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.

Make The Thing.

When I was in grad school, my super-tech pal Mike taught me about podcasts. I had never heard of them before, but he showed me some basic ones to start with (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, Pardon the Interruption) and I was hooked. Podcasts became a primary source of entertainment and information.

Fast forward ten years and not much has changed. I now subscribe to 20 podcasts, with another 10 I check in on from time to time. I love listening to people tell stories or debate issues. It makes me feel less lonely at home or while driving.

At the end of last school year, I thought about producing my own podcast. I had an idea, so I floated it to my friends at school. Here is Stueve’s recollection of how it happened. (Spoiler: it’s not entirely accurate. But it is entertaining.)

So we’ve recorded 16 episodes and have released three so far. I edit them–so I’m learning GarageBand better every week–and for now, we’re just hosting them on a free service called SoundCloud. But if we really want to get serious, we’ll have to go pro before long.

Sometimes when I edit the podcasts, I am wracked with the same thoughts that hit me when I’m writing: Who are you to publish a podcast? No one will listen to this, besides your sisters. No one cares what you have to say. And your laugh is annoying.

When those voices invade my brain–and they always do–I come back to this, from the sagely Ira Glass:

“Don’t wait. It’s so hard to make anything, that it’s just easy to put it off, and be like, when I get the right financing, when I get the right this or that — just start doing it now. Because one of the great things about this moment in our culture, it’s never been easier to make something. The technology’s never been cheaper, and honestly the way to get the thing out to people is get your stuff out on the Internet, and get an audience, and get a small version to get you enough backing to do the big version.

“There’s so many fucked-up things in our country and in the world right now, and we live in a very dark climate. But the one place where things are going great is, if you want to do creative work, you can actually make some version and get it to people. And just don’t wait, is what I’m saying. Don’t wait. Just make the thing. Make a version. And then make it better. And then make it better.”

We made a thing. It’s a small version. I hope every episode gets a little better. And I like to think it makes our dark climate a tad lighter.

Subscribe! If you like it, leave a review!

But more important, tonight’s message is this: if you feel like creating something, don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Make the thing. Then make it better.

Civic Engagement.

Last week, I got an email from Senator Ben Sasse (R) inviting me to a town hall at a local library. If this election has done nothing else for my political ideology, it’s shown me that listening, truly listening, to the other side is vital is we are to survive. So I decided I would go.

It was quite the experience.

First of all, I was the youngest person in the room, save for interns. Everyone else had at least 20-30 years on me. Second, the room was packed. I counted over 50 people in the main room, and they set up a satellite room with extra chairs as well. That was somewhat encouraging, except for the fact that young constituents weren’t there. That bothered me, as far as a harbinger of November is concerned. Young voters must learn how to show up.

Second, the man next to me and I had a lovely conversation, just about life experiences, nothing political. I was glad for this kind interaction with another human being, because it tempered my opinion of him later: as the senator was speaking, my neighbor said loudly, “This is bullshit. This isn’t what we came for.”If I hadn’t had a humanizing conversation with him earlier, my brain would’ve jumped into all kinds of assumptions.

(Props to the senator for not losing it. I walked away incredibly impressed with Sasse’s composure in front of a hostile audience–because it was quite hostile.)

Third, the perceived “bullshit” was basically a failure of most in attendance to read. In the email I received, it clearly stated it was a constituent services event. Sasse and his staff wanted the people in attendance to know what they could do, what kinds of direct change and actions they are capable of. The email also explicitly stated he would not use the event to discuss the election. Unfortunately, most of the people did not read that part, because when they started grumbling about why he wouldn’t endorse Trump, another man said loudly, “This is a waste of my time. I don’t even know why I came.” But then he proceeded to sit through the rest of the meeting. People, man.

Fourth, the senator wanted to know who in the room had accessed his office to “get things done.” A man spoke about a convoluted law regarding veterans’ spouses that the Senator and Congressman Brad Ashford were able to fix and arrange the needed care. No one else offered any stories about services they’ve used from the senator–I didn’t even know myself about what a senator’s staff is capable of doing until today. For that, I am glad I went.

I am also glad I went so I could hear the following, because if I hadn’t been there myself I wouldn’t believe it. A woman who appeared to be in her 70s raised her hand: “I have a women’s health care question. Why aren’t we hearing the truth about what is happening in Germany right now, with terrorists taking women and cutting off the clitoris? When will we hear about that, and if we let those people in, how are the women in the room safe?”

I’ll just let you sit with that one for a moment. (Yeah, not a health care question, m’dear.)

Senator Sasse ended the Q&A after addressing her concerns (in which he made a great point about our national security policy not really addressing non-state actors), and then excused himself to go outside and meet with the protesters–a small group of people advocating for stricter gun control laws stayed outside during his presentation. I stayed behind to talk with a staffer about education policy for a quick minute, and then left. As I left, Sasse wasn’t talking with protesters, because he was surrounded by the angry people from inside who wanted him to endorse Trump. I don’t know if he did.

I was silent during the meeting, and I only  bristled at one comment: Senator Sasse said that we aren’t teaching children the First Amendment. I spend an entire day explicitly teaching it, and an entire year reinforcing it. It’s what I do as a journalism teacher. So he challenged the audience to name the five freedoms in the First Amendment, and he seemed pleased (it not a bit surprised) when from the back I said, “Speech, press, religion, assembly and petition the government.” That was a nice moment for me.

I do not agree with Ben Sasse on probably 95% of his politics. But let me tell you how I got an email from his office about the event today: during the senate filibuster a month or so ago, I saw that he asked a question. Senators asking questions during filibusters prolongs the filibuster. He took it on the chin from his Twitter followers (he is a great follow, by the way), because they saw it as him supporting the filibuster. He said he supports debate on tough issues. On hearing other sides. I sent his office a thank you email for asking the question, and expressed my own feelings on gun control. Now I get emails from his office about events.

One of the best ways to figure out how you feel on any topic is to look at another person’s perspective of the same topic, trying so hard to reserve judgment until the end. Here’s what I learned about Ben Sasse from today’s meeting:

I don’t agree with him on everything.

I do believe that he and his staffers want to serve the people of Nebraska.

I also believe that if we continue to sit in our own echo chambers, surrounded by people who agree with us, and we remain recalcitrant to any kind of compromise, that will be our downfall. I think that was part of what the senator was trying to do today in front of a crowd that was upset at his refusal to endorse Donald Trump for president, was to find some common middle ground and remind them of the role of the legislative branch. Unfortunately, the more vocal people in attendance did not appear interested in that.

We have to start showing up. We have to start bringing our young adults. But above all else, we have to start listening with open minds and hearts if we have any hope of healing the damage this presidential campaign has done to our psyche.