High School: September 2001 versus 2016

I’m working at my  former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up  bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.

First, a list.

Things I did as a teenager:

  • Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
  • Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
  • Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
  • Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
  • Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
  • Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
  • Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
  • Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
  • Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
  • Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
  • Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
  • Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning

I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if  I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.

Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)

  • Plugging their phones in during class to charge
  • Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
  • Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
  • Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.

But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way,  the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.

Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however.  In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This  nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.

The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:

The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future. 

I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.

An us with a bright future, and little to fear.

Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.  As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.

For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.

Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.

Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.

But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.

Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.

So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.

But when I see them faced with the world we now live in,  and their quiet acceptance that accompanies  it….I see the biggest change of all.

And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.

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Apologies, but this is the only photo of me as a teenager I have in my WordPress archives except the Featured Image. Like I said, I thought I was hot s**t….

 

 

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“What Lights You Up?” ….She answered, smugly.

“What makes you light up?” my therapeutic healing yoga instructor asked as we melted into the mat, nothing more than fleeting thoughts and deep breathing. Semi-meditative, we welcomed flashes of feelings instead of the usual focus of a mantra.

Alistair exuberant, Alex laughing, my parents hugging, Weasley’s run in an open park. Susan’s arm link and brisk walk. Fi’s knowing smile on the top deck of a Lothian bus. Walking out to my sister standing in my living room and seeing a missing piece of myself staring back at me. 

These were all people; this was all love.

“Try not to think of relationships,” she’d urged previously. “Try to think of the feeling- the physical feeling of lighting up.”

The acceleration of a plane taking off, cold feet in hot water, walking into a classroom, the opening sequence of a film, the full-body vibration of live music, the initial crack and smell of a new hardback, hands in Alistair’s thick hair, hands on Alex’s rough cheek, being squeezed in a full embrace, the texture of a scone, the tapping flow of the keyboard, the rush of a roller coaster, the reverence of personal prayer. 

As the exercise ended, we took out our journals.What did our feelings tell us? What makes us light up?

I wrote with ease, with the assuredness of being self-aware. Upon reflection, almost smugness. Knowing oneself and knowing oneself well was something I was oh-so good at. I studied philosophy for fun. I’d taken that existentialism class through the Open University just because I’m the type of person who knows what I don’t know or what I’ll never know. You know.

Smug.

I wrote:

1- People with whom I share love — a short list, but whatever, suckers who don’t like me. ( I let them go; see past blog posts. )

2- Travel. Obviously. That’s my thing. Novelty, exploration, adventure, etc. Finding a good airfare- ding- that lights me up big time. Getting lost in big cities- almost as fun as finding the place.

3- Film. Obviously. That’s my other thing. Everyone knows I’m, like, obsessed. 

4- God (He is first, but came to mind fourth — keeping it real here) 

The rest- water, music, reading, writing, physical touch, adrenaline, contemplation. 

Yep, that was me. I wrote in my journal and listened as the instructor told us to seek the things that light us up. It would make us happy.

Doing things you like makes you happy. 

This class, held in a strip mall yoga studio in a new sub-division, sent me all of the good feelings a person likes. Assurance. Hope. Confidence. I even drove away with a certificate when the month was over- hey, I could teach this if I wanted to.

Half a year has passed.

I’m not as smug anymore. I know what lights me up…the same things that lit me up before. I haven’t changed. Because people don’t change, not really, not ever. I’m still working on the same things I started working on when I started blogging. I’ll probably work on them forever. I can make positive change in my circumstances, but changing me, and changing what makes me who I am, will never change. Probably not.

This new chapter, the one where I accept I don’t know it all, is scary. But since I love novelty, it’s also kind of fun.

The same platitudes pass over and over again through my life, on a loop. Maybe everyone hears them.

Changes begins with you.

You’re the only person responsible for your actions. 

You never know unless you try. 

The first step is the hardest.

People never change.

Change is possible, if you really want it. 

One small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

I have an inkling they’re all true. Just like when my mom used to say to me, “These are the best years of your life but you just don’t know it yet,” when I was a carefree young adult. I dismissed it; my immediate needs outweighed thinking about adulthood. But now I see, it was the truth.  It’s all probably true. The things older people tell us on rotation.

And I…..I  don’t know shit. None of us really do.

We just need to know what lights us up, and keep at it.

We need to do the best we can. 

 

Dear 31,

Dear 31,

Your predecessor haunted me. It followed me for months:

3-0

three oh

30

thirty.

It screamed at me from writing homework – reflections and recollections and every single unanswered everything in my real life or fake life or would-be life or could-be life or should-be life or might-be life; it deafened me to new sounds.

I walked through Scotland’s haze with a ringing in my ears and a coffin in my back pocket.

30.

The drama pronounced itself in both circumstance and surroundings: I lived out my  grown-up dream of a creative writing degree in the city just a decade before I’d lived out my growing-up dream.

I pushed my toddler in a pram down the same roads I’d drunkenly stumbled through in the past. I came home in the evening to diapers and literary theory and a husband who’d just a decade before been sweeping me off my feet but now collected the dust of our stagnant relationship.

Panic overtook me in the most privileged guise imaginable; a married white woman,  mother to a healthy child, living in a European capital to pursue an arts degree, was having a case of existential malaise over the loss of a number, of a decade, of time.

I freaking loved my 20’s.

But then 30 came, and it went. And with it, the crisis.

Because 31, you taught me more than any other year of my life. I’ve never felt more like ME than any other year of my life.

Yes. I loved the freedom of my 20’s, the laughter, the chaos, and the possibility. But yes, the burden of unfulfilled potential still haunts me. The weight of choice still keeps me up at night. I often wonder how anyone sleeps, knowing the impact of each minute gesture. The power of our choices.

But 31, you’ve taught me those aspects of my personality aren’t a crisis, but the state of my soul, regardless of age.

The state of my soul has never been been more grounded in reality. In clarity. In understanding.

My 20’s were fun, but I lived in world of black and white. Eithers and ors. Nothings or everythings. Certainties.

Turning 30 wobbled me, spun me around on my axis, and landed me in a position where everything is a shade of grey.

And I’m fine with that, now.

I get it.

Life is colorful, but it’s never black or white.

The water of life is murky, and seldom clear, but refreshing nonetheless.

31, you’ve shown me I know who I am. What I’ll never be. And who I’ll always be (for better or worse).

Thank you, 31.

 

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Photo courtesy Unsplash

Dear 31,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home. Part One.

Scotland, 2013:

I rarely walked down Balcarres Street in the daylight. The number 23 bus took me directly  to my Edinburgh flat.

The night buses dropped me off on Morningside Road, a main thoroughfare, though still shuttered  and empty after nightfall (save a few pubs).

The 10 minute walk from Morningside Road was dark and residential. Pavement wound past a graveyard and adjacent to a mental hospital. Just up the hill sat the old asylum turned college, now an abandoned, wooded campus frequented during the day by hikers.  But at night, blackness.

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The woods on the hill in our Edinburgh neighborhood.

As my family’s year abroad neared an end and I prepared to finish my degree, I’d walk down this road with earbuds in and music loud. It took away much of the creepiness. John Mayer’s Paradise Valley is one of the albums of my Year of Writing Creatively (the other being, in all seriousness, Katy Perry’s Prism).

Mayer’s song “On the Way Home” resonated with me, especially with our Scottish adventure coming to an end. A sample lyric reads:

“The summer’s over, this town is closing.
They’re waving people out of the ocean.
We had the feeling like we were floating.
We never noticed where time was going.
Do you remember when we first got here?
The days were longer; the nights were hot here.
Now, it’s September; the engine’s started.
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted.
But just remember on the way home….
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.”

I’d climb up to our fourth floor flat and turn off the music…eventually.

I cried when I said goodbye to every place which made our/my time there…home. They were  never big things- the university campus, the church building, the friends I’d made – which brought out the tears. My tears were in the details of home. 

The Morningside Parish playgroup. ( I’d never park Alistair’s buggy in the foyer again.Sob.)

Continue reading

@AlanaFlorence Works Out, Too

Happy One Year Anniversary to this blog….may the second year reflect the authenticity strived for in Year One.

How much can a person change in a year?

I think this blog is a living experiment of exactly that.

When I started out writing on WordPress, I wanted to lose weight. I have. Not enough for me to brag about big numbers, but enough that I feel different and hopefully look a bit different, too.  When I started this blog, I wanted to work out more. I do! And I have found joy in exercise I never thought possible. When I started this blog, I thought clothes would be a good motivator for change. I wanted to feel like Alana again. I wanted to love shopping, and makeup, and hair and new boots.

I still love all of those things…but I’ve realized I love nurturing my soul way more than I love pampering my appearance.

And I’ve learned my dedication to wellness on the inside will reflect in a healthier way than focusing on appearance – as much I love a good outfit and hope to be able to wear the clothes I want to again.

In light of this, my new URL is alanaflorencewrites.wordpress.com. This is generic, yes, but it ties to my general goal of writing and also works with my Twitter, @AlanaFlorence.

And off I go, to Year Two!

Nevertheless…

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My fourth grade classroom was on the top floor of a century-old, brick elementary school, since demolished. My teacher, Mrs. C.,  was a middle-aged woman with a frizzy perm whom I remember little of, except for this incident, which will stay with me forever.

The school implemented a ‘Gifted and Talented Program’  that year and by some process chose a few students who would leave regular classroom time, go with a special teacher from the district, and work on puzzles and word games and other mental gymnastics to utilize and ripen those ‘gifted’ brains.

One day, Mrs. C gave the class some busy work and called out a handful of names, mine included, and asked us to go with her into the hallway. Here we stood in a circle while she enthusiastically explained we’d been chosen for the Gifted and Talented program, and we should be very proud. It would be additional schoolwork on top of our already heavy fourth-grade workload, she warned, but with a blanket statement of praise explained she knew we could do it.

I  loved school, got good grades and great test scores, and when Mrs. C explained the program, I felt eager and happy.

I swelled with pride. I stood with my gangly limbs, my long stringy hair and thick plastic glasses and all of a sudden felt older, confident, excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad.

Mrs. C dismissed us from the hallway and we started to file back into the classroom, chattering under our breath.

“Alana,” Mrs. C, whispered, “I’d like to talk with you a minute.”

She closed the door behind the other children so we were alone in the hallway. Maybe she wanted me to be in charge of the group in some way? Why was I being singled out?

And then, Mrs. C  let out a breath and told me she was…..concerned…..that my name had been on the Gifted and Talented list. She held reservations about whether or not I could keep up with other students in the group. She told me she was concerned about me doing additional work and expressed it may be too hard for me. She asked if I really wanted to do it.

I stood, dumbfounded. My pride extinguished, my confidence deflated. My teacher didn’t want me to do it. She didn’t think I could.

The memory of the disappointment in the pit of my stomach is as vivid as the day this happened. I stammered that I was certain I could handle it, and I did. But each time I went with the Gifted and Talented group, I felt somehow less than, like I wasn’t really meant to be there.

My teacher’s words really hurt me. They affected how I went forward with the program.

Nevertheless, I did it. And I kept my grades up. And when I ‘graduated’ from fifth grade a year later, it was with some kind of presidential academic award ‘signed’ by President Bill Clinton, as well as the title of co-Class President.

Ten years later and a continent away, I lay on my boyfriend’s couch by the light of a golden IKEA lamp. The Scottish autumn made the nights draw in quickly, and we lounged in the near-dark and chatted, Alex in his soft Edinburgh brogue and me in my neutral Colorado accent. Long, mundane chats were the first thing we did when we met up at the end of the day. He’d rest on his back and I’d lay sprawled out across him,  my elbows near his ears and our faces inches from each other. I’d keep brushing my hair off his face as we laughed and talked about everything, anything. But this day was different, somehow. Alex seemed jittery, and more intense.

He sat me up so I was half on his lap and he sat up, too, growing serious. I was scared to know what was coming, taking in his nervousness. We knew I only had six months in Scotland, and we’d just take it easy and date, but everything between us seemed to move quickly, intensely.

“I have to tell you something,” he said breathlessly. “And you don’t have to answer me, it’s fine. But…..I love you.”

The world was spinning.  I was scared to respond. The way his face lit up as he looked at me, the gentle grip he held around my waist, the way I felt his chest heaving against mine from my spot on his lap. I took it all in, and I thought of Colorado. Of home. How I’d be leaving in a few short months.

“I……I can’t tell you I love you,” I said, terrified. Terrified I did love him, terrified I didn’t. Mostly, terrified of leaving him and going back to a country that didn’t have Alex.

A week or so later- time never seemed to matter with Alex – we were walking across the cobblestones to see Love, Actually at the movie theater. We were holding hands, walking in step, practically bouncing with the glee of young love.

I let go of his hand outside the theater, turned to face him with a rush of traffic behind me, and blurted out, “I have to tell you, I love you too.”

I didn’t want to love Alex, but I couldn’t help it. I was careless with my heart, knowing we came from different worlds.

Nevertheless, I did it. I let myself love him. And we worked so hard to keep ourselves in the same country. This week is our eleventh wedding anniversary, but in those eleven years I’ve had five different British visas and he, two different American ones.

Some love is measured in years, some love is measured through dedication to paperwork.

————–

When my mother was pregnant with me, she grew very ill. Her family was told she may not make it. Or that I would be born handicapped. The odds were against us.

Nevertheless, we’re both still here. And I was born healthy.

The list could go on. The stories could continue.

I believe everyone has a nevertheless experience or two, but the good news is, as long as you’re alive, there is ample opportunity for more.

We don’t need to be BECAUSE people, or DUE TO people, or IF ONLY people.

We can choose to be NEVERTHELESS people.

I saw this written on a gym mirror the other week: Our circumstances don’t determine our lives. Our actions do.

I believe sometimes, we are a victim of circumstance. It’s evident plenty of people get a leg up where others don’t. Not all things are equal or equitable as they should be. Circumstances dictate some things. They may dictate our past.

But they don’t need to dictate our future.

Even if something seems hard, do it anyway.

If a dozen obstacles stand in your way, adopt a nevertheless attitude and work through the obstacles one by one.

Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on SHOULDS.

I know I do.

The expectations I have of others and myself leave a lot of undone SHOULDS.

But I say, even though this SHOULD happen, it’s not, and so….. nevertheless gosh darn it.

There is so much power in our actions.

And only we get to decide what our actions will be.

(Our reactions, too.)

Our choices determine our destiny.

But when circumstances step in….

May the odds be ever in your favor.

We can say nevertheless, I did it.

Exercise Anxiety

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‘We Can Do Hard Things.’

This saying is popping up everywhere lately. I even purchased a wooden plaque with the saying from a thrift store the other day. I put it up on my husband’s bed stand, and looking at it makes me giggle just a little bit. Double entendre aside, I like the sentiment. I DO do hard things. Raising my son, looking after my mom, writing a novel, going to endless grad school…

But one of the hardest things for me to do is live an anxiety-free life.

And it’s very, very hard for me to workout; like REALLY workout.  Proper exercise.

Last week I went to Zumba. I’ve gone through phases of doing Zumba regularly, but I always modify it, and leave for at least one song to get a break for my sanity. In the past few years I’ve avoided it completely.  But Lauren, my workout buddy, and I had been doing such a great job at pushing ourselves every day, that on this one day she couldn’t do our cardio/strength routine, I went to Zumba by myself. I felt confident I could do it alone.

The fun ensued and I sweated through a few songs. My heart raced and I tried to ignore it. I shook out my hands, stood in front of the fan, and kept moving. I slowed down the next song, took a drink of water, and willed myself to keep going. But my heart raced and raced,  and as I took a certain misstep I thought for sure I  was going pass to out.

I panicked. This it it, I thought. Death by Zumba.  I wobbled to the door, mopping up my sweat with a towel and willing my heart rate to slow down. It didn’t. The evening remained hot and sunny, and the corridors of the gym filled with warm damp air as I wished for nothing more than a cold place to sit. Everyone walked past happy and fit, unaware I may be dying.

I hyperventilated my way to the locker room. Happy women sat chatting on the chairs and my vision was going blurry but I ran to the toilet and locked myself in, willing myself to stop panicking, trying to ignore the throbbing in my chest, now painful. I tried some vasovagal maneuvers.

I made my way outside somehow, and into my car. I blasted cold air on my face, took a drink of water, an anxiety pill, and sat with my head between my legs. Slowly my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. I was going to live.

It surprised me. It always does after a panic attack.

I texted and called my husband and a few friends, seeking comfort, distraction. I felt better.

Eventually I went on with my evening with nothing but an eye twitch to remind me of the episode.

I cried a bit that night for no real reason. I guess I felt a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t finish Zumba. I obviously needed Lauren or someone to keep me from panicking. I couldn’t even go to the gym like a normal person.

Because this is one truth about me: I’m a worrier, and I’ve had a fear of cardio exercise for a decade.

It sounds almost silly to say. As I gained weight, doctors told me to exercise. I agreed, but never did. Not REALLY. Not in the P90x sort of way. I stuck with yoga and walking.

Finally I admitted it to my GP: “I  can’t do vigorous exercise. I hate the feeling of my heart beating quickly; it makes me panic. I literally think I’m going to  die every time. I actually look for the defibrillator to make me feel better. ”

“That’s not normal,” she said. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they look for a defibrillator for comfort.”

She raised her eyebrows.

I’ve had many heart tests done, just to rule out if I were paranoid or they really were after me. Anxiety is an expensive disorder.

In the end, it turns out I am able to overcome this particular fear through a variety of methods:

1. Distraction –  I work out with a friend. If alone, I listen to really loud music. Really. Loud.

2. Support –  I feel ‘safe’ with a friend.

3. Something to grab- If I’m feeling panicky on the treadmill, I can grip the sides. Steady myself, as it were. Zumba is so open. A definite  trigger for me. (But sooooo fun if I can do it)

4. Channeling my inner calm. Deep breathing, utilizing CBT techniques..

5. Anxiety medication.

6. Strength training. Less risk of getting short of breath.

Exercise may easy for some people. For me, it’s one of the hard things I have to do.

It’s not as hard as most things  in my life. But I know that to be my best self and to be the mom Alistair deserves…I need to overcome my exercise anxiety.