Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 57 of 365: Whilst Unpacking, Episode One

I'm going to try to keep this stuff organized and categorized into their own respective blog posts. Which is difficult, because I'm inundated with emotion and memory and all I want to do is have it all spill out in one congested mess.

My parents recently dropped off a few boxes of my old stuff. Like something out of a State Farm commercial circa 2009, my parents viewed my new home ownership as a chance to reclaim my childhood bedroom. While no one is suggesting a dojo or a sauna, it has become my dad's second office. This meant that he wanted to clear out the contents in and on my desk to better set up his new work station. They came over with three or so boxes of binders and papers and knick knacks and quickly allocated it to the basement, not ready to clutter up my newly-settled house.

After a week of gathering dust in the basement, I finally got the gumption to go through these boxes of essential junk. There was no rhyme or reason to the boxes; it was apparent that my parents just placed any item anywhere and expected me to sort it out. I started with the easier stuff -- stacks of old CDs, pen holders with the pens still in them -- and found places throughout the house for these old relics of my past. Underneath the seemingly random items that had cluttered the top of my old desk was collection of memories that I was not ready for.

Like my ninth grade history notebook.

It's a semi-tattered, navy blue Mead notebook, with the word "HISTORY" punched into the plastic front cover with a series of holes that had obviously been puncture with a pen or a pencil. The inner folder holds a stack of handouts and worksheets and quizzes. The pages are filled with standard high school notes, in standard, high school penmanship. Sometimes I date my notes; sometimes I don't. Every page or two finds a simple doodle in the margins.

My ninth grade history teacher was in a league of his own. He talked to us like an older, cooler brother. He had a voice that forced you to pay attention. He was funny and sarcastic and poignant. His influence was so subtle, but so powerful, that just the tiniest comments would make you completely change how you did anything. He had a meter stick that he waved around and tapped the blackboard and used to emphasize his points. He discussed current events and readily gave his opinion on pop culture matters. He threw chalk at the opposite wall when he found out that none of us had ever seen The Godfather. He was the one who told us that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers -- even when the principal warned teachers not to tell their students. He was the only teacher to frankly discuss war and terrorism with us afterwards. I remember reluctantly leaving his room after the final exam, unwilling to admit that the class had come to an end. I was an exceptionally quiet and reserved student -- especially around teachers -- but I made it a point to say hello to my teacher when I saw him in the halls, because I looked up to him and admired him just that much.

I have been thinking a lot about him as of late. Partly because that's the lasting impact of teachers. And partly because I'm now 27: the age my history teacher was when he committed suicide.

I found out right before the sophomore-year midterms. In a fitting twist of fate, it was my 10th grade history teacher who told us that he had passed on. But she wouldn't say the cause. I spent the entire history exam wondering what had happened, a thousand macabre scenarios playing out in my mind instead of the American Civil War. It wasn't until I met up with a friend before my English exam that I learned the truth.

It was hard -- it was incredibly hard -- even long after the mourning period had subsided. I remember when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. I remember when they announced that America was going to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. And I remember how desperately I wanted to discuss each of these events with my teacher, how terribly I wanted to hear his opinion on sports and war and how it all tied in with the history of the entire globe.

He would've been somewhere around 37 this year. It's easy to imagine all the what-ifs. Would he still be a teacher. Would he be married, or have kids. Would he be on Facebook -- or would he have a strong opinion against it. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason; it's just that the story we are a part of is so intricate and vast that it's easy to miss the point of certain things. I still don't know what the purpose was for it, but it's safe to say that the ripple effect has been lasting. I still get a heavy heart when I hear "Man in the Mirror" -- a song that became somewhat the anthem of his life and legacy after he died. It's still a bit difficult to look back on the months following his death, especially since the local Catholic churches jumped on the tragedy as a chance to talk about hellfire and damnation (because what 16-year-old doesn't want to hear that her beloved teacher is in hades?) As little 16-year-old students, we learned a lot about our support systems during the period -- and some of the things we learned were not what we wanted to hear.

The first set of notes in my notebook were on the Roman Empire. I had to laugh. I had recently been wildly fascinated with the Roman Empire, particularly with Spartacus and the Third Servile War. While I don't necessarily think that this coincidence means anything in particular, it still made me feel like everything had come full circle. I placed the notebook with the rest of my high school relics. I went through a few more things (things I will discuss in later posts) in the box before having to just take a breather. Because memories are powerful enough on their own. And they only get more intense when combined with something as seemingly innocuous as an old high school notebook.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 56 of 365: Editor-in-Chief of the House

I briefly mentioned a few days ago about my husband being my main editor when it comes to my writing. In some weird twist of fate, my husband -- the Sensible Engineer and Current MBA Candidate -- has a better grasp on the language arts than me. Than I? Than me. Fuck.

His library of paperbacks and hardcovers is easily three times the size of mine. Which doesn't sound too bad, until you factor in all the actual library books that he had on loan and the collection of books on his tablet (which is easily the size of his physical library, if not more). His vocabulary is so vast that it makes playing Scrabble an absolute bitch (unless we're on the same team). His understanding of story arcs and sentence structures is on a completely different level than the average -- even the above-average -- human being.

This meant that the red pens were a-flying when he read over my first manuscript. Part of me wasn't hurt by the mark-ups; I did write the book between the ages of 21 & 23, and my writing still had a touch of the "overly flowery and intentionally awkward" style that plagues every English major. But it did very little for my ego to see just how poor my wording was. Nearly every sentence in my first chapter had some type of markup. Lost antecedents. Passive voices. Uneven symmetry in a sentence. I felt like I was back in 11th grade honors English, where my English teacher ripped apart my thesis, going so far as to scribble, "NO" across an entire paragraph.

But, still, I took it in stride. I picked up the pieces of my self esteem and went back at rewriting my manuscript. I knew better than to stamp my feet and refuse any criticism from an engineer. When I was 21, he looked over the outline for the manuscript and turned it on its ear, pointing out where my story arc faltered and how I could make it better. A week later, one of my writing professors looked over my synopsis and said, downright verbatim, the exact same thing.

Stephen King is very candid about the role his wife plays in his writing. If his wife doesn't like it, he changes it. If his wife suggests something, he takes it to heart. Never once does he roll his eyes in response (I'm assuming). She's his main editor, more so than any member of his writing group, more so than his own agent or publishing firm editor.

I feel like one of the most vital necessities for a writer is a loved one who can break down what you are doing in an intelligent and constructive way. They don't have to have a library of 800+ books to tell you what you are doing wrong (and right). They just need a passion for literature and a keen eye. And an ability to support your writing so much that they're willing to critique every single word, even as you slink back in your chair and sulk.

I credit my husband with kicking the Flowery Word habit and fine-tuning my ears to the cadence and flow of my writing. Granted, a blog where I downright stream-of-conscious after being awake for not even an hour seems like a bad place to tout my improvements in writing, but, eh, oh well.

At the end of the day, he is my editor-in-chief. I'll trust his word over any agent's (especially after seeing some of the "helpful changes" agents have suggested to now-successful writers with now-bestselling novels) and I'd put his opinion on par with the top editor at any of the Big Five publishing houses.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Day 55 of 365: Positioning

I fully recognize how lucky we are to have found a house large enough to have essentially two "family rooms". We have a room to the right of the foyer, and then we have the addition off to the side with its lovely vaulted ceilings. Our room off to the right has this incredible built-in entertainment system, with shelves upon shelves that were most likely meant for DVDs. We decided that, given our vast collections of books, the shelves would used for books instead. We dragged three of our bookshelves into the room, lined them against two of the walls, and called the room our "library".

The library has exactly three pieces of furniture (not including the built-in): two medium-sized bookshelves, one tall bookshelf, a beanbag chair, and an old wood-and-cloth loveseat. This leaves a lovely bit of space in the center of the room. Right now, it is essentially our exercise room: where we feebly try P90X and where I unabashedly practice my swordplay. When we have kids, the bookcases will disappear and replaced with toy chests and children's book baskets. But, until then, it's our workout room.

This is also where I house my laptop. Way back, when I lived in the Boston area, I had my laptop on a desk, like I was back in a dorm room. When we moved to Nashua, my desk became a fixture in our guest/crafts/library/office room (aka the second bedroom), and my laptop found a lovely home on our couch.

The problem with my laptop being on the couch was that it was too easily accessible. Boring part in a show? Let me check my email. Resting on the couch? Why not rest and update Facebook? It didn't matter if I was missing entire show segments, or that my "rest" really wasn't restful. My desire to multi-task outweighed everything else.

When we started packing (and stopped using our dining room table for actual eating), I forced myself to move the laptop to the table. And, downright instantly, I felt a complete change in how I went about my laptop. I went to my laptop with purpose. I was going to update this blog, or email a potential client, or work on my latest manuscript. Or: I was going to watch a copious amount of Huffington Post videos, or look at adorable cat pictures, or lurk on old boyfriends' pages.

I tried out several new places for my laptop when we moved to the house. The dining room table was off limits, as we were back to using it for meals (and with more frequency than we did at the apartment). I wanted it no where near the couch, and I also wanted it no where near the bedroom (as anyone with advice on insomnia will tell you, putting something as mentally stimulating as a computer in a bedroom is a sure way to confuse your brain into what areas are "sleep areas").

I realized how perfect the library was after my first round of morning yoga. The library/micro-gym was also where I housed my yoga mats, and there was something so peaceful about facing the windows and the rising sun and acting out a sequence that I had found online. Immediately after, I sat down on the loveseat and started the rest of my morning routine: blog writing, query submitting, Lumosity game-playing (because, so long as I'm not paying, why not?).

The library is also a place of very little distractions. I have books, I have shelves, and I have open space. That's about it. I can look at the pictures hung on the wall, or I can gaze off into nothing. There's no fridge for me to scrounge through. There's no immediate access to a television set (as our TV is hidden away in the confines of the built-in). Nothing to distract me from the goals of the day.

So this is where I'm located now. If I'm on my laptop -- especially if I'm writing for this blog -- it's in my little library, sitting in the loveseat in a little cove made by a corner of the room and the end of the built-in.

Environment is everything. It affects our behavior, our mood, even our way of thinking. I was always the student who needed to go to the library to study, so it makes sense that I'm the type of adult who needs to go to a (much lesser version of a) library to write and go online.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 54 of 365: Gym Accessories

You name it, I've had it.

I've had a Geocities website (a Backstreet Boys fan page, because who else but pre-teen girls with an obsessive love for a boyband would have a Geocities site?). I've had a Homestead (aka the lesser-known Geocities) website, which housed what I'd like to think of as a precursor to Web 2.0 (because one 13-year-old's "hang out website" totally influenced the evolution of social networking). I've done Kiwibox, Allpoetry, Storywrite, Livejournal, Xanga, Wordpress, and (obviously) Blogspot. I did YouTube vlogs for years, until the passion to make videos petered out and YouTube morphed from a place for vloggers to a place for corporate-sponsored production teams and people hoping their video of licking a dirty sock goes viral. I placed my big toe into Tumblr (for a "Found at the Dollar Store" blog that went no where fast). I've even become a writer for Medium. I tweet more than I care to admit and I use Instagram for essentially storytelling. I think all I'm missing now is a Vine account.

There's something new and fresh and giddiness-inducing about creating a new blog. It's a new name, with a new layout, and potentially a brand new start. It's like buying a brand new outfit, one that you throw on the second you get home and parade around with a feeling like you'll never love an outfit as much as you love that current one.

Being friends with primarily writers and artists means I've got a laundry list of blogs that I check up on. Some are beyond incredible. My high school friend is now a photojournalist who has worked with everyone from the NY Daily Post to National Geographic. Her blog houses some of the most intense photos I have ever seen, from the 2008 presidential election to a brothel in New Delhi. My old writing workshop friend has a knack for simplistic prose than can pack a punch. All websites that I gladly check up on, even if they are rarely updated.

However, for every stellar, well-kept blog, I deal with a thousand abandoned blogs. Not a month goes by without a friend either privately messaging or publicly posting a link to their brand new blog. A new blog, one that they'll update constantly -- not like their old blog, that they fell out of sorts with. This one will be different. This one will be inspiring. And, like every other blog before, it falls by the wayside within a month. Maybe if the blog is lucky, it will be a few semi-apologetic "I never update this anymore" posts, followed by a half-hearted stab at an entry, before being left behind in favor of a new blog, with a new name, and a new background image.

Given my history with the writing websites, it might be hypocritical of me to look down on such practices. But, as I see it, while I've cast a wide net over the years, I tend to stay loyal to the websites I love. I've had my Livejournal now for nearly 10 years. My crafts blog is edging in on 2 years old. And, while I've only had this blog for barely two months, I've posted every single day, even on days when I didn't really feel like writing. So, as someone who has been a little devoted in a lot of places as well as a lot devoted in a few places, I think I have a right to weigh in on this matter.

Making a new blog is like buying new gym accessories. A new set of weights here, a brand new pair of compression pants there. It's all new and shiny and exciting and surely these brand new things will inspire you to work out now. And it will, for a solid week or two. Then the novelty wears off and you're back to where you started.

Like working out, writing -- and writing consistently -- requires more than something different to "inspire" you. Having a million different blogs for a million different things won't really solve the core problem. What is it that's keeping you back from your goal (writing- or exercise-wise)? If it's a lack of inspiration, then a brand new blog won't solve that. You have to dig deeper. You have to force yourself to experience life a different way, to add words onto a blank page (even if it's just, "shit shit shit shit shit..."), to see what it is that keeps you from making your ideas come to life.

I'm glad that the internet doesn't require constant webcam recording, because the last thing my writer friends need is to see the knowing smile that creeps on my face when they link me to yet another blog. I'd be out of line to say anything, so I don't. But part of me just wants to reply with, "Instead of spending 10 minutes signing up for another blogging site, go on a walk for 10 minutes. Learn about another culture for 10 minutes. Meditate for 10 minutes. So something -- anything -- more substantial than essentially going to Sports Authority and buying your 8th pair of yoga pants.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 53 of 365: Switching Cultures

There's something incredibly amusing about the fact my husband knows more about Celtic culture and folklore, where I'm more interested in the culture (and language) of Latin America (well, most of Latin America. Sorry, Brazil. Eu não falo Portuguese).

For a third generation immigrant, I'm about as Irish as they can get. Or, should I say: I'm about as Celtic as they get. My dad's almost full-blooded Irish (with my paternal grandmother being full-blooded) and my mom is somewhere around half-Irish. And what DNA isn't copied from my Irish ancestry is copied from my Scottish ancestry. While my paternal grandmother was full-blooded Irish, my maternal grandmother was almost full-blooded Scottish.

Which means two important things: I burn like paper and I shy away from alcohol.

On the flipside, my husband is half Argentinian. His mother actually immigrated with her family to America when she was 5. There's an interesting story about how my mother-in-law learned English (while simultaneously teaching the neighborhood kids Spanish), and then used her newfound knowledge of English to enroll herself in Kindergarten á la Matilda (minus the language barrier), but that's for another time.

By some twist of fate, my husband has always been fascinated by the Irish culture. His favorite genre of music is Celtic Rock. His favorite type of novel includes elements of Celtic folklore and fantasy. He knows more about the old legends than I could ever hope to. He could listen to traditional pub music for hours on end. In fact, he has: during our micro-renovations and repainting projects, my husband had traditional Celtic music playing from the moment we drove away from the apartment to the moment we returned back.

Meanwhile, I have fallen in love with Argentina. I could eat milanesas until my stomach explodes, only to cover my toast in dulce de leche and eat a little more. I'm in love the movie Evita and listen to the soundtrack a little more often than I care to admit. Full disclosure: in an alternative universe, I imagined that I'm cast in the 2014 remake of the movie and/or the Broadway revival of the play (because Madonna looks as much like Eva Peron as I do in a blonde wig). I'm excited for the day when we finally visit Buenos Aires and my grandfather-in-law's farm. All the while my husband is excited for the day that we finally visit Ireland together (as we've both been to Ireland, but at completely separate times, and more or less solo).

It's funny how things can flip like that. Just like how, I was the English major and my husband was the sensible Engineering major, but his library of books completely dwarfs mine. I'm the one hoping to become a published novelist, but he's the one who has a better grasp of rhetoric and syntax. As a result, he's been my righthand man/unpaid editor for my first manuscript, but, again, that's a post for another time.

I kind of feel like this particular post is a little pointless, but, oh well. It's Day 53. There's 312 of these left to go. In the words of Carlos Mencia, they're not all going to be winners.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 52 of 365: Babies

Two nights ago, I had an interesting, vivid dream. One of those vivid dreams that, even when things stop making sense, the world around you feels as real and authentic as the waking world. The type of dream that leaves you disoriented when the alarm clock goes off. The type of dream that you find yourself thinking about long after, even after you've had another full night's sleep, complete with a new set of dreams.

I get why I had the dream the way that I did. My niece (who is only a few years younger than me, but an explanation of my family tree is for a much later date) recently had a baby. My niece was one of those lucky girls who never "looked" pregnant until the baby bump grew to a noticeable (but cute) size. The type of pregnant that you see in television shows, where a very-not-pregnant actress wears an impossibly spherical pad under her adorable maternity dress. And, furthermore, my niece seemed to slim down to her regular size within a month. My niece was able to wear a crop top to the local country music festival before her daughter was even old enough to hold her head up on her own.

In the dream, I had just had a child -- which surprised everyone, including me, as I barely looked pregnant and was right back to my original shape almost immediately after the delivery. Family flocked and cooed and planned belated baby showers. I smiled and cuddled my newborn daughter. I thought about how I needed to buy a crib and move out the guest room furniture from our guest room. I thought about how relieved I was that I had had a daughter, since the guest room was pink and I wouldn't have the time to repaint it.

But, as much as I loved my daughter, I felt an incredible sadness come over me.

It all felt too early. There was still so much I wanted to do before having a child. And while I loved this imaginary daughter, there was a melancholy that followed me throughout the rest of the dream and beyond, long after my husband's alarm woke me up.

I recognize that there are just some things that you are better off accomplishing before children. I've seen too many plans of new moms and dads fall by the wayside as raising their family took more and more time out of their lives. Writers who never really got that Great American Novel written. Travelers who never see another country for decades at a time. Established career people who take a step back, suddenly unable to log in the 70-hour work weeks like they had before. I never wanted to be a parent who jumped into motherhood, assuming I could get everything else done while raising a family -- that I could somehow "have it all". I've seen those moms. Some are wonderful success stories. Through a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, they end up having it all. But I also see moms who fall short of that. Moms who find resentment building in their chest as they scrub marker from the hallway walls instead of putting together the foolproof business proposal.

And it might be because my background is in working with children. I know firsthand how exhausting they can be. How frustrating and unnerving and upsetting. And while I have to strike a balance -- Lord knows I don't want to be that woman having her first child at 40, putting her unborn child at risk for developmental disorders -- I know better than to toss my birth control out the window every time I snuggle a friend's child and get a bit of Baby Fever.

It's scary. I have a lady doctor appointment in a month and I have to tell her that there is a 50/50 chance that, by this time next year, I'll be completely off birth control. Because, as I've discussed earlier, 28/29 is more or less my hard stop when it comes to the family-free life, and I'm now (semi)graciously sliding into 27. I've gotten a lot accomplished in my 27 years on earth. It's just a matter of making sure that I get what I need to get done before having kids, on the off chance that plans outside of the family go on hold for 5 - 10 years.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 51 of 365: The Hard Truth About My Manuscripts

I have two completed manuscripts under my belt. On is roughly 89,000 words; the other, swimming around 70,000. I'm currently working on my third. I have three novellas started (three novellas that will hopefully wind around each other and form a nice, if not disjointed, full novel), and I have purchased a few books for the research of my fourth (my fourth manuscript being my "serious" novel, an idea that has been outlined to death, but intentionally put on hold because, like running a marathon, I know I'm not to the level that I need to be for this particular book, and I'm writing my comedies and my "serious" novellas the same way I'm training for my half-marathon).

I have a very specific routine on mornings that I am not teaching tai chi: I feed the various animals of the house (cats, guinea pig, and chickens), I do a little morning yoga, I write my blog entry for the day, I do a lesson or two of Spanish, and I do something with my manuscripts. It doesn't matter exactly what or exactly with which manuscript, but I have to do something. Send out yet another query for my first manuscript. Edit my second. Write more for my third. Does not matter, so long as it happens.

I have been doing the agency hunt for my first manuscript for a little over two years now. What started out as a manic spray-and-pray has turned into an occasional, "Oh yeah," activity. Almost something I do when I really don't feel like editing or writing.

At this point in the game, I don't expect much. With a little bit of luck, I'll find a regional publisher who does not require an agent to play middleman and have my book published locally (and digitally). It's barely a step up from self-publishing, but still a step up and slightly more regarded in the eyes of the writing world (since any schmuck can put their work on Smashwords and call themselves a "published author"). But, really, even that is a bit of a pipe dream.

Because, when I get into the harsh truth about my manuscripts, I fully recognize how unlikely it is that anything big will come across either of the first two.

My first manuscript is a parody/homage to the chick lit trope. It deconstructs a beloved genre, all the while playing along with the rules (think Scream, but with slightly less blood). I love this manuscript. The people who have read it love this manuscript. The best compliment I ever received was when a former college classmate of mine admitted to having to bury her face in her arms because she was laughing too loud and feared she'd disturb the rest of the library. It's a story that any Gen Yer can relate to, especially Gen Yers who have a liberal arts degree (and, really, these are the only people buying books these days, save for Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerds).

However, we live in an age of irony and deconstruction. We have reached a point in our society that parody is about as common as the thing it parodies. Which doesn't really make my manuscript stick out very well. And -- the same way we really only need one Weird Al for every string of mainstream pop hits -- the world isn't champing at the bit for more parody.

My second manuscript is an absurd, almost slapstick comedy, about the world's most dysfunctional childcare center. From teachers planning a military coup to take over the business to toddler rooms run with the efficiency of a German factory line, from bosses who use the childcare center as a front for her online retail store scam to boyfriends who treat their grocery store job like government espionage. It's one of those books where you don't have to have experience in the childcare world to enjoy. In fact, knowing nothing about how childcare centers operate probably makes the book even more enjoyable. It's silly and it's comical and it touches upon the darker side of childcare without going bitter.

However, even though the story would be entertaining for those not involved in childcare, the book itself is a very hard sell because the assumption would be that one must be involved in childcare to enjoy it. Not to mention that the phrase "absurdist comedy" makes people suck in their breath and associate my book with the countless "intelligent" absurdist books that are really just nonsense blathered out in hopes that someone will think the author a genius.

Either of these manuscripts would have a rough time selling if I were an established writer. However, when you factor in that I'm an unknown, the difficulty becomes exponentially bigger. Sure, I have a solid paragraph or two to write about my publishing credits, but, in the digital world, publishing credits are not exactly hard to come by. I could say I write for the Huffington Post and it won't mean much, as any blogger with a decent opinion can get their work on at least one of their sections. And, since we live in a digital world, publishers expect writers to have cultivated their own audience before even releasing a book. And by audience, I mean audience -- the fact that my crafts blog gets 5,000 hits a month means diddly. You essentially have to create a video, pray it goes viral, and then cash in on the 15 minutes of fame.

I don't feel like going into too much detail when it comes to my third manuscript, as I've barely written 3 or 4 chapters and I'm not one to talk too publically about a manuscript until it is finished (and I've sent in the copyright paperwork). But I have a good feeling about this one. With any luck, I'll get the first two manuscripts out in some fashion. And, while I expect very little to come from it, I hope that it will provide enough of a foundation that, when I attempt to hawk my third manuscript, I'm not sinking where I stand.

It is a rough world out there for any creative type. There is very little money in the creative world, and even less when you factor in all the would-be writers who would gladly give up their time and energy (and art) for free. But, as any writer knows, we don't write to get published. We write because we have to. Because the ideas are burning up inside us and we'll surely combust if we don't get them out. We just log in the hours in hopes that our end result will not just be a relief from our creative minds, but something that maybe, just maybe, will pay the bills.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 50 of 365: The Functionality of Crying

To say I'm an emotional person is a bit of an understatement. I've been told that, in a way, I never left toddlerhood: when I'm happy, it's an all-encompassing happiness, but when I'm upset, it's an all-encompassing sadness.

You have feel deeply -- and deeper than the average -- to be a creative person. You need to experience the world in a way that forces you to filter it out through writing, painting, singing, constructing. You need to know what it's like to experience Joy2 in order to write about regular Joy. You need to experience Sadness2 in order to sing about regular Sadness. You need to experience Beauty2 in order to paint regular Beauty.

A couple days ago, I had made a minor mistake. Incredibly minor. I had forgotten to put the groceries away in the fridge from the night before, leaving some very delicate items -- shrimp, milk, etc -- out to thaw out and grow warm. We had a lot to do that day and we were running low on time (and I was still feeling the sticker shock from the previous night's credit card payment) and we now had to drive out to the nearby grocery store (instead of our favorite organic food store where we had purchased the original food, but was located a half hour away in the town my husband works in). I was frustrated, I was mad at myself ("They just sat there on the kitchen island. I should've known better. I should've put them away. I should've cleared off the kitchen island so it wasn't so cluttered and the grocery bags would've stuck out more."), and I actually started to cry. I then got mad at the fact that I was crying and berated myself even further for getting so upset over such a dumb mistake.

I tried to get a few things done before we went to the grocery store. Because, like I said, we were running low on time. But I was putting things away with a little too much force. I was scrubbing at the counter with a little too much elbow grease. I wasn't closing the pantry door so much as I was slamming it. My husband suggested I take a breather -- that the cleaning and the groceries could wait -- I dismissed the idea, saying that there was too much to do and I was already setting things back enough and if I could just stop being so upset, then everything would be fine.

After a moment or two, my husband sat me down with a knowing smile and simply said, "I think I figured you out." He first pointed out what we already knew: that I have impossibly high standards for myself, which gives me very little room for forgiveness when I mess up. And, because of that, leaving everything out made me upset. He then pointed out that how I felt over forgetting the bags was not nearly as bad as how I felt over the fact that I got upset in the first place. He told me, "Instead of accepting your emotions and having a good cry about it, you got mad at yourself for being so trivial. Which made you mad at the drawers and the counters and pantry door." He then went on the say that the best thing for me to do was accept that I'm the type of person who will get upset over "little" things (and let the emotions come out through crying) than to try to deny how I react and just get angry about everything.

Humans have two incredible features that almost no other animal has. Features that we tend to not only take for granted, but try to avoid at all costs: we sweat and we cry. Sweating is why we can run absurdly long distances. Sweating is why we can survive in environments that are far too hostile for other mammals. And crying is why we can be as intelligent of a species as we are and still go on during some pretty rough times.

Emotional crying is completely different than irritated-eyes crying. The tears when you get something in your eye is essentially saline. Just a nice, clear liquid to wash out your eyes. But emotional tears carry something else: chemicals. Chemicals and hormones. Like the adrenocorticotropic hormone. Things that make us feel such extreme emotions. Emotional tears are like the sailors on a ship in the middle of the storm, scooping up water and dumping it overboard in an effort to save the boat.

It's a little sobering to think about, because it's a reminder that all those emotions that make us who we are are really nothing more than a set of chemicals hanging about in our bodies. But, when you think about tears that way, suddenly crying doesn't seem so petty. In fact, it's downright efficient. What better way to level out an emotion than to literally remove it from your body? Our ancestors cried because, without it, they would've been weighed down by sadness and grief and never would've been able to hunt or protect their land.

Most of us spend our entire upbringing being told not to cry. In fact, we are given the not-so-covert message that it's better to get angry than it is to get sad. But that's the thing: thanks to years of evolution, sadness over something can quickly manifest into anger over whatever made us sad. While it helped our ancestors in beating out the opposing forces, it doesn't really help the modern-day, civilized human being.

A few days later, I learned that I had forgotten my running equipment in my husband's car. I'm training for a half marathon -- a half marathon that is a month and a half away -- so every training day counts. And that day was supposed to be the day that I finally broke 10 miles. I couldn't believe that I had forgotten the simple task of getting my bag out of the car, especially after spending so much time planning out what I should eat the night before. Instead of stomping around the house trying not to feel upset about something as simple as forgetting a bag, I essentially told myself, "It's frustrating and upsetting. Is it worth crying over?"

This wasn't a rhetorical question. I was genuinely wondering if this was something I could cry over. For about 5 seconds, I felt like I was on the verge of crying. And then, the feelings disappeared. I was still frustrated, but it wasn't to the level that would affect how I moved from Point A to Point B. So I made plans to run the day after instead and went on a bike ride. A bike ride that turned into a story straight out of Lord of the Rings, but I've already gone over that day in great detail.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 49 of 365: The Misunderstood Art of MMA

Last night was UFC 165. As is our usual routine, my husband and I drove down into Massachusetts to pick up Thai food from the most incredible Thai restaurant that I have ever been to (and I've been to Thai restaurants in San Francisco, a city known for its Asian cuisine), and drove to our friends' place to watch the fights. Two of my favorite fighters -- Jon Jones and Mike Ricci -- fought last night. And while I wasn't exactly thrilled with the results (Ricci lost a pretty unremarkable fight and Jones kept his belt by the skin of his teeth), it was still a pretty great night. A lot of laughs, a few absolutely stellar fights, and some amazing Thai food.

A cashier at Trader Joe's, as part of their Super Friendly Employee practices, asked me during checkout what I was doing this weekend. I mentioned watching the UFC fights and, like most men when they find out a woman likes a sport, immediately started questioning me on the fighters (because every guy assumes a female fan is a pink hatter, one of the biggest reasons why I cannot stomach pink hatters). I started rattling off what I hoped for the fights and what I feared, given the past few fights and a few fighters' histories. Looking back, I should've brought up things like Muay Thai versus Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, just to really drive the point home, but, still, the grocer was impressed and actually called over to the grocer next to him and remarked on a female UFC fan.

(For those playing the home game: Muay Thai is primarily a stand-up way of fighting, á la boxing, whereas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is primarily about takedowns and grappling, á la wrestling.)

Maybe I should be worried that my favorite sports are ranked in the same order of its level of violence. I'm obsessive about MMA, I absolutely love hockey, I enjoy football, I'm alright about baseball, and I don't give a flying fudgsicle wrapper over basketball or soccer (two sports that are so anti-violence, you can get a yellow card for giving someone the stink eye). But I enjoy the sports for the art and the skill (because, honestly, if I wanted senseless violence, I could the WWE).

MMA is a pretty misunderstood sport. It's still illegal to host MMA events in a few states (including New York). People view MMA fans as drunken imbeciles who get their jollies watching two people knock each other out. The irony is that people find boxing to be a "sophisticated" sport -- but boxing is, when you think about it, actually more barbaric. Which one seems more like a showcase of fighting skill and which one seems more like a rock 'em sock 'em bloodbath: a fight that goes only 3 rounds (5 if it's a championship), where the fighters can employ a series of martial art tactics (including wrestling), where fighters can win not just by knockout, but by tapout, submission, or by judge's decision; or a fight that goes on until someone hits the mat, where all you can do is stand up and hit the guy.

MMA has grown rapidly in the last 5 or so years. Partly because Dana White bought the UFC and took a fledgling fighting league and turned it into a multi-billion dollar franchise. Partly because of fighters like Chuck Liddell, who revolutionized how people saw MMA fighters.

However, MMA is still no where near the other sports in terms of popularity. Case in point? Jon Jones's younger brother Chandler has just signed with the Patriots. Brand new athlete; just out of college. The sports DJs on the radio have been telling their listeners to, "Go on Youtube and search Jon Jones. Chandler's older brother is actually a great fighter in MMA." Yeah, if you define "actually a great fighter" as, "being deemed the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, dominating his weight class for longer than any other fighter to date," then, yeah, he's a "great fighter".

Let me reiterate: Jon Jones is a legend in the world of MMA, but his little brother -- who is still wet behind the ears -- is more easily recognized and more readily talked about, at least by New England fans.

But, to go back, it really shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm a fan of UFC. I teach a martial art, for crying out loud (and, if you think tai chi is just old men waving their hands in the park, you've got another thing coming). I'm fascinated by the various ways you can overpower your opponent. Or, in the case of tai chi, how you can redirect your opponent's own power to your advantage. And, like a proper UFC fan, I have little time for fighters who treat the sport like WWE -- or for people who lump the two into one category.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Day 48 of 365: Proportions

Somehow, I finally hit double digits in my running. I ran 10.3 miles in a little under 1 hour, 45 minutes. This is music to my ears, as my goal is to run the Ashland Half Marathon in 2:30 or under. If I can keep up that pace, I can run the 13.1 miles in 2:15 or less. And that's factoring in a slowly declining pace.

It wasn't easy. The first 4 or 5 miles were simple enough: a nagging voice that went away by mile 2, a lot of zoning out, obsessive-compulsive sips of water. I found my stride and started knocking down the miles like I was Mike Tyson.

And then came Mile 7.

A funny thing happens when you burn up all the calories in your body. For those who fell asleep during anatomy & physiology, this fun phenomena is known at ketosis. Since you've burnt up all your ready-made fuel, your body starts burning fat. Great, right? Yeah, except for the part where it's a lot harder to burn fat than it is to burn calories. The result? You hit the wall. And not the, "oh my legs are tired/I'm bored" wall. But the, "I feel like I'm running through molasses no matter how much I try to move my legs" wall. It sucks. It slows your pace to a crawl and every step becomes murder.

This is why Heartbreak Hill is called Heartbreak Hill: not because running uphill is heartbreaking, but because these series of hills are located at Mile 21 in the Boston Marathon -- a time when most runners have hit ketosis.

But I powered on. My nine-minute miles dropped to 11+. It truly felt like I was slushing through snow instead of running on a warm, clear day. I ran up my own version of Heartbreak Hill and nearly cried when my running app told me that I had finally hit 10 miles. I finished out at 10.3 miles, hobbled inside, guzzled half a liter of water, and slowly made my way upstairs to shower away all the runner guck on my skin (which is what I lovingly call the layers of dried sweat that only running for over an hour can provide).

I had no idea what I had weighed before I went running (as I find weight to be an arbitrary measurement of "healthy" and I stopped weighing myself when I started putting on pounds of muscle), but I hovered between 150-155, so I decided to weigh myself.


That means, at best, I lost nearly 5 pounds during my run. I know I hadn't magically dropped weight before my run, as I have been eating fatty barbecue food for the last week (and a whole ton of takeout the week before that). Most likely, I was closer towards 155. So that mean I had lost a good 7 or 8 pounds just from running.

So, as is my modus operandi, I took a screenshot of my running app and told the world via Instagram/Twitter that I had lost 5-8 pounds on my run. This, of course, resulted in one friend messaging me, telling me how they couldn't believe I was ~150 lbs.

This happens all the time. I've had conversations with now-former co-workers about modeling, and how there is very little work for models who are 150 at 5'11", save for catalogue and plus-size work. Instead of gawking at the idea of a size 6 girl at 5'11" being considered "plus size" (especially since the Supermodels of the 80s and early 90s had my exact measurements), they gawked at me being 150 lbs. I had on co-worker -- who was probably 5'4" on their taller days -- tell me how there was no way I was 150 because they were 140 and didn't look skinnier than me.

It's funny how much emphasis people put on weight. People obsess so much over a little number that they give the number itself an intrinsic value, independent of height, built, and muscle definition. A man who is 6'7" can be 250 pounds and look lean. A girl can be 4'9" and 90 pounds and look average. I'm 5'11", with leg muscles so defined that my thighs actually curve out (if my description is lacking, Google Benson Henderson and look at his legs. While mine are not nearly as muscular as his, his legs give a good idea as to the "bump" in your upper thighs). I have biceps and triceps and lats and shoulder muscles. I have abs that, on a good day, can be seen pretty clearly (not necessarily a 6-pack, but a light 4-pack). All those muscles -- muscles that I've accrued because of yoga and tai chi and running and packing/unpacking -- are heavy. Sometimes I'm shocked that I didn't shoot up to 170 because of them.

And, lastly, what "150" looks on someone who is 5'1" is going to look completely different than "150" at 5'11". The biggest I've ever been was 175 (my second semester freshman year), which, while not necessarily "chubby" on someone who is nearly 6', is definitely on the larger side of "healthy". On the flipside, the smallest I've ever been was 135 pounds. I've been there twice: once, during, interestingly enough, my first semester freshman year, and once right before my wedding. I ended up putting back a few pounds before my actual wedding (which I attribute to quitting a toxic job and finishing up my classes), but I was still incredibly skinny.

In fact, I look back on some pictures and I'm shocked with how thin I am. One of my favorite pictures of my husband and myself was taken at our rehearsal dinner. It's a candid shot, where I had turned to look at my then-fiancé. He was making a silly face while I was staring at him with adoration. It is such a beloved picture that I actually have it framed and on my kitchen windowsill. And while I love gazing at it while I'm washing dishes or preparing food, I can't help but marvel at how skinny I am. And that's me after gaining 5 more pounds. Me at 140 is tiny. Me at 135 is frighteningly tiny. I am skin and bones at that point. And, ironically, to be industry standard, I would have had to lose an additional 10 pounds, to just be on the outer edges of acceptable fashion model size.

It's just so unhealthy to be so focused on one little number. It's what will keep people from properly working out because the muscle is making them "gain weight". It's why someone at 5'4" -- who is in perfectly fine shape -- laments being 140 when someone who is 7 inches taller than them and 10 pounds heavier but somehow "skinnier". It's this single-minded mentality that makes people go back to fad diets and "cleanses" that do nothing but hurt your immune system. It's stupid and unhealthy and there's really nothing else to say about that.

Besides, as any runner who has had to fight through ketosis can tell you, sometimes fat burning is a son of a bitch.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Day 47 of 365: Misadventures in Bicycling

Yesterday was supposed to be a running day. But, like a champ, I had left all my running gear in my gym bag. And my gym bag was left in our car. Which was currently 35 miles away. And, as anyone with knee issues knows, when your knee braces are not available, you do not run. End of story.

So instead I decided to drag my bike out and take it on its maiden voyage(ish) through my new town. A town that, unlike any other place I had lived in, seemed to have more acres of forest than it did actual people. The bike's tires were in desperate need of air, but, thankfully, I had a foot pump in my backpack to get everything set.

So I packed up my backpack with my foot pump (just in case something else went wrong with the tires), a bottle of water, and my keys. I slipped my phone in my back pocket and started playing Pandora. After five breaks in a single song, I replaced Pandora with the regular MP3 player, cursing the decision to use my phone over my trusted iPod for music. But I continue on, hellbent on trying out the turnpike near my neighborhood.

I turned onto the turnpike and quickly learned that "turnpike" was a bit of a misnomer. It's a road. A road that quickly de-evolves into a dirt road. Which quickly de-evolves even further into what I can only describe as a hiking trail. A hiking trail which gigantic puddles in the middle of its road. These are the type of roads that people go to when they need to shoot a road scene in a medieval movie. Where the main character has been sent on a quest to the local shire, where he'll meet a wizard and have glorious adventures. But I pressed on. I got off my bike and walked over the rocks and fed it through the puddles as I tiptoed around the edges. The map said I would find a road that would bring me back to the main stretch and I was hellbent on finding it. Besides, where was my sense of adventure?

The roads got rockier and rockier. The puddles became bigger and bigger. If my bike had been named Artax, it would've died halfway through, because the puddled areas were nothing short of the Swamp of Sadness. But I kept going, because -- surely -- I would find the road that brought me back to the main road. I just needed to keep on keeping on.

I was suddenly incredibly thankful for bringing my phone along, as I checked it downright obsessively to find just where this stupid road was. And, as the map told me, I had finally made it. According to the satellite mapping system, I had finally come to the junction of the medieval road and civilization. All I had to do was turn right and I would be on my way to paved roads in no time!

Only there was no place for me to turn right. Just woods. Woods as far as the eye could see.

According to Google Maps, going forward would only result in a dead end. A dead end with -- you guessed it -- more woods. I had no choice but to turn back.

At this point, I had spent a meager 20 minutes actually riding my bike, plus an additional 20-30 minutes feeding it through swamplands. I was half-tempted to abandon it, as I had spent so much time on these medieval-like roads that I almost didn't recognize my bike. Surely, this was some metallic version of a horse, lent to me by the local blacksmith as I made my way to the shire.

And so I turned around. All the puddled areas that I had expertly circumnavigated were now areas where my feet would slip, filling my shoes with mud. My sense of adventure was nonexistent at this point. Especially when I considered how much it would cost to visit the local tanner at whatever shire I was supposed to have visited to have these shoes expertly fixed.

I went over rocks. I went over water. The rocks slowly gave way to gravel. I hopped back on my metallic horse and I biked for the second time past a house that, given its location and its large metal gate by the driveway, let me know one thing and one thing only: this dude wanted to be left the fuck alone. And it just so happened that, as I was finally finding solid (read: dirt) ground, I realized something pretty horrifying:

In the midst of my adventures in the woods, I did something to create a leak in my front tire.

My front tire, which had been filled to maximum capacity with air before I had left, was now so soft that my rim was actually touching ground. I had no choice but to get off my bike -- not even a stone throw from LeaveMeAlone Jones -- and pump up my tires, praying that it would get me back to my original land, hoping that my feudal lord would not be too disappointed that I never made it to the shire.

I continued on my quest, finding myself trekking uphill on dirt and gravel terrain. I had originally went on this adventure as an alternative to the knee-battering activity known as running. But, as I so learned, I might as well have been stomping barefoot on granite stone for an hour, because every tendon in my knees was in agony. And, just as the gravel slowly turned into a magical futuristic invention I later learned was called "asphalt", I paused to pump air in my weird, mechanical horse, for a second time, and continued onwards until I saw a vaguely familiar road.

I followed that road as far as my leaky rounded horse hooves (or "tires", as they call them) could take me, paused again to fill them with air, and continued forward, shocked by how quickly a different version of these mechanical horses -- perhaps even mechanic carriages -- zipped by me on this "asphalt" road. I was just happy no one jumped out of these metallic carriages with bows and arrows and demanded my remaining silver.

I paused briefly at the nearby lake, if only to dip my shoes in and wash the mud off of them. I tried daintily balancing on a rock, dipping one toe in at a time, before realizing how silly it was, trying to keep a foot dry when it was only going to get soaked in lake water. I then jumped in up to my ankles, swishing the water around my once-new shoes, and tip-toed back to the road.

I zipped home, even as my legs tried to give out on me, even as my mechanical horse (or "bike") lost its air. I had to get back: I had left the door to my mechanical carriage storage lot (or "garage") open and had been gone for way longer than expected. I made a right onto my street, parked my bike and its squishy tires into the garage, and stomped up the stairs. I threw my shoes, along my with soaked socks and disgustingly muddied pants, into the washing machine, and trudged upstairs, where I drew myself a steaming-hot bath, turned on the music from the in-wall speakers, and proceeded to take a very, very long bubble bath, complete with a glass (or two) of champagne and a bowl of ice cream. Because if the soap and water wouldn't wash away the adventure of that day, the champagne definitely would.

I had originally set out with a specific pair of shoes on, hoping to gently break them in as I rode my bike around town. I think it's safe to say I've broken them in now.

Oh, and that road? I checked online after my semi-drunken bath. According to the satellite view of earth, that road does exist. It just so happens to be a dead end on the main drag, followed by acres of woods. And the best part? This imaginary road apparently goes across the middle of a lake in these woods. That's what I get for blindly trusting GPS to get me through the forest of Arda.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 46 of 365: Detroit

I read an article, this morning (the majority of an article. online. Thank you, Subaru commercials. I feel like one of Pavlov's dogs with my compulsive need to add that to the end of any sentence containing the phrase "I read an article.") On the 12th anniversary of 9/11, the "Emergency Manager" of Detroit shut off power to "send a message." Whether it is simply to force people's hand in privatizing Detroit's electricity or there was more that Bill Knowling wants Detroit's citizens to agree to, I don't know.

For me, this is the most chilling news I've heard all day. I've been following the downfall of Detroit ever since the auto industry collapse (and not just because my in-laws are from Ohio and I get some weird joy in watching the destruction of Michigan), and, suffice it to say, I don't care much for Bill Knowling. They brought in a bankruptcy lawyer to save a failing city. Take a stab at what his plan to "save" Detroit was? You guessed it: file for bankruptcy.

There is something off about this guy, but I can't put my finger on it. Intuition doesn't exactly affect the price of tea in China, but I've learned that going against my intuition always lands me in undesirable situations. I don't care for him, and I don't care for the fact that these are all governor-appointed people who are essentially running the city now.

Why is this the most chilling bit of news I've heard all day? Because it shows what could very easily happen to the rest of America if the economy ever gets as bad as it did in Detroit. I have faith that it won't, at least not in the near future, but the fact still remains: if America as a whole becomes as battered as Detroit, this is what most likely awaits us. Appointed officials who, really, only have to answer to the person who appointed them. Could you imagine a mayor or a state senator somehow getting the authority to turn off power without any warning -- and then face no repercussions as a result?

This stuff scares me. Anyone who really pays attention to the news should be worried. Like, tinfoil hats worried. And this is even before we found out about NSA and PRISM: indefinite detention of American citizens with no just cause or due process (just the hunch that you might be involved in terrorism), the criminalization of certain types of peaceful protest (a law that conveniently came out just a year or so after Occupy Wall Street), the legalization of assassinating American citizens (again, because you might be involved in terrorism). Over the last 6 or so years, we've seen less and less protection (and more and more punishments) for whistleblowers, especially those in the government. We live in a world where politicians shrug their shoulders about things like spying on their own citizens and say, "Well, no one would've complained during 9/11."

Can we just take a step back and remember a time when we impeached a president for spying on a hotel room?

It's scary. And what scares me even more is the apathy. Really, no one cares about the NSA. They cared more about Snowden living in an airport and his ex-girlfriend being a pole dancer. The same way the general public didn't care about the videos of a drone opening fire on a group of citizens and journalists (or about how the soldier responsible for leaking those videos was essentially convicted before his trial). Just that Chelsea Manning was once Bradley Manning and, "oooh, what will happen to a trans-woman in a male jail?"

But people don't care. Maybe it is a post-9/11 ennui. We've dealt with the TSA for over a decade now: a private company so powerful that a handful of people in blue shirts (who might have no college education, or even a standard high school diploma) can stop FBI agents from getting from one side of the airport to the other. I've spoken out about the TSA before, only to be met with an apathetic shrug and, "Well, at least they keep us safe!"

Maybe I read too many dystopian novels, but that's where it always starts: the initial fear, that desperate need to be safe, the willingness to do whatever the people in charge say.

*sigh* And the worst of this is that part of me is actually a little worried that this little blog post will result in me being "listened in on" for a tick of time. Which, on the one hand, it's not that big of a deal: I'm as vanilla as they get (a "girl scout", for those who watch(ed) Burn Notice). But, on the other hand, it is a big deal. The fact that my internet activity might be monitored, or my phone calls might be listened in on (I do have Verizon), all because I wrote a blog entry in a daily blog project talking about recent events, it's frightening. And if that bit of news is met with a shrug to some readers, then that's the most frightening bit of information in this entire blog post.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 45 of 365: Like the Good Ol' Days

It was very tempting for me to just copy/paste my "27 Things I Learned by 27" into this blog. But, since this is something I had been working on over the summer, it would've been cheating. Linking to it might be redundant, as anyone who reads this either found out about it through my crafts blog, or knows me well enough to be reading both (if they are reading any of my blogs at all), but still, if you haven't read it, hop on over to my crafts blog for 27 Things I Learned by 27.

This week has been about closing out the apartment. I spent all day on Monday vacuuming, scrubbing, bleaching, and spackling. You don't realize how grubby a fridge can get until you remove all the food and trays and see nothing but outlines of bottles and splotches of spilled liquid on the bottom. My shoulders got sore as I spackled and sanded every.single.nail.hole -- and there were a lot, given that I was putting an entire household's worth of pictures in a two-bedroom apartment. I didn't mind it, except when I would be sanding a nail hole and notice that, not even a foot away from me, was a spackled nail hole from a previous renter that had been hastily spackled up without any sanding.

Bunch of savages, these people.

It's weird, going into our apartment and seeing it so empty. I still expect to open the front door and see our couch where our couch was, our table where our table was. But instead I see a whole bunch of nothing, with a pile of cleaning supplies and recyclables where our TV once was.

This isn't the first time we had such a leisurely closing. We relocated from just north of Boston to Nashua in 2011. We had a "major move" about a week before the wedding, where everything but a small smattering of air mattresses and folding chairs was brought up to our new apartment. We also brought the cats and our guinea pig up, as we wanted them to at least get a feel for the new apartment before we abandoned them for two weeks. This was where my husband stayed for the remaining days before our wedding. I stayed behind at the Boston-area apartment, cleaning up the apartment so we could officially hand in our keys before we left for our honeymoon (since our lease actually ended somewhere in the middle of our honeymoon).

But I wasn't alone. My sister-in-law flew in for that week. We spent that week cleaning up the apartment, exploring Boston, finalizing wedding things, and just enjoying each other's company. We lived like broke college students, sleeping on air mattresses on the ground, going to the grocery store and buying pita chips and strawberries for lunch, laughing and talking as much (if not a little more) than actually getting work done.

This empty apartment also became a bit of a bachelorette pad for the girls of my bachelorette party to crash at. We unrolled foam mattresses and sleeping bags and woke up to freshly-made pancakes (of which we greedily gobbled up, as we were all terribly hungover).

The empty apartment was where the hair stylist and makeup artist met us and where we got ready for the wedding. I spent that morning in the empty apartment, a nervous little bride-to-be, and spent that evening in our new Nashua apartment, a slightly exhausted but incredibly jazzed-up newlywed.

When I look back on my Boston-area apartment, I don't imagine how it looked for a solid 3 years at first. I first see that practically-empty apartment, with a reading lamp on the floor as the bedroom's only source of light. I see a kitchen with next to nothing in it, save for whatever foods we had purchased that day (and a griddle to make pancakes on). I see the bare walls that, instead of housing a line of bookshelves, housed a single floor lamp and a single seat chart. Where our computer desks once where, a folding card table remained. A bridesmaid's foam mattress where our futon-couch once sat. Freshly-applied spackle where our TV was once mounted. And a closet that, instead of coats and sweatshirts and board games, held a single wedding dress, in its bag, ready for its big day.

For the Nashua apartment, since I started working as a teacher barely a week after I returned from the honeymoon, and quit around the same time our offer was accepted on the house, I always link the two together. I vacuum up the vacated rooms and remember the little things about my time there: waking up extra early to do some morning yoga. Getting into the routine of biking home for lunch, only to sip absently at a Coke and prepare yet another query letter for an agency. Or, fast forwarding a year, getting into the routine of biking home for lunch, only to lose track of time and appetite as I scrambled to get my 1000 words in for NaNoWriMo.

One of the reasons why I'm as big as I am on things like scrapbooks and pictures and sentimental souvenirs is because items -- even empty apartment -- can become vessels for memory. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about my 22nd birthday, where we had a lovely barbecue in the little grill area on the top floor of the parking garage in Boston. I'm thinking about how my husband and my brother-in-law decided, on whim, to play Fire Tennis with spatulas and wadded up paper towels. I'm thinking about how I had my little combo birthday/engagement party, where I was able to formally ask some of my closest friends to become bridesmaids. I'm thinking about how I came home from work in Nashua one night, so wound up and upset that I burst into tears before my husband could even ask how my day went, and how he was able to calm me down, even when I felt nothing would.

And now I can only imagine what type of memories this house will hold for us. If so much can happen (and be contained) by 2 or 3 years in an apartment, the possibilities are endless when you are talking about a lifetime in a house.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 44 of 365: Death on a Birthday

There's something fitting about this post. Today is my birthday -- and birthdays are meant to celebrate the start and the continuation of life. We celebrate and fetishize birthdays the same way we mourn and fetishize deaths. It all centers around our morbid fascination and obsession with mortality.

Two days ago, I get a message from an old high school friend. We haven't chatted much since we graduated -- a few comments on pictures here, a few liked statuses there ("Facebook keeping up", for those not in the know). Because of that -- or in spite of that -- I'm not 100% sure, my old friend skipped the formalities and told me some horrifying news: the little sister of our old middle school friend had overdosed and died last week.

This year alone, I have heard about four people in my life who have overdosed and died: my high school boyfriend's twin brother, my nieces' cousin, a high school classmate, and now my middle school friend's sister. Statistically speaking, it makes sense: given the vast network of people I know -- that everyone knows -- directly or indirectly, certain deaths are going to occur. So many people will die in car accidents. So many people will die from addiction. So many people will die from cancer. It's just numbers. But it doesn't take away the bitter taste that finding out such new brings.

Addiction stories affect me in a way that few other stories of struggle will. Like a proper Irish Bostonian, I was raised around addiction. The type where the budget for alcohol almost supersedes the budget for groceries. Where, by the age of 10, a kid knows the difference between their father passing out and their father blacking out. When at least one childhood memory includes the cops being called on your drunken uncle because he had gotten aggressive with one of his sisters during a family outing. I've seen alcoholism and addiction compromise or destroy individuals and entire families alike. It's why I have such a fascination with and admiration for celebrities who manage to get clean -- Robert Downey Jr, Craig Ferguson -- and I let my heart break over the passing of addicted celebrities whom I've never met.

It is also fitting that I turned 27 -- which is the ubiquitous age many rockers and actors alike have died. From Janis Joplin to Jimmy Morrison. I believe even Amy Winehouse was 27 when she died. Whether it's because we're starting to get older and we don't have the resiliency like we used to, or because the years of hard living catches up to them, I don't know.

And, unfortunately, in real life, away from the celebrities, I see even fewer and fewer success stories and more and more obituaries on the local news website. For every longtime friend or family member who posts a picture to Facebook of their sobriety chip (which is actually a thing and, so long as it keeps you sober, I fully encourage it), I see about five other Facebook pages spring up, dedicated to the memory of an addict.

I'm now 27, barely a year or two out from my first high school reunion. Reunions -- especially for larger schools -- usually have an "En Memoriam": a slide show or a section of the room, something dedicated to those who had died before the reunion. I never really thought we'd see many -- if any -- names from my graduating class for the 10-year reunion. But that's just how life is.

As for me, I'm going to continue going about life. For today, I'll go running, as part of my half-marathon training regimen, I'll go to a brand new restorative yoga class, I'll finally visit the antique and consignment shop down the street from my house, I'll indulge in a day of frivolous decorating and crafts (because when if not on your birthday), and I'll celebrate the fact that I was born on this day and continued to live to see another cycle around the sun by going out to my favorite Italian restaurant. And then the day will end and I will find adventure in a brand new day. There are far too many deaths to do anything less than live life to the fullest.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Day 43 of 365: So...What Now?

The past four months have been a whirlwind. I left the early education world behind, got signed to a my dream agency, somehow stumbled upon a tai chi instructing position...we went on a cross-country road trip, found the house of our dreams (and closed on it), and proceeded to spend the next few months working around the clock on our micro-renovations, doing everything from running cables and wires to priming and painting. We finally moved in, only to prepare the house in a backbreaking two weeks. Granted, that deadline was more or less by our own making, but still. We finalized everything, got the house in (mostly) working order, had a wonderful time at our housewarming party...

And now what?

Now, we move from finalizing the house to finalizing the apartment. Thanks to a lease-breaking policy that I can only describe as draconian, we have our apartment until the middle of November. On the one hand, it's been nice: we have been able to close down the apartment at our own leisure. We've been able to use the gym and the pool at the apartment.

On the other hand, it's frustrating. Mortgage payments have started, which means we've been paying mortgage and rent payments. And, after downright hemorrhaging money with painters and exterminators and movers (and mortgage people who like to up the closing costs on us last minute, for no real reason. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that they had the best rates, we would've dropped them like a bad habit), the last thing we want to do is pay rent on an apartment that we don't even live in anymore.

But, unfortunately, it is what it is. And so our next project is closing out the apartment. Two years in an apartment, and you realize just how much damage you do to an apartment. We have screws and anchors to dig out and nail holes to spackle. We have walls that technically need a cleaning (but will just get a touch of paint instead). Our goal is to finish the apartment by the end of the week, let them know at the exact last moment (since like hell they are getting the apartment to rent out to other people while we are still paying rent), and finally wash our hands of the leasing company.

And then? Hopefully I'll be snagging a few more tai chi classes. And I'll be hitting the ground running (literally), as the Marathon is a month and a half. And hopefully I'll finally be able to spend more than a passing glance at my latest manuscript. And after that? Maybe an actual little bit of routine?

Nah, kid. Life is better when it's constantly upside down.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day 42 of 365: Being an Adult

The house party was quite the success. My husband and I were running about, trying to get everything ready in time. To give you an idea as to how down to the wire we were: this morning, we were installing the doors that we had spent the last month repainting -- right before installing the last of the window treatments in our den. We honestly considered just prepping for the party relaxing. Well, kind of relaxing. Nothing is as stressful as constantly realizing that you are missing items for a certain meal, forcing you to speed over to the nearest grocery store.

We gave family and friends tours of the house (with me reflecting on the new colors and my husband reflecting on all the cables and wires he ran), we had a barbecue with a smidge of Asian fusion food (my husband makes a mean fried rice), we got our fire pit up and running (with a foundation we dug up and prepared in only a day). We even ended the day with fireworks and s'mores -- both of which shaved an equal amount of time off my life. And, like proper introverts, we collapsed on our bed at the end of the day and cherished the idea of having Sunday all to ourselves. All in all, a successful day.

I'm always amazed at the events in my life. Not because they happen, but because I'm magically somehow old enough to have these events happen. I remember being calm as a cucumber about graduating college, but losing my mind over the idea that I was old enough to graduate in the first place. The concept of marrying my now-husband seemed as right as rain, but I could never wrap my mind around the fact that I had somehow become old enough where marriage wasn't an anomaly. With our house, while it feels right to be in the living room, to sleep in our bedroom, to do all the household stuff that makes a house a home, I'm still blown away by the idea that owning a house at my age is downright normal.

If there is anything I've learned about aging, it's that you never get used to it. I know people in their 50s who are amazed by the fact that they're 50. They'll joke that they'll come out of the shower and look in the mirror and swear they're seeing their grandpa or grandma before realizing it's their own reflection. There is a certain incredulity that comes with growing older. You never really wake up and realize you're an adult; you simply look around at what everyone else is doing and realize that you better start pretending as well.

In some way, I guess it's better to be amazed at your age. I would rather be the 65-year-old who still goes in crazy adventures because she doesn't feel a day over 30 than the 65-year-old who feels exactly her age, if not older.

I still don't know how I became an adult. One minute I'm a freshman in college, remarking on how "adult" it is to be in college; the next, I'm being regarded as an actual adult. It boggled my mind that, during my 8-month stint as a substitute teacher, I had a group of 8th graders actually regarding me as an adult. I couldn't believe that, for the most part, these kids (who really didn't feel that much younger than me) were listening to what I was saying. That is, until I remembered that a good chunk of my teachers in high school were between the ages of 24 and 28 when I had them -- and they were very much adults in my eyes. Suddenly, I'm closing in on 27 and I still feel as much as a kid as those 8th graders.

And then a few days ago, as I was brushing my teeth, I found myself looking at my reflection. Not gazing, not staring -- just looking. For a few fleeting seconds, I saw an adult. Not a kid pretending to be an adult. Not a college student hoping to pass as an adult. But an actual adult. Someone who actually looks on the verge of 27. Someone whose growth and maturity has settled in nicely across her skin. Someone whose eyes reflected back a more complete view of the world and life. I barely recognized her, but I recognized that this might be how others see me. Especially the former 8th graders at my old school.

A few days ago, we had someone on their motorcycle zip by the house. We live at the end of a cul de sac in a small town, so traffic by our house is pretty rare. We looked up from the front yard to see this old lady, possibly in her 70s, hugging the turn of the road before returning back up the street. My husband turned to me and said, "That's going to be you, someday." I smiled and replied, "One can only hope." Because I can guarantee you that, for all of the years under that woman's belt, she probably feels decades younger than she actually is.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 41 of 365: Introverts and Parties

Today is it: the Day of the Housewarming Party. I've been logging in some 12-hour days (and even more on the days that I teach tai chi), cleaning and unpacking and sorting (and consolidating). And, what felt like all of a sudden, the house turned from an elaborate box fortress into an actual home. The boxes in the basement are tameable. The rooms have been vacuumed (or swept and mopped). Windows Windexed, wood furniture Pledged. Now we just prepare and wait and pray that people actually show up.

My husband and I are what they call "social introverts". It sounds contradictory -- and downright the wrong definition of my husband -- but it's true. I know I fit the bill of a social introvert: I love social gatherings, but am very hesitant around new people. It takes a lot of energy for me to make smalltalk (unless I've had a few too many glasses of champagne ... or am in Model Me). People who know my husband might find the idea of him being an introvert at all quite preposterous. He's got a very outgoing and charming personality and has very little problem talking to anyone in the room about any particular topic (for a real fun show, ask him his thoughts on Twilight and the changing world of vampires in books and just sit back).

I've already talked a bit about Carl Jung. But, truly, without Carl Jung, we wouldn't have any of those "23 Signs You're An Introvert" articles on the internet. His findings on introversion changed how the world saw what were originally considered "loners".

The biggest thing about introversion versus extroversion is where you get your energy from. Do you get your energy from being around others, or do you get your energy from spending time alone? On the flipside, does it take energy for you to be alone, or does it take energy for you to be with people?

At the end of the day, it takes a lot of energy for both my husband and I to be around people. We love it, and we constantly seek it out, but we always end up back at home with our bodies draped across the couch, a smile on our faces, as if to say, "Finally. Now we can recharge."

Throwing a party is actually the best thing a social introvert can do. Here, the introvert is in charge of the guest list, meaning that they'll know everyone who is coming over. The introvert is in charge of when people show up. The introvert is there from the very beginning, making them able to greet friends one by one as they come (instead of stepping into a crowded room and hoping to nudge in on a conversation). And furthermore, the introvert can always slink away and recharge under the guise of, "I'm going to clear this table." or "I'm going to prepare more hors d'oeuvres."

Granted, in this instance, I don't know all of my guests (we invited our surrounding neighbors and we have only met one of them once or twice), but it's still a good situation for a social introvert to be in.

I just hope someone remarks on how settled the house is after only two weeks. Because I logged the man hours and hot-damn if I'm not proud of what I got accomplished.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Day 40 of 365: Determination

After a solid week nursing a cramped hamstring, I finally got back into running. It was only a "light" run (5 miles), but I'm happy to finally get things back into routine again. And -- hopefully -- after the housewarming party, I won't feel such a manic need to unpack everything now now now and I can devote more time to prepping for the Ashland Half-Marathon.

Last Thursday, I had finally broken the 9.5 mile mark. Not only that, but my pace was faster than any other pace I have had in the last 3 weeks, even during smaller runs.  Slowly but surely,  Ashland is feeling less and less like an elusive giant and more and more like a beast I can conquer in due time.

I remember talking about running with one of my former coworkers.  She told me, "I could never do something like that."  When I told her that anyone in decent-to-good health can do it, she shrugged it off, pointing out that I'm more athletic than most.

There are few things that irk me as irrationally as when people try to dismiss my accomplishments on "good genes".  I'm tall (which will naturally mean I will need more calories, as an SUV will burn more gas than a coupe), and I have a good kinesthetic intelligence (meaning I learn physical activities a little quicker than average), but the good DNA stops there.  Truth be told, if I ate the way I wanted, zero limitations, and never exercised, I'd be a solid 25 pounds heavier than I am now.

Not to mention I am training for a half marathon on a natural run.  This is something I started doing this year.

A natural run is essentially the run we would've learned how to do, had we never worn squishy running shoes. Instead of striking the ground with your heel and rolling to the balls of your feet, you hit the ground with the balls of your feet and spring up (with your heel barely grazing the ground). It's a more effective run (you lose a lot of potential energy when you do a heel strike) and it reduces strain on your knees and shins. I knew I needed to switch over to natural running, but it wasn't until last November, when I got shin splints so painful that I would hobble down the stairs, did I make the transition. And even then, I waited until February to finally get things into gear.

As you can imagine, the transition was quite difficult. This type of running creates a completely different strain on your legs. I tried to winging it, only to cramp up so terribly in my calves that I'd have to avoid running for weeks on end. I finally found a Couch to 5K regime and used that as my base for transitioning. This meant that I started going for 30 minutes "run/walks," when you run for a minute, then walk...then run, then walk... I don't know what was more excruciating: the pain in my calves when transitioning or the mind-numbing boredom of walking every other minute.

It was hard. At my peak before transitioning, I could run a solid 5 miles. Now I was cramping up over jogging intervals. But I kept at it. I went from someone who would be in agony over jogging for a whole minute to my current milestone of 9.5 miles. And it wasn't because I'm tall, or have a decent metabolism, or have good kinesthetic intelligence. It's because I worked at it. I ignored that lazy little voice who gave me every reason under the sun why I should stop running. I ignored the procrastinating voice who tried to convince me that I could always run tomorrow. I ignored that cynical voice who doubted why I was running in the first place.

I've seen success stories of every shape and size. Dads who never even jogged around the block to being able to perform triathlons while holding his disabled son (incredible story if you have the time to Google it). People who were morbidly obese and on the brink of death via a heart attack who learned to change their eating and activity habits and got into better shape than their peers. And that's why I cannot take, "Well, I'm just not athletic," or "Well, you are more athletic," as feasible excuses. Because it's not about the body. It's about the mind. Excuses hurt no one but yourself.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 39 of 365: Consolidating (or "90/10, 10/90")

We've hit an interesting turn in our unpacking. Rooms are set up and functional. Some are even cleaned up. The number of boxes collapsed and in a pile now greatly outnumber the number of boxes still awaiting unpacking. We no longer have boxes in every room, their contents practically spilling out as we unpack maniacally. We're even seeing a light at the end of our micro-renovations (that is, until we finish the basement, remodel the laundry room, expand our back patio, redo the kitchen...owning a home is a full-time hobby, as my father-in-law says).

Our focus now is on finalizing as many rooms as possible. This usually entails completely clearing out the room of any boxes, trash, and remaining items -- even if those things just get moved to the room over. Many call it "guy cleaning". I call it "consolidating". It seems like a lot of work just to rearrange things, but the payoff is worth it.

It's hard to really visualize how much work you've put into the house until you can look at a room without cardboard boxes and unorganized messes and really see the room. For me, the best example of how hard we've been working is our library. Just last week, the room was a catch-all for everything that hadn't already been brought to the house. You couldn't get from one side of the room to the other without twisting an ankle or bumping your knee. Now, after what feels like hundreds of man hours, the boxes have been unpacked or allocated, the books have been alphabetized, and the carpet has had one more vacuuming. Of all the rooms in our house, our library is probably the most "done".

Right now, half of our rooms are finalized. Our library, our dining room, our guest room, and the laundry room. The kitchen/kitchenette is technically finalized, but it quickly gets filled with whatever in the course of daily events. And suddenly, unpacking seems to grind to a halt.

It's the idea of 90/10, 10/90, where you get the first 90% of the unpacking done in 10% of the time, and the last 10% of the unpacking in the remaining 90% of the time. The fact that I've started consolidating boxes and returning the "junk" to the basement doesn't exactly help.

The party is only days away, which means we're probably 24 hours out from taking whatever remains on the first two floors and shoving it into the basement for now. And who knows what happens then. Eventually we have to do something with it, if we want to finish the basement. Hopefully I'll go down the altruistic route and donate a good portion of that stuff to charity.

Or maybe I'll just shift around the boxes and remark on how much finalized space I made in the basement.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 38 of 365: Minimum Wage

If you ignore those pesky little bits of news like, say, Syria, then one of the biggest stories as of late has been about fast food workers and their demands for better wages. It's a pretty polarizing topic: some are calling for a raise of the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, while others are essentially saying, "Get a real job if you want to pay your bills."

To be honest, I'm a little torn. The current minimum wage we have right now just doesn't make sense. If we had raised minimum wage at the same rate as inflation, minimum wage would be around $16/hour. If you factored in productivity, it would be upwards of $22/hour. On the flipside, college educations have gone up considerably faster than inflation -- upwards of four times the rate of inflation. The nutto conservatives were right about one thing: things were easier in the "good old days," at least in that sense.

The biggest argument against raising wages is, "This isn't supposed to be a job you keep! This is for high school and college students and that's it!" First off, have you ever had a teenager get your order? If you're anything like me, seeing some 15-year-old behind the register gives you a slight sense of dread. Not to mention that, thanks to those pesky "labor laws", people under 18 can't work more than 20 hours per week, or between the hours of 8 and 3. And all those college students who are falling over themselves to get a proper internship or on-campus job would love to do a shift or two at McDonald's instead.

That being said, raising the minimum wage now won't do much good. As my friend pointed out, companies are champing at the bit for a chance to gauge prices. Even though all the giant corporations have boasted record profits for the last couple of years, they'll use a raise in minimum wage as an excuse to raise prices twofold. Either because the standard of living has gone up or because the cost of productivity has gone up. The excuse really doesn't matter, as the real reason is purely to line the pockets of CEOs.

But all this makes me think about the state of wages in general. My friend recently walked away from a pretty horrific job: she was a "marketing research" person, which is fancy-talk for having only a singular black phone on your desk. All day, she had to cold call people and get them interested in whatever product or service the marketing company was hired to promote. And what did this misery pay? $13/hour. I made more teaching, and that's honestly saying something.

We live in a day and age where companies don't just try to get you on board for the least amount of money possible; they try to get you on board for slave wages and then mutter something about the economy when you object. It's a corporation's market out there right now. They can do what they want, require whatever they want, and people will take it because we're all still a little rattled from the Great Recession.

I remember job searching during my senior year of college. One of the job listing was looking for an applicant with five years of experience and a bachelor's degree (but master's preferred). Starting wage? $10/hour. Which is only slightly more what I made as a retail slave in a clothing store.

My friend made another great point: instead of arguing over minimum wage, why not focus on why so many people are trying to support themselves on jobs at McDonald's or Burger King? We've shipped jobs overseas like it's our main export, all the while driving up the cost of college and making it that much harder to get a job. While $7.50/hour is a pittance (and McDonald's "budget helper" for someone working two minimum wage jobs at 72 hours a week is insulting), our focus should be as much on calling for the government to, gee, govern. Give incentives for companies to keep their jobs in America (and taxes for those who don't). Find alternatives to "student loan help" and actually find ways to drive down the inflated costs of college.

That being said, I am for the minimum wage being raise -- but slowly. Just enough that the delicate balance of our fragile economy isn't thrown out of whack. I don't think telling companies to pay their people at least $12/hour is going to drive the economy into the ground; I do think that companies scrambling to make up "hypothetical lost profit" or to capitalize on people's fears with the federal minimum wage will.

We definitely don't live in easy times and, even with companies performing wonderfully after the Great Recession, it doesn't look like things are going to get better anytime soon. And, much like everything in life, there's always more to the story -- a lot more than, "just raise the wages!" or "get a real job!"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 37 of 365: Teaching: A Retrospective

Yesterday was my very first tai chi class with the yoga studio. Not a demo, not a freebie "let's see if you can magically generate students," but an actual class. As an independent contractor.

I started out all nerves. I laughed anxiously, I actually dropped my fan in the middle of one demonstration (the biggest fear when doing fan form), but, by the end, I found my beat, and everything went smoothly. When I mentioned that this was my first class since a demo class in March (and, before that, another demo in November), one of the students said, "Well, you could've fooled me."

So now I'm on board, although only time and enrollment will tell how many classes I'll be teaching. It's a completely different ballgame, teaching tai chi to adults. It's different, but welcomed. I couldn't help, however, but think back on my years of teaching children, especially the year I taught Pre-K.

To put simply: if every class had been like my Pre-K class, I probably never would've quit.

It was hard work. Damn hard work. I was putting in 50 hours a week (and only getting paid for 40). And that's on top of the classes I was taking at night to get certified as a teacher, staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences, workshops (and planning a wedding and a move, as well as doing various modeling gigs, etc, etc, etc). There were times I would look out at my classroom and feel the type of tired that rests in your bones. The kind that makes you smile weakly and sigh before you can even take a step forward. I was essentially a newbie teacher -- I had nothing but a 4-month student teaching and a 4-month span as a pre-school 3s teacher under my belt -- and I was getting no help from anybody, especially not administration.

But I loved those students in a way that a teacher only does with their first true classroom. Most of them are in the second grade by now, and a good portion of them still hold such a dear place in my heart.

Like Lin*. Lin had immigrated with her parents from China to America when she was only 3-years-old. My first memory as a lead teacher actually is of Lin. It was storytime, and the students were running over to the circle time rug. As my then-coteacher gathered her books, I found Lin, sitting by the bookshelves, tears silently streaming down her face. I instinctively sat down next to her, pulled her onto my lap, and hugged her.

She was my girl from then on. I watched as she slowly got used to the room, learning English as only a 4-year-old can: first with individual words. A very small smattering of individual words. And, with what felt like overnight, phrases and even full sentences. She went from the shy girl who clung to her teacher to the micro-socialite, who even had a boyfriend in the classroom (or, as she told me that spring, "he is my special, special, special friend.")

Lin was on the cusp, meaning that she had the choice of going into kindergarten that fall, or staying another year in pre-k. Her parents originally decided to keep Lin in pre-k another year, until they heard that I was moving. Within a week, they alerted the school and told them that they had changed their mind. Of all the proud moments I had as a teacher, knowing that parents were willing to keep their child in a classroom another year purely because of the teacher is one of the most incredible.

Or Damien. To say Damien was misunderstood was an understatement. He was a rough-and-tumble kid. He liked talking back. He would snap his fingers at people. But he was so undeniably smart. He had an eye for structure and mechanics like no 5-year-old I had ever seen. He would build these elaborate contraptions with legos and k'nex and would only disassemble it at clean-up if I took a picture of it first.

Halfway through the year, Damien's father up and left. A father who had fashioned a necklace out of a house key and linked chain (so that Damien would always have the key to his father's heart) had disappeared overnight, moving up to New Hampshire with his girlfriend (a girlfriend he had been seeing on the side, much to the surprise of everyone, including his wife).

My biggest fear was that Damien would graduate up to kindergarten and elementary and find himself with teachers who didn't get him. Who only saw a rough-and-tumble kid who was prone to emotional outbursts ever since his father disappeared. I didn't even announce to my classroom where I was moving to, for fear that Damien would associate New Hampshire with, "Where people in my life disappear to."

As a graduation present, I printed out every picture of Damien's constructions, and pieced them together into a picturebook. I wrote a note on the back cover, telling him just how smart and inventive he was, and how I couldn't wait to see what he could do as a mechanical engineer or architect. Of all the students I have had (or will ever had), I pray that that little gift was enough to set things in motion. I know what the statistics are for boys of lower income brackets, whose fathers are no longer in the picture. And I hope that he'll be the one to defy those numbers.

I had never worked with an autistic child before Eric. My background with special needs was pitiful. And, even more, not only was I working with an autistic child, but I was working with a bullied autistic child. It was like feeling my way in the dark, but I found some sort of a path. I worked with his specialist and devised educational plans. I sung very specific songs to him when he was having issues with his routine. I kept open dialogue with the parents (who are, to this day, some of my favorite. If there is ever a family to be born with special needs under, it was this family. Their love and dedication was the stuff others wish for). I watched him become more vocal, more social. It got to the point that the specialist had to tell me, "He's doing wonders interacting with you. Now it's time to take a step back and see how he'll interact with his peers."

I still get updates on their (Eric and his twin brother) lives via their father on Facebook. It's been incredible watching them grow up and just see how insightful and proactive their parents on in the world of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

I know you're not supposed to have favorites. But I'll let you in on a little secret: every teacher does. Every teacher has students they bond with better than others. We do our best not to let it interfere with our interactions, but the truth still stands. My last day with those kiddos was possibly the hardest in my life. I remember going on from their graduation ceremony (a ceremony that I planned in my free time with zero help from admin, mind you), straight home and into bed, so emotionally exhausted that I passed out by 8 pm.

It's a hard job, and I don't regret leaving the early education world in the least, but I'm happy that I have some of the memories that I do, and I hold onto hope that I made a positive difference in at least a few children's lives.

* all names changed