Reboot. Again. Probably not the last time.

I started this blog in 2005 with one goal: watch as many of the American Film Institute’s Greatest Films of All Time as I could find, and write short reviews of them. Then I started sharing reviews of other movies and television shows until I went to grad school.

And then the blog went through several different evolutions and trends and lost all focus. Write about teaching? Sure. Technology in education? Totally. Rants about the effects of late-stage capitalism? Occasionally. Depression? Yep. 

I’ve thought often about just shutting down this space, mostly because what’s the point?

Pink geometric background with the verse from Proverbs 29:18--Where there is no vision, the people perish.
This blog has no vision.

WordPress says I have 94 followers, yet rarely do I get commenters. Twitter says I have 905 followers, yet rarely do I see evidence of engagement. Instagram says I have 337 followers, yet likes on posts range between 5 and 10.

If there’s no engagement, does a writer even have any impact? Is there even a reason to be on social media at all?

Screenshot of an instagram post from Sarajane Case about Enneagram 4s. Relevant text to this blog: A fixed mindset says that we are as talented as we will ever be the first time we try something new. Just another artist in a sea of monotony.
Ah, the existential dread of an Enneagram 4.

That line of questioning is quite the rabbit hole to go down, and it doesn’t lead to any place I want to stay.

I’ve brainstormed dozens of ideas for what to do in this space to keep it consistent, to make it meaningful. I am certain that fear is a primary factor in keeping me from making a choice, because what if I do and it’s not sustainable? What if I do and no one reads what I write? What if I do and people read what I write and it sucks? 

But if I’ve learned anything from my friend Ashley, it’s to just do something. And if it fails, there’s nothing or no one keeping me from starting over. Again.

After posting on Instagram for 100 days, I’ll be slowly ratcheting back my social media presence and consumption, and instead spend time working on this. Right now, I have two plans:  1) publish a weekly popular culture newsletter, with a little bit of education-related content sprinkled in regarding how I teach popular culture in a midwest suburban high school; 2) publish creative nonfiction pieces I have scattered across my digital landscape.

Feel free to smash that subscribe button if you want to see where this all goes. I certainly do.

100 Day Project

On April 11, I posted this on Instagram:

Today is Day 100. I missed two days, so I should have finished this project on Tuesday. But I think only missing two days is pretty respectable, mostly because I’m not always the best at finishing things. 

I start a lot of projects, set a lot of goals, only to let them wither on the Vine of Good Intentions. Sometimes I think this is just who I am—someone unable to finish anything. Some days I think of this as a moral failing, others I think it’s just a personality trait. But I finished this, so maybe it’s neither. 

Because here’s what I learned the past 100 days:

  • Having a clear goal (write a six word story) with a clear end-date (100 days) kept me from giving up. 
  • Sometimes writing six-word stories is harder than writing a 1,000-word story.
  • I really like Adobe’s Creative Cloud Express, even though I know it’s just like Canva.
  • Every day, I can find something to write about.
  • Going public with this project helped keep me accountable.

I don’t plan to post to Instagram every day for a while, if ever again, as I have some other projects I’m figuring out how to make stick. But if you follow me on Instagram and you’ve been reading my six word stories the past 3-ish months, thank you! It means the world to any writer when even one person reads their work. So truly, thank you. 

The first six word story of my 100 day project in the spring of 2022.

Identity Crisis

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve recently embarked on a 100 Day Project of writing six word stories. I’ve written six word stories before, but they’ve been exclusively about my school life, only written on school days. This time, I’m not sticking just to school, partly because of this piece I’ve been working on for nearly two years. I think it’s finally in a place where it can be published. I think.

I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore.

My social media bios and my website here succinctly declare: Teacher. Writer. Musician. Yet I am not sure that any of those monikers are correct.

Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis I’m feeling, this unsettled mush of being unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. I fell into teaching a bit by accident, and it’s worked out wonderfully. But the times they are a-changin’, and I don’t know how many more years I have left in me. So while I’m still teaching, my most recent attempt at a book has stalled out multiple times and I no longer teach piano lessons. One out of three ain’t bad?

I’m left with this dilemma: if I’m not a teacher, writer, or musician, what am I?

And I’m not talking about how will I pay for my lifestyle–I’m fairly resourceful and I think I know enough people who could help me figure out private sector options if needed. No, I’m talking about who am I, if not a teacher?

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with, and most of time, I shove it to the far corner of my brain. But then I read a piece from the Harvard Business Review about the relationship between careers and identity.

Some of the article doesn’t apply to teaching because, well, no matter how many hours I work or service I provide to the school and district, I’m not ever bringing in a six-figure salary. But then, near the end of the article, these questions:

How much do you think about your job outside of the office?
Is your mind frequently consumed with work-related thoughts?
Is it difficult to participate in conversations with others that are not about your work?

How do you describe yourself?
How much of this description is tied up in your job, title, or company?
Are there any other ways you would describe yourself? How quickly do you tell people you’ve just met about your job?

Where do you spend most of your time?
Has anyone ever complained to you that you are in the office too much?

Do you have hobbies outside of work that do not directly involve your work-related skills and abilities? Are you able to consistently spend your time exercising other parts of your brain?

How would you feel if you could no longer continue in your profession?
How distressing would this be to you?

Reading these questions, I realized my identity is 100% wrapped up in “teacher,” and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Because I think I am–and I want to be–more than my job. And there’s never been a more acute time where figuring out what that entails.

I very well might keep teaching at my current school until I meet the Rule of 85 (nine more years) and can retire. I enjoy the content I teach, I enjoy my colleagues, and I enjoy my students. But what happens if one of those legs falls out from under me, and it’s time for something new?

A friend asked me the other day what my summer plans were. Other than a quick trip to D.C., I have no concrete plans, and usually I do. I’ve been thinking about summer ever since, and the beginnings of a plan are taking shape. Rest and read–obviously–and find one or two activities that I like to do, that I want to do. My summer’s goal is to start creating a life that doesn’t fall apart when I’m no longer teaching, and might actually grow into something far beyond the limitations that come with creating a life based on a career.

Will writing and music be part of that? I’m sure it will be; I don’t think those parts of me will ever go away. But I’m feeling a pull toward looking for more, and I think I’m ready to figure out what “more” looks like.

Existential Paradox

I really had planned to write more regularly this month, sharing a variety of tools from my mental health toolbox, just in case someone who stumbles on this sparse space of the Internet might find it helpful.

But I forgot what May does to me in a normal school year, let alone wrapping up a school year which I, my friends, my colleagues, and my students all completed amidst a global pandemic.

Existential crises have abounded the past two weeks:

Does anything I do even matter?
I feel so helpless when I see (friend, colleague, student) struggling.
Why can’t we just assume everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have?
Why are some people just flat out mean?
Why are some people just flat out selfish?
With all the mean and selfish people in the world, why do I even bother trying to be kind to anyone?

It starts to spiral for me, and I struggle to find my footing when questions like these batter me. I showed a class this clip from Wonder Woman last week, and I almost cried, because I felt that—using a shield against a barrage of ammunition was too strong a metaphor to take in.

So what to do when the existential crises batter me and the panic attacks set in and no footing can be found?

Well, last week, a pint of Haagen Daaz Rock Road did help slightly.

But here’s a mental health paradox. When the crises and attacks hit, the instinct is to withdraw. Hop in bed, pull the covers over my head, and try to sleep long enough to at least feel a little more numb to the barrage.

The paradox is this: connection is necessary.

It’s sometimes difficult to reach out when my head is swirling with oh so many thoughts. But reaching out—texting a group chat or making time to talk in person with a friend—that is what saves me, every time.

Also, it’s hard to do, every time.

I’m still feeling all manner of existential crises, every single day. But I’m lucky.

I have a great family, with wonderful sisters who answer my texts.
I get to eat lunch every single weekday with people who notice if I’m down and don’t dismiss my existential crises as hysteria.
I have friends all across the country who, if I called, would listen to my endless list of unanswerable questions.

The trick is to take the step and ask for the connection, to not withdraw.

So think about that if you’re feeling the push to withdraw. Send me a text, give me a call and I’ll sit with you for a spell.

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.