Posts in reflections
#reverb12: all grown up

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Are you that thing?  If not, are you working to become it, or have you chosen a completely different path? (SarahKat & Meredith)

When I was very young, I wanted to be a race-car driver. I would pretend to drive cars using boxes or chairs pushed together. At some point, however, I recognized this imagining as something that was just fun to do, so from about age 10 or so if you asked me what I wanted to be I answered with, "a writer." 

I majored in in English in college, because my AP English teacher encouraged me and praised my writing.   In my sophomore year in college, I freaked out a bit and went over to Communication, trying various majors within that department. When none really clicked with me, I went back to English. I have a Master's in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I wrote a poetry thesis. I realized, however, before I graduated that I did not want to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary to try to "make it" as a writer. Around this time, my friend, Maria, suggested I apply for a teaching assistantship, and I did. 

Though my first day of teaching was rather disastrous, I felt at home in the classroom. I enjoy talking to students about their ideas, watching them begin to articulate (some of them for the first time) what they truly think in writing. I love the excitement of a new project, and the way I can see on their face when they "get it," whether it be a concept, a new idea, or some other creative spark. 

I received my Ph.D. in 2008. 

I learned a great deal in the following four years about the kind of teacher, person, and professional I want to be. I struggled. I made mistakes. I trusted wrongly. I grew. I followed the path to the university where I currently teach.

I fell in love with teaching again, this year. I put a great deal of effort into this semester and I feel that it was worth it, because I was able to shake off the past and move forward. The students I taught were smart and creative, goofy and challenging, and they helped to reignite my passion for this work. 

I still consider myself a writer. I write on this blog. I write poems and creative non-fiction. I write scholarly articles and try to publish them. I push my creativity in the classroom and in scholarship. I found an avenue where I can talk about writing as my job while also encouraging and helping others along. 

I never imagined I would be a teacher until I was. Both of my parents have been teachers and it was never something I thought I would pursue. And then I did. 

I wasn't someone who had a specific picture in my mind of what my life would be like when I grew up. Even when I said I wanted to be a writer, I did not have an idea of what that looked like, not really. Instead, I daydreamed all kinds of possibilities. I could move to New York or Boston, work as an editor and live in an amazing loft space where I threw fabulous parties. Or I could be a great ecologist and go to Costa Rica in search of a rare tree frog. Each book I read took me on a new adventure, where I could imagine myself doing anything. But dreaming you could be a lawyer who saved people on death row because a character in a book did, and following through on that reality are two completely separate things. 

Whenever I imagined my life in all these various possibilities, I was alone. No husband. No boyfriend. No significant other. When I was 17, I wrote an autobiography for an English class in high school. I found it a few years ago while helping my parents move, and in it, I describe a career when I write about my future. I write about finding it and what I learned from re-reading it in this post. What was interesting to me was that I could see myself as successful on a professional level, but never imagined what a successful relationship might look like or mean for my future. And then I met M who did not fit into any of my imagined futures, nor did I know how to be in a relationship. I certainly did not think that we would get married or experience any of the things that we have together.

In 2011, Thoreau's quote " endeavor to live the life which [you] imagined" was something upon which I reflected deeply. I still wear a necklace that says "live the life" which reminds me of Thoreau's sentiment and also the idea of "living the life you love." And while I believe it is important to think about what you dreamed as a child, the kinds of things that excited you and lit you up because we often lose touch with the small joys we allowed ourselves as children, I also think that you have to re-imagine your life as you live it, making room for the surprises like falling in love or realizing a job you never thought you would like is the perfect job, or living somewhere you hadn't considered before. Our childhood dreams can remind us of our hopes but we can't expect, in my opinion, to always live up to our imaginings.

To me, living the life I imagined is about maintaining, creating and cultivating relationships, pushing my creativity and being grateful for my life, recognizing all of the amazing people and experiences in it. It is, as I have said before, about keeping our dreams close, imagining new possibilities, and trying new things. 

I could have never predicted, at 10, at 17 or even at 25 that I would be where I am today. Almost everything about my life is significantly different than I imagined it would be. And yet, I'm happier, more fulfilled, more connected, and certainly more deeply loved than I ever imagined I could be. 

Once again, I recall Thoreau's conclusion, "The universe is wider than our views of it."  

So many possibilities, so many adventures, none of them quite what I thought. Most of them, and my life, in general: so much wider than my view of it. 

#reverb12: year-in-review meme

A few years ago, Lindsey posted a year-in-review meme; I responded to it last year and the year before, and thought I'd give it a go again. What I like about this meme is that I can reflect thoughtfully but quickly in a way that encapsulates some things I may not have mentioned in #reverb12 posts.  

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Visited Rhode Island. Committed to a work-out routine, and healthier habits and stuck with it (sometimes waking up very early to hit the gym)! Moved to Ohio. Voted in a swing state. Bowled a 200 game. Went on hikes. Zombie Zumba! Held my niece and got to spend Thanksgiving with her. 

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As you know by now, I choose a word to frame the year's intention rather than make resolutions and as I've mentioned before, I believe that "tend" was an amazing word for 2012. It allowed me permission to focus on myself, my happiness, on my health and my relationships. I also set goals that I want to accomplish each year before my next birthday. Some of them no longer inspire me or other goals like getting healthy outweigh them. But for the most part, I'm happy with what I accomplished in 2012. I will definitely set goals for 2013 in a variety of ways as I pursue openness and all that it will bring. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister-in-law, Joanna, had my beautiful and amazing niece, Grace. I couldn't be happier with the time I've been able to spend with my brother, Joanna and Grace. Friends from grad school and now Facebook had babies, as well, and I lived vicariously through their photos. 

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully, no. Though many in my family battled health problems of one kind or another and I really hope that 2013 brings healing and health to them. 

5. What countries did you visit?

None.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

Research projects underway, moving toward publication, less attachment to sugar, more money in savings, larger blog readership

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 7, the day my niece was born; May 1, the day I stopped drinking soda and started focusing on my health; I'm not really good with dates but I'll remember how it felt to have all of my things in a moving truck and to be stepping toward the unknown; I'll remember the numerous four hour drives to Champaign and back, what it's like to live in two places at once. I will remember how my heart broke for all the victims of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and weather related disasters and how it shattered even more for the victims of gun violence this year. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Losing over 60 pounds, trusting myself and the messages of the universe

9. What was your biggest failure?

unpacking

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

nothing too terrible; I got a cold after Thanksgiving and had an ear infection and terrible cold around Christmas

11. What was the best thing you bought?

the iPad Mini

12. Where did most of your money go?

bills, moving, car-related expenses and other stuff

13. What did you get really excited about?

Skyping with my brother, the start of a new semester, the trip to Raleigh in May for CW, all the books I read, brunches with M

14. What song(s) will always remind you of 2012?

"We Are Young" by fun. "Anna Sun" by Walk the Moon, "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers, "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson, "Everybody Talks" Neon Trees; the list goes on.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier.
– thinner or fatter? thinner
– richer or poorer? Probably a bit poorer 

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worry. 

18. How did you spend Christmas?

battling a cold, hanging with M's family, well-fed and content

19. What was your favorite TV program?

I survived election year thanks to Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. I was blown away by this season's "Sherlock." I think "Supernatural" is in its strongest seasons yet, but perhaps that's because I spent the last half of this year, studying it. I got back into "Grey's Anatomy, which I have mixed feelings about;" continued with "The Vampire Diaries," which I'm also mixed about. But I also surprisingly enjoyed "Nashville."In 2013, I want to catch up on some half-hour shows. But I might just watch movies, instead. 

20. What were your favorite books of the year?

 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht, both of which I listened to on CD.

21. What was your favorite music from this year?

I listened to a lot of Silversun Pickups, AWOLNation, and The Black Keys. Also, see this post.

22. What were your favorite films of the year?

I didn't go to the movies much this year. I finally saw The Artist, which was amazing. I loved Moonrise Kingdom. The Dark Knight Rises was mesmerizing. And when Skyfall was over, I wanted to see it again. 

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 34 in January and celebrated with balloons and dinner out at an awesome local restaurant, Luna.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

to live in the same town as M

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

I would describe my fashion in 2012 as having a split personality. I was either in workout gear or dress pants. Because most of my jeans were too big and because I wanted to be more professional once I started my new job, most of 2012 was spent in black and grey with a few pops of color thrown in. I fell in love with purple and blue-green this year and also even wore some pink! 

26. What kept you sane?

Workouts, my workout playlist, Michelle. Brianne. My mom. Conversations with new colleagues and old friends. Coffee. Green tea.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

 I begin in kitchens; I remain in the between spaces. There is power in kindness.

#reverb12: in my space

We all surround ourselves with the things we love. A few favourite things - a blanket, a lamp, a piece of art, a chair, a lovey - something inanimate that brings us happiness. What do you have in your personal space that brings about happiness? What is the story attached to it that has it in your sacred space? (Lee Currie

I am such a sucker for knick-knacks, tchotchkes, small things that represent a trip, or a wish, or a sentiment, a small bauble that just makes me happy. I also collect small things like owls and robots and Alice in Wonderland themed stuff. I also have an office at school as well as my apartment where I've placed different knick-knacks. Let's just say I have a lot of things from which to choose.

Over a decade ago, I lived in Paris for a few months and I was incredibly lonely, though I was surrounded by people and with someone who I loved intensely. In the tiny apartment we shared, I had one of my grandmother's recipe books and a quilt my great-grandmother made. Besides photographs, it was what I had of home, of my Southern girlhood, and when I felt particularly out of place, I clung to the quilt, trying to breathe in the smells and comfort of my Granny's house. I still have the quilt, though I'm often afraid of using it for fear of tearing or staining it. But it is there, folded neatly in my closet and I touch it softly when I am feeling out of sorts, waiting for it to ground me, and remind me who I am. 

I have a small Buddha (from where I am not sure) whose belly I rub each morning, even before I brush my teeth or check my email. There is a comfort in this routine, a feeling that good luck will carry through my day.

From my bed, I see the framed photograph of a heart I drew on the window last year. I love this photo; it makes me feel childlike and romantic. It anchors me, reminds me of M, and just makes me happy.

In the living room, I am surrounded by books and movies. But on these shelves sits two Alice in Wonderland mugs/cups. Both, I think, are from my friend, Brianne. When I see them not only am I reminded of adventure and muchness, but also friendship.

So much of my surroundings are imbued with stories, and I love that no matter where I am, I carry moments, people, happiness and luck with me. Honoring the small things, paying attention to the reminders of the bliss of the everyday means that any space can be sacred. 

one little word for 2013

I cannot believe that this is the fifth year I have chosen a word to frame my goals and intentions for the upcoming year. I began in 2009 on the advice of my dear friend, Sandy. You may have heard of the idea before but if not, the concept is that you choose a word (sometimes, as Ali reminds us, it chooses you) that will be a focus of your energy, meditation, goal-setting, reflections, however you want to allow the word to manifest itself. Words come to me in a variety of ways and resonate differently, depending on the year. I approach each year, considering the kinds of things I want to accomplish or work on. I imagine a word or metaphor or object that I can visualize. Sometimes it comes like a mantra or poem; other times it's like someone whispering in my ear. 

I am always surprised by what happens when I choose a word/it chooses me. In 2011, I set a goal to flourish and succeed in ways that I felt were eluding me. What happened that year was anything but thriving. Instead, areas in my life where I wasn't thriving became shockingly obvious as though a spotlight had been shone on them so I would finally pay attention. I do feel like I began to thrive on a personal level, making decisions where I chose my happiness over the expectations of others. But for much of 2011, I felt as though my word was a bit of a failure. And, removed from those experiences a bit, I can say I think that's okay. Just because what happened wasn't what I expected doesn't mean the word and I failed one another, rather that it manifested in unexpected ways, showing me some of the obstacles that prevented me from accomplishing my professional goals. If I hadn't chosen "thrive" for 2011, I cannot be sure what might have been. 

Maybe because I'm so close to the year that is ending, but I feel like "tend" was an excellent way to invite the kind of energy I wanted for the year 2012, and to focus my own energy on relationships, connections, my body, my soul. It invited healing and care in ways I hoped for and in some ways I absolutely did not expect. I was more conscious of the word than I have been in the past. The circumstances of the last half of 2012 gave me a lot of space and time to think about what tending meant in my new position, as part of a university and department that is markedly different from my previous ones. I believe the word aided me in approaching the new situation, helped me care for others and remain more vulnerable than I might have been in the past. It was incredible and I am a little sad to let it go. 

2013's word came to me in November and I thought about it for some time because I wasn't sure if it would give way to something else. I was afraid it was too close to my intentions for 2012, too close to "tend," because part of tending was about remaining "on the watch," open and ready. But open kept presenting itself to me. I dreamt about doors and locks and keys, until I finally relented. 

Ultimately, I appreciate that open is both an adjective and a verb, a description and an action. I like the idea of being without barriers, and ready to entertain new ideas. I also like the metaphor of unfolding, like waking up from inside. 

For the past few years, I've joined Ali's class, and while I enjoy the prompts, I haven't been great at keeping up with the album. This year I made it to March before losing steam. I can't decide if I want to try again this year or not. Incidentally, Ali's word this year is also, "open" which makes me want to take the class and get inspired by her thoughts and layout and approach to the word. Plus, I have a lot of the supplies already. 

Even if you've never been into resolutions but you do want to set goals or have a focus for the year, I recommend selecting a word to help you do so. I also recommend Ali's class, which is kind of self-paced because it is monthly but you can participate as much as you want in the forums and see what others are doing with their albums. I'm leaning toward joining in again as I write this post.

Here are the words I've chosen in the past and links to the first posts about the words and why I chose them.

2012: Tend

2011: Thrive

2010: Live in the Moment

2009: Enrich

Are you choosing a word for 2013? If so, what is it and how did you choose it?