Sleepless

Maybe some writing will clear my mind.

I can’t seem to let go of my worries or fears or failures again tonight.

I’m so tired that my eyes watered all day.

I’m so tired that I couldn’t really nap, but I couldn’t really be awake either.

Everything feels fractured and laced in the wrong kind of darkness.

The night is full of miracles and stars; the moon whispers through the trees until it gets so big and bold it’s shouting stories into the windows. Critters rustle the leaves just enough to keep the cats at the window and it’s just cool enough to keep the windows open so fresh air can flow through the house. Nighttime prayers sometimes drift out more easily—especially the ones for those we love or for those we don’t trust at all.

Unfortunately, as the darkness deepens so do our thoughts. Our fears rise as our need for sleep creeps closer. Our worries find fertile ground in minds preparing for dreams. This means that for some of us elements of depression and anxiety fight to overtake our sleepiness and good sense. Some nights, the battles are won by sleep and peace and love. Some nights…not so much.

I always know I’m not doing enough…

I’m certain I’m not enough…

The taunts of childhood and the failures around me are confirmation enough.

Fortunately, I am not only my failures.

I am my compassion.

I am my hopes.

I am what I pour into my classes.

I am the person who listens (& who sometimes needs a listening ear).

I am my bad jokes and momentary wit.

I am my stories.

I am my ability to learn and to do better.

I am living my faith instead of waiting for death.

I am able to live love.

I. Am. Still. Here.

And I am so grateful…

Don’t give up when the world feels like it’s crushing. Don’t let go of yourself when the water is above your head. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to ask for help—yes, it’s easier to give help, but it’s strong to accept help. We all need to be brave and reach out from time to time.

Sometimes, this is what reaching out looks like…throwing words into the night.

Catching Up

Today’s post is in honor of my mental health.

Getting ready for and starting to teach strictly online has everyone I work with in a state of chaotic confusion, momentary joy, hope, minor breakdowns, and all the emotions of when we were new teachers (I can only hope this means all other challenges will be a little easier for the newer teachers). It has also brought our building staff together in a way nothing else really has in the 20+ years I’ve been here. We check on each other more; we remind each other to be a little easier on ourselves and our students; we offer help whether or not someone appears to need it just in case.

I spent part of every week over the last six months (has it really only been six months since the Oregon got thrown so high into the air?) preparing for what I thought the fall would hold. Once we got back into the building, once we got our directives from the state government and our local districts, once we got our training in using this hodge-podge of technologies—well, it became obvious that my expectations (and probably everyone else’s) had been wrong. Just wrong enough to require a complete overhaul of the overhaul which left me far behind where I normally am and where I thought I was and, definitely, where I wanted to be.

The most amazing part of this whole teaching online hasn’t been the amount of work (let’s face it, last spring was pure chaos and stop-gap and “the state said what?”). The most amazing part of this is accepting that I will not be able to get through the amount of material I want to or that I think my students need to progress. Instead I’ve been forced to really re-embrace a philosophy that slipped away over the years—skills over content. That might sound strange, but I’ve always focused on critical thinking skills and communication skills; how I’ve taught those skills—the books or short stories or articles or documentaries or poems can be canon and can change with the times. However, like many teachers who hit their second decade, some of my content hasn’t really changed. Now, I have to accept that two novels, some poetry, and some current articles are probably the extent of the literature I’ll get to if I want to teach research skills and dig into some basic writing skills.

I have to forgive myself ahead of time.

This won’t be like other years.

I have to forgive my students for the things they won’t be able to manage. That’s been both easier and more difficult. It’s easy to forgive the technology issues—kids pop in and out of class every day thank to wonky tech or internet issues (especially with our current stellar air quality). It’s easy to have office hours, but it’s not always easy (yet) to chase down kids who might need extra help, but don’t have the time or energy to ask for it.

It’s harder to get to know the “new” kids.

Some kids have their own kids or siblings. Some kids have parents who are right there, working from home. Some kids don’t. Some kids thrive on the freedom online learning gives them—many don’t. Some kids miss their friends. I miss being able to walk around a room to look at their body language and offer help or exchange a few comments. I’m not complaining about having a job even though it looks different. I just miss some things about how it used to work and I’m still figuring out how it will work, but my students have (overall) been awesome.

I’ve been really impressed by their dedication to showing up, to participating in class, to making an effort. Some of that might be the fact that I’m teaching mostly juniors (and a section of seniors) this year. I imagine it’s harder with the middle grades. I hope my students continue to make the effort, but I worry about them.

Whether they have the support they need or not. Whether they have outside jobs and/or others to care for. Whether they have time for all their obligations.

I worry about their ability to make human connections. I worry about their ability to learn. I worry about their ability to manage their time. I worry about their willingness to read—I know, my English teacher is showing. I worry about their willingness to write just for themselves. I worry about the pressures we don’t know about. I worry about their worries and how that affects their ability and willingness to learn.

These last two weeks have given me more hope.

The world is on fire. This year is a mess. My choices have led to things I’ll be dealing with for awhile, but I have hope for my students. I have hope for my colleagues.

Hope is a lot right now.

Morning

Around my 46th birthday I deleted Facebook. I hate Facebook. I didn’t use it—people use it to spew so much venom or, conversely, to curate their lives to such a degree that what they live and what they post seem like different realities. Other posts made me so angry that my honest responses would’ve torn relationships and biting my tongue kept me pulling away from others. Deleting it was freeing.

This year, I deleted Snapchat, Instagram, and tumblr—I don’t dislike any of them, but I wasn’t really using them. I spend too much time perusing twitter and I can’t figure out why the completely massive amounts of garbage spewed there don’t hit me the same way they did on Facebook. Perhaps it’s age and distance—I stopped using Facebook long before I deleted it. Perhaps it’s easier to dismiss the ridiculous in the 140 to 280 character limits.

Lately, I’ve found myself missing the pretty pictures though. Not all of the celebrity accounts I followed. The pictures of gardens and other countries and the ocean and genuine enjoyment. I miss those pictures. So, I started a new Instagram today “for my blog”. We shall see how I do.

I suppose the fact that I’m back in my classroom tomorrow even without students helps. I sorely miss my students, but I’m grabbing this with both hands and embracing changes to how I teach. For a decade (at least) I read out loud and explain things; I rarely give homework. With this new model, homework is inevitable and I’m planning on using the “live” time to first show my students how to do certain things (like type on my PDFs), then discuss their homework—what did they pick up? What did they miss? How do they get better at analysis and communication?

I’ve been awake for almost four hours…it’s not even seven in the morning my time.

Once upon a time…

I skipped my last posting day. No real reason other than the migraine I battled last week—a few days had me in tears. I get migraines a lot and most people don’t believe that they are actual migraines, but I’ve been getting them since I was twelve. They leveled up when I started teaching…teaching is simultaneously my favorite thing to do and a minefield I’m not always the best at wandering through. Every time I get burned out, I decide to stay in the profession because I really can’t think about what else I would do. In six years I’ll hit thirty years of teaching total, in eight I’ll have thirty years in at my current job—but in neither instance will I be ready to retire financially or emotionally.

For so many reason this year, most of them small, I have been toying with the idea of not putting in 40 years of classroom time (which is the first time I’ve had those thoughts in my 20+ years). I haven’t done well with all of this time away from my actual classroom. It has been good for forcing me to realize just how much my students mean to me—even the ones who shudder at my memory or loathe me daily. I can be grating on some nerves because I live happily in a world of metaphor, a higher level of chaos than most teachers, and I bring philosophy & history to the table as much as I can. My approach to literature has become one of alternative interpretations based on years of reading, discussing, rereading, teaching, and formatively assessing students’ understanding of various books. My understanding of books has changed over all these years.

Beowulf is a brilliant man who plays the personal myth, champion, and left hand games to a degree that wins his frienemy, Unferth, from jealous annoyance to solid ally.

Hester Prynne is a rockstar feminist who teaches her daughter strength and compassion. Roger Chillingworth has a true redemptive arc and is more a father to Pearl at the beginning of his life and through his death than her sperm donor ever was. Arthur Dimmesdale is the true villain of the book who spends years setting up his community so they will never believe his ultimate confession and he when does confess it’s without ever truly taking responsibility for his part in Hester’s struggles or taking responsibility for his biological daughter.

Brave New World and 1984 are brilliant yin and yang looks at control through pleasure and deprivation with a heavy emphasis on technology. Both writers are brilliant in seeing where technology is leading us even if the mechanics of their worlds aren’t really comparable to how our tech actually works. And, Ray Bradbury continues to be the voice in the wilderness even if the way technology has dumbed us down isn’t quite how he envisioned it.

Fairy tales still teach us the most important life lessons outside the faith or philosophy our parent lay down as our foundations. Fairy tale imagery has seeped into every corner of our popular culture, looking back and going forward. The journey into adulthood, meeting our special monsters, facing our shadows, embracing new ways of looking at the world & living in it…we owe a great debt to the grandfathers of The Fairy Tale—Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. We owe a great debt to the keepers of folklore—The Grimms, Schönwerth, d’Aulnoy, Lang, and countless others—for bridging the gap between the illiterate and the literate.

That ridiculous green light that Nick puts so much meaning into in his attempts to understand Gatsby is as imaginary as Jay, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan. They were all curating their lives in a way any Facebook or instagram aficionado should aspire to today. And, those parties are genius for Jay’s true work moving guns & alcohol from Canada to New York—everyone’s is focused on spectacle and no one is looking at the docks or empty party supply trucks.

I love teaching these stories and I’m ready for The House of Cadmus via Antigone rather than Oedipus next year. The final chapter in a legacy cursed by the gods via a poisoned wedding gift that start with the founding of Thebes. It’s taken me years to appreciate Ismene’s quiet, desperate strength in the face of Antigone’s determination to not relive the mistakes of her father no matter the cost.

Our current situation is a global reminder for those of us who live small, safe lives that there is always a cost, even if it’s not one we are personally faced with every day. My cost is nearly daily spikes of pain in my brain; others deal with the long term payments of surviving cancer or the ups & downs of marriage or crippling debts. Teaching is a great, daily reminder to me of how much goes on in the lives of my students and colleagues no matter the face they put on when at the high school. The balance is seeing former students who have grown up and become so much more than I could imagine for them. I don’t know most of their struggles when they are in my classes or long after when I run onto them. I just get to be proud of them for persevering and finding some sort of happiness and success.

My students are also a reminder of what I learned from my own parents, my childhood, my years as an adult. I’m not who I once was as a teacher and I hope to continue to become better. I’m not who I once was as a person—success, failure, hope, pain, friends, and family have helped with that. Both of my parents taught me how to deal with the pain of different types of migraines; my life didn’t used to allow me to deal with that pain in any other way than to suck it up and get through it the best I can. I know I’m blessed or lucky most of the time. My teacup tempests are small; my life is small which brings its own pain and grace.

At least I have stories. My maternal grandfather was the first storyteller to open my mind, but there have been so many more storytellers over the years. I hope I open some of the minds in my care to the beauty of stories, the strangeness of truth, and the skills to look beyond the words. Gramps laid that part of my foundation even though I didn’t have too many years under his tutelage. Papa, his long-term replacement, taught me how important personal anecdotes are to understanding individuals. I am so lucky to have had multi-generational teachers and the time to look back at what my grandfathers, grandmothers, and parents taught me about people and the world.

Once upon a time Gramps would open his tobacco pouch, tamp down the tobacco in his pipe, light a match, and settle in to tell his stories.

Once upon a time Grandma would open up her door, accept a hug, and show us her fierce determination to live her life on her own terms.

Once upon a time Grams showed us the value of risk by opening up her heart and landing two great loves in one lifetime.

Once upon a time my parents battled the ups and down of marriage, poverty, chronic illness, and faith to show their children loyalty, shades of generosity, and the fruits of determination.

Once upon a time I entered my first classroom and found out how different reality is. My next trick will be surfing the changes Covid-19 has brought to my students, my colleagues, and teaching high school…

Been another minute

March 12, 2020 was the start of a weird time in the lives of me and mine. I went to bed with a killer migraine and woke up late Friday morning (a very rare sick day) to the news that Governor Brown was shutting down schools for a few weeks and that’s turned into a strange new life for many of us. I was aware of Covid-19 as it shut down parts of China, South Korea, and Italy. I watched it creep closer as Wildhorse and Nixyaawii Community School shut down for sterilization. We all watched.

April 13, 2020 began a new round of adjustments. Supplemental material shifted to skill-building for grades and chasing down assignments. Many seniors struggled with the abrupt end to their year and the loss of various rites of passage. The rest of the students have been figuring out how to manage home expectations, a range of very real emotions, and juggling all their online classes. It’s no easier for students than for teachers. We are all figuring out how to make things work, how to keep students practicing & learning new skills so they are ready for next year—not that we know what that will look like. I like to think we will be back in the classroom.

Those who know me know I don’t operate well with too much free time (makes it easier to sympathize with some of my students).

I can’t even count the books I’ve read since March 13—I have been a little surprised at my genre choices. Right now, I am impressed by the eerily prescient work of some speculative fiction authors. The apocalypse has been my jam as a Gen-Xer and sci-fi fan—who doesn’t remember those totally useless nuclear bomb drills (head under the desk) in grade school? The end of the known world was around the corner every year, but it never quite happened. The world was a scary place that got scarier every year and we lived through it all, but not all our friends did. We used dark humor, because we would’ve drowned in tears and fear if we didn’t laugh.

Looking at my Gen-Z students as they watch the world change around them in a syrupy slow speed that feels like being pulled into tomorrow by a superhero speedster, they already understand. Millennials spent the last decade being told they are the reason for society’s failures thanks to avocado toast, board games, and not having the money to buy this or that. Now Gen-Z is being told to suck it up or how easy they have it; every “pass” they are getting is going to come with a high price.

I don’t know. It’s been a minute and I’m trying to stop vomiting my thoughts all over twitter. I have not been keeping up on my writing, so hopefully each post gets better with practice and repetition. Practice what I preach, right?

I hope this finds you all well. I hope this helps me find the focus I lost sometime in the last few years.

Forgive my typos.

For Sixth Period…

A few years ago, I struggle to articulate the fundamental difference between the concepts of niceness and kindness–they are not straight synonyms. This year, my classes keep coming back to equality and individual freedoms. Both my juniors and my seniors have had multiple discussions discussions about equality, reparations for various groups whose ancestors were poorly treated by the US government, privilege, modern racism and prejudice, and class issues.

Equality is the idea that we should all be given the same rights and responsibilities. This generally falls apart in execution due to all of the factors that keep us from being the same. Equality and sameness are not interchangeable, but the way many people discuss equality makes it seem like they are.


“We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe–some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others–some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.”

Atticus Finch’s closing argument: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (274)


Kurt Vonnegut also discussed equality versus sameness in his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” (which I teach every couple of years). If we can all acknowledge what Lee and Vonnegut were getting at, then I hope we can dial down on the inherent idea that we are owed anything for existing. Even hard work, extreme dedication, and a core of steel cannot guarantee us success in school or in life. Bad thing happen to good people and good thing happen to bad people which pulls me to the story of Job (yes, the one from The Bible).

Do my rights matter more than anyone else’s?

Do my needs matter more than anyone else’s?

Living in community requires a give-and-take. Sometimes that mean making reparation for the crimes of our government or our ancestors and sometimes it means working to make sure that the playing field of life is a well maintained as possible. Human nature dictates that we will never be equal in practice. What I take from these stories is that why things are the way they are matters less than how I treat others in the here and now.

Not Neurotic

In 1997, as I finished my first school year, I started a page of Notes to Myself–things to consider over the summer and as I planned/taught the next year. I’ve been putting together a collection of everything I think it’s important for my students to know crossing all four years of high school and incorporating information from every class I’ve taught. It’s been through countless formats, broken into separate pieces, brought back together again. Currently, I’m adding notes for The Great Gatsby and To Kill A Mockingbird. For a long time I called it my English Bible, but I don’t want people to get the wrong idea…

I’m over 300 pages of notes on stories, poems, films, television shows, and brief bits of general information about important people (scientists, icons, iconoclasts, and authors). People tend to look at me like I’m crazy when I pull out the binder it’s all housed in (or when I try to show them the 300+ pages on my phone). Some people think having this miscellany of information makes me well-organized (I’m not). Some people think it all makes me OCD (I’m really not).

I am a lover of stories, the things that inspire them, the people that influence them, the times that shape them. I love seeing how things ripple.

At least it’s not a school night

So, my house is a little cute post-WWII boom house. All of my neighbors have more cars than they have driveway for…

Six or seven years ago when my back yard neighbors moved in, they had a Round-Up party that included a live, loud band in their back yard well past one in the morning. It started a steady level of loathing that might have led to me inappropriately shrieking at them from my back yard around midnight a year later. I can totally acknowledge I lost my shit out of sheer frustration and it did no good.

Unfortunately for me, the back yard situation works like an amphitheater which means all the noise drifts up my back hill—I used to think they were loud on purpose, then I figured out the amphitheater factor. Although a few of their guests (who maybe remember the one time I list my shit over five years ago?) get really loud with yips and whoops and what-not.

My current problem is that my migraines have leveled up about the same time their parties are leveling up. I’m sure they are fine people. They clearly have a solid social circle and they like to get together—I can respect that (and the Prozac helps). I don’t think they are horrifyingly obnoxious on purpose 84% of the time (this is growth on my part). I just hate that I have to close my back door (the only one with a screen) and my bedroom windows on nice nights to limit how much I hear. For example, I shut my curtains tonight to limit other people seeing into my bedroom and limit the brightness from the fire they always have going. I love looking out my windows at night. I love being able to feel the breezes and general sounds of the town, but I don’t want any clarity on what my neighbors and their guests talk about. I already hear far more than I want to.

It’s not that late, but I’m tired and my audiobook volume is a little louder than normal. My cats aren’t thrilled because the curtains block their view. My head hurts. And suddenly I’m thinking about how much it’s going to cost to get the tree cut back a bit and where I’m going to magically find the money…adulting isn’t often awesome or something I’ve excelled at recently.

They haven’t changed—thankfully I gained some sanity when I got on a good anti-depressant and was able to easily acknowledge I’m not a factor for them.

I am pretty sure they’ll appreciate me if I can afford to get the tree trimmed, because those leaves are a bit much in the fall and I haven’t felt nearly enough guilt about how many leaves end up in their back yard (which is super passive aggressive and petty).

I want to keep my tree healthy and thriving.

I love my tree.

Sweet dreams, I guess.

Edgy Conversations

As an English teacher, I often find myself trying to connect old stories with modern times. English teachers read a lot of personal stuff over the course of a school year–kids will be honest in their journals, in their poems, and sometimes in their essays and that honesty can be heartbreaking. I’d like to think I’ve improved at not pushing students who will never like me, pushing just the right amount at students who aren’t “into” English, modeling personal responsibility which includes acknowledging wrongdoing or errors, and building good relationships with many of my students. I sincerely want them all to graduate from high school, to find work that pays for their bills and a little fun, to strive to be their better selves. I sincerely want my students to be true to themselves without becoming rigid and afraid of change.

One of the difficulties of being a teacher who is open and believes in having healthy connections with students is figuring out where the boundaries are. I never try to be wholly inappropriate, but I’m sure I sometimes am; I never try to challenge their belief systems, but I have to explain certain concepts connected to religion, philosophy, science, or intimacy that directly relate to what we read or watch or discuss. I sometimes end up having conversations that leave students asking “don’t you get in trouble for talking about this?” I don’t honestly think I say anything that is too over-the-top; I do try to keep their attention and give them honesty. I encourage them (in classroom discussion and in private conversation) to talk to their parents or to trusted adults about their struggles, realities, hopes, dreams, fears, and big questions.

My students come from such a variety of backgrounds, that I have to give them information on various religions, historical situations, philosophical movements, and societal changes–otherwise they will be handicapped when it comes to reading fiction and nonfiction. They will be handicapped when it comes to critical thinking and effective communication.

I suppose I shouldn’t periodically challenge their willingness to believe “authority” by telling them outrageous half-truth or giving them “fake” vocabulary words. If we are good citizens, if we are to be our better selves, then we need to understand the what and the why of our core beliefs–we need to understand how the past, the present, and the future connect. Maybe I shouldn’t teach “alternate” interpretations of texts instead of the traditional interpretations, but I want them to find support for what they understand to be happening to the characters, in the plot, and what the authors are really trying to say. We have to look at not only the information we are given, but the source of the information we are given–everything is biased these days. To make informed decisions, my students need to understand what others are trying to say without being obvious or what others are trying to hide from them with a big show.

I’ve learned so much about people and about myself in the last 22 years and I try to put it into action every day. I want my students to keep learning, to keep trying, to take risks, to do the thing that secretly scare them (but not the things that will destroy or damage them). I have learned from every kid who passionately hated me and from every kid who shared something overwhelmingly real with me. I look at my former students and I have hope for my current and future students.

We keep getting told to build relationships, but an awful lot can go sideways and I’m not sure new teachers are always well-prepared for that eventuality–I’m not even talking about the obvious idiocy that some adults bring to the table. We have to remember that our students are in the process of becoming their realest selves. We have to remember that we have been given the opportunity to guide and support, nothing else.

Teaching writing is a minefield

In simpler terms, I’m restructuring how I teach writing which starts with thinking about why and how we write, with synthesizing all the things I’ve read about writing or learned about writing.


It seems redundant and a little silly to lay this out, but until you know what you want to say and who you want to say it to, you don’t really know how to say it. The audience and purpose should shape your actual form of communication. Many of these forms have rules specific to them. For example, when you are writing something academic, you should be able to pull information from a variety of reliable sources in order to support your message—it’s also important to have something to say about or with those quotes and paraphrases so the piece isn’t just a collection of someone else’s thoughts. In fact, academic writing also requires an academic voice which is basically writing as a third-person expert on a topic avoiding contractions, use of you, and limiting I-statements to specific, relatable anecdotes.

People who want to get better at writing need to read a lot—read books, short stories, essays, articles, poems, fanfic, blogs, and everything else. As you read look for what makes a story or piece good (or enjoyable) and what makes a piece not work well.

Find a comfortable place that encourages your writing and a time you can frequently set aside to write or read or think. Every day be in that place at that time and just write. In the beginning whatever you write will be awful, because you will be “cleaning out” your mental “closet.” As you continue to write, you will improve—your ideas will flow more naturally, your words will come. Some days you will hit a serious writer’s block and the options are a) keep writing even if it’s terrible or b) go take a walk, come back, and try again.

Essentially, anything you write has a purpose and is meant for someone to read. (Ok, once in awhile what you write is meant for no one to read, so rip those out and throw them away where no one else can ever read them).


In most academic classes the writing revolves around teacher-specified topics or reading-related questions. For these pieces, the student-writer needs to be aware of the teacher’s expectations and basic American usage and grammar. Most quotes or paraphrases will be taken directly from information related to the class or topic under discussion.

When students are given the freedom to choose a research topic, they should really consider coming up with a research question. What do you really want to know about the topic? I’ve seen too many students choose their sources and resources in order to fit what the student already want to say—this can be problematic as it leads to patchwork plagiarism or an unethical use of sources (when a quote or piece of information is taken so far out of context that it is used to support the side opposing what the original text was about).

People who write for fun in blogs or fanfic or original short fiction can choose their own topics. This can be as crippling as it is freeing. Some people make their blogs very specific in nature which nicely limits the topics they will write about—The Simply Luxurious Life focuses on fashion and blending French sensibilities with a modern American life; there are whole sections on food and on local places of interest along with book suggestions, a podcast, and a video series for cooking. Another blog I follow is Bloggin’ Con La Reina which a student of mine started to explore life as a minority teen who is on the cusp of stepping out of her safety nets and into the big, bad world; her topics are varied as she tries to find her footing and I can relate to that on all levels (my blog is pretty eclectic, because I can’t quite settle on a theme).

For a brief moment (1998-2000) I participated in writing Sliders fanfic. I didn’t edit anything before I posted it and my stories were more character studies than plotted stories. Still, it was a good experience for me. I read a lot of fan fiction nowadays—some of it makes me envious and some of it makes me appreciate my student’s writing. Whatever other people think, I still feel like blogs and fan fiction are great ways for people who want to write, to practice writing. I can look back on my own blog and see how much improvement I’ve made as a writer. It’s important for writers to be able to see that they have improved, to get positive feedback when they do something well, and to remember that there is always room for improvement.

Basically, you can make any topic your own depending on what you want to say about it. Find out how it needs to be formatted, understand the expectations of teachers/professors/employers, and make your voice heard.