Sunday, April 17, 2016

In which I don't know how to do friendship

Before I got married, I used to swear up and down that Aaron and I would never be one of "those" couples. You know, the ones who, upon getting married, retreat into their married bliss and completely ignore their friends forever. No, I was sure that I'd spend just as much time with my friends after I got married as I did before.  I was wrong.

I've been married for a year and a half, and I rarely see or talk to most of my friends. Many of them have graduated and moved away, some have had babies, and some I just....haven't made time for. My ability to make new friends also seems to have completely disappeared. I can do small talk and casual aquaintanceship just fine, but moving to actual friend level? I have no idea how to make that happen.

There are a few reasons for this. First, before I was married, I lived with some of my best friends, so it was pretty easy to make time for them. The friends I didn't live with still mostly lived within a few blocks. It's a lot easier to call someone over from the next room or to walk across the street then it is to drive for half an hour to see a friend.

Also, before I was married, I was attending a singles ward (a Mormon congregation made up of young single adults). In the singles wards, there were constant social activities: FHE, Break the Fast, dinner groups, Institute, and plenty of game nights, dances, and ice skating activities. The family ward I attend now probably has one ward activity every few months, which means if I want to be social, I have to actually plan it myself.

But, if I'm being honest with myself, I can't blame my poor friendship skills on my living situation or on the number of activities my ward has. The reason why my friendships are faltering is that I haven't been putting effort into them. The reason why I haven't been making new friends is because I haven't developed the skills necessary to do so. I've let myself get complacent and lazy with my friendships, and as a result, my friendships have not been flourishing the way I'd like them to.

But I'm going to do better. It's hard and scary, but I'm going to do it. This week I have plans with an old roommate to go to the temple after work, and I have pending plans to go to the gym with a few different people(...still need to follow through on that...). It's really difficult for me to get up the courage to call someone and make plans (what if they don't want to hang out with me? What if they think I'm weird? What if the activity I suggest is one that they hate?) but it's worth it to me. I need the enrichment, the trust, the fun, and even the vulnerability that real friendships provide. I don't really know how to be a good friend in this stage of my life. But I intend to figure it out.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

In which a xylophone changes everything

I have a student (let's call him Max) who has been giving me trouble all year. He is often defiant, refuses to participate or to follow any directions, and stirs up the other kids to make mischief as well. On multiple occasions, he's started running in circles around my room screaming to avoid doing what he's supposed to be doing. Nobody has known what to do with him: not the classroom teacher, not the principal, and definitely not me.

Last week, after a particularly rough class, I kept him after class to talk about his behavior. I tried to explain why his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable while he kept dinking away on a xylophone he'd pulled off of my shelf--without my permission, I might add. I was getting frustrated that he wasn't listening when he suddenly looked up at me, no trace of anger or defiance on his face, and said, "Mrs. E, I just really love playing instruments."

Well, I was floored. I wasn't aware that "Max" loved anything at all except causing mayhem. To be honest, I had long ago stopped seeing him as a child and instead thought of him as more of a...chaos machine. But here he was, a kid with way too much pain and sadness and confusion in his life, who just wanted a chance to play some musical instruments.

So we made a deal. If he could follow directions, participate, and be respectful in music, I would let him come hang out in my room during my prep time and play any instruments he wanted. It's been a week since we started this system, and he's earned "instrument time" twice now. While I mostly leave him alone to explore the instruments on his own, I've taken a little bit of time to talk to him and get to know him as well. And it turns out that "Max" is a really sweet kid. He loves action movies, he adores his little brother, and he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. He'd rather be in school than at home, and he wants to learn how to play the piano someday. When I showed him how to play one of the songs we'd been learning in class, his face lit up in the brightest smile I'd ever seen.

I don't know how it happened, but in just a week I've gone from feeling nothing but frustration for this kid to loving him so much it feels like my heart is going to explode.  I had been seeing him as a problem, an obstacle toward my teaching. He will probably not have perfect behavior for the rest of the year. I will probably still have to struggle to help him make better choices in class. But for just a second there, I was given the chance to see him as a person, as a child of God. And that has changed everything.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

In which I was a teen psychic

Last week, my mom had me go through some boxes of my stuff from junior high and high school to get rid of whatever I didn't want anymore (apparently my parents' house doesn't have infinite space?) In the process, I found something bizarre. Something glorious. Something I had completely forgotten existed.  It was....the Man in a Can!

So, the Man in a Can was an activity we did for my church Young Women's group when I was 14. We cut out pictures of wedding dresses, color schemes, and rings, made lists of attributes we wanted in a future husband, and picked out names for our future children ("So, basically pre-Internet Pinterest," says my brother). Then, each of us sealed up the contents of our wishful wedding planning in a Number 10 can, to be opened only when we had become engaged.

So here I was, face to face with my DIY Pinterest Time Capsule, opening it a year and a half late. I remembered the activity; I also remembered having a really bad attitude about it. I'm pretty sure I sat in the corner with some of my friends griping about how it was dumb, and styles were totally going to change between now and whenever I got married, and what if some of us never got married, and I wanted to go rock climbing for our activity but no, we didn't have the budget for that. But I eventually sucked it up and clipped a few things out and put them in my can, and I think at some point I actually started enjoying it. 11 years later, I was a little bit anxious. What if I opened it and saw a picture of the perfect dress, and had regret about the dress I actually wore at my wedding? What if I had found the perfect color scheme back at 14, and all the time I spent agonizing over my wedding colors had been completely unnecessary? Who knows what kinds of long-buried expectations and newly discovered regrets this tin can would stir up?

Still, it had to be done. With Aaron's help, I opened the can, eager for a glimpse into my own adolescent mind.

The first thing I learned was that as a teenager, I had way different taste in jewelry. Here are my prototype wedding rings:


They're just so...boxy and clunky and...eugh. Not my cup of tea. And diamonds aren't really my thing either. Here's my actual wedding ring.


Next, I looked at my wedding dress choice. Teenage me was actually pretty close to adult me in this choice. I really like the bodice and the overall shape of this dress. And it doesn't actually look much different than the one I ended up going with.


But then I pulled out my list of attributes for my future husband, and it got really weird. 

Most of these are pretty generic Mormon/teenage girl answers. Who doesn't want a partner who is loving or patient or smart or respectful or sensitive? All of these apply to Aaron, but that just means he's a good guy. Then I started to notice that some of these were a little more specific: "Spontaneous and fun-loving," "funny," "loves music." Again, still nothing highly unusual. But then I noticed two things "will sing to me" and "brown curly hair would be nice." Whaaa? First, Aaron sings to me almost constantly. It's possible we sing to each other more than we talk to each other. And I mean...brown curly hair? Aaron is literally the only person with brown curly hair I've ever been romantically interested in (besides like...Josh Groban....) How did I call that as a 14 year-old?

The only conclusion I've been able to come to is that I had latent psychic powers as a teenager. How else would I have known that I'd marry a music-loving, curly-haired man, and wear a drop-waist, butterfly sleeve dress for the occasion? It's spooky, man.



Saturday, January 30, 2016

In which I feel the burn

This year, I set a New Year's resolution that I've been trying to bring myself to set for a few years. I decided that I would lose 20 pounds by the end of the year.

For the past three years, I've been skirting around the issue, pretending I don't care, and basically doing nothing. So what that I'm almost thirty pounds heavier than I was five years ago? Bodies change, man. I was training for a half marathon five years ago, and I sure don't have time for that now. I would tell myself that the only healthy outlook was to love myself as I was, which meant accepting those extra thirty pounds as a welcome part of me. I told myself that trying to lose weight would only lead to extreme dieting, anxiety, and probably profound disappointment. I reasoned that it was just too hard, I couldn't do it, and it would make more sense to just accept my new size as normal.

And I was ready to leave it at that, except that I couldn't. It kept nagging at me. This extra weight doesn't feel like a part of me. I don't love how I look, I've had to say goodbye to some of my favorite clothes because they don't fit anymore, and I'm just not comfortable. A few months ago, my weight finally crossed from the "healthy" BMI zone to the "overweight" zone, which was kind of a rude awakening. I have a family history of serious health problems caused and aggravated by obesity, and while I'm healthy now, I'd rather not have to deal with any of those down the line. Further, I've realized that my weight gain is a symptom of some really unhealthy eating and exercise habits that I should probably work on regardless of the numbers on the scale.

Most of all, I've realized that yes, loving someone means you accept them and love them where they're at. But it also means that you support them in their goals for self-improvement. You don't enable them in stagnation. You encourage them to be better. I can love myself and my body and still set goals, change my habits, and get healthier.

A lot of my friends who have been successful in losing weight have done so by enrolling in exercise programs, following a strict dietary regimen, and otherwise making drastic changes in their lives. While I respect and admire their tenacity, I'm almost positive that approach wouldn't work for me. I would burn out within days and jump right back into eating ice cream for dinner every night. So I'm going to focus on making small, sustainable changes and turning them into habits. Right now, that means only eating sweets on the weekends and exercising five days a week. When that becomes easy, maybe I'll pay attention to the kind of exercise I'm doing or work more fruits and vegetables into my diet.

Even though the changes I'm making are tiny, sometimes they feel so. so. hard. It physically pains me when there's a package of cookies up for grabs in the faculty room and I'm munching on my carrots instead. In the middle of a Utah winter, it's really difficult to convince myself to go running when I could be on my couch watching Netflix. But there's a kind of a satisfaction that comes when I do make these choices. In a yoga class I went to the other day, the instructor talked about the concept of tapas. Tapas literally means heat, and refers to the friction generated by going against the grain of what is easy. It's a purifying fire generated by letting one's will rule over one's desires. In an LDS context, it might be described as allowing the spirit dominion over the body. My instructor described tapas as "a fiery discipline" that allows people to transcend themselves. And every time I turn down a brownie, change into my running shoes, or eat an apple instead of a bowl of ice cream, I'm cranking that fire up just a little bit hotter.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In which I'm back

Well, you may have noticed that my Johnny Karate blog series lasted exactly one post. I'm not going to make any apologies or give any excuses for that. But after a seven month blogging hiatus, I think I'm ready to start writing again. I don't know what shape this blog will take or what purpose it will serve. It used to be a journal of sorts, a place to vent my thoughts when I didn't know who to share them with. I have an unprecedented level of support in my life now, and my mental health is much better than when I was blogging the most, so I don't need this blog to be therapy for me anymore. But I do know that I miss writing.

I know that these days blogs are supposed to have a theme or a niche or some unifying feature. For the past seven months I've been trying to choose an angle: do I want this to be a lifestyle blog (whatever the heck that is)? A blog about living in Provo? A religiously-themed blog? A blog full of stirring essays about my deepest inner feelings? I have no clue. And while it's hard for me to choose a specific angle, I think the title of my blog provides the closest thing I've got to a unifying theme. I am alive, learning, and growing, and I want to share my thoughts and stories. You can come join me, if you like.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

In which we encounter fake flowers, whales with legs, donuts, pixies, and middle school

Well, today is Tuesday, which means it is time to report on my first week living the Johnny Karate Way!  So, here is what I did!

Make Something: We did a lot of art projects at work this past week (professional development for the art teachers, fun for the rest of us), and my favorite was making these tissue paper flowers. It's super easy! The ones that I made look halfway decent, even though I am seriously disabled at crafts. I think I'll have my students make these for May Day next year.



Learn Something: Did you know that there used to be whales with legs? It's true! Sort of! At least, the direct ancestors of whales were land mammals who had legs and webbed feet (kind of like sea lions). Also, I learned that ladybugs lay extra, unfertilized eggs for their babies to eat upon hatching. So that's neat. These are the cool things you learn when you go to the Natural History Museum of Utah. Seriously, everyone go there. It is gorgeous and you can learn about whales with legs, so that seems like a win-win.

Karate Chop Something: I karate-chopped....my hair!



Okay, actually my wonderful hairdresser Shelby did all of the chopping, but it took a lot of guts on my part to let her chop it! This is the shortest my hair has been since I was about 3 and I love it to death.

Try Something New Even If It's Scary to You: On Monday, Aaron and I hiked to Donut Falls. It felt so good to be up in the mountains again, and to try a new hike. Aaron wanted to climb all the way to the top of the falls, past the sign that said, "Do not climb past this point or else you will die," (or some similar warning,) and I was terrified, but I did it, and nobody slipped and fell onto the sharp rocks and died. So that was a win.




Be Nice to Someone: My friend's wife is creating a curriculum for a middle school composition class for her music education capstone, and she needed some volunteers to help her workshop it. So Aaron and I were her guinea pig students for a couple of days. We got to create some fun compositions and brainstorm ways to teach some different musical concepts.

All in all, this week was a success! I will be far away from the Internet next Tuesday, so I'll try to get an early post out by Sunday night. If not, you will get a double post in two weeks. Lucky you!

What have you made, done or karate chopped this week? Did you try anything now or scary? How have you been nice to someone? Share in the comments!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In which I become a follower of the Johnny Karate Way

Well, this blog has gotten a bit dusty, but seeing as the school year is ending any second now (actually, in three days, but whatever), I thought I'd pull it back out and give this whole creativity thing a whirl. And I actually have an idea for a blogging project that's been fermenting for a couple months now. Hopefully this will keep my brain from atrophying too much during the break.

If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge fan of the recently-ended show, Parks and Recreation. I didn't know that a TV show could be so simultaneously hilarious, emotionally engaging, and just....goodhearted. Aaron and I started watching it together when we were dating, and soon we referenced our "Pawnee friends" in conversation the same way we would discuss any other mutual friends. Parks and Rec has been, literally, the most influential TV show of my life.

Television Parks And Recreation animated GIF

All right, so, the project! In the final season of Parks, Andy Dwyer, the series' lovable buffoon, has created a children's TV show called The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show!

Parks And Recreation Tv Show animated GIF
Parks And Recreation Chris Pratt animated GIF
Parks And Recreation Chris Pratt animated GIF
Parks And Recreation Chris Pratt animated GIF

Johnny Karate is absolutely ridiculous, and it also possibly contains the key to a fulfilling life. Johnny's Five Karate Moves to Success are, in order:

1) Make Something
2) Learn Something
3) Karate-chop Something
4) Try Something New, Even if it's Scary to You
5) Be Nice to Someone

Each of these five steps has its own segment on the show. What I want to know is, how would my life change if I implemented these steps? Would I become a smarter, kinder, more fulfilled, happier person? Would I become a space ninja from Mars? Would I be disappointed in myself for taking life advice from a fictional children's television program?

Only one way to find out.

This summer, I'll be posting every Tuesday with the ways I have used the Five Karate Moves to Success this week (and yes, there will be pictures of karate-chopping stuff). I invite anybody who is interested to join me in this challenge, and keep me posted on how it goes for you.

Remember, kids:

Well, it’s time for us to go, but I want you all to know
That karate’s not about fighting,
It’s about knowing who you are,A
nd being kind and honest while you’re kicking for the stars.
Yeah, that’s the Johnny Karate way! 

Parks And Recreation Wink animated GIF