Saturday, August 31, 2013

How Purina Tried to Destroy Me Today

I saw this commercial for the first time this afternoon.

Its power over me was almost worse than the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials.  I had to really talk myself down from the urge to drive to the pound and adopt the first little three-legged dog I saw.  Or a surfing bulldog. 

Well-played, Purina marketing department.  Well-played, indeed.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Death of a Teacher; The Life of a Lesson

Yesterday wasn't such a great day in my classroom.  I've been teaching for a long time now, so I know some days will always be better than others; some lessons will fall by the wayside and others will be carried with students and teacher forever.

But the first meltdown always stings and brings questions about whether I've made the right choice.  Especially this year, more than ever, I find myself looking for signs that I'm where I should be.

So today, I sat in a tremendously long line at Chik Fil-A, praying for a better day or for a better outlook.  I checked my Twitter timeline and found this series of tweets about the death of Seamus Heaney.  The tweets are from one of my favorite Grantland writers, Brian Phillips, who was also a student of Heaney's.

(For you non-Twitter people, start from the bottom and read upward.  I could probably arrange it better, but I'm too tired to mess with it.  You'll adjust.)

I cannot admit to knowing a great deal about Heaney's work other than to know that he was very, very skilled at a medium (poetry) at which I am dreadful and that he was beloved and celebrated for that skill.

But what struck me in that exasperatingly slow line this morning was that Seamus Heaney was just as beloved for his time as a teacher.  It's a cool story, undoubtedly -- one that I would tell in bars and bookstores as many times as I possibly could -- but there is a reverence in these small 140 character spaces that cannot be denied.  I won't imagine that it was Heaney's fame that so impressed Brian Phillips but rather the singling out, the personal connection, the acknowledgment, that mattered most.  Did Heaney's fame intensify those things and make them more special?  Maybe. Maybe not.

My prayer is that it didn't -- that Phillips would be as devastated whether his teacher was a Nobel prize winner or not because, Nobel prize or not, Seamus Heaney did something to inspire a young man at a time when he seemed most lost.  He took the moment to hold his student to a standard, to put him in his place, to give encouragement, to provide acknowledgment, and then to bolster worth; he didn't have to, but he did it anyway.

That's what a great teacher does. He loves you and works with you both when you are wonderful and when you are dreadful.  He molds you through bad decisions or inflated ego or nervous hesitation.  He teaches the lesson in such a way that his words and actions will live on even when he cannot.  This, I believe, is the dream of all teachers, and it is the sting when the lesson falls upon deaf, or ungrateful, ears.

I have a student whose anger and defiance have derailed me every single day this week.  It has derailed us both, in truth, but he gave up his dream of staying on track long ago.  He is 13, and this devastates me.  But today, I thought of Brian's story about this man who didn't let him get away, and it changed my morning.  Consequently, it changed the interactions between this young man and me.  We may be back on track for only a short while, but at least there were no head-on collisions this morning.  Small progress is still progress.

So, Brian... when you say "it's not like I think what I do is all that important", I'd have to respectfully disagree with you today.  It was a pretty damn important story to share this morning because some lessons deserve to live on.

Thanks for honoring your teacher and for inspiring another one while sitting in an exceedingly (but timely) chicken biscuit line.  Neither you nor Seamus would've suspected as much, I'm sure.  I hope you'll have a pint for him tonight; every great teacher deserves one, especially on a Friday.

Be sure to follow Brian Phillips on Twitter at @runofplay or find his work on You won't regret it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How To Teach 7th Grade Boys

Tips to Teaching 7th Grade Boys:

1.  There is nothing that cannot be twisted into an awkward, unfunny (sometimes lewd) joke. 
2.  That joke will be repeated ad nauseum because...
3.  Junior high boys don't understand comic timing or the laws of supply and demand.
4.  They must be taught that "telling the truth" can still = rude.  Your "facts" don't cancel out your rudeness.
5.  Big body does =/= grown up.  In fact, the big dudes are usually the most immature by far. 
6.  Learn to ignore the giggling.  It's 14 years now, and I'm still working on this.  And, no... it's not laughing.  It's not snickering.  It's giggling. 
7.  Stock up on Glade Plug-Ins.  My classroom already smells like sweat socks and insecurity.
8.  Their attention span is similar to this:

9.  Because of #8, every day (and sometimes every moment) starts pretty new.
10. On days like today, I sincerely thank God for #8 and #9.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Footwear and First World Guilt

My feet hurt.

They hurt real bad (read in best Napoleon Dynamite voice).

This year, there's a no sneaker policy except for Fridays and for classrooms that involve actual running.  This is rough for me because if there's anything that rivals my love for flip flops, it's new tennis shoes.  So it's "nice" shoes and sandals 4 days a week, and while I have some, they're not especially comfortable for walking all day.  And they don't give me the same thrill as this.

One of my fellow teachers swears by TOMS and wears them practically every day.  But I can't do it.  I get that they're eco-friendly and charitable and all that, but my big ol' feet look like some kind of pirate-clown in them.  I've tried on various colors and styles and such but to no avail.  Plain, sparkly, bright red, basic black... it doesn't matter.  I can't pull it off.

My overly guilty conscience and world-worry is completely disgusted with my vanity too.  I mean, the whole One for One campaign (which I think of as "buy a pair, and we give a pair to a kid who's a million times worse off than you, jerkface" promotion) really weighs on me.  Like, I'm the person who can't resist the little kid fundraisers or Girl Scout cookie time or the UNICEF trick-or-treaters.  I still feed the stray cat on my front porch, for cryin' out loud (it's been 2 years).  I'm not a terrible person who turns a blind eye to those who are suffering.  So I typically feel pretty good about putting enough positive karma back out into the world.

But then I see a picture like this.  It's like she's looking directly at me, saying, "That's okay, Capitalist Pig.  Enjoy your Thin Mints and overpriced wrapping paper while I avoid losing my toes to gangrene and venomous snake bites every day of my life."

I mean, seriously.  COME ON with your genius marketing guilt.  Then there's Blake, the hometown boy, looking all ruggedly handsome doing good in his red pirate-clown shoes, and I feel even worse about my inability/refusal to lend to the cause.

And don't even get me started on my Nike guilt.

Now footwear gives me not only physical but emotional pain; this must be another price of getting old.  Maybe I should just buy a pair for one of my younger, trendier friends, and call it even.  Can I request that my giveaway go to that little girl specifically?  I'll even throw in a box of Thin Mints.

Man.  All of this would be solved if I could just wear my flops.  *sigh*  Is it Friday yet?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Back-to-School Timeline

5:30 PM -- Arrived home.

6:00 PM -- Ate dinner.

6:30 PM -- Began wondering how early was "too early" to go to bed.

7:30 PM -- Fell asleep on couch.

9:30 PM -- Woke up to go to bathroom.

9:45 PM -- Going back to sleep.

Back-to-School ages me at least 50 years for about 2 weeks.

See y'all tomorrow.

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Day Report

Today was the first day of school.  Nothing went terribly wrong; it's just the few days of the year where I stand up and talk the whole time.  Seventh graders are typically pretty overwhelmed, so they tend to be awkwardly quiet.  I also have painfully small classes to end the day (not for long, I'm sure), and that can be even more difficult than having 35 in there at once.

I'm exhausted, and I have no voice left.  Also, I walked into a house that was 91 degrees this evening, so I'm already dying from the heat being released from the laptop.  I'll keep it short and sweet.

  • I love my team teachers.  Love.
  • I got to work way early.  I left way late.  It's hard to quit the coaching hours.
  • I already had to break out the "I don't play that" face on one class.  It worked.  Quickly.
  • My team is overrun with boys.  And they're pretty darn smart.  And hyper.  
  • My classroom got a visit from our superintendent and several school board members and district employees.  They LOVED my classroom lighting and decor (thanks, Laurie and Heather).
  • I had to grocery shop after school.  I went to a store near my school, so I tried to carefully slip a six-pack of adult beverages in the cart just in case I ran into students or parents.  I managed to get all the way to the check-out aisle without notice.  Score!
  • I looked up at the cashier to notice he was a former student.  He just smiled and checked my ID.  I'd be upset, but he's gainfully employed, going to college, and couldn't believe my age.  Score.  Score.  Score (I think).
So, all in all... a pretty good first day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Make It Work

You  remember the struggle I endured yesterday and Friday, no?

Here's the Before: Day 2 pictures from Saturday.  I didn't take any on Friday because it was too depressing and overwhelming.
This is Day #2. By this point, I'd already done about 3 hours of "cleaning".

This is just some of the trash and recycling.
Much of it was totally unused.
I battled mightily the capitalist, wasteful American guilt.

The aforementioned V-8.  I mean, for real.

Bookshelves, moved courtesy of my work brothers.

Built-ins: about 2.5 hours in. Previously engulfed in furniture and binders.

Reading shelves in background were finally filled.
But I was dumbfounded as to what I could accomplish on Sunday.
I went to dinner with my best life friends last night.  Although I was exhausted, they just kept telling me how different my outlook and attitude about the start of school was (for the better).  In years past, I've been excited to meet my students, close our door, and spend time getting to know each other -- but not necessarily for all of the other "stuff" that would become an emotional sinkhole.  They offered to come help me in my room in the morning, but being who I am, I told them "thanks, but I'll be okay."

And being who they are, they didn't believe me, and they showed up anyway.

It was kind of a full-circle moment.  Heather and I began at Nichols JH together 14 years ago, and Laurie helped us both move in to our classrooms that year.  Now, it's a new year in so many different ways, and although we are all in very different places now, it was comforting to have the familiar with me today.

My goal today was to have a "functional" classroom.  I hoped for a little flair, but, as usual, those girls totally surpassed all expectations.  The pictures just don't even do it justice. Not by a mile.
My desk.  This is the cleanest it will be all year. Enjoy it.
Special shout-out to Al and Taylor Fratina who know how fresh flowers cheer me up.

The area behind my desk.  Still a few personal touches to add,
but I'm pretty impressed.

The sheetrock monstrosity became an accent wall witha little wrapping paper and stapling.
The stage is still there, but now it's the home of the "Group of the Week".
The stage also has a hole in it.  I placed a crate over it as a hazard prevention.
You're welcome, AISD.

Shelves and built-in. 

Classroom library.  I still have about 250 books to mark, cover, and inventory.
Anyone have an extra bookshelf?

This will be our reading goal board, but for now, it's enough just to be decorated.

Lights off.  Lanterns and lamps on.
I detest fluorescent lighting.

The hanging of the Chinese lanterns was enough to make me shed tears of joy.
They're pretty, but they're a pain.

Another bulletin board.  Again, decorated.  Again, relieved.

Built-in organized. Supplies hidden away.

My door needs some more work.
Creating for that tonight.
I'm reading "Fire and Ash" btw, and, no, I'm not getting rid of Coach Naz.

My door signs.  
And a new change in the attitude chart.

Yep.  They blew in and started posting and hanging and straightening and cleaning, and we didn't stop for 5 hours.  It was like every organizational, home makeover, reality tv show all rolled into one.  We even had a "make it work" Tim Gunn moment.  

Even Heather's 6 year-old son, Marcus, pitched in.  He sharpened pencils for every student tomorrow "in case they forget theirs" and put one on each desk.  Little does he know how correct he could be.

Those 3 took such a load off my shoulders today.  They made other people jealous and totally impressed one of my new team teachers who gave them all the credit. "You couldn't have done anything with that chaos yesterday!"  Thanks, Justin.  And people should be jealous.  I've said before that I've been blessed with the world's most amazing friends.  Everyone should have them, but they can't.  I need them too much.


The past week has been a struggle.  It has.  But when I put it in perspective against the last year, the two aren't even in the same league.  On the way home this evening, I started to think about all of it together.  In a way, I'm okay with changing rooms.  It's a ton of work, but maybe I needed that fresh start.  When I wasn't sure if I was going or staying last year, I took the opportunity to purge all of the things and material cluttering up my classroom and my life.  It was nice to unpack only the good things in this room.

There have been times this summer that people have asked me if I'm happy that I was asked to stay at Nichols.  My most honest answer at those times was, "I think so".  It was hard to be sure about something so unsure.  I still struggle with it, and I know I'm not the only one.  Last year was, by far, my most challenging year as a teacher, and it wasn't for any reason I'd ever encountered before.  I felt so distressed and guilty that I couldn't see past this summer.  I couldn't imagine what would occur to make the changes necessary.  I truly believe that those of us who stayed could use a little counseling; you can often read the worry on our faces as we try to make sense of everything that's happened since last January.  In fact, that's one of the ways I wound up typing at you people every day.

And while I feel really good about the changes that are happening -- better than I have in a long time -- I still see my doubt sneaking into my mind in even the smallest ways.  This afternoon, I introduced Laurie to my new principal.  In the conversation I said, "Even if this doesn't work, we went down swinging".  I didn't mean to sound negative, but rather to say that we are going to give it our best fight.  At that, she turned my words and said, "This is going to work.  It has to.  We have nothing else to do but build."  And she's right.  I have to stop worrying about what could happen at the end of the year before this one has begun.  I have to put my faith in both strangers and my friends, and I have to let go of the "ifs" and embrace the "wills".

For 13 years, I always wore a horseshoe pendant during my volleyball and basketball games I coached. I'm a firmly superstitious person, and I also appreciate the heck out of tradition so there were few times I was ever without it.  When I was most nervous -- before a big game or important freethrows or during an injury -- I would touch it and whisper a little positive energy into the Universe.  It didn't always work in the game, but it always calmed me down.  It became my touchstone.  Last year,  I wore it every day and, during the moment of silence, I would touch it and say a prayer for our school.  I took it off on the last day of school, and I didn't wear it all summer until Tuesday.  That morning, I reached up to touch it in my nervous, slightly obsessive way, before the training with our rival school began.  And, I kid you not, it was gone.  My chain was still around my neck, but the pendant was gone.  I looked all over the floor, in my car, and in my bathroom when I got home.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  It took everything I had not to fall apart about such a silly little thing I'd bought for less than $5.00 at Sam Moon, but for an English teacher who can find symbolism in any old thing, it was pretty devastating.

So tonight, as I drove home and thought about how to change my words to match my attitude, I stopped to buy some replacement glass for a picture frame in my fancy new classroom.  As I browsed the aisles, something caught my eye.  There, in the midst of a row of charms was my new horseshoe.  And just above it?  This. I kid you not.

You don't need an English degree to see this one, folks.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Struggle

I'm a fairly well-known procrastinator.  I float from project to project, and I have the attention span of a 2 year-old, racked with Attention Deficit Disorder and shiny objects.

But, I promise, this time is different.  I don't know why, but I've had the worst time trying to get my classroom ready.  Maybe it's just been a long time since I've had to do so much work to even prepare to be in my new room.  There was a lot of cleaning out of not only my room but other rooms.  I still have a book room full of stuff that people had to box up and move because -- guess what -- they don't teach that subject and they don't want your old TAKS passages, people.

Or your unopened 6-pack of V-8 juice, but that's a whole separate tirade.  And I just don't have the energy for a tirade tonight.

Yesterday, I had a minor meltdown when my room became "that room".  You know... "that room" you go to look at so that you can feel better about your own mess because at least your room isn't "THAT room".  It was amusing for the first 3 or 4 people to make that joke.  By the 10th gawker, it wasn't so funny anymore, and some frustration began to leak out of my eyes.  This is not uncommon, but it's still embarrassing.

Not everyone was a looky-loo, though.  I owe a big shout-out to Drury and Stimmel for moving the gigantic bookshelf in my direct path.  That prevented the full onslaught of tears and cuss words as I emptied shelf after shelf of paper, binders, workbooks, and crap.  Seriously.  So.  Much.  Crap.

I worked for a solid 8 hours today, and I still struggled to see the improvements.  I'm sure that after another 4 or 5 hours tomorrow, I'll be happier.  Luckily, this isn't my first rodeo, and I feel like I could teach my class just about anywhere.  So I fully understand the difference between "my classroom is functional" and "my classroom is finished", and I'm okay with "functional".  The good thing is that with 7th graders, they are so overwhelmed by junior high, they won't remember anything day-to-day for about 2 weeks.

I had tweeted earlier that I'd either have "after pics" by 5:00 PM, or I'd be in the fetal position in the corner.  I didn't have any good pics by then, but I also wasn't melted into the carpet either. That's a push in my world.

I did manage to snap this one.  It's the view you get when you lay your head down in despair on my desk.  I thought it was kind of funny.  And appropriate.  You can see a few bits of the crap I still have to sort/dispose of, but please know that behind all that are 600 novels, sorted and shelved and ready to be read and loved.

Afterward, it was a trip to not one -- but two -- craft stores.  And, let me tell you, on the weekend before school starts, the thirst for teacher crafts is real, y'all.  I thought I was going to get in a fist fight with a lady who tried to line jump at the cutting table in the fabric section of Hobby Lobby.

So, the only cure for the day was, of course, good drinks and good friends. Except after one drink and two hours, I was too tired to carry on a simple conversation.  

Getting old is a struggle, and the struggle is real, y'all.  It's so very real.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Miracle of Bus #6

Thirty-one years ago, I climbed the steps of Bus #6 and nervously sat in the front seat.  I was six years old, and it would be my first day of 1st grade at Clarendon Elementary.  Just the year before, I had kicked and screamed and cried my way through the Kindergarten hall, so maybe the school bus was my mom's solution to avoiding that trauma for the second year in a row.

Looking back, I'm sure that I was pretty miserable and fighting back tears (and losing that fight).  Three streets later, the bus doors opened at a brown house, and striding up those stairs came a 5-year old blonde fireball.  She sat down beside me for approximately 3 seconds, looked at my pitiful tears, grabbed my hand, and dragged me to the back of the bus where all the cool older kids were sitting.

That sassy kindergartner was my first best friend, Haley.
Haley and me.  Don't ask about the shirt.
I don't know why I wore it.

That's Haley on the left.  That's me and my unfortunate homemade vest/puffy shirt combo.  I loved my grandmother dearly.  This outfit makes me question the sincerity of her love for me.  Also, I think this was one of my mom's first home-done haircuts.  It is obviously before she went to cosmetology school.  Haley is wearing her infamous fur coat; I was terribly jealous.

Haley and I were best friends for several years as small children.  Although I was older (and so much wiser, for sure), she was the leader.  Haley never walked anywhere; she strutted.  Her self-confidence opened doors early, and her intolerance for b.s. could close them just as quickly.  It still can and does.  She has always been decisive and stubborn and willing to stand up for what she believes.  And she was the first person to force me to stand up, speak out, and find something worth my fight.  Haley was my voice when I was too nervous and my smile when I was too sad.  There are only a handful of people in my life that can make me laugh until I cry, and she was the first and ultimately the best.

When I think of my earliest memories of Clarendon, America, I think of Haley.  Since we didn't live "in town" but rather in a smaller, older community, there were few kids our age.  So if there was a day to be had playing at the creek or riding bikes or sipping Cokes at the Canteen, Haley was my partner in crime.  Sometimes, it was an actual crime -- my first and only experience as a shoplifter came in Gibson's with some Smurfs stickers.  We weren't very good at it; her mom, Debbie, caught us even before we were out of the parking lot.  We were daredevils, roller-skating down the giant hill next to my house.  We were the President and Vice-President of the only Oak Ridge Boys Fan Club in Clarendon. Haley was the boss, of course, because her Mamaw bought us the official membership and  because we held our meetings in her walk-in closet.  She also had a kicky green visor, courtesy of said membership privileges.  But more than anything, it was probably because there were only 2 members and as evidenced before, one of the members had no backbone.

Our friendship took a break when we played an elaborate and gone-horribly-wrong prank where we hid from her parents while they went to pick up her brother from a birthday party.  It went on for a while until we realized that they actually thought we'd been kidnapped and then couldn't get out of it.  Even then, we didn't always have the brightest decison-making skills.  Sorry, Butch and Debbie.  I still feel pretty bad about that one.

When the Hamiltons moved to "town", Haley and I just weren't as close.  Plus, she was in the grade behind me, so we didn't see each other that often at school.  But in high school, our friendship became important again.  Cruising the drag and Friday night football games and sleepovers were the main focus once again.  She was the loudest voice (besides my mom) at my basketball games.  She was the number one cause that I almost failed my first computer class.  She was the one brave enough to give out my phone number to the cute boys we'd meet.  She and Beth and I would take secret Saturday road trips all over the Panhandle with the radio up loud and Haley, hanging out the top of my car's sunroof, laughing hysterically and shouting into the setting sun.

Beth, Haley, and me headed to the 4th of July Rodeo.
Don't ask about the hat.  I don't know why I thought it was a good idea.
Haley was a constant in my life all the way through college.  We saw each other through some of our best moments as well as some of the hardest and most unimaginable.  By then, we were able to take turns being the backbone.  We don't see each other often anymore, but with the miracle of technology, we keep in touch (thank goodness we didn't actually fail Mrs. Hughes' computer class after all).  And if I were ever in real trouble, her number would be one of the first I'd call.  We are the type of friends that don't need to see each other every day to validate our friendship.  Haley is my first best friend, and that can't ever go away.  I will forever feel her tiny hand in mine, pulling me to the back of that bus, pulling me toward strength and confidence, pulling me toward who I would grow up to be one day.  

Now, this is Haley.

Emma and Haley

On the left is her daughter, Emma.  She is five, and yesterday, she headed off to Kindergarten.  It amazes me how much like her mother she is. 
So, so, so much like her mother.  Watch out world.

As the new school year begins, I have only one prayer to give for that sweet girl, and it's that she finds someone's hand to hold this year.  That she changes someone else as much as her mother helped change me.  That, at least once, she laughs until she cries or maybe even wets her pants.  And that she grows up to shout at the setting sun in a car full of her best friends.

Just don't hang out of the sunroof, Emma.  Your mom will totally know.

Happy Birthday, my Haley.  I hope that your day is full of laughter and hugs and love.  Thanks for getting on Bus #6 that day and not just blowing straight past me.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Old Failures, New Faces, and First Dates

"Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.  --Napoleon Hill

This was the quote that our new principal left us with today as we ended our day-long faculty meeting.  And, yes, I did say day-long.  We had a whole-heck-of-a-lot to discuss.  As I drove back to school to finally face the mountains of unpacked boxes, I thought about that quote.

It is hopeful, but it also hurt a bit.  I am glad to have a chance at our greatest success, but it still hurts to have been a part of our greatest failure.  It's difficult to reconcile that one cannot exist without the other, no matter how much we wish it could.


As my administrators and I sorted through mounds of leftover supplies and trash last week, we talked about this journey that we are on.  In essence, we're starting a new school, but we're doing so in the span of just a few weeks under chaotic and uncharted circumstances whereas others get a new building and a year or more to plan and settle.  It's overwhelming at minimum, mind-blowing at maximum.  In the four core subject areas (math, science, English, and History), we return 16 teachers from last year; we have 25 new-to-Nichols teachers in those departments.  We had a great deal less turnover in the other subject areas, but we also have 3 brand new assistant principals, 2 new counselors, and 1 entirely new support staff in an unfinished office.

On Tuesday, our faculty joined forces with the other junior high in our network for a training.  When we had to get up and move around to meet new partner, I learned her name, her subject area, and all about what she'd be if she weren't a teacher.  She was so nice and funny, and I was truly glad to have met her.  I only had one problem.

I had to ask, "I'm sorry, but do you teach at Nichols or Shackelford?"  It felt clumsy and embarrassing not to know who taught in my very own school (and it was clear that I wasn't new as I was standing there in my favorite Nichols t-shirt).  There were so many new faces that I haven't met in my own building that I thought I had better check before I spent the next 3 days trying to track her down for a lunch meeting only to discover that she doesn't even work for us.

And she doesn't, by the way.

But plenty of really nice new people do, I've discovered.  I don't think I've had to introduce myself this often at Nichols since I walked into that gym for registration 14 years ago.  Everywhere I turn, there seems to be a new face and a new name, but they are smiling faces who don't seem to mind introducing themselves a dozen times either. I am extremely thankful for my penchant for name memory this year.


The meeting today was overwhelmingly positive in its mood and tone.  For the first time in a long time, I felt as though we were making choices that were out of logic as opposed to tradition.  I felt like we were truly making choices that were in the best interest of our students and teachers as opposed to ease.  We examined rules and policies for worth and consistency and chose which fights were most important to us.  And I finally felt our focus begin to shift from our past to our present, with our eyes upon the future.

That was a good feeling.  That was a damn good feeling.

But as any good Nervous Nellie would tell you, I still have my hesitation.  We are pretty unproven at this moment.  The jury is still out.  I've been on dozens of "new staffs" especially through my time camping.  In years past, when people ask me about my new staff, I've been known to say,

"Well, I really like 'em, but I know enough not to get married on the first date."

But with one year to prove ourselves, like it or not, we just might have to.

See y'all at the chapel.

It's What We Do

I spent the day with some really great teachers, and I loved it.  Their enthusiasm is the right kind of contagious.  And then I met some incredibly cute and sweet kids, stumbling and wandering through the hallways, searching for their classrooms at Open House tonight.  I'm worn completely out, but I cannot sleep, thinking of all the things I have to do before Monday at 8:47 AM.

But I'm a teacher.  It's what we do.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Comfort Zones

I went to the Fantasy Football Draft today after training.  I had a couple of my wonderful work brothers on my side, and they promised to kick me under the table if I did anything overly dumb; I was nervous about being perceived as "just a girl" at the all-boy draft.  My shins escaped unscathed, so I suppose I did okay.

I don't typically join activities where I could lose or fail due to a lack of preparation or information, so I was a little hesitant to join. Looking foolish is one of my biggest fears.  But the chance to gloat week-to-week was too fun to pass up.

Also, I completely (and cartoonishly) fell down in our training session today in front of a large group of strangers.  Flip-flops and balloon bounce combine to create near catastrophe.  So, I figured things couldn't be that much worse.

Tomorrow, I'll present (along with a fellow teacher) a session on integrating technology into the English classroom to other teachers in the district.  Speaking in front of a room full of other well-informed and highly-educated adults gives me the sweaty palms, so I'm not sure how well I'll sleep tonight.

But I'm willing to step outside my comfort zone in order to represent my school, I suppose.  I want our district to be accepting -- maybe even slightly impressed -- at what my school is working so hard to do.  This is the hard part about comfort zones.  They're really, really comfortable and therefore difficult to leave.

Two days... two opportunities to face my fears.

At this rate, I could be tandem skydiving with a circus clown straight into a tattoo parlor by Friday.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Challenge Accepted

I am the baby of my family.  I have two older brothers, and I have a mom and dad who don't believe in "letting" you win, even if you're little and cute.  I was 32 years old before I ever beat my mom at Scrabble; I still have the score card.  For every domino game I win, either (or both) of them will soundly thrash me 3 or 4 times in return.  I have never beaten either of them at shooting pool or golf.  My mom even trash talks when she solves a Wheel of Fortune puzzle before me.  My middle brother and I were rarely allowed to play games together because eventually the game board would take flight in a fitful rage from whomever happened to be losing (typically me, I admit).  And many a Nintendo controller narrowly avoided my wrath.

I hate losing more than I like winning, but, sweet baby Jesus, I do love to win.

Coaching junior high girls for 13 years taught me to temper my rage and frustration (although I'm embarrassed that I did accidentally break a volleyball cart once because I kicked it so hard).  I understand what behavior and expectation is expected and acceptable at what level; I'm a fairly humble winner and loser publicly.  But even my best behavior cannot quench my thirst to just make somebody else pay for their self-righteousness.

As the baby girl in a highly competitive family, I was desperate to be old enough or cool enough to be as good as my brothers and their friends.  I tend to have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to "boys only" activities and clubs, and I feel a deep need to impress if not out-perform or outsmart the competition.  So, today, when I was invited to play in my school's fantasy football league, I accepted the challenge without much hesitation.

And it will be a challenge, for sure, because I know ZERO about Fantasy Football.  In fact, I usually think it's kind of dumb.  But I'm not about to be left out for simple facts such as being a girl (or being clueless), so tomorrow afternoon, I'm going for it.  I've consulted a few of my Twitter experts and done a little studying up.  I think I've got the basic plan formed.

In my head, I'm viewing it as my own personal Title IX test case.  I'm about to roundhouse kick down the fantasy sports gender barrier, people.  This is the trophy I rescued from the garbage pile at school today.  I think it's an omen.

In truth, the guys I'm playing with are actually really nice guys who will talk noise and test me but still love me no matter how terrible I am at it.  There's only a couple that I'd really take delight in beating.  They're kind of like my work brothers, though, and historically, that spells trouble.

Hold onto your game boards and volleyball carts, friends.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

And I Did...

I am a worrier.

I've been one all my life though, so I'm fairly adjusted to it.  Some people would probably call it an anxiety disorder, but that's a little clinical and scary for me.  And, frankly, I worry about labels that I can't clearly define.

So, I'm a worrier.

When I was young, my parents watched the news basically for the weather and sports updates.  I watched and saw the horrors of the world (and Amarillo, TX).  At one point, my parents just stopped changing the channel until the time for weather (it's 10:17 PM, in case you're wondering).  They'd flip away and then come back for sports (10:25-ish).  If there were stories they were interested in, they'd send me from the room.  It was the only way to impose a news-ban and save my 8 year-old self from a lifetime of stomach ulcers and sleepless nights.  And those Sally Struthers "Feed the Children" commercials?  Yeah... no.

I still have trouble.  When terrible tragedies occur (i.e. September 11th, school shootings, plane crashes, tsunamis, etc.)  I will watch briefly and then place myself on a news restriction.  I am not good with uncontrolled grief and havoc.  I am not good with the cruelties of mankind or Mother Nature.  And, now, I don't even watch ASPCA commercials.  At the first hint of Sarah McLachlan music, I'm out.

I worry about other stuff too.  I'm well-known for putting back half of the stuff in my shopping cart because I worry about cost or need.  I worry about letting others down.  I worry about my car breaking down or my parents having problems, so I worry about making plans that I might have to cancel (and then let others down).  This summer, I've had a lot of time to worry about the upcoming school year.  I tried to let it slide, but it never goes away.  And when something's held down too long, it will eventually spring back.  That was Friday (and a little bit of yesterday too).

I don't like this about myself.  Granted, there's nothing wrong with planning for another day; there's nothing wrong with a Plan B.  But I hate that I paralyze myself with worries about things that A) I cannot control and 2) may never happen.  I hate that it keeps me from doing the things I enjoy or making plans for the future.
So, in the spirit of "just saying no" to feeling awful, I'm taking a few small steps.

Therefore, today, instead of heading back up to my classroom to work, I took the time to enjoy my last day of summer break.  I got a pedicure.  I partook of the free Franzia.  I went to an afternoon movie.  I had a delicious dinner (and dessert).  I realized that I might be creating more work for myself tomorrow, but dangit, I was determined to enjoy the shit out of today while the opportunity presented itself.

And I did.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Five Minutes of Tears

Yesterday wasn't a great day.

I couldn't sleep at all last night since I A) self-sabotaged my sleep schedule by avoiding my anxiety and 2) I spent the whole evening unable to turn off my thoughts anyway.  I tried reading (300 pages), writing, even a boring Tom Cruise movie.  Nothing.  So at 5:30 AM, I gave up and decided to just see how far I could go, knowing full well that things would probably end in tears at some point.

Today I went to school.  I was severely disappointed to see my room.  It was full of leftover materials for me to clean out (including some terrible and strange artwork).  It was full of tables that don't work for me as desks (too clunky and cumbersome to fit 30 kids in).  It had a platform stage and a desk that was bigger (and more stubborn) than I and a huge unfinished sheetrock display box covered in butcher paper (as a projector screen maybe?).

And no window.  I haven't seen the sun in my classroom in 8 years, y'all.

So, at 9:45 AM, I sat down with my chicken biscuit and Diet Coke and cut loose some whiny, embarrassing, selfish tears.  I tend to be super-dramatic when I'm overly tired.  It's not pretty.  I fully admit it.  Then, after about 5 minutes of wallowing in self-pity, I realized that it was stupid to cry over something I haven't even attempted to correct.

I went to see my principal who told me, basically, that the tables are an easy fix.  Then later, she and the vice principal's came down to investigate.  They got a horde of 8th graders and custodial staff to do the desk swap.  Then they started breaking down the monster desk and investigating where it could be better used.  One of them whipped out an exacto knife and started cutting away the gross old carpet on my odd little "stage", determining that it could be pulled right up.

There was no hesitation.  There was no "we'll see what we can do".  They just jumped right in and started examining the problem.  I liked it.

I don't know that this will translate into a better school year or more success.  But I did like the fact that I felt awful and lots of people -- other teachers and students included -- were willing to pitch in to make me feel better.  I'm not good at asking for what I need, but maybe with a little practice, I'll get better at it.

Moral to the story:  Allowing myself 5 minutes of tears is okay if there is 5 hours of production to follow it up.  It can't be the other way around though, and I have to remember that there are people in my life willing to lend a hand if only I reach out.

And now, I'm on 32 hours of no sleep and a serious high from tonight's Rangers game.  (A little Kinsler and KittenFace always makes things better, no?  Thanks again for the incredible tickets, Leslee!)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Poppin' Stitches

I feel like the seams came apart a little last night and today.

All my biggest and worst flaws didn't just peek through; they busted out like opening a can of biscuits.

I don't know why or what brought it on although it's most likely the anxiety I've been holding in about the new school year.  I'm always a little bit anxious about anything new and different, even if I've done it 13 times already.  And the not knowing where my room is or how I might have to move my 20 boxes of books and class supplies finally caught up with me.

Instead of coming up with a plan, or getting stuff done around my house, I shut down.  I woke up.  Thought about my to-do list.  Decided that it was all too much.  And promptly went back to sleep -- several times.  It's my go-to avoidance maneuver.  Luckily, whether I'm ready or not, a good helping of responsibility and accountability soon will make my go-to completely null and void.  But right now, my feet are draggin' hard.

Say a little prayer that I'm not on the moving list tomorrow morning when I show up in Arlington. It could be my own Trail of Tears.  Or at least cuss words.

Just as I was uploading my whiny (but honest) post about how much I am dreading the moving of my classroom tomorrow, a friend alerted me to the fact that an email had been recently sent, detailing my new classroom assignment and the fact that my boxes had been moved.

And now I feel like an ungrateful jerkface.  Thanks, God.

I'll probably still be cussing as I attempt to move furniture and re-hang my Chinese lanterns.  Because my gratitude only lasts so long.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


My first year in school was not a good one.  It nearly killed me and my mother both.  I still view that year as one of the most informative and character-shaping times of my life.  They were troubling and traumatic times, those everyday trips to the classroom where I learned nothing new, but every afternoon, I'd come home at lunch and sidle up to the bar and hear the news of the world.

Yes, that's right.  I was a 5 year-old barfly.

Before you retroactively dial up CPS, though, hear me out.  My parents managed a private country western bar and dance club in Pampa, Texas, and every afternoon, they'd open up to begin preparation for the evening.  Since we lived in a house behind the club and I couldn't stay by myself, my mom or dad would pick me up and bring me to the Nugget Club.  The bar was my babysitter, and it was a good one.

Sometimes, I'd wipe down tables or wash glasses.  Other times, I'd get to stay in the back and play video games or pinball or watch afternoon cartoons on the giant screen television.  And then I'd wander up front and sit with the afternoon drunks at the bar, sipping on a 7-Up with extra lime, shelling peanuts, and learning the important lessons of life -- like how to properly pick a square in the football pool or how to play black-jack.  Before I was 6, I knew how to shoot 8-ball, hate the Philadelphia Eagles, and carry a tray full of drinks.

It's a miracle that I didn't grow up to be a cocktail waitress.

But my favorite days were when my dad brought his roller skates to work.  The Nugget Club had a huge dance floor where my dad taught me to roller skate.  

Much like everything else he did, he was a hell of a roller-skater.  He'd put a '45 of Don Williams on, and we'd race or skate backward or wind through an obstacle course of barstools and beer mugs.  

Sometimes, I'd be skating by myself only to look up and see my mom and dad dancing alone, holding each other close, in the middle of the floor.  And much like everything else either of them did, they were fantastic dancers.  If I were to paint a picture of what true love looks like, that would be it.

Even now, 30 years later, I will hear an old country song and know all of the words.  I might not know the name of the song or the artist, but somehow I can sing along.  This makes my parents insanely happy, but it's only natural -- the soundtrack of my childhood is George, Willie, Waylon, Merle, and Patsy.  It was cheatin' hearts and steel guitars and Johnny Cash.  And I loved it.  I still do sometimes.

It's a miracle that I didn't grow up to be a drunk and penniless songwriter.

Instead, I grew up to be a school teacher, of all damn things, who still likes extra lime in her drinks, the wail of a steel guitar, and the smell of cue chalk. 

Like I said, character-shaping.

This one's for my mom and dad.  Thanks for the life lessons.  Whether good or bad, they've served me well.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From the Sideline to the Bleachers

For 13 years, the first of August signaled a return for me.

I would transition from my summer job in camping, and within 2 days (or less), I was back in coaches' meetings or going to volleyball try-outs at the high school or working registration.  At the end of last year, with my school facing such significant changes and challenges, I decided to stop coaching.

There were so many reasons to stop.  I need to be available to my classroom students for tutoring before and after school.  My department needed more of my attention.  All of them needed better and more thoughtful lesson planning from me.  I was married to my job for 13 years, often spending more time at school (60-70 hour weeks) than I spent at home. I might be more focused.  It would be healthier.  I could be happier.

For a few weeks now, friends and colleagues have asked me if I'm glad about my decision.  I had to tell them that I honestly didn't know yet.  All last week, I'd wake up at 6:00 AM, feeling like I was missing something, wondering where I was supposed to be next.  But I didn't have to be anywhere, and it was weird.  Admittedly, it was nice to miss some of those meetings.  It was very nice not to have to paint the gym or build schedules.  But it didn't really feel... real.

Today, I went to schedule card pick-up for our 8th graders.  I was so excited to see my athletes and students from last year.  Even some of our high school kids came back to visit and help.  They caught me up on all the latest gossip; I talked them up to the 8th grade teacher sitting with me at the welcome table.  My assistant coach from last year stopped by to ask how it felt to be on "the other side" of registration.  We talked quietly for a few minutes about how I was feeling -- that I wouldn't miss the paperwork or the late nights or the laundry but I would miss my kids desperately.

At that, one of them said, "What do you mean -- you'll miss us?"

That's when I had to tell them that I wouldn't be their coach this year.  I'd told a few of their mothers at a school board meeting, but I think it wasn't truly true until they heard it from me.  There was some concern, some protest, but because they're good girls and they understand my intentions, they didn't kick up much of a fuss.  Plus, they know I've left them in good hands.  They made me promise to still come to their games which, of course, I will.

"I'll be there," I said.  "You know I'll be there.  It's just that, this time, I'll be yelling FOR you instead of AT you.  That'll be nice, right?"

And without missing a beat, another of them said, "Oh, yeah.  That's definitely better."

It hurt my feelings for a quick second, but in knowing her as well as I do, I knew that she didn't mean that I was a hateful and terrible coach whose only pleasure in life came from suicide lines and screaming.  She just meant that she's glad I wasn't leaving them for good; she's happy that I'd still be there, backing them up and cheering them on.

I'm unsure what this year will bring.  I'm unsure how I will adjust to my new role as just being "Ms. Naz" and not necessarily "Coach Naz".  I'm unsure if I'll be healthier or happier or a better teacher.  But I'm sure that my choice was for the right reasons, and that has to count for something.  That has to be what I remind myself on that first game day when I find myself off the sideline and in the bleachers.

So, today, I think I have the first part of my answer to everyone's question.  I won't miss the meetings or the pre-dawn workouts or cut days.  But I'll miss watching their improvements day-to-day.  I'll miss them cracking me up when all I can see are the mistakes and absurdities of teenage lives.  I'll miss their locker room singing and outrageously huge hair bows. I'll miss sitting on the bench with them; I'll miss our huddles.  I'll miss teaching them something new.  I won't miss the long hours and the hard work, but I will miss our time together and the rewards it brings.

More than anything, though, I'll just miss them.

I love you, my Lady Mustangs.  Make me proud.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Conroy Connection

Many years ago, my friend, Laurie introduced me to The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy.  I have adored her for many things, but that is probably one of the finest gifts she ever gave me.  I still have that copy, with its grocery store sticker, outdated cover art, and yellowed pages.  It is my favorite book, but she has labored all this time under the belief that she introduced me to my favorite writer.  I hadn't the heart to tell her otherwise until now.

In truth, my introduction to Conroy came with a handsome boy in a green Jeep, roaring into our lives with a bright, easy smile and a pained heart.  Travis came to us all in that summer as a means of escape, of distancing himself from his departure from the Naval Academy.  Our friendship deepened through a summer of camp, and it was on one of those nights under a dark Texas sky that he brought to me the Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy.

I didn't read it then.  Who can concentrate on plebe year and Hell Week and organized terror when there is fairy dust to be sprinkled and campfires to be lit and soft songs to be sung?  I didn't understand what he thought I would find in those pages then, but I think I know now.  I've read and re-read The Lords of Discipline at least a handful of times in the past 17 years, and each time I find something new to stir my anger and disgust and awe at the ways in which we carve away the innocence and sweetness of our boys in their journey to become a man.  In reading this story, I wonder if I truly understood what had been taken from Trav.  I wonder -- did he really see his arrival as an escape as I did?  Or is that word mine alone?  Travis gave me many gifts during our short but powerful friendship, but Conroy is perhaps the greatest of these.

I don't count Lords as one of my favorite Conroy stories although I appreciate it in the same way I appreciate The Great Santini -- as twisted and violent love letters to these sculptors of men.  And even The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, my absolute favorites, leave me breathless, sullen, and bitter against the cruelties of the world.  I often wonder why I subject myself to their angst so willingly.

I sometimes grow tired, reading his floating prose, and I'll silently wish for him to arrive at the damn point already.  And then, there it is, landing gracefully upon the page, hidden by its own lush feathery words. Conroy both constantly belittles and celebrates his wordiness, treating his verbosity as a Siamese twin, at times awkward and cumbersome but necessary for his survival.  I feel his struggle often.  I have a love affair with adjectives and commas and extra conjunctions.

The man can craft a sentence that transports me to another world.  He can sharpen an image that stops me dead in my tracks.  I've studied his works and his life for years, trying to pinpoint why someone who writes with such pain and sorrow attracts me so -- especially since those are my most shameful captors.  The only thing I can decide is that for Conroy, writing is a blood-letting.  His genius lay in his catharsis; his fingerprints and tragedies can be found in all of his stories.  He's said often that writing has brought him to the brink of madness on several occasions, and you can feel the teetering as his books near climax.  But each time, he returns.  He resumes.  He revives.  He finds scathing humor in his pain, unabashed love in his despair, and desperate beauty in his fear.

If that isn't hope, I don't know what is.

There is a part of me that collects his books and his words out of fear.  There is great beauty, yes, but also the fear -- the knowledge -- that one day, his voice will stop.  It's a silly fear, it seems, to not only grieve a stranger but also to grieve a stranger who is still alive.  (But this is me, and you should all know that I fear the day your voices leave me too.)   So you can imagine my surprise when I wandered through Half Price Books last week, looking to replace my copy of Beach Music (I constantly give my copies away), and found an unknown-to-me work by my shaper of words.  It's a nonfiction piece, called My Reading Life.  Within it are all of the people and circumstances that influenced his life as both reader and writer -- his mother, his teachers, his students, his idols.  It has felt like a secret passageway into his art, and I have enjoyed its journey thus far.

Laurie predicted I'd finish it in the first night, and I thought she'd be right.  I finished the first chapter in the parking lot of the bookstore.  I haven't finished though; I've taken my time with this one, reading just a chapter or two a night.  I'm 260 pages in, and now, the night before I have to go back and do real work, I feel the draw to stay up late by the lamplight and savor his thoughts.  There have been many moments I've found myself holding my breath until the end of the sentence or the paragraph, and I find myself putting down the book and looking around for someone to share in it.  But there's no one here, so for tonight, you will all do.

In his chapter, "The Teacher", about his high school English teacher, Gene Norris:

"His ex-students came back to his house by the hundreds and Gene delighted in the low-maintenance miracle of their return.  He knew that they arrived at his doorstep of their own volition, and they came to thank him for honoring them and breaking into the immovable storms of aloneness in the hormonal tempests of their teenage year.  Gene lived for these students who booked return passages into his life.... When one of his students died, Gene would never forget to cry.  If there is a more important work than teaching, I hope to learn about it before I die." (p. 64-65)

On page 195, talking about the difficulty in beginning The Great Santini -- an autobiography of abuse hidden under the covers of fiction.

"I wrote about a military brat who'd spent his whole life smiling and pretending that he was the happiest part of a perfect, indivisible American family. I had no experience in writing down the graffiti left along the margins of a boy's ruined heart."

In remembering his encounter with a man on fire in the streets of Paris, a moment that forced him from his own cowardice to courage, putting out the fire and consequently saving the man's life:

"I had walked into one of those rare, elemental moment of definition when I would be a different human being from what I was ever meant to be.  I was destined to meet the burning man on rue de Seine and my whole life had been leading up to that moment..."

He was convinced that this moment in Paris, where he'd gone to leech out the pain of his time at the Citadel through the composition of The Lords of Discipline, was a metaphor for his art.  I think it's no coincidence that this happened in concurrence with the completion of that novel.  It had taken immense bravery to take on his father, the Great Santini, but the long gray line was a different matter.  If not for the burning man, would Travis had known him?  Or, consequently, would I?  I felt awful for the burning man, but also thankful for his sudden and transforming appearance, which may have altered so many lives, including my own.

Or on pages 257-258, discussing the visit that Mr. Norris took him on to the home of Thomas Wolfe:

"This is the room where Tom's brother Ben died.  That's the bed where he died....  My teacher knew that the death of Ben Gant in Look Homeward, Angel had torn me apart, tamed something in me with its chilling finality, and taught me something permanent and fine about an artist turning the worst moment of his life into something sweetly beautiful.  When I read about the death of Ben Gant, I was certain I could feel as much pain as Thomas Wolfe, but I was uncertain whether I could love with such unflinching, astonishing power.... I stared at the chair where Thomas Wolfe watched his brother die and I could barely contain my sorrow for the way the world cuts into us all by killing the softest of us first."

"I could barely contain my sorrow for the way the world cuts into us all by killing the softest of us first."

A finer, more glaring, example of one of the cruelest truths could not be found, and I think it must be the motivating force behind all of his art. In each of his novels, you can see his armor, but you can also still feel the soft spots.  He is so human in his expression, so honest in his failings, that I don't know if his voice will ever truly die for me.  But I certainly won't stop collecting it, and I won't let it stop urging me on to write out my own fear or heartache or joy.  Words have such power, and I don't know that they are ever meant to be tamed.  But I applaud those who attempt it, who suffer the sharp claws, and make way for those of us who aren't as skilled with the whip.

And that old friend, Travis?  He wrote his own novel, The Joshua Requiem, which won the Benjamin Wofford Prize in 1997.  If you read the linked article, you might recognize one of the panelists near the end.  A full-circle moment with another man on fire.  That book sits on the top of my bookshelf, flanked by my copies of The Prince of Tides and The Lords of Discipline, together as they should always be.

*If you're interested in borrowing My Reader's Life, check back tomorrow, I'm sure.  Until then, enjoy one of my favorite pieces regarding the attempted censorship of two of his novels -- my favorites -- in a West Virginia school.  A copy of the letter hangs in my classroom as a constant reminder of the power of both good teaching and the courage to stand up and be heard.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Cannot Look Away...

I love a good story.  I love telling stories.  I love reading a good story.  I especially love watching a good story.

Going to a movie theater is somewhat akin to visiting a house of worship to me.  I know that's really blasphemous, but when you grow up in a town of 2,000 where there are 15 churches and 0 movie theaters, your priorities can get a little skewed.

Going to the movies as a kid was a special treat.  Before I was 6, we lived in a slightly larger town that had a theater.  Every Saturday, my dad would drop my brother and me off to watch whatever animated movie was playing at the matinee; it was one of the few things I can remember my brother and I agreeing upon in life.  When we moved to Clarendon, America, the nearest theater was 60 miles away, and if we were making that long of a trip, we weren't typically going to waste 2 hours in a theater.  But when my oldest brother and his girlfriend (my future sister-in-law), Tammy, would come to visit, I knew I could count on her boredom to guarantee a trip to the movies by at least Day 3.  She'd stuff her purse with contraband snacks and sodas, and we'd theater-hop all day on one ticket.  It really didn't matter what we saw, it was just the act of going that thrilled me.

I'm still a movie junkie.  I don't go as often anymore, but there are certain movies that when they come on, I cannot turn the channel.  To me, movies hold the same sort of memories that good music does.  If it's a special one, I can still tell you when and where I saw it for the first time -- what theater, who I was with, everything.  It's a weird and useless gift.

Here's a (most likely incomplete) list of movies that I will never change the channel from.  If you're at my house when one comes on, I hope you like it.  Or that you have other plans.  They're not in any particular order because I don't think I could choose.

Steel Magnolias -- This movie is all about what it is to be friends with other women.  It wasn't until I was older that I truly understood the value of such a friendship.  It's not always pretty, but it's necessary.   My favorite moment of the whole movie is at 1:25 of this clip, and it's what usually happens in the hardest of moments with my friends -- the cracking of a highly inappropriate joke in order to break the tension. (Special shout-out to my childhood pal, Christel, who is the closest thing I have ever known to a real-life Ouiser.  I love ya more than my luggage, friend).

Hoosiers -- I'm all about underdog stories.  Always have been.  But this movie is also about second chances and redemption.  My favorite moment begins at 2:10 of this clip.

Field of Dreams -- I am a baseball romantic.  I fully admit it.  In truth, there are few baseball movies I won't watch.  But when this one comes on, I'm in a puddle of tears for most of the movie.  My favorite part has nothing to do with the cornfield but rather with Doc Graham.  "I didn't realize that was the only day."

Bull Durham -- Again with the baseball.  Again with the Kevin Costner (although I liked him oh-so-much more in this one).  The first clip is pretty classic.  It has language that's NSFW and swagger that's not safe for women who swoon easily.  Oh, my.

I also love this scene.  "We're dealing with a lot of shit here."  It always tempts me to buy everyone candlesticks for their wedding.

Additonally, I love A League of Their Own, The Bad News Bears, and The Natural, but I'm going to cut off the baseball movies here.  It could really go on a while.

Say Anything -- I feel like I am still on the hunt for Lloyd Dobler.  His awkwardness is so honest, it's painful.  But it's also sort of charming.

Almost Famous -- I've got a thing for Cameron Crowe movies; it's true.  The characters, the music, the story... it all just works... even when it doesn't.  William Miller is painful and funny and horribly uncool.  I adore this in a character.

Other Cameron Crowe movies of note:  Singles, Elizabethtown, and Jerry Maguire.  And... pretty much all of them.  Like I said, even when it doesn't work, it still works better than most.

Sleepless in Seattle -- Tom Hanks.  Isn't that enough?  Sigh.

Dead Poets Society -- This is a movie I watch at least a couple of times a year.  I love this scene because I was Todd Andersen, and I attempt to be Mr. Keating on a daily basis.  "You have a barbarian in you after all."

Good Will Hunting -- Robin Williams as a mentor again.  That's not lost on me.  But it's all friendship in this one.  The scene about regret is one of my all-time favorites.  It's just perfect.

Dazed and Confused -- No movie signifies a friendship in my life like this one.  It is always associated with Haley and Beth.  We watched it so often that we could (and still can) quote every line.  There are far too many good scenes to pick as my sole favorite, but I do love the entrance to The Emporium.  Wooderson, Pink, and Mitch stride in to Dylan playing.  Even the pink jeans look good.

Dirty Dancing -- If there was ever a movie that stuck in my pre-adolescent brain, it's this one.  I can clearly remember going to someone else's house to watch it (and I didn't even really like this person) just to see what all the fuss was about.  There were a ton of references I didn't really "get" (HELLO, Abortion), but it didn't matter -- Johnny Castle took his shirt off and fell in love with a plain jane wallflower.  Man, Francis Houseman gave hope to awkward girls everywhere.

She carried a watermelon, y'all.

And just because I can...

It's just so melodramatically awesome.

So there are some of my favorite "cannot-look-away" movies.  Tell me yours.  Maybe I forgot one.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

30 Days...

There's a theory out there that it takes 21 days to build a good habit.  I don't know how reliable that science is, but it's a number, and I like having numbers as a goal.

I've been blogging daily for 30 days now.  There have been a couple of days in the world of no internet where I had to cheat a little and just link to an old post, but I think that's okay.  I didn't really start sharing my writing with many people (via Facebook or Twitter) for almost a year.  If you were reading in the early days, you are either really close to me or you stumbled onto my little section of the 'net by chance.  Those old posts need some love, too.

That's fairly characteristic of me.  If people were to step into my classroom or watch me on the court or at camp, you'd never believe that I am actually pretty painfully shy.  Life and career have forced me out a bit, but I spent a great deal of my childhood being silent and hidden behind my mom or dad.  They'd always have to grab me by the hand and push me out in front.  

I still blush very easily.  I don't take compliments well at all.  And I hate speaking publicly in front of anyone over the age (or maturity level) of a 14 year-old.  So the thought of sharing my thoughts -- whether they be deep and personal or shallow and random -- still vaguely terrifies me each time I go to hit the "publish" button.  But I've done it 217 times now, 30 times in a row.  I think it's a habit that I kind of like.

I started blogging out of a simple curiosity and love for writing.  That's been my reasoning all along, but I found that it also just made me feel better.  It helped me sort my thoughts and make sense of my feelings.  My intent was only for me, but somewhere along the way, it helped me re-connect to some of you.  And I found that sometimes it made you and I realize that maybe we're not the only ones carrying that load. That's what has kept me going, I think.  One of my best school friends, Al, told me that he felt like we'd been having daily conversations this past month.  I loved that; it's amazing what validation one simple sentence can carry.  Thanks, Alfredo.

Whether you've been here from the beginning or whether you're just stumbling by for the first time, thanks.  I know that this site isn't very user-friendly in leaving comments, but please know I appreciate each and every thing you take the time to write to me -- Facebook messages and comments, tweets, and texts.  Some of you have even taken the time to share the link to certain posts in your own statuses or to re-tweet the links as they come through your Twitter timeline.  It may not seem like much to you, but it means a great deal to me.

Each day, your kindness and support take me by the hand and lead me out of my hiding spot.   Thanks for not letting go.

Until tomorrow... a little Paul Westerberg.