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Scavenger Hunt

I’m sitting on my couch, in my Christmas pajamas (don’t judge), watching Good Morning America and I just heard something I think I truly needed to hear.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love is being interviewed about the 10th anniversary of her book.  I read Eat, Pray Love several years ago and I liked it and there are things I have taken away from it but I am certainly not as devoted to the altar of the book as other people are.  I know people who’ve said the book changed their life and I wouldn’t have said that it did change my life, but today she said something that really resonated.

A person in the audience asked Gilbert for advice on how to follow her passion when her passions feel scattered.  Gilbert responded that there are two kinds of people in the world: jackhammers who dig relentlessly at one passion and hummingbirds who “cross-pollinate.”  She pointed out that while our culture rewards the jackhammer our life is a scavenger hunt and we are projects that have never been done before so we SHOULD continue to pursue passions and identities and dreams.

Whoa.  I have always thought of myself as a jackhammer.  I am a type A overachiever for sure.  But I love the idea of cross-pollination–how one area of our life can influence the others.  The scavenger hunt analogy!  That one place can lead us to another and another and another.  That we aren’t stuck in one spot or one position or one role.

I’ve been in flux this year, for sure.  I’m trying to navigate my identities as teacher, mother, friend, wife, runner, student, reader, etc. I think one of the reasons I’ve been struggling is my jackhammer tendencies; I have this idea that I can only pick one of those things.  But maybe I’m all of those things, and all of those things help to inform each other.  Definitely some food for thought in an unexpected place today!

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Stories

Well, it happened.  Twenty-nine days in, and I lost inspiration.  I almost forgot to write tonight.  But I remembered.  But then I couldn’t think of anything to write.  Fortunately I found tonight’s writing inspiration: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we most need in the world.”–Phillip Pullman

I love the power of stories.  I love the power of stories that repeat.  I love the universality of stories and the way stories can create identity, purpose.  The stories we tell about ourselves are the stories that create who we are, and the stories we listen to shape us in ways we can’t even really know in the moment.  Stories have shaped me for sure: Harriet the Spy and Little Women made me want to be a writer.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helped me understand what it means to be a reader.  The Aeneid helped me understand the pull between “right” and right.  The Poisonwood Bible showed me what family does and doesn’t mean.

There are stories I love to tell about myself: about the time I tried to pit my mother and father against each other by calling my father “some stranger my mother met on the street and married”; how, at 15, I was precocious enough to read Hemingway but not worldly enough to understand what impotence meant in The Sun Also Rises; the minor celebrity I met and almost dated in college.

The stories we choose to tell and the stories we choose to read say so much about us.  That’s what this month has really been: a chance to think about my stories, tell stories, and learn about the stories of others. I’m glad my story is being told.

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Routines

I am a creature of habit.  I like to have structure to my days and order to my plans.  I realized today that my daughter is the same way.

She was out of her routine for three days in a row.  She stayed at my parents’ house on Friday into Saturday, so she was out of her routine.  Yesterday we celebrated Easter twice, almost 200 miles apart, so she was out of her routine.  Today she was home, and in her routine.  And she was a lunatic.

As I described to my mother, “It’s like she’s just been emitting a steady whine all day.”  She cried, which she never does, and all she wanted to do was snuggle.  I liked the snuggling part, not so much the crying.  My girl was clearly tired, and she’s teething, and she’s going through a Wonder Week and a growth spurt.  All of these conspired to make one cranky girl.

My husband, who is in serious contention for Father of the Year, bore the brunt of her crank today.  I got a pedicure and went shopping with some friends and he held down the fort.  Her mood improved as the day went on, and by bedtime she was our smiley girl again.  I know she might be a little off again tomorrow, but I also know that being home and staying in her routine will help her get back on her feet.  I knew I loved routines, I just didn’t realize I’d passed that love on to my girl!

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Aha Moment

I sat in my dissertation meeting yesterday, listening to people talk about their topics.  They were so passionate, so invested.  I listened to a recent graduate talk about how he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor while he was writing, and that writing was the only thing that kept him going through his treatment.  These people talked about how they ate, breathed, and slept their topics.  And I thought to myself, that’s not how I feel.

I had been planning to write my dissertation about feminist reimaginings of the Trojan War story.  I know: riveting.  I was a classics major in college and I do love the Trojan War story.  But the topic wasn’t my own.  In my pre-dissertation class, the one that’s supposed to get you read to write, I was one of the only students without a topic and I let the instructor guide me towards a topic that I didn’t love: a comparison of Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia.  When I told my advisor about this topic she could tell I wasn’t passionate about it, and she helped me come up with the idea of broadening my scope and even including my own original creative writing.  But again, it wasn’t my idea.  It was an amalgamation of the first professor’s and my advisor’s.  It didn’t belong to me and so I didn’t care about it.

And as I listened to this man (who is healthy and now in remission) talk about how his dedication to his topic made it easy to continue even when he was tired, even when he was in pain, I realized I just did not feel that way about mine.  I did plenty of things when I was on maternity leave: I watched four seasons of Scandal, I read lots of books, I planned for school.  But I didn’t even crack a book for my dissertation.  The Iliad remained next to my bed in the same place I’d put it when we moved into this apartment in June.

So, as I waited for my turn to talk about my process, I tried to figure out what it was about my dissertation that I didn’t love.  Because I should love it.  It has all the earmarks of something that I’d love: post-modern literature, mythology, feminism.  But something was holding me back.  I quickly realized what it was. I was supposed to be looking at the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid.  And while I LOVE the Aeneid and have read it in Latin several times I just . . . don’t like Homer.  I don’t know why. I just don’t.

So I scrapped my idea entirely.  My advisor is 100% behind me.  I’m keeping the Aeneid, but I’m adding a new author: Joyce.  I love James Joyce, and I love the way he uses the Aeneid.  It’s a lot more subtle than his use of Homer, but it’s there, and no one is really writing about it.  I stayed up late last night reading Dubliners (which of course I had lying around.  My bookshelf is half Roman literature half Joyce–I should have known.).

All of this is to say that I had that intellectual aha moment when I became passionate and interested and engaged again.  I dreaded that meeting yesterday because I dreaded my topic.  I’m excited now and I’m ready to go.  I don’t want to procrastinate anymore!

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The Thing You Don’t Want to Do

I am a procrastinator by nature.  I put things off, I find ways around them, I avoid.  Then I inevitably feel guilty about that.  The nagging tasks I’ve avoided doing float around my brain, swirling with other, everyday mundane tasks.  I feel these things in the space between my chest and my stomach. They sit there, sometimes rocks sometimes jellyfish sometimes snakes.  I don’t avoid thinking about these things, I think about them the way you prod a sore tooth just to see if the pain is still there.

The task I’ve been avoiding most recently isn’t a small task.  This isn’t “Oh, I have to call the dentist” (although I do have to call the dentist to get my wisdom teeth taken out).  It’s not a stack of essays on my desk (although I do have a stack of essays on my virtual desk on GoogleClassroom).  And even though I do need to run five miles today, that’s not the things that feels like it’s trying to escape from my sternum.

The thing I’ve been avoiding, that I have been thinking about not thinking about, that worms its way into every single conversation and thought and task I do is my dissertation.

I’m in a doctoral program and I’m up to the dissertation stage.  And I’m avoiding it.  I haven’t worked on it since the summer, and even then I only barely worked on it.  I worked here and there with no real structure.  I had a pretty solid plan in place and then I got pregnant and had a baby.  And now I’m going to face the consequences of that procrastination.

I’m going to a meeting today called “Dissertation Drained?”  I don’t know if it’s possible to be drained from something that you’re not actually doing, but I’m going.  I’m going to talk about my struggles and how I don’t know where to start or what to do.  I’m going to sit down with my advisor and with people who are actually dissertation drained and I’m going to come up with a plan.  And then I’m going to come home and enjoy my baby free time (she’s at my mom’s so I can go to this meeting while my husband coaches baseball–the American family) and dissertate.

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Teeth

My poor baby is teething.  To be honest she’s probably been teething for a month or so now, but she’s really teething today.  Lots of drool, a diaper rash, poops that just won’t quit.  She’s not cranky, but she’s not herself.  Her teeth are hurting her sleep, and it’s taking a toll on her sunny disposition.

This is the first time, although I’m sure it won’t be the last time, when I feel helpless as a mother.  There’s not really much I can do for her.  I can keep her fed and dry.  I can put cream on her rash and change her often.  I can offer her teething toys and my fingers and anything else she’d like to put in her mouth.  I can give her Tylenol, which she hates (no Motrin until she turns six months, they say).  But can’t make her teeth come in any faster, and I can’t make the pain go away.

Still, I’m amazed at how cheerful she still is.  When my wisdom teeth were coming in I almost cried in pain.  My sister went to the emergency room for hers.  When I have a headache, even a little one, I snap, I thunder, I rage.  She’s got little daggers pushing through her gums, a sensation she’s never felt before, can’t identify, and can’t find relief for, and yet she’s fine.  She’s a little extra quick to whine, she’s a little more vocal about needing her naps, but she’s definitely not the monster I would be!  Maybe I need to take a page from her book . . .

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Open Doors

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a teacher.  I was not a little girl who dreamed of being an educator, who played classroom, who thought about leading a class of students.  I was not even an education major in college!  But I love my job, and I love what I do.

One of my favorite moments of every day is walking down the hall during my prep.  I’m always on my way to gab with this one or gossip with that one, copy this or file that.  And I walk past rows of open doors.  Although it’s not by design, the hallways around my classroom are all filled with other English teachers or Social Studies teachers.  I love walking down the hall and watching my colleagues engaged in meaningful work with students.  I love seeing conferences or students reading or discussions.  I love seeing students I have in my class in other classrooms: how they sit the same way, how they react to questions differently, how they talk to new friends.  I love the snippets I overhear.

“No, I don’t know if Atticus would think that . . . ”

“I found some evidence, it’s on page 45 . . . ”

“But how does the yuan stand up to the Euro?”

These moments, when I walk past open doors and hear my students learning, see them engaged, I am most glad of my job.  And on this, the day before Spring Break, when I am burned out and cranky and have a headache and am ready for that vacation to begin, that’s a nice reminder to have.

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