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!

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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!