January: The Epic Fakeout

I'm sad to admit that January is a fakeout for me. It's a false start. 

According to science, the calendar is on the upswing. The days are officially getting longer.
Simultaneously, though, it still looks pretty dang dark all the time and today, for example, it is negative zero thousand degrees in Philadelphia. And sunny! 

I can't express the extent of the bummer I feel when sunny becomes irrelevant.

In high school world, at least for me, January is a month of paradoxical discomfort.

See, the school calendar and the universe calendar reach an unpleasant discord around this time of year. 

The universe is saying things like: Holidays! Happy new year! Resolutions! Freshness! Rejuvenation!

And the school calendar is all: Siiiiiiiiike.

The Fall semester does not officially end until January 20-something. This means that for students, teachers, and all of the humans that have to deal with us, the holiday break is filled with catching up on past work and keeping up with current work. It means that when we come back to a new year, we're coming back to the same stuff, the leftovers and the loose ends. Instead of feeling rejuvenated by fresh starts and crisp ideas, we're feeling restless and oh-so-ready-to-be-done.

I'm lucky to be in a high school world where this feeling is minimized by the tremendous attitudes of everyone around me. There's a general understanding that we're all in this, powering through this part, and isn't it nice to be kind and smile as much as possible?

This isn't something that just helps. It is the thing.

I was telling my 12th graders that these January blues get solved for them next time. A year from now, they'll experience the hustle that is college finals in December, followed by a long break that feels like exactly that. When they return, it will be to something new, which will align with the universe very pleasantly.

I'm looking forward to the freshness part, which is only a few weeks away. I'm excited to experience EduCon from the other side this time. (Why haven't you signed up yet?) It's been fun to hammer out the details of the spring semester. I've been making lots of lists for things that are on hold.

Did you listen to this episode about buttons? (Do it.)
I'm currently dreaming of the reset button.

Image: Saul Steinberg's Last Self-Portrait

The last twelve months

Twelve months ago today, I met my boyfriend for our annual look-at-the-lights date. The one I always insist upon. Because New York in December is filled with darkness and cold, and I enjoy the reminder that it's also filled with sparkles and artists.

We met at Columbus Center. Made the stops I always request along Fifth Avenue.

Bergdorf. The most stunning windows, every time.
FAO Schwartz. Evaluate the props and discuss what our Muppet selves would be like.
Rockefeller tree selfie.

All the while, unbeknownst to me, he was attempting to execute a delicate plan. It crumbled that night, some of the details didn't come through, a sweat might have been broken. But before the night was over, it had worked out.

It was kind of too exciting to document, but here, grainy phone pictures:

I said yes, and we celebrated all over midtown.

It's bizarre to think that only a year ago we were not even engaged.
That we were living in two separate boroughs (an actual long-distance relationship) and meeting up once in a while at a halfway point.

Sometimes it feels like an age ago.
In the best way.

I had no idea what twelve months later would look like.

- - - - - - - -

One evening in late July, Kristin and I did a recap of the Year's Events In The Life Of Amal, Past and Forthcoming.

Get engaged.
Leave first big-kid apartment.
Leave Harlem.
Move in with future-husband.
Plan wedding.
Get married.
Leave job.
Start new job.
Pack up life in New York.
Say goodbye to all that.
Move to new city.

This list leaves out the details.
The hundred small steps in between each of the big ones. Involving storage units and late-night conversations, big government offices and lots of craft supplies.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this cram session of life events into any single year for people who enjoy sanity.
But, somehow:

It's been a whirlwind of good.
Really, really good.

- - - - - - - -

One of my favorite parts of wedding planning was choosing the ceremony readings. Two English teachers. Literature always wins.

We each chose one.

I knew it had to be Vonnegut. Cheri read this that day:

Because. Even in the chaos of this year,
which might be the hardest of my life so far,

I still feel that way.

- - - - - - - -

In the last twelve months
I've learned important things.

To leap.
To say yes to scary big stuff.
To take risks.

That important work is really hard.

That I'm getting better at things I'm bad at.

I'm learning.

To depend on others. To ask for help
more than is comfortable.
To say thank you.

That I'm strong. And pretty dang resilient.
(And my breakdowns have been minimal, and justified, and mostly non-psychotic.)

That all of this. All of the things on the list, and not on the list,
for the past twelve months,

are stupidly fortunate.

I'm grateful to have the thought, out loud sometimes: "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Which is not to say, not in the slightest, that I know what's what.
That it's all breezy.

It's just me thinking. Accepting.
Forgiving. Reflecting.
Reliving. Listing. Questioning.
Processing, sort of.

All that can happen in a year.


This has been my week's mantra.

In the face of all the things. The sometimes spinning. The newness and the climbing and the full spectrum of the feelings.

"Let it wash over you."

Day by day. One solution at a time.

It'll all get there.

Thank you, Marcie.

Signs from the Universe

There's a theory that we, as humans, synthesize happiness. It's like we have a psychological immune system that helps us adjust our perspectives about the world so that we can feel better about our actual situations. We basically generate happiness, then, by imagining it.

Which is, to be fully analytical here, absolutely bananas.

It gets even better. The synthetic happiness we create actually leads to sustained happiness

Do you see what this means?! 

Our brains are happiness factories! Production is in full force!

It just so happens that my brain, in particular, while it is simultaneously failing at all sorts of simple things, is actually prodigy-level skilled at the psychological manufacturing of bliss.


This is interesting information. It makes me feel good, obviously, but it also fills me with doubt. What if I'm completely wrong? What if things are objectively crummy and I'm blinded by this neurosuperpower? 

I need to know! Because! See.

We've made a lot of big decisions lately that would have any normal humans second-guessing every step. We're moving our lives to a new city, and this has us reading way too much into each little thing that happens. Two English teachers who get really excited about symbolism tend to do that, I guess.

Every event, every interaction, every circumstance, is being considered a sign from the universe. We're constantly looking for some sort of cosmic feedback that we're making good decisions, that our move is the right one, that our happiness is more than imagined.

And so. We're in a bit of disbelief, I guess, that the signs have been overwhelmingly positive. A little bit of: Wait, really? Can it be? The swirl of chaos that is apartment hunting, packing, moving, and starting a new job in a new place is so surprisingly pleasant, like a violent tornado of rainbows and unicorns. It's challenging, sure, but it's simultaneously such a relief. A big whew, every eight minutes or so. It's such a welcome chaos.

I can't even really explain about how I just stopdropleft New York City. 

Much less how I did that and am hardly looking back. If you can imagine, I didn't expect that to be the case at all. I expected to feel everything a lot harder than this.

We're going to live near here.

It's all just come together, I guess. It feels natural. Like we're taking steps in the direction we want to go. Like we're doing it on purpose.

It feels right. 

And maybe my brain is imagining that. Maybe the signs are all contrived. 

But even then. It's just as real.

Goodbye, Little 42

///I wrote this before and during the move, which will have already happened by the time I post this.///

This little apartment of mine, with all its imperfections, means a whole dang lot to me.

It was five years ago that I moved in, making this the longest I've lived anywhere since my family moved to the east coast when I was 14.

It is the only place I have ever lived -- and will ever live -- completely alone.

In these last five years, in this apartment and in this city, I think I have done more growing up than I did in the first 25 combined.

I remember the spring of 2009.  It was a weird time in my life.  I dragged my lowest lows and carried my heaviest insecurities up four flights of stairs into this space, where I could be alone with my thoughts and faced with my self.  Because I wasn't feeling myself.

It was actually a really hard year.  I was truly lost.  In navigating the grown-up pieces of life and work and humans in the big city, it took a bit to find my way.

Nobody really prepares you for how stupidly hard your twenties are going to be.

One of the first things I did was paint this on the wall, in the hallway near the door.  It was the first aesthetic decision I made, the first step I took toward figuring things out.  I welcomed myself home.

I made a home.

I had only a bed and a stack of wooden boxes when I arrived.  Finding the objects I would include in my space meant choosing the things I would bring into my life.

And now, it's all just stuff.  My stuff.  Seemingly endless amounts of it.

Packing this apartment is forcing me to confront all of it.  I've collected and amassed and gathered so many things, little details of my history here.  Business cards from people I've met.  Recipes for someday.  Craft supplies for ambitious projects.  A lot of junk, yes, but still, pieces of me.

The process of sorting. trashing.  treasuring. abandoning. is a bit overwhelming.  Part of me is happy to leave all of my things behind, to discard the excesses, to pare it all down to the things I truly love and need, to reduce it all to a new version of myself, the bare bones I want to start with in the new chapter.  The other part of me, though, knows how much these things, though simply things, are part of the story. Their only real value is in what they represent to the story that only I really know.

It's bittersweet, as I'm letting it all go.  It really is a welcome change to close this chapter.  To find long lost objects behind the furniture and realize I don't even want them.  To realize how easily I can detach from this space I've made.  To paint all the walls back to white and start something new.

Goodbye, Little 42.  And thank you.

In My Brain / 05

Thank you, Internet, for the good things you're leaving behind.

Here are the things that have made my brain happy lately:

Humblebrag Generator: "Ugh, so annoyed.  People keep offering me jobs even though I'm not looking for work."

My creative process, reflected quite accurately.

I won't tell you how many rounds I played of this most amazing game.
(Do you recognize the voice the background music?)

Even the cool kids get rejected.

Also making me happy is the lettering work of Sean Tulgetske, whose lunch napkin (above) is far sexier than anything I've ever made.  I love the type-on-photography pieces the most.  Following him on Instagram will probably make your brain happy, too.