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The Prayer – Conversations While Running Twenty Miles

One of my favorite assignments that my mentor teacher, Bill, gives his seniors is to write about a piece of music and weave it into a story or memory. Here’s a little reflection on prayer, running, and trying to hold onto faith.


Casting Crowns – Just Be Held

Hold it all together / Everybody needs you strong / But life hits you out of nowhere/ And barely leaves you holding on.

I was so prepared to write about this run. When I went out a week ago, I was already crafting titles in my  head. “The Gauntlet,” I’d thought at first because I was so sure it was my last pre-marathon test.  I did it out of the blue– went to bed on a Monday thinking, “Screw it, I’m gonna run tomorrow.”

So, when I went out that Tuesday afternoon, I was ready. I sprinted off-campus as soon as my students left the classroom, knowing I had 3+ hours of work ahead of me. I had my earbuds in, some good music, and I was ready to zone out.

But that didn’t happen. 

And when you’re tired of fighting/ Chained by your control/ There’s freedom in surrender/ Lay it down and let it go.

As my feet began to hit the pavement, my mind immediately starts racing.

I have about a million things running through my head at the moment, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been in a mood lately. Between the election, feeling burnt out about my work, facing a never-ending pile of student loans, and general uncertainty about my future, being an adult has been a bit tumultuous lately. Like I’ve said, I’m very happy, but I’ve perhaps been repressing some stuff with my usual strategy:

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Ok, I kid. The world is clearly not on fire, but I don’t think I’ve been honest with myself about how I’m doing.

The thing about running for 3-4 hours is that it doesn’t leave you with a lot of space to hide. You end up spending so much time with yourself, that you have no choice to but explore all the nooks and crannies of your psyche that you’ve been casually ignoring until now.

After a few minutes of trying to focus on the music, I gave up the ruse. I turned my music off, tucked them away, and decided it was time to let it go and finally start facing my self.

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away….

For those first few miles, I flew. I was so preoccupied with myself that I was pounding the pavement with questions. ‘But what about…?’ ‘Or what if…?’ ‘How will I…?’ They’re the kinds of questions that don’t have any real answers– they burn in the belly, churning and steaming inside precisely because they are unanswerable and out of your control.

And that’s terrifying. It’s infuriating. In a world that is so desperate to ensure that I am well-planned– for my students, for my finances, for my career, for my love life, for my retirement– being unable to answer, ‘So, what’s next?’ makes my stomach hurt.

I know, I should be finding some kind of joy in it. I’m 29, have a good job and a nice boyfriend and live in Hawai‘i. The rest of my life will be plans and bills, why rush that? Why am I sitting here wallowing in a little puddle of misery and anxiety?

Still, the questions beat through my blood stream and I methodically place one foot in front of the other.

…You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.

It’s not until I reach the top of Diamond Head that it hits me.

“What are you holding on to all this for?”

I scrunch up my face. I haven’t been to mass in a few weeks, with no one to blame but myself. I tell myself I will find space in my life to pray on my own, and I try, but I know that I haven’t been putting the work into my faith as much as I wish I were.

So, I shrug. It’s not God, it’s me. I’ve been busy and stressed. I know that going to church will likely make me feel better, but I just haven’t been able to and I don’t really feel like the lecture. So, I shrug.

“All I’m asking if why you’re holding onto all this. You know you don’t have to.”

I raise my eyebrows. I had expected the quiet, loving lecture. The reminder to take care of myself, the call that asks me to put the work into myself the way I know I need to, the way that I deserve to. I had expected the mirror to be held up and show me all the ways I can do the work that I know makes me happy.

Instead, God smiles slightly, mostly with the eyes. “You seem pretty tired. Why don’t you let me hold onto all this stuff for a while?”

Before I know it, I’ve hit the five-mile mark, much faster than I had planned. I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I round the corner.

Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place/ I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.

I would be lying to you if I said the the run was perfect, or that at the end of it I had some beatific smile that meant that everything had blissfully fallen into place. The thing is my faith, my relationship with God is far from a perfect story. I prayed and debated and was frustrated the entire twenty miles. I was, and am, admittedly, still preoccupied with questions I know I cannot always answer.

Still, I am learning that the mistake is not in asking questions; there is no problem being frustrated or upset. The problem is when we believe the lie that we are abandoned through any of that.

If your eyes are on the storm/ You’ll wonder if I love you still/ But if your eyes are on the cross/ You’ll know I always have and I always will.

Concerns about our own abandonment and unworthiness, fears that haunt many of us in our darkest nights, are not only a lie but  one that uses its power to further isolate us from the truth: God never abandons. We are never abandoned. That love, at its most unconditional, exists with complete purity. It is in every moment we breathe and every time we experience love. I once had a priest remind us that the Savior who chose to be with us even after we beat Him, spat on Him, and ultimately murdered Him isn’t likely to be sent away by our questions and doubts.

So, let’s be honest again: it is not simply my own life questions I’ve been grappling with, but my own faith as well. Not of His existence– my certainty of that has stayed true for the past few years in a way that is, honestly, really satisfying– but at His general plan for the world. “Um, hello?!” I called out, wildly waving my hands, “What’s going on here? Why am I feeling like this? What do I do next? Where do I go?!”

And not a tear is wasted/ In time, you’ll understand/ I’m painting beauty with the ashes/ Your life is in My hands.

And as I’ve sat with a knot in my throat and a pit in my stomach, moments of grace and signs of my blessed existence have been waiting there the entire time I’ve battled the darkness. Long, unexpected conversations; people reaching out, just because; important lessons clicking in the most unexpected of places; and the constant care of my loved ones.

All of these moments have reminded me that I do not need to carry the weight of my own heart alone. We are surrounded by God’s love, manifested in those who are willing to love and hold us when we do not know if we can keep going.

When we are so sure our legs will not carry us up the mountain, we are reminded of the moments others have been there to help us move forward. These moments have been there, like buoys as I try and keep my head above water. Even when I am not listening, these little bits of joy whisper, ‘Remember, above all, you are loved.’

So, when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world is not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.

 

We All Have a Problem With Race. Let’s Talk About It.

After a very divisive election, it seems that the maelstrom of online debates has only grown more violent on our social media feeds. From subtweets to twenty-plus long comment threads on Facebook, we are a clearly a nation devoted to righteously tapping our thumbs and clacking our keys.

Obviously, I’m not necessarily against that– I’m doing it now as I write this post. I only mean to say that many of us are becoming more engaged in discussion around recent topics in America, and are navigating situations that are often sticky and emotional. In a lot of ways, I think that’s a good thing. We can’t move forward until we discuss those topics.

As I’ve skimmed these conversations, though, I’ve noticed the resurgence (or perhaps it’s always been there and I’ve been blocking it out) of a popular phrase, “I’m not racist, but…”. It’s cousin, the defensive retort of “I’m not racist, how dare you?!”, pops up as well.

Here’s an important fact that, if you already read the blog (or perused the header), you may not need to hear, but bears repeating: we are all struggling with race. We are all operating in a racist society. Perhaps, one could quote a famous Broadway song and hum that “everyone’s a little bit racist.”

There are always a few interesting reactions to hearing that statement. Some folks read it, take a breath, nod and say, “Yup. So, now what do we do?” That’s good. That conversation starts leading us towards work and, I hope, equity.

Some, however, clutch their pearls as they gasp in horror. They insist that they can’t be racist, and how dare anyone make such an accusation? Others, such as the aforementioned song above, assert that this is true and so we need to accept it and move on. Neither of these moves conversation forward. The former stops the discussion in its tracks; the latter complacently shrugs it shoulders and lets the status quo roll merrily along.

The issue, I think, may folks have with the belief that we are all struggling with race is that we have attached moral absolutes to the term. Jay Smooth discusses this in his excellent TEDxTalk, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race” (transcript).

As he points out:

We deal with race and prejudice with this all or nothing, good person/bad person binary in which either you are racist or you are not racist. As if everyone is either batting a thousand or striking out every at bat. And this puts us in a situation where we’re striving to meet an impossible standard. It means any suggestion that you’ve made a mistake, any suggestion that you’ve been less than perfect, is a suggestion that you’re a bad person.

So we become averse to any suggestion that we should consider our thoughts and actions, and this makes it harder for us to work on our imperfections. When you believe that you must be perfect in order to be good, it makes you averse to recognizing your own inevitable imperfections and that lets them stagnate and grow.

When we see the term “racism” as a moral absolute, we add emotional baggage that gets in the way of having conversations that are really important. Instead, it’s essential to understand that we all operate in a racist society, and doing so has made us all have problems with race. From Jay Smooth’s talk:

…we all have unconscious thought processes and psycho-social mechanisms that pop up. There are many things in our day-to-day lives that lead us toward developing little pockets of prejudice, that lead us toward acting unkind to others, without having any intent to do so.

These are things that will just naturally develop in our day-to-day lives, so the problem with that all or nothing binary is it causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to having tonsils. Like you either have tonsils, or you don’t, and if you’ve had your prejudice removed, you never need to consider it again… But that’s not how these things work; when you go through your day to day lives there are all of these mass media and social stimuli as well as processes that we all have inside our brains that we’re not aware of, that cause us to build up little pockets of prejudice every day, just like plaque develops on our teeth.

Dr. Beverly Tatum points this out as well. In multiple writings and interviews (including Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About

Books, computer games, the Web, television – there are so many places that we can be exposed to stereotypes, that we can be exposed to distorted information. And there is a whole universe of information that we’re not getting. Think about these stereotypes, these omissions, these distortions as a kind of environment that surrounds us, like smog in the air. We don’t breathe it because we like it. We don’t breathe it because we think it’s good for us. We breathe it because it’s the only air that’s available.

And in the same way, we’re taking in misinformation not because we want it… And it’s so pervasive that you don’t even notice it sometimes. In fact, a lot of the time you don’t notice it.

We’re all breathing in misinformation. We’re all being exposed to stereotypes, and we all have to think about how we have been impacted by that. You sometimes hear people say there is not a prejudiced bone in my body. But I think when somebody makes that statement, we might gently say to them check again. That if we have all been breathing in smog, we can’t help but have have our thinking shaped by it somehow. As a consequence, we all have work to do. Whether you identify as a person of color, whether you identify as a white person, it doesn’t matter. We all have been exposed to misinformation that we have to think critically about.

Dr. Tatum also points out that, our actions can be racist without intending to (as an educator, this example spoke particularly to things I have done in my own classroom):

…there is a lot of behavior that also supports a system of advantage that we might describe as passively racist. For example, in education – if I am teaching a course in which I exclude the contributions of people of color, only talk about white people’s contributions and only talk about white literature. And I never introduce my students to the work of African Americans, Latinos or Native Americans. I may not be doing that with the intention of promoting a sense of cultural superiority, but in fact the outcome of leaving those contributions out is to reinforce the idea that only white people have made positive cultural contributions.

I know a young woman who went to her English professor and asked, “Why is it that there are only white writers on our list? This is a 20th Century American Literature course. How come there aren’t any writers of color?” Her professor, to his credit, was quite honest and said I’m teaching the authors I studied in graduate school. It wasn’t malice on his part. He didn’t wake up one day and say, “Over my dead body will there be writers of color on my syllabus.” He was simply teaching the authors with whom he was most familiar.

The thing is, neither of these reactions is acceptable as educators. We are living in a time when race is an issue that is too important to ignore. Gene Demby writes in NPR’s Codeswitch:

We’ve developed a whole grab bag of tortured terminology for contentious racial subject matterter —racially insensitive, racially charged or just plain racial — to avoid committing to calling anything racist. The dangers here are obvious. Because active racial discrimination and inequality remain defining features of American life — in housing, in our schools, in our criminal justice system, in employment — avoiding the word racist misrepresents the truth. The result is that racial issues have no meaningful distinctions, and racist in our mainstream discourse is defined only as something as extreme as the lynching of Emmett Till, or as an idea up for debate (Is THIS racist?), or as a phenomenon with no contemporary human vectors.

We see this, too, in our education system. As school climate worsens, we can’t afford to stay silent on topics that are clearly affecting our students. As Jonathon Gold wrote for Teaching Tolerance, “Neutrality won’t work in the face of bigotry, xenophobia and fearmongering…” We are clearly in a place where issues around race and power are playing out in the lives of our students. If we don’t accept both this fact and our role in those issues, we cannot begin to move forward to fix the problem.

So, now what?

Besides the resources I’ve linked above, Stacey A. Gibson recently wrote a wonderful piece for ASCD about disrupting inequity and the silence about race. She provides a number of ideas and tangible sources (such as Teaching ToleranceEDUCOLOR, and Radical Teacher) to help us all self-educate and begin having the conversation.

The first step, though, is actually two-fold. First, we have to shrug off either our complacency or un-clutch our pearls and lower our defense mechanisms. If we’re so caught up in the idea of being “good people” that we can’t see the forest for the trees about systemic issues, we won’t be able to do the internal work to combat them. Then, we must be brave. Neither this realization nor this conversation is easy. But the consequences of ignoring it far outweigh the discomfort having it will bring.

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The Audience

I’ve been looking through old writing, and I found this. In a desperate attempt to stay fresh, I did some editing, because writing is rewriting and repurposing, yes?


It starts by willing yourself out of bed.

I’m not trying to trivialize that. It took what seems like years to get here. You have spent hours wrapped in sheets, unable to get up from the crushing weight of yourself. When you flip onto your back– the first movement you’ve made that hints that, just maybe, you will sit up this time– a rolling pain starts behind your eyes and down your back. It hurts. It paralyzes you for a moment, as you try and breathe past what, rationally, you know is not there.

The expanding of your rib cage hurts. The balloon of your stomach hurts. Blinking hurts. Everything hurts. It hurts enough for you to consider rolling back into the fetal position. You are tempted to throw an arm over your face like a boxer in a losing match– please, please, just stop hitting me— closing your eyes and trying to make the world disappear.

The thing is, depression is the quieter cousin of anxiety, and you’ve been dealing with this pair for years. They have been slipping into your bedsheets and sliding next to you in bus seats since you were an adolescent. They have wrapped your hand around razors and your body in blankets. They have convinced you that the world outside the life raft of your bed has waters far too dangerous to explore and watched as you did not eat, nor sleep, nor talk to anyone for days in fear of it. They have made you think that sitting with them in the darkness while they silently hold your hands is your only option.

And, years later, you have learned that this is a lie. You know, deep down, that staying with them only begets nights much darker than the one you are in right now. Wisdom teaches you that you have to get up. The rational part of yourself– a minority voice in the chorus of your aching mind– grasps desperately at that wisdom: You have to get up now. You have to get up.

You take a deep inhale, and sit up, a body rising from the grave.


I haven’t been able to stop writing in second person lately. It’s a bad habit of style, I have no doubt. We always teach against the second person; the constant use of “you” can come across as preachy or pedantic, and no audience likes to be told what they feel. It is difficult to do well, and I am no Junot Diaz.

I’ve been desperately trying to break out of the pattern. I start pieces with “I,” feverishly forcing myself to read down a mental list of the feelings I could tell you about, the dynamic verbs my body could be doing, or the thesaurus-long list of words that better describe how I could “say” any of this (‘I mutter,’ ‘I gasp,’ ‘I scream’).

Then, I realize that I have no idea how I feel. I have no idea what I’ve been doing. I am secretly in crisis mode, my brain the burnt out rubble of a war zone at the end of a long battle. I am glassy-eyed and shaken, triaging each moment like a trauma nurse on the field. I am figuring out what needs to happen so I can take the next breath. Sometimes it is stumbling through the motions because it feels like there is nothing else left to do.

And I see myself doing that. I see myself wander through the wreckage of my own being, unsure how to rebuild. At times, I can convince myself that the destruction will warrant whatever new creation I put together.

Sometimes, though, I am so paralyzed with fear that I can’t think through what comes next. Trying to figure it out hurts. Instead, I see myself go glassy-eyed and back away.

So, sure, I am partially writing like this in a desperate attempt to help you understand what I’m feeling. I am trying to unstitch and open myself, let you slip into this world for a moment by narrating what it feels like.

I understand now, though, that my audience isn’t just the reader anymore. My audience is myself, wandering that wreckage shaken and unsure. I am watching this version of myself try and figure her way out of the rubble. I see her sit down and bury her head in her hands, wondering what she should do next. I slam my hands against the screen, desperately trying to get her to hear me. I am writing her letters and stories, telling her that I understand, that it’s okay, that it won’t be this way forever. I want to jump in next to her, throw my arms around her, and then shake her by the shoulders.

You have to get up now. You have to get up

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Fleeting Peace

I am sitting laying curled up in bed, trying to overcome a massive food coma.

It has been nearly a month since I’ve written. I don’t know what to tell you, except that I’ve just been… tired. Don’t get me wrong, I still write over at EdWeek, which has much of my focus. Still, I know my entire fall has been colored by my own emotional and physical fatigue. I open the page and I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t even know who “you” is anymore. Myself in

I don’t even know who “you” is anymore. Myself in ten years? The ether? I shouldn’t write for an audience, but I haven’t had much of a desire to wax poetic on my inner sleepiness to myself.

So, what’s been going on?

I’m… happy. That’s really it. The ellipses isn’t a bad pause, it’s just an admittance that there’s nothing to analyze beyond the simple statement of fact. My life hasn’t been particularly tumultuous. A few weeks ago Chase and I traveled to San Francisco and it was gorgeous. We had an excellent time eating all the Mexican food, drinking, and seeing families and friends. We even caught The Lion King, which was a joy as always. We had an excellent time and are hoping to head to Chicago to catch Hamilton sometime in the Spring.

Besides that, things are generally steady. I run and teach. I want more sleep. I have a wonderful family who I miss, friends who cry and laugh with me (especially during the election season), a relationship that feels steady and happy. I am taking things day by day, which is all anyone can ask, I suppose. There’s not much drama or turmoil to spur any kind of writing. When I lamented this to Chase, he joked that he could act like a jerk for a few weeks, but even then I actually feel like even if he were a jerk, I’m finally at a place where I’d either make him talk through it or leave.

I think, right now, my biggest internal enemy is my own complacency. Things just feel so steady, it is easy to shut myself off from the things that used to make me angry and spurred me to lean into difficult work. I see now that some of the passion I funneled into other aspects of my work– teaching, returning to acting– were an attempt to escape aspects of my personal life that were less-than-pleasant. Of course, they were also from a deep, internal desire to do what I believe to be right, but working against oppressive structures is, obviously, tiring. When that sense of fatigue and stress was mirrored in my personal life, it felt easier to rage at it all since I was embedded with a deep sense of discontent.

Now, if I’m honest, my personal bubble feels warm and safe and happy. I finally feel supported in a way that I can actually relax into it– and I think it’s becoming a little dangerous. I am trying to find the thing that forces me to come out from behind the battlements of my stability, but I have been so tired the past few years, it’s been a little hard to get off the mat.

So, I’m hoping the find the spark again soon. I see glimpses of it here and there– clearly, the election was a big kick in the ass– but I’m also trying to remind myself that these things come in waves and that at some point I will sorely miss the sense of quiet joy I have each day now.

For the moment, I’m going to call it a day. I’m going to thank the universe that, despite the shenanigans of 2016, I still find a deep sense of gratitude for all the joy in my life. As my boyfriend plays video games and I curl up to The Gilmore Girls revival, I know that while this sense of peace is fleeting, it is still quiet enjoyable.

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Perpetually Broken, Perpetually Healing

First, you have to acknowledge the lies.

Panic is good at lying to you. It’s a tricky bitch. It will wait till your defenses are already down– you are already tired from long nights of insomnia, exhausted from trying to parse through the millions of thoughts that won’t stop racing through your head. Then, Panic will slip under your covers like the tenderest bedfellow. It will wrap its arms around your stomach and chest and hold you close and validate everything bad you’re feeling. Then, it will begin whispering lies to you.

I will never go away.

You look around, shake your head and readjust yourself body, ignoring the voice because you know everything must end and you’re sure this will too.

But Panic knows your weak spots. It knows how to make a bad thing worse.

I will never go away. And no one is ever going to put up with that.

Panic feels your stomach clench under its hands and smiles.

Yeah, you know it’s true. You’re so fucking annoying when you’re like this. You don’t even like yourself. Why would anyone put up with you?


Normally, when I storm and rage through an anxiety attack, it’s a solo adventure.

It hits me in cars or on runs. Sometimes in the quiet of my room. I’ve normally sensed an attack coming from miles away, and when the time comes, there’s nothing to do but wait for it to pass.

This time, however, was different. I thought I was fine. I thought I had gotten it out of my system a few days ago. I had a crying jag on the bathroom floor while my boyfriend was asleep, wiped my eyes, nodded my head and shook out my shoulders. Yeah, okay. I’m good now.

This night, though, I should’ve seen it coming. The inability to sleep. The desire to drink (nothing crazy, but when I go from drinking once a week to having a drink a day with dinner, I can tell something is up). The fatigue. It hadn’t really gone away. I was moody and tired and picking unnecessary fights, but I was so caught up in my own head that Panic blindsided me, that bitch.

Here’s the thing I don’t talk a lot about: While I have acknowledged my own struggles with anxiety, the shame hasn’t fully gone away. Even years later, I still feel incredibly judgmental of myself about my anxiety sometimes. Poor spoiled you, my brain snarls at me, What gives you the right to cry about anything? Why are you being such a whiny bitch? Who would ever put up with this? You’re pathetic.

So, I sit there, sniveling and helpless and hating myself. I sit there until it passes. But normally I sit there alone so that I can wallow in my own self-loathing without witnesses. When Panic rips you down the back and makes you crumple to your lowest self, you’re not looking for spectators.

This night, however, it wasn’t an option. My boyfriend and I got into bed (after above-written moodiness), and within minutes I knew what was happening. ‘Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.’ I thought. ‘I have to get out. I have to go.’ I turned over my shoulder, hoping that somehow Chase had magically fallen asleep in a few minutes. He had not.

I will never go away.

I stalled. I got water and tried to get it out of my system in the kitchen without raising suspicions (how long can I spend in a kitchen at 11PM and not be binge eating cookies?!). I tried to think of some way I could justify getting my car and driving away that wouldn’t read as massively shady (note: I did not find this justification. Please let me know if you figure one out). Nothing was working.

I will never go away. And no one is ever going to put up with that.

Finally, I had no choice but to get back into bed. My boyfriend took one look at me and asked every upset-person’s Kryptonite: “Are you okay?”

I covered my face, like maybe I could hide from Panic itself (note: you can’t), and said, “I’m just having really bad anxiety right now,” and as soon as I named the Monster in the room, it was over.

And… it wasn’t great. It was embarrassing. I kept apologizing. It’s one thing to hear my own judgments rage at me internally when I’m having an attack, it’s another to know that someone has to sit there, helpless while you sort of just have a meltdown for no other reason then, “my brain chemistry likes to fuck with me sometimes.”

You’re so fucking annoying when you’re like this. You don’t even like yourself. 

To his credit, Chase handled it like a champ. He rubbed my back. He said not to be embarrassed and that I didn’t have to keep apologizing. He didn’t try and fix it. He just let it happen.

And, like all things, it eventually ended. The knots in my spine unstitched and my shoulders sagged. I came back to myself. The fog cleared and it was like I stopped seeing white and could breathe again.

But the shame didn’t go away.

Why would anyone put up with you?


Like I said, I’ve been dealing with Panic for a large portion of my life. I’m not scared of naming. I can identify the signs. I know I will live through an attack.

I guess I’m starting to see where the work begins now. I won’t always be alone when I have an attack. I can’t always get in my car and try and drive away from the problem. Sometimes, Panic will show up and I won’t be able to throw myself down the dark well where no one can see me.

The thing is, shame is a choiceGuilt is a choice. While the initial feelings can’t be controlled, whether or not we wallow in those emotions is inherently up to us.

We can listen to Panic’s lies that we are unlovable and unworthy. We can see our struggles as all the ways that we are “broken” and hide those flaws, ashamed that we are not as “strong” or “complete” as we think we need to be.

Or, we can realize that broken and healing are two sides of the same coin. They are different perspectives on the same state of being, really. What matters is which side we want to focus on. We can focus on the frustration that we are perpetually broken, or see the grace that comes with knowing we are perpetually healing, stronger than we were before.


After you acknowledge the lies, you have to beat Panic at its own game.

When it slips next to you, wrap its arms around your chest and neck, take a breath. Remind yourself that you can’t make it go away, but you can reframe the way you see its presence in your life.

And when it whispers, gently, into your ear, I will never go away.

Turn around, look it right in the eye, and say, “I know. And I don’t really care. I’m stronger than you, anyway.”

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Redefining Measurements

Recently, I  asked my students to write about something that had recently begun or ended in their life.

Their ears perked up immediately, and I have to say the prompt got me thinking too.  What  had I given up in my life recently? What have I learned to let go of, in order to make space for new things?

Now, there are a whole lot of emotional things I could bring up, or relationships that I’ve moved past. But a few weeks ago on my birthday, I was reminded of one have it I had recently given up without even meaning to.

I looked in the mirror on the morning that  I turned 29, smiled, and realize that it had been weeks since I’ve measured myself.

Whenever I’ve written about fitness, I’ve tried to be honest and that I’m nowhere near perfect when it comes to self-love are having a positive body image. I struggle like anyone else. While I had learned to let go of the scale, I still measured my body every day. Bust, waist, hips, thighs. Every morning, sometimes even multiple times a day, I would take stock of how much “progress” my body had made. How much I ate or whether I worked out were anchored to that  daily act of measurement.

In the past few months, something has changed. I’ve implemented so many different things– CrossFit, Muay Thai, Yoga–  into my routine with running, but I frankly just lost the ability to focus on these a static measurements. I have regularly found myself working out 2 to 3 times a day, and having the occasional private yoga session with my boyfriend in the evening to try and recover from it all.

Here’s what I know I’ve learned before, and will probably keep learning for the rest of my life: the more I focus on my body’s ability to perform rather act rather than just be seen, the better I am able to redefine how I perceive success.  Instead of using a measuring tape to figure out exactly how much I would let myself eat that day, I’d see three different work outs in my calendar, listen to the growling in my stomach, and stop leaving the meal I had brought in my lunch bag untouched. It is impossible to perform at the level I want if my body doesn’t have fuel, so I’d set that as a higher priority than what the tape might say. Frankly, at a certain point, I just sort of forgot to measure my waist and just measured my ability to be moving at the end of three hard sessions.

A few days ago, I decided to check in with both my weight and my measurements, just to see if my actions have created any noticeable change.

My waist and hips had generally stayed the same. But I’ve gained about a solid inch of muscle in my arms. I can also with more, run faster, and throw a better punch that I could a few months ago. Those seem like successes to be happy with.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you need to spend hours in the gym to attain some level of happiness, worth,  or pride in your body. I don’t think the change happened when I started spending more time working out, I think the change happened when I had new, exciting goals for my body.  The ability to run faster and focus on that was why I had dropped the scale in the first place. The ability to do new, crazy things with my body is, but I hope, has let me get rid of the measuring tape too.

So,  with my marathon season about a month away from the end, it’s time to start rethinking what’s next. Here’s what I’m sure of: it definitely won’t be boring, and I’m excited to measure how successful I am by how much fun I’m having along the way.

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The Long Game: Teaching as a Career, Not Just A Job

So, here’s an honest confession:  I’m feeling really burnt out this school year. I’m tired. I’m so tired that it’s 9 o’clock on a Tuesday, I’m having a drink, and I honestly cannot come up with some pretty introduction to this post. After staring at the white screen of my computer for a few minutes, the only thought running through my mind is that I’m really freakin’ tired right now.

There’s a whole host of reasons why this is true. I’ve completely changed my workout schedule, and the hours I put in at the gym have admittedly made it difficult for me to do, well, anything at the end of the day.

Still, I think I’m finally starting to understand what it means to teach as a career, not just as a job.

For the first time, I’m in my third consecutive year (fifth year overall) in the classroom and, frankly, at any job I’ve ever had. This is the first time I’ve stayed at a position this long. I’m a little like the bachelor who has jumped from relationship to relationship and finally decided to stick with someone past the honeymoon phase.

Honestly, that’s what the past two years have felt like– the honeymoon phase. I loved every minute of my job. I was always thinking of ways to try something different and new. Just like in the first few months of a relationship, I was eager to spend all my time focused on impressing my partner(s) and giving them the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still eager to give my students my best, and I still love my job. But after two years it’s much easier to become complacent with the routine of your classroom. You’re able to read the room better. You run into similar problems and pitfalls from the years before. Yes, the kids are different and wonderful and marvelous in their own way, but it’s easy to rest on your laurels and continue on your merry way down the path you forged for two years.

Just like any relationship, though, I am fighting stagnancy and complacency as much as I can. I don’t want to end up getting so burnt out and bored doing this work that I forget all the reasons I returned to the classroom in the first place.

Here are a couple of things I am trying to do in order to make sure I stay sharp.

  • I am reflecting on my work as often as I can. My school allows teachers to conduct academic research as part of our workload. This year, I am researching how narrative writing affects identity development, and taking a critical eye to my practice will help me improve it in the future. Caveat: you have to ensure that you actually make time for this. I failed to set aside time at the beginning of the quarter and am having to play catch up now.
  • I am extending my work as much as I am capable. This sounds crazy (and frankly, is a little bit) since teachers are busy enough as it is,  but it also allows me to connect with other educators and, again, consider my own practice.  Beyond writing for EdWeek, I’m still a Hope Street Group Fellow and now working as a community manager for Sevenzo, awesome education incubator. Does this mean less quiet, sitting-around time? Sure, but by putting myself in spaces with innovative and inspired teachers, it helps me make sure I feel that way myself.
  • I am spending less time online. Now, I had mixed feelings about sharing this one, because I think the time I spent in online spaces like EduColor is what helped me return to the classroom and helps me be a better teacher to begin with. That said, I have spent the large majority of my life operating in mostly digital spaces. This is the first year I’ve really felt involved at a more face-to-face level as an educator, and I’ve been trying to be a better friend/partner in the physical world. A lot of my life last year, if I’m honest, revolved around doing a thing for the photo op. Now I’m just… doing it. It is new and, frankly, exhilarating. I still want to return and engage more in the digital space (I miss my people!), but this has been a new avenue of my life to learn to balance in.
  • I am trying to make space for and be kind to myself. This is the hardest one. When you first enter into a relationship, you end up losing yourself in it. You want to spend all your time with it; you every waking moment feels devoted to it. That’s how I felt about teaching when I re-entered the classroom. That’s no way to have a healthy relationship with anyone (or anything), though. I am trying to make sure I still am a person outside my classroom with the fitness and making space for human relationships and the acting. The next one should say, “with the writing,” but I’ve been horribly slow on that front.

 

It admittedly hasn’t been an easy road. Yet as I sit here finishing up this post on a Wednesday morning while my 7th graders do their own freewriting, I am reminded just how blessed I am to be around these kids who consistently make me feel hopeful.

In a world that has been increasingly more frustrating, my students have been the anchor that makes me feel sane. They are a reminder that I am playing the long game– it’s not just about surviving this day but building a relationship with them that hopefully helps them make the world a little less frustrating in the future.

 

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Being a Woman in Trump’s America

This piece originally ran in Education Week.

I was going to start this piece off detailing some story of my own sexual assault(s) and harassment(s). I was going to start launch in, like I often do, with what it felt like: the way the pit in your stomach forms into a hard, cold stone. Your blood turns icy with fear. Everything stops moving for a second– it’s the adrenaline flooding your system. It courses through you in an instant as your brain very quickly registers that something jarring is happening to your body, and you become hyper aware in a way that you never want to.

Then, I realized two very sad facts.

First, I would have to choose an incident. Like most women, I face some kind of harassment or provocation on a near-daily basis. From what some mistakenly refer to as “minor” incidents like being catcalled when I walk somewhere to the multiple times where I have been physically grabbed or touched in ways I did not want.

To be a woman in America (and far too often, worldwide) is to understand that you exist in a space where your body not yours at all. It is a thing to be coveted, ogled, commented on. It is appraised. At best, my body is protected as “someone else’s goods,” instead of having an agency and will all its own. As such, there have been multiple times where that mindset has manifested itself into acts of harassment or violation against me.

Second, as I was crafting this piece in my head, a voice popped up saying, “That’s too cliché. Everyone is responding to this by sharing the details of their assault. It’s already overplayed.”

And isn’t that sad?


I had never planned to delve into politics with my writing. Of course, education lends itself to understanding and discussing points of policy and implementation. With the exception of acknowledging the election and giving my students space to voice their opinions, however, I rarely make clear political stances in my classroom. I try my best to remain neutral.

Recently, however, that has been increasingly difficult. Not because I inherently disagree with a political stance taken by one candidate, or the tax plan of another doesn’t make sense. It’s because, as a nation, we are witnessing the source, symptoms, and consequences of a culture in America that normalizes assault. We are seeing what happens when generations of men are taught that their masculinity is best portrayed in the toxic guise of “locker room talk” machismo that glorifies ownership of women. We are reaping the ramifications of women who have allowed that talk as “boys being boys.”

Here’s the thing: many of us have been saying that we don’t want to live in a “Trump’s America,” or “Trump World.” When it comes to rape culture, however, we are not seeing something created by a single man, we are seeing a political candidate embody a mindset that has permeated our culture for decades. To be a woman in “Trump’s America,” is actually realizing that a culture that has commodified your body now has a megaphone headed towards the throne.

I do not believe it is my place as an educator to sway my students politically towards a particular candidate. I adamantly believe in teaching my students to think critically, help them see injustice, and then allow them to make their own decisions.

Still, as a woman who stands in front of young people– women or men– every day, I cannot keep allowing these beliefs to perpetuate without teaching our students to question the source, symptoms, and consequences of that culture. If it is important to teach our students to critically question the world we live in, that includes not just the politics of our candidates, but the cultures they seek to create as well.

To be a female teacher, or any teacher, in America means teaching that this kind of message–one where our men are taught violence is power and our women accept that as the status quo– must not continue. We must teach our students to hear, understand, and ultimately dismantle those beliefs before another generation of women has to worry that their assaults is a cliché to begin with.


So educators, now is the time.

Start simply, “What do you think of the current scandal around Donald Trump?” Listen to your students. Critically question why they think what they do. Give them space to be angry if they feel that way.

Talk with your students not just about the horrible anti-Islam, anti-immigrant rhetoric spewed (Teaching Tolerance has a number of excellent resources). Teach your students about rape culture and why it’s wrong.

In a world where it is easy for hatred and ignorance to spew and grow and gain an audience, I cannot think of a more important time to be an educator. To be an educator today is to allow and invigorate the tough conversations that won’t just make for interesting classroom discussion, but could help ensure positive change for generations to come.

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Everything Ends: Bold Moves at 29

9/28, 11:30 P.M.

So, over the past few weeks the intensity of which I live my life has ramped up quite a bit. And that’s normal for September, I suppose. I’ve written before that I often enter my birthday season feeling spent, and this year seems to be no exception.

The main different, however, is that I’m a bit more of a writer-for-hire this year (I really want to say, “hired gun,” but I googled the actual history of the term and realize that, no, I am not doing anything illegal for anyone). Before, anything that floated across my mind ended up here or in previous tumblrs, completely for myself. Now, much of my time is spent writing for other people– which I love. I am immensely grateful that EdWeek or Sevenzo, among others, care about my words. 

Still, it means that the majority of my written-self ends up focused on other topics or other people. So, I’m trying to implement a little space to myself tonight. Yes, it means putting another piece on hold, but I think it’s important. 


Later

I’m turning 29 in about a week. Normally, I spend my birthday trying to think about what I want to accomplish in the next year, how I can grow and change as a human, I reflect on what I need to do better.

This year, I’m sitting looking at the blank screen, and I got nothing.

Not that I don’t think I have things I need to do better in, just that the fact that I made it here in one piece is still so baffling that moving beyond that hasn’t even crossed my mind. When I try to divine what’s in the future, it’s a misty haze of exhaustion, a to-do list, and the ever-present wondering if I’ve eaten today or not.

Last year around my birthday, I clicked a link on Faceboook to read my horoscope. I don’t particularly follow horoscopes– I find them amusing as the next girl and do feel like I embody the general qualities of a Libra. For 2016, it talked about “major life changes.”

Excellent! I thought. I was so sure I knew exactly what that meant. While I was trying to “read the waves” and “go with the flow” last year, I had a clear trajectory for what my life would look like for at least the next few years. I didn’t just have an idea, I knew it. I saw the life I would live over the next few years, and all the salient details– the who and where, the things we would build and create– were there.

And now, I got nothing.

No, I jest for the sake of narrative rhythm. What I mean is that, instead of the life plan, a few months later, I walked away. I looked at the map I had made for myself and realized it wasn’t going where I wanted it to. So, I set it down and started to make a new one.

And now I’m entering 29 and I no longer have that same life plan. While there are elements of stability in my life, I don’t have clear cut answers to questions like, “Are you staying in Hawaii forever?” or “So, what’s next for you?”

I. have. no idea.

And, frankly, I’m so caught up jumping from one project to the next that I haven’t even had time to be upset about that, which is probably okay.

Here’s the thing I realized while running the Kauai marathon earlier this month: everything ends. The hill you are struggling to climb over eventually ends. The pain you feel when we grieve for what was lost eventually ends.

That said, even most good things come to an end. My high school English teacher once reminded us (with a cynical but loving gleam in his eye– he loved antagonizing my ‘Pollyana-esque’ optimism) that even every relationship you are ever in but one (theoretically) will eventually end. We will have to leave jobs we love. We lose people.

In some ways, that used to freak me out. It wasn’t simply the fact that every ended, but the fact that I didn’t know when it would end. The end would hit me like a ton of bricks, and I wouldn’t be ready. I tried to course-correct by doing everything I could do figure out my end, to try and tell the story myself so that I could craft the exact correct ending at exactly the right time.

That’s not how the world works, though. We don’t get executive producer credits or final edits on our life’s script. All we can do is handle each page we’re given with grace and work through it the best we can.

The thing is, there’s something beautiful about that. Once you surrender to the  fact that you cannot control the outcome, you are free to relish what you have now. The end will come, you know it will come, you know it might hurt– but what is there to do about it? You can either worry about the end or enjoy the present moment for what it is.

There is also something to be said about making space for new things. I wrote last year:

…My exhaustion, my emptiness, isn’t a sign of lacking. This year, and hopefully from now on, it is a sign of preparation for the new. We cannot fill a cup that is already full.

I come to a new year of life completely spent: I have tried to give my words, my voice, my work to my classroom and loved ones. I have tried to ensure that I don’t refuse new lessons because I am so full of old ones that may no longer serve me. Instead of  feeling full and satisfied, I quite like the idea of coming into a new year on earth empty and open: there is a hunger in my belly that is still not satisfied. I am excited to spend another year filling it again.

Things are no different this year. It’s a terrifying thought sometimes, but I now see that this concept may begin to apply to my life plans too.

Recently, my father made an exciting new life decision. When he was on the fence about it, he mused, “You know, it was a bold move for your grandparents to move from the Philippines and Mexico to here. It was a bold move for them to come to LA, and a bold move when we brought you guys to Orange County.” He smiled, “It was a bold move when you came to Hawai‘i.” He was thoughtful for a moment, before saying, “We’re a family of bold moves. Maybe it’s time for another one.

I smiled, because I was so proud of my dad for having the bravery and strength to change his plans and adapt. I was inspired, too. Yes, it’s great to plan for life goals, and I never want to stop doing that. But I never want to be so married to the plan that I don’t make space for bold, exciting moves in my life. I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it is never too late to scrap the map and do it better than you ever dreamed.

So, as 29 looms near (which I’m sure I’ll write more about), I’m excited to watch as my twenties come to an end. Is it a little scary? Sure. But it’s exhilarating that accept that the end will come no matter what, so my only job is to enjoy it while I can before making the next big, bold move.