Sigh…sit…breathe…

A list of things that are reliably lowering my stress levels, helping me breathe, and generally making me feel less angry at *gestures wildly* all of this.

  1. My Christmas tree, lit in the dark.
  2. The LED lights I purchased to frame my nativity set and dining table decorations.
  3. The See’s box of Scotchmallows I splurged on.
  4. Reading my newspaper staff’s reviews of their top albums of 2020.
  5. Just going to my Pop Culture Studies class.
  6. Music. All of the music.
  7. My thousandth rewatch of Parks and Recreation.
  8. My new paper planner.
  9. Having Stueve back in the classroom.
  10. A very bright light at the end of the first semester tunnel.

This list didn’t come entirely easily–it took a few minutes to get to ten items–but it was good for me to sit down for a second and think about what I have right now at my disposal that is actually bringing me a little happiness, coziness, satisfaction. It’s not necessarily a gratitude list, though I am probably grateful for everything on this list. I wanted a list of things that really and truly, when I thought about it, was making me much calmer. More at peace. Because there is plenty going around that is not making me calm or giving me peace.

That’s probably just life. Like what Kate Bowler says: “Life is a chronic condition.”

If you’re feeling a bit scattered and flustered and angry and irritated (and I felt *plenty* of that today, FWIW), might I suggest a similar exercise? Slow down a second. What made you genuinely smile today? What slowed your breath? What did you do that allowed you to just sit and be?

Content. No, really.

It is 7:45 on Sunday night and it hits me: I am content.

I don’t feel the hopelessness and uncertainty I’ve felt since March. I take a moment to think about what has happened in the past three days to make me feel more relaxed.

I read a book from start to finish.
I finished an audio book I’ve been working through for a few weeks.
I practiced the piano.
I slept late, then had breakfast in bed three days in a row while watching episodes of Sports Night.
I watched football.
I chatted with friends over text and—gasp—the phone.
I took naps.
I cleaned, albeit reluctantly.
I worked on a vision board of sorts—started building a list of all the new furniture I will buy in June, whether I have a new place to live.
I watched cooking shows on Netflix and Sling.
I listened to podcasts.
I made a list of the things I can start doing now so that if I actually move in June, the move itself is less stressful.
I recorded, edited, and published a podcast.

I was lucky enough to have to stay at school late on Thursday so yearbook editors could work on pages, and somehow mustered the motivation to get all my work done before walking out of the building. It freed up a three-day weekend, and I am amazed at how…normal I feel right at this moment.

So I wanted to document this moment, this weekend, because if you listen to doctors (and I do), the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. The election is in 9 days, which brings a completely different slew of possible hellscapes, and I’m facing down a five-day work week with two sports broadcasts to produce. My future is still uncertain.

But at this moment, I am content.

Restlessness.

It starts with just a generally unsettled feeling. I’m restless all the time. My brain is whirring like a maxed out hard drive running too many programs. I can’t pinpoint the restlessness at first, but it’s familiar. I know I’ve felt this way many times before. And after several weeks, the hard drive slows down, and I can name what I’m feeling.

Though at this point in my life I call Nebraska home, for many years, I claimed no hometown. Such is the life of a military dependent—my first two moves as a human aren’t even registered in my memory, I was so young. The third move, I remember stepping out of a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico to the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons, but even that memory is fuzzy—do I remember it, or do I remember my mom telling the story of it?

All other moves are etched in my memories though. Listening to my first Amy Grant cassette on the road to Alabama. Staring out the car window trying not to cry on the road back to Nebraska—we’d only been in Alabama 10 months, how could I possibly be sad to leave? Sulking in my dad’s truck on the way to Montana a month before my 16th birthday.

The moves in my adulthood weren’t quite as fraught, as they were my choices, but there was always a mix of excitement, fear of the unknown, and sorrow at what I’d left behind.

Even though the family put down stakes in Nebraska in 1994, I bounced out of the county three times in 12 years. In 2008, I came back, and I’ve been in the same apartment for 10 years.

For someone who spent 35 years moving every 2-4 years, 10 years in one space is a long time.

And that’s the restlessness, I am sure.

I love my job—it really is my dream job, a job that sometimes I can’t believe I was able to carve out. I’m teaching everything I’ve ever wanted to teach. And I’m close to having 20 years of service in this district. Who leaves a dream job so close to having 20 years with an organization, a benchmark that typically brings with it financial benefits?

Yet the restlessness.

Maybe all I need is a cross-town move, a new space, new furniture, new surroundings.

Maybe I need a new city, new state, new country.

Maybe I just need a new hair color and new clothes.

But of this I am sure: my bones and my soul need a change.

Anyone have any ideas?

Hi, October.

“How many of you thought we’d still be in school on October 1?” I asked my first class during the break we take in our 100 minute time together; twice as long as usual to minimize passing periods in hopes of managing the spread of coronavirus.

No one raised a hand, and several students slowly shook their heads.

Apparently, not many of us expected we would still be in school. So I asked a second question.

“How many of you started school thinking it would last about two weeks and then you’d be home again?”

Again, no hands went up but several heads nodded.

“Me too. I didn’t think we would make it this far. And I think that’s why we might be feeling a little off. Anyone else feeling bad vibes when they’re here?”

Nodding heads.

And then I told them—I think we all need a paradigm shift.

I know I started the year without my usual plans or excitement. The new protocols are mostly manageable, but are exhausting at times. I told myself I could handle things “until we go remote,” thinking it would happen within the first month.

Yet today, I made folders in my Google Drive for Week 8 of lesson plans.

We’re here, pals. And for what looks like the duration.

September felt incredibly bleak for me. The inconsistent weather, the “will-we-or-won’t-we” undercurrent regarding staying in school, not seeing friends or family because who knows what I’m carrying around on my skin, wondering if every cough or general malaise meant a 14-day quarantine—just bleak.

But there is something about seeing the calendar flip to a new month that always makes me feel some motivation to change. To shift the paradigm set by the previous month.

So that’s what I plan to do.

I think I’ve shared the Action for Happiness people before, but I’m sharing it again. If you’re pulling yourself out of similar doldrums, check out their app or their calendar, which has small things to do every day that might make your October a bit brighter.

Today’s action is write down your most important goals for the month. So here goes.

  1. Stop waiting for a shut down that might never happen (a.k.a. set up your damn desk finally).
  2. Revisit the “rewirements” from the Science of Well-Being class. Implement at least 3 a day.
  3. Do the daily mindfulness challenges from the Educator’s Health Alliance.

And because I didn’t want to lose my initial momentum, I went ahead and set up my damn desk today.

The desk in one of my classrooms. I hesitated to set it up for two months. Figured it was time.

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.