Fallout From 83 Hours in the Car, Alone.

I’ve been back in my hometown for 9 days now, and one thing is clear: I am not the same person I was when I left.

As I drove from state to state, I listened to podcasts and music, and I thought. I thought a lot. I relived nearly every mistake I made during the 2016-2017 school year–remembering emotions and words, as if reliving them would somehow activate a “Choose Your Own Adventure” hack and I’d be able to fix all those mistakes. And then I would think about all of the things I think I want to be: Google Certified Instructor, Apple Distinguished Educator, Master Journalism Educator, a pianist who really and truly can play anything, a writer who can manage more than a book every seven years…and I wonder where’s the wisdom in splitting myself into too many boxes.

A lot of thinking, some of it instructive and enlightening, some of it destructive and dangerous.

I realized I was not the same about a week ago, when I helped someone move into a new home. A decent-sized crew showed up to help, and I was content to keep to myself, to not engage in conversation at all.

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, so this shouldn’t have surprised me, except there’s a difference between keeping to myself and making an active choice to guard my words and body language. That’s what I was doing. At the time, I chalked it up to extreme heat and fatigue. Even at my most introverted, I usually connect with one person. I crack jokes, I ask questions.

Introverted doesn’t mean silent, it often just means selective. Introverted doesn’t mean emotionless–in fact I’m well aware that my emotions are pretty easy to decipher. Over the years, students have told me they know within seconds if I’m having a bad day. If I don’t put on the right face at church, it’s pretty obvious. And those who know me well usually see my most unfiltered self.

But then yesterday I bounced from one social event to the next–three in a row–and my behavior was the quite similar at each stop. I chose to not volunteer a whole lot of information. I worked to control facial expressions, not looking disinterested but also not looking too interested. With a few exceptions, I gave minimal answers to perfectly fine and logical questions.

I’ve learned how to be alone–go to restaurants, movies, cultural events by myself, and even travel alone–and I didn’t think for a moment that an epic road trip would be a struggle. And it wasn’t. But I also didn’t realize what all that time alone to think would do to me.

Even writing this feels too exposed, and a quick dig in my blog’s archives proves I bend toward oversharing, so this post fits with that. But now I wonder if hitting “publish” is a bad idea.

Maybe my current state is temporary and once school starts again, my old self will come back, but I’m not sure. All that time spent scrutinizing my failures and mistakes has made me a bit more cautious. A bit more afraid.

When I hopped in my car a month ago, I didn’t see that coming.

Hoping to Find What I’m Looking For.

A month.

Really, over a month.

I’ve been silent for a long time here on my blog, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really be able to talk about why. Not that it’s anyone’s business in the first place. But if you want to read a little piece of why, have at it.

But Week 2 of summer break just began, and in two days I am starting the first leg of a 5,000 mile road trip.

Elizabeth Gilbert went to Italy and India, Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, I’m driving all over hither and yon.

And like Ms. Gilbert and Ms. Strayed, I’m looking for something on this trip. Peace. Clarity. Love.

I have a new phone that can store dozens of podcasts and thousands of songs (not to mention a movie or two), and the promise of friendly faces in every city I’m staying in. I have plenty of snacks and planned meals to eat in the car, and will still go to Jazzercise whenever I can.

I haven’t had a grand adventure since going to Japan three years ago, so I figure I’m due.

I’m sure I’ll post a time or two from the road–at the very least, perhaps a photo dump–but I’m hoping this trip will recalibrate my brain and my spirit. I need help with both.

 

 

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.

 

Making room for one more thing.

In October, my friend Angie invited me to Jazzercise with her. I had a great time, and they had a special, so I joined.

But November and December were already booked up solid, or so it felt, and cramming one more thing into those months just didn’t happen. I think I attended maybe 8 classes in two months. Maybe 10.

Then 2017 began, and like so many, I set a fitness goal: 150 classes.

Why 150? Well, the core reason is that extrinsic motivation often works for me, and Jazzercise has two extrinsic motivators: my name on a board with a “150” next to it, and a t-shirt.

Then I let January go by and only made it to a handful of classes again.

I set a couple of general goals in January; one goal was “finish challenges I begin.” So when the owner sent an email explaining a February challenge of 30 classes in 35 days, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone: fit Jazzercise into my already busy life AND finish a challenge I began.

I planned out the classes I could attend (strength classes counted double, so I didn’t exactly make 30 individual classes) between February 1 and March 7, and made up my mind to see it through.

I’m a few classes away from completing that challenge, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • I’m sleeping better.
  • I’m not suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder the way I tend to (though the week of 70 degree weather also helped with that).
  • I’m developing muscle where, a month ago, none existed.
  • I had zero PMS symptoms.
  • I don’t get winded as easily when I walk up the stairs at work.
  • I’m generally calmer.

Fitness has never been my strong suit, but something about Jazzercise clicked. Maybe it’s timing, maybe it’s the type of exercise, maybe it’s the promise of free t-shirts (I’ll get one for finishing this month’s challenge). Whatever it is, I’m glad Angie invited me, and I’m glad for this month–I proved to myself that, as busy as I am, I can still make time to work out.

I can still make time to work out and watch movies with friends and write and go to basketball games and get sick and take a class at the JCC and have parent-teacher conferences and grade tests and spend time with family.

It’s a good lesson for me to have finally learned, that in making time for exercise, I can still have quite a full life. A good life. A better life. And maybe, a longer life.

Habits.

I recently finished Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before,” in which she explains how habits can be the engine of life. I checked out the book from the library and renewed it three times, so I could read it slowly and take notes. After the first 20 pages, I knew Rubin’s advice was valuable.

I’ve been implementing some of her tips, and they’ve made an impact on my life already. Two small changes that have already yielded results:

1) Eat dinner at my table and read. I complain that I don’t have enough time to read, but as I worked through Rubin’s book and reflected on the habits I’d developed out of default, I realized I actually did have time to read if I simply changed where I ate.

2) As soon as I’m done with dinner, I do the dishes and prepare my breakfast and lunch for the next day. Before I started this, I was waiting until 9, 9:30, 10 p.m. to take care of this. It never takes very long, but by moving this chore to the early evening, I feel like I’ve gained hours of time.

November is shaping up to be a hectic month. I just planned out next week and nearly broke out in hives for all that I have going on. Everything will be fine, everything will get done. It’s adding in other obligations that’s causing most of the panic. I’ll start attending a class on Judaism. I’m taking Jazzercise classes. I have seven pieces of music that must be learned and perfected at various points between Nov. 6 and Dec. 12. Toss in that for years now, every November I’ve blogged daily about what I’m grateful for.

And I’m doing NaNoWriMo again. 

It will all be fine, and I will live, and even though it’s not November, I must say how grateful I am to my therapist, who spent 8 months fixing me, because there’s no way I’d be able to even fathom what awaits this month had I not sought her help last year.

November will be a month of adding to the habits I’ve already started developing, knowing that if a certain number of elements in my life are automatic, I’ll find time to really enjoy my life. By the end of Rubin’s book, that seemed to be the point of habits in the first place.

The next habit I’ll be adding? Earlier bedtimes on the weekends. And with that, good night.