Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Heart of Life

As I boarded my flight and made my way to the very back of the plane, there was this deep sense of apprehension...likely just my extreme fear of flying kicking in. There was also this deep sense of satisfaction. And a tiny little hole began to develop in my heart.

John Mayer is my all-time favorite musician and he just seems to always have the right words when I need them. You'll see me post his lyrics in here often, I'm sure. (Go back a couple entries, they're already there.) As we flew over the vast desert that was New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, somewhere between Austin and Los Angeles, Heart of Life started tinkling in my Skullcandy-filled ears:

I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There's things you need to hear
So turn off your tears
And listen

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No, it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

You know, it's nothing new
Bad news never had good timing
Then, the circle of your friends
Will defend the silver lining

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No, it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
Fear is a friend who's misunderstood
But I know the heart of life is good
I know it's good

Pain's been holding my heart to the ground for a while now. And I know life doesn't always go the way it should. But I met a new circle of friends these last two weeks in Austin and they reminded me, in each of their precious and subtle ways, that there is always a silver lining. I've been saying that I am blessed and that I live a fortunate life, but these past two weeks touched me more than I could have ever told any of those people.

I caught glimpses of who people really are throughout my time in Austin, and from what I could tell by the time we finished, in each of our own ways, we needed saving: saving from toxic school environments, saving from end-of-year burnout, saving from uncertainty and anxiety, saving from fear of what lies ahead. These people saved me. They didn't know it, but they helped me realize that fear really is just a "friend who's misunderstood." I started to realize, as people were sharing their favorite moments from our time together, that we all, in our own ways, saved each other.

I mentioned that the hardest moment of all of this would be the morning after we all separate, and we wake up and realize that we're not going to meet each other for another long day of classes. I still believe that even after my plane has landed. My heart has a tiny little hole, and I believe that hole will probably grow just a little bit over the next few days, and maybe weeks. But, thanks to all of my ASNE friends, I'll always remember that whatever state my heart may be in, the heart of life is very, very good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Austin?! I don't even know him!!

Bad pun out of the way.

Okay, so tomorrow, I leave for Austin, Texas for two weeks!! I'm very excited about this trip because it combines the two things I love most in the world- traveling and learning. I've never been to Austin before and I've heard it's a wonderful city, full of magic and fairies and light. Wait. No. Wrong city. But I have heard that Austin is pretty incredible. I'll be staying at the Doubletree Suites and taking journalism education classes at UT-Austin.

I'm pretty stoked because this is an all-expenses paid trip. That's right, folks. Jessica got herself a scholarship to attend school for two weeks whereby all, and we mean all of her expenses are paid! They already sent my books to me, and the travel agent booked my flight (more on that later). I even get a (very small, but hey, it's money!) per diem to pay for my meals. On top of everything, I will get three continuing education credits and all the scholarly knowledge my little head can hold for the next two weeks! All free.

The classes center around teaching journalism which is something I've been interested in since I started the yearbook program at my high school. I love teaching the kids that there's more to this thing than a pretty scrapbook of photos. I thought teaching newspaper journalism could take myself and the kids one step further. This institute is right up my alley! I really love learning about censorship, responsible journalism, ethics and all the stuff that goes along with it. And, even if I don't teach journalism as soon as I'd like, I'm sure I can translate a lot of what I will learn into all my other classes.

Now, what I'm not too excited about: Pretty much all centers around my flights. First, I fly out at 9:30 a.m. which means I have to get up before God to be at the airport on time. I'm never a fan of early flights. Next, because the flights were booked in such short notice, I'm in the very last row on every. single. flight. I've never flown in the tail of the plane in my entire life- I am terrified. I get scared whenever I get up and walk to the back for some exercise on my flights home. Finally, as if to add insult to injury, my flight home is non-stop on a regional plane. If you don't know what those are, they're the little 15-row tiny planes that usually take you from point A, 20 minutes later to point B. I'm flying three and a half hours in one of these little guys. In. the. last. row. I hope I'm not complaining, even though it sounds like it. I really am just a very nervous passenger, so I think it's more my fear that's complaining than me because...

This is going to be one awesome trip and I am so excited for it! I'm so fortunate and incredibly blessed! Stay tuned for updates from Austin!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Proudest Moment of My Life

I like to think I'm an achiever. I don't think it's one of my top five strengths as determined by the Gallup Organization (See: Strengthsfinder), but I'd bet it's in my top ten. I love the feeling of accomplishment. I love that moment when all the work that's been put into something pays off. I could say that my proudest moment was graduating from high school on my birthday. Or, I could choose my undergrad college graduation - I was the first in my family to continue my education straight out of high school and complete college chronologically. Or, I could say it's the day I got my fancy sleeves and velvety hood along with my giant Masters Degree. I could, in hopeful foreshadowing, say that it will likely be when my son or daughter graduates high school, college, completes his/her doctorate, becomes President...[insert accomplishment here].

It's not.

It's none of the above.

My proudest moment was the night I changed the upper radiator hose in my best friend's car.

Picture it: Cleveland, Tennessee, March-ish 1999. I am a freshman in college. Each Spring, Lee (that's my university) does this thing called Lee Day. It's basically a recruitment weekend in which a million different things happen all over the campus (like it has ADHD or something) and students who are thinking about attending come and discover the campus in real and personal ways. Enter my best friend, Sheron (heretofore known as "Sherry"). Sherry and I had been at one of the outrageous Lee Day parties and decided that we needed McDonald's. Sherry had a car, I did not.

Earlier that day, Sherry loaned her car to our friend, Missi, who drove it to Chattanooga for some reason I can't remember. Unbeknown to any of us, at some point on the 15-mile, all freeway drive, the upper radiator hose pretty much blew completely open. From what we could tell, Missi had been driving the car for at least 30 minutes HOT. Looking back, it was nothing short of a miracle that a radiator hose was all we needed. I digress.

Sherry and I get in her returned car and a very distinct smell comes wafting through the vents and I know immediately what it is (thank God for a mechanic father and an old, 1989 Cavalier for my first car!). I tell Sherry it has to be something with the radiator or antifreeze or something. We call my dad and he says to go out and lift the hood (hey, I was an 18 year old GIRL- I needed direction, okay?), upon which I see a gash about eight inches long staring me in the face with a terrible, flourescent green liquid oozing out of it. Yep, radiator-something and antifreeze.

So, dad says because it's the hose at the top, it's the upper radiator hose. (Rocket science!) He says they cost about five bucks, and take no more than 15 minutes to repair. Easy enough except Sherry's car is the only one we had. In true college dorm-life fashion, we went knocking on doors. Most resident students leave campus as much as possible during Lee Day Weekend. Prospective students are our tourists - we aren't that interested in being around them the entire time they're there. Anyway, we finally find a girl who offers to drive us to AutoZone and I pick up a radiator hose. All that's left is to unclamp the broken one, put the clamps on the new one, squeeze her on there and screw the clamps tight.

One problem. The clamps don't screw together; they're what are called V clamps. V clamps look like this: take your left hand and make a V with your index and middle fingers. Take your index finger of the right hand and slide it between your left-hand V, this should make another V. Those are V-clamps: they can't be opened with a screwdriver. Pliers are the only option.

So, we went knocking...again.

Our RD had a set of needle-nose pliers that she loaned to us. March in Tennessee equals early sundown, so now, we had to move Sherry's car under a parking lot light. Two 18-year old girls pushing a car across a parking lot is definitely entertaining. Especially when such action came about as a result of a conversation somewhat like this:

"You really think we can push this car all the way across the lot?"

"I don't see why not - we found the problem, we found a ride to get the hose to fix the problem, we found the pliers to apply the hose to the problem. How hard can it be to push a car?"

"Okay, let's do it."

So, we push the car. We open the hood, and I set to work on the clamps. I tell Sherry, "Y'know, all this time, I was hoping and wishing for a guy to see us and offer to help, and none have. I don't care if God's Gift to Mechanics walks up at this point. If he's a man, I'm tellin' him 'no, thank you.'"

Twenty minutes, lots of sweat, one gash in the hand to match the broken hose and two very frustrated girls later, we almost had the new hose on. My hands were just too small and too tired to maneuver the pliers on the clamps and squeeze anymore. Enter a very cute guy: "Y'all need some help?" Sherry looks at me- "YES!" I reply. He comes over, and within a minute and a half, has the hose fully set on the radiator. And with that, he nods at us and walks off. I turn to Sherry and whisper, "that doesn't count - I'm injured."

We filled the radiator with water and decided, in light of our accomplishment, to celebrate at Applebee's instead of McDonald's. It was about 9:30 at this point; we started around 4:00.

On the surface, there's nothing spectacular about this story. It's all true and I have the memories and the laughter to prove it. What made this night my greatest accomplishment was not what happened with the car, but my life before and after this moment. I entered Lee in the fall of that year as a very homesick freshman. I spent all my weekends locked in my dorm room and was quite anxious and upset most of the time. Less than a month in, I called my parents and said, "You have a 10-hour drive ahead of you. I'll be packed when you get here." Somehow, in the course of a few months, I'd gone from this frightful, fearful, apprehensive girl to a take-no-guff, laugh it off, try-try-again She-Woman.

I learned that night that the greatest accomplishments are not without hard, tedious, seemingly neverending work. But they are also not without some of the most memorable, happy and profound moments that can be found in life. That moment carried with me for my entire undergraduate and graduate careers and it was the spirit of that girl that said, "YES!" when a big, big God set California in front of me. And the conversation went something like this:

"You really think I can move all the way across the country?"

"I don't see why not- I've set the road before you. I have a plan for you. I've never taken you anywhere you couldn't handle before. How hard do you think I would make this for you?"

"Okay, let's do it."

And I couldn't possibly be more proud.

Monday, June 6, 2011

War of My Life

We spent a significant amount of time this year focusing on our "Expected Schoolwide (don't get me started on how that's not a word) Learning Results," or for short, our ESLRs. Basically, these are the things we want our students to be able to do when they leave high school. It's a sort of checklist that is virtually identical amongst all high schools everywhere. Our particular list is that our students will be:

Critical Thinkers
Lifelong Learners
Effective Communicators
Responsible Citizens

In all the time I tried to get my kids to understand the importance of these traits, I never realized that I don't really exercise my right to display these traits as they have become a part of my personal philosophy. Odds are, I'm probably not as good at it as I'd like to be, but hopefully, I'll get there. And to do so, let's start here:

So, over time, I'm sure I'll get into what I think has brought me to this place that I've been for the past couple years, but suffice it to say for now, it's been a pretty hard place surrounded by a lot of rocks. So, I pulled out Battle Studies the other day because I was, ironically, tired of listening to audiobooks in the car. I came across "War of My Life" and instantly felt like this was my current anthem:

Come out angels,
Come out ghosts,
Come out darkness,
Bring everyone you know.
I'm not running,
and I'm not scared,
I am waiting,
And well prepared.

I'm in the war of my life,
At the door of my life,
Out of time
and there's nowhere to run

I've got a hammer,
And a heart of glass
I gotta know right now
which walls to smash
I got a pocket
Got no pills
If fear hasn't killed me yet,
then nothing will
All the suffering and all the pain
Never left a name

I'm in the war of my life,
at the door of my life,
out of time
and there's nowhere to run
I'm in the war of my life,
at the core of my life
Got no choice but to fight 'til it's done

No more suffering, no more pain
Never again

I'm in the war of my life,
at the door of my life,
out of time
and there's nowhere to run
I'm in the war of my life,
at the core of my life
Got no choice but to fight 'til it's done

So fight on,
fight on everyone
fight on
got no choice but to fight 'til it's done
I won't give up
I won't run
I won't stop for anyone

Yes, it's dark. I've been in a dark place for a while: there's no light when you're surrounded by rocks. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a very optimistic person and there isn't a whole lot that can get me down. I've been down for a long time and I think that's why I'm so drawn to the message of this song. He's so beaten down that he realizes there is nothing left except to continue fighting. As morbid as the second verse is, it is really how I've felt at times in the past year, though not as literally- if there were any other way out besides fighting, I'd take it, but I "got no pills." (No, I have not thought about, nor will I think about, that option)

At the end of the day, all the rocks and all the darkness and all the tired and all the just doesn't matter. It is what it is and I'm not scared of it. I'm going to fight because it's what I do, it's what I have to do. And I'll fight because I am ready. If I've learned anything in my life, it's that I can handle it- whatever it is, it won't be something I can't lick. As much as I wish this place wasn't a reality for anyone, myself included, fact is, I've been there and I'm ready to fight my way out. Choices or not, I'm ready, so bring it on.