Decade

The curriculum for the English communication course I taught this semester emphasized regular reflection. After each major assignment, the students had to write about their writing and editing process. The reflections were low-stakes assignments worth only 5 points each, and they were meant to help the students learn the nebulous, elusive concept of progress and continual growth. In a way, the main takeaway of the class was the idea that communication is not just a product, but a process.

As a writer, I know the benefits and enjoy the act of reflecting, perhaps too much. I’ve been journaling since 2009, have been blogging for the majority of this decade, and in some way I feel vindicated when pedagogy texts tout the benefits of such practices. When I explain to my students why these reflections matter, I hope my enthusiasm is contagious (though I know that that’s not exactly always the case).

But the way my students are taught to reflect is not the way I reflect. Their way is better. The reflection prompts give a list of questions that serve as starters. They are told to be specific, to quote directly from their assignments, to provide evidence of their thinking. When I reflect, my sentences are often vague, describe a series of events rather than demonstrate metacognition, and I’m not reflecting on anything in particular, just writing about my day in order to satisfy my craving to put ink on a page.

As I write this blog post, my desk has a copy of The New Yorker open to an essay I want to analyze in preparation for teaching rhetorical analysis to my students next semester. My winter break plans include doing the major assignments that are required of my students so that I’m familiar with the work and questions they may have. The main textbook I’ll be teaching from, Everything’s An Argument, outlines skills I need a refresher on. There’s a reflection prompt after each assignment, which I will also complete so that I can remember the challenges and joys of writing a rhetorical analysis of a David Sedaris essay.

But I have yet to figure out a way to reflect so specifically on everything—on all of life, on this decade.

In the final essay I had workshopped in a Nonfiction class I took this semester, I wrote about the journaling habit I started during my senior year of high school, ten years ago. My areas of concern felt sprawling when I was seventeen, though I imagine that they were actually very tightly circumscribed to immediate topics: friendship drama, the college application process, and whatever pop music sensation I was a fan of at the time.

I say that I imagine what my concerns were at the start of the decade because I don’t yet know; I haven’t really revisited that first notebook. Ever since I started journaling, I have left the last page blank, reserved for ten years after the completion of that notebook. My first ten-year “anniversary” is coming up on January 5th, 2020.

In a way, the 2010’s have been a decade of gathering material, and the next decade will comprise regular reflections where I’ll be confronting concrete evidence of my thinking and learning and living.

I’m not sure what to expect. When I think about the moments that feel personally monumental in the past ten years, I may find them unconsciously (or consciously) minimized in my journals. Or I may find a fixation that I don’t remember, or misremembered. I will feel embarrassed at times, and will definitely feel an occasional frisson of shame at some of my past actions.

The final reflection prompt my students had to answer this past semester had, essentially, three parts: look at who you were at the start of the semester, summarize how you have changed to reach your present moment, and create a plan for continuing your progress in the future. A good reflection has all three parts, and I often find difficulty in balancing all three. I linger in the past (sometimes too much), and I’m happy to meditate on who I am in the present. But who do I want to be? What shame do I want to eliminate, or minimize if I can’t erase it entirely? How do I want to be better than who I am today?

Because that’s the only thing I know for certain about the past, my present, or future: I just want to be better.

#weekendcoffeeshare: Circles of control

If we were having coffee, I might tell you how I’m in my second year of my MFA program, have just started NaNoWriMo, and I’ve been generally thinking about burnout.

The past few weeks I started doing something that I first learned about in a book called Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Thomas Newkirk. It’s an exercise where you think about a goal that you want to achieve and you draw a circle on a blank page. Within that circle, you write all the things that you can control. Everything outside the circle—even, to some extent, whether or not you achieve that goal—is outside of your control, so focus on the things that are in the circle. It’s one of my favorite things to do right now. The tension between my expectations and my reality have often caused me the most emotional strife. By drawing the circle, I at least manage my expectations.

It’s NaNoWriMo and I am participating as I have been since 2015. And I’ve been thinking about this blog post I wrote on the first day of December of 2016, the last year I “won” and wrote 50,000 words in a month. At the time I wrote that post, I felt submerged in all the despair that swept through my personal and professional spheres in the weeks after the 2016 election. I wrote about a quotation that I carried with me that entire year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

I haven’t thought about that blog post or that quotation in a while, and in a way, I’m lucky to be able to set that strife aside. But this past week I have been reminded of the ways in which I have internalized the idea that the discipline of art has helped me through pain.

So far in my second year I have been trying to prevent burnout. It’s a fine line to walk between working hard and taking care, between being ambitious and being too ambitious. I’ve been trying to keep sight of the things that matter, and maintain balance between work and play. When I feel out of control—from pain, frustration, worry, doubt, anything—I draw my circles. I recommit myself to my vision. And it’s NaNoWriMo—I intend to write in a fury.

If we were having coffee, I’d invite you to write with me.


Header image from Pixabay.

This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

#weekendcoffeeshare: 25

If we were having coffee, I’d first pull you over to the window where my desk is, and show you the view of the community garden across the street, and the natural light that spills in, even on a cloudy day. Though the past few weeks have been more stressful than usual (moving apartments does that), I am grateful for the light and the window.

And I’d also offer you a slice of cake or other homemade food item. I turned twenty-five this week, and I like the idea of a Hobbit-style birthday—giving things on the day rather than receiving them. And let me know if you want a refill on anything; I’m also the type to celebrate a birthday for a whole week.

Twenty-five is a funny year. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Am I young? Old? Am I right where I need to be, with all my uncertainty and discomfort? Am I ahead? Or behind?

So far, the first week of being twenty-five has been dedicated to playing catch-up. I feel like my work life has both picked up pace and maintained a steady footing, so now I’m trying to get everything else up to scratch. I opened my personal planner for the first time in months, started filling in the pages, and cleaned off my desk to signal the start of something new. I caught up with a former coworker over coffee on Thursday, caught up with another friend over the phone yesterday morning, and wrote and sent some letters I had been meaning to write and send.

Now that I have things more or less organized, I am turning my thoughts to questions that are further-reaching. Where am I going to be in the next year? The next five years? The next ten? When I was a teenager, I barely believed that I would make it to be twenty-five, let alone what I would be doing when I got here, or after. Answering these questions now is harder than I thought it would be.

How about you? What comes to mind when you think “twenty-five”?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

#weekendcoffeeshare: ‘Round my hometown

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that it’s much too late in the day (er, night) to have caffeinated beverages. But then again, I’ve always been terrible at making good choices and managing my sleep schedule, so yes, I’ll take coffee anyway. The sleepless night and the compulsion to write something reminds me of my senior year in high school when I would do just this—drink coffee and stay up spinning tales. And lately, I’ve been thinking about my hometown.

There is a split in my life, a “Before” and “After”, but I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve been categorizing it incorrectly. It is not “Before Moving to New York” and “After Moving to New York”, but rather, “Before I Started Writing” and “After I started Writing”. Writing has always been part of my list of hobbies, but it wasn’t until I started journaling with some regularity during high school that my inner life really kicked off.

My best friend since middle school was in town this week, and she is the type of person I can pick up with right away. She has known me through my quietest moments, has seen me lose my cool, and is the type to correct my memory while dispensing with unnecessary niceties. The things I remember are either rose-tinted idylls or turbid voids, and not much else in between. She one of the few people I know who fills in the spectrum.

And I’ve been thinking about my hometown because of my friend, but also because I’ve been thinking about writing. Tomorrow I’ll be getting comments back from my writing class on a short story, and I’ve been nervous ever since I gave them the story. While I’m proud of that piece, it’s not as “mission statement”-y as I like. The story isn’t really representative of what I write about.

Ever since I figured out that this was the reason for my discomfort, I’ve been trying to describe, with as much precision as possible, what it is I write about. If the story I sent in isn’t it, then what is it? I used to think that not having a defined focus would allow me to explore all topics, would allow me to write anything and everything I want without fear of being boxed into a genre. I’m seeing now that there must be some underlying and narrow motivation. After all, I can’t major in “The Universe.”

I’m still figuring it out, though I can feel myself circling around something. My writing topic—the Major Dramatic Question that drives not just a particular story, but all of my creative work—is elusive, but lurking just out of the corner of my eye. Still, I feel like I’ll lock onto it soon, and then…well, we’ll see how it goes.

But I’m curious: What do you write about?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.