MeReader Year Six in Review

Here’s what I did on the blog this year:

I attended a local Women’s March and wrote about it.

I published a personal essay about my most recent pregnancy on HerStory.

I wrote about my experience with an alternative teacher preparation program for Dad Gone Wild and Diane Ravitch retweeted it.

I turned 33.

I wrote about teacher retention and family policies for Dad Gone Wild.

I wrote about school integration from the perspective of a parent who’s also a teacher for Dad Gone Wild. Chalkbeat picked it up!

In all, in 2017 I read 112 books, reviewed 53 of them, and wrote 6 essays, for a total of 53 posts on the blog.

I’ve hinted a couple times about how 2016 was a hard year for me. The shortest, easiest explanation is that I had a baby, so that consumed the first half of the year or more, and then politics got ugly. So 2017 has been kind of a rebuilding year. And now, I have more hope than I did a year ago that the things that went wrong in 2016, on both a personal and national level, will right themselves, with continued work and focus. Nationally, the special election results and #metoo are giving me hope. And, in addition to my boys’ growth, here are a couple reasons I’m looking forward to 2018.

Toward the end of the year, I posted fewer reviews than usual and no personal writing. My writing energy was diverted elsewhere. I took a four-week writing workshop in the fall. I tried more seriously to write my own fiction, coming up with about 50k words in the summer and another 50k in November for NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I came up with any ideas that I want to seriously pursue in the future, but I did prove to myself that I can make time to write and meet ambitious word count goals, so that’s bound to build my confidence.

Also, I volunteered to take on a new class at my school, US History. There has never been a certified History teacher at our small alternative high school. Students have been taking the course on a computer program, so naturally test scores are terrible. I took the test to become certified, and have been spending the last month or two planning brand new lessons from scratch with very little resources, support, or guidance. But I was getting a little bit bored and burnt out on Spanish, so I’m excited about it, even though it means making my job twice as hard for the same salary. Maybe educating young people about our country’s past counts as a way to #resist.

Tomorrow I’ll post about my favorite books I read this year!

MWF Seeking BFF

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertshe

Rachel Bertsche moved to a new city for her husband’s job, and found herself without any close female friends in town. So she made an audacious goal of going on “dates” with one new woman every week for a year, in the hope of finding a girl-soulmate. Over the course of the year, her goal changed. At first she thought she wanted someone she could call to meet for coffee or drinks at the drop of a hat, but then she realizes she actually doesn’t like last-minute plans. As she got to know new women and made choices about which ones to keep in touch with, she refocused her goal to a different definition of a good friend, one that’s more about how comfortable she can be with that person. She also lets go of nostalgia for childhood friendships and the lifestyles that enable them, which to me seems a more difficult than the other redefinition. The book reads like a journal of her year, and by the end, she describes feeling confident, adventurous, busy, and in-demand. 

The friendships we make as children and teenagers are intimate and easy, partly because kids have lives that enable the quick formation of strong bonds. Teens are in daily contact with people their own age, in environments (school, team sports, extracurriculars) that encourage them to put down their guard. Adults isolate themselves in houses and cubicles and don’t spend as much time in such friendship-conducive places, unless they consciously seek them out. It’s easy to wish adults lived more like teens in some ways, that we lived closer together in communities, and had social norms that allowed more casual contact with strangers and acquaintances. But short of building a commune or a time machine, that would be hard for an individual to accomplish.

Recognizing this reality, Bertsche gives a lot of great ideas for getting to know new people and building friendships that fit into adult lives. For example, I appreciated reading about “social identity support” because now I know the words to describe this phenomenon that I’ve seen make and break friendships. Many people like to have friendships that provide support for their own social identity, so they surround themselves with people who are in the same ‘life stage,’ or who have made many of the same major decisions about their lives. It helps to have people around who affirm your life stage and life choices just by being who they are, especially if you feel at all unsure or ambivalent about your decisions. It’s also simply convenient, as schedules are more likely to align. The lack of this social identity support is why friendships often founder when one person gets married and/or has kids and the other doesn’t. Not all friendships have to have this element, but it can make things easier for a new friendship. In some cases not having that social identity in common, especially during a vulnerable transition time, or for a person who is especially insecure, can jeopardize a relationship.

My favorite part of the book might have been the concrete suggestions and guidelines that came from Bertsche’s research about the psychology and sociology of friendship. It’s good to have rules of thumb to help you make decisions when wracked with insecurity and self-doubt. Here were some of my main takeaways: 

  • If you really intend to follow up with a potential new friend, make the date soon, ideally before the first date is over.
  • Storytelling is key, and much better than “interviewing.”
  • Face-to-face > phone > email > facebook
  • Loneliness ≠ depression.
  • To become friends, you need to meet up with someone twice a month for 3 months.
  • Anthropological research says that each of us has enough room in our lives for about 150 relationships at any given time.
  • A simple definition: “Friendship is consistent, mutual, shared, positive emotion.”
  • Emotional closeness between long-distance friends declines about 15% a year.
  • Sharing secrets builds trust.
  • Facebook has made high school reunions obsolete.
  • Shared history is why lifelong friends are impossible to replace.
  • But on the other hand, new friends know only the current version of you, won’t pigeonhole you or tie you to your past, and don’t have the baggage old friends do. Also, childhood friendships are often formed out of convenience (she was your friend because she lived next door, not because you had anything in common with her), while adult friendships are formed by choice and mutual interests.
  • Laughter creates friendships.
  • Does real comfort and intimacy in a friendship mean being able to talk about the Big Stuff, or the minutiae of daily life? Or both?
  • Four necessary behaviors for making friends: interaction, positivity, self-disclosure, supportiveness.
  • Social media can make loneliness worse if you use it as a substitute for interaction and as a basis for social comparison.
  • The familiarity principle: the more you see someone, the more you like her/him.
  • The best relationships are synergistic: both people get more out of it than they put in.
  • “Couple-friends” are 2-4 times as hard to make as one-on-one friends.
  • Click accelerators, things that make people bond quickly: similarity, proximity, vulnerability, resonance, and a safe place.
  • Doing new, novel things together helps build relationships.
  • Carpe diem! Most people will not think you’re a creepy stalker if you admit to wanting to be their friend or express interest in getting to know them better. They’re more likely to be flattered.

I sympathized deeply with Bertsche’s quest and the loneliness fueling it. Like her, I moved to a new city for love in my mid-to-early 20’s and found myself disconnected from the social ties that had been most important in my life. Actually, her move and mine happened almost at the same time. I wish this book had been written back in 2008. It’s an inspiring read that could really motivate you to put more time and effort into making and keeping good friends. Her goal of one friend-date a week is ambitious and incredibly time-consuming, but even a smaller scale version of her quest could be a great way to enrich your life with new friendships! A possible New Year’s resolution?

33

So today I turned 33. Because good food is really all you need to have a happy day, I had sushi for lunch, and fajitas and margaritas for dinner, with ice cream cake for desert. And of course, sharing that food with family. I had tuna rolls with the guy who first introduced me to sushi, and my four-year-old had his first tortilla, and my one-year-old made a funny face when he tasted the lime from my margarita and then got super excited about taking tiny bites of ice cream.

I’m a little sad I didn’t get to see my mom today. Since having my kids I’ve realized that birthdays are celebrations for mothers too. Every time one of my boys has a birthday, I want to get a picture of just me with him, the two of us together as a unit like we were the day he was born. My boy’s birthday is a chance to congratulate myself on keeping him alive for another year, to celebrate his growth and the care I’ve put into it. I don’t think I’ll feel differently in 30 years. My mom is the person I miss the most since moving away from the family, and I especially wish my sons could see her more often because they love each other so much. And I also remember how she baked Barbie cakes and threw pool parties for me and my sister and took us to Johnny’s Toy Store to use our keys to the castle. She made our birthdays special, and since mine is in June, it was always in the middle of a summer that we spent at the pool and the library. So I miss my mom on my birthday.

I’m getting to be old enough where birthdays make me have existential thoughts and wonder about the direction of my life. 33 is in my head as a key year for some reason–I’ve heard it called the “Jesus year” because that’s how old He was when He died. It seems like a pivotal number, even though it’s not really any official milestone. So I’m asking myself, Am I on track? Is my life going the way I want it to? Will I have regrets someday because of the things I didn’t do this year?

Looking at my life like this, I think one thing I can say for sure is that I’m proud of my children and my family life. I’ve made some choices to prioritize that aspect of my life, and though I wish I could have everything and not have to choose, I would make the same decisions again. I do regret not writing more, or more ambitiously, and I’ve resolved to change that. It’s a matter of habits and scheduling and confidence.

As a teacher with a summer birthday, I get a day to myself that’s a vacation day, just as I did when I was a kid. The years of my life overlap with the school year, and the academic calendar, not the Gregorian, dominates my life, so that birthdays seem like a more natural time for me to make resolutions than January 1. The free time I get in the summer is time I like to use to kick off good new habits, try new things, and rejuvenate myself in lots of ways. I’ve been doing a good bit of that work this year, but I’ve been keeping quiet about it so far. I’m hoping these efforts will come to fruition in the next month, so that I can have good habits established when the school year starts again. I hope I can make 33 live up to the hype I’ve been giving it.

I Wrote a Guest Post on Dad Gone Wild

I wrote something about my experience in an alternative teacher licensure program and sent it to TC Webber of Dad Gone Wild. He posted it and hopefully it will get the conversation going about teacher training. Here’s a permanent link. I’m super excited that Diane Ravitch retweeted me!

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I’m Published on HerStory

An essay I wrote is going up today on HerStory, a blog of women’s writing. It’s kind of a journal entry from almost a year ago. I wrote the meat of it back in March 2016 about how miserable I was at the end of my pregnancy, and returned to in October. That was when I cleaned it up and made sense of it to present to an audience. I hope it helps explain some of my time away from the blog. Here’s a permanent link. Enjoy!

Ready to March

The Women’s March is tomorrow, and I’m excited to attend in Nashville with my baby. When I took him with me to vote in November, I was excited to think that years from now I would be sharing with him that he helped me elect the first woman president. Maybe someday he still will. This protest is a historic moment, one that I’ll be proud to tell my child he was present for. I still would have preferred to tell the other story, but at least we’ll be on the right side of history, as active dissenters rather than passive consenters.

This march will be the fourth protest I’ve attended since the election. I went to the Marcha Contra el Odio de Trump (March Against Trump’s Hate) organized by Dignidad Obrera, among other Nashville organizations, the Sunday after the election. There was a small bilingual discussion beforehand among parents and teachers looking for ways to support children who may be encountering racist bullying triggered by the election. About 300 people marched.

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The other two protests were smaller. There was one on the day of the electoral college vote. It was cold, so I brought hot chocolate to share with the persistent protesters who stayed longer than I did. And then a couple weeks ago, I joined a couple dozen people protesting outside of the offices of our Republican senators, focused on the climate change deniers who are nominated to the Cabinet.

I understand that not everyone can protest–and in fact maybe the size of this weekend’s protests is getting out of hand and borderline unsafe. Protests like this are by their nature a one-time event, when what we need is ongoing commitment. That’s why I wanted to share some of the other things I’ve been doing since the election and hope to continue to do as long as necessary.

I went to a meeting, sent emails, passed out flyers, made phone calls, and talked to coworkers about the vote on collaborative conferencing for a teachers’ contract in our school district. This victory, coming just a week or so after the crushing defeat in the election, has been a definite bright spot. I’m looking forward to watching this process and hope for a contract that will improve teachers’ pay and working conditions, and thus students’ learning conditions as well.

Inspired by the Indivisible guide, I have been calling my two Republican senators at least weekly. I’ve made over 20 calls so far. I receive daily action alert texts that give me ideas about what issues to talk to them about, but usually I already have something I’m mad about. Since education is my pet issue, I’ve been focused on the Betsy DeVos nomination for Department of Education. So far the senators haven’t done much that I wanted them to do, except push back DeVos’s hearing a week and say in the media that they want to replace the ACA. I want to participate in a growing wave of angry calls, so that these senators start to feel like their seats are at risk if they don’t change the way they vote. Senator Bob Corker is up for re-election in 2018, and getting rid of him should be a #1 priority for all Tennesseans.

I’ve done a lot of small things online: signing petitions, tweeting, using an app called Countable, liking, commenting, and using the angry or sad reaction emoji on facebook (Why is there no ‘scared’ or ‘yikes!’ reaction emoji? We need that one now). It’s easy to feel like these are throwaway actions, but they’re also effortless and cost me nothing. Why not spend the miniscule extra energy of a click or two? I like to think that when I click ‘like,’ that means that my facebook friends are more likely to see a story, and that may influence them.

I’m not detailing my activities here in order to brag, and I don’t want to participate in some kind of ally theater. I don’t need to give myself a pat on the back because nothing I do can ever be enough until our world is just and free. But on the other hand, I made a commitment to do these things, and I want to hold myself accountable, and there’s nothing like publicity to do that. My hope is that hearing about what I’m doing can encourage others and give them some ideas about what they might do as well.

These protests are only the beginning of a resistance movement that will have to last for several years. Going forward, my goal is to do about four things every week: a call to each of my senators, one local or state-level action or phone call, and one in-person action, like attending a meeting. I probably won’t reach that goal every week, but it’s a dramatic uptick in my involvement compared to last year, and it’s close to my limit for the amount of time and energy I have to devote to these activities, considering I have a full-time job and two little kids. So far I’m finding these actions very doable and empowering. They’re a great outlet for the frustration and anger that would otherwise build up just from scrolling my newsfeed. Compared to helpless inaction, doing something, anything, is a relief.

Let’s march!

Mereader: Year Five in Review

2016 was a tough year for the world, and in a smaller way, for me personally. I’m relieved that it is over. Here’s what I did on the blog this year.

I was published in the LA Review of Books!

I had a baby and took a break from the blog

I spoke at the school board and shared some links about education issues

I wondered why writing can be so hard for mothers

I attended the Southern Festival of Books (with my baby)

After the election, I resolved to get involved

In all, I read 122 books, reviewed 35 of them, and wrote 4 essays, for a total of 36 blog posts in 2016. Tomorrow I’ll post a list of my favorite books of the year.

How I’m Dealing with This Terrible Election

I don’t usually write about politics, but writing is how I process events, and this is something I have to do now. I know I’m not alone in feeling that this election has shaken me to my core and changed my world for the worse, perhaps irreparably. The last time I remember feeling this upset about a news event was September 11, 2001. At a time like this, pausing for self-care and mourning is important. I’ve taken some time to talk to people I love who feel similarly, to meet new people who feel similarly, and grieve with them. I’m probably not really done with that stage of grief, but I am also feeling restless and unsettled and need to channel some energy into planning next steps.

I feel tremendous guilt that I didn’t do more to change the outcome of this election. I did vote, and voting is crucial, but apparently not enough. I have lots of excuses: this was the year I had a baby, I was complacent because the media and my carefully curated facebook echo chamber told me that Hillary would easily win, it’s really hard to change people’s opinions and confrontation is hard. But those are just excuses. Taking action starting now to turn the tide back is so important that I can’t content myself with excuses anymore. I’m hoping that in addition to helping to change the horrible situation we find our country in, making a plan and following through will also help me to cope and keep me from despair.

These are the concrete things I’m going to do to deal with the next 4 years. I’m making this plan public to keep myself accountable. Some of these actions you might be able to do too.

  1. Get involved locally. I’ve put a meeting of the local neighborhood association on my calendar. I know these groups are very small, and the changes they enact are small too, but they’re also the place where city council members get their start, and city council members become mayors, who become representatives and congressmen and governors. Meetings like this are where I can meet my neighbors and get to know them and maybe eventually influence them.
  2. Pick an issue, learn about it, and intensify your activism there. My issue is education. I’ve started going to meetings for a local group of education activists, who are getting involved at the state and district level. I’ve blogged sometimes about education as well.
  3. Join a union. I’m in Metropolitan Nashville Education Association, a local chapter of NEA. I’m not just paying dues, but going to meetings and talking about the union with the other teachers in my building. I know not all professions have unions, sadly, but some professional organizations do similar advocacy. Another alternative might be just joining a mailing list or facebook group for a general union like the AFL-CIO. Robert Reich is another person I follow on facebook for info and opinions. That way you can pay attention to labor issues and see what these groups say about different candidates at election time.
  4. Every time Trump says something or does something that upsets me and makes me scared, I will donate a small amount of money to an organization related to that particular outrage. The amounts have to be small because I’m not rich and because I anticipate having to do this frequently. Online giving is quick and easy. When he says something sexist or misogynist or objectifying, I will donate to RAINN. When he does something that makes me scared about the environment, I will donate to the Sierra Club. When he says something racist, I will donate to the Movement for Black Lives. When he attacks immigrants, I will donate to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. When he does something that makes people in other countries less safe, I will donate to UNICEF. When he attacks journalists, free speech rights, or freedom of religion, I will donate to the ACLU. When he or Pence does something to hurt LGBTQIA people, I will donate to Lamda Legal. When he insults people with disabilities, I will donate to Easterseals. When a fresh outrage I haven’t anticipated here comes up, I will research it then and find a relevant organization to donate to. I’m hoping that taking an immediate action like this will assuage my fear and anger, as well as helping the causes that need so much more support now than ever.
  5. I will write my senator, congressman, state representative, and state congressman. Frequently. Whether or not I voted for them, whether or not I can promise to vote for them next time. Whenever an issue comes up and I have a minute. Emails are not that hard. Sometimes I might call. I’ll keep track of my contacts with them so that I can make sure I’m keeping my commitment and that they keep theirs.
  6. Before the 2018 elections, I will phone bank and canvass for Democratic candidates to the House, Senate, and Tennessee Assembly. I will write letters to right-leaning family members in other states to try to influence them to vote Democratic. I will text friends with reminders to vote. I will offer to give people rides to the polls. I will try to organize voter registration and/or a speaker at my school to talk to students about the election. Taking a branch of government away from the Republicans is so important. It is the best damage control measure we have available.
  7. I will push back when friends and loved ones make political statements I disagree with. My challenge might be to do this without losing my cool or making extreme statements that alienate them. I think in these cases it helps to avoid strong language and make it personal and specific if possible.  It also helps to ask questions and be genuinely curious about the answer, rather than using the question to make a point. Here are some things I’ve thought of to say that are not overly confrontational:
  • Yes, I’m glad the election is over, but I’m not happy with the outcome.
  • Actually, I’m disappointed in the election. That Access Hollywood video really bothered me.
  • He didn’t win the popular vote, you know.
  • Did you know that third party voters in swing states could have changed the outcome of this election?
  • Some of the students I have taught are immigrants or the kids of immigrants. They’re worried about their families being separated.
  • I’m nervous about Trump’s reactive personality and the unpredictable things he might do, especially in foreign policy.
  • I’m worried about the fact that Trump is going to make a climate change denier head of the EPA.
  • I looked at Hillary and Trump’s plans for maternity leave and child care, and Hillary’s plan would have helped my family a lot more. It might be the difference between whether or not I can have any more children.
  • You said you don’t like the things he said about Mexicans, but I’m wondering why party loyalty outweighs that?
  • We might have to agree to disagree, but when you’re open to having a real conversation about it, I’m here.

I’m certainly not the first one to write about steps we can take to get involved in politics. Here’s another really good list of ideas: How to Channel Your Post-Election Anger, Sadness, and Fear Into Action.

Please comment if you have other ideas for concrete things we can all do to oppose Trump, minimize the damage he will do, and help those that he will hurt. If you have other strategies for these hard conversations with relatives and friends, please share! If there are other charities or organizations that are doing this work that I haven’t thought of, I’d love to hear about it!