It’s Just A Little Crush

Whenever I go home for vacation (as I am doing right now), I always read through my old diaries. I started keeping a diary in first grade (1990) and continued to do so fairly regularly until I was well out of college. While some people might shutter at the idea of rereading their past and uncovering old demons, I relish in the opportunity to read my old thoughts. Not only are they wildly entertaining, but they remind me what it was like to actually be in middle school and show how I’ve evolved over time (or not).

As I entered upper elementary school, then middle and high school, my diaries became the place where I confessed my deep feelings for basically any boy with whom I made eye contact. Like any other adolescent, I had multitudes of crushes and used my diary as a vehicle to lament over them and record our every interaction regardless of how trivial it was (it was always trivial).

When looking at how I wrote about my crushes, several common themes emerged that reiterated the fact that I had no idea what to do with a crush besides ignore him and then gush about him in my diary later. You know, standard operating procedure.

Below I’ve arranged some excerpts from these diaries by the common theme they share. All the names have been changed and if you think I’m talking about you it is purely coincidental (or not).

Theme #1: I’m too young and scared to know how to act around boys I like. What do I do?!

  • April 12th, 1994
    Dear Diary,
    This is really important! Matthew and Andrew asked me out! Oh my! I’m too young and scared! What should I do? This is so scary! If I tell my parents they’ll kill me. Andrew said, “I love you!” [expletive]
    P.S. I got a new library card.
    P.P.S. I have to talk to Iris!
  • August 16th, 1995
    Dear Diary,
    I really like Chris and Toby. They are so cool! I want to go out with one of them. I wouldn’t mind going out with Lance either. I’m afraid to say something.
  • March 13th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    I want to dance with Michael at the next dance. I’m scared to dance with someone. How close do you get to them? Who leads the dance (slow dance)?
  • March 20th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Today I saw Michael after school. I made eye contact! I’m scared to look at him for a long period of time.
  • June 13th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    When we came out from the baseball field, I saw Edward! I freaked out and my friends saw so I ran away! My friends yelled, “Hey! Edward’s here! He’s leaving!” Edward looked! I was so scared!

Theme #2: Looking for love in all the wrong places, or I like you purely based on the orange pants you wear.

  • March 6th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Michael and Casey broke up. She dumped him! Michael has been dumped by all of his girlfriends! I want to go out with Michael so bad. It would be really weird. But it would be awesome!
  • October 6th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    Archer is so fine! He wore his orange pants from Abercrombie today. I love it when he wears those pants. He looks so fine! He is eye candy. I want to go to a dance with him…maybe someday. Whatever.
  • Februray 7th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    The dance was fun and Jason was a good date. He is really sweet and he likes me, but I don’t think I’d ever go out with him. The age thing isn’t a problem, but I’m looking for something else—someone bigger and with more life experience.
  • June 24th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Hank asked me who my latest thing was and I said Peter and I was like, “I know, it’s horrible. But I can’t help it. He’s not even that great of a person to like.” Hank said that if he was a girl he would think that Peter was an [expletive].

Theme #3: Meaningless interactions feel like everything.

  • March 12, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    Today I was walking through the halls and I saw Michael. We made eye contact and when he saw me, he stopped talking for a second.
  • November 5th, 1996
    Dear Diary,
    In science, I took the test in the hall. Peter was right next to me! He said, “You can’t copy off of me.” Then I said, “Then, you can’t copy off of me.” Then he said, “just kidding” and I said, “Just kidding.” The first question was about power. He figured out the answer. We both worked together. IT WAS SO COOL! I made sure I looked in his eyes. He has pretty eyes. I told him that I thought we’d do okay because I got 5 points for rewording the question. He laughed.
  • October 3, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    I really like Archer. He’s REALLY HOT, he’s nice and he drives a nice car. One time, I dropped all this change and he picked it up for me. One time long ago, there was this announcement how I was now junior class president. He’s like, “so how does it feel to be president?” and he smiled. I was so happy! He laughs at what I say sometimes.
  • May 6th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Yesterday while I was lifting weights, Peter said hi to me. I know it’s not a big deal if he says hi, but when you like a guy it is a big deal if he says hi.
  • May 21st, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    I enjoyed watching the musical. All of us girls in the pit orchestra are in love with Eric. He’s cute and his voice is awesome! After the show, I went on stage with Alexa and I wanted to talk to Eric, but I was too scared. He walked by and I was like, “Good job, Eric.” He turned around and then said thanks and gave me a big hug. He said he was glad I liked it. He said, thanks and I said, sure. And then he said good job to me. I was so ecstatic that he gave me a hug! He’s so hot!

Theme #4: I’m simply paralyzed by my love for you.

  • January 27th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    There are four people that I go numb when I see because they are so hot: James, Rick, George Clooney, and Joshua Jackson.
  • March 6th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    I was at Libby’s house and Liam called and I heard his voice and I was all happy. I got really nervous when I found out that he might be able to do something with us. I get so stressed out about it. Ugh! I like him so much!
  • March 12th, 1999
    Dear Diary,
    Liam came to school to eat with us and brought us pizza! I almost died! It was awesome! But, I felt kind of awkward. I felt distant from him, but I think it was me! I felt scared to talk to him because I felt that no matter what I said to him he would think that I was trying to come on to him.
  • May 21st, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    The cast party was fun last night. I wore my fun shirt. Eric was there. He was talking to Katrina when I was with her and I was speechless. I was in awe of his fineness. I was in awe of him.
  • June 24th, 2000
    Dear Diary,
    Today I was at Hank’s house with Tina helping out at Hank’s mom’s party. It was fun. Hank had Peter over for a little bit and I was so ecstatic! He is so hot. But anyways, he came in and I said hi, but I didn’t really feel that he acknowledged that I was there. I mean he sort of did but of course I felt all insecure. I hate that. It’s horrible. And I get so nervous and I never know what to say and I never act like myself. And that sucks even more because then he can’t even see my fine personality.

If you’re still reading this far, bless you! As I’m no longer an adolescent I once was, I’m happy to say I’m not too young or scared to know how to interact with boys I like. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the occasional bout with love paralysis or fall for a guy solely based on his orange pants, but when confronted head on with a crush, I no longer take off and run. That’s real progress.

Please Stop Saying that Kids Don’t Read Anymore By Andrea Koleck

A great post written by my friend and colleague about how our own generational bias impacts how we view children’s literacy.

learning curves nyc

The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.

We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective.  And honestly, as a collective group…

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The Perfect Table, or How to Dine Out

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The perfect table.

I follow a few simple rules when dining out. First, only dine in places serving cuisine and dishes that I couldn’t make myself. Second, as my good friend puts it, if your meal is under three hours or courses, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the perfect table.

When I worked in the restaurant industry, we referred to “the perfect table” as one that coursed out their meal and ordered a bottle of wine with every course. There are several variations on this theme, but generally the perfect table starts out with a round of cocktails before looking at the menu. Then, they share a bottle of wine with their appetizers. Following appetizers is the main course and another bottle of wine or two. Lastly, dessert arrives along with a round of after-dinner drinks.

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The Champagne and oyster course.

I love starting off the meal by sharing a half-bottle of champagne with my dining companion and a dozen oysters. If I’m dining Italian, then the meat and cheese board is a must. From here, depending on my appetite, I could go into a soup or salad course, or I might dive into the entrée. Whatever the choice, there will always be a new bottle of wine to pair with the meal– a substantial red if I’m eating a meatier fish, steak, or hearty pasta; white if it’s lobster or a lighter fish. I’m partial to an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albarino. Depending on the number of guests I’m dining with or how quickly we sip our wine, a second bottle will be ordered for the table.

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Pass the Courvoisier.

Finally, after several hours of libations and good cheer, time for what is perhaps my favorite part of the meal: the after-dinner drink. Nothing complements a delightful evening of food and friends quite like a snifter of Courvoisier. Some reach for the port, others a Brandy Alexander, but me—I love cognac.

With there being thousands of dining options in New York, I want my dining experience to be just that—an experience. I want the restaurant where I dine to grant me access to food and wine that might otherwise be out of my reach. If not, there’s no point in eating out. While I don’t dine in this manner every weekend, I do strive to be the “perfect table” at least once or twice a month. Of course, being the sensible New Yorker that I [almost] am, I always budget for such meals.

For the Technology Obsessed, Less is More

Although my slight addiction to technology might suggest otherwise, there were only ever two gadgets I really wanted in my life: my own typewriter and unlimited access to a card catalog. Not too much to ask for, right?

Why can’t I have my own?!

Pre-computers, I always envied my brother and his typewriter. He didn’t have to use the family typewriter for any of his typing needs (and boy do seven-year olds have a lot of typing needs) and could type in the comfort of his own room. I, on the other hand, had to go into the downstairs closet in my parents’ office, lug out the giant typewriter, and manage to carry it to a part of the house where I could type to my heart’s content without annoying the entire family, which was inevitable when typing on a typewriter.

I secretly wish libraries still used these.

Post-computers, I never thought I’d be able to raise the millions of dollars I believed it cost to acquire my own personal computer. When it became clear the Internet was here to stay, it also became clear that I could, in effect, have unlimited access to the card catalogs because libraries were putting all their systems online. Even better. Then, the advent of Google and Wikipedia made endless information available immediately if not sooner. Life goals achieved.

Ahead of its time. Moo.

However, I often ask myself, as I incessantly check Facebook, if technology really has made my life better. I might have a slight addiction to checking Facebook, similar to my

Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know how to win this game.

past obsession with playing Minesweeper on my Gateway computer instead of doing my homework. I don’t even know why I’m do it, I just feel like clicking on things. Instead of accomplishing anything of worth, I just become irritated by all of the mines I’ve accidentally clicked on.

Of course technology has made life easier in many ways, but I’d argue it’s cheapened the quality of life in countless other ways. Nothing beats writing with a pen and paper and meeting someone face-to-face instead of texting with them.

What’s a ’90s playlist without some early Smashing Pumpkins?

I’ve always been infatuated with how the way things were (even as I write this I’m listening to a ‘90s playlist) so of course I’m a bit biased. I love being nostalgic and often take trips down memory lane. During my most recent trip down memory lane (today), I stumbled across a couple of old habits I had that made me think I should take a tip or two from my past self.

I challenge you to find me a diary without an inspirational quote.
I challenge you to find me a diary without an inspirational quote.

While paging through my old diaries to see what I was doing on this day in history (a pastime of mine), I stumbled upon an entry from October 17th, 2000. I had just achieved a lifetime best time in the 100-yard butterfly at a swim meet and wrote, “It’s such a great feeling to touch the wall and see a best time. It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment. I get to cross it off my goal sheet. Reaching a goal is one of the best feelings.”

I kept a goal sheet? And I actually crossed off goals when they were attained? I wrote about it like it was no big deal, but apparently it was because I certainly don’t keep a goal sheet anymore. I should probably start that up again.

Hand held notebooks are useful for scribbling down directions to parties.
Hand held notebooks are useful for scribbling down directions to parties.

The second thing I came across was a hand held notebook I kept in my early 20s when I lived in Boston. In this notebook, I’d write down random information like job postings, directions to parties, daily noticings, and series of questions based on observations I’d made. For example, while riding the T, and seeing a man sitting next to a pizza, I scrawled, “Who delivers a pizza via the T? Why does a pizza get a whole seat? Seriously?” The questions I often posed to my notebook were always very specific and based on whatever was happening in front of me at the time.

I'm not texting, I'm taking notes!
I’m not texting, I’m taking notes!

I still keep regular notes on my iPhone, but it’s not the same as my hand held notebook. For one, I can’t get down as much information when I write with my thumbs. Secondly, I hate how it looks like I’m always texting/being rude while someone is talking when really I’m capturing nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. The thought of looking rude hinders me from writing down my thoughts and I really hate to interrupt my creative flow especially when it involves pizza.

When it comes to technology, it’s all about finding the balance. I’ll always remain infatuated with my favorite technological oldies but goodies, but I’ll still keep updating my iPhone. I’m not going to quit the Internet cold turkey, but perhaps it’s time to return to some of my pre-technologically obsessed habits such as taking pen and paper notes and keeping a goal sheet.

4 Lessons Learned In My Third First Year of Teaching

back to schoolSeptember is here, which means the beginning of another school year. This last school year was particularly important to me because it marked my first year back in the classroom after a six-year hiatus. After two difficult years teaching in two different schools, I seriously questioned if this was the right field for me. While working in several other fields, I realized that many of my frustrations with teaching were not unique to the teaching profession. Instead, I was just learning how to navigate my way successfully in the professional world. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching middle school or waiting tables, I now know that wherever I am, I need to find the balance of being a team player while advocating for myself, know how to have honest, difficult conversations with co-workers, and know how to be solution-oriented instead of whining about what makes me unhappy.

I couldn’t be more thrilled at my decision to take a third try at classroom teaching and I’m proud to announce that I survived this last school year (and even thrived at some points).

As a new school year begins, I’d like to share four lessons I learned in my third first year of teaching.

Lesson #1: Celebrate the little victories.

There are days when everything feels wrong. What seems like an interesting way to teach compound sentences falls flat on its face. Or maybe the kids just aren’t grasping the best ways to explain their evidence and I can’t think of a new way to present the material in the moment. Other days the clouds are making us want to put our heads down, I didn’t drink enough coffee (is there such a thing?), my desk is overrun with paperwork, grades are due, and I accidentally threw away everyone’s graphic organizers that we needed in order to complete the day’s writing activity.

Then, I look out at the class and see a reluctant writer writing non-stop for twenty minutes without even looking up. Or there’s the girl, who has struggled staying focused, working feverishly on her essay and can’t help but shout out, “I actually like your class!” Another day it’s the quiet kid who excitedly waves his hand in the air and demands to lead the class discussion on double negatives. There’s the kid who shrieks on the playground and almost falls over when he finds out he’s passing all of his classes. These are the little victories that make the challenging times worth it, and they deserve to be celebrated daily.

Lesson #2: Remember the why.

As someone who is often way too hard on herself, inevitably self-doubt creeps in especially in the cold dark months of January and February. Why am I doing this, I would ask myself. Why didn’t I just give up after two marginally successful years of teaching? What makes this time different? Maybe I should’ve just given up the teaching profession all together.

Proud teacher!
              Proud teacher!

Then, I remember my why. Why do I teach? I teach because I firmly believe in the power of education as what could be the great equalizer, but there’s still so much more work to do. I believe in the limitless potential of students and that they need unrelenting adults who work together to light the fires that are within them. I believe in the little victories that make teaching worth it.

Ultimately, I acknowledge the feelings of self-doubt, but then I move on and trust that I’m doing the right thing because it’s the decision I made for me.

Lesson #3: It’s not supposed to be easy. Nothing is.

I often think of the words Tom Hank’s character in A League of Their Own says when one of his top players, Geena Davis’s character, says she’s quitting the league. She says it just got too hard. He responds, “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” I feel that way about the teaching profession. The hard is what makes teaching great. Are there days where I wish I could squeeze in a game of tennis after work followed by a long dinner? Of course. Do I gaze longingly at my non-teaching friends’ Instagram pictures of their afternoon meetings around the company keg and subsequent happy hour jaunts? Maybe a little. But, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to be inside the classroom for anything else.

Lesson #4: Perspective is key.

When I worked at the restaurant, our manager would sometimes ask at the beginning of a shift if we thought our work would cause us to lose a limb or even worse, kill us. The answer was always no. He would then say something to the effect of say exactly, you won’t die while working tonight so relax. I think about this when I need a little perspective. As a classroom teacher, the stakes always feel high. After all, this is someone’s education we’re talking about. When things don’t go as planned, or if students don’t score as well on a test as I’d hoped, it can feel as serious as losing a limb. However, in those moments, it’s important to have some perspective and remember I’m doing the best that I can. I take the work seriously, but I can’t take myself too seriously because that’s when things go awry.

I am so delighted to be returning to my school for a fourth year of teaching and am looking forward to all of the nuggets of wisdom I will gain this year. To all you teachers out there, have a great school year!

Be Brilliant At It

“The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.” -Norman Cousins

This is the book my friend loaned me years. I really should give it back!
This is the book my friend loaned me years. I really should give it back!

 Several years ago, a friend loaned me his copy of Words I Wish I Wrote, compiled by Robert Fulgham. As a young professional, not too far removed from my idealistic liberal arts college days, my mind was blown by the nuggets of wisdom contained within its pages. As a writer, I wished I’d written every single one of these words as the title suggested. The above quote from Norman Cousins completely resonated with me and I’ve thought about it a lot recently as I’ve returned to the teaching profession.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about what we let die inside ourselves in the past few months as I made the choice to get back into teaching and the career path from which I strayed so far. I was starting to feel like I’d let so many things inside me die as I struggled to figure out exactly what I wanted to do career-wise. When I left teaching five years ago, I never gave myself a timeline as to when I’d return, but deep down I always knew I’d find my way back in some capacity.

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-Charles Bukowski

However, in the last five or so months, I felt as though getting back into a career I felt passionate about was beyond my reach. Five years had flown by and my most recent stint as a full-time server made me feel as though I’d reached the point of no return.

Naturally, when you feel so far from your desired path, feelings of self-doubt creep in. How did I get here? How could I possibly have let all of the things that make me who I am just fly to the wayside? It was almost paralyzing to think about all of the potential I was wasting. Was it gone permanently? It had been so long since I’d worked in an academic setting I questioned my ability to secure a job in that field. Had I inadvertently closed the door to teaching forever?

IMG_0779_4To me, there are few things more tragic than wasted potential. I love the way John Updike beautifully paints this melancholy picture of wasted talent in his poem, “Ex-Basketball Player.” He tells the story of Flick Webb, the best basketball player in his town’s history who now pumps gas for “he had never learned a trade, he just sells gas/ Checks oil, and changes flats.” Remembered for his hands that “were like wild birds,” Flick spends his free days at the diner smoking cigars, playing pinball, and drinking “lemon phosphates.” Instead of playing in front of adoring fans, he faces only “applauding tiers/Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads” at the diner. There are several Flick Webbs from my hometown who haunt my memory with their athletic and artistic prowess that went unrealized.

Your potential, rekindled.
Your potential, rekindled.

On the bright side, there is always triumph to be found in tragedy. The good thing about potential is that it is only wasted if you allow yourself to waste it. It can be rekindled. Though I felt so far removed from where I’d begun, I applied for teaching jobs and eventually found my way back into the classroom. All of the things about myself I missed were still buried within me. It was just a matter of bringing those missing pieces to the surface.

On one of my last days of waiting tables, I explained to a group of guests that I was leaving to teach writing. An older gentleman at the table simply smiled and replied, “Be brilliant at it.” Not a congratulations, but a you have an obligation to yourself and to the world to be brilliant at whatever it is you decide to do. This gentleman’s simple words have inspired me far more than he probably ever imagined.

Be brilliant at it. 

I challenge all of you to focus on whatever it is that makes you alive and be brilliant at it. The world is depending on you.