Wednesday, December 7, 2022

If You Can't Say Something Nice, Maybe Don't Say it So Loud

 For a number of years, we managed to make it to Manhattan around Christmas every year. Having a kid who went to school in Connecticut (and who loved NYC) definitely played into that, just as COVID has played into the absence of these trips for the past several years.

I have many fond memories of those trips, but there are also a few things that I remember less fondly. One that stands out even more than being so tired that I drifted off during the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show (it wasn't them, it was me -- I promise!) or being colder than I ever remember being in my life as I trekked through the city is a conversation  I couldn't help overhearing on the train ride home -- one that still rankles six years later. No horrific illnesses or devastating endings, I promise -- just a group of women with short memories and long opinions.

My freshmen this year are very different from the ones I had that year -- and in all the other pre-COVID years as well. The pandemic has made life even harder for young people than it was then, and so many of my students are struggling with a dearth of enthusiasm and an overabundance of expectations, topped off with an unhealthy dose of anxiety. They need dreams now more than ever, and I can only hope that the adults in their lives have bigger hearts and wider perspectives than those women on that train. 

If you have a young adult in your life, reach out. You'll likely be glad you did, as will they, even if they don't let on.

Kranich17 via Pixabay

Since I've started teaching First Year Seminar, I always have mixed feelings about the end of the semester. I'm looking forward to not feeling buried under a pile of things to grade, and to finding time to write on a regular basis, and maybe even some R&R&R (rest and relaxation and reading). 

But I will miss my freshmen. 

It's not that I don't have mixed feelings about setting my upperclassmen free -- I do. But there's something about teaching a seminar to a group of brand new first year students that's an experience all its own. This semester, the sophomore "fellow" who helped me out made things even more fun. She’s bubbly and lively and from the same town where I went to college; we hit it off immediately and, over the course of the semester, she became an integral part of the class.

In FYS, our designated content is life itself: happiness and success; perfectionism and procrastination; mindset and meaning. I am privileged to see and hear all the promise and passion these young people have to offer, and it makes me proud and optimistic. Kids who want to enter the medical field not to become rich, but to listen to kids, help underprivileged populations, join the Peace Corps. Kids who recognize that happiness doesn't arrive in the form of a paycheck and who understand that hard work is an integral part of success.

Last month, on the train home from New York, I sat across the aisle from a group of privileged, opinionated middle-aged women. After spending much of the ride talking about dining and drinking and shopping and other people (loudly enough for me to hear, despite the fact that I had earbuds in), they engaged in a conversation with a woman sitting across from me in which they lumped all young people into one category. One of the partiers concluded by proclaiming that "they (kids) all need a 'boot up their ass' and a minimum of two years in the military."

Less than five minutes later, one of her fellow girls' weekend compatriots bemoaned the fact that she had to work the next day.

The conversation infuriated me to the point that it made me sick to my stomach, and it has stuck with me for weeks. I had to wonder if these women knew any young adults, let alone young adults like the ones I see in my classes. Sure, my students (and my daughter) infuriate me sometimes when I see them doing less than they're capable of or on their phones during class or failing to comprehend the simplest of questions because they're just not listening.

But that's only part of the story.  

These kids are giving. They're optimistic. They're smart. Many are shouldering much more responsibility than kids their age should be. They're figuring out who they are and what they stand for and what matters and what doesn't.

They're becoming contributing members of our society.

Some of them have experienced boot camp and military service. Others are the first in their families to attend college. Many play sports and work and are paying for some, if not all, of their education.

Are they perfect? No. Are there spoiled, self-centered kids among them? Yes. Am I privileged to be a part of these years of their lives?

I am.


As I sat and fumed on that train, unable to put together a coherent rebuttal, these kids marched through my mind. Kids who drive me crazy some days, but who, on many days, exhibit more maturity and a better work ethic than the women sitting across from me on the train, full grown adults who were willing to blithely lump all young adults together--as if they'd never experienced that stage of lives themselves, let alone spent the past weekend recreating it.

I'm still unable to articulate why that conversation elicited such a visceral response in me, but clearly, it did. And while I suspect that the tirade I kept to myself would have made little difference had I let loose, I hope that sharing my counterpoint might.

Do you know a young adult? If so, do yourself--and them--a favor. Ask them about their plans. Not what they want to be when they grow up, but what dreams they have. Not about salaries or majors or grades, but about how they see the world--and how they want to see it. Or change it. Tap into their enthusiasm, their optimism, their belief that all things are possible.

And then encourage it. Encourage them to chase their dreams, change the world, and spread their joy and enthusiasm to a world that sorely needs it.

Help them prove those spoiled women wrong.

I suspect that you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Z is for Zone

 When I was doing my Sunday sampling last weekend, I landed on a passage of Happier Hour that was such a perfect description of me I could have written it myself. In her section on "flow" (often called being "in the zone," writer Cassie Holmes offered seven conditions for achieving this elusive state of happy productivity:

  1. Clear your space of threads for other tasks on your to-do list.
  2. Clear your schedule for at least several hours.
  3. Create this space during the time of day when you're most alert.
  4. Shut the door.
  5. Put in earplugs or put on headphones.
  6. Close out of email.
  7. Put your phone away.
I have had this post floating around in my head for about an hour. When I sat down to write it (alone in the sunroom where it's quiet), my husband was happily ensconced in front of a football game. I hadn't finished typing even three of the seven conditions above before he was wandering around making noise, rattling a bag as he put it away in the kitchen, opening and closing the refrigerator door....

You know. Living in his own house.

But reading about flow today made it abundantly clear to me why this is such a big deal. It even alleviated some of my guilt over being annoyed by it, often out of proportion to the interruption itself. Being on the cusp of flow only to have it shatter through a noise, an innocent (albeit poorly timed) request, or, y'know, life is like finally drifting off after a sleepless night only to have the alarm go off minutes later. 

Living in a house with other people is not conducive to flow, yet flow is an essential ingredient in creativity and, for may of us, concentration. The older I get, the more I feel the need to protect flow. Not only do I get in my own way when it comes to getting on the flow on-ramp, but, with age, I find it harder and harder to get back on the flow highway when an unanticipated red light jerks me to attention and makes me slam on the brakes. 

This concept flows (pun intentional) ever outward. Why I get distracted by everything but the thing I've promised myself I'd do, and frustrated by days that feel like a succession of meaningless tasks (#1). Why I love blank pages on the calendar (#2). Why I get frustrated when important tasks get pushed off into the evening (#3). Why I so desperately needed a door for my office to signal times when I really needed not to be interrupted (#4). Why every little noise (#5), email (#6) or text chime (#7) pulls my focus, even if only for a second.

FoYu via Pixabay

Holmes points out that flow usually occurs when we're doing something we're good at. This makes it so much more than happy productivity. If you've ever been in flow or ("in the zone"), you know that it can bring with it a kind of joy and fulfillment unlike anything inspired by a completed to-do list. Its very elusiveness is part of what makes it so desirable, and what makes it so incredibly frustrating when it shatters and we find ourselves trying to reassemble its shards to build a pathway back to where we were only a few minutes previously.

Achieving flow can nurture the soul, and coming out on the other side of it can make us more fun to be around. Having been nourished by a task we enjoy so much that we lose track of time while we're doing it, we feel a sense of peaceful accomplishment, along with a boost in confidence and a sense of gratitude, hopefully directed at least in part to those who made it possible. This a fortunate counterbalance to the grumpiness and frustration we feel in its absence.

For some, flow arrives with the endorphins that accompany a great run or athletic endeavor. For others, it comes through daily pursuits like cooking or knitting, or perhaps through spiritual practices like prayer or meditation. Getting lost in a book or music or art (whether listening, looking or creating) can inspire flow as well.

Sometimes we seek flow, and other times it finds us. Either way, we'd do well to invite it in as often as possible. 

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Sunday Sampling: The Buffet is Good, but the Party is Better

 As the semester wraps up, I'm finding it challenging to keep up with my posting schedule, particularly in weeks such as this one where my routine is thrown off-kilter by schedule changes. When I missed my Friday post, I got the idea to turn it into a Sunday post and share my Sunday sampling. 

But a funny thing happened. When I sat down in my sunroom with my Kindle late Sunday afternoon in the fading light, brightened by the (not-yet-decorated) Christmas tree beside my chair, I discovered that I didn't want to sample. I'm in the enviable position of being engrossed in two books that I can't wait to get back to, with at least one other (previously sampled) on the horizon. I skimmed a few pages of a couple of e-books, but it was like taking a break to sample the buffet when I wasn't hungry and all I  really wanted to do was get back to the party.

So, back to the party it is.

The "real book" I'm reading is Cassie Holmes' Happier Hour. I sampled it on my Kindle a few weeks ago  and immediately ordered a hardcover copy. It has not disappointed, either as a book selection for my positive psych class next semester, or as the read its subtitle promised: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most.

Okay, I'm not sure it's done all of those things, but I'm enjoy it immensely. Non-fiction books grounded in research that don't ramble on about it incessantly are one of my favorite kinds of book to read, and this book does just that. The tone is conversational, the topics interesting, and the layout conducive to using the content of the book both as I read and after I finish.

What does that last part mean? Simply this. Holmes includes both activities and summaries in each chapter. The activities afford an opportunity to engage more fully with the content and concepts, and the summaries pull it all together (imagine that!), capturing the key points of each chapter in a neat, bullet-pointed list, which means that even when I have just a few minutes at a time to read the book, I don't lose the thread. And, after I've finished reading, it's easy to pick it up and find the key point I want to look up.

Smart formatting, perfectly geared to her reader. Bonus points :-)

The second book, which I'm listening to on Audible, is Matthew Perry's Friends, Lovers, and the Big, Terrible Thing. I was excited when I saw that the Friends star (who played my favorite character) had written a memoir and that he was narrating the audiobook. I got less excited when I watched the pre-publication interviews and learned that its subject matter was quite a bit darker than I'd come to expect from Chandler. Nevertheless, I bought the audiobook and, after a slight delay, I pushed play.

While all of the above is quite true, Perry proves an engaging narrator (no big surprise there), with a self-effacing dry humor that pulls the reader in. Good audiobooks have me pressing play on the way to and from work without getting distracted by NPR or Christmas music. Great audiobooks have me listening to extra chapters even after I've gotten home and have lots of other options. 

This one is in the second category. Honest, heartbreaking, a bit raw, and more than a bit humorous, it has me hooked every bit as much as Friends did. And I haven't even gotten to those chapters yet.

As an inveterate book sampler, it's rare for me to find two books so engrossing at the same time. I'm so happy that this wonderful event has dovetailed so perfectly with the end of the semester, when I will actually have time to savor both of them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Wrapping Up NaNoWriMo with a New Writing Adventure

 November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Though I think it's a fantastic idea, and I love the idea of working alongside other writers (even if I can't see them), the end goal (writing a novel in a month) has never been a great fit for me. I'm neither a plotter nor a word-counter, and every time I've tried NaNoWriMo, I've finished the month with a lot of words that end up on the cutting room floor. It seems that in my drive to hit a word count (without neatly plotted scenes and chapters), I go too far afield of my story.

Consequently, when I participate, I do it on my own terms (go figure). This month, I selected a project that needed a jump start, dusting off my middle-grade novel and moving it to Kindle Vella. After spending numerous writing sessions turning chapters into episodes, I uploaded the first one last Friday (you can find it here). 

Vella, for those readers who may be unfamiliar with it, provides the opportunity to read stories in episodes. The first three are free and, after that, readers purchase tokens to use as as payment for reading the rest of the story. The length of the episode determines the number of tokens required to read it, with part of the payment going to Amazon and part of the payment going to the author. Right now, Amazon's offering 500 tokens for free. 

Although I haven't tried Vella from the reader side, I find it intriguing. As I've already established, I'm a big fan of the sample, and other ways to try before I buy. This not only gives me a sense of whether or not I'm interested enough in the story to finish it, but it also keeps me from adding books I'll never finish to my infinite to-be-read pile. 

If you, too, are intrigued, I hope you'll give Jersey Girls Don't Rule a try. If you liked Marita and Bets, I think you'll like Keesha, too because she's every bit as feisty. Thanks to my NaNoWriMo project, new episodes will post every Friday.

'Tis the season to try new stories! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Counting my Blessings

 Some Way Back Wednesday posts are more obvious than others, and this was one of those weeks, with a Thanksgiving theme seeming only appropriate. As is often the case with these Wednesday posts, a selection from a few years back still rings true, with a few tweaks here and there. 

'Tis the season for gratitude so, after much deliberation, I've decided that the perfect topic for today's post would be just that. Since I'm currently moving into a happiness unit with my freshmen and planning a positive psychology course for the spring, I'm happy to say that my brain is already in that frame of mind. Still, even without the overlap in my course material, I'm smart enough to know that I have a pretty good life and, this week in particular, I have a lot to be thankful for.
  • My daughter is coming home. For the first time in her life, this wasn't a given and I'm happier than ever that she decided to make the trip. Not only is she good company during the daylight hours, but every night she's asleep across the hall is a more restful Mom night.
  • I can spend quiet time with family. Okay, not all of my family (we couldn't quite make that work), and I still have some grading to do, but between Zooming and actual gathering, most of us will connect. And as for that grading, deadlines are looser so R & R tops the to-do list.
  • I get to sleep in. For night owls, this is one of the greatest benefits of time off.
    GraphicMama-team via Pixaba
  • I get to write. Writing is right under R & R on the to-do list as I nudge my NaNoWriMo project (as well as a few others) along. 
  • I get to fill my days with things I want to do instead of things I have to do. I'm pretty fortunate in that there's tremendous overlap for me between these two things even when I am working, but since one of my favorite things is a blank calendar page, I'm excited to fill those pages...or not.
As we inch closer to Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for? 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Y is for YCP

 I think I have loved college campuses since I first set foot on one when I was a junior in high school. My first on-campus experience was as an attendee at Jersey Girls' State, held at Douglass College, about an hour and a half away from my home. If memory serves, I was there for a week along with girls from across the state. I remember having a good time, and but I don't remember much about the campus, nor do I remember being the least bit homesick. I do remember a sense of freedom, though, one that gave me a small taste of how things might be when the time came for me to spend entire semesters on a campus I chose to make my temporary home.

My next adventure was at Bucknell, where I earned both my undergraduate degree and my master's degree. In so doing, I came to love not only the campus, but the town itself, when, as a graduate student I traded in my dorm key for leases on a succession of apartments in downtown Lewisburg. The beauty of the campus was hard to miss, even on busy days when I raced from one spot to the next, keeping pace with myriad responsibilities.

Around the same time, I spent some time on the Princeton campus when I visited friends who lived in the area, including one who went to Princeton Theological Seminary. After working for nearly six years in Bucknell's bookstore, I began to make visits to campus bookstores a regular part of my campus visits, whether to browse or to buy a memento to remind me of the visit. 

For the next two decades, my time spent on campuses decreased dramatically. As a gainfully employed adult, I took summer classes at Shippensburg, Millersville, and Penn State York, but didn't spend much time anywhere but in the classrooms. At various points in my public education career, I thought it might be fun/interesting to teach at a college but, lacking a PhD, it wasn't anything I actively pursued.

Then, one Sunday in April, after I'd been retired from my first career as a school counselor for almost a year, I opened an email that opened a door. At the advice of a friend who taught at York College, I'd submitted my resumé to all of the departments where I thought I might be qualified to teach. Two department heads had responded politely to my unsolicited information, promising to keep it on file and now, almost a year later one of them was offering me an interview.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It's hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that I've now been at York College longer than I was at my first two school counseling jobs. It's less difficult to imagine that this job, like every other one I've held, has expanded dramatically over time. Hired to teach one course each semester, I now routinely teach two and, more often, three in the same time frame. Like any other job, it has its plusses and its minuses, but the setting is at the top of the list of plusses.

There's just something about a college campus. The well-manicured lawns, the walkable terrain (mostly, anyway), the intermingling of original buildings alongside their newer, flashier siblings. 

And, of course, a bookstore. And a library. A college campus is one place where there is never a shortage of books.

There's a sense of possibility that pervades a college campus, from the sports fields to the classrooms to the snippets of song that float out the windows of the music building on an autumn afternoon. If you love to learn (as I do), there's no better place to be. 

I don't know that I appreciated all of this during my own college career, at least not as much as I do now. When it came time for my daughter to explore her college options, I was all in. Though I'm sure she would describe this time as more fraught than fun, I loved the trips to various campuses (and their bookstores). I loved hearing about -- you guessed it -- all the possibilities each place had to offer, absorbing all of the amazing adventures available to those who opted to make each place their temporary home. 

I've spent a lifetime working in schools, and it seems only appropriate that I've graduated to college teaching to close out my career (though I'm not planning on doing that any time soon). At this time of year in particular, when the weather is (finally) as crisp as the falling leaves, I try to remember to walk a little more slowly, look up, and take it all in. It's so easy to get lost in my own thoughts, and forget that not everyone has the privilege of being part of a workplace that offers so much beauty and possibility.