Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John Cougar Mellencamp Got It Wrong

For Christmas, my wonderful parents bought me an iPad, a great gift that I can use at home and at work, and that very conveniently fits in my purse.  Most importantly, it gives me 24/7 access to books, so that I can be an even more shameless book worm.  The first book I bought on my iPad was Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), a book I've been wanting to read for about a month now.  I started reading it on Sunday night, after all the Christmas festivities came to an end, and I finished it last night.  I'm sad to say I didn't know much about Mindy Kaling before reading the book, except that she was Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and I love her character.

Since finishing the book, I have become convinced that Mindy and I would be best friends if we knew each other.  She is awesome.  On top of being awesome, I kept finding myself agreeing with so many things she said in the book.  If I were ever on one of those "make a wish come true" reality shows for being a super dedicated, young teacher, I would totally make my wish to spend the day with Mindy.  We would browse the Gilt Group app on our cell phones, looking for great deals on great clothes, and she would tell great jokes while I struggled to come up with witty and smart comebacks.....Anyway, I digress....

I think the main reason I loved her book is because Mindy Kaling loves her career.  So many women in Hollywood write memoirs about their love lives or their broken childhoods or their falls from grace, but Mindy wrote about her real, normal, pretty well-adjusted life.  She wrote about her successes and her failures with a funny, frank honesty that I found so endearing, because it is real life.  Here's some "real talk" that I think serves as important reminders for people my age (including me):

John Cougar Mellencamp got it wrong.  Very few people are like Jack and Diane.  And if your "thrill of living" is gone at eighteen, then you are headed for a long, miserable existence.  I enjoyed high school, but I did not have a "Jack and Diane" high school experience.  I studied hard, had a great group of friends who also studied hard, and went to an all-girl's high school, where people cared about their GPA and class rank more than hanging out at the Tastee Freeze.  I did spend a sizable amount of time sitting at Sonics and hanging out in parking lots, but I must say that I am glad I have grown out of the "loitering" stage of socialization. I am convinced that the best is yet to come.

Marriage is tough.  In the book, Mindy talks about the ratio of "happily divorced" to "happily married" couples she knows.  I feel like I know a lot of people who are recently married, getting married, or engaged (especially after the recent holidays), and I am thrilled that they have found love and happiness.  Marriage sounds scary to me, though.  It's a life long commitment, and I have a hard time deciding which brand of hummus to buy at the grocery store to last me one week.  I want to, someday, have a long, happy marriage like my parents.  But for now, I am going to concentrate simply on the task of taking care of myself.

It's cool to love your job.  Like I said, my favorite thing about this book was that you could just tell that Mindy Kaling is passionate about, and good at, what she does.  I want to be like that about my job for a long time.  I want to like my job and be excited to go to school everyday and be creative in the way I teach.  I think "work excitement" can be applicable to any career, whether you're a teacher, a writer, or anything else. People, myself included, LOVE to complain about work--example, Post-Grad Problems on Twitter.  But, let's be real, the best way to get through the day is to make lemonade with those lemons, unless you are already highly successful at whining on Twitter, that is.  I, however, have to take the high road, because I am not naturally witty or funny in small snippets.  Anyway, I get it Mindy.  I like my job, too.

So these are a few of my favorite things.  I am crazy about a book that makes me think, especially if it makes me laugh at the same time, and this book made me do that.  I am still considering whether or not to mention Mindy Kaling when I post this to Twitter and dream about the small chance that she might read it and enjoy it.  You know, every girl can dream.  I hope you, too, had a wonderful Christmas with your family and got an awesome gift from your parents.  Happy New Year.  Time to work on those resolutions, folks!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love and Compassion

SCHOOL'S OUT! As silly as it may sound, I think I was just as thrilled as the children about Christmas break.  My school went all the way until this last Wednesday, while pretty much every other district was done on Friday, so I was soooooooo ready to call it a semester.  I feel bad complaining about my break though.  Most people work all the way up to Christmas Eve, and some on Christmas Day.  I am thankful that I get a couple weeks to recharge before I get right back to it in January.

Speaking of January, I've placed a few of large goals in this next semester that I'm nervous/excited about:

1. I applied for my Praxis 3 assessment, which determines whether I get to keep being a teacher or not.  No pressure, I just need to pass to get my initial license replaced with a "real" teaching license....
2. I registered for extra grad school classes this semester, you know, just to keep things interesting.  The course load I took this semester was definitely sufficient to keep me busy, but I guess we'll see how this goes!
3. Finally, I signed up for the Little Rock half marathon in March.  I'm so excited to have a running goal in front of me, and I know I can do it.  However, 13 miles still sounds like a really, really long distance.

I'm excited/nervous/anxious about these developments in my life, but I don't technically have to think about them until January.  Today, I want to focus on my favorite holiday--Christmas!

In my last post, I talked about the "Christmas slump," how I was just struggling to find my Christmas spirit this year.  I think part of the problem was that I was just overwhelmed by lots of other junk.  I wasn't allowing myself the time to savor the moments that make Christmas so special.  However, this week I have watched several Christmas movies, baked, wrapped Christmas presents, and, in general, made merry.  Tonight, we start family Christmas festivities with my dad's family, and then they'll keep going strong until Sunday night.  I'm super excited. Bring. It. On.

Last night, my family went to dinner and the Arkansas Rep to watch it's performance of A Christmas Carol the Musical.  I taught this play to my seventh graders this year, so I was really excited to see how the musical compared to the original Dickens work. (You may now forever call me a nerd for that statement.  I realize it makes me sound like such a book snob.)  In many ways, it was very similar.  There were even lines lifted straight from the original work, which I appreciated.  However, there was one song that was repeated throughout the musical that really spoke to me as the true theme of Ebenezer Scrooge's story of redemption.

It said:
Let the stars in the sky remind us of man's compassion.
Let us love 'til we die
And God bless us every one.

I think, for me, that pretty much sums up the true meaning of Christmas.  I think about all the Christmas movies that I have loved over the years.  In each one, a main character learns the meaning of Christmas, and that meaning is ultimately love and compassion.  It is compassion for the less fortunate, like when we buy for Angel Tree children; it is love for family and friends as we go out of our way to see each other; it is love for a season that brings people together more than any other.  I love the lights and trees and trappings of Christmas, but my favorite thing is the way it makes people feel--to know that they love and are loved.  So, Merry Christmas.  I love each person that reads this blog, because it makes my day to know I'm not only writing to myself.  I hope you have a blessed holiday season, filled with love and compassion.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Christmas Slump

It's been longer than I would've liked since the last time I had an opportunity to blog, but it's par for the course in Christmas season.  Not only do all the "normal" daily duties exist, but Christmas becomes a looming presence--wonderful, because it's my favorite time of year, and overwhelming because it seems that there is so much to be done!

I have LOVED getting to teach Christmas literature in my classroom since we came back from Thanksgiving.  My 7th graders read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a classic redemption story that's been redone so many times over the past few years in movies that I have an endless list of possible connections to make, and my 6th graders have been reading Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is probably my favorite Christmas story of all time.

Both books offer a story of judgment and redemption.  The main characters, both Scrooge and the Herdmans, are hardened, unhappy characters who initially cause their unhappiness to spread to all around them.  However, they quickly change their ways once they are caught up in the spirit of the season.

I think it's been good for me to teach these novels at this time of year, because it's a constant reminder to me that I cannot, and will not, let myself be a Scrooge.  I can't lie; I'm exhausted.  Yes, I love my students and my school and my job, but I am just as ready for a break as the children.  In fact, I may be more excited than they are. I put a countdown up in my room the day we came back from Thanksgiving.  Because of the exhaustion and stress that I've been attempting to push to the back of my mind, I have found myself so tempted over the past few school days to squelch the joy of my students.  I find myself so concerned with my own tiredness and headaches that when they come in overjoyed from recess and full of adrenaline, all I want to do is create silence and order.  I don't know what I'm thinking.  If I can't get full order in September, when there isn't a single holiday, it certainly isn't going to happen now, when we have seven days of school until break.

I realized today that I need to relish these moments of excitement.  The reason I chose middle school, and the reason I love it, is that kids still contain just a glimmer of that childlike wonder.  I don't want to be the tired, Scroogey teacher who snuffs that out.  So tomorrow, I'm going to try to jump right back in to the Christmas spirit with the children.  This IS my favorite season, and I need to act like it all day long.  Bring on the Christmas crosswords and the Santa-themed grammar worksheets!  Ms. Herring is ready to rally.

P.S. Only seven days of school until we get a nice, long, much needed break :)