Now for a Break from the Normal Programing: 2019 in Review

Credit to my fellow blogger, WriterInSoul, for inspiring me with her own year in review post. I’m usually a travel blogger, so I wondered if anyone would even be interested in a year in review kind of thing, but this type of writing can often be therapeutic, in a way. And this year has definitely been a year of highs and lows. I know that a years have ups and downs– and I have had much lower lows than I did this year, but I think the whiplash of sudden change from so good to terrible in an instant is often more unsettling to the soul than a long period of turmoil.

Twenty nineteen was a year of extremes.

The year started off very well. On the 5th of January I drove to surprise a friend with a meet up for her birthday. Rachel and I were roommates in college, and she was passing through the hometown of one of our other friends, Jana, on her way home (northern Illinois) from her hometown (Memphis, Tennessee). So Jana called and asked if I could show up and surprise her when they met for ice cream.

IMG_3132So, I hopped in my car and drove the two hours to see her for thirty minutes. And it was glorious. We laughed and got a little misty-eyed, too. Then she hopped in her car and drove north, and I hoped in my car and drove east, but not before I stopped and visited Jana’s father, who I am fortunate enough to also call my friend. He showed me the truck he was restoring, and we sat in the garage and talked about life and, of course, drank coffee.

He is one of the greatest men I know. Though he is not perfect, he and his wife are both the epitome of caring and giving people. Whenever I come to central Illinois, I am welcome to stay at their house on a moments notice. Like that night, I simply buzzed by on my way out of town for an hour or so of chit chat.

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In March I went on a wonderful spring break trip with students to Ireland (my favorite place in all of the world), and we had a amazing trip! Everything went right, the weather was amazing, the traveling from place to place went smoothly, and we were able to have some of the most amazing experiences ever! I got to hold a sheep!

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But less than 24 hours after this picture was taken, the lead chaperone, my dear friend Chase, got word that a former graduate had died by suicide. I write at length about that experience here, but I will write here that the death shook me to the depths of my being. “Bear,” as everyone called him, had been in my creative writing class the year before.  He was nearly always smiling, and when he wasn’t it was because he was angry that someone had mistreated someone else.  He was a self-proclaimed defender of the weak.

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Bear with his ‘Life on a Cardboard Box’ project. “Get it, Pdise? I misspelled ‘brawn.’ It’s funny!”

He rarely wrote seriously, always the clown, but when he did share his heart, he wrote about the death of his brother and how that changed him and left him heartbroken many years later. We’d talked about mental health and how he just wanted to make people’s days better so they would have a reason to smile.

An hour after we got the news, we were off to a new place to see and experience. I didn’t know how to handle the whiplash. I cried much of the day, and avoided people as much as I could (which is not easy when you’re the chaperone of a group of students), but as I mentioned in the blog post I linked earlier, the grounds at Blarney Castle gave me the solitude I needed.

When we returned to the states, there was the funeral to go to. I didn’t stop crying until well after I returned home. And even now, I feel some level of guilt that he didn’t know how much we would all mourn his loss.

Summer followed quickly, and with it the end of the school year. My summers are usually pretty tame, and I try to soak up as much time with my son as I can. I did a lot of reading, and went to several open mic nights where my uncle and cousin played and sang.

I also got a roommate over the summer, Nina, a former student who wanted to break out on her own, but with a little support. She’s been a blessing to our family now that my son gets on the bus by himself now rather than going to my parents’ house in the mornings. And she’s a great buddy for when my now teenager would rather keep to himself than hang-out with his boring mom. It has made that transition much easier for this mom, that’s for sure!

Nina and me as we try out “lip masks” for the first time – do not recommend!

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and this year, my heart was heavier than usual as I walked in the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention fundraiser. With Bear’s death on my mind as well as the other losses to suicide the school had faced, I felt like I moved a little slower. But I walked with a glorious friend, Amber, and her daughter who made the walk easier. We talked about all kinds of things, and they lightened my load. A day that could have been easily one of the hardest I’d had in a few months, had a positive spin to it, and I left the walk feeling much better than I thought I would.

The group that walked this year from Cascade High School

Just a few weeks later I got a text message from Chase, the chaperone who’d broken the news of Bear’s death to me just a few months ago.

“Call me” it said.

I was busy getting ready for work, and I was a little annoyed that she didn’t just text me with whatever she had to say. So I finished my hair and pushed the button on my phone to call her on speaker while I put on my shoes.

She was crying when she answered the phone, and my gut sank. I knew that someone was hurt or dead, and my mind whirled wondering who it could be and how bad it could be.

Nothing prepared me for her words. “Dylan is dead.” And again, my mind searched for meaning in this sentence. Dylan who? How did he die? Was it a car accident? But she was crying too hard to answer my questions. But I knew who it was. I just didn’t want to know. And just like that, in less than a year, we’d lost two former students to suicide. And this one was not only a student, but the son of a co-worker – the woman I’d walked with at the Out of the Darkness walk.

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I’m not entirely sure how I drove to school that day, only that it was through tears. And I’m not entirely sure how I told my first period class the news (the administration wanted to students to hear it from a person, not the PA system – which is a good call, just hard), only that it was though tears. And this time there was no Blarney Castle to clear my mind. I taught all day, I coached the Spell Bowl team (some of them crying on the bus) to win the county meet, and went home to be a single-mom. It wasn’t until bedtime that I was able to sit and try to process it all. Being truthful, I don’t know that I have completely processed it yet. I’d never had Dylan in class, but I knew him very well – he was an outgoing kid who loved to help others, he’d gone on the Italy/Greece spring break trip with us, I’d helped him edit papers for his English class, and he was the child of a co-worker and friend. So I knew him better than the teacher/student relationship.

It has never ceased to amazing me how the world can simply upend itself with one phone call. A few brief words and the trajectory of life is completely altered. That day was one of those days. And the haze of the next few weeks is honestly hard for me to remember. Hugging crying students, co-workers, sitting on the floor in the hallway talking to a student about how to keep moving when life feels so heavy.

And the year kept going up and down. My best friend had a miracle baby. My other best friend had a stroke and was in the hospital in Chicagoland for weeks and I couldn’t go see her. I felt like a failure as a friend because she needed people to help her, and I couldn’t make it up to her when she needed me the most. Up – down – up – down.

November and NaNoWriMo came along with tons of students who wanted to write novels with me. My 41st birthday. The end of the semester, and finally Christmas.

So much up and so much down.

But the big lesson I’ve learned this year is to make sure the people I love know that they are loved. I’ve learned I need to check-in with people with more than the often trite “How are you?” Also, I’ve learned that it is very important to take care of myself- to do things that are good for me physically and mentally.

Over the last calendar year I’ve lost 30 lbs and done my best to get more in touch with who I am and focus less on what I do not have. I have become less downtrodden over my seemingly terminal singleness, and realizing what being single can allow me to do: travel selfishly, invite people to live in my little home, and be available for people easier than if I had to take someone else’s wishes and calendar in mind.

Thank you to all who have been a positive influence in my life these last twelve months. I appreciate your encouragement, your mentorship, and friendship even though I am not the best when it comes to returning phone calls. 🙂

I anxiously await what I have to learn in twenty-twenty.

The Project of Secrets

I’ve decided to transform this blog that I don’t really use anymore to something more than a place to vent my frustrations to the world. Because I learned something…

No one is listening.

There are enough complainers in the world. I want to do something more productive.

Now, my idea is far from original. In fact people have been doing similar things since the days of Post Secret… does that still exist anymore? After I finished writing my 2016 National Novel Writing Month novel, an idea came to me in a lightening bolt. An “ah ha” of sorts after talking with an acquaintance who I originally thought I had very little in common with. Turns out, I was wrong.

The “ah ha” was that there are SO many things that we keep secret for one reason or twelve. We keep certain things about us so close that few (if any) people know about the things that are the closest to our souls. The things that shaped and formed us into who we are.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of not know how to bring it up or maybe it’s just not deemed “appropriate” to share, but sometimes there are darker reasons we keep things hidden.

 

The problem with all this silence is that we then feel isolated. All of us feeling alone about things that we are not alone about! Why? Why don’t we share?

We are afraid.

We’re afraid what people will think of us, what people will think of our family. We don’t want people to look at us differently or pity us. It’s uncomfortable.  It’s embarrassing. We are so afraid to be open with each other that we would just rather be miserable in our self-imposed isolation.

Now, I realize I’m not talking about everyone.

There is a lady that told me her entire life story while we were waiting in the checkout line at Meijer. There are people who post about everything from what they had for breakfast to the seedy details of their family dramas on social media. But honestly, those people are a relatively small part of the population.

And there are others who have been blessed with extremely fortunate lives who don’t feel like they have to keep anything hidden from anyone.

And still others who do not suffer from the same feelings of isolation that many of us do surrounding sorrow and trauma.

So, my plan for my next novel was to write about all the things we don’t talk about. Here’s the challenge… people don’t talk about the things people don’t talk about.

Or do they?

I reached out on Facebook for people to give me ideas of things that people don’t talk about. Over 40 people responded to the post when I asked them the first thing that came to mind when they heard “no one ever talks about…”  I got everything from religion to rape. And it exploded from there– people messaged me on Facebook telling me they wanted me to tell their stories… I have to admit it was overwhelming. I had to put it off until the summer (I do this strange thing called teaching during the rest of the year), but I scheduled over 30 interviews with co-workers, acquaintances, former students, and parents of former students ALL willing to talk about “the things we don’t talk about.”

I cried with people I barely knew. I held former students while they cried. I had matter of fact conversations about extremely difficult topics.

Two interesting things I came away with from those interviews:

  1. Though I am not extremely close with any of these people, they were will to talk about these VERY heavy topics when given the opportunity.
  2. Every person- every one of them thanked ME. (insert WHAAAAAT face here) Some thanked me for listening. Some thanked me for being willing to address topics that they feel no one else will. I was expecting a lot of things doing these interviews, but I was not expecting people to be grateful to me. I was grateful for THEM being so open.

This leads me to believe that we don’t want to be silent and isolated about these things. We just need someone to listen. WHEW! Mind blown.

This month I’m attempting to do justice to all of the stories I heard and I know I will fall massively short. Another thing I didn’t count on with this project is how many people want to see it already. I have told a few people that when I let someone read what I’ve written, I kind of feel like I’m dancing naked in front of them. Because even though these are necessarily my stories… my heart is in them. And, let’s face it… after rejection letter 32 came last week, I’m becoming doubtful of my writing abilities. 🙂 But that’s another blog post.

So— Here is my part. As a thank you to those who have shared, and in the spirit of sharing things that we don’t talk about… here is what I don’t talk about:

I don’t talk to people about the paralyzing fear that I have that may not ever find someone who will love me. I see friends and coworkers get divorced or become widowed and get remarried and still I sit – single as the hair on Charlie Brown’s head.  I fear that there is something tragically wrong with me. I know I am loved by my parents and my son and my friends and even my students. But in the nine years that I have been single, not one date has worked out. And it’s been over a year since I’ve even been on a date. I am a nearly 40 year old, over-weight, single mom.  Let’s just be honest, I am not the kind of person that someone sees across a crowded room and goes over to talk to.  I work at a high school where my co-workers are married or WAY too young. I go to a church filled with people who are married or WAY too young. I don’t go to bars. I go to coffee shops– but that’s not really the place where someone comes up and says, ‘hey, can I buy you a latte?’ I tried online dating MULTIPLE times and only received completely inappropriate comments (even–scratch that, especially on Christian Mingle) or men in their 60s who live in Wyoming. I’ve been set up by friends only to meet the person and never hear from them again. So in my brain the logical conclusion is that there is something undeniably rejectable about me.

Whew. Thank you for listening…. er… reading.

My challenge to you: Talk to someone about the thing(s) you don’t talk about. It is surprisingly therapeutic.