The Hearing.

“Did I remember to spell my name?” I leaned over to Stueve and whispered.

“No,” he said, and my eyes widened. “I’m kidding! Yes. You did.”

I still can’t remember spelling my name.

It’s odd what adrenaline does to the memory–I clearly remember rushing the phrase “to posit” and worrying that it sounded like “deposit,” but I can’t remember spelling my name.

For the first time in my life, I attended a committee hearing on bills presented to the judiciary committee of my state’s legislature to testify in support of a bill. I had little idea what to expect, since I cut short my political science studies to drop out of school for a year.

A story for another time.

I arrived at the capitol building well ahead of the hearing’s 1:30 p.m. start time, and I knew I was in for a long day since they moved our bill from third to last in the order. And had I paid closer attention to the other bills in that hearing, I might not have arrived so early: also on the docket was a resolution to put medical cannibis on the November ballot and let voters decide if it should be legal.

The cannibis resolution was fourth in line, and it ground the pacing of the day to a halt. Proponent after proponent shared their experience and reasoning as to why the people of Nebraska deserved to decide this issue, as opposed to relying on legislators to work out a bill. Then opponent after opponent (though they numbered far fewer) attempted to persuade the committee to not advance the resolution. And committee member after committee member asked question after question of most of the opponents.

Two hours later, the hearing on the resolution ended, and we took a 10 minute break. At this point, I’d been sitting in the room for three hours.

It took another hour to get through the next bill, which would place restrictions on citizens with juvenile records from purchasing firearms, and finally, at around 6 p.m., Senator Adam Morfeld read in LB 886.

Prior to Morfeld’s speech, the chair of the committee asked the crowd, “How many of you in the room plan to testify either for or against this bill?”

I saw over a dozen hands go up.

And I wondered if I should speak. I had written my comments–could they possibly be any different from what the other people would say? Maybe I could just save them and send as a letter if the bill made it to a floor vote. It was so late, and I was hungry, and Stueve had brought six kids to report on the hearing. Everyone in the room could go home three minutes earlier if I didn’t speak.

I turned to Stueve and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t speak.”

And I don’t remember his response, but it was akin to this:

giphy (1)

And then I remembered that I sat through two hours of testimony about cannibis and dammit, I was going to take my three minutes.

(Yes, the situation warranted a swear.)

So I moved to the front row and after several others testified in support of the bill, I added my voice to the many. I nearly ran out of time, because in all of my practice runs, I forgot to factor in that I would have to say and spell my name. Precious seconds, when limited to 180 total.

And I’m glad I testified. Not because I think anything I said was going to persuade the committee either way, but because if I’ve learned anything the past year, it’s that I can no longer be a passive recipient of the benefits of democracy. Instead, I need to be an active participant.

And whether it’s voting, making phone calls, writing letters, or showing up and testifying before a committee in support of or opposition to legislation, active participants are the people who will keep the democracy strong. And I don’t want to be left out of that hard work.

In another life, setting policy was the career goal. Spending six hours in a hearing room at times made me wistful for that road not taken. But in the past 24 hours, as I’ve seen multiple reasons why teaching has been the right road for me these past 17 years, I also realized there’s no reason why I can’t travel the policy road in the future.

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.

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.




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.