Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip, K’naan, and Biking to Work

K'naan, Troubadour (****) [2009] – Rapper K'naan was born in Somalia. Right before the war broke out his family immigrated to New York and then Toronto.  His album is full of upbeat hopeful rap and hip-hop songs about the immigrant experience, with plenty of realistically sad details and a touch of bravado about what a badass he is for coming from Africa. Favorite Songs: T.I.A. (This is Africa), Fatima, Wavin' Flag, Take A Minute.

My Life:
Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip – I made an exception to my Friday-only subbing rule to help out a teacher in need and subbed for 3 days for the class that calls me Ms. Evil Octopus.  On the second day we went on a field trip with lots of helpful moms (but sadly no dads).  The Thanksgiving program at Woodland Manor had fun hands-on activities for the kids to do, the kids were great, and we had sunny warm weather. My favorite part was what happened when I introduced myself to each mom:

Mom: Hi, I'm Sarah's mom.
Me: Wonderful to meet you. I'm Ms. Eureka.

Mom: [Looks strangely disappointed after hearing my name.] Oh.  Ms. Eureka?

Me: But the kids like to call me Ms. Evil Octopus.  It's just a fun joke we have going on.

Mom: [Perks up.] Yes, Sarah told me this!  She said you're really funny.

Heehee. I guess even moms like silly jokes.

What I Learned About Biking to Work – For the past two years I've wanted to bike to my sub jobs.  This week I finally got my act together and biked to work for all three days.  Yay!  Here's what  I learned:

1. Biking makes me feel good all day.

2.  I need a change of clothes for the top of my body but not the bottom.

3. Fully inflated tires make the ride a lot easier, so does a range of gears.

4.  It was good to have the daughterling's bike as a backup bike at home for when I discovered a flat tire  right before I needed to leave home.

5. The bike ride home is the best and made me feel less tired after work than if I drove.

6.  Being a super slow biker is okay.  Just getting out there is what counts.

Questions and Answers About TV Watching

What role does TV play in my life? Stress release, company, information, entertainment, etc?

I use TV as a mental health entertainment/stress release buffer. I like to have several engrossing, fun stories flitting around in my head to think about. It’s like my own version of chewing gum so I won’t grind my teeth or smoke kind of thing. If I have several good stories tumbling around in my head, I think about them, instead of obsessively worrying or being overly critical of myself.  I use book reading and story writing the same way. It makes for a really cheerful life.

What limits do I put on my TV watching?

I try to limit myself to approximately 10 hours a week. Research shows watching more than 10 hours a week of TV adversely affects a child’s academic achievement. I’m not a child anyone—at least chronologically—and I don’t go to school anymore, but it seems reasonable to conclude that watching more than 10 hours of TV a week might affect my growth as a person too.


Since the research shows there’s no difference between kids who watch no TV and kids who watch 10 hours of TV a week, I aim for 10 hours because watching TV is enjoyable and gives me mental food thoughts to chew on.


What kinds of shows do I prefer?

Mostly I like shows that are well written, have intriguing characters, and make me both laugh and think. Here’s my list:

The Leads (Shows I Watch Regularly and Rather Obsessively)

1.      Supernatural– (CW) season 4

2.      The Big Bang Theory & How I Met Your Mother– (CBS) season 2 & season 4

3.      Pushing Daisies– (ABC) season 2

4.      Friday Night Lights– (Direct TV) season 3

5.      Fringe– (Fox) season 1

6.      Mad Men– (AMC) season 2

7.      Skins (BBCA) season 1 & 2

8.      Daily Show (Monday & Tuesday) (Comedy Central)

9.      Daily Show (Wednesday & Thursday) (Comedy Central)

10. Gossip Girl (w/ the daughterling or I probably wouldn’t watch for just myself)

11. The X-Files (season 1 on DVD in French w/ English subtitles to practice my French)


(Without the commercials this list adds up to about 10 hours)


The Understudies (recorded and stored on Tivo for instant fill-in when my leads have a repeat)

1.      The Office [only ½ hour] (There are a lot of Daily Show repeats, so I get to watch this pretty often.)

2.      Heroes

3.      Bones

4.      Gavin & Stacey [only ½ hour]

5.      True Blood

6.      Chuck

What do I do when I watch TV?

Just watch, though sometimes I eat my lunch while I watch a show, and sometimes I end up writing down favorite quotes from the show. I’m really picky about what shows I watch. Basically a show has to be so engrossing that I want to only watch it. If I find myself wanting to surf the web, clean, or fold laundry while I watch a show, that’s a sign I’m probably going to stop watching soon.


And You? What are your TV watching habits?

Writing Lessons I Learned While Watching Supernatural

The fourth season premiere of Supernatural is on tonight. Whoo-hoo! While I was sick, I rewatched Supernatural seasons one, two, and three to cope when I was feeling my worst. I also learned a few things about writing:
Season 1 & 2 lessons
Writing doesn’t have to be serious to be good. Supernatural season 1 & 2 episodes are fun, well-written escapism. (Also, the leads can act and the episodes are skillfully shot). There’s a new monster/mystery each week and fun elements like the brothers impersonating: cops, FBI agents, Homeland Security, reporters, and even priests. They stay at rundown highway motels, use credit card fraud to pay the bills, eat gas-mart junk food, and drive across the country in their 1967 Chevy Impala entertaining themselves with fun banter.
Each week they solve some mysterious happening by questioning citizens and doing research. Then they fight the scary spirits and demons and save nice people in horrible trouble. In addition, there’s a season long arc, so the monster of the week plots are: 1) stories on their own, and 2) clues that add up to a long story arc as well. Fun elements and good plotting make this escapism worth watching.
Good writing has likable characters.  Older brother, Dean, is basically a badass with a heart-of-gold. He’s skilled at hunting demons, playing poker, picking locks, escaping the law, and making funny quips. While he loves his 1967 Chevy Impala and listening to his collection of mullet rock, his job is his life. He’s a lot more insecure and dysfunctional than his smartass comments let on and he needs his brother to keep him going. 
Younger brother, Sam, is the “sensitive smart one”. He gave up a “full ride” at Stanford law school to help his brother find their missing dad. He’s the one strangers open up to, the one who researches demon lore, and the one who keeps Dean going. The whole show works because you care about these two brothers and their relationship.
Good writing balances humor, angst, and tension. There’s a personal story line for each brother per season to provide the angst and drama. The monsters, demons, and spirits provide plenty of scary tense happenings. Balanced between the angst and tension, there’s a lot of humor and fun. It’s that balance that makes this show work.
Season 3 lessons
While rewatching the entire show, I noticed how uneven season 3 was – maybe it was the writers’ strike or maybe it was Dean’s tricky situation. Some of the episodes are great, but some, well, they’re disappointing. Here’s what season 3 taught me about writing:
Show, Don’t Tell: If want your audience to be afraid of the terrible times ahead, show it. The Groundhog Day episode did that nicely. Why is Dean’s situation so painful for Sam? We see why – over and over. It’s heartbreaking (and pretty funny, at times, too.) 
How do you bore your audience? Have demons preach sanctimonious sermons warning of horrible happenings- again, and again, and again. Oy!
Keep the crucial fun-to-angst balance: Like concentrated dish detergent, a little angsty monologing goes a long way – too much, and there are soapsuds oozing all over my perfectly fun horror-detective show. 
Make sure your characters maintain their internal consistency: I like Sam but Dean drives this show. So when Dean’s situation starts changing him, it’s tricky stuff. The thing I like about Dean is that even though he’s a smart-ass, deep down he cares about people and doing the right thing. He likes sex, but he’s always seemed fairly respectful of women. Sure he’s afraid of getting close; we saw in season one that getting close leads to nothing but rejection for Dean. Suddenly, in season three though, Dean’s a big jerk calling women bitches left and right. True, they’re demons and thieves, but it’s a bad look on Dean. There’s a big difference between badass and asshole.
Dean also suffers from the Joey TribbianiSam Malone syndrome – where the writers can’t decide exactly how smart or stupid he is. One minute he’s perfectly smart and then the next – just to get the easy joke – he’s dumber than the beef jerky he loves. With good writing, even in trying times, characters have an internal consistency.
I can’t wait to see how things turn out in season four. Here’s wishing the new season gets back to the stellar writing I’m use to!