Okay, I get it. Not everyone loves the holidays. Not everyone enjoys hanging out with their family. In fact, some people cannot even with the holidays because they’ve successfully managed to more or less escape the pandemonium and strife of the families they came from, and having to go back during the holidays is stressful.
Friends, I see you — and your relative nightmare. This mildly inappropriate earworm is for you.
Tomorrow is November 1st, and after what I think I can safely call a successful Hallowe’en in our household, I’m going to tuck in on my writing again tomorrow.
Not gonna lie, the last few months have seen some Serious Writer’s Block, worse than it’s been the whole last year. But I’m tired of that ish and ready to reset. I teach high school full-time and have two children in middle school, so the idea that I will churn out 50,000 words of anything that aren’t work emails or comments on graded papers is utterly bananapants. But I do like to commit myself to my own informal brand of NaNoWriMo every year, and that involves just promising to write something every day: work on whatever is my current WIP, write a poem or a blog post, do some important writerly career stuff, significantly edit. And often I do manage it — last year (when my work came crashing to a horrified halt the second week of November) notwithstanding.
So I’m committing to it again. I’d like to make at least 350 words a day on the new WIP, or more if I hit a stride. I’d also be satisfied if some of those days involved a substantive blog post or a poem or some serious editing. I’m going to try. And because I’m the type of person who needs external deadlines and accountability to really make sure I get it done, you can follow my daily updates on my Facebook page here. (Like the page and turn on notifications to see the updates in your news feed.)
I’ve come to an understanding of myself that there are three things I need in order to keep my stress at bay. (Well, okay, three things other than my excellent marriage.) I need to exercise regularly. I need to read something for fun. I need to write. All of this is most successful when each of them is done every day, or nearly every day. I have found I can handle quite a lot when I have those activities in my routine. So I’m participating in a fitness challenge at school, I have a book picked out that I’m excited to read and which is sitting on my nightstand, and the next chapter of my WIP is outlined and ready for me to draft it.
I’ve been really sad and angry this week. The news cycle has upset me even more than it usually does. I came to accept a long time ago that the political system in our country is dilapidated and crumbling and that it seems to get worse each year. I still participate, though. People ask me how I can stand to live in Texas, and the answer is that I love it here, even if I’m embarrassed sometimes by our state government. Texas has a long and rich tradition in the Democratic party, but many of our non-conservatives are frankly so disgusted or cowed by the current state of affairs that they give up.
I don’t, though.
I don’t ally myself with any party, choosing to be an Independent because honestly, that’s really what makes the most sense to me. I work to make the world a better place from within as much as I can; I try to keep an open mind. I have many friends and family members from all parties and all political persuasions, and I know there is intelligence and compassion and good-heartedness in all corners. I just wish THOSE people made it onto the news.
I’ve been wanting to write all week about the Akin debacle, but every time I tried, I didn’t know where to begin. There’s just so much to deal with! (Fortunately, The Onion did a pretty good job of expressing how I and nearly everyone I know feels.) Perhaps I could start by saying that this was never about a “poor choice of words,” but rather a poor choice of thought. That the entire concept of rape having different varieties is ludicrous. That we shouldn’t be offended by the term “legitimate rape,” but rather by the idea that any victim’s pain and trauma could possibly be minimized or marginalized by such utter idiocy as the garbage that spewed from his mouth on Sunday. That the term “forcible rape,” which was part of some nonsense co-authored by Paul Ryan (currently backtracking as fast as he can from Akin and his ilk) and which implies that rape is only truly rape if the victim also gets beaten up, deserved the ignoble death it got and hopefully won’t be resurrected.
But see, then I start to get angry again. Not just at Akin, but at all the people who demean others for so very many reasons. In this world, it’s a hard battle to not hate on people. It’s tough to remind myself every day not to look down on others for their views or beliefs when they so clearly contradict what I understand as logical or true or good. But for Christ’s sake, if I can do it, so can everyone. It’s not like I didn’t have to teach myself this principle, and later in life than it should have been. Come on, people, deal.
And I have to stop myself — again — from becoming so upset. Take a deep breath. Calm down. Remember that it is not good practice to demean other people for having beliefs different from yours. Remember that. Try to make sure everyone does. Take the emotion out of a situation so you can look at facts.
But when someone on a SCIENCE COMMITTEE says something so utterly mythological it defies not only logic but the common sense God gave a chicken, something so ridiculous that it flies in the face not just of decency but of historical and proven fact, what the hell has happened to this country? And who let those people in charge?? Oh, good grief.
Today was the first day of school. I had such a good time meeting all my new students, fantastic and wonderful kids in grades 9-12 who are going to make my days fun and challenging and exciting and intellectually stimulating. And I got to walk my own children down to their building (I teach in a school which has PreK through 12), and it took forever to get there because my kids had to stop and greet and hug every friend they hadn’t seen over the summer and even the new friends they were meeting just for the first time today. And when we got to the kindergarten hallway, my son’s new teachers were in the hall exclaiming his name and how happy they were to see him, and he ran to them and hugged them, too. And my daughter had to stop in each of her old classrooms and hug every teacher she’s ever had — PreK, kindergarten, 1st grade — and visit with them all before joining her new 2nd grade class, who also looked happy to see her.
Today was hectic and energetic, and it was also damn good.
My kids love school, and I want them to. I count my lucky blessings every day that they’re in a good place, learning and loving it. This is an excellent foundation for their whole lives. They are curious. They question. They think for themselves, and I am joyfully grateful, numerously blessed.
And each day I sally forth, as a parent and as a teacher and as a thinking human being, stamping out ignorance the best I can, one delighted moment or one horrifying piece of propaganda at a time.
Today I finished my semester. Grading finals is always a manic marathon accompanied by an earworm devised by my frantic brain.
Grading, grading, grading, gotta do my grading, get those finals graded, rawhide! YA!
Have you ever noticed that manic activities are frequently backgrounded by some lyrically-varied version of “Rawhide”?
Maybe that’s just me…
Anyway, one of my colleagues sent this cartoon to me, and it cracked me up. I’ll refrain from saying “story of my life” because, frankly, most of my students are awesome kids I really enjoy teaching. But situations like this do come up on occasion. They are admittedly rare at the school where I teach, but I’m told I have a reputation for being a frightening teacher, so maybe I’m just lucky and don’t have to deal with it so much. (This sort of thing used to happen pretty often when I taught at a local college, back in the day.)
Check it out. Enjoy the end of the school year, all those of you affected by it. And have a good Memorial Day weekend!
So I’ve been on the schedule of a typical academic calendar for thirty-five years now, nonstop. My husband assures me that this consistency is the reason for the reinforcement of my periodic stress. In other words, I’m conditioned to be overworked and therefore stressed out beyond reason from about the end of April through Memorial Day.
I cannot argue with his logic. Especially not right now, when I’m in the middle of the busiest two weeks of the school year. I would argue, but frankly, I don’t have time. There’s a stack of papers nine inches tall waiting to be graded, and I haven’t even given my final exam yet.
There are other times during the year when I am similarly busy and stressed out. However, between Thanksgiving and December finals I’m too happy about the holiday season to worry about it much. Then, I’m blissfully able to remind myself that being behind at school is always a finite problem: the semester always ends, and by hook or by crook, report cards go out, and then I’m done. But right now, the summer break, when I can devote myself more fully to my writing, is so close that all I can think of is how burnt out I feel every time I sit down to work. The glorious weather and the wall of windows in my classroom that look out onto a lovely courtyard do not help. (My friend Amber, who used to teach at UC Santa Barbara, could see the Pacific Ocean from her office window. That would be worse, I think, but only for my work ethic.)
I used to have insomnia the beginning of August every year, from the time I began teaching until the time my daughter was born. (Then I didn’t have the insomnia because I was just so damn tired all the time I couldn’t possibly have trouble falling asleep. Not at any time, not in any place.) A lot of my colleagues experience this also, the inability to sleep well (or, in some cases, at all), for about two weeks before the school year begins. I suppose we should all count ourselves lucky that we care so much about teaching that we worry whether we will do it well enough. I will say that my colleagues continually inspire me with their energy, talent, and devotion to their students’ success. As teaching careers go, I’m at what Bull Durham would call “the show.” And I’m grateful for that.
But this means that for a while a few times a year, the other stuff I do suffers a bit. For example, my blog. Let’s just call this post a long-winded apology for not a lot of substantive sharing lately. It’s not that interesting and important things haven’t been happening. They have. I’ve even had a few episodes of mildly worthwhile introspection about them. But since Easter, it’s been a maelstrom around here. Yes, work has been busy. Yes, my daughter turned seven. Yes, my writing has been doing interesting stuff. But also, people have died.
Some of all that I may blog about this summer; I don’t know. I am fairly certain, however, that I will write much more substantial things for you, dear readers, more often than I have the last several weeks. I appreciate that you’ve stuck with me thus far.
I’ll be done with this school year by the end of May. I’ll still have school work to do over the summer, of course — the idea that teachers don’t have to work during the break is a damaging myth worthy of Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” — but my time will be more my own and less frenetic. Or at least that’s the plan.
On January 28, 1986, I was in sixth grade at the St. Francis de Sales parish school in Houston. We were changing classes between religion and social studies. It was a Tuesday, so we were on a short-day schedule and had five classes before lunch instead of four. Social studies was fifth.
All the classrooms had TVs in them, which we used occasionally for important events, like the attempted assassination of President Reagan, like the Astros actually making it to the World Series. Like the day a faulty O-ring, as we would later be told, disastered the space shuttle across an indigo sky.
All the teachers went to watch the news reports in the library together and left the kids alone in the classrooms with the TVs on. I watched the replays of the explosion a few times and then, in my typical anxiety response, sat down and started copying the notes for class off the board while everyone else jumped around excitedly, perhaps in fear or awe.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the shape of the cloud, the Y-split, the bulbous contrails of grief and despair, nor of the face of Christa McAuliffe’s husband as he watched the shuttle unfold itself into a brief fire, then a billowing slingshot of destruction, then finally a silent, dripping trail of sadness and disbelief highlit against the too-dark blue of the lower stratosphere.
I recently came across this article, posted about a year ago, which clarified some of the nation’s myths about the Challenger. In theory, I like knowing that the way we remember things is not always accurate but can be remedied. However, in this case, some of the details might just be worse than the myths in which we enshrouded ourselves. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11031097/#.TyOHEZgqMfE
The day the shuttle broke apart, we were sent home from school earlier than usual. The sky above Houston was turquoise, perfect, unbroken by clouds or contrails or debris. I went out to the swingset in my backyard, where I’d spent most of my free time since I’d turned five, and thought about President Reagan’s address to the nation, how he’d called the astronauts heroes, how he’d likened them to stars in the firmament. The mid-afternoon sun was piercing, the air a little cold. I swung up higher, higher, higher until my eyes closed from the bright searing light, until my eyelids closed upon a red semi-darkness, until I couldn’t reach any higher without slackening the chains holding my swing to the set.
On what I determined would be my final climb, I took a deep breath and leaped into the air. I don’t remember my fall. I don’t remember my body’s arc across the yard. I remember only the brightness, the sky that touched all the way to the ground, the suspension of everything that had ever mattered. The brief, brief flight of a bird I never was.
Happy New Year, everyone. Have you made any resolutions?
I tend to root myself in traditions, which I find stabilizing in the general maelstrom that is my overbusy life. Not all traditions, mind you, and not even all the ones I grew up with. Just the meaningful or interesting ones. Among my New Year’s traditions, along with black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day (which, sadly, my husband and children have so far refused to eat even when I make them with ham) and drinking a toast at midnight, is setting for myself some resolutions.
Sometimes these are successful. I remember one year, before we had children, before we owned our own home, even before I was teaching full-time, when my husband and I decided we watched too much television didn’t indulge enough our passion for reading and so would stop sitting in front of the idiot box, spending our unoccupied evening hours with books instead.
That was one of the best Januarys ever.
We managed it for a full month and really enjoyed it. But we sort of missed our favorite television shows. (This was back in the day when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the incredibly offensive Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and MTV’s The Real World were the only “reality” shows on the air, and back before we owned a house that offered us opportunities for improvement and upkeep and so home improvement shows on HGTV were fun to watch.) So on January 31st, we decided that we’d had a good time reading and would allow television back into our lives more sparingly without letting go of reading every night. We learned how to enjoy the proverbial best of both worlds, and our lives were better as a result. I count that as a successful resolution.
I have made other resolutions over the years that did not turn out so well. I remember the time in college when I decided I wasn’t going to shop anymore.
That lasted almost a week. I tried giving it up for Lent that spring, too, which turned out slightly better.
There was that other time when I resolved I would stop procrastinating. I ended up having to give that one up for Lent, too. Didn’t work out either time.
I could go on, but somehow spending the first day of the new year recounting past failures seems counterproductive.
So in thinking about this year’s resolutions, I determined that — as in any good problem-solving strategy — I should look at the root of the problem to find a way out of it. And if the purpose of making resolutions is to improve the quality of my life — and honestly, isn’t that the idea, really? — then I should figure out what about my life needs improving.
I know, I know: Elementary, my dear Watson. Sometimes I come to these epiphanies slowly. Bear with me.
There are things in my life — and most of us can say this — which drive me a little nuts on a daily basis. And I would love it if I could eliminate those things, or at least ameliorate them, so that they didn’t bother me so much. (And maybe not letting myself get so worked up over them would help, too, although I admit I’ve tried that before with little success. I just ended up feeling like a slacker who had given up on her standards. Not really the direction I was looking for. There has to be a compromise in there somewhere.)
So here we go, New Year. Today, January 1st, is the day I identify the things that stress me out unnecessarily and figure out daily ways to make those things better. This is a resolution to enjoy my whole life more, every single day.