The Breath Before

I don’t often write fiction. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but I’ve been reading a lot of Junot Diaz this weekend and I guess I wanted to see what would happen. Here’s an excerpt. 


 

You are sitting with your back against a white, wood-paneled wall. The sun is streaming in. It is Winter, yet somehow still bright out. It is early morning and the cold seeps through the cement of your crappy apartment near the subway and all the way through to the wood of your wall. The cold is soothing on your back. It is 6:25 in the morning, and you are unsure if what is happening to you right now is real.

Moments before, you had snuck to his phone and looked through. A cardinal sin, yes. But you have a gut feeling. That’s how you justify it. Or maybe your life-long desire to Nancy Drew your way out of situations has reared its ugly head again. Or maybe you were just curious. Maybe all three.

Anyway, you do it, and after snooping through some text messages, you find photos. Lots of photos. And videos. Some girl whose face you don’t know, but in that moment it doesn’t matter. Later, you will wonder if she was in on it, if she knew, but, in the end that won’t matter either. She didn’t promise you anything. All you know is that the photos are there and the photos mean it’s the end and the photos rip you down the middle.

Now, you are sitting against the wood wall, trying to understand what your life looks like in this moment.

Later, after you have kicked him out of your small studio, you will realize you need to be at the lab in twenty minutes. In a daze you will find clothes and your coat. You won’t know how you got there, but the doors will swoosh open. You will duck past the interns waiting to be briefed by you. “Hi, Doc!” one will call out as you give a small, tight-lipped smile back. Later, he will remark to his friends that you seemed off that morning.

You will find your way into the office. Dan, your lab partner, will turn to ask why you’re late. He will see your face and know. He’ll wrap his arms around you and you will allow yourself a single sob. A convulsed release of the air and pain that have been sitting in your chest since 6:22 that morning when you saw the photos. He’ll give you a squeeze, then you’ll release yourself from his embrace, smile, and say, “Here we go,” before you turn to do your goddamn job.

That’s for later, though. Right now, you are sitting in your room, your back against a cold, white, wood-paneled wall. You look at his body splayed across your bed, his feet hanging off. You pull at your lower lip, your nervous tick he always picks on.

When you found the photos, your stomach tightened, you caught your breath. Suddenly, for a second, you saw only white, before it faded away and the photos and the videos were there again, as clear as day. It was as though your brain has taken a screen cap of that image, so that later when you are deciding what to do, it would throw the memory of this moment back front and center. Your ears start ringing. It will not stop until you make it into Dan’s arms later that morning. You drop to your knees, before getting up, putting on the first dress you can find and sit on the bed.

You find yourself there now, your back pressed against the wall for stability.

Later, after you have woken him and told him what you know and told him to leave, he will sit there, his eyes red and wet. He will apologize, but he will know better than to ask for another chance. He will tell you he still loves you, and how sorry he is before you finally get him out the door. It will take nearly an hour.

That hasn’t happened yet, though. That will be the memory you sit with later that night over a glass of whiskey that you are crying into: the image of him on the edge of your bed for the last time.

Right now, you are sitting at the other edge of your bed, you back against the cold, white, wood wall. You pull at your lip and furrow your brow. You wonder for a second if you could simply erase the image. If you could make things easy. If you could continue unabashed and unabated.

You know you cannot.

You take a breath. In. Out. You take another breath in and reach over to shake his leg.

“I need you to wake up now.”

A Letter to My Wayward Self.

Over the past few months, I’ve been having my students write papers about love. In doing so, it made me both read and reflect on my own experiences with love and growing up– especially in my early twenties. This is where that led me.


A letter to my wayward self.

My dear girl,

I have no idea where you are running to, but I promise you none of the directions you are heading towards are “home.”

I know: you are horrible at the long game. There is no patience in your bloodstream, no chill hidden anywhere in your bones. You are all chicken skin and red hot veins. Your muscles are overrun with fast-twitch fibers. You go far beyond “starry-eyed”— your pupils dilate again and again as your mind wanders in explosive bursts with fury, unprepared for what happens in the moments after when the star has burned out and things are dark again.

You are spontaneous decisions and seeking the next high. Yours is a rabbit-heart that beats furiously, always asking questions: when? who? why how what where where where where? always searching. You race—no, bounce and sometimes tumble— down trails, so assured that the next turn will lead you to find home. You are certain that this rock or that tree is a sign, that the next moment will finally find the thing you want most: an anchor, a resting place, a haven that just might soothe the pitter-patter that runs from your heart, through your veins and into every other part of you.

The problem is, “home” is a vague X on a map without a key. There is no description or clue as to what it is. So you keep thinking you’ve found it: in the hands of one boy, in the furtive glances of a different man, the fervor of a blurred dance floor, the bottom of an empty wine glass. You hop from all these things, assured that each sip or kiss or beat is a sign that you are almost where you need to be.

It’s a confusing concept, but I promise you none of these things are where “home” is. Don’t confuse the feeling you get when you catch his eyes meeting yours with the experience of being appreciated fully in the gaze of someone who loves you. Don’t mistake a flurry of kisses for a downpour of actual caring. Don’t assume the pain-numbing warmth at the end of a long sip is the same as the soothing release of healing when you actually take care of yourself.

“Home” is not found in the temporary bliss of mind-numbingly good kisses. Don’t get me wrong— you can still have mind-numbingly good kisses, but they are merely decoration on the outside. “Home” is built by weathered boards that have been worked on and sanded. They are stained with difficult decisions and tears. Their nails are the choices you make, hammered in with mutual respect. They are painted with the laughter of jokes built over years of shared comfort. Home will wrap you in its arms when you walk into it looking like something the cat dragged in. Home will stay standing when you tear the furniture apart in rage. Home will still protect you when you can do nothing but sit there in silence.

I wish I could tell you things turn out okay.

The problem is, it’s hard to know when you have found a forever-home. Sometimes we outgrow a place, decide we need to do what’s best, move on. Or we realize the foundation isn’t solid. Or we take a job in Hawai‘i and move thousands of miles away.

Here’s the thing you will need to learn: home can never be some summit that you have to venture to. Home should never be a place that can only be entered when terms and conditions apply. Home can never truly be yours if it only exists within the happiness of another’s.

The only place you will truly find it is when you stop, close your eyes, and breathe. You will feel the ground beneath your feet, the beat of your heart in your own ears, the muscles behind your eyes relax. Then, you will realize that home was never some external site to begin with. You will realize the only real home is the quiet, still place where you both know and love yourself, exactly as you are.

And in that moment, you will finally be found.IMG_8512.JPG

 

5 Cool Things: 2015 Reflections and 2016 Resolutions

When I started this blog last year, I began it with the intention of forcing myself to write once a week. I had no idea whether it would stick– I had been on tumblr since 2009– and barely considered myself a writer.

A year and a day later, and the world has certainly changed since that post. In my early and mid-twenties, I was big on sweeping, long-form resolutions posts. Unfortunately, I have to get up in four-and-a-half hours to get on a plane, so here’s a quick summary before I forget.


 

Five Cool Things I Did in 2015:

1. I started seeing myself as an actual writer, and so did other people. I obviously didn’t need other people’s validation, but it certainly helped. Getting paid actual money to write for EdWeekTeaching Tolerance and other sites was the first time I felt like writing was more than a hobby and something like an actual part of my career.

2. I created space for myself, including buying this domain name! I was worried at first, but pushing myself to create that space lead to lots of opportunities for me.

3. I continued to love my job. It is so great. It feels like home. It also inspired me to find side-jobs that are not promo-girling and actually benefit who I am and my growth. I pushed my own line of thinking and began to understand my role as an educator.

4. I am still learning to love my body and that’s okay.

5. I HIT THAT SUB-4 MARATHON AND BACK-TO-BACK MARATHONED OHHHH YEAHHHH.

Dance-Dacing-Moves-Oh-yeah-GIF

Yay! Obviously, there are a billion other things: family time, friend time, falling even deeper love with my guy. These are just some of the things.


Six 2016 Resolutions

1. Make more connections, especially with local educators, but also continuing to deepen the ones I’ve found online.

2. Become a better and more diverse writer. I’ve written mostly about education, which I love, but I’m already starting to expand my writing horizons.

3. Make space and time for people I love. I tend to get caught up in the digital world and less so in the real world. Time to try and change that. I obviously love the people I’ve met online, but I don’t want to neglect the human people in my life!

4. Be a better teacher. Always. I’m already thinking about next year, but I still want to finish this school year strong! Time to make sure the things I talk about are more than words and truly part of my practice (I think they are but I think I could get better).

5. Deepen my relationship with Christ. I’m going to write more about this next week, but I’m committing to taking time in 2016 to truly refocus and strengthen my relationship with God. I’m already planning on trying to do an eight-day silent retreat at an Ignatian house this summer. We’ll see how it goes.

6. Run a faster half-marathon, but keep a healthy detachment from running! The past two years I had specific running goals: first to run a marathon again after my break, and then to sub-4. Now that I’ve hit that, it’s time to think a little differently.


I am very excited to move into the new year surrounded with so much love and joy. After a wonderful two weeks with my family, I’m excited to spend tomorrow with friends and my partner. Here’s to a restful, successful and blessed new year.

The Rollercoaster: Quick Thoughts on Body Image

Teaching Tolerance was awesome and published a piece of mine about body image. I am, as always, so grateful.

As I read the piece, I was surprised. I sound so down on my body. I wrote that piece a while back and thought, “I must’ve been in a different place when I did.”

Then, I realized if we were to check out the fitness tag, you’d see that my relationship with my body is… tumultuous at best. I go up and down– sometimes I love it (which I usually write about) and sometimes I hate everything (which I often suffer silently).

I’m glad I reread and published this piece, though. After this past summer, I no longer measure and weigh myself every day (though, I admittedly do it most days). I try not to beat myself up over calories. I am much better about not sprinting food away.

This school year, I am working to better support both myself, but especially my students and the gender expectations they face.

I am getting better, but I know I may not always feel so good. What matters is that nothing stays the same, and we always, always can get back to a place of more love and support. Even for ourselves.  

Bad Writing and Broken Hearts

Below is a piece I’m working on. I don’t know how it’s going, but I’m having a hard time working on anything. 


I like telling stories.

That doesn’t make me special. I’m a sometimes-writer and full-time English teacher. I have spent years fitting events into narrative structures: dynamic characters, dramatic tension, nuanced relationships wind through conflict and still end with a neat resolution. My world, most days, is spent somehow trying to craft something that fits into a narrative.

I thought this was just craft, something I did on paper or in the classroom until someone reminded of a small, white lie I had written about them. When I apologized, they simply said, “You like making things fit your story.” It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

I have been telling myself stories for years.

Nearly every relationship I’ve had is subjected to hours in the tumble-dry cycle of day-dreams. I take the smallest tidbits, find the narrative and fill it with so much hot air it floats away with the rest of my imagination.

My narrative habit has been curling its way through my brain, around my heart, and into my actions since childhood. A gossamer string, my desire to adapt my perception of reality– then manipulate that reality to my perception– has been woven into my life since long before I could understand it.

It’s in adolescent journal entries describing, in excruciating detail, the real meaning behind my crush putting his hand briefly on the back of my chair as he talked to someone else. It’s being sure that, when his “ocean blue eyes, like a stormy sea” (a line, no doubt, purloined from some bad fanfic I had read on the internet) locked with mine, it was because he was seeing something deeper in me. It’s embedded into the fabric of time I’d spend skulking around corners at school, hoping to “accidentally” run into some guy.

When, somehow, I would convince that crush to actually date me– with obvious flirtation, with praises and pretty words– I was still creating storylines for them that would, eventually, end.

Storyline: A young Mormon missionary falls in love with a Catholic girl. He proposes. She says yes. He goes on his mission and, somehow, when he returns, they find a way to work through their religious issues and have a happy life.

In reality, six months after he left, the heady high of my first kiss and first love had worn off. I was sixteen when he gave me a ring. I was seventeen when I sent my missionary a Dear-John-email (we weren’t allowed to call or see them in person, or I swear I would have). He begged me to accept his God into my heart and make things work. I overlooked his messages. I returned his ring and most other gifts he left me. 

He’s married now, I think. He blocked me on Facebook.

I did this a few more times in high school: the track star who tutored me in math and left me when he realized our time was up. I threw a fit (this was not part of my story) and sobbed, though deep down I agreed. The fellow thespian, who I badgered to go out with me my senior year. He wrote some nasty things about me, we made peace and parted ways. He recently married man in San Francisco

This, of course, is natural for many high schoolers. As a teacher now, I see myself in so many sixteen-year-olds skulking around corners, hoping to bump into someone. I see the students hoping to find validation in me as their teacher or their friends or some relationship, and sigh and tilt my head and wonder how anyone put up with me at that age.

What is more difficult to realize is that I didn’t leave the practice behind in my school like I thought I did. I see now that I have been weaving webs of stories and heartaches long past my graduation.

#WhyIWrite – Survivors and Monsters

It’s been a hell of a week, but one that seems to be ending on a happy note. Our school’s WASC visit went well, and I’m happy it’s Friday.

I’ve been fairly quiet on social media, simply because I’ve felt bone-tired most of the week. It’s that time of year where both the students and teachers are crawling through to Thanksgiving break, just doing our best to find the moments for joy and laughter when the gloomy clouds of the October/November Doldrums break.

I did catch the #WhyIWrite tag (which José Vilson wrote about eloquently from the perspective of an educator). I know I have that piece sitting somewhere inside me, but I’m not in a space where I can dig it out.

It did make me think of two reasons, though.


The first is that writing, in many ways, is an act of survival. Like lots of people (especially, let’s be real, women of color), I have overlooked, ignored, or been unable to recognize a number of different, small traumas in order to live in white dominant culture. Speech changed, clothing changed, body image shifted. Writing has helped me parse through some of those mixed feelings on paper. It helps me find the space to be angry, be confusedraise my voice and also make a safe-haven for it that can be reflected on. Without being able to put those things in one space– to cut, copy, paste, realign and find new ways to put it out there– I don’t know that I’d be able to deal with it.

The second reason, though, is to turn the mirror back on myself. Given the above existence, my own penchant for drama would make it easy for me to always see myself as the victim, the heroine, the protagonist of the story.

The problem is, life doesn’t work that way, and I’m not always the heroine. The white space of a blank page can be unforgiving and pushes me to ask questions of myself I may not normally pose. When I write, it forces me to turn back to a situation and ask, “What happened here?” At times, I come as the reflective survivor, returning to an emotional place to work through it and eventually heal.

Sometimes, though, I am returning to the scene of the crime.

I am not perfect, and when I ask, “What happened here?” I am often forced to reconcile my own shortcomings. I am made to see the places when I have hurt others, silenced voices, or simply been a less-than-stellar human being.

If writing is rewriting, then writing is also the opportunity to hit rewind and play, again and again, on the memories we have and the stories we tell. It is easy to read a situation the first time and see ourselves as the noble dragon slayer, overcoming and persevering through a tough moment.

Occasionally, we realize that we were not the slayer, but that some part of us is the creature to be slayed. We understand that it is not our job to play victim or heroine to someone else’s monster, but that sometimes, we realize that we are the monster instead.

#AmWriting, and Running, and Writing…

My students are writing right now and so am I.

Mostly, I’m writing much more because I’m excited to announce the Education Week has brought me on as one of their bloggers! The Intersection will discuss race, culture, and topics like that as it intersects (get it? *rimshot*) with education.

Beyond that, I’m running the Kauai Marathon on Sunday. I feel very unprepared, but we’ll see what happens.

Oops! Kids are done and so am I.

Hello, I Am Trying to Write Today.

Hey! Hi! I have a page and here it is! Hello!

I know it hasn’t actually been that long since I last wrote, but it feels like decades. We’re in the second day of school and I’m already tapped out. Beat. At the end of the first day, I sat there thinking I forgot how tiring the job is. 

Overall, I’m loving the work so far. I can already tell, though, that trying to juggle it with the other writing and work I’m supposed to do is going to be a bit of a struggle.

BUT, I think it’s important to remember that creativity isn’t a finite well of stuff we pull from. Hopefully this will push my teaching and my writing to improve. We tell our students this all the time: getting things onto paper is the warmup drill of good writing. It’s the calisthenics. It has to get done to get to the good stuff.

I’m excited for that good stuff (wherever it’s hiding), and dive headfirst into the next year. I can already tell that this one will be vastly different than last– and it’s awesome to see last year’s students grow up so fast.

But for now… I’m just really, really tired.