education, teaching

Creating Inclusivity: An Approach to Sensitive Subjects in the Classroom

Last month, I had the honor of leading a workshop at my university’s Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence First Friday’s event. My presentation wasn’t recorded, so I’m sharing a PDF of my slideshow. It contains many resources fellow professors might find useful. There are some University of South Florida-specific slides, but feel free to scroll past those.

Click here or on the image below to download the PDF.

Here’s the description of my presentation:

Broaching controversial or difficult subjects such as race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, bias, discrimination, and more in the classroom is increasingly common, if not necessary, as student bodies become more diverse and universities place more emphasis on inclusivity. This workshop will focus on how to tie diversity-related issues to course material and student learning outcomes, and how to manage productive, engaging classroom conversations on sensitive subjects. It will also include a discussion on best practices in learning students’ pronouns.

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education, teaching

Lecture: The Writing Process

The Writing Process diagram: prewriting, drafting, revising, peer review, editing, publishing
Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

I teach about the writing process in all of my writing courses: creative writing, composition, professional writing, and communication for engineers. My belief is that a deeper understanding of the writing process helps students develop an identity as a writer, build confidence in their writing ability, and better manage the anxiety/procrastination that often comes with writing.

Beginning with free writing

I usually teach about the writing process early on (this semester, I taught it on the second day of class). The day I teach about the writing process, I begin class with either a free write or a “survey.” This semester, I began with an anonymous survey in which I asked the following:

  1. What kind of writer are you?
  2. What makes writing “good?”
  3. What do you want to learn in this class?
  4. Is there anything else you want to tell me?

(Side note: I LOVE having #4, the catch-all question. I tell students they don’t have to fill it out, and most leave it blank, but the responses I do receive are usually delightful. I skimmed answers for this semester and saw one student wrote that their “thirst for knowledge is at a peak.” Another student wrote: “I should let you know, I have had an issue with using too many commas in the past.” Students are just great.)

In the past, I’ve asked other, similar questions: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer? What is your history with writing? What are your thoughts and feelings about writing? What role has writing played in your life? For now, I like “What kind of writer are you?” because of its concision. It’s also an intentionally vague question.

I summarize the students’ answers to the survey and share them in our next meeting. Many students think of themselves as “bad writers,” and I think it’s good for them to realize they aren’t alone. Also, I address what they wrote they want to learn in the course, either describing how/when I will teach it, or explaining why it falls outside of what we’ll discuss, and pointing them to other resources. This process allows me to be transparent in my teaching and student-centered from week one (sometimes I build lesson plans and exercises based on what students want to learn).

The lecture

When I begin my lecture about the writing process, I usually ask if any students have been formally taught the writing process before. There are usually a couple who say they have, but the majority say they haven’t. I don’t quiz the ones who raise their hands, but I do encourage them to chime in if they have any thoughts or knowledge to share as I speak.

Source: k12.thoughtfullearning.com

I ask if they’ve heard of Anne Lamott. Usually they haven’t, but sometimes 1-2 students raise their hands. I tell them to excuse my language, and then explain her concept of “shitty first drafts.” Essentially, not only does everyone write shitty first drafts, but when you first begin writing something, a shitty first draft should be your only goal.

I tell them that many students who are unfamiliar with the writing process think they are “bad writers,” when in reality, they’re comparing their “shitty first draft” to published work, or work that has gone through the entire process. I like this because the swearing definitely gets their attention, but since I’m quoting someone else, it doesn’t make our classroom environment feel unprofessional or like a free-for-all.

(Side note: I generally do not swear in the classroom. I know it can be an effective attention-getting tool, but I think it’s risky. In the past, when I’ve used swear words, I’ve noticed some students appear uncomfortable, while others get a little too excited and start using more swear words themselves, neither of which is my goal.)

Next, I pull up one or both of the images in this post and project them. I then go through the stages of the writing process one-by-one.

Prewriting

I explain that prewriting is anything you do before you begin writing that helps you prepare to write. I’m a writer through-and-through, so for me, prewriting usually is writing. But, it’s messy writing that I’m going to delete. I might need to write for 30 minutes before I understand my thoughts and know what points I want to make, then I can begin “real” writing.

I tell them that I have a friend whose main prewriting activity is running. She mulls over what she wants to say while running 5 or 7 miles, then by the time she sits down to type, the sentences come out pretty well-formed. I have another friend who likes to draw for prewriting. That sparks their creativity, and helps them visualize their ideas.

More detail-oriented people might not feel comfortable writing until they have a full outline and know exactly what they’re setting out to do–these people would probably find my process unbearably sloppy. More social people might not want to write until they sit down and talk out their ideas with someone else.

At this point, I’ll generally ask, “Does anyone recognize what their prewriting habits are?” This semester, one student shared that he likes thinking ideas over while listening to music, then he begins writing once he feels inspired. Another student shared that he likes listening to podcasts, and jots down phrasing they use that impresses him and he thinks he could apply to his own concepts.

I explain that knowing what types of prewriting work for you might help you when you feel stuck. I emphasize that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to prewrite, and I encourage students to experiment with different methods to see what helps them.

Drafting/Writing

Drafting, writing, and revising are a recursive process, which the first image illustrates well. In the old days, writing and revising were clearly distinguishable steps. Someone would feed a paper into a typewriter, type out an entire draft, read over it with a red pen in hand, mark it up, and then retype the next draft. It was too labor-intense to revise before an entire draft was complete.

Now, with contemporary technology, it’s easy to type three paragraphs then decide the first paragraph has two unnecessary sentences, and delete them, then realize the order of paragraphs two and three should be switched, and flip them. Most writers write, revise, and even edit continually as they go. This can be efficient, or it can hold someone back, especially if they’re feeling stuck or anxious or bad about the writing in any way.

In my creative writing courses, I urge students to try separating writing from revision. I mention Jennifer Egan as an example. When I saw her speak, she said that if she rereads what she is writing while she is writing, it brings her down. She begins to think she’s a horrible writer and that the project is garbage. That’s why she writes by hand, sloppily, in a dark room. Not until she gets out an entire draft does she go back and read over it.

Writing and revising can be two distinct modes. Personally, I find that when I am in the “generative” phase of creative writing and still figuring out my ideas, it’s best if I don’t reread what I’m writing until later. Then I can come back with my revision glasses on and look for what isn’t working well. If I view my work with a critical eye while I’m still writing it, I’m at risk of giving up. I, and my students, feel better knowing that a bestselling author such as Jennifer Egan experiences the same thing.

I don’t always go into as much detail about this writing/revising dichotomy in my professional writing courses, unless students seem particularly stuck or are struggling to get words on the page. I think writing and revising at the same time can be useful when writing an email, letter, memo, or short professional document, unless for some reason the document has the writer paralyzed with anxiety.

I do emphasize to professional writing students that they should expect to reread their documents and make changes multiple times, even if they’re doing so quickly, and that they never want to share something or even send an email without rereading.

I note that they can bring someone else in to give advice at this stage of the process, and that in some workplaces, sharing a draft of documents with their superior would be required. I tell them to prepare themselves to have to alter their writing process slightly depending on the company they work for. Some bosses won’t want an employee to write anything until they’ve discussed it thoroughly; others won’t want to see anything but a finished product.

Editing

I explain the differences between editing, revising, and proofreading, and let them know that many people use the words interchangeably or incorrectly. I say that revising is the hard work; it can involve major cuts, reorganization, or rewriting. Revision involves looking at the big picture.

Editing, while still sometimes difficult, is a look at the surface. It might involve rewording a sentence, or reordering sentences within a paragraph, but beyond that, it doesn’t involve deep changes. Editing includes correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and rephrasing for clarity.

Proofreading is the final, last-minute look-over you give something when it’s ready to go but you want to be super sure there aren’t any lingering typos you missed.

I tell students that we will do workshopping (in creative writing) or peer review (in composition and professional writing) in class, and that I want them to feel comfortable gently telling their peers when they need to make revisions. I say that most students feel much more comfortable pointing out spelling errors, or missing commas or apostrophes than they do saying that one of the main threads is illogical, or that multiple paragraphs feel redundant and extraneous.

Publishing

I tell them that I want to expand their definition of “publishing.” I ask what publishing might look like in the context of a class. Generally, a student answers (correctly), “Turning something in to you?”

I ask what “publishing” might look like in the workplace. I keep asking for responses until someone comes up with “hitting send on an email.” I say yes!, that is it, also: mailing a letter, printing out an announcement and hanging it on the wall, sending the employee manual off to the printer, etc.

Questions/Comments

Finally, I ask if there are any questions or comments. We don’t usually have a big discussion about the writing process, but sometimes students speak up to either ask for advice or share what works for them.

Oftentimes, procrastination comes up at this point. I tell students that procrastination is often the result of anxiety–we put writing off because we fear we will do a bad job, or we fear the writing will feel painful. I bring up Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” idea again, and remind them that there’s no way to fail at the goal of writing a shitty first draft, and setting out to write a shitty first draft can actually be really fun.

I tell them that if they think they write better under pressure, hours before something is due, they are mistaken. (Usually a few students laugh, or nod, or raise their hand to comment here.) I tell them I was an undergrad once too, and I also thought I wrote better under pressure, but then I learned the reality is that I write better when I’m focused on my writing instead of my fear. Waiting until the last minute is one way to force yourself to focus on the writing; embracing the “shitty first draft” concept is another, more productive way.

I usually end by saying, think of what you come up with in an hour when you’re working under pressure. Image how much happier you’d feel if you could come up with that in an hour one week before the due date, then have time to gain some distance and perspective and do more revising and editing before turning that work in.

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education, teaching

The first day of the semester

I recently added a Teaching page to my website, and in the coming months I’ll be populating it with links to blog posts related to teaching. I figured, where better to start than the first day of class? Here is how I handle it:

The First Day of Class

Opening class

The first day of class can be boring, so I try to open in an unexpected way to get them paying attention. I begin by asking, “What do you think we’re going to do today?”  Usually someone says, “Go over the syllabus?” I say, “Yep!” and then write “Syllabus” on the board. Then I ask, “What else?” Usually someone else says, “Introductions?” I say something about how great they’re doing already, then write “Introductions” on the board.

I tell them that every day, I’ll write an agenda on the board like this one that lists what we’re going to do in class. I say that I like to consider their input on things when I can, and ask “Which of these do you want to do first–syllabus or introductions?” Usually they pick introductions (but not always!). If the room allows it, I then ask them to move their desks into a big circle, where we stay for the remainder of the class.

What’s on the board will look more or less like this:

  1. Introductions
  2. Syllabus

Introductions

I write a numbered list on the board from 1-5. Next to number one, I write “preferred name + pronouns.” Next to number two, I write “year + major.” I turn back to the class and say, what else do you want to know about each other?

Students will often name things they’ve probably had to share in other courses, saying “where they’re from?,” “why they took this class?,” or “what their hobbies are?” (Yes, most of what students say at this early point sounds like questions–I don’t think they’re used to having a say in the class from the first moment.)

I write what they say on the board. Usually, by number five, we’ve gotten a less common one in there, often a “favorite” of some type. I know doing introductions this way takes more time, but students tend to seem more engaged when I do it like this, and there’s usually a playful, comfortable air in the room by this point.

What’s on the board will look something like this:

  1. preferred name + pronouns
  2. year + major
  3. where you’re from
  4. hobbies
  5. favorite food

I clarify what I mean by preferred name: “I’ve noticed that every semester, a few weeks in, after students get to know me and feel more comfortable, a few in every class will mention that they actually go by a name that’s different than what’s in Canvas. Whether it’s a nickname or a middle name or they plan on legally changing their name, they do not want to be called what’s listed, but they didn’t feel comfortable saying it on the first day. Well, I want you to share the name you prefer on the first day! We are going to have group discussions and interactive class exercises regularly. I want to learn all of your names, and I want all of you to learn each other’s names, and it’s important that we learn the names you actually like and use.”

Off to the side of the list on the board, I write “she/her/hers,” “he/him/his,” “they/them/theirs.” I say something along the lines of, “Most people use one of these three sets of pronouns, but some people use other pronouns I haven’t listed. We might be tempted to think that we can tell if someone uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ just by looking at them, but if our guess is wrong, they might find it hurtful or offensive. When we do introductions, I’d like you to share which pronouns you want us to use for you in class, if you feel comfortable doing so. This will allow us to treat each other respectfully, and our class is welcoming to everyone.”

(I’ve had students share their pronouns three semesters in a row now, and I’ve tweaked the way I introduce it a little bit every time. Recently, I came across this site about pronouns, which could be useful if you’re deciding if/why/how to broach the subject in your course.)

In my professional communication courses, I usually add a little more about pronouns in the workplace. I reiterate that the purpose of the course is to prepare them to communicate effectively in a professional setting, and that they don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by accidentally offending someone after starting a new job by incorrectly assuming their pronouns.

After explaining what I mean by preferred name and pronouns, I sit down and say, “I’ll go first. I’m Jay Summer, and I like for my students to call me Jay. If that feels too casual for you, call me Ms. Summer. I use she/her pronouns. This is my fifth year teaching at USF. I am a Visiting Instructor. Before that, I was a graduate student here. I hold a BS in psychology, and masters degrees in urban planning and creative writing. I’m from Chicagoland. My hobbies are reading and writing. I like food too much to choose a favorite, but I especially love Thai and Indian food.”

Then, we go around the circle, with each person introducing themselves. I try to give introductions a conversational feel by occasionally interrupting to ask questions (“You’re from Brazil? What made you decide to come here? What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between home and the US?”) and to draw connections among students (“Well, three people have named tacos as their favorite food, so maybe you should start a study group where you go out to eat together”). I know it’s sort of hokey, but I think it helps make the overall atmosphere more comfortable instead of stilted. After a few introductions with me asking questions, other students will usually begin chiming in here and there as they recognize commonalities (“I’m from Orlando, too–what high school did you go to?”), and I will smile with glee because organic conversations are happening on the first day.

Syllabus: Policies

I pass out hard copies of the syllabus and note that the syllabus is also in Canvas. I begin by saying, “I know going over a syllabus can be boring, but we have to do it. Hopefully this is the most boring our class will be all semester. We’ll skim most of the syllabus instead of reading it word-for-word, but I encourage you to read all of it on your own.”

I go through the syllabus section by section, spending only a few seconds on some sections, and minutes on others. I try to speak conversationally rather than just read in a dry manner. I emphasize policies and school resources, and only briefly overview course content. The students will encounter the course content week after week, but the policies are what might slip by them, and what they’re most likely to argue about later.

There are two policies that I think are extremely important to emphasize on the first day and repeat in subsequent classes: the attendance/tardiness policy and the late work policy. I’ve changed these policies over time, and don’t use the same policies for each course I teach, but I’m sure to repeat whatever the policy is, multiple times, on day one. I always do so with a smile and a friendly tone, rather than one that sounds strict.

For example, I might say, “10% is deducted each day work is late,” then pause for an unusually long time, until all the students are looking at me, wondering why I’m not talking anymore. Then I’ll repeat, “10% is deducted each day work is late.” I might ask questions, too, such as, “So, what happens if you don’t realize an assignment is due, then you turn it in a week late?,” or “If an assignment is due Monday by midnight, what will happen if you turn it in at 1 AM?”

Sometimes I repeat a policy so many times that the students are laughing, and I say something like, “Can you tell students have tried to argue with me about this policy in the past? What do you think will happen if you try to argue about it?” That seems to drive the point home.

I am transparent about my policies, and tell students why I have chosen the policies I have chosen. If attendance counts for 10% of the grade, for example, I might say something like, “This might feel like a drag to you, but it actually helps you quite a bit. You can get 10% just by showing up, which could bump you up from a B to an A without much effort. I tried teaching this class with no attendance policy one semester, and students’ grades dropped. When attendance doesn’t count, students miss more classes, and the less you attend class, the less well you understand the material, and the more likely you are to forget due dates. That’s why I reinstituted an attendance policy. It’s not to irritate you; it’s to help prepare you for the working world where you have to show up every day, on-time, and to help you earn a higher grade.”

I also discuss how I want students to message me, which is with a greeting and closing, always, and correct capitalization and punctuation, always. I make sure they understand that I don’t always check messages on nights and weekends, and that it might take me a day or two to reply when I’m very busy, which means last minute questions the day an assignment is due should be asked in person. (Almost all of my due dates are class dates.)

I say that I don’t have a phone/device policy, because they are adults and need to learn to manage their smartphone use. But, I remind them that I can see them when they pull out their phones and I find it disrespectful, and depending on my mood, I might ask what they’re using a device for if they have one out for more than a few seconds at a time that device usage is unnecessary.

Sometimes I ask, “How have your other professors handled smartphones in the classroom?,” partially because I’m curious, and partially because I want the students to talk and feel engaged, because by this point I have just said a lot and they’re probably getting tired.

When I’m done going over the policies, I usually ask if there are any questions, if everything makes sense, and if everything sounds fair.

Syllabus: Student Resources

Surprisingly, talking about the university’s resources has become one of my favorite parts of the first day. I begin by saying, “You were all intelligent and hardworking enough to be accepted to this university, which means you are all intelligent and hardworking enough to succeed at this university.”

That usually gets their attention.

I continue, saying, “In my years of teaching, I’ve noticed that when students do not get As in my courses, it almost always has nothing to do with their ability to understand the course material. It has to do with something else: physical illness, depression or anxiety, family problems, death or grieving, romantic or relationship issues, addiction or drinking problems, etc. Sometimes students are tempted to think their grades reflect their intelligence, when often grades actually reflect other things–how much you sleep each night, how well you’re getting along with your family, how solid your financial situation is, etc.”

I tell the students about free resources available on campus to help them deal with issues they might face. I then go over the Counseling Center, Students with Disabilities Services, the Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention, Title IX, the Writing Studio, the Office for Multicultural Affairs, and the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement. I also briefly mention Student Health Services, the gym, and student groups. For each resource, I ask if there’s anyone particularly knowledgeable about the resource–sometimes I find there are students who feel comfortable explaining the resource to the class.

Of all of those resources, I spend the most time on the Counseling Center and Students with Disability Services. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly comfortable with the students, I openly tell them that when I was a graduate student I went to the Counseling Center regularly to help manage anxiety, and there is no shame in it. I often make a joke about how, after they graduate, they might seek therapy one day and realize what it costs and kick themselves for not taking advantage of it when it was free. Ever since I began saying this, I’ve had at least one or two students every semester come to me at some point and thank me, saying that they now go to the Counseling Center because of my comments and they find it helpful.

When explaining Students with Disability Services, I emphasize that students may get accommodations for any mental or physical health issue that might affect their coursework or their ability to attend class, even if they don’t consider themselves “disabled.” I usually give two examples. I say, “If you’re thinking ‘I don’t have a disability,’ but you have a severe food allergy that could make you miss a week of class if you accidentally ingest the wrong thing, then it might be worth it to have an accommodation, just in case. If you sometimes have panic attacks during times of stress that could make you miss class, having an accommodation in place might result in your professor excusing your absences rather than not.” I emphasize that most professors, including myself, feel more comfortable being lenient with students when they have an official accommodation from SDS for their illness.

(I’ve gone back and forth about how to discuss SDS over time, and this is what I’ve settled on for now. I don’t know if it’s the best way. I do think it might encourage students who don’t need a true “accommodation,” such as extended test times or assistive technology in the classroom, to go to SDS for paperwork. That said, I do genuinely believe that most professors are more lenient about things like attendance and due dates when students have official accommodation paperwork, even though the paperwork can’t dictate anything related to attendance or due dates. I know I feel more comfortable being flexible when SDS is involved, and my students have anecdotally shared that other professors do as well. I could probably write a whole post on this alone, and maybe, eventually, I will.)

Finally, I ask if there any questions about our school’s resources. I tell them that I leave time for questions every class, and that I do not stay after class to answer one-on-one questions. They can ask questions during the designated class time, or, if they have a question that truly needs to remain confidential, they can come to my office hours or send me a message to ask their question. Then I wish them a good first week of school.

Thoughts? What do you on your first day of school?

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death, fear, Florida, health, personal growth, places, writing

When Tony Pierce tells you to blog, you do it.

florida foliageIf you don’t know who Tony Pierce is, click this link, look around, and come back. I’ll wait.

The other day Tony, or as I like to call him, “The Blogfather,” pointed out that entering an MFA program has slowed down my blogging. Where do I start?

Tony, you remember my old blog posts from 10 years ago? Five years ago? You were there, you read them. You know I used to (figuratively) cut myself open, reveal everything. It was cathartic. It was terrifying. It probably helped some readers, and it definitely helped me. Writing as therapy.

It was also the reason I deleted my old blogs–I didn’t want to be indefinitely raw and exposed like that. I didn’t like finding out friends, family, and acquaintances read about the most personal parts of my life and gossipped. I didn’t like suspecting that guys who were super into me then suddenly not might’ve changed their minds after realizing how much I put online.

To me, personal blogging has always been similar to when a close friend pulls you aside and says, “C’mon, it’s me. Tell me what’s really going on.” When I open up a draft post on my personal blog, I want to let it all out. So yeah Tony, school has kept me busy, but it hasn’t slowed down my blogging. The reason I haven’t blogged is because I know what I’d want to tell you if I started writing.

mushrooms

I’d want to tell you that, while I don’t regret moving from Illinois to Florida or entering an MFA program, it has been very difficult. First, one of my parents needed treatment for a brain tumor and I felt awful being away during that. So awful. Then my grandfather got sick. I missed my opportunity to see him before he died because I was here, in Florida, writing and studying. I don’t know that it was worth it. Right now, my other parent is dealing with a rare and dangerous blood and spine infection. It is improving, but again it’s hard for me to be across the country, unable to help.

Sometimes being in Florida to study and practice writing feels really dumb and selfish of me, and if I were going to give it to you straight, I’d end up telling you that.

I’d also want to tell you that eight people I know in Illinois (not including my grandfather) have died of various causes since I left and that it weighs on me. The deaths are unconnected, but it feels so strange–why so many, in such a short amount of time? Is that just part of getting older–each month someone else you knew dies? These are eight people I wasn’t terribly close with–old friends I lost touch with after moving, acquaintances I used to see around at shows, former classmates, close friends’ family members I’d met a few times.

bougainvilleaI’d want to tell you I feel sad about these deaths and think of them often. I’d want to tell you I also feel guilty about feeling sad, as if I didn’t know the deceased well enough to deserve to grieve. I’d want to tell you I feel shitty for blogging about them right now, that I don’t want to make other people’s tragedies about me.

I’d want to tell you that I’m dealing with health issues. That the symptoms feel like a moving target. That I’m doing my best to stay calm and optimistic while I try to yet again figure out what the fuck my body is doing. I’d want to tell you that I’m suffering and afraid. I’d want to tell you that I feel very alone in my pain and fear.

I’d want to tell you that I found out I can’t take out any more student loans because I already have a masters degree–it turns out the federal government will only help pay for the first one. I’d want to tell you that this means I have no clue how I’m going to get through the next two years. Despite being thirty-four years old, I do not have significant savings. I’d want to explain that a “funded” graduate program isn’t really, not unless you can live off of about $1,000/month. My expenses exceed that and I do not yet know what is going to make up the difference.

palm trees

I’d want to tell you that I’m becoming disillusioned with academia. That while I’m grateful for all I’m learning, I’m realizing the system is deeply unfair. I’d want to tell you about the day I saw a flyer at Aldi and realized that grocery store assistant managers make more money than many full-time college instructors.

I’d want to tell you that promoting beer pays me twice as much as teaching undergraduate writing courses pays me. I’d want to point out that college sports coaches are the highest paid public officials in many states. I’d want to write potentially melodramatic things such as, “What is wrong with America?”

I’d want to assure you that, despite all of my woes and worries, life isn’t all bad. I’d want to show you photos of Florida foliage and tell you even a short walk resets my mood, leaves me marvelling at nature.

I’d want to tell you that I love instagram, and even though that sounds cheesy or basic or whatever, it has become a bright part of my day. I’d want to tell you that I’ve decided to, for real this time, buy a nice DSLR camera whenever I can afford it. That even though I can’t afford it now, my iphone is a substitute and I enjoy taking photos and thinking about photos I will take in the future.

I’d want to tell you that I go to the gym every day now and it’s become a surprising source of strength and calm for me. I’d want to admit that for the first thirty minutes or so after walking in the door I feel anxious, want to leave, and think some variation of “I don’t belong here and everyone can tell.”

pink puff ball flower

I’d want to tell you that I notice those thoughts and feelings, keep exercising anyway, and feel amazing by the time I’m done. I’d want to try and make that into some sort of metaphor for life. I’d want to express hope that if I just keep on moving through difficult times and do not waver in my commitments that I will ultimately be rewarded with feelings of security and peace.

I’d want to tell you that I’ve made two really great friends down here, and that we’ve started a lit mag and a live lit event. I’d want to tell you that I have crazy, incredible daydreams in which I can eschew an academic career by growing one or both of these two things into a business.

I’d want to tell you that I’m still working on my novel, and that it’s horrible, but that’s okay. I’m plugging away and still telling myself I’ll finish it this summer. I’d want to tell you that I’m equal parts proud and embarrassed of it. I’d want to tell you that writing it might be the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve done in my life.

I’d want to tell you that I have over fifteen finished pieces of shorter writing and that I am submitting like crazy. I’d want to tell you that even though I’ve only received rejections so far, I don’t plan on stopping. After years of not believing in my writing ability, I finally have faith in myself.

brussels griffon

I’d want to tell you that my dog is awesome and that I’m not embarrassed to say he’s my best friend.

I’d want to tell you that music is a beautiful panacea. I might try to get you to listen to Surf, if you haven’t already. I’d want to remind you that the right Apocalypse Hoboken song can help when dealing with unpleasant emotions.

I’d want to talk about TV and say I get it now, I’m sorry I was an “I-don’t-watch-TV” type of snob a few years ago. That Bojack Horseman and Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer and Orange Is The New Black make my life feel richer.

I’d want to tell you that while things don’t always feel okay, I know that they will be, or that they already are, even when they aren’t. I’d want you to know that I’d know I was mostly writing that for myself.

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