How to Keep Occupied on a Snowy Day

(Would you like to listen rather than read? Check out my podcast episode on this same topic here.)

This snow is peaceful. Blizzards...not so much. Image courtesy of murrysvillechurch.com

This snow is peaceful. Blizzards…not so much.
Image courtesy of murrysvillechurch.com

I wanted to keep this week’s post timely. Since storm Jonas is upon the US East coast, here are a few ideas on how to keep occupied while you’re snowed in, not just for this 2016 weekend, but also for other snow days as well.

I’ve broken the suggestions down into four categories: Netflix, Books, Art, and Being a Kid.

  1. Netflix: Here are my suggestions on fun shows to watch while sipping your warm beverage of choice.
    • If you’re in for thrills and psychological intrigue, watch Dexter & Criminal Minds.
    • The 100 provides a great sci-fi plot line and a diverse (and large!) cast of characters.
    • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Solving mysteries set in the 1920s. ‘Nuff said.
    • How Stuff Works gives a behind-the-scenes looks at, well, how stuff works. One of my favorite episodes was seeing how contacts were made.

The next few activity categories can be done with or without power.

      2. Books: Are you a bookworm? Curl up with one of these while watching the snow fall outside your window!

    • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a whimsical yet mature tale that asks: Can a snow girl come to life?
    • The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman have fantastic artwork and have (in my opinion) a grittier storyline than the show.
    • The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde is a fun, quick read that will give you tools to spice up your yawn-inducing meeting notes.
    • The Olympians comic series by George O’Connor. Greek gods in comic form. Do you need more convincing? (If so, I don’t think we can be friends…. :-P)

      3. Art: Use the time off to get your hands dirty!

    • Fingerpaint.
    • Paint with coffee or tea.
    • Draw with whatever you have. Draw your meal, the scene outside your window, or your pets. Make the mundane frame worthy!
    • Play the squiggle game. This is pretty simple: Take out a piece of paper and draw a squiggle on it (any shape, size, etc). Have the next person add to it. You can go back and forth (or pass from person to person if there is a group of 3 or more) until the squiggle looks like something recognizable, like a person, a starfish, or a dragon.

      4. Be a kid!

    • Build a fort. Get pillows and blankets, then defend your territory!
    • Make shadow puppets.
    • Make hot chocolate with tons of marshmallows for a lovely sugar coma.
    • Tell (ghost) stories.
    • Play in the snow!

What are some activities you like to do when you’re snowed in? Share in the comments!

What Spraining My Ankle Taught Me About Comparison

Oh, you know, just chillin' on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

Oh, you know, just chillin’ on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

 

This past weekend, I did something silly. I tried showing off.

Now you might be thinking, “What’s silly about that? Tons of people do it.” Certainly this is true, especially in this age of social media. Everyone tries to show their best lives when no one is perfect. This leads to the cause of showing off: comparison.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was at a friend’s house, and we were waiting for tea water to boil. While doing this, we did what any other self-respecting group of adults would do: tried to see how high we could kick.

We were in the kitchen at the time, and all of us wore socks on this slippery floor. This didn’t really register for me until later. A friend kicked pretty high, and I thought, “I kickbox. I should be able to kick at least that high!” So I tried. And the room spun.

Before I knew it, I was on the floor, with my left foot and ankle in quite a bit of pain. I saw several pairs of hands trying to help me up, but I needed a moment. I needed to get the strength to deal with the impending shot of pain that would result from getting up. I needed to orient myself in the kitchen. I also needed to deal with my embarrassment.

Why did I do this? I thought to myself. What in the world did I have to prove?

My ankle hurt for the rest of the night. The next day, I couldn’t walk on my foot, and I became worried, wondering if this injury might take weeks to heal (According to my illustrious Google research, a sprained ankle can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal. That’s a HUGE time window! Seriously, it’s almost “waiting for the cable guy” worthy…). I hopped around my apartment whenever I needed something and tried to make as few trips as possible. When my ankle started feeling a little better, I limped around, sometimes hopping because of a sudden shot of pain.

So why tell this story? To illustrate a point. We are hobbled when we compare ourselves to others. Had I just marveled at the fact that my friend could kick pretty high, I could have enjoyed a pain-free night and weekend. How many times do we compare ourselves to someone else’s looks, success, art, writing, etc, and feel inferior? How many times do we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves because we can’t do what “so and so” does?

This helps no one! We all have something unique to bring to the world. (*cue sentimental violin music*).

You have nothing to prove. You’ve got your own style, your own flair, your own flavah, so own it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there a moment where you caught yourself comparing? What did you learn from the experience? Is comparison still a struggle (it still is for me!)?

 

 

Why I’m Ditching New Year’s Resolutions

Happy-New-Year-Clip-art-Images

Image courtesy six8seven5.com

I know, I know…”Not another resolutions post!” That’s what you’re probably thinking. I’m hoping this one has more of a twist, though, because (spoiler alert!), I’m ditching resolutions in 2016. More on that in a bit.

First a wrap up of 2015:

1. Cook a healthy meal once a week: Didn’t do too great here. 2015 was the year of takeout for the hubs and I. I think it had to do with busy schedules, but really, that’s just an excuse. Hopefully this year’s schedules won’t fill up as fast (i.e., I’ll say “no” more often), and I’ll stay more on top of having healthier food options in the house.

2. Meditate once per day: I got SUPER lax with this because I started counting super short prayers as fitting the bill. Really, they don’t. I needed to be more intentional. Something to keep in mind for this year.

3. Work on art once per week: This one I actually did! I tried a bunch of different techniques and tools, particularly digital methods. I’m really happy with my art progress and want to continue this year.

4. Read 60 books: 48. Not quite, but so close!

5. Keep a steady writing practice: Nope. This one just didn’t happen. Visual art really took over, which isn’t a bad thing. This is just one example of how my priorities changed during the year.

So, that last note (“priorities change”) is exactly why I’m ditching New Year’s resolutions in favor of something else: a yearly word.

Resolutions are fine, and if they work for you, that’s fantastic! They just don’t work for me. Over the years, I’ve found myself working toward goals that start out really important and then fall by the wayside because after a few months, circumstances change and I just don’t have the energy to focus on goals that I don’t want to prioritize.

And then there’s the issue of guilt. I used to think, “Well, I set this priority for myself and I should see it through, right?” Usually, I’d say yes, but it’s so hard to predict what will happen in a year, (or even the next couple of months!). I didn’t want to be beholden to goals that would just weigh me down when I could actually make progress on things that mattered to me.

So how does a yearly word come in? The thing about single words or phrases is that they are versatile. They can be interpreted in many ways and take different shapes. Yearly words can grow with you.

Take my 2015 word for example: gather. This can be a verb or a noun. There can be a gathering of people. Or you can gather resources. It was such a nourishing word for me. I certainly gathered a lot in 2015! I gathered art techniques, I got together with friends and family often—and these are just a sampling of the ways I acted on my word!

I was so reluctant to let “gather” go in the new year, but I think my new word will be just as awesome. “What is it?” you ask. DELIGHT!

In 2016, I want to focus on delights, or people and moments that make me smile. I want to fill others with delight through my art. I’m sure come the end of the year, I will have tons of other ways I’ll interpret this word.

But do you see what I mean? Words are so versatile. At least to me, they aren’t weighty and clunky. I’m so excited to dive into delight this year!

If you’d like to hear a bit more about why I’m ditching resolutions (and ideas for how you can choose your own word!), check out my podcast’s (Roaring Out—yep, same as the blog) episode 11.

How about you? Do you stick with resolutions, do you choose a yearly word, or do you have a different yearly ritual?

Stand by for Breakthrough…

My breakthrough piece!

My breakthrough piece!

My formal schooling is in English literature and poetry, as many of you know. However, I’ve lately been dabbling in the visual arts, which I’ve done most of my life, but for the past few months, I’ve been very intentional about it, drawing nearly every day and sharing my work on Instagram.

The other day, I had a breakthrough—I let the work guide me.

Allow me to explain: because of my training in writing, specifically creative writing and poetry, I have a bunch of tools in my writer’s toolbox so to speak. What I mean by this is that when I’m stuck, I have methods of pushing through. Put simply, I know how to “play” with language. If a prompt isn’t speaking to me, I move to another. If I’m experiencing writer’s block, I repeat what I just wrote until a new thought comes. I’m fairly comfortable with my writing sounding terrible in the first draft because I know I have the skill set to fix it up. I’m not intimidated by the “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott so eloquently puts it.

But when it comes to visual art, I’m terrified by that shitty first draft. After all, when you make a mark with paint, you can’t just cut it out and paste it somewhere else (like the trash) as you can easily do with writing. What happens when a mark I make isn’t what I want? What happens when I don’t know where to start? How can I “play” as freely as I do with language?

Over the past few months, I’ve been working diligently to add some tools to my artist’s toolbox and have done so fairly successfully by studying the work of artists like Lisa Congdon and Shantell Martin on platforms like Skillshare and Creativebug. (For a more comprehensive discussion of how I’ve come to accept my art as well as information on the tools I use, listen to the fifth episode of my podcast here).

As mentioned earlier, I recently had a breakthrough. Like with writing, I think I finally learned to “go with the flow” of my art and let the process guide me instead of me making the art piece strictly what I wanted.

I was inspired the other day to try my hand at a profile because of artists I follow on Instagram. It started out as a person, but as you can see from the finished product above, it turned into a lizard girl.

See? Totally needs texture!

See? Totally needs texture!

When I started adding color, I first added a darker flesh tone on the forehead, which I liked. However, the more of that particular color I added to the face, the more I didn’t like it. So, I scrolled through my digital color palette and found a color I liked–green. Without hesitation, I slathered that on. But when I stepped back, I realized I wanted more texture, so I added some scallop scales and, voila, my lizard girl was born!

This is really the first time where I trusted the artistic process and wasn’t afraid to stray from my original concept. Normally, I have an idea in my head and force it, even when the piece is clearly calling for a different approach or simply isn’t working. When I was adding green to the girl, it was fairly easy to silence the critic in my head that was saying “Hey, people don’t have green skin!” The part of me that said, “Yeah, but let’s just see what happens!” was way louder. I think this is because I’ve been practicing my hand at other techniques, so my “letting go” muscle has been exercised enough in preparation for a moment like this.

Is this piece the best thing I’ve ever made? Nope, but I’m really excited about this breakthrough and can’t wait to see what else I make when exercising my “letting go” muscle in the future.

Quotables: Philip Levine

Curious what this “Quotables” thing is all about? Check out the first post here.

Photo courtesy of www.poets.org

Photo courtesy of http://www.poets.org

“You don’t need permission to write about life on Mars. You can do whatever the hell your imagination is gifted with.” —Philip Levine

In 2012, I attended the Dodge Poetry Festival. While I saw a bunch of incredibly talented writers speak, this particular quote from Philip Levine has stayed with me to this day. Perhaps it’s because I shared this quote with my first composition class. Perhaps it is because I included this quote in a prior blog post. However, I think the main reason this quote has stayed in the forefront of my mind for the past few years is because it hits the core of a construct I have struggled with nearly all my life—the need for permission.

As kids, we all need permission to do certain things, like go to a friend’s house or eat a cookie. It wasn’t until around 2009 or 2010 (while in my MFA program), however, that I realized I was holding back when writing. There were delicate subjects I wasn’t writing about. There were certain things I wasn’t allowing myself to feel. And all this because I felt I didn’t have permission. I had a wealth of emotion, but I told myself, “Who am I to feel it?”

Many people and events have helped break down the crud to get my “dam of creativity” flowing, but permission remains a funny thing. I feel free to write, but what about to live a life with a flexible work schedule? What about feeling anger?

What I love about Levine’s quote is that it’s sort of a “catch-all” permission slip to do “whatever the hell” you want. Indeed, it’s a permission slip to do, perhaps, what you must.

And those last words. To do what “your imagination is gifted with.” Yes! The feelings, daydreams, talents—all that we feel is a waste, not practical, or what others won’t accept or may dismiss as silly—is actually a gift. Share it!

What do you feel you need permission for? What would you do if you used this quote as your permission slip? Do you have any moments that acted as a sort of “permission slip” for you to do something you wanted?

 

The Stages of Grading, as Illustrated by Gollum

Left: How I look in front of the classroom; Right: How I look when grading Image courtesy of Tumblr

Left: How I look in front of the classroom; Right: How I look when grading
Image courtesy of Tumblr

I recently stumbled across this article that pretty accurately describes the stages of grading. It is loosely based on Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

A while back, I actually collected a few images of Gollum with expressive faces (because that is what I do in my spare time) and decided to whip that up into a blog post. For your reading pleasure, here are Michelle Greco’s stages of grading, or what every teacher experiences when reading mounds of crappy papers.

  1. Students turn in freshly printed (though probably not proofread) papers in front of you. You are hopeful that, unlike last time, you will not leave these to the last minute to spare yourself from a glut of student writing.

    So doe-eyed. So naive. Image courtesy of Reddit.

    So doe-eyed. So naive.
    Image courtesy of Reddit

  2. You know you should begin grading…but you still need to finish that show on Netflix. Also, when was the last time the bathroom had a good scrub? This isn’t procrastination, it’s super productivity.

    Note the similarity in naivete to stage 1. Image courtesy of Giphy.com

    Note the similarity in naivete to stage 1.
    Image courtesy of Giphy.com

  3. You finally begin. And then you come across the first typo. Then the second. And then you read the sentence, “The two fictional short stories…are two great stories to compare life lesions,” and you know it’s going to be a long slog.

    Image courtesy of parismatch.com

    Dear God, why? Image courtesy of parismatch.com

  4. A student makes a logic jump in his or her argument that defies all rules of time and space. (Alternately, “You keep using that word/argument. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”)

    Image courtesy of filmicgames.com

    Image courtesy of filmicgames.com

  5. Can it be? It is! A well-written student paper that makes a solid argument!

    My precious! Image courtesy of geocaching.com

    My precious!
    Image courtesy of geocaching.com

  6. If you have to read one more sentence beginning with the words “this shows that,” “in my opinion,” or “this relates back to my point of…,” you may just run screaming for the hills and never look back.

    "I said don't compare and contrast! It's on the syllabus!" Image courtesy of cgw.com

    “I said don’t compare and contrast! It’s on the syllabus!”
    Image courtesy of cgw.com

  7. A student writes a paper so terrible that you can freely fail it. You feel no remorse for the easy grade.

    It is a fair decision...yet so diabolical. Image courtesy of motheringthemanic.com

    It is a fair decision…yet so diabolical.
    Image courtesy of motheringthemanic.com

  8. You are two-thirds of the way done. So close! …And yet, so far.

    Image courtesy of theathleticnerd.com

    Image courtesy of theathleticnerd.com

  9. You’ve made it. You were bloodied, bruised, and beaten senseless by the gross misuse of language and reason in all those papers, but dammit, you have risen from the ashes triumphant. Now for some ice cream and a nap.

    Image courtesy of pophangover.com

    Image courtesy of pophangover.com

Singing: The Ultimate Detox

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Perhaps it is because I’ll be singing karaoke in January or maybe I just need to howl at the moon—whatever the case, I’ve recently found myself singing loudly, well, everywhere. I do most of my singing on my commute to any one of the three colleges I teach at, but I also sing at home and while running errands.

A while back, I wrote a post on the link between grief and song, but my current penchant for belting out various tunes has me wondering what other connections there might be between singing and everyday life. Here’s a short list of possibilities I’ve come up with:

  • I just like the feeling of being loud
  • Singing acts like a catharsis, a release of frustration (I am a teacher, after all) and, as previously mentioned, grief (I recorded a podcast about my very recent journey with grief after the sudden death of a family member.)
  • I’m super serious about prepping for karaoke
  • One of my not-so-secret wishes is to be a rockstar, and singing loudly helps me live out this dream, even if only for a pretend audience

Whatever the reason (and the list above is by no means exhaustive), I find I always feel refreshed after indulging in some screamo or holding an extra long note. I’m not super into regular “cleanses” that involve only drinking juices or other dietary restrictions, so maybe singing is my detox and way of giving voice (no pun intended) to all that is not language within me yet.

Your turn: Do you like to sing? If so, what are your reasons? Is it for fun or might there be another purpose?