Accidental Wisdom


I accidentally said something wise at work.

Co-worker Elaine had asked me about Ragnar because her husband and some of his friends were getting a team together and she wasn’t sure if she should run or not, and I have a bunch of Ragnar stickers on my car.

Of course, I told her Ragnar is the best. I told her that it’s my favorite race, and that she is totally capable of running it. I told her that people run in costume and there’s a unique camaraderie in the van. I told her it’s a chance to feel like a kid again.

Still, Elaine was worried about her pace. Evidently her husband’s friends are cops and are pretty competitive. They didn’t love that she runs like an 11-minute pace. In our conversation about pace, she was saying that she just didn’t think she would ever get faster, and I said, “Pace is really just dependent on how uncomfortable you’re willing to be. You can get faster; it just might not be worth the discomfort.”

Of course discomfort is not the only factor. If I’d lose 20 lbs, it’d be a lot easier for me to run faster, but the variable that’s always a factor is discomfort.

I am a firm believer that anyone can run Ragnar, anyone can run a half marathon, and anyone can run a full marathon. The question isn’t whether a person can do it. The question is whether a person is willing to do it. The question is how uncomfortable a person is willing to be, because running a marathon is really uncomfortable for a really long time.

Elaine recently quoted me back to myself, saying that she actually thinks about discomfort every time she runs now. She thinks about how if she’ll just be a little more uncomfortable, she’ll also be a little faster.

It’s really cool to hear that it helped her. Even though I didn’t intend to be particularly awesome or helpful in that moment, what I said to Elaine has actually been really helpful to me in studying for the LSAT.

The LSAT is an obnoxious test. And I’m beginning to believe that taking it is a lot lot running a personal best on race day. It’s not just about getting up to the distance; it’s also about being efficient. It’s about pacing and constant forward motion.

I scored my first 160 on a practice test several weeks ago, which was awesome. 160 is the median score U of A accepts, and it’s at the lower end of the range where they offer merit-based scholarships. It was also my goal score, so I got to adjust my goal up, which is always such a confidence-booster. But it took a lot of discomfort to get to that 160. It took a lot of sitting at sbucks, reading and practicing a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with law school. I’ve done practice questions about giraffes, race cars, evolution, public parks, furniture, bread deliveries, tropical fish, computers, drilling fluids, choreography… you name it, I’ve studied it. Some of the questions are about literature, which always makes me happy, but the vast majority of my preparation has been reading about crap that really irritates me.

Also, it would have been easy to score 160, then stop worrying and studying. And yet, here I am, at sbucks, getting ready to work through my third thousand-plus page book, in the hopes that reading about the history of model airplanes will provide significant compensation in a few months. Discomfort now, for comfort in the future.

That’s what running is like. The more uncomfortable I’m willing to be, the better I will likely perform on race-day.

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Life Update: July 2016


Failure to thrive is a really mysterious diagnosis. We actually have hospice patients who are diagnosed with Adult Failure to Thrive. Basically, a person who has no specific disease diagnosis… no Heart Failure, Malignant Neoplasm of the ________, COPD, Parkinson’s, ALS, MS… a person can be disease-free, taking in a normal number of calories, and yet, be wasting away.

Like the physical diagnosis “Adult Failure to Thrive,” I believe there’s a really mysterious thing that occurs spiritually and emotionally that’s almost exactly the same thing. I’ve seen it in myself and the people around me. I’ve seen myself and others do all sorts of crazy things to try to fix it. Shasta got a personal trainer and learned to play the violin. I took up yoga and volunteered at an animal shelter. Amy took a sabbatical from work and traveled. But it’s never the things we do to try to make it better that actually make it better.

I really wasn’t well a year or so ago. I knew I wasn’t well, but nothing I did seemed to make it better.

However, as much as I want to understand what went on, because I want to be able to keep myself from wasting away like that in the future, I don’t understand.

I am doing well now. And I find the weirdest things making a huge difference in whether I’m thriving or not. So, I thought I’d take a bit of time to write about the things that are turning it around for me.

10. I started new projects. I really hadn’t been able to write at all while I wasn’t thriving. I kept writing, but it wasn’t good. It was just writing to keep the blog from dying. I certainly wasn’t able to put emotional and creative energy into my manuscript, but I’m not the type who does well with nothing to work on. I need to constantly be trying to improve something: my spiritual life, my house, a friendship, my race pace… So I decided to become a Vegetarian and lose weight. That sense of incremental achievement helped.

9. Roommate Kendra moved to Phoenix. I adore Roommate Kendra. She is the best roommate I’ve ever had, but I think my thriving needed complete privacy. I think my thriving needed to know that whatever Katie was, no one would see and have an opinion of it. It’s not that I was afraid Kendra would have a negative opinion. It’s just that if I’d had a roommate who was home and saw me regularly, she would have an opinion, and sometimes, a person needs to know that no one is watching. The hardest thing in the world is to run your own pace when you know someone is watching – Scott Jurek.

8. I watched TV. I’m generally not good at watching tv. It’s too inactive for me. I can usually make it through a 20-minute show, but beyond that, I feel the need to get up and cook something or vacuum or go for a run or read a book or chop down the Oleanders in my yard. This is fine most of the time, but I think sometimes thriving requires a still, gentle nap on the couch to exist. I think it requires the brain to stop turning and the body to rest. Sometimes, it requires the inaction of a good, long tv show.

7. I backed up on friendships. This could truly be its own post, so I’ll try to keep it simple. I generally believe that it’s not okay to give up on people, so I felt a really strong tension between that belief and some friends who had been my constant critics. The situation I found myself in was that I was living one of the low moments of life and my friends were relentlessly kicking me while I was down. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt an underlying judgment and unkindness in how they interacted with me, but it was the first time I realized I deserved better. Everyone’s friends mess up from time-to-time. Friends are flawed and human, and that’s okay. This wasn’t that. First, I tried to talk with the people who’d hurt me, but when they’d ignored and refused my attempts at reconciliation, I just backed away slowly and moved on. From my side of things, we  are at peace, but we aren’t close. It’s the first time I feel I’ve really stood up for myself with those friends. 

6. I got a dog. Moose is so important in my life. 🙂

5. I found something I can be good at, but isn’t easy. Volunteering for Victim Services feeds so many parts of me. It is part ministry, part community, part adventure… It’s challenging, but manageable. It’s the things my job isn’t.

4. A comic shop opened a branch in Northwest Tucson. I know this sounds stupid, but it really somehow brought me joy to be able to stop at the comic shop after work. I hate ordering comics from online, because comic shops seem like this last bastion of the local book shop. They are nostalgic and remind me of a time when people went to Blockbuster to browse, when movies and books weren’t quite so accessible as to be just a click away. I want comic shops to have my money, because I want them to hold out against Amazon, but it also seems stupid for me to drive for 35 minutes, browse and buy for 10 minutes, and then drive home for 35 minutes. Also, there is something really beautiful about the comic shop in how it provides a place of belonging and hope for people who don’t quite belong. So… now the geeky and nostalgic parts of me can be fulfilled simultaneously with a quick trip down to Fantasy Comics.

3. I exercised. I never really stopped exercising when I wasn’t thriving, but I was training for marathons rather than kick boxing. It’s a different kind of exercise.

2. I prayed. Like exercise, I never exactly stop praying, but I sometimes close off and pray obligatory prayers. I pray for things that matter like the world, others, and the glory of God. However, I thrive when I pray for the most minuscule, mundane things. I thrive when I pray for sleep and rain and weight loss. I thrive when there isn’t any part of my life that I hold as too personal or insignificant for God’s mighty hand.

1.Brandon offered to help me build a table. Brandon and Kira are a couple who I’ve actually known for something like 5 years. With the slowness that is my nature in friendship-building, I had probably only considered them to be my church friends until pretty recently. However, there was this sort of exquisite moment when I was admiring a table that Brandon had built, and I had said that I might try to copy him and build my own, and he said something like, “I’d love to help you with that.” I’d actually already pictured myself building that table and I was always alone. And it occurred to me in that moment that I could let Brandon and Kira help me. Brandon hadn’t offered because he felt he was going to earn points with God. He genuinely seemed to think it would be a fun project. So, I’m still imagining myself building that table, but I’m also imagining the help I might have in doing it. And I’m thinking that one of the absolute keys for me in thriving is having a strong sense of community. A sense that people are there for me because they want to be… I don’t struggle to be happy when I’m alone. I don’t feel a strong drive to be around people, but I’m realizing that I do feel a strong drive toward family, and that I truly thrive when the church takes on the role of family in my life.

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There have been a few setbacks recently in my heart… things that shook me and ache, but, by the grace of God, those things haven’t knocked me off my horse yet, and I’m still in the land of thriving.

Will You Ever Go Back to Teaching?


It’s been a year since I gave up teaching, and it seems like the question is coming up more and more frequently of whether I’ll go back or not; it’s actually a silly question to me. You may as well ask me if I’ll ever go back to Mongolia… the answer is, “Maybe… I don’t know. I don’t have any plans to go back, but if the right opportunity came along, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.”

Even though I can’t say whether I’ll ever go back, I can tell you that I REALLY miss the teachers. It’s difficult to explain how unique and wonderful teachers are. Working in an office lands me with a lot of people who are under-educated and poorly-informed, whereas with teaching I’d grown accustomed to being the young one, who various colleagues described as “winningly naive” and “precious.” I was surrounded by Master’s degrees and most everyone had decades more experience and disillusionment than I had. Now, I’m surrounded by people who haven’t read books or traveled the world or experienced true stress. It bothers me in an elitest, snobbish way, but it also just bothers me that conversations about politics, poverty, religion, etc… are so completely devoid of true understanding and empathy. The head and the heart find no more elegant blending than exists inside the classroom. And I miss that.

I don’t actually miss the students very much. I know… you all think that I ought to be all melty inside over the special snowflakes I got to teach, but those of you who think that have not tried to get 35 teenagers to sit quietly and read. All normal classroom irritants aside, I will say that the one thing that pushes me over the edge of Why-the-hell-would-I-miss-those-jerks-?- is the amount of time I spent in my last two years of teaching fighting phones. The classroom drastically changed during my 7 years. Drastically. Being in a room with 35 kids isn’t the same as it was when I started, so what I miss is kids pre-Smart Phone, because they were human beings, albeit confused, awkward, arrogant, human beings, but they made eye-contact and enjoyed interacting with others. That sort of student was almost completely extinct when I quit.

I actually don’t miss the vacations. I get asked about that one a lot. Having a Fall break is nice, but being able to pee whenever the hell I want, is priceless… always having an hour for lunch… being able to walk outside whenever I’m tired of sitting… all more valuable than getting summers off. Teaching is like trying to cut 2 mins/mile off of your fastest training pace for race day, then not running at all for several weeks, then trying to cut another 3 mins/per mile off of an uphill marathon. The pace of my life outside of education is leisurely. I don’t even feel like I need a vacation with all of the time that currently exists throughout my workday – not even exaggerating.

I REALLY miss talking about books and how to write. I miss showing kids how to do things and helping them feel like reading is okay. I miss helping them find a confidence in their ability to offer something to their peers, teachers, parents, etc… in writing. I loved helping kids understand the difference between analysis and synthesis. I miss advising them on how to respect and communicate well with people they don’t like. In short, I miss teaching, coaching, and mentoring.

I REALLY don’t miss being responsible for, evaluated on, and expected to master the skill of controlling outcomes that are completely outside of my control. Working in an office has calmed my life in ways you can’t possibly understand until you’ve been graded on whether or not a kid who doesn’t speak English is able to pass a test in English, even though he’s only attended 20 days out of the last 50 days of school, and prior to that, he lived in another country… even though he never even learned to read and write in his native language. Since leaving education, I sleep better, drink far less alcohol, exercise more, and feel at ease. Not only is the pace of education unsustainable, but the expectations are impossible. At my current job, I am evaluated on punctuality, dress code, and the completion of tasks. Not to get too far into the money thing, but I also make the same amount of $ as I made teaching.

Will I ever go back?

I honestly don’t know. I loved that profession, and it shat all over me. And yet, I have an affection for it. My love of the classroom will probably always be a part of me, but I’m not sure I’m willing to entrust myself to it again. I spent my 20s on education – studying it in college, and then laboring in its field. It wasn’t a waste of time or lost time. I just want to spend my 30s on something else. Maybe I’ll go back to the classroom in my 40s. Maybe I’ll even teach overseas before that. All I can say is that it would be a waste for me to go back right now, and I can’t imagine anything worse than feeling like I’ve wasted the life I’ve been given.

The Teacher Nightmare


As I was signing up for my 401 K last week, the rep. whose job it was to convince us to sign up and then help us do it was asking me about teaching, and he implied that teachers have it great because they get summers off. I very quickly let him know that he’s really really mistaken, although I don’t think he fully understood why…

Well, I got together with some teacher friends for a beer tasting over the weekend. They talked about teacher things and people that were a significant part of my life, but I have to admit, it all seemed pretty distant. It’s been about 8 months since I’ve been in the classroom.

And yet… I had a teacher nightmare that night.

In the nightmare, I was teaching at a middle school in one of those places that only makes sense in dream. There were apple trees all over the school; it was sort of like what I pictured the Amity compound to be like in Insurgent by Veronica Roth. The school didn’t have climate control, and there were at least a few other commonalities to the school where I taught in Mongolia. I had a class of maybe 15 kids, and they were all really cute.

Then, for no reason at all, someone released something like 10 tigers onto campus, and I grabbed one little girl’s hand and dragged her to safety, but I don’t know what happened to any of the other kids. And I felt sooooo guilty, because I’d abandoned them to save myself and this one little girl. She and I were hiding in a cleaning closet when I woke up.

That’s what being a teacher is like – probably not for everyone, but for me. Also, I’m sure the job took its toll on others in other ways. Regardless, I had that sort of nightmare for the last week of every break and the first week back for 7 years. We’re talking last week of Summer and first week back, Fall break and first week back, Winter break and first week back, Spring break and first week back…. I spent something like 8 weeks of my life having nightmares about my job. That’s almost exactly the length of Summer vacation.

Also, that’s not including any of the many catalysts for nightmares during the normal weeks of school. I had one student who would tell her mother she was in my classroom studying at 6:30 pm on Friday nights. I’d come in Monday morning, and her mother would have left me a voicemail asking if her kid was with me. I called her and told her the kid was lying, but for weeks, I’d come in to a red light on my phone signifying that the kid had done it again. I had a ton of anxiety over that one, and it only got sorted out when the kid was picked up by the cops, running away from home. Again, she’d told her mother she was studying in my classroom. Forget the common sense fact that no teacher stays until 6:30 on Friday… we load up our grading and take it home with us… If I was going to work over the weekend, it sure as hell was going to be while lounging on the couch with a glass of wine.

Now, it’d be one thing if I was the type who was prone to nightmares or anxiety. But I’m really not. I haven’t had a single nightmare connected to my new job. Not one.

So, 401 K rep – all I can tell you is that if you like dreaming about kids being eaten by tigers, and being thrust into the middle of someone else’s meltdowns… go for it. Teaching is the job for you!

 

The Telling Nightmare


I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, because of stress. I’ve loaded up on the Benadryl. I’ve run myself to exhaustion. I’ve tried wine. I’ve done yoga. You name it, I’ve tried it. And, while the sleeping more is beginning to happen, I’ve been having some pretty telling nightmares, and I thought I’d share one of them with you:

The entire nightmare goes like this… I’m standing at third base (defensively… not as a runner). And there is a faceless person, who just keeps hitting the ball at me. He’s basically got an endless bucket of balls, and he’s drilling me. This isn’t uncommon in the softball world. Coaches will hit 30, 40, 50 balls at players. They’ll hit them super hard, and they’ll leave the athlete something like one or two seconds between each hit. It’s almost exactly long enough to catch the ball, throw it, and reset.

In my dream, though, I have a glove that goes on my right hand. As a “righty,” that’s the opposite of what you want.

At first, I’m doing okay. My throws are not making it to first base, but I’m at least able to catch the ball, throw it, and reset.

However, the faceless coach starts giving me less and less time between hits, and he’s hitting it so freakin’ hard, all I can do is knock the ball down/keep it from getting past me.

I’m not sure there’s a better metaphor out there for the anxiety of feeling ill-equipped… and I thought it was bad when I dreamt that my teeth were falling out. 😉