What kept me company while I was sick.

Hello and welcome to a rundown of popular culture detritus. I actually wrote this a month ago and forgot to post it. Better late than never?

Last month, I caught my first cold since February of 2020, and was it ever a doozy. In my old age, I am quicker to take time off work (bless substitute teachers, for real). Since I was unable to work or focus on the written word, I watched a lot of TV. So. 

Here’s what got me through my illness:

Television: Season 5 of The Crown dropped the first day I was home in bed, so it served as a perfect backdrop to floating in and out of consciousness. I don’t know why, as an American, I am fascinated with palace intrigue, but here we are. Was not a fan of the casting of Dominic West as Prince Charles, though. Season 4’s Charles was perfectly awkward and petty, and Dominic West is just too manly a man to be believable as the wannabe king.  

Podcasts: Rachel Maddow shares an untold (under-told? I’m not sure) American story in her podcast Ultra. It’s the story of how several U.S. senators and congressmen were sympathetic to the Nazi government, distributed Nazi propaganda to constituents, and how the Department of Justice tried to hold them accountable. I knew there were Nazi sympathizers in the U.S.—Charles Lindbergh, most notably—but I did not realize the scale of Americans who were openly pro-Axis powers. 

Film: I finally got to watch See How They Run, as it came to HBO Max. If you like clever edits, flashbacks, and self-referential dialogue in your films, this one fits the bill. It’s also relatively short—1 hour 38 minutes—and it’s been so long since I’ve watched a film so tightly packaged, that it really was a nice surprise. 

Books:  I counted up all the books in my possession between hard copies, Apple Books, Kindle, and Audible. Friends, it is…significant. Yet I don’t know how to stop falling for recommendations I see on Instagram which just add to the pile (even though I tend to read those quickly anyway). So. Plan for 2023 is to try and get to as many of those as I can. 

Want to guess how many unread books I currently have? 

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.

Precious Things

About a month ago, Kate Bowler published this op-ed in the New York Times, and her question has lived rent-free in my head ever since:

What’s a precious thing in your life that would never be assigned to a bucket list?

I was stunned by the first image that fell into my brain:

It is Fall 1991, and I am walking across BYU’s campus, crunching as many dead leaves as I possibly can. I can’t remember seeing so many different colors of leaves up close—bright reds and yellows with occasional oranges and browns. It’s chilly enough that I’m wearing a coat, with my treasured cassette Walkman tucked into my pocket, listening to a tape my dad dubbed for me before I left Montana. On one side, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. On the other, a lesser-known Gershwin composition titled “Lullaby for Strings.” This precious moment, I’m listening to the lullaby. The cool air, crunchy leaves, and comforting music soaks up my stress and slows my walk. I try to parse out the four different instruments, focusing on a violin one minute, cello the next, but eventually lose interest in tracking the individual instruments and succumb to the beauty of the group.

I could never assign those moments, walking across campus with various genres of music buttressing my homesickness and imposter syndrome, to a bucket list. I could never imagine crafting those exact sequences of moments and saying “This. This is what I want to do before I die.” But they are moments I repeated many times in my three years at BYU that when I think about it, or when I take the time to listen to “Lullaby for Strings,” still fills me with a cozy calm that all can be right in my world.

I love lists of all kinds–read these books, see these movies, visit these places. I feel a such satisfaction when I look at a list and think, “Okay. I’ve experienced these things. This means I have lived.” But does completing any list really mean that I’ve lived?

I’ve been slumpy since the school year started, off my game in nearly every aspect of my life. Many different factors play into my slump, but this week I’ve started to make concrete plans to pull myself out of it. First up?

More identifying precious things. Less living by lists.

A November request.

Nine years ago, Stueve convinced me that the best way to heal a broken heart would be to write. And the best way to get it all out was to just get to 50,000 words in 30 days. As I write that now, I think of the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

I was a little surprised at some of what fell out of my brain during that initial draft, and even more surprised when Stueve thought it was worth publishing.

It took another four years of hard work, but with the help of good editors, we polished that initial draft into something that I still am pretty proud of.

I don’t know if other writers experience this, but there’s a vibe, an indescribable push in my brain when I know I’m ready to write. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo every year since that first book, hoping I would get lucky to end the month with a polishable draft. And every year I have failed.

I think it’s because that vibe just wasn’t there.

About a month ago, I started to feel that push. My brain would start composing while I was driving, doing my hair, or taking walks. So I opened a new note on my phone and started writing down titles, themes.

NaNoWriMo starts in two days, and I have a list of 22 personal essay topics. I might not write all 22, but the ideas are there. I hope as I write them, connective tissue forms, and in a couple of years, I have something to publish.

All this is to say:

I’m doing NaNoWriMo 2020, so if you see me on Twitter, ask me what my word count is. If you notice I’m recently active on Instagram, ask me if I’ve met my daily goal.

And if you are so inclined, feel free to send encouraging messages throughout the month—I know I’ll need them.

But if I text or email back and you think I’m stalling, ask me to share the best sentence I wrote that day. And if I don’t have an answer, tell me to stop stalling and start writing.

Thanks, pals.