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DEC
31

On Waxing Pensive at Year End

I remember in high school being asked by an English teacher to make a list of things I wanted to do before I was 30. It was an interesting exercise for a class of teenagers from a very small town, where dreaming big wasn't something that always came naturally, but I took it very seriously. I was one of those who could always be counted on to dream big.

Some things on the list I accomplished in time (publish a book), others I did not (have a baby), but I'm a firm believer that showing up late to the party is better than never showing up at all. Besides, on this New Years Eve of goal-setting and course-correction, aren't we always sort of working on becoming who we want to be, regardless of when we thought we'd get there?

The thing I remember most vividly about that high school list is the following item: "Fly over the ocean." I put this down because it was a big deal to me. Something, again, being a from a small town, that seemed epic. I also put it down because it scared me. And giving myself until I was 30 to do it felt like a nice far-away cushion. Probably the easiest on my list to actually accomplish (one need only buy a ticket), I didn't get there before I was 30. I'm embarrassed to admit I've been avoiding it. The long plane ride, the jet lag, the language barriers, the world being so messed up. It was easier to just stay home.

While 2016 was a year of many epic things--Cleveland won the NBA Championship, for crying out loud--I'll remember it most for being the year I finally got my sweet and sour off this continent and flew over the ocean. It probably doesn't mean anything to anyone else, this single stamp in my passport, these photos of cathedrals, the leftover foreign coins in my pocket. But to me it means a great deal. It means that the items on our lists are more important than our timelines for them. It means that whenever we're ready, even if it's not this year, the world is waiting for us. Whether you're ahead of schedule or years behind, the view is equally spectacular. 

FEB
11

Unified

b2ap3_thumbnail_unified.jpg

I attended a high school basketball game last week that just may have restored my faith in the youth of America. See, I'd never heard of a "unified" basketball league, but they are essentially composed of a mix of kids with special needs and kids without them. The kids without special needs, many of them quite athletically talented, are the ones who primarily rebound, get the ball down the court and into the hands of a shooter, but they themselves are not allowed to shoot. Only the special needs kids can shoot the ball.

When the concept was explained to me prior to the game, it's the sort of thing you hear about and then worry you might cry when you see it in action. "Oh no," I was assured. "It's not like that." But it is like that. And I'm here to tell you that I could have cried at almost every moment of that game. Every time a girl in a wheelchair or boy with down syndrome put their arms up in celebration after making a shot. Every time the audience cheered at full volume when either team made a basket.

But what perhaps touched me the most was that these kids--the ones without special needs--were choosing to spend their time this way; to be on this team as opposed to one where they could have played to their full potential, showed no (or at least less) mercy, and perhaps gained some amount of notoriety around campus. Being on a high school campus at all reminded me of my own high school days, which, whether or not this fully came across in Schooled, I feel like I experienced in an almost constant state of selfishness. It's just the way teenagers are, I've rationalized. Only these kids weren't. And I was so impressed by their selflessness as they pushed wheelchairs and walked step for step with their more challenged teammates. I left feeling moved and inspired, and how many times do your interactions with teenagers have that effect? It's why I believe everyone who attends a unified league game knows instinctively that he has witnessed something truly special.

OCT
16

Kristen's School Story

calculus.pngMy high school calculus teacher nicknamed me “Bonehead”. Consider it a term of endearment. I never liked math, and over the course of my pre-collegiate life it was simply effort, if not dumb luck, that I did my homework and managed to do better than many of my fellow students. But calculus. In calculus I’d met my match. I spent many class periods looking at the tabletop and thinking it would be more productive to bang my head against it.

The day of the AP exam, I was nauseous. Boneheaded me was certain I would fail miserably, but my teacher had great faith. He’d taken me to a math competition at Stanford earlier in the year, he’d organized ‘Calculus Camp’ for those of us taking the exam, and he’d generously spent hours with me after school running through problems again and again. Sometimes until after 8:00pm. No teacher before or since had ever invested so much time into truly helping me learn.

He phoned me on the day my results should have arrived, stayed on the phone as I walked out to the mailbox to discover the results letter waiting, and patiently waited as I opened it and found I’d scored a single point lower than hoped. I have had many great teachers, but the one who sat with me through hours of frustration to guide me and help me understand taught me much more than how to solve an equation. For that I’m grateful to be a Bonehead.

OCT
03

Popularity Rehash

I had a dream about high school last night, that I was back in it. The reason, no doubt, is a review of Schooled that popped up this week, one that was quite critical of my story. I'm a big girl and can handle it just fine, and really the part of her review that I should focus on is the part that said she thoroughly enjoyed my writing and would buy any book I wrote (hard to imagine asking more from a reader), and I must further state here that I am so grateful for book reviewers in general; that they are willing to read the copies I send out and post their thoughtful and honest reactions. As an author, I truly appreciate the feedback.

The writer of this review said it was hard to hear me complain about being unpopular when it seemed like I had it all. And I've been thinking about this, because she isn't the first person to throw me a "You weren't popular? It sounds like you were" kind of comment. While I might argue that valedictorian and leads in the school musicals do nothing whatsoever to make a person popular, I do see her point. I had so many advantages and opportunities in those years that I suppose I shouldn't have complained about anything, ever. But as I tried to point out in the "On Popularity" section of the book, there is a difference between being successful and being popular. Advantages and opportunities aside, I was lonely. I remember begging the front office staff to let me have my own locker in high school because I had no one to share with. So the point of the book is not to pass myself off as a tragic figure (because I never was one), but rather to examine how even in the midst of academic success, all the average girl really cares about while in school is fitting in, having friends, and being perceived as worthy of the hallways' elite.

Bottom line: I get this reviewer's beef, I do. It could be easy to read my book and end up feeling frustrated that I still had the nerve to complain about anything, given my academic success and the admittedly charmed life I led. And had I not been inflicted with a warped adolescent brain back then, I might have been able to see that at the time and just appreciated this success instead of wish for the one thing I didn't have, which was acceptance by the popular kids. Because in the end popularity makes no difference. Although if that's the case, I wonder why I had my own locker even in my dream last night. Maybe it's a sign. Maybe I haven't come very far after all. Maybe I still crave that acceptance. Maybe I always will.

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