To my Graduating Seniors of 2015

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Dear Seniors of 2015,

I need to make a tiny confession. You were already winners before the contest began, and you’ll continue to be winners long after it’s over.

I need to make another confession: I’ve been manipulating you to think that I am “The Keeper of the Words.” And yet, I struggle too–just like you–when faced with a prompt. And today, the cursor blinks patronizingly as I try to answer the prompt instructing me that somehow I must “Say Goodbye.”

I’m older than you, and by extension “wiser,” and I’ve got your captive attention for probably eight more seconds, so allow me a moment to share the thesis that you, your wisdom, and the time we have shared together has helped me to articulate.

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.


“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

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Ordinarily, this post might include a shame-faced apology for not blogging in so long. But there has been nothing ordinary about this past year, so the usual excuses of laziness or busyness just don’t apply. For once in my life, the most cathartic thing in my life has been–not writing–but in fact, teaching. So I can’t apologize for throwing all my efforts into that, and becoming the somewhat invisible thing that this blog is trying to catch. 


The Power of Nice

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I used to think that “niceness” was a soft attribute. I was heartily convinced that the way to be in life was like Christina Yang–calloused, driven, exceptional and seldom nice. Nice was a boring quality. Nice felt like Comic Sans and an exclamation point. Nice was a pastel butterfly on top of a crib. Nice meant weak. 

That’s not to say I was always mean. I liked to call myself “driven” instead. I was capable of being nice, but usually and especially in high school, nice was not inherent; nice served a purpose.

My Top 5 Under-Appreciated Instagrams

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Instagram is a wonderful cyber reality. No really, I am enjoying it. Knowing I am no photographer, I am still happy to have these little square pictures documenting the mundane and exciting moments in my life, and I am enjoying the little glimpses I get into your lives too.

But after a loosely calculated and hardly serious study, I am learning that I can basically predict which photos are going to get some “likes” and which won’t. 
Does your Instagram feature:
  • A couple (usually yourself with another person) doing something mildly abnormal like playing Scrabble or washing a car?
  • Some sort of Witty Aphorism?
  • Aesthetically pleasing, gluten-free food?
  • Jimmer Fredette?
  • Jef Holm?
  • A picture that was taken in an exotic locale with a nice Canon camera, then heavily photoshopped, and then applied to Instagram?
  • A pretty teenage girl posing in a just suggestive enough pose to still be sexy AND mysterious AND age-appropriate all at once?
Good for you, your photo’s gonna get some lovin’. I’ve shot some well-liked photos into the Instagram abyss, but I’ve had others that have flopped. So here I am to shame my Instagram followers for not understanding/ appreciating the “artistic integrity” behind my point-and-shoot efforts on my weeny cell phone camera. 

My Top 5 Most Under-Appreciated Instagrams
*Please note, most of my justifications are completely made up and a load of waffle. 
This photo comments on society’s vanity. Jeremy poses with a hybrid of “Duck Face” and “Clout Pout” to show the unattractive, amoral underbelly of the Fashion industry. He is in essence, MODERN ART, people! How did you not see the inherent message behind this impromptu image and Jeremy’s appallingly scary facial expression?

Guys! I found the Rainbow Fish from This Fable, and you are acting like it’s no big deal that I met a celebrity. Admittedly,  yes,  I wasn’t scuba diving or even snorkeling. I found him in a tank… at an aquarium. But it was still a rare “find.” You may have noticed that it is slightly blurry. Perhaps that was why you did not “like” this photo when it appeared on my Instagram reel. But if you could see the minutes of diligent effort that I spent trying to get this fish at an appropriate, non PG-13 angle, where his body wasn’t swimming suggestively, then you certainly would have been more eager to HEART THIS PHOTO UP.
Admittedly, there is not inherent artistic quality to this photograph, but I was saddened that more people weren’t excited about the existence/ NAME OF this product. SMENCILS. Shelby-Russels, you guys appropriately reacted to the Smencil, my Gourmet Pencil that smelled like Root Beer, so you are off the hook. But by and large friends, your lack of enthusiasm was underwhelming. I love my Smencil so much it sleeps under my bed at night… Because it rolled under there and it’s dusty, so I haven’t gotten it out yet.
This piece was titled “Bird Late for Work,” and… I’m embarrassed to say I was genuinely proud of this composition. This solo bird was a stark juxtaposition to the impatient humans in the Chicago subway. It was out of sorts with its natural habitat, yet so serene and patient. Don’t even get me started on the irony and symbolism richly apparent in this Instagram. This Pigeon was an example to us all. If only you had known.  
Look. I’m a high school English Teacher. I know that Poetry seems like an outdated artform. But this was profound!
I blame myself that this photo was overlooked. There was a typo in my caption. I wrote, “My give year old nephew’s magnetic poem.” Probably you didn’t know what a give year old was. But I meant to say my “five-year-old” nephew, Thomas, though I believe he is six now. At such a young age, he perceived one of the most basic human truths about society, and we judge and measure ourselves up to our peers. Of course, I’m interpreting this formalistically, so I should probably question his lack of commas, even though this is a list in a series. I might also interpret the meaning behind putting “myself” in between man and friend. What does that say about how Thomas situates himself in this society.  Also he used Ampersands, which tickles my English Teaching funny bone.
ALSO: It’s cute because all the poems Jeremy and I made are way up high. This poem was situated near the bottom of the fridge, much closer to Thomas’ little height. While that is not captured in the image, it certainly adds to the over all effect. 
So there. Now I hope you all feel sheepish. Or I hope you go back through the annals of my Instagram reel and see if you were one of the few to understand the real MESSAGE behind my trite little photographs. Feel free to “heart” if you’ve had sudden epiphanies. Username: SierrasPen 😛

Update: I just “linked up” with Brooke’s Instagram Link Up. I didn’t know there was such a thing.


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How do you end your college career? Especially your college career as an English Teaching Major? And more importantly how do you punctuate the end of your English Teaching Major Undergrad Education?

  • I think predominantly, the last semester produced a sort of fizzle effect, a pathetic wheeze into the finish line that is best characterized “grammistically” (made it up, whatcha gonna do about it?) by a “…”
  • At times throughout my college career, and this semester especially there was a lot of indecision and uncertainty, which as we all know looks a lot like this “?” Unless it looks more like this “!?” or even this “!?” when you are having a panic attack about all the choices you have to make (Man, I could really use an interrobang right now).
  • Once I walked out of that last final this morning, all I really wanted to do was click my heels with a giant “!”
  • But even though I am immensely relieved, finally breathing again, proud of myself, enormously grateful for all the support, and tremendously excited for my future, I can’t help but pause and recognize that another one of life’s major milestones has come and gone. And the only real way to punctuate that moment of bittersweet solemnity with a note of resonant finality is one giant .”

I’m done. I’m done with college. 


Delicious Dystopia

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So, Question: Am I a bad person for LOVING the Hunger Games movie?…Much more than I loved the book, I might add. Last night we saw it with a large group, and the boys seemed unanimous in their approval of the movie, but it seemed the movie left a bad taste in all the girls’ mouths. Many girls I know chose not to go see this movie on a moral high ground because the premise is kids killing each other. Should I have also abstained from the blood bath? And I answer myself, “Perhaps…”

If you are looking to be surprised by the plot of the book/movie, I suggest that you not read this blog, and I also suggest that you might be living under a rock, because this story is everywhere. But I think the reason I justify my love for this book is because I have recently (I know, bad English Teacher Sierra) discovered dystopian literature. I got to read and teach Fahrenheit 451 with my high school students, and the book rocked my WORLD. Fahrenheit 451 depicts a community of people that have outlawed reading because it brings suffering (due to excessive thinking, don’t you know), and have instead favored enormous, four-walled flat screened TV’s that they can interact with. These people have become numb to their relationships, they find conversing with one another “strange.” They are calloused to horrible things like war, and they trivialize death. They drive fast just to have fun, just to feel anything…. And yes, the story is hyperbolic, but I just had to realize how not far off Ray Bradbury was in predicting our future. We numb ourselves with television, and Hulu wants us to watch Grey’s Anatomy on our lunch breaks, and facebook and texting have replaced intra-personal communication in many ways. I don’t really know much about the war in Afghanistan right now. And I know death exists, but I don’t really know anyone intimately that hasn’t died of old age, so therefore, death’s not REALLY a real thing to me just yet. Don’t worry, I know there are problems with that! I am criticizing myself here, people! And so was Ray Bradbury. Controversially, I think he was dead on.

I believe Suzanne Collins, in writing the Hunger Games, is a similar societal commentary, although I have to say, I did not always appreciate her “bumbling rhetoric” (someone on Facebook called it that. Sorry, that’s the best citation I can give). She satirized fashion, making the statement that when we run out of new ideas with fashion, we will keep pushing vanity to an extreme. By having her characters dress up with 9-inch eyelashes and PURPLE up to our brows, and nails with 3-D fixtures and ornate wigs… She’s making fun of us, people.

I recently subscribed to an Instagram (profile?) called Fashion Forward. I’m not sure why. Well, maybe it’s because of my deeply rooted ideology that I need to look cute. Anyways, here were two recent “Fashion Forward” photos.

Here is Effie Trinket from the Hunger Games:
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Not so far off, right?
Furthermore, politically, Collins depicts a dystopia where peace is maintained hy having 24 teenagers thrust into a scientifically engineered arena of evilness to fight to the death, and then making this into a reality TV show that people wearing stuff pictured above watch and enjoy, make favorites, place bets, and spend money on. It’s a little sick. 
Jeremy and I both realized separately yesterday that we were like patrons of the Capitol by patronizing this movie–we were paying to watch kids killing each other…. I even got dressed up to see the film. That can look a lot like endorsement. 
Now, society hasn’t digressed back to Roman times with Lion’s and Gladiators just yet, but we do avidly watch Reality TV shows that are all about bringing people down, and killing their self-esteem. We do, to some extent, revel in others’ misery. Think: Shark Tank. Those people are mean to nice people. Sometimes, it feels immoral. We still watch it. The Bachelor–we are entertained by meanness and girls getting their feelings hurt–we pick favorites and make bets. We say salacious, mean things about the girls that were mean on the show. We become every bit as bad as these people… and I am TOTALLY guilty.

The Hunger Games is holding a mirror up to us, People.

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So here’s the reason, I think, I don’t feel bad about LOVING the movie last night. I think I got the message. I did not enjoy “the blood bath” so to speak. It made me cringe, like it was supposed to. But the movie made me look inward and say… there’s a problem here… even if it’s not really a problem yet. 

I know, I know–I’m changing my tune. Didn’t I just write THIS BLOG? But you know what, this movie was so well-acted (for the most part, cough cough Peetah… cough cough Gale), and so well depicted, and so well-adapted (awesome additions with the Seneca Crane under current, Gary Ross!), and so well-costumed, and just… so excellently executed… that I have to say: I’m reexamining. If nothing else, I think I’m going to cut The Bachelor from my life. It’s a big step for me. 
And the other reason to go see this movie:

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Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen. Wait ’till she tucks in her ducktail. 
You will know what I mean.
So, for those of you who actually made it to the end of this epically long blog, I applaud you (and would think it would be awesome if you commented on my blog, so I can see who is in on my experiment here). For those of you who merely looked at the pictures, skimmed for a second, and clicked away, don’t worry, I don’t blame you….
Ray Bradbury already predicted you would do exactly that.

Oh yeah… Here.

This was Jeremy’s way of preparing for the Hunger Games. This may also be reason # 467 that I married him.