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.

Teacher Autonomy and Optional Margaritas on #engchat

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo!  It's also Monday!  Since I love being old, my night will look like this:
- a homemade margarita that is mostly juice
- microwave nachos with perfectly even cheese distribution
- festive boxer shorts, and
#engchat on Twitter at 7pm EST!

Will you join us for a lively discussion?  This week we're talking about teacher autonomy.

Teacher autonomy is a contentious part of the conversations around education.  As someone who believes teaching is inherently creative, I have a hard time with the arguments for standardization and conformity.  I can barely stomach scripted materials.  So much of what I do and why I do it revolves, for me, around the creating of the things and seeing them through with the kids.  On the other hand, I spend most of my time in my classroom's four walls, where my autonomy can leave me feeling pretty alone and disconnected.  I'm sure this is not uncommon. It's a big part of why I write and central to my pursuits in this profession.

Here are the questions for tomorrow's chat:

I'm hoping to learn a lot about what other educators are doing to take advantage of the autonomy they do have, the risks they're taking in their professional lives, and the balance they strike between professional independence and collaboration.

If you're new to Twitter, check out my previous posts about why I love it, how to get started, and how education chats work.  I hope to connect with you tomorrow night!

Classroom Tunes / 01

I like playing music while my students are working.  It changes the entire feeling of the room when the dominant sound is neither my voice nor the keyboards clicking.  

I don't DJ, though.  Taking students' requests can wreak havoc on a studious space.

There is a key to good classroom working music.  It has to be backgroundable.  The kind of music you can enjoy listening to without fully listening, because you're actually writing something important.  The kind you can't sing along to.  The kind that's secondary to the other things in your brain.

I asked Lamar Shambley, a fellow educator who is also my friend and a music nerd, to share a playlist he uses in his Brooklyn classroom.

Lamar would basically be the math teacher of your dreams.  He is passionate and full of life and energy, and I imagine his classroom is a semi-magical land where students aren't afraid to get excited and nerdy.  Which, if you ask me, is the best way to be.

During his musical work times, Lamar tends to play entire albums, which is a sensible practice for keeping the energy and mood of the room consistent.  Here are his favorites:

Thank you for sharing your classroom sounds, Mr. Shambley!  I know what my writing lab will be listening to as we close out the school year.

Interested in contributing a classroom playlist?  Email me your ideas at

HBD, Shakespeare

Every English teacher on the planet is doing a nerdy little mental dance today to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday.  Students everywhere are subject to mini-lessons that aim to remind them of the bard's masterful wit and wisdom, featuring common phrases we owe to his writing and terrific insults we should be keeping alive.  I always used to put my favorite Shakespeare joke on whatever the classwork of the day was.

There's something so powerful about the fact that his works have remained so relevant and such a fixture in English classrooms across the globe.  That the characters and the themes and the language haven't gotten old (not a day over 450!), and that students are still able to connect with them.

Also.  How lovely is this type by Allie Brunton