What Do Teachers Really Want For Christmas?

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I stumbled across a post on Facebook, asking one simple question: What do teachers REALLY want for a gift this year? It immediately caught my attention and – like any proper link on Facebook – I clicked on it, expecting “it” to be some type of op-ed piece on what teachers really, truly want.

“It” turned out to be a poll question: a marketing company figuring out what teachers would potentially purchase for their classroom if they were given a certain amount of money. The link was literally asking, “Teachers, what DO you really want for your classroom this year?”

Even though I had a few ideas, I couldn’t in good faith answer the poll. That ship sailed for me about 18 months ago, when I finished up my last year as a teacher and never returned.

I remember the Christmas gifts I would receive from my students (or, to be more specific, from my students’ parents). Handmade cards, created with construction paper and markers; flowers, maybe even a gift card or two. Whatever the token was, I was desperately happy for it, because it meant that the parents took the time to show their appreciation.

I’ve actually been asked this question before: friends with children would get in contact with me, even after I had quit, asking what they should give their children’s teachers for Christmas. I’m not part of a marketing firm, nor do I have any kids (let alone kids in the school system). But the question of what one could potentially give teachers for Christmas – something they’d really, truly want – stayed with me.

If I could, this is what I’d give teachers for Christmas:

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An Ode to a Chiberian

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“The wedding was amazing, but now I’m hungover!” she downright sings. Even her hangovers are energetic and entertaining. “Text me your address and we’ll grab lunch!”

It’s just like any other phone call with my best friend.  She’s telling me the adventures of last night as I drive back from my morning class.  The only difference is that, for once, we have an opportunity to spend some time to face to face, which we haven’t done in almost a year.

At a red light, I text her my address (God bless autofill keyboards) and make my way back home.  I manically clean up the house (using an impending guest to inspire what hours of self-chiding cannot) and patiently wait for the rental car to pull into my driveway.  When she gets here, we spend a few minutes hugging each other, futilely making up for months upon months of missed hello and goodbye hugs, before she asks:

“Who’s driving?”

Side by side, we make absolutely no sense.  I’m sporting what can only be described as “laid-back yogi in cold weather”: sweatshirt, baggy cotton pants with a tank top and spandex leggings underneath.  She’s decked out in black skinny jeans, a leather jacket with a side zipper, and slicked back hair.  She looks like she’s on her way to a rock concert or an exclusive club, and I’m on my way to a yoga studio (which I technically am, after I get lunch).  We look like two strangers from opposite sides of town, not two absurdly close friends who have known each other since they were 10.

But then again, we’ve never made sense.   I’ve always been a bit like basil and she’s always been a bit like chili powder.  I’m a social introvert and she’s an antisocial extravert.  I stay silent until I can gauge just how much of my weirdness a person can take; she’ll bust through the room, unapologetically letting people know exactly how weird she is.  She can outdrink almost anyone I know and I get sick after 3 glasses of wine.

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Pulling Out All The Stops

Forewarning: I’ll be talking about somebody else’s circumstances, only to immediately turn it around and talk about myself, only to attempt to make it universal by the end.  You’ve been (fore)warned.

Someone I know was recently let go from her job.  It was a job she liked, didn’t love, and was doing until the next chapter in her life began.

Being let go sucks.  There’s no other way around it.  I remember working as an editorial assistant at a publishing house — a gig that was originally a co-op internship but then morphed into a part-time position — knowing full-well that I might not have a job after a major project was completed, and still feeling that crushing disappointment when the director pulled me into his office.  I finished his sentence for him and laughed it off and made some innocuous comment about the bad economy and packed up my cubicle.  It was the softest blow you can ever receive in the working world, and I still felt weighted down as I waited for my train to take me home.

“I’m sorry”s make you feel worse, disparaging remarks about your former employer provides a temporary and negative relief, and blindly swearing that it’ll all be okay does nothing.  The person in question and I had talked about our plans for the future, and when it’s a right time to do anything.  I decided to edge dangerously close to Clichéd Response #3 and responded with:

“Sometimes the universe pulls out all the stops to put you on the path you were meant to be on.” Continue reading

Writing and the Primadonna Yawp that is, “Creative Freedom!”

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I first want to start this by saying that my cat has just indicated he wants to go on my lap my turning my back into a human scratching post. He is now happy as a clam sitting in the nook I’ve created by crossing my right ankle over my left knee (the figure-four position the only way he prefers lap sitting), intermittently pawing at my forearm whenever he thinks I should stop typing and start giving him my undivided attention.

I’m saying this for two reasons: 1) My blog, and bitch gets to write what bitch wants to write about, and 2) I need to show that there are bigger prima donnas in this house than me.

So I’ve apparently gone meta these days, writing more about writing itself than about any other topic.  I blame the NaNoWriMo participants and their “writing about not writing”.  But, oh well: again, my blog, and bitch get to write what bitch wants to write about.

I typically post my published articles on Facebook or Twitter, usually as soon as I find out they’ve been posted.  And, since it’s such an instant reaction, I got into that habit of posting them alongside my knee-jerk editing gripes.  I mean, there’s nothing more professional than seeing: “Hey, here’s my article on Elephant Journal!  Let me take a moment and complain about how they butchered the layout!”

Sometimes, this public griping is justified: I once wrote an article about why it’s problematic that people reacted to the “F-Bombs for Feminism” video with comments like, “That 10-year-old is swearing!  They ruined her purity for this video!” — and why this reaction is actually symptomatic of the exact issue they are addressing.  The published piece had vital sections taken out, with a new, combative title in place.  It made it look more like I was yelling at the people who were upset at the video, not pointing out that the hyper-emphasis on purity in girls sets the stage for a whole slew of issues women deal with.

“They turned a sociological piece into a piece of clickbait!” is a reasonable gripe. “They added paragraph breaks where I didn’t have any!” is not.

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Writing and the Ultimate Unpaid Internship

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Pictured: a failed prototype cover art idea for a failed prototype manuscript

Long before I tried my hand at op-ed pieces and personal essays, I was a wannabe novelist.

I knew I wanted to be a novelist before I could actually read books that counted as real novels.  I told everyone I was going to be the next Stephen King (only, y’know, Stephanie King, because I’m a girl) long before I had actually picked up a Stephen King book.  I wrote a terrible “novel” in the 10th grade that exists now only in paper form in a binder in my basement, and I’ll make a nice campfire out of it before I let anyone actually read it.

I wrote my first actual novel when I was 22.  I started it as part of a summer-long fiction workshop class, where the final project was the first 30 pages of your novel, plus a full synopsis.  My classmates loved it.  My professor (who, thanks to her most recent book, is now a NYT bestselling author) urged me to finish it.  I had dreams of becoming a renowned novelist, jetsetting around the world for international book tours, selling the movie rights for millions of dollars and getting full creative control as they shot the film.

So, yeah.  That didn’t happen.

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Another Reason Why Modeling Is Not For the Weak of Heart, Brought to You by a Rejection Email.

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I got an email from my agency yesterday, letting me know I was released from a set of wedding shows in the upcoming months.  This is standard operating procedure in the modeling world: an agency will ask for your availability for a show, a shoot, whatever they’re potentially hiring you for, only to release the models not chosen for the job.  This usually takes place within the span of a week to two weeks, with the notification coming as last minute as one day before the schedule job.

I usually don’t get my hopes up. I respond to the availability check and go on about my life as planned, fully expecting that email a week or so later.  However, this one was a smidge different: I had already worked two of these wedding shows, and assumed I would stay around for the remaining shows.  I should’ve known better: each show had a slightly different group of models.  The likelihood that I wouldn’t be chosen for future shows was pretty high.

Of course, this didn’t stop me from asking a thousand self-defeating questions: did I do something wrong on the runway?  Did I do my hair the wrong way?  Did I say something that offended someone?

The most likely answer is that the people in charge looked over the potential models for the upcoming shows and decided, “Let’s have these models instead.  Tell the ones we didn’t pick that we don’t need them.”  Which is brutal, but also how the business operates.

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There’s a whole misconception with modeling.  People think that becoming a model validates your appearance in some way — or that it’s the ultimate confidence booster.  When people think “model”, they think an open-layout studio with huge lights and a photographer shouting out, “Yes!  Perfect!  You’re beautiful!”  Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth: you need to go into modeling already sure of yourself and your appearance or else you will collapse in on yourself.  All it takes is one casting directors snide remark, or an outfit that is too small for you, or your first set of rejections, to make you feel like the lowest of the low.

Even in the best case scenario, you have to deal with thousands of potential jobs slipping away from you because your look wasn’t the exact right look they were going for.  You have to go forward with your own brand of self-confidence, your own way of feeling validated.

That’s a good skill for everyone to have, regardless of their involvement in the modeling world.  Not constantly relying on other’s behavior to make or break you, and recognizing that it’s useless to take things personally all the time.  It makes it easier to manage when friends act up, guys don’t text back, or coworkers get out of line.  You’ll drive yourself crazy if you use people’s opinions of and actions towards you as you’re only gauge of self worth.

Besides, you have to focus on the positives in every situation.  Like this one: yeah, it stinks that I’m not part of the show, but it does free up my weekend, which means I can actually go to a birthday party that I had originally nixed due to the potential show.

Thoughts on a Day

It’s been a low and dreary couple of weeks.  The weather has been a consistent gray, with patches of rain and wind to keep things interesting.  It’s getting to the point that there’ll be a momentary break and I’ll involuntarily squint in bewilderment, as if I’ve forgotten what sunlight feels like when it’s not being diffused by a layer of cloud cover.  It’s a reminder of what’s to come: a long, cold winter, and yet another reminder that my mood is far too dependent on the weather.

This morning’s yoga class only yielded one student.  As an independent contractor, that can get frustrating: with only one student, I’ll essentially get paid in the gas money spent to get to the studio.  But I got paid in spades in other ways.

To backtrack: I remember my very first yoga studio class.  After spending way too much time at home doing yoga videos and crappy yoga apps, I finally bucked up enough to go to a studio.  The class was exactly what I needed, the instructor was exactly the type of instructor for my personality, and I drifted into savasana with this weirdly innate understanding that the flesh and bones that made up my body was nothing compared to the dynamic spirit inside of me.  It was an insane and unexpected and incredible experience and I’ve been chasing the buzz ever since, with varying degrees of success. Continue reading