The Importance of Voting

Hey everyone!  I realize it is now *after* the American elections have been held, but there are some takeaways I’m seeing and it never hurts to talk about them.

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The Mayoral Race in a “Big” City

I live in a moderately large Midwestern city.  It’s a diverse city of just over 250,000 people (that’s pretty darn big for my state, as we’re either the 2nd or 3rd largest in the state).

And we just had a very contentious mayoral election.

My state is generally depicted as a “red state,” meaning we tend to be Republican leaning (with a healthy dose of far right-wing demagogues in our midst).  My city’s mayor for the last 12 years has been a Democrat.  (That’s kind of a long time, but not nearly as long as my hometown, where our 7th mayor in 150 years just got elected.  People tend to keep the job for as long as they want it.)

Enter the Republican challenger.  Now, I know the challenger personally, which is by far the weirdest feeling ever.  I went to school with his kids.  He was my softball coach for years as a kid.  He was a pastor for a time in my hometown (though I didn’t attend his nondenominational church).  My family, upon hearing he was running for mayor, not-so-quietly began sharing our experiences with him with our friends.  (Let me just say he’s a My-Way-Or-The-Highway type.  When his son didn’t make an all-star baseball team, there was a forced “recount” of the vote and my brothers got knocked of while his suddenly made it.  Weird coincidence.)

Anyway, he ran a brutal campaign.

His campaign said that our city was a violent, dangerous city.  He claimed our current mayor was destroying the city.  He used scare-tactics and made wild promises that, as my mother so eloquently put it, “He won’t be getting any sleep ever if he’s going to keep all those promises.”

The problem was this campaign was sorely out of touch with reality.  A brand new park was opened this year that was the toast of the town.  Numerous projects are under development to make the city more exciting and friendly to any event that wants to come.  Things, for the most part, are going well.  So the use of those scare tactics was a serious miscalculation.

And not only that, but this Republican challenger made himself something of an easy target.  For one thing, he only moved within city limits 5 years ago, though he claimed himself a “lifelong resident.”  (He’s from my hometown, which borders this city, but they are distinctly different entities.)  He also said on TV that his favorite part of campaigning was going door to door and meeting all different levels of people, with the implication being that he was meeting poor people.  (He himself is quite affluent and well-off.)  Everything he ran on made him look naive in his ridiculous promises or a fearmongerer.

Last night, the result of the election was the incumbent winning 61% to the challenger’s 39%.  It was the most decisive win for our four-time mayor in all of his elections.  It was a brutal blow for the county’s Republican party, especially as they also lost seats in the city council.

The Takeaways

I keep hearing about this “blue wave” that’s supposedly hitting America, where historically “red” states and cities are starting to flip Democratic.  It seems that was the case in a lot of elections Tuesday, including some in cities that have fought hard for voter rights.

Because that’s really what this all boils down to: there are too many disenfranchised voters out there who, for one reason or another, have been removed from voter rolls, don’t have a valid ID because of money or hours that they can access them, or any other obscene laws states have put in place to make it harder for everyone to vote.

When I first turned 18, I didn’t take voting very seriously.  I thought it was cool that I was now able to, but that was about it.  I didn’t bother with primaries or elections until I was out of college.  (The first time I voted was to vote absentee in the 2012 presidential election, at 21.)  It didn’t seem like my vote really mattered when it was combined with so many thousands of others.

But Every. Vote. Matters.

In my county, they were ecstatic about the unusually high voter turnout across the county.  You know how many eligible voters came out?

Just over 30%.  In the county.  And this was great news.

I’m utterly appalled.  I realize it wasn’t a “big” election for anyone in my county.  A few mayor, some city council members, but no senators, representatives, or presidents.  But 30%?  More people couldn’t be bothered to come out and cast a vote?

And let me even share this.  I have social anxiety when it comes to going new places.  Having just moved in April, my polling place was new to me.  I was pretty nervous about going there.  Would I know where to go inside?  Would I get lost, even though I literally pass the church on my way to school every day?  (I don’t know how it works where you live, but in the Bible Belt, our polling places are nearly always churches.)  But I overcame it because I needed to show my support for the mayor.  One of my friends votes absentee  every year because her life is crazy and she’s never sure what time she’s going to have to go vote.  There are options.

Next year, we have a big vote ahead of us.  Lots of Reps and Senators are up for reelection.  Obviously it’s another presidential election last year.  (The upside is it’s also the year for the Summer Olympics, so…)

Your voice matters.  Your vote matters.  Your candidate might lose, but you made your voice heard.  You didn’t make it easy for the challenger.

Voting is about you sharing your opinion anonymously.  Do it.  It really truly matters.

Writing Tip Thursday #3: What To Do About Writer’s Block

Hey everyone!  Sorry I missed last week’s installment of this.  I was busy dealing with my writer’s block, which then occurred to me that it would be a good topic to talk about, especially with NaNo right around the corner.  So here’s what happened to me and what I did about it.

What To Do About Writer’s Block

About 1.5-2 weeks ago, while writing my novel, I realized I didn’t know how it was going to end.  I’d planned everything out, but in the process of writing a pivotal scene, I realized the emotions weren’t right and that I wasn’t ready to do a Really Bad Thing to my main character, so changed the scene.  I really like where it went and I think it brought more depth to all of the characters involved, so I don’t want to cut it.  But that meant now…my ending didn’t work right.

Simply put, I was stuck.  I felt like a sailor without any guides, drifting aimless in a sea of words.

So I did just about the only thing I could do, being 45,000 words into the story: I went back to the beginning.

That’s right.  I went allllll the way back and started rereading and editing as I went.  And I’m telling you, it helped me so much.  By the time I’d gotten to that 45,000th word, I had a much better idea of who my characters were than I did at Word 1,000.  Because of that, I needed to change scenes.  I needed to make my heroine stronger and more brazen.  I needed to add scenes now that the mystery in the story made more sense to me.  It also meant that I cut a couple thousand words, but I also added back at least 5,000 in new scenes that I now adore.

This also helped because it showed me where my plot holes were.  I saw the times my mystery didn’t quite work or seemed stupid.  I saw the scenes that needed foreshadowing or needed more context later.

Most of all, though, I noticed I still hadn’t figured out my villain’s motivation except that he’s a horrible person.

That was, surprisingly, the trickiest part of this whole thing.  I had 4-5 things in motion that he was doing to thwart my heroine…and yet I didn’t know why.  Once I realized that, I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I had to figure it out.

I tried getting him to talk to me in my head.  (The voices can be very helpful in that way.)  There was one sentence he kept growling to me over and over, but it didn’t tell me why he did these things.  But I kid you not, the moment I picked up a pencil to jot down what little I had figured out, the rest of it came pouring out.  Suddenly, all my clues and pieces worked.

So I went back to editing.  I needed to make sure the pieces I’d already written made sense with this motivation I’d finally found.  I still have some new clues to drop to make it make more sense, but I’m on my way.

Here’s basically my advice: if you’re stuck by writer’s block, it probably means something’s not right somewhere.  Maybe it’s the plot not coming together the way you want.  Maybe it’s characters or even the conflict itself being weak.  My recommendation is to go back through what you’ve written and look it over with as impartial an eye as you can.  Does this need to be there?  Does this feel right?  Are my characters acting the way they would naturally and not just the way I want them to?

Sometimes your own feelings can get in the way.  Sometimes the stress of your day comes between you and your best writing.  There may be days when it’s not possible to leave your day at the door–and maybe you don’t want to if that helps drive your writing.  I can be very inspired by what irritates me.  But it can help to take a step back and look at your story with a critical, English Lit major eye.  Or at least that helps me.

Others obviously have other fixes for writer’s block.  Some people go for a walk or let the story sit for a few days.  Some clean their houses or do more research on their topics.  For me, it’s about going back to the roots of the story.  If I find a tangle in the web, then untangling that may just be the inspiration I need for the ending.

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Unless whatever you’re writing is actually terrible (and I have a binder full of those).  But if you’re truly passionate about what you’re writing, you need to keep pushing on.  A setback is just that–a setback.  It’s not a nosedive off a cliff, something that will kill your story.  You just need to find out what went wrong and work from there.  It might be a lot of work (it took me nearly 2 weeks to edit what I have so far and write those new scenes), but you’ll feel better about it.

Hope this helps!

Writing Tip Thursday #2: Plan It

Hey!  So you guys seemed to like the last writing tip, so here’s my next installment!  This one…well, we’ll talk about it.

Tip #2: Plan It

I can already hear some of you griping about this.  “But I write just fine with a white screen in front of me, thank you very much.  I don’t need to plan anything.”

Until very recently (like 3 months ago), I was this person.  Give me a blank piece of paper and a casual observation of something that got the wheels spinning, and I was off and running.  I wrote something like 30 pages in a notebook about St. Peter as a teenager meeting Jesus just because I read someone say Jesus was a passive aggressive rebel with real trouble with authority.  I thought that sounded awesome and I needed to write that out.  Instead, the story transformed into me working through some demons.

So I get it.  Being a pantser (someone who writes “by the seat of their pants”) is still how I get a story idea rolling.

But I’m quickly discovering how helpful actually plans can be.  You’d think I’d have realized this before, being a teacher and preaching to my students how important planning is, but it didn’t apply to me.

God, I really am my students some days.

My first full-length novel was a work in progress for something like 4 years or more.  In the Word doc I used for the story, I kept a loose outline of what I wanted to happen in the story.  I had even written the ending already, since that was what had come to mind for me when creating the idea for it.  (And let me tell you, I never write the ending first.)

That outline helped me remember what I was thinking for the story.  I used that as a guideline to keep me on track, though I didn’t completely follow it.  I fleshed things out more as I went along, adding scenes here or there, changing scenes that no longer worked.  So while I wasn’t 100% tied to my plans, they certainly helped.

They gave me something to look forward to.  There were scenes I wanted to write badly and working chronologically through the story kept me motivated to keep writing to get to those scenes.

The plans also helped me remember what my end goal was.  That story had a purpose, a character arc that I was especially excited about.  Without my outline, I might have forgotten that over the years.

But plans don’t have to just be for stories like that, works years in the process.

My next story (which I’m still writing) is a retelling of Robin Hood, from Marian’s perspective.  I actually found a 16 page draft of a particularly moving scene on my desktop, written two years ago.  For that, there was no outline, just familiar characters I love and an interesting conflict.

So I created an outline.  The story was vivid in my head and before I knew it, I’d planned out nearly the entire story in a couple of afternoons.  And once I had that outline, I was excited to get to writing it.

Sure, my plans changed a little once I got the story going.  I thought of interesting plot twists, unexpected conflicts, and making one character darker than I had originally planned.  But I had a guideline to work off of, and idea how I wanted things to eventually go.  So even when I didn’t use the entire outline, I had a framework to stick to.  Now, around 2 months later, I’m now up to about 43,000 words.

And actually, I’m dealing with a little writer’s block because some of my scenes aren’t coming together right.  Why?  Because I didn’t plan those out.

Every writer has their own process for planning that works for them.  I don’t want to suggest one sure-fire way of doing it because I don’t know what that looks like.  For me, it involves notebook paper and a pencil.  Always.  There’s just something about paper that gets my creative juices flowing.

My process is basically to become semi-obsessed with some crazy idea to the point where my hand itches to write it.  At that point, I can usually visualize how I want the story to start.  I make a bullet point list of how I see the story going.  It usually ends up looking a little something like this:

“-Jade walks through the school, trying to avoid everyone’s notice.

-Ryan sees her, moves through the hall toward her.  Jade confronts him for spreading rumors about her.”

Sometimes I am wildly specific about what I want happening, other times I’m incredibly vague.  It depends on how well I see the scene in my head.  Most of the time, my head plays it out like a movie.

I try not to start writing until I have a plan now.  And if I’m not excited about the story after I have my plans, it probably means there’s something wrong with the story, that the conflict is lacking or something is missing–another subplot probably.

I saw that author Aimee Carter (The Goddess Test) uses note cards to plot out her stories, writing major events on the cards and rearranging them as needed to make the story work.  I thought that was pretty smart, but I don’t think it will work for me.

Planning is hard.  It’s hard to want to sit down and map everything out before you get going.  I totally get it.  Ironically, I didn’t plan this post out before I started writing it.  Did it work?  I think so.  But this is also a 1,000 word post and not a 50,000+ word novel with characters, plot, and conflicts.  I can get away with it here.  I can’t there.

It may take some time to discover what your method is and that’s ok.  Even published authors will frequently post about how their process suddenly doesn’t work with the new book they’re writing.  Every novel is its own adventure and we learn new things about ourselves along the way.

I think that’s really what the creative process’s purpose is, actually.

Writing Tip Thursday #1: Make It A Habit

Hey everyone!  So I’ve noticed that a lot of you have an interest in writing (blogging or fiction or anything else), so I thought I’d make a weekly post about my best tips for writing.  In case you’re curious about my credentials, let me list them:

  • I’ve been a book blogger for the last 8.5 years
  • I’ve been a middle school English teacher for the last 5 years
  • I finished a novel over the summer that I hope to publish on Amazon soon.  (And I’m over halfway through another novel I’ve been working on for the last 2-ish months.)
  • And let’s not forget that I’m a published poet.  Yes.  One of my 4th grade poems ended up in a book.  I’m sure my royalty check has simply been lost in the mail since then.

Like all advice, you can take it or leave it.  I’ve certainly heard many things about writing, some of which I think is a joke or just doesn’t work for me.  Feel free to disagree with me.

However, I think there are enough people who might need a little nudge to keep writing/feel more confident with their writing and I want to help.

Tip #1: Make It A Habit

This is perhaps one of the simplest writing tips I can ever give you.  Like any sport, like any pursuit, the more you practice, the better you’ll be.  Trust me, I cringe looking back at my first blog posts or back at the stories I was writing as a kid.  (Especially those.)

But while they weren’t always quality, they were still happening.  I may have written stupid stories as a kid of my cousins and me taking on an evil Easter bunny or the Grinch, but that helped me see how plotting and characters worked.  (Don’t judge, I was like 8.  Though weirdly enough, I made the Easter bunny’s henchman a PlayGirl Bunny model.  I wish I knew where my 8-year-old self picked up that nugget of inspiration.)  Ahem.  My original blog posts taught me about the importance of voice and finding mine.  Even my diary/journal entries helped me figure out how to express painful emotions in words.

Did I always write regularly?  No.  My journal entries are sporadic at best.  But throughout my life, I’ve done so much writing now that when I don’t pick up a pencil for a few days or a few weeks, my hand itches for it.  The physicality of putting a pencil to paper is, to me, very cathartic.

I digress a little.  The point is that, if you’re serious about writing, you need to carve out a little time on some kind of schedule to write.  It doesn’t need to be every day (in fact, that can be overwhelming at times as I’m learning), but it does need to be somewhat consistent.  Since the school year started, I’ve had a schedule I try to stick to:

  • Arrive home from school
  • Change into comfy clothes, read/decompress from school
  • Eat dinner, watch the news, and do the dishes
  • Check emails
  • Write for 1-2 hours

Sometimes, this doesn’t work.  Plans change or I have other commitments that day.  Some days I simply don’t have any good ideas to write about if I’ve been too busy/tired/sick.  But by doing this, I’ve discovered that I do my best writing right around twilight.  The darkness actually helps me focus by removing other distractions.  (As I write this, a neighbor’s dog is barking incessantly outside.)

And a set schedule dramatically helps me stick with a story.  I have a terrible habit of getting sidetracked by a new idea or getting stumped in my plotting and giving up for months or years.  (Both of the stories I’m working on/completing were started at least 2 years ago.)  I’ve written so much more this year than I ever have before because I pushed myself to keep writing.  And we’ll talk about that more on another day.

No matter if you’re writing stories or blog posts, make a schedule for yourself.  Maybe you’re best motivated in the mornings after your coffee.  Maybe it’s easier at night after the kids are in bed (if you have any).  Again, it doesn’t have to be daily; maybe it’s only 3 times a week.  But that routine is going to make it easier and easier for you to work and work well.  Your writing is bound to improve in part because you’re constantly doing it and critiquing your own work.

I hope this helps!  Check in next Thursday for my next tip!

Let’s Talk Relationships

Ok, everybody.  It’s that time of year.  Summer’s mostly over, some of us are back at school, and now I think a lot of us are settling into normal life and we’re thinking ahead to fall and winter.  Maybe you’re looking for a relationship on various apps or maybe you’re crushing on that person who sits two rows in front of you in class.  So I thought I’d take a few moments to share with you some of my relationship advice, from someone who has been in some pretty crazy relationships over the years.

Remember That They’re Flawed People Too

This is probably honestly the hardest for me because I’m so used to crushing on guys in movies and books.  And that’s actually pretty terrible because we only see a certain side of those characters.  We don’t see them when they’re frustrating because they leave socks on the floor in the middle of the room or forget to pick up eggs even though you told them ten times to do that.  Or worse, we see actual red-flag behavior presented in an adorable way (Edward breaking in and watching Bella sleep, for example).  We see the best, swoon-worthy sides of characters, but that’s not how life works.  In life, no one is perfect.  But it is possible to fall in love with their imperfections or to love them even though they frustrate you.

I’m well aware of what my flaws are in relationships.  Like when I get moody or tired, I just disappear.  I can’t handle looking at my phone or answering texts and if I’m forced to, I usually say things I shouldn’t.  Or like how I frequently prioritize my books/alone time/creative time over another person.  I need that time to recharge, especially after a stressful day.  But for whatever reason, when it comes to dating, I expect the other person to have no flaws.  It’s just unrealistic.

But that leads well into my next point.

Don’t Ignore The Red Flags

I’ve done this more times than I should have.  Literally all of my best friends in college hated my boyfriend of 1.5 years.  (He was pretty controlling and far too serious.)  One of my boyfriends told me his fiance had left him about 4 months before we started dating.  (I didn’t realize how big of a red flag that was at the time…he was far from over her leaving.)  Another told me flat out that he was not into PDA, would not even peck my cheek in public or hold my hand as we walked.  It was a fundamental difference that we had because I need someone who can show me that support.  I need that physical connection and even in private, he was pretty opposed to touching.

However, it’s my last serious boyfriend who I really shouldn’t have dated at all.

I was blinded by the fact that he was my high school crush.  Built like a tank and incredibly good looking, I was just in awe that he wanted to go out with me.  But by our first “alone” date, I should have run the other way–and I knew it, even though I didn’t flee.  He admitted to me that he was on probation for a DUI and was without his license, so I’d have to drive him to dates.  It went downhill from there.  He basically wanted a mother, not a girlfriend.  It was my job to nag him to do simple things like go get glasses or call to make appointments.  I’d literally have to do this for weeks before he’d do it.  And once he got off probation, it got worse.  He started doing drugs to cope with the PTSD and nightmares he got, sometimes flat out lying to me about it or going behind my back to do them.

And yet I stayed with him because I thought he was broken and I could fix him.  He’d been suicidal in the past and I worried that leaving him would send him back to that place.  Not to mention his dad and stepmom were terrible people who would yell at him with me literally standing in between them.  It was so uncomfortable.  There was one night they locked him out of the house and he had to spend the night on a park bench.

I ended it because I couldn’t take the stress anymore, constantly wondering if he was ok.  Even my family and friends, who all had different bits and pieces of the story, were telling me it was time to let this one go.  What scared some of them, though, was the fact that he was such a loose cannon and they were worried he’d stalk me or try to find me.  He never did.  (In my opinion, that was because no one was there to nag him to do it.)

For real, though, if you see the red flags or if something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore your instincts.  Or if other people (friends, family, your dog) are telling you something’s not right about that person, at least take it into consideration.  They might be seeing something you’re not.

Know Your Values

Apparently we’re getting the heavy stuff out of the way first.  Anyway, when you find someone you like, like genuinely like, it’s good for you to start seeing if your values mesh.  It may not seem important at first, especially if you’re caught up in the romance because your brain is releasing all that woo-woo juice that makes your body all fizzy.

But it matters.  My relationships, on the whole, have fallen apart because our values were different.  I already mentioned Mr. No-PDA.  Mr. PTSD’s drug use was my breaking point.  But my college boyfriend (the serious, controlling one) was my first real we-could-get-married relationship and we didn’t realize how important this was.  He was trying to convert me through the last 8-9 months of our relationship, even though I gave up organized religion after I realized it was contributing to my perfectionism and low self-esteem.  He took me to his nondenominational church on campus and his Methodist church back home and I was never comfortable, especially when they brought out the communion wine.  My anxiety spiked just looking at it (I grew up Catholic and at my church they always said you should not take communion if you don’t feel worthy…and I never felt worthy.  See what I mean about perfectionism and low self-esteem?).  This was a defining difference that we couldn’t get past, no matter how much we loved each other.

That’s not to say people can’t amend their values somewhat.  My parents actually experienced this very same issue when they were dating (it’s a running trend in my family, with 4/6 of us having ended relationships over religious differences.  Welcome to the Bible Belt).  Anyway, my dad was the one who wasn’t religious and my mom was, you guessed it, Catholic.  But she ended up deciding that she was ok with the fact that my dad wouldn’t go to church as long as she could raise us in it.  It’s all about discovering what you’re ok with and what you’re not.

Alright, let’s lighten this up.

Be Genuine and Have Fun on First Dates

First dates are hard, especially if you’ve never really been on many.  (My very first real date was to the movies to go see Twilight with a guy from my sociology class.  I was so awkward.)  What I’m finding are the dates that went the best were the ones where I was trying to be myself and where we were doing something.  Movie dates are fine, but the ones I remember most were the ones where I had fun.  And that meant being engaged with the person I was with, not lost in a movie world.

Let me give you a few examples.  With Mr. No-PDA from above, our first date was to a chocolate shop.  We were there for like 2 hours enjoying the chocolate and talking.  It wasn’t dinner, it wasn’t a movie, but I got to know him really well really quickly.

I’ve also been on two bowling first dates and let me tell you, it’s really good for killing some of the awkward because if you can’t think of a conversation starter, go bowl a frame and then ask a question.  They can answer and then bowl their frame.

Also it’s a good way to be a little competitive, laugh at yourself, and see how they handle losing to your undeniable prowess at the game.  I just went on a date in July like this at it really helped me loosen up because I didn’t have to constantly keep the conversation flowing.  We could get some of the awkwardness during the game and then we went to get dinner after and had a great time.  We spent like 1.5 hours at the restaurant talking and it was so much fun.

I know it’s tempting to hide some of your less-attractive qualities on a first date and I’m not saying you should go in heavy with the crazy, but you also want that person to know what’s important to you.  I don’t ever hide on first dates that I have a wide variety of interests or that I’m well-read.  It would be disingenuous to pretend that I don’t read as much as I do or that I can’t talk about Harry Potter or history or stand-up comedians for hours.

If You Use Apps, Find One That Fits You

My brother and I have been trying to find dates for a while.  I used Tinder for a while, which is how I met Mr. No-PDA as well as Mr. PTSD and Mr. My-Fiance-Left-Me.  It wasn’t a complete wash, is what I’m trying to say.  I had some really good times with all three of them, as well as a few other dates that never went beyond a date or two.

But I was getting tired of Tinder this summer.  I want a real relationship and a lot of Tinder users do not.  It wasn’t matching what I wanted and I was–predictably–having a hard time finding people I would even consider going out with, let alone someone who would be good boyfriend material.

I happened to hear about Hinge in a joke on the Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj.  He made the joke that a Hinge profile takes longer to fill out, but you get better results than Tinder.  I was intrigued.  I downloaded the app and soon discovered I kind of did like it better.  My brother found a date through Bumble and likes that one.

You probably won’t luck out and find true love on the first date.  If your experience is anything like mine (dear God, I hope not), you will probably get frustrated sometimes and swear that there’s no one out there for you and you’re going to spend your life as a single Pringle (which, sometimes, actually sounds amazing).  But that doesn’t mean you need to give up.  Sometimes just switching apps can improve things.

Beware the Stereotypes

This is actually a two-fold warning.

1.) When you’re swiping through profiles, it’s really easy to start stereotyping people based on what you see in their pictures.  Thanks to Mr. PTSD, I’ve started thinking that all gym rats are like him.  I mentally cringe when I see guys post gym pics on their profiles.  And honestly, it’s probably not fair that I immediately swipe left on those, but I have that stereotype that they’re probably vain and a little dumb–and might only care about me if I will go to the gym with them.

People are far more complex than they appear on the surface.  I know I am, so why should anyone else be an exception to that?

2.) I see this every time I start dating someone and I hate it with a blazing passion.  I wish I had a better response to it.  What I’m trying to say is that even inside a relationship, you need to be at least partially aware of the stereotypes of boy and girl roles.  Because in our society, it’s like the men are expected to be grown children and the women are meant to be their mothers.  It’s not a partnership in any sense of the word.  I’ll do nice things for a guy like bake cookies or do his dishes on occasion if he needs the help, but I will not fulfill the role of mother to him.  If I’m expected to take care of myself, surely he can do that too.  When I start not getting what I need from that relationship and I spend most of my time treating him like one of my students, that’s when I walk away.

It’s also worth saying that there are “dating rules” out there that you’re “supposed” to follow.  Don’t kiss on the first date, it makes you look easy.  Don’t call them until a day or two later, you look desperate otherwise.  Look, it’s all crap.  You do you.  If there’s a moment and you’re feeling it, go for that kiss.  If you want to let him/her know that you had a great time on a date, tell them!  After my July bowling date, I came home and immediately texted him to let him know that I’d had a great time.  (I tend to hide my emotions very well without trying, so I wanted him to know I’d had fun.  And I really wanted to see him again.)

Alright?  Just be yourself.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been looking for a long time for that person or if you just happened to randomly bump into the hottest guy you’ve ever seen in the hallway, be open to the experience.  Even a really bad date can be a funny story later.  (In When Harry Met Sally, Sally mentions going on a date where a guy plucked out one of her hairs and flossed with it at the table.)

Ok.  Glad we’ve had this talk.  If you have any questions, Auntie Holly is more than happy to help.  I’ve seen/heard/been through a lot.

Why You Should Take Chances: An Essay

Hey everyone!  I’m writing this because I learned a valuable lesson over the last few days and it has done wonders for my confidence.

Let me back up to about February to start this story.

I’ve been working with my school’s show choir for three years.  I was crew chief, in charge of staging and making sure everything got on and off stage and loaded onto the bus when we were done.  But I was getting tired of the gig because my passion has always been what happens on stage, not back stage.

Our choreographer the last two years has been a self-centered, demanding man-child.  I could list all the awful things he’s done, but basically he thought he was the director, not any of us who actually were the directors.  My director was thinking of getting rid of him because of all the horrible things he was doing and saying, but he didn’t know where he could find another choreographer.

I volunteered to lend my talents.

I did show choir myself for five years and dancing has been really my only form of exercise since then.  I love dancing and feeling music move me.  So I wasn’t completely out of my depths.

But I was more than a little out of my depths.

Since I’d never done it before, I said I would do two of the five dance numbers.  It would be enough to get a taste for it and decide whether or not I could actually do it.  I spent the summer working on them, an hour here, an hour there, watching my own old show choir tapes for ideas.

I struggled a lot.  It was a huge challenge, made harder in part because I can’t really read music.  But I do know how to dance and I know my kiddos, so I was trying to do my best for them.  I knew a number of them were excited that I would be doing this.

Then we had show choir camp.

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Show choir camp, for us, is three days of the kids learning choreography and getting to know each other.  We start around 8:30, warm up, learn choreography, play some team building games, eat lunch, sing, and learn more choreography before going home at 2.  These are middle schoolers, so it was about as much as they could handle.

The first day of camp, our other choreographer taught part of his song.  I was so nervous about having to teach mine the next day that I was watching him closely to see how he taught but also how difficult his moves were.  Were mine too easy?  Would mine look good mashed up against his?  I mean, this guy had been doing this since 1993, when I was two years old.  If I could emulate him, surely I’d be fine.

And as I watched him, I became a little more confident in myself.  His moves weren’t all that different from mine.  The styles were similar.  And when he taught, he just tried to keep it simple.  (He’s also an elementary school music teacher, so he knew how to handle the kids.)

I went home that night and immediately made some changes to what I’d done.  Nothing big, but I wanted to review my choreography so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot in front of them.  And I wanted to step up a few of the moves that were maybe a little too easy or didn’t make sense in sequence.

The next day, it was my turn.

I was nervous and everyone who was my friend knew it.  I made no secret of telling everyone I thought this would kind of crash and burn.  Everyone kept telling me I’m already a teacher, I would be a natural.  And yes, there was that, but I haven’t danced in front of anyone like that in 10 years.  My moves aren’t tight and precise, and I knew they’d ask questions about foot position or hands that I hadn’t thought of yet.

So when I got up in front of them, I told the kids that.  I was honest and upfront: this was my first time doing this and if they had a question about something that I didn’t have an answer to, we’d work together to come up with it.  Most of the kids already knew me (at least a little) from the last few years, so it wasn’t like I had to teach it to kids I didn’t know.  If a kid acted up, I knew his/her name and how to handle them.

Anyway, I started teaching and worked my way through it.  Sure, I made mistakes.  I forgot the moves I had literally just taught the kids.  I didn’t always explain the footwork as well as I should have.  I didn’t always know what they needed.

But the kids were quick to help me.  I’d just ask if they wanted to run through it again or if they were ready to try it to music.  I’d ask if they needed anything clarified and then I’d go back through that hard footwork.  Sometimes the 8th graders gave me suggestions.  I’d try to give them weird names to go along with a move so they’d remember it.  (“Dolphin arms!”  “Step and punch!”  “Ok, now we’re boxing!”)  More than once, I made them laugh and we just generally had a good time.

And you know what?  By the end of the day, they were begging me to run the song over and over again without my help.  They loved my choreography.  I had no idea how anything would look on stage, but apparently my instincts were pretty good because there were a couple of really awesome moves that looked so good in the mirror when 40 kids did it at the same time that I couldn’t stop giggling.

The best part was how adults walking in and out were reacting.  My principal came in a few times to talk with the director and saw me.  My principal and I have been at odds for most of the time I’ve worked here because he thinks I need to come out of my shell more, not understanding what it means to be an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).  But for him to see me in front of the group, teaching choreography, it was awesome.

My director said my principal came in and went, “Is that Holly?” and the director went, “This is all her.  She did all of this.”  So my principal watched for a while and allegedly said, “Woah,” when we got to the super impressive move that the kids love.

The kids were saying good things, too.  At the end of the day they gave me a round of applause.  A few made comments to me like how one girl said, “I was nervous when I heard an English teacher was going to be doing our choreography, but you’re actually really good.”

My best friend at school came down to see how they were doing in the afternoon and my director immediately went up to them and started bragging about me.  He was saying, “This is all her.  She did all of this.  It’s a whole new side of Holly.”  She said he couldn’t stop saying nice things.

The ironic thing is that what they saw was the side of me that I feel like I am most of the time when I’m just being me, not the professional persona I wear at school.  I was just trying to have fun with the kids.  There was no room for being self-conscious.  The kids didn’t care and we didn’t have time for that.

On my second day teaching and the final day of camp, I started seeing how it was all paying off.  The newest members who didn’t know me before were seeking me out for extra help or to say something random, just to be talking to me.  The older members (also the ones who are usually too cool to talk to the teacher) were more willing to ask me questions if the director was unavailable.

And during water games, they were all dead-set on drenching me.  In years past, for something like that, they wouldn’t have messed with me because they wouldn’t have known how I would react well enough to want to do that.  This year?  No problem.

Unfortunately, that meant my sneakers were soaked.  I hadn’t brought extra shoes.

I spent the rest of camp in my (thankfully dry) socks, teaching the end of the dance.  Once, when I was demonstrating a move, I slipped and did the splits.  You could hear the kids gasp, but I just laughed.  I just turned to them and said, “Ok, we’re not doing the splits here.  That’s not the move.”  And it was fine.  I wasn’t hurt and it was just a funny moment.

It was when I was thinking about that later I realized how much I had changed in just two days.

Before, I used to be really hesitant with the kids.  I wouldn’t feel like it was my place to make certain comments.  I’d feel like I wasn’t part of the group because I only really started showing up in January, when they had already gone through so much without me present.

But now, these kids are acting so much different than I expected.  The fact that I’ll have about 10 of them in class this year has really started to show too.  Some of them, I think, are really looking forward to it.  Instead of me going, “I have you in class this year,” they’re coming to me saying, “I have you fifth period this year!”

Internally, I’m feeling these changes.  I finally feel like I can be more myself.  I think a big part of that has been living alone this summer, spending most of my time doing what I want without caring what anyone thought.  If I wanted to sing at the top of my lungs, I could.  If I wanted to dance through my house or bake cookies or do a puzzle or not do my dishes for a couple days, no one cared.  It’s been really liberating and I think that’s starting to show elsewhere.

The point of all this is to say that I was super nervous going into this because I’d never doing anything remotely close to choreography before.  I’d almost never been the center of attention with that group before, especially not for that length of time.

But everyone had such nice things to say, even when I did make mistakes.  The kids were so encouraging and so was the director.

This year is going to be different.  I can already feel it.

Back To School!

Hey everyone!  I’m just going to take a stab at it and say that most of you are either back at school or heading back to school soon (if you even are still in school).  So I thought share some encouragement and a few other words of advice.

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I know not everyone (most people?) don’t look forward to going back to school.  Homework, stress, tests, bullying, and more can be really awful.  I get it.  Not every moment during the school year is going to be a winner, even in your best year.  (Remember the time I was stalked during my senior year?)

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still great things that can happen during the school year.  Get involved in some kind of club.  Meet new people.  Try something new.  Go to a football game or a concert or a play–whatever you’re interested in.  Schools typically try to foster a sense of community where they have all kinds of activities and ways for parents and grandparents to come and be proud of their kiddos for something.

I’ll admit, school has already started for me and in the weeks prior, I was semi-dreading it.  I’ve spent the last two months living alone, singing Broadway tunes at all hours and doing whatever I want whenever I want.  My social interactions have been limited to a few moments a day, usually talking to a cashier or a few family members or friends, usually over text.  (Introvert needs to recharge her batteries for the school year.)

Even through all of that, I’ve also been looking forward to this year.  I like setting up my classroom for a new year.  I love getting to know my students and having some fun with them.  (It’s always great to read The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe early on in the year and see them freak out about how excited I get over the story.)  And I’m excited to see my friends again too.  (Yes, teachers get excited about that too.)  I have a good feeling about this school year.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you’ve got this.  It’s a clean slate.  If you need to, start fresh.  The trick to that is dedicating yourself to whatever it is you’re trying to change.  I see it every year: students tell me they’re going to stop being slackers but they do nothing to change their habits and eventually slip back to what they’ve always done.  You have to truly want to change before anything’s going to happen.  It’s a bit like running a marathon: you’re not suddenly going to be awesome overnight.  It takes time and probably a few setbacks along the way, but you’ll get there if you keep trying.

If there’s a problem, talk to your teachers.  I promise, if they’re any good at their job, they want to help you.  I had a girl a few years ago who struggled with reading at the pace she needed to to keep up with the class on the novel.  When she told me, I printed off SparkNotes for her so she could at least follow along that way and help her remember what she read.  Your teachers can’t see or know everything, so tell them.  I don’t always know about the animosity between two students, especially if they normally avoid each other.  If I happen to put them in a group together, I want to know something’s wrong.

If it’s something serious like bullying or depression or something going on at home, I still want to know about that.  I will turn Mama Bear in .04 seconds when I know my students are going through a rough patch.  And there’s always a way to get you help.  Your teachers, your friends, your family, they care about you.  They can’t always know something’s wrong if you don’t say something.

I want all of my students to succeed.  I want to do what’s best for them at all times and get them interested in the English language and reading and writing.

The school year, at least in part, is what you make of it.  It’s about attitude, about choosing joy.  Don’t always focus on the bad.  Are you really going to let your day be ruined because you tripped over your feet in the hallway and a few people laughed (it’s happened to me) or are you going to move on?

You’ve got this!  Go tackle this school year with style!