Feb 28 2011

Taking a Break

I noticed that my last few posts have been a bit on the intense side.  Of course, I’ve been feeling pretty intense lately. 

But this week I was working on yet another serious, pensive piece, and I just feel like I need to sit on it for a while.  Lighten things up. 

So…time for a gratitude journal!

I’m thankful that the sun came out at today’s hat tournament, and that UT Women’s Ultimate raised some money.  (I’m also thankful that I got in a great workout, made some new friends, and didn’t pull any muscles!)

I’m thankful for my friend Allison, who showed me a great time on Friday night.

I’m thankful for cold beer after a day of frisbee.

I’m thankful to be teaching a refreshing poetry unit this six weeks.  (I’m so tired of nonfiction…)

I’m thankful that I’m finally starting to feel healthy again after the winter holidays.

I was thankful for this morning’s coffee.  And I’ll be thankful for tomorrow’s, too.

I’m thankful for my puppy, even though she kept me up last night.

I’m thankful for the book on my nightstand—a gift from a friend—waiting to be read.

Feb 21 2011


Last week I wrote about making a tremendous life change.  I knew that there would be emotional fallout, and I wasn’t wrong.  The decision to leave teaching and write full-time is alternately exciting, sad, liberating and terrifying.  Over the last week or so I’ve been plagued by a sense of longing.  I feel like I’ve been waiting for something, but I’m not entirely sure what that is.  Maybe it’s the fact that I still have four more months to teach before I can hit the ground running.  Maybe it’s the inevitable fear of failure or the financial instability.  But I’ve retreated into my own head, where no one else can go, and I’m sure that a few people have wondered about that distant look in my eyes when my mind has wandered away mid-conversation.

But today I’m wearing Ariana’s shirt, and I feel a little bit better.

How did I end up in my friend’s shirt, you might ask?  No, it wasn’t through a Black Swan-esque lesbian tryst (I wish), or a laundry snafu.  This weekend one of my best friends, Tara, made a return trip to Austin for a girls’ weekend.  Six of us stole away to a lake house about an hour outside of town.  We had grand plans of hitting up one of the local country bars, canoeing on the water, playing board games and watching chick flicks.  But when we arrived at around 4:00 in the afternoon, we looked around and realized that we didn’t need anything else but my signature beer dip, a few giant bottles of wine, and a lot of conversation.

Over the course of the night we traveled from the edge of the water, to one of the decks, to yet another porch by the fire pit.  We stuffed our faces at dinner, went through more alcohol than I care to remember, and discussed things I don’t want to forget.  We curled up together, wrapped in blankets, and finished the night upstairs slumber-party style.  I think I fell asleep around 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and yet we picked up right where we left off in the morning.  By mid-afternoon we’d already cracked open the remaining dip and cheeses, and we were yet again snuggled up, looking out over the water clutching big mugs of coffee.  And I’d poached Ariana’s shirt off the floor when I realized that I had forgotten a change of clothes. 

What is it about the company of girlfriends that calms a restless mind?    These girls were some of the first friends that I had in Austin, and in many ways they cured the homesickness that I felt through much of my first year here.  When I finished my Master’s degree I decided to stay in this city largely due to their presence.  We were all teammates at one point, and that connection has a natural way of forming bonds.  But I was so lucky in that I stepped on to a team filled with tremendously loyal women, and the friendships formed almost instantly.  These girls became my family away from home, and even though years have passed and relationships have changed, they remain touchstones for me.  I’ve shared ultra-personal information with them on long roadtrips and in late-night conversations.  This is a group of people who reserve judgment no matter what the confession.  I can say anything to them, and I know that I can trust them implicitly.  When we’re together, the world and all of its pressures fades away.  Being around them is like wearing Ariana’s shirt: Comfortable.  Easy.  Close to my heart.

I couldn’t ignore the gloom that washed over me when I dropped off Tara at the airport.  I was missing her—and my other friends—already.  I was sad to see the weekend end. 

But I’m still wearing Ariana’s shirt.

Feb 14 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“A kiss can be a comma, a question mark, or an exclamation point.”


Feb 14 2011

Flying Leaps

When I told the principal at my school on Wednesday that I’m resigning, she asked me, “Are you sure?”

And the answer was no. 

So I kinda shrugged and looked at her sheepishly, trying not to cry.

I guess she took that as an opportunity to ask again, “I mean, are you sure?”

In my head I was thinking, please stop asking me that, knowing that it would get harder and harder to say yes with any conviction.  I’ve been at my school for almost six years now; for the better part of my adult life.  Remarkably, I tend to do really well with change.  But I don’t like it, and this is a big one.  I honestly love the kids at my school, and I work with amazing, inspiring people.  They’re some of the best friends I’ve ever had.  Teaching is absolutely a part of my identity.

But there’s another part of my being that I’m not addressing nearly enough.

If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was in fifth grade, I would have told you:  A writer.  I was the kid who always had a journal filled with poems, song lyrics, stories, and story ideas.  (And yes, I still have those journals.  But no, I will not be showing them to anyone.)  I went to creative writing classes at the local library through my teen years, and took advantage of the frequent author visits in my little college town.  When I went to college I studied English Literature, but I also made sure to fill my course load with writing opportunities.  One time I waited outside the student center building for two hours, just to catch a professor on his way to his car.  We didn’t know each other before I accosted him (for lack of a better word), but by the time we finished talking he’d agreed to give me credit for an intensive semester-long, one-on-one poetry seminar.

Clearly I had dreams of writing.  But somewhere along the line, that goal got smaller and smaller, like the headlights of a car that you pass on the highway.  You know it’s still there, somewhere behind you on the open road, but you can’t really see it. The girl who tracked down professors to make them teach her to write—the person who chased after what she wanted, no matter how silly it seemed—got left behind after graduation.  I stopped calling myself a writer, and eventually stopped even thinking of myself that way.

There’s something terrifying about saying that you’re a writer.  If you never publish anything, are you still a writer?  How do you answer when people ask you what you’ve written?  I suppose that at some point, my fear got the better of me.  Or maybe I’m being too self-critical; maybe it was a need for stability, or a desire for routine, or sheer momentum that led me away from my fifth-grade dream and on to an arguably more stable career path. 

Then, in March of 2008, I found myself at a party in Manhattan, talking to a writer.  (I’ve mentioned this before, so if you’ve read it in an earlier post, please feel free to skip ahead!)  I was asking him about his current projects, his degree, his craft.  When he asked me what I did, I didn’t even hesitate.  “I’m a writer,” I said. 

I flushed immediately.  Had I been drinking too much?  Where had that come from? 

My oldest and dearest friend, Sarah (who brought me to the party), asked me later, “Don’t you think that means something?”

That night stayed with me, but it was still quite some time before I gathered the courage to make something happen.  Over the last eighteen months, I’ve tapped back into that part of me.  I’ve dusted off my journals and my quills.  On one fated Saturday morning, when I was feeling more than a little lost in the world, I picked up my pen and found myself again.  (Sorry, I’m keeping the specifics of that time to myself.)  And that was the day that I came out of the writing closet and started to call myself a writer again.  I returned to some older projects, and began a few new ones.  I hit it as hard as I could, while teaching at the same time.

Unfortunately, one of the things that (I think) makes me a good teacher is that I care so much.  To do it the way that I want to, teaching requires 110% of my time and energy.  I bring it home with me, literally and emotionally.  Just a few nights ago, a new friend pointed out that it’s hard to create under those circumstances.  And he’s right.  When I’m pushing the kids to create all day, I come home and my brain is mush. 

Granted, I have the weekends.  And I use that time as much as I can.  But I’ve determined that the weekends aren’t enough.  Especially since writing isn’t just about the creative process.  It isn’t only honing your craft.  It’s about networking, and self-promotion, and industry savvy.  None of which I can develop without sufficient time.  I know that there are people who do it, but I’ve realized that I’m not one of them.  And doing this half-assed isn’t working for me anymore.  If I’m going to be successful at this, I have to approach it like I did before, and like I do my teaching:  Full-throttle, 110%. 

This brings me back to telling my principal that I’m not coming back next year.  Having made the decision only hours before I spoke to her, I was still reeling with the weight of that choice.  For months I’d been agonizing over this decision, and I didn’t come to it lightly.  So no, I wasn’t sure.  I just knew that it’s time for me to take a flying leap and hope that I land on my feet.

Feb 8 2011

On Childhood

“All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, This is when I became myself.”
–Rita Dove

I recently came across this quote, and it’s haunted me for the last few weeks. I began to wonder: What were my moments?

I know that I had them. I immediately think of my mistakes, my learning experiences, my regrets…But what about the experiences that informed the person that I became? Not only the ones that I look back on with misgivings (and, in some cases, shame), but the ones that I recall as examples of the woman I am now?

I talked about this with one of my writer friends (check out her blogs at www.themustachioedladybug.blogspot.com and www.theresolutionrevolution.wordpress.com), and she recalled “adult moments in her childhood.”  Times when, as a girl, she felt like she was having a typically grown-up experience, or a streak of grown-up behavior in the middle of an otherwise childlike existence. But we also discussed times in our adult lives when we were brought back, emotionally, to the feeling of being a kid. Hearing a song or reading a book and flashing back to kindergarten, or to searching for four-leaf clovers in a friend’s backyard, or to snuggling warmly into a parent’s lap.

But back to Dove’s statement. None of these qualify as moments when we became ourselves. I mean, not to get too existential or anything, but who is “myself,” anyway? And whatthe hell is that person doing here?  Am I talking about the person that I want to be?  Or the person that I really am in the here and now?

Existential crisis aside, it seems almost impossible to choose that defining moment. But there was this one time…

I was probably nine or ten, and someone had given me a set of worry dolls as a gift. Worry dolls are a Guatemalan custom, and they’re intended to help people sleep. The idea is that you tell the tiny dolls your worries and put them under your pillow. They do the worrying for you, thereby helping you rest peacefully. Who would give these to a child, you ask? Well, apparently I was a worrier even as a kid.

The funny part is that I remember trying to use them. I lined them up on my comforter, sat down next to my bed, and tried to brainstorm what tribulations I’d share with these itty bitty people. But really. What worries did I have back then? True, I was having legitimate trouble sleeping. But I couldn’t verbalize what was troubling me. I just knew that I couldn’t fall asleep. 

Before I made it through even half of my worry doll assembly line, I knew that I was reaching. My worries weren’t even honest; they were idle thoughts that I imagined grown-ups having. I felt like I was faking it, and—get this—I was frustrated. I was honestly irritated that I couldn’t come up with genuine worries so that I could use my new toys. Who knows if the dolls ever helped me sleep.  I don’t think I ever attempted to use them again.

As it turns out, I’m the same person as I was then (big surprise). I’m still that little girl, perched by my bed, struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Whatever was keeping me up at night back then had much more to do with my overall personality—my exhaustively restless mind—than with actual troubles. And it’s that same overactive imagination that trips me up now. Sure, I have more actual things to worry about now that I’m a “grown-up,” but even that being said, I know how blessed I am. If only I could find those worry dolls again, maybe my subconscious would relax a little.