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Saturday, April 11, 2009

ASK MJ: THIS IS HOW YOU LEARN

Cari asks: What is the least helpful advice you have ever been given?

“Oh, that won’t burn. Go ahead! Try lighting it on fire! You’ll see.”

Kentuckydream asks: Have you ever hit a squirrel?

No, but I once attacked one with pepper spray and had to run away. It ended really badly. For me.

Parker asks: I’m curious Maureen, do you use any specialist software to write with?

I use Scrivener.

Hilly_wa asks: how do i pass my algebra class without doing the homework?

This I can answer, because I can honest count on one hand the number of times I did my math homework IN ALL OF HIGH SCHOOL. I’m not saying you should be like me, I am just telling the truth. I NEVER did it. Usually, I would stumble through the math homework in homeroom or on the bus, or in whatever ten minute pocket of time I could find. (This is how I would continue to live my life, as it turns out. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done!) However much I tried, I usually didn’t finish all the problems by the time I got to class.

What you are about to read was the actual way I got past the “show your work on the board” problem. I am letting you in on a personal secret.

Somehow, when I was a freshman, I sussed out the solution wasn’t to hide the fact that I hadn’t done the work, but to almost aggressively promote the fact. Not smugly, but I made no attempt to deceive. It was like I was saying, “I know you are smarter than me, Sister, so I won’t lie to you. Not to you. I place my notebook squarely on the desk for you to see. I will not hide my shame!”

But there was an important second element . . .

I had a good friend named Suzanne who was in my math classes for the first three years. Whenever Sister would go around the room asking for people to do problems on the board, I would wait until we got to the end . . . to the really, really hard problems that no one wanted to do . . . and then I would raise my hand OBNOXIOUSLY HIGH and volunteer both myself AND SUZANNE. For the first few weeks, Suzanne would visibly wilt when I did this and give me a “Seriously, Maureen, one of these days I am going to kill you” looks, and I would respond with me, “But you really love me very much and I will buy you a pretzel later” looks. Since I was essentially punishing myself (and Suzanne) by doing the worst problems, there was no particular harm in letting me continue with this behavior. I think Sister sensed what some refer to as my “charming tenacity” and knew that I would never, ever stop, so I got away with this for three years.

In the fourth year, I had a different nun, who happened to (conveniently) be insane. Like, really, really insane in the way people are when they are insane. Through some very strange scheduling glitch, I ended up in a class full of juniors (as we had some math classes you didn’t have to take in sequence, and I was in the honors English and language track). This sister was obsessed with hierarchy, and I was The Senior in the class, so whatever I did was right, even when it was absolutely stone-cold incorrect.

“My Senior,” she would say, patting me on the head as she passed. “You Juniors, you’re going to be seniors someday, so you have to be respectful.”

This drove my junior friend out of their minds, as they were the kind who spent hours and hours and hours doing their homework, and I would waltz in with my half-done scrawl and some doodles and be told I was Right. It went from me being a little bit off, to a lot off, to putting outrageous things in there just to see if she was even reading what I wrote. Things like:

The answer is 3x [x being eels] = 4y [as in y not?] + 7pc [pc = pine cones, the entire equation proving that if you have three times that number of eels, you might as well get some pine cones to go with them]

An A for The Senior!

Basically, any nonsense I wrote with some numbers and variables in it was Good Enough For Sister, and any actual math my friends did was wrong, even when their answers were correct.

“But sister . . .” they would complain. “We HAVE the answer. It’s right. Here . . . “

And Sister would just shake her head and tell them to stop it and just accept those five points she had knocked off, and maybe they should take a page from my book and learn a thing or two from The Senior.

This gave me ample opportunity to sit and write things all seventh period, which is all I remember doing in senior year math. Letters, stories, short manifestos . . . Life doesn’t give you opportunities like that very often, and when you see one, you should hop on it.

I’m not suggesting you should copy any of my math-related behavior . . . I can only tell you what worked for me. I should also say that you have really never lived until you’ve seen me explain basic accounting principles, or even just try to figure out a check.

Crista asks: Why are you the way you are?

I think there are many reasons, Crista, but here’s just one I can think of. My parents gave up on listening to popular music when they were only about 20 or so, so they had absolutely no clue what was going on in the music world when I was a tiny mj. As such, when I got my first little stereo to play with, they went out and bought some albums at random, largely from the discount bin at the music store at the mall.

My parents are also excessively patriotic and like anything that has to do with the US armed forces (they collect albums of marches and patriotic songs), so they were naturally intrigued by a song called “In the Navy,” by the Village People. “In the Navy” sounded just the kind of thing that I should be listening to. So I took the album I had been given and dutifully played it. And loved it.

Now, perhaps you do not know “In the Navy,” but I can tell you that this is a classic case of “that word does not mean what you think it means.” This is the video to “In the Navy” and it may clear things up for you:



Naturally, I recognized at once that these were My Kind of People. Soon, I was running around the house singing “Fire Island”:

We can scream, but let's sing, we can do each other's thiing, yeah
Fire island - it's a funky weekend, a funky funky weeke-end
Don't go in the bushes, don't go in the bushes, no
Don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya, someone might grab ya
Don't go in the bushes, don't go - in the bushes
Don't go in the bushes, someone might stab ya, yeah-eah


Of course, once I heard the classic YMCA, I was a fan for life.



This was probably around the time when I was asked what I wanted to be for Halloween, and I answered that I wanted to be either the cowboy or the cop from the Village People. Again, my parents were thrilled that I was embracing such wholesome, all-American figures. Which I was! Just NOT IN THE WAY THEY THOUGHT.

This is often the best way. When exposed to THAT MUCH GAYNESS at a young age, children can instinctively grasp the goodness and know that it is Right. Musical ignorance, patriotism, and economy turned me into a homophobe-phobe . . . and started me down the long, glittery path to Disco Heaven.

Now I have to go do some dancing. Please leave your questions for tomorrow, because I have MANY MORE DAYS TO GO and more advice to give!

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21 Comments:

Blogger Nadia Murti said...

Why do girls gossip so much, and why are we so image-obsessed?

3:15 AM  
Anonymous bee said...

What do I do about my best friend, who is flirting with a 27 year old? (we're both 17!) also, when we were 14, she also went out with a 27 year old! WHY DOES SHE LIKE OLD PEOPLE!?

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear mj,

What advice do you posess for us young writers? and how do you feel about people like Gordon Korman and Christopher Paolini who ge published at fifteen years old? P.S. Love your blogs

4:13 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Mcgrane said...

What kind of things inspire you to write? :) love your blogs, make me laugh everyday!

4:24 AM  
OpenID juliakarr said...

What is not to love about the Village People?! Yay!

4:24 AM  
Anonymous Leslie said...

hey MJ what do you think of movie talkers?

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Dahlia said...

Hey MJ,

There's this boy I kinda like, but I've only met him once. I'm seeing him with some friends on Monday. As an achieved matchmaker, what do you think I should do? Should I make a move?

Thanks!

6:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear MJ: this post made me wonder....are YOU gay?

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, MJ,
What's your take on hot air balloons?

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Summer said...

I'm bored!! what should I do?

7:40 AM  
OpenID lalalaamichelle said...

Homophobe-phobe. Ooh. You're good*.




*I made a typo the first time I typed that, and it read "you're god", which I liked, but not enough to not fix it. So I just pointlessly mentioned it here. And wasted your time. Oops.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Marvelous Maggie said...

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

"When exposed to THAT MUCH GAYNESS at a young age, children can instinctively grasp the goodness and know that it is Right."

That was the FUNNIEST THING EVER.

Now, I have a question: Who is your favorite Disney princess? And what is your reasoning behind your choice?

8:46 AM  
Blogger Marvelous Maggie said...

I'm sorry my laughter stretched out the page. I hate it when people do that and would delete it, but my computer won't let me!

This is really going to bug me.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

Do you believe in aliens?

I tell you the answer if you tell me your belief.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Kristin said...

Can you recommend a few books for me to read?

9:46 AM  
OpenID jemmafey said...

When you are brainstorming for new story ideas, do you wear a thinking cap or squeeze a very special stuffed animal tightly while chanting? What are your cheesy but charming rituals?

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi mj,
i have a problem.
i go to a uni and see this girl around. i know she is studying horticutural, and she wears a hat.
but thats all.
problem is, i am a girl too.
she looks pretty butch so i'm sure shes gay, but i'm femme.
we've been exchanging long looks so either she thinks i'm a stalker/weird girl who stares, or she's slowly getting the picture.
the other day i left the garden where she - and her whole class - were, and i turned around behind me and she was watching me leave!
what can i do to drop some hints?
i don't look gay at all.
shes really cute tho!

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Bridgette said...

Are you, by any chance, attending the International Reading Association conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota? Do you know any Young Adult authors who are planning to do so? Have you been to Minnesota before?

12:03 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

John Green seems to be obsessed with you. What is he more obsessed with, your brilliance or your stunning beauty?

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Effy said...

I have a serious DILEMMA, and I suck at making decisions like these. Ok, so should I buy, on iTunes: the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; or 5 episodes of "Skins". I love them BOTH! And I can only afford one or the other right now. HELP?!!?

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Leslie B. said...

Hey MJ
I'm a teen writer and I finnished my first novel. I know all the steps get it out there into the fast pace world of publishing. But there is one thing standing in my way: THE PARENTS. (Okay that's two I'm a writer don't think I have to be good at math. DO I?) Anywho I have my queries ready to be emailed but here lies the other problem: NO EMAIL ADDRESS. They told me I could send the letters with their email but that's stupid I'm Seventeen not a baby.
Please help me

2:37 AM  

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