“Ms. Teacher”

I am 4 days in to my first official week as a teacher in Shanghai and am in the midst of that traditional first week of teaching exhaustion. Despite the sore feet and desire to go to sleep at 4:30pm, I have really loved this week. My new students are absolutely delightful and full of personality, and I enjoy the general set up of my day.

A quick recap of some things from last weekend: the tech guy from Barstow Kansas City was in town so there was a lot of delicious food to be had. Thursday evening we went to a place called Szechuan Citizen in the French Concession and honest to God, it might be one of the best meals I have EVER had. We had a shrimp dish where the shrimp were cooked so perfectly they practically melted in your mouth, plus phenomenal ribs, fish, veggies, and so much more. My favorite part is most places are “family style” so you just share and get to try some of everything.

The following evening we went to a place called Lost Heaven, which is right on the Bund (the downtown-y area, which is the area that most reminds me of Manhattan and is where all the big companies and financial areas are). Another phenomenal meal with phenomenal drinks as well. We also got to experience the rooftop bar which had some pretty fantastic views. The biggest thing I noticed all night is that you can find places like that, which literally make you feel like you’re in New York not China—and then you can go back to my neighborhood and remember where you are again. It’s a really great dichotomy and I don’t think I will ever quite be able to explore this entire city.

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A few more notes before discussing school:
–People frequently nap on the back of their mopeds and I LOVE it.

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–There’s a Korean place in Fat Alley that has spicy noodles that I wish I could eat every day because they’re amazing.

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–There’s a cat living somewhere on the campus of our school and I want to adopt it. The kids named it “Little Monster”.

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–I’m rapidly becoming obsessed with the bubble tea places. The one next to school makes a delicious lemonade that I will need to exercise great self control to not drink daily.

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So, now to school. To give a quick rundown, I walk to work in the morning. I never really thought this would be something I enjoy, given my desire for creature comforts like a climate-controlled car, but I really love it. I get to be outside for a while, get to walk past all the shops and restaurants opening up, and get to experience a bit of the culture here. Breakfast seems to be much less of an experience here than in the US, meaning simply that there are far fewer options to pick something up on the way in (in a timely manner at least. Most local coffee shops open at 7 or 7:30). There is a sort of crepe/omelet-y looking dish at a place on my walk, but I have yet to plan ahead so that I have time to stop.

Typically I’ve seen a few students on their way to breakfast as I walk in, and they always excitedly wave and say good morning with big smiles (despite their claims that they are “not morning people”, they seem awfully energetic that early). The school is very quiet—I mean, there are currently 4 teachers on staff—and students just sort of meander in up until the day begins at 8:00am. I teach for 50-minute blocks, with 2 prep periods and an hour for lunch (which, after 20 minutes at my last school, is heavenly. Another teacher, the Dean, and I typically walk down to Fat Alley and get something delicious. The sushi here is fantastic). The class periods fly by—I’ve been teaching 70-90 minute blocks for the majority of my teaching career. I teach all grade levels—9th, 10th, and 11th grade ESL, 10th Grade English, and Psychology.

We allowed students to select their own elective, and I was proud to have an overwhelming demand for Psychology—you picked a good one kiddos. I started the year out in that class with a “simulated plane crash” in which they had to decide which supplies were most valuable and which remaining survivors they would choose to save (from a list of descriptions). It’s an assignment I’ve done before and always entertaining to watch students rationalize the choices they’d make.

I’ve spent a large amount of the week considering the differences and similarities between my students here and students I’ve taught in the past and honestly, there aren’t as many differences and you might assume. I have always found that each year there are students that fit into typical “boxes”—the quiet student, the outgoing student, the silly kid, the student who likes to push the boundaries. Of course they all have their own unique personalities, but eventually you see similar threads year after year. The same applies here; I’ve been having such fun getting to know them all this week. One assignment I gave in their ESL classes was to create a bucket list—first explaining what a bucket list IS—and it was awesome getting to see what they created:

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Some notable differences in my new students (and I mean this in an entirely objective, non-judgmental manner):

–They frequently refer to me as “teacher”, “Ms. Teacher” or by my first name, because they’re not used to the “Ms. Esposito” format. It’s disarming to hear them call me “Kate” because it just sounds so informal!

–Many of them write using a ruler on their assignments (even when there are lines provided) so as to make sure their work is perfectly aligned. I can’t quite figure out how they’re able to manage this.

–They say “Thank you” after I had them every piece of paper during class. The politeness is overwhelming.

–I get huge smiles and waves for both entering and leaving the classroom. That’s not to say that my previous students weren’t friendly or polite, it’s just…different. I consider myself pretty friendly and polite and I don’t think I ever greeted a teacher quite like this.

–They work diligently when I ask them to—the first time. There’s much less convincing of the necessity of education and not following instructions usually results from not understanding the language.

Again, none of this is to say my other students were bad or ungrateful, but they definitely came from different life circumstances and a drastically different culture. There are still students who don’t try or fall asleep in class, still a few who push my buttons and try to get away with things, bullying and teasing, and all the other nonsense that comes with teaching.

There are other things that are strangely different about teaching here as well. For example, due to what I assume is the much less lawsuit-happy culture here, we can leave students unattended at points throughout the day—i.e. the post I put up yesterday on Facebook about stepping out of the room and coming back to find all of my students diligently working. I don’t know whether it’s causation or correlation but students seem to behave themselves well without supervision also. It’s just strange to be able to leave students working alone in my room in the evening. It’s also strange to consider that I work with the entire student body. In my first school I worked with most students, and I knew most names, but I actually teach the entire student body every day at Barstow. I actually love it, it allows me to get to know all of them really well. The 10th grade students who take my Psychology course see me for class 3 times per day and I can only imagine the rapport we’ll have at the end of the year. My largest class is also only 15 kids, which is another dream, and it helps to get to check in with them so often.

The last thing for today is just a few other highlights of the week. One thing I wasn’t certain about before coming here is working with such a different population and demographic of students. When I started teaching with TFA, it was because I was committed to working on providing a quality education to all students in the U.S. and saw huge gaps in the resources and instruction available to students outside of private schools and wealthy suburbs. Moving to China to teach students at a school that costs the equivalent of 30,000 USD/year made me wonder if they would be spoiled or ungrateful. Perhaps that was naïve or unfair of me, but I always attended and taught at public schools and have honestly not had much experience with other kinds of schools (except Charters, which I consider public for this argument’s sake). But after just the first few days, I’ve seen how excited and grateful each of the students here really is, and how much they can benefit from our program and me as a teacher (I don’t like to brag but at this point in my career I at least feel comfortable saying I’m a good teacher).

For example:

–One student, Jenny, was constantly middle of the pack in her Chinese school and had difficulty paying attention to the lecture-style lessons. According to returning staff, since she started here last year she has completely blossomed and is a rock star (one of those kids we all wish we had been in high school—funny, smart, popular and nice).

–Another student, Hodge, whose face absolutely lights up every time he receives praise. One day I told him another teacher was bragging about Hodge being a superstar and he turned to me with this huge smile and just said “Really??”

–Irving, who is SO quiet and shy in class but gave me a HUGE smile, wave, and “see you later!” as he left class today.

–Today was “Teacher’s Day” and Sean, one of my 9th graders, came running in at the end of the day with a red flower (which he’d brought for all the teachers). 🙂

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–I assign them daily writing prompts in their notebooks and then I write notes back to them. They write the absolute sweetest things about normal teenager concerns—I want to do well, my best friend moved away and I miss him, I’m worried about making friends here, etc.

I have one day left in this week—and I’ve actually been at work every day for the last two weeks, including last weekend, so I’m am READY for the weekend—but it has just been delightful. There have certainly been stressful moments, like when the one printer in our building didn’t work this morning or when my internet cuts out, but I honestly can’t think of a another way to describe it. Just delightful.

I might be here for a while, kids.

More to come!

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An American in Shanghai—Part 双*

Hey kiddos! I want to get something posted because I haven’t updated much (and set a goal of posting at least once per week). However, I’m insanely busy preparing for the new school year so written brilliance may not be on the menu today.

Things are going well here in Shanghai. I’m getting more settled each day and even had a moment last evening when I thought, “I might really enjoy it here…”. As I learn more about the culture, the food, the people and the language, it becomes easier to feel like this is my life rather than some strange dream. I find myself thinking maybe I could really stay for more than a year…But I think I’ll see how the next few months go first.

Last Friday I went for my health inspection—which apparently all new residents need to take. I’m not sure the exact purpose, as they mentioned something about “quarantine”, but I went for this inspection almost a full week after arriving. The entire process was extremely efficient but a little intense. You’re brought to a changing room and given a spa-looking robe to wear. You’re then shepherded among a row of numbered rooms for a variety of tests including an EKG, chest x-ray, ultrasound, eye exam, blood draw, and a few other poking/prodding type things. I had a large number of medical tests for the equivalent of about 90 USD. Apparently I passed though, because they let me leave.

I spent my 29th birthday at Ikea, which was actually quite enjoyable because I love Ikea and I love furnishing apartments. My amazing new coworkers also took me out to dinner later in the evening, at a Mexican cantina of all places. It was incredibly delicious but I was still fighting jet-lag so they made me many promises of taking me out again when I am not a zombie (I now think I’m over it after almost two weeks so you might get some more funny stories soon).

Back to the Ikea trip though. I’d had a particularly interesting experience at Carrefour (the French-based grocery/all-purpose store closest to me) the day before and I have still refused to go back. It’s entirely stupid, but basically a pushy salesperson tried to pick out everything for me and made me check out before I was ready to. Being that she spoke zero English and apparently didn’t understand the “I’m ignoring you” tactic that I tried using, I left well before I was ready to. Plus it was raining and I had to walk home with my new linens so I was a little peeved.

Ikea proved much more successful and I have a decently furnished place now—the furniture was already there but not the trappings. I have also discovered (another fact of life not in the guidebooks) that Chinese mattresses feel like Chinese floors. They’re insanely hard and apparently consist of a tiny strip of padding followed by a hard wooden plank. True, it’s probably great for my back, but I’d rather sink into the bed a little. Therefore, it’s my mission to learn to use Taobao (crazy cheap online shopping, entirely in Chinese) so that I can purchase a plush, memory foam mattress pad.

The apartment required a bit of a scouring before I really felt settled. Evidently “clean” = “I rubbed a damp cloth on it” here. Fortunately I’m not unfamiliar with elbow grease and found some quality cleaning products and scrubby rags. They dried out my skin and made it peel, so I’m pretty sure they’re totally non-environmentally friendly and poisonous—but hey, my kitchen isn’t greased up anymore! I also discovered how to use my DVD player (even though the entire tv menu and remote are both in Chinese) so I’ve got a good set up. Choosing to bring my entire DVD collection has proven excellent—and may even earn me a few friends. Living in a studio apartment is also incredibly tolerable, save for the fact that I cannot spread my time between couch and bed and pretend that I’m more active than I really am. Having 6 flights of stairs to climb up helps rectify that issue.

Kitchen. Gotta love the robot stickers on the fridge.

Kitchen. Gotta love the robot stickers on the fridge.

More kitchen (just a stove top, no oven).

More kitchen (just a stove top, no oven).

Main room.

Main room.

Other view of the main room, complete with large wooden storage cabinets (a real score).

Other view of the main room, complete with large wooden storage cabinets (a real score).

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3rd view of the main room. The recessed area is for laundry (there are 2 long laundry-hanging rods on the ceiling because most places have a washer but no dryer).

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Bathroom.

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Left view from my apartment.

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Right view from my apartment.

The complex itself is delightful, full of families and a great group of older people who sit by the front gate playing cards every day. I get stared at a lot because I appear to be the only “laowei” (foreigner) within the area and I’m pretty sure they’re all wondering why the hell I’m there. I like living in a more authentic area though. There’s always a smell of incense in my stairwell, as well as delicious food smells during dinnertime. Most people leave their doors open with just a screen up and I’ve wondered if I could get away with a “hungry laowei” face and grab some tasty grub. There are quite a few pet owners—my favorite begin a woman with a dog that looks like a mop and I’d love to understand what she’s saying because she coos at it in this hysterical tone of voice. I’ve tried to get pictures of but I just feel creepy. I’ll work on my stealth and see what I can do.

School will start on Monday and I’m incredibly excited. Here are some pictures of my newly set up classroom–room 205 🙂

(And duh, there are Harry potter quotes on the walls).

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The school itself is in many ways quite different from what I’m used to. The Bartstow School in Kansas City, MO is our parent school and they are pretty involved in what we do here. However, our school also works closely with a company called Knowledge Link (KL) that manages the Chinese side of things and provides much needed assistance with navigating the city. We then also work with a company called New Channel, which is our Chinese partner (allowing us, through Chinese law, to open the school here). They also provide the building and some of the materials.

Our campus is tiny—only 5 teachers and about 40 students right now. I am unbelievably excited at the prospect of all of my classes having 10-15 students, maximum 20. Unheard of. The “satellite” aspect of our school—as well as our infant stage of development—has made it very teacher-driven, which is really amazing. As teachers, we’ve had a lot of leeway to determine how we want things to operate, how we want to teach, etc. Eventually we’ll most likely run into some issues given the massive cultural differences between Chinese education and American education, but it’s nice to be so involved in the conversation and have so much creative license.

Though our school follows an American-style curriculum and set up, there is still much that’s different from my experience of high school. For example, the students board here during the week and it’s a closed campus—meaning they cannot leave. They also are not allowed any electronic devices except an iPad during the school day—on which we have disabled anything non-academic. They attend school all day until 4:30pm, then they have study hall until 9:00pm. If they have free time, they’re encouraged to read. Many of them do go home on weekends—and I love dearly that they’re encouraged to read so much—but I cannot quite imagine this lifestyle in high school. It’s going to be really interesting to see in action and I will certainly post more about school as the year begins.

A few other tidbits I’ve found interesting:

–When you know the right people, and the right places, the food here is SO AMAZING. There’s a strip of places right by school that I’ve taken to calling “Fat Alley” in my head because that’s what I think it will lead to. In particular, one noodle shop at which you hand pick everything you want and they cook it up for you in this spicy, delicious broth. On average, it costs about 25 rmb, or $3 for a big bowl.

Delicious noodles...sooo delicious.

Delicious noodles…sooo delicious.

Bubble tea. Also so delicious.

Bubble tea. Also so delicious.

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Fat Alley

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Noodle shop. Mmm….noodles…

–Internet here SUCKS. It’s slow and you need a VPN (virtual private network, which basically uses your IP address to act like you’re still in the US…I think…) to get on all the good stuff. I’m discovering, however, that my entire life doesn’t have to revolve around the internet.

–Spitting is a very real thing—for men and women. I often hear/see people “hocking up loogees” and it is the most disgusting thing. Apparently, though, it has something to do with Eastern medicine and “getting the bad out”, according to a coworker of mine.

–The “international” section at the supermarket is hilarious (probably like it is for other cultures in the US) and consists of things like Welch’s grape juice and pasta. And there IS Skippy peanut butter here, which has made for a great meal given my lack of cooking supplies.

The supermarket is another photo-op waiting to happen—until next time!

I’ll work on more thematic/hilarious/brilliantly perceptive writing for next time folks, but until then, it’s time to finish writing my lessons for next week.

*PS: The character in the title of this blog means “double” not “two” but was one of the translations that popped up. Workin on learnin that Mandarin…

What It’s Like to Move to China: The first 96-ish hours

This is a long one, so buckle up, hang on tight, and keep your arms inside the ride!

It’s currently around 1am Shanghai time and for whatever reason (jetlag, nerves) I can’t sleep. Bolt upright at 12am and awake ever since. The fact that everyone back home is up and posting to facebook isn’t helping the desire to sleep either (nor is the jackhammering that apparently needed to take place outside my hotel right now).

A lot of thoughts are running through my mind so I’m hoping if I get some of them out, maybe I can grab a few more hours before it’s time to get my health test and move into my new apartment.

The big things first: moving to China is hard. The permanence of knowing that I’m in this for an entire year was pretty overwhelming from the moment I got here. The food is different, the smells are different, the standard of cleanliness is different, the language is completely incomprehensible (and “most people speak English” really means “most people speak some English but it can be broken and still very difficult to communicate”), and my stomach has felt just a little funky since I arrived. I sat on my bed in the hotel my first night thinking to myself, “what the hell am I doing here…can I really do this? For a year?”.

The thing is, I want to be able to do this for at least a year—hopefully longer. People who’ve been here for a while really seem to love it. I even met one woman who said she’d sworn she’d never live in China again, yet here she is, embarking on another teaching abroad journey. I am certain—like all other risks in life—that the desire to succeed at something terrifying is what separates the people who stick it out from those who quit. If you’re not determined to make it work through the rough times, it’ll be easy to find an excuse to leave.

The other big thing I’ve realized since arriving is that I’m actually kind of a scared/timid person in some respects (I realize many of you may laugh at this, as I have a reputation in Chicago of doing things with a sort of reckless abandon, but I promise I’m telling the truth!). I’m not afraid in a Chuckie Finster, “oh my god the world is going to end because I ate a watermelon seed” kind of way, but in a more hesitant, “normal” kind of way. In my mind, being told there are 2 kinds of parasites you can contract by swimming in fresh water in China is a reason not to do it. Learning you can get sick from street food is a reason to be cautious. However, I’ve met several people, including some of my new coworkers, who approach things in the way I hope to once I’ve been here a while—they. Just. Do. Everything.

When I mentioned the fresh water parasites to Kate, our dean, her response was “oh, nothing happened to me…” rather than the grossed out horror I’d gotten from most friends in the states. Another coworker of mine has lived abroad for several years and unabashedly uses wild pantomiming to explain himself through the language barrier while I barely speak, smiling and nodding a lot of the time and just sort of hoping I’ll get what/where I need. I’m impressed by their zeal for life here and willingness to just sort of deal with the difficult parts—embracing them rather than scoffing at them. How very Yes &…

So while I am still grappling to make the adjustment, I’m hopeful that eventually I’ll be able to develop that same devil-may-care attitude and go with everything. For now, I thought I’d give a brief run-down of some other things that people might be curious to know.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Travels to China

My 6 hour flight to Seattle from New York was relatively uneventful, save for the fact that the guy next to me definitely had some sort of gaseousness going on, which is fabulous in the wide, well-ventilated atmosphere of a flying tube of toothpaste (can’t take credit for that metaphor but it’s my new favorite). Gas man also tried to sit in my window seat. Not today Gas Man, not today!

My flight, however, had been delayed slightly so we arrived late and were unable to de-board efficiently—evidently due to the fact that many people suck and cannot allow those of us with tight connections to get off first. Obnoxious lady in front of me who needed to secure her driver to come get her from the airport? I’m comin’ for you lady. Someday

The delay resulted in me running at full sprint to the train to get across the airport to another terminal, run up 2 escalators and down the terminal to my flight. I was the second to last person to board and they were calling my name over the PA as I ran. It was kind of dramatic and fun ultimately—very Home Alone (which I definitely would not have thought had I missed that flight). My fun ended though when I realized I’d left my brand new work iPad (with all my school textbooks and course materials) on my previous flight in the seatback pocket. I’m still hoping some good samaritan turned it in to Delta.

Shanghai flight was not as torturously long as many would have you believe. I slept for 4-5 of the 12 hour flight and they provide both free movies/TV shows to watch and free booze. That, and meal service, pretty much made it a typical Saturday…sitting in a cramped space next to a tiny girl who I’m pretty sure never got up the entire flight. The woman who started vomiting in front of me was no fun (those who know me well know that my reflex was to tell the flight attendant that I needed a new seat or she needed to build me one while flying at 34,000 feet). But I suppose that’s the beauty of headphones…

Our arrival in Shanghai was 2 hours late and coincided with torrential rains that further delayed our de-boarding, being that we were located at a bus gate and had to climb down the slippery metal presidential stairs that connect to the plane to board a bus to the actual terminal. I was quite relieved, however, to finally leave the plane, make it safely through customs, and find that every single one of my bags (including my carry on suitcase that they made me check at JFK) arrived in one piece. That, and the lovely Lilia—who works with my new school—was there with a sign bearing my name to help me get in a cab and make it to the hotel quickly. Being that I brought over 200 lbs of luggage, I was pretty grateful to see her.

(Side note: I met a couple working for the other Barstow campus in Ningbo China who brought 200 pounds worth of books with them. I’m just sayin’, all you naysayers, I’m not totally crazy for wanting to bring one suitcase of books!!!)

New York, New Yor– Shanghai, Shanghai

First impression of Shanghai from the cab that night? It is more enormous than you can possibly fathom. New York + Chicago + Boston and maybe a few more small cities thrown in there. To be fair, China considers the city of Ningbo, where the other Barstow school is (I work for Barstow Shanghai), to be a small town. It has 8 million people. Which is roughly the population of New York City.

This place is MASSIVE.

Arriving at my hotel was magnificent, especially given that it was 10pm Shanghai time and I was able to immediately pass out. Breakfast at the hotel the next morning was another interesting venture. It consisted of such items as fried rice (2 varieties), chow mein, corn on the cob, chicken nuggets (labeled “colonel’s nuggets”), toast, and porridge. I still can’t quite determine if this is normal or if it’s an attempt to serve things Americans/Westerners would want or be familiar with. After four days of this, memories of waffles and omelets already haunt my dreams.

The food in general has been interesting so far, mainly because I often have no idea what I’m eating. It’s mostly delicious, especially the several times I’ve had dumplings. I drew the line at some blood pudding and a few internal organs at a dinner we went to a few nights ago but otherwise it’s been delicious. Everything is also incredibly cheap. For reference, I bought a new SIM card for my phone so that I have a Chinese number and data plan. The man I purchased it from informed me it would cost a total of 36 ¥/month, the equivalent of about $5 USD. I signed up. I also purchased a Redbull and a bottle of water during a break from planning yesterday for 10¥, or $1.50.

I have had Chinese McDonald’s twice now—once because I was exhausted and needed something to eat that I could recognize, and once because the orientation program bought it for us—but I do not plan to make it a habit. There’s a ton of delicious food here, and while I remain worried about possible digestive issues—hey, I’m working on it—I couldn’t avoid all of it if I wanted to (and I’m sure I would really be missing out if I did). Plus, it’s possible to get sick from food pretty much anywhere, it’s just luck of the draw I guess. I’m still hoping I draw a lucky food hand…

Taxi Driver, or How I Fear for My Life: Part I

I can see it being easy to spend quite a bit on taxis here, as they are very inexpensive and it’s wonderful to get to and from your destinations with no worry about directions. The interesting part being that most taxi drivers do not speak English, so you have to be prepared with the address written in Chinese character or risk getting lost/kicked out of the cab (they won’t take a fare if they don’t know where they’re going). They are also RIDICULOUS at driving. Not to continue to compare to NYC, but these drivers make NYC cabbies look like Driving Miss Daisy. Most of the time I just sort of cover my eyes and hope for the best. Supposedly there are very few traffic accidents, though I remain skeptical and for a self-titled aggressive lover of driving, I’d certainly never drive here.

Apartment Hunting, or How I Fear for my Life: Part II

I finally found an apartment on Wednesday, again with the help of our wonderful liaison Lilia. She’d shown me several pictures but I wanted to see them myself so we met with a rental agent. She had a short chat with him in Chinese and then told me to hop on the back of his moped and he’d take me to see it while she waited at the agency.

So I was whisked off down the street on the back moped with a man who spoke no English to go view an apartment. We flew around corners and I held on the best I could as we whipped into an apartment complex. The apartment itself was…a bit below my usual standard of living. In general, China’s standard of “clean” is a lot different than the U.S. and there is not as much new renovation or building as you might typically find in U.S. apartments—at least not within my housing budget. The third apartment I viewed that day was downright scary—Lilia’s comment was something like “it looks like some crime happened here!”

Fortunately, I eventually found a place that works—not perfect but I can give it a good deep clean, spruce it up a bit and hope for the best. It’s a studio with a decent sized kitchen space and is very quiet (probably due to the fact that it’s a 6 floor walk-up in the back of the complex). It does come furnished and have a great set of ninja stickers on the refrigerator though. I had a gut feeling upon entering the building itself and I figured this was probably cream of the crop for my budget. I then watched as Lilia speedily spoke Mandarin with the apartment management agent and negotiated the terms of my contract. I’ve already taken to doing my own interpretation of what they might be saying in Mandarin, which leads to hilarious dubbing of conversations in my mind. On a serious note, I cannot express how helpful it is to have a native speaker ready to help navigate all of these processes, it has definitely made so many parts of this move easier.

School Sweet School

My new school—The Barstow School of Shanghai—is incredibly tiny. I thought West St. John in Louisiana, with less than 200 students was small. At the moment, we have 4 American staff and 5 Chinese teachers at Barstow, with ~40 students. But I am really excited to be working here. There’s huge potential in getting to build a program like this and I am starting to get that excited/apprehensive feeling that accompanies the beginning of each new school year. The school itself is housed in a much larger complex, which we hope to eventually expand into, and within the same building as one of our partner companies that works on test prep, including a TOEFL program. Right down the street is a long row of various food stands and restaurants, as well as a small convenience store and some other shops. There’s a beautiful park across the street and my apartment is within walking distance.

I’ve met four of our current students already and I am wildly excited to begin working with them. Like all students, they’re full of excitement and potential which is completely infectious. A few interesting things worth noting: the students board at the school during the week and it’s a closed campus, meaning they can never leave it without permission. Nor are they allowed to have cell phones or laptops. At all. Just iPads, which are disabled except for school/studying functions. I’m continually fascinated by all the differences in education here and how we’ll go about melding an American-style education with Chinese culture.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I have truly met some incredible people in this last week alone, and I can only hope to meet many more as time progresses. Everyone comes with such a plethora of experience and knowledge, and it is incredibly comforting to have them welcome us newbies so readily, teaching us how to adapt to China. Contrary to what many people have said, a lot of the teachers at my orientation were older, many married and traveling/working with their spouse. There are other young folks like me, but it’s really a wide variety of people and experience. Listening to one woman from our partner campus in Ningbo talk about her travels and previous jobs was pretty incredible. It’s incredible to be surrounded by people who are so well traveled and have such an extensive amount of life experience. .

Hot Tub Time Machine

I’ve been here less than one fully week. I can’t quite believe that this time last week I was still in Connecticut getting packed up and there are moments when I think “man, it would be nice to still be there…waffles…” But at the moments when I seem to be tip-toeing toward the danger zone of stress/homesickness, I’m fortunate to have coworkers who truly love it here to show me the beauty, joy, and fun of working in Shanghai. I was invited to a pub quiz at a Western bar a few nights ago and quickly forgot I wasn’t at home with some awesome new friends. There’s also an adjustment period that happens during every new move, where nothing feels familiar and everything is wrong and uncomfortable. I remember feeling like that in particular when I moved to Chicago and was getting used to my local Jewel-Osco. Nothing was in the right place and they didn’t carry everything I wanted. But I adjusted. I like to think of it like getting into a hot tub (I like metaphors and I spent a lot of time in the hot tub at my mom’s before I left): when you get in, it can feel super hot and uncomfortable at first and it’s tempting to hop back out to avoid the scalding water. But as you ease in, you start to get more comfortable and realize, “hey, this actually feels amazing…I think I’ll live here…”. I’ve never committed to living in a hot tub but I think I can commit to staying here.

More to come in the next few weeks as I have time.

Silverstein & Shakespeare Know What’s Up

Credit to Shel Silverstein and his marvelous drawings.

Credit to Shel Silverstein and his marvelous drawings.

It’s the eve of the eve of the eve of the day I move to China.

Yep. Move. To. China.

I have faith that it will be a phenomenal experience that I won’t regret. Eventually.

But right now it feels stressful and frustrating. In choosing to move, I need to sell my car—and I’m upside down in my loan. Being a fantastic procrastinator (the name of the book—The Fantastic Procrastinator—I should write…some day…), I decided to wait as long as possible to sell it and now cannot take out a personal loan to cover the costs but rather have to put the balance on my credit card. I should note that I have a huge amount of anxiety around my credit card because I live in fear of being in debt and never getting out. So I play the Debt Dance of putting stuff on the card/paying it off over and over while never really accruing any savings or assets. When I get money, I mostly spend it—on what I consider are valuable experiences like travel,  eating in delicious restaurants with friends, and a Netflix account. But ultimately I end up with a spending hangover, wondering why I don’t learn my damn lesson and pace myself.

I’m not writing this to complain about my financial woes though, but rather my perspective on this experience. I’m sure some people feel much more overwhelmed by even bigger issues than I, and to that I say, “read on.”

Inspirational Ink

Three years ago I got my first tattoo and it took me years to even decide to get it. I was hesitant even after I’d decided to get it. But my second two seemed meant to be inked to my skin, as though they should have been there from birth, and are meant to serve as reminders of how I want to live my life.

The first, “Yes, &”, is an improv rule for those not in the know. It requires your scene partner(s) to accept whatever you offer them and build on it—add more details, make it more clear and specific, etc. It is admittedly one of the more difficult rules to follow because, as it turns out, our natural tendency (and by “our” I mean “my and some of the people I’ve taken classes with”) is to argue, pass the buck, deny, negate, and otherwise be negative. Especially when we don’t like what’s offered to us. For example:

Oh no, I wanted us to be on a spaceship and she just said at grandma’s house! My plan is ruined! Now I will look dumb and my genius idea for a scene just went down the tubes! Stupid me….stupid her…stupid life…I should just quit improv and go live in a box.

Maybe not always that melodramatic, but I think most improvisers have been in a similar thought pattern at some point. When things don’t go the way you wanted or expected, you can get thrown and then freeze on stage, unsure of what to do next, unwilling to trust your instincts because you haven’t had the time to carefully plan a hilarious scene. As any improviser will tell you, however, the most memorable, genius, hilarious scenes don’t come from being carefully planned out, they come from performers taking whatever hand they’ve been dealt—crappy or not—and making it gold. The best improvisers are people who do this, who can take even a terrible offer from a scene partner and make them look like a genius.

The second tattoo is a portion of the following poem by Shel Silverstein:

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
      Listen to the DON’TS
      Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
      Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
      Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be

A beautiful, subtle way to mention how negativity-filled the world often is—and how is easy it is to simply listen but ignore that negative smog. I still marvel at Shel Silverstein’s simplistic brilliance every time I pick up one of his books (if you’ve never read one, you’re missing out).

Shakespeare Knows, Man, He Knows…

I’ll add one more of my favorite quotes, because I’m in an inspirational quote kind of mood today. One of my homeroom teachers in high school wrote a daily quote on the board and I’ve always remembered one by William Shakespeare that she posted. I think most of us agree that Willy Shakes is a pretty smart guy and in Hamlet he wrote, “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” My little high school brain was so struck by this idea that I immediately wrote it down—and then had to sort it out in my head for the next 10 years. Could we truly choose to not think something as bad, and therefore make it not bad? Does our perspective on a situation control the situation itself? I’ve had so many people remark about my moving to China, “Oh, I could never do that!”. To which, I’d argue, maybe you WOULD never do it but you certainly COULD. Just because your brain thinks it doesn’t make it fact (as any opponents of Donald Trump probably will attest).

These habits—of accepting what comes to you and believing in the best despite negative surroundings—have always been the underlying qualities I’ve seen in truly happy, successful people. And, as Willy Shakes ( can’t stop, won’t stop) told us via Hamlet, we can train our brains to think that way. When you come across an obstacle you can do the “freeze and freak out” OR, you can take a few huge breaths, curse a couple of times (if that’s what it takes) and then make a plan to move forward. I’m not arguing that we ignore/deny our emotions—that doesn’t fit with accepting the situation in front of you. You feel however you need to feel. What I’m advocating is that it doesn’t need to suck you down into a vortex of doom in which you resign yourself to life always being terrible. And I say all of this as much to myself as anyone reading it.

My initial reaction to my car situation was “Stupid me….stupid car…stupid life…STUPID!!! I should just quit everything and go live in a box.” But again, too melodramatic, and certainly doesn’t give me any credit for being a capable human adult with a pretty good brain in my head. So I chose instead to look at that ink embedded into my skin and think “Man, this really [FREAKIN’] sucks. But I can’t do much else about it. I’m going to prioritize being on top of my finances and I’ll get myself out of this over time. At least I’ll get all those credit card reward points”.

So, while I don’t necessarily think we can magically remove all the bad from the world purely by thinking, we CAN certainly choose our response—and I say we “yes, and…” the sh*t out of it.

parade2

P.S. I’ll be updating this blog as much as I can about my experiences while abroad and whatever life lessons I learn along the way. Stay tuned!!!

Happy Stupid Or Stupid Happy?

There’s a Vine in which a man asks a child “what’s 8+9” and the child says “21”. The man then responds by calling the kid stupid, which makes me find the video ultimately sad and a little offensive because I don’t think kids need to hear that they’re stupid.

However this “Twenty-one!” joke has been going around my school all year (so much the comment was banned) and was therefore stuck in my head when I watched a TEDtalk on happiness today.

In this TEDtalk, Shawn Achor uses a copious amount of humor to arrive at his ultimate thesis statement: if we spend our lives seeking accomplishments in an attempt to achieve happiness, we’ll fail. If, instead, we spend our lives seeking happiness, we’ll ultimately achieve more success too.

I’ve developed, over many years, what I love to consider an exceedingly sharp wit and biting cynicism that allows me to turn daily frustrations and injustices into hilarious and humorous rants about humankind, life, and the unfairness of it all. But the more I look inward, the more I’m beginning to see the flaw in all of that “humor”. Laughing and making snide comments in the face of unhappiness doesn’t remove the unhappiness. In fact, it seems only to make that seed of discontent blossom into a fully realized monster of rage against in inequity.

Why didn’t I get recognized?

Why don’t I have as many likes on Facebook?

Where are MY awards, recognitions, free passes, gorgeous dates, invites to parties, retweets from Amy Schumer???

WHEN WILL I GET MINE?!

Something in me deeply desires that validation and recognition from others. Any others. Could be strangers for all I care sometimes. As you can see, though, it turns me into kind of an annoying arsehole.

I don’t like this version of me. While it may be inherently human to want recognition in some way, this sort of obsessive desire for people to “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” is only going to lead me to always be chasing the carrot and never actually getting it. Because then, as the TEDtalk explains, you just want a bigger carrot.

And carrots never fill you up anyway.

So all of this boils down to what WILL lead to sustainable happiness. In the talk, Shawn Achor outlines 5 actions which lead to greater levels of sustained happiness. They are:

  • 3 Gratitudes
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random Acts of Kindness

The important part, and thus my reference to that incessantly quoted—“21!”—vine, is these actions must be repeated for (you guessed it!) 21 days to fully sink in.

I’ve spent a long time developing perfect eye-rolls for such “personal growth” activities and convincing myself that it was definitely not Daria-cool to do such things—I should definitely just continue with my snide, cynical remarks.

Wait, I shouldn’t work on getting happier? On being more fully engaged in my own life and more satisfied with what I already have?

Wha—huh? Waiiiiiiiiiit…..

Ok, so I’m committing to it by blogging about it (must…control…eyes…beginning…to…roll…) but I think the public announcement will hold me accountable to actually DO this…and not give in to the deep, tempting desire to simply smirk, snark, and go back to the dark place.

So for the next 21 days, I will participate in all 5 of those activities every day. I’ll periodically update on here to say how it’s going and to inject more sunshine into all of your lives too.

The best part is when those 21 days are over, I’ll be heading to Jamaica for spring break. So what better incentive to get happy than to know it’ll end with an awesome vacation?

I can drink to that.

Ferris Bueller’s Day of Life Lessons: Part II

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a hero-worship complex. I am obsessed with the idea of being special, important, heroic and extraordinary. The mundane life was repulsive to me for a long time, and may have fueled my initial career aspirations to be an FBI agent (no joke). And perhaps my continued aspirations to be BFFs with Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Despite this obsession, I tend to be drawn to the side characters in movies and books: Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, Sam, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings, and yes, Cameron in Ferris Bueller. In reality, these are the people I can actually relate to. The every day Steves and Sallys, coming to terms with their own reality in life—and no less heroic than their famous friends.

At the beginning of Ferris, Cameron Frye is undoubtedly the most miserable and forgotten character. While showing no signs of actual ailment, he spends the beginning of his day off lying in bed like an invalid. Unlike Ferris, who is worshiped like a god, Cameron is all but forgotten by everyone around him–except Ferris. Throughout the course of the movie, we come to find out Cameron’s “illness” is more mental than anything. Perhaps he suffers from depression, perhaps he’s simply too afraid to live his life in the world. But it is this aspect of Cameron that made me connect with him so much.

A couple of years ago, my mom found a letter I had written to myself. Possibly for a school assignment, the letter was me setting goals for myself. I said I’d been too lazy and wanted to work harder, that I needed to prioritize school and reading and stay on top of my responsibilities—and not get distracted by silly stuff.

I wrote it in 5th grade.

It’s only been in retrospect that I’ve been able to see this pattern in my life of setting impossibly high standards for myself, and then punishing myself when I could inevitably not achieve them. By senior year of high school I was skipping school days at a time, just to stay home and sleep on the couch or watch movies. I was lost in a haze of depression and self-loathing and no one really seemed to notice. Just like Cameron at the beginning of Ferris Bueller.

 

“Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”

cameron

In my second year living in New Orleans, I was struggling with another bout of depression and self-hatred. I was viciously angry with myself and my life all the time, and I could tell my friends were getting sick of listening to me. I was seeing a therapist but felt I wasn’t making much headway. One afternoon I was compelled to sit down and write in the journal I keep. What I found pouring out of my pen was the following list (copied directly from said journal):

“Things I mentally punish myself for”:

  • Being lazy
  • Not working hard enough
  • Not exercising enough
  • Not eating well
  • Eating too much
  • Drinking too much
  • Not being a good friend to my friends
  • Not being worthy of a relationship
  • Not getting grades in on time
  • Not keeping my room clean
  • Not telling my roommates how I feel
  • Not speaking up for myself
  • Not being more patient
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being tired and resting
  • Not reading enough
  • Watching too much tv
  • Not dressing well
  • Being late
  • Not getting up early enough
  • Not being prepared enough for class
  • Not planning well
  • Not helping my students move forward enough
  • Wanting a relationship too much
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Not keeping up with family birthdays
  • Not calling my sisters and brother enough
  • Not keeping in touch with friends enough
  • Being too self-critical
  • Not doing “good enough”—at everything
  • Seeking everyone’s approval too much
  • Every facet of how I interact with guys
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Being lazy
  • Not being funny enough
  • Wanting to pursue comedy and improv—it’s selfish
  • Not being special enough
  • Being susceptible to illnesses
  • Any time I cry
  • Being impatient
  • Being angry
  • Not being perfect
  • Not being a good teacher

The list probably could have continued to go on, but I sat there dumbfounded after writing it. Seeing it all laid out on paper, I realized that the reason I was depressed—both then and in high school—was because I was mentally abusing myself. Were I to say those things to someone else, that’s exactly what it would be–abuse. But because I’d been saying them to myself, in my own head, they’d been sliding by for years in disguise of me trying to make myself a better person. When I think about it now, I think of Silas, the monk in The Da Vinci Code, or Helena in “Orphan Black”, who used self-flagellation as a form of penance. My self-abuse was never physical but it fit the same idea. I needed to berate myself for not being perfect, heroic, extraordinary, and in the berating, I’d find some sort of redemption.

But anyone can see how obviously flawed the system is. I was literally hating myself for things like “being tired and resting”, “being susceptible to illness”, and “being too self-critical”. I even felt guilty about pursuing my hobbies! No one could possibly live up to these standards, and so of course I felt compelled to spend days at a time in front of the TV, trying to drown out this voice and ignore how I felt—only to hear it scream louder the more I tried to hide. When I watch Ferris Bueller now, I see this version of me in Cameron as he lies in his bed, resisting Ferris’ attempt to get him up and out of the house. I see this version of me in him kicking the shit out of his father’s car. Cameron’s beef is with his dad (supposedly, though I think he probably did some self-hating too); my beef is with my own brain. And I sometimes want to yell and kick the shit out of it for making me feel this way too.

 

“I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.”

bueller3

In season 2 of “Orange is the New Black” (excellent show, go watch it right now…scratch that, after you finish reading this) SoSo, the Bambi-eyed Chatty Cathy of a new inmate, gives a rambling monologue about her theory that Ferris was actually a figment of Cameron’s imagination the whole time. And is then promptly told to shut the fuck up. I found it hilarious because I think it was my “inner Ferris” that finally started pulling me out of the depression, the same way “real” Ferris does for Cameron. My inner Ferris found improv.

I have a t-shirt from the UCB theater in New York which sums it up best—across the back it simply reads “Don’t Think”.

For someone like myself, who becomes so caught up in the hurricane of my own thoughts that I literally can be paralyzed, it is catharsis in the way Cameron’s “scream heard round Chicago” must have been. A lot of mental health advice out there preaches ways to think differently or re-train your brain—but that kind of feels like juggling and then being told to twirl plates at the same time. I don’t pretend to be a professional, nor am I giving advice, but for me, more thinking isn’t helpful. I end up with the contradictions I described above—hating myself for hating myself. I freeze up in improv scenes and when talking to people who make me nervous because I’m not paying attention to them, I’m arguing with myself in my own head. More thinking is just going to turn me into Sybil.

But man…DON’T THINK…how refreshing an idea…

When I just empty my mind of that swirling storm of doubts and hesitations and trust that my gut and instincts will lead me in the right direction, it’s magical. I’ve done some of my best improv that way. You have to LISTEN to what’s going on around you and respond to it—and tell yourself to shut the fuck up.

That’s why I chase improv like a drug. It is a high, that moment on stage where you’re so IN IT that you’ve forgotten everything around you and you’re simply acting on instinct and running after the fun of a scene. It’s the exact same feeling I got as a kid when I would play pretend. No worries about “supposed to”, no concern about who’s watching. Just finding what’s fun and doing it as much as possible. This is exactly what Ferris does throughout the entire movie. Consequences be damned, he’s going to have a fun day.

Ferris Bueller = The embodiment of “Yes, And…”

 

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

cameron and ferris

As I try to channel my inner Ferris, I have to remember that Cameron was his best friend. They balance each other—Ferris brings Cameron out of the house and wakes him up to his life, Cameron provides the voice of reason and reality for Ferris’  outlandish ideas. I haven’t gotten it all figured out—duh. But I don’t pity this part of me either. Just as Ferris finds compassion and acceptance for Cameron’s struggles (despite the aforementioned coal-into-diamond comment), I try to find compassion and acceptance for that wounded part of myself.

To wrap this all up, I have to include these two quotes. I couldn’t quite figure out where to place them but I feel they are very relevant to this entire posting and so here is as good a spot as any:

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ~Vincent van Gogh

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” ~Robert Hughes

So whatever the “artistry” is, be it improv or writing or simply living, it comes with self-doubt and a critical little voice in your head. But as van Gogh so elegantly put it—to silence the voice you just have to do it more. Or as Del Close so brilliantly said to his improvisers, “Follow the fear”.

And therefore that’s what I do. I find things that scare me and I actively chase after them. I “Yes &” my entire life (I have it tattooed on my wrist for god’s sakes) because it’s the only way not to let that voice in my head win. I’ve moved across the country, alone, twice. I started doing improv and it terrified me. In several days I will leave to travel Europe, alone, for 3 weeks. I chase after everything that terrifies me with vigor because—like Cameron says at the end of the movie—I’m tired of being afraid. The pull to hide from the scary, to stay home with Netflix and try to avoid it all, is strong. But if I’ve learned anything from this whole ordeal, it’s that living, truly living, involves fear—but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything else.

This will be my last for a while, as I’m heading overseas in a few days. I will surely have new insights and stories to share when I return. Until then, thanks for stopping by.

Jeez, I sound like Mr. Rodgers…

Mmmm, OOOOhhhhh Yeeeeaahhhhh—chicka chick-Ahhh (you know…song from the movie? Ahhh, I give up)

Ferris Bueller’s Day of Life Lessons: Part I

Recently, a get-together at my apartment resulted in a heated debate at 1am. I consider any party that doesn’t end this way a failure, so I was reveling in the alcohol-fueled clash of opinions—because what’s better than a bunch of smart people trying to argue after ingesting booze? The topic of debate: whether it’s better to read the book before seeing the movie, and if it’s worth reading the book if you’ve seen the movie already.

I could go off on a tangent for days about my opinion here—especially since the book in question was Harry Potter. Y’all already know how I feel about Harry Potter. (I went to Harry Potter world over Christmas break. My cat is named Minerva McGonagall. I’m going to the UK in a week and will seek out all HP-related places. You read between the lines).

But I’m more interested in the Debate Inception going on—the debate within the debate. The subtext of our discussion was whether or not RE-reading books or RE-watching movies is worthwhile. I won’t hide my opinion from you guys (because clearly that’s what I’m here to do), I love re-reading and re-watching. I think you always get something new out of the experience, no matter how many times through it is. I believe YOU are different with each watching or reading, so your interpretation is different.

I’m getting chills.

 

Ferris Bueller, You’re My Hero

fake parents

So, on to my pop-culture tidbit du jour. When I was a kid, my sister Em (who is 11 years older than me, which I find relevant here for some reason) exposed me to perhaps the greatest entertainment experience of my young life: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was the early 90’s, so it was taped on VHS from a showing on HBO, and was followed by a Billy Joel concert.

It should really still come packaged this way, let’s be honest.

I loved everything about that movie. I’ve seen it probably upwards of 50 times—I watch it every time I’m sick, I watch it when I need something on in the background, I watch it because I can quote every single line of dialogue. Every. One.

And I still laugh every time Ferris plays the “bodily functions” disk on his keyboard. Yup, I’m 5 years old.

Before I get lost in an unfettered love letter to this movie (and John Hughes because—uh—genius) I’ll cut to the real reason I’m writing about Ferris. As any artist or comedian knows, the best creation is that which reflects real life. I have a deep appreciation and love for this movie because there were—ARE—so many aspects of it that reached deeply into my life and spoke the truth of it all.

 

Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?

buellerbueller

The movie just oozes with characters who are relatable—the genius of John Hughes. Who doesn’t want to be Ferris? Goofy and carefree, confident enough to hijack a parade float and sing “Twist and Shout” (I still did not know for several decades that this parade is because of the extremely large population of Polish people in Chicago—SEE??? You view it differently every time!).

Who hasn’t been Sloan Peterson, sitting in an excruciatingly boring class, wishing your brain would just shut off for a while? I can even relate a little to Mr. Rooney, now that I’m a teacher, on his endless quest to prove that this mischievous student is up to no good.

I’d like to think I’m way cooler than Ed Rooney though.

But the two characters I can most relate to were always Ferris’ sister Jeanie and his best friend Cameron Frye. I would have love to be Ferris, I think every teenager dreams of that boundless self-confidence and fun-loving spirit. But my reality lay in the insecurities and frustrations of Cameron and Jeanie.

 

Jeanie? Is that you? I can’t see that far…

jeanie

Jeanie’s the younger, brattier, under appreciated Bueller sibling. Ferris gets away with murder because he’s cute and charismatic and fearless. Jeanie could be bleeding out her eyes and still have to go to school—as she colorfully explains in the first scene. Jeanie also spends a large chunk of the movie obsessed with convincing everyone that her brother isn’t really sick, only to be thwarted over and over.

Jeanie Charlier

At the climax of the movie, Jeanie meets Charlie Sheen (I don’t think his character has a name, and really it’s just Charlie Sheen playing Charlie Sheen, so we’ll stick with that). In the best of his lines, as she complains about Ferris’ antics, Charlie Sheen tells her “Your problem is you. Maybe you should spend a little less time worrying about your brother and a little more time worrying about yourself”.

Jeanie then tells him, in beautifully honest hilarity, to put his thumb up his butt.

As one of four siblings, I could immediately relate to Jeanie’s desire to be seen and heard. To be recognized not as “the sister of Ferris” but as her own interesting and valuable self. I think any teenager or twenty-something can relate to this struggle. Ferris knows who he is, or at least thinks he does, but Jeanie does not. She’s so consumed with hating her brother’s cheerful likeability that she hasn’t figured herself out yet. I’ve spent a good deal of my young adult years (and some adult ones) this way, comparing myself to others and wondering why I wasn’t as cool as…, as smart as…, as pretty as…and ultimately wasting a lot of time.

It’s hugely exhausting, comparing yourself to others all the time and constantly trying to be like them. I’ve been procrastinating on writing a new post for this very reason. I had such a phenomenal reaction to my first, how could I live up to it? What if what I chose to write about the second time around wasn’t as good? I know other excellent writers, am I as good as them? What did the people WANT?!?!

I might become a one-hit-wonder—of bloggers!

(This seems a silly fear because I’ve previously written 2 blogs that got very little attention and that I quit writing after only a few posts. I will instead consider myself like Eric Clapton or Phil Collins—flitting from band to band and finding some success with each. I’m definitely as cool and talented as Clapton and Collins. Just call me Claptins…Collton…Claptosito…ok I’ll stop)

I wrote 3-4 “maybe” posts that I didn’t love much, so I didn’t post them. Then I wrote this one because I wanted to. Ferris Bueller is a movie I love, that I wanted to talk about in connection with my own life.

So—DEAL WITH IT READERS.

jeanie2

 

But still, why should he get to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants? Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so goddamn special?

I feel insane pressure in this world of Facebook updates and Twitter feeds to do what other people want me to do. To BE whoever other people want me to BE. Even as a teacher and improviser–hell, just as a PERSON. It’s kind of an innate part of being a performer, though (and I consider teaching a kind of “performance”), you want people to like, enjoy, and connect to what you put out there. Anyone who’s done improv knows the insane pressure to make people laugh—and feeling of complete, confidence-shattering insecurity when the audience is silent.

I’m guilty of this in the relationship arena as well (yes, I said arena. Like Hunger Games style. How’s that for a psychological insight?). On one very memorable occasion in high school, a guy I was SUPER into said he liked when girls wore Roxy shirts. I therefore dragged my mom to TJ Maxx and bought a Roxy shirt, which I promptly wore the next day, and many days thereafter, in an attempt to grab his attention. My logic wasn’t that sound at 14.

He did tell me he liked my “Survivor” logo-inspired hoodie from Salem, Massachusetts a year later though!

I’m still guilty of this type of behavior. Trying to say the funniest quip or line among improv friends. Trying to wear something cute to impress someone I like. Trying to be the most inspiring, Dead Poets Society teacher. But it’s no coincidence that my most well-received blog post was the one I was brutally honest for. That my best date was the one I spent less than 30 seconds “fixing” my hair before. That the funniest lines I say on stage are the ones I blurt out without thinking.

That the best opportunities in my life have happened when I wasn’t TRYING so damn hard.

 

If I’m going to get caught it is NOT going to be by a guy like that

abe froman matred

They don’t tell you as a kid that just being yourself is one of the biggest struggles you’ll deal with. Many people run pell-mell in the opposite direction and I think some are sadly afraid to be themselves—because maybe they don’t know who that self is. I keep bringing improv into this because I think it’s particularly easy to notice these habits on stage. It’s incredibly vulnerable to put yourself out there on stage, at the risk of belly-flopping—but the worst feeling is never going out there at all.

While Ferris had a highly elaborate mannequin-on-string system for not getting caught on his day off, he spends the day simply chasing after fun. He sees and opportunity and grabs it because it will be fun and exciting—borrowing the Ferrari, singing in the parade, running around Chicago. He plunges forward with reckless abandon—this is what Jeanie envies in him and why I relate to her.

Jeanie seems to realize this by the end of the movie—that she can give in to that reckless abandon too. She’s the one who stands up to Rooney and gets Ferris out of trouble, with that fantastic little wink at the end that, face it, no one saw coming. In our hyper-aware age of stating our opinions to the world 95 times a day, it’s so easy to lose sight of what you really want and who you really are–especially when you feel alone and unappreciated in the world. But I like to think Jeanie comes to the conclusion that I’ve come to—it’s always better to just be yourself. Play the music you want, be nerdy about the things you love, say whatever comes to your brain on stage, wear the clothes you want to wear, eat gluten if you freakin’ want to.

Then, at the very least, you’re enjoying yourself, even if no one else approves.

Plus, Jeanie got the car, Ferris just got a computer. And she went Dirty Dancing with one Mr. P. Swayze.

 

This will be a “to be continued” for me. My connection to Cameron Frye leads us down a completely different primrose path (kudos to anyone catching all these references throughout by the way) and this is already quite long. I’ll post the second half later this week before my long international hiatus.

 

As always, I hope you liked this and got something out of reading it. But as I previously mentioned, I just wrote it for me.

The Lord Voldemort Effect

For the 1% of the population unfamiliar with Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort is the major villain throughout the series. He has many characteristics—including a lack of nasal features and being really, really, ridiculously evil—but one of his most defining characteristics is that most people are too afraid of him to actually speak his name aloud. So when Harry is first learning of Voldemort’s existence, everyone is all “oh no, don’t ever speak his name! Bad shit will happen to you!” and insists Harry call him You-Know-Who. Or the more verbose,  He Who Must Not Be Named.

However, Dumbledore comes along, and being the BAMF that he is, teaches Harry that to fear even speaking a name aloud increases how much you fear that thing itself.

I’m sure there’s a more scientific name for this concept in real life but I choose to call it The Lord Voldemort Effect. We all know that’s cooler than whatever psychology named it (or, to wit, whomever it was named it after. Let’s be real psych, you name shit after dead white guys a lot).

 

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem.

When we’re afraid of something, we don’t want to talk about it. We run away from and refuse to acknowledge our fears and therefore give them so much more power. We are afraid of that which we do not know, or understand, and not talking about it just leads to more fear—and more often than not, anger. Nowhere is it more evident than in the evangelical proselytizing of the rampantly bigoted people of our world. Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism—you name it—it all stems from the fear people have toward that “other” group. But try to talk to those ardently biased and hateful people and they don’t want to hear a word of what you have to say. There’s too much fear and the mental security gates and brick walls are permanently up.

While I’d love to dive into a discussion of these huge social issues, I’m actually going to bring it in close for now, and talk about my own Lord Voldemort, the thing I’ve personally been afraid to talk openly about for a long time.

 

The Big, Hairy, Ugly, Pimple-Covered Truth.

I’ve never been in a relationship. Whomp, there it is.

The extent of my physical contact with a human being is a hug and a night or two of tame spin the bottle in college.

As I recently said to a friend of mine, let me break it down for ya: I’ve never kissed anyone, never slept with anyone, and never been on more than two dates with the same person.

Oh, and I’m 27 years old.

So lets backtrack a little and see where things started. I may not be Wolverine but we all love a good origin story.

I come from a sarcastic family. Sincerity and emotions usually took a back seat to teasing and jokes. We’d watch a movie together and when it would get to the touching, poignant moments and the characters were finally admitting their true feelings or there was a kiss or something, someone would blurt out “I love you man!” in their best Dumb & Dumber voice and we’d all start laughing.

It’s the kind of stuff that families often share and I don’t mean to say that it was terrible—it was usually funny, and probably where I started to find joy in comedy. What I think happened though was that there was not often honest, genuine conversation about our feelings or emotions to balance out this jokey-ness. I cannot remember ever feeling comfortable telling any of my family members I loved them out loud. I’m still uncomfortable with it. I don’t know if my siblings and I have ever said we love each other aloud. I know we do, but we don’t talk about it. We joke, we tease, we use sarcasm, and we don’t usually talk about the deep stuff.

As a kid, I therefore pushed all of my “feelings” to the side and just pretended I didn’t have them. I don’t blame my family; I just took things to the extreme. I didn’t talk about boys or crushes except with my closest of friends and even then, it took a lot of guts to admit it. I usually felt ashamed afterwards, like I had no right to like a boy. I saw nothing special about me, and couldn’t fathom anyone else seeing anything either.

 

Middle School Trauma: Life in the ER

At the end of 8th grade, I made a bet with my sister that I’d ask this boy I liked to our 8th Grade prom, and she would ask out the guy she liked. Through a series of unfortunate events—stemming from me telling a friend that I was going to ask him—I ended up asking in front of the entire cafeteria during lunch. While eating chocolate cake. And mumbling. To make another Harry Potter reference, it was almost exactly like how Harry asks Cho to the Yule Ball—just a mumbled, nervous mess.

He said no, in a pretty nice way I have to admit, and I ended up going to the dance alone whilst trying to wear that as “independence”. I was still ashamed though, and I never forgot that he went with a thinner, prettier girl with long blonde hair. Typical.

 

Hollywood is Real, Right?

I love movies and television, and this further warped my ideas of what “should” be. Hollywood convinced me that the right guy would come after me, because that’s what they did in the movies! Harry runs down the street after Sally! Richard Gere comes to Julia Roberts’ window in a limo! Mr. Darcy proposes to Lizzie–twice! The right guy will come after me and save me from this awkward life, I thought, he will.

I never pushed myself out of my bubble because I was convinced the “right” guy would push me out. He would just know that I needed someone to get me out of my shell and I just had to wait. I bought into—more like lapped up with a spoon—the idea that I could be “rescued” by the right person.

Yes, I really believed this.

Every milestone in my life was another chance to meet the right person. High school, I’ll definitely find someone in high school. COLLEGE, all the guys that are right for me are at college. Moving to New Orleans? Definitely going to find someone there! This party on Friday!? This is it, I know it is! Random Tuesday? Ya never know!!!

But these events came and went, and nothing happened. No one ran after me in the rain, no one sent me anonymous love letters to then later stand under my window with a boombox or sing and dance down the steps of the football stadium. Nope, just same boring old life. I did have a few “almosts” that could have turned into something but I ran away from those and told myself that they would have come after me if it was “right”. They didn’t.

Why wasn’t my “problem” getting solved? Why wasn’t anyone chasing after me? It must be something that was wrong with me, some fatal flaw I had that made me so gross and undesirable that no one could penetrate this super-tough exoskeleton I’d created for myself. But shouldn’t the “right” person be able to???

 

S.O.S: Stop Offering Suggestions

These are still things I do, struggles and anxieties that I still have. Meeting new friends, the conversation inevitably turns sharing a crush they have—be it in real life or a celebrity—and I cage up like a hermit crab on NyQuil. I don’t discuss it because my history will come out, and that explodes to a whole new level of conversational discomfort.

When I reveal this particular tid-bit about myself, I’ve heard a variety of reactions stemming from “oh, that’s totally normal and fine!” to “that’s adorable!” to “seriously?!”. It’s nice not to hear “HAHAHAHA” but to paraphrase Cosima from Orphan Black, my lack of sexuality isn’t the most interesting thing about me. All these comments ultimately lead to advice, and I honestly wish it just wouldn’t.

I love my friends, I really do. LOVE YOU (see—feelings talk!). I know that every single friend who has offered me advice is well-meaning.

BUT

No one I know truly understands what it is like to be me, to be in this situation, and it feels condescending when people try to tell me what to do to “fix” it. It seems like empathy, but it feels like judgment.

I don’t need to go to bars and hit on guys. I don’t need them to buy me drinks or to grind on me in some sleeze-bag club. I don’t need to dress like a hooker or censor myself so I don’t scare anyone off. And if I hear “relax and let it happen…you’ll find someone when you least expect it!” once more time, I’ll implode. Yup, IMplode.

I get the impression that some people want me to “just get over it already”, as if I took a vow of celibacy–or were on a juice cleanse–and could stop any time. Granted, I’ve complained enough and given people reason to try and give advice in the past, but it’s been a frustrating road that I haven’t always understood or accepted.

But here’s the shocking revelation I’ve had recently…

I like my story.

It’s made me independent and I know who I am better than many people I’ve met. It makes me interesting and unique. It will resolve itself at the right time, when I’m ready. I don’t need saving. And I don’t need fixing. I just want acceptance. For just being me, with all my weird relationship-phobic quirks. Whether I ever date anyone or not.

This is not a disease I have, it is who I am. I will move forward when I want to.

 

This is MY house, and I HAVE to defend it!

There’s not a magical, fairytale end to this post. I am still not dating anyone; no one has come to whisk me off my feet. But I want to loop back around to my 40 Year-Old Virgin reference (how can I not? It’s so ripe for these circumstances). In that movie, no one rescues Andy. His friends try, and fail, but Andy stays true to his dorked-out self and that leads him to love. Real love and acceptance.

So therein lies the point, my friends. I was suckered into this culture of Disney princesses and romantic comedies, wherein the woman has to be rescued by the prince. I’ve been waiting for someone to take care of this “problem” for me and not willing to do the work myself—or to simply go out and be happy and satisfied the way I am.

I’ve allowed what other people say and think—or what I imagine they will say and think—to rule me for a long time. I hide parts of who I am for fear that I won’t be accepted, and I live with the shame of my past, my identity, who I am.

But…what if I WASN’T ashamed? What if this problem DIDN’T NEED FIXING?

What if it WASN’T A PROBLEM?

I feel the need for extensive capitalization and italics because it’s such a radical idea to me. But what if, instead of this being my gruesome, embarrassing story that I’m afraid to share, I’m not afraid of it? What if I just owned it and liked the fact that I’ve walked a much different path than most people? What if I defended my identify and was PROUD of my life and self and experiences (or lack thereof)?

What if I wasn’t afraid to talk about my Voldemort?

When I think about the bigger social issues I mention above—racism, sexism, homophobia—there’s a similar thread running through all of them, and not the blatant hatred part. The thread I see is the good people who aren’t willing to speak out, who aren’t willing to call out the things their friends or family say that don’t sit right with them.

It’s a pretty human thing, not to want your opinions or emotions to get stomped on. But at some point you have to take a stand. Perhaps at some later date, I’ll talk about the social issues, but today it’s about me taking a stand for myself. For my identity. Some people might think it IS weird or abnormal. But it’s MY identity, and as young Kevin McAllister once said, “This is my house and I have to defend it.”

My 14-year-old brain, which still operates inside my head pretty often, thinks that someone will read this blog, realize how amazing I am, and instantly want to be dating me. Because that would be a WAY easier way to work through this mess.

But 28-year-old me just hopes that someone reads it and is a little more OK talking about their own Voldemort. We have to talk about Voldemort. Harry and Dumbledore weren’t afraid to and they ultimately made him disappear forever. The only way out is through. And I look forward to all the interesting, awkward, hilarious stories that will come from going through my own experience of life. I’ll post more of them here; I hope you come back. 🙂

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