nonfiction assignment

October 14, 2010

My professor assigned us to write a non-fiction article between 500 and 800 words for a target audience ages 5-9 or ages 10-14. Taking my husband’s advice, I wrote about the founders of Google. I used the Wikipedia articles on Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Google as my sources.

 

“The Google Guys”

by Anna Sargeant

 

“I don’t know! Google it.” Google is one of the primary ways to get information today. In fact, Google has so intertwined itself into society that it’s hard to believe just 15 years ago, Google hadn’t even been thought of.

When Larry Page was a kid, the vast majority of people didn’t have a computer in their home. But Larry’s house in Michigan was different. His parents were computer science professors, so he was surrounded by computers. As a boy, Larry spent lots of time taking everything he could get his hands on apart, just to put it back together again. Larry was a thinker, a problem solver, an innovator. He loved inventing new things. In elementary school, Larry was the first kid in his school to turn in a typed paper. In college, Larry made a printer solely out of Legos. And by 23 years old, he started working on BackRub, what would later, thanks to his collaboration with Sergey Brin, become Google.

Sergey Brin’s childhood wasn’t crammed with computers, but with frustration, intolerance, and change. Sergey’s family was Jewish, and in Russia at the time, Jews were discriminated against. Sergey’s father’s opportunities were limited, and he knew his son’s would be also. So the four members of the Brin family left their 350-square-foot apartment in Moscow and headed for the United States. At six years old, Sergey was thrown into a brand new country with a brand new language and brand new way of life. But Sergey was a driven kid. In addition to going to school, he studied mathematics with his father at home. With his abilities and hard work, it comes as no surprise that it took him just three years to graduate from college with a double major in math and computer science.

Larry met Sergey at Stanford University in 1995. Both were 22 years old and working on their doctorates. The two young men soon discovered they shared an interest in the idea of a web search engine. So they crammed themselves and their computers into a dorm room and, as was their custom, got straight to work.

By 1996, Google was up and running on the Stanford university website. Larry and Sergey named the search engine by intentionally misspelling the word googol, which is a 1 with 100 zeros after it. This was their subtle way of saying, “Google can handle tons of information!” They soon moved into a friend’s garage to continue developing the Google idea. In 1998, Google became a publicly used search engine and 12 years later, hundreds of millions of searches are made via Google every day.

Larry and Sergey have said that they believe “work should be challenging and the challenge should be fun.” From a young age they worked hard at what they loved, whether in Michigan, Moscow, or Maryland. They were students and inventors, using the resources they’d been given to give something new to the world. Now, both 37 years old, they continue to work with their over 21,000 employees to see the world become a better place because of Sergey’s belief that “knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance.”

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class number 3

September 10, 2010

On Wednesday night I learned in my creative writing class that there’s no plot without conflict and visa versa. This seems logical. A story has to go somewhere, it has to mean something, and the reader has to care. But it’s one thing to say this and another thing to do it. The question I pose today is why is this so hard for me?

I’ve decided to brainstorm the possibilities. Why do I struggle so much to get conflict on the page?

Possibility #1: I’m not in touch enough with my emotions. I can’t drive a story with emotional energies that I haven’t experienced or don’t know how to express well through the written word. I think this has something to do with it, but if I tried to claim this were the only problem, I’m sure my husband would beg to differ. He’s seen plenty of emotional upheaval to call this theory into question.

Possibility #2:  I don’t like conflict. I shy away form it. I want nothing to do with any sort of confrontation. This is mostly true. Although, again, I’m sure my husband could provide ample evidence of many a fine argument he and I have had (that I started), but I think I’m onto something here, so I’ll go with this train of thought.

Possibility #3:  I have not faced tragedy, impossible situations, or taken many risks myself, so how on earth am I supposed to expect my characters to? I think this is the kicker. The best protagonists are the ones who go out and fight their own battles, who take the world by storm, who take destiny into their own hands. Should I expect something of my characters that I don’t expect of myself?

On a side note, I have always been puzzled by the writer’s life. Aren’t most writers introverts who lock themselves in tiny rooms, far removed from the complexities of this world, to let their imaginations run free? If so, how can they come up with such great material with so little experience to base it on? I suppose that’s what makes those writers great and what makes me just plain confused. (I know I’m rambling here, but isn’t that what a blog is for?)

So I think I discovered it: A protagonist is someone who does something extraordinary. And I am someone who has yet to do so. Many other writers are like me, compliant, introverted, and conflict-allergic. And yet they manage to create a world for their bold character. I know it’s going to take some time (perhaps a lot of time), but hopefully one day I’ll get there.

I must add that my professor tried put this whole “conflict” thing in perspective. She said pie or ice cream is a conflict. The chooser has to make a choice, and for some people, this can be a very difficult choice! All that’s required is the tension, the should I or shouldn’t I, the uncertainty. That’s what’ll keep the reader reading. Now I just have to learn how to set conflicts up, so that the reader worries about the character and turns to the next page.

the greatest generation

September 7, 2010

In honor of the Labor Day holiday, I spent many hours yesterday reading a fascinating book by Tom Brokaw  titled The Greatest Generation. It is a compilation of short biographies of various World War II heroes. Heroes on the battlefield and the home front, in the air and on the ground, in battle and in medical tents. Brokaw did his research, and I remain in awe. The way these young men and women laid their dreams, their families, their futures, their very lives on the line for duty and country astounds me. In fact, I hate to admit it, but such courage is a foreign concept to me. They laid the foundation for the life of luxury and affluence that I am now accustomed to, that I take for granted as the American way of life. But this has not always been the American way of life. It is only thanks to the discipline, faith, and courage of the “greatest generation,” that the world is what it is in the 21st century.

By my age, the men of this generation had seen more suffering and death than I will hopefully see in my lifetime (although I know that’s not guaranteed). They watched their best friends, brothers, and countrymen die. They shot and killed their enemies, point blank. They witnessed the atomic bomb. They freed concentration camps. They trained. They rescued. They never gave up. They accomplished the impossible.

And if war wasn’t enough to stress them out, they hoped against hope that their girlfriends wouldn’t abandon them, their wives wouldn’t forget them, and their children whose births they missed would eventually learn to love them. They lived each day knowing it might be their last, and when the war was over, they kept living that way. Joe Foss, one of the best fighter pilots in the Marines and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, said, “Those of us who lived have to represent those who didn’t.” Those who survived the war had been given a chance at life that over 400,000 Americans had not.

It was time to get busy. With family, work, and community.  Dr. Charles Van Gorder, captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, summed up how many returning soldiers felt about their lives when he said, “If I had my life to do all over again, I’d do it the same way–go somewhere small where people have a need.” And fill that need 100%, I would add.

The greatest generation was dedicated to principles that most members of my generation have abandoned. As members of the military, the men were trained in the art of hard work, self-discipline, and taking responsibility for their actions. They didn’t play the blame game. There simply wasn’t time. On the front lines, they fought for and with the soldiers around them. They were a team, a unit, a co-dependent operation. To take pride in self wasn’t part of the job description. They gave their lives for each other, for their loved ones back home, and for future generations. They were willing to die for duty and honor and goodness. Reverend Harry Hammond, an officer in the Army said, “I think we were on God’s side. The United States has done some foolish things, but in that war I knew we had God with us.”

Many men who fought in World War II would agree with Reverend Hammond. When the Axis was finally brought down and the horrors of what they were doing to their countrymen were revealed, there’s no doubt America had helped save the world from maniacal tyranny.

Without the destruction of the Axis Powers, the industrial and technological advances brought on by WWII, and the work ethic displayed by the men and women of that time, who knows what the world would be like today. The founding fathers gave us freedom, but the greatest generation secured it, at least for now. The question I must ask myself, then, is what am I doing with that freedom? And what lessons can I learn just by studying these heroes’ lives of self-sacrifice and loyalty? How can I honor them through my life, 65 years later?

writing class

September 3, 2010

Wednesday was my second night in ENGL 2307 at ACC (for those of you who don’t know, ACC stands for Austin Community College). ENGL 2307 is an introduction to writing children’s literature course, so it pretty much suits me perfectly. The professor is articulate, thorough, engaging, and most importantly, published. Because let’s admit it, if I’m going to take a class on creative writing, I’d like to be listening to someone who knows their stuff so well that they’ve been successful in the field. (Now we can go ahead and label “publication” as “success,” because despite what everyone says about writing being it’s own reward, that’s my definition).

More than anything, I like that this class puts me in the presence of kids’ books again (since I’m no longer in a classroom) and invites me to discuss how they work. Just as there is a fine art to science, there is a science to the arts, creative writing included. To steal from George Orwell, all story elements are important, but some are more important than others, depending on the age of the audience and genre of literature. For example, kids that are reading easy readers don’t want much setting description. Many such stories are set in places such as schools or neighborhoods. Leaving out details about the main character’s particular school or neighborhood allows the reader to bring their own experiences to the story.

Picture books are wonderful examples of how all the story elements–plot, conflict, characterization, setting, and tone/style–remain essential. Brilliant picture book authors interweave simple demonstrations of these elements into a beautifully triumphant tale that may only take a few minutes to read aloud. Of all the children’s books our group read this past Wednesday night, the picture book In the Rain with Baby Duck was my favorite. Good picture book authors are geniuses. To convey all that emotion, intrigue, and insight in 32 pages with one sentence on each is alarming. How is it done? With lots and lots of practice. With plenty of patience. With freedom to fail. With extra doses of observation. With a willingness to cut. And with the heart of a child. Perhaps I should aim to write picture books. What an upside-down world this is!  Think of all the people who scoff at picture books, as if they were written by the simpletons, the lazy ones, the ones who possess limited vocabularies. Indeed, picture book authors are misunderstood. For theirs is the highest calling and deepest challenge I can think of in the world of children’s literature.

My professor is a published picture book author. I have a feeling my deep respect for her will continue to grow throughout the semester.

rainy days and mondays…

August 11, 2010

Does anyone else my age like that song, or am a just my mother’s daughter? (The Carpenters were great, btw, for those of you who have no idea what I was referencing.) The sudden downpour this afternoon took me by surprise, although it shouldn’t have. This is Texas after all, and no form of inclement weather, other than a hurricane, should surprise me.

Although rainy days and Mondays always brought the Carpenters down, ’twas not so for me today. I find it rather refreshing actually, since the Texas heat has been quite scorching of late! My friend Magan even met a woman at the library who declared she makes a triangle of her days–work, grocery store, home–doing any and everything she can to avoid the unbearable heat. Poor soul. If only she were back in Australia.

I just glanced out my window and the raindrops have ceased. The thunder has stopped rolling, and the sun has even begun to peek through the gray clouds. Ah well. I wanted to go to the gym anyway. And although the rain was a nice change, I would rather drive without it.

…but it didn’t matter. I still did. So when that rejection email arrived in my inbox yesterday at 12:30 p.m., the tears immediately began to flow. I’ve been at the business of writing for children for more than a year, and this agency was the first one that didn’t reject me right away. I told myself to celebrate that fact. An agent had finally requested to view my work! And a respected agent in the field at that! That fact alone was enough, or so I kept telling myself.

But the truth is that it wasn’t enough. I didn’t read that email with a grin on my face or gladness of heart. Instead, I was bitterly disappointed.

My story simply wasn’t up to par. They “enjoyed” the manuscript and thought my characters were “fascinating”…but in the end, it wasn’t worth their efforts. They didn’t hold my manuscript in their hands and say, “We HAVE to have this!” Instead, they said, “We’ll pass.”

Something punches me in the gut when I think about that. I double over and fall to my knees, face down. But I have an Advocate who whispers, “Take my hand. Stand up. Follow me,” He says. “It’s much lovelier up here,” I tell Him after I arise. He smiles and says, “I know.”

the tough stuff

July 28, 2010

Lots of people around me are going through “tough stuff.” Their hearts are breaking, their jobs are maddening, their bodies are failing, and their minds are wandering. Watching their lives unravel from up close confirms in my soul that what we see is not all there is. There is an enemy of the human condition. An enemy who is alive and working against us. In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill…Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.” Pressfield wrote his book in 2002. But two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) The human experience hasn’t changed. The enemy is not lack of education or money or proper upbringing (although I will acknowledge that these can be suffocating to the human spirit). The enemy is a being himself, just as the Savior is. I pray that those who are suffering through the tough stuff will realize that there is a peace and a glory that is ours for the taking. If only we would ask Him.