the man next door

shutterstock_103496906_copy_712_711The crazy guy next door moved out. Well, actually, he got evicted. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with his personal hygiene — the man never showered. His clothes were always dirty, too, and, despite his friendly demeanor, he couldn’t hold a conversation to save his life.

“I see you exercise a lot,” he’d say, exuberantly. “I exercise a lot, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

“I saw you running the other day,” he’d say the next day. “I exercise, too. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And the next day. “Is that your bike? That’s a nice bike. I have a bike, too, but the tires are rotted. But I exercise a lot. I walk a lot. That’s how I stay fit.”

And so on and so forth. I used to try to respond to his comments. To his, “I see you exercise a lot,” I’d say, “Oh, I try!” Or, “Well, I’m training for a triathlon, so . . .” But the conversations never went anywhere; they always ended the same. “A tri-a-tha-lon, eh? That’s nice. I’ve never done a tri-a-tha-lon. I want to get one of those home gyms, though. You know, one where you can do push-ups and pull-ups and stuff?” “Yeah, I’d like to get one of those—” But he’d always cut me off. “I walk a lot now. That’s how I stay fit.”

“That’s how I stay fit.”
“That’s how I stay fit.”
“That’s how I stay fit.”

It got to the point that I started avoiding him. The crazy neighbor’s headed out? I’ll stay in my apartment ’til he leaves. / There he is! He’s coming up the stairs! I’ll scoot in the door before he sees me.

I felt bad, but . . .

Jon and I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t quite right in the head. He clearly didn’t work — probably couldn’t work — and I used to see him alongside the road, by the railroad tracks, early in the morning on my way to school. It would be freezing cold outside, but he’d never be wearing a coat; instead, he’d have bright Mardi Gras beads around his neck and a floppy hat atop his greasy head. He was always smiling goofily and looking off into the distance. I knew he walked so much because he didn’t have a car.

But he wasn’t a bad guy. He couldn’t have been more than about 35, and, while I won’t miss avoiding him around the apartment complex, I can’t help but wonder where he went. I know he had family and connections, but . . . There is a lot of homelessness in the Bay Area, and a fair amount of it is attributable to mental illness. What do you do with the man in this picture, for example? I saw him several months back at an off-ramp, repeatedly taking on and off his mismatching shoes.

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Or then there’s this guy, a modern-day Moses who frequents Berkeley streets and has been known to “part” traffic with his staff.

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Of course, not all homelessness is attributable to mental illness. To the man with a beer belly and a dog on the Santa Rosa street corner: Sorry, but your “Anything helps” sign just ain’t cuttin’ it. You’re as capable of work as I am. Go get some!

But, then again . . . You never know someone’s story. It never hurts to be kind.

You may have already seen these videos. They’ve been running around facebook for a while now. I love them.

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I guess I might always wonder about our crazy neighbor. Wherever he is, I hope he’s enjoying his walks.

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Image: Google

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to help a stranger

Broken-down-car-drawing-in-inkShe came at me from across the busy street. I was sitting in my car with the door open, enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the trees, preparing for my upcoming tutoring session. I watched her cross — alone and carrying nothing — and thought it odd, but I looked away. I didn’t expect her to stop.

“E-excuse me? Miss?”

I looked over. The girl appeared to be about my age and was wearing faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. Her reddish hair was pulled into an oily ponytail at the nape of her neck. “Uh, hi,” I said.

“Can you give me a ride?”

Umm . . . I looked at the clock in my dashboard. 5:45. “Where do you need to go? I have to be somewhere in 15 minutes.”

“My car broke down,” the girl hurried to explain. “It’s not far. My friend’s house. It’s about 5 minutes from here, off Rheem Boulevard.” She looked near tears.

Umm . . . “Uh, sure,” I said. What else could I say? “Yeah, I can do that.” I looked down at the textbooks and papers strewn across my lap and passenger seat beside me. My half eaten salad from Whole Foods sat atop the dash. “Hang on just a sec.” I grabbed the textbooks and salad container and tossed them in the back seat. The papers I gathered into a pile on my lap. “Come on in.”

The girl climbed in. As she did, I noticed — she had a faint odor, like stale sweat and body odor. I had to fight not to wrinkle my nose.

“Okay, so I’m not actually from around here,” I told her. Which was true. I travel nearly 160 miles round-trip once a week to tutor *Sophie right now. “Where are we going again?”

“Rheem Boulevard. It’s that way.” She pointed to a road on our left.

“Okay.” I turned on the car and began driving in the direction of her finger. She didn’t say anything else as we went, and the silence felt awkward; I used it as an opportunity to introduce myself. “I’m Jessica,” I said.

“I’m Stacy.”

“Nice to meet you, Stacy. I’m sorry about your car. So . . . You just left it there?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you not have a cell phone or anything?”

“No. I mean, yes, but my cell phone is dead, and I don’t have any money.”

“Oh . . .” I was at a loss. Stacy seemed prone to lapse into silence between my attempts at conversation. But then she surprised me.

“You’d think people in Moraga would be nice, but they’re really not,” she said. I assumed she was talking about her car. I waited for her to say more, but . . . nothing. I understood what she meant, though. Upon my first visit in Moraga, as I’d watched Mercedes Benzs and BMWs drive through its hilly terrain, I’d felt a strong impression that these people were, if not selfish, very self-absorbed. No one made eye contact, and there was an intense “keeping up with the Joneses” type feel throughout the town. Thankfully Sophie’s family was an exception.

“I know what you mean,” I said after a moment. I looked at the clock. 5:50. Were we close? I didn’t want to be late . . . Then it occurred to me: Had I been foolish? After all, I knew nothing about this girl. Could I trust her? I glanced at her through the corner of my eye, but her face was blank; I could detect nothing. “Are we getting close?” I asked finally.

“Yes, it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be up here on the left. It’s . . . right there.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac twenty yards ahead.

“Gotcha.” I turned on my blinker and turned left at the street. “Now where?”

“Umm . . . It’s right there.” I did a U-turn and parked in front of the house she’d indicated. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks so much,” she told me as she got out the car.

“Hey, no problem,” I told her. “Good luck with your c–,” but she was already shutting the door and walking towards the front door.

Well, that was interesting.

As I drove away — I now had five minutes to get to Sophie’s — I thought about my concerns on the drive over, and how sad it was that I even had to worry about whether or not helping a stranger was the right thing. I knew for certain I wouldn’t have helped Stacy if she’d been a man. Was that because it really wasn’t safe to help a man, or . . .? Or was it something else?

It’s a strange world we live in, but I, for one, want to be kind, helpful, and generous whenever possible, no matter what the risk or ultimate return.

*name changed
Image credit: Leah Whisenant

blog design, and other things

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Blog design is a lot of work!

So, among other things, I’ve been contemplating updating the look of my blog. The other day Jon found an article about a guy my same age who’s been traveling the world since 2006. Apparently he started out teaching (like I did) but soon took a different path to make money: he started a blog and then, later, a digital media company. Jon wondered why I couldn’t make money with my blog (after all, who doesn’t want to make money doing something they love?), and I told him, “That guy isn’t just writing for the love of writing. He’s a ‘tech entrepreneur,’ and I don’t have a clue how to do that!”

But the discussion did spur something inside me. No, I don’t plan to start begging readers for donations. (I know bloggers who’ve done that. It isn’t pretty.) And I don’t hope to have advertisements spattered all over my blog any time soon. (In fact, I hope the opposite.) But it wouldn’t hurt me to start posting more and make my blog more of a priority. If I’m planning to apply for graduate school this fall (which I am), I’m going to need more writing clips to send in, anyway.  My blog is a good way to do that.

But what I wondered from you is — I’ve had the same “look” for my blog pretty much all along. Do you think an updated design is needed? Or . . . One thing I really don’t like about WordPress right now is that it’s not letting me preview my site in a new template before sending it “live.” Talk about annoying for a perfectionist like me. I want to be able to customize everything to my liking before presenting it to the public, but, right now, I can’t find a way to do that. Any tips? Thoughts? Advice?

Anyone?

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when it’s all said and done

JessicaI am SO glad I don’t have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and race 70.3 miles.

So glad.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad I did last week’s race. It didn’t go as planned — didn’t go well at all, actually — but it did go, and it was a learning experience. I am ashamed to say I didn’t complete the run. There were a lot of factors aimed against me — a late swim start and a 30-minute flat tire among them — but, ultimately, the failure was my own. I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be, and it hurt me.

Almost comically, before the race, the editor at the Windsor Times asked me to write an article about my experience. He would publish it in the paper; I would be in the news. Oh boy. I was excited by the prospect initially, but then . . . Really? I had to write about the race that I failed?

Below is the *article I sent him. You’ll notice I left out the race’s ending entirely. I just couldn’t admit to the world that I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t admit that I wasn’t strong.

Funny that I feel comfortable sharing that here, with you.

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A day in the life of a Vineman

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Finally! Almost time to swim.

4:30 a.m. came early. Ugh. Was it really time to get up already? I stumbled out of bed and gathered my things. Water bottles, electrolyte tablets, Bonk Breakers, goggles, running shoes, helmet, etc.—it’s amazing how much stuff you need for a triathlon. I’d made breakfast the night before—a nutrition shake and two scrambled eggs. In my previous event, the Monte Rio Olympic Distance Triathlon, I’d skipped breakfast and ended up “bonking” halfway through the race. That was not something I wanted to repeat.

The drive to Guerneville was smoother than expected. With approximately 2,300 athletes competing in the 25th Ironman Vineman 70.3, I’d been warned that traffic on River Road could be bad. But, as the twinkling stars dissipated and the sun’s rays began streaking orange into navy skies in the distance, the stream of taillights before me kept moving. There was no stop-and-go anywhere.

The race was starting at Johnson’s Beach. My boyfriend Jon and I parked our car about a half-mile away on Highway 116 and rode our bikes in. Jon wasn’t participating but had come to to cheer me on. All along River Road and on Guerneville Bridge I saw people jogging and stretching and completing various other pre-race rituals. I started to get nervous. I hadn’t been planning to warm up. Should I? But, I needed to save my energy for the race!

To be honest, I trained a lot for the cycling and running portion of this event but not as much for the swim. I was also unsure about nutrition. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an athlete through a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. This was my first half Ironman, and, without the experience of years, I wasn’t sure how to fuel or what to expect. I was about to find out.

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In line at the transition area, 6:30 a.m. Some swimmers had already started. My swim wave wasn’t until 8:42.

There were athletes everywhere and a buzz of excitement at Johnson’s Beach. At the gate I dismounted and got in line for the transition area. I needed to set up my bike and bike needs so that, after the swim, the switch to my bike would be easy. As I waited, I watched other waves of swimmers take off. “Honk!” went the air horn, and then the next group of swimmers moved in. I, unfortunately, was in the very last swim wave at 8:42 a.m. It was almost 7 a.m. now.

And so I waited and waited. Why had I gotten up at 4:30 again? My bike was now ready, my arms and legs marked, my wetsuit on, and . . . Finally, “Women 30-34.” I was in!

The rest of the race is a blur, honestly. The Vineman 70.3 course takes participants up and down the Russian River, through four different grape growing regions—the Russian River, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill—and then around Windsor High School. It is advertised as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and, as many who raced Sunday would attest, it lives up to its name. We had incredibly good weather on Sunday, too, which made a big difference for me. Eighty degrees is a lot more bearable than 90. The only unfortunate thing was that I got a flat tire on the bike ride and, in changing out my tube, lost all of the carbon dioxide out of my CO2 cartridge. I’d only brought one, so I then had to wait for 30 minutes for the sag wagon to come help me. What a delay!

All in all, participating in Vineman was a great experience, one I hope to do again next year. There is nothing like the thumbs up or “Way to go!” from a fellow athlete when you’re plugging along on the field, and Sonoma County is truly a beautiful place to race. If I learned anything, though, it’s to spend more time training for the swim—I was shaky when I got out of the water—and to bring an extra CO2 cartridge!
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*To read the article in the paper, click here: A day in the life of a Vineman
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The Russian River where the swim took place.

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meant to be

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Jessica,

Thanks for writing that very nice article about us three new administratoris in Geyserville. It is always nice to see positive press in the newspapers, or at least a balance. You write very well–clear, concise, and not a lot of fluff. So, thank you again and let us know if you need anything else down the road.

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It’s comments like these that tell me I’m right: I was meant to be a writer. No, not a reporter. A writer.

The article this man mentions is located here. It’s an assignment I got as a freelancer at a local paper here in Santa Rosa. It’s a position I got after being rejected yet again for a full-time reporting job. It’s an opportunity to produce clips and, hopefully, make (more) connections.

My half Ironman was this past Sunday. It didn’t go as planned. I will write more soon, but, in the meantime, thank you–all of you–for your encouragement over these past few years.

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Image: mymodernmet.com

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will she ever . . .

post again? write again? rhyme again?

Stay tuned for a long-overdue answer.

In the meantime . . .

Is this guy for real? What does he think he’s accomplishing? I mean, really. Go get a job. Or something. Anything. Go feed the homeless, maybe. I dunno. But I’ll bet that that’s what Jesus would want you to do. Not . . . this.

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the busy trap

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Perhaps the problem isn’t “busy.” Perhaps the problem is the reason behind busy.

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There are people who have kids. There are people who have jobs. There are people who have kids and jobs, but, the fact is, the majority of our lives aren’t spent worrying about us. It’s spent worrying about others. Or money. Or food. Or _________.

And that’s the way it should be — to a certain extent, anyway. No one wants to be a narcissist. But there’s a part of us that’s important, too. We have to like ourselves, we have to accept ourselves, just the way we are, before all of the busy. We have to have goals for ourselves without all of the busy. Otherwise . . . the busy is just . . .

Busy.

Empty.

A cover-up.

A sham.

An attempt to hide what we really feel inside, which is, ____________.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my busy lately. Why am I so compelled towards perfection? Why do I feel better on a day I accomplish a lot than when I only do a little? Why do I seek to control my life when I know, deep down, that control is only an illusion? Why do I equate busyness with success?

011-Busy-is-a-Drug-webThe truth is: History’s movers and shakers have never been people who sat around. Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa aren’t remembered because they thought about doing nice things for others. They’re remember because they did something nice for others . . .

But even movers and shakers need quiet moments of reflection. Even they need a reason for what they do.

And I think that that’s my problem, and maybe others’, too. I get so caught up in the busy that I forget what the busy is there for. I forget what I’m trying to accomplish and where I’m headed. I ignore the fact that, in trying to control my life, it’s actually controlling me. And then I wonder why I get discouraged in the process — why my goals seem so far away.

My busy is in the way.

Every life has a purpose. It’s up to us to find that purpose each day. I hope you don’t get caught up in the busy like I do. I hope you find a better way.

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Images: Google

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times are tough, but i’m in luck!

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True that, yo!

It occurred to me, as I was reading the headlines this morning, just how lucky I am. I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I have a job and a loving boyfriend. (Believe me, he puts up with a lot.) I have family close by and friends near and far. I have use of all four limbs and my hearing and eyesight. I have it good.

I am often quite hard on myself, but, the truth is, when comparing myself to others (which I shouldn’t do — I know, I know), I only look to those I consider my betters. Those with more money, more life experiences; those who have things “all figured out,” those I consider better looking. I forget to check myself and look at all of humanity and just how many people out there I can help, or would, or should. Continue reading

the stories of our lives

atoz_assessmentI attended a private school growing up, as I have said. Private school was a “safe” environment — at least it was for a goodie-goodie like me.

The elementary school I work at now is not private. There are three kindergarten classes, three first grade classrooms, three second grade classrooms. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend an identical school down the street. More than 60 percent of our students are Hispanic. More than forty percent do not live with their parents.

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Last week, *Marius was thrown out of school. He’d been a problem all year, had barricaded himself in the bathroom and was stuffing toilet paper into all of the toilets. He refused to come out, and, when he finally did, was chased down and taken to the office to wait for his grandmother. Marius has blond curls and blue eyes and baby chub. Marius is in kindergarten. Continue reading

oh, kids

410_1target_group_kids_apparel_photography_los_angeles_mike_henryLittle kids are so loving. I’m working in a first grade classroom right now. “Your hair is so soft!” “Will you tie my shoe for me?” *Big hug* “You’re so pretty!” “I like your glasses!”

(They are far kinder to me than I am to myself.)

Then today, on the playground, a student named Morgan, blubbering: “Miss Jess . . . No one wants to play with me. I don’t know why, but no one wants to play with me.” His blue eyes pooled with tears. Continue reading

just say no!

valentines-day-2014-roses-hero-HValentine’s Day. For what it’s worth, I’ve never been a fan. As I’ve described in previous posts, it’s an over-commercialized holiday that demeans romance, not exalts it. There’s nothing more romantic than a grocery store teddy bear and a dozen roses with baby’s breath, right? No? How about eating in a crowded over-priced restaurant alongside everyone else in town?

It’s even better when you’re single, of course. Happy Single’s Awareness Day, anyone? Gahhh.

For those who have kids, Valentine’s Day takes on a different meaning. Suddenly Valentine’s Day cards are being made and bought and glitter and glue are everywhere. Valentine’s candy is being passed out. Pictures are being taken. Nothing wrong with that, but . . . Continue reading

to be or not to be worldly-wise

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My follow-up post may not be what you were expecting.

We wrote letters for a summer. Dated for roughly three years. We loved each other much longer than that, but, ultimately, he was meant to be a priest and I, to be a writer and meet Jon.

I love Jon.

So, no. This post isn’t about childhood sweethearts and love ever after. Rather, it’s about that 14-year-old and her reputation for being a “goodie-goodie” — a name that has stuck with her for many years. Continue reading

the goodie-goodie

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My elementary and high school

“Are you a goodie-goodie?”

My heart leapt in my chest. He was talking to me. Was he talking to me? Yes! He was talking to me!

“I, uh . . .” Wait a . . . Was I a what? A goodie-goodie? What was a goodie-goodie?

“Uh . . .” I thought I knew what it meant. I had a pretty good idea, but . . .

I was stuttering. He was staring at me. My cheeks were burning. The cement sidewalk where we stood was crashing into the school parking lot — six inches below. Continue reading

bobbles

So, I wanted to finish this:

We are who we are
yet all we will be –
The people we touch,
the people we see.
The people we love,
the people who care,
The people ‘re strange,
the people who stare.

But, instead, I wrote this: Continue reading

little by little

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Chasing seagulls at nearby Bodega Bay

I’m supposed to be applying for a job right now. The open tab on my computer — “Children’s Fiction/Non-Fiction Writer” — is just to my right. I think I might actually have a shot at this one. I’ve been a teacher, and I love to write. The position is freelance, so . . . What more could they need?

Well, they’d need my application first.

I guess I forgot to mention that we moved. In all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and of packing and unpacking, and of apartment hunting and job searching, there was no time to blog. Continue reading

new year, new you . . . not!

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No, I did not take this picture. I was in bed last night by 10 p.m.!

As a teen, I remember counting down the seconds — ten! nine! eight! — to midnight on New Year’s Eve. I clung to each one, lingered over it, never wanted to let it go. Those seconds were portals into my future past, remnants of a beautiful year.

I was a nostalgic kid.

As an adult, little has changed, except . . . I’ve seen enough New Years to know that there isn’t some catastrophic, year-annihilating boom at the stroke of midnight on January 1st. 2014 isn’t a pile a rubble and ash to be sorted through and mourned. Rather, 2014 is what it is — the past — just as 6:30 this morning is now the past. Continue reading

the hope of christmas

IMG_0376ed2014 is almost over. Where does time go?

It hardly seems a few days since last Christmas, when I woke up beside a lake in Pell City, Alabama. I was welcomed with open arms by Jon’s family — Southern hospitality in full form — and spent New Years Eve beneath the stars in Santa Cruz. The past year has been a big one — full of changes and surprises, love and laughter. It’s been a sad one on a national and global scale — so much hurt and pain and anger; so many issues that make me sad. But, through it all — the good and the bad — one thing rings clear: HOPE. Continue reading

ungrateful and unaware

And what would you . . . ?

What would you do if a child from a privileged home couldn’t tell you what they were thankful for?

Not a single thing?

Yesterday on facebook, while browsing my news feed, I came across this photo and quote from Humans of New York. Humans of New York is a popular photoblog created by a man named Brandon Stanton. The site features portraits and interviews of individuals in New York — and around the world. While some have criticized HONY, saying many of Stanton’s interviews must be staged, most viewers love the site. I myself like HONY because, to me, Brandon has done exactly what I’ve been trying to do all along: Show that people are people. Continue reading

killing the idealist in me

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Chattanooga’s waterfront, where the Chattanooga’s first Ironman took place

When words fail, what do I have left?

This past week Jon and I went back to Chattanooga for his Ironman. It was Chattanooga’s first, and Jon’s, too, and was something he’d been looking forward to since before we met. And…

It was good to see his friends and family, and good to be able to help him reach his goal. His training hadn’t exactly been what it should have been (for a lot of reasons), and I was proud of him for finishing. But… then…

Why was it so hard for me?

Why is everything so hard for me? Continue reading

the fire in my heart

It may be old news to some, or too distant to matter for others, but for me, the King Fire hits home.

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Placerville is my hometown. Pollock Pines is just up the road. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven past this sign on my way home from Lake Tahoe. Continue reading

when i grow up (or, discouragement)

Teaching in Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? I mean, really?

I don’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I don’t have a clue. I used to joke that I wished I could get paid to write and read and exercise. Now I wish the same, only I’d add “travel” and “work with kids” to the mix. And you know what kills me? I can do all of these things, and I likely could get paid for them, except . . . Except I don’t have the degree. Continue reading

remember . . .

xray2How many drafts can I write before finally finishing a new post?

Seriously. I think I’ve written at least fifteen.

There have been posts about crazy people, posts about jobs, posts about love, posts about war. I’ve had thoughts on Robin Williams, thoughts on poetry (I haven’t written any in a while) . . . My most effective writing comes from what is closest at hand, closest to my heart.

I’ve had this week off and expected I’d get something written — anything. But then last weekend I broke my collarbone on a ride in Napa, and now tomorrow I’m having surgery. And now I’m no longer sure I can write at all: my mind is so scattered. Continue reading

teach them to read

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Thought for the day, and week, and month, I suppose, at the rate I’ve been blogging:

If you want children to write, teach them to read. If you want them to read, show them reading is fun. As a kid, I was a bookworm, but it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized how much reading had impacted my understanding of the structure of the English language. No one cares about adverbs and subjects and predicates and helping verbs. No 8-year-old wants to break that stuff down. What they want are action and adventure and ideas. What they want are the things of life.

Except for that one student. If you really think “will” + “not” = “willn’t,” we may have a problem . . . Except that, there, the study of grammar failed you, too. You wouldn’t have said “willn’t” in day-to-day speech. You were following a pattern, and “won’t” breaks all the rules.

— Miss Jess

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