Dream Job.

It was a rough week.

I really thought that last Sunday’s meltdown would be the worst of it, but I was wrong, and the hits just kept on comin’.

Saturday I spent six hours at school for the last newspaper deadline of the year. I started doing this a couple of years ago when we switched printers and no longer needed seven business days between layout and delivery. Kids come in on Saturdays and get the bulk of the work done. Since we started doing this, they aren’t at school as late or as often during the week, and therefore, neither am I.

During Saturday’s work session, an editor and I were chatting about how technology has made layout so much easier. I told him that when I was student teaching, layout was more difficult because of how we had to print and then physically paste up the pieces on broadsheet grid paper. Another student asked, “Did you enjoy your student teaching experience here?”

And I told him the story that I’m sure I’ve written about before–how disappointed I was when I got my student teaching assignment because once I decided on a career in teaching, I was all about literature. I only wanted to teach literature and writing and grammar and everything that made English wonderful. When I learned I’d only be teaching one English class and the rest of my assignment was journalism, I almost asked for a new assignment.

But I’m a rule follower and a make-lemons-out-of-lemonade kinds of person, so I stuck with it.

“It changed my life,” I told him.

“So how do you feel about teaching journalism now?” he asked.

“It’s my dream job,” I said.

I didn’t even have to think twice before I said it. Despite knowing I have to say goodbye to seniors who’ve changed our program dramatically, despite frustrations at nearly every turn this week, it’s still my dream job.

I’m glad he asked that question, because my answer reminded me that I’m still where I want to be, where I choose to be. And knowing I choose to be here makes it just a little bit easier to handle the rough patches.

This Is What A Bad Day Looks Like.

File_000 (2) This is what a bad day looks like.

No make up, no filters, no smile. Eyes and face swollen from crying. Lots and lots of crying.

The reasons for the bad day are irrelevant–I can’t share the reasons anyway. But I hit the trifecta of what causes me the most pain in my life (save for the loss of a loved one–no one died yesterday). And I hesitated taking this photo or writing anything about it, except for this:

So much of life is carefully curated these days. Sunny vacations by beaches and pools, perfectly angled selfies with perfectly coiffed hair and perfectly applied makeup. We share our best selves and give the impression that life is grand, even when we know it’s not.

It hit me yesterday, as I was fetal, crying, and simultaneously replying to text messages as if nothing was wrong. Feigned happiness for days, rife with fake exclamation points.

And I wondered if I saw a little less curation and a little more real, maybe my response to yesterday’s events wouldn’t have been so dramatic. But feeling like life is oh-so-wonderful for so many people while in the midst of some pretty dark emotions can amplify the darkness.

So I share this photo, and this vague accounting of my bad day, to maybe instill some sense of normalcy for someone else who might be having a bad day.

Bad days suck. They happen–no getting around that. But they happen to everyone, so try to remember that the next time you’re in the middle of a trifecta of pain. Chances are, someone close to you has been there before, and you both will be there again. Don’t let the filters fool you about that.

But a bad day is also just that–a day. Twenty-four hours. The sun rises again, and with time, the pain diminishes. Today I was blessed with people who made me smile and laugh. I ate chocolate and drank diet Coke and I bought a book. I had some great conversations and tried to remember that I still have much to celebrate and many people to love.

Yesterday was a bad day. But today was better.

 

 

Introduction to the Rebel Missionary.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

So it’s been a few Mondays since I wrote about my mission…writing in general has been sporadic lately. The musical really derails my life, and every year it takes longer to get back to normalcy.

20 years ago at this moment, I was in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The boundaries of the Montreal Mission at that time extended far north, way past Quebec City, and south into three small towns in New York (those towns are now part of a different mission). I knew before leaving the MTC that my chances of actually using my French on my mission were slim, and serving in Ottawa offered very few opportunities to speak French. I must have been concerned about that, because every journal entry from my first month in Ottawa is written in French. A sampling, from April 12, 1997:

IL NEIGE MAINTENANT!!! C’EST AVRIL, ET IL NEIGE! Alors, et on fair de porting ce soir.

Translation: it was snowing in April, yet we were still going to knock on doors. This is called tracting, and it’s what I spent much of my mission doing–going door to door throughout an assigned area in Montreal, talking to people about my church. I’m an introvert, so this was not easy work for me. But I did it, because we had goals to meet.

To outsiders, fans of the musical “Book of Mormon,” and those who are no longer LDS, “goals” in missionary service can come across as harsh–if the purpose of a mission is to bring souls to Christ, should numbers-driven goals be involved at all? My answer is a qualified yes. Without goals, introverts like me would never leave the apartment. I would never open my mouth to speak on a bus or metro, I would never preach.

But not even a month of service in Ottawa and my journals reveal early signs that my lifelong church participation and spiritual development would not follow an expected path. I was put off by the emphasis on numbers–so what if we only taught three people this week? Isn’t that three more people who heard our message? I wanted to work with people who had been baptized but weren’t coming to church anymore. I had been that person just three years prior–I felt I could offer perspective and empathy to them, and most important, love.

So when, on April 14, 1997, we got word that our assigned area had been cut in half, I wrote this: “Our area shrunk tons! But that’s okay. I think our tracting has been ineffective because we need to take care of the people we have now, reach out to people who aren’t coming to church, and then redefine success.”

This was not something I shared with my companion at the time, but as my mission progressed, I became bolder in expressing my disdain for quantifying the work of saving souls. And that boldness continued after I came home.

For example, yesterday I taught a lesson at church about Jesus. And at one point, I told the women I was teaching that we can never assume that everyone sitting in church believes in God and Jesus, because at times, I’ve gone to church and wasn’t sure I believed in God or Jesus. This can be a radical admission in some circles, especially when church is often the place where we put on our perfect faces and pretend we are “all in.”

I often wonder if I would be so outspoken now when it comes to spiritual matters if I hadn’t served a mission. I’m not sure I would be, because it was on my mission where I started to see how some people can lose sight of what Jesus’ gospel was all about–and having crawled back to the church after leaving it, I wasn’t going to spend my mission too concerned about anything other than loving people.

That framework made me a bit of a rebel missionary, but I’ve never really been one to do things the way someone tells me to anyway.

 

 

Rejection.

Six years ago, I got everything I wanted.

Offer to teach at a Johns Hopkins University summer program? Yep.

A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study at Amherst College? Yep.

Present at the National Council of Teachers of English conference? Yep.

All things I applied for, all things I got. I felt pretty invincible.

Lately, though, I’ve been on a string of rejections. My students’ journalism work is not recognized as quality by state organizations or local universities. I didn’t receive a small scholarship to help with the cost of graduate classes. I applied to be an Apple Distinguished Educator and was denied. I’m currently waiting to hear back from NCTE again to see if I will present at their fall conference, and waiting to hear about a program with the Journalism Education Association.

I don’t expect to get either opportunity.

So it appears I peaked at 38.

My students deal with rejection all the time: positions on teams that don’t fall their way, scholarship money denied, colleges who say “Thanks, but no thanks.” So I see my recent streak of rejection as a chance to teach them: here’s how you handle it.

Don’t throw a tantrum.

Don’t look to blame others.

Don’t give up.

Reflect honestly on why you wanted whatever it was.

Decide if you still want it.

If you do still want it, reflect honestly on what went wrong. This can be painful at first, but most growth is painful. Identify what needs to change. Then, change. This is also at times painful, but reaps the most benefits.

If you don’t still want it, move on. Find another passion, another achievement, another goal. Reflect honestly on why you want it, then reflect honestly on what it takes to get it.

Then work. Work hard. Put down the phone, turn off Netflix, and sometimes, tell your friends, “Not this weekend.”

Rejection is a hard teacher. In my 17-year career, I’ve been referred to as a “hard teacher”–a label I quite enjoy. Because I know from my own education that the hardest teachers taught me the most, but only when I was willing to listen.

What is rejection telling me now?

Be honest. And don’t quit.

 

Encourage Artists.

I’m finally emerging from the yearly musical-induced hibernation and starting to resume a sense of normal routine, which includes writing here. And the first post back from hiatus is a bit of a rant.

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, you may have seen this 2016 video of University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma talking about body language of athletes. This week, he spoke about the importance of teammates.

Then there’s this video from former Wisconsin’s women’s basketball coach Bobbie Kelsey.

Even Senator Ben Sasse published his thoughts on losing, and the role parents have to play in helping students rise above disappointment.

I love basketball, and I love all of these messages, but I’m also conflicted.

Why is it so easy to like, share, and agree with these words in a sporting context, but we don’t often see the same sentiments expressed about other activities, or even–gasp–education? The skills that Auriemma, Kelsey, and Sasse say are vital for athletes, I say are vital for any artist.

I advise a student newspaper and website, and all of these videos have application to my staffers. They sometimes are so focused on their own work and lives that they sometimes forget that the work they do (or don’t do) reflects on everyone on staff. They sometimes get frustrated with stories not getting published or entered in contests, but they don’t practice their writing. They experience disappointment with editorial decisions, or they don’t place well in contests, and find resilience difficult to come by.

And I’ve seen the same behaviors with nearly every activity my colleagues coach and sponsor, and the same behaviors in classes.

So I’m glad these videos are out there and go viral–I just ask that when we share them, we realize the advice of these coaches can apply to pretty much anything our students engage in.

I tell my writing and photography students every semester that they only way they will improve is to practice. And practice, I tell them, is not always a grade, just like shooting free throws for 10 minutes after practice isn’t winning a game down the stretch. Though I’m quick to add that practice will improve their grades and skills just like shooting free throws after practice will win games down the stretch.

With the arts and humanities increasingly under assault from the highest levels, it’s more important than ever to apply these lessons from athletic leaders to our milieu. Budding writers, musicians, artists, photographers– they all need a sense of what it means to be a teammate, they all need to practice, they all need to spend some time away from their phones, and they all need to learn the resilience lessons that losing and disappointment teach.

The more practice, teamwork, and resilience we can instill in our artists is one way we can ensure the survival of the arts, not only in schools, but also in our communities. Because as much as I love basketball–and I do love it quite a bit–I also love reading and writing and concerts and plays.

Encourage artists the way we already encourage athletes.