A Math Story.

Once upon a time, I was really good at math.

And I mean, really good.

On the first day of 9th grade Geometry, we took an Algebra test. The teacher wanted to know our math aptitude. Algebra made so much sense to me. It was easy, and when it wasn’t easy, finding the right solutions was so satisfying. Math was like putting together puzzles, and I could always complete it with dead accuracy.

On the second day of 9th grade Geometry, the teacher announced that one person scored 98.5 out of 100 possible points on the test. She smiled as she handed me that test and she said, “I expect good things from you.”

And perhaps hubris led me to wait so long to get help in Geometry–I didn’t want to go to the teacher who had high expectations for me–but it didn’t take long for me to realize Geometry was not my wheelhouse. Nothing made sense. Everything was abstract. The puzzle pieces I loved in Algebra didn’t exist in Geometry.

When I finally did go to her for help, sometime in the 2nd quarter of school, after several minutes of trying to explain a problem to me and my still not understanding, she became exasperated.  I can’t remember her exact words to me, but I left her room knowing I was stupid and had no business taking math.

I’m pretty sure my mom had to fight to put me into advanced Algebra 2 for 10th grade, because my Geometry grade should’ve put me in regular Algebra 2, if not remedial Geometry. But advanced it was, and I did fine, and I had a teacher who was patient and kind and slowly that year, I remembered I was good at math.

But the damage from Geometry was fairly permanent, and any math synapses in my brain appeared shut down for good. I was now one of those girls who was “bad at math” and since I was a gifted pianist, I had a fall back anyway, so I threw myself into the performing arts for the rest of high school and left math behind.

Present day: last Wednesday I received my acceptance letter to the Grow with Google scholarship program. This is a coding bootcamp of sorts–a three-month initial program to show the program I “have what it takes” to make it into their six-month program.

The math side of my brain is screaming at me: “Whyyyyyyy? I thought we were done with this 30 years ago! Go back to writing. Go practice the piano. Read a humanities theory book. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

I’ll admit–I’m in the middle of a project for this class that I worked on for 90 minutes and I still can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. My brain hurts, much in the same way my muscles first hurt when I started Jazzercise, or the way my ego hurt the when I got edits back on my first published piece, or they way my fingers hurt when I sight-read the score for the musical. And my initial instinct is to give up.

But I know from Jazzercise and writing and playing the piano that the pain isn’t permanent. With practice and consistency, tasks become second nature. So I’m firing up my math synapses, long dormant, and reminding them that once upon a time, they really loved math and solving puzzles–and they can love those things again.


All or nothing, all the time.

My winter break this year was utterly delightful. A perfect balance of time with friends, work, lazy mornings, and glorious alone time.

I knew I’d need a winter break like that because I could feel a storm of sorts brewing. Not a destructive storm, necessarily, but a storm nonetheless. The kind that you sit on your porch to watch roll in from the west and then marvel that such an event doesn’t do more damage to all the surroundings. Like a lightning storm, perhaps. Or a snowstorm that lacks blizzardy winds.

Here’s the current storm:

  • Principal pianist for the school musical.
  • Working toward earning Adobe certification.
  • Starting a coding bootcamp.
  • Teaching full time (as usual).
  • Increased sports broadcasting responsibilities.

I’ve left out others–I still need to give time to my family and friends and church, still need to occasionally clean, still need to produce a podcast, still need to break into the most recent round of edits on my book.

I told a friend today that I’m not sure I know how to do happy medium. I feel like most of my life has been either all or nothing. I’ve spent summers of my teaching career bopping between my bed and couch watching Netflix, and then there’ve been summers of non-stop travel and school. I’ve spend school years doing just what was expected, and school years taking classes and implementing new programs and writing curricula.

I just don’t hang out in the middle.

So a few favors to ask between now and April: if you see me and I’m looking a little hollow, please smile and don’t mention the bags under my eyes. If you don’t see me for several weeks, please send me a text and make sure I haven’t gone completely off the rails. If you see a social media post and you think, “Hmmm she might be near a breaking point,” ask me when I last took time to see a movie or read a book or meet a friend for dinner or a beverage.

I’m sure I’ll thank you.

Writing Through an Existential Crisis.

I had every intention of blogging every day in 2016, every intention of tracking all my media consumption, every intention of writing my second book. Like decent baseball players, I batted .333 last year for those goals (yay, NaNoWriMo!), but now it’s a new year and time to reassess.

I haven’t had much of a focus on my blog ever. It started as a place to review movies on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, then morphed into a place to vent during grad school, then shifted into a bit of a diary with some educational pieces thrown in from time to time.

I’m not sure how to rebrand at this point, or if I even want to. As a memoirist, this has been a space to force me to craft snapshots of my life in a way that might engage readers, perhaps even make them think. It’s been a place to rant about everything from religion to politics to feminism to mental health to education. But recently, I’ve been wondering if those snapshots reveal too much. When someone googles me and this is the first hit, what can someone learn about me in mere minutes? I always assume the only people reading are my mom and Stueve, but what if they aren’t the only ones reading? Then again, with the sheer volume of content available online, isn’t my little corner of the sky just mostly static?

I’m not sure what the answer is, if there’s an answer at all. I know I love writing. I know my writing is not a hobby. I know I need to write for the same reasons I need to breathe–it gives me life. I know I’m working on a sustainable schedule for blogging this year, something that might strike more of a balance of sharing those snapshots of my life with a dash of restraint. I know I hope to have that schedule ready to go this weekend.

So as the trite writing advice goes, I’ll just write what I know, and hope from there I can figure out what needs to happen next.

If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.


A Summer Lesson.

I begin another year of teaching this week, full of ideas and goals and…fears. Last night I dreamed I was being beaten by someone I did not know, and the dream was so vivid, I finally forced myself awake so I could slow my heartbeat and feel safe again. This post is not about dream analysis, though–it’s about something I learned this summer that I hope to carry through my school year:

I have lots of time, and I don’t always use it well.

I realized that on the days I get home at 4 p.m., I have six or seven hours to use. Too many times, I fall into the social media wormhole and I emerge, bleary-eyed and despondent, six or seven hours later with literally nothing to show for it. This summer, I learned that there is time enough for all the things I want to do, if I make time for them to happen.

So today after meetings, I went to the library and checked out some books for this challenge. I came home and started to read one of those books and felt sleepy. So I laid down and rested for 20 minutes. I checked in on social media for 10 minutes, then I made dinner, did dishes, made lunch and breakfast for tomorrow. I watched a movie. Now I am writing with the Olympics on in the background, and I will exercise for a bit and probably read for a bit longer.

I have read contradicting pieces about work-life balance. Some argue that it’s imperative to establish rigid work-life balance practices. Some argue that life is just life, and trying to achieve balance is pointless. I know there will be days I have to work a bit longer hours than I did today. I know I will have days when the pull of my couch and Netflix is just a bit too strong. But I also know that with a bit more focus, more of my time after school can be spent purposefully enjoying things I value.

I’m guessing it will also help me sleep a bit better, too, knowing my time is well spent, rather than beating myself up over time wasted.

Existential Dread.

I’ve been in a complete writing slump this summer, not blogging, not working on a book, hell, I’m barely composing text messages and emails these days. The words just aren’t happening. A couple of weeks ago, someone at church asked me if I’d spend some time during a lesson talking about examples of greatness in my life.

“Because you are so good with words,” she said.

I laughed nervously and replied, “Not lately…”

I had an appointment today and someone asked how I was doing.

“Oh fine, just the regular existential dread,” I responded.

He laughed uncomfortably, and I don’t blame him–what is the retort to ‘existential dread’?

When I shared the dread with my parents later in the day, especially concerned that within the next year I will lose my job and the entire U.S. infrastructure will fail, leaving me homeless, my dad comforted me: “We’ll set up the Marriott tent in the backyard for you.”

(The Marriott tent is a giant two-room tent, in which one room accommodates a queen size air bed. Not air mattress–air. bed.)

As I was having this conversation with my parents, my five year-old niece, visiting from out of town, was cuddling me, occasionally interrupting the grown-ups to tell me my eyeshadow was pretty or my lip gloss was shiny. She’s so adorable and has no idea what’s currently happening in the world to have her Aunt Julie considering Ham radio classes and beefing up her food storage.

I envied her, and worried about her at the same time. What opportunities will she have in 15 years? Will she even have access to any education beyond kindergarten? (That’s the dread speaking, not logic or rational thought.) And is there even anything I can try to do at this point?

Anyway, I am starting to realize that my writing issues this summer stem from two problems. First, I’m giving in to my existential dread. I’m entertaining my worst-case scenarios. I’m anticipating a complete collapse of the comfortable life I enjoy right at this moment. This is somewhat unlike me–at school I’m often the voice of optimism, the person who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, the lone herald of “everything will be fine!”

Second, I’m not writing about the issues giving me existential dread. I’ve been mostly silent on Trump, Brexit, rape culture, religion, patriarchy, and a pending bond issue that could determine whether I end up in that Marriott tent.

So fair warning: in the coming days, the blog might get a bit ranty and political. You might disagree with me, and as long as you don’t troll me or tell me to leave the country, leave comments and let’s discuss (as best as comments on blogs count as discussion). But I can’t allow myself to fall prey to my existential dread for the next month, because come August, my students will deserve a teacher who isn’t quite as hopeless and cynical as she is right now.

Writing will help make sure that gets fixed.