I Know What I Know

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Trauma vs trauma — There is No Scorecard

Recently, our school had an unbelievably eye-opening professional development session about how to support students who suffer challenges with their mental health. Our speaker was from Tanager Place, and though it was two hours without bathroom breaks, I was riveted.

The speaker elaborated at length about brain development, and certain factors that can influence kids’ ability to be resilient and cope in certain situations.  These include adverse childhood experiences, trauma, economic factors, system-based and generational factors, cultural factors, and environmental factors. She gave us some amazing resources for how to help students feel safe and welcome in our classrooms, and how to diffuse tense situations. It was all EXACTLY what I needed to hear for my new position next year as Secondary IDS, which also includes working with students who are at-risk. It was SO MUCH GOOD INFORMATION!

This was me watching this presentation:

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Yet, this was also me watching the presentation. Because I realized how much of what the presenter was saying applied to me as an adult. 

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Specifically, the speaker’s discussion of trauma struck a chord in me that I didn’t know was strikeable. It hit me very suddenly, like smacking your face into a pole (which I have done) that I have been traumatized, and my trauma has given me a pair of “glasses” through which I view the world, other people, and myself. 

I came to this realization when the presenter showed us this list of negative vs. positive core beliefs that can result from various traumatic experiences. I realized that most of the negative column listed the voices in my head that are constantly telling me negative things. It was so unnerving to see them all written out, like someone was closed-captioning my head.

I was struck dumb and numb looking at the list. And then a sentence rang throughout the echo chamber between my ears. I did not come by this naturally. I am like this because of things that have happened to me and how I coped or didn’t cope at the time.

First off, I did NOT have a bad childhood! I know my mom is probably reading this, and in no way did my parents not provide a good childhood for me. That is NOT what I’m saying.

What I am saying is that I have had traumatic experiences that I didn’t think of as traumatic until I became more informed about trauma itself. The speaker described the difference between big-T Trauma and little-t trauma. Trauma is usually something that could get you removed from the home when you were a child, such as abuse, parents using drugs, etc. But trauma of the little-t variety can be just as destructive. This includes things like divorce, bullying, a death in the family, etc.

The most important thing that I came to understand throughout the presentation is that trauma has no scorecard. Two separate people can have the same traumatic experience. One walks away unscathed and able to deal while the other gets PTSD.

I have been ignoring my traumatic experiences for years and refusing to see how they shaped my self-image and view of the world because I thought I didn’t deserve to acknowledge the link. I grew up in a safe place, in a two-parent home, a white, middle-class person with a stable income. So what the hell did I have to complain about? What could have traumatized me enough to, over time, erode my self-esteem and warp my world view?

I need to acknowledge these traumas and realize that they have given me a negative lens through which to view the world, others and myself. I think the first step to altering these “glasses” (and hopefully smashing them) is to write and talk about experiences I think caused the glasses to form in the first place.

I can’t tell you about all of them. That’s too private for a forum like this. But I can share just a few that I am comfortable with.

Bullying: a lot of my negative cognitions are a result of rejection or not feeling good enough. As a kid, I was not typical. I was significantly taller than others, and did not have the cool clothes etc. I liked nerdy stuff like science and reading. Third grade is when I first remember being picked on as the pecking order started forming. I had friends, but I can’t seem to totally forget being targeted for the way I looked, my weight, not having the coolest stuff, etc. There was NO WAY for my parents to protect me from this, and I wouldn’t expect them to. Kids should have been less shitty, or teachers should have gotten involved. This was before the big push to define and end bullying in schools, so I don’t suppose there’s anyone to blame, really. Many of those kids ended up being nice to me later. But in the process, that sense of rejection, not belonging, looking different/ugly, and never being good enough to merit niceness and respect left a mark on me.

College Friends

When I first arrived at Iowa, I basically divorced all of my friends from high school, because I wanted to reinvent myself. This time I would be better and perfect. Obviously you can see how stupid that was. I made some friends, and these friends started dating people. I never seemed to get a date or keep a relationship going. I remember one time we had a fake prom with our friends that was really just a house party. I technically had a “date” but it was a just friends thing. My friends all went out to dinner together as couples and basically told me I couldn’t come as a fifth wheel or whatever. I remember eating a single serving microwave dinner and feeling like a piece of shit. My parents met and fell in love in college, and I felt like the clock was ticking for me to find my life partner. So this led into a long string of guys I went out with because they liked me a lot, and you can guess how that ended. All throughout my young life I simultaneously desperately wished to be normal and rejected it because it was easier to be a self-proclaimed weirdo than let people label you as such.

Anyway. There are a lot more that I’m not ready to share. But the important thing, what made me giddy and sad at the same time is that I know why I think the way I do. I didn’t come by it naturally. And I think I can repair it given enough time and working through my emotions and tough spots with the people I love.

I think I just never let myself acknowledge my trauma. Because I kept thinking, “This happens to everyone, get over it, it’s nothing to make a big deal out of, you were so dumb back then to let this bother you.”

Thank you for listening. Here is a gif of some cats.

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Beyond Black

Beyond BlackBeyond Black by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Hilary. What you do to me!!! This book is so dark but so funny and just terrifying and GROSS. I don’t know how to begin describing it. The summary on Goodreads and the back of the book doesn’t really explain… Morris and the fiends… memories… trauma…

Mantel plays savagely with our concepts of life and afterlife. I’ve never seen ghosts portrayed in such a way before. The way her dead physics works is truly unsettling and so very original. Her characterization as usual is superb. This is Mantel at her cringeworthy best.

All I can say is… wait until Princess Diana shows up in the story. That is all.

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I Bet You Think This Song is About You…

One thing I think all of us did as teenagers was obsess over songs and their lyrics. See, back in “The Day” not all of us had the internet to research what artists were actually writing about when they composed their songs (like I spent most of middle school singing along to “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette only to figure out it was inexplicably about Dave Coulier… maybe). All we had to go on were the paper inserts in the CD jacket and our imaginations. And sometimes, when a song was really special, it was like the artist had written it with my life in mind! How amazing and connected that felt.

Looking back, yeah, it was kinda dumb. But I know why I felt that way, why I was searching for meaning where it probably didn’t exist. As a tween and teen, I was on a journey to discover signs and signifiers to explain to me what life was about, especially the facets of life I had yet to experience (like a relationship, a bad breakup, partying in California or particpating in riots). Now, let’s not get freaked out and overstate the power of song lyrics on kids. We all know that parental involvement and school environment, as well as performance activities are the best predictor of how a kid will “turn out.” But if I hadn’t been blasting Smashing Pumpkins constantly from about 1997 until about 2003, would I be the whining angry sentimentalist obsessed with everything that is vintage and overwraught?

As we age, enter adulthood, our concepts of who we are and where we fit in the world solidify. We have experiences, we get out on our own (hopefully) and we don’t need songs to help us formulate identity or speculate on experiences we haven’t had yet. At least, I haven’t felt taht need to find music that clicks with me and describes how I feel. I just like music I can sing along with and that has a cool melody, and yeah, the songs can feel familiar but mostly I’m just enjoying them thinking “Oh you young’uns and your relationship problems” or “Wow, this song makes me wanna dance but also has a serious problem with women” or “So glad Elton John got knighted…”

Then, one day, at the age of 30, I heard “Gasoline” by Halsey. And it grabbed me by the shorthairs. This song is about me when I struggle against my anxiety and depression, and yeah, I’m looking at it metaphorically, but daaaaamn. I feel like a teenager again.


So, let’s take a look at the lyrics.

Are you insane like me?
Been in pain like me?
Bought a hundred dollar bottle of champagne like me?
Just to pour that motherfucker down the drain like me?
Would you use your water bill to dry the stain like me?

Okay, insane and in pain, that doesn’t need much interpretation. When you are having an axniety attack, or suffering through depression, you can’t percieve the world as it really is. To me, mental illness is like having a VR headset on. What you percieve is not real. There could be people standing around you in the real world not seeing what you see, telling you that the dinosaurs or the fish you’re seeing aren’t really there, trying to guide you so you don’t bump into the walls. But you can’t see it, and it’s so hard to believe people that what you percieve is not true. Inside the VR headset, I’ll see myself as ugly, worthless, someone who should be erased. People on the outside (mainly my husband) tell me the opposite is true. But I can’t quite believe him until I “take the headset off” by either calming down or taking medication. Then I can remove it and see the world as it is.

As for the champagne, I see that as symbolic of something good that I ruined with my symptoms. We could be having a perfectly normal afternoon, then I discover I have misplaced my poetry journal. I know it has to be somewhere in the house, but I cannot stop looking until it is found. The longer I look, the more frantic I become, and the rest of the day I am struggling with anxiety even if I find the book. Because then I’m thinking about how I snapped at my family or said something mean while I was trying to find a book of crappy poems nobody will ever read. So it spirals. I pour the champagne down the drain, then use the water bill to dry the stain. Anxiety has a ripple effect that causes me to ruin things in a chain reaction that I can’t seem to stop. I can’t change my attitude and turn it around without a significant amount of time passing or medication.

Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me?
Do the people whisper ’bout you on the train like me?
Saying that you shouldn’t waste your pretty face like me?

Well, nobody’s telling me that I’m wasting my beauty, but there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way. I read that as society trying to dictate that I need to feel bad about myself until I lose 40 pounds. Do I tear myself apart to entertain? Every day of my job as a teacher. As time has gone on I have shifted into a pretty serious introvert. I still feel comfortable talking in front of a crowd, but being around people for long periods of time (like 8 hrs a day) is exhausting.

And all the people say
You can’t wake up, this is not a dream
You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being
With your face all made up, living on a screen
Low on self esteem, so you run on gasoline

This is my life. This is my reality. Job, family, a few hobbies, some great travel and memories… but is there something more? As Belle said, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” You can’t wake up. This is not a dream. This is your life. You are part of a machine, you are not a human being. Low on self-esteem? Yeah. So what keeps me going? My inablility to accept I could ever fail at anything or disappoint anyone important. That’s pure gasoline. It’s fear and anxiety.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

I think the line “I think there’s a flaw in my code” hits home with such force. If I’m supposed to be a machine, there’s something seriously wrong with me. I’m constantly wondering what it’s like to be normal. I thought I would have this shit figured out by now. I have that voice in my head that’s constantly berating me for how I look or what I’m doing or not doing. It never stops. And my second favorite line is “My heart is gold and my hands are cold.” I know I have a big heart. I love so many people and things and I have such loving emotions. But on the outside I can be cold and awkward, or downright heartless and mechnical. Ruthless efficiency allows me to “get things done” on an endless to-do list that I keep  beliving will someday be accomplished.

Are you deranged like me?
Are you strange like me?
Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?
Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?
Pointing fingers ’cause you’ll never take the blame like me?

Light a match to make some light, and then just eat the flame. Good intentions and all of that. Am I a fucking hurricane? Yes. When my anxiety gets going, it’s not safe to be in my path because I could take it out on you. That’s the other thing about anxiety people don’t really talk about. It’s all about being blameless. Everything is simultaneously attacking poor pitiful you, but at the same time you’re convinced you’re a piece of shit who did this to yourself. And you’ll do ANYTHING to have whatever problem you’re facing NOT BE YOUR FAULT. You need to be PERFECT. Things happen to you, you don’t do things, or that’s what you would desperately believe to get through the day.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

What was Halsey really wrting about when she penned “Gasoline?” I don’t really want to know. I like the way it was in the ’90s when it was just you and the CD liner notes, staring at the ceiling and trying to experience and connect with what the artist sang through your cheap headphones. Claiming that a song “really gets you” strikes me as immature and kind of lame, but I have to say that “Gasoline” has been my anthem for the last two years or more. It is the honest, nihilistic song that allowed me here today to explain to you what it’s like living with my personal brand of mental illness.

Listen here:




Lyft Me Up!

Recently my family had the opportunity to go to San Francisco while my husband attended a conference. One of the ways we got around the city (since the metro was not very much fun with a stroller) was to use the ride-sharing service Lyft. Before we left, I did some research on whether Uber or Lyft was better in San Fran, and when I read that overall, Lyft treated their drivers better, the choice was simple. Both startups originated right there in Silicon Valley, but I wanted the one who treated its drivers right.


Using Lyft was a great experience! I can’t believe how easy it was to install and use. When you open the app, you can see a map of the surrounding area with little cars on it representing nearby Lyft drivers. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a car to show up any time we used it, and once I ordered a car, I could watch it approach and know exactly where our driver was parked. Seriously, this app blurred the line between technology and magic for me.

All of the drivers I had were male, but unlike the recent taxi experiences I’ve had, nobody was creepy or made me uncomfortable in any way. The cars were super clean, and almost every driver helped me install the carseat for our daughter.

Conversation came easily, or not at all if I didn’t want it. I learned most of my drivers don’t live in the SF area, but commute in just for the weekend and stay on a friend’s couch, which makes sense since SF is so incredibly expensive to live in. One gentleman I talked to drove for both Uber and Lyft, and he confirmed that Lyft was a much better company to work for. They were more flexible and had better perks for the job.

If we had Lyft (or even Uber, I guess) in Iowa City, the cab companies would go out of business. Their pricing and service were incredible and I highly recommend this app next time you head to a city where Lyft is available!


It goes without saying that fear is a powerful thing. Typing it feels as trite as it sounds. Fear is a monolith. The mind-killer. A tool used by some to grab at the things they feel they must possess no matter the cost, no matter the stain on their soul.

I have anxiety, so I spend a lot of time being what I call low level afraid. Worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, fearful of how a situation will turn out. Will I have a job next year? What if the insurance company doesn’t reimburse me for what they should have covered? Is my daughter watching too much TV? How fat am I really? Over time I have developed some coping strategies to exist on a day to day level with this low level fear, anxiety that is always there like the aggravating buzz of a poorly positioned fluorescent light or the seemingly endless rumble of your neighbor’s lawn mower when you’re trying to enjoy the back yard. I am more or less successful coping depending on a number of factors and my coping mechanisms range from healthy (daily exercise and adjusting repetitive thoughts) to unhealthy (lots of alcohol).

To the other extreme end of the spectrum, I have felt mortal fear. Driving situations where it was a really goddamn close call. That time when a kid with a BB gun made us think there was active shooter and the teachers evacuated the kids to the nearby church. My personal “favorite” is when my friends and I ignored the sirens, determined to go out to the bars, and drove pretty much straight into a tornado that moved the car we were in across the street. We all lit cigarettes and said our goodbyes because we honestly thought it was the end. That kind of fear is animal. Your throat tastes like hot gravel and your mind just plays TV static on and endless loop. The stink of your pits, should you survive, is one of the nastiest smells on the planet. Your mind helps you cope with fear like this. Depending on the situation there may be big stretches of the event that you simply won’t remember, or it’ll be washed out in your minds eye, a courtroom sketch versus a 3D movie. Deep, deep trauma can leave unchanging scars and do things to memory that I’ve never experienced, but I’ve found your mind tried to save you from the worst of it.

Now, with the political situation the way it is, my general anxiety, which has actually been pretty tolerable lately due to my exercise regimen (20 mins on the elliptical every day at 5am) has amped up to what I would call a terror alert yellow or a defcon 3. It would be one thing if it came and went but it’s just kind of all the time. I wake up with it and I carry it with me all day. I tell myself I need to stop watching the news. One of my friends posted “hey, remember when Facebook used to be fun?” I sorta do. But it’s been a long long time.

My mom says to do one activist action per day. One phone call, one postcard, one signature. Then you have to leave it alone.

I’m not even sure specifically what I’m afraid of. It’s the unknown, the what ifs. Things I took for granted as never changing seem in danger of changing. But I don’t know how likely that really is. Is the media trying to scare me? Am I scaring myself? Am I able to ask myself those questions because I’m white? What will really change in my life under this administration?

My husband says that we have checks and balances, its just that they haven’t been tested so violently in recent memory. Another person on Facebook says “WELCOME TO THE DICTATORSHIP DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT.”

I had nightmares for days after the inauguration about him. You know who.

I remember when he was just a screwball candidate someone tweeted “you’re all laughing now but what happens if he becomes the republican candidate? It could happen so pay attention.” You couldn’t sell a book or a movie script with this story because everyone would say it isn’t believable in realistic fiction. A dystopian science fiction story or a farce, sure, but not something to be taken seriously.

I don’t know who to believe besides NPR. I don’t know if I am being somehow silly and delicate for living in this heightened state, wincing at each executive order or cabinet post nominee. I don’t know. All I know is that I feel electric, high strung, damaged, tender, and exhausted. And I don’t know how to make it stop.

Shark’s Fin Soup and Sichuan Pepper

Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in ChinaShark’s Fin And Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, let’s address the elephant in the room first — white people traveling to “distant lands” to write about the people, culture, and food of people of color. There’s a long and messy history here that readers need to be aware of before they read any book that tackles this subject. It’s fraught. There are critical issues to consider. But I do believe that Dunlop tries to write ethically about Chinese people, food, government, and culture, though it is important to make sure the reader is aware of the lens through which she views the world (that of a privileged British citizen).

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the writing style. It was a voice that came through strongly and was a fast-paced and pleasurable read. I adore how Dunlop describes food. Obviously she’s a food writer, so she’s very skilled at describing tastes and textures. I just tried dan dan noodles for the first time at our local Szechuan restaurant, and they were just how she described them. The way she says the pepper flavor numbs in a savory way is dead on. I think it really encourages you to try some new types of food and appreciate what other cultures have to offer in the culinary arts.

I was definitely set on edge when Dunlop describes the severe contamination and pollution problems that plague China and the ingredients in their food. It makes me worried about the food I’m eating here in America too. I learned so very much about China that I didn’t know, and most importantly to me anyway that Sichuan and Szechuan are the same province, it just depends on American/British spelling. Which means that the Szechuan House in town has so many of the dishes she describes that I can’t wait to try.

Be careful… this book will make you hungry!

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Dystopian Futures: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

It was an electric teaching day for me. My English II kids are reading Animal Farm, and while admittedly it’s not as good of an example as 1984, today we talked about utopias, dystopias, and whether or not too much dystopia in speculative fiction is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

See, these kids have been reared on a steady diet of Hunger Games, Divergent, The Walking Dead, The 5th Wave, etc. etc. etc. Kids these days! Well, to be fair, my generation had Terminator and read Orwell and Bradbury in school. But the dystopia phenomenon has glutted the media to the point where literary agents are specifically saying “NOT INTERESTED in dystopian YA.”

Let’s face it: dystopia is a nice warm Petri dish for breeding drama. It’s compelling to watch characters struggle through a ruined world trying to bring light and hope to a desolate society, to break free and let the sun shine again. Also, a student had a great point during our discussion where she described a feeling of schadenfreude indulging in dystopian spec fic — watching the characters struggle through such a harsh or totalitarian environment makes one feel better about one’s own world, no matter how flawed.

But a question I’ve been ruminating on, and that I posed to my class today is “Is there some kind of consequences for a society glutting themselves on dystopian spec fic, drowning in stories of a dark future?” A student commented, “Well, my coach says that if you think you won’t do well in a game, then you won’t do well, but if you believe you’ll do a good job, you will.” So, is dystopian spec fic a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So many things — vital inventions and ideas — were born of science and speculative fiction. Without War of the Worlds there would be no lasers, and hell, Star Trek had tablets. We’re creating the most human like robots possible which just begs for Blade Runner to become real. Without Jurassic Park would scientists have gotten the idea to clone a wooly mammoth?

So if we seek to become our speculative fiction, to in some ways model our world after it, what happens when all we consume is dystopian? You can definitely argue that books like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 serve as cautionary tales. Certainly Animal Farm with allegories traditionally serving a corrective purpose. But what about Hunger Games that revels in the fucked-up-edness of the future and glorifies the heroes that bring back the light?

I would argue that we need more Star Trek futures, more hopeful spec fic. I’m not saying that all futures need to be plastic and pretty. I want spec fic that’s realistic but not so entirely and unendingly dreary. That’s why I’m so excited to be part of an upcoming science fiction anthology called Humans Wanted where humans are for once not portrayed as the negative destroyers of the world and ruiners of the universe.


I think YA writers owe it to our young people to present a future that isn’t completely bad. There’s still plenty of ways to create conflict and drama in a future that has some good points instead of being nothing but a totalitarian brainwashing wasteland. We become what we see. Art imitates life imitates art, and I don’t want my kid growing up in Panem!

A Jock/Nerd’s Philosophy of Sport

A few years ago, I came across this tank top in a facebook advertisement. The instant I saw it, I burst out laughing and just about hugged the phone. Finally, someone had encapsulated my feelings about sports in a beautifully pithy piece of clothing.

If you don’t feel like clicking the link, it reads “Hooray sports! Do the thing! Win the points!” The description reads as such:

Go sports! Beat the other team! Do the goals… and basket them all the way to the endzone! Sports may not be your bag, but that’s no reason not to show pride and team spirit! This makes for a great nerdy gift idea. Whether you’re on the couch or in the bleachers, grab this ironic design and show your sports pride. Especially if, ah… you don’t know anything about sports.

If you know much about me, you’re probably not surprised that I’d find a shirt like that amusing. Obviously I’m super in to writing and weird shit like wax museums. The other day, two of my colleagues were discussing the Alabama vs. Clemson game in the hallway and I was like, “Well, my halfling bard had not one but TWO critical hits last game session, and one of them was max damage, soooo.” The only reason I knew which teams were playing and that it was some kind of college football championship is because a kid wrote about it for an essay I had to grade. Actually, the reason I know anything at all about sports is because of grading essays like “Kobe Bryant is better than LaBron James.”

Yes, I’m being cheeky. But I promise, I’m not just some unapologetic nerd who poops on all sports just because I personally don’t enjoy doing it. I’ve honestly TRIED to like sports a few times just to fit in, or because I really felt like I HAD to be missing SOMETHING. I mean, if so many people all over the world are obsessed with athletic contest, then there must be something good going on, right? I swear I’ve given it a try. I’ve tried to memorize the Cubs’ lineup, know the names of the basketball players on the Iowa team for a season, and even joined in a fantasy football league at work (partially because I heard it was Dungeons and Dragons for jocks). But I just… can’t do it, guys.

I come from an athletic family. My mom participated in “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in the history of six-on-six women’s basketball. My dad played a lot of basketball even after college, and my brother played for Loras and ran track as well. I was one of the top volleyball players on my high school team and almost always started. Sure, I was crap at basketball (much to the chagrin of my family) but I always enjoyed weight lifting and such. Yes, I’m totally out of shape now, but I have pretty good eye-hand coordination (hence being a kick-ass shot with a .20 gauge or a muzzleloader) and when I really try, I can get pretty jacked.

I grew up in a Cubs and Hawkeye household, and have been to games and tailgates out the wazoo. I actually really enjoy sports movies and books. I adore the Rocky series and Friday Night Lights. So why didn’t I get into real-life sports as a kid or an adult?

  1. Sports went against the identity I formed in childhood and adolescence. I was not a “popular” kid in elementary and middle school. I definitely had friends, but those who shared the same interests as me (reading, writing, music, art) were not into sports as a personal interest all the time (though Jenna from Orchestra was a huge Kansas City baseball fan). The kids we didn’t get along with, the “preps” or the “popular” kids tended to be interested in and skilled at sports. I developed an “us vs. them” mentality in response to some incidents of bullying. Being very immature, loud, and opinionated, I drew thick lines between my friends and myself, and other groups of kids that were into sports. In high school, I almost quit the volleyball team because “none of my friends are doing it.” My mom made me stick it out, and one night during a team meeting I actually apologized for being on the team to the rest of the girls because I thought I was disrupting their good time. One of the players jumped up and hugged me. “We want you here, Amelia!” So yeah. We had grown and matured from middle school, and it was time to let some things go. There’s a perfect example of why sports are not the devil, people.
  2. The Fan Factor. Sure, being a fan of the same sports team can probably connect you to people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with, and maybe that brings about cultural understanding. I feel like most of the time, though, rabid fans can be pretty dickish. Sports fandom can bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen this in riots at soccer matches and drunken altercations in downtown Iowa City. Just the image of thousands of Iowa fans, all dressed in the same outfits and colors, walking in a huge tidal wave toward the stadium on game day asking for beer-fuled high fives just turns my stomach. I have no desire to put on the uniform and jump into that column of sheeple. Fandom comes all too often with alcohol abuse. At least, that’s been my experience living in Iowa City, #2 party school in the nation. It all goes back to what’s known as “escape-valve theory” which states that societies need festivals and holidays that turn normal operating procedure topsy-turvy and let people blow off steam so they don’t try and overthrow those in charge. So I get it, philosophically and psychologically. I just don’t like it.
  3. Hyper-masculinity. Sports players don’t “ask” to be role models. I know there’s a lot going on there with race and class, etc. etc. But kids look up to them regardless. If we hold teachers to an excruciatingly high standard of conduct in their personal and professional lives, we should hold athletes to the same. Because I can tell you that professional athletes and athletics in general have an unbelievable amount of influence on school aged kids, especially males. I know this because I’ve seen it for eleven years. So yes, sports teams should get rid of athletes who beat their wives, do drugs, and set a bad example of misogyny or discrimination. And coaches too! Especially at younger levels. There should be a far more rigorous training process for coaches. Guess what? I coach volleyball, and I’m certified, so I know how stupidly easy it is and how little accountability. We shouldn’t just be forced to renew our concussion training each year. We need training for how to teach our athletes real values, not just “try your hardest, push through the pain, support your team, get good grades or you won’t play.” I want to see athletes who translate what they’ve learned in sports into cooperative classroom leadership (not just “I’m the loudest so I’m the leader”), protecting students from bullying and harassment, and treating female students as equals. This leads me into…
  4. Sports play too large a role in school experience in America. Most of you aren’t going to like this, but here it is. Academics should come first, but they don’t. Students should not miss one minute of class time to play a sport. If a kid is getting a C- or lower they should not play AS OF THAT VERY DAY THEY EARNED THE D+, not at the end of the semester. Parents need to chill out with how much they care about their students’ athletics. I had a kid write an essay about how many hours his dad pushed him to practice baseball and how grateful the kid was for all the help. What if that father had put that amount of energy into his child’s learning? He’d be getting better than a B- in English, I can tell you that much. SO MUCH special treatment for athletes. SO MUCH of their egos revolve around it. And look, I told you I myself am an athlete and coach, and I know my players get good things out of participation. But this overwhelming cloud of sports and sports related hype is too much in your average public school. I know because I’ve worked in 4 of them.
  5. More emphasis on female athletes. Oh, men’s sports are “more fun to watch.” I get it. We will never be as physically capable or whatever. Recently I attended an Iowa volleyball game and a basketball game, and I really got into it as a fan, which surprised me a great deal considering I’m a Dungeons and Dragons nerd. It was a great experience and fun to watch. Because girls are not decorations you put on the sidelines to “pump up the crowd.” I know cheerleaders are athletes too, and very capable ones at that, but the whole philosophy behind cheerleading is not feminist positive. I enjoyed those matches because I felt like it lacked the rabid fans and the hyper-masculinity that bother me.


I started out this post on one side, and now I’m back on the other… Okay, sports have their good sides, and they could be a powerful tool for our young people. You can’t fault people for liking the things they are interested in. But sports can also be an extremely toxic environment, and I believe they deserve more accountability and scrutiny overall due to the tremendous influence they have in our country.

My mom and my daughter at a Hawkeye women’s basketball game. It’s hard to get mad at sports with this cuteness!

So go enjoy your sportsball responsibly, folks. You don’t even like feetball, I’m the number one super fan!




You Will Be Visited by Three Spirits (Part III)

(Note: Sorry for the previous post and then removal. I also run the school blog for one of my classes, and we use WordPress. I was signed in under this blog and posted her article on the tragic plane crash that killed most of a soccer team. Great article! On the wrong blog.)

Well, holiday mateys, we’ve come to the end of the holiday season. Now begins my LEAST favorite time of year that was once made sweet by coaching speech contest, but alas, that is no more. We leave the holidays over-partied, overfed, and maybe a smidge hungover, some of us with renewed spirits and resolutions, others of us jaded from resolutions past and determined to just get through to summer.

Whatever your mood today, there’s still time for one last little ghost story.

San Diego Spirit

In 2011, I was hired by the Muscatine Community School District as part of a new project-based learning initiative called G-Squared. The idea was to create a project-based school-within-a-school to give students the option of a different style of learning.

My team and I had the opportunity to fly out to San Diego and visit High Tech High, a project-based magnet school, and participate in in a jam-packed weekend of project-based development. For those of you who aren’t in the education field, the idea behind project-based is that the students and teacher use long-term, multi-step projects to learn concepts instead of worksheets, tests, and homework. The idea is that students create real-world things that are actually useful outside of the school (a website, a video, a database, a performance, an art piece, etc). It really is a remarkable place.

As part of our training, we got to visit the school on “Exhibition Night” where all the students displayed their projects in each classroom. In a science room, the students had built a model town and run a lighting and electricity system through it. There were hand-made books of poetry and lots of artwork.

However, this first incident happened that afternoon on the day of the Exhibition. We were given carte-blanche to wander the school and observe classes, and the building itself was very warehouse-like. There were big spaces for performing and gathering, and smaller ones blocked off for displays and more traditional classrooms. In the more industrial-feeling part, there was a small hallway off of a bigger room that turned at a weird angle. My colleagues and I were walking through and stopping to admire some art installations on the walls.

I was staring fixedly at a painting when I felt a hand on my elbow. It was without a doubt a hand. It had individual fingers. Just a gentle touch.

I turned and started speaking, thinking it was Amy, my coworker, because she had a habit of putting her hand on people’s arms as a talking point or a reassuring gesture (even though I had just met her).

But there was nobody there. My group had moved far down the next hallway and nobody was close to me whatsoever.

I tried to shake it off, but it was pretty weird. So that night, we came back for the Exhibition. We wandered around all of the displays until we came to a classroom where students were showing a documentary. “Oh, you have to see this, Amelia, it’s right up your alley,” Laurie said. So I went in for the next showing.

It was a documentary about a student team of ghost hunters! Apparently the building had a haunted reputation. They didn’t uncover much in their nighttime investigation, but there you go. I had no idea whatsoever the building was known for the paranormal, and the paranormal tried to make contact with me. I excitedly told the students after the video, but they kind of blew me off weirdly. Disaffected teenagers, or jealous that I was the one the ghost wanted to talk to ? 🙂

Well, thanks for coming on this journey with me through Christmas, the New Year, and the paranormal. I would love to hear any personal stories out there, so feel free to leave a comment or contact me via Facebook or Twitter. Also, if you love ghost stories, check out Jim Harold’s Campfire wherever you find your podcasts. As Jim would say,  “stay spooky!”

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