√√
Ends on a note of complexity, not just ambiguity √√

Wicked PTSA president turns good and invites her opponents for a ride in the jet.

√√√√

(The meeting between Viola Davis and Ben Affleck clinched it.)

Key: √ = Stars

*Jada is too talented for Bad Moms and for the pitiful role she was given. However, the role of a good actress is to do the best with the hand she is dealt even when she is dealt a hand with nothing.

Taking Stock of Half the Year: January to June 2016

This has been an incredible year so far.

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Breakfast with 2015 Grant Sponsors in January 2016: I walked into the Katy ISD building to find a life-size picture of myself. That stopped me in my track. It was a humbling and profound moment.

 

 

 

 

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NCTE (Texas): I was one of two teachers lucky to attend an all-expense-paid National Council of Teachers of English conference in Austin with Katy district-level coordinators. (Second from the right, bottom row.)

 

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WHATCE: A few weeks after that, I attended the local conference of the West Houston Area Council of Teachers of English workshop.

(Dispay of Grant-funded resources and student work samples at an event)

 

 

 

 

Celebration reception for 2016 Grant Recipients: I walked into the Katy ISD Imagination Grant reception in May to find another life-size picture of me. I have come to accept these chance meetings of me sprouting in unexpected places and times. (Life-size picture of me stands on the floor of the reception hall. Picture on the right is displayed on the screen of me–with yellow feather–receiving the Grant check in May 2016.)

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Houston Chronicle: I was interviewed in late June for the Community section of the Houston Chronicle newspaper. (Fourth row from the front, second from the left)

–Picture was taken with other Imagination Grant recipients for 2016/2017.

 

 

Thank you, Janet Theis!! Thanks to Dr. Steele, Lydia Dennis, Amanda Palmer, William H. Rhodes, and everyone who has helped me to get to this phase in my career with Katy ISD.

I am excited for what will unfold for the rest of the year!

Bill Gates on Mandela and Africa

This is a repost of what Bill Gates posted on LinkedIn about his thoughts on meeting Nelson Mandela and on his hope for Africa.

“My Message To The Next Generation Of Africans”

I was 9 years old when Nelson Mandela was sent to prison on Robben Island. As a boy, I learned about him in school, and I remember seeing reports about the anti-Apartheid movement on the evening news. Decades later, I got to meet him and work with him. In person he was even more inspiring than I had imagined. His humility and courage left an impression that I will never forget.

So it was a special honor to be invited to give the Nelson Mandela Lecture in Pretoria, South Africa. I eagerly accepted the invitation and quickly began working on my remarks.

I decided to share my optimism about Africa’s future—to explain why I think the continent has the potential to change faster in the next generation than any continent ever has.

It’s because Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and youth can go hand in hand with a special dynamism. I was 20 years old when Paul Allen and I started Microsoft. The entrepreneurs driving startup booms in Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi are just as young, and the thousands of businesses they’re creating are already changing lives across the continent. The potential will only grow as the digital revolution brings more advances in artificial intelligence and robotics.

But positive change across Africa won’t happen automatically. The real returns will come only if Africans can unleash this talent for innovation in all of the continent’s growing population. That depends on whether all of its young people are given the opportunity to thrive.

It is still an open question, and it is the crux of my speech, which I gave today at the University of Pretoria. It was an honor to give this lecture, and I’m grateful to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the university for inviting me.

The first time I spoke with Nelson Mandela was in 1994, when he called to ask me to help fund South Africa’s first multi-racial election. It’s not every day that Nelson Mandela calls, so I remember it well. I was running Microsoft at the time and thinking about software most of my waking hours. But I admired Nelson Mandela, I knew the election was historic, and I did what I could to help.

I had been to Africa for the first time just the year before, when my wife, Melinda, and I travelled in East Africa on vacation. Obviously, we knew parts of Africa were very poor, but being on the continent turned what had been an abstraction into an injustice we could not ignore.

Faced with such glaring inequity, we started thinking about how we could use our resources to make a difference. Within a few years, we established our foundation. It was when I started coming to Africa regularly for the foundation that I came to know Nelson Mandela personally. He was both an advisor and an inspiration.

One topic that Nelson Mandela came back to over and over again in his lifetime was the power of youth. I agree with Mandela about young people, and that is one reason I’m optimistic about the future of Africa. Demographically, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and its youth can be the source of a special dynamism.

Economists talk about the demographic dividend and the potential for Africa’s burgeoning youth population to accelerate economic growth. But for me, the most important thing about young people is the way their minds work. Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past. I was 19 when I founded Microsoft. Steve Jobs was 21 when he started Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he created Facebook.

So I’m inspired by the young African entrepreneurs driving startup booms in the Silicon Savannahs from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Lagos and Nairobi.

The real returns, though, will come if we can multiply this talent for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing youth population. To make that a reality, all of Africa’s young people must have the opportunity to thrive.

If we invest in the right things—if we make sure the basic needs of Africa’s young people are taken care of—then they can change the future and life on this continent will improve faster than it ever has.

In my view, there are four things that will determine Africa’s future: health and nutrition, education, economic opportunity, and good governance.

When people aren’t healthy, they can’t turn their attention to things like education, working and raising a family. Conversely, when health improves, life improves by every measure.

I’m especially concerned about HIV. Africa’s youngest generation are entering the age when they are most at risk of HIV. We need to get more out of the HIV prevention methods we have now –while developing better solutions like an effective vaccine and easier-to-use medicines that people are more likely to use consistently.

Nutrition is another critical area of focus for Africa. Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies rob millions of the continent’s children of their physical and cognitive potential. Fortunately, there are cost-effective solutions like making sure mothers breastfeed their infants, enriching cooking oil, sugar, and flour with important vitamins and minerals, and breeding staple crops to maximize their nutritional content. We need to make sure the people most at risk know about and have access to these solutions.

Second, we need new thinking and new tools to make sure a high-quality education is available to every child. Educational technology using mobile phones has the potential to help students build foundational skills while giving teachers better feedback and support at the touch of a button. Governments also need to invest in high-quality public universities for the largest number of qualified students to launch the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, educators, and government leaders.

Third, we need to create economic opportunities to channel the energy and ideas of Africa’s youth. Through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, countries have a framework for transforming agriculture from a struggle for survival into a thriving business opportunity. But the investment needs to follow, so that young Africans have the means to create the thriving agriculture they envision.

Africa also needs more electrical power to increase productivity. In East Africa especially, governments should invest in hydro and geothermal sources of energy, which are both reliable and renewable, as soon as possible. The immediate priority is for governments to get tougher about managing their electrical grids so they’re producing as much power as possible.

Fourth, countries can benefit from enhancing fiscal governance. Advances in digital technology is one way that governments can deliver services more efficiently.

It’s clear to everyone how big and complicated the challenges are. But Africa has proven its resilience and ingenuity time and again, and there are millions of people, especially young people, who are eager to get to work.

The future depends on the people of Africa working together to lay a foundation so that Africa’s young people have the opportunities they deserve. This is the future that Nelson Mandela dreamed of and it’s the future that the youth of Africa deserve.

You can read Mr. Gates’ full speech on  his blog:  https://www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Nelson-Mandela-Annual-Lecture?WT.mc_id=07_18_2016_09_MandelaLecture_BG-LI_&WT.tsrc=BGLI

Quoting Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Video of Nelson Mandela as assembled by Bill Gates.