Alternative Education

It was recently brought to my attention that a former student wrote an essay about me for another one of her classes. How sweet is that?

I suggest giving it a read and then doing a lecture tour.

SPEAK by Mary

Did you know that public speaking is one of the most common phobias and more than 75% of people are scared to make a speech or talk in front of people?

I would say that public speaking is one of my biggest fears, or it used to be. Ever since I can remember I hated going up and speaking in front of the class. I specifically recall one time in fourth grade when I had to read a report I wrote on some state out loud to the class. When the teacher called my name, I just stayed in my seat and said “No, I can’t do this.” She asked if I wanted her to read it for me, and I whined “Nooo!” I think I probably started crying but I do not remember much after that.

I stumble over my words, my palms get sweaty, my voice turns to a whisper, and my face burns red. However, what I think really gets me the most is what people will think of my writing and how they will judge me. Will they think what I am writing about is stupid? Or my facts are wrong? Or that my opinions are dumb?

I’ve noticed that this has also translated into my everyday life now. I am so afraid of what others will think of me that I resolve to saying as little as possible, making them believe I’m extremely shy.

I have managed to get through my life so far giving minimal speeches or toughing it out when I had too. However, last year I took a class that ended this phobia of mine.

Everyone needs one art credit to graduate. I am not much of an artist so art class was out of the question and I heard digital photography was an easy A. So I signed up for it. Little did I know that they had hired a new teacher for the class, and it was now digital photography/media arts. This teacher’s name was Mr. Zlomek or Mr. Z, we would call him. On the first day he told us this class was going to be different from the previous class and we would do more than just take pictures. Our first homework assignment was too draw a picture describing ourselves and make a presentation on it the next day. I freaked out inside. I thought this class was going to be just taking pictures. Now I have to show the class my horrible drawing skills and share things about myself to all these people I do not know. This was going to be the worst class ever. When fourth period came around the next day, I quickly said a few things about me and sat back down. The jittery, nervous feeling decreased and I took a deep breath. Thank god that was over with.

The weeks went on. Mr. Z made us do presentations once or twice a week on our completed projects. The projects consisted from a whole array of things, from self portraits to documentaries to animations, which was my favorite. Every day on presentation day, the nerves would build up inside me from the moment I woke up and course through me like water in rapids until the second I said “And that was my project.”

But many presentations later, I felt a shift in my attitude. I realized this speech I’m going to make is only going to be about 3 or 4 minutes of my life. Why should I be nervous over 3 or 4 minutes? Also, these projects that I created were completely mine. My own original ideas. And I am proud of them. I want to show people, and tell them why I made them and what they mean. I have worked hard on them and spent a lot of time creating them. I want everyone to see them and if they do not like them, then I do not care because there are probably plenty of people that do like them. Most likely, people will probably even forget about my project or speech ten minutes after I give it. That is fine with me. But, if they happen to remember it, then I feel like I’ve made an impact on them, which is always nice, be it good or bad.

I still get nervous when going to make a speech or present something, but now I am much more calm. I am also more confident with myself and do not worry how others view me. That class and Mr. Z taught me that instead of feeling nervous or afraid of giving presentations, I could feel excited about sharing something that is all mine and the possibility of impacting someone’s life. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I could not have asked for a better compliment. When things like this are brought to my attention I always wish I could just hop back into the classroom and continue to form young minds. Perhaps that will happen sometime in the near future.

Thanks again for the essay, Mary.

Stay Glossophobic,
Ryan Zlomek

Ain’t That The Truth

My sophomore year of college I took an American Detective Literature And Film class to cover my pluralism requirement. Though I was excited that this covered my required history credit, I was ecstatic when I started reading and analyzing detective and crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. I was instantly hooked and have since tried to read every piece of pulp fiction I can get my hands on. Books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), and Patricia Highsmith glare up at me from the floor where they are stacked 50 high since I ran out of shelf space.

Each writer explores issues like suicide, justified homicide, homosexuality, unwarranted societal pressures, promiscuity, and many others which were considered taboo for the time. These craftsmen and craftswomen pushed the enveloped and developed fantastic methods of storytelling that have influenced many modern writers (I know Bruce Coville is a big fan of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon while Stephen King makes multiple references to the works of Raymond Chandler throughout his bibliography).

As you can probably tell, I love talking about this type of literature as much as I enjoy reading it. A few months ago I was waiting in line for a signature by comic book artist Frank Quitely at a convention. I started to talk with two guys from Providence, RI who were in line with me and pulp fiction came up. We talked about our favorite authors and they suggested I check out crime writer Jim Thompson. When these guys told me that Thompson’s work was heavily influenced by crime schemes he learned as a young bellboy at a Hotel in Texas I was writing down his titles for my next trip to the bookstore.

I picked up The Killer Inside Me which is considered his finest and most “mature” work. The book follows Lou Ford, a small town sheriff who is constantly fighting his urges to act violently. Thompson treats violence like a strange disease that can only be overcome psychologically. Lou Ford is constantly abusing his power to perpetuate these acts of violence which gives the book a nice raw edge to it. The reader is always curious how he is going to cover up his “work” and plan for his next act of aggression.

On top of exploring the nature of violence and aggression as they relate to power and privilege the book also provides some nice social commentary. Thompson’s perception of the world he lives in is dark and hopeless. Even the individuals in power feel the hand of fate coming down on them.

In one classic scene, Lou Ford is talking with a kid who is going to get pinned down for a murder that was actually committed by Lou himself. Through the protagonist’s diaglogue this piece of literary genius is produced:

“How can a man really ever know anything? We’re living in a funny world, kid, a peculiar civilization. The police are playing crooks in it, and the crooks are doing police duty. The politicians are preachers, and the preachers are politicians. The tax collectors collect taxes for themselves. The Bad People want us to have more dough, and the Good People are fighting to keep it from us. It’s not good for us, know what I mean? If we all had what we wanted to eat, we’d crap too much. We’d have inflation in the toilet paper industry. That’s the way I understand it. That’s about the size of some of the arguments I’ve heard.”

Just in those few words a reader can hear the hopeless tone in his voice, the comprehension that the system is working against him, and the justification for his actions to offset the issues the system sets up for him. The glass is half empty and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not to mention he incorporates some element of humor to cope with the real issues at hand. This is what I adore about this period in literature. It was ahead of its time and still, to this day, it speaks some form of the truth.

Stay Cynical,
Ryan Zlomek

Today Is Clint Eastwood’s 81st Birthday

Mr. Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite film icons, turns 81 today. After roughly 56 years in the film business he is still going strong as he currently edits J. Edgar, a biopic about former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Do yourself a favorite and celebrate by watching one of his cinema classics. You can never go wrong with Bronco Billy, Coogan’s Bluff, the Man With No Name trilogy, Unforgiven, Hereafter, Dirty Harry, or High Plains Drifter to name a few.

I’ll be celebrating through an Escape From Alcatraz. With any luck, I will make it through the “hand removal” scene without squirming like I did when I was 11.

If you would like to learn more about Clint, check out this interview he did with Charlie Rose in 2006.

Stay Celebratory,
Ryan Zlomek

P.S. I was unable to access a computer on May 27th to celebrate Harlan Ellison‘s birthday but let it be known that the speculative fiction author is now 77 as he accepts his latest Nebula award.