Barbara Froman

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I’m a writer and musician whose early love of sound led to study at the Juilliard School’s Preparatory Division. I then went on to receive degrees in Music Composition from Ithaca College and Northwestern University. After a few career twists and publications, I became the Director of Mundelein College's Creative Writing Program, then taught Literature and Creative Writing at National-Louis University where I also acted as a consultant to National's graduate program in Written Communication. I’ve written fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry, placed in screenwriting competitions, and was nominated for a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2011, my novel SHADOWS AND GHOSTS won the Fairleigh Dickinson/Serving House Books First Book Prize in prose and was subsequently published by Serving House Books. When I’m not writing, I’m blogging, practicing, composing, reading, or watching movies....

Caught

 

Le-faux-miroir

The False Mirror, 1928 — Rene Magritte

It was a Friday, not just the end of the term, but the end of the academic year, and the day of the final exam in Intro to English Literature. Final papers were due on Monday. Many of the students decided to give me their papers early, thinking they’d have a nice weekend, and put the papers on my desk before picking up copies of the test.

It wasn’t a problem for me. I never particularly enjoyed reading papers, and was happy for the chance to get through some of them while the students were busy. That’s when I discovered the plagiarism—whole paragraphs lifted from a work I knew well, with only a word here and there either omitted or changed—by one of my best students.

Because the writer was one of those rare people whose best work was extemporaneous (essays written in class were far more insightful, elegant, and beautifully reasoned than those written at home), I couldn’t imagine how he would have found this “writing” acceptable. I read and re-read the paper and simmered.

When he handed in his exam, I looked into his eyes and said, as quietly as I could, “You. Outside. Now.”

My family has told me that my face changes when I’m about to breathe fire. They call it the “Look of Death.” I know the expression. I’ve seen it often enough in my life.

Apparently, so had this young man. And as I pointed out the parts that had been plagiarized, and he kept trying to explain, defend himself, I stopped him short.

“No.” I gave him the paper. “You don’t get to talk. I talk. You listen.”

His eyes widened. He closed his mouth.

And then I launched into the speech my mother would have given me had I tried to get away with such an act: “I can’t believe anyone with your intelligence would be satisfied with work so shoddy and dishonest. Don’t you realize what a disservice it is to your gifts? Moreover, that it’s an insult to me? Did you honestly think you’d get away with it? That I wouldn’t recognize it?”

He tried to answer.

I wouldn’t let him. I said, “Enough. The paper’s not due until Monday,  so, I’m going to pretend that doesn’t exist. If you’re half as smart as I think you are, you’ll do the same, throw it right in the trash, because that’s where it belongs. You have three days. I suggest you think very carefully about what you’re going to write.”

And then I added, “I’ll be around all weekend. You have my number. If you have any questions, call.”

He did call. The next day. And he read a portion of what he’d written. It was thoroughly original and as brilliant as the work he always did in class. I told him to keep going.

On Monday, when he gave me the paper, he apologized. He had told his mother what had happened, and she must have looked at him with either the same “Look of Death,” or that “How could I have had a child so dumb?” face mothers get when their kids do something really bone-headed. He said she told him to thank me, which he did, because, as she said, “That teacher could have given you an ‘F’. Instead she gave you another chance.”

Mothers.


Writing doesn’t come easily to me. Oh, maybe it was easier years ago, but in recent years, with six decades behind me, the words are less accessible, the ideas seem less fresh. Worse, when they do come, the ends appear before the beginnings, the sentences are disordered so that paragraphs are incoherent, and I will frequently over-describe a scene or person. When I finish a draft, editing is a kind of relief, the chance to fix, refine, polish. That is where the art is. And I agonize over it, sometimes for years.

While the work that makes it to the public may seem fluid, hopefully, effortless (after all, that is the goal), I know how hard-won, hard-wrought it was, how many hours, days, weeks, months, years it took to get it that way.

That is why plagiarism will never be trivial to me. It is an insult. It is shoddy. It is theft.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
As Chris, who has worked as a university mentor knows, plagiarism is rife among students. They must be smart enough to realise tha... Read More
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 19:32
Barbara Froman
I agree, Rosy, on all counts. This especially hit home, "Life is lived in subjective mode." It seems that narcissism has become an... Read More
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 22:54
Katherine Gregor
How lucky for your student that you gave him another chance. By that you not only established firm boundaries, but showed him gre... Read More
Thursday, 21 July 2016 13:29
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8 Comments

Fault Lines

Tien-Shan-fold-600x468

Over half-a-dozen years ago, someone very dear to me wound up in intensive care after surgery, the result of one of those risks often rattled off at lightning speed during pre-op consultations, or buried in miniscule print on consent forms.

To his credit, the surgeon took full responsibility for what happened—in effect, an unwitting oversight—and immediately brought in specialists to treat and monitor the condition, which, thankfully, resolved.

But, sadly, he never took responsibility for a different oversight: his failure to tell us about all the risks associated with that surgery, despite the fact that we asked for them.

As you might expect, we felt blindsided.

But this post is not about medical error.

It’s about survival instinct, the way it was leveled against us by some of our closest friends—as blame for not checking the surgeon thoroughly enough—a man at the top of his field with an international reputation, not consulting with other surgeons—we’d seen three, or asking about the risks.

You’ve heard it before, I’m sure.

Hit by a car?  You don’t look where you’re going.

Heart attack? You never exercise, eat right.

Flu? You should get vaccines.

Cancer? It’s all that bacon.

Surgeon error?  Sigh.

I could go on, but I won’t.

I’m not recommending that people behave irresponsibly—cross without looking both ways, play in traffic, be sedentary, gorge on cured meats and sweets, skip vaccines and physician background checks, but due diligence will only protect you to a point.

The truth is, you can look both ways when you cross and still get hit by a car barreling into you out of nowhere. You can exercise every day, follow whatever heart-healthy diet is current and still have a heart attack. And, even though you get your flu shot in October, and avoid nitrates like the plague, you can still come down with the flu in January, and get cancer.

Even the most painstaking due diligence will not completely protect you against accident, disease, or surgeon error.

While I was hurt by my friends’ insensitivity, I resisted the urge to strike back.

I understood that it came from the will to survive, self-protect, a will that is powerful and nearly irresistible. This is why our first impulse is to blame victims, claim, if only they’d done this, this, and that, they wouldn’t have fallen ill or prey to someone else’s missteps. Because we want to believe that if we are careful, and do this, this, and that, we will not fall ill or prey.

When, sadly, accidents do happen. People make mistakes. Our bodies can betray us.

And death is inevitable.

Related reading: “The Bad Luck of Cancer Patients”

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
To take this on board would change the world. It's exactly what western nations need to know. It affects every level of existence ... Read More
Thursday, 07 July 2016 23:09
Barbara Froman
Thank you so much, Rosie. I've just seen too much of this and couldn't keep quiet anymore. :-) So... But, I'm looking forward to ... Read More
Friday, 08 July 2016 19:42
Katherine Gregor
Interestingly, often it's the very same people whose knee-jerk reaction is to dish out blame who have – perhaps in a different sit... Read More
Saturday, 09 July 2016 11:06
662 Hits
4 Comments

Goats and Muffins

36322759-funny-goat-in-garden-at-sunny-day

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the cheese section of the grocery story. I didn’t notice the little animal pictures above each type of cheese, so I was picking up this wedge and that, scanning for information, on the hunt for a good, hard goat cheese.

After a few minutes, a woman with a store name-tag appeared at my side and pointed out the animals—silhouettes of cows, sheep, goats, then, as if reading my mind, picked up a wedge and said, “This one is good…not too goaty.”

Goaty?

I’ve been eating goat cheeses for years, but have never tasted goat meat, so I wouldn’t recognize any flavor as goaty…or not. On the other hand, I have eaten sheep’s milk cheeses that reeked of lamb chops, shanks, untreated wool, and that left me feeling as though I’d bathed in their essences.

But back to that particular cheese. I bought it, used it in an omelet, and found it acceptable. Not goaty at all…whatever that is.

I do like goats. A former neighbor brought one home from the zoo nursery where he worked, and I have fond memories of its budding horns and amber eyes, feeding it with a bottle, and watching its little tail wag like crazy when I scratched its head. It didn’t have any kind of distinctive odor. It was just delightful, relishing the nourishment, the human contact, and I was sorry to see it go back to the zoo.

Sometimes, when the grass is tall and bright, I fantasize about having a goat, letting it gnaw happily on my overgrown lawn, admiring its horns, scratching its head, and waiting for its tail to wag. I imagine myself planting daisies for it…that is, if goats like daisies, and peering into the neighbors’ windows to see if they’re looking out and saying, “There’s a goat in that garden, eating daisies….”

…which has nothing to do with muffins, of course. They’re in the title because I needed something sweet, starchy, and breakfast-y to go with the ungoaty goat cheese omelet, and since I had an assortment of lovely apples on hand, I used them. The muffins are gluten free, and the recipe is below.

Enjoy.

Gluten Free Apple Muffins

Ingredients:

Two medium apples, any variety, peeled and grated, or chopped in food processor (do not strain  and discard liquid).  Note: I suppose you could substitute apple sauce for this, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how much to recommend. If anyone tries it, I’d love to know what works.

Two extra large eggs

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons oil (I used canola, but any bland oil will do.)

1/3 cup dark raisins

1 cup gluten free flour mix*

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 10 muffin cups or use 10 liners. Beat eggs in bowl, add grated apples (including liquid), brown sugar, oil, and raisins. Blend well. Mix dry ingredients, sift into into egg/apple mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. If batter is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water (or apple juice, or milk, or coconut milk, whatever seems appealing). The batter should be moist, but substantial, not runny. Spoon into muffin cups until 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on rack.

Slather with butter, honey, or your favorite ungoaty, softened chèvre. :-)

Gluten Free Flour Mix (Bette Hagman’s formula)

2 cups rice flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup tapioca starch

(Suggested Reading: “Unicorn in the Garden” by James Thurber)

Recent comment in this post
Monika Schott
I love goats too, Barbara - their cheese and meat and cheeky character especially!
Friday, 06 May 2016 06:38
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1 Comment

Enlightenment

IMG_0095

At the age of three, William Moore knew all about the rocks his father brought home from construction sites. The lump of igneous rock at the bottom of the mayonnaise jar his mother had given him had been unearthed near a sink hole, the chunk of smooth rose quartz beside it had been wrested from a squirrel’s nut stash. They were all precious, unique. But the one he kept on his nightstand, the strip of petrified wood, found in a rusty tackle box, was his favorite. How tantalizing, how filled with mysteries it was—this strange object glistening with red and ochre, this once living thing that had turned to stone….

* * *

When William reached his fourth birthday, he made a startling discovery: if he kept silent, and listened closely, he could hear what people were thinking. Until then, all he knew of people came from what they told him, which actually said very little of value about them. But once he heard what they weren’t telling him, he forgot about his rocks. It was much more fun to stay quiet and pay attention. What, of importance, did he need to say anyway?

His parents were alarmed by his sudden muteness, and dragged him to his pediatrician, the old greasy-haired Dr. Monroe. Dr. Monroe handed him a sour pink sucker…

©2016

Read all of “Enlightenment”

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Thanks, Di.
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