Being a NonPerfectionist Perfectionist

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There are certain things that I have accepted that I am not good at.

  • For instance, I am not good at not spilling.
  • I am not good at throwing my clothes in the hamper.
  • I am not good at chemistry.
  • I am not good at art. I’m especially not good at crafts.

I am OK with this. So sometimes I think this fact alone, the fact that I’ve embraced my non-talents and don’t have to be good at everything, makes me NotAPerfectionist. 

I’ve had my Dead Poet Moment.

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It’s my prep period. My desk is overflowing with an alarming amount of grading that I’ve procrastinated and resented. I need to plan two separate lessons for tomorrow, and I carry with my no small cloud of stress with me at any given time. So prep periods are sacred, stress relieving times where teacher gets to play catch up.

But I have to stop, ignore the pile and swipe away my stress cloud,  so I can record what just happened in my classroom. I’ve never had more fun in my class than I had just now.

Hufflepuff’s Second Birthday

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There are few things as unhappy as my hedgehog on her birthday. I’m trying very hard to establish a “birthday bow” tradition, wherein I force Hufflepuff into as many bows as she is years old.

It’s like the Oyster Stew tradition my mom has at Christmas Eve. Hufflepuff doesn’t hate it. She just doesn’t realize how much she loves it.

Here’s my photo essay of Hufflepuff’s Second birthday attempt.

The Word, The World

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One mild panic attack later, and I know I’m officially back in Provo. I’m home, but home feels a little different now. That word feels different. Maybe because the world feels different now.

Part of me wants to maintain the wild facade that Jeremy and I suddenly became multi-millionaires that could whisk across the country on a financial whim, but the truth is that this summer was partly financed by a lot of people’s kind and generous gifts.

  • Florida was a gift from my parents.
  • Hawaii was a gift from Jeremy’s parents.
  • Seattle was our gift to one another.
  • And, if I’m honest, New York was a gift to myself.

Performance at the Center

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I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks in New York, and once I realized this, I instantly began searching for ways to make this observation into a metaphor: walking with a world beneath me, walking on top of shaky foundation? Nothing really fit, so I gave up and let it be simple:

I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks. I liked sliding my fingers along the stone of the building next to me. I liked looking up, but I liked looking down too. I grew to appreciate my humidity hair.

It’s hard to verbalize what it is about the city that spoke to me so much. Maybe it was the creaking of the train or the hum of an intersection. Maybe it was the smell of bagels and cronuts and giant sticks of lamb rotating in a street cart. Or perhaps it was the subtle joy of meeting and visiting your soul people.

A Post for Peter

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For me, High School was not this gaseous pit of endless misery. I liked it. By-and-large, I don’t think I would tolerate teaching in a high school if I didn’t appreciate most of my four years of deep teenagerism.

But there was that time. It was the first time that I ever really could ask myself, “Am I depressed? Is this what depression feels like?”

And for no reason at all, Peter Spear was there for me. 

I was a sophomore in the height of my silliness. Peter was a senior, super cool, musical. I can picture the way his fingers pluck mildly, deliberately, smoothly at his upright bass that was taller than me. Even his fingers had soul.

I don’t know what Peter Spear saw in me as a person. I wasn’t funny or clever. I was my worst self.

Peter took me in anyway.

One day, Peter told me he wanted to show me a song. He led me down to his bedroom and I remember feeling instantly nervous. I’d been warned about upperclassmen boys and I’d been warned about their bedrooms. I’d been warned about basements with boys.

But Peter was genuine. He genuinely wanted to play me a song. He popped in a CD, and lit some incense (this is not a euphemism for marijuana), and he laid down on his nasty couch repurposed as a bed that he’d literally found. He wanted to listen to the song all the way through without talking. He called this a “Chill Session.” And for an hour or two every day, we’d go listen to music and obliterate our cares and annihilate our heartbreaks. It was better than yoga. It was better than a lot of things.

We’d spend a lot of time in his basement bedroom with a nasty couch instead of a bed.  This probably would have HORRIFIED my parents if they knew, but nothing happened but healing.

I promise Peter fixed me.

Peter Spear was the only person in the world who had shorter fingernails than me. I keep thinking about them.

I don’t know how else to process what happened to Peter Spear. But I like to think that he’s still here, still the same boy, helping everyone else with their sad feelings.

And then he doesn’t really feel so gone.


Peter played my big brother, George Gibbs, in Our Town. Here we are, looking at the moon.


Glue Sticks, Literature, and the Project at the Center.

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I’m not a “shoe-in” kind of person. Back in high school, getting a lead role in a play was always a pleasant and shocking surprise, and even though I “talked the talk” so to speak, I was always terrified I wouldn’t get elected into student body government. I didn’t think I was a shoe-in for BYU; I worked my butt off in high school to get there, and any talk of “I don’t want to go to BYU anyways,” was a preemptive defense mechanism preparing me for the eventuality of not getting in. Even the job at Timpview was an ambiguous uncertainty until I actually signed my employment contract and signed up for benefits. It’s strange, but “glass half empty” outlooks leave me room for the delightful surprise of success. It works for me.

End of Year Earmarks

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It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.

(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).

To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.

And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.

I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.

  1.   Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
  2. By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
But today, I simply must. I must write about Michael Rudin. He is a metaphor for all the other many wonderful students that have made this year worth it.

He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.

Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.

I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.”  A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.

I won’t embarrass the student by posting my favorite poem, “English Class,” in its entirety (even though it’s insightful and perfect and made me cry), though I will include the charming refrain: “In Penrod’s class is a chance to learn.” I won’t detail the joi de vivre I experienced as I thumbed through each of his earmarked pages. I won’t belabor the pride I feel for this student (and all of my students’) ability to feel the world.
But I will share this one tenderest of moments of my own experience with Youthful Thoughts. Michael Rudin had about 50 poems, and had earmarked about 20 of them for my perusal. And then, I came across this:
To you, this is nothing. An unbent earmark. Big deal.

To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.

I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.

I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.

I am reminded everyday why I continue to teach. 

Novels and Noodles

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My mom, my working mother, my corporate powerhouse mother, spent a lot of money and spent even more hours on my childhood hobbies. She frequented the sweaty YMCA while I “played volleyball,” and massacred basketball. She sat through one too many poorly rehearsed renditions of Easy Note “Just Breath” in poorly executed piano recitals. My mom carted me to singing groups and dropped me off at school extra early so I could learn Spanish and practice the Oboe. If I wanted to be well rounded, well, darnit, she was going to see to it that I was.

But the key part of the above sentence is:

“If I wanted to be.”