Ashley Franklin

The other storyteller

You may recall me saying that my kids prefer my husband’s stories since they’re predominantly action-driven. Well, it looks like I’ve been one-upped again, this time by my mother-in-law.
I was in the middle of reading a story when my 5yo interrupted,”Where’s grandmother?”
“Ummm…in the kitchen doing grandmotherly things.”
“Grandmother was telling me stories of Mama Frizz last night. Do you know any?”
“Nope, so I’ll see if Grandmother is available.”
Of course she made herself available. That’s what grandmothers do. She set the mood and told stories of Mama Frizz. She told stories of being in the country as a little, city girl.
She gave him a bit of family history for story time. It was wonderful. As she left the room, she said something that I couldn’t help agree with.
She said, “For stories, I think that sometimes the real thing is best.”
 

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A little Aesop, a Bit of Thunder & Self-Actualization of my Writer Self

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: my mom was all about representation when I was younger. Sure I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood and attended a predominantly Black church, but school was on the other end of the spectrum.
I was in one of those gifted and talented programs, and there were only a handful of people of color in it at any given time. Clearly I learned a great deal, but there were also a few experiences that clearly stand out from the rest.

  1. My third grade math teacher was a Black woman. I don’t remember her last name, but I remember her first name was Bathsheba. She probably didn’t know it, but she made my day–Every. Single. Day. Her being brown made me feel less awkward, less alone. Seeing her made me feel like maybe I could grow up and feel like I could have an important job too. Maybe I could even be teacher.
  2. In my elementary years, I was also introduced to the first Black characters in a school-assigned book. My English teacher was white, and I couldn’t tell you her name now if my life depended on it. But I am thankful for her. Having followed the traditional route of reading what most kids read, what you naturally assume are books featuring non POC–Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, etc., imagine my surprise when we started reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Brown characters! Brown characters all around! I guess this class was also when I had my first of what we would now call “woke” experience. I was surrounded by white people and was reading about ill-intentioned white people. It was a new layer to the feeling of difference. But, I was reading about brown people. It was also the first book I remember making me cry. It was also important because it was the first POC book that I remember beyond Aesop’s fables. Yes, it was also dated, but it made me feel relevant.
  3. The first two events sparked something another first-the first time I changed my mind about what I could be when I grew up. Maybe I could write too. I vaguely remember that we had a reaction assignment. I remember writing about slaves. My Uncle read it before I turned it in, and I remember him asking if I’d really written it because it was really good. My teacher also thought it was good. Maybe that’s when I first became a writer. It just took me until my 30s to remember my purpose and step back into it.
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That weird space between goals and dreams

As a writer, I feel like this is my permanent home. I’m constantly somewhere between goal-chasing and dreaming. I haven’t really given this limbo-like space much thought, so maybe I’ll have a bit more clarity by the time I’m done this post.
Perhaps what fills this space is waiting–waiting to hear from critique partners, my agent, an editor, a publisher, my agent again, etc. For someone whose mind is constantly going a mile a minute and who is so impatient she yells at the microwave to “Friggin get a move on!”, to say that this is a learning experience and a test in patience is certainly an understatement.
What do I do as I strive to reach my dreams of being a full-time writer a reality? I wait. Honestly, I write more. I whine to my husband. I strategize my next move. I feel like this is an impossible goal, and then I tell myself to knock if off and keep pushing.
Maybe those strange little dudes were on o something with that whole “whistle while you work” thing. Maybe small distractions that you can do while you work at a larger task are ideal. Whatever the case may be, I know I have to keep at it.
 

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Why Cree had to win the day

I took an unexpected detour on my writing journey and did a bit of editing. How did that happen? An old college friend who knew of my published picture book quest reached out to me. When she told me of what she and a colleague wanted to do, I couldn’t say no. They didn’t just want to write a picture book, they wanted to birth a unique character to add to children’s bookshelves. That’s just what they did.
Ti and Lora created a perfectly imperfect African-American girl character. Think on that. Two African-American women from Philly saw a void and filled it. It’s as simple as that. See a need. Fill a need. While self-publishing can come with its difficulties, they persisted. Their community of friends, family, and loved ones helped their dream become a reality. Not only did Cree win the day, Lora and Ti did as well.
Cree Wins the Day isn’t just a story for girls. I have two boys, and the closest rival to this book in our home right now is Pete the Cat. What makes Cree so appealing to them? My 5yo likes that Cree wets the bed. My 2yo likes Cree going to school. (Those are all the spoilers you get. Go buy the book  from Amazon if you want to know more.)
Cree embraces what makes her different. Cree’s abilities, that sometimes make her days  a little crummy, show readers that our day-to-day lives may not be perfect or go as expected and that’s okay. We should always love ourselves and know who helps us to have a healthy mental space. That’s a lesson anyone can get behind.
 
cree
 

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Pre-k graduation & other tragedies

Yes, I was on the fence about my kids’ pre-k graduation at first. Then I was super excited about it and disgruntled because we were running late. As luck would have it, so were they. We ended up being like 15 minutes early while also being 15 minutes late. Feel free to let that sink in for a minute.
The graduation celebration basically had two parts. The first part was the kids doing Quran recitations and sharing other tidbits that they’d learned throughout the year (or in my kids’ case, the past couple of months). The second part was more for the parents and gave basic information about the school’s first year of existence. I guess you could say that the celebration was for the kids and the school as a whole. I commend the principal and the board. I mean, I imagine that it’s no small task to start a school!
Anyway, my 2yo was being a typical 2yo and wanted nothing to do with the entire thing. He drank water, kept the teachers running after him, and then came and sat on my lap during the performances. It’s not like he didn’t know the routine. He did it from my lap and cheered his brother on.
My 5yo was awesome. He was most active during the songs, and that’s what I expected. He shook and sang for al it was worth. It was great.
I’m pretty sure they called my 2yo as one of the first ones to get his certificate just to get him out of the way, and I totally understand that. He actually went back and sat with the other kids after he got his graduation cap and goody (goodie?) bags. I couldn’t help but smile when my 5yo proudly got his certificate. He has had an eventful year (in and out of pre-k, a couple of floods, moving, etc.).
The tragedy?Maybe 10 minutes into the parent part, the principal tapped me on the shoulder saying my 5yo had got hurt. Apparently he had been playing on a scooter, and the scooter proved to be the victor. He was upset, crying, and bleeding. I gave him kisses and told him I was proud of him for being so brave. The teachers, volunteers, and assorted sisters of the community all helped. They were great.
So yeah, that totally sucked. But, a little cuddling, ice, and biryani when we got home and all was well. An assortment of text messages from the sisters of the community didn’t hurt either.
All in all, it was an exciting day. But hey, I’d expect nothing less from my family. Oh yeah, I did say tragedies, huh? I guess the other tragedy would be realizing my babies aren’t babies anymore.

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Slightly below halfway decent mom status

“Seriously?!” I actually lost count of how many times I said it between last night and this morning. Upon telling my 5yo he had to go to bed because he had school the next day, he cried ferociously, asking “Why does it keep happening?!”
(I’ll admit that I did laugh at that when I was out of earshot.)
Just to keep things interesting, someone unleashed a stomach bug later in the evening that chose its victims as random. They shall remain anonymous to protect their privacy, lol.
My 2yo son was an absolute gem this morning! He ate his breakfast yogurt, brushed his teeth, and got dressed without any fuss. All he asked was that I turn on “Kate and Mim Mim” in the background. Thanks Netflix!
After pleading that they move at any speed faster than the one he was moving in, my 5yo finally got it together. We left 5 minutes later than what I’d wanted, but the goal was in sight. I unlocked the car, and my 5yo climbed in. My 2yo ran in circles around the car laughing and screaming “NO SCHOOL FOR ME!” I’m not sure how long I chased this child around a delightfully dull parking lot in the overcast morning, but I”m sure his arms must have been tired from him pumping them in the air in glee.
If this is Monday, what on Earth will the rest of my week be like? I’m pretty sure that I”m definitely slightly below halfway decent mom status today, and it’s still early.
 

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I can’t do it all, and I’m finally okay with that.

Next week, both of my boys will be in pre-school/ daycare. I know that this may not seem like that big of a deal to many, but it’s huge for me. I teach online for a couple of colleges. I write. I occasionally tutor. My boys have been home with me since they day they were released from the hospital. There have been date nights sprinkled in, but they are few and far between.
I am not complaining. I am stating facts. It has been wonderful being home with my kids. I’ve not missed any milestones. I’ve had a chance to be there for them, and we are very close. I wouldn’t trade my time with them for the world.
Yet, I have to be realistic. I can no longer live off of less than 6 hours of sleep. I’m not as young as I used to be. My sleepless shake-back is no longer at college level. Why don’t I sleep much? Like many SAHMs, finishing up the daily cleanup tends not to happen until the kids have gone to bed. (There’s no greater satisfaction than knowing that you’ve picked up Legos for the final time during a 24-hour period.)  Once I’ve done than, I start working and breakfast is right around the corner.
I am fulfilled, but I am also tired. I’m extremely tired. Initially, I felt guilty, like I was abandoning my kids by putting them into preschool/ daycare. But, I realized that I can’t shortchange them or myself any longer. I’m entitled to be well-rested, and they’re entitled to a mom who isn’t too tired to enjoy their endless energy. To be perfectly honest, you want to know what helped me as well? I stopped looking at daycare as another expense. Instead, thanks to my husband’s prompting, I’m looking at it as an investment in myself and our family. (Yeah, there that guy goes with another gem, huh?)
I wear many hats, but starting next week, the next hat I wear is likely to be a hair bonnet while I catch up on some sleep.

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Storystorm: PiBoIdMo 2.0

storystorm_participant Today is the first day of StoryStorm. You may be more familiar with its previous name: PiBoIdMo. Tara Lazar is once again bringing the goods, and this time, with the move of the initiative from its November time slot, we can all start off our year in the best possible way: with hopeful creativity and a supportive community.
Sure, StoryStorm is for writers, but non-writers can benefit from the principles. Write down a bunch of things that interest you. Write down one thing a day. Here’s another twist: take the time to write down something that makes you happy every day for a month. Keep these items in a jar and refer back to them on a day when you’re down or when you’re in a funk.
Really, whatever you decide to do or not do this year, make it count. Don’t shortchange yourself. There’s only one you, and 2016 (if nothing else) taught us that how long we have on Earth is unknown. Do what makes you happy. Let the smile on your face be so genuine that it infects others. Be the light in the world you want to see. If we all did that, imagine how bright things would be.

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What 2016 did for me

Let’s take a look at what my 2016 writing goals were:
That being said, I have some writing expectations for 2016. I expect to write at least 12 picture book drafts. That is a lofty goal. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be a 12X12 group. I don’t need cheerleaders like that. I’m sure that works for some folk, but a big, organized group would probably do me more harm than good at this point. Why? I hate when people feel left out, so I always feel obligated to respond or help or lend an “ear.” I’m not going to get much written if I keep letting myself get distracted.
(That’s an excerpt from my old blog, in case you were wondering.) Did I write 12 picture books? I did! I’d also had a goal to write a MG novel. Did I do that? Nope. I started one but didn’t like it. It has been abandoned for now.
What else did 2016 have in store for me? 2 floods, moving twice, and finding out I have carpal tunnel in both arms after busting my butt from trying to recover from the floods. I also landed an agent thanks to a Twitter pitch party.
Clearly, this was a rough year. However, I learned a very important lesson: I am stronger than I thought. We never really know our limitations or the depths of our strength until life really lets us have it.
If I can strive to meet my writing goals after losing nearly everything in a flood and living with my family in a room at my mother-in-law’s house, I will continue to seek that same inner strength as I approach 2017.
So what did 2016 do for me? It taught me that I am as awesome as I strive to be. I surpass awesomesauce. I’m at like awesomeroux level. (smile)
 
 
 

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Evaluating My Own Privilege as an Online Educator

As dialogues across college campuses seek to heal the divide that exists as we anticipate what may come as president-elect Trump prepares to take office, I have done nothing additional for my students. I haven’t held any additional office hours. I haven’t altered my lessons plans to include additional talks on diversity. I haven’t engaged with students on a one-on-one basis to help them navigate their emotional responses.
While I applaud my professor friends and college professors across the country who are doing these things, I simply haven’t had to. It’s not that I don’t care. In fact, quite the opposite is true. You see, I’m an online instructor and there is simply no room for me to do these things.
Not all online institutions are the same. I’ve worked for a few. On many occasions, the curriculum is pre-determined. Yes, I can add my two-cents from time to time, but the ability to do so is largely dependent on the course that I am teaching. If I were teaching political science, history, or may even communication, I may be able to speak on the current political climate. However, if I am teaching a course with a stringent curriculum that focuses only on texts and topics that were previously approved, my hands are pretty much tied.
Naturally, I want to let my students know that they are in a safe space. I tell them this every term when I offer my discussion board expectations. In fact, the discussion board may be my only loophole. If a student poses a question in regards to post-election uncertainties, I can respond guilt free. Otherwise, all I can do is hope that my silence does not speak volumes. My only hope is that my students don’t take my silence for indifference.
My students can look at my profile and see that I am an African-American Muslim. Clearly, this election has affected me. It has affected many who are marginalized and underrepresented.  Working in the online environment as afforded me convenience, but I have also sacrificed visibility.  Unless I am feeling extra profound and make a video to expound upon something within the curriculum or schedule a Skype session for a student who is particularly struggling, my students will see my profile picture, and that’s it. That’s the extent of my visibility.
My on-campus colleagues, however, are in the trenches. They are face to face with students who want answers, acceptance, and understanding. Traditional students are typically younger. My students are mostly older adults with work experience. More often than not, they are parents or grandparents. They are accustomed to life bringing the unexpected and sometimes inexplicable. A 17 or 18-year-old does not usually come with the same degree of seasoning.
Simply because of demographics and course structure, I have been issued a platter of privilege. I don’t have to address or heal the hurts of my students. I don’t have to stay at the office longer in order to accommodate their needs. They don’t present these types of needs to me.
Plenty of my colleagues in traditional classroom settings do have to do these things. Otherwise, they’ll be teaching to a disjointed and disheartened bunch.  I envy just how life-changing they can be at a time like this.
And while my voice may not ring across a classroom of hope-thirsty young adults, I have not accepted this as a time to remain silent outside of the classroom. You see, these issues were not born in the classroom, and that’s not the sole place where they will be fixed.
Just because you have a privilege pass doesn’t mean you have to accept. This is the point that I want to stress to my fellow online colleagues. What we can do in the classroom may be limited when compared to what our colleagues working in traditional environments can do, but that does not mean that we can’t do anything. Our lives, just like our students’ lives extend beyond the classroom. We have a voice, and we can find spaces to use it.

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