Meeting yourself where you are

 

Eighteen years later, I still remember the moment I first told someone I wanted to be a writer. The certainty of that idea developed over a year I will always hold close. It was one of the most challenging years of my life, but it was also the year I learned what it felt like to achieve a dream.

A year earlier, I had been uncertain of what I wanted out of college and unwilling to take out loans without more direction. I left school after my freshman year, and by late October, I was flying east to be a nanny for a family I’d never seen. It was one of the scariest and most thrilling decisions I’d ever made.

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The History of Us All

 

eleanor_roosevelt_at_united_nations“I became more of a feminist than I ever imagined.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The more I learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, the more I like her. I also like to think we could have been BFFs, but I think that’s how it goes with heroes. Like good old ER, I haven’t always identified as a feminist, nor have I always been a women’s historian, but today those are two integral parts of my identity. For people who think like me in those regards, every month may be Women’s History Month, but March is the designated month of observation. I suspect that I know more than a few people who probably wonder “Why do we need Women’s History Month?” I still tend to think, “Why not?”

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Facing the Fake

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In the last six months, I’ve had frequent flashbacks to my early college years. Those were the days when the university still had computer labs all over campus (including mini-labs on every other floor of my dorm building), and almost no one brought a computer with them to school. In my freshman year, I practically lived in the computer lab on my floor, often hunkering down with a Subway sandwich in hand and a bottle of soda. I spent hours online and refreshing my inbox in those days before social media. Who could forget all those hilarious email forwards that went around before we could simply link to something funny or interesting in our Facebook feeds?

In the last 19 years, I’ve managed to forget the content of most of those forwards, except for certain ones that had to do with the Profound Meaning of certain words. I thought such emails were long dead, replaced by online memes and 140 characters on Twitter.

I thought wrong.

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Endings|Beginnings

Last month, we were all a little obsessed with beginnings. New year, new presidency – it’s all been a little crazy. It still is. Here in my little corner of the universe, though, I have an ending in sight: my sophomore history course ends in 9 days.

This year, I’ve had a total blast teaching two sections of Accelerated 20th Century World History, a course I’d only taught once before. 20th Century World History is one of my favorite topics, and it’s one I’ve taught nearly every year since I started my job. The content is a blast, and one of the things I love about it is that it’s pretty much all still relevant. If you want students to understand how the past continues to be present, then take a look at 20th Century World History.

All of my 20th Century World courses have been fun over the years, but this year was something special for me. It’s been a fabulous run, and I’m sad that the course is already coming to an end. A month ago, it felt like we were just getting started: we’d finally moved past the basics and were starting to apply our knowledge to trying to understand more recent events, such as the Syrian conflict.

Right now, I’m sort of stuck in this moment. It feels like limbo; I’m eager to see my students produce their culminating projects (documentaries with oral history interviews), and I’m looking forward to these final class sessions. At the same time, I wish we could just keep going, and I’m sad that two weeks from Tuesday we’ll start our third term of the year and everything will be different. I know it will be good, in its own way, but I’m going to miss this.

I’m trying to remind myself that this must be the mark of a successful course: that when you reach the end of something and feel sad that it’s ending, it must mean it was good, right?

Mother: Well.

Tateh: You say that often, ‘well’.

Mother: It’s because I don’t know what else to say.

Ragtime the Musical

Right now, I really don’t. I’ve spent the past month alternately overwhelmed by non-stop grading and non-stop political news and non-stop personal life changes. I’ve written about my class today because it’s something that’s on my mind that is neither political nor writing related – two things I either don’t want to write about right now, or can’t (since I’ve done no writing in weeks).

But this is where I am. A few weeks into the new year, I’m nostalgic for a class that I’m about to leave behind, and feeling not quite ready for the new adventures that lay ahead.

I will be. And you’ll hear about them soon.

Well.

 

Handle with Care

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I am not good at being kind to myself. For more than two decades, I have been a self-starter, a highly motivated individual with often singular focus on a certain goal. I am very good at getting things done, and have been ever since high school. Time management comes easy; I have a strong, innate sense of time and how it will flow through my fingers once I set my mind to a task. It is not foolproof, but I am good.

This is handy for many points in life. Grad school, writing a book manuscript, reading tons of books each year, managing motherhood and career, teaching high school – everything I do relies on my ability to get things done.

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Burnt-out ends of smoky days

I am fifteen and new to this town on the river. I know no one, and this lock-in at this random church is small and strange. There is a boy, one with a bland name and a crop of brunette hair and this smile that casts a spell so easily. I am not pretty; I am awkward. I do not know how to talk to boys, but this one talks to me. He assumes I know things; I play along. I do not know “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but I let him think I do.  I remember the poem for many years after; I see the boy once or twice. He is lost in the Google sea, where bland names do not survive. I fall in love with TS Eliot, not this boy who I no longer even see clearly in memory.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’

-TS Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

I used to think about TS Eliot in spring, but as 2016 draws to a close I keep returning to his works. I think they’re supposed to be depressing, but for me they’re more like these moments of memory, these evocative, mesmerizing turns of phrase and imagined worlds. As the dreariness of December falls, Eliot takes me to rose gardens and murky English streets and other times. Somehow, these places most put me in a mind for writing.

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