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The Sandwich That Changed My Life: Bliss and Where To Find It

I’m not a big sandwich gal.

I mean don’t get me wrong, they’re great. I just can’t seem to finish a whole one. I always find myself dissecting the second half and pulling out the pieces that I like and leaving the other bits mutilated on the plate.

I don’t know why I do that. That’s kind of weird.

Anyway, the reason I tell you this is because a sandwich changed my life.

This past March I spent a week in Spain and a day in England. This was truly a magical week of visiting breathtaking cathedrals, eating yummy Marzipan shaped like cathedrals, and long walks around ancient architecture.

And while this was surely life changing, the most memorable part of this trip was actually something very simple. Eating a sandwich.

Let me provide some context.

After spending an amazing six days with my best friend Kristen and her lovely family (and becoming quite smitten with her 4-year old son), I took off on a plane and landed myself in London, England for a 16-hour layover.

I landed around 9PM and grabbed a cab to my hotel. I still had stars in my eyes from Spain and just hearing the British accents in the airport plastered a giant smile on my face.

The cabbie pulled up (on the opposite side of the street) and asked me where I was headed.

“Hayes!” I said. The town where my hotel was located was called Hayes.

As we drove around and out of the Heathrow Airport, I looked out into the night, my gigantic travel bag sitting next to me like a supportive friend. It was fun feeling like a world traveler. Me and this bag had seen a lot of amazing things the past week.

We arrived at The easyHotel and I pulled 30 Pounds from my worn Wells Fargo envelope for my cab driver.

When I stepped into my hotel room I felt like I was actually in Tokyo, Japan. It was like a little capsule and the bathroom door looked like the entrance to a spaceship. It wasn’t extravagant or expensive. It was simple and clean and would do the job nicely.

In the early morning I showered in the spaceship and took a cab to Windsor to see the Windsor Castle. It wasn’t open for tours until 9:30AM but because I had to check out of the hotel by 10AM I decided to go early. Plus they didn’t allow bags. My travel pack could not accompany me on this adventure.

So, there I was at 7:30 in the morning, stepping out of another cab in front of a castle. It was chilly and I’d only packed a light sweater, but the glow of the sun peaking out from behind the castle brought warmth to my soul.

I mean kind of. It was still really fucking cold.

I walked all around Windsor, seeing the castle from all angles. I took “The Long Walk” down from the castle and contemplated life. Tomorrow I’d be back in my classroom with my students. I loved my kids, but I was already feeling depressed about checking my school email, lesson planning, and grading things I should have graded weeks ago.

But for now I could just walk. Down this cold and open path. It was too early for tourists. It was just me, my footsteps, and a long walk.

Like really long. I must have walked a mile down that thing. (Editor’s note: The Long Walk is 2.65 miles or 4.26 kilometers if you’re British)

I walked back to the front of the castle, meandering down side streets and getting a little lost (it’s okay, Ma. I have a smart phone!). I got back to a coffee shop, ordered an English Breakfast tea cuz’ that sounded like a proper English thing to do, and booked an Uber to pick me up (cuz’ British people like Uber too).

When I got back to the hotel I packed up my human-sized bag, checked out, strapped it to my back, and headed down the street. I didn’t know where I was going or how I’d get there. It didn’t really matter. I still had a few hours to kill before I needed to be at the airport.

So I walked some more. And some more. And some more.

I didn’t stress myself out about where I was or where I needed to be.

But I was getting hungry from all this walking.

At this point I could go for a beer, but it was still only noon and I wanted to have my wits about me maneuvering the Heathrow Airport.

This is where the sandwich comes in.

I bet you were wondering. It’s been a very long build up. Get it. Because I was walking The Long Walk.

Okay, sorry. Back to the sandwich.

I decided to walk myself into a little grocery store to find some food. It was like a 7-Eleven except classier.

I was feeling rather European so I found a baguette, some cheese, prosciutto, and a handful of mustard packets. And a Red Bull. Because that bag is like 40 pounds (and I mean weight not price) and I’d easily walked 10 miles (16.093 kilometers) by now.

I brought my goodies to a park bench by an open courtyard and began to assemble my sandwich.

I sat there in that small courtyard and ate that whole sandwich, my bag and I taking up the entire park bench.

And as weird as this is about to sound: that was the happiest moment of my life.

It was the purest bliss I’d ever experienced. It was so simple. I was eating a sandwich. Granted, the fact that I was in a beautiful part of the world didn’t hurt, but I wasn’t taking pictures at Big Ben or any other tourist site. I wasn’t hitting the town for an exciting live band or salsa dancing with a sexy foreigner.

I was just eating a sandwich.

Time stopped being time. It was just place. Here on this bench with a mouthful of cheap bread and cheese with my travel bag sitting next to me quietly.

I stopped worrying about my upcoming existential crisis of quitting my job. I wasn’t looking at my phone. I wasn’t sending cute travel snapchats to my friends or panicking about how much money I had left in my little envelope.

I was just there. Truly in the moment. Slobbering all over myself with a giant smile on my face for absolutely no one to see but myself.

Transcendence. Mindfulness. Bliss. Whatever you want to call it, I was doing it.

For the first time ever I realized that happiness doesn’t just happen to you, you have to make it happen yourself. In every small and insignificant moment.

I’d traveled the world, seen beautiful things, yet I was still content to stress myself out about things that I couldn’t control. I felt burdened by my thoughts, feelings, and circumstance. And in that moment I let go. I let go of everything and allowed myself to be present in the simplest of events.

It’s not easy.

I’m not saying the next time you eat a sandwich you can’t transcend like I did, hey, maybe you eat a lot of bomb-ass sandwiches. But it might not happen that way for you. Everyone is different.

But I do know that bliss and happiness is possible. In the everyday and tiny moments that we can consciously choose to be present for and enjoy.

So show up for your life. Know when to pay attention to the small details and when to let yourself be in the moment. Travel the world and eat as many sandwiches as you can.

You only have this one life.

"2007 called, they want their jumping pictures back."

"2007 called, they want their jumping pictures back."

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It's Time to Cut the Shit About Trumpcare

As most of you know, I had a Craniotomy in 2014.

That means a really hot dude in his 40’s took a very fancy tool to the back of my noggin' and fixed some shit back there. I got a lot of fun drugs and a few weeks in an intensive therapy center where I spent a lot of time telling therapists that I didn’t need a wheelchair.

As you can see I’m super nonchalant about all this.

It’s easier that way.

I get to joke about my medical history all I want now.

And I can do that because I’m fucking alive.

You see, I had this thing. It’s called health care.

For those of you that don’t know what that is, it works like this:

Me: “Hey Dad, just curious, how much did my brain surgery cost?”

Dad: “About $285,000 dollars –”

Me: “I’M SORRY, WHAT?”

Dad: “Oh, yeah.”

Me: “Did you have to sell your body parts to pay that? DAD, DO YOU COOK METH.”

Dad: “No, I don’t cook Meth, dear. We had to pay about $14,000 or so to meet our maximum and our insurance paid for the rest.”

The number $285,000 dollars didn’t make sense to me. Even $14,000 was a high amount for my messed up brain to contemplate. How could it possibly be that these numbers added up?

Even scarier, what would have happened to me if I didn’t have health care?

The answer from my parents was a bit more complex.

“Remember in the E.R.?” My mom asked.

“I remember very little,” I said. “Except for being fucking terrified.”

The Emergency Room was a very scary place for me. It was like those scenes in movies in the hospitals where everyone is running around and people are screaming and dying. I didn’t close my eyes the entire time I was there.

hospital.jpg

“There was this guy in the hall outside your room,” Mom said. “He looked really messed up. It looked like Heroine or something else. They hooked him up to an IV and then once he was sober they threw him out on the sidewalk.”

“Did they give him a bill for thousands of dollars too?” I asked.

“They folded it up and stuck it in his back pocket,”

“What if he didn’t pay it? What if he was homeless or something?”

“The hospital pays it.”

“But what about me? What if you couldn’t afford to pay those hospital bills for my surgery?”

“They would have found a way to get our money.”

I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know this:

American health care is run like a business.

If you don’t believe me, ask my mother about the THREE times I was turned away at the ER without medical imaging or hospital care because I looked fine. I mean my brain was bleeding from the inside, but hey, I looked amazing. Then, anyway.

And this is with health care.

Listen, nothing in this world is perfect, okay?

Obamacare sought to keep insurance companies from denying people the right to apply for health insurance if they had pre-existing conditions.

This is great, you guys! That’s me! I have like five of those pre-existing conditions. Including being a woman, apparently.

The problem is people are the worst and some started abusing this system which hurt insurance companies. But here’s the thing too. The health care under Obamacare? It currently covers millions of people. And once that shit goes away?

Well, hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself.

I had to do some research. Because I was a little confused. Okay I was a lot confused.

What is Trumpcare anyway? According to trumpcare.org here are the 7 points of the proposed health care bill and my take on each of them.

1. Completely repeal Obamacare. Our elected representatives must eliminate the individual mandate. No person should be required to buy insurance unless he or she wants to.

Nobody wants to pay for insurance, obviously. Do you think I like having this shit taken out of my paycheck, you peasant? Oh, I forgot this is YOU we’re talking about. You’ve probably never had to pay for anything your whole damn life, my apologies.

Listen: you know what I do enjoy though? Knowing that if my fucking head explodes that I won’t DIE. So, you know what, give me the health care. Give me all the damn health care. I’ll take two beefy health cares with some health care sprinkled on top. With a pre-existing condition on the side.

If you're curious about how Obamacare compares to Trumpcare, I found this lovely graphic courtesy of trumpcare.com:

2. Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines. As long as the plan purchased complies with state requirements, any vendor ought to be able to offer insurance in any state. By allowing full competition in this market, insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up.

Okay, I don’t truly know what to think about this one other than that the words “full competition in this market” don’t sound like they should be in the same sentence as my health insurance. Also “consumer satisfaction.” That’s funny to me for some reason. Do I get to buy a Snicker's Bar in the ER? That would make this consumer very satisfied

3. Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns under the current tax system. Businesses are allowed to take these deductions so why wouldn’t Congress allow individuals the same exemptions? As we allow the free market to provide insurance coverage opportunities to companies and individuals, we must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance. We must review basic options for Medicaid and work with states to ensure that those who want healthcare coverage can have it.

You know, this part sounds great. If you do your taxes, that is. I guess when I think about people “slipping through the cracks” I think back to that dude on Heroine outside of my ER room. The truth of the matter is, the hospitals will not turn you away if you don’t have health insurance. They will treat you. I mean they won’t make you a banana split from the dining hall or anything, but they’ll try their best to keep you alive. As for Medicaid, I don’t personally have it, but I know people that do. And they’re all gonna be fucked.

4. Allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Contributions into HSAs should be tax-free and should be allowed to accumulate. These accounts would become part of the estate of the individual and could be passed on to heirs without fear of any death penalty. These plans should be particularly attractive to young people who are healthy and can afford high-deductible insurance plans. These funds can be used by any member of a family without penalty. The flexibility and security provided by HSAs will be of great benefit to all who participate.

I’m sorry. But do you know what I’ll be “passing on” to my “heirs?” A hot glue gun and a closet full of ripped clothing. Who the fuck even are you? Okay, so I did some research on this one. Health Savings Accounts were available under Obamacare too. HSA’s are high deductible health insurance plans with tax benefits. I’ve hit my deductible for the past couple of years, okay. Like, real quick. Do you know how expensive an MRI is? That’s beside the point, but anyway. HSA’s work in that once you hit that deductible, the insurance company starts paying. Then that money left in the HSA builds interest. And I’m asking myself…what LEFT OVER MONEY. What, you think there’s just left-over money hanging around after I pay for my Giant Metal Donut Exam (that’s what I call my MRI’s)?

Also: did you just say, “young people who are healthy who can afford…?” I SHOULD SMACK YOU. Okay, okay, so maybe it’s just me with the extensive list of medical problems and a net-worth of negative $76,000 dollars, but I mean are you serious? I know way too many young people who are not only in debt, but who are living without health care and just praying not to have anything wrong with them so that they don’t have to take out another loan or sell a kidney to take care (of that kidney).

That’s funny.

Selling a kidney to take care of a kidney.

Damn, I’m good.

And did someone say "death penalty?" Hey, man. Everyone's thinking it. You said it. 

All in favor of throwing our orange leader to the stocks say "I!"

5. Require price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals. Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.

Hey, I like this one. I like shopping. Especially when it’s for shit that could keep me alive. I guess I just don’t see how this would really work.

Doctor: “Your next MRI is due. Here are your options, $25,000 from Images R Us, $23,500 from Donut Holes Inc, -”

Me: (checks wallet) “Nah, you know I think I’ll skip this year.”

6. Block-grant Medicaid to the states. Nearly every state already offers benefits beyond what is required in the current Medicaid structure. The state governments know their people best and can manage the administration of Medicaid far better without federal overhead. States will have the incentives to seek out and eliminate fraud, waste and abuse to preserve our precious resources.

This one? Oh, this one’s hilarious. You’d like to “seek out and eliminate fraud, waste and abuse” now, do yuh? Let’s start with you shall we- (rolls up sleeves, drags giant waste bin to White House).

Alright, alright. So I can’t throw the President of the United States in a trash can. But I really fucking want to.

I guess what scares me about this one is that states get to decide things. Isn’t this what leads to gay marriage being illegal just because a “state doesn’t want to?” States are kind of starting to sound like assholes to me. All I’m saying is, laws should be laws. I don’t like the idea of certain states opting out of something that’s right just because they feel like it.

And I’m sorry, but providing health care to people who need it is just the right thing to do.

7. Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products. Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.

Hmm. This one’s interesting. Didn’t I just read in the paper this weekend that Mr. Trumpy thinks everyone is being a giant bully to U.S. trade? Didn’t I just read that Trump has already threatened to terminate NAFTA with Canada and Mexico and thinks that the World Trade Organization is biased? Isn’t he trying to get rid of all this foreign trade nonsense? But I mean hey, if I can get some sweet new brain pills from Singapore, let’s do this man. I’m all about it.

Listen, I don’t have the answers to this whole mess.

I’m just a brain damaged comedian looking for ways to survive in this world. And right now things are okay for me. My head isn’t bleeding anymore. I can see right-side up again. We’re all good over here.

But I’m scared.

I’m scared of what the Emergency Room will look like in the next few years. I’m scared of the fact that my own doctor didn’t want me to get medical imaging because it was too expensive. I’m scared that this triage method of care will kill thousands of people like me that look fine on the outside, but are in desperate need of a closer look.

Recently, Trump acknowledged that the requirement for all individuals to have insurance, or face a fine, is un-american. And while nobody likes being fined, this isn’t a business, okay? These are people’s fucking lives.

According to a press release by Senator Charles Schumer (D) today, “Trumpcare would be a cancer on the American health care system,” he says. “Unless you’re a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare.”

Our bodies are so supremely fragile. We need health care like we need breathing. This isn’t a choice to be left up to politicians anymore.

Please like, comment, and share this blog. Visit the links throughout this post. Start conversations with your colleagues. Call your Congressmen and women. Sign petitions. Riot. Kick and scream.

Fight for your own lives.

Because nobody else will.  

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What I'll Miss About Teaching...And What I Won't

The cat’s out of the bag. Or more accurately, the pencils have scattered onto my carpet. The Cheetos have scrunched themselves all over my teaching desk. Whatever metaphor you choose, I’ve officially released the information:

I’m quitting my job as a high school teacher.

I decided this in September, a mere two months into the new school year. It was a painful realization.

I’d just ended a relationship and I was the biggest mess I’d ever been. I stumbled into the coffee shop to meet my best friend Kristen for our monthly writer’s group.

“I think I’m dying,” I said sobbing into a cup of coffee. “It’s over. My life is over. Everything is awful and I don’t know what to do,”

Kristen listened patiently as both of our coffees got cold. I explained to her my pain and anguish. I told her I choked on a muffin once on the way to work and thought I might die on the way to my shitty job.

That’s when it hit me.

Maybe I wasn’t just unhappy that I lost a loving relationship. Maybe I was also unhappy at my job.

It was the biggest light bulb to ever explode in my consciousness.

“But what am I supposed to do?” I asked her. “I can’t just quit,”

“Yes, you can,” she said. “You can quit.”

I don’t know why I needed her to say the words. But somehow I needed permission. I needed someone to tell me that it was okay if I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore.

I was becoming a martyr. Every single day I was losing more and more of myself to my career. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.

And even scarier, I was good at hiding it.

When I told my students last week that I was leaving, they were shocked. Some gasped out loud. A few started tearing up. Many came to hug me at the end of class. One shouted from the back, “I bet she’s leaving because of us.”

Don’t flatter yourself, darling. This actually has nothing to do with you.

The news didn’t impact every kid. I still found a tiny penis made of clay on my computer keyboard. I still stepped in a wad of gum on my way out the door. The world hadn’t stopped existing because I’d said the words.

I have a lot of feelings about the past two and a half years of teaching. Some that make me laugh and many that keep me up at night. It’s hard to say right now if I’ll end up in a classroom again. I can’t say for sure where my life is taking me or what I’ll accomplish in this lifetime.

But I do know that there are a few things I’ll miss about this job. And a few things I won’t.

What I’ll Miss:

The look on a kid’s face when they finally get what I’ve been trying to teach them for the past hour.

What I Won’t Miss:

The fact that I’ve been repeating the directions to this assignment for the past hour and you just now are listening.

What I’ll Miss:

When a kid tells me that I am their favorite teacher.

What I Won’t Miss:

Realizing that I might be surrounded by some really incompetent teachers.

What I’ll Miss:

When a quiet kid in the back cracks a smile at that joke I just made.

What I Won’t Miss:

When half my class is on their cellphones and misses that joke I just made.

What I’ll Miss:

Finding surprise love notes from my children on my desk.

What I Won’t Miss:

Finding surprise hate emails from parents in my inbox.

What I’ll Miss:

My kids embracing my weirdness.

What I Won’t Miss:

Having to embrace the weirdness of telling a parent their kid can be kind of an asshole.

What I’ll Miss:

Seeing my sleepy 1st and 2nd period classes try to stay awake during a note taking day.

What I Won’t Miss:

Trying to stay awake during Profession Development meetings.

What I’ll Miss:

Wednesday’s after school with my Comedy Club.

What I Won’t Miss:

Not getting paid for all the cool shit I do after school.

What I’ll Miss:

Seeing my students participate in community building and volunteer work like a week to raise thousands of dollars to send a terminally ill 4-year-old to Disney World.

What I Won’t Miss:

Being told I have to buy my own paper to make copies for my students. And also that I’m not really allowed to use the copy machine in the first place.

What I’ll Miss:

When my students wave to me in the hallway, then whisper to their friends about how cool I am.

What I Won’t Miss:

When I get a pen from administration on Teacher Appreciation Day. Okay and some ice cream. That was nice I guess.

What I’ll Miss:

When my student’s remember to say “please” and “thank you” because I’ve taught them the value of being kind and respectful.

What I Won’t Miss:

When I tell people I’m a teacher and they treat me like I have cancer. Or when they tell me the education system is fucked up because of me.

What I’ll Miss:

When a kid writes something funny on their paper, or leaves me a cute drawing.

What I Won’t Miss:

The endless stream of grading papers that is so intense I have literally started grading papers in my dreams.

What I Won’t Miss:

Not having a social life for 10 months out of the year.

What I Won’t Miss:

Being told I don’t deserve to have Spring Break's, Christmas Break's, or Summer’s off.

What I Won’t Miss:

Spending thousands of dollars on school supplies for my students.

What I Won’t Miss:

Ripping literally EVERY nice article of clothing I have on a damn desk because my classroom is above capacity.

What I Won’t Miss:

People adding more and more students to my classes and then having to add more desks to my room for me to trip over.

What I Won’t Miss:

Spending several hours in a meeting that could have been an email.

What I Won’t Miss:

Passing out on the disgusting couch in the office throughout the school day because I am so tired.

What I Won’t Miss:

Other teachers telling me “not to be tired.”

What I Won’t Miss:

Bullshit tasks that measure my “effectiveness” as a teacher.

What I Won’t Miss:

STANDARDIZED TESTING, MOTHERFUCKERS.

What I Won’t Miss:

That one kid. That one motherfucking kid.

What I Will Miss:

The rest of my kids.

I could keep going. For ever and ever.

The truth of the matter is the only thing I’ve ever loved about this job is the kids. When I told them that, they gave me a round of applause. They supported me. They knew I would always love them. They asked if they could add me on Snapchat and Instagram at the end of the year. I said I would think about it.

It’s been the toughest choice of my life. After all, I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life thinking about and becoming a teacher. It’s hard to imagine my identity as anything else.

But I know that I have worth outside of my classroom.

As a writer, as a comedian, and as a creative force.

And I wouldn’t be any of those things without the experiences I’ve had as a teacher.

So maybe it’s not goodbye forever. Maybe I can simply close the door to my classroom and open a window and crawl in elsewhere.

And maybe in that place I won’t have to step in any more gum wads or Cheetos.

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13 Reasons Why You Need to Talk to Teens About Suicide

Listen. I love Netflix binges.

On Saturdays and Sundays, and sometimes (if I’m really getting addicted) on a weeknight. I’m likely not unique this way. There’s simply nothing better than getting wrapped up in a good story.

I’m also aware that I live under a rock.

Aside from my Facebook news feed and my high school students, I’m pretty damn oblivious. And with the way things are these days, I generally like it that way. 14-year-old's, college buddies, and the occasional depressing dose of National Public Radio are my only connections to “the world.”

And don’t forget those Netflix documentaries.

After seeing My Beautiful Broken Brain I immediately emailed the producer demanding to meet her and the writer. After watching Black Fish I cried for one whole hour, called my best friend, and then watched Free Willy and cried some more.

The information we consume in the world and on the screen emotionally impacts us. These things have the power to take hold of us, consume hours of our time and make going to the bathroom in the middle of a binge seem like high treason.

“Miss,” my student piped up as I was about to change the slide on yet another thrilling lecture on The Cold War. “Have you seen 13 Reasons Why?”

“I haven’t,” I said. “What is it?”

“Oh, MISS. You’ve gotta see it. Netflix. This weekend. You’re welcome.”

And so I went home like any respectable and curious teacher and voila, there it was.

“The kids won’t shut up about this show,” I told my mom. “Want to try it?”

And so we sat. For hours. Binging one of the most emotionally compelling, depressing, and horrifying program I have ever seen.

I won’t spoil it for you. That’s just mean.

But what I will do is tell you how hard this show was to watch, not only as a human, but as a teacher who has lost a student to suicide and who interacts with children every day.

Here are 13 Reasons to talk to a teenager today about suicide:

1.     Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years old after motor vehicle and other related accidents.

2.     Four out of five teens who attempt suicide gave clear warning signs.

3.     As girls begin to enter puberty earlier and earlier, they encounter changes sooner. According to Arielle Sheftall at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio “girls might be opening the door to anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders earlier on in life.” This in turn makes girls into women faster, leaving them vulnerable to sexual abuse, harassment, and cyber bullying.

4.     Teens are highly influenced by the media and news they consume daily. Things as small as a twitter post or a video can go viral in an instant, and so too can stories of teen suicide and the perceived and real attention it gathers. “When you talk about death, you be sure to talk about the resources that are available in that community for people who may be at risk,” says Jarrod Hindman of the state Office of Suicide in El Paso County, Colorado.

5.     Children are still developing the problem solving and reasoning areas of their brains. Many teenagers don’t know yet how to process their emotions or feel that they could be punished if they reveal them. This can make asking for help difficult.

6.      Since 1995, a new game among teens has developed called the "choking game" which involves the dangerous practice of strangling yourself (or being strangled by someone else) to get a quick high from the oxygen being cut off from the brain. In a report released in 2006 by the Williams County Youth Health Risk Behavioral Survey, 20% of the survey sample of 17 to 18-year old’s in the county had participated in this fatal game.

7.       Teen suicide often comes with what is refered to as a “cluster effect.” Madelyn Gould, of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City's team of researchers “used state death data to find 48 teen suicide clusters that occurred across the United States between 1988 and 1996. Each cluster involved a community where between three and 11 teenagers killed themselves within a six-month period.”

8.     Our world can make it hard to catch warning signs in teens like loss of interest, over or under sleeping, small changes in appearance, and more. Classrooms are packed making it hard for teachers to talk to each student every day. Parents are busy. Friends can be flakes. We live in a society that is so fast paced and distracted that simple and preventative measures are not taken with children who may be struggling right in front of us.

9.     People can be really shitty sometimes. Adults, children, and elected government officials. Not everyone is taught to truly care about other humans around them. Not everyone learns that love is stronger than hate. If children are not shown love properly, it is no wonder they see the world as a cruel place, which sometimes it can be. Teens who attempt or succeed suicide try to escape bullying, humiliation, and harassment and often feel that they have no other choice.

10.  There are more resources surrounding suicide today than ever before. There are help groups, phone numbers, outreach programs, and start-ups. Survivor Dese’Rae L. Stage created the Live Through This project, inspiring hundreds of suicide survivors young and old to share their stories of struggle and survival openly to others in need.

11.  Luis. Luis is a 14-year-old. He’s in my Geography class. Over the past year I have developed a special soft spot for this kid. In the 8th grade Luis got hit in the head by a soccer ball by another student on purpose. He had a severe concussion and has recently been overcome with anxiety and depression over his new symptom of memory loss. Sometimes Luis tells me he feels “behind” his peers and takes longer to do assignments now. He has an A in my class and works his butt off for it.

The day after Donald Trump got elected Luis came to me crying. He was scared that the new president was going to take his mother away from him because she didn’t have papers. I let this sweet child cry on my shoulder that day, and many days since then.

This year Luis made the counseling department’s watch list after expressing to me and the counselor that he was depressed and that he’d thought about hurting himself. He felt alone and scared. He didn’t think his brain could heal or that he’d be able to keep up with school or have a social life.

When I was in Spain for Spring Break I worried about Luis a lot. I worried that for 10 whole days he’d be on his own without me to protect him. I found Luis’ last name on a little key chain with his family crest and brought it back to him.

He wouldn’t even take it out of the plastic wrapping. He told me it was his most cherished possession.

In the past few weeks I’ve convinced Luis to join my after school Comedy Club program. He’s a natural. He has a shy and sneaky comedic presence and the crew has taken him in as one of their own. The other boys invite him over to their houses to play video games and the girls in class even share their fun drama with him.

I monitor Luis closely. Because he’s more special to me that he will ever know.

12.  His name was Charles. Sometimes Chuck. He made me cry during my student teaching semester in the Spring of 2015 when he challenged my authority after an administrator from another school was observing me teach for a job interview. He was quiet, but social. He might have appeared broody, poetic even. His handwriting was messy. I think he had a girlfriend, or at least a girl he sat in the hall with during lunch. He wasn’t much for talking to me, but he was smart. Scary smart for a 14 year old.

One time he wrote something concerning on an assignment I graded. It was hard to make out because of his handwriting. But it was political, maybe even a little aggressive. I got the impression that he did not think that people were genuinely good. “Nobody actually cares.” I told my cooperating teacher and we took the assignment down to the Psychologist’s office. We talked to her about Chuck and our concerns, we were told to “keep an eye on him.”

I made an effort to ask him how his day was going. I think I asked to stand on his skateboard once. He thought it was funny to watch me goof around and lose my balance.

Maybe he smiled. Then again, maybe he didn’t.

My memories of this young man and our time together are as quick and fleeting as a startled bird in flight.

Chuck committed suicide in the Fall of 2015. I got the call from my friend and former cooperating teacher on my way home from school.

My new job. With new faces and new names. New stories of students who had the ability to make me want to drive my head through a wall and smother them in love all in the same 50 minute class period.

I hadn’t thought about Chuck in a long time. I hadn’t thought about all the small moments that could have lead to his decision to leave forever. In a sense I’d put it away. He was a tiny memento on my teacher desk. I could still teach my new students. I could love them without fear of losing them.

That’s when 13 Reason’s brought it all back.

It brought everything back like a painful collision with a 2 by 4 to my entire being. I couldn’t even measure what I was feeling. I couldn’t understand why my stomach felt like it had slowly fallen out of my belly button and onto the floor.

How many Chuck’s have to sacrifice themselves before we finally see the truth?

I know in my heart that I did everything that I could think of at the time to help Chuck. I know many others that did the same. I know the cruelty that the world can possess and the consequences of feeling alone. I know that Chuck’s story is one of millions.

And I need it to stop. Right here and right now. And I know what I have to do.

I have to keep loving my children. Big and small. Size 14 Shoe and Soon To Be Growth Spurts. Mexican, Muslim, and even that one kid that I’m pretty sure is a Nazi.

I have to love them. And love them. And love them some more.

And even when my time in the classroom ends I will still love them. I will dream of grading their papers in my sleep. I will write letters to each and every one of them before the school year ends.

I will cry a whole lot. Because I can’t save them all.

But I will love them anyway for as long as I can. Because the world does not need reasons to help a child in need.

Not a single one.

For more resources about how you can help combat teen suicide please click the bolded links in this blog or visit www.safe2tell.org for more information and share this post with friends and family.

Editor’s Note: Writing reason number 13 was interrupted by half an hour of sobbing, a teary eyed phone call, 6 hours of sleep, and a school day. It was not until the next day that I was able to compose myself enough to finish this.

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Brain Injury Awareness Month: Stop Telling Me Not To Be Tired

Who me? Oh, I'm fine. Never been better, actually. 

Who me? Oh, I'm fine. Never been better, actually. 

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being tired.

But mostly I’m tired of people pointing out that I’m tired. And telling me not to be tired.

Most people would attribute this to, you know, normal tiredness. A standard result of lack of sleep, early mornings, and insufficient amounts of caffeine. But most people don’t understand what it feels like to have a brain injury.

In honor of March, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I’d like to take you on a little journey inside the mind of brain injured person. Please keep in mind that this is only my story. There are thousands of people with TBI and I am only one voice.

Here goes.

4:45 A.M. My alarm goes off. A lovely Adele tune. But Adele can fuck off right now cuz' I’m pushing snooze.

4:55 A.M. Adele’s back. And this time she sounds aggressive about awakening me with her love ballad. But it won’t work. I don’t need to shower that bad. I roll over after carefully selecting an increment of time to awaken me once more.

5:08 A.M. Okay seriously, Adele, fuck off. Fine. Fine. I’m up. I peel the covers off one baby toe. Nope. I was lying. It was a farce. A charade. I’m not ready. I add an unknown amount of minutes to the alarm and crumble back beneath my sweaty covers.

5:12 A.M. The alarm sounds once more and I delegate if I really need to wash my hair or if I can just throw some water on it and affix it to the side of my head like a chic explosion of hair. How hipster of me.

5:12 A.M. I pull my phone from the charger and close one eye as I check my Facebook feed for any new friends to be engaged or pregnant. I have to close one eye or else my vision is double. At least this early in the morning. Three engagements today. I then open my email to check for any email responses from book agents. One. We’re sorry to inform you that your book is not the right fit for us at this time. I think about asking if they’d reconsider in a few months once they’d lost weight. I chuckle because I think I’m funny. Instead I say nothing and violently throw the covers from my body.

5:13 A.M. I stumble out of bed, knocking things over and dropping my phone on my big toe. I grope my way to my dresser and find several bottles of medication. Some to keep me from getting fat. Other to supposedly keep me awake. And a gummy vitamin because I’m a god damn adult.

5:15 A.M. I’ve made my way to the shower now and am waiting shivering and naked for the water to reach 1,000 degrees. I step inside carefully, making sure to hold onto the towel rack as I enter one shaky leg at a time.

5:20 A.M. The scalding water renews me. I spin in slow circles as waves of warmth hit various parts of my tired body. But I’m dizzy. I’m always a little dizzy in the shower. Every so often I have to stop and check for the presence of walls and try not to slip my way to an embarrassing death.

5:27 A.M. I pull my towel from the rack and press it to my face, then to the back of my neck. I let the soft material trace the outline of my scar. I shake it through my soaking locks then reach again for the towel rack as I clumsily step out of the shower and onto the bath mat.

5:33 A.M. I tear apart my closet looking for the shirt I want to wear. I could have sworn I put it back in the correct spot. But instead it plays hide and seek as I run around my room naked and helpless. I refuse to wear any other shirt.

5:40 A.M. I discover the shirt rolled up and under my pillow. Which makes absolutely no sense. By now my hair has frizzed out and requires a complex set of taming techniques to regain composure.

5:41 A.M. Did I take my medication? I can’t remember. Fuck.

5:45 A.M. I sit down on my floor in front of my mirror and begin the task of making my face look less terrifying. I add layers of tinted goo to my cheeks and nose and make sure to cover any trace of acne. Which is a pretty lengthy task. What am I, a fucking 14 year old? What the hell is this, the surface of the Moon?

5:55 A.M. My face is done but my eyes fill with tiny tears as I yawn. They stream down my face like I’ve just watched The Notebook. I dab at them and riffle through the kitchen for breakfast and lunch options.

5:55 A.M. I wander around the kitchen but then forget why I’ve gone there.

5:55 A.M. No seriously, what am I doing in here.

5:55 A.M. Oh shit, food. Okay, I can do food. Food is good.

5:58 A.M. I throw a frozen burrito in my bag and pull hot water from the microwave for my tea. I know it’s a bad idea to go with tea instead of the coffee. But maybe it’s all the coffee that’s making me so tired. Also I’m an addict. So I am already flirting with disaster and it’s not even 6.

5:59 A.M. I see a reflection of myself in the microwave and notice that all of my yawning has effectively ripped half of the make-up from my face. I run back to my room to fix myself.

6:05 A.M. I leave the apartment and walk swiftly to my car, trying my best to see through my fogging contact lenses.

6:20 A.M. I’m well into half-way through my commute to work now, jamming to Backstreet Boys and sipping my tea carefully. I’ve already sipped prematurely; burning my lips twice.

6:25 A.M. I feel comfy. Like I might fall asleep. The problem is I’m not in my bed, I’m in my car. Driving a metal death machine. I stretch my eyes open wide and turn up the music louder.

6:33 A.M. Shit am I going to make it to work? How am I this tired? Didn’t I get the standard 8 hours of sleep last night? Did I take my medicine? I can’t remember. I must have. But it’s not working. Focus. Focus. Sip tea. Focus.

6:40 A.M. I arrive in the parking lot of school and close my eyes in relief. But I open them immediately because I’m afraid that I’ll fall back asleep and miss 1st period.

6:50 A.M. I finally exit my car after 10 minutes of trying to coach myself out of the vehicle. You can do this. Greet the day with enthusiasm. What a load of bullshit.

6:52 A.M. Another teacher starts speaking to me from across the parking lot as we approach the school. “Are you awake? Time to wake up, Mimi! Rise and shine!” I feel like hauling off and hitting her. She has no idea the battle I’ve endured just trying to arrive here without committing vehicular homicide.

7:00 A.M. I’m in my classroom now and I’m moving slowly around the room trying to decide which task on my to-do list I should tackle in my tired stupor.

7:15 A.M. I didn’t tackle anything on the to-do list. Because I’ve passed out on the couch in the office and am awoken by the sound of colleagues moving around the office and tapping me to make sure that I’m breathing. I’m sure they are annoyed that I’ve been drooling all over the couch but they kindly motion me to join the waking world.

7:30 A.M. My students enter looking as exhausted as I feel.

“When I say ‘Good,' you say ‘Morning.’ GOOD………"

"mmmoroingign……."

"GOOD" 

"mmourrni.”

They mumble and grumble and we’re all just putting on a brave face because we all have beds at home and couches in the office missing us dearly.

8:15 A.M. My tea is cold because I’ve been too busy pestering my freshmen about writing in complete sentences to drink it. There’s also a bowl of yogurt getting warm because I haven’t remembered to eat it. And a burrito thawing in my bag because I’ve forgotten to put it in the freezer. There’s a pill on my teaching desk that I think I was supposed to take with food.

8:35 A.M. 2nd period. They’re a pretty chill group of kids. Except on days when Diana thinks it’s funny to shush me and Shawn literally will not stop asking me to check his grade. I am slightly more awake now and take a few bites of my warm yogurt. I am so busy helping students I forget to take attendance until the bell rings to end class.

9:20 A.M. I have 3rd period off. I want to take another power nap but I know I have to make copies and do shit. I finally put my burrito in the freezer. I heat my tea back up again.

10:00 A.M. I am trying to grade papers I’ve been putting off for days but keep getting distracted at how dirty my classroom is. I spend the next 15 minutes picking up every scrap of paper and gum wad on the carpet.

10:15 A.M. I decide to try to finish a stack before the kids come in for 4th. I search my desk for my tea. I’ve forgotten it in the microwave and it’s probably cold again.

10:16 A.M. I give up on the tea and pour some hot coffee from the pot instead.

10:20 A.M. I sip that coffee like it’s the only thing between me and a dark and mysterious death. It revitalizes me.

10:35 A.M. 4th period rolls in as the loud bell sounds shrill to my ears. I wince as the bell seems to last 30 whole seconds.

11:00 A.M. The kids start yelling at me because I keep telling them it’s Tuesday when it’s actually Friday. I misplace my worksheets three times and Brendan has to help me find them.

11:22 A.M. I haven’t sat down in what feels like years and I can’t remember the last time I went pee. Should have gone during 3rd. I stand on a chair to make an announcement to the class then immediately forget what I was going to say. “Have a great weekend!” Damn it, I hope it wasn’t important.

11:30 A.M. Lunch time. Hell yes. I heat up my burrito and sit happily to eat it. My colleagues join me in the lounge and the small office fills up with sound. Suddenly every word feels like a blow horn. I try to focus on eating and checking my phone. I have 30 junk emails, 5 Snapchats, 1 text message, and a missed call. I am overwhelmed and put my phone back on the table.

12:05 P.M. The Children of the Corn are here -I mean 5th period. There’s less than a 5% chance that they’re going to listen to anything I say or get any work done whatsoever. I adjust my collar and fake a smile of confidence as they enter my classroom.

12:15 P.M. If someone walked in this room right now they’d fire me or take me to jail. I haven’t taken attendance, my coffee is cold again, and I already lost my patience with every child in this room. Half of them are either eating (not allowed), texting (no), waltzing around the room (what the fuck are you DOING), or yelling to each other and cursing.

12:22 P.M. Just when I think I’ve gotten most of them SEATED with a god damn PENCIL so that they can answer a simple QUESTION on the BOARD, the phone rings. Angel’s mom is here. Great. Okay, bye Angel. Okay, back to-

12:22 P.M. A kid walks in the room with a pass. Alex needs to go to room 308. Okay. Go. Get out of here. Fine whatever. What am I teaching? Is anyone listening? We haven’t even answered the warm-up question.

1:05 P.M. I’ve resolved myself to attempting to carrying out the lesson. I can feel my blood pressure rising and my emotions the past half hour have ranged from psychotic to on the verge of a mental break down.

1:15 P.M. The calm after the storm. 5th period is gone. I collapse into my chair. I want to take a nap again or maybe cry in a corner, but I have to go to a meeting. I go to the office to fill my water bottle that I haven’t used all day. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the wall. I look like death warmed up.

1:45 P.M. The meeting’s done but I’m not sure I understood what anyone said. The words seemed to fill the air and get stuck there; tangling together. I leave the meeting and go to the restroom for the first time all day.

1:50 P.M. I go to the teacher’s lounge to buy a Cherry Coke. I sit on the couch and pass out until the bell rings for 7th period to start.

2:20 P.M. I sip my Coke and tell the kids that I fell asleep twice today on a couch older than I am. They laugh and we get our notes out for our activity. I walk them through directions but stutter on some of my words. They slur too, like I’m a little drunk.

3:21 P.M. I take attendance again as the kids are leaving, trying to remember which kids were in class. I peruse my room for further signs of food wrappers and scraps of paper. My body feels as though it’s been hit by a bus. My pedometer on my watch reads 7,000 steps.

3:45 P.M. I begin the long journey across town to my apartment.

4:10 P.M. I’m tired again. The kind of tired I was this morning and pretty much every moment since Adele rudely woke me up. I call up a friend to talk to me and keep me awake in traffic. She’s worried I’m so tired all the time. I tell her I drooled on myself today.

5:00 P.M. Home. Thank God.

5:01 P.M. Pants are off and I’m in bed.

9:30 P.M. I wake up to the sound of my own snoring. Is it too late to eat dinner? Cottage cheese and some potato chips? Is that fine? I eat my snacks then brush my teeth and wash my face and return to bed.

4:55 A.M. I do it all over again.

Traumatic Brain Injuries are unique and all-encompassing. They can mess with your emotions, your memory, and even your sense of self. Every survivor of TBI fights invisible battles every day.

Many of us are frustrated at the obstacles we face now that were never there before. We are tasked with overcoming these obstacles in whatever ways we can, all the while having to explain to people why we are the way we are in the hopes that we’re not told we’re “over reacting” or that we “look fine.”

My legs work okay. I’ve ripped 3 pairs of pants and a skirt this year while running into desks in my classroom. But I don’t have cancer (that I know of) and I can drive a car. I have singular vision now except in the morning when I wake up. I can do all the things I never thought I could just a few years ago.

But since then I’ve found that the struggle is still very much real. There are things I deal with every day that have changed who I am as a person and have held me back from certain things.

I’m not upset at my TBI. I actually think it’s the coolest thing about me. Not to mention all the hot dudes I can pick up in bars now with my sick scar.

But it’s changed me in a lot of ways that I am still coming to understand. And as I learn more and more about my brain and how it has impacted me, I just ask that you please be aware of TBI’s around you.

Don’t tell me not to be tired.

Ask me how I’m doing and mean it. Let me sleep on the couch and try to remind me to eat when I’m supposed to. Help me remember to take attendance and keep an eye out for where I hide things from myself.

Please help spread awareness for Traumatic Brain Injuries this month by clicking here.

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ROUGH Art Show!!!

This took my best friend like a lifetime to make...isn't she the  best ?

This took my best friend like a lifetime to make...isn't she the best?

"One masterpiece is the work of ten thousand rough drafts." -Emily Freeman

I never met Emily Freeman, but I bet she was one dedicated artist. The woman must have scrapped literally thousands of beginnings, middles, and endings of pieces I'm sure she considered giving up on entirely.

I've never considered myself an "artist."

In high school I began dabbling in stick figure art on the back of my homework and on tests I knew I was going to fail, but that didn't count.

I did theater, choir, and later in college I took up improv and stand-up comedy. For some reason I didn't think that counted either.

Then I wrote a book.

Two actually. And a third on the way (not pregnant, Mom...just ready to POP with ideas)

And oddly, nope. Still not an artist. 

It's not that anyone told me I wasn't, I was just conditioned by society to believe that art was done by professional people in impossibly clean galleries and with things I wasn't allowed to touch.

Many years ago I was in an art gallery in Boulder, bopping around a lot of obscure statues when I swung around and nearly knocked an octopus-shaped vase off of a stand. In that moment I knew I was out of place. 

I was a reckless child in an adult's quiet room.

But doesn't anyone else think this kind of "art" is a little weird? That you're just supposed to stare at this thing on the wall with no context, no investment, and no permission to interact with it?

Art is messy. Art is frustrating. Art is years and years of wanting to throw everything you've ever created or touched into a fire and watch it burn to the ground and become one with the Earth because it's absolute shit

Sound familiar?

Back in October I got real drunk. So I did what I normally do and I wrote a bunch of weird shit down.

Among the gems were: 

  • Make Periods Funny Again
  • I like my Kombucha like I like my cocaine...extremely overpriced and I do it to make me skinny
  • Hang book from the ceiling

From the items above, it appears that the last one on the list is a joke. And a drunk one at that. But a few weeks later I stumbled upon the list and told my friend Kristen about it. 

This is a really stupid (and drunk) idea...but what if I hung pages of my book from clipboards from the ceiling of an art gallery and gave people pens and they could mark it up? It would be like an art piece PLUS imagine how much I'll save on editing this stupid thing!

I sent the email thinking that would be the end of it...but no. Oh no. Nononononono. Kristen Jorden is one serious motherfucker. 

She told me it was not only a great idea, but possibly the best I'd ever had. She suggested expanding the show (it was a thing now) to multiple artists. She said we could make it interactive. She fucking emailed me everyday for a month.

And so it was. The birth of a monster. A beautiful, beautiful monster. 

And best of all, the mission was revolutionary. 

"Art is for everyone," she said. 

I'll never forget the first time anyone called me an artist. And it's true. Every human being possesses art within them, just waiting for us to be courageous enough to let it out. 

Not everyone believes this.

On our hunt for the perfect gallery for our art show, Kristen and I met her.

Her was a petite French woman who owned a gallery in the art district that we stumbled into on our search. We started asking her questions, telling her about our show, and inquiring about galleries in the area.

Le Petite French was not interested in our inventive art show. LPF couldn't give one fuck, really. 

"Art is not for the poor," she said as I bent down to the floor to pick up my jaw. "It is something that is not to be given to the public. It is not theirs."

Not even her lovely French accident could save her from my strong hands throwing her out the stained-glass window. 

Okay, so I didn't throw her out a stained-glass window. But I fucking wanted to. 

Kristen and I left offended and with bleeding ears for LPF had talked them off, leaving not even a nook or cranny of room for us to try to explain to her that WE were poor and WE were artists and WE were amazing. 

This show, ROUGH, means even more to me now than ever before. It contains 14 artists; painters, photographers, architects, quilters, writers, and ceramicists. It contains risk-takers, rough drafts, and the microcosms of art in-progress. 

This show is put on by artists and for everyone, for we are all artists. 

Please join us for this amazing opportunity to interact with live art in the works and give feedback to each artist on the direction of their pieces. They are counting on you to ask questions, suggest revisions, and play with their masterpieces that are yet to be fully realized.

And if you have a little snooty French artist friend, bring her too because we're going to knock her socks off all the way back to Paris.

Click here to check out our event page on Facebook! See you there!

Date: Friday, February 24th, 2017

Time: 5-10PM

Price: Free, Donations Accepted

Location: ReCreative Denver

765 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, Colorado  80204
720-638-3128

 

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What Having My Phone Stolen Taught Me About Myself

Look at me, I'm a nice new phone whose pictures haven't been backed up! Wanna take me for a field trip?

Look at me, I'm a nice new phone whose pictures haven't been backed up! Wanna take me for a field trip?

It’s 2:30pm and the florescent lights in my classroom are flickering ominously.

It’s been another long day and my patience dried up around 2nd period. I broke up a fight in 5th and spent the afternoon emailing a parent sending my condolences because one of my student’s grandmother had died.

Then there was the Inauguration.

My students were fidgety, the buzz of what would come in the next 4 years looming over our heads like a muddled storm cloud.

But I was optimistic. For a reason unknown to me I felt a surge of rebirth at the start of 7th period. It was a project work day. My upperclassmen Psychology class would be working on their “Build-A-Brain” projects today.

I unearthed an unusual amount of crafting supplies from my closet.

“Alright y’all,” I said enthusiastically. “I’ve got paint, I’ve got glue, I’ve got Popsicle sticks, string, a hot glue gun -about the glue gun please be careful, I’ve burned myself on this thing at least 5 times this year…

I set them to work; my hope in humanity revived as they reached for paint brushes and rifled through old magazines for pictures.

“Miss, can we add a Cerebellum to our brain?” A student asked.

“A Cerebellum?” I said. “Well of COURSE you can add a Cerebellum, Christine! That’s my favorite part of the brain!”

As I watched their creative gears turning madly I began to feel hopeful. I loved these kids. And they loved me. It was now 3pm on a Friday and we were happily working to create visual representations of our own beautiful brains.

I turned around to see Michelle painting her hand purple.

“Michelle?”
“Yes, Miss?
“What are you doing, my little angel?”
“Oh, I’m painting my hand,” she smiled. “I like how the paint and brush feel on my hand.”

It was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen take place in my classroom. This was a room filled with 17 and 18 year olds yet she was as pure and innocent as a Kindergardener on the first day of school.

I wanted to capture her in this moment; so happy and messy like a child.

So I took my phone from my drawer. I opened Snapchat to videotape her and her purple hand.

“Whatcha doin’, Michelle?” I asked holding down the record button.

“Painting my hand,” she said.

“How good of a teacher is Ms. H?”

“She’s the best,”

“That’s right, she’s the best because she let you paint your hand. That’s right.”

I sent the video to my closest friends and put the phone back in my pocket. I laughed with her and the others at their adorable nature then handed them my Clorox wipes.

“Now don’t get any of that paint on your sweater or your mom’s going to kill me,” I fake scolded.

It was moments like these that I treasured more than anything; the tiny instances of a child’s kindness and innocence. It was all I ever wanted to hold onto that 10 seconds forever.

And now I could. I’d captured it on my cell phone.

I knew it wasn’t necessarily allowed to do these kinds of things in school, but it was for me. It was my own little record of how much I adored my students.

When thinking about the fact that I was not supposed to be using my cell phone in my own classroom I hastily took the phone out of my pocket and put it back in my desk drawer. I heard it hit the bottom of the drawer with a small thud.  

I circulated back through the room to check in on students. Many of them were now ripping paper, gluing, and making an altogether fuss about which flavor of frosting to use on their brain cake. I joined them in their excitement and helped them think of creative ways to show me the functions of each lobe of the brain.

I checked back at the clock. Time had accelerated at unknown intervals.

“Alright folks!” I shouted over their buzzing. “Time to clean up! Man, time really flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? Just like that article we read on the first week of school about how the brain processes time –” I trailed off as we threw the craft supplies back into bins and I scoured the floor for trash.

“HEY, don’t you be leaving without your piece of trash and a smile, people! You owe me one piece of trash and a smile at the door and then you don’t even have to see me for 3 whole days!” I always tried to leave for the weekend with a spotless classroom. 7th period usually took one for the team and were tasked with finding every small scrap of paper on the floor before they were allowed to leave.

“…Piece of trash and a smile, thank you, Thomas. Piece of trash and a smile, Christine -and what a lovely smile, Christine! Thank you Jose, piece of trash and a smile, Clair have a lovely weekend –”

I probably sound like a fucking flight attendant.  

As they exited I noticed a student packing up slowly, reminding me that I needed to print him the notes that he’d asked for earlier.

“Oh, don’t go anywhere, let me go pick up those notes off the printer for you!” I hurried out of the room, leaving him unattended. None of this crossed my mind as dangerous territory because I was so happy that I’d ended the day on a high note.

Now I could go home and binge watch The OA and make some mac and cheese with extra cheese.

The printer needed more paper, so it hadn’t printed his notes. I filled the paper drawer and waited patiently as the pages printed. I’d forgotten to only print the few pages he needed so the document printing was quite long. It was taking a while so I thought I’d grab my student so that he wouldn’t think I’d left him high and dry.

“Hey, sorry it’s taking so long,” I said as I walked back into the room. “Why don’t you join me in the office and then you can grab them when they’re done?” I attempted small talk for a few minutes.

The notes finally finished printing and I handed them to him happily.

“Here you go! Have a great weekend!” As I handed them to him he was already on the phone with someone.

“Hey, where you at?” He said to his friend. He barely made eye contact and jutted out the office door and down the hallway. He seemed just as ready to go home on a Friday as I was. No matter.

It was 3:30pm now and I was slowly reorganizing my craft bins and getting ready to leave. A few students rolled in to say goodbye to me and I remembered that as tired as I was today, we’d survived another week together. 22 of them to be exact. And we’d still have another 20 some odd weeks ahead of us to get to summer. But we were in this together.

As I packed up my bag I reached into my drawer to grab my cell phone. It wasn’t there.

Hmm, that’s odd. I thought. I could have sworn I threw it in there after Michelle painted her hand.

I checked my bag. Nope.

Jacket pockets. Nope.

Floor. Nope.

Holy fucking shit where is my cell phone.

I’d done this sort of thing about a million times since my head injury. It’s normal for most people to misplace things, but for someone like me it’s a much larger problem.

If I don’t really focus on what I’m doing it wouldn’t be hard to put my keys in the freezer or leave my phone in the fridge.

I struggle with my memory on a minute to minute basis.

Okay, keep calm. I told myself. Walk backwards in a circle and retrace your steps.

I’d taken it out to record the painting incident. Put it in my pocket for a few minutes. And then put it…in my drawer right? Or was it in my bag? No, I already emptied my bag onto the floor five times already. Could I have hid it in the file cabinet? That’s insane. Yet I could see myself doing that...

I walked myself through all of the hypotheticals imaginable. All except the most obvious: theft.

A teacher friend walked by my room and I flagged her down.

“Hey, can you call my phone real quick?”

She called once and it rang through to voicemail. I crawled under my desk searching for the sound.

“I’ll call it again,” she said.

I waited anxiously for my phone to erupt from a pile of papers or fall from the ceiling tiles.

“Straight to voicemail this time,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“It means whoever stole your phone just shut it off,”

I sank to the carpet. I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. How could my students steal from me? A teacher who let them paint their hands purple and printed them missing notes on demand?

I sat in disbelief for several minutes thinking of what to do. I turned back on my computer and typed “FIND MY PHONE” into the search bar. I downloaded a Samsung tracker. The only problem was that it needed to be turned on and connected to WiFi to be tracked. No dice.

I went to my classroom phone and dialed my dad. One of 3 numbers I have memorized.

“Hi Dad,” I cried. “My phone’s been stolen, what do I do?”

It had never occurred to me what to do in such a situation. Should I call the police? Just go home? How do I contact someone if I get hurt? Send them a carrier pigeon? Are pay phones still a viable option?

Dad called T-Mobile to shut off the device and I sat in traffic in agony for the next hour. The entire drive home I lamented over who it could possibly be. It felt horrible; sitting there in my misery trying to decide which student had betrayed me.

When I got home I opened my laptop and went directly to the Samsung Search App. Within seconds of logging in a tiny flag popped up on the screen.

YOUR PHONE IS HERE. At the intersection of Colfax and Fulton.

On Colfax? What the fuck?

I typed in the intersection on Google Maps and a pawn shop popped up on the corner.

OH HELL NO, I shouted at my screen.

It was true. My cell phone hadn’t sprouted legs and taken a leisurely stroll down Colfax. A student had taken it from my desk and had sold it to a pawn shop within the hour.

Now at this point in the story I became Liam Neeson.

I immediately pulled up my 7th period roster and began Google Mapping each of their addresses to see who was closest to the pawn shop. I even called my phone using Skype credits (that I had to pay for…most expensive voicemail of my life) and left a threatening message.

“This is Ms. Hayes speaking. The OWNER of this phone. Now listen up and listen good. I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. BUT I WILL FIND YOU.”

I took out the murdering part of the monologue because it’s kind of frowned upon to threaten to kill a student. Nevertheless, my head was reeling with excitement at finding the phone.

After calling the pawn shop from Skype it was discovered that another teacher’s phone (a friend of mine down in the art department where several of my students visited during my class to “get paper”) had been taken that same time, and she’d tracked her phone to the same store. I asked them if a young high school kid had come in that evening and they described him as a young black male, but that was all they could say. I later learned he was caught on tape at the school in the other teacher’s classroom.

I knew who it was. It was the student that I’d printed notes for after school. The one who’s life was finally turning around after being in jail last year. The one that was finally starting to show up to class. The one that wanted his missing work so that he could be successful.

As my dad tried to rifle through old phone boxes over Skype looking for my phone’s serial number I began to cry.

Of course I was distraught about being without a phone, but more than anything I was upset that he had hurt me. The phone had been wiped clean. The past two years of my life in pictures and videos and contacts and he’d destroyed them in an instant.

And worst of all he’d destroyed me.

I cried until my tears filled my mouth. I choked on them and spat them back out again. Two years of teaching in this classroom and I’d never felt this hurt by another person.

Someone that I believed in, trusted, and wanted the very best for in the whole world.

By the time my roommate came home I was all dried up. I’d used up my tears and was now drinking wine to re-hydrate myself to cry some more.

But then something amazing happened.

I didn’t know what time it was.

I’d begun my mac and cheese binge on the couch. Time had passed. But how much? I had no idea.

I also didn’t know if anyone was trying to get a hold of me.

I’d sent some panicked Facebook messages to my mom and a few select friends. But other than that nobody was talking to me.

I also wasn’t anticipating anything.

No creepy Tinder messages or parent emails to pop up on my bright little screen.

When I decided to go to bed I had no idea how I was going to wake up in the morning.

“Do you have,” I hesitated. “An alarm clock?” I asked my roommate.
“I don’t,” she said. “But you can use my old broken phone as an alarm clock if you want to,”

It felt ridiculous. It was almost as if time didn’t exist without my phone. I was no longer aware of it or how I was to keep track of myself in time and space.

In the morning I didn’t know how cold it was outside. I walked to breakfast with my best friend without a heavy jacket because I hadn’t checked my phone for the temperature outside.

When I drove to the Women’s March in Denver after breakfast I wasn’t positive where I should park or which route was the best to get there. So I just got in the car and drove to where I thought I should go.

When I got to the rally I couldn’t take pictures. I couldn’t Snapchat or Instagram or Tweet. I couldn’t share with the world that I was there or show them the amazing protest signs I saw. I couldn’t text my friends to see where they were so that I could stand by them.

Amidst 200,000 people I was somehow all on my own. Until I realized that I didn’t need my phone to enjoy the incredible historic scene before me.

I didn’t even need my phone to find my friends. I ran into my friend Patty and my work buddy Corey in a crowd of thousands.

And although I wanted more than anything to take pictures and share my experience, it forced me to truly be present. As I stood in that crowd with no way to contact anyone I listened to the words, “Women move mountains” over and over again as my heart filled with tremendous joy.

My student hurt me when he took my phone. He hurt me when I smiled at him as it sat in his pocket and he said nothing and he hurt me again when he cleaned out all of the memories in that small plastic device and sold it to a pawn shop.

I will never again see that video of Michelle’s purple hand or the countless loving texts from friends and family throughout the years.

But I will forgive him.

Because all I can hope for is that this student learns someday that he hurt me. And that life gets harder when you hurt the people that love you.

I cannot save him, nor do I want to. He will have to make this journey of life on his own.

And cell phone or no cell phone I will always cherish and love the moments I have with these students. The purple hands and the giggles and the tiny things that hold us together in this broken world.

I don’t need a phone to remember these things. I will always have these snapshots burned into my brain.

But if I do happen to get that phone back you better believe I’m locking that shit up like Fort Knox. 

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What It's Like To Be A High School Teacher The Day After Trump Gets Elected

I’m not a politician. I’m a teacher.

I teach History and Geography and Psychology.

I teach how to make evidence based claims and how to raise your hand when you want to speak.

I teach teenagers to keep their hands to themselves for 90 minute increments.

I teach please’s and thank you’s and eye contact.

I teach respect.

I teach Anakaren to put her phone away every single day.

I teach objectives and "Student Learning Outcomes."

I teach assembly line simulations and Great Depression photography.

I teach Hitler and I teach MLK.

I teach picking up your trash and recycling.

I teach could you please stop taking Snapchats while I’m talking.

I teach Mexicans, Muslims, and boys with raging hormones.

I teach complete sentences.

I teach problem solving and critical thinking.

I teach in French occasionally and with a Scottish accent when I need your attention.

I teach while eating bagels and sometimes give kids coffee from the teacher’s lounge.

I teach that the human brain can do amazing things.

I teach PUT YOUR NAME ON YOUR GOD DAMN PAPER.

I teach to wonder.

I teach to ask questions.

I teach standardized testing.

I teach you are more than a score.

I teach to handle things with care.

I teach while accidentally bleaching the carpet.

I teach watch out for that wad of gum on the floor, Jose.

I teach treating women with respect.

I teach treating men with respect.

I teach that you can never have too many pencils in your back pocket.

I teach to please remember your pencil because I am spending too much money on pencils.

I teach that I will always give you a pencil.

I teach Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and what feels like twice on Fridays.

I teach standing on top of a chair when I am excited or when I need you to hear when this assignment is due.

I teach to capitalize and empathize.

I teach okay Jason you can somersault across the floor just this one time.

I teach kindness and I teach smiles.

I teach I'll wait til' it's quiet.

I teach no seriously I'll wait.

I teach to tired, hungry, and fidgety.

I teach that you can always come to me when your dad kicks you out of the house again.

I teach laughter and bad history puns.

I teach with coffee and more coffee.

I teach no you may not change my seating chart.

I teach it’s okay if you want to cry.

I teach shake my hand at the door.

I teach on good days and on bad days.

I teach Hurricanes and political cartoons.

I teach of course you can get make-up work.

I teach Vietnam and protest posters.

I teach kids who push my buttons and kids who make me want to pull my hair out.

I teach them that I love them even when they drive me crazy.

I teach all of these things and more.

But what I don’t teach is how to ask your teacher what to do.

Not what to do for a question on a paper or to write with a pencil.

But what to do if Mr. Trump takes my mom away.

I don’t teach Miss someone told me today to go back to where I came from.

I don’t teach hate and bigotry and fear.

I teach listen to me my children I love you more than you will ever know and I will fight for your right to be in this classroom until my last dying breath.

I teach even on days like today when it feels like every atom in my body is screaming.

I teach for them.

Because America has just taught them that this “land of the free” might not be as free as we thought it was.

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The Brave Little Toast Bar: My Discovery of the Trending 'Toast Buffet'

Ohhhh...look at that sexy toast right there.

Ohhhh...look at that sexy toast right there.

Living in a growing (ha) city like Denver, Colorado I thought I’d been up to date on my foodie trends. My friend's friend started a sushi food truck last summer and I’ve been all up in that business.

But then I took a trip to the Midwest this July to see some college buddies and everything changed.

“Let’s go to the Toast Bar,” my college buddy Sami said as we rolled out for a morning on the town.

The what?” I asked.

The idea that toast could blow my mind sounded ridiculous, childish even. I liked the idea that it was a "bar" of sorts. But what could be so thrilling about a piece of bread?

Tucked into the art district of downtown Minneapolis, MN was a build-your-own-toast buffet. Included were three different homemade jams, four flavors of nut butters (step aside peanut, there are some new nuts in town), an Egyptian honey, and more cheeses than I could have ever hoped for.

You mean I get to put whatever I want on there?” I asked the lady behind the counter while eyeing the tubs of butter.

Nothing against pancakes, but who knew toast could be so great am I right?

Since my stay at Canteen I have been on the hunt for the best toast bars in town. They've been trending in the Midwest and beyond. But I have yet to find something as great as that first time. I literally haven't stopped thinking about toast since that fateful day in July. It's kind of a problem, actually. 

Like any first time, it’s shrouded in mystery and nostalgia.

Plenty of my favorite brunch restaurants in Denver, City O’ City, Snooze, and Jelly, offer French toasts, pancakes, and build-your-own omelets. But I have yet to discover the illusive Toast Bar.

But I shan’t give up. I will march on in my pursuit for the perfect toast experience. I will walk boldly into the unknown on my never-ending hunt for golden and buttery perfection.  

Photo credit: Google.com

Photo credit: Google.com

For where would that Brave Little Toaster be if he didn’t take a leap of faith off that trash compactor to save Blanky?

Dead. He’d be dead.

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Writing About Writing

“Stop trying so hard to be a writer,” I wrote the words carefully in my leather bound as he said them, smiling brightly to hide my shame.

I was sitting in the second row in a cramped basement of a writer’s workshop, “From Obsession to Publication.” I capitalized on the dessert tray and snagged a spot for my friend Kristen and I among a sea of retirees.

“Dude, everyone in here is like 40 years older than me,” I poked Kristen in the crook of her elbow. With the exception of her, 10 years my senior, I was the least wrinkled person in the room.

Kristen and I had signed up together a few days prior. On an endless competition to both simultaneously get published and take over the world with our literary genius, we enrolled ourselves in a workshop as a part of Denver Lighthouse Writer’s Lit Festival to gain insight.

This particular workshop was centered around using our obsessions –obscure, endearing, or otherwise –to hone our craft as writers.

Youthful and ignorant I, calling myself a “writer.”

I’d only even considered the title of writer after spending a year and some odd months writing my first manuscript. Followed by a blog, several notebooks full of stand-up material, and another manuscript. I knew my success so far as a “writer” was fairly limited and indeed laughable.

The only publication I’d yet to receive was a snippet in HealthOne Colorado’s “Spalding Rehabilitation Success Story” in which a picture of my own head was photo shopped onto a different picture of my own body.

It’s in my classroom if you want to see it.

I show it to my students sometimes after standardized testing when we all need a good laugh.

But despite the hilarious reality that my mother might be the only one reading this (thanks Mom, you the real MVP), I decided over the past year that I wanted to be a writer, author, publisher of all things witty and fun, and future resident of Ellen DeGeneres's lovely white couch.

"Thank you, thank you, Ellen. Yes, it's great to be here- "

"Thank you, thank you, Ellen. Yes, it's great to be here- "

I wanted all these things and more, and still do, and until recently nobody ever said that this was a bad idea.

Yeahhhhhhh,” the leader of the workshop and successful and published author winced in my direction.

“Stop trying so hard to be a writer, I can just hear it in your tone. Also get rid of all the ‘fucks.’ It’s not precise and I don’t like it,” He might have said more, I can’t be sure.

But it was too late, the words had hit me like a jagged ice pick to my soul, or a rusty arrow to my arteries. I don’t know some stupid cliché that you’re not supposed to say because writers, they say, are above that peasant crap.

I didn’t actually disagree with him entirely. We’d only been writing these pieces for thirty minutes or so and, as any writer, I thought it was an absolute piece of shit.

What confused me rather was that Kristen and I were the only ones in that tiny cramped basement to get any negative feedback after volunteering to read our pieces out loud. Because I am an attention whore by trade, I loved the idea of practicing the art of writing and then sharing that art with complete strangers.

After all, everyone so far who read their work was getting great feedback, why should my art by any exception?

I wrote a piece about the first time I fell in love; a noteworthy obsession, I thought.

I’d been thinking about the topic lately, not because I missed him or wanted to relive the traumatizing event that was two years ago, but because my editor told me to.

“Your readers need to fall in love with him like you did, they need to know why you spent five years with this guy or else they’ll be like, ‘yeah, he was a jerk, we get it’ and will move on.” She said.

She couldn’t be more right. And now, two years later sitting in a room of elderly and experienced writers, I felt called to the task.

“James was my guy,” I wrote replacing his usual name of “Weasel” or “Shit-stain” with something a bit more humanizing.

“At 17 years old I could hardly manage my thick curly locks or my rambunctious spirit, but I was ready for my guy. To sweep me off my tiny feet, to love me for all my quirks, to call me his girl.”

Oh my goodness, how cute is that, I smiled to myself as warm memories of old dirt roads and tractors rushed back to my brain.

When it was my turn to read I perked up. I was slightly peeved that the woman ahead of me had just talked about her obsession with a Zach, but the fancy author man had loved it and I was sure that he’d love mine too.

I took a deep breath and tried to consciously remember to breathe as I read my heartfelt recollection of a first love.

Aaaaand done.

Exhale. Boom. Crushed it.

Nope. Sure didn’t.

In addition to my apparent air of “trying too hard” he also took issue with my cursing. I’d used an F-bomb to describe how stupid I looked meeting him for the first time, bundled up in tight bell-bottoms, a heavy black hooded sweater, and a thick knitted hat.

In fucking July, my friends.

I suppose this feedback about the potty mouth might have gone over smoother in my brain had the leader of the workshop not been a potty mouth himself. At the start of the workshop he gabbed about his 4 year old daughter’s obsession with hummus.

“She’s such a fucking asshole, you guys. Really,” He chuckled. I liked him immediately.

So logically I threw in some colorful words thinking that he’d fucking love it.

Nope. He did not fucking love it.

Sorry, Mom.

When he finished giving me the feedback he smiled and moved on to what I thought would be the next bloody victim to his ego-crushing honesty. An older gentleman, easily in his 70’s, stood up and talked about his obsession with women’s bodies and experiencing puberty for the first time. I found it pervy, strange, and poorly written.

But alas, to the published author it was amazing and thoughtful. Not pervy at all.

At this point I started to cry quietly in my second row chair, trying not to make eye contact with Kristen for fear of bursting into absolute hysterics. Kristen read my body language and grabbed my notebook and began writing me a note:

“You are so brave to read and it takes a lot of courage to take constructive criticism –there will be a lot of disappointment followed by a lot of hard work and then a lot of success. I love you!”

Her words, while what I wanted to hear, turned me further into a sniffling pile of goo.

The workshop had ended. I ran my sleeves haphazardly over my leaking eyes.

We gotta’ get out of here,” I announced as I made a mad dash to beat the sluggish old people out the door.

Kristen and I walked the breezy Denver streets for an hour as I cooled off and tried to figure out what in the hell had just happened in there.

“What if I’m not a writer?” I said.

“What if he’s right? What if I end up just like them? 75 years old at a writer’s workshop, still working on my Great American Novel?”

I was terrified. That this whole “trying to be a writer” business was a joke, or more accurately, that I was a joke.

The words cut me deeper than I expected, probably because I’d signed up to read a five minute passage of my book, Break Ups and Brain Hemorrhages: How You Can Make it Through Anything that evening at a Lit Fest event to about 50 strangers. And my mother.

If I received such criticism here, there would be no telling what would happen that night. And what if the leader of the workshop was there?

I could just picture it.

I’d fumble with the microphone just long enough to become immediately annoying to my audience.

“Stand up straight, you’re slouching again!” my mother would call from the front row, an inch from my face.

I’d line up my pages on the stand, but just as I opened my mouth a gust of wind would send them flying onto the face of the cute guy I’d invited. I’d graciously take the papers from his gorgeous hands only to realize that it was actually my grocery list, a crumpled up napkin, and a Comcast bill.

I’d laugh, trying to recall my most recent stand up routine without them noticing, but would soon be sent running from the stage as a garden variety of cabbage and heirlooms came flying at my head.

“Who brought the fucking cabbage? Amateurs!” I’d scream as I dodged another head of lettuce from behind the wine table.

I tried to tell you,” Mr. Author Man would shake his head in embarrassment.

I know, I have very vivid stress dreams.

None of this happened, however. Because I totally crushed it. Watch the video below to see me slay the shit out of this reading, seriously. Slay.

The feedback and laughter from the audience was amazing and the boy I invited was cool as a cucumber about my surprise, “Oh look, my parents are over there, let’s go say hi” rendezvous.

I’m trying really hard to be a writer. I’m taking classes and asking stupid questions and spending a lot of time drinking coffee. It’s a grueling task and some days it’s hard to see if it’s ever going to be worth all the late nights, shitty first, second, third, and fourth drafts, and overwhelming self-doubt.

There will always be critics, cynics, and haters.

My friends and family will continue to cheer me on as I sob in public places about the condition of my books. I will soldier on for as long as it takes, counting down the days until I get to sit on Ellen’s couch and dish about who’s going to play me in a Broadway-adapted rendition of my book.

Which would be me, obviously.

Or, okay, Anna Kendrick. She’s about my size, has killer pipes, and would match well with Bruce Willis, who would play my neurosurgeon, Dr. C.  

"My brain just exploded. Boom."

"My brain just exploded. Boom."

Shout out to Dr. C-Money. If you’re reading this, you’re still entirely too attractive to be that old. Calm it down, Dr. C.

Calm. It. Down.

Anyway. No matter how long it takes, I’m going to be a writer.

And I’m going to do it really fucking well.

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Don't Forget Brain Month!

OH BABY. TALK BRAINY TO ME.

OH BABY. TALK BRAINY TO ME.

When I take my Thyroid medication in the morning I throw back my water cup, screw the little lid back onto the bottle, and flip the container upside down.

That last part is key.

If I don't flip it upside down then I never took it. Or at least that's what my brain thinks, anyway. Unfortunately my brain cannot hold onto whether or not I took this medication essential to my health and well being.

I actually can't recall if I took it this morning, so that's fun.


Last year I forgot about Brain Injury Awareness month because like the location of my keys, wallet, and cellphone, this information was beyond me.


How fucking ironic. 

A brain injured person forgetting a month dedicated to them. This is actually quite hilarious if you ask me. I also wrote this post about a month ago and am just now posting it.

Figures.

But this year I made a point to remember that I am not alone in brain injury. And I wanted my students with brain injuries to know that they are not alone either.

That's where the brain facts come in.

Every day this month I have been reading out brain facts to my students. Some have to do with which centers of the brain control certain functions, others with addiction, and some just flat out cool shit about how our brains run this show without us even realizing it. 

Like did you know the language center of the brain responsible for speech has different pathways to neural connections than the part responsible for reading?

Freaking cool, you guys.

Some days my kids are reluctant to hear the brain fact of the day, rolling their eyes at another silly brain pun. Other days they refuse to do any work until I read them off a new one. They even correct me when I repeat an old fact from the week before.

"You already told us about how similar sugar is to cocaine to the brain, Miss! Give us a NEW one!"

I even showed them some of my "brain videos" of me in rehab rolling around my hospital room in my wheelchair popping wheelies.

We all had a good laugh. 

It's startling to see how far I've come since then; a frail, silly excuse for a human trying to do tricks over broomsticks and skipping down hallways with tennis-ball-clad walkers. 

And up until now I never really understood what it all meant. To have a month dedicated to all this. 

And then I got a note from a kid on one of my worst days on the job. 

Picture two tiny mice sprinting across my classroom as twenty Freshmen leaped over desks and squealed. This was not my idea of an engaging Geography lesson.

I was being upstaged and I was not amused.

The mice were derailing my 5th hour and nobody accomplished anything but adequately pissing me off by continuing to discuss the size, shape, and color of the intruders for the entire class period. It got so bad at one point that one mouse was doing a sprint routine up and down the length of the room and I threw everyone out in the hallway.

"This is ridiculous. Everyone out. OUT." 

What a disaster. We tried to work on our Mayan packets but all seemed lost.

By the time 6th hour rolled in I was exhausted and peeved; utterly incapable of dealing with one more disruption. 

Someone tested me again by popping the N word to his friend like it was no big deal.

"Excuse me?"
"Miss, I wasn't saying it to you, chill."
"No I will not chill. We don't use that language in here and you know that. 10 push-ups. Now."

He reluctantly moved to the carpet. 

I have a rule in my classroom. You curse and you owe me push-ups. Some kids make it a daily routine. Drop an F-bomb. Drop and give me ten. It may be a little corporal-punishment-y for some, but it works. Also you have the option of a parent phone call.

9 out of 10 kids prefer a little exercise.

I tried helplessly not to roll my eyes at this utter waste of a day. 

"Miss, are you okay? You seem...off today..." The kids know. They always know.
"Oh, I'm fine. Just a long day, that's all," I lied.

I continued with my lecture on the Cold War and hoped to the heavens that I would survive the day without my brain re-exploding all over my dusty teacher desk.

As 6th hour left at the sound of the bell, I went back to my desk to take attendance that I'd forgotten to take all day. No surprise there.

By my computer was a small note, folded up with tiny hearts and the words "Open Me" scrawled on it.

As 7th hour sauntered in I opened it curiously. It read:

Dear Ms. Hayes,

You're the greatest teacher to ever exist! You actually make learning fun and make school fun. I love coming to this class because you're always so happy and smiling, I could easily have a really bad day and the moment I step into this class all my worries are gone! I can trust you as someone to come to when I'm having problems, you're like the psychologist I need, someone I can talk to! I really appreciate you Ms. H! You're amazing and so wonderful! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! You're so brave and strong and that's also why I look up to you because we both had a brain injury, and we still managed to keep moving forward! Yay us!!! If you're ever having a hard or tough day just remember how far you've come and why you became a teacher! I love you so much Ms. H! You're like a mom but here at school. I hope you have a great rest of your day! Love you!!!

Your favorite student always,

Alice E. , 10th Grade

It took a while for it to sink in, most likely because I had to greet 7th hour and lead them through their case studies without someone smacking someone else or throwing a pencil across the room. But when I took the time to read it again that night I cried and cried.

It felt like I had waited my whole life to hear the words. 

I had bonded with Alice before about our shared experiences of brain injuries. She told me that she hadn't felt like herself since her stroke and that school was hard for her now. I couldn't help but feel for her. Being so young with a brain injury, things would likely get harder for her trying to get through school.

I felt lucky to have had my brain explode after college. There would be no way I could have finished my degree with my lack of focus and inability to remember anything. 

But she said the words, "look how far you've come" as if she was right there with me when I couldn't do anything. 

Back when being able to read a text message without double-vision was a good day and when my go-to outfit was stretchy pants and a stained t-shirt. 

Now I am executive functioning at top speeds. 

I put make up on my face without poking my eye out, am currently wearing heels that I can walk in without falling off a curb, and even drove a car this morning.

I teach students to be their best selves as I strive to be my own.  

I am doing everything my body never dreamed of doing back in 2014. And the fact that someone else could see that and looked up to me for that reason simply blew my mind. 

Brain injuries are silent disabilities.

They impact people in unique and strange ways. What Alice didn't know that day is that just a few short years ago I never would have expected to be standing in front of a group of teenagers imparting my quasi-wisdom, much less standing without a nurse nearby to catch me when I inevitably tumbled off the sidewalk.

For every step I take there's a neuron hard at work. Every movement a reminder of who I once was, and will always be.

On my year anniversary I posted a picture of me in my hospital bed after brain surgery; a stuffed elephant on my head and a lopsided smile, my face puffy from brain drugs. I shared my excitement at how far I'd come and thanked my friends and family for getting me through my "brain days."

A woman who I didn't know, but followed me on Instagram congratulated me on the accomplishment but told me "not to dwell" because it was "all about the future."

Dwell?

Wait. Isn't dwelling a negative thing?

I almost wanted to smack her through my cellphone screen.

How can I appreciate the future if I don't respect where I've been? Why forget the past when it's made me who I am today?

That's the whole reason why we have Brain Injury Awareness Month, people!

I don't expect sympathy. I don't ask for pity. I simply want to show my humbleness for an organism that nobody can fully understand. I want to share my story so that others are empowered to share their own.

Unlike my keys, wallet, and cellphone, I will never forget Brain Injury Awareness Month.

And that's a pretty big deal these days.

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Men Explain Things to Me: Comedy

No, please. Tell me more about what I don't know.

No, please. Tell me more about what I don't know.

Many women are familiar with the term “Mansplaining.”

It’s when men explain things to you rather than ask you questions about whatever it is that they assume you don’t know.

Now, let’s be clear, not every man is a Mansplainer, not every man thinks I’m a dimwit, and certainly not every man is out to get me.

But a man explained comedy to me last night.

After three months of consistently going to the same open mic and trying to get to know as many comedians as I could, this one had no idea I existed.

I walked up to him as he was talking to my roommate at the bar, who had the courage after me peer pressuring her to get on the stage for the first time.

She slayed it by the way.

The Mansplainer was giving her some advice. Then when I joined the conversation, he gave me some advice too.

“You just have to find your voice, you just have to be comfortable in your own skin up there…”

Sound advice, good sir.

Did you know I actually practice my stage presence every day in front of apathetic teenagers?

“Wait, did you get up there tonight?” He asked like a moron.
“Yes, yes I did.” I smiled.
“Oh, congratulations!” Yes, how very bold of me.
“I’m actually here every Friday night, so is she…” I motioned to my roommate, my perpetual groupie and witness to every rough open mic I’ve ever had.

The problem with this situation wasn’t that he asked me these questions, it was that he assumed that I had no idea what I was talking about.

Comedians are known to not pay attention to each other. Hence the uncomfortable silence last night at even my best material.

Comedians aren’t always the most supportive audience members. They sit in large groups in the corners, talk while others are on stage, and have probably heard your jokes before.

They’re not impressed.

The Mansplainer was also not impressed by me. The bulk of our conversation revolved around him explaining improv and comedy schools of thought to me as I smiled and nodded.

I kept waiting for him to actually ask me a question; maybe to find out more about my 6 year comedy experience, running an improv troupe in college, or taking a UCB class last summer. Maybe he’d ask me about my writing. Maybe he’d be interested to know that I write for comedy daily and hardly ever do the same material.

Maybe not.

“That’s the biggest mistake new comics make…doing new material every time. That’s how I started out. Big mistake.”

Oh, really? I’m expected to stick with my same Luke warm material to recite back to you chumps every time and keep playing the same old tune like all of you?

I’m sorry. But I’ve seen your A material. And your B material. And even your C material when you’re feeling bold. It’s the same jokes. On the off-chance that a comedian works out new bits, I listen to them.

Because I like to think I’m not an asshole.

I give them laughs when I can and I make eye contact.

Hence my extreme frustration when Mansplainer did his whole sh-peel. Throughout which I smiled some more, nodded again, and tried not to be too abrasive when I inserted my own knowledge of comedy into our conversation.

I finally got too frustrated with trying to prove myself worthy of comedy to the Mansplainer and moved on to another conversation with a comedian sitting next to him, a fellow teacher.

Now this is where shit got cool.

Me and the teacher comedian talked for easily half an hour as Mansplainer tried to insert his knowledge into a conversation that he clearly knew nothing about.

“So wait, you like go to teacher school?”
“Yep, social studies certified. I teach U.S. History and Geography. High school.”

Boom.

Could it be possible that I was smarter than him in this content area? Could it really be?

I pretty much ignored him for the rest of the night because I was way too excited to talk to another teacher comedian who taught abroad in China and had some really cool insights.

It was so refreshing to feel like we were speaking the same language. And more importantly, that this man was not Mansplaining teaching to me, but rather asking me about my experiences and genuinely listening to what I had to say.

This, my friends, is how you shut down a Mansplainer. Right then and there we successfully turned the tables.

But this is hard to do, especially if you don’t have an advocate. Someone who can stand up for you and point out that you do indeed deserve to be a part of the conversation, and you might actually know a thing or two about the topic at hand.

We should be our own advocates too.

Too often I smile and nod when being talked down too; afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or wrecking my reputation by being honest with someone.

People are shocked that my spunky personality works with high school students and not infants.

People are shocked that despite my youthfulness I have a teaching certificate, Bachelor’s degree, and also drive a car.

The Mansplainer’s eyes went wide when I brightly told him and the teacher that a good day in the classroom was 60% attendance, having a single pencil to loan out, and not having wads of paper fly past my head.

Being a teacher makes me extremely qualified to be a comedian.

I wish more teachers would do it. Who else could relay stories about 5th hour’s daily behavior? Who would tell the story about El Chapo, the classroom plant, or Eli’s fascination with my relationship status?

I’m a teacher, comedian, writer, and lover of cheeses.

I’m a lot of things.

But don’t you dare explain any of them to me.   

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What Happens When You Stop Scrolling

According to the internet, a significant amount of people are "chugging heroin" and "punching strangers." Learn something new every day.

According to the internet, a significant amount of people are "chugging heroin" and "punching strangers." Learn something new every day.

We’ve hit that sweet spot.

That time of year when we really decide if the statement “New Year, New Me” will really mean anything or if we will just divert back to our silly old selves and down another late night box of Krispy Kremes.

The fireworks have subsided, we’re slowly coming out of our New Year’s hungover hazes; it’s game time.

For those of you that don’t know, or don’t care to know (although I think I can safely assume that if you are reading this you care to know…Hi Mom) I’ve been in an online dating frenzy since my last long term relationship several years ago. The conversation went like this:

Lexi: “You should get Tinder…”
Me: “I don’t know how to build a fire…”
*hands phone*
Me: “Hey! This guy likes me!”

And the rest, they say, is ridiculous history.

Right after the New Year I ended my decidedly last Tinder adventure. The conversation came after two months of hanging out with a nice gentleman who I thought could be the end of my ceaseless venture for love on a screen.

Well, he was the end to be sure. But not in the way I’d hoped.

“Hey, have you given any thought to where you see this going?” I said stupidly after handing him a loaf of stale banana bread and a Christmas card.
“Yeah, about that…I don’t see this going…well, anywhere.”

The last two months of my life went up into the air and disappeared with a metaphoric poof noise.

He calmly explained to me that he didn’t believe in relationships, that he didn’t ever see himself with anyone for the rest of his life. He told me that he wanted to be selfish and take care of himself.

All good things I thought, but that didn’t make me turn any less a shade of Sheet of Paper White.

It then occurred to me that to this man, this older, unmarried man, I was interchangeable. It didn’t seem to bug him that we’d been spending a good deal of time together for the past two months.

He didn’t seem to be “catching the feels” like I was.

But the idea that I could be anyone –the funniest, smartest, most supermodel-like woman on the planet –none of that would matter because this man truly doesn’t want to open himself up to another human that way. And that I was trying to negotiate who I was in the process was completely ludicrous.

This is what screens can do to you.

They can give you what you want in the moment. An attractive face, a pleasant conversation, an endless running document of engagement updates that reassure you that you will indeed die alone.

But what happens when you stop scrolling?

Can you even stop? Is there a way?

It had never occurred to me that this, this simple little toxic thing could make or break my happiness for 2016. When I got home from the heartbreaking conversation that left me wondering if I’d ever find love I deleted my online dating accounts.

This can’t be the only way, it just can’t be.

Mindless scrolling through faces and “About Me” bios that have only led me down the path of destruction and heartache; there’s just got to be a better way.

But I always do this, I thought. I delete it all and then go back after a few months of boredom. But why? Why am I even bored in the first place?

Is my life that comparable to staring at a blank wall that I feel the need to do these things?

Of course not.

If you spent even thirty seconds in my classroom you’d find that the word “boredom” does not exist here.

To research for myself how much better my life could be without scrolling, I went ahead and deleted Facebook off my phone as well. I still exist out there, but now this means that I have to physically get on a computer to scroll, which is a lot slower and leads to much smaller amounts of time spent mindlessly rolling through other people’s lives.

Low and behold this is what I have discovered since I have made these two tiny changes:

  1. I see things more.

  2. I see people more.

  3. I don’t know when people’s birthday’s are.

  4. I have more time to read.

  5. I have more time to write.

  6. I have more time for a lot of things.

  7. I call people more.

  8. I don’t get as jealous of other people’s lives.

  9. I don’t hate myself for wasting my life on my phone.

  10. I don’t get gross or sexist messages from unidentified gentleman callers.

  11. I have more time to cook and don’t accidentally set things of fire because I’m not paying attention.

  12. I’m existentially happier.

There you have it.

Scrolling can numb our brains and often make us hate ourselves. It dehumanizes us and is absolutely no fun when used in excess, which is how most of us use it. Technology and “social” networking are here to stay, but we don’t have to start the zombie apocalypse just yet. We have the power to control how we spend our time and what we spend it on.

Sure, you can still find me laughing it up on Snapchat about my hilarious teacher life and occasionally posting videos of my comedy on Instagram, but you can rest easy knowing that this gal is #TinderFree2016 #FreeFromTheScreen2016

Pretty much anything that rhymes with “free” and “2016.”

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It's Beginning to look a lot like Finals

Oh boi. Here we go.

Oh boi. Here we go.

“If you don’t have the nose, be sure to let me know before the tes –“
“Miss?”
“I think I meant to say ‘notes,’ but if you don’t have a nose you should also come talk to me…”

At this point in the conversation I began to laugh hysterically at myself as my students looked on with worried faces.

Yes, it’s that time of year. And yes, we’re all feeling it pretty hard.

Students everywhere are finding themselves hitting the books like coked out squirrels, teachers haven’t slept since July, and we’re all scraping the bottom of the coffee barrel and our wallets too. Making finals, taking finals, grading deadlines, and the entire year’s regret start tallying up like Santa’s naughty and nice list.

It’s enough to make your dreidel spin.

Whether you’re a teacher, a student, a barista, or a student in the teacher program who is also a barista on the weekends, here are some tips and tricks to make it through the coming days:

  1. Wear a pair of shoes that is one size too big. It creates an optical illusion that you are taller than you actually are. It’s a known truth that taller people earn more on average than shorter people. According to a study published by the Economic Record: ”Taller people are  perceived to be more intelligent and powerful. So why not try it out for size and boost your confidence for a day during finals? See what I did there? 

  2. Show your students a video of you impersonating the other Social Studies teachers during a meeting. It’s an irrefutable fact that laughter can de-stress and relax you and others around you. If you don’t think impersonating your coworkers will work in your favor, impersonate yourself. That shit’s hilarious.
  3. Go to Target and buy the following items: Pop Tarts, Instant Mac and Cheese, Lunch-ables, and some form of cheese puff product.

  4. Eat said items and procrastinate/ lament grading for several hours.
  5. This. Don’t ask questions. Just trust me.

  6. Light a candle, you cave person. They smell like fresh laundry and remind us that we too once had hopes and dreams.
  7. When you finally get around to grading, smack your head on the nearest hard surface while reading an essay plagiarized directly from a video you showed in class.
  8. Continue to slam head in wall at how many times you warned this student to STOP PLAGIARIZING OH MY FUCKING GOD.
  9. Question the likelihood that you will get fired if you fail 99% of your students.
  10. Decide you kinda don’t give a fuck.
  11. Reconsider that you do kinda give a little fuck and brainstorm ways to get more students to pass your class in the next four days’ time.
  12. Realize that this is impossible and go to your nearest liquor store and pick out all the wines.

  13. Especially that fruity one that tastes like juice.
  14. Think about bringing the fancy fruity juice into work tomorrow.
  15. Reconsider again.
  16. Eat a Pop Tart.
  17. Wise up and try to cook a veggie burger or some other stupid healthy recipe you saw on Pinterest one time.

  18. Laugh at yourself.
  19. Throw away the piece of cardboard that you just tried to ingest.
  20. Open up the freezer and grab the ice cream instead.
  21. Regret the fact that you didn’t get more grading done but not the ice cream.
  22. Reconsider your regret because it’s not your fault kids don’t care about their grade until THIS VERY FUCKING SECOND.
  23. Do that deep breathing thing but give up after 30 seconds because you look ridiculous.
  24. Go to bed.

Take courage, dear teachers. Take courage. Oh and students? Yeah, if you could get that essay in to me like last October? That'd be great. And yes, it's all multiple choice.

You're welcome.

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How To Not Get Axe Murdered

Every day is a gift.

Every day is a gift.

People have said that your life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die.  This, as it turns out, is a lie.  Hollywood smoke and mirrors; a Christmas fable that we choose to believe in because the world is a cruel, cruel place.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

I’m not dead, by the way.  I mean obviously I’m writing this blog post.  And no, I’m not your friendly neighborhood ghost coming back to haunt you for not subscribing to my blog (although that would be way cooler and by the way you totally should).

Nah, just here to enlighten you on what happens when you leave passive-aggressive notes.  Which, just in case you weren’t aware, don’t actually work on sociopaths.

I have this neighbor, okay.  He’s loud, obnoxiously loud.  And I have high suspicions that he is actually a sociopath. 

Exhibit A) He listens to shitty rap music at every odd hour of the night and morning and I never see him in the daylight which makes him not only a sociopath but also a vampire.  With really awful taste in music.

Exhibit B)  He often yells to himself.  Just for funzies.  Just for shit's and gig’s.  Just loud shouting for no particular reason other than to reassure me that he is indeed a crazy person.

Exhibit C) I once heard him listening to police radio on blast for an entire hour during a manhunt for a suspect to a shooting on Colfax.  So that’s normal.

I could ramble off at least a dozen other instances of his insanity that will surely terrify my mother when she reads this.

Hi, Mom. 

But back to the life flashing before my eyes bullshit.

After a particularly frustrating morning of getting zero sleep as a result of my neighbor’s assholery, I had finally drawn a line in the sand.  I wrote a sticky note.  It read,

“Please resist the urge to scream, moan, or listen to loud music between the hours of 11pm and 8am.  Thank you.”

I said please and thank you.

I left for work and hoped that he would get the hint and have some respect for the 20 some-odd other humans that have to put up with his shit on a daily basis.

Fast forward to 8pm that night as I was sitting quietly in my apartment grading papers and preparing for another teaching day when Crazy McCrazy Face arrived to his door to find the note.  He went off the handle; running down the halls yelling to someone else that this couldn’t possibly be the property management company and that it was utter bullshit.

He then began banging down my door.  Because it was obviously me.  I had asked him once before to please keep it to a dull roar the night before my half-marathon.  Because it’s kind of hard to obtain REM cycles when you are blasting the newest rendition of “Big Booty Hoe” over there. 

You motherfucker.

So he’s banging on my door.  Banging, banging away.  So much so that a picture frame falls off my wall and onto the floor.

Oh, let me just open the door.  You sound friendly.

No.  Are you fucking kidding me?  I don’t have a death wish, okay? I just want you to stop being an asshole.

I didn’t make a peep.  Instead I retreated to the corner of my kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife, and contemplated the likelihood that I would survive if presented the unique opportunity to jump out my second story window.

As he kept banging I mustered what little strength I had in my lungs and announced to him that I was calling the police.

“911, what’s your location and emergency?” A friendly and calm operator asked.

I gave him my address and told him I was pretty sure I was about to be axe murdered by my vampire/sociopath neighbor.  All for leaving a passive-aggressive sticky note.

This is how I die.

We had a good run.

And oddly no, it wasn’t my childhood memories that passed through my mind in those moments of panic.  No.  I didn’t think about all the trips to Europe I wouldn’t take or about all the happy thoughts I’ve had in this life.

Nope.

Do you want to know what I was really thinking?

1) I have unpaid parking tickets.

2) Wells Fargo is going to be pissed when I defer on my student loans.

3) But thank GOD I had time to watch that one last Nicholas Sparks film.

My practical mind took over and I pictured how inconvenient it would be for my friends and loved ones to have to go through all my belongings after my hilarious and untimely death.  They just moved me into this place, too. 

Moving all those boxes again would surely throw out my dad’s back.

The most I could hope for would be for someone to make sure that all my sloppy rantings got published into a book someday in my honor.  But I’m no Anne Frank, okay?  Most of my poetry is written on the backs of napkins and receipts and my two “novels” most surely consist of mainly spelling errors and bad grammar. 

As for the Sociopath Vampire, he’s been relatively tame ever since the police talked him down and off the crazy ledge.  He still blasts his horrendous music like all the time, but has at least kept the screaming at 3am to a minimum. 

As for me,  I won’t be leaving any passive-aggressive sticky notes any time soon.

(Posts sticky note on bathroom mirror for self to read, “Please resist the urge to communicate with sociopaths unless you are really that curious about the afterlife.  Thank you.”)

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7 Easy Steps to Sucking at Adulthood

"Become an adult," They said.  "It will be fun," They said.

"Become an adult," They said.  "It will be fun," They said.

Doing the dishes has always been my favorite.  Call it an odd pastime, but the idea of cleaning a sink full of dirty pots and pans gives me ease just about any day of the week.  During my student teaching semester my favorite thing to do was to clean out the coffee maker and mugs at the end of each day. 

The reason for this is simple: it’s predictable. 

No students to talk back to me or refuse to do an assignment, no meetings to attend, no hustle and bustle of angry cars on the road; just a quiet sink and a sponge. 

It soothes me even on my worst days. 

And not only is this routine predictable, but it’s safe.  I can easily control my life in that tiny bit of space and time.

As I stood at my sink just a moment ago scrapping off burnt plastic from a cookie sheet that nearly set my apartment on fire I couldn’t help but giggle at my altogether failed attempts at adulthood. 

Calm down, Mom.  I'm fine.

Some of this is to be expected.

Newly recovered from a traumatic brain injury?  Yes.

First year teacher?  That’s me.

Trying to live on your own for the first time in a new city with little to no life experience?  Oh, hey.  Me again. 

I knew this day would come.  I even blogged about it one time (see “Fake Adulthood and Other Things I Suck At").

But this time the struggle is, how you say, real. 

Very fucking real.

Because I function best at a shit-show level of 75, I shall break down for you the real life adulty things that have come around to bite me in the 23 year old ass of mine:

  1. Student Loans: Long been a thing that I “didn’t have to worry about right now,” student loans payments are right around the corner of “Adulthoodsucksville” and “Whatareresponsibilities” Street. I should be a city planner.  Those are great street names.  And something I want to point out is that not only have I sucked at finding any affordable education throughout my entire life, but also at filling out nearly every piece of paperwork associated with just about everything. 
  2. Bills: There was this one time this summer when I forgot to fill out a piece of paperwork for direct deposit (surprise, surprise) and ended up having my entire paycheck given to me on a temporary debit card.  Fast forward to just a week ago when I bought a Chipotle burrito with said card and over drafted the account by a whopping $4.  Today was going to be the day that I paid off the measly $4 and moved on with my life before they started charging me ungodly amounts of money on a card I don’t use.  Three locations and several pieces of paperwork later I finally paid the $4…oh, but the minimum for that payment is actually $10…and there is a $3.95 processing fee.  Fine.  Whatever. 
  3. Technology: While driving all around Denver looking for the right bank location to fill out paperwork for a pathetic $4 bill, my GPS decided not to work and I ended up lost in the city for an hour cursing my inability to effectively navigate a town that I have lived in for my entire life. 
  4. Driving: If you were looking for the curb, I found it.  And two blocks from my apartment that I was trying so desperately to get back to before I lost my sanity with the passing wind.  My right tire was flat as a pancake and in a truly non-feminist way I called my brother to help me change it.  This was also the highlight of my day and cost me an exciting $59 dollars to get two new tires.  I say exciting because in actuality I think tires cost a lot more than that these days.  And I think the mechanic must have felt really sorry for me and thought I was homeless or something so he gave me a discount.  That or he thought I was cute.  I’ll take either honestly.
  5. Parking: What’s that?  A parking ticket you say?  Sure, I’ll be responsible and pay that right away.  Wait.  Where the fuck did I put that parking citation?  No, really.  It’s fine.  I’ll just call the city of Denver and talk to a human who will surely help me.  Oh?  They don’t employ humans anymore in call centers?  Oh, that’s fine.  I’ll just describe my brain injury and inability to keep track of tiny slips of paper to a robot.  Good plan.
  6. Cooking/Not Setting The Apartment on Fire:  I got so excited to buy the correct size cookie sheets that would fit in my prehistoric oven that I forgot to take the paper off of one of them that was stored below.  Haven’t eaten all day because apparently I have to feed myself because my parents aren't around to do it.  Let’s make a pizza!  That sounds niiiiiice.  Cue mass panic and realization that I don’t yet own a fire extinguisher, however I might clearly need one in a moment if I don’t figure out what’s going on here with this smoking business.
  7. Teaching:  Yep.  Ask me how much I have planned for this week?  Go ahead.  Ask away.  Oh?  You want to know how many papers I have graded over Fall Break?  Yeah???  YOU WANNA TAKE THIS OUTSIDE, PUNK.

Alright.  That’s enough whining for one blog post.  All things considered I have it pretty good these days despite my hilarious missteps and laughable behavior.  And it gives me solace to know that my exciting life can always put a friend in a good mood when they hear the newest shenanigans that I've gotten myself into these days.  

What’s that one Smashmouth song?

“I get knocked down, but I get up again.  Yuh neva’ gonna get me down?”

Yeah.  Something like that.  

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"Excuse me Trump, I'ma Let You Finish..."

Trump: 0, Corncob: 1

Trump: 0, Corncob: 1

Okay.  So I’m not one to rant about my political views.  Like ever. 

When my students ask me who I’m voting for I say Tom Hanks. 

I don’t often find value in spewing my political opinions on others because so many people do that already so who’s even got time to listen to what I have to say on the matter?

However lately things have gone too far and I shan’t hold me tongue any longer.  No I shan’t.

The political platform used to be a place to instigate change; a place to transform the nation and heal the country after wartime woes.  Politics have always been a means to create equality and unity on a national scale.  Now, let’s be clear on one thing:

Political leaders have always been hated.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States he literally had to be shipped secretly in a midnight train to the White House to avoid assassination attempts. 

Rough gig, Abe.

Historically, all presidential leaders and candidates have been criticized for some reason or another.  I’m sure if I ran for president I’d have my own personal team of specialists just to sort through all the hate mail. 

But I’m not running for president you see, because I’m not qualified to do so.

Running a country is kind of a big job to do.  It requires knowledge of international affairs, negotiation techniques, economic wherewithal, public speaking skills, and like a lot of paperwork and signing of serious looking things like Amendments to the Constitution and education bills and whatnot. 

That’s a lot of power for one person.  But as Spiderman’s uncle once said,

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

And I rather liked that guy.

Maybe he should run for president.  Oh wait, that bad guy in the first movie killed him.  Darn it.

The reason I’m writing today is not to go on a gigantic sh-peal about politics and tell you who’s agenda is the worst or why our country is doomed.

Nah.

I simply want to point out that things are getting out of hand and we should all promptly pull our heads out of our you-know-what’s when it comes to politics in America.

Let’s just broach the topic of Donald Trump.  To me he’s a topic of discussion, yes a person (albeit one with a horrific head of hair), but also the butt of every joke I hear these days. 

For the longest time I paid no attention to Trump because I was sure it was a publicity stunt and would blow over in a matter of weeks along with his hair piece.  My mother refers to him as a "flash in the pan;" sure to make a big headline but not something to last over time.  Nope, still hearing about that guy.  So I did some research and found some of his policies.

Immigration Reform: According to Trump’s website, his campaign to “Make America Great Again” contains three pillars of immigration reform:

  1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
  2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
  3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.

Included in this reform is his campaign to end Birthright Citizenship and deport all illegal aliens from the United States back to Mexico.  Now this is a hot button, so we’re not going to get into it right now. 

But I do think to really understand this issue we have to go back in history and back to our roots.  The true Americans, meaning the first Americans who actually lived on this land since day one, have all been slaughtered and moved onto small reservations. 

There I said it. 

Native Americans.  They are the true Americans.  The rest of us came from elsewhere and “claimed” this country as our own as is the human way for all of history of all time.  So historically speaking we are all immigrants of some kind, but that’s a whole separate conversation and you can now send hate mail to my receptionist Tammy.

Aside from Trump’s immigration reform (which we will not get into right now as I said), there’s not a whole lot I can gather about his political platform from his campaign website.  So I did more research.  What I found was a list of country issues and his stances on them, supported by citations and direct quotes.  You can find the full list here.

I will say that not all of his positions are publicized by the media.  But if you look a bit closer at some of the hot buttons like civil rights, you can see he has changed his mind about them in the past few years and made quite a few headlines as of late.

If you were wondering about his take on women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” you can find his thoughts as well as a video with Fox News here:   

Now as if it weren’t enough that this man is trying to become president, we now have Exhibit B:

Kanye West, future presidential candidate in 2020.

All Hail Yeezy.

All Hail Yeezy.

For Jimmy Kimmel’s comparison of these two candidate’s here’s this:

I invite you now to join me as I slam my frontal lobe into the nearest hard surface.

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Send Brennyn to Britain!

I have a lot of friends. 

Ask my parents.  They often get confused at which friend I’m referring to in conversation and have requested that I make a spreadsheet so that they can keep track of which Mel is the Mel I worked with at the country club and which Mel is the roommate from Boulder who just got married.

I’m popular what can I say.

But long lists of gal pals and teaching buddies aside there is a special friend that I would like to give a shout out to today and every day.

Her name is Brennyn Hoose.

Back before we had cell phones, Snapchat, and real adult responsibilities she befriended me; a loud-mouthed theater chick who thought she was some cool business back in high school.  Back when lamenting over boys who didn’t know we existed was all we had to worry about.  We were 14 and had no idea what would become of our lives. 

She’s my rock.

When my heart was epically curb-stomped last year she was the first one I called at 4am, snot dripping out of my nose and writhing in pain in the corner of some dark parking lot.

When the shit hit the fan with my health last Fall she was the first one there again.  It took her all of two seconds to drop everything she was doing, drive across town in rush hour traffic, and arrive in my hospital room with a gigantic bag of chocolate and flowers.

Here we are in 2015. 

I am up to my elbows in new teaching stress and Brennyn is by my side every step of the way as she always is.  After my first day of school she dropped by my house to give me a box of chocolate and listen to me ramble on about my inability to work the copy machine and effectively manage my classroom.

She’s my rock.  And you know yuh' girl is all about that chocolate.

So when Brennyn told me that her dream in life was to go to England for a mission trip with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) to change lives, I knew I had to do something about it.  Big time.

So I invited Brennyn over for wine and chatted her up about her journey in front of a cheap front-facing camera on my parent’s couch.  We talked about how she discovered the program, what led her to her faith, and where she will be stationed to work. 

What you don’t see in the video (which is terribly edited by yours truly) is her non-stop hustle.  For the past 6 months Brennyn has been working herself to the nubs for this dream.

Standing in line all day to fill out paperwork for her Visa.  Saving up every penny she has.  Talking to complete strangers about the importance of her journey and trying to convince them that she is worthy of this.  Getting denied from one program and applying to another.  Working two full-time jobs and still having time to call me on the phone and hear me dump my own emotional trauma on her.

I actually don’t know another human being who works as hard as she does.

The woman doesn’t quit.

So therefore I won’t quit until she achieves her dream. 

This is where you come in, my devoted readers.  I am asking you to give.  Give back to the woman that has made me who I am today.  Give back to a soul that is so selfless and real that she makes you want to be better than you ever thought you could.

Give her a dollar, a penny, a prayer.  Make her dreams come true.  Because if I know anyone who will make a difference in this world, it’s Brennyn.  So help get her there.

Below I have attached her personal blog and funding page.  I encourage you to read up on her mission and what she plans to do in England and other parts of the world.  I encourage you to donate to her cause and her never-ending dedication to her faith and her number one fan (me).

Join my campaign to send Brennyn to Britain!

Click here to read her blog and here to donate!

 

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This Day in History: Happy Brainiversary!

I’m a history buff.  Both because I studied history in college and because I attended CU Boulder.

Go Buffs.

As a furry buffalo friend who loves all things historical, I’m always a fan of learning about the significance of any day of the year.  Like did you know that on August 12th of 1865 Sir Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, pioneered the first antiseptic surgery that would go on to promote sterile procedures, therefore saving the lives of thousands of patients across the world?

Or that on this day in 1908 the Henry Ford Motor Company built the first Model T car?

Or that on this day in 1918 the Allies defeated the Germans at the Battle of Amiens, the last great battle on the Western Front in the First World War?

Oh my goodness, look how exciting history is.  Don’t lie.  You got excited by that last one.

But more interesting to me than any of these events was the event that took place on August 12, 2014.

It was the day I had a brain hemorrhage.

It was just your average day.  If average to you means a twelve hour work day, a broken down car, and a mediocre date with a stranger.  Go big or go home I suppose.

On this day in history I woke up like any other day and began what would be the most important day of my life.  I headed to work at East High school to start a long day of district meetings, planning, and organizing the classroom with my mentor. 

As a student teacher I was eager and ready for the challenge.  But after eight hours of running around like a chicken with my head cut off I began to feel a migraine sinking in.

I shrugged it off. 

“Normal.  Totally normal.”  I reassured as I plowed through the day without stopping to address basic bodily needs like drinking water, eating, and going to the bathroom.  Who’s got time for that?

By 5pm the work day at East had ended and my mentor drove me to a coffee shop.  Because my car had broken down a day earlier and I had to bum rides until it was repaired.  She offered me a Tylenol like the angel she is because I had been complaining all day about my headache also known as a brain hemorrhage.  I insisted that I was fine.

Off to my next meeting.

I sat in the coffee shop for an hour killing time until my meeting.  I remember ordering a champagne and fine tuning my first day of school PowerPoint.  Because I’m a champion.

By the way, alcohol and brains don’t go together so well.  Woops.

After about an hour I trekked several blocks to my next meeting.  I sat in the back among a sea of stressed out student-teacher faces.  I think I won a mug for answering a question about culturally responsive classrooms or something.

Teachers love free shit.

After that meeting I trekked another few blocks down to a nearby bar where I was meeting a blind date.  As I waited for him to arrive I pulled up my first day of school PowerPoint again and questioned whether I should go with a blue or a purple background and which YouTube video would engage my students the most. 

The date was as disappointing as the appetizers he bought for me.  Tons of potential, but I just wasn’t feeling the spinach artichoke dip.  I’ve had better.

At around 10pm my parents drove down to Denver to pick me up and take me home.  I remember being so emotionally spent and in pain that I cried the whole way home for no good reason.

Well I mean, for a good reason.  A brain hemorrhage reason.  But I just didn’t know it yet.

The throbbing in my ears and lack of coordination continued for the next week as I continued to pretend like it was no big deal.  As we all know it was a very big deal.  The kind of big deal that changes everything about a person.

Here I sit exactly one year later.  Today was the first day of school.  Another standard day if standard to you means teaching five 58 minute classes back to back, shoveling food down your face in between, and having a nervous pit in your stomach as you try to convince 14 year-olds to like you.

Go big or go home and take a large sized nap.

Holy shit, you guys.  What a day.

To make matters more significant on this day in history I actually had a headache today.  And yes.  Yes it did make me nervous beyond belief.

At certain points in the day I was entirely convinced that if I sneezed my brain would fall out of my head and onto the brightly carpeted floor.  That would have been a nice show on the first day of school.

But while I was nervous I was also excited; thrilled to be at where I am in life today despite what happened a year ago.

Another tradition of mine is to give a quiz on the first day.  Because obviously I’m as intimidating as the Godfather.

If you didn’t catch that, this is sarcasm.  My classroom is so covered in polka dots that it makes Zooey Deschanel look like a punk.  I am not intense.  But I carry a big stick.  Actually I do.  It’s my yard stick and I carry it to feel cool and rebellious. 

After announcing how “serious” this first day quiz was, my students groaned as they shot daggers out of their eyeballs and into my soul.

It’s an About Me quiz, you guys.  Stop taking everything so seriously.  Geaz.

As we got into silly questions about my favorite foods, my dog, and my history as a sports superstar, the kids lightened up a little bit.  But only a little.  Sometimes I swear this job is harder than doing stand up comedy for a room of five angry men.

I presented the following question:
Which of the following statements is true about Ms. H?
A.)  She played 9 years of women’s ice hockey as goaltender
B.)  She ran her own improv comedy group in college
C.)  She had brain surgery last October
D.)  All of the above

“Hey you guys, which one of these can we rule out right now?  Which one is just a gigantic lie?”

The room shouted A and C as answers. 

“There’s no way!  She has all of her hair!”  One lively student shouted.

"She's too tiny to play hockey!"  Another added.

Others shook their heads.  This lady is full of you know what.

I made a grand reveal.  The crowd went wild.  It’s crazy, I know you guys.  My life is really freaking crazy.

So I explained myself a bit.  I showed a few pictures of my scar, my Fall Risk bracelet, and told them about The Great Brain Costume that might make an appearance this Halloween.  The kids were stunned and so was I.  It’s hard to even believe myself when I say it out loud.

One year ago I had a brain hemorrhage that would knock my world upside down, show me humbleness, and teach me more about life than I could ever teach my students.  I feel my scar everyday and am still in denial about the resilience of my body and soul.  So here's to you, you stubborn lil' cuss!  May you have many more crazy years ahead of you.

Happy One Year, Brain. 

Am I going crazy or is there an elephant on my head right now?

Am I going crazy or is there an elephant on my head right now?

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Back 2 Skool Ain't So Bad

I hear a lot of disgruntled thought bubbles these days.  Whispered under the breath of an exhausted parent who can’t believe a teacher would ask a student to bring a box of pencils to class.  Or loudly audible among a sea of stressed out faces as the price of binders, folders, and colorful sticky notes continue to increase.

We have to go back again already?

Yes.  I understand the sentiment.

As a new teacher I have had my fair share of mild to moderate panic set in at the thought of the new school year.  There’s school supplies and clothing and teeth cleanings and car repairs and the dreaded readjustment to the 7am-3pm school day.  Sometimes I feel like I am swearing away my soul until Fall break; hoping that nothing malfunctions or runs out before then.  God forbid we run out of hand sanitizer in my class.

Teachers, parents, and students the world over are taking a deep sigh and settling in for the tidal wave of school to hit the mainland.

Here we go again.

But let’s take a second to reflect here.  Because we must.  Or else we will lose our minds and our freshly sharpened pencils.

Yesterday was really cool for me for a few reasons.

Yesterday I showed my best friend my first classroom for the first time.  Lots of firsts.  I held the door open for her as she joined me and a handful of other stressed teaching staff in the building on a Saturday.  I walked her into my room and gave her the tour.

“Eventually this will be where my white board is,” I said pointing to a hilarious sheet of paper hanging on my wall with the words “White Board Goes Here” scribbled on it.

Her face lit up.

“And this is my Word Wall for U.S. History,” I noted half interested as I eye-balled a pile of un-laminated pictures I had yet to get to.

She smiled some more.

“Oh my goodness, Mimi.  You have a CLASSROOM.  It felt like just the other day when little 14 year old you and me were sitting right here.  Now some little kiddo gets to have YOU as a teacher.”

It took another second to sink in.

Up until recently I had the habit of calling myself a “Fake Teacher.”  I had student taught under a mentor, and while I had my own students and a shared classroom, I never really considered myself a true teacher.

A teacher in training, a newbie newb, a joke of sorts.

Brennyn began snapping pictures of me pointing to a variety of cheesy things around my room as she looked on with utter pride.

I am the real deal.

Polka dot cork boards, seating charts, a yard stick I plan on carrying around with me as I pester my students about their extra-curricular activities and if I can come to them and sit in the front row.  It’s the whole 9 yards…get it.  Because I have a yard stick.

Sorry.  Not sorry.  My students are going to have to get used to my awful puns.  But they had better Walken with a good attitude or else (I have a collage of Sir Christopher Walken posted on my front door).  Let the cheesy teacher-ness begin.

But my joy didn’t end there.

After a few hours of running frantically around my classroom making copies and contemplating essential questions for my lesson plans I went down to the Castle rock Outlets with my mom to do some shopping for the upcoming school year.

Our first stop was to an Express.  Because I’m cheap.  And poor.  And a teacher.

Here's a candid picture of me in my classroom.

Here's a candid picture of me in my classroom.

I picked out a handful of 50% off tops and skirts to channel my inner Zooey Deschanel and headed to the cash register.  As the sweet high school grad rung me up I made small talk.  I asked if she had another denim shirt that wasn’t snagged (I hadn’t noticed until that moment, again, cheapy cheap).  She was happy to grab me another.  I asked if she had any discounts this time of year for teachers.

Nope, unfortunately not.

Ah, well.  I thanked her for going out of her way to get me the shirt.

Then something amazing happened.

A man from behind me in line (and a long line at that since I was just chatting it up with my cashier) came up to me and the cashier and asked if he could give his military discount to me.  He insisted. 

Military ID in hand he said with the most special smile, “I really appreciate the work you do.  If anyone deserves a discount, it’s you.”

The wind was knocked out of my chest.

What?

You want to give little old fake-but-very-real teacher me your highly esteemed military discount?  I was completely taken aback.  I thanked him profusely and couldn’t believe it.  My faith in humanity was restored entirely.

Unlike so many of us this time of year, this amazing man saw the value in me when I could not.  When talking about my teaching and the work I do everyday I tend to throw around some jokes.  Surprise, surprise.

"Well that's why I get paid the big bucks," I jab.

It's no secret that my salary over the stretch of a lifetime will be a tad bit laughable.  And during this time of year it's easy to slip into the mindset that it's all for nothing and that the kids will eat you alive out there.  It's easy sometimes to forget what we're doing this all for.

When I get this way I watch this. 

Goose bumps, folks. 

So yes, going back to school can kind of suck.  And you had better believe that come October we will be having an entirely different conversation.  My classroom will be a petri dish of kid germs and I will likely be buried in ungraded papers, assessments, and grueling professional development meetings.

But you know what?

I wouldn’t change going back to school for anything in the world.

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