Tag Archives: writing

2012 was a year of lies

20 Feb

In third grade it was clear I was a procrastinator. Not only did I get my first C because I put off learning math, but I stayed up later than my parents NOT doing my homework. I was working on a research project on President Nixon one night that year when my dad tried to rescue me. I can still picture him standing over my white desk (that also flipped up into a high chair) trying to explain Watergate to me. I looked up at him, nodding, my mind fixated on the opposite of wiretaps. Eventually, I created a collage of Nixon’s presidency using rubber cement. It LOOKED great, but I doubt I was clear that Watergate was the name of the hotel.

Patching problems became my second nature, and so began my long-practiced craft of applying band-aids to temporarily fix situations. Once the pain stopped, I rarely took the time to heal the faulty process that led to the wounds. It’s much easier to buy more band-aids. This carried into the smallest behaviors of my life:

I bought new underwear instead of going to the laundromat.

When I couldn’t decide what groceries to buy for dinner, I got take out or had many sad “whatever is in the fridge meals.” The worst of which was green beans with onions. Raw onions.

I put off dealing with the reality of a relationship for years too tedious to count.

I moved the same unpacked boxes from apartment to apartment to house.

(Try not to trip over that baggage metaphor.)

I just kept purchasing those beige, adhesive warriors in bulk at 24-hour pharmacies.

I’m not too hard on myself now because I know this is not unusual: patching the surface to get by is more the norm than the exception. (Lie #1 I told myself.)

Something about moving to Florida and getting distance from the usual comforts forced me to take more action on the root of things instead of patching the side effects. Someone very close to me participates in a 12-step program, and while I don’t need the program for addictions, the tenets have proved helpful in my own search to live life more deliberately and less reactionary.

Lie #2: I don’t have my shit together enough to cook real meals every night.

This  turned out to be a true lie. At my most organized, I cooked maybe three times a week. That merited celebration; mostly, I considered myself a food-preparer. Or a taker-outer. Or a throw-a-party-to-inspire-cooking-er.

I wanted to cook at home because I knew it was healthier, less expensive, and more satisfying than the-dinner-less-planned.

Inspired by my sister who preps and shops for her family of five on the weekends, I vowed to do the same. We are two people with a cat: it’s a little embarrassing if we can’t figure this out.

In order to be a person who cooks every night, I had to learn to be a person who plans to cook every night. This meant sitting down every weekend and churning those collected recipes on Pinterest into a menu, and transforming that menu into a grocery list. Going to the grocery store only once a week meant we couldn’t talk ourselves out of cooking because everything we needed was right there in our refrigerator.

Also, once a week? At our old apartment, people at our local Publix started to know us because either Aaron or I was there every.single.day. Meal planning  equaled phone calls after work to each other asking who was going to deal with that mess?

Now we cook 5-6 nights a week, save money, and wear smaller pants.

Issues of frugality and health aside, cooking is creating. By doing it regularly, I experiment with ingredients I’ve never used, and methods that once intimidated me. I’m on month seven of being a cooker, and I love the process as much as the end result.  But there are times I hate it and it feels like work, just like writing. I used to wait until I was inspired to cook; now I do it as habit.

Since no one is asking me to write, I have to boss myself around.

Note to self: I am stubborn and refuse to listen.

Truth of 2013: Inspiration is temporary; write at least a paragraph every day.

Lie #3: I want to run a half marathon.

My college roommate and her fiance traveled down here to run a half marathon this past weekend so I thought maybe it was a sign that I was ready go from 6.2 miles to 13.1. One of my colleagues and neighbors is a long-distance runner and was even willing to help me train. But it was still an “I want to want to run 13 miles” situation. I threw myself into the process for weeks at times, then I took breaks and had to restart again. My last push came during my winter break from school and the week afterwards. I ran in Virginia in 20-degree temps, undaunted. I returned to run in Florida at 80 degrees in full sun with humidity, and motivation started to wane. Then I got sick for 7+ days and it was over. There just wasn’t time to want the things I didn’t really want to begin with.

Wanting what other people want never works. Actually, working towards something you think you want never works either.  I wanted to run two 10K’s, and I ran them, the second one faster than the first. Eventually, I might want to run a half marathon. That time is not now; it’s fine.

My 30’s have been a decade of learning the difference between what I want and what I think I should want. The difference between what fulfills me and what fulfills other people.  Running for longer than an hour at a time does not complete me.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

Truth of  2013: Run at least once a week, even when I don’t want to.

Lie #4: Self-discipline is a breakthrough, not a long-term battle.

This lie screamed the loudest. My procrastination habits had always crippled me without deadlines. Too often I allow distractions to shift my focus; it’s a lifelong battle to manage them. In 2012, I imitated a home DIY-er, an amateur sous chef, a real runner, a regular reader and writer, and a motivated teacher who grades essays in a timely fashion.

Home projects accomplished in 2013: Zero.

Miles run in 2013: 20 in one week then a steady zero.

Meals cooked in 2013: 35 (The system works!)

Books read in 2013: Zero.

Blogs/articles/podcasts/animal videos that distracted me from reading books in 2013: ALL OF THEM.

Oscar-nominated films seen in 2013: Three.

Papers graded in 2013: 3.14156 per hour over the square root of it never ends.

Finished pieces of writing: Zero. Not even this blog post started in 2012.

Pieces of writing worth your time: Zero (see # of books read in 2013).

Muses are fickle so I have find a way to freedom through self-flagellation. And so ends my mid-February New Year’s Resolutions post: cheers to the liars!

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How to get laid off gracefully

27 May

After legally acknowledging on Friday that my one year contract was no lie, I gave some thought to my future in teaching.

It’s not impossible to have a teaching  job next year. If someone from my school leaves over the summer, and no one else with three or more years of seniority in the sixth-largest-district-in-the-country needs an English position, my principal ensures me I’ll be the first person he calls.

Or I can play the waiting game all summer and cross my fingers there’s movement elsewhere in the county. And start over again at a new school, location and school philosophy to-be-determined.

I might change my mind on this later, but right now I’m kind of over these games. If the system can’t keep a dedicated, experienced, and pro-kid teacher like me, I’m not sure I want to join this dance.

And since all of the above mentioned scenarios are far too hypothetical for my comfort, I decided to celebrate my pink slip instead.

Here’s how I much I don’t follow rules.

Conventional Wisdom: Update your resume and mail out job applications.

Kara Wisdom: Laid off? Get laid.

Literally: If you’re happily married or partnered like me, it’s less morally compromising.

Figuratively: Give in to your pleasure-seeker for the weekend. Sure you’re about to lose an income, but not for another month. Tell frugality he’s boring, and roll like you’re employed.

I started with afternoon beers with a colleague. A few hours later, my husband and I ate four-course fondue. I had two glasses of wine.  The next night we went out to the movies:  Bridesmaids is exactly the kind of ridiculous I needed.

The movie (complete with overpriced popcorn and soda) came after we went shopping. I bought only one blouse that is appropriate for school. Everything else was more fit for the beach or a nightclub. Practical? Who?

Hold your judgment/jealousy, we shopped the clearance racks at TJ Maxx. We went there so Aaron could buy jungle pants for Ecuador (where he’ll be next week collecting Amazonian termites). Rebels.

Conventional Wisdom: Fight for your rights!

Kara Wisdom: Fight for your soul.

Some people are flashy. Some people get what they want because they yell about it if they don’t. They kick and scream in a public forum until someone greases their squeaky wheel. After watching our legislature and district slash and burn school budgets to create what our governor now calls a “jobs budget,” I thought I might be loud too. YOU CUT MY JOB! I thought I might protest this hypocrisy publicly, and that it would make me feel better. Now that it’s happened, I don’t have any fight in me.

Teaching is so much more than a job. If it were just a job, I’d be willing to yell. I’d be willing to shout about how “you can’t do this to me!” Truth is they can. And they did. And that’s because our decision makers see what I do as “just a job.”

Teaching is a calling. It’s something you feel led to do, not because it’s easy, but because you’re willing to take on its ever-unfolding challenges because you want to help kids. There are teachers who treat it like it’s just a job, but I doubt many started out that way: the system slowly worked on them like that drop of water on a rock that wears it down over centuries. All of a sudden they don’t even recognize that person who once felt called to teach. They stop seeing solutions and only use a megaphone to amplify the problems, and so the system rolls on like a ball of lint picking up more and more dysfunction along the way.

I told myself a long time ago that if I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t best serve my students–to challenge them and sharpen their skills for the future–then I would leave the profession. It took working in a giant district that praised my teaching then laid me off to get there.

So instead of choosing to fight, I choose to write. I have ten years of insight into public education, and while I’m an optimist, I believe our kids deserve better than they’re getting. And so do their teachers.

I have to thank Penelope Trunk for this beautiful insight that couldn’t have been more timely:

“On the farm, you eat whatever is in season until it is gone. You get sick of it before it’s gone, but you try to remember that as soon as it’s gone, you’ll miss it.”

Even though right now I’m very “over it,” I know I’ll miss teaching. That knowledge kept me going all these years. Even if I leave the profession officially, I’ll always be a teacher. It’s my nature. It’s my calling.

Comparing yourself to others stunts your growth

19 Feb

photo: Kingston Images

There’s this saying: When you compare your insides to other people’s outsides, you lose every time.

Who loves to do that? Pick me! Pick me!

The problem is comparison leaves you struggling to stay afloat in a sea you never wanted to dive into in the first place. Instead of learning to swim, you keep hugging the side of the floaty or sinking like lead.

While I’m excellent at faking confidence when needed, lying beneath the surface lurks a tiny inferiority complex. Deep in my mind, people are smarter than me, funnier than me, more creative than me . . . more interesting than me. Mostly I’m bad at admitting this. That’s why blogging was so scary in the beginning.

Hello, honesty, it’s crowded in here. Can we go somewhere we can be alone?

Facebook is easy for snipets of wit. If I were on Twitter, concisely twitty I’d be.

But blogs are personal. You have to be authentic or you’re boring. And even then, you might still be boring (anyone still awake?).

Since introspection is my frenemy, perhaps you can learn something from my inadequacies qualifications:

Your idea of adventure is cooking with vanilla bean. You see a few photo albums on Facebook of your friend’s trip to India/Eygpt/Peru/Bali. Then you read a few blog posts about sailing/mountain climbing/backpacking, and suddenly your fancy dessert or spontaneous jaunt through the woods doesn’t seem so adventurous. You start to feel ordinary. Less seizing, more day.

It’s easy to get intimidated by people who seem to have adventure in their back pocket. One of my husband’s oldest friends climbs mountains and takes breathtaking photos of the world (and less glamorously, our wedding). Aaron’s cousin travels the globe to interview pirates and scribes. My childhood friend traveled frequently in his 20’s and lived abroad. I thought of him today while I listened to a news story about Tunisia because he’s been there too. He was one of the first people I thought of when I needed a travel mate to Spain. On that trip he told me a crazy story about climbing an icy mountain in Italy, flirting with life and death.

I remember in exaggeration so the ice might be imaginary. And the near death part. But my reaction I remember clearly: I never want to do something like that. Danger is not my middle name. But then again, neither is caution.

I love Spain and seeing new places, but I’ve learned I’m meant for small pockets of world travel at a time. My friend, who later ventured to Turkey to study its political geography, always had his passport up-to-date. Now he’s a stay-at-home dad who blogs about PhD parenthood. He has different kinds of adventures now. Perhaps less predictable ones.

This timely moment of happiness arrived in my inbox this morning:

“Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.” —La Rochefoucauld

Ask yourself whether you actually want to climb/sail the world or if just feel like it’ll make you more interesting at parties. I’m definitely in the latter category. Climbers and globe trekkers are pursuing what they love. We don’t all love the same things. It’s okay.

Happy people are boring? Penelope Trunk has a test you can use to decide if your life is interesting or happy. She believes you value one over the other. She has given up on happiness and everything she writes is interesting so perhaps that makes the case.  When we’re happy, do we avoid potentially interesting experiences as to not risk our happiness? Or do we sacrifice happiness for interesting experiences?  Some might argue there’s a vapid nature to being concerned so much with happiness. I will argue that the pursuit of happiness makes me interesting. Okay, maybe not. But it does make Gretchen Rubin a ton of money. She has a #1 bestseller, after all. I read her blog regularly but it did take me some time to get past the constant self-promotion. I realize this is the point of most blogs. Except mine. My lack of accomplishments is your gain!

Penelope and Gretchen are complete opposites but they are both excellent at growth. Precisely because they know who they are, and they know who they aren’t. They don’t compare. Penelope wants to be interested; Gretchen wants to be happy. I am the greedy person who wants both.

Gretchen often points out that things that are fun for one person are not for someone else. She loves organizing closets while that makes me want to drive nails in my forearm. Or sit on the couch and eat the internet.

Both women are honest: they admit their faults and embrace their strengths. Penelope is sometimes shocking while Gretchen is more subtle but I can relate to both of them in different ways. And they value being nice. Cynicism and criticism don’t inspire. They do.

Interesting projects are worth the work. When I was a yearbook adviser, there were times I wanted to pull my hair out, fire all my students, and stop running a 300+ page publication. Editing copy, tweaking designs, ensuring that each book’s voice remained intact from the typography and graphics to the story ideas and secondary coverage:  those details make you crazy. But the difference between good and great is all details. So each year when I saw my staff surpass the previous year’s book in vision and execution, I knew it was worth it. To see my kids surprise themselves (and everyone else): labor of love.

Then when I moved to Florida and started to worry about not having a job and planning a family, I amped up my research and reading on freelance writer as a potential new job. I love to write but I hate to promote myself. Therefore, freelance writing would require hours and hours of doing things I hate so that I can get writing gigs on mostly boring topics. Because the jobs that are the easiest to get and the most lucrative are the ones no one wants. Technology manuals, anyone? I’d rather organize my closet!

So after a few months of comparing myself to the branding freelance masters of the internet, I realized something important. I don’t want to be them. What they do won’t make me happy. I like teaching and despite its frustrations, it’s a much more interesting and rewarding career than the isolation (or forced promotion) of the freelance writing marketplace. I’m going to stick with education until the day I get a magical opportunity to write about things I’m interested in. Like I do on this blog. So until then, I guess I’m giving the milk away for free.