Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Getting Antibiotics Is Winning, or: Strep Schmep

Please add this to the list of things that are worse as an adult: sore throats.

In case you're keeping track, here it is:

Worse (and Maybe Tragic) as an Adult

1. Falling down
2. Stubbed toes
3. Tilt-A-Whirls/ Teacup rides
4. Your clothes getting too small for you
5. Getting wet when you're trying to be dry
6. Cold water in swimming pools
7. Sore Throats

I've had more than one discussion recently about how awful and scary it is to fall down as an adult. My friend JA covered that one nicely, here. To that I will also add that having other adults fall around you is scary as shit. Maybe even worse than falling yourself. When E and I were taking pictures in the church after our wedding, the photographer's wife posed the two of us near a pew, and then she just... Well, she just rolled down to the ground in slow motion. For no reason at all. And we stood there (I was holding a bouquet as big as my torso, E was holding me) looking at each other like oh God, this is on us, right? We stood there unable to move, and she lay on the ground unable to figure out what just happened to her. The seconds before we could get our hands out to help her up felt like hours.

When you're a kid, you fall all the time and you're just like, oh whoops, no biggie. You dust off your own little rear and run across the street so you can watch He-Man with a boy named Quentin. (No? Just me? I wasn't allowed to watch He-Man at my house. That's a whole other thing.)

I did my share of falling, is all I'm saying. Right up through high school and college dance, when I had a reputation for leaping hard without bothering to plan a landing. And then one day it got scary.


I've had this sore throat and I came here to whine about it. It. Was. Awful. I wanted to die, basically, which is my default position anytime something is wrong with my mouth or any other part of me belonging to the activity of eating. My throat has been on fire for three days and that meant no talking and not a lot of eating or drinking and you can already see why I'm in a mood, right?

I guess adults just assume that our default position is healthy/upright/fed/dry. When we fail to maintain that equilibrium, we get all pouty. And honestly, this does not disprove my hypothesis that we ask kids to suck it up and deal way more often than we should. When Henry had his tonsils out, I was astounded by the number of people who told me it was just easier on kids. Is it? Or do we just tell kids to knock it off and quit whining?

Meanwhile, I'm over here rolling on the ground and beating my fists against the carpet because I have a virus that wants to live in my talking and eating tube and I have to wait it out. It's not even strep (which you know I was hoping for because it would have meant: a) validation -- infections are the most excellent, "real" ways to be sick, and b) antibiotics, the quick fix I was sure I needed). Nope. #NotStrep. I am just "an incubus of viral plague" as Miranda Priestly says. My doc was kind to inform me that viral infections are more contagious than strep, too. You're welcome, family.

There are more important things in the world tonight. I know. But I just want to lay here and have someone bring me ice packs and Icees and run their fingers through my hair and tell me shhh, shh, it's going to be okay.

If you can't make that happen, at least pass me another Hot Toddy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

This Week

I'm starting off sick. Or maybe (I hope!) it's just allergies. But no matter what this is, it sucks. My throat has been sore since yesterday. I did this to myself by declaring Sunday a work-free day. Naturally, by Sunday afternoon I felt sick.



Anyway. This week. At the end of this week I'll be 35. Which feels like it should mean something, if only because my weird number/color brain likes the way 3 and 5 feel together. Green and red. It's a lot of contrast, but 3 and 5 go. I always like a year that goes. That's about the extend of how my synesthesia manifests. Silly mental number preferences. But there you go. 35. Me.

I'm hoping this is a light week. I'm certain that the reason I got sick Sunday is that last week was a ridiculous amount of work for one person. I forget, always, that this time of year is rough on me at work. I forget, also, that saying yes to a lot of things means you have to make good on those promises. Though I'm better at saying no, I'm not good enough at it yet. And since I'm making room for a lot of yes when it comes to book reviewing, the other yesses took every waking moment I had to myself last week. I got cry-tired. That's never good.

Anyway, that's enough blogging about being busy. I apologize. Here's what's up.

This week, I'm:

Reading Jac Jemc's book, A Different Bed Every Time.

Listening to The Stranger, and a little bit more of Dubliners.

Writing revisions to two short stories I've workshopped recently. It's the first week in a long time when I'm not working on a book review. I hope to take my notes from my writing group and do some good with them. Writing fiction feels like playing, right now. I'm excited that I have some time for it this week.

Watching the rest of The Good Wife on Hulu, if I can swing it. I'm at that inevitable point I get to with streaming TV shows. I like it, but finishing has become more about finishing than personal enjoyment. It's another thing to cross off the list. I know I'll feel better when I've watched them all. I'm not saying it's not good, but my Type-A personality has made this into another to-do list item.

Making cookies disappear.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

This happy.

Yesterday I visited UC Santa Cruz and CSU Monterey Bay with my AVID students in a whirlwind trip to the coast. The weather was perfect and I enjoyed seeing both campuses for the first time. I can't get over how gorgeous Santa Cruz was.

I took a bunch of pictures, but most of them have my kids in them so I can't post.


When we were at CSUMB there was this guy in the middle of a huge quad, swinging this giant (cardboard? duct-tape covered?) sword to music.

Oh, college.


I want to be exactly that happy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making People Read Books

Being a teacher has its perks. Occasionally (when it works with what we're studying), I can assign an amazing text to my students and just watch what happens. Case in point: the excerpt we're reading now from Dave Cullen's Columbine.

When I read it almost two years ago, I read it one sitting. All four hundred pages. I couldn't even put it down to go to sleep, it was so compelling. It is written so well, too, that despite the difficult subject matter, it's one of the most readable things I've ever come across. (And you probably all know this already, because if you know me in real life, I've already made you read it.)

This year I'm teaching 11th grade. American Literature. I knew I wanted to incorporate more creative nonfiction into the curriculum; in the last five years there has been a heavy emphasis on bringing more nonfiction into the classroom, but my kids see primarily informational texts. Until now there has been less emphasis on the craft of nonfiction, unless we're talking about rhetorical strategies. That has value, absolutely. But I think many kids graduate without ever seeing nonfiction that's beautiful or haunting. (Which is too bad, right? Real stories make up a significant portion of the market, and I think for some of my kids, reading great nonfiction in school could be what gets them hooked on reading. Or at least a little book-curious.) This year I set a goal to bring them more  of memoir, the personal essay, and literary journalism.

It's been fun to choose texts for a creative nonfiction unit, drawing from works I studied at UCR.

This week we're reading a bit of Columbine. We've been talking about truth. About the space in the Venn Diagram that fiction shares with nonfiction. About the different obligations and motivations that writers have to represent truth on the page. About different situations and the kind of truth they require. About why and how a writer might tell a true story.

So yesterday we started looking at Columbine, and they're hooked. I've had two of the best days with my kids. They're engaged and awake in a way I haven't seen all year. It's the kind of learning that doesn't feel like learning, and the kind of teaching that doesn't feel like work.

Yesterday as I was starting class, one kid asked me what he missed the day before when he was out.

Before I could answer, another girl in the class said "We read a really good chapter of a really good book."

Multiple kids asked if this book is in the school library so they can read the whole thing.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


This year:

Egg jokes.
Hiding the green one in the guacamole.
Avocado and grapefruit salad.
Uncles popping rose petals.
Nephews finding a squirrel skull.
Sleepy Dad.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

This Week

No more using the restroom whenever I want! Back to school!

Easter festivities have drawn to a close; visits were made to households on each side of the family. As usual, the four of us arrived home Sunday night and (after folding and hanging that pile of laundry I've been avoiding for a week) collapsed onto our bed for the night. I'm positive that we all ate enough calories in candy, alone, to last through at least August, so the skipped meal didn't even matter. Both kids were allergic messes from being out in the wind for two days, and neither of them really mustered up any energy, either. Easter, as usual, left us exhausted just in time to head back to school.

So, school. That's where I am today, or where I'll be soon if you're reading this early. I opened my calendar last night to plan out my week and my week was surprisingly free of obligations. Of course, once I added time for reading, writing, grading and prepping my classes, I now have a standard Heather week of crazy. If I can work really hard and write during my weekday breaks, though, I shouldn't have much to do next weekend.

What I'm saying is, I dug having time off, and I'd like to do it again. My goal is not to work next Saturday or Sunday. We'll see what happens.


This week, I'm:

Reading Paula Bomer's collection, Inside Madeleine. Next in line (I'm ever-hopeful I'll find more time!): Dept. Of Speculation.

Listening to Dubliners, still. I didn't drive or walk much last week, so I didn't make a lot of progress. But today it's back to walkin' and back to work; I should make a dent. And I'm still spending time in search of a new Pandora station (Pandora usually only helps me reinforce my weird music habits, which are mostly about movie scores, awful 90s music pop music, and things that sound like Moby's "Everloving." I know). Lately my hunt for new music means I bounce back and forth between the Indie and Lorde stations... I know, I know. Someone tutor me.

Watching something I never thought I'd watch. In fact, I've been refusing to watch it for three seasons. But E loves it, and I love E. So I promised him I'd watch another E show. (After all, I did get weirdly hooked on Sons of Anarchy, our last together-watch.) I'm watching Game of Thrones. I tried when it premiered and I gave up before the first episode was over. Too many names, too much brother/sister sexytime, and everyone saying winter is coming every flipping five minutes. But. I'm trying again. I'm about five episodes in (he's rewatching with me) and I'm trying to keep Evelyn Napier and the Klingon-looking guy and Barbie with the dragon eggs and the prince who looks like Kes from Star Trek Voyager* all straight from each other and I have to ask questions every five minutes. It's a slow process.

*Apologies to everyone who is not a nerd. I took that last one a little too far.

Making time to walk. My body is an out-of-shape wreck and there are no traces left in me of anyone who used to dance. My muscles ached so badly yesterday from two hours of yard work that I needed round-the-clock ibuprofen. Walking, I can do. (Plus, Hurley Dog needs it.) I'm setting the bar low.

Eating homemade granola with full fat organic yogurt from grass-fed cows. I bought it to compare to my usual Fage, and I am a fan. Also I feel like the health benefits of happy cow yogurt might balance out all those Icees I drink during baseball season. No?

Spending my time at Henry's baseball games and E's softball games. I am pretty sad that I have yet to develop an affinity for baseball, bleachers, leaving my house, or other people. (I thought that might just happen by now?) But apparently you can't undo everything about being a girl who spent all her time in a dance studio. I like to watch my boys play, though, even if the standard sports mom interaction gives me the willies. Go team.

Counting down the days until summer. (Spring Break was so nice!) 38 to go.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Recent Reads

Reading for reviews is pleasure reading. It doesn't feel like work. But sometimes scheduling and commitments mean I have to put my personal reading list aside. Of course I can't help myself and often I'm reading two or three things at a time. Here's what I've been reading for me, lately: the things I sneak in between review books.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I don't read thrillers. I'm too much of a fraidy cat. But if all thrillers could be this good, I might have to change that rule. Night Film had me hooked from the first chapter.

The book follows journalist Scott McGrath as he tries to investigate the possible murder of the Ashley Cordova, daughter of Stanislaus Cordova, a horror film producer and legendary recluse. Cordova's daughter is found dead of apparent suicide. As McGrath and his two research assistants begin to investigate her death, it's hard to sort fact from rumors about the mysterious Cordova family. McGrath uncovers evidence of the occult, as well as horrifying secrets behind the walls of the family compound. There are elements of the typical detective story here, but they're used creatively and described in Pessl's beautiful language.

Night Film kept me in suspense, particularly as I neared the end of the book. The night I finished it, I could not stop reading, nor could I turn out the light. I had to find out what happened. Completely enjoyable and different from what I normally read.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Dan Harris, journalist for ABC, writes this account of dealing with his personal demons (drugs, anxiety, and a stressful career) through meditation. This book was a nice mix of science, personal history, and honest skepticism.  Harris describes how he came to his practice and the many paths he tried along the way. There's nothing prescriptive, here, only what feels like a journalist's inquisitive eye on a subject that has a reputation for ineffability and sentimentality.

I really liked this one, too. But I listened to this one while I walked the dog, and Harris' voice began to grate, a little. Small nitpick. It was a worthwhile and easy read.

The Object Parade: Essays by Dinah Lenney

What if your life was defined by the objects you own? That's the premise of Dinah Lenney's essay collection, The Object Parade. Lenney writes of everything from a metronome to an old dog collar, and each offering is a beautifully written meditation on what kind of meaning we give to things. Of course, it's not the things that take center stage, it's Lenney's life, family, losses and ambitions. She ends the collection with an essay about the objects she didn't choose, and it is as compelling as the things she did.

I loved, loved, this book. (Full disclosure: Lenney is my editor at LARB. But I would have loved it anyway.) This is the kind of collection that uses specificity to speak to the universal. Lenney writes with crisp prose that is easy to enjoy. I found myself so conscious of the objects in my life once I read it. Much like I felt about the media we consume over a lifetime telling a story when I read John Leonard's Reading For My Life last year, this book made me consider what my legacy of things will be. I can't stop thinking about it, in fact.

You should read this book. That's all I'm saying.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

I read this book because it won the Tournament of Books over at The Morning News. And I read it as an homage to my 11th grade self, who wrote a single-spaced ten page research paper for AP US History about John Brown and Harper's Ferry. Because what's more fun to a teenage girl than John Brown?

I kid. Learning about John Brown during that project taught me a lot about history, and writing the long paper over Spring Break, 1996 was part of cutting my writer's teeth. But I wasn't sure McBride could make the story compelling for a modern reader. Here's the thing. I get why McBride has won so many awards. He manages to take the serious story of John Brown and tell it through the eyes of Onion, a young boy (posing as a girl) traveling with Brown and his men. It's about the voice.

At times this book felt over-the-top to me, but in a way that jives with what I know of Brown, himself. Even in the days immediately following his failed raid on Harper's Ferry, he became a figure of legend. McBride would have you believe that he saw the creation of his legend as his primary goal--maybe even more so than success in his raid.

It's been so long that I didn't remember everything that happened at Harper's Ferry. But McBride's novel had me wanting to know more, and Onion is a superb narrator. I enjoyed it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tiny Life

Right now there are two boys on my front lawn blasting each other with NERF darts. They're alternately singing songs from Frozen and Miley Cyrus.

I'm in the house, being kind of sad.

Spring Break is all but over. It wasn't enough. I wasn't careful about how I let myself slip into my home self--my real self--this week. I didn't keep an eye to next Monday or the remaining six weeks of the Mrs. P Show that I have in front of me and I didn't stay in school mode. I just surrendered. Exhaled. Forgot about responsibility looming. I was so happy to pretend this time at home with the monkeys was permanent--that we wouldn't all hop back on the crazy train in just a matter of days. It's not that I don't want to go back to work. I do. But I'm so fulfilled by this simple, tiny life at home that I don't want to let it go, either.

Tiny espresso cup realness.

I haven't done much this week. I've barely ventured out. I gave myself permission to not walk, not grade, not hang up that pile of clothes that's been on the end of my bed since I got home from LA. My focus was family and writing, and those two things more than filled my days. For the first time in months I've had a quiet string of days to sit and type. No distractions, no obligations, no reason to not give in to the stories I've been carrying around in my head (or mulling over, in the case of reviews) for the past few weeks.

Tuesday, E and I had our 14th anniversary. An insignificant number (even more so since we needed a do-over about five years ago), but a significant week. I didn't write about Tuesday right away since it seemed almost too precious to share. We had dinner at a fantastic small restaurant in Elk Grove, and--more importantly--a week of putting work into our relationship. Not work that feels like work, but work that feels like an affirmation. Care, I suppose, is a better word. The kind that says to the person sitting across from you: you're worth my effort.

Yesterday Addie had a ticket to meet her teacher at the movies (100% Homework Club gets to do that, I guess), so Henry and I dropped her off and went to see Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Since I generally spend my time fretting about where I'm supposed to be or what I'm supposed to be doing, it was amazing to just go and enjoy myself without guilt.

#sunroofMy handsome date to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

Today Henry invited his friend over and I spent my afternoon on the patio finishing Bonnie ZoBell's What Happened Here. I made a brie and turkey panini for lunch. I sipped espresso and talked to my mom on the phone. I tried to be thankful for this quiet life. With our over-committed schedule, I often forget it exists.

Cat fight. A test of will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Last week was Book Week for HSP, a week of testing myself to see if I could make it to as many events as possible.

Wednesday afternoon Dorothy and I got in my car and drove to San Francisco to see Gina Frangello and Kate Milliken in conversation with Michelle Richmond at Books, Inc. Gina is my editor at The Rumpus and is also a nonfiction professor in my MFA program. Her new book, A Life in Men, is out right now from Algonquin. I wanted to see and support Gina, and I was hoping I'd also get to meet the two other fabulous authors at the event, Kate Milliken, who wrote If I'd Known You Were Coming, and Michelle Richmond, who wrote Hum. Each of these ladies wrote fabulous short story collections (prize-winning, in fact) which I loved when I reviewed them for The Rumpus and The Coachella Review, respectively.

Books, Inc is a cozy bookstore on Chestnut in the Marina, and Dorothy and I had dinner nearby at The Tipsy Pig. We noshed on a bunch of delicious small plates, but of course I didn't snap any pictures... I was too busy cramming pork sliders into my face and washing them down with a Paloma.

The event was intimate and the readings were fabulous. I can't wait to read Gina's book.

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I did get to meet Kate and Michelle, too. I am humbled by the quality of writer whose work I get to review and meet. It was a pleasure to tell them in person how much I admired their books.

Somehow I made it through teaching on Thursday without much sleep. By Friday morning I was on Hwy 99 headed toward LA, listening to James McBride's The Good Lord Bird. I was staying again with my friend Eileen and MFA besties Maggie and Lizi and so we could attend the LA Times Festival of Books together. The view from Eileen's house does not disappoint, and Eileen is the most generous hostess.

I sleep pretty well there. The sound of the waves is magic.

Friday night we had dinner at Son of a Gun with our dear friend, Emile, and walked to Literary Death Match at Largo. The authors reading were: Geoff Dyer, Andres Du Bochet, Rachel McKibbens and Dana Goodyear, while Walter Kirn, Tymberlee Hill and BJ Novak judged. It was hands-down the most entertaining and hilarious reading I've ever been to. Most readings are stuffy and too long. Not this one. I laughed all night and it was over too quickly.

Saturday we headed to the Festival. LATFOB takes over USC for one weekend a year, and there are vendors, lit mags, signing tents and food trucks everywhere. There are panels with every kind of author imaginable. There's actually no way to make it to everything, but we put in a valiant effort.

I really wanted to meet my editor from LARB, Dinah Lenney, in person, and she happened to be speaking on a nonfiction panel with Leslie Jamison, Pico Iyer, and Leo Braudy. There's a nice write-up of it here from The Times. After it was over, we headed over to the signing tent so I could introduce myself and ask them to sign my books. I was humbled again. It still isn't lost on me, small town girl from Northern California, that I have access to people who write books. Really great books. Does it make me sound provincial to say how much this affects me? I don't care. Getting my MFA changed my world.

Anyway. We did not see John Green interviewed by David Ulin, although based on the line around the auditorium, it seems like he was seen by every teen and tween girl in California. We attended a panel with Jeff Jackson, Fiona McFarlane, and Kevin Moffet--moderated by my fiction professor, Tod Goldberg. We giggled as Tod dropped F bombs and parents with children went running out of the room. We also saw Gina Frangello again -- on a fiction panel along with Natalie Baszile and Michelle Huneven. It was only a moment into the panel before I realized I'd purchased Natalie Baszile's book, Queen Sugar, at City Lights when I was in San Francisco having lunch with Pia. Small world. We finished out the day by seeing Geoff Dyer and Ruth Ozeki in conversation with David Ulin. I didn't want it to end.

After the last panel we got to say hi to David and the inimitable Elizabeth Crane, who included us in her selfie photo series of the Festival.

Betsy Oscar selfie.

Eileen hosted a party Saturday night for folks in the program. We played that game where you stick a tag on your back and you have to ask questions until you get it right. We played with famous characters as our people. And I learned that I am terrible at that game, even when I am the one who writes all the tags beforehand.

Lucio, having a hard time figuring out that he's Jane Eyre.

Still, fun to hang out and eat my weight in blue cheese dip and gummy bears.

Sunday we had wristbands for the green room, so we had access to tiny caprese sandwiches in between each event. You better believe we took advantage of that. On one of our sandwich runs, I ran into Paul Tremblay, who it is always nice to see. I did my share of gawking as I waited by the soup station, too. So many authors all in one place. Tod calls it the Living Barnes and Noble, and it was exactly that.

Sunday's panels: Adrian Todd Zuniga interviewing Lillibet Snellings, Annabelle Gurwich, Anna David and Pamela Ribon (hilarious, all), and Tod's second panel, a group of noir writers including Kem Nunn, Richard Lange, Mark Haskell Smith (another professor at UCR), and Adam Sternbergh. Our final panel of the day featured my fiction professor Betsy Crane, Jennifer Gilmore, Jenny Offill, and Mona Simpson. By the time the panel ended and I bought Jenny Offill's book, Dept. Of Speculation, so she could sign it, I was worn out. But happy worn out.


Last year the Festival made me think for the first time about belonging to a community of people from my MFA program that still existed (magically!) beyond the walls of Rancho Las Palmas. It was the first time I'd spent any time with my peeps outside of the forced interaction at residency, and I think it was the first time I realized that this is for real. This year, while none of it had that same newness, it all had a lovely comfortable quality to it. I know who my people are, and they're my people whether we're all stuck posting on Blackboard together or not. And now the people who are a part of my book reviewing life are coming to be as much a part of my real life, too. I enjoy the FOB for its joy. All of the authors seem to be having such a great time, and everyone is so generous in their interaction with those of us who attend. Just like last year I came home with more books that I have time to read, but a fullness in my heart.

My one disappointment: I did not remember to pick up a Ray Bradbury face fan to go along with Joan Didion. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This Week

My school doesn't break until the week before Easter*, so I've been biting my nails as I wait for some time off. Just kidding. I haven't been biting my nails; I've been biting off people's heads. Because I just can't anymore. Literally, I can't even. When Easter falls this late and the break falls this late (just like when any number of insignificant other things happen, including but not limited to my not eating enough), I'm Crankypants McGee.

*We've decided that separation of church and state ain't no thing, yo. Breaking after the 3rd quarter is for suckas. Or, you know. For many, many people in academia.

But anyway, I'm not supposed to be anywhere today. So I'm in my sweat pants, and I DO NOT look like this:


But this is the couch next to me:

The Jenny Offill book is wishful thinking. There are two ahead of her in line.
I couldn't sleep, so I spent the hours of 1:30 AM to 4:30 AM planning. I'm sure you think this is super nerdy and gross, but in Me World, quiet time to plan one's week is rare and special. When I'm all planned out I'm uber happy. It means I don't have to hold all that worry in my head. In fact, I think the reason I couldn't sleep last night was that I had been writing a new story and making a list of things to do (in my head) as I drove home from LA, and I was so excited to write it all down so I could start doing.

It worked out. The dog missed me while I was in LA and my being up last night gave him three prime hours to stare at me, uninterrupted. His undying affection for me and me only is the topic for another post.

Speaking of love, it's also my 14th wedding anniversary today.

Yes, on Tax Day.

Here's what I'm doing this week:

Reading Bonnie ZoBell's What Happened Here and Paula Bomer's Inside Madeleine, both for reviews. I'm excited about each. I'm even more excited that I have days at home to read. If I have time, I might sneak a peek at Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation, mostly because I'm dying of curiosity and FOMO.

Listening to Dubliners by James Joyce while I drive around in my car. I'll be in Dublin this summer, so when I can I'm trying to fit in some related literature. Unfortunately I bought the audiobook when I was on the road yesterday so I made the critical mistake of not listening to the voice-over artist's voice before I downloaded it. He has a ssss in his letters that makes me want to tear my skin off, so I might be listening to this one in small chunks. Even though so far I like the stories.

Watching The Good Wife, RuPaul's Drag Race, and all those episodes of Chopped on my DVR. And maybe some Law and Order when I need a little murdery background noise.

Making everyone I know read Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams. When I picked it to review for Bookslut, I had no idea how big a sensation it was going to become. Leslie Jamison is the new it girl, and she deserves every moment of it. I can't stop thinking about that book.

Spending my time with the monkeys. At home. We have a week free of commitments, mostly, and this morning Henry told me that he has plans to not wear his pants very often. I support this, as it coincides nicely with my desire to sit on the couch, write words, and pause only to nap or eat.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Not-Brutal Realities

Warning: old lady soapbox post.

I'm friends with a bunch of my former students on Facebook. This has vastly improved my view about teaching. Before social media, teachers didn't always get to see what happened after our charges left the nest. Now it's easy to keep in touch and watch my former students grow into full-fledged adults.

Sometimes this means my feed has a lot of pictures of sorority squatting and questionable costume choices. But you know? Nobody is my responsibility once they graduate out... so God bless 'em (and that's why we have the 'I don't want to see this' button.) Be young. Have at it.

Yesterday, a listicle called 17 Brutal Realities of Being a College Student in 2014 started making the rounds among my former AP kids, each now at different universities.  So I clicked on it to read it. As one does. The producer (Thoughtcatalog uses this label rather than writer, as best I can tell) of this article has--I'm sure--a different take on college than 30-something awkward me.

I thought I'd offer my own thoughts:


1. College doesn't have to be the best time of your life. If you're beating yourself up because it isn't, know this: no one time in your life has to be the best time of your life just because it was for someone else. You know that quote that a billion people have posted on Pinterest? The one that says, What messes us up is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be? That. And it will be true about everything you do for the rest of your ever. Love. Marriage. Babies. Work. You can only be you and that means you can only have your highs and lows. If college sucks, guess what? Something else will be better.

My amazing college. My time there was not the best time of my life.

2. There are a lot of distractions. But you have the power to remove all of them. If you really want something bad enough--a grade, an education, a career, a relationship--you will find a way to turn off the noise. If you can't find a way to do that, you're probably not ready or didn't really mean that much to you. What I mean is this: Tumblr isn't going to keep you from finishing papers or graduating unless you let it.

3. Nobody has any idea what they are doing. The secret is out. We're all faking it. This doesn't stop after college. Try to be the person now that you want to be later, and the "doing" part of your day will start to make sense. Set a goal. Focus yourself. Work hard. Show other people you care about them. That's the best anyone can do.

4. Living frugally will give you perspective. Even if that perspective is about not wanting to eat poorly and share space with other humans, it will be valuable. Sometimes the lesson you learn is about what you don't want.

5. As difficult as this job market is, having a college degree gives you access to so much more than if you don't have one. Yes, it's hard to get a job. Yes, it sucks. But it won't always suck. You want to come out on the other side of this recession with an education. It will always be harder to find work if you don't have a college degree. And guess what? If you earn a degree, nobody can ever take that away. The years will pass either way and you can either learn or not. But they will damn sure pass. Your degree might be in something you don't choose to pursue, eventually. But having it is like leveling up in life.

6. Financial aid is there for those who want it. It can be a better deal to invest in yourself for the short term so you can reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

7. If you don't like how much you're complaining, stop. Chances are that other people don't enjoy the negativity, either, especially if you're not taking action to change the things you don't like. But this doesn't mean that college won't come with challenges. You are meant to struggle. Even things like figuring out how to wake yourself up early and budget your time and study and decide just how much fun you're going to have--those are all things you're supposed to learn in college. You don't want anyone telling you what to do. You want to find your own rhythms. Your own values. So give yourself a break. You're learning how to be Future You.

8. College is a good opportunity to learn the difference between "free resources on the internet" and what's inside books. There is one. If you can Google something easily, so can the rest of the world. Learning about a topic--really learning--requires more than a few click-throughs. Sometimes it means paying for resources. Sometimes it means reading boring stuff. But I promise you the people who can make themselves read boring things come out ahead of those who look for the easy out. And often that stuff in books will change who you are as a person--in a good way. Because it's harder to get your words into a book than to put them on the internet. And not all information is equal. Figuring that out makes you discerning. That will be important, later.

9. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince had this one right. Parents just don't understand. But your parents' parents didn't understand them, either.  Nor did your grandparents' parents. Circle of life. And cell phones, internet, anything you want that costs money--if you work hard and earn, it's not off limits to you. Part of what you learn in college is how to sacrifice to get the things that you need and want.

10. Hopefully eating all that Ramen teaches you that you want more out of life than just Ramen.

11. The reason people talk so much about traveling abroad in college is that it only gets harder to do once you're older. You'll have a job. Maybe a family. Maybe a mortgage. It just gets more complicated. But this also doesn't mean you have to go when you're in school. Do what works for you. Stop letting yourself feel obligated by what other people tell you. Maybe it doesn't work for you to travel in college. You'll find a way to do it later if it's something you really want. It will require more sacrifice, that's all.

12. Unpaid internships: Yep. We're still doing that. Sometimes you have to show people that you're worth hiring before they will pay you to do a task. Sometimes you have to work really hard at something only because you know it will get you to another level. And sometimes you have to do things you don't like and nobody will pay you for them. Adulthood.

13. You have to create the space you want to live in. This is true for your dorm room, your house, and your head.

14. Being a professor is not a cushy job. Jobs in education can be hard work for little recognition. But the world will always need teachers. If you have a passion for something and if you can make sacrifices so that others can learn, you should do it. Opportunities present themselves to people who work hard and who are kind. Always.

15. The world is full of bad food. As an adult, it's part of your job to figure out if you want to eat it and maybe not be so healthy, or if you don't want to eat it and maybe live a little longer. Choices are amazing. But they always have consequences.

16. College--like all school--teaches you how to learn. You will not directly apply most things you learn in school in your real life. You just won't. If someone told you that you were going to use everything you ever learned in school, that was a lie. But if you want to be successful--more successful than not--you have to be good at learning. And you have to keep doing it. So you might not have someone tell you to research and write an essay. But you will--at some point--have an opportunity to present something that you care about to others. And being able to support your opinion intelligently? And being able to write persuasively? Those are gold in Adultland.

17. Nostalgia is real. You will always remember things that were positive and miss those moments. But after college there will be a lot of things you're glad to let go. You don't have to be or feel anything right now just because you're in school. Just like how you don't have to be or feel anything anyone else says for the rest of your life. Think about what matters to you. Put your time into that. Anything that doesn't bring you joy? Stop giving it your attention. All you can do is make the best decisions you can make for this moment. And yes, what you want will change. But you don't have to feel bad about it.