Tag Archives: life

There Are No Words

Statue

If I have learned anything over the last few weeks, it is that I crave structure.  I need it to be productive.  I am slowly working on getting back into some type of routine as everything has shifted over the last couple of weeks.  Right now, I’m not even sure what it would look like.

I’d love to put tons of time and energy into my Google Classroom now, but Michigan just closed schools for the rest of the school year.  Up until this point, I was unable to assign anything for a grade.  I could share things I would like my students to look at and do, but that was about it.  I did come across some great stuff that I will be using with my students moving forward.  Unfortunately, that is the point.  Until we can figure out what distance learning will look like at our school, I’m not sure how we will handle students without out devices and internet access.  Hopefully, we will know more next week and will be able to move on from there.

I miss and worry about my students.  My heart breaks for my 8th graders who will be heading off to high school next year.  Will they be ready?  We did not get to send them off in the way they need to be sent off – not yet, anyway.  I worry less about 6th and 7th graders.  I can put things in place to help us fill in gaps next year.  It may not be fun, but it might be necessary.  I still miss them though, and they are certainly missing out on so much.  When we left school on Friday, March 13th – a day I will never forget – I was in the middle of planning a field trip to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  My 6th graders were also supposed to go to Lansing on another field trip in early May – a field trip that never happened last year.  8th graders are also missing out on their last dance, usually put on by 7th grade.  Not to mention track and field day, the last events surrounding Lent and Easter, and the wonderful chaos that is the last week of the school year.  Oh, and I could cry when I think of what we had planned for March is reading month, most of which never took place, including Prime Time Live Friday Night (originally slated for that ill-fated Friday the 13th) and a poetry café, among so much else.

Then there are the student council events.  I am the student council advisor, and my students pleaded with me to plan an end of year event.  A trip to an escape room and laser tag were in the works.  We were also supposed to have a carnival for younger students during March is reading month, all sponsored and put on by student council.  I’m now trying to figure out how we are going to do elections for next year, which take place every spring.  I may be able to come up with something there.  The point is that everyone who works in or deals with education day-in, day-out – teachers, administrators, volunteers, staff, parents, and certainly students – lost so much over these last few weeks.

I feel as though that goes double for students in Catholic schools.  I am not Catholic, and I do not teach religion, but I know what my students are missing at a time when they could use their faith the most.  They need guidance when it comes to faith formation, and that is what they are lacking now.  I keep thinking … 20 years from now, how I will I explain these times to my students?  There are times when I feel at a loss when I try discussing September 11th with current students who were born longer after 2001.

This is not what I wanted or dreamed for my first full year teaching.  It just isn’t.  I do hope that next year will bring a “normal” year.  During the 2018-2019 school year, those of us in Michigan experienced a record number of “cold”/snow days.  Something no one experienced before.  Now this.  I think everyone could use a return to “normal” at this point.

Change the World

Then there is the canoe livery.  Fortunately for us, we don’t truly begin to get busy until the end of June, early July.  August keeps getting busier and busier every year.  This time of year, we get things ready for opening on Memorial Weekend.  We will see what happens.  While we can make some progress, in other ways, it is difficult.  For example, I can’t finish ordering our t-shirts and sweatshirts at this point.  Would it be wise to do so right now with so much uncertainty?  Same goes for other merchandise in our stores.

There are so many summer scenarios that are running through my head.  I can’t help but think we’d be especially busy if things start returning to normal by early June.  If it is towards the end of June, that might put more pressure on already extremely busy weekends.  Should we extend our season?  Time will tell.

I do know that I will survive.  My family will survive.  The canoe livery will survive.  We’ve weathered so many storms in the past.  I keep telling myself how bleak things looked in 2018 in the wake of massive 100-year flooding due to ice.  We made it and came back better than ever.  Eventually a path will be made clear, and there will be a new “normal.”  We all just need to hold on until then.

Empty Classroom

Why I Write

Writing 1

Why do I write? I write because I must write. I have a story within me that must be told. There may be other ways to tell that story, but writing fits me – and more importantly, it fits the story I need to tell. I’ve dabbled in many forms of writing over the years, everything from daily throw away articles to blogging to academic papers. I view it all as preparation for writing a larger story.

More than anything, writing allows me to organize all the seemingly random thoughts rambling around my head. I love reading what I wrote years ago as it normally takes me back to a certain time and place. It is a way for me to see just how much I’ve grown over the years, both personally and as a writer.

As a teacher, it saddens me when students tell me they hate to read and write. In my mind, my love of writing grew out of my love of reading. I loved to read as a child – and I still love to read. Reading and writing are so intertwined in my life that it is difficult for me to tell where one begins and the other ends. For example, something I plan to write will inspire me to read a certain book. Other times, a book I pick up because it looks good will inspire me to write. One of my all-time favorite books, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, sums up the symbiotic relationship perfectly. In fact, it changed how I read as a writer in every sense of those words. As long as I have books, paper, and pen, I will never be bored.

Writing, to me, also means a sense of community. I’ve taken writing classes at the local community college, spent years as a member of Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., and attended workshops and seminars for writers. I have yet to meet one writer who didn’t have something to offer others, whether it be a new critique technique, a new source of writing prompts, or information on various programs for writers. As with teachers, writers are happy to share. We can all learn from one another.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it can be personal or shared, solitary or social, and organized or spontaneous. There is room for all types, and there is no one set of rules that apply to everyone. I love that young and old have access to reading and writing. Unlike many sports, there is no expiration date. There is no real barrier to entry other than basic literacy. I like to think that my writing will just get better with age, like a fine wine. It inspires me that many writers did not find their way until late in life. Above all, there is no stopping a great story.

Let’s face it: Good storytelling isn’t going anywhere, whether that means books, movies, television, or something else entirely. As long as there is hunger for a good story, there will be writers. I am proud to be a part of that tradition.

Writing 2

Grieving “Normal”

Graduation

The Sadness is Real:  An Open Letter to the Teachers

Ever since schools closed on Friday, March 13th, so many people have posted about spring break trips, proms, graduations, and so much more being cancelled and/or postponed.  I’ve watched others shame those same people truly grieving their loss by stating things such as “at least you’re healthy” and “how can you think of things at a time like this?”  What awful things to say!

While graduations and field trips certainly aren’t the sickness or loss of a loved one – no one is making that comparison – most of us are suffering from loss at this point.  We have lost our “normal” and working like hell to get to a “new normal,” whatever that may be.  As a teacher, I’m in awe at how teachers have come together.  I belong to a Google Classroom group on Facebook, and the activity I’ve witnessed over the last few weeks is unreal.  So many strangers, all teachers or in education, coming to help one another help students across the United States and the world.  In fact, I’ve had my own crash course over the last few weeks.  In fact, that is precisely why I am a teacher, I love to keep learning and then share what I’ve learned with my students.

When all this madness is over, and things return to “normal” – and they will – it is my hope that we are all kinder and gentler with one another.  Hopefully this will bring many people closer to God.  I also hope that it brings everyone, students included, a new appreciation for their everyday lives.  It already has for me.  As stressed out as I was at the end of last trimester, I’d love to be worried about planning all the fun things for March is reading month and the end of the school year again.  So, I am taking some time to grieve my loss of normal – and you should too.  When this is over, we are all going to love on each other and support our neighborhoods, small businesses, and cities, towns, and villages like never before.  Personally, I am hoping for a great party out on the river!

All I can say is that there will be time to reschedule those missed spring break trips, make those memories with your seniors, and generally make up for lost time.  I am looking forward to that day, and I expect to be so busy that I will be tempted to complain.  Until then, I will just keep plugging away.

Never Stop Learning

Writing On …

goddess-185457_1920

I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with writing.  I love writing and it brings me a lot of joy.  At the same time, I hate it when I get so busy with other things in my life that I let writing go by the wayside.  It isn’t that I don’t have time.  I don’t make the necessary time.  That must change.  Not a month from now, not a week from now, but today.  As I now have nothing but time, maybe I need to work it into my schedule in a way that is sustainable when the world rights itself again.

It’s strange.  Growing up, I always wanted to live through historic events.  I loved history and wanted to be a part of it.  What I didn’t realize when I was younger is that we all live through history.  The reasons I love genealogy and history so much are the countless stories of ordinaries peoples’ lives during extraordinary circumstances.  If that doesn’t describe these times, nothing will.  If nothing else, I hope those of us who love to write, whether for an audience or just ourselves, take this opportunity to detail our lives in this moment.

I can’t wait for the day when I argue with my mom whether the corona virus epidemic hit in 2020 or 2021.  We will get through this, and I can’t wait for the party when we do!  I do hope it brings us together and closer to God.  I also hope that our society somehow learns patience.  We need to slow down and appreciate what we do have.  Every one of us.

You can find my podcast here

darkness

Changes

Dear Students, We Didn’t Even Get to Say Goodbye – Her View from Home

To Those Saying “Lucky Teachers,” This Isn’t a Break for Us, It’s Heartbreak

Through all of this, seniors – the class of 2020 – has been on my mind.  I hope that when this is all over, we will have the opportunity to properly celebrate all their accomplishments.  I think we are all grieving all the celebrations, events, you name it that have been cancelled at this point.  While I know some people have expressed anger at people getting upset over cancellations, it is only human that we grieve all the experiences we’ve lost.  Does that mean we shouldn’t take precautions or help those in need because we are bummed that our events were cancelled?  No.  It just means that we are grieving a valid loss – at this point, we all are.

I don’t know what these next few weeks or months will bring, but I do know that we will work through this together.  One of the silver linings of all of this is the time to work on projects that have been put on hold indefinitely.  For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of playing around with podcasting for some time, and tonight, I think I will finally start.  We will see where it goes!  I am also planning to play around with sharing podcasts with my students too.  Much more to come!

Miss Russell

PS – Check out the new page I created to share middle school online resources – Miss Russell’s Middle School Resources

Love and Loss

Love and Death

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my life in September 2009 and all the changes it brought with it.  I can safely say it remains among the worst times in my life.  That month, I lost two people close to me, both of whom I knew most of my life, and my ex lost his job at a time when I found it impossible to find one.  The aftermath of that particular month still haunts me with unanswered questions and things left unsaid.

It started with Joyce.  She passed away on September 2nd.  It left me in shock as it was her husband who faced serious health issues at the time.  The thing is Joyce and I always had a special bond.  She babysat me from nine months of age until I was old enough to stay alone.  We always referred to her as the “babysitter,” but she became so much more to me, my sister, and my brother.  The truth is more complex.  She and her husband were essentially another set of grandparents whom happened to live next door.  When it came to grandparents – biological and otherwise – my siblings and I won the lottery.

As an adult, I tried to talk to her about subjects such as infertility and faith, but I never found the right words.  I found her increasing pessimism as she aged hard to take at times, even though she had every right to feel the way she did.  I knew that she would have wisdom to share, but I could never bring myself to ask her the hard questions.  Now, a bit older and wiser, I would love to have those conversations with her.

Shortly before or after Joyce passed away – that time frame is still fuzzy in my mind, even though I am fairly certain it all happened within days – my ex lost his job.  He just came home one morning when he should have been work, completely devastated.  It turned out that the company he worked for at the time slashed their workforce by 20%.  Only a few months prior to the layoffs, I had hoped to work there as well.  They never filled the position I so eagerly sought.

In fact, nothing I did during the years 2006-2009 seemed to matter much.  There were openings in my field.  Unfortunately, those positions would remain forever unfilled or I would be competing against someone with 20 or even 30 years of experience – for an entry-level job.  There simply were not enough jobs.  Period.

As cruel as it sounds, I wish I would have known then that things weren’t meant to work out for us.  My ex and I spent years trying to make it all work.  It never did.  As soon as things appeared to be getting better, something would happen to force us to start back at square one.  Out of all the years we were together – 2004-2014 – we both held jobs only one year.  One year out of ten.  The rest of the time, one of us remained unemployed, even though both of us held college degrees (three between us) and had plenty of work experience, not to mention looked continuously  for jobs in our fields.  Still, both of us were far too stubborn to give up.  After all we had been through together, it took two years of our relationship essentially unraveling before we finally had had enough, although the end wasn’t nearly that nice or simple.  I haven’t looked back.

Just when I began to adjust, one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away.  To this day, I think of him all the time.  I came home from work only for Brian to tell me that Derrick passed away.  It is the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing shock without physically being in shock.  Derrick and I went back so far I can honestly say I have no idea when we met – elementary school or possibly earlier; I don’t know.  What matters is the fact that I don’t remember life without Derrick prior to September 25, 2009.  We experienced so much together from elementary school to college.  I tried to capture our memories here.

First, nothing prepares you to lose a good friend who happens to still be in their 20s.  Nothing.  I didn’t know how serious his issues were.  Now, of course, I’d like to think that I would have been able to help in some small way.  Second, when you are unable to attend a close friend’s funeral, it does affect you – family or not.  I still remember trying to keep it together because I had to work the day of his funeral.  Later, I still found it difficult to be around his great aunt E.  Memories came flooding back as soon as I would see her.  I became so uncomfortable that I didn’t see her nearly as often as I should.  Now that she is gone too, I regret it.  Finally, I still see Derrick and I sniping at each other 50 years in the future, somehow managing to end up in the same nursing home.  Frankly, I feel cheated knowing it is simply not possible.

Ten years later, I am not the same woman.  I’ve experienced more loss in those years – and a lot of happiness.  I know myself better and worked hard towards new dreams and goals.  Still, when I think of those awful days of September 2009, I’d like to think that Joyce and Derrick both somehow know where I ended up.  I can only imagine the conversation Derrick and I would have had in the aftermath of my awful breakup with Brian.  He had been so happy that I’d finally found someone.  I can also imagine how happy Joyce would be to know that I am now a teacher and how deeply her faith affected me.  To Derrick and Joyce, I still love you both.

The Price of Love

50337801_10216907142246705_8189655129050316800_nDerrickDerrick

Interview with Mari L. McCarthy

HYSWJP Bronze

Today I am happy to share an e-mail interview with Mari L. McCarthy.  It is all about the power of journaling!  Check it out below:

  1. Why did you decide to start journaling in the first place?

It was for physical therapy purposes only.  I had an MS episode where I lost most use of the right side of my body, and I needed to teach myself how to write with my left hand ASAP.

  1. When did you notice a connection between journaling and how you felt physically, spiritually, and mentally?

Right away.  I got started with Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, and the three stream-of-consciousness pages first thing every morning took me on a magical mystery tour.  I started hearing rhymes and started writing poetry for the first time in my life.  And, I started remembering things from my childhood 60 years ago and experiencing it as if it was happening right now.  I was able to process the events through the pages, became aware of how many erroneous thoughts and feelings I was carrying around in my body, and created new thoughts that reduced all kinds of mental, physical and spiritual stress.

  1. Who do you think could benefit most from journaling daily?

Everyone.  We all have had challenging childhoods where we just sucked in everything, including a lot of erroneous thoughts and feelings (I call them issues in our tissues). Journaling provides us the opportunity to understand the origins of our crazy thinking and shows us how to reframe our thought process.

  1. What advice would you give someone who is just starting on their journaling journey?

Journaling is about facing our fears, learning how to manage our negativity and inner critics, and reclaiming our power.  That is monumental behavior change.  Take it easy.  Journaling is about thinking with your heart and soul.  Our overanalytical head has been in change for so long she’s afraid of losing control.  My recommendation is to ask your journal a question and then free-write fast until you feel – my favorite 4 letter F word – like stopping.

  1. What do you think is the biggest roadblock for those who want to make journaling a daily habit and fail to do so?

We are our biggest roadblock.  We are experienced in self-sabotage and in having an unhealthy relationship with ourselves.  Fear has controlled us since forever, and it is scary and a lot of hard work to explore our inner world.  Plus, we were raised to think that alone time is so selfish.  It is a totally new experience to work through the pain and heal our wounds.

journal 3

  1. Do you prefer to handwrite or type your journal entries?  Which would you recommend to those new to journaling?

Pen to paper every day is the only way to get all the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits that are available to you from journaling.  Jumping right in and freewriting is a good start.  Make sure you breathe and understand that your head (ego, inner critic, other voices…) will go crazy.  Writing fast will show them you are in charge.

  1. Why do you think journaling has such a profound effect on our lives and how we perceive ourselves?

 I don’t know.  I can only tell you that I have monumentally healed, grown and transformed myself thanks to journaling.  I live a compassionate (!) unconditional love-in with myself, and it grows every day.  In my first book, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live, I have results from scientific studies that are researching and monitoring this magical, mysterious self-healing process.

  1. Aside from journaling, how else do you think writing can help us lead better lives?

Writing is creative self-expression, and we have so much inside of us that we’ve been stuffing down for so long.  Writing is giving ourselves permission to be the truly talented (wild and crazy) person we are and share our brilliance with the world.

  1. What do you think we as writers can learn from our journaling patterns (i.e. the topics we keep coming back to time and time again)?

Besides the therapeutic value journaling has, it gives us great ideas for poetry, essays, characters for fiction writing.

  1. Aside from journaling, what advice would you give readers eager to live their best lives?

Carve out “ME” (self-care) time every day where you can just be with yourself.  We’re great doers and care takers and fixers and…. What we need to do is put ourselves first and work on reconnecting and staying connected to our true self every day.

Mari, thank you for sharing such great advice and insight with my readers!  Best of luck with the rest of your blog tour.

Banner-HealYourSelfWithJournalingPower-MariMcCarthy-BlogTour