a single step

BY nature, I fall into the “highly creative and equally disorganized” category. I was the child who was never reading any fewer than five books at a time–allowing me to leave a book in all my usual ports of call and thereby never be caught without. This trait has followed me into adulthood. Left to my own devices, I would happily exist in a spinning vortex of dozens of craft projects, novels, and recipes at various stages of “done-ness,” awaiting me to return to them at my leisure.

This is not a trait that is smiled upon in modern American culture. And so, to combat this societal expectation (and to make sure I remember to do things like make dinner and drink enough water), I have become a huge fan of the list. I have lived most of my adult life followed by a trail of little Post-It notes and scraps of paper to keep me from forgetting important things (like when it’s time to pay the electric bill and what I need to pack for vacation.) My lists get the job done, but they don’t exactly embrace the streamlined simplicity I aspire to (being a big one for lists makes me, by proxy, a big fan of goals.)

And then, I discovered the Mountain Journal.

The Mountain Journal, which came to me via my friend’s husband who has been doing them for years (because he’s one of those people who likes math and numbers and other scary things like that…), is designed to break down the big goals that all of us have (Example: I want to lose twenty pounds) into smaller steps (I am going watch what I eat this week) and even smaller steps (I am not going to snack after dinner today), with the idea that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Thanks, Lao Tzu, for that little spark of genius.)

After a few stuttering starts, I started using this Mountain Journal, and let me tell you, this little baby is the best thing…possibly ever. I am a big picture dreamer, which enables me to imagine great, sweeping changes in my life, my classroom, my everything. I struggle with breaking these giant goals into things that I can accomplish today. My Mountain Journal lets me harness my sweeping War and Peace-style dreams into actual writing-paragraph-and-sentence-accomplishments. And then I can see my progress. The little to-do boxes get checked off, and once a week I get to reflect on how things went last week, what I’m thankful for, and what my goals are for next week.

It. Is. Amazing. And you know what? It actually works! The fact I’m writing this post is proof of it! For the past 18 months, I kept thinking, “You know, I really should start my blog up again.” But it never happened. But then I made writing more one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I broke it down in my Mountain Journal to actually writing a first draft of a novel this year and restarting my blog. So then I saved up and bought a new (working!) computer. Then I reworked my blog format. Then I wrote a post. And here I am.

To, for all my fellow big picture folks out there, don’t be disheartened! That big goal you’ve been dreaming CAN be accomplished. But you have to start the road with a little baby goal. You can do it! Take a single step!

Do you have mountains you’ve scaled with baby steps? I would love to hear about your inspirations!


Simplicity and Kindness

So…let’s just say it’s been a while and leave it at that.  Short version, I took two years off from “Life as Usual” to meet a guy, fall in love, plan a wedding, get married, and get used to living with someone who literally never goes away and with whom you do not share any DNA which requires you to care about them. So, yeah…2018 was kind of a busy year for me.

2019 as a year has also started off with a lot of changes, but different than last year. Last year was full of changes because, well, God and life happened. I was just sort of along for the ride. But this year has been full of changes because I decided to make them.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions as a general rule. In part, because I’m a teacher–my “new year” starts in September every year, and by the time January rolls around, whatever I’ve done, good or bad, I’m committed until June.  But recently I’ve been getting on the bandwagon of making sure I’m taking care of myself (physically, spiritually, emotionally) so that I can do all the things, all the jobs and roles I have in life–teacher, daughter, wife (wow, that still is weird to write!), Christian, friend.

So, this year, for the first time every in my entire life, I sat down in the first week of January and made New Year’s Resolutions.  And as I read back over them, I realized that most of my resolutions centered around two things: simplifying and kindness. Start using non-toxic cleaning products. Prioritize my quiet time. Be polite and helpful even when other people aren’t. Stay away from artificial dyes and ingredients. Reach out to friends who are hard to get a hold of.

And over two months in, I can tell you, that they go together a great deal more than I would have ever guessed! Do all of these “simplifying” things has left me with the emotional time and energy to be kind. I am willing to help because I don’t deeply resent this further drain on my resources.  It’s crazy!

So, as I finally come back to this blog after…hm…a bit, that is my goal. To document this process and journey (and some of the neat-o stuff I learn and do along the way!) Because life is too precious to waste in the swamplands of cluttered existence.  In all its ways.

Are you on this journey, too? Do you have any great insights or dreams for a life like this? I would love to hear about them below in the comments!

Life generally...

Packing list for a writer’s weekend

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be washing the last of my dishes, packing up my battered purple carry-on, and heading off into the wild blue yonder for a spring break “gift to me,” a three-day “write-in” retreat.  I’ve rented a cute little cottage with a comfy bed, a fireplace, a little kitchen, and a table that looks out of a big bay window.  (In case you don’t follow the line of thought here, this will be my writing command center for the weekend.)

I cannot wait.  Writing is something I really enjoy, but unlike music (a passion as fundamental to my spirit as breathing,) it is something that often gets put on the back-burner.  Other things–laundry, errands, rehearsal, friends, exhaustion–take precedent over my fictional endeavors.  So those rare times I manage to carve out a few hours to work, I spend the time daydreaming, or paying bills, or whatever.

But not this weekend! I’m going to a place where mobile reception is spotty at best, and there is no one I know for several hundred miles, armed with several projects at different stages and a determination to make progress in something. 

So, because really I am thinking about this, and my mind is a thousand miles from this blog tonight, I thought I’d take you through a little “greatest hits” version of my packing list–it really embodies the essence of what I hope this weekend to be.

  1. Slummy clothes.  I am taking nothing but leggings and old sweatshirts and oversized, old sweaters.  It is all the essence of comfort.  I aspire to change from pajamas into (essentially) other pajamas.
  2. Fuzzy socks.  As I have very few plans to venture into the cruel outside world (save maybe a walk to get the creative juices going, as it were,) socks that are basically slippers are a must.  My poor feet suffer through “work shoes” for most of their existence.  They will be free for these next few days!
  3. My computer.  Obviously.  I have this rocking writer’s program called Scrivener.  If you are a writer and you have not downloaded it, DO IT NOW.  It is such a slick program. It is worth every penny of the $40 or whatever I paid for it!
  4. Pink pocket notebook with gold embossed “Awesome Ideas” on the cover.  This may seem a bit more out there, but I subscribe strongly to pen-and-ink lists.  This little baby has got the running record of different writing projects I can work on if I get frustrated with what I’m on.  Sick of trying to get through that one dialogue? Do a plot map of that new idea!  Totally over trying to think yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into?  Brainstorm landscapes for that fantasy you’ve been “meaning to get back to!” And so on.  You get the idea.
  5. “The Writer’s Journey,” by Christopher Vogler.  This book was recommended to me by a great writer, and it is the single best thing I have read about how to structure fiction writing.  It is genius.  I love it.  I need it to reference.
  6. Other reading. And by that, I mean real reading.  During the school year, I read, but it’s largely the kind of fluff one reads on a plane when you don’t really have to focus. I want to read other authors who really knew how to write–to inspire and feed the writer’s soul.  There’s no place better to learn than at the foot of the masters.
  7. Walking shoes (and I guess I’d include my puffy vest here, too).  Sometimes, you just need to take a good walk and let yourself think without distraction. (Isn’t that an odd thought?)
  8. Coffee.  Do I even need to explain this one?
  9. A heart that’s ready to write.  This has not been me for ten months, but it is finally me now.  I am hungry to write.  I am hungry to start trying to get things down on paper (er…on the screen?) I want to be creative in the way that writing so uniquely is.

I am so ready for this! I can’t wait to get there and get started and get frustrated and get over it! There is no way to write a novel, I have heard, except to make yourself write.  Well, chalk that one up for me, anyway!




Life generally... · Teaching

One Day More

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we begin our (well-deserved, in my mind) spring break.  Only one more day of waking up, one more day of kiddos climbing the walls because they, too, know that break is almost here.  Only one day more!

After the kids got on the buses and the hallways were clear, I treated (tormented?) my colleagues with a chorus of One Day More, the Act I finale of the musical Les Misérables, because I am a choir teacher, so this is what I do.

I love the night before the Last Day Before Break.  I love it because I feel like I can stay up later than I should because I’ll have time to catch up on missing sleep.  And even though things come up and it always ends too quickly, the night before, the whole glorious nine days of sweet freedom stretch before you like a pristine, snowy morning.  There is time for everything to get done on the night before.  It’s magical.

On Saturday, I head off for three days in a cabin for my “Light A Fire Under It, Already, Girl” write-in.  I am going incommunicado and it’s going to be marvelous.  Time to focus on things that I’m always “too busy” for.  I am excited for the chance to breath and step away–something I don’t do often enough.  Excited for time to reflect and thing.  Excited for the change of pace.

Half of the joy of things like vacations and breaks and mini-vacays is the anticipation of it.  The final countdown until you board the flight, get in the car, or turn off the alarm.  I love to revel in it, and sometimes I feel like my instant-gratification life robs me of the chance.  But nothing can take away the excitement surrounding a day like tomorrow–

One more dawn! One more day! One Day More! (It’s not exactly the French Revolution, but I teach middle school so it very well could be!  Haha!)

Life generally...

A picture is worth a thousand words

I am not much of a picture-taker, which I guess makes me kind of an oddity as a card-carrying Millenial.  As a generation, we are obsessed with oversharing our lives with family, friends, and That One Guy I Met At That Party Ten Years Ago–and pictures, so much faster than explaining everything in a story, feature strongly into that world.

But even before those days…back, “Once upon a time…” when you still had to shoot pictures on actual film in an actual camera, and you had to wait until you got everything developed (which took actual time) before you could find out if your picture actually came out, I still was not a picture taker.  Time has not changed me much.

I don’t know, I guess I’ve always been too busy being in the moment to remember to record it.  In high school, I was involved in our drama program, and by my senior year, I was playing main roles in most of our shows.  My parents came to every performance (only after I told that was what parents of the leads were supposed to do…) but they just came and watched the show.  No camcorders (remember those!?), no cameras.  Just my mom and dad.  Sitting in the audience.

Somebody once told my father, “Your daughter is so talented and does all these things!  Why don’t you record them?” And my dad said something very wise that I have taken to heart, “I would rather watch it once, and really experience her performance, and have the memory of that to carry with me, than to only ever see it through the lens of a camera.”  So that has been my life–I have lived my experiences, but never through a camera lens.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I think people who take pictures are awesome.  I love the cool photo montages they hang up on their walls and the great moments they capture, but truth be told, I just never remember.  If I’m lucky, I get out my phone for five minutes, snap a few pictures, and figure I’m off the hook.  Usually, I just mooch pictures from the collections of my photo-taking friends who plan and are mindful of things like that.

Nevertheless, as I’m getting older, I’m growing more fond of pictures.  But not the million-pictures-on-my-phone kind, or the Snapchat story kind, but the actual, ink-to-special-paper, hang-on-your-wall kind.  I don’t need a lot of pictures, just a few that remind me of really important seasons and people.  I think I love the history of pictures.  I have a picture collage on my dining room wall.  I have pictures of Baby Me with my parents.  I have pictures of the first time I talked my whole family into running a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving with me.  I have a picture of Lily, the gentle mutt who helped my grandpa babysit me when I was tiny, and one of Gracie, the even kinder dog who I really consider “mine.”  There is a picture of my grandmother when she was young. My story is there, in birthdays, and Christmases, and my baby brother’s graduation.

To me, photos (like so many things) are more about quality than quantity.  I don’t need a DropBox with fifteen million photos I’ll never look at.  I need fifteen I can look at when I’m eating breakfast and remember those happy times, those important people and places and times.  My wall isn’t the fanciest or chicest photo collection, but it’s mine.  There is history on that wall.  My history.  Evidence of where I come from.  Evidence that I am here. And anchor to the past, and one I can tie the kite of my dreams to so it can soar.

Maybe that’s why pictures are starting to matter–I’m getting older and am starting to feel like I have a history.  (For instance, I clearly remember things that happened twenty-five years ago.  TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO!!!  This is NOT supposed to be a thing!) There is more to me and my story now that you might guess if I don’t tell you.  Maybe the pictures are as much for me–to remind me of that history when I get weighted down in daily grind.  It’s a good way to be.  It’s good to have those memories.

And this is why I know people who like to take pictures when things happen to us…it gives me someone to mooch off of…


Calling in

So, today, I called in.  If you have a traditional corporate-type job, this probably doesn’t strike you as anything worth sharing, but I am a teacher.  And my fellow teachers can attest, calling in as a teacher is a big deal.  First off, sub plans are such a pain to write , and second, we feel this sort of moral obligation to never be sick–to never miss a day because our students need to learn, and I, for one, will drag myself into work on death’s door because I feel guilty if I’m not there.  There’s always something coming up–a concert, an assessment, a meeting I can’t miss, etc. etc. etc.

But I called in today.  And I didn’t do it because I was sick (of body, anyway,) but because emotionally and mentally, I have nothing left in me.  My house was in desperate need of a good cleaning.  I have laundry that needs to be done before I go out of town this weekend. I have to get my oil changed. I needed to actually cook something, because a girl cannot live on tortilla chips alone.  And I was so frustrated by the end of work yesterday, I just didn’t really like anyone or anything.  So that’s what I’m doing today.  All these chores.  Little dumb errands.  Not talking to anyone.  Having my faith in my profession and humanity in general restored.  De-stressing.

If you had told 19 year-old me that I would ever consider doing laundry and cleaning a bathroom “de-stressing,” I would have told you that you were insane.

And that got me thinking.  We are all like this.  My colleagues.  Friends in other districts.  Friends who teach in other states.  Friends who teach in other countries.  We are all, always, stressed.  Every teacher I know seems to function in this constant cloud of stress and pressure.  Some of it’s external, put on us by districts and parents and society.  We are required, now, to teach more content at a faster pace to more children while additionally teaching the character and ethics and social behavior that was once the realm of families and homes.  We are under pressure to get our test scores up (or keep them up.)  We are pushed to be a part of more committees and teams and collaborations and professional learning communities.  There are learning plans and development models and new curricula and a thousand other things.

But it’s not just “them.”  It’s also “us.”  Speaking for myself (but a pattern that I’ve seen time and time again from my fellow educators), I feel like I need to constantly prove myself to the society around me that doesn’t know what happens everyday in my classroom and believes that my job is “easy” and that I “don’t really work.”  I am always working to prove them wrong.  (Our district extended the teacher work day to 8.5 hours because the superintendent didn’t want parents to see us leaving the building, because they would think we “don’t work.”  No joke.)  But that’s just part of it.  I believe in what I’m doing.  I believe education matters.  I love my subject area and I want to help my kids love it as much as I do.  I believe that for many kids, I and other teachers are the only adult connection they have–we are the only adults that are not playing on our smart phones while we talk to them.  I want to be a better teacher.  I want to help them grow as people and students.  I want them to succeed.

And all of this stress is exhausting.

There is something wrong with my life if, at the end of the week, all I’m up to by the time I get to Saturday is binge watching something on Netflix while I obsessively crochet a blanket, rather than doing the usual Saturday chores and errands.  There is something seriously wrong with me when I don’t want to see people or do anything social ever because I have given every single atom of people-skill to my students.    Something is wrong here.

And we can all talk about how it’s society’s fault, or our administration’s fault, or whatever, and I agree, that’s a huge part of it.  But I can’t control that.  I can control me.  As I’ve been cleaning this morning, I thought about that.

I need to accept my humanity.  I can only teach the best I can.  I cannot do everything–even if something is good for kids, I cannot do all of the good things for kids. I am not God.  I cannot save these kids.  I have to do a little bit less if I am going to survive in a career in education.  I have to do what I can do, but also be okay with knowing when it’s time to stop.  Because when I don’t stop, when I am everything to everybody, I lose myself.  I don’t have the energy for being “Emily,” because it gets lost in the sea of “Miss D.”  I am not the only person in these lives that walk through my door.  I can’t be.  All these kiddos have families, parents, churches, clubs, and other people who are also have a hand in raising them. I admit, this is a hard pill to swallow.  I know a lot of you teachers reading this are thinking how wrong I am.  And maybe you can do it.  You can teach and be the perfect made-for-T.V. movie teacher and still go home at the end of the night and have a spouse and children and dog, and volunteer at church and run twelve miles a night…and if that’s you, I’m impressed.  I wish I could be you.  But I’m learning that I can’t.  I have to “make cuts” to be a better teacher, to make sure I don’t end up here repeatedly–taking sick days to clean my bathroom.

And for all of you in my boat, I’d encourage you to take a step.  Leave something less-than-perfect.  Go home.  Make dinner.  Breathe.



A Story by Any Other Name…

Tonight, on my way home from work, I swung by a thrift shop near my house.  I love to browse around and meticulously read every single title on the shelf.  Sometimes, you get lucky and find a gem hidden among the dross.  (I once found a pristine, anniversary reprint of the first five 1920’s era Nancy Drew books.  It can happen.)  Going through all the titles–award-winners like Bud, Not Buddy right next to Babysitter’s Club #374: Claudia and the Fill-In-The-Blank-Here–is interesting.  I usually find myself imagining what the books with titles I don’t recognize might be about.

I am a writer, by hobby, but for me the title is the last thing I come up with.  I usually refer to the manuscript by the protagonist’s name until it is finished and I have to call it something.  It’s been that way for me since I was a wee thing writing the first grade mangum opus, The Grouchy Horse. (You notice that seven year-old me did not bother to branch out from this theme.)

But I think it might be fun to make up a bunch of titles and then try to work backward.  I’d also like to know what kind of stories other people would write from such a title–I’m sure we’d get a sea of really interesting and vastly different works. (Which a nerd like me would find endlessly amusing…)

There are definite title “trends” that I have observed.  There are the usual juvenile series that give you the name of the series/hero and… titles (Harry Potter AND the Sorcerer’s Stone, Percy Jackson AND the Lightning Thief, etc.)  Chick lit prominently features references to rings, bridesmaid dresses, and bad breakups.  Things like A Ring for the Road, or Stacey Oliver’s Secret, and so on.  It’s actually kind of interesting.

I, of course, had to start developing a prototype list standing in the store, because (let’s face it) this is who I am as a person.  Some of my ideas include:

  • Reading the Novel Backward: This could either be a mystery of some kind, or one of those “Person who leaves home at a young age returning to hometown and making peace with past” deals.
  • Just Out of Focus:  I see this as a potential coming-of-age novel, after the tradition of Stand By Me, etc.
  • The Birds Never Sing: Historical fiction.  I envision the Gilded Age.
  • The Tower to the East:  Fantasy.  Or Medieval historical fiction.  But probably fantasy
  • Turn Left at Decorah:  Sister (or brother) against-wishes road trip.  Relationships healed.  Bonding ensues.
  • 327 Sycamore:  I don’t know what this is about, but there are always books with house numbers.
  • The Magic of Dusk: Harry Potter-Twilight rip off-style hybrid.  Basically it will make a million dollars because those are two monster franchises right there…
  • Call Me After 30:  Chick lit, with a side of “grown-up-ing is hard.”

So, there you go. Writing a novel?  Need a title?  Look no further!  I’m sure all of these will be big winners for you!  (Also–any good ones to add to the list?)

Life generally... · Misadventures

Curly hair, don’t care

I think it’s fair to begin by saying that, as I write this, my hair is completely slathered in coconut oil and is currently clipped onto the top of my head and wrapped up in an old t-shirt.  It has been this way for the past two-and-a-half hours, and realistically, will probably be that way for another three.

If your gut reaction was somewhere between “That’s an odd way to spend a Saturday night,” and “That is downright bizarre,” you are probably among the 89% of people in the world that do not have curly hair.  (I can give you this math because I just looked it up.  Google is such a nifty thing…) If you are one of the 11%, and therefore among my curly haired sisters, this sounds perfectly normal to you.  Curly-haired folk fall into two camps: they that spend hours and hours trying to make their hair sleek and smooth like the straight-haired people of the world, and they that spend hours and hours trying to get their curls to behave in a civilized and attractive manner, rather than like an Exorsist-style version of Cousin It.  It’s very time consuming.

What you have to understand about curly hair, if you do not have it, is that curly hair has a life of its own, and nothing you can do will convince it to do anything other than exactly what it wants.  Oh, sure, you catch me on a day when it’s cooperating, it’s amazing.  But you don’t see all the mornings when I wake up and look in the mirror only to think, “Oh, why?!”  Straightening it is an involved, forty-five minute process that only lasts about an hour, until I walk into anything even moderately humid (say, past a drinking fountain…) Keeping it curly involves trying to tempt and cajole it into doing what you want, which is dicey at best.  I can do the exact same thing to my hair three days in a row, and I’ll get “Meh” hair on day one, “Smashing” hair on day two, and “I Just Put My Finger In A Light Socket” on day three.  It’s completely hit-and-miss.

Most of  my hair-care habits have been picked up from one of three sources:

  1. A really smashing book called Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey. This was my first soirée into accepting my curly hair.  (If you have curly hair and have not read this book, you should stop reading this and go read it. Immediately.)
  2. My African-American students who wear their hair the natural way.  They come in from swimming in gym class and we talk about how insane curly hair is if it gets wet and you don’t put in product, and they’re always like, “Miss D., what you really need to do is…” I’ve gotten some good stuff this way.
  3. Pinterest.  (Because whenever do you not have Pinterest on a list like this?)

Pinterest tends to be my favorite lately, mostly because I like trying new stuff, and like every curly-haired girl of my acquaintance, I’m constantly on the quest for a miracle produce that will give me cinema-style perfection on a daily basis.  (This is totally impossible on the level of waking up at 3 a.m. on two hours of sleep with perfect make-up, but a girl can dream…)

Segue into the coconut oil and the t-shirt.  A Pinterest find, in this case.  It’s ridiculous and it might not work.  But it might.  And the article had 4/4 tried-it-and-loved-it hearts, so that’s something.  Of course, after I had this all slathered up, I read about how some people are really allergic to coconut oil and get horrible breakouts–with my luck, that will be me, but it will be an interesting object lesson.

My hair has gotten curlier as I’ve aged, but even in my teens, my hair was voluminous.  I came of age in the final seasons of Friends, where there was nary a curl or wave or even a hint of volume to be found.

While it’s nice that curly hair (along with brunettes, a membership card I also claim…) are finally back in fashion, having hair that could never be “cool” taught me a lot in those formative late-teens and early-twenties years.  I made peace with being me.  I will never be able to pull of all those sleek, polished looking up-dos.  It always looks, well, wrong and anyway, it would only last about ten minutes. But I like my curly hair.  It’s kind of crazy and everywhere and only marginally following the rules, which is kind of who I am as a person, really.  I only marginally believe in patterns and instruction manuals and believe top-down mandate protocol is open to a certain amount of, shall we say, interpreation. I’m kind of like my hair.  So I guess it’s no mistake that it’s growing out of the top of my head.

I have started finding a few gray hairs (a total moment of panic that would have been worth getting on camera…) mixed into my mass of curls lately.  They are a million times more curly than my “regular” tresses.  I hope this is an indication of what kind of old lady I’ll be one day–no Bea Arthur coif for me, no sir-ee.  I’m going to be that crazy old lady who is always coming up with wacky ideas and bending rules and doing all the things she wants to do.  That’s what curly hair says to me.  And I say, sign me up. 

Life generally... · Misadventures

I hate romance (and other truisms)

So, tonight, I was conned into going to see the new, live-action Beauty and the Beast with a couple girlfriends of mine, and I was reminded (for about the fifteen billionth time) about how much I hate romance in fiction.  Hate it.  I will avoid it at all costs.  I will make up excuses not to go over when people are watching these movies.  I turn the channel when they are on T.V.  A friend lends me a book that clearly features a love story as a major plot (or sub plot), I’ll let it sit on my table for a month, then read a synopsis and give it back.  The rom-coms I own sit in a drawer, unwatched for I-don’t-know how many years.  I have a love-hate relationship with my darling Jane Austen.  So, let me state that again, emphatically: I HATE ROMANCE.

I hate it so passionately, because at my core, I am a hopeless romantic.  I read somewhere once that “Within the chest of every jaded cynic beats the heart of a hopeless romantic,” and I reckon that’s pretty much dead on.  I hate romance in books and films because it’s like a drug to my spirit–I get high on the idea that somewhere out there, there are men who are well-read and can quote Shakespeare (who are not my college English professors).  I get completely bombed on the reckless abandon with which love happens in fiction–the idea that someone sees the funny, quirky things about you and sees them not only as gems but encourages them.  (I will cite that moment when Belle gets that exquisite library, in the cartoon, in the stage show, in the new movie.  It doesn’t matter.  It is such a part of her character, that to me that moment is magical.  I confess I brushed away a literal tear of jealousy in the movie theatre tonight.)

Unfortunately, I am now too old and smart for this.  My little girl, princess days are long behind me.  I know what reality is–I pay bills and clean my bathroom and use a CrockPot and spend more hours than I could ever count dedicated to raising the children of other people.  I have learned that (let us be real) things that make heroines really awesome in books and film does not necessarily translate to great success to real life.

I recently celebrated my thirty-third birthday.  I know, those of you among my elders are thinking things like, “Oh, you’re such a baby,” and cognitively, I agree with you.  But for some reason, this birthday hit me hard.  I don’t know why.  It’s not a round age.  Thirty slipped into my life with zero doom-and-gloom.  This year, though, I started looking at my life, and began to panic.  I think it’s because I feel like I’m such a static person.  All around me, friends, family, have gotten married and started families, while I remain good ol’ reliable me, ready to help–the good friend, the good sister.  Though I’ve always wanted those things, I didn’t worry.  I guess it’s because I subscribe strongly to the idea that you should live the life God gives you, not mope around wishing for something different.  So I’ve done lots of cool things with my time.  I guess I (stupidly?) just figured that when it was right it would happen.

But, then tonight, I found myself sitting in the movie theatre, with my two friends who live in the suburbs and have their husbands and houses and three kids, and I felt lost.  I’m not a starry-eyed idealist all the time–I know that life is just hard.  You give up the right to sleep for about six years when you have a child.  Marriages are tough and your spouse will annoy you.  I have been a steady shoulder for each of them in some of those tough times.  I have walked with these two women, my friends, through illnesses and cancer scares and miscarriages and layoffs and broken furnaces.  But I have also walked with them through the new homes and babies and good report cards and anniversaries.  And through their list of important life events, I just…am.  Good ol’ me.  Always there to lend a hand.

I find myself under the  pressure of time, and the reality that, no only am I in a profession where a girl just doesn’t meet single men, but no one I know knows any single men.  (The whole online dating nightmare is a post filled with enough drama and mad comedy to fit in with your average middle school dance…that is for another day.)  I feel the rising fear of complications that accompany “geriatric pregnancies” (the phrase “geriatric” alone fills me with unabashed terror.)  It’s horrifying.  I panic about what will happen to me if I get seriously sick–who will go with me to the doctor?  Who will help me make hard decisions?  Of course, I know people do these things all the time.  I know that I’m not totally alone, that I have God on my side, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re tired and frustrated and lonely.

The only way I know to avoid the irrational desire to get weepy and call my mom is to just…put my nose to the grindstone and get on with the business of my life.  If I don’t think about it, I’m pretty okay.  I do my job, have my social life, have my little stresses and little victories.  Life keeps on keepin’ on.

But movies and books (I mean, it was Beauty and the Beast tonight, for crying out loud.  It’s a ruddy fairy tale!) knock me off my rhythm.  They feed me that narcotic of people finding each other, and ordinary, lonely people who do not have to be alone anymore.  It’s intoxicating.    And as long as the high lasts, I imagine that maybe one day things will change for me.  But then the lights come back on, I get into my car, and the crash comes, because I am smart enough to know that it doesn’t work like that–not for me, anyway.

But (and someone else very smart said this) “Hope springs eternal.”  The most frustrating thing about being a romantic is that you can’t kill hope.  You can’t kill that stubborn little flame of “just maybe.”  I guess it’s a good thing.  It keeps life interesting.  It keeps you guessing.  I suppose it’s why God gave it to us–to keep us from giving up.  But, wow, is it tough.  Tough, but unbreakable–it’s the reason Jane Austen sits in a place of honor on my shelf, and why I can’t just give away those DVDs.  I guess it’s also why I love writing fiction–it may not happen for me, but in my fictional world, I can make it happen for someone else.  And that is a high in and of itself.


Mozart be lit.

So, my choir kids had a concert today.  It’s a big deal.  First of all, because we are still a baby program (when I took over two years ago, the program had a membership of twelve kids), so anytime we manage to pull anything off, people are still kind of surprised.  But, more importantly, because I teach middle school so literally EVERYTHING is a big deal.  My fellow M.S. educators know where I’m coming from.  Just watch the greeting ritual of two seventh grade girls who haven’t seen each other in ten minutes–let’s just say there is a lot of squealing and hugging.  You’d think one of them had literally just come back from the dead.

It felt like an accomplishment to me, too.  I have high standards, and (unlike my colleagues) I understand where a middle school choral program should be.  I look at where we are and can only think of how far we have to go.  There is so much they don’t know.  In so many ways, I am sending kids unprepared for high school choral programs out of my program.  We have such a long road ahead!  It is easy to be overwhelmed by what is undone, how many times I feel like I’m failing them as their teacher and not doing the job as well as I would like to because of the simple fact that I am a One doing the job of Two.

I feel the constant pressure from my students to sing music they already know.  (Not sometimes.  Literally ALL THE TIME.)  Middle schoolers, unlike their high school counterparts, have very little interest in trying new things.  They want to do what they know.  If they don’t know it, well, then just forget it.  It’s probably garbage, as far as they’re concerned.  So doing the music that I know is best for them is the musical equivalent of trying to convince your average six year old to eat spinach.  It is a losing battle.

But there are victories, small ones, when I force feed them enough real choral music that they actually hear the potential that is there–how what sounds best in a choir is not what sounds best on the radio.  My 8th grade girls choir is in the middle of an Epiphany Month.  Every few days, it’s like a new light bulb comes on, and they become a little bit more like the choral singers I hope they will be.

After our concert today, they showed up for class ready to watch a movie.  “Nice try,” said I, their mean, cruel and generally nasty director, “We only have two months until our last concert.  We have work to do.”  They groused.  I preened their egos about their great job a bit, and then I let them choose between two different (non-pop) pieces.  The one they picked (which I really hoped they would) is lush and full and truly choral.   We listened to a recording, and at the moment in the music where I first fell in love with the piece, one of my girls breathes, “Oh, this is awesome.”  Little tittering whispers around the choir, as they write on scraps of paper which song they want to do.  The vote is so far in favor of The Lass from the Low Countree I don’t even have to bother to properly count.

My school has a strong minority representation–which is really cool, because there is a richness in having so many different backgrounds in my classroom.  I have had many (administrators, mostly) who don’t know music well, who insist that choral music doesn’t have a place in culturally responsive education.  I point out that Mozart is just as foreign to my Caucasian students as Spirituals are to my African-American students–both are important, and both help make them better performers.  (I site candy–eat too much candy, your teeth will fall out and you will get sick.  Too much pop music makes it hard to breed a good and healthy young singer. But this is a soap box for another day…)  

Anyway, so we are doing a choral arrangement of a piece from Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute,” titled Papageno-Papagena.  You don’t need to know about it, really (but it’s an awesome piece, in my unbiased opinion…), but you just have to know it’s Mozart.  It was written by some Austrian guy over 200 years ago.  It is light years away from my 8th grade choir and their American ideas and smart phones and instant gratification culture.

But we worked on it today, because I’m “mean” and expect them to sing in choir, like, all the time.  (The nerve, I mean, really…) But we started going, and guess what?  Lo, and behold, it sounded pretty good.  “Why?” you ask.  “Because Mozart wrote music for real, human voices without any digital help,” say I.  Well, that and because my girls are finally starting to listen to one another and are singing as an ensemble, rather than a bunch of soloists all singing at the same time.  They are finally beginning to make music.

We finish the section–at the same time, in the right key.

One of my girls, “Aria,” does a quick improve dance off of the dab.  “Awww, yeah,” she says, “This be lit!”

You heard it here first, folks.  Just remember, the next time you hear a piece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…he may be a lot of things, but for some Midwestern, middle school singers, he be lit!