A Return to Self.

During an appointment with my therapist in early October, I lamented that for two straight months, I hadn’t accomplished anything. Yes, starting a new school year is stressful. Yes, I was managing significant personal turmoil. But wasn’t goal-setting supposed to help me through that? Give me something to focus on, to work toward? Why was I failing?

Her advice: don’t set any goals in October. Just exist. Do the necessary things on a day to day basis, but use October to stop putting pressure on myself to always be working toward something.

I’m a planner, a goal-driven person. So it seemed counter-intuitive. But after a week, I noticed I felt more relaxed. Like I could breathe. So I took October off from the self-imposed expectations, and it really was quite wonderful.

So here it is, November 1, and I’m feeling restored. I feel like I can return to my planning, goal-driven self. Including…


Wish me luck. I will definitely need it this time around.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

I don’t usually watch sad movies during the school year, because the stress and exhaustion from work coupled with a sad film can derail my mental health quickly.

But Sunday I was feeling more anchored and less sad than I have in months, so I pulled out the good ol’ Warner Brothers collection and when I saw the next movie on the list was “The Best Years of our Lives,” I thought, why not?

Plot: Three men catch a hop to their hometown after the end of World War II. They didn’t know each other before the war, but are bonded by their separate experiences in the war and the long trip home. The next three (yes, three!) hours chronicle their adjustment back to civilian life.

Best moment: Homer, who has lost both of his arms, invites his would-be fiancĂ© up to his bedroom to get a glimpse of what her life would be like should they marry. He shows her what it takes for him to get ready for bed, and openly shares his emotional vulnerability about what kind of husband he thinks he’ll be, dependent as he is. It’s so raw and touching, and I applaud Robert Sherwood’s writing and William Wyler’s direction for taking such an intimate moment and showing that vulnerability, while scary, most often brings us closer to each other.

Worst moment: In terms of quality, there’s not really a “worst moment,” but in terms of discomfort, there were several moments that could be labeled “worst,” only because they were awfully difficult for the characters. Reentry to civilian life can’t be easy, and everyone involved in this film confronted that head-on, not shying away from or sugar coating the realities of post-war life. This means that some scenes were really hard to watch.

Fun fact: William Wyler, who directed the film, was one of five big-name Hollywood directors who filmed documentaries from the front lines during World War II. I highly recommend Mark Harris’ book “Five Came Back,” and the Netflix documentary of the same name to learn more about those directors who risked their lives to show Americans what war was really like.

Recommendation: I watched this film in 2005, and perhaps age has mellowed me a bit, but I rather enjoyed watching it this time around. I wasn’t bored at all watching. If you have a lazy afternoon, it’s definitely worth your time.

A Note about Heartbreak

I told a friend recently that writing and being vulnerable is sometimes like having food poisoning–you know that once you puke you’ll feel better, but you also don’t want to puke. So consider this post as me having a touch of food poisoning. But also, I’m hoping this might be a survival guide for someone else.

Anytime I have my heart broken, I turn to past relationships and try to figure out how long it took for me to no longer be sad, because I just want to stop being sad. But I never do find a conclusive time span, so this time, I tried something different.

I’ve always believed that my heart never fully repairs from being broken; that little shards of my heart will always belong to men I’ve loved. As a visual exercise inspired by Mari Andrew, I realized that’s not fully true. Behold: sketches of my heart from 1991-2019:

This one wasn’t in my book, FYI.
This one took a good three years to heal.
1998-2000 was ROUGH.
This guy.
Look at who isn’t here anymore…

Every time I drew a new version of my heart, I reflected on how much of my heart truly still belonged to these people. I was actually surprised by my 2019 heart–that really, of all my relationships, there’s only two that still hold space in my heart, and that somehow my heart regenerated over the scars of the other breaks.

The other piece that struck me was how much of my heart I still had to give after every heartbreak. When I’m in the middle of it, when I can’t see more than the next tissue before the next tear falls, when I feel actual real pain despite not having any visible bruises or scratches or breaks, I forget that there is still space in my heart to love the people who are still in my corner.

And boy, did those people show up last month.

It’s time for me to get up off the mat. I have big goals for September that I’ll write about another time, maybe. But for now, I’ll just leave this here, and maybe a heartbroken someone will stumble across this someday, and draw iterations of her heart, and realize she will heal and she still has plenty of love to give.

Football, Teaching, Burnout, and Self-Care.

I’m home with bronchitis today, and let me tell you, getting four hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in a week has me feeling like I can do anything. Until I start coughing again, anyway.

But since I’m home and the Tessalon perles are working as they should, I thought I might as write a little bit about Andrew Luck, because not enough people are.

That was a joke, by the way.

Anyway. My favorite coverage of Andrew Luck’s retirement has been Deadspin. This piece is what made me think that Luck’s retirement decision was radical self care, and the fallout since from fans and sports pundits has appalled me, but also not surprised me.

Here’s why. We have this mythos in American culture that working hard–almost working ourselves to death–is the best thing we can do. We wear “busy” as a badge of honor. We conflate professional success with personal happiness. And I see this in my own profession.

We get movies like “Dangerous Minds” and “Freedom Writers” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” where teachers are celebrated for putting students first, for sacrificing their families and their personal lives to inspire and “save” students. We are told that the relationships we develop with students are the primary key to their learning (so I rather enjoyed this clarification on that idea).

Or we judge and shame teachers (and really, anyone who works) for taking time to get well when sick, or heal when hurt–physically or emotionally.

And then we wonder why we all burn out.

I know comparing an NFL quarterback and a public school teacher is a false analogy, and maybe if my mind was clearer I’d be able to make that analogy a bit more solid. But before I take another dose of medicine, two things.

  1. Andrew Luck did what was good for his mental and physical health, and while he’s in a privileged and moneyed position to do so, calling him soft or weak is really just jealousy that we can’t retire at will and build a completely new life.
  2. Teachers, as we start the beginning of the year, follow these steps when you are sick:
  • See a doctor if needed.
  • Write the sub plans.
  • Stay home.
  • Rest. For the love of all that is holy, rest.
  • Your students will be fine without you.
  • Read that last bullet point again.

A brief update

Have you seen this photo going around?

It came across my Instagram feed a couple of days ago and I saved it to one of my collections. And then I must have forgotten I’d saved it, because yesterday it appeared in my feed from a different account and I saved it again.

So I suppose this maxim spoke to me. Twice.

It’s a good reminder to me that I will come through on the other side of what I’m currently experiencing, and that perhaps I’ll be able to help someone else.

Yesterday as we filed out for a fire drill, a student said to me, “Ms. Rowse, I miss your six word stories!”

For the past two years, I’ve written a six word story for every school day. These stories force me to be present while teaching, as I look for possible stories to create. They force me to practice brevity and pointed language since I limit myself to six words. And they force me into a daily writing habit, even if it’s only six words.

But I started this school year in significant personal tumult, and while I wear a pretty good Happy Mask, it’s hard for me to see much joy, let alone create anything resembling quality writing.

But the photo above reminds me the tumult is temporary, and before long joy will start to break through.

Like the student, who on the first day of school walked into my classroom and said, “I wanted to take another class with you so I signed up for this one!” Or watching my editors teach a young newspaper staff how to be good reporters. Or getting grateful emails from colleagues.

Or a student who tells me she misses my six word stories.

So do I, kiddo. I promise I’ll start writing them again soon.