Thursday, December 31, 2015


There have been several times these last few weeks where I wanted to be anywhere or do anything else but what I've been doing. Many times, I thought it would be easier to lose myself at the bottom of a bottle or crawl into bed and hide under the covers forever. Or just stop. Give up and say that this is beyond my control. Or run away. I dream at night about waking up on a quiet beach or a mountain cabin or a foreign country.

They seem like easy choices on the surface. But if there's anything I've learned in life, it's that "easy" doesn't always equal "better".

Looking back, it's easy to say that I'm ending this year in pain. It's easy to look at myself and find all of the things I hate about myself -- all those things I wish I could change. I'm overly-sensitive and stubbornly proud and terrified of failing. Yes, those are things easy to see about me.

But "easy" doesn't always equal "accurate" either.

I am sensitive. I joke often that when God gave out feelings, I got in line for thirds. It's a part of myself that I've always been ashamed of. It's been scolded by bosses as unprofessional and taken advantage of by others. My sensitivity was a target, a soft spot, a trigger.  All my life, I viewed my mother as the "tough" one. She was the one I was afraid to cry in front of and hid my hurt from. I wanted, more than anything, to shield myself as she could. What I've learned, however, in the last few years (and weeks especially) is that my sensitivity has led me. It guides me in the questions I ask, the battles I choose, the decisions I make. It gives me the understanding and patience to sit bedside and not look away. It reminds me how lucky I am to have had 39  years of my father's love -- so much more than far too many have had, and it gives me the ability to give him permission to leave us when he's ready.  More than anything, it gives my mother an example to follow. This woman -- this wonderful and strong woman -- who held her feelings and fear at bay all of her life to shield her from pain is now defenseless. She is uncomfortable and unsure in her own feelings, but she is not alone in them. I am grateful to have grown up in a family who, while they may not have loved my sensitive nature, never forced me to abandon it.

I am stubbornly proud. To a fault, many times. I detest asking for help and resist accepting it when given. I believe fervently in making my own way, owing nothing to anyone, and standing on my own.  That, to me, is a success. But it's not, really, because when I look at my life, who am I without those around me? From my family to colleagues to friends I see often and those I see rarely and even those I've never even officially met. My stubbornness leads to me being a better teacher and a better competitor, but it also makes me stick and stay. And my pride, well, it forces me to think of others before myself, and for that I'm grateful. I'm grateful to be in a place I can still want more for someone else than need for myself. I'm not alone, however, and even on the days that I do crawl into bed and hide away, I know that I will always have someone to seek me out, take my hand, and pull me back into the world -- whether I ask them to or not because I'm also surrounded by people just as stubborn as me.

It would be so easy to judge myself or this year by only the sadness I feel now, but that's not fair or accurate. This year, I was loved by many friends, traveled to wonderful cities, ate delicious food, drank, danced, and laughed a thousand times more than I cried. I saw my favorite team win a national championship, and I sat court side on their journey. I challenged myself, and I met the challenges of others. I grew. I changed. I reflected. I was knocked down. I kept getting back up.

Yes, things seem dark now. This will not be the last dark day I see, no matter my hopefulness for 2016. But without acknowledging the dark, I cannot see the value of my light.

And I am surrounded by so, so much light.

I wish you light and love and laughter this year, my friends.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Roller Coaster

The last two weeks have been an up-and-down, sideways-twisting, loop-the-loop, roller coaster of a ride. With any chronic disease, like Parkinson's, this is the way of life. It's been this way for many years, but this felt different. It feels different, I should say, because it is different. It has felt like the ride was coming to the end.

When I got home two weeks ago, we prepared for the very worst. Each time we thought we made a decision, something happened to make us question. To make us afraid we were wrong. It has been the most confusing, sad, gut-wrenching moments of my life, watching my father deteriorate and seeing my mom struggle. There is no handbook for these moments. There is no one who can make these decisions for you. Even if you've had that talk with your loved ones (and if you haven't, you should), it's so hard to know when the end is really the end? When is enough truly enough?

We live in a society where it's practically a sin to stop. We believe in fighting and hanging on and never giving up. And for 95% of the time, that's a pretty great attitude. There are times, however, that I've wondered who is hanging on for whom?

Each of us has separately said our own goodbyes to my dad. I have been for years with each decline. And in the last two weeks, we've let him know that it's okay to let go if he's tired. He hasn't though, and we've decided to let him fight as much as he wants. It feels selfish, in a way, to put that decision on him, but it also feels selfish to keep it for our own.

For most of this time, we make the 140 mile trip, we sit in his room for hours, and we wait for the few moments he's awake. My mom monitors his pain by his facial expression. She explains what the nurses are doing if they do not. She strokes his forehead and sings softly to help him sleep. My father was always the caretaker, the nurturer, when we were sick; now that task has fallen to her. And she's more beautiful at it than anything she's ever done, I think.

Two nights ago, my mother's best friend of nearly 50 years (my Aunt Patti) came to sit with us. As she and Mom told stories from when they were young and wild, I watched my father watch them. They told story after story for almost two hours. Some, I had heard (like my mother putting my dad out of the car on a wintry night on the Canyon E-Way and then forgetting where she left him); others I had not (like how my dad, before they officially met, would come into the diner where my mom waited tables and order a $0.25 cup of coffee and then leave her a $5 tip). They cackled and cut up, and the whole time, my dad grinned. I kept waiting for him to sit up and defend himself or tell a story of his own, but that's an empty wish. Instead, I was just grateful for the grin.

And today, he's been awake and lucid more than in the past two weeks combined, looking at my mom, smiling, answering her questions with a nod or a blink, and even telling her, "I love you". It was the only Christmas gift she needed or wanted.

I know that my dad isn't going to get out of that bed again. I know his wounds will never fully heal. The inevitable is the inevitable for a reason. The train will eventually return to the station because the ride cannot go on forever. But today, it's enough to just still be on the track.

Merry Christmas and love to you all.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Thursdays are my mother's favorite days. Thursdays are shuffling cards, homemade desserts, and good friends. Thursdays are a break from worry, from heartache, from pain.

On first appearance, they look innocent enough. Christmas sweaters, Santa earrings, coin purses. If you happened by, you might think them a book club or a prayer group, full of grandmothers and aunties, just waiting to pinch your cheeks.

You'd be wrong though. These are not your average grandmothers. These are my mother's people, and anyone my mother spends time with could never be anything but fun and fierce. If you've got nickels and quarters in your pocket, you're nothing but fresh meat.

The game is Rummy Dummy. At first glance, it seems simple enough: a game devised on the sequence and systematic playing of specific, pre-determined hands. Looking deeper, however, it becomes a gauntlet of seemingly impossible card combinations meant to do nothing but strand its victim while it bleeds you of all your silver change.

It's not an expensive game. It's just a quarter to join and a dime for every round you don't lay your cards down, but with each coin you drop in the bucket, your desire to quit is only tempered by the insatiable need to hear the jingle of all those coins in your pocket.

Any time I'm in town on a non-holiday Thursday (which is not often), I'm invited to the card game. I like it because it makes me feel grown-up. Contrary to popular belief, "grown-up" is not an age-thing; it's an acceptance thing. But always -- always -- there are pre-game reminders from my mother.

"You'll need to pack a lunch."
"You have to pay attention."
"Don't be on your phone, texting at the table."
"When you cut cards, leave the bottom."
"Don't be late."

I learned that last truth pretty quickly yesterday as one of the regulars showed up, late from a doctor's appointment, midway through the first hand. The penalty for showing up late? A dime in the pot, 55 points on your scorecard, and a second go-round on hand #1. That dime buys you nothing apparently.

As a lifelong careful observer of rules and devout follower of protocol, Thursdays with the girls always give me sweaty palms for at least half an hour.

While we played, I tried to stick up for one of my favorite ladies when the others were complaining about a well-played quick hand that ruined all of their plans.

"Don't be nice to her just because she's the oldest! No special treatment!" They chorused and crowed, and even she admitted, "It was kind of an ugly play... But I don't care."

"I should have known better," I thought to myself as I watched this 90+ year old woman flip a card across the table with such fierce grace that it'd put all those baseball bat flips to shame.

Over the course of three games, they complained and wheedled and poked at one another, but they also caught up on one another's lives and grandkids and holiday plans. They even cut loose a foul word or two (which only made me love them more). During lunch, they listened to my mom's update on my dad. They let her talk, they helped her cry, and they comforted her with fudge and homemade cookies and empathy that only wives and mothers and daughters who had journeyed this road can give. At the end of the day, they wrapped us in big hugs and whispered support.

I am so grateful for these women. My mother has always been private with her pain, yet they don't allow her to hide. And with each moment she shares, I see the trust she has in them -- a feat not easily accomplished. But more than just listening and comfort, they cut us no slack. They took our quarters and dimes without hesitation because that's what you do on a Thursday. And my mother would have it no other way.

I did manage to win a game, and I will tell you that I've never worked harder or been more proud of a handful of dimes and quarters. I put them back in my mother's coin purse for another Thursday with the girls. And it was money well-spent. 

(Just kidding. It was totally my mom's money to begin with. I'm not quite grown-up yet.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I hate the smell of Axe body spray.

As a junior high teacher, it's my right -- nay, my duty as an American educator -- to lead the fight against its use. Axe is the pubescent attempt to avoid showering after gym class, to snag a date for Friday's dance, to blend in. It is desperate and overbearing and toxic. My school's hallways are clouded with it often. I now confess to having even used my locker key to confiscate bottles from a few of the worst offenders.

So it was with great pain and regret that four years ago, at the top of my father's Christmas list, sat my worst enemy: Axe Body Spray.

It did not make sense. My father was 68 years old. He'd been married nearly four decades. He is not overbearing or desperate. Why was this on the list, I demanded  inquired.

To which my mother replied, "It makes him feel better."

My dad -- my beautiful, strong father -- could no longer shower himself. Often, he could not toilet himself. He had accidents. He was always sweating. And although the staff at his nursing home showered him every other day, he was ashamed. He would douse himself in his aftershave and deodorant, but to no avail. So he would wait patiently for his next shower day, trying to hide his embarrassment.

My mother had given him Axe after a trip to Dollar General one day. It was the only thing that could cover not only himself but also the smell of other residents and cleaning products. It was a change from the smell of sickness, old age, dependence. It shouldn't have surprised me that Axe was his antidote. It had erased all other living smells from my hallway and classroom for years.

It hurt. All my life, I could recognize my dad just by his scent. He smelled of Lava soap, Old Spice, the roll of Certs mints or cinnamon candy he always kept in his pocket, and just a hint of WD-40. "Just a dab behind the ears", I'd tease him. There have been nights in the past four years that I woke up, longing, heartbroken, for that scent. I can remember wondering what other kids' dads smelled like. Maybe  fresh ink and paper, or expensive suits, or suntan oil and chlorine. My dad smelled like hard work. It was the smell of confidence and independence to me. I felt ashamed for questioning his choice.

So I begrudgingly gave in, buying him cans and cans of it for any occasion: birthdays, Christmases, Tuesdays. It did not matter. If it was what he wanted, it was fine by me.

Last night, as I stood next to my daddy's bed, feeding him ice chips, I took in the smells around me. Antiseptic, colostomy bags, uneaten hospital food, fever sweat.  His eyes searched my face, questioning. His lips moving. His voice a whisper of visions and words I could not understand.

And I longed for the smell of Axe Body Spray.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pop-Up Playlist

I've always had a variety of musical tastes. My parents loved old country. My friends were into hip-hop and rap. I graduated high school at the height of the Seattle Grunge movement. I have a soft spot for classic rock. And I'm continually surrounded by teenagers so the spectrum widens even more to Top 40. So for tonight's #Write30 topic, I had no idea what to expect when I hit shuffle on my playlist and waited for the first three songs.

Admittedly, the first 7 songs were all Mozart as I use my phone at school, and that's my favorite "quiet time soundtrack" for my students to work to. I'll bypass those. No offense, Wolfgang.

So here are the next three, and my thoughts on them.

Thought #1: this list does not seem very diverse at all, and it makes me look like a total liar. Sigh.

"You're True" -- Eddie Vedder, Ukelele Songs

I love Eddie Vedder. There. I said it. I love him. There was a time that people tried to make me not love him. They were not successful as evidenced by the insane amount of space he and Pearl Jam take up on my iPhone. My latest obsession is his album Ukulele Songs. I don't know why I love it so much except that my favorite Eddie is Eddie and a guitar. This is just Eddie and a teeny-tiny guitar, I suppose. Maybe this is my grown-up version of Vedder. Simple, stripped down, natural. My go-to "shout at the world" album will always be Ten, but this is my "on the deck, sipping a drink, glad to be alive" music.

"Where Is My Mind" -- The Pixies, Surfer Rosa

I don't have a ton of Pixies on my playlist, but they are there. They'll always remind me of my friend, Carrie Simpson. This one has a haunting quality. It reminds me of late nights on lake roads with the top down, and a black sky-full of stars overhead. There aren't many times I miss being 17, but the Pixies always fill me with a wish to be there just a couple more times.

"Love, Reign O'er Me"-- The Who (as covered by Pearl Jam)

I love The Who from a totally shallow level. I'm no music connoisseur, and I could never claim to be. So I came to The Who somehow, and I truly have no clue how. What's funny is that this is, yet again, a journey into my fandom of Pearl Jam. They covered this song for a horribly, bone-deep sad movie called "Reign Over Me" starring Adam Sandler. I don't like it as much as the original, of course, but Eddie gives it his best wail, and I always have to appreciate that.

Sadly, the next song was Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance". Sorry y'all missed out on that one. #JuniorHighForever

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


One of my mother's favorite games is Scrabble. She is amazing at it. She used to play Scrabble with her friend, Ann, who was the only person who could ever beat her on a regular basis. They'd sit there for hours, studying that board, looking not only for the places to score the maximum points available but also for the places to defend. And sometimes, they just were looking for the places to screw over the opponent.

I did not inherit my mother's love for Scrabble. I stare at the board for about 5 minutes, working out different patterns in my head, and then I just get so tired of searching that I give in. I go for the most points I can get, and I hope that it's enough to sustain me if my opponent scores big.

I do not have the patience or the wherewithal to ever be  excellent at Scrabble.  

I didn't beat my mother at a game until I was almost 30, and it's a feat I've only repeated a couple more times, if even that.  But if I were to think about the gifts my mother tried to instill in me, I cannot help but think about that board.

A problem has to be studied, and weighed,  from all sides.

Striking first may not be your best play.

Know your opponent's weakness and tendencies.

The best offense is sometimes a really tough defense.

Working hard for something, devoting your best effort to it, is worth all of the headaches.

That sometimes in life, you draw some shitty letters, but it's up to you to make the most out of them.

And that no matter how hard I try, I'll never be quite on her level.

Happy Birthday, Mama. Thanks for never letting me win.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Who's Afraid of a Little Rabid Raccoon? It's Me. Pick Me.

We live in a big ol' world full of big ol' scary things. As an anxious child, I naturally developed many deep fears, some normal while others are, well, not as normal.

The topic tonight asked for 5 of my biggest fears. My response was "Only five?" But as one of my fears is disappointing others, I'll separate my fear list into two categories: "deep-seated fears" and "where the eff did that come from?"

Deep-Seated Fears

1. Being wrong in front of LOTS of people. I was the kid who was paralyzed by the thought of going to the chalkboard to solve a math problem. I still am. Even now, when I stop by a math teacher's tutorial session to help crowd-manage, I get the sweaty palms. I know, in my heart, that I understand 7th grade math. I passed it. I have a college degree. But there's still a moment of dread that I'll mess up and everyone will think I'm dumb. That teacher thinks I'm trying to be helpful; truly it's just fear therapy. I still feel my face flame up in embarrassment when my friends bring up a mistake I made once, 10 years ago. My fear is so palpable that I just googled three different sites to determine if it's "deep-seated" or "deep-seeded".

Excuse me while I go reapply my deodorant.

2. Disappointing others. I have an addiction to helping others. Being needed is my drug of choice. So the thought of letting someone else down, of not being enough, is a fear I fight daily. Maybe hourly. I am constantly on the look-out for someone's disappointed look. But, inevitably, I can't be everything for everyone, so I have to talk myself off that ledge quite often.

3. Drowning. My mother has this fear too, and I think it was passed down via the umbilical cord. When I was a kid, we lived on a lake. Never, ever was a life preserver a choice. But that didn't extend to just the lake. I was the kid in the big orange life jacket at the city pool. I learned to swim, truly, at summer camp, and I am thankful for that. I still love the water, absolutely and completely. Yet there's still a part of me that gets nervous each time I jump in. Like I'm going to suddenly forget 3 decades worth of swimming ability.

4. Natural disasters. Another of my mother's fears were storms -- tornados, in particular. And because I grew up in the Texas panhandle, every spring and summer were spent readying ourselves for the next big storm. To make things worse, we lived in a mobile home for most of my life with the city storm shelter at least 2-3 minutes drive away. When those are your realities, you find ways to cope. So for the first 12-14 years of my life, I went to bed most spring and summer nights in my nightgown with my shoes on, and a flashlight in hand. Whether those were her instructions or a creation of my own, I couldn't tell you. Yet even now, as soon as clouds roll up, the first thing I put on are my running shoes. I'm much more confident now though because as a West Texas kid, I often have to be the weather girl in many situations and maintain calm. But hurricanes or earthquakes or volcanic explosions? Get all the hell the way outta here with that. Natural disasters can't be predicted or controlled, and that freaks me outtttt.

5. Fear. Yes, I have a fear of being afraid. As crazy as that sounds, it's true. I worry often that I'm not living my life to its fullest. That I'm missing out on opportunities because I'm harnessed by fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. But what I've narrowed it down to, basically, is fear. I spent a LOT of time and money figuring that one out. Who would've guessed?


1. Clowns. They're all psychopaths looking to peel my face off and use my pancreas as a hat. Of this, I am convinced, and I'll never believe otherwise.

2. Marionettes. Their movements are so creepy. And their strings are perfect for strangling an unsuspecting person when they come to life. Truth be known, I have a highly illogical fear of all dolls for much the same reason.

3. Dumpsters. I have a long-held fear that I'll discover a dead body in one. But dumpsters also attract all kinds of creatures. At worst, you could get a rabid raccoon bite to the face and at the very least, that little furry bastard will scurry out from his hiding place and literally scare the pee out of me. I don't like anything that scurries. Or scuttles.

4. Technology will take over the world. I suspect this stems from one too many sci-fi stories gone wrong, but I can't prove it. All I know is that when the robots come for us, don't say I didn't warn you.

5. Unnaturally smart small children. You see all these videos of toddlers doing algebra and listing all the world capitals and such. Everyone thinks it's SO cute. Nope. Not me. Not cute at all. It's unnerving. I mean, I'm all for kids being smart, but there's a fine line between having a well-built vocabulary and leading the robot revolution. Know what I'm sayin'?

6. Vomiting. Oh God. I can't even...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Carry It On

I stood in line at the Walgreens near my school tonight, exhausted from a long Monday at work. As I typed in my phone number, I felt someone sidle up to me and put a head upon my shoulder. I was not fazed. Not many things faze me these days. I assumed it was a student or a former student. Possibly even a parent.  Because of this store's proximity to my school, I often find myself visiting with my Mustang past, present, and, sometimes, future. Tonight was no different.

As I looked left, I saw two former Mustangs. They are two of three sisters I coached and taught, the youngest of which recently graduated from high school. Hers was the head upon my shoulder, grinning up at me. Although she was taller than me, even by 7th grade, this has always been the way she snuck up on me, head lowered, fitting into the cradle of my neck and shoulder. Had I had time to think before looking, I could've probably guessed her identity from that alone.

I gave them both a quick hug and prepared to exchange pleasantries and small talk on the way to our cars. They were buying shampoo; I was buying toilet paper and pencils. A Monday task if ever there was one.  Before I could even swipe my card, though, they told me that their father had died last week. I stopped, frozen, unable to process what I had just heard. I could not speak, and words are the one thing I'm hardly ever  without.

I looked at them, realizing fully what they had said, realizing I was holding up the line. I told them how shocked I was. They echoed my shock, sadly, and told me that it was a sudden death. His heart had given out. We moved outside, trying to pick up the pieces of the conversation. I think they felt bad, giving me such a shock. I felt bad unable to give them any comfort.  So we caught up quickly on the good things -- a marriage, a proposal, a life forging ahead. Things that would make their father so proud, this forging ahead.

Mr. F was a giant of a man. Not only big in stature but also in laughter and generosity. He was a man, I know now, that was destined to have only girls. I see them, these men, larger than life, who are delivered  tiny baby girls, all pink and frilly, full of sugar and sass. These are the men who understand God's sense of humor. These are the men who understand God's wisdom.

I taught two of his girls in the classroom and coached all three in volleyball and basketball. His voice boomed throughout the gym -- encouraging, cajoling, laughing. After each match or game, no matter the outcome, he was there. There for his girls, for their teammates, for their coach.  He seemed a good man.

We talked only a few minutes more before I grabbed them both in a hug and asked them to pass along my condolences to their mother and sister.  And I walked to my car in tears. In tears over a man I was not best friends with. A man I did not call by first name. A man I hadn't even seen in at least five years, probably more. But a man who trusted me to help lead his daughters. To help teach them how to compete, to write, to think. What an awesome gift such trust is, and, perhaps, that is what moved me most.

My heart is heavy for them.  For his wife, who would greet his bellows with an eyeroll and a soft punch in the arm. For his baby girls out in the world, without him. Because baby girls  may outgrow their frills and pink, but they never outgrow their daddy's hands.  I haven't yet. I don't know that I ever will.

I realized, again, how little I know of my kids when they leave my classroom and my hallways. I don't always know where they land, who they fall in love with, or which of their dreams come true. I know them only in this middle stage -- this becoming of who they will be. It's hard to not know sometimes. I'm never good with not-knowing. Yet as I watched them walk away, I did know something for sure. I knew that what they had told me was true but incomplete. His heart may have stopped but it had most certainly not given out. Watches give out. Televisions give out. Seams give out. A heart could never.

Especially since there are three strong girls who are carrying it on. Just like he knew they would. What a legacy he has left this world.

Love one another. Tell them often and tell them loudly. Because that's the only reason any of us are here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I am a keeper of quotes. 

I am a firm believer that if someone has already said it better than you, then let them say it.

I am a reader and a listener and an observer. I collect words like others collect pieces of delicate crystal or rare stamps or shards of sea glass, smoothed and shaped by the pounding of thousands of waves.

Because words, wise words, are all of those things -- delicate, precious, rare, hidden.

I collect from all paths in life -- friends, movies, politicians, books -- but books are, by far, my favorite. I visit them time and time again, culling from them a guidebook to my own peace. 

My favorite book contains many of my favorite quotes, but this one is perhaps the one closest to my heart these days. When I see the world, I am often dismayed at its state. I do not understand the ways in which we hate, both big and small. I look to my own world, both personal and professional, and I find so many reasons to quit. But I can't because "you rarely win but sometimes you do".  
I want to lead a life of courage. To stand up when it is easier to step back. To fight when it's easier to give in. To struggle, to live, to ask for help, to give my heart, to share my soul -- even those jagged pieces, smoothed and shaped by the pounding seas.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bullet Points

  • 5:00 AM -- alarm clock goes off for first time. 
  • 5:09 AM -- repeat
  • 5:18 AM -- repeat
  • 5:27 AM -- repeat 
  • 5:36 AM -- repeat
  • 5:45 AM --Wake up
  • 5:46 AM -- begin calculations of how much longer I can sleep if I don't wash my hair. Or put on makeup. Or if I eat a handful of saltine crumbs instead of cooking breakfast. 
  • 5:47 AM -- reset alarm for 6:18 AM.
  • 5:48-6:15 AM -- try to go back to sleep
  • 6:16 AM -- fall asleep
  • 6:18 AM -- hear alarm
  • 6:18-7:30 -- various activities to make me presentable for society
  • 7:30-8:30 -- work in classroom and wait for students who promised to show up for tutoring
  • 8:30-8:45 -- cuss those little liars in my head
  • 8:45-9:45 -- 1st period: talk a kid off the emotional ledge
  • 9:42-9:45 -- show kids their grades/listen to whining about their grades/feign surprise at their surprise of their terrible grades
  • 9:48-10:28 -- 2nd period: 4 behavior conferences, one office referral, and 6 minutes to talk yesterday's star kid off the emotional ledge because someone stole his paper. SOMEONE STOLE HIS PAPER, BY GOD.
  • 10:28-10:36 -- actual teaching in 2nd period
  • 10:39-11:10 -- Advisory:Please read. For the love of all that is good and holy in the world, please read. 
  • 11:13-11:55 -- PLC
  • 12:00-12:15 -- Literally run into a student in the hall. I see he is in the midst of an angry cry. Reveals he's being bullied. Walk him to the counselor. Talk him through the details. Fill out an incident report. Send an email about situation. 
  • 12:15-12:30 -- lunch
  • 12:33-1:22 -- grade papers, do battle with copy machine
  • 1:25-2:15 -- 6th period: solve tech problems on Google classroom help edit 21 papers on Google docs.  Make up songs to sing aloud about my sweet, but whiny, children. "Life is so hard..." No emotional ledges. Score. 
  • 2:18-3:03 -- 7th Period: repeat 6th period, but with fewer kids. Go into someone's Google doc and make changes as they type to freak him out. Watch him freak out. 
  • 3:06-3:55 -- treasure my 8th period. Except one. 
  • 3:56-5:00 -- tutor
  • 5:15-6:00 -- traffic
  • 6:00-7:10 -- dinner with good friends
  • 7:30-9:15 -- sit in a beautiful performance hall, watching one of my favorite writers test out new stories for an upcoming book. Laugh until I cry. Be thankful for good storytelling, even about fatty tumors and snapping turtles. Realize I'll never be as great of a storyteller as David Sedaris. Make peace with my shortcomings. 
  • 9:30 -- head home
  • 10:00 -- scoop litter boxes
  • 10:01 -- reevaluate life choices

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Breakfast Lesson

My #Write30 topic of the day is to list my 3 pet peeves. There are many, but here are the first three I can think of: people who smack their gum, the tearing out of spiral paper, and people who don't follow rules and create more work for me.

But I'm feeling kind of sassy, and I'm going to break the rules and not write about today's topic. And it DOES actually create more work for me because all the way to work this morning, I thought about all the ways people piss me off and all the ways I plot my revenge.

See, each Wednesday, I roll into school for 45 minutes of duty time. Some stations are easy; some are hard. But not many of them try my patience as much as supervising the breakfast tables, and that's where I've been the last 5 weeks. Kids are messy. They don't clean up well after themselves. And they are desperate to stick together, so the thought of having to leave one another for the 7.2 minutes it takes to eat your bacon biscuit and chocolate milk seems sort of like this:

Kids are dramatic.

We also only open up 2.5 tables for breakfast so that messes are more confined and easier to monitor. But because of the pack mentality and the general slowness/obstinacy of junior high kids in general, we get kids nursing their carton of apple juice as if it's the last drop of water on Earth.

They're also going to try to sit wherever they want because this is what kids do. If I taped a $50 bill to the table and Sharpie-markered a personal invitation to sit down in that spot, they'd be all, "Yeah. No thanks" and move on to whatever spot an adult asked them not to sit in.

So, needless to say, cafeteria duty was topping the list of pet peeves this fine morning.

And then, 8:20 happened.

This would be about the time that one of my kids sat down with his older brother and friends who are normally quite the handful. I've worried about my student who's always somewhere between a hug and a strangle for me anyway. He wants to be on the right path, but he has these boys in his ear always, setting some not-so-great examples for him.

So he plops down in the big middle of the table, knowing the rule that I fill up one side of the table and then the other side, not sitting all willy-nilly, leaving tiny holes too intimidating to join.

So I asked him to move.

So he gave me the excuse that an administrator said it was okay.

So I told him I didn't care. These tables are my job on Wednesday, and this was not her decision.

So they wanted to call me out and argue that because she was my boss, my opinion did not matter.

So I weighed the situation. I could dig in and prove a point and possibly make my morning worse. Or I could let it go, pick a different battle, and get out with my soul still slightly unscathed.

I looked at these 8th graders sneer and remind me again that I wasn't "really in charge" and that they'd do as they pleased. And in that instant, I gave up. I decided that I didn't care. That I wouldn't teach them any lesson over a bacon biscuit because they don't care either. I know it and they know that I know it. I took a deep breath and readied myself to walk away.

And that's when my kid stood up. He picked up his plate and walked to the other side where I had asked him to go. And as he did, he told his brother and his friends, "Don't argue with my teacher. I'm going Ms. Naz."

I eked out a "thank you" and a smile, but I felt terrible as I heard them start in on him for being a "school boy", telling him he didn't have to do what I said, encouraging him to go back. To "show" me.

And that's when my kid stood up again -- for me and for him. "That's my favorite teacher. I'm not arguing with her and neither are you."

I didn't know what to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell, "SUCK ON THAT, YOU LITTLE BULLIES!" I wanted to hug him until his guts collapsed and his eyes popped out. But I didn't because his street cred was hanging on by a thread at this point and any of that would've ruined him.

So instead, later in the day, I saw him walking down the hall. I called him over and told him that I appreciated what he had done. How he had followed the rules when it would've been easier not to. How he stood up for me by showing me respect. But most importantly, I told him, "You stood up for yourself when everyone tried to make you feel wrong for trying to do right. For trying to be good. And you are good."

And here is where my voice cracked and the tears welled -- "THAT is why teachers teach. To see you stand up for yourself and know you're worth the effort it takes to fight the crowd." And there is where a few of those tears leaked out. And there is where I didn't care. Not one bit. Not ever. Not at all.

And that's when he said, "Oh, Ms. Naz," and hugged me so hard, I thought my own guts would collapse and my eyes would pop out. And there's when he moved all the way to hug... just as far away from a strangle as one can possibly get.

Did I teach any big lessons over bacon and biscuits this morning? Nope. I sure didn't.

Because someone else did it better than I ever could.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What I Didn't Expect

There is a spot on my teacher evaluation form where my administrator always asks "Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?"

I absolutely hate that question. It is a loaded question.

Because, see, there's this idea in schools... and in America, generally... that if you're not headed somewhere different then you're stuck. I just don't ascribe to that philosophy. So when I am asked that question, I typically hem-haw around or throw out some teacher-talk to make the question go away.

(You know what teacher-talk is. It's like mom-talk, where moms talk all around the topic but never really answer your question. But you're not sure if she answered your question because your mind wandered away, and now you can't admit that you weren't listening because you'd get in big trouble. Teacher-talk is the same but with more educational jargon.)

But what I really want to say is this: I'm not done here yet. I don't need to move on up because I'm not finished here. I have more to learn. Just when I think I've got the hang of it, my kids show me otherwise. Kids are good at things like "showing you otherwise".

Today, my school loaded up 650 of our kids and staff, loaded 20 buses, and drove 15 miles to downtown Fort Worth and a visit to Bass Hall. Admittedly, I doubted this trip at first. It was too many kids having to be still and quiet for too long while watching a play they wouldn't understand (Macbeth). But we were going, so we did our best to prepare our kids. We talked about audience etiquette and background of the play and what we were NOT going to do.

What I didn't prepare them for -- what I didn't prepare myself for -- was the moment we stepped off the bus, and they were transfixed, staring up into the clouds, at buildings taller than most had ever seen in person. We were 15 miles away, but we might as well have been in New York City. Our lovely docent tried to hustle us in, but I had to ask her to slow down. "There's a lot to take in." She smiled, understanding. I smiled back, grateful for her understanding.

I had told my crew that this was a fancy place, and we would be fancy accordingly. We are a uniform school, so I told them that if they went for an evening performance, they'd need to dress up a bit. Yet for a matinee with 700 other students, perhaps just wearing your khakis without the mustard stain would do.

What I didn't expect was to walk up to school and see a boy -- an especially challenging boy -- in a tuxedo shirt and black bow tie. Or one of my girls in a flouncy black skirt and heels.  Or boys who tucked in their shirts for, possibly, the first time in history.  Fancy is as fancy dresses.

I had told them that we were representing our schools and our families and ourselves and that others would be watching. Some might even be waiting for us to make a mistake because of their own misconceptions of who we are.

What I didn't expect was a calm morning with little argument or discussion of where to be or what to do. My kids were quiet, and they are never quiet. I could tell they were nervous. I could tell they were ready.

I had asked them to have an open mind about Shakespeare. I had advised them to watch the action and faces for clues to break down such difficult language.

What I didn't expect were kids who not only understood but who even laughed and gasped and tensed at all the right places. What I didn't expect was to watch a student (who was just in my room yesterday for after-school detention) sit three rows up and lean forward intently, taking in each word, each strike of the sword, each expression.

I had asked them to enjoy today for the experience even if they did not or could not enjoy the play itself.

What I didn't expect was to sit next to a favorite student of mine -- a student who has had a difficult adjustment to junior high -- and watch him sit, unblinking, enraptured by the sights and sounds of the actors, lighting, and scene. What I didn't expect was for him to tell me how he wanted his mom to come so she could see all of this too.

I asked my kids to be gracious and thoughtful to those who were working to give this experience to us. What I didn't expect was for my kids to thank the docents and the bus driver without prompting.

I had hoped others would see us as I see my kids -- as kids -- and not as "Nichols" and what those misconceptions that often brings.

What I didn't expect? To overhear another bus driver say, over the radio, "Now these Nichols students have been wonderful. They are a great group of kids."

What I didn't expect? How things like that never fail to make me cry no matter how many times someone might say it.

So where will I be in 7 years? Hopefully still here. Because I've got more things to learn.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Gotta Get That Phone

One day in class, my students were talking about how we come up with inspiration to write. This is the number one hurdle for my students -- many of which have been traditional low-achievers, and their favorite weapon is avoidance.

Their fear of failure typically prevents the joy and challenge of beginning.

Most of them hate writing from a prompt (I know, right, Shawn?), so we talked about how to pull a word from the prompt and let that take you elsewhere. I suggested journaling or writing down your day, mining for the moments that made them feel.  I offered pictures and art and music as jumping-off places.

Finally, one student asked me where and when I do my best writing and thinking. And my answer was simple: in the car.  When I go  home each day, I often find myself sitting in traffic. And while I sit, I talk.  "I turn on the recorder on my phone and just talk," I said.

"Like to yourself?"

"Yes, to myself. And then often I listen back at another time and sort through whatever it was I was thinking about."

"What do you talk about? "

"Everything. What I'm feeling. What the people in the next car are doing. Where they might be going. How my day at work went. You know... just stuff."

Suddenly, one of my most challenging, but generally good-hearted, boys piped up. "You ever talk about US?"

"All the time," I replied coolly. And then I smiled.

I've never seen his eyes get so big, but I had to laugh as he mumbled, to his neighbor, "Yo, you KNOW I gotta get that phone."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Love Language

Unless you just met me 5 minutes ago, you know that my friends are the world to me. They know everything about me, and I know everything about them. And such familiarity creates unexpected things sometimes. Like, basically, a list of words and phrases that are such long-running inside jokes that they've become a shorthand language designed for maximum sarcasm/laughter.

They never fail to make me A) understand instantly or 2) laugh. Although sometimes they can still make me angry/embarrassed (i.e. "Bossier City"). Others hit that "All of the Above" target.

If you've been here long enough, you've been taught about the "chimp grin". It's a classic.

And there are others, some of which I cannot define either because they're embarrassing or I've forgotten their origin. Maybe both.

But here's a very short glossary of my tribe. There are basically only a few categories.

Words/Phrases you want to avoid hearing:

Super -- adj. A word used to imply that I detest what you're doing/asking me to do and I'll do it, but I'm probably thinking violent thoughts about you the whole time. Often accompanied by a deep sigh and an eyeroll. The amount of anger can be easily determined by the length of the word when pronounced. Language of origin: Sarcasm.

I'm just sayin' -- adj. 1) A phrase usually uttered after a statement implying "you're a dumbass". 2) A phrase synonymous with "I told you so", but without the annoying dance. Language or origin: Old Irritation.

You just have no idea -- adj. A statement of warning: You don't want this. Whatever I've endured, you don't want any part of it because now I'm pissed. Language of Origin: Heather.

Well, what had happened was... -- int. An often-used term by my students in school but first initiated by an exceptionally nasally little girl. Therefore, when used properly for maximum laugh, one must close off one's nose and drop all the word endings. "Wha ha happen wassss..." Language of Origin: Lying. See also: Nichols Junior High.

office time -- n. A signal that you need to poop. Language of origin: Travis Wheeler, a man with no concern for co-worker's nasal passages. See also: turlet.

#3's -- n. I'll let you figure this one out. See also: shooting #3's, Doritos (now with Olestra) Language of Origin: unknown

sacred duty -- n. brutal honesty guised as an unchangeable personality trait. Language of Origin: LJ, Dr. Phil

A perfume a girl should never wear -- adj. Girrrrl, you sad. Get yourself together. See also: desperation. Language of Origin: I'd rather not say.

DeanaRant -- n. A word used to embody a long, uninterrupted rant from Deana about something that has really been bothering her for a long, long time and has gone unspoken until some sort of alcohol has been introduced. See also: verbal diarrhea.  Language of Origin: Drunken Outrage

Words/Phrases to signal an awkward moment:

Well, you just never know... -- interjection. An often used phrase in order to signal that the person you're speaking to has no idea how badly you want out of this conversation, but you know that you will not be spared. Language of origin: Porchese.

Well, there's... and there's... -- n. An often failed strategy which indicates that you know there are choices, but you cannot, for the life of you, remember/think of a single one. Best used with a serious, but confused, look upon your face.  Language of origin: Caribbean

Wanger. -- 1) n. A penis. See also: penutis (pen-OOH-tis)

WANGER! 2) int. An unexpected appearance of a penis, usually negative. Usually accompanied by a shocked/disgusted gasp and this face:
Language of Origin: Harvey Keitel's wanger in The Piano.

My, aren't the decorations festive! -- int. Code for: "We've simply got to get out of here." Language of Origin: Kentucky

Cedarfied -- adj. You're drunk and fell down into a cedar bush, or anywhere really. Language of origin: Ancient Porchese.

I had -- maybe -- six Oreos -- n. A denial of personal responsibility for where any food item might have gone. Language of Origin: You Know Who You Are

Deep Woods Off -- n. Something that can, but should not be, used as an air freshener in a time of emergency. Language of Origin: Shame

Is that a tune in your head? -- int. 1) A way to state outright imply that, perhaps, you're singing off key. 2) a quick way to get me to stop my unconscious, and possibly annoying, humming. Language of Origin: Sacred Duty

Mark the time -- int. The signalling that an awkward moment has arrived, and its supreme awkwardness has been noted. Usually accompanied by an eyebrow raise and a glance at your wrist (whether you are wearing a watch or not). Language of origin: Camp Carter

Chimp Grin -- n. The unattractive face you make when awkward meets excitement. Language of Origin: Johnston Girls

Words/Phrases that make us smile:

Porchtime -- n. A place to do and say all the things that are only for us and those we know best. See also: Beer Blind, Book Club, Rooftime, JoeT's. Language of origin: Love.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Freaking Halloween

Tonight's #Write30 topic is: "Your current relationship status; if single, discuss that too."

Terrible half of Duke football + no trick-or-treaters + cheap, cheap wine = misery by candlelight's complicated.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Taste of Despair

There are certain ways I know that I'm getting older. The songs I loved in high school now play on the "classic rock" radio station. I forecast rain by the ache in my right hip. And random, insanely weird hairs pop up overnight on my face.

Seriously, nobody ever tells you that last one, girls. But it does. So when it happens to you, call me. You are not alone.

But probably the saddest thing about getting older is my intolerance of things I used to love. Chief among them? Cereal.

My family loved cereal. Loved it. No matter how many cans of generic brand green beans we had, the one luxury name-brand item we were never without was cereal. My dad would get a giant mixing bowl, fill it with a combination of Sugar Crisp and Frosted Flakes, dump a quart of milk and a chopped banana, and go to town. My mom took her Sugar Crisp straight. My brother: a Honeycomb man. And I... well, I was ride or die for Toucan Sam.

I loved Fruit Loops. I'd let them sit in my bowl just long enough to soften and not slice open the roof of your mouth but not so long to lose all texture in a mushy glop. The sugar shards would slide off the loops into your milk, dissolving slowly and giving it a glistening skin. And while each spoonful of loops was a delight, we all know it was the milk we were after. You'd hold the bowl to your lips and tip it back, guzzling the sweet, sweet ambrosia. I felt powerful and strong. (I assume that the children who could down all their milk in one long pull were the same kids who would later excel at things like keg stands and tequila shots.) You could go all morning off the energy from just a couple of spoonfuls of leftover Fruit Loop milk. In fact, scientists should probably start thinking about it as a fuel alternative.

I dabbled in other cereals occasionally -- Apple Jacks, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, of course -- but there was no real commitment there. When I went away to college, a good 3/4 of my meal allowance was Fruit Loops. Breakfast, lunch, dinner... it did not matter. Avoiding the judge-y gaze of the cafeteria ladies, my suite mates and I would fill Ziploc baggies full of them to smuggle out to class. Should we ever have lost our way from a drunken frat party, chances are we could've found a trail of red, yellow, and orange loops to guide us home again.

I don't know the exact time I stopped eating Fruit Loops. One day, I did, and the next day, I didn't. Like so many of our important choices in life, the whys and hows go unnoticed, unknown. But whatever day it was is the day I guess I grew up.

"Once you're grown up, you can never come back." -- Peter Pan

A few years ago, while working at camp, we changed food distributors. Lo and behold, a mountain of single serving, sugar soaked wonder rained down upon our kids. Being the boring grown-up that I was, I'd grab my Total Raisin Bran, or if I was feeling especially spry -- some Honey Nut Cheerios, to settle in for breakfast. And then one day, I saw a bowl of Fruit Loops, sitting on the cereal bar, lonely and left behind. Suddenly every neuron in my brain was firing with latent childhood thrills.

I pulled back its single-serving lid to gaze upon its wonder.  And what did I find? Purple. Blue. Green.


No matter. I poured my soy milk and began to wait in the anticipation of joy that only reclamation of youth can bring.

I grabbed my spoon. I dug in. I lifted the first spoonful to my mouth and tasted -- and I tasted -- and I tasted... what was this? This sameness?! Where were the vibrant tastes of my  innocence? This cloying sweetness coating my lips, making me feel like I'd just rubbed a powdered sugar-Vaseline compound across my teeth? I couldn't even finish the bowl. It was too painful.

I had tasted despair.

And it tasted exactly like adulthood,

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Every other Thursday night, I visit my girls. We find a restaurant in our beautiful city that none of us have visited. We settle at the table. We eat. We talk. We drink.  And we laugh. My God, we laugh.

Thursdays are my favorite days. I feel most alive, most myself, on Thursdays.

Because on Thursdays, I come home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Church of Conroy

When I fall into love with a book, I fall all the way. Quick. Deep. Immediate. Books are the only place where I do not use caution. The only time I cannonball instead of tiptoe.

On the other hand, I feel just the same when I find a book that does not wow me. I'm not a believer in "sticking it out" when I open a book and lose interest. Life is too short to trudge through a book you do not love.

I am a confirmed believer in the Church of Pat Conroy. I worship at the altar of his salt-soaked images and Southern charms. He is a mystic, a natural wonder, a sinner, a saint. He is a man who has been broken, and it is within his books that he searches for his cure. Each sentence is a blood-letting -- obscene and beautiful and raw. Each ending -- a prayer for his truth to be done.

My first visit with Conroy was The Prince of Tides. Although I've read it now at least a dozen times, there are moments I cannot help but hold my breath. Moments I cannot walk through all at once. Moments I cannot look away.

And while I loved this effort, it is his book, Beach Music, that I find myself carrying through my life. It is elegant and haunting in its unfolding. It is a love letter to forgiveness, both that which try to give to others and that which we withhold from ourselves. It's been a few years since I've read it, partly because I give each of my copies away before I can finish. 

I'm a firm believer in the idea that a writer writes what he knows, and Pat Conroy is no different. his personal demons appear in all of his stories. After studying his life and reading some of his interviews, this much is clear. Pain is the ink within his pen, and it has yet to run out. But there have been moments that it feels as it might.

“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”  -- Pat Conroy, Beach Music

Before the release of his last novel, South of Broad, I had read an entry whereupon Conroy talked often of both his failing health and his desire to write a few more novels. It was of little surprise that what came next was the only book of his that I did not love. In fact, I quit it on several occasions. It felt desperate in its connections. His villains more hateful. His heroes to heroic. It felt rushed and hollow. It was as if every terrible thing that could ever happen could be wished away by magic, and this is the antithesis of everything presented before.  It was a jumble of knots and crossed paths forced into a straight line, and straight lines simply will not do.

“No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.” 

I did eventually finish South of Broad, and I have read it once more since. But the same copy I rushed out to buy on its publication date is the same that still sits upon my shelf. 

The only member of its church who has never ventured out of its own pew.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I hate needles. I'm a big ol' wuss when it comes to the idea of them. It's not so much the pain although I, admittedly, am a pretty big wimp about that too.

Actually, it makes me a little nauseated to think of a needle piercing my skin. There will be blood. There will be pain. Then there will be vomit. And if there's anything I like even less than needles, it might be vomiting.

So it should be pretty obvious that my body is tattoo-free. Because tattoos = needles which = vomit.

I feel sick just talking about it.

But the weird thing is that I'm completely enthralled by those tattoo shows like Inkmaster and Miami Ink. It might be similar to the fact that I constantly watch the Food Network even though I don't cook or that I obsess about Project Runway although my most favorite outfit is pajama pants and a t-shirt. I totally dig people who have talents that are worlds away from my own.

I'm also fascinated by other people's tattoos. Maybe it's just good artwork that attracts my attention, but it's probably more their story. Tattoos, like scars, always come with a pretty good story. I love to investigate other people's stories, unearthing who they are, piece by piece.

And how do you choose? Knowing that this will be on your body forever. That it will change and shift -- in both form and meaning -- as your life changes. How do you stay in love with something like that?  What happens when you don't? You can have it removed, but is it ever really gone?

Some people don't care. The experience is the experience, and whether it's good or bad, they are fine.

I am not these people.

Some people hem and haw and change their minds a million times, but in the end, they understand that if they don't like it, they can transform it.

I am not these people.

Still others wander through a store, picking things up, putting them in their cart, and deciding that maybe you don't really need it after all. Then they wander away only to return, pick it back up, and wander around some more. Rinse. Repeat.

These are my people.

Even if I could get drunk enough muster the courage to get into the chair and risk vomiting on a total stranger, I don't know that I could ever choose a design.

I window shop though. I click on a picture. I stare for a while, turning it over and over in my mind, wondering if could go through with it, only to put it back down and wander some more.

But these are a few I pick up often. They are, of course, all book-inspired because I think there's something beautiful about loving a line so much that you carry it with you always. And there's poetry in taking the ink from a page and printing it upon your skin. Mainly, though, it's because I'm a nerd.

But I'd be a nerd with a cool-ass tattoo. And maybe a little vomit on my shirt.

simple but powerful

From The Tempest 

<b>Tattoo</b> Tuesday - <b>John</b> <b>Green</b>
"If people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane."
One of my favorite descriptions ever.

<b>tattoo</b> <b>to kill a mockingbird</b> <b>to kill a mockingbird</b> <b>tattoo</b> <b>to kill</b> a ...
And, of course, a little Atticus Finch

Monday, October 26, 2015

It Might Still Be a Little Tiger Beat-ish.

I am fascinated by human behavior. There's nothing I love to do more than just watch people and try to decide who they are by how they behave. And I'm not talking "hang out at an airport and make random stories about strangers" (although that's fun, too). I'm talking about whatever you do throughout the day, whatever you say, I'm storing it away in my brain in a little file marked, "YOU". Actually, my brain files are marked with your names, but the file folders are all bent and piled up randomly and the names on the tags have probably been marked through a couple of times because sometimes people don't get to stay in my brain, but I believe in recycling.

Yes, I am watching. Yes, I am judging and questioning and filing for future connections. I'm like the NSA but less secretive about it. Or more secretive. Or whatever. (Hi, NSA! *waves gratuitously*)

Anyway, I watch because you're fascinating.

So to choose just one person as the person I'm fascinated by is dang near impossible. There are many beautiful and kind people in my own everyday life I could write about (and probably already have on here). There are a few celebrities that I adore, but I don't really have any personal connection with them. And that feels just a little to Tiger Beat for my taste.

So maybe there's someone somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Someone famous enough to give me a little thrill when she retweeted me on Twitter but still seems like someone who's not so uppity that we couldn't split a Reese's and hang out at an airport watching weirdos and making up stories.

I've been a fan of Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) for a long, long time. I cannot remember where I first found her writing, but whomever it was that pointed me to her should probably get several dollars a month from me. A "Thank You for Being Awesome" fee, if you will.

There are several things about Jenny that I love, but the fact that she and I barely missed each other at a tiny little state school in Central Texas always makes me feel like we could've been actual, real-life friends. Granted, I would've had to have been brave enough to talk to strangers first, but maybe it could have happened. If we were in the right class or had I run over her foot with my car.

I love that she swears unapologetically because swear words and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are my two most favorite vices. I love that she gives all of her animals, both real and taxidermied, clever and completely appropriate names. (I'm a big Hunter S. Thomcat fan.)

She's delightfully odd with a penchant for dead animals in costume. Even creepy-as-shit dead animals. I love that she hails from a delightfully odd family who adore her in all forms.

Jenny is kind and thoughtful, even when it's only by accident. And she spreads that kindness somehow with just a few words and the feeling that it's just the right thing to do because someone needs to do it.

She takes on challenges even when she's unsure. She finds a way even when she has to build it herself. Even when that challenge is just getting Wil Wheaton to send her a picture of himself collating paper.

And now they're FRIENDS, by God.

She fights back with 15 foot tall metal chickens. Who does that? Badasses. Badasses fight the good fight with chickens named Beyonce.

But more than anything, Jenny fights, period. She fights for the voiceless. She fights for those that cannot get out of bed. She fights for those who would rather hide under their desk than stand on stage. She fights for anyone who is coming apart at the seams. And then she rallies the troops to help sew them back together.

She fights for them because she is one of them. And she's not ashamed of it.

Because the most fascinating thing about Jenny Lawson is that she is just Jenny-fucking-Lawson. Warts and all. I consider myself to be honest, but, in truth, most of my life, I've been what I've now deemed, "Dinner Party Honest".  You know, just honest enough to be respected, but not so honest that people aren't "WTF?" when you sit next to them at a dinner party. I'm still not that honest, but I'm on the road.

I'm a people-pleaser at the deepest core of myself, and what pleases others most of all is for you to be happy -- to be good -- to be even-keeled. So, for most of my life, I tried to be happy and good and even-keeled, even when I felt like I was cartwheeling down the side of a mountain and then hauling myself back up by my fingernails.

Reading Jenny's work told me a couple of things: A) I wasn't alone and 2) There can be joy and laughter in even the most absurdly awful moments. And it's okay -- more than okay -- to grab that joy by the throat and squeeze the Hell out of it. Give it a Copernicus-level strangle.

But more than anything, it told me that being whole isn't about hiding your cracks from others; it's about letting them show and treasuring those who helped pick up the pieces. Because none of us pick those pieces by ourselves. None of us. Nor should we.

In the time that I've followed Jenny's blog, she's raised thousands of dollars, bought dozens of weird-ass but incredible dead animals, written two best sellers, and empowered hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world.

And she retweeted me once (which is really just like a modern-day grown-up version of taping a Tiger Beat photo to your wall, but I don't give one damn. Tiger Beat Twitter for everyone.)

And it made me furiously happy.

(I've linked all of these within the post above, but I know how lazy some of y'all are about clicking on the link. So I made it easy on you. Enjoy. And if you don't, you're moving to the bottom of my brain files. Maybe.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Deana Doesn't Live Here (And Probably Won't Ever)

All my life, I've been a Texan. I was born in the Panhandle. I spent two years in college in Central Texas. For the past 16 years, I've been here in North Texas.

Texas is big. I could move a dozen more times and still never leave. But I won't because moving's a hassle that I can only manage every decade or so.

As established in my last post, I haven't been all that many places. So the thought of living somewhere I've never visited leaves open, literally, a world of possibility. Therefore, in no particular order, I present the places I think I might live if I ever got up the energy to buy a lottery ticket and then win (so I wouldn't have to worry about getting a job or setting up a new bank account).

1. Italy

Pros: Pasta, vineyards, history
Cons: I don't speak Italian, people seem very loud and dramatic, historic grime, I'm not so church-y.

2. Chicago

Pros: Getting day drunk at Wrigley Field all summer
Cons: Crime, cold weather, all that neon green relish on the hot dogs

3. A tiny village in Ireland, or on a farm, or near a castle

Pros: Pubs, green space everywhere, no language barrier, Irish whiskey
Cons: Potholes, corned beef and cabbage, incessant Irish music, Guinness beer

4. Cape Cod

Pros: The ocean, small town feeling, I like drinking Cape Cods
Cons: I don't know anything about Cape Cod really, but it seems like it would smell very fishy.

5. Seattle

Pros: Creativity, all types of geography, liberal and intellectual atmosphere, Eddie Vedder
Cons: Seasonal Affective Disorder like whoa. Also: hipsters.

6. Charleston, SC

Pros: Food, literature,  all the sweet tea you can swim around in, the sea, finally took that damn flag down.
Cons: It seems... moist. Like all the time.

On second thought, I think I'll just stick to the 817 for a while longer.

* Also, since I've never actually been to any of these places, all of my thoughts about them are what I've seen on television, movies, and the internet. Or maybe, once, I read it in a book.  So forgive me if my dumbass American is showing.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ten Things You Probably Maybe Know About Me. Or Not.

Tonight's #Write30 topic is "Ten Interesting Things About Me". I don't like that topic at all, but as Duke football completely drained all of my energy and ability to form deep thought, I'm going to stick with it.

1. I don't think I'm all that interesting. People tell me that I'm interesting, but I know a great many interesting people, and I'm not like them. So this list feels weird but whatever.

2. I can pinch you with my toes. Seriously, I have monkey-toes. If I were to lose my arms, I think I'd be okay. I don't think I'd be very inspiring as a disabled person, but I could probably still drive and stuff.

3. I have two brothers named "Jimmy". This is not news to anyone who has known me for a while, but other people do find it interesting. And, no, it was not by choice.

4. I've never traveled outside the United States. I've also never been anywhere east of the Mississippi River. I am a traveler who was born to two non-traveling parents, but I'm starting to get the hang of it.

5. I don't like coffee flavor of any kind. I don't drink coffee or eat coffee candy or ice cream. I've never ordered anything more than a hot chocolate at Starbucks. The only time I ever drank a full cup of coffee was during an all-night drive home, and I don't think I blinked for 334 miles.

6. I also don't really like beer. Or Asian food. Both really upset my stomach, and although I've tried a million different kinds, the result is always the same -- typically me, on the bathroom floor, in tears.

7. I've never seen Star Wars or The Godfather all the way through. I don't tell people because I fear their shameful stares and mockery.

8. I was once terrorized by the Horned Frog mascot from TCU at a Texas Tech game in Lubbock. He followed me from the top of Jones Stadium all the way to my seat. I was standing up in the aisle, waiting to go to my seat, and he slapped me on the butt. I was 17 at the time, and everyone around me laughed, so I did too. If I saw that mascot come near me now, I'd probably preemptively knee him in the crotch just for good measure.

9. I have a deep phobia about clowns and marionette puppets and dumpsters. I have recurring nightmares about finding a dead body in a dumpster. I'm just there, trying to throw away my trash, and then, BOOM, dead body. Probably too many crime shows in my brain. Clowns and marionettes, though, are just regular old, run-of-the-mill creepy.

10. I wanted to be an optometrist when I was a kid. Then I realized how not great I was at math and science and changed my mind. But I still really geek out at my eye exams. Like, I LOVE going to get my eyes checked.

Friday, October 23, 2015

There Is Goodness Here

I am a firm believer in the heart. It has led me my whole life, and I am rarely failed by it. I don't care about your bank account or your home or your career. My eyes deceive me; they are too easily fooled. If you show me your heart, however, my heart will know you.

And this is what it knows: there is goodness here.

A few weeks ago, a young man from my hometown was critically injured in a high school football game. Although I don't know him, I know his family. I know my town. I know its heart. I know when it's broken.

I know when it's healing. And I know when it doesn't heal on its own. From nearly every opponent on its schedule, and from every corner of my Panhandle home, there has been love heaped upon their hearts.

My heart began here. My heart still lingers here. There is goodness here.

Sixteen years ago, I walked into my school. I met my children and my friends. My heart knew that I had come home again. There were days that my eyes deceived me. There were days my ears only heard doubt. But my heart could not be fooled.

I heard what people said about us.

I knew what people thought of us.

I felt what could become of us.

And my children and my friends, they showed me their hearts. And my heart could not be fooled.

Tonight, I watched as those children stood in honor of our dear Maria, who makes our building shine. They had not known who they were giving for -- only that it was needed to give -- and so they gave what they could, even when it meant less for themselves.

There is goodness here.

I watched as my friends handed her a check that may not solve her problems but might ease her soul even if for only a moment. And I felt her arms around me as she walked down the line of faculty members giving bigger and better hugs than any of us are strong enough to give. Monday she will show up again, the same as she has every day since before her diagnosis as well as after, ready to make our building shine.

There is goodness here.

There is goodness where I began. There is goodness where I now am.

My heart sees your heart, and my heart cannot be fooled.

Because there is goodness here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Time moves in circles and swirls, overlapping and entwining within its own coils.  A ribbon upon the breeze or a snake eating its own tail, time and memories can be beautiful and dreamy or  fearful and poised to strike without warning.

I don't know what my first memory is. How do you know the beginning has begun when you are the main character in the story? How can you pick out a moment -- one moment -- and call it first? Some of the first things I remember is the heat of the vinyl seats on my feet in my mother's T-bird and the sound of her voice singing along with the radio, windows down,  my hair flying in the breeze.  But then there are those firsts that I run far from -- boogeymen, real or imagined? Dark corners and bright smiles, one as dangerous as the next.  I'm too old for that ride in the T-bird to be first. I'm too small  for the monsters in my closet. Their order has no bearing or landmark, and my memories free fall through my mind.

Memories are a tricky thing. They unpack themselves slowly, strangely, never fitting back into the bag quite as they should. They twist and stretch and shrink to the shape of the cracks in your heart, leaving you patched but not perfect. Leaving you whole but not full.

First memories flow through every crevice, every cranny, carving and smoothing stone, cutting new paths, new experiences, new life.  They do not stop for such a strange and silly thing like order.

The first time I said goodbye or hello. The first time I saw your face or laughed with you until we cried. The first time I passed a complete stranger wearing my mother's perfume, breaking me apart with longing to be a child again.  The first time I felt your hand brush across mine . First dances, first kisses, first love, first steps, first cries into the world. These are the first memories I collect. The ones I hide away, talismans  to trade with the snake charmer called Time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Social Media is Ruining Us All

Any time something seems to go wrong in the world, you will inevitably hear the rallying cry of "SOCIAL MEDIA IS RUINING US ALL!"

Short attention spans? Social Media.

Kid can't spell? Social media.

No one talks face to face anymore? Social media.

Your boyfriend's talking to his high school prom date and now they might fall in love and run away and get married leaving you all alone to wither and die and have your face chewed off by your housecat? 

Yep. Social media.

There are lots of things wrong with the world, and most of them, I contend, are not the fault of social media. Or at least not totally.

Kids (and adults) don't pay attention in general. Because we're all jackasses who are super-concerned with ourselves. It's the human condition; not Facebook.

Kids can't spell? Take a look at some social media. I took weekly spelling tests with a lot of you fools out there, and some of your posts look like you threw a bunch of scrabble tiles in a Yahtzee cup and just let it fly.

No one talks face-to-face? Maybe you're not that interesting. Just kidding. You're totally interesting. Please don't leave me.

And maybe your boyfriend's just a jerk and you deserve better. And maybe your cat will chew your face off anytime because you're just so dang delicious.

Me? I'm a fan of social media. As an introvert living in an extrovert's world, I adore Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Social media has helped me connect with people all over the world. It gives me a place to fanatically follow my favorite sports teams (sometimes LITERALLY putting me on the road to follow them -- thanks, Shawn). Social media helps me find/comment on/snark about television shows I'm watching. It gives me access and recommendations of painfully exquisite writing that blows my mind and inspires me daily. It lets me reconnect with people who changed my life, like my 4th grade teacher (Hi, Mrs. Gooch! *waves frantically*) or my high school typing teacher (look what I can do, Coach Smith!) and keep up with friends I can't see daily. Social media has helped me create dozens of new friends and colleagues that I would never, ever have met otherwise. And many times, those people can relate to me in ways that just aren't always so relatable over a plate of cheese enchiladas where I have to look you in the eye.

How could anyone hate such a thing?

But we do. Because we're Americans and that's what we do. We use something on and on and on to the point where it makes us sick to even look at it but conveniently catches the blame for all of our inadequacies.

Yay, America.

Also, the point of tonight's topic (on the #Write30 Challenge) is to talk about the "Five Worst Things About Social Media", and I'm a rule follower by nature, so here it goes.

1. Debbie Downers.
There is nothing wrong with posting something that is sad or difficult or might make someone uncomfortable, but -- Sweet Baby Jesus -- I shouldn't have to brace myself or bear-hug my sweet kitty, Maggie Mae, so I can get through your inevitable sky-falling. An occasional cry for help is okay (see my Facebook just last Monday), but some of y'all are shouting at the void.


You're not my mom, so stop telling me what to do, where to shop, and how to eat. You call it "friendly advice". I call it digital tyranny. I don't want your make-up. I don't want your vitamins. I don't want your recipes. Unless you're going to post that recipe for bacon-wrapped tater tots dipped in brown sugar and then baked. Because I'm okay with that one. I don't even have to make them. I'll just watch the video over and over and over again and dream delicious dreams.

3. Politics, religion, and other stuff not meant for the dinner table.

For a long time -- an extraordinarily long time, truthfully -- I managed to keep my mouth shut about politics, religion, and other stuff not meant for the dinner table. It took a great deal of effort to keep my opinions to myself, but I was taught that some things should just not be discussed in mixed company. I've had to work extremely hard at reminding myself that a person's politics don't equal a person's entire being. There are some people out there who differ from me vastly, but I still love them and they still love me, I think. (Hey, y'all.) In fact, I'm always incredibly proud when I see people discuss and debate politely with facts and without name-calling. It's rare but beautiful -- like a unicorn or a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup that peels away from the paper unscathed. It also leads me to my next point:

4. The MEDIA.

Any idiot with a keyboard and an internet signal can call themselves "media". I'm not talking about actual journalists with actual experience and degrees and all sorts of fanciness. I mean the blow-hard, agenda-promoting, super right/left wing extremists that sometimes fill my social media screen. And what's worse than them is the fact that so many of my social media contacts quote/link/post them as actual news sources. What you see should not always be believed. Or shared. Often you reveal more about yourself than whomever you're trying to cast doubt upon with that 72 page slideshow from IT'S IN THE NAME Y'ALL. YOU DON'T NEED 72 SLIDES TO UNDERSTAND THEIR AGENDA.

5. Its addictive nature.

Social media, as I've stated before (it's right up there at the top for those of you with short attention spans -- thanks social media) can be FANTASTIC. It can, however, completely overwhelm you and hold your life hostage if you let it. You shouldn't count on your Instagram to make you famous or worry about your Twitter follower count or obsess about how many "likes" your latest post got on Facebook. But we do. We all do. It makes us feel good because it makes us part of a community. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that until you're the person knocking on every neighbor's door at 4:00 AM looking for a fix. Then you're just "that" follower/friend, and it might be time to back away from the keyboard and go find a real-live-friend. Grab some cheese enchiladas. Make unnecessarily awkward eye contact. Join a spelling bee.

You know... connect like we used to before the world went to Hell because of social media.