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.

Dave.

It’s been two months since I have posted here; I’ve written on scraps of paper and random digital documents, but between stress and varying degrees of grief and loss, I’m stuck after a paragraph here and a paragraph there. But I didn’t want today to end without sharing a little about someone who was important to me. The harder topics can wait a bit longer.

I’d like to tell you about my friend Dave.

He loved watching basketball.

He loved good food. Like, really good food. Like, when he and I went out to eat, I always felt underdressed and out of my league. He never made me feel that way, though.

He loved the arts.

He loved creating art. He was so wickedly creative.

He was a gifted choreographer. So gifted, that to this day, the only production of “Oklahoma” I’ve been able to sit through was one he choreographed. And that includes the film version *and* the PBS version with Hugh Jackman.

He saved me from quitting my job, when I was certain I would never be good enough. He assured me I was.

He gave the best hugs.

He knew how to get the best out of people.

He was a lively lunch companion.

He had the impish-iest of grins, and loved to tease.

He never yelled at me for missed notes in the dozens of songs I played for his students. And one year, when I was certain I could not play the end of “We Both Reached for the Gun” any faster, he grinned his impish grin and said, “Yes you can Jules, this is easy.”

He was one of the few people in my life who called me Jules.

I had a crush on him most of the time we worked together. I think it was hard for anyone to not have a crush on him—he was so charming, and made me feel like I was the most important person in the room, as I’m sure he did for countless others.

He took the leap into grad school the year before I did. I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to go if he hadn’t taken the risk first. Who leaves a secure teaching job to follow their dreams? Dave does.

He wasn’t perfect, as none of us are.

He hurt my feelings from time to time.

He made me angry.

He made me sad.

He was human, and I adored him.

Last week when I learned just how sick he was, I crumpled, but hoped I’d be able to see him.

Today, I am crushed at the news of his passing.

This week, I’m going to a right fancy restaurant and will savor every bite of a well-prepared meal. I will watch a musical (but not “Oklahoma”) and pay special attention to the choreography. I will share stories with friends about things I loved about him, and things that drove me crazy about him. And going forward, I’ll try to take pieces of his best, most supportive qualities, and do the same for those in my sphere of influence.

Love you, Dave. Rest in peace.

A peek inside my COVID-19 life.

Every ten days or so, I bring home a reusable tote bag stuffed with microfiber cloths. These cloths have been sprayed with a disinfectant and then used to wipe down the mice and keyboards in the lab I share with Mr. Stueve.

We could just spray directly on the keyboards and mice—and we used to—but it leaves a sticky film that irritates the students, so we started cleaning this way, after every class that uses the computers, and haven’t heard many complaints since.

Though maybe they are keeping the complaints to themselves.

Our custodial staff is amazing, and they make sure that we never run out of the cleaners that we need (one for the tech and fabric chairs, a different one for the desks). We have a steady supply of gloves so that our hands don’t have to touch the cleaner. They fog our room every night. They are each performing Herculean sanitizing tasks, and I worry about the toll on their health.

But the smell of the cleaner—it does something to me.

When I put those cloths in my car, I can’t escape the smell, and that’s when I start to glimpse the toll teaching face-to-face in a pandemic has taken on me. I’ve heard that the sense of smell is tied most to memory, and the memories associated with this cleaner aren’t entirely pleasant.

I wash them—twice, to try and rid the stench—and then I use homemade vinegar and lavender oil dryer sheets to try and make a dent. When I fold them, I take a random cloth and see if anything has worked. The scent is more faint, but it’s still there.

On the bright side, it’s a good test for my own efforts to avoid getting COVID-19 (haven’t lost my sense of smell yet).

I’ve seen a lot in my social media feeds in recent weeks about mental health of students who’ve been remote learning now for nearly a year. Groups are clamoring for students to return to the classroom, citing mental health as a key reason.

The stories I’m currently missing, though: what about the mental health of students who returned to face-to-face instruction last August? What about the mental health of their teachers?

Mental health is a public health issue, pandemic notwithstanding. Sending kids and teachers back to school isn’t going to solve it. I’m sad that so many people seem to think it will.

Because I’m here to tell you—when I walk down the hallway to the lab after Mr. Stueve has cleaned it, and the scent of that cleaner permeates two layers of a cloth mask and a five-layer mask filter, my stomach churns. When I open the washing machine full of microfiber cloths and am overpowered with the cleaner odor, my heart starts to race. Those are physiological reactions that I usually associate with my fight or flight response.

I can’t wait to never smell this again, and I worry what will be triggered if I ever do.