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joy grabiec

How to Procrastinate Wisely

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joy grabiec

If you’ve ever been on the Internet, chances are you’ve stumbled across a thought-provoking essay by hyperprolific writer and English professor Roxane Gay. We wanted to find out how she finds time to watch Law & Order.

If there’s a through line in my work, it’s giving a damn about the world. Whether I’m writing fiction, nonfiction, or criticism, it’s about caring enough to speak up about what I think and feel. I read a lot, and I’ll think, “I have an opinion about this.” It will start from there. I’ll cook something, and I’ll think, "I’m going to blog about this."

I’m an insomniac. Theoretically, I sleep about four or five hours a day. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all. I live in the middle of nowhere, and there’s literally nothing to do. It’s the best cure-all for work I know. If you want to write this much, just move to a very small town in Illinois.

Twitter makes me feel as if I’m in a big, communal office space. I find that chatter helps me focus. I do a lot of my best thinking on Twitter!

If I’m in my office, I’m much better at focusing, because if I’m at home, I’m like, “Oh, Ina’s on the Food Network.”

At home, I mostly work in front of the TV, so I can watch Law & Order.

I think there’s value in procrastination. I do a lot of writing in my head, doing the work mentally before I ever commit something to paper. I think our minds are telling us something about what we’re ready to do and not do.

I love listening to music while I work. I make this list called “Music,” whatever I like at the moment. Right now, it’s a lot of Beyoncé, Lorde, Haim, and some sort of BS rap, of course. And some Lady Antebellum, my favorite guilty pleasure.

I read every day. Books. With magazines, I always have good intentions, but they’re sitting in a stack on my coffee table. The one magazine I read regularly is The Believer.

I write at airports, in hotel rooms, on planes. I’m going to be on the road for the next 10 days, and I have a reading or meeting in each place. But I have a bunch of free time and I don’t know anyone, so it’s easy to write. When I’m not at home, it’s very easy to focus.

Writing online has given me a thicker skin. I can deflect an argument in a way that’s productive. I’ve learned to figure out what is valid, and that has helped me become a better rhetorician.

My next novel is called The Year I Learned Everything. People are calling it YA. It’s about a young woman who has a really transformative year; she learns about love and finding herself and overcoming her past. It’s a novel told in diary entries. I love immersing myself in her voice.

I’m trying to make more time for human interaction, away from the laptop. On Sundays, I try not to make my phone the first thing that I look at.

You have to make space in your life for writing. I love to have fun and play. But I make time for writing. It’s a significant priority for me. You have to commit. It can’t be like, “Maybe I’ll do this.” You don’t have to write every day to be a good writer, but you can’t not write every day.

A version of this story appeared in an issue of mental_floss. Subscribe here.

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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literature
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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