Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Harry Potter Identity Crisis

I've been a Harry Potter nerd for about 18 years now, ever since the kids in my 8th-grade classes handed the books to me when I started teaching. And since the very beginning of my fandom, I started to think about which Hogwarts house I myself would be sorted into.

It was obviously Ravenclaw. Traits of Ravenclaws include wit, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity.

I didn't mind that everyone kind of wants to be a Gryffindor. Gryffindors are courageous, daring, and chivalrous. Harry Potter himself is one, and so are all his best friends. It would be cool to be a Gryffindor!

But, their defining characteristic is bravery, no question. I am only brave when it's absolutely necessary, so I knew that couldn't be me.

Anyway, maybe three years ago, I joined Pottermore, the ultimate official J. K. Rowling site for Harry Potter nerds. There, you can take the ultimate official sorting quiz. You can only take it one time. The results are binding! I held my breath, was brutally honest, and...

It said I was Hufflepuff.

Well, I've always imagined Hufflepuffs to be sort of blundering, doughy-faced, and dull, notwithstanding handsome and heroic Cedric Diggory's placement there. The result of the quiz triggered a major identity crisis. As such, I began feverish research and eventually, I came to terms with the sorting. When I really started thinking about it, I imagined that the Pottermore quiz had, in fact, identified my better angels - angels like loyalty, hard work, dedication, and fair play. And Cedric Diggory.

So, I've been merrily telling anyone who cares (and some people who don't) that I'm Hufflepuff. Some in the know tell me that's totally wrong, and that I'm obviously Ravenclaw, but I'm smug about it. "I'm loyal and kind," I tell them. What can they say to that?

And then, for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book's publication, along comes a new Harry Potter sorting quiz from Time Magazine. This one is researched by umpteen social scientists and tested with 10,000 data points. It claims to be the definitive source on Harry Potter sorting. I took it, knowing full well that I'm Hufflepuff now and proud of it.

It said I'm Ravenclaw, with Hufflepuff as a close second.


After studying the new quiz and thinking hard about each question, I think I understand the discrepancy. The Time Magazine quiz is prizing work ethic as the tippy-top Ravenclaw trait; whereas Pottermore assigns that trait at least partially to Hufflepuffs. The Time Magazine quiz puts humility as a top Hufflepuff trait.

Work ethic is obviously my defining characteristic, especially as no house lists "compulsion" as a commonality. As for humility? Let's not delve too deeply there.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Novel Snip: Close to Life

One of the most fun things about my book project is writing the complaints from parents against one of my leads, a high school English teacher with more than a decade of experience. She's me and she isn't me, but this letter? This letter could very well be in my own file. 

Sheila, the writer of this letter, is a mad parent who works for a US Senator. She's complaining about Isobel's anti-Americanism. Things get a little more complicated for poor Isobel from here.

Dear Principal Wallace,

As you know, I have been an engaged and supportive Liston Heights parent for ten years. During the past decade, I have had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with a number of top-notch Liston Heights educators. On many occasions, I’ve connected classrooms - some of which have included my own daughter, Erin Warner, as a student - with various elected officials. Last fall, you and I collaborated on a town hall event held at Liston Heights High School with Senator William McGuire, for whom I serve as State Director. As you’ll remember, Senator McGuire and his wife, Rita, sent their own children through the Liston Heights school system. I know firsthand that the Senator counts our schools as one of the treasures of the state.

It pains me then, because of my long and happy affiliation with the district, to bring an unfortunate matter to your attention. For many months now, I’ve been concerned about the pedagogy and professionalism of Isobel J. Johnson, a member of your English Department. I checked with the State Licensing Board, and while Ms. Johnson does appear to be properly credentialed, I’m quite certain that her teaching is far below the standard I’ve come to expect of the faculty at Liston Heights High School. I will outline my specific concerns below, but before I do, I want to point out that this is only my third formal complaint against a Liston Heights teacher. That is to say, I don’t take this action lightly. I think, if you’ll review the files of Mrs. Margaret Hall and Mr. Peter Harrington, you’ll see my complaints mirrored the eventual findings of the administration, and neither teacher continued to be employed by the district following my intervention.

Principal Wallace, you may not be aware that right in your own building, Ms. Johnson is infecting your students - bright and open-hearted young people - with a dangerous, insidious feeling of Anti-Americanism. With each classic Ms. Johnson hands to our children, she encourages them, under the guise of “seeing multiple perspectives,” to undermine these timeless works of literature. Imagine my surprise, for instance, when my daughter reported to me that Atticus Finch represents white supremacy, rather than the beacon of justice generations of Americans have known him to be. And now, while reading what is truly a Great American Novel, Ms. Johnson is asking not only what The Great Gatsby has to say about the American Dream, but rather she requires teenagers to question the sexuality and sexual preferences of the characters. 

Principal Wallace, I’m asking you to investigate Ms. Johnson’s methods and sources. I can’t be the only Liston Heights parent to object to a teacher of American Literature flaunting her own Anti-Americanism. Once you’ve concluded your review of Ms. Johnson’s practices, I’d like to meet with you to discuss your findings.

You have my very best wishes,
Sheila Warner

State Director
The Office of Senator William McGuire

Fun, right? I'm revising like crazy, and this is from Chapter 11. Maybe only 7 versions or so to go? We'll see.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Status Report

Okay, I'm getting into the swing. Being productive. Working on my book. Finishing other people's books. Thinking about writing book reviews. Cleaning the garage. That kind of stuff.

Here are a few of things I've been thinking about:

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I heard a This American Life that featured this syndrome. Basically, if Dunning-Kruger is in play, you think you're much better at something than you are. You think you're awesome (or at least above average), but you really suck. And, your friends probably won't clue you in.

Since then, I've been trying to figure out what my Dunning-Kruger things are - things I feel pretty confident about, but that I'm really quite bad at. So far, I think it might be dancing. But part of Dunning-Kruger says for sure that I CAN'T know that I'm really bad at the thing. It's a blind spot.

We'll all have a Dunning-Kruger moment at some point, and no one will tell us. Isn't that kind of unnerving?

How Do You Know If Your Book is Done?

I mean, I know my own book isn't done. I'm only on version 7 or 8 or 10. I'm assuming we'll go up to 15 revisions before it's ready to shop around? But, when I get there, will I know, or will it be a Dunning-Kruger thing? As luck would have it, my teacher just wrote a blog post about this.

It seems like I'm just in the mix of approaching doneness, but 2.5 steps from achieving it. I'm on the step of paying a freelance editor, a step that many people may be surprised to know is standard. In any case, I'm hoping that if I continue to work on it several hours per day this summer, I can make progress slightly faster than when I was doing my demanding, full-time job and writing just from 5 to 6am.

Psoriais Flare

I had an epic one at the close of the school year, and it's still not gone. So annoying, but I'm carrying on.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nine Things for Nine Years

Our youngest child is nine years old today. Here are nine things about him:

  1. He doesn't sleep very well. He hasn't ever, but we're all used to it now.
  2. He does things his own way. You can't predict what the way will be, and you probably can't influence the way. You have to roll with it and trust the master. The master is Mac himself.
  3. Two summers ago, he hated swimming so much that he cried about lessons and refused to get in the water. Of course, I wouldn't let him quit swimming because of safety and principle, so he sat sobbing on the edge of the pool for the full hour allotted to practice. This happened day after day.  Now, however, he loves swimming and wants to go to races. He laughs when I remind him of those other times with the incessant crying.
  4. Mac's not a morning person. He's so not a morning person that about six years ago, we began dressing him in clean clothes at bedtime in lieu of pajamas. This eliminated some morning tantrums, and it's a practice we've continued to this very day. Or, we just let it go, and he wears the same outfit for an entire weekend. It's a little gross, but it's not life threatening.
  5. He writes books, types them up, and gets them catalogued in the Lower School library. There's a series about Hamburger Boy and multiple issues of a magazine called Nature News.
  6. Mac hates potatoes, mostly even French fries.   
  7. When he is sleeping, he's super active. If you let him in your bed, he'll kick you in the face while you're in the midst of your REM cycle. Just don't let him in there. If you have to because it's eleven for goodness sake, and he's not anywhere near sleeping, block your whole self with pillows before you close your eyes.
  8. He loves school and does everything his teachers tell him to. This shocks me every time I hear it at conferences.
  9. Mac's very particular about his appearance - hair, clothes, shoes. If he doesn't like it or it isn't his style, he won't wear it. Because see #2. #2 is really all you need to know. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Annals of Medicine: Physical Report

I've neglected my health now for a couple of years (with the exception, of course, of handling the skinny poop). Now, however, as of this very day, I've finally achieved my routine physical. As I waited on the exam table, I felt simultaneously guilty and accomplished

At one point during the appointment, my doctor said, "This is odd - I ordered these labs on you two years ago, but..."

"But," I broke in, filled with shame, "I didn't do the labs because I was in a rush to go back to work, and then I just never came back."

The doctor nodded sagely. "I have two little kids," she said.


"Today, though," I told her, "I've arranged to stay until I'm all done in the lab. It's all getting finished on the same day."

She seemed appropriately proud of me.

I will now tell you what I learned:

  • I have low cholesterol, except for the good kind.
  • I do not appear to have diabetes.
  • My thyroid seems to be functioning well.
  • I'm probably not, at this time, dying of cancer. I explained several symptoms which could possibly indicate imminent death. The expert, however, felt certain that these did not if fact warrant any diagnosis beyond anxiety, which we're monitoring with a wait-and-see approach.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Annals of Teaching: The Crash

Summer Vacation, #teacherlife, school's out

Well, it's the first Monday of Summer Break. I'm eating a Lumberjack Muffin, which is part of my new 21-day meal prep challenge. It's not really a muffin, but rather some breakfast sausage, red pepper, onion, potato, and egg baked in a muffin tin. Delicious! In a few minutes, when it's not so cold from the fridge, I'm going to slice a peach as a second course.

You'll notice that my breakfast is super healthy and free from processed foods.

Anyway, speaking of the transition to summer, my plan this year was to crash hard on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after school got out, with the aim of curtailing the two-week adjustment-to-break funk. It's true, I did go to bed early on Friday. Saturday, though, I spent the day at a track meet. I did talk with really fun, funny, and bright track moms. That counts as relaxing, doesn't it?

Sunday, I spent several hours shopping for and prepping the meals for the 21-day meal prep challenge. I also went to a hockey game and to Costco. And to dance class.

My mom said, "Remember, you can sit and read a book." I did that later in the evening. Unfortunately, the book is not that great, and I have to finish the whole thing because I told the publisher I would review it on Literary Quicksand.

Now, despite my 10-minute meditation as part of the Anxiety Package on Headspace, I'm feeling nervous that I'm failing both my adjustment period and my summer goals list.

Unfortunately, this entire freakout is entirely in my nature.

Last year's transition to summer post. Rewind, Playback.

Two funny end-of-year anecdotes that still live in infamy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Bee 31

Maybe, even though I pretty much sucked at the May Bee Challenge, May has been my most prolific month on the blog this year.

Maybe I'm having a bad year?

Probably, but maybe I should compromise, forgive, and move on. After all, this year is just getting started! Not even half over! There's plenty of time to be more excellent. Maybe the person being more excellent will be the very person who's writing this blog.

Stranger things have happened.

I read the agenda for tomorrow's end-of-year faculty meeting, and it's starting with an "extended gratitude exercise." I'm going to start right now by saying I'm grateful for the May Bee Challenge, which actually inspired me to post some half-assed anecdotes on my website.

Thanks, Lee! And Mary! And Mel!

Let's all just keep writing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May Bee 30

Maybe the end of the school year is like falling off a horse. This metaphor came to me as my friend Erin described being hurtled over the head of her horse a couple of years ago. She'd been going at a full run on a horse called Sparkle, a prospect I can now attest would be terrifying. I know it would be terrifying because I trotted on some horses this weekend with Erin as my supervisor.

Trotting is fast enough.

Anyway, when Erin fell off the horse, sailing over its head in death-defying fashion, Sparkle had suddenly stopped short.

When school ends, you're similarly going at full speed. Writing report card comments, grading, cleaning your room, cobbling together thank you notes, basically holding on for dear life. Then school stops, and your body goes hurtling forward with nothing to check it. You land in a heap, possibly broken and bleeding.

That hurtle is coming. I'm trying to put some foam pads in place. Soft landing. You know.

Friday, May 26, 2017

May Bee 26

Maybe I'm back in the saddle for the last few days of the month. Last night, we had Humanities Family Night, so that's over.

Basically, 300+ people packed into a small space to view projects about various global issues. There was also a short presentation in the theater with an adorable script that students read to explain the process by which they'd created these things. There were folders with research materials and creative writing. They made art projects.

We made a slideshow with music.

And now that that's over, I'm really on a downward slide. I've got some grading and some report card comments, but whatever. I no longer have an event for 300+ people. I will not discover moments before the event that my pants have a weird stain on them. 

We can do this.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May Bee 19

Maybe Shef and I are fighting over a book. The book is called Running with the Buffaloes. It's by Chrs Lear, and it chronicles the 1998 Colorado University cross country season.

The book is technically Shef's, as it was given to him as a gift by his godmother. But, I want to read it, too.

Sometimes I just read it to him, but last night, I had to go to bed earlier. I took the book from his room and read it until the words got all swimmy on the page in front of me. To be helpful to Shef, I put it on Dan's nightstand by the door, so he could find it.

Sure enough, it was gone in the morning.

Maybe we're good sharers. Just two runners liking the same book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May Bee 17

Maybe my dog has an extraordinarily delicate constitution, or maybe he's just really dumb.

Or both.

It's true: we're once again in the throes of a bout of explosive diarrhea. And, I just can't even.

Did he eat rabbit poop? Some kind of poisonous plant? A bone from the compost bin? I don't know.

What I do know is that the dog is just over two years old and has had maybe 15 rounds of the worst, most disgusting gastrointestinal problems.

We've narrowly avoided surgery twice because of non-food items ingested. I've spent hours scrubbing excrement.

I'm starting to question my efficacy as a dog owner. Maybe it's just not worth it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

May Bee 15

Maybe something is better than nothing. That's been my rallying cry. It started last week, and I'm continuing it on. I actually don't think this is a Maybe. It's a For Sure, and the truism applies to most everything:

  • A little work is better than no work.
  • A little exercise is better than total slovenliness.
  • A little reading is better than no reading.
  • A few May Bee blog challenge posts are better than zero May Bee blog challenge posts.
And so on. 

I've been marching forward, doing something, rather than nothing. I wrote my end-of-year reflection for instance, but I did that whole thing - not just a little bit of it. I sent out a newsletter to sixth-grade parents. Again, I really did the whole thing there. 

I guess what I'm saying is, you can do the other, non-job and time-sensitive things a little bit while you really focus on your have-tos.

This week, I'm going to do some grading, some exercising, some healthy eating, some goal-setting and intentionality. I'm going to start right now.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May Bee 9

Maybe I can make it through the year. Maybe not. It's touch and go, but as far as I can figure it, I have little choice but to try.

What's happened is not that I dislike my work. Far from it! It's just that I've made the critical error of improper pacing. A school year is rather like a marathon. If you shoot off the starting line at too quick a clip, either because you're excited or because circumstances require you to play the rabbit, you're in for a hell of a last 10k.

I knew it would be this way (Dan says it's like this every year), but I decided to start the race; and now it's my duty to finish it.

I've adopted a one-word mantra to get me through the week, and it's this: "Maintain." Just do everything the same way I was doing it before.

I've got this.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May Bee 6

Maybe I should sue.

I ordered some replacement probiotics, and the bottle was broken when it arrived, an oblong shape protruding from its shoulder. When I tried to open it up, I accidentally cut my ring finger on the broken part. It's a weird, flappy cut right next to the nail. It bled a lot, and now I have to keep replacing the band-aid there, as it comes loose when I wash my hands, which I do quite frequently.

Annoying! I feel I should be compensated for my injury and inconvenience. Maybe a free bottle of probiotics? The things aren't cheap, and now I have to store the whole load of them in a plastic bag, rather than taking advantage of the special storage system with the dark colored glass/plastic that they bragged about on the label.

Maybe I'll email the company and ask. Or, maybe it's not really worth it.

Friday, May 5, 2017

May Bee 5

Maybe I should adjust my new rule about school night commitments just for the awesomest things. Remember how I finally decided after 18 years in the teaching profession that I would no longer accept weeknight invitations during the months of Septemeber, October, January, February, or May? That's a really smart and self-preserving policy, based on my work experience.

However, if I had already enacted the policy this year, I would have missed something really cool.

Last night was May 4th, and I went to a storytelling event called "Listen to Your Mother." My friend Emily had attended several times, and she said I'd love it. What happens is people from the community audition, and then they tell their stories related to mothering in front of an audience.  Some of the stories were hilarious, and some were pretty sad. Some people talked about being moms, and other people talked about their own moms and mom figures.

The whole thing was really warm and community-building, and afterwards at the wine bar across the street, everyone was talking and making friends. I struck up several conversations in the long bathroom lines. "We should all audition for this next year," my friends and I decided.

And I kind of thought, well, maybe I'll start my own storytelling circle. Today's stories are going to be about teaching. Come on! Today's stories are about sports! Today it's about fear! You get the idea. I think I could find enough people to fill a room. Stories bring people together. Maybe we should write them and tell them.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May Bee 3

Maybe I'm not done with running.

I haven't been running for the same reason I haven't done much of anything. It's because I'm working on the book project. But, sometimes, it's nice to be in a little bit better shape; so I've recently added running back to the to-do list.

I'm keeping the goals really reasonable. Basically, I just make myself do one weeknight workout and then two weekend workouts. That brings the total to three, which seems like a big accomplishment.

I'm feeling good about it. Feeling a little stronger. I'm not going to sign up for any races or anything like that. Gonna keep my eyes on the book prize and run a little bit sometimes for health reasons. Maybe throw in some squats and a couple of plank poses. Basics.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May Bee 2

Maybe I won't give up on the blog.

I've been tempted. And, I've thought to myself, "It's been a good 13 years." Which is true. But, still, giving up on the blog is probably not the right thing to do. If I gave up on the blog, where would I store memories like the one that happened last week?

Luckily, for now, since I haven't given up on the blog, I can store it right here:

The story is that my car had to get fixed. It was going to be wicked expensive, but then I discovered I'd purchased a warranty. All it took to activate the warranty was six or seven calls from my attorney husband to the warranty company. The last call was a little heated, but he got the job done.

In the end, the warranty company paid $2000 for the water pump repair, which is apparently part of the powertrain.  I only had to pay $324 for some wiring issue, which was, sadly, not part of said powertrain.

Anyway, in all the hullaballoo, I got a loaner vehicle, a totally serviceable Ford Fusion, and I drove it for two days. Mac thought it was the fanciest car in the whole world. "Whoa," he said, on sliding into the back seat of the four-door, "this is a NICE car."

Shef and I exchanged glances and said things like, "Well, it's a Ford Fusion."

But Mac was undeterred. "No, I LOVE this car," he said, stroking the faux leather seats. "This is a sports car," he told us.

"It's a sedan," I agreed. No use fighting with him. I whacked at Shef when he opened his mouth to tell him that a Ford Fusion sedan was emphatically not a sports car. "Do you like riding in a sedan rather than a minivan or SUV?" I asked.

Turns out the answer is yes. Maybe we'll get a sedan next. Seems to make the kid happy, even if it doesn't totally fit the hockey equipment.

So, maybe the blog isn't dead.

Have you heard of the May Bee Challenge? It's on.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: Becoming Obssesed with Your Project

Well, I've become completely obsessed with the book project. This week, I forced myself to take a little time off to let the thing rest. My fingers have started feeling itchy from the lack of drafting.

I'm filling my time by writing a new book review (Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam), checking in here, and of course, doing my full-time paying job with the middle schoolers. I also called to schedule some overdue appointments and got my car serviced.

"When's the book getting published?" one class asked me today.

"Maybe never," I said, "but creative projects aren't always about the end result. "They're about the process of making the thing."

"You could always make your own book on the internet," one kid said. I appreciated that. I'll consider it when the time comes.

Anyway, I've noticed some side effects of becoming enveloped in a writing project. A big one is that I cannot just read a novel. Instead, I'm constantly thinking about the author's structure. Like, "What is the writer doing here? This is too much 'telling,' and yet, I'm still engaged. How did she make that happen? How is she working the transitions work between narrators? This plot has no action, and yet I can't stop reading. Why? Oh look, another commercial fiction story wrapped up in a bow at the ending! Where's the action on the first page of this one? Why am I bored right here?" And on and on. I guess this is reading like a writer? It's interesting, but it's also gotten a little out of hand.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Things I'm Learning

As you know, I'm a life-long learner. Trying to write a book has been one big learning experience.

I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I thought deep down that because I've always had the desire and because I read quite a few books, I'd just know how to write one.

For better or worse, that hasn't been the case. I did not just intrinsically know how to write a book. I've had to study and research and take classes. I've made spreadsheets and storyboards and written lots and lots of drafts. This is making it seem like I'm done. I'm not done, but I've made progress.

I've also had feedback.

Sometimes feedback is tricky to digest, but I've gotten to the point where I look forward to it. Something I've learned recently via feedback is that I tend to be good at writing dialogue and less effective at writing setting.

I agree that this is true, and so right now I'm going to practice writing setting details about the inside of a school. It's an exercise that I just made up. Here's what a high school might look or smell or sound like:
  • White-washed cinder block with bits of gray showing through in the places where the backs of metal chairs have rubbed the walls at the conclusion of each class period, the back row kids standing up so fast that their chairs slide out behind them.
  • The fourth-period class that enters the room with a chill attached to their thick cotton sweatshirts, fresh from a non-sanctioned off-campus lunch.
  • The earthy, sticky smell of a kid who thought he could go one more morning without a shower, his greasy, cheekbone-length hair pushed back from his hairline and then falling down in thick ribbons toward scattered stubble on his jaw.
  • One hundred tattered copies of The Things They Carried stacked precariously on a side shelf, some spines facing out, others in,  the corners of covers and pages of the ones on top turned up like bumpers.
  • A blue plastic trash emblazoned with the recycling icon, white papers variously crumpled, poking out from the top. A giant wad of wet pink gum spat in the middle of a recently graded test. The test was a B.
  • A teacher unlocks her classroom door in the dark morning, the room stale smell - a mix of Cheetoh's and Old Spice - wafts up from the carpet. She flicks on the fluorescent lights and checks to make sure the plastic, industrial clock above her desk matches her watch.
  • In the middle of reading Chapter 12 aloud to the class, the strobe light begins to pulse, followed quickly by a jarring blare, a high-pitched tone that made her molars ache. The students heads popped up, and she said calmly, "Fire drill. We're going out door 17. To your left." She watched each of the students file out, grabbed her laminated attendance list from the hook by the door, flipped off the lights, and entered the hallway. She stood, her back flattened against the door, as the students filed past, their faces reflecting a emotions ranging from glee to anxiety. "Is this real?" one asked her. She shook her head. In truth, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't. Finally, she joined the teachers who comprised the end of the throng. "Damn it," said one, "I was giving a test."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break Review

Well, the time has come to return to my paying job. It's been a lovely reprieve here on spring break, and I've accomplished plenty of tasks. Here are some highlights:

I'm sort of finished with the complete rough draft of my book project. In the last week of break, I forced myself to write 1000 words per day. I once again learned the lesson that writing begets writing, and by the end, cranking out the words wasn't totally excruciating. Except on the days that it was. When I say "sort-of finished," I mean that I still have to write some scenes, but very few compared with the number I've already written. Don't worry: I'm going to keep going.

I have supported Shef in the getting of his braces. Braces are mighty unpleasant. None of us like the braces. Shef especially doesn't. I think later, like in several years when his teeth are straight, we might all be grateful that we spent thousands of dollars on braces.

I spent time with many members of the family, and I was reasonably well behaved throughout. I hosted a family dinner, I met a cousin I'd never known before, I went on a whole vacation with my in-laws, I spent full days with my children and my dog. And there was almost no yelling.

I think we can all agree this was a successful spring break. I'm going to give it 5 of 5 stars. That's how good I think it was.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Should You Have Children in Your 20s?

I've been thinking lately about how Shef was born when I was 26, and Mac was born when I was 30. It came up because I've been pushing myself really hard to finish the first full draft of my book project. Yesterday, I imagined trying to finish it with an infant or a toddler around.

I mean, that seems impossible. On the other hand, I think having kids and still doing stuff taught me how to maximize time - a skill I've used for this book project, too.

Because I did do stuff when I had infants and toddlers. I did My Stupid Master’s Degree. That took four years. It was super hard, especially that one time I almost failed Intro to Literary Theory. Instead of failing, I made myself write a final, 20-page paper on something I didn't even understand. The simulacra. Or anal rope. Something. I can't even remember.

I also ran some marathons. I did those almost stubbornly. Like, you can't stop me from running this! Don't even try to stop me! I did them, and one time I covered the distance even faster than I had before the children were born.

I had new jobs that I performed without sleeping full nights.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, my endeavors are maybe easier now? I'm grateful to have a teenager wandering around asking to learn how to do laundry and moaning about the pain of new braces and an eight-year-old playing too many video games and refusing to clean his room. 

After all, these are people that have reached the age of reason. "I'm busy making myself write 1000 words per day right now. I'll talk to you in 30 minutes." They grumble about it, but they walk away.

So what am I even saying? I guess the point is, if you're thinking about having a baby and writing a book at the same time, I feel like that's going to be really hard.  But now that I'm considering the big picture, maybe it won't be harder than finishing a graduate degree or running your fastest marathon. 

So, just keep trying to do stuff if you feel like it, regardless of the children. That's the message. 

It'll work out, and you'll be happy you had the kids whenever they arrived.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quarterly Review

I'm a few days late on the Quarterly Review. Oh well, I'm a few days late on everything this year. It turns out, Late is mostly fine and with very few consequences. I wish I could now give that message about lateness to my 19-year-old self. I used to freak OUT over being "almost late," which was ten minutes early. 

Anyway, The Quarterly Review is a series of little lists. Here we go:

Three Great Books I've Read This Quarter:

  • I read one thing that's required for everyone, and it's The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You might have heard of it, as it's getting buzz like nothing else. For instance, people are saying it might be the YA "book of the decade." And I agree, it's a total package, for sure. Here's my Goodreads review. I'll have a full review of the audio version on Literary Quicksand soon, too.
  • A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan hit rather close to home, as the protagonist is a 38-year-old mother of three who feels like she might suffocate beneath her many responsibilities and ambitions. Full review HERE.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is incredibly ambitious - each chapter represents another generation's experience of slavery and its aftermath, from the Gold Coast to 21st-century California. I admire the intersectionality of the pieces and the way the book keeps (white) readers on the hook for their complicity in systemic oppression. 
Three Things I've Learned:
  • If I take a children's chewable Benadryl along with my glass of wine, I'm less likely to break out in psoriasis spots after consuming the alcohol. Yay! Thanks, Jane!
  • When you're writing a novel, it's helpful to classify your scenes as "Action," "Suspense," or "Reflection." And then, when you're placing those scenes within a chapter, remember that you can't have two non-action scenes in a row. Because, #pacing.
  • I already knew this, but now I'm recording it and putting it into action: If you're a teacher (like me), it's not a good idea to accept week-night invitations during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. Got that? The answer is, "NO," or, "raincheck?"
Three Pieces of Advice from Mac:
  • Never go around to people and say, "You look ugly."
  • Never say to your mom and dad that their marriage was a bad idea.
  • Never play basketball in the house, or else you might dribble yourself in the head.
You're welcome.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Talent Show Teacher Act

Can we talk for just a second about the Talent Show? It happened again this year, and something amazing transpired. It's this: I was actually named Dance Captain.

You know before how I was a self-appointed Dance Captain, and nobody knew that was actually my job?

Well, this year - THIS year - I was asked specifically in an email from a show organizer to be Dance Captain. She used the title, "Dance Captain," with the caps as noted. That's how I know it's real.

I also - and I'm not trying to brag; I'm just being honest - I also came up with the concept for this year's number. It's more of a "show" or a revue, if you will, than an act. The deal is that my friend Lynne, a Talent Show organizer since the inception of the Teacher Act in, like, 2003, is leaving our school at the end of the year to become the director of the middle school at an educational institution in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  My idea was to do bits and pieces of her greatest talent-show hits to send her off in style.

From there the concept was developed by others, but my initial idea remained central. If you watch the video, you'll see segments from "Napoleon Dynamite" (4:50), "High School Musical" (6:45), "Thriller" (8:00), "Single Ladies" (9:42), "Party Rock Anthem" (11:20), "Love Story" (12:40), and then we all "Juju on that Beat" to close at 15:00.

Just so you know, I am the Dance Captain in the High School Musical segment. At 6:45. I also know how to Juju on that Beat. I got special tutoring in the juju from my 28-year-old colleague who laughed openly at me during our lessons. But still. #dancecaptain #talentshow #urbanpop #juju

Monday, March 27, 2017

Status Report


Well, things are sporadic and rather slapdash. That's okay. I've got other projects. Ok, well, mainly, I've got the book project. It's pretty much only the book project. The words are piling up, and I'm trying to organize the characters and their arcs. It's hard to know from moment to moment whether any one part is particularly good. But, that doesn't matter right now. What matters is writing the ending. I'm excited to do that. Once that's over, I'll be back to blogging. Doing the newsletter. The whole thing.


We're doing it right now in Colorado as we have done many times before. Good family times. Precious memories. The whole thing. I've been getting up early to work on the project mentioned above. Also to read a thriller called I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh. Have you read it? It was slowing down a bit, and I was wondering what I was missing when all of sudden - MAJOR TWIST. Now, I'll speed through the back half.

Social and Cultural Events:

My pal Emily recommended that I attend an event called Listen to Your Mother, wherein people tell stories about mothering and motherhood. I bought two tickets to this event. The second one I bought is ostensibly for my friend Anne, but if she can't go, I'll be looking for a date. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One Word Writing Prompt: Lesson

I'm still in massive production mode on the book project. Unfortunately, that means the blog is taking a back-seat. When I do this to my poor blog, it doesn't just sit there, at peace with its neglect. It kind of taps at the back of my skull.  Like, why have you forsaken me? I've been here for you for twelve long years.

"Just write some short posts sometimes," Dan said when I explained the trouble to him yesterday. And, he's right. Let's just keep it alive.

Here's what I'm keeping it alive with today. A one-word writing prompt called, "Lesson." It's #2 on this list. Seems almost too easy for a teacher, no?

In English 7, I get four lessons per week to achieve my teaching goals. That's not a lot for a literacy educator - four, fifty-minute lessons. Monday's lesson is designed to get students ready to read a book called Nothing But the Truth by Avi. We used a time-honored activity called an anticipation guide. What you do is this: You pose a controversial statement to the group that reflects a theme in the piece you're reading, and then the kids tell you what they think about it. Sometimes they argue.

They argued hard about the statement, "We should say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem regularly at school." They also had strong feelings about, "If you don't like a teacher, you should consider switching to a different teacher."

Yesterday, a girl raised her hand and said, "When we did this yesterday, I couldn't imagine how these statements would all relate to the same book, but now I see they do."

See? Lesson planning. It sometimes works out.

Monday, March 6, 2017

One-Word Writing Prompt: Bullet

It felt like time to write a blog entry, but I had nothing. I think this has been happening because I've been focused on the book. Remember I said it would be finished with it (the complete draft - not the whole thing, duh) by the end of April? I've realized this commitment will require that I do very little of anything else (except work at my job, obviously, and keep my children alive and reasonably healthy) until the day comes when the curtain closes on the story.

That was kind of a funny thing that I did there in the last paragraph because there will actually be a theater performance at the end of the book. So that thing with the curtain was a metaphor, but also it was literal.

And, with that revelation, I think you now might be getting a sense of why it's been hard to write the blog.

But anyway, it's like all of the words and the ideas go straight to that project or to my actual paying job. Lucky for me, there are people on the internet that put together lists of prompts for writers who are stuck. I didn't want anything too complex, so I googled "one-word writing prompts." There are tons of these lists. I went with this one. #1 on the list of 153 one-word writing prompts is "bullet," which will now inspire this quick television review:

A good show to watch while you're cooking dinner or folding laundry is Schitt's Creek on Netflix. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara (Johnny and Moira Rose) get totally bamboozled by their business manager and lose all of their millions of dollars. The only asset they have left is a town that Johnny bought as a joke for his unproductive son, David. He bought it because the town is called Schitt's Creek. Haha!

The funny comes from the titular homonym and also from the fact that this ridiculous family, accustomed to opulence, lands in a run-down motel in a rinky-dink town. None of the Roses have any transferrable skills. The "children" - adults who have never had jobs - attempt to make friends and feel okay about themselves. In a recent-to-me episode, David accepts an invitation to go turkey hunting with Stevie, the cute desk clerk at the motel. He ends up shooting a turkey in the neck with a bullet. "Now just wait for it to bleed out," a fellow hunter says, as David sits there in is ridiculous camouflage with his curated face stubble.

A potential pitfall of Schitt's Creek is that you could think that the show is making fun of small town life. I think it is, but it's okay because the show is mostly making fun of the Rose family, their entitlement, and their total inability to cope. The townspeople are the genuine, generous ones and, seemingly, the key to the Roses' redemption.

Schitt's Creek! Bullet! Blog for the day!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: An Accidental Set of Memoirs

I push myself to read a lot. I enjoy it, and I feel like it enhances my life and keeps me sharp. In 2017, though, I'm trying to stick right close to the 52-book target and not overachieve. 

The first year of my 52-book reading target, I read 57 books. The next year I did 61. In 2016, the total was 65. You see where this could go, right? It could go down my typical "bigger, better, faster, more" path. That tendency doesn't reflect my best self. What am I trying to win? My prize for 52 books (a badge on Goodreads and a nice, credible list of favorites posted here) is the same as it is for 70. And there are other things to do like watch Big Little Lies on HBO, write resistance emails to Trump-complicit politicians, and hang out with my family. 

Ok, but so far this year, I've read nine books, and four of those have been memoirs. I usually don't clump genres like that. This has mostly been an accident of library holds and hearty friend recommendations. 

Here's what I've learned:
  • I think I might be the only person in the world who didn't love Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior. I do feel curious about her, and I admire that she's made a career of writing and inspiring other people. And there were inspiring moments in this book, but some of the scenes made me feel super uncomfortable and cringey. Of course, that was the point: we should be honest with ourselves and others instead of masking the truth with substances, food, or other addictive behaviors. That makes sense, I guess, but it wasn't really for me.
  • Next up was Jessi Klein's collection of personal essays, You'll Grow Out of It. Less cringey, more funny than Melton's, I zipped through this. The stickiest sentiments: No matter how wonderful your life may look on the outside, you might still feel lonely and less-than. I learned this lesson while laughing out loud. Also, you're not alone, and you'll be okay. And finally, "get the epidural." Don't feel like you have to be a hero all the time. For what? What are you trying to win? As I mentioned, I'm always trying to win everything, so this was for me.
  • My takeaway from Carrie Fisher's 2008 offering, Wishful Drinking was this: Even if things are crazy, even if you're crazy (and who isn't?), just keep trying to do your best and also to make people laugh. This is a quick and pleasant read, and I have a full review coming soon on Literary Quicksand.
  • And finally, I listened to Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. This guy is really something. His anecdotes cover petty larceny, religion, and his complicated relationship with his white father. You can't really boil this book (or any of the others) down to a life-lesson, but that hasn't really been stopping me. Noah says, love your mother, put yourself out there, and fight injustice. 
I'm going to try to do good stuff today, inspired by my reading; but I'm not going to try to beat everyone while I'm doing it.

2016 Best of Audiobooks

Fun Home Musical Theater Review

The Benefits of "Not for Me" Reading

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This Blog Neglect is Getting Ridiculous

Okay, you can't really just quit writing your blog, so let's talk about Zumba. I've done Zumba before in a sporadic fashion - a class here and there, a video game, some cool moves in my kitchen while stirring chili. You know, just jamming on my own, pretty much.

But now, NOW!, I'm a Zumba regular. I go to an extra-long class every Sunday that's really hard with complicated choreography. In fact, last week the instructor told us that she's changing the name of the class because boring old Zumba routines are too pedestrian for our quality group.

Presenting: Urban Pop!

The teacher says stuff like, "Don't feel bad, you guys, but I choose the people to be in the front row because I need them to help me keep the class going." Don't come to the first row, she's telling the rest of us. And, maybe avoid the second and third rows, too. We lesser dancers need to stay farther back and just try our best to hold on.

After several months of practicing, I feel I'm moving up to the intermediate level, but when I look around the class, I have to admit that most people are still as good or better than I am. That's okay because, as I remind myself each Sunday, Urban Pop dancing is not a competition. The prize is showing up and getting a workout.

Doesn't that sound right? We're all winners?

I've been showing off my dance moves to the children (not impressed) and Dan ("Please stop"), and I told Lynne that I'd definitely be ready for a prime Dance Captain role in this year's teacher talent show number. "You got it," she told me, but I can't tell if she's serious. My brother sent me a YouTube video yesterday in which Zumba is listed as a prime criterion for being diagnosed as "basic" (not a compliment). The video, though, doesn't say anything about URBAN POP!

And now, this morning, I'm bringing my friend KK to the party. "You'll love it," I told her. And I'm 99% sure she's going to be laughing - both at me and the whole 100-person Urban Pop fantasia - through the whole 75 minutes.

I'll come back and let you know. Track the comments. Refresh. #bodyroll

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Writing Status Report

#amwriting, novel writing, revision, drafting

Remember the book? I'm still writing it. In fact, I just started an 8-week intensive coaching session with my teacher. During this time, I'm going to completely finish the first draft.

When I say "first draft," I mean that almost every paragraph in the entire thing has or will have been revised 4 or 5 or 10 times. Isn't that nuts? Although I've been reading about writing and writers for my entire life, and even though almost all of the novelists I admire discuss revising all of the words countless times, the necessity of expansive and extensive revision still surprises me.

And, this is weird: I can't always tell what needs to be changed and what doesn't. Usually, I can totally tell. If I'm writing a book review or a blog post, I pretty much know when something has to be cut or rephrased. Even if I decide not to fix it, I can tell if there's a weak spot.

In the novel, it's way harder to determine. This is why you need readers (I found two fantastic ones in my last writing class, and we've agreed to continue to read for each other), and that's why you (okay, I) need a teacher.

Right now, my teacher has instructed me to map the entire story in a spreadsheet. My book has lots of third-person limited narrators, so I have to track who's telling what and when. I also have to map the outer events, so that together, my teacher and I can place the "reveals" in the story to keep the pacing snappy. Then, we'll track each character's inner arc and determine how each one develops or doesn't. Which minor characters are going to end up playing bigger roles? I don't even totally know yet.

Also, I have to write the rest of the words. The ending. There are about 20,000 words to go. I mostly know what happens, but there might be some surprises. 20k is both a lot and not a lot. Remember when I wrote that much in the month of November? I'll need a little of that grit in the next eight weeks.

Here's my pronouncement for the sake of accountability: This is going to get done by the end of April. And then, I'll spend the summer obsessing over the next round of revisions. There are probably 4 or 5 or 10 to go. I'm too far in to quit, and I don't even want to quit. I want to finish the book and get it out there. Is that so wrong?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stealing: A February Survival Strategy

teaching, school, stealing, door stop

Last week, there was an afternoon on which I couldn't find my door stop. It's the door stop I use at least five times per day in Room 111, so I was pretty irritated when I couldn't locate it.  I did a cursory look around my classroom and didn't turn it up. Next, I scanned the first floor. That's when a familiar-looking door stop caught my eye. It was wedge-shaped and rested in the middle of the hallway, two doors down.

If I'm being really honest, the door stop I saw was pretty much outside my friend Chadd's classroom. But, for the purposes of my story, let's just say the door stop in question was familiar-looking and far away from any specific classroom door.

I'm taking that door stop, I decided. I marched down to Room 116, bent over, and picked up the stop. As I was walking back toward my room holding it, another neighbor eyed me quizzically.

"I lost my door stop," I explained.

"So," said Christy, "you're stealing someone else's?"

As she said this, I realized that's exactly what I was doing. I was stealing my friend Chadd's door stop. Whatever denial I'd been exercising fell away. Still, I kicked the stop under my door and stood guiltily by as students began arriving. "It might be mine," I mumbled to Christy. She clearly wasn't buying it.

That's when Chadd showed up.

As he walked by, I blurted out, "I think I stole your door stop."

"What?" he said.

"I'm not really sure if it's yours," I said, too fast. "It might be mine. I mean, I found it outside your door."

The incredulity rolled off of my buddy, Chadd. I can't remember exactly what he said at this point, but it was along the lines of, "Give me my freaking door stop."  And I did. I did give it to him right away. And, I didn't even blame him when he took out a big 'ole Sharpie and emblazoned the door stop with a very clear 116.  "Yours is probably in your classroom!" Chadd insisted, waving his stop at me.

"It's not!" I said, but I was losing certainty. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, I found my stop (thinner and smoother than Chadd's, I'll have you know) behind my garbage can. In the days since this incident, I've endured accusations about kleptomania and dishonesty. That's #fakenews. I did have the inclination to steal, but I think we can all agree I was really bad at it and inherently honest. I'm a nice person and a good colleague.

The end.

Stealing Beanie Babies from Mac

Three stories about winning. One has stealing in it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Teaching Trump

teaching, immigraion, Muslim ban, school

We spent a day in sixth grade considering the question, "Does the executive order on immigration make us safer?" The next two lessons after that were, "How does the order impact people?" and "How does the order come into conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"

I can't take any credit for the lesson design - KK did it, and she did a really good job. But, just so you know, I did write a bang-up activity on commas last week. So, there's that.

Anyway, one of my little lovelies raised her hand part way into the "Does it make us safer?" lesson and asked, "Is this one of those things where you give us the facts on one side, and then you give us the facts on the other side, and then we decide?"

"Well, Mary," I said, "I would give you facts to show that the executive order might make us safer, but there aren't any." I nodded at her. "The only facts are the ones we're talking about right now."

"Oh," she said. I let that sink in. Later, she reflected on the many sources we'd explored, and she read aloud from her notes: "The extraordinary thing about this is that we're more likely to be killed by our clothes starting on fire than we are to be killed by a radicalized refugee."


Today, another kid asked me, "Are you going to present the other side of the Muslim ban?"

I had to say, "There are people who agree with the travel ban, but there aren't facts to support the idea that it will make us safer."

"Oh," the kid said.

Somebody else told an admissions visitor that he likes my class because,"When something in the news goes viral, we talk about it right away."

I like that, too. We're a modern global issues class, and President Trump is really dumping a lot of global issues right at our feet. I guess I want to say to Mr. Trump in language he'll understand, "SEE YOU IN THE CLASSROOM."

If Mac were president.

Reading as a democratic act.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Bleakest Month

tattoo, should i get a tattoo, temporary tattoo, peer pressure

The bleakest month is not April. It's February. I've documented this. So, last night at a Super Bowl party, KK and Dan came up with an idea to brighten February. The idea is to get tattoos.

Ok, but here's my problem: I love the idea of getting a tattoo. I've even purchased temporary tattoos to wear as real tattoos to see how I like them.

And, I do like them!

But, I'm afraid to get a real tattoo because what if I change my mind about the tattoo? I can't get rid of it; it's permanent. What if I decide the tattoo is actually stupid, and then the tattoo is a permanent reminder of my stupidity? What if nice, middle-aged women who went to Catholic school for thirteen years, have bobbed haircuts, and wear eyeglasses just don't get tattoos? It's not our brand?

So, the logical thing to do here would be to skip the tattoo because I'm feeling so conflicted. Wait until I'm sure. And if I'm never sure, I just don't get one. This is what I would tell any of my students to do if they came to me in a similar predicament. I would say, "You don't have to get a tattoo to be cool!"

But then, all my friends (two of them, three if you count Dan) are probably getting tattoos together next weekend, and I'm not going to get one. I'll be left out! Not as awesome or brave! Not awesome and cowardly is not my brand!

You can see my predicament.

Don't irritate your teacher in February.

Wedding Ring Tattoo?

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Importance of Flexibility

waiting, screen time, father son

I was supposed to go to Los Angeles today to hang out with a cute baby. Instead, I'm going to school to hang out with some cute sixth graders who are finishing essays.

I mean, that's cool. Helping sixth graders with their writing is what I really love to do, after all. I wouldn't want another job, as mine is probably the best.

But it was going to be 63 degrees Fahrenheit today in Los Angeles. In Minneapolis, where I live, it might top 20. And there was going to be a baby - my nephew, whom I was going to meet for the very first time. And the reason the trip won't work is because someone else got a head cold. My own respiratory infection, I'll have you know, has been waning nicely.

I would coach my sixth graders on an abrupt and disappointing change of plans thusly: "Oh, man! What a bummer! Do you think you'll get to go some other time?"

Most of them would then maintain a droopy posture, but give a half-smile when I squeezed their shoulders in consolation. Probably it's true. Probably I could go some other time.

Three takes on Independence, including one requiring flexibility

Something from the summer of 2006, when nothing ever went as planned, and I didn't make a breakthrough in missile technology.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: Taking it Back

Elisabeth Egan, A Window opens, news obsession

To be honest, a lot of my reading time has been taken up with news. Now that we in America are headed toward a fascist state, I feel a responsibility to read all of the news. I've become a New York Times and Washington Post subscriber. It feels like my duty as a citizen to read all of the things. The papers send articles to my inbox all day long. Every selection seems essential. 

I mean, obviously, I can't keep up. My New Yorkers are piling. I have student poetry sitting there, and that's not even optional for me to read. I'm the teacher, and I assigned it. 

For the first time ever in my 52 books-per-year pledge (this is the fourth year), I'm behind on my total. "1 book behind," Goodreads tells me. A pit shoots through my stomach when I read that. 

What is happening?

So, I'm going to take back a bit of normalcy starting right now. In addition to reading the news, I have to read fiction and be a writer. Creativity and imagination are enemies of fascism, too, in addition to obsessive news consumption and active resistance. 

So here: I am listening to an addictive audio book - A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. It's right in the wheelhouse of the book I'm trying to write, not in plot but in tenor: suburban mom takes ambitious, busy job in Manhattan when she used to be home two days per week. Her friendships suffer, her marriage suffers (though, to be fair, that's not entirely her fault), and it seems like her children are growing and changing without her noticing. Something has to give, and it will. It's inevitable. It's going to happen in the next thirty pages, probably.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Barriers to Writing

Well, it's been tough to start typing, both here and on my fiction writing project. The fiction writing project (okay, let's just start calling it a book, but not The Book, and most definitely not My Stupid BookTM). Anyway, as it currently stands, it's off in my writing teacher's hands for a complete read-through.

I had to send her the revised chapters in the same week as my report card comments were due because, oh my god, poor planning.

Anyway, it's been hard to type anything because:

1. I'm obsessed by the news of our unhinged president. It's much worse than I imagined, as he's actually driven by only narcissism and revenge. I can't stop reading the papers. It seems like the only thing TO do.  I mean, besides march and do my weekly resistance items. And, I guess, pray.

2. The report card comment cycle. After they go out, I inevitably contact and am contacted by families who want to follow up. That's good and normal.

3. I got sick. There's a respiratory pestilence floating around, and despite my fervent protests, I contracted it. I had to stay home from school on Wednesday, which is a pain and which I hate, and now my face has a massive psoriasis outbreak. Because did you know that respiratory infection is a well-documented psoriasis trigger? I mean, really. Teaching with a facial rash is one of my least favorite states in which to teach. I'd rather teach with a stain on my shirt or even my fly down than with red blotches all over my face. I would, however, choose the facial rash over a third pregnancy. Pregnancy is a terrible state in which to teach. Anyway, the only thing to do is acknowledge that I have a facial rash and watch the students study it openly in response to this confirmation.

Get Over It in 3 Acts

It's Still Not Friday (but today it actually is)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What I Learned from My Sankalpa

sankalpa, open-heartedness, 2017

I'm calling it a day on Sankalpa 2017. When we first started writing about Sankalpa in 2013 (When I say "we," I mean Lee, as I didn't start writing about Sankalpa until 2014), it was determined that we'd do so for 24 days. That seems about perfect, and then it becomes time to write about other things. Here are some thoughts about my 2017 Sankalpa, which was, "I am open-hearted."

I am generally open-hearted (and optimistic) by nature.

It's my natural tendency to be curious about people and relationships. I'm generally accepting, and I'm open to twists and turns. I really like these traits in myself, which is what led me to this year's Sankalpa. 

Sometimes when you're an open-hearted person, you're also the kind of person who can have her feelings hurt pretty easily. This leads to guardedness. But, I think a defensive stance can cloud my spirit. OMG, look how emo I'm being! New-agey! Sankalpa!

Anyway, the January Sankalpa reminded me to be open until it was time to be guarded. Does that make sense? It's like when Shef was going to race some super fast kids in cross country, and he wasn't sure if he could finish first. My advice: "Put yourself in the race, and just see.  You might have to drop back," I told him, "but go out with the leaders and give yourself a shot." He did that.  In the end, he didn't win the race, but he did finish 3rd. Out of like 200-some kids! So, pretty good. 

If you decide first that something is going to be painful or uncomfortable or just not worth it - if you decide before you even try it - you might miss out on some amazingness. I think that's pretty true.

Open-Heartedness is not the same as saying yes to everything.

It's easy to confuse being open-hearted with clogging up your calendar. It's important to be curious and accepting, but smart to decline some opportunities. This year, I articulated something about my work life that I've known for a long time, but haven't made a rule. It's this: No school-night social engagements (concerts, plays, dinners) during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. That's a rule now.

People think that a teaching schedule is really wonderful with lots of free time. That's true, but the free time isn't at all flexible; and in the months I mentioned above, I'm underwater with work. I can't be open to any distractions, or else I start to lose it. You can't be open-hearted when you're losing your mind.

Sankalpa 2017! I'm adding this one to my arsenal, just like "I am intentional," and "I am a creative risk-taker." It's all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sankalpa Status Report: Hmmm

poop, potatoes, middle school

Did you know potatoes could look like this? Like poop, I mean? I was surprised to find them in the bag of little potatoes I was roasting for dinner last night, as I've never seen potatoes in quite this shape before. But(t) per my Sankalpa ("I am open-hearted," remember?), I chopped them on the diagonal and tossed them with olive oil. Not bad, as it turns out. The lesson here is, "Looking like poop doesn't necessarily equate tasting like poop." Whoo!

In other news, I've finished my report card comments. Just now, I spot-checked a few so I could provide an accurate report to you. Sure enough, I carefully considered each child and wrote both what I admire about her or him, and what might be done if they'd like to earn a higher grade. I'm sure you're relieved to hear that I've executed one of the required functions of my employment.

A third tidbit on my Sankalpa: I've been open-hearted to slovenliness. As I sank into report card writing, there was no time left over for exercising. So, I didn't do it. The calendar looks clear tonight, so it's possible I'll take in some yoga. I'm open to it, as it turns out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Work Management

work management, time management, open-heartedness

Sankalpa comes in January, right when I'm doing one of the hardest, most labor-intensive things I do in my job. It's writing report card comments. It takes me forever to write the 250 words on each kid, telling each individual how much and why I value them and what exactly they could do to perform even better in English or Humanities class. I could do it faster, but then I'd do it worse; and that's totally not my way.

I like writing comments best when I spread the job out over a week. I write a quota each day, and then by the due date, I'm finished with no sweaty mad-rush panic. That was my plan this time around, and I was going to write 7 comments a day beginning on Monday. That would leave a bit of a log-jam for the weekend and MLK day, but nothing I couldn't handle with deep breathing and logic.

On Monday, I started, just as I planned, right after school. It was then that I remembered exactly how hard is is to start. The rhythm wasn't coming, and I remembered that in order to really do the job well, I had to look up work artifacts and discuss them specifically. Each comment was taking upwards of 15 minutes. After an hour (4 comments), I gave up for the day.

Not to worry! On Tuesday, I'd get back at it! Things would be easier! I'd cut the time per comment down to 12 minutes. Except on Tuesday, both of my co-teachers were absent and the spoken-word artist I'm hosting in 7th grade missed our class because she was stuck in traffic. I had two meetings, dinner to make, I had to wash my hair, and Shef had his choir concert.

I wrote zero report-card comments.

So, now I'm in the hole. The hole, however, is not that deep. I'm going to be open-hearted (It's a stretch, I know, to apply my Sankalpa to this situation) to the change in schedule. I'm going to take a deep breath and try again to get in the comment-writing zone.

You know what? This isn't that big of a deal. I think I can do it. I've done it before, and it was totally fine.

Looks like, every year at this time of year, I write about report-card comments.

Bragging as an inspirational work strategy. I'll try this today.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Family Movie Night

crying, movies, family movie night, emotions

I'll admit that sometimes during family movie night, I'll stay busy on my computer while the rest of them watch a movie. In my defense, I do generally stay in the same room with the family. Also, they generally choose some superhero film I have no interest in watching for the sixth or seventh time.

But tonight, because I'm so flipping open-hearted per my Sankalpa, I stayed right there in the fray for Pete's Dragon, the 2016 version starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford.  As a bonus, this was our first time watching this fine film - Mac got it for Christmas from Uncle Kevin. This Pete turned out to be pretty much what I thought it would be: a predictable, heartwarming Disney story of motherless children, their heartbreak, and the families that heal their wounds.

And it was so sad and wonderful - and Robert Redford looked so scraggly, old-guy handsome - that I bawled my freaking eyes out.

The kids have been teasing Dan for months about his infamous tendency to cry during movies and television shows, and also to cry during some especially touching advertisements for laundry detergent and/or auto insurance. When anything remotely moving happens on screen, the kids are immediately studying their dad. "Are you crying?" they demand.  And then they laugh at him and sometimes hug him, too.

So, obviously, Dan was crying at the end of Pete's Dragon when Pete (Spoiler Alert for the most predictable movie ever!) lets his dragon go and decides to live with Bryce Dallas Howard's human family that can meet his basic needs, like for clothing. The kids were lasered on Dan's welling emotion, until Mac realized that I was also overcome.

"Dad!" Mac. "She's got DRIP TEARS!"

"It's sad," I blubbered.

And it was. See how open-hearted I am? I'm moved by fuzzy green CGI dragons. If Sankalpa were something to win, I'd be doing it.

A 9:30 bedtime keeps me from watching most TV.

When the brothers aren't making each other cry, they're conspirators.