30 Years Ago Today…

Graduation caps are the epitome of the patriarchy telling women they do not belong in education.

Exactly 30 years ago today, flanked by my two of my best friends in high school, I sat in a sea of green robes on a hard metal folding chair in our high school gym. After a handful of speakers, I walked across a stage, shook hands with the principal, and graduated from high school.

In a few days, seniors I’ve taught this year will also graduate from high school. And the one thing I want any graduating senior to know is this: you have time.

You have time to figure out what your talents are and how you can best utilize them.

You have time to travel.

You have time to go to concerts, see plays, visit museums.

You have time to date, or to not date.

You have time to change your mind.

You have time to go back to school.

You have time to change careers.

My life is nothing at all what I envisioned when I graduated from high school 30 years ago. But I couldn’t have envisioned the things that really mattered:

The cities where I would live.

The writing I would publish.

The places I would travel to.

The people I would meet.

And a million other experiences that I wouldn’t trade for any of the envisioned life of an 18 year-old.

No, my life is nothing at all what I envisioned when I graduate from high school 30 years ago.

I daresay think it is better.

Existential Paradox

I really had planned to write more regularly this month, sharing a variety of tools from my mental health toolbox, just in case someone who stumbles on this sparse space of the Internet might find it helpful.

But I forgot what May does to me in a normal school year, let alone wrapping up a school year which I, my friends, my colleagues, and my students all completed amidst a global pandemic.

Existential crises have abounded the past two weeks:

Does anything I do even matter?
I feel so helpless when I see (friend, colleague, student) struggling.
Why can’t we just assume everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have?
Why are some people just flat out mean?
Why are some people just flat out selfish?
With all the mean and selfish people in the world, why do I even bother trying to be kind to anyone?

It starts to spiral for me, and I struggle to find my footing when questions like these batter me. I showed a class this clip from Wonder Woman last week, and I almost cried, because I felt that—using a shield against a barrage of ammunition was too strong a metaphor to take in.

So what to do when the existential crises batter me and the panic attacks set in and no footing can be found?

Well, last week, a pint of Haagen Daaz Rock Road did help slightly.

But here’s a mental health paradox. When the crises and attacks hit, the instinct is to withdraw. Hop in bed, pull the covers over my head, and try to sleep long enough to at least feel a little more numb to the barrage.

The paradox is this: connection is necessary.

It’s sometimes difficult to reach out when my head is swirling with oh so many thoughts. But reaching out—texting a group chat or making time to talk in person with a friend—that is what saves me, every time.

Also, it’s hard to do, every time.

I’m still feeling all manner of existential crises, every single day. But I’m lucky.

I have a great family, with wonderful sisters who answer my texts.
I get to eat lunch every single weekday with people who notice if I’m down and don’t dismiss my existential crises as hysteria.
I have friends all across the country who, if I called, would listen to my endless list of unanswerable questions.

The trick is to take the step and ask for the connection, to not withdraw.

So think about that if you’re feeling the push to withdraw. Send me a text, give me a call and I’ll sit with you for a spell.

The Next Ten Minutes.

I didn’t want to write today.

But I am, and part of the reason I am here is because showing up and trying is one of the tools in my mental health toolbox.

It’s never easy. Never. But the tool here is not just showing up and trying, it’s also giving myself a time limit. I will show up and try for ten minutes, and if after ten minutes I decide I am done, then I accept those ten minutes as an absolute victory and go back to whatever wallowing I might have been in prior.

This tool is related to another one, and that’s exercise.

I hate exercise. So much. I hate changing into different clothing, I hate sweating, I hate changing out of the sweaty clothing and I hate feeling like I need another shower.

But I don’t always hate the actual exercise part. I rather enjoy going on walks and listening to an audiobook. I actually like lifting my tiny weights and feeling the slightest bit sore the following day. And stretching—oh how I love stretching.

Getting into the clothes is the biggest part of the battle, but like with my writing tonight, I tell myself “ten minutes. I can do ten minutes, and if I’m done after that, then I’m done.” One technological advancement that has helped with this is fitness apps.

I used Peleton’s app for several months and really enjoyed the strength and stretching videos. And then I wound up with a six month free trial of Apple Fitness, so I canceled Peleton (because free > $12.99 a month), and I have been very pleased with Apple Fitness and plan to keep it after the trial ends.

The benefit to both apps, though, is the ability to filter workouts by time. One of the time options?

Ten minutes.

I can do anything for ten minutes.

Sometimes, an effective mental health tool for me is just showing up for ten minutes. After all, I didn’t even feel like writing when I started this, but once I started, I kept going for twenty.

For actual real mental health resources, check out the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness month, which seems like as good a time as any to do more regular writing. I’ve tried to be more open in the past about my depression and what I’ve had to do to manage it, so a few days this month, I plan to share tools out of my mental health toolbox.

I am not a mental health professional, so I share these things with a bit of trepidation in that regard. In no way am I suggesting that taking any of these tips to heart will make anyone’s life (including mine) any mentally healthier. That said, with the number of people in this world who are hesitant to seek professional help for whatever reason (and there are many) maybe something I write about can help someone breathe a bit easier when having a rough time.

So here’s tool #1: watch TV with intention by scheduling a viewing plan based on my streaming services.

It’s so easy to fall into a binge of something mindless, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes watching Guy’s Grocery Games for an entire day feels like a cocoon protecting me from feeling anything in my own life. Though I tend to end those days with a headache and feeling worse about myself for laying on the couch for hours with nothing to show for it.

Those binges are not intentional consumption that leads to a deeper appreciation of an art form, and appreciating art has always been an element of my own cognitive behavior therapy. Something about sitting on my couch with a bowl of popcorn or other snack with a movie or TV show I’ve not yet seen, with the goal of evaluating the art connects helps me. How is the acting? The writing? The costumes? What is the director trying to communicate about the human condition?

Sure, this might seem little froufy to some, but it helps get me out of my own head for a couple of hours, and almost always inspires my own creativity.

So how to decide what to watch? There’s so many lists out there. A favorite of mine is the American Film Institute—they have several lists. The website Letterboxd also has user-generated lists that range from typical to wacky.

There’s always the route of looking at what’s won awards lately—Emmys and Golden Globes have the television categories.


The point is to not just sit mindlessly in front of a screen while autoplay decides for me. The point is to make a choice for myself—and to schedule it into a calendar. Make it an event. On Thursday nights, find out why people are talking about Ted Lasso. On Sunday afternoons, hit up something on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Laughs list.

Being intentional about what I’m watching has occasionally helped my mental health. When I open my Google Calendar and see I have a movie or TV show specifically planned, it gives me something to look forward to. Making a choice about something as small as a movie or TV show–when I’m really low–reminds me that I *do* have the capability to make other choices as well.

For actual real mental health resources, check out the National Alliance on Mental Health.

The Not-Lost Year.

I keep waiting for journalists to write the stories I’ve seen and lived this past year—teachers, students, secretaries, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, parents, and anyone else who supports a functioning school—the stories about all these people who have performed the Sisyphean task of keeping schools open during a pandemic.

I keep waiting for journalists to write the stories of kids who showed up in the face of fear of a virus and wrote papers, solved math problems, prepared for AP tests, took college classes, worked jobs, played sports, put on musicals and concerts.

Yet here we are, at the end of the 2020-2021 school year and I see story after story of learning loss.

And while this year has been anything but normal, there are thousands of stories of students and teachers who saw success.

Was it traditional success? Sometimes.

Did some of us redefine what success looked like? Sometimes.

Did every student succeed? Depends on the metric being used.

Here’s what I know: from teaching in person since August 13, every day I saw some success. A kid took a great photo, or wrote a perfect caption. A kid asked a compelling question. A kid created something beautiful. A kid wrote a story that mattered. A kid took a risk and soared.

My classes were smaller than they’ve ever been my entire career, but every single kid succeeded at something—even if some days it was just getting out of bed and hauling themselves through a too-long school day.

Was this a lost year? For some, perhaps. But what truly mattered in my teaching and in my students’ learning was crystallized. What I needed them to know came into sharper focus. I wouldn’t count that as a loss.

Maybe instead of feeding a narrative about a lost year, a stolen year, we can reexamine the metric that shifts the narrative: we survived a pandemic, and kids still learned. We survived a pandemic, and teachers still taught. We survived a pandemic, and teams still won championships.

We survived a pandemic, and my newspaper staff still published a damn paper.

We survived a pandemic, and Stueve’s yearbook staff still published a book.

We survived a pandemic, and our tiny staff still broadcast over 30 live events.

It wasn’t a normal year, not by a long shot. But success stories are out there.

Go find them.