The Ugly Christmas Sweater

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My parents made a last-minute appearance at our place last weekend. And I didn’t hate it. Who have I become? Seriously, this shit is getting weird. It’s like after the 5 out of 6 weekends of seeing them this summer I developed some sort of weird soft spot for them I should probably go to therapy or something. Because this shit ain’t normal.

What’s worse, is that I called my mom today and asked what they were doing this weekend. Seriously Monk-Monk, get it together, it’s been 4 days since you’ve seen them. I might have had a mason jar full of wine, but had been musing about going to see them long before that. There’s something about Potamus asking for ‘buppa and gammy,’ that warms my heart. There’s also something about the comfortable freak flag ugly christmas sweater that is my own’ family’s dysfunction. It’s warm. It’s known. It’s shiny, with tinsel, and little yarn balls sewn on. And it’s not hidden.

For someone with an almost-arrogant ability to intuit things, I have a real blind spot in areas. There have been several instances over the years where I have felt cosmically duped by people. My ex-boyfriend, who I internally labelled as ‘liberal hippie,’ because he grew up in a geodesic dome and went to an earthy home church, turns out to be a gun-totin’ member of the NRA, who is so far Right he makes Georgie W look liberal. Seriously. Having grown up with a Republican Conservative Christian=business suit wearing dad, I sometimes get duped by people who outwardly appear one thing, but are really something underneath. Like wearing their damn ugly Christmas sweater under a button-up work shirt.

So somehow, after 8 years of being with Boof, I have made the transition to an appreciation of my own family, which wears its Ugly Christmas Sweater on the outside, in a very transparent way. It’s causing me to desire driving 2.5 hours to hickville and see my parents for 1-2 nights this weekend. I surprise myself. I hate the town I went to high school in, but for some reason I have this longing for Potamus to have good memories from there. My parents are neurotic, and I’m going to end up seeing them NEXT weekend again, which makes my whole plan even more borderline insane, but it feels so good I can’t help but pull on that wool sweater and head out of town, sans Boof, for a magical Eastern Washington excursion. Maybe we’ll even see a tractor. And I know my mom will talk in her loud voice, saying “Pawl, Pawl, we need ….” (because that’s how she pronounces my dad’s name. It’s fucking ridiculous. But comfy, like that worn in sweater…

An Audience of One?

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Back when I was a college Christian, there was a lot of talk about living your life as if for an “Audience of One,” which was a nice way of saying “God is watching your every move, kid, so you better not doing anything to mess up. Like get drunk, or have sex, or even think about lying to your parents.” It was pretty terrifying if you think about it, that idea that you’re always being monitored (which is probably WAY less scary for kids these days, with all the social media monitoring and such). But for someone with an anxiety disorder, the thought of measuring up to some golden standard, and that I was never truly alone, always being watched by some less-than-benevolent Creeper in the Sky.

I’ve had some rousing conversations and thoughts in the past couple of weeks on the topic of writing. Just this morning my dad, who’s visiting for the weekend, and I were talking about writing a book and how different people approach the process. Like most things in my life, I am waiting for a zap of inspiration, which I know goes against every writing book ever written. But it’s my truth. These conversations, though, have made me think about the idea of an audience. Who do we, as writers, bloggers, journallers, write for?

I know that when I write by hand, especially if it’s in anything similar to a journal, it is for myself only. My ideal self, maybe, or my higher self, but definitely I’m writing a letter of sorts to myself. This writing can be taken and turned into something for someone else, but it’s a translation process. Sure a reader could come inside my journal and read what I wrote, get it in its raw form, but I prefer that doesn’t happen, just like I prefer for nobody to read my mind. Because I enjoy the art of censoring  my own self and deciding what exactly others are given access to.

When I write, here, I imagine an audience of faceless other moms who might stumble across my words. I forget that, at this point, there are 300 something ‘followers,’ and that the people I know who actually follow along are people I really know in real life. I rarely think of them when I put words down on the page, though, and think that blogging is much like journalling, but with that added little censor or self-filter that wouldn’t happen with a pen-to-paper journal.

The thought of writing, though…really writing, like my favorite dashboard saints do, is daunting. Who is THAT audience? When JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she had an audience in mind, right? She imagined young people reading her story. I doubt she thought it’d be as popular with adults, but I imagine she had some sort of reader in mind. C.S. Lewis is said to have created his stories for a young child in his life. He wrote the stories down for her, and they could relate to others. But who is my audience? Who am I writing these (yet to be written) stories/memories/vignettes for? If I wrote a book, who would it be for?

The further I get away from the overwhelming life changing feeling of the first few months/years of motherhood, the less I feel inclined to write to other struggling moms as my audience. My thoughts and experiences and feelings and memories cannot be boxed into that mommy-blogging idea.

The other day I posted on Facebook that I wanted a typewriter. I know it’s merely fantasy, but it’s this idea that I would type (and thus eliminate the pen-to-paper journalling feeling, skipping toward a less censored self appearing), without the instant publishability of a blog post, without the distraction of being online and in-touch to the internet world. I don’t seem to have the self-control to just type in a word document on the computer, without getting onto Facebook or WordPress. Maybe it’d feel like the accountability, to myself, of writing with fewer distractions and instant gratification. Or maybe it’s just a pipe dream.

Career, Motherhood, Identity

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I applied for a new job this week. An academic/career counselor at a local technical college. Pros: $11,000 more money to start than I make currently, teaching 6 credits a quarter, counseling (rather than case-management), shorter commute, and tenure-track. Cons: working 5 days a week (I work 4 currently), 10 month contract (rather than 9 months), and not guaranteed with my ‘at risk youth’ population I do love so much.

I applied within 2 hours of noticing it had come open. After two years at  my current job I have yet to officially apply to anything (I’ve searched, plenty), and thought this was a really great fit. And yet, after disclosing to some friends that I applied, I noticed some mixed responses. There’s Mari and my co-worker Bethany, who thought it sounded amazing and like I should go for it. Then there’s my co-instructor, who seemed stricken at the thought of me possibly leaving because ‘this place would fall apart if one of us just left suddenly,’ my buddy Russ who laughed and said, ‘of course you’ll get it, you are magic and always say you never get it but you manage to, though will you stay for longer than 7 months?” And my friend Amelia, who I went to coffee with today, who said, “I thought you loved your job, why are you thinking of leaving? You’ve only been there two years. You’ve managed to commit to a husband, why do you move jobs so much?”

I sometimes wonder if this is an adoptee symptom, grass is always greener mixed with the idea that once you like something it might change or go south, so I bail before that happens. Maybe. Or maybe I’m stuck in a social worker heart with a business world mindset. Nobody in a business setting would think my approach to job searching as anything to be ashamed of. They would admire my ability to be strategic, gather skills at a job and keep my eyes on the horizon for the next thing to come up, and my ability to jump ship when it’s sinking, so I don’t go down in flames. I was at my first non-profit for 7 months, my crisis counseling job for 16 months (12 working, since 4 were on maternity leave,) and now I’m starting year 3 at my college instructor job. If this was a business world, they would admire my ability to achieve career trajectory in 4 years post-graduate school.

I really love my job currently, with the exception of a few things, like incompetent leadership that drives me crazy. I have aspirations and feel dumbed down by my department, though that could be fixed if my boss, or the good ol’ boys network, would give me the freedom to create some classes that would make the program better. And tenure. That would be good, too. This could all be general musing in a theoretical situation, since the job is only posted for ten days, which I’ve learned from my time in higher education usually means there’s an internal candidate that they want to promote.

I felt defensive after coffee today. I know my friend meant well, but it irked me. Since Boof and I are loosely talking about having another kid, she’s like “but you’d be spending your whole pay raise on childcare?” And I said, ” yes, but without that pay raise, I’d be taking a PAY CUT to have another kid and pay for childcare.” Facepalm. I wonder, too, if this wanting a new job is a way for me to postpone the thought of trying for another kid (though if I got it, I’d have more freedom in when I got pregnant, not bound by my program’s inability to get a teacher to cover my classes, and at the new place I could have a baby whenever).

And maybe my friend is wrong. Maybe I can commit, but I don’t want to spend my time dicking around dating when I can move on and find a ‘husband.’ Maybe if I settle in to a tenure track position doing what I want, I would dive in feet first and build a lifelong love at that institution. Maybe I’ve just been dating losers, even ones I’ve liked well enough. Ya know?

How do you handle career trajectory? Do you jump at a chance to change jobs? Do you fantasize about leaving your current job for something else? 

It’s just about asking question

Today Russ and I kvetched in my office about the nature of working in higher education. I think we both run up against the difficulty in ‘making’ people care about whatever subject we’re teaching. I get frustrated by seeing people in my office who are ‘nice’ but are not (at least on the surface), critical thinkers. They create classes that will pay them to teach, but don’t actually like the act or art of teaching. Because I live my life in perpetual angst around the BIG questions of life/love/existence I don’t understand how others can simply…get a paycheck.

In a few weeks I’m speaking at a conference on boundaries, asked by my friend Tabbi to share my ‘expertise’ with these foster youth on how to advocate for their personal needs. When writing my blurb for the conference brochure I had this horrifying thought….is my community college dumbing me down? I have hopes and goals and thoughts that get stifled in the awful bureaucracy that is community college. Perhaps I will always live in a sea of angst around the big ideas. I remembered, by writing about my life, what I’m actually capable of, and how I get sucked into idly pinning things onto pinterest to distract me from the utter frustrating tasks I’m asked to do in a program that is doing things very inefficiently.

It makes me think of two things…a) how is Ebola not spreading? I’ve seen the incompetence at the governmental agency of education, it’s totally not surprising that the one nurse called the CDC with concerns and they gave her the go-ahead to fly, even though she was actually contagious. There are super inefficiencies happening on every level of government and agency that I have worked at. And b) I ask a lot more questions than I have answers to.

This afternoon I went into a woman’s office, who teaches every quarter in addition to administrative salaried duties, even though she “hates teaching.” She does it for the paycheck, and should be removed from the position of instructor. And when I was telling her about how I raise current events in my class, she said something that I feel sheds profound light on what my angst is about. She asked, “what do you do if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions?” I was basically dumbfounded, mostly because I rarely have any answers to my students questions (in regards to the current events). What I do have is questions. And I acknowledge their questions. And I ask for feedback from their classmates. I help facilitate a discussion, a dialogue about what we know, what we don’t, what we’d like to know, and we often end in a messy unsolved way. The goal is critical thinking, not giving them answers to questions. She clearly felt uncomfortable with that answer. She clearly didn’t want students to ask her questions that she didn’t have the answer to. She clearly wanted things right or wrong or neatly packaged. And that is probably why she hates teaching. Because she feels like she has to do it all, and that’s really exhausting.

I don’t know if I’ll ever run out of questions. I think my asking questions is annoying to my own psyche, because answers aren’t readily available, and yet it’s this thing that keeps me alive.

Take the Edge Off

In class I have my students learn about their procrastination styles, and one of them, The Dreamer, appeals to me, especially as far as writing goes. The Dreamer is a type of procrastinator that spends most of their time dreaming about a project, and rarely even starting (let alone finishing) the project. I ask the question to my students, “anyone here want to write a book?” Hands sometimes raise and then I say, “but do you actually want to sit down and WRITE that book? Or do you just want it to appear.”

That’s when the class laughs, because typically my merry bunch of high school dropouts are filled with The Dreamer affliction. They’ve wanted things to happen, but haven’t quite gotten around to doing those things. Because other, cooler, things have gotten in the way. The moment takes precedent over the future self, which wants to have written a book.

While the class is comprised of all the other types of procrastination styles (taken from It’s About Time: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them), I find that The Dreamer category is usually the largest. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite awhile, even talking with bestie Ruth about it. Because on good days I think about the things that I want to write, the stories I want to tell, and while I’m not sure fiction lives in me, I’m certain that I have enough material for a book. Now whether I have an audience or not remains to be seen, but can’t be seen if I never even write. And I wonder about how living in 2014 affects our ability to get things done. Because blogging, a form of writing, is an instant form of gratification. I can write, not edit if I like, and send this out to at least 345 people who are currently subscribed (though based on readership numbers, only 10 or so ever actually read this. So there’s that).

Blogging takes the edge off. It’s like posting a picture to facebook for some likes but not taking the time to go out to coffee and get ‘likes’ in person. It’s like eating a power bar instead of a meal. Am I a writer who takes the edge off of that desire to have written a book. I’m a writer who thinks about writing, but rarely ever sits down to write, especially not intentionally write something with a direction of book attached to it. A blogger I can safely say I am, but a writer? And I wonder, if the pressure built up enough, and I didn’t take the edge off through blogging, would I sit down and actually WRITE?

The Elusive Inclusive Religious Community

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We were more than halfway done with the 7 hour stretch from far eastern Washington back to our hometown. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours moving Boof’s grandma into a more extensive level of assisted living. Two adults, a toddler, and a dog, had made the trip last minute, and now were were sitting in a nostalgic Mexican restaurant in my college town.

It was 3pm and in came several different groups, all dressed up. Skirts, dresses, ties and suits for the men. Even the children were dressed nicely, which made me eyeball Potamus in his dirty Spiderman t-shirt and monster truck rainboots. Sunday. Church. Yeah.

I lived in that small town. My life revolved around Sunday service and Tuesday night college ministry and Wednesday night volunteer for junior high youth group. I led Bible Study on Thursday nights (and sometimes Monday nights), and went to Mass with friends when I could squeeze it in. When I lived in the dorms I did a nightly prayer night with other people in my hall, and I regularly went on weekend retreats and mission trips. It was like brushing my teeth, going to class, or getting something to eat at the dining hall. A rhythm of life.

The experience of sitting next to a table full of small town church goers sparked a long conversation the rest of the two hour drive home. We feel so torn, both of us on how to proceed in the spiritual community. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But we’re stuck in this place of not knowing, not deciding, and not knowing what to do about it. Do we go to the church we feel sort of connected to, but the average age is 75? Do we go to the church down the road where Boof grew up and there’s a thriving Sunday school, but fundamentally in a theology that I don’t agree with? Do we find somewhere else? Do we not do anything?

What I came away from the conversation, was an ability to articulate my desire to not send Potamus to a Sunday school that teaches things I don’t agree with. Boof said that his parents chose that church because it had a children’s ministry, even if they didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with it. And my pushback was…WHY? Why am I, as a mom, who makes many other sacrifices, going to sacrifice the next 10/15/20 years going weekly to a religious service with people that I don’t fundamentally feel accepted by or agree with? Do MY needs as a person not matter as much as the theoretical ‘needs’ of my child? AND, do I send my child to a place where he will make friends and form relationships on a principle or set of beliefs that I fundamentally don’t believe in anymore?

It’s food for thought, for sure. Because Boof has less angst, and certainly less of a ‘bad experience’ from growing up religious, he sees that it will be a fun place for him to get to have some stories and make friends. But my argument is that he can have friends and hear stories at our house, or daycare, or a different church, or different club activity, or different religious institution altogether. I don’t think that my needs as woman/wife/mom should be shoved under the rug to fit a 1950’s ideal of an every week Sunday experience.

And yet, I feel torn, because I want to believe in something. I want Potamus to believe in something. I miss the routine and the community and the fitting in I felt when I was in college, when I was apart of that faith routine. I miss believing in something that felt right and good and connected me to others. I read articles and see that there are other people writing about being young parents with children who want a community where questions are valued and their kids can be themselves and they can be themselves, but then I go to church and don’t find that these places actually exist (except, like I mentioned at the beginning, in congregations with quite older members). Why is this such a frustration?!

Fall Bike Rides

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The best part about trolling the thrift stores weekly is coming across a gently used Radio Flyer trike for $14. Potamus is in heaven, and we’ve even bent the ‘no bikes inside’ rule for him. The hardwood floors might get banged up a bit, but it’s really cute to see how much he loves his new mode of transportation. Scooting down the long hallway, sitting in the living room eating a snack and watching his show, I’m happy we found such a good one for him!

And then I look at this picture and see how quickly time goes by. How the days ARE long and the years ARE short and think in just a mere two months he’ll be 3. And my anxious mind spirals into all the what-ifs about trying for another or staying one-and-done, and it doesn’t help that some facebook friends have ‘come out’ as one-and-done parents and I begin to be envious of anyone who can clearly make up their mind about anything parenting related. I love this little boy, and how he still snuggles in to my body, especially when he’s sick. I love that daycare teaches him to be polite, saying ‘okay mommy,’ and ‘thank you mommy,’ because Lord knows if he was in my care 24/7 he’d know how to say ‘this fucking_________’ because I can’t seem to control my potty mouth.

I’m thankful for the calm fall weather, and bike rides around the neighborhood, and that life is good in moments even when it’s hard in others.

Growing pains, boundaries, and those dreaded parents…

Um, it’s been a day. To say the least. My head is spinning and I need to just get it out so I can sleep well tonight. Because, whoa.

I knew it was coming, there’s been talks for MONTHS that our program was going to undergo some growing pains. We’re in the hiring process, which in higher ed takes fucking ever, and today was the first day of the quarter. So  my day was spent triaging academic emgergencies (i forgot my schedule! can you help me buy books? i want to change my major!). It’s so lovely to see all thsese students and I want to give each and every one of them this undivided in the moment attention. But it’s hard because I’m being torn in 47 other directions. Namely being charged with overhauling our current method of seeing students and going to a case management model. Thanks a lot legislature for forcing this upon us!

It’s really really going to be a good thing once we get the hang of it. 2 hours of mandatory face to face meeting with students on my caseload. I’m really excited to dig in with these students and meet their needs and see their growth. Really fucking excited. But it’s hard to explain this new program, and everyone is stressed, and students are dropping in to my office left and right like old times to simply try and get bus passes or a quick errand. With working 16-20 hours a week, being dumped with a caseload of 26 students, who I need to see for 2 hours each (resulting in 52 hours of face time, in roughly 60-80 hours of work time), it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for meeting the new state requirements.

And then, since it was the first day of class, I got to go down to the classroom (I normally only teach Tues/Thurs) to meet the students. They’re awkward and precious and totally the same as they alwayas are, despite always being a fresh batch. I love it. They don’t know when to laugh at my jokes. They appear frightened of the syllabus. They’re bored to tears with the discussion of classroom guidelines.

And then there was this mom, who stood in my doorway asking me questions, and as I began the process of clarifying what she needed me to do, she just kept saying “stop acting like I’m an idiot, I’m the customer here.” I just go so bewildered because I was asking clarifying questions so I didn’t give her the runaround. I was actively trying to access her information online so that I COULD help her, even though I don’t normally have those tech permissions, and after she said “I’m the customer!” for the third time I wanted to scream “NO YOU AREN’T, YOUR DAUGHTER IS GETTING $10,000 OF FREE EDUCATION AND BOOKS EVERY YEAR, YOU AREN’T A FUCKING CUSTOMER, YOU ARE A CHARITY CASE!” But I refrained, because yes she’s a customer, but if you go to a restaurant and start yelling at a server because they ask what you are there to order, that’s pretty shitty behavior. Also, it’s fucking college, why is this student’s mommy coming to ask a question? ANNOYING.

Overall I am super super excited about this quarter. I’m nervous, though, because I know I need to set strong boundaries with myself over what I will expect of myself in my advising days vs. teaching days, and I might end up being less experimental in my class when I know that certain assignments work, because all my office attention is focused on getting these students seen. But if I can project myself out 6 months I’m going to be in a very happy place!

New Year Resolutions?

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For the past few weeks I have been struggling with my motivation for yoga. I initially attributed it to the end of the 30 day challenge, that had taken a lot out of me emotionally, but as I processed with Mari yesterday, I think I’ve come up with some interesting reasons why it’s been hard lately. I mean, really there are probably a million factors, like I’ve been doing it consistently for a year, I’m not seeing any more weightloss or health benefits, some of the initial newbie growth has slowed down, and the premature dark weather has left me wanting to just sit around eating bon bons. But in processing, there were a couple more things that trickled do the surface and seem a little more substantial. Namely, the idea of fitting in to a community, and that reasons/motivations for doing things change.

Fitting in is exhausting.

I’m not sure people think about fitting in as exhausting, but for me it is. I typically self-identify as other in a lot of ways, sorta dancing on the edge of the campfire, rather than really getting in to the fray. I figure there’s a bit of adoption trauma and some personality traits at play here, because this idea of fitting, of being ‘home,’ or comfortable with people puts me on edge. Because if I’m ‘in’ then I could be ‘out’ and it’s easier to be ‘out’ when it’s by choice rather than fucking up and getting kicked out, ya know? It’s easier to be seemingly ‘less predictable,’ because when I do things a certain way for a certain amount of time the routine starts to stick to me in a way that makes deviating from it difficult. Like being the ‘funny one,’ in a group of friends. I am funny (despite what Boof things), but I’m also a really deep thinker. I like playing the fool as an archetype, but I don’t want to live there permanently. So part of my hesitation for even starting a yoga studio was because I knew it would fit me. I knew I would like it. And then what? What do you do when you find your place? Settle in? Get into a rut? That rebel part of me wants to bail before I get too comfortable. I love my yoga studio. I love feeling a part of something. And yet, feeling a part of something is also exhausting.

My other thought was about how much I’ve grown and changed in the past year. I think if I’m to do new year resolutions, or old year reflections, I should honor myself and the rhythm I feel in the academic calendar year. Fall feels like newness. Fall feels like the time to look back and see, who was I this same time last year? And the answer surprised me. Because last year I strongly advocated for myself to have 2-3 nights off for ME time. I went to therapy on Mondays, and Tuesday/Thursday was about yoga. Boof had worked a crazy busy season as an accountant AND THEN worked a second job all summer at the Mariners, and with long home game stretches left me alone with an 18 month old toddler and little sanity. I forcefully took back time for myself and treated my yoga as a body and spouse empowerment exercise. I got sexy in the weightloss department, finally shedding those baby pounds. I felt like an adult and like I mattered in my relationship because I wasn’t just being a doormat martyr whiny wife. It rocked.

But this year? This year feels different. Rather than wanting time away to feel empowered, I crave those connecting quiet moments with Boof and Potamus. And yet the consistent routine getting me out of the house twice a week is actually a good thing for my mental health. Otherwise I’ll want to go to sleep at 5pm when I get home. So I realized that my perspective had to shift in order to enjoy yoga again. That I was clinging too tightly to the old reasons and not allowing it to change to embrace my new reasons. Like introvert time after a long day of teaching. That rather than driven empowerment competition with myself, it was more about relaxation and fun and simply being present in the moment.

The instructor, halfway through the class, as we were lying in our first round of savasana, read a quote about happiness. That happiness needs to be allowed to come in many forms. That it needs to be allowed to grow and change like a child would grow and change. And that seemed to fit and make everything click inside me. It felt right to be in the studio even though it felt different than last year at this time.

So that’s my new academic year resolution. To simply allow happiness, or my yoga practice, to be different and change and grow to meet the present moment. It feels right that way.

On Starting Another Fall Quarter

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I have fond memories of Indian Summer in Seattle. The air is warm, the nights are beginning to cool and get shorter, and there’s the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new shoes all around. Fall feels like back to school, and it’s no wonder that this rhythm feels comforting to me. I love academia. I enjoyed my time in K-12 schooling, and certainly continued to enjoy my time in college and further on in graduate school. I enjoyed the school environment so much I got a job in Academia, and here I am, beginning my third year as a college instructor.

This quarter I had the privilege of teaching outside of my normal program, in a First Year Experience class with incoming freshman. It was so refreshing to teach my similar human development coursework to these bright eyed and bushy tailed incoming freshman. To create a mini community a week before classes start and see how they interact with the material. I loved it, even though I am exhausted from teaching 5 hours straight and then holding office hours. I remember that I’m an introvert.

And it makes me extremely pleased when students come up and ask me, ‘what class do you teach here? can I take it?’ Unfortunately I only teach classes in a program for students who’ve dropped out of high school, so they won’t be in one of my classes again. I guess it makes me think…is there something more for me? If these students wanted to take a class from me, what would it be? Would I like to someday teach Psychology 101, or English 101, or another course subject? And if I do want that, how do I go about getting there?

I forget how much I love teaching at this level.  I forget, when I’m in the overly frantic summer quarter off, trying to cram camping trips and house projects into my three months off, that I live for this academic school year rhythm. I am not sure that I would love it so much without the break, that it leaves room for me to come back in the Fall with an “Ah, yes, this is what I’m meant to do.”

But it leaves me thinking, pondering, reflecting, on where I am and where I want to go in the future. I know that this is right for me right now. I absolutely believe that. I think it’ll be right for me for a little bit more, at least, but then what? Where is this ship going?

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