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Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

On the face of it, 2016 stunk it up, and so many of us are happy to see it go. 2016 brought a torrent of cultural and political pain from which the country is still reeling. On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a banner year, either. As I reflected on the past year over the past week, I found myself scowling and angry, and frightened for what’s to come.

The year dealt multiple blows; we lost: Harper Lee, Bowie, Prince, George, Rickman, Wiesel, Cohen, Wilder, Ifill, Frey, Glenn, Ali, and more. The year dropped trou with a flourish by taking Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back-to-back at the end, an enormous hand gesture to America that’s too crude to type here. The political scene was chaos and pandemonium, and most of us sat horrified and watched it unroll before our eyes, not believing that what was happening was actually happening. I don’t know whom to blame for that. The media? Nah. Russia? Naw. I think we have only ourselves to blame. And I think recovery is impossible until we admit that.

Personally, this year brought turmoil, too. A lung cancer diagnosis for my father sent my family into a tailspin. In addition to the fear for his health, we were forced to face some hard truths about what it takes to care for my mother, whose posterior cortical atrophy/Alzheimer’s continues to wreak havoc. His recovery was hard and scary, and everyone was pushed to the limits in multiple ways.

The foundation of our three-year-old home cracked and water poured into our finished basement. We ripped out drywall and baseboards and the front porch and, eventually, the entire front yard. Jury is still out on whether it’s completely fixed, but needless to say this wasn’t something we expected to have to do in a three-year-old home.

A dear friend at work learned that instead of launching into a new and exciting academic year he had to instead start fighting leukemia three days before the school year began.

A beloved family member on M’s side was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

We lost our parish, a huge blow from which I’m not sure I will ever fully recover. Thankfully we did not lose the community we’ve built there.

2016 gave me, at the end, the awful cold/flu crud that’s been going around. I was down for almost three weeks and had fought my way back to 99% when it slammed in again two nights before Zoe’s already-much-delayed birthday party. I self-medicated with caffeine and DayQuil, and forged ahead. A visit to the ENT the morning of New Year’s Eve confirmed that I needed antibiotics, nasal spray, rest, and quarantine from everyone. This made me crabby and hate 2016 even more.

Clearly, I was happy to see 2016 come to a close. Even with the uncertainty 2017 promises, I was just ready for the year to end. I spent the last six months praying that nothing happens to Tom Petty before he gets to St. Louis on tour again, because even though he’s been here a thousand times I’ve always had a conflict. He’s coming May 12. Hold on, Tom!

While sleeping half the day on NYE and grousing that I felt so crummy when I was conscious, I realized that I needed to flip my thinking. 2016 wasn’t all terrible, despite the fact that with little prompting I can reel off a litany of crap. So I made myself find 16 things that didn’t suck in 2016. Here we go.

  1. Zoe applied to, was accepted, and started at a new school that is challenging her in so many ways that we are continually reminded that we made a good, if tough, decision. She transitioned beautifully, made new friends easily, and is excelling academically. I cry when I think of the new worlds opened to her with this move. We made new friends through her new school, too. Our horizons are widened by these unique experiences and backgrounds, and the perspective gained is invaluable.
  2. I launched a new book project, a non-fiction work that I am still so excited about even while feeling bummed that life got in the way this year. It’s still there, waiting for me, which gives me hope and motivation. I hope to re-tackle in 2017 and get it moving again.
  3. The three of us enjoyed a mega-vacation that involved sleeping multiple nights on a train (one of Zoe’s most ardent desires) and experiencing San Francisco and Seattle. It was an amazing trip that gave us time together and memories I will cherish forever. M did an incredible amount of work planning this trip (mad props to him), and we all had a wonderful time.
  4. I got off my butt and started walking. I walked and walked and walked – almost 300 miles starting in the fall – and left nearly 30 pounds behind. I feel better and have retired a significant part of my wardrobe (significant both in size and in quantity). Better health led me to sign up for two fun runs late this year: the Girl Scouts Run for the Cookies and the Hot Chocolate 5K. We ran these as a family, creating more memories.
  5. I became more active in a private Facebook group for writers. This amazing group of people from all around the world is inspiring and motivating and supportive. We are collaborating on an anthology and I committed to writing a piece. It was hard, but I wrote it and gave it to two friends to beta read and edited it and submitted it and am so glad I did. Now I have to work on my bio, which I think may actually be harder to write than the original piece. I’m toying with, “Amy Zlatic lives, writes, photographs, mothers, wifes, plays and works in St. Louis, Missouri. She owns a cat that sneezes constantly. She likes pickles.”
  6. Because M retired the Christmas display, we were able to do the fun runs and more together. We decorated our tree as a family. We spent a Saturday in St. Charles to support a friend’s book launch and enjoyed the kick-off for the holiday season on Main Street. We’ve done Wild Lights at the Zoo and Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows. Never in my marriage have I had so much access to my husband before and even during the holidays. When people ask if I miss the display I am honest. No, I do not miss it. I spent too many years missing my husband. I’ve fallen in love all over again, with him and with the season.
  7. I won my second NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this time finishing the middle grade novel I began last year. I haven’t brought myself to print the entire thing out yet to start editing (and oh boy does it need editing) but that’s on the 2017 to-do list. Word says it’s 323 pages. Not sure I’m ready to kill a tree yet, but I know it’s inevitable. It’s too hard to edit properly on-screen. I need hard copy and a red pen. And lots of coffee.
  8. I grew closer to two wonderful women who support me and love me and accept me and make me feel not so crazy. These women inspire me and motivate me every single day to try to be a better person. I love them and their families, and feel so grateful they have fully embraced me and my family. One of them actually happens to be extended family, which is just icing on the cake. (She can’t get rid of me, ever!) They taught me patience and the insanely valuable lesson of “Always respond in love.”
  9. We road-tripped to Cincinnati and enjoyed a jam-packed weekend full of fun and family. I don’t think we could have crammed more into that weekend, which included a Cardinals-Reds game, a big family bike ride, shopping, and a Labor Day party complete with fireworks and Boom! I love our Cincy family so much my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.
  10. Zoe participated in two piano competitions and earned highest marks in each. She continues to stun us with her talent, and I continue to marvel at the fact that I get to regularly cook dinner and clean the house to live piano music. At the second competition, she exited in tears, convinced that her errors had tanked her score. There was a lot of snuggling and reassurances and discussion over what to do to not feel that way ever again (more practice!). She was shocked to later learn she had received highest marks, and her teacher told her, “It’s not about the mistakes. It’s about how you recover, how you keep going.” What a great lesson for us all.
  11. I read so many good books. So, so many, including two books by writers of color which reshaped my world view. The last book I read in 2016 was “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ll be chewing on that one for a long, long time. I highly recommend, but offer this caveat if you are not a reader of color: you absolutely must go into it with an openness to accept that your point of view can be – and should be – challenged.
  12. My dad recovered from lung cancer and surgery. My colleague is in the final stages of chemo and has beaten leukemia. Our cousin had successful surgery and appears to be doing remarkably well. For all of this, I am grateful and relieved. They’re all staying on the daily prayer list, though. Just to be sure.
  13. For the first time in my life, I voted for a president who looks like me. Even though she didn’t win, I have a new sense of purpose and resolve. I never again want to feel like I felt on November 9, when I was overwhelmed with feelings of, “I could have done more.” I am now exploring involvement with She Should Run and EMILY’S List.
  14. When my work friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I volunteered to take his advisory until he recovered. I had no idea what I was getting into, taking on nine boys freshman through senior. It’s way more work than I anticipated, but the rewards far outstrip the work. I was also asked tasked with the position of faculty moderator for the yearbook, overseeing four seniors who are the editors. I have grown very fond of all of these students, and find myself worrying about them and championing them like a mother hen. It has been my privilege to take all of this on, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given. They make me laugh every day, and they challenge me in the best possible way. This has injected a new passion into my professional life.
  15. I rode a camel. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  16. When I couldn’t attend the big NYE family bash, I sent my family on without me. My husband, who shall be henceforth known as The Greatest Husband in the World, came back home to check on me and bring me food from the party. He sat and watched Parenthood with me while I sniffled and wheezed on the couch. When he was at the party, he texted and called me, so I didn’t feel quite so alone. And right before midnight, he and Zoe returned and made Sprite and orange juice mocktails so we could ring in the new year together. It was pretty damn special.

Come to think of it, there are a helluva lot more than 16 things to be grateful for last year. Happy New Year, my friends. Hang on, because I think 2017 will be a wild ride.

Guerrilla Art Report

I’ve been meaning to report back on my guerrilla art project. I’d say it was successful. It didn’t change the world or anything, but it made a few people smile and that was my goal so I’ll chalk it up as a win.

After I finished my last post, I grabbed some paper out of our printer and stole Zoe’s markers. I spent about an hour making a big love note to the women at work. We work in an all-boys school, and most of our colleagues are men. For the most part we are treated with equality and respect, but every once in awhile a jerk flares up and things go south. I love my job, and I love where I work and those with whom I work, but like any job, there will always be valleys between the hills. Nothing is ever perfect. (My monk says that life isn’t perfect because then we wouldn’t need God, which is an incredible way of looking at it, and of looking at God. Who would have thought that she needs us to need her?!) (My monk also refers to God as “she,” which freaks a lot of people out.) (I love my monk.)

Anyway.

I wanted to do something that would cheer up our women’s restroom, maybe make someone smile. So I wrote/drew a message to my female colleagues:

Love Signs

I was pretty nervous. No one does stuff like this around here. We focus more on contemplative reasoning, rather than cheering and encouraging one another. It’s not that we’re contentious or competitive. We just all do our own thing, collaborating when necessary of course, but mostly we remain fairly independent. I had no idea how my little art project would be received. There was a very real possibility that the cynics among us would openly mock it, and the anonymous creator. “What the heck is that? Who does she think she is?” We can be pretty snarky.

I almost backed out. I came in to emails that two of my female colleagues would be out that day, so I started to lean into the excuse of waiting until the next day. Because what if someone thinks it’s stupid and rips it down before they get a chance to see it? And what if those two incredibly kind people aren’t here to stand up for the love art against someone who might not “get it” at first? The signs sat in a folder on my desk while I debated whether I was really going to hang them. And then I figured if I didn’t do it now, I wouldn’t ever do it, and that meant that I’d have wasted an hour of my time making them and that I was letting the demons in my head make the decisions and that if I could get just one person to smile then it was worth it and that I would be a complete wimp if I backed out on myself.

And then I sneaked into the bathroom when a bunch of them were in a meeting and hung my art. I used the “Occupied. Thanks!” post-it to ensure no one would walk in while I was arting. I thought about what people walking by might think if they heard my tape dispenser going, and hoped it wasn’t that loud. I was in a room where everything is tiled except the ceiling, though, which means everything is loud. Note: this is not a great attribute for a bathroom, especially for a one-seater bathroom.

I hung my signs and snapped a picture and slipped out, trying to hide the fact that I was carrying a file folder and tape dispenser out of the bathroom that is 15 feet from my office.

And then I waited. And waited. I waited so long that I eventually forgot that I had done it. Apparently I didn’t need to pee a lot that day, because I don’t think I ever went back in there. Finally, the next morning, when I had really forgotten that I had done it, the assistant to the headmaster showed up in my office. She does this frequently because we are friends, so I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Those signs in the bathroom…do you know who did that?” I squirmed. My little plan hadn’t gone far enough to develop talking points, which is really sad given my position in communications. Duh. I started to shake my head like, “What signs are you talking about?” when she busted out laughing. “I know you use that bathroom. I know you’ve seen them. You’re the one who put them up!”

I smiled. What else could I do? I was busted.

She went on to tell me that she thought they were really nice. And totally unexpected. She asked why I had thought to do that, and I told her. She told me she had been tempted to put up her own sign that said, “Thanks!” She came back a few more times throughout the day to report that people were really responding to the signs, that someone kept telling her, “I can’t believe someone was that nice! It really cheers me up when I go in there and see those signs.”

Mission accomplished.

Now I want to stick post-it notes on the inside door of the toilet stall, what you look at when you’re sitting there doing your business, that say, “Aren’t you glad there’s no mirror here? Me, too!

Occupied. Thanks!

Forgive me if this is rambley but my mind is jumping all the over the place and I can’t keep up with the thoughts and they’re starting to pile up and so I just need to get them out before they overflow and I have a big mess to clean up.

This Girl Scout stuff. It escalated terribly last Wednesday night and then early Thursday morning I caught the 6:05 to Chicago while feeling like I was going to throw up, simultaneously upset that I had to leave when I felt so bad and grateful that I had the distraction. I found the little bag in the seatback in front of me just in case, and I have never, ever had to find the little bag, so that freaked me out. And then when I was in Chicago for the day I spent the seminar breaks texting with my sister and calling the neurologist’s nurse because my mother’s tremors are escalating and clearly the meds aren’t helping and why the heck haven’t you called me back because I have left three messages in three days and my dad has called and my sister has called and this is my mother for Pete’s sake. Thursday was hard. Really hard.

Since then the Girl Scout issue has eased, because I made it ease, despite the near constant inquiries from people who know that this is devastating to me and who tell me that they, too, think it’s unjust and unfair. It’s nice to hear all the support. But I also need to move past it, because I can’t change anything about someone else’s decision, no matter how I feel about it. And I will move forward, because I figured out a plan years ago when all this stuff started surfacing and I knew, as we all know, that we can’t always get our way.

I realized today that I’ve moved back into that “hate the world” place that I was stuck in for so long last year. The first indication of this is when I get irrationally angry at every single driver I encounter on my very short commute to work, and am fuming by the time I park my car. I identified that in myself today, after screaming, “What the everloving %$#& are you doing?” at a car that came to a dead stop and blocked traffic because it needed to turn right but was in the left turn lane, and apparently didn’t want to go further down the road, turn around, and come back and so made the rest of us wait. I took a deep breath and told myself, “Dude. Calm down. The five-second delay is not worth the stroke you’re bound to have if you keep freaking out like this.” (Note: I drop Zoe off about five nano-seconds into my commute, so she does not witness my commuting freak-outs.) (Usually.)

I am becoming rather enamored of the musician Amanda Palmer. I read her book, The Art of Asking, and fell in love. With her. With her music. With the idea that to be successful and happy we need to get over ourselves already and ask for help from others. And give it, of course. It’s a whole circular thing. She released a new song today, and it’s incredible, and just listening to it I realized that I Am Bigger Than All The Stuff. I am bigger than the Girl Scout issue. I am bigger than the people in my community who think they make better decisions for my family than M and I. I am bigger, because I make things instead of destroying them. I need to let go of this petty stuff that takes up too much space in my brain and focus on the creating. The doing. The giving.

And with that realization, the weight lifted. Just like that. I wanted to run out and hug faculty members and apologize for scowling since last Wednesday. I wanted to create something right the heck now. I poured that energy into my work and cranked out some projects, and they turned out great, and it felt good. And now I’m pouring that energy into this. Writing. I also made a pretty picture today, so that counts, too.

IMG_2620

We have a nursing mom on staff here and to help her out we stuck some furniture in the women’s restroom so she can pump. And by furniture I mean an old office chair and an even older student desk. Eh, it works. We’re not exactly the Taj Mahal anywhere in this place, and it’s endearing. We are small and scrappy, and we do really well with our sometimes-limited resources. It’s part of the reason I love the place so much. This makeshift pumping set-up is a perfect example.

The bathrooms here have a main door, and then inside a smaller metal door and panels surrounding the toilet. Even the tiny bathrooms have this arrangement. For those of us who want to use the restrooms to change into our workout clothes at the end of the day, this is annoying because we can’t lock the main door and instead have to cram ourselves in the tiny stall to change. We asked for a main door lock for months. When the nursing set-up was in place, we thought we had the perfect excuse. She needs privacy and can’t pump in the stall, so the main door needs a lock. Turns out that the main door can’t have a lock for safety reasons. That door is solid wood, a few inches thick. If it were locked and someone was in distress in the bathroom, it’d take a battering ram to get through the door. At an all-boys school, it’s not wise to have battering rams lying about. So, no lock. We determined that the easiest, most effective solution was to use a post-it note alerting people to not come in. Someone wrote, “Occupied. Thanks!” on a post-it and stuck it to the wall inside the door. The note is transferred to the outside of the door as needed. It eventually lost its sticky, so we’re on our second “Occupied. Thanks!” post-it.

IMG_2708

I see this thing every day when I use the bathroom. Sometimes I see it on the wall inside. Sometimes I see it on the door outside, and I know my friend is in there doing her awesome mom-thing and it makes me happy. Today I figured out that I should use that post-it on the valuable real estate that consists of my head and my heart. There’s limited space in there, and I sure as heck don’t want to give it over to people who make me miserable. When some nasty person tries to spread their bad juju, I’m gonna try to say, “Occupied. Thanks!” and go create something instead. I think I’ll be happier for it, and my heart will be happier, and my brain will be put to much better use. I’ll use that valuable internal real estate to create, to affect others positively, instead of stewing in the vile poison someone else tries to share. So I had an idea this afternoon. A bit of guerilla art. Time to stop writing and start a different sort of creating. If it pans out, I’ll take a picture and report back here.

What’s occupying your head and heart today? Is it good? Does it make you bigger, fuller, happier? If not, boot it out the door. Reclaim your ground. Occupy your own space, and leave no room for outsiders who don’t fill you up with joy. You’re worth it.

Honor

There was a plenary meeting at work today. Thursday mornings are reserved for meetings, be they plenary, departmental, or otherwise. Sometimes there are no meetings, but usually there are. I try to go to the plenary meetings, unless they are something specific to teaching that I know will not pertain in any way to me or what I do for a living. Things like how to enter grades into the new online system. Today’s plenary meeting was billed as a presentation by the student-run Honor Court. These are the guys who try to make sure that the students, by and large, live up to the Honor Code they all signed when they entered the school in the 7th grade.

I was intrigued.

I got in a few minutes late, thanks to monster traffic (you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot, but when your kid runs late and then the drop-off line crawls and then you hit every light red, and some of them twice because the cars are so backed up…) and slipped into the back of the theatre. I didn’t miss anything, really, just the first part of the faculty moderator’s introduction.

The leader of the Honor Court stood up, and spoke so eloquently that I was almost moved to tears. He talked about the importance of honor and integrity in both the student body and among the faculty, and how the students rely on the faculty to both model honor and help impressionable young men learn to live honorably. He got a chuckle when he enthusiastically talked about the need for an “Honor Spirit Club,” but he also got a lot of heads nodding.

The other boys on the Honor Court presented, too, and then led a vibrant discussion with their teachers about honor and integrity as it relates to the school environment, specifically: when does collaboration cross over into cheating, how can teachers help kids, what kids can do to help each other, do kids feel safe ratting out their friends and is it reasonable to expect them to, how do we recognize honor and if we do, would it be taken seriously, how behaving honorably can be addictive just like cheating can become addictive, and more. I sat there in awe. These students and their teachers blew me away, and give me great hope for the future.

And then later I took a picture of a boy eating a hamburger while dressed as a hot dog in the dining hall.

HotDogHamburger
This child isn’t mine, so I have craftily concealed his identity. I’m crafty like that.

Blimps, parking spots, Scrabble, Snoopy, and [censored]

Things that made me laugh today:

  • A giant NORAD blimp pulled loose from its moorings and drifted from Maryland into Pennsylvania. Two F-16 fighters were scrambled to monitor the football field-sized dirigible. It drifted across the landscape, and apparently its tether wreaked havoc by pulling down power lines. I can’t stop giggling, because it sounds like Wile E. Coyote had his paws all over this. I wonder if the blimp says ACME on the side.
  • An 8th grader at the school I work questioned his Latin teacher, who is guiding the boys through a translation about Venus, the goddess of love. “Um, so in Latin, the V is pronounced like a W. Does that mean we’re studying Wenus?” Another boy then pointed out that the skin on your elbow is called your wenis. This prompted countless jokes in the faculty offices this afternoon.
  • One of our teachers, a chronic parking offender, received a nastygram from someone after she parked in a reserved staff spot. She showed up in my office just to let me know that the only reason she parked there was because I told her that those spots, while marked STAFF, weren’t reserved. Since I don’t remember this conversation, nor my appointment as Parking Lot Maven, I was confused. Another administrator happened to be walking by and called her on it. “Excuse me? You are a repeat parking offender. You’ve parked on the grass, you’ve parked in the front circle, you’ve parked in spots reserved for staff…” She tried to claim that the staff spots were fine. “They’re for STAFF. You are FACULTY.” I just sat there and laughed.
  • There is a town in Missouri called…wait for it…Uranus. Because of course there is. If you visit the website, you’ll see links and headlines like Great Things Are Happening in Uranus, and Two Monster Balls in Uranus! Again, it just makes me giggle. Because I have the same sense of humor as an adolescent boy.
  • A big, wall-hung Scrabble board. I also laughed heartily at the price.
  • A commercial on TV that lets me hear Snoopy laugh, which is one of my most favorite sounds in the world. I love Snoopy.

Any day when I get to laugh this much is a good day.

Oh, and I made this picture:

raindrops