The Nerdiest Post I Shall Ever Write

More than half the year has gone by, and my annual bucket list goals are far from where they should be. We’ve had much happen this year, very good and very bad, and while some of those life occurrences could be why I haven’t invested in my goals, that would be mostly a lie. But guys, different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.

And while most men would rather die a hard truth than face it, in truth, I’ve been deeply invested in a whole other world…or should I say, realm. In fact, this post will contain many easter eggs for my good friends who are already in the know.

In April 2017, I decided to re-read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series (better known as Game of Thrones for the plebs). It would be a great undertaking, and I didn’t want to rush through, but take my time and enjoy my very own trip down the King’s Road. And while I have zero expectation for the final books to ever be published (no hard feelings, GRRM!), I wanted to be truly refreshed for the final season on HBO next year, for minds are like swords; the old ones go to rust.

Little did I know just how deep this pastime would become; my poor friend, Kerrie, was subject to daily texts of questions, theories, and gifs. We even decided to write down predictions for the end of the show and bury them in a time capsule (read about it here: Bury a Time Capsule). But how naive I was to bury my predictions when I was midway through book three! There were still thousands of pages I had yet to dissect.

Over spring break, I decided to start rewatching the HBO series while finishing the last book concurrently. It made our very long flights to Europe highly entertaining, and while I was incredibly nit-picky when the show first came out (“That didn’t happen in the books!”), I found a new joy from analyzing quotes and symbolism in the show, furthering my predictions.

But that’s not it, oh-no. While reading the books and watching the show, I also decided to listen to the concurrent podcast episodes of BingeMode.

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At times, I spent time on Reddit, confirming my theories for characters, storylines, or just digging into the vast history of Westeros. Many times I heard the words, “You’re in too deep,” from both my husband, Thor, and Kerrie. Is madness so far from wisdom? After all, don’t people read the Bible over and over and over again? Dissecting stories? Looking for something between the lines? A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.

This week, I completed my journey. I read more than 4,200 pages, watched 70 hours of the show, and listened to 70 hours of the podcast. My resume is such that I’m ready to head to the Citadel and transcribe ancient scrolls. The great thing about reading is that it broadens your life.

At this point, I would venture to say that I know more about ASOIAF than anyone I know personally (sans Kerrie, who has also done her homework) and it’s my own special world with special (internet) friends. Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.

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But what will I do will all this free time, now that I am done? This question has been creeping for the last month.

Lucky for me, there are still many excerpts and readings from the next book, The Winds of Winter, that are out there on the inter web. *SPOILER ALERT* that book is never going to get published. My theory? Fans got viscious (really – GRRM got death threats) and he threw in the towel to work on other projects. Maybe Misery was on cable one weekend and he got scared that someone was going to hobble him and force him to rewrite The Red Wedding in a snowy cabin.

But guys, having parsed over every word of the books – I’m telling you, it’s all in there. You just have to look.

I won’t tell you my theory about Tyrion’s real parentage. I won’t tell you my theory about Arya’s ending. I won’t tell you my theory about Brienne and Jaime. Ok yes, I will. They are so going to seal the deal. (But trust me, there’s more).

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Something tells me I’m not really finished, that there’s more work to do. But as the main feat is over, I can look back to completing some items from my bucket list  (which is the real purpose of this post LOL). Be on the lookout about my new Peloton bike, an upcoming trip to Portugal, and a moonlit hike.

Until then, night gathers and my watch begins; it shall not end until my death.

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Full Catastrophe Living

I only made it officially through one book in February (which is an all time low for me), but one powerful book is better than two or three crappy ones, right?

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It all started when my colleague was complaining about her new-age instructor for an education leadership class. Apparently his love for dream-catchers and meditation was his answer to being a great principal. The more I asked about him, the more I grimaced at the thought of sitting through the class – but I was still curious about the “required reading.” One of the texts was by John Kabat-Zinn, and through a bit of surface level Googling, I impulsively purchased one of his other books, Full Catastrophe Living.

What’s it about? Here’s what the back of the book says:

“Stress. It can sap our energy, undermine  our health if we let it, even shorten our lives. It makes us more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, disconnection and disease. Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program, this classic, groundbreaking work—which gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology—shows you how to use medically proven mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga to counteract stress, establish greater balance of body and mind, and stimulate well-being and healing. By engaging in these mindfulness practices and integrating them into your life from moment to moment and from day to day, you can learn to manage chronic pain, promote optimal healing, reduce anxiety and feelings of panic, and improve the overall quality of your life, relationships, and social networks.”

First off, I read anything like this with a grain of salt. However, the traditional medical treatments when I blew out my knee seemed very limited – one time the doctor even held up his hands and said, “I don’t know what to do with that,” when I described a horrific pain in my foot after knee surgery. But chiropractic and naturopathic treatments have worked in slow, steady increments (in fact, my chiropractor fixed my foot with a simple touch later that day). Admittedly, the acupuncture that required wrapping my knee in chainmail and tin foil was dubious, but I feel generally fantastic since prolotherapy.

You see, I’m just not the kind of person who wants to just take a pill. There’s got to be another way.

During Full Catastrophe Living, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes! That’s me! I understand what you’re talking about!” Although I’m not dealing with terminal illness or the tragedy of losing a spouse, I do feel daily aches and pains that I know are related to stress.

But also – my mind keeps me up at night. Whether it’s the burden of being a public educator, or I’ve just spent too much time on Reddit reading about MK Ultra, I wake up at night with too much going on in my brain. Donald Trump isn’t helping.

giphy.gif I already use my Headspace app regularly, but that feels a bit surface level. What I appreciate about Full Catastrophe Living is that it goes into the research of mindfulness and meditation, as well as gives a lot of practical strategies.

If anyone can relate to thinking that this is all ridiculous fluff, I can. A few years ago, I laughed in my naturopath’s face when she suggested I meditate. It wasn’t until I worked for a raging bully and was considering a medical leave that I thought, Maybe I need to give that meditation thing a try. I even mediated in secret because I was so embarrassed – and now here I am blogging about self-help books, for all the world to see.

“Catastrophe” to John Kabat-Zinn does not mean disaster, it just means that we have all these things going on in life – and learning how to manage them in a mindful way can make people realize that the things that feel overwhelming can actually be rewarding. For instance, people complain about work, but many people who are chronically ill or incapable of working would give anything to have a job. It’s a matter of perspective.

If you think mediation is boring or you don’t have time, they say “That’s ok,” and give 30 second strategies. If you have been meditating for awhile, it gives more advanced strategies (of which I am so far from being able to do).

As many people know, the stress of dealing with my dad’s house has been paramount in my life right now, but I’m working on experiencing the catastrophe rather than fighting against it. Speaking of which, the house goes on the market in three weeks.

 

Books of January

The goal is to read three books a month, but I only made it through two (and a half). Consider it a stretch goal.

cover225x225.jpegYou by Caroline Kepnes – It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a book that I literally couldn’t put down, and I would like to openly thank Caroline Kepnes for entertaining me during my long flights to and from Europe. Written from the point-of-view of a stalker, this book is as if American PsychoMisery, and The Catcher in the Rye had a baby. At first, I was disgusted by Joe (our narrator) and terrified for Beck (his obsession), but Kepnes is so skilled at weaving the plot that Joe subtly became my protagonist, and I feared for the moment he would get caught. It’s pretty slick writing that can get you to like (and even feel sorry for) a sometimes violent, sexually depraved sociopath. It does get a little graphic at times, but if you liked American Psycho then you could definitely handle this one.

Even more exciting, once I had finished the book, I discovered that a sequel comes out this month! I can’t even imagine where or how that story will play out.

Unknown.jpegThe Painter by Peter Heller – Having read Heller’s The Dog Stars a couple years ago, I was excited to pick up his next book. The blurb on the back described an artist (cleaned up after trouble with the law) who finds himself accidentally pitted against a band of dangerous hunters and ends up on the run. True, but this book was deeeeeep. Like possibly too deep and heavy for me (that part about the pet pig was just too close to home). The moments of action were really engaging (and the narrator is tongue-in-cheek funny), but the book slows down considerably to dig into identity, self and grief (and there’s some class and gender and man vs nature stuff in there, too). Basically what I’m saying is, this is a heavy text. There’s a surface story, but there’s also a lot going on along the way and if you’re just looking for a quick read – this isn’t the book you are looking for. I liked it but I didn’t love it.

On a side note, for February I have several biographies that have been stacked up on my nightstand so I officially declare February Biography Month. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Books of October

(Yes, I realize it’s mid-November…I’ve been busy).

Despite the mass amount of traveling, working, and just general fun – I did manage three books for October! (the crowd cheers)

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli – Jerry_Spinelli_-_StargirlOur school librarian recommended this book for one of my 6th grade novel groups so I figured I should read it if I was going to teach it (ha). It was a quick read, and I liked it. The story is told from the perspective of a high school boy (who is kind of a pansy in IMHO) who becomes enamored with a new student, Stargirl. She’s completely free from all the insecure, mean girl, popularity-seeking stuff that is the culture of the school…she’s just honestly kind. You can’t help but be driven crazy by the narrator who can’t get the guts to ignore his peers’ despite his understanding that she is better than all of them. While I would totally recommend this book to students (and most of them liked it), I felt really uncomfortable throughout the whole book. I wasn’t sure where it was going and I feared the students would do something terrible to Stargirl. Luckily, it didn’t take a Carrie turn, but it also made me sad because it was so honest.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham 9780812994995_custom-d00451b98fad719e7e291d37e9048eeba78c5d71-s99-c85– Little did I know when I paid just $4.99 for this iBook that it would be blowing up all over social media. I love Girls and I think some of the episodes are pure genius, but until reading this book I didn’t realize just how messed up Lena Dunham really is (yes, present tense). Everything in here is super honest, and too graphic for my personal aesthetic. Yeah, that’s Lena Dunham’s style and she has that right, so ok, sure. I imagined her watching The Breakfast Club and really connecting with Ally Sheedy’s character (the “basketcase” who ate pixie sticks and spit her fingernails across the room). Her sex stories are gross; her food stories are gross; and from a teacher’s point of view, her childhood counseling stories are red flags. If I was her friend in college, I would have given her many stern lectures. But nonetheless, I think that crazy people are usually the geniuses that help us see our own idiosyncrasies so if you like her show, you might want to give this book a read. If you have a strong stomach, that is.

41chVzBhJiL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Watchmen by Alan Moore – Ahhhh one of my favorite books of all time, and I just felt like re-reading it since no other books have really captured my interest in months. Damn this book is amazing! If you don’t know what Watchmen is, then you’re living in the dark. If it’s been awhile since you read it, I recommend you pick it back up. While reading, I simultaneously watched the Motion Comics series of Watchmen that I bought off iTunes several years ago (you can also find it on Youtube).

For a time when the real world is riddled with international conflict and fear, Watchmen has a very real relevance in 2014. Maybe this story speaks to me because I have a pretty fatalistic view of society, and I not-so-secretly think I’m destined to be a vigilante someday. And while I think there are a lot of fun apocalyptic and dystopian series out there for young adults (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc), if you’re an adult you should really be picking this one up instead.

A lot of people complained about Zach Snyder’s version of Watchmen, but for a movie that was considered “unfilmable” I think he did a pretty good job. But really, if you want to watch it on the screen, go with the Motion Comics version – it’s really good.

Classic Movie of October

I am often tempted at the grocery counter to impulsively purchase a magazine, but ultimately I know that I probably won’t really read it; I’ll just skim through the pictures, read a paragraph here and there, and have probably learned nothing new. However, I always give myself permission when I know I’m going to be on an airplane, and to my delight I scored this one for last week’s trip to Kansas.

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If you’re curious about this one (because let me tell you it was goooooooood), I’m going to blog about it next week when I wrap up my Books of October.

What does this have to do with my classic movie of October? Well this baby was chocked full of serial killers I didn’t know much about, and right now I’m considering it a “jumping off” point for my next genre obsession. One of the profiled “serial killers” was a midwestern teen couple, Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, who went on a seemingly random killing spree for a couple weeks back in the 50s. They murdered her family, and then a bunch of random people who must have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Starkweather ended up taking most of the blame, Fugate she still got a pretty heavy sentence (considering she was only 14) and was eventually paroled later on. Not so lucky, Starkweather was sentenced to the electric chair.

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When I saw Sissy Spacek was in the film that’s loosely based on the story, I knew I had a winner.

Badlands-707049238-largeBadlands (1973) – I say this film was loosely-based because after viewing it, I immediately went back and re-read the article about them (the woman next to me on the plane inched a little farther away from me when she saw my face buried in the mag). Clearly there were scenes that were absolutely connected to the real-life events, and then others that were not. While I was expecting a lot of emotion and suspense, Badlands employs a lot of distanciation that was characteristic of the 70s. There was no “Bonnie and Clyde” love story here, just a couple of detached kids acting almost like people were toys they got tired of. That being said, there were still a few moments where I physically jolted in my tiny plane seat.

Sissy Spacek continues to rock my world, and I forgot that Martin Sheen was actually a babe back in the day. The cinematography is super vibrant and it’s a good reminder that we don’t need all that damned CGI to have a beautiful movie. I definitely picked a good one this month, and if you’re looking for a classic killer movie for the Halloween holiday, Badlands is a smart alternative to the slasher stuff that normally gets all the play.

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Books of September

I was pretty slammed in September with that whole first month of school thing, so my reading was a little stunted. I already posted about one book, Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why (read about it here). But here’s what I managed:

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King – Man, I think I went a couple years without reading a Stephen King book, and now I’ve read two this summer. Joyland is about a college boy who runs off to work at an amusement park for the summer and learns the life of a carny…and MAN do I love carny slang (no really, I do). Most of the novel felt like an authentic journey of a guy really discovering his adult self in a really unique setting, and then there’s a bit of a murder mystery in the background. For me, it seemed as if the murder mystery got stuck in there unnecessarily. It’s Stephen King so of course there’s going to be some supernatural stuff happening, and mysterious characters that you’re not sure you trust, but I could have lived without the showdown at the end. Nonetheless, it was campy in a good way, and I had a good read.

EUnknowndward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – Ok, you got me. I’ve already read this book eight times before. I first heard a chapter read aloud by my friend, Amanda, back in grad school, and I’ve subsequently taught the book every year to my students. That being said, I get something new out of reading it every time, and even thought it’s a “children’s” book, I believe there’s some pretty big stuff in there. In a nutshell, you’ve got an incredibly self-absorbed china rabbit (who cannot talk or move by himself), named Edward Tulane. Unexpected events cause him to be owned by several different characters until he really discovers the meaning of his own existence. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s deeeeep. Little kids love it, big kids love it, adults love it. Now when are they going to make the damned movie?!

I also didn’t finish my current read The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed so you’ll just have to wait till the end of October for that one!

First Book of September – Get Promoted!

Normally, I post all three of the books I read each month in one post, but tonight I just want to focus on one I chose to re-read on a whim last week. (The other two will come later this week.)

550951Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why – by Donald Asher

Back in 2010, I read this book as I was coming to the decision I definitely wanted to move UP from my current teaching position, but I wasn’t quite sure where UP was (since there ain’t much in between teacher and principal). I laugh to myself that I bought this book for $1.99 when Borders was going out of business, and here it has become one of the most important books I’ve read in the last four years.

It gave me ideas and strategies to elevate my career, even when I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. A couple weeks ago, I thought I should give it a re-read with fresh eyes.

One of the most important points that resonated with me my first time around (and I have quoted it to many people) is that the perfect job never comes at the perfect time. You’ve got to be willing to just move, or move along, even if you feel like it’s not the “right” time in your life. Despite the fact that my last school was an incredibly toxic place to work, I wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t know what to expect at a new school (or from a new boss!), but ultimately I remembered this important point. None of the jobs I saw called out, “PERFECT JOB!” In addition, preparing my resume and scheduling interviews came at an incredibly busy and stressful time; I just kept thinking, “…it’s never the perfect time…” Today, I can’t even believe that I hesitated. My school (and boss) are awesome, I’m incredibly happy, and other new opportunities opened up once I freed myself of the old place. If you sit around and wait for something that’s “just right”, you’ll just be sitting around waiting.

Next, I accepted that the world is set up for early birds. Back in my younger days, I could SLEEEEEP IIIIIIINNNN (ask my parents). I didn’t think I would ever become an early bird. The book states, “Every minute that you arrive before the official start of the workday is worth at least 15 of staying after the official end of the workday because nobody cares if you really work late.” My friends may joke that I am in bed at 8:30am, but frankly it has made me way more productive and happy. And if anything, I began to view at people who stay late as unproductive. Are they so inefficient that they have to stay late?

On top of that, when people hear that you exercise before work, it’s like you become a superhero in their minds, just a little bit. It takes a lot of mental toughness to get up earlier than you have to and workout, and ultimately that communicates that you are in no way lazy, and are in fact someone with awesome self-discipline. (Of course, I rarely workout before work anymore because my school is next to a beautiful new Nike track, but on the flip side, my colleagues often oooohhh and ahhhh when they see I’m regularly headed to a workout while they’re still struggling with the copy machine.)

Another chapter talks about having an Ascension Plan, where you pick specific job titles you want, obtain skills for those jobs, and learn to sell yourself without being a used car salesman or a Pollyana.

I knew by the fall of 2010 that being an Instructional Coach was a wonderful fit for me, no matter how green to coaching I was. I did everything in my power to learn more about coaching. I read every book, talked to those with more experience, and devoted myself to the position. Sadly, funding was cut and the position disappeared from the entire school district, but I didn’t give up. I literally spent my vacation money to go to Instructional Coaching workshops and did everything I could to openly publicize that I wanted to return to coaching. Although my district didn’t want what I had to offer, I was recently offered the opportunity to be a consultant for the very guy I was learning from all these years (holla!). Without constantly revisiting my ascension plan (no matter how bleak it seemed), I would still be wishing on something that might never happen.

If you are in a place where you are professionally stuck, I highly recommend you read this book and then have an honest conversation with yourself about why you’re stuck, and what it would take to get unstuck.

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Classic Movie of September…and a tribute to Ethan Hawke

As I drove home from work today, I cued up the newest podcast episode of The Moth and squealed with delight (literally) when I saw the storyteller was Ethan Hawke. Never to disappoint me, he told a great story about the real secret inspiration of his life.

Did I start in 1985 with The Explorers, starring Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix (my other tragic obsession)? I certainly watched this movie over and over as a kid. Or was it White Fang in 1991? I’m not sure, but at some point by the tender age of 12, Ethan Hawke became my real secret inspiration.

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Be still my heart…

In 1993, he starred in the film Alive, the movie based on the true story of a South American rugby team being stranded in the Andes Mountains after a plane crash – and they survived 72 days. Next to Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back, I watched this movie over and over and over. Between starring my favorite actor and dramatizing a horrible true disaster, this movie was meant for me.

Then let’s not forget just a year later when Reality Bites came out…the anthem of my generation.

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Yet, at that point, he was just an actor in my mind. Until my second year of college, where I randomly picked up a copy of his novel The Hottest State. I remember having to justify to all my other Lit major friends why I was reading a book by Ethan Hawke. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. And then again a year later. I forced it upon my college roommates, who also read it with similar veracity. (Sadly, the movie sucked, but we won’t go there).

Today, listening to his podcast, I realized just how much of his real life is embedded in The Hottest State and it was like experiencing the book all over again. Honestly, I can’t say I’ve seen 80% of the movies he’s been in, but I’ve read a lot about his life as a writer and performer from his own perspective. He’s a dude who proves you can have a messy homelife, drop out of college, and still make something of yourself.

So anyway, back to Alive. After the podcast this afternoon, I immediately knew what my classic movie of September would be.

aliveAlive (1993) – Beyond my love of Ethan Hawke, this movie was the fire of my burgeoning obsession with true disasters. 7th grade, I read the book (twice); and in 2007, I saw the documentary Stranded. I really don’t understand why people watch so many movies and films about fake disasters when the real ones are so much more intense. Those who might be interested in stories or films about Edward Shackleton can appreciate that although there were 29 lives lost in this tragedy, it was the team dynamics and group leadership that are attributed to the survival of the remaining 16. And much like Shackleton, two of the players literally hiked out of the Andes Mountains and returned to save the remaining passengers.

It’s an amazing story. I’ll never get over it.

Also, you can check out his podcast episode here: Ode to Stepfather