Doing New Years Backwards

When I was a student in high school and college, I remember thinking that my middle school teachers were going to track me down and have a fit, because I  wrote my papers a little backwards from how they’d taught me. I knew I was supposed to start with the thesis and let that guide the rest of the paper, but I often had to write the entire paper before I figured out what my thesis was. Whatever, it’s my writing process, and now I just own it.

So in that backward spirit, I’d like to start 2017 by finally writing new year’s resolutions for 2016. How was I supposed to know last January that these were the things I’d accomplish this year?? But now that I know what I was working on all year, I’m ready to retroactively write my 2016 goals…

1. Get back to grad school

I started working on a master’s program forever ago. It was a fully online program, one class at a time, each class lasting five weeks–designed just right for full-time teachers who are trying to squeeze another thing in. I was plugging away, getting it done… And then the economy fell apart. The school budget fell apart. I went from being on a team of 3 teachers down to a team of 1.5 teachers, even though the number of students hadn’t changed. This was still early in my career, and I was completely overwhelmed. Before even starting the master’s program, I’d promised myself that my students would remain my priority, and I wouldn’t let them suffer for the sake of my own schooling. When my responsibilities suddenly grew, my grades started plummeting. It was too much. I set grad school on hold for a while.

Of course, once you lose momentum, it’s really hard to get it back! Plus, things stayed incredibly hard at school for several very dark years. So grad school stayed on the back burner…. Last spring, we were finally  promised enough ESL staffing to bring us back up to 3 full-time teachers! I was thrilled! When summer came, I decided that it was now or never. Time to suck it up and get it done.

That decision terrified me. I know how all-encompassing and soul-consuming my job is. I really wasn’t sure if I could handle being a full-time teacher and part-time student again… But my mantra has been, “Keep your head down, keep pushing forward, don’t stop and think about it.” And it’s gotten me this far! My grades have remained high. It feels like neverending hoop-jumping to get it all done, but I keep checking each little milestone off the list, and that feels good!

Also, I’m pretty sure this timing was a result of some divine prompting. This year I have the luxury of two fantastic teammates, a luxury I hadn’t had in eight years. My master’s program should be finished next summer. After that, I’m fully expecting next school year to bring the same kind of disastrous conditions in the school district that led to me dropping the program in the first place. No budget again means no teachers again,  which will mean those of us left standing will take on an even bigger burden of work. (I’m hoping it’s not too optimistic to include myself in the “us” left standing…. nothing is guaranteed.) If I’d waited another year, there’s no way I’d be taking on grad school, and who knows if I’d ever finish?

2. Start a small business

Nope, that was never anywhere on my bucket list! Especially not in a year where I barely have time to breathe. I don’t know how this happened.

Actually, I do know. I fell in love with LipSense. And instead of paying a zillion dollars to have ALL the colors, I signed up to be a distributor and support my addiction. So far, no regrets! The time commitment is bite-sized and of my own choosing. It’s given me a space for a little creativity in a time when I otherwise feel like I’m drowning. It’s connecting me with people in a time when I’m inclined toward isolation. And it’s just fun to be trying something new!

Definitely didn’t see that one coming….

3. Find my voice as a writer

I only saw this one coming a little bit. A year ago, I was writing about starting this blog as my “new thing for the new year.” I didn’t have big plans for it. I just knew that I missed writing. I started out writing light and fluffy, just-for-fun stuff for the most part. Even then, clicking “publish” and sharing it with the world scared me. Fortunately, one of my core life philosophies is that “being afraid isn’t a reason not to do things.” So I kept writing and publishing.

Then the world kept getting more intense, heavier, more terrifying, more maddening. And my writing followed. I never dreamed I’d be writing the kinds of things I’ve written this year. But now I can’t imagine how I’d have survived the year without this outlet! The world is so ugly, I keep feeling like it’s crushing me. I can’t crumble under all of it, because there are too many people and responsibilities demanding that I stay strong. So I write, and when I write, the pressure eases just a little. I get some of that energy out of my system and into the universe, and it clears up just enough room inside for me to breathe and move forward.

Does any of my writing matter to the world beyond my own catharsis? I don’t know. From some of the feedback I’ve gotten, I think maybe it does. Maybe a little. It still scares me every time I click the button and put a piece of my soul on display for public viewing. But it also means a lot each time somebody finds my writing worth passing on to their own friends. It means a lot each time someone comes up to me and says “thank you for finding the words for the things I’ve wanted to say.” Occasionally someone even says “you helped me understand a little better,” and those might be my favorite moments.

If nothing else, history will know where I stood in this dark moment. I grew up listening to that quote at church about how the angels may quote from our journals someday. That idea terrified me at the time, and felt like reason enough to never write in a journal. I didn’t want my inner thoughts–the silly, the dark, the unkind–to be shared with anyone! But the angels can quote from this blog if they want. I stand by everything I’ve written. I know that I’ll continue to grow and learn and rethink and evolve, but I’m not ashamed of who I am at this moment in time.

I didn’t see it coming in 2016. I’m afraid to imagine what I’ll be writing in 2017. But I will keep writing.

4. Perform a marriage

Technically, I’ve known for a long time that anyone can go to the Universal Life Church online, click a few buttons, and be able to legally perform marriages. But the thought of actually doing so never crossed my mind!

Also, although I had a long list of questions I fully expected to be asked before “Will you marry me?”, somehow, “Will you marry us?” wasn’t on the list! So, I still haven’t gotten married. But I have married. 🙂

I’m thrilled to add this resolution to my retroactive goal list, because Erin and Dusty’s wedding was beautiful, and their marriage is more beautiful! It was a ridiculous honor to be part of the magic binding them together. So much love! Giant explosions of love! A huge love bubble that they take with them everywhere and love up the world!

I don’t plan to make frequent use of my new marriage-making superpower, but I’m so glad I got to use it this once. 🙂

5. Be on Netflix

No, I don’t mean watch Netflix. I watched my share, but it wasn’t retroactive resolution worthy. I mean, my face is on Netflix!

When 2016 started, I had filmed my episode of Portlandia, and was looking forward to it airing. (Or maybe I was dreading it? Maybe both?) I hadn’t really given any thought to Netflix though. I should have–I knew they had all the other seasons of Portlandia. But somehow it still blew my mind a little the day season six showed up, and I realized that was me! People can watch me in their Netflix binges now! I’ve made it!

5. Play more hide-and-seek

When we entered 2016, my favorite (and only) niece was barely two, and I don’t think she really knew who I was. But by the summer visit, I was Aunt K’teen (sometimes Aunt Kissteen), and loving every second of it. Running around the house, playing hide-and-seek with Makenzie was one of the highlights of my year. Of course, she didn’t make it too hard for me, giving directions like, “You count, and I go hide in the pantry.” She also didn’t quite grasp the rhetorical nature of me calling “Where’s Makenzie??” while I searched, and would helpfully answer, “I’m right here!”

Like I said, highlight to my year. I’d rather play a million hours of hide-and-seek with that girl than do most other things. One of the best retroactive resolutions I made for 2016.

Our Sentences Are Too Long

I’m noticing a problem. Actually, I’m noticing so many problems that I feel like I’m drowning in them, but let’s focus on just one for the moment–our sentences are too long. We’re using too many words–unnecessary words. Dangerous words. As a student, I somewhat enjoyed when people would ask me to edit their papers. More than anything, I would just cut words out. The paper could breathe so much better after getting rid of the clutter! Now I want to take my red pen and clean up some speech….

I started noticing this problem months ago, when a friend told me a story that took place at church. The class (of adults) was very judgmentally discussing other people’s problems, but they absolved themselves from the sin of being judgmental with this line: We need to love them as they try to live the gospel. She gritted her teeth, and she bit her tongue, and she shook her head, and then she finally told them what she thought–“Your job is to love them, period.” Look how much shorter that sentence is! Love them. Those are the only words we need. The other words are getting between us and God. When people aren’t interested in the church, we need to love them every bit as much. That’s what unconditional means, and that’s what we’re asked to do. Let’s not complicate things with extra words.

Here’s another personal favorite, said between people who haven’t seen each other in years because one stopped going to church: I’d love to see you at church sometime! Close, so close. This sentence just needs to lose two words. Try this–I’d love to see you sometime! This could be followed by an invite to meet for lunch. If church is the only place you care about seeing them, then you don’t actually care. You’re not their friend, and they know it. Fake friendship isn’t going to entice anyone to come to church. When you’re in a place that you genuinely care about each other and enjoy being around each other regardless of church, then it might be appropriate to invite them to church. Maybe. A sincere friend will know how to make that call.

Before we step away from church, let’s throw a classic example of a much too long sentence out there–Love the sinner; hate the sin. Such a terrible sentence! Six words, and five of them need to go. Let’s make it a shorter mandate–Love. Nothing else in that sentence is loving. Who goes around calling the people they love, sinners?? Sure, it’s technically correct, because we’re all sinners. But that’s not how we talk about people we love! The commandment says to “love your neighbor,” because neighbor is a nice word. Let’s start working on loving our neighbors by using kind and respectful language toward them. As for hating sin, the only sin any of us have time to hate is our own. When we’re personally without sin, then we can reconsider casting stones. If we were really good at this love thing, I have a feeling we’d be surprised how many other sins would just work themselves out.

Switching gears, this is another personal favorite. When somebody tells me that I’ve done something, anything, well, and then says, That’s really impressive with all the challenges you face. (Translation: “the challenges” is secret code for “wheelchair.”) This one is sooooo easy to fix, but let me demonstrate again how to make it shorter: That’s really impressive. Is it still impressive without the wheelchair in the equation? Cool, then just say that! Is it not so impressive anymore without the wheelchair? Ok, then, you probably just shouldn’t mention it at all. I don’t know how to respond to compliments with qualifiers. They don’t leave me feeling better about myself; they just leave me confused. Was that really a compliment? Am I actually good at [fill in the blank]? Or am I just warming hearts because I leave my house and do things in a chair?

Here’s another. There are many variations on this one, but the formula is always the same, I’m not a racist, but _____________. Fix this one by dropping everything after the comma. Nothing good has ever completed that sentence. Stick to I’m not a racist. Then ask yourself, “what would a person who’s not racist do?” Whatever it is, do that. It will never be the same thing that followed the original “but _____.” If unsure, gather up all the humility you can muster, and ask the people that you’re worried you might offend for some advice. If they give it to you, be grateful and gracious. If they don’t, don’t get upset; they owe you nothing. The same applies to No offense, but….

Since it’s seasonally appropriate, let’s tackle this gem: I don’t understand why people have to say Happy Holidays. Why can’t they just say Merry Christmas? I’m going to do some extreme editing on this one, and because I believe in choice, I’ll give options. This one can be cut down to Happy Holidays, or to Merry Christmas, or to a combination of the two. Everything else in the original statement screams “I don’t have enough real problems to worry about!” None of us have the energy to waste being offended because somebody decided to be all-inclusive in their holiday greeting. It’s ok to share the holiday season with people who celebrate a wide variety of holidays. It doesn’t hurt. Some even find it enriching. Just offer whatever holiday greeting feels right in the moment, and do it kindly, not smugly. Now could we please never have this inane conversation again?

Let’s end with one that’s actually not as grating as the others, but worth mentioning anyway. That’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/etc. I chose feminine descriptors there because I feel like this is said mostly in response to disrespect for women, but I’m sure the same sentiment is said about men sometimes as well. And it’s not a bad sentiment. I just tend to replace it in my own head with That’s someone. Because that’s all that matters. It isn’t other people who give me value. I matter because I’m someone. Period. If there weren’t another soul in my life, I would still deserve the same dignity and respect.

We all do.