Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Teaching Through Depression

Disclaimer: This ended up being a much more personal blog to write than I expected, since this is something I'm struggling with a lot lately. As a result, I'm not sure it's helpful or coherent, it might just be personal rambling. But for what it's worth... here ya go.

In an effort to start blogging again, I asked folks to anonymously suggest a few things they'd like to see me blog about. Today we'll be tackling this suggestion: "Blog idea: teaching through depression. How to balance the mental health issues with a profession that requires a lot of energy." This is especially fun to tackle right now because I am in the midst of a VERY intense depressive/anxiety period as I'm also preparing to jump with both feet into a new semester of teaching... so some of this is me talking it out to myself and figuring out my answers because some days I just don't know.

Let me start by saying that I feel very fortunate in that my job is people heavy but is also something I really love doing. I truly feel I am called to teach. That love of what I do gives me extra reserves of energy when I am feeling low than I would have if I was doing something I loved a little less. Many of the teachers I know feel the same way, and it's something I just had to trust would be true when I went into this profession in the first place.

My teaching job is also a little bit different from a traditional classroom teacher. Some weeks my schedule is "lesson plan for 6 hours, then drive to a school and teach a 2-hour class," while other weeks it may be more like "teach at one school from 8-2, drive to another school to teach an after-school class for 45 minutes, then drive to the theater to teach a conservatory class for an hour and a half." This means I have both advantages and disadvantages that classroom teachers usually don't, so the advice I give here can only be specific to me and may not apply to any teachers reading this. Sorry if it is ultimately unhelpful, but I'll definitely share what I can.

A couple of things that I use to make teaching easier when depression is not.

I take advantage of breaks as much as possible. Really, this is a pretty typical piece of introvert advice, but it is also super helpful for depression stuff. Bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, the 2 minutes before students come flooding into your room, whatever you can take. When I'm on an all-day teaching schedule, I always try to eat lunch in my car. Shutting myself out for that 30 minutes gives me the strength I need to come back and be my best for the kids again later. Speaking of which...

Don't feel guilty about taking that time. One of the most useful tactics I've found for communicating to people that I need to disappear or take some time to myself is explaining that it's not just about what I feel like doing, it's that I am not at my best when I am stretched or overpeopled. You aren't being selfish if you take care of yourself. If I don't take the alone time I need, I become a worse teacher. I get irritable and impatient. My words aren't as clear as I want them to be. Your quest of self-care is not just about making sure you feel great, it can be just as much about making sure you can be great for others. Teachers are sometimes expected to just give and give and give, and so many of the best teachers feel guilty about not being able to give more. It is 100% okay to tell yourself, "This week, to be able to give, I have to say no to every other non-essential request that comes my way." Ignoring your self-care helps nobody.

I'm careful about criticism. This is one of those things that sometimes gets mocked in the realm of self-care, but I know when I'm in my worse depression times, my brain is ready to twist all the criticism it hears into a scathing indictment of my core identity. It's not rational, it's not reasonable, but a simple "I disagree" can turn into something horrific in my head. Since it's not reasonable to ask others to tiptoe around me when I'm in this state, I do my best to counteract it myself. I put myself out there a little less until I'm feeling better. I hide social media posts and comments I'm not ready to read. (If all my friends weren't online, I'd probably stay off social media altogether.) Just for a little while, just so I can get my thoughts together and react to it all in a way that is helpful and good for everyone involved.

Plan ahead. I'm a teacher. I have depression. Those two things are likely to be true together for sometime, so that means I can plan for when depression gets worse by setting up routines that will make my life easier when it hits hard. For example, I plan lessons out as far in advance as I can when I'm feeling good because when depression hits and I find myself staring blankly at a computer screen for hours, I have a little bit of leeway. While I'm usually comfortable with a little organized chaos in my classrooms, I try to establish set routines and enforce them consistently so that on days when I'm teeming with anxiety, I can relax a little bit and know things won't fall apart entirely. This may look a little different for everyone, as their depression and teaching won't be identical to mine, but the general idea is, I think, widely applicable.

Final thing to note, just one more time: I am not particularly good at this. I say some of this as if I actually have answers, but really these are just a few things I've latched onto that seem to be working right now. Writing this blog during a week when depression has been especially tough and I feel like it's completely robbing me of my ability to teach well has just heightened this for me. So this week I've been trying to hold onto the truth I know about myself: I am a pretty decent teacher. I won't feel this crappy forever. I've managed so far to find enough spoons to give to my students even when I don't have enough to give to myself, and most likely I'll be able to continue.

I feel like this blog has bounced wildly between optimism and pessimism. That's because I'm currently fighting that battle within myself, and I have no idea how much that is going to come across to anyone else.

I will close with this, I guess. Teaching is awesome and great and I'm so lucky to be able to do it and to know that every day I work I have the opportunity to do something really meaningful. And that's nice to remember when I feel stuck in "everything I do is awful" mode as I have been lately.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My Favorite Fictional Relationships

In an effort to start blogging again, I asked folks to anonymously suggest a few things they'd like to see me blog about. Today we'll be tackling this suggestion: "Discuss your favorite fictional relationships (romantic or otherwise) and what makes them so." While I don't think I can say this is a definitive list, I can at least offer a couple of my favorites. I find that most of these are from TV because you really don't get as much of a chance to see the ins and outs of a relationship in a movie or a play.

1. Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation. Honorable mention to April and Andy, but Leslie and Ben's is a little bit more grounded in reality. I like how they problem solve and listen to each other and appreciate each other's strengths and differences. I like how they're different from each other but not along stereotypical male/female lines. And I LOVE watching them support each other's goals.

2. Darryl and White Josh from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In a show where a lot of people who have zero idea how to relationship, these two are so refreshing. We get to see them deal with their insecurities and, ultimately, talk through them and come out stronger. When they eventually hit an issue that is a dealbreaker from them, we see them realize they're both dealing with it badly and break up in a surprisingly mature way, but not one that downplays the pain of it. They're just such a fantastic pair, and I love watching their trajectory.

3. Tracy and Link from Hairspray. This might just be because the overweight girl never ever ever ever gets the hot guy, and it's so delightful to see it happen. But I love them together. I love how she gets so passionate about righting wrongs and how it challenges him to step out of his own bubble.

1. Daria and Jane from Daria. The two of them against the world is always fun, but I also like that they aren't carbon copies of each other, and it's a little jarring for them when they realize that because they think of each other as so similar in so many ways. This means we get some really interesting disagreements and moments where one wants to move forward and the other doesn't, and they don't quite know how to deal with that. But mostly it just makes me thankful for the snarky friends I've had throughout the years

2. Troy and Abed from Community. What I love about this relationship is how fully they love and support each other's quirks. There are a lot of ways in which they are different (though Troy's faux-cool-guy routine from season one makes way for his much deeper seated true geekery as the show goes on) but they find a way to connect and learn to understand and appreciate each other's differences. This is basically me and all my friends, and I love it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Come Away With Me" by Norah Jones (150 Albums by Women #140)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Album #141, Joanna Newsom's "Ys," was not available on Spotify, so we're skipping over that for the moment and moving on to #140, "Come Away With Me" by Norah Jones. So far, this album is tied with the Alicia Keys album for having songs I already know. I knew four of these already and really liked three of them. The album as a whole is very soothing, chill, dreamy easy listening. I ended up having a bit of trouble telling some of these songs apart, but I was definitely able to pick out a few favorites. Here were my top 5.

5. I've Got to See You Again. An early favorite that ultimately slid down the more I listened to it (I initially thought it might end up my #1). At first I think I was drawn to it solely because it was different from the rest of the album -- more robust, less wispy. Eventually, while I still enjoyed it, it slipped down a bit below a few others that I really loved. I still like the sound of it enough to toss it in the top five, but just when I thought I might get rid of one of the other four, this one made its way out instead.

4. Shoot the Moon. This one is the reverse situation of the previous song, in that I didn't care about it much at first, and it just kept growing on me. There's something beautifully sad and melancholy about it, and Jones' voice totally sells it. It's just a simple, pretty, sad song, and I like it a lot.

3. Cold, Cold Heart. One of the very few songs on the album Jones herself didn't write. This one was actually a Hank Williams tune that I knew existed but was mostly unfamiliar with, and I really enjoyed this introduction to it. It's equal parts playful and sad, which is a fascinating combination. Actually, that juxtaposition seems to be a theme for the album, because...

2. Feelin' the Same Way. This is one of the four I already knew. A friend put it on a mix CD for me years ago, and even then I liked how it was both happy and sad. It's sort of an upbeat tune. It sounds hopeful. But the lyrics really aren't, very much, and I like those two together. I especially like the melody for this.

1. Turn Me On. Another one I already knew, and I thought maybe it would slide down in my list because I knew it so well. But it only got better, and I found myself loving it more and more every time I heard it. It's so slinky and intimate and beautifully sung. I'm glad I got the chance to fall back in love with this song.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:

  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  8. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  9. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Friday, August 10, 2018

Cast Album Discoveries: The Robber Bridegroom

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. This time I listened to the 2016 Off-Broadway cast of The Robber Bridegroom (starring Steven Pasquale, who I like a lot). My five favorites!

5. Once Upon the Natchez Trace. One of those fantastic opening numbers that really sets the scene for what's to come -- in this case, by introducing all the characters and establishing the tall tale nature of the plot. It's fun and entertaining and a great opener to the album.

4. Nothin' Up. An early favorite, partly because it's so rare to find songs for women written for the lower part of my voice and I was excited for it! I especially love the contrast between some of those high wailing notes and the lower, cynical lines. A good one.

3. Deeper in the Woods. I like how different this sounds from the rest of this cast recording. While most of the music is upbeat, this is a haunting coral piece that I just grew to love more and more.

2. Marriage is Riches. This is not one that I expected to last this long, but it's just so delightful and jaunty and silly. The back-and-forth of all the characters wanting different things is all captured hilariously in the tone of the music, and it just kept making me smile.

1. Steal With Style. This was another early favorite. It's so much fun to sing along to, and it does an excellent job of introducing us to our main character. Steven Pasquale sings the heck out of it, too.

Have any of you listened to this one? What did you think of it?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Last 10 Books I Read

I've been doing a pretty good job regularly reading books lately. I've nearly finished my first alphabetical read of everything on my Kindle from 2014 or before, and now I'm about to start my alphabetical read of everything I've bought on Kindle since then. So it seems like a good time to start a new blog series that hopefully I'll update every so often. These are the last 10 books I read and, very briefly, what I thought of them.

1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I somehow ended up with two purchased versions of this book, one illustrated, one not. I didn't have high hopes for it, as my only reference point was the really dull Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation, which I saw on Broadway several years ago. The book is... a little better, but still not exciting in any way. I like how it switches back and forth between several different narrative points of view, but the narrative itself is somehow simultaneously both convoluted and tedious, and I never feel that it comes to a satisfying conclusion. 4/10.

2. You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw. A play by the famed English writer. This had some good witticisms and some interesting commentary on relationships, even though it ultimately falls a little flat. 6/10.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. How on earth did this become some sort of symbol of gothic romance? The characters in this book are all awful people. Heathcliff is a cruel, abusive person, and Cathy is a petulant, spoiled brat, and they're never portrayed as anything other than such by the author, so how did it come to be known as anything like a love story? It's such an unpleasant narrative thanks to its repulsive characters. 2/10.

4. Sea of Silver Light (Otherland #4) by Tad Williams. I finally finished up my reread of the Otherland series, which is four very, very large books that I hadn't read in ages. By the time I got to this one, I was fully re-engrossed in the world and zoomed through it faster than the other three in the series, despite the fact that it's like 1200 pages long. I had forgotten how it ended and found it both fascinating and moving. 8/10.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Oh gosh, this is such an engaging read. 9/10.

6. Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I do so like Nadia from her online presence but I'd never read a full book by her. I love how open she is about her shortcomings and how much grace she has for God to be working in the lives of people around her. 8/10.

7. Against the Twilight by Donald James Parker. Uh, so I don't remember why I had this on my Kindle. I feel like somebody I know asked me to read it and snark it for the blog. Unfortunately, while it's bad, it's not quite Rothdiener bad. There's some actually tense moments and none of it is written as incompetently as good ol' JLR's stuff. It is pretty terrible, though -- it's about a Christian guy convincing a woman who's written an incredibly popular vampire series that vampire books are demonic, and then you THINK they're going to get married, but nope, they each hear from God that they're supposed to marry someone else, so they quickly propose to that other person despite having not been in any kind of dating relationship with them prior. It's just right into engagement time. That's always smart relationship building. 1/10.

8. After Alice by Gregory Maguire. Why do I keep reading Gregory Maguire books? Next time I'm about to, somebody stop me. His prose is so pretentious I can't handle it. And nine times out of ten, his stories go NOWHERE. This is an example. Ugh. 1/10.

9. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. I remembered mildly enjoying the movie of this when it came out, and I mildly enjoyed this. The shifting POVs were pretty well done, the reveal is smart. It's not great characterization but it's a fun little post-apocalyptic YA book, especially if you have a fondness for that genre (as I do). 6/10.

10. All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler. Well, the title is correct, this book is pretty dirty, and at first I wondered if that was legitimately all I was going to get. But then it takes some interesting twists and turns emotionally as it goes on. I'm not convinced that I care for how it ends, but it's a surprisingly compelling journey to get there. 6/10.

What have you read lately? And have you read any of these? Share your thoughts!

Monday, July 23, 2018

"My Life" by Iris Dement (150 Albums by Women #142)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Album #142 is Iris Dement's "My Life," released in 1992. This is the first country album of this project, and the instant I started playing it I was thankful it wasn't any longer than 10 songs, because country is such a tough thing for me to get into. To my pleasant surprise, there were a few songs I did end up enjoying. Dement's a great songwriter, even if I don't love the style of her music, and there are some great songs, so I was pretty happy with my ending top 5.

5. Easy's Getting Harder Every Day. There are a couple really good sad lines in there. ("We make love and then we kiss goodnight / He rolls over and he's out like a light / But I ain't mad about it, we got nothing to talk about anyway.") Overall it's a longer song and it doesn't catch my attention like some of these others do, but it's a nice one.

4. Calling for You. One of the few that I was drawn to primarily because of its music, rather than just its lyrics. It's a very pretty melody and a very pretty little sad love song.

3. You've Done Nothing Wrong. If nothing else, I want to hunt up some of Dement's other break up songs, because she really knows how to write 'em. This is the second song on the album so it caught my attention early on, and it just kept making me pay attention whenever it came on.

2. My Life. This is one of the more optimistic songs on this album, and I found myself really drawn to the chorus, summing up the good things she's done in life: "I gave joy to my mother / And I made my lover smile / And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting / And I can make it seem better for awhile." These understated declarations of positive interactions with others are lovely.

1. No Time to Cry. From my first listen, I was pretty sure this would be my #1. Despite being over six minutes long, it's one of the most heartbreaking songs I've ever heard, just about the sadness of life and having to shoulder on past it. For some reason "There's so many people trying to get me on the phone" broke me a little bit every time. This is a song that's going to stick with me for awhile. I'm glad I got to heard it.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
1. The Roches - The Roches
2. Robyn - Body Talk
3. The Breeders - Last Splash
4. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
5. Iris Dement - My Life
6. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
7. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
8. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Monday, June 4, 2018

4 Podcasts That Feed My Soul

Lately I've been listening to a lot of podcasts on my commute. And there are a few specifically that I'd like to mention here because I find them constantly encouraging and fascinating and they fill my heart with joy and hope. Maybe they will for you too.

1. Conversations With People Who Hate Me. YouTuber Dylan Maron started this podcast by reaching out to people who left hate messages on his past and talking through it with them, and now the conversations often include him mediating between other content creators and the people who leave hateful messages on their work. What I love is that this is not a podcast to try and change anyone's mind as much as a podcast just to remind us that, as Dylan says at the end of each episode, "there's a human on the other side of the screen." Listening to the civil disagreements Dylan and his guests have together and how they learn from each other's different perspectives gives me hope. I love how Dylan always centers the conversation on empathy and understanding the other person's experience. It's exciting and rewarding to listen to.

2. Where Should We Begin? A couples therapy podcast. Couples therapist Esther Parel hosts one-time counseling sessions on-air, and we get to hear both snippets of the session and Esther's musing on it later, sometimes even musings like, "If I could go back, I would have done it differently." The issues range from sexual compatibility issues to forgiveness from affairs to abuse to caregiving through chronic illness, and Esther treats each couple with such hope and such compassion that I have actually cried a couple times listening to it because I get so wrapped up in it all.

3. The Robcast. Rob Bell gets labeled a heretic a lot of the time in conservative Christian circles, but his writing on art and faith changed my life as a young adult and I continue to love his work. A lot of the stuff he says on his podcast isn't terribly new, but he couches it all with such joy and optimism and understanding that I never leave feeling guilty (something that can't be said of almost any other Christian teacher I listen to, whose goals always seem to be to just make me feel crappy about myself). His sense of grace and love and empathy for the people around him oozes out to me through the airwaves and leaves me feeling heard and understood, even though, of course, I'm the one listening.

4. Good Christian Fun. My newest discovery of all of these. Two Christians host this podcast about Christian pop culture, and while a lot of it is being snarky and silly about how strange Christian pop culture is (because, yeah, it's weird), they often go much deeper into the aspects of faith that have gotten lost or warped in these culture wars. They have a guest on every week, many times someone who is no longer or was never a Christian, and (as you can see is a pattern with these podcasts that are filling my soul) the empathy with which they treat their guests whose beliefs are so different is refreshing and lovely. It's a very funny podcast, but it also feels like a place where people can open up and have the conversations I never felt like I could have had in my church. (The Facebook community for this podcast is incredible as well -- very much following the tone set by the show itself.)

These four are all worth checking out if you need something positive and interesting to add to your day. They add to mine!