December 12, 2014

The students in all my classes are working on big projects- the first big research project for the freshmen- so I've spent the week bouncing from my classroom to the library and back, trying to keep some semblance of a routine, and wishing I had an army of clones to simultaneously answer questions (between the content and the skills- proper grammar, spelling, citation, and whatnot- there are a lot of questions).

The project the freshmen are doing is one I'm team-teaching with Jess because interdisciplinary education is awesome. We've both been observed various times throughout the process, and everyone said great things what we're doing. It's alternately daunting and fantastic. 

And the effort we have to put in is totally worth it. I'm proud of what our students are accomplishing.

I'm proud of my seniors in Civics, too- and I told them so during class today- because we had a talk last week about how they could (and should) be improving the quality of their work in preparation for college, and 99% of them really got it. I noticed the increased effort they put into the projects they turned in today (on the Bill of Rights, and if you're following along at home, you know I'm VERY aware of how pointed that happens to be). It feels like I've made some real progress with them... like I'm doing right by them, you know? 

We have a week and a half until Christmas break, and in that time I'll be delivering some of my most memorable lessons in both Civics and Global Studies. I don't plan to teach dramatic things right before the holidays, but it always happens, and I try to send my students off with something inspirational. Like this: in Global Studies, I'm teaching about the Rwandan genocide, and part of that is telling the story of the UN peacekeepers who bore witness. A couple thousand- and then a couple hundred- men saved roughly 30,000 lives in the midst of one of the most brutal events in modern history. That's heroic. 

I know it's the season of "peace on earth," but I think the lesson is that it takes heroism to get there. 

December 11, 2014

Coaching indoor track is awesome.

Coaching indoor track is not awesome for my vocal chords, however (note: neither is coaching outdoor track). My voice is shot for the second time this season- which has only been two weeks long at this point- but I can't find it in me to be too upset about that because we're having fun.

I really like the atmosphere at practice. It's positive, and constructive, and just the right amount of goody. Today was media day, so we did our team photos and quick quotes (that was the head coach, not me). Afterwards, we warmed up to the beat of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," which was wildly entertaining, and then I took the sprinters to do block starts. That involved a random rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" because, hey, why not? The training went well, too.

And then the whole team ate pizza.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I also brought a slice of pizza to our new athletic trainer because he's awesome. College track ingrained in me a deep respect for awesome ATs- little wonder given the time I had to spend in AT!Brian's office. I know to listen to them, to thank them, and to do nice things for them when it's possible.

This one is also a soccer fan and an army brat, which makes him my kind of people. Double awesome.

December 9, 2014

I didn't have the day I was planning to have today.

I went to work with a stinking headache (phrase stolen from Mark Webber, who crashed a car to get his, so it was probably a lot worse than mine) and a touch of dehydration because I was hooting, hollering, and running around after my track team all week long (which is wicked fun no matter what). I didn't end up working for long, though, because a storm rolled in and we dismissed before noon.

It wasn't soon enough to get us on the roads before they got icy, but they weren't too bad. Casey the Car slid a little on the turn into the driveway, but that's all. Tomorrow morning may be another story, but right now that's on the list of Things I Will Deal With Later. What I'm trying to deal with now is how I'm going to teach my Civics class. 

We're in the middle of a unit on civil rights and responsibilities, and there's breaking news about torture, and so I've been studying off and on since I got home. I know that seems like a grim way to spend my time, but I can't teach about something unless I study it, so there it is. I keep thinking about a cartoon one of my colleagues found years ago- my first or second year teaching- back when waterboarding was breaking news. It was a drawing of an old man, a WWII vet with a flag in hand, standing before a grave that read something like "My Civics class version of America- dead the day we started to torture people." I felt gutted when I saw it.

I'm feeling that way now, too.

I love my country- I really do- and I want so much for it to be better than it's been lately because I know it can be better. What's sad is how much that statement makes me sound like I'm in a toxic relationship. 

But I digress.

My challenge tomorrow- and over the next several days- will be to discuss the news academically and objectively with my students, and to convince them that it doesn't mean they should hide their heads in the sand or turn their backs on civic duty- two frequent responses- because the only way we change what is done in our name is to work to change it. 

December 7, 2014

Yesterday I had went on an adventure to get to my friends' annual Thansmukah (Thanksgiving-Christmas-Hannukah) party. And by adventure, I mean "Holy monkeys, I drove Casey the Car to Dorchester in an ice/rain storm and then managed to find street parking without hitting anyone!"

I'm rather proud of myself.

And it was a fun party. We ate, drank, and made merry until early this morning. And wore ugly sweaters. Boston got a truly hideous green santa sweater for me at H&M; meantime, he wore one featuring a pug with reindeer antlers. So fashion. Oh, and Steph's had actual, jingling bells on it. Seriously.

I'd seen Boston and Steph over Thankgsiving, but it had been too long since I'd seen the rest of my city-dwelling pals, so it was good to catch up with them. We also got to meet (read: interrogate) Steph's new boyfriend, who seemed flawless until I discovered one detail about him: he likes Barcelona.

Such a tragic flaw in his character.

He's also a lead-footed driver. I was following him and Steph to NH this morning to visit some of our other friends who couldn't make it to the party, and it was... stressful? I drive very carefully in and around Boston, and he's weaving from lane to lane. She totally had to tell him to slow down. But, hey, it's all good. We all made it north, had lunch with our friends, and hung out for a while.

And now I'm home. Decent weekend, I'd say.

December 1, 2014

So... I actually got home from my Thanksgiving vacation this morning.

It was a lot of fun. My buddies and I made our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina to visit Mom and Mom's Boyfriend. They rented this gorgeous lake house with a sprawling deck I'm still obsessed with, and we spent days hanging out, playing games, enjoying the weather (well, not at first- it rained- but it got nice eventually), eating good food, and- of course- having s'mores and scotch.

There should always be s'mores and scotch in life.

The others flew home on Saturday, but I didn't fly out until Sunday night. And it almost didn't happen. For whatever reason, my flight to DC- where I had to connect- was delayed, and delayed, and delayed. I ended up sitting and writing a few thousands words of my NaNo novel. I had less than a thousand to go when I got on the plane, and I figured I'd finish in DC, but we arrived there so late that I had to run through the terminal to catch my next flight.

So I finished at about 30,000 feet, somewhere over New England, and validated it when the plane got to the gate in Portland. Ta-da:

Then I brushed the snow (sad face) off my car and drove home. I was admittedly tired today, but hey. It's worth it.

November 11, 2014

I walked downtown to see the local Veteran's Day parade and ceremony this morning, which is something I'd actually not done before in all the time I've lived here. In the past I preferred to spend the holiday in private because it's deeply personal to me; the effects of my family's military service on my life are profound, and I'm honestly still sorting out what I think about that. 

I'm proud, of course, of my brother, and my father, and all the generations of military men before them. I know they served out of love for this country, and they did so with courage and dedication- and my brother, of course, still does so. 

Sibling spent a year and four months in Iraq, but there's an entire decade of our lives I associate with the war. We watched it begin, and then we waited before his deployment, and then there was that, and then the aftermath... And sometimes the aftermath creeps back into my day to day life- as I'm sure it does, far more often, into his- and that's something I don't think I'll be able to write about properly for a long time. 

My NaNoWriMo novel is based on part of our shared experience of the war- his deployed, mine on the homefront- and it's... cathartic. It's also reminding me of things I hadn't thought about in ages. Like I went and found Jay's old blog on the wayback machine to check a particular sequence of events. He deployed for the second time shortly after Sibling came home, which was also around the time we could barely be civil to one another, but I could at least read what he had to say and know that he was all right. 

Rereading those entries is a trip. I'd like to excerpt one from December 14, 2007 here because Jay had a philosopher's mind, and he used it to write a rather fascinating reflection on our generation at war: 
It's a bizzare thing, to be a member of the Army that bombs the base first, then stays on for years to finance and construct and improve a newer and (hopefully) better one: new sites built right next to the old sites that we destroyed, sometimes on the same foundations with similar materials. We're not the first to do it, of course. The greatest empires of the past had the same policy: subdue, destroy, build, incorporate. We're just the first to do it while being surprised that it's not cheap or easy. 

Or maybe it's not that; maybe it's rather that we don't like being an empire and doing imperial things. It sounds very un-American, and I guess until recently it was. Past generations could excuse it if it was necessary to fight evil people who were stronger than we were, but ours will have to decide whether we want to do it just out of principle. I think about this a lot, because one on hand I have great firsthand faith in the goodness of America, and believe that even at our worst we are still at our best. We take responsibility for fixing everything, and feel guilty for doing it at the same time. It's kind of endearing, like King Kong trying to fall in love and rebuild Tokyo all at once, while unfailingly stubbing his toes on the skyscrapers. Thus, AIDS in Africa is our problem, and we're not doing enough, and hunger in Asia is our problem, and we're not doing enough, and then there's Darfur and Tibet and Kyoto and all the angry people who hate us for being us, and somehow, it all must come back to us, because it must. Because we have so much, and others have so little, and fundamentally that's just not alright with us. 

On the other hand, though, I think because of all this I have a growing suspicion that my generation really doesn't want to be a superpower. We have been raised with a vague notion that America is sort of a bad country that does sort of bad things, and that people sort of don't like us, and we are a generation that really wants to be liked. So much so that we would rather try to be liked and fail and be insignificant, than not try at all. When people my age ask how Iraq is going, I detect an unspoken wince in the question: how bad are we really screwing up the world? But at the same time, I think they know we're not a bad people. We have good hearts. They just need to believe it, and I don't know if that belief will win out in the end. It seems too much to risk, at times, and we'd rather everyone spend Christmas at home every year, and not be responsible for killing anyone, even bad people, and at the end of the day be able to say that for all the problems in the world, at least we never claimed to have the answers. Because once you say that you think you do, you can be judged for your performance. But no one judges the country that doesn't try. It's a page of history that no one will ever write.

Someone will write about us, though, if not by name. I wrote earlier that I'm still sorting out what it means for me to have come from a family of soldiers, but there's a broader sorting out that will have to happen for everyone in my generation. Someday- maybe not soon, but someday- we will all have to look back and come to terms with who we were during the war. 

November 2, 2014

So. New Guy wrote to me yesterday. I'd sent him a quick message during the clasico last weekend- condolences, naturally- and he wrote back (in Spanish) to tell me he hadn't seen the match, but that he'd seen Barca lose again that morning. Then he mentioned he'd be watching the Manchester Derby today, so I asked who he was supporting. He said United. Of course he did.

This boy and I cannot be on the same side. At least  not when it comes to footie.

But City won 1-0, so I'm having way more fun than he is.

Source: Tumblr

I didn't see the entire match because I had to go to Church. There was a Marist Brother there as a guest speaker; he's a teacher and a missionary, and he spoke about working in Rwanda, which was emotional stuff. It's not the sermon I was expecting on All Souls Day, but it worked. Because he talked about death, but he also talked about life, and about rebirth, and I liked that.

After Mass, I grabbed coffee and a croissant for lunch, and settled in to write my daily 1667 words for NaNoWriMo (I actially wrote more than that) and watch the New York Marathon. I got home just in time to see the elite men finish, so that was cool. And I decided I want to run this race someday. I promptly nagged my Manhattan-dwelling cousin about it, too.

We'll see.

After the marathon, there were more sports to watch. And before you think this was a lazy day for me, well, I'll agree, but it was wretched outside, so I'm fine with that. I put the F1 race coverage on as soon as it started. It's nice to have a grand prix in Austin because it means I don't have to get up early to watch it. It was a rather crazy race, though it ended with a predictable Mercedes one-two. I'm happy Daniel Ricciardo grabbed third because his smile is one of the best things in sports.

Source: Tumblr

Bonus? Bruno Senna dressed as a lobster on Halloween.

Source: Bruno's Instagram

October 31, 2014

Trick-or-treating just ended (and it is SO LAME that there's a curfew for that, and I will never grow up enough to think otherwise). I handed out candy to the neighborhood kids, none of whom dressed as characters from Frozen, and now I'm going to eat the leftover candy in order to fuel up for NaNoWriMo.

Yes, yes, it's that time again: the insane and awesome attempt to write 50,000-words in a month will begin at midnight.

For now? Have a single word:


October 30, 2014

Look at this majestic, stuffed french toast. Look at it. Envy the fact that I got to eat it.

That's from breakfast last Saturday. My Floridian pals, Mel and Anthony, came to visit me, so we had to cover some north country necessities: hiking, touristy shopping, and eating lots of awesome food from local restaurants. So, yeah, clearly we did all of that. 

And then we went to Canada. 


Why? Because there was a half-marathon in Magog, which is a very pretty town in the hills of southern Quebec- and we decided we should run it. I’m fairly certain we were the only Americans there because it wasn’t especially English-friendly. My French, which we were relying on, is totally rubbish, but lots of lovely people switched to English to help us out. 

There was really positive energy at the starting line- despite the fact that it was cold and a bit rainy- and I was ready to go and have a good race. I had one very scary moment, though, because a guy showed up on a horse. 

I know, I know. This incident illustrates why I should carry my epi pen when I travel to foreign countries.

As it was, I swallowed one of the allergy pills I had in my running belt, and tried to stay as far away from horse guy as possible. Luckily, he turned a corner shortly after I started running, so i was able to stop freaking out and enjoy myself. And I have to say that it was an awesomely-managed race on a beautiful course. It was well-marked, there were lots of water/gatorade stopped manned by spectacularly cheerful volunteers, and there was a solid police presence to keep the roads clear for runners to pass at all times. 

I figured all the hills were going to kill my time, but I actually wound up running a PR and finishing just about ten minutes behind my friends (who are, in general, better at this distance than I am). The race ended in a park along the main street in town, so there were a lot of people out to cheer, and a hype man to announce names and offer high-fives. That was great- as was the fact that they had food (AND CHOCOLATE MILK) for all the runners afterwards. 

Also? The medals and race t-shirts have moustaches on them. See?

I’m not entirely sure what that’s about, but it’s awesome.

So, all in all? It was a lot of fun, and- as they’d say in Quebec- une très bonne course. 

October 13, 2014

Today I got an email from a democratic campaign staffer. She'd heard I'd done some staff work myself back in the day. I admitted to being surprised because there aren't actually a lot of people who know that anymore. Sure, there was a time when I couldn't walk into an event without being recognized as "Kat the writer," and newspaper reporters were emailing me and calling my dorm room to ask me questions, and it was all incredibly crazy. But then the candidate I'd been working for lost the NH primary, and I faded back into obscurity as quickly as I'd risen out of it.

And that was fine with me.

One of the biggest differences between me and my staffer colleagues was that I never planned to go on with the campaign, no matter what happened. I'd never planned to be part of it at all, really. It started with a GOV300 assignment to write about a candidate and track his or her progress; I put my writing up on a blog, and one of the candidate's blog writers found it. After a few conversations, he asked me if I wanted to write for the campaign, too. I said yes, and that's how I became "Kat the writer."

I was barely twenty years old at the time. It was the fall of my junior year of college, and- unbeknownst to most everyone around me- it felt like my world was ending. The country was fighting two wars, and Sibling and his classmates- my friends- had been commissioned back in June. There was no question that they were all going to be deployed: that year, the next, the one after. One war or the other was going to come for all of them, and it was so awful waiting for it to happen. I didn't know how I'd handle it. No one knows until they actually have to do it.

It's probably not surprising that the candidate I ended up working for was loudly anti-war.

Being a writer was an extraordinary thing, and I learned so much from the process- messaging, and talking points, and calls to action- and also from the people I was working with. We knew we were part of something big, and that what we were doing was a little bit revolutionary, and we were so, so young... It was heady and surreal for all of us, I think.

I wanted to write the view from inside a field office, so I started volunteering over Christmas break in my hometown. Being "Kat the writer" had cured me of quite a bit of my shyness, so I didn't think anything of walking in and introducing myself. Most of the field staffers were just getting over the flu when I arrived, so they were thrilled to have the help. I remember going to see Lord of the Rings with them shortly after we'd all met, and just... fitting in. I was especially good with turf and data, so I ended up assisting the volunteer coordinator. And when someone higher up decided the office needed a second volunteer coordinator on staff, the regional organizer- the office boss, essentially- chose me.

I think back on that particular time in so many ways. I worked pretty much 24/7 for six weeks, and nothing has ever been so transformative for me. I grew up so much, and it was such a period of discovery. I'd never dreamed of doing the things I did- the writing or the field work- or going through any of the doors it opened for me. Sometimes it seems like it was another person entirely who did those things, but it wasn't.

We had two major events with the candidate that were both smashing successes, and I helped make that happen. Me. I remember going out to lunch with the other staffers after the first event. We couldn't stop smiling, and people around us couldn't stop smiling at us, and coming over to wish us well. We didn't even have campaign pins on at that point, but they knew who we were because we stood out; we were so alive, and righteous, and passionate.

I remember New Year's Eve, too: dancing, singing, kissing people at midnight. The primary was close, then, and we were so sure we would win. We couldn't imagine we'd do anything but win.

But it wasn't all joyful. My world was still ending. And I was in a relationship that was unhealthy, and emotionally abusive, and just... ugh. I don't like remembering the ugliness it brought out in me, but it happened. I've written on this subject before, so there's no need for me to have it all out again. Suffice it to say, it's a good thing I never planned to live the campaign life because it meant I had another life to go back to, and eventually he ceased to be a part of it.

The good and the bad parts of the experience are inextricably bound together, and they're both so extreme. As a result, it's hard to do my memories justice, and I'm sure I haven't here. I'll sum it up by going back to what I said earlier: that part of my life transformed me. It didn't change my trajectory, in the end, but it did change most everything else.