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.

Thinking: A Dangerous Habit.

I saw the tweet and it woke up the central cynic system of my brain: “Find three good things to look forward to this year.”

Don’t get me wrong–I am usually a fan of the Action for Happiness group. The work they do is important and helpful. I have their app and every afternoon my watch buzzes with a reminder to be gentler with myself, with others, to look for good instead of dwelling on the awful.

But the call to action on January 1, 2021 was too much. And yet, I stewed over it all morning.

“Three good things,” I muttered to myself. “I’m not a fortune teller. I have no trips planned. I have no life planned. And so little changes in my life from year to year anyway. Look forward to…what the hell.”

Last year? I had tons to look forward to. Trips, musicals, dinners, time with friends all over the country. It still hurts to think about the lost trips sometimes–there was about a 70% chance I was going to ride along in an RV with my sister and niece from Alaska to the lower 48. I actually mustered up the radical self-care to use two personal days and planned a trip to New York to see friends and museums. Two months into 2020, another friend snagged tickets for “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center, and I started planning a summer DC/New York trip.

Three things I looked forward to in 2020. Three things that never happened.

So I hope it’s understandable that my initial reaction to AFH’s initial 2021 task sent me into a bit of cynical rage. Why look forward to things that probably won’t even happen? Isn’t that a recipe for disappointment and depression? But the longer I stewed, something changed.

(As Stueve says, thinking is a dangerous habit.)

What if the three things I look forward to in 2021 aren’t exactly…things? Or events? What if the things to look forward to are more ethereal, more abstract?

Can I look forward to a deeper practice of grace–not only toward other people, but also toward myself?

Can I look forward to a continued minimizing and organizing of my life–possessions, apps–toward a maximizing of spending my time and resources purposefully?

Can I look forward to my to-read pile of books, my to-see list of films, my to-listen-to Friday Morning Soundtracks?

For many, January 1, 2021 is fraught for a variety of reasons. The panic from facing a blank slate of the coming year. The collective trauma from what we, humanity, have witnessed the past year. The pressure to change and mold ourselves into someone that–let’s be real–might only serve the people profiting off what we purchase to make those changes.

If you are feeling any of that, I understand and am holding space for you to feel and process as you need. And if and when you are ready to consider finding even one thing to look forward to this year, maybe move from the concrete to the abstract and see if that helps.

It’s worth a try. You are worth the try.

Happy New Year.

Thoughts on a Facebook-less week.

It’s been a week without Facebook, and I’ve only missed it twice.

I’m not feeling the FOMO I thought I would, perhaps because whenever I spent more than 10 minutes there, I started to feel a little sick, like when you stay up until 3 a.m. watching TV and eating junk food. You know it’s awful for you, you know it’s making you feel bad, but you also can’t figure out how to stop yourself.

I never felt happier after spending time on Facebook. To be fair, I don’t feel happier after spending time on Twitter, but I spent less time there this past week. I am pretty sure I spent more time on Instagram, but some of that was for The Thunderbeat, and some of it was actually taking the time to watch more stories. (Stories are fun!)

This morning I watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and while I approach any documentary with a critical eye, it was hard for me to be hyper-critical of this one. I don’t want to give too much information here, lest I sway an opinion about the documentary’s merits. But through interviews with former tech executives and employees, it does give context to these platforms that have figured out how to monetize public division and control how we spend our time.

For me, the question I’ve yet to fully answer is this: how do I maintain relationships with people who no longer live nearby? How do I maintain relationships with people I actually *met* on these platforms?

I moved around a lot as a kid, and the friends I left behind would send a letter, maybe two, in the months right after my departure. And I’d write back, but eventually we would all move on with new friends and new lives, and drop from each others’ existence. I have often thought of military kids today, and how envious I am of their online social structures that help them maintain those relationships.

I guess the answer to my question is that I have to decide which relationships are worth maintaining. And then I have to choose to do the work to maintain them. Emails, postcards, *gasp* phone calls, text messages–it’s not like I actually need any given platform to help me maintain and strengthen any friendship. If anything, Facebook especially has given us the illusion we are maintaining relationships by giving us curated peeks into our friends’ and families’ lives.

But really, it’s just made us disengaged voyeurs.

Taking a break.

Last night, with no grand announcement, I deactivated my Facebook account.

Deleting seemed too extreme for the moment, so I decided on at least one month of deactivation, just to see how it goes.

The catalyst this time was reading some comments on a “community” page (community in air quotes because those pages are anything BUT my definition of a community) about our football broadcast. Something in me broke.

I thought about what I wrote earlier in the summer about quitting social media and what a privilege it is, but then realized that all the activism and educational accounts that mean anything to me are on Twitter or Instagram.

Facebook has become a time suck, a tool to stoke hatred, and a place for locals to criticize an amateur sports broadcast (which we broadcast for free for the first time, mind you) for a game they can’t get into anyway because of covid-19 restrictions.

When I realized a very petty part of me almost responded “Thanks for the feedback—we won’t broadcast any more football games,” I realized I needed drastic measures.

Hence the deactivation.

I’m 24 hours into it, and I am a little impressed with the time I feel I’ve had today. I had a long list of things to do, all are done. I colored. I read some of a book. I watched the entire first season of Cobra Kai on Netflix.

I’m writing.

All because at some point today, I looked around and said to myself, “Huh. What should I do next?” Because I was only doom scrolling through Twitter and for some reason, my stamina there has never equaled doom scrolling on Facebook. Curious.

I’m still on Instagram. And yes, I know that Facebook owns Instagram, but it’s a different platform. Maybe I’ve curated it more carefully than my Facebook feed, maybe the medium of photos lends itself to a different ambience, maybe the interface is such that utter nonsense doesn’t arbitrarily show up in my feed to derail me or make me angry. I get the irony of quitting Facebook and not Instagram, so no need to come at me. I’m already at myself with that one.

Anyway, I’ll see how the next month goes, but if today is any indication, my best guess is that Facebook account deletion is imminent.

We had a run. Not always a nice run, but a run nonetheless.

Dear Julie, here’s what you say.

Dear Julie,

It’s a lot, isn’t it? And exhausting, and I know you feel like you’re taking crazy pills, especially after three days in a row of talking to people and reading tweets from people who imply that the doctors at UNMC, a global leader in infectious disease, don’t know what they are talking about. (You really need to limit your time on Twitter to 30 minutes a day, but that’s a letter for another time.)

So I’d like you to take a little trip back in time with me, to September 1999.

Remember September 1999? You were in your last semester of coursework before student teaching, you’d just started dating someone, you had good friends, and a retail job you actually really liked. What a great fall on the horizon.

And then your dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. Netscape Navigator was your internet search engine of choice, but you didn’t even think to use it to research mortality rates of 50 year-old men with colon cancer. You didn’t spend hours reading story after story of folk remedies that reportedly saved other lives. After all, internet research at that time was still viewed with suspicion. How could you trust a research venue where *anyone* could upload information and present it as fact, even if it wasn’t?

Your dad liked his oncologist, Dr. Soori, and together with your mom, they chose to trust him. You’re still not certain of what his initial prognosis was regarding how many years (or months) he had left, but after the initial colon resection, you trusted the surgeon and the pathologist and as your dad embarked on his cancer-fighting regimen, you trusted the process.

And then the cancer spread to his liver.

It would’ve been so easy for you to hop on Netscape Navigator and start finding alternatives for his care, to look for “data” to support your compulsion to find a way for your dad to survive, through sheer force of will if nothing else. But you deferred to the doctors again, and your dad and mom still liked Dr. Soori, so as a family, that was the plan. After all, it wasn’t HIS fault the cancer spread.

So the family plan was this: trust the doctors at UNMC.

Now I know there is a part of your brain right now screaming “But not ALL of Dr. Soori’s patients survived, and plenty of people die from cancer all the time!”

You’re right.

There was plenty of luck and circumstance that went into your dad surviving those two cancers. But be sure of this: all the luck and circumstance in the world would mean nothing without all the surgeons, pathologists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and dear Dr. Soori—and think of the research since then! Why, just the other day you heard of someone who had a colon resection laparoscopically! Could you have even imagined that in September 1999?

So the next time you are accosted by someone making false analogies with the current pandemic by comparing it to the flu (which—sidebar—if 60,000 people die from flu-related illnesses every year and masks would save 30,000 of those lives, why AREN’T we normalizing masks during flu season?), or someone who says they just need more data, I’m giving you a response. The only response you need.

“I’m going to stick with the doctors from the hospital that saved my dad’s life.”