Facing Your Ghosts: Reasons You Don’t Want to, and Why You Should Anyway


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My grandfather passed away in September. He was a complicated man, so the circumstances after his death were, in a way, also complicated. Looking at his life in retrospect acted as an unexpected impetus for me to attempt to make sense of some tumbling thoughts about the dark remnants I’m dragging into adulthood.

The further I get from certain experiences, the more astounded I am by their lingering, haunting presence. I often forget their impact until I discover a tiny piece of shrapnel from the initial explosion, and then I realize I’m still finding wounds from something that happened ten years ago. It’s extremely frustrating to feel like I can’t quite free myself from the grasp of a trauma I’ve always just wanted to move on from.

Simply put: I lost a desire to pursue connectivity in the wake of tragedy. I created this kind of toxic, mangled mathematical process about security, which largely involved keeping people at a distance because they’re the most unpredictable variable. This idea crippled my ability to build and foster healthy, meaningful relationships. And, afterwards, it wasn’t so easy to go back. For too long, I didn’t even want to.

I told myself the experiences taught me some valuable truths about the world, set them aside, and hoped they would quietly sit in their drawers. But in reality, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t keep those things locked away. They took on a sort of life of their own and seeped into every available crevice. They became ghosts – twisted companions, just hanging around all the time, convincing me to maintain self-inflicted isolation and to believe that no one could really love me if they knew what haunted me.

Together, the ghosts and I have constructed my own personal fortress: a place of protected solitude.  I can think of moments where I’ve seen exactly what my ghosts are making and high-fived them for doing so. Every time I avoid investing myself into someone who eventually reveals an untrustworthy character, I feel justified in my coldness and in relying on the safety of my walls. And therein lies the snare: my ghosts aren’t entirely misled in their efforts. The little-bitty truthful part is where I hinge my hypothesis.

It’s taken me a long time to finally admit that I’m comfortable in my dysfunction. I’ve anchored so much of my identity in it, and while it’s not a perfect system, it’s worked, right? Eh. Turns out, it’s super difficult let go of the behaviors that helped you survive, even when you don’t need them anymore. At this point, I’m confident it’s not sufficient to pack my ghosts neatly away and hope they stay put. Mostly because they don’t.

Some of the damaging inferences I drew out of the pivotal events in my life didn’t dissolve over time like I’d hoped, and it’s increasingly arduous to tweeze them out now that they’ve woven their signatures through the person I’ve become.

It’s time to try, though. Because when I really think about it, like really, really face the metropolis I’ve built around me, I’m not proud. To everyone else, it looks like me keeping the people capable of loving me well at arm’s length. It looks like me embracing an aversion of intimacy so firmly that I end up viewing most of the relationships in my life as expendable. I’ve traded a willingness to accept love for a security that doesn’t actually exist, and I’ve hurt almost everyone I care about because of how dearly I cling to it.

From their inception, the deductions I drew were flawed. Of course, I couldn’t tell. My lens was tainted. I believed I was approaching the world from a more logical and objective perspective, when all along, I’ve been horribly biased. I can’t trust the conclusions I came to, because I twisted and manipulated the evidence to mean what I wanted it to mean.

Not rooting my self-worth in another person doesn’t have to look the way it has in my life, so far. Because the most important thing I’ve learned is that relationships are often lovely and worthwhile despite disappointments or missteps. I can be wise and careful without being so careful that I sabotage any semblance of closeness.

I don’t think there’s a perfect or definitive formula for maintaining balance, and if there is one, I’m certainly not the person who can tell you. But I do think I need to take a good look at the barricades I’ve set up and recognize that they have, at least to some extent, compromised my ability to form and cultivate relationships. And I need to realize that healthy relationships aren’t products of one person trying to control all of the variables. And if that’s true, then people aren’t the variable to eliminate. I can bring them back.

I used to believe the worst thing I could do is unlock my ghosts, but I think the real danger presented itself when I pretended they weren’t there. Because if we won’t acknowledge our ghosts’ existence, how could we possibly know the damage they’ve caused? I would never suggest we be consumed by our pasts, but we shouldn’t have to pretend we’re not still healing or to feel guilty about reopening a wound that didn’t heal correctly.

Maybe people can’t see your ghosts, but they can see what those shadows have made. So, I guess the question is: what walls are ghosts building in your name, and what are you sacrificing because of them?


Tips for Social (Media) Etiquette



For a great number of reasons, most of which I’m probably unaware, social media makes people brave. We all know those people who are exponentially more annoying online than they are in real life. Like maybe they’re not so bad in person, but give them a keyboard and a submit button, and wow. Wooow.

My primary concern is how easily we forget the power of our own words. We are beings who need community and hinge that community on communication. We practice all sorts of etiquette in real life conversations like, “There are things you can say to your best friend that you can’t say to an acquaintance,” and we keep these expectations around because working well and playing nice with others is, you know, necessary for being a functional human being in society. Then, we go and place a screen between each other, and suddenly, we ignore everything we’ve ever learned about basic human interaction and are, somehow, shocked by the repercussions.

The bottom line: being honest doesn’t mean going out of your way to be a butt-head. We can say “I didn’t mean it like that…” or “People who really know me know I wouldn’t….” all day long, but frankly, you said it, and you can’t take it back once it’s out there, despite what the delete/remove functions might imply.

In the famous words of Albus Dumbledore, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

(Remember, also, the dozens of time the Bible cautions us to careful with our words. Just sayin’).

So let’s take some steps towards building bridges with our words instead of violently setting them ablaze, shall we? After all, difference doesn’t have to mean division.

1. As a general rule, please keep this widely forgotten truth in mind: nobody asked for your opinion. Be aware of your intrusiveness, and allow it to positively impact the way you conduct yourself online.

2. Given #1, always consider (and reconsider) your purpose for sending something into the social media abyss. If it’s mostly for validation, there are better avenues, like a nice conversation over coffee with a similarly-minded friend. If it’s to convert the masses, there are better ways to communicate your mission. You don’t want to be the turn-or-burn evangelists of Facebook. How effective is that, really? If you’re passionate about an issue and want to inform others of your perspective, those conversations are usually best had as (a) actual conversations, not info-graphics or strongly-worded statements and (b) in a comfortable, safe space with established norms (thanks, TFA). A status is not that.

3. I cannot stress this enough: syntax is everything. In a context-less realm where intent isn’t conveyed unless you purposefully include it, you have to be so, so careful with HOW you choose your words and HOW you string them together. It’s literally all you have to get your point across.

4. Seriously, stop accusing large groups of people of being too sensitive or ignorant assholes. You barely know all of your Facebook friends. There’s no way you know the entirety of one American demographic well enough to make those big, broad judgement calls. Don’t belittle someone else’s experience by telling them their opinions are merely symptoms of over-sensitivity or insensitivity. Once again, this is not a useful tactic for showing your neighbors they’re heard and appreciated.

5. When someone personally offends you and you feel it’s important to let them know (and I’ll admit, sometimes, that’s the case), voice your concerns in a private way. I know they didn’t provide you with that courtesy, but it’s the better protocol. You can present your viewpoints to each other without making a public display of your disagreement. Usually, this works. If it doesn’t, step two is to unfollow/unfriend the person. Address the problem and move on in a convenient way real-life doesn’t always allow.

6. And lastly, in case you’ve forgotten why you deleted your Xanga, guttural reactions should be kept far away from the internet. We all have those thoughtless, impassioned responses to events, decisions, whatever. That’s normal and fine. Write it in a journal. Talk it out with your best friend. Your 1,200 Facebook friends don’t need to see your knee-jerk word-vomit.

Go ahead and exercise your good ole American right to say whatever you want whenever you want, but my friendly advice is don’t be a jerk about it. Being aware of other people’s feelings doesn’t make you soft. It makes you a decent person.

Be respectful and kind with your words.You may be typing them onto a screen, but real people with real emotions and experiences are the ones who receive them.

*** Note: To those of you who successfully navigate presenting controversial subjects in a way that is inclusive and welcomes discussion, I applaud you. Keep doing what you’re doing.

On Courage and Not Always Getting Your Licks Back


“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what…” Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

Until recently, I believed courage to be a trait slightly beyond my capacity as a human being to possess, at least in any measurable amount. I viewed it as a virtue requiring so much boldness that it often needs a little help from Recklessness, and given the choice, I’m someone who always veers from risk towards the path of logic and soundness. Even my apparent “spontaneity,” namely moving to Mississippi to teach in a Title I school, was actually meticulously calculated, leaving only the inevitable discomfort of newness outside of my perceived control.

The fall of last year was, well, horrible. Prior to joining TFA, I would’ve told you that I was very well-equipped to face difficulty, but nothing could have prepared me for what my job would be like and require from me on a daily basis. I won’t waste time going into details; it would take forever, and honestly, it’s a series of “you had to be there”-s. But trust me, by October, I had become a raw nub of a person. The events of those months left me so worn I was practically transparent, and the thing about this kind of thinning transformation is that it lets you clearly see, perhaps for the first time, exactly who you are and what you’re made of. And the parts of yourself you finally have to face aren’t all pretty. In my case, I was confronted with some truly ugly Emalyn pieces. Sadly, I wasn’t the only one who had to stare into my darkness. I had 100 fourteen year olds, my administration, and relatively new friends witnessing me at the worst I’ve ever been.

Note: this is not a sad story. As the year went on, I acclimated to Leflore county, and the demands of teaching became more approachable. While I would deem last year a success only in the sense that I, you know, survived, I’m proud of my choice to show up everyday for an overwhelmingly arduous task because of my belief in the cause. I’m humbled to soldier along on the front lines in a battle I’m passionate about, and I’m thankful to be doing so as a member of a larger movement. The only thing I regret is not being the excellent educator my children deserve, but I’m now at peace with knowing I gave them the very best I had to offer.

The next August showed up too quickly, and that deep, aching anxiety I felt every morning walking down the breezeway reappeared, now heightened with a year’s experience. Episodes of my classroom in chaos played on a looped feed, and I was suddenly aware that beginning this year was going to be significantly harder than it was for me when I was a soft, blind-but-full-of-ideals newbie. It was after the dauntlessness of first year faded that an unrecognizable trait emerged and pushed me beyond flat reason. I came to know it as a bit of courage. It’s one thing to stumble into a situation, but it’s something else entirely to willingly return to that situation intimately knowing what’s waiting for you there. And despite the irrationality of going back to an environment that nearly broke me, I planned and prepared and drove to Amanda Elzy High School to meet my next bunch of teenagers. And I’ll go tomorrow and all of the days until June.

I’m finally understanding what Atticus was getting at. I guess I expected courage to look spectacular when it often doesn’t look like much of anything. Most of the time it probably looks a lot like failure. But that’s the point, right? Everyone loves a show, and it’s easy to walk into a crowd with the upper hand, make a big fuss, shoot some bullets, and leave feeling like you gave it a good go at taking a stand for something. But real courage is anchored in love and conviction rather than in affirmations and recognition. Sometimes it’s just showing up because no one else is going to. I can’t do a lot here, I’m well aware of my limitations, but I can do that. And seeing courage from this angle makes it a tangible and appealing quality instead of an eternally unattainable one.

Although I still identify with an owl far more than with a lion, I think it’s cool to see how we’re all capable of harnessing any number of honorable traits for the people we care about. I’m thankful that success isn’t the only goal and even more so for the hope that a few of my efforts get scooped up by the wind and find their way to good soil.

“…You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Body War Z



The push back is here, and everyone seems to have an arsenal of insults to wield against body types different than their own and against their own bodies because they’re not perfect (gasp). The phrase “real woman” gets thrown around a lot to describe one picture of beauty or another. Think Jennifer Lawrence, Miss Indiana, and Kate Upton. The other day I saw an advertisement that said, “Plus size IS beauty.” And recently, there’s been a backlash from the naturally thin population. All of it is warranted, and I understand the sentiment, but I think we’ve been warring against the wrong thing. This is not a woman vs. woman war. This is not a you vs. your expectations war. This is a battle against numerical worth.

Even if it’s unintentional, effectively defining womanhood and/or beauty by a particular number, no matter what that number may be, perpetuates this long-standing and pervasive idea that there’s only one correct female archetype. It’s objectifying. And it’s infuriating because it necessarily creates a small minority that is simultaneously idolized and berated while the rest of the female population is constantly disappointed for never reaching “true” womanhood. This bothers everyone so much because we know deep down in our bellies (literally, it’s my problem area) that it’s wrong to quantify how we look. Because then, how close we come to the ideal number begins to determine our worth. And let’s be real for a minute, it’s not feel-good or sugar-coated to say that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. That’s actually the truth.

Pursuing healthiness is not the same as seeking perfection, and the interesting thing is that you can’t put a number on healthy. My healthy looks different than yours and hers and his. But my healthy looks right for my 5’9 frame. And most importantly, my healthy is going to allow me to be the best version of myself that I can be, which is a much better version than my lazy or skinny-obsessed selves could ever be.

It seems to me that this is essentially what everyone’s been trying to get at, but it’s turned into this “my kind of beauty is the right kind of beauty” yelling match where everyone loses. We need to stop celebrating difference if we don’t plan on truly applying that mindset to our own bodies, especially when we feel that our femininity is being threatened by the pictures we see and the words we read and hear. We need to stop hating our perfectly made bodies because they don’t fit into the pant or bra size we want. We need to stop telling other ladies that they’re less of a woman to make ourselves feel like we’re more of one.

Look, I have no illusions about the weight my opinion carries. The media and fashion industries are probably never going to stop presenting us with one basic image of a woman, and we all know how powerful that imagery can be. I’m not going to pretend that looks will ever lose their importance. We have eyes. We’re visual beings, and we’re drawn to beauty. But I wonder how much anguish could’ve been avoided in my teenage years and even in my early twenties if the women around me encouraged me to pursue healthiness and actually believed it themselves. If my friends viewed their own bodies through the lens of healthiness and not perfection, I wouldn’t feel so validated in my body criticisms. If I treated myself and my body with the respect that I should, my friends would probably take my compliments of their beauty more seriously. I would be a better friend. And we all would be better for choosing to see ourselves as worthy of love and good treatment, responding to changes and imperfections about our bodies as such, and focusing our attention on the well-being and health of our friends. I don’t think this is an unrealistic pursuit. But it is an inward-out one.

I am not a number. Neither is anyone else. I’ve started making a conscious effort to not objectify myself or to buy into archetypes. I can’t change the the societal expectations thrust upon me, but I can change how I much I internalize their messages. And I sincerely hope you will not allow them to negatively mold you and the way you view your beautiful, healthy body.

Adam’s Curse



Part 1 of 2: The Valentine’s Day Series.


The toast. (You can take this literally or figuratively).

To relationships. Of any sort. And to the people you love.

Here’s to choosing to love when it truly becomes a choice. To acknowledging that in every worthwhile venture, there will be disappointment, heartache, and disorienting darkness. To staying in someone’s darkness for a season because you so cherish their light. To high highs and exuberance in those seasons of sunshiny warmth. To holding someone’s hand even when they’re just using it to push you away. To holding their hand even when all you want is to get the hell away from them. To actually understanding what it means to carry another person’s burden. To desiring them to unload more. To recognizing our unquestionable dependence on the company of others. To intimately knowing and, at times, causing pain. And to having the guts to build, renovate, and maintain relationships, anyway.


People I love, thanks for hanging out with me in the dark funks, for opening the windows of my mind when I seriously needed some vitamin D, and for all of the happiness and bliss you keep on giving.


Feel free to stop reading here. HOWEVER, you’ll be missing out on writing far more eloquent and beautiful than mine. Below are two poems that express (in ways I cannot) what real love requires: conscious choice and effort.


Adam’s Curse

W.B. Yeats


We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’


We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.


I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.




Twenty One Love Poems

Adrienne Rich


The dark lintels, the blue and foreign stones
of the great round rippled by stone implements
the midsummer night light rising from beneath
the horizon – when I said “a cleft of light”
I meant this. And this is not Stonehenge
simply nor any place but the mind
casting back to where her solitude,
shared, could be chosen without loneliness,
not easily nor without pains to stake out
the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light.
I choose to be the figure in that light,
half – blotted by darkness, something moving
across that space, the color of stone
greeting the moon, yet more than stone:
a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

How about them apples?


You know that moment when you can tell something is physically wrong with someone? Like a limp or a lump or another miscellaneous ailment. And you have this inner debate going on where you can’t decide if it’s more rude not to ask about it, which would show your concern, or to bring up what is most certainly a sensitive and exhausted subject. Yeah, I’m regularly on both sides of that situation, and I still don’t know how to handle it.

This is kind of like that.

I have been in pain every minute of every day since my body stretched six inches in the seventh grade. I have this fairly rare condition called Scheuermann’s Disease. Couple that with my scoliosis and you get my spine: twisty-turny in all the wrong ways. So, what do my muscles do in response? They constantly yell, “I’M MAD! SO MAD AT YOU, VERTEBRAE, FOR NOT DOING WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO, AND NOW I’M GOING TO GET BACK AT YOU BY BEING INFLAMED AND MANGLED UNTIL YOU GET BACK TO NORMAL.” Except, my spine never goes back to normal.

In the last month, my pain has gone from a consistently moderate pain to a sharp, stabbing pain. My muscles are now tight enough they are pulling my rib heads out of place. For the first time, I’m experiencing unlivable pain. For the first time, I couldn’t go to work because it was unbearable to be upright for extended periods of time. For the first time, my pain interfered with my work and social lives to the point of rendering me unable to participate.

I’ve known for about seven years I will live in pain for the rest of my life, but I’ve found solace in being told it will likely not get worse. Well, they might have been wrong.

I’m writing this mostly because I don’t feel like people regularly talk about physical pain, at least in the open. I know I sure don’t. I barely talk to my closest friends about it. We find community and comfort in knowing others have also experienced emotional turmoil. But having experienced both, I have to say that they’re like apples and oranges. Not entirely different, but definitely distinguishable.

So, here I am. Confused and angry about a pain that is rapidly worsening with no good explanation, no real solution, and the promise that I will forever be in disease limbo between mild and severe. Embarrassingly vulnerable, but in this weakened state wanting to offer a sense of togetherness to the other people I know dealing with one form of pain or another.

We don’t talk about it, because it’s awkward almost every time. We get that, “Oh…” or “I’m so sorry…” or my favorite, “Well, I guess it could be worse…” Then, you quickly change the subject to some easy, sugary topic that doesn’t warrant genuine empathy.

It’s awkward because when we talk about living in pain, we’re not just talking about our conditions. We’re talking about everything that comes with them. To offer some contrast, my face looks kind of gross right now, because I just had a mole removed, but it doesn’t feel heavy or uncomfortable to discuss my stitches with anyone… They will disappear in a matter of weeks. It’s surface level physically and emotionally. Talking about my back feels like unloading years of self-consciousness and anxiety. Explaining to someone that I will be in pain forever comes with the emotional backing of my worries. The worry about pain turning me into an angry or unhappy person. The worry about how I will be able to handle my disease progression. The worry about what kind of career I can be successful in with my limitations. The worry about the financial strain this would put on a husband and family. The worry about whether or not my kids could have my condition, and what kind of mother I would be to knowingly and willingly pass on this pain.

And all the person expected was a yes-of-course-everything-will-be-great answer. Tension arises, so we skim over it instead of being real and honest. Because that’s the hard part. I think it’s a shame I haven’t trusted the sincerity of people’s curiosity. I’ve avoided their care in an unwillingness to be transparent and vulnerable.

We should shake our uneasiness. Pain is a universal human experience, and instead of letting it isolate us, it should help unify us. I wholeheartedly believe that we possess a supernatural ability to persist. It is amazing to me how much we are able to get used to and how much we are able to overcome on a daily basis. I mean, it isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t always comfortable. But we make it. We show up everyday and try again.

I can’t promise you that you’ll get better from your ailment. But you will get better. You’ll get stronger and happier and more resilient. To quote one of my favorite movies, Elizabethtown, “We are intrepid. We carry on.” Let’s stick together and remember that while we are not defined by our pain, it’s okay to recognize the role it’s played in shaping who we’ve become.

Single People, Stop Being Weird About It.



Between the two of us, my Kentuckian roommate and I have around 60-70 friends that have gotten engaged, married, or have had a baby since we started Summer Institute. In June. That’s a lot of people. More specifically, that’s a lot of people who are making major life decisions vastly different from us. I am so single, living with six other single people, doing a job that requires every bit of me I can offer every minute of every day to be just mediocre. On a good day.

I’m a career-absorbed, feminist commitment-phobe, and I’m restless. This, as you might imagine, is not the ideal recipe for a wife. Eventually, I would like to get married and be a mother, but I am 100% sure that I wouldn’t be on the same path if I had taken those steps already. And I sure as hell believe I’m on the right one.

To my fellow single people: It’s okay that other people our age are making choices for their life that may or may not have been presented to you yet. Believe me (reference the above), I know it seems like an overwhelming majority of Southern 20-somethings are starting to make families and homes for themselves, but I assure you there are many of us left braving the transition into adulthood on our own.

I’m semi-annoyed by the single voice right now. I think it’s a misrepresentation of what it should mean to be single, and more importantly, I believe that it’s creating a chasm between those with and without a ring on their finger. And that’s just silly.

So, this is my advice, and then I’ll shut up about it.

1. Stop harping on the married folk! Seriously, even if you’re not bitter about being alone, constantly remarking about your singleness makes you appear to be.

2. For my ladies- Once upon a time, we lived in a world where we needed men to take care of us. There were all of two professions for women, and they barely provided enough to live on. Now, we can support ourselves. We can wait to find the right someone at the right time and not have to worry about financial stability. Remember, you don’t NEED someone!

3. A combination of Southern culture and rom-coms have brainwashed many of us and our families to believe that the pinnacle of our lives is marriage. This is a lie. Marriage can be wonderful, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of human existence. Don’t be discouraged if holiday gatherings primarily consist of dialogues that go something like this: “So, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, yet?” “No, I’m still riding solo.” “Oh… well, I’m sure you’ll find someone. What about so-and-so?” “You mean that person who ripped my heart to shreds 2 years ago? Yeah, it still isn’t working out.”

They don’t mean any harm. They love you and only want the best for you. Just tell them the best hasn’t come, and you’re not settling for less. They like that stuff.

4. Young people don’t know what they want because they haven’t experienced enough or dated enough. This is also a lie. It’s true that 50+% of marriages fail, but that still means that half survive. Half succeed. Who are you to say that someone’s relationship will fail? These lucky individuals get to have someone to intimately know them even when they don’t fully know themselves. They get to figure life out together. It’s great.

5. The pitfall that we tend to find ourselves in is this weird emotional concoction: part envy and part misunderstanding. When we’re being honest, all of the disgustingly cute couple pictures and pretty, shiny rings make love and commitment look, you know, fun and desirable. So, part of us is like, “Hey, you look really happy being in love, and I want that… but I don’t have that… so now I feel like being passive aggressive about not having what I want.” On the other hand, we see a lot of couples that get married super young after only a few months of dating when neither person has finished college nor has a job, and we’re like, “… Why…? That’s so illogical… and yet… you look happy and cute and oh gosh I’m back to being a tiny bit envious because you have someone that’s willing to put up with you forever when I know I sure couldn’t be around you that long.” And the mixture occurs. We simultaneously want and don’t want commitment, love, and a person to be with forever and ever. (This often leads us to #1).

6. We can do so much cool shit when we’re single! We’re allowed to be selfish (sort of, anyway). We can choose when and how we want to do something. We can move anywhere, pick any job we want, and go out when we want without having to consult anyone else. These are not necessarily true when you’re married/engaged/in a serious relationship. Those have a lot of their own perks, like having a built-in partner and encourager through hardships and celebration, but there are plenty of opportunities for joy and self-fulfillment when you’re not committed to another person.

7. If you’re anything like me, #6 really resonates with you. I love being single. I WANT to be single. I think it’s awesome. Ask my family, my friends, my students. They’ll all tell you how much I like it. This is great considering that I’m single. It would be a bummer if I hated it. With this mindset, it becomes so easy to assume that the best thing for everyone else in the world is the thing I want for myself. Once I realized that my married friends were getting what THEY really wanted by making a lifelong commitment to another person, I stopped projecting my own desires and expectations on them. I went from assuming they were giving up something or they were going to be disappointed somehow to understanding that they were doing what they knew would make them happy. I’m happy; they’re happy. Hooray!

8. Independence, self-confidence, and contentment are traits that everyone admires. No one likes a desperate, bitter, or discontent person. Even other members of the young and single club. Develop these while you can focus on yourself. Don’t be “that person” who is always wishing their life could be something other than what it is.

9. So, what if you never get married? You can devote your whole life to other people, to a cause you believe in, to a career you love! You can do something awesome that you wouldn’t be able to do if you had to divide your passion and time! You can be a fantastic aunt or uncle or godparent. You can be the best friend. You can be happy and complete and single.

10. Life is about loving other people and serving. Life is going to be so perfectly wonderful and so devastatingly difficult, and you must know how to be content regardless of the circumstance. You have to love and serve other people in whatever way you can with a satisfied heart. And you need to be satisfied with or without the love of a significant other.

You are beautiful and worthwhile. Freaking act like it.

This is Nothing New.


If there’s anything you learn in Teach for America, it is to be reflective. But I must warn you ahead of time, what I’m about to reflect upon: you’ve heard it all before. And it’s long, so… beware.

I have a student who really reminds me of myself when I was in high school, never more so than the other day when she got her very first referral for angrily walking out of class. I watched her as she boisterously declared that my dear friend had treated the situation unfairly. She recounted a number of incidents when the teacher had not written referrals for much more egregious behavior from her other classmates. How is it fair that she, the star student, gets a referral for losing her temper when others get a mere reprimand for way worse?!

My friend was right, though. She gave our student the referral for a classroom performance that was inappropriate. She didn’t do this to be hard or unfair, but because this student doesn’t need to be coddled or to be made to feel invincible. She’s strong and capable, and she’s going to make her way into the real world someday where that kind of behavior will not be tolerated. She needs to learn when and how to handle frustration, and her teacher trusted her with that lesson because she can take it, even if she wishes she didn’t have to, right now. 

This is why her punishment was fair: it fit her. Yes, other students get away with a whole helluva lot more than she does on a daily basis, and that is hella upsetting to a ninth grader. But if we were to hold all of our students, particularly the difficult ones, to these same high expectations as we hold her, most of them would inevitably, violently fail. I can easily name ten to twenty that would not make it through a single class period. To teach all of my students, I have to customize my behavior and academic expectations for each of them. Eventually, they will all learn this valuable life-lesson our one student is learning now, but for most, it will have to wait. 

Since I witnessed that teacher-student interaction, I haven’t been able to shake my empathy for this student. I remember when I got my first write-up in high school. A dress code infraction, of course. I bent over to get my book bag at the end of the day; my shirt came untucked; I didn’t tuck it back in; my teacher wrote me up. But I was such a good student! Didn’t he realize that good kids don’t get written up for silly, minor things?! Good grief, if that had been one of those other kids, he wouldn’t have done anything, right?! 

Right. Exactly. You got it.

Unfortunately, even though there have been a number of generous leaders attempting to teach me these kind of lessons throughout my life, I’ve never ceased to have a hard time with the “to whom much is given, much is required” idea. I mean if you’d asked me three weeks ago about the dress code incident, I’m sure I still would’ve sounded bitter about the whole thing.

What I’ve been too ashamed to recognize is that my concept of fair has been the problem. Sure, if I get half of the questions right on a test and you get all of them right, it’s only fair that I get a 50% and you get a 100%. But that’s not the kind of fair I’m talking about. 

In this place, at my school, with my students, I am constantly bombarded with how my white, middle-class, suburban privilege provided me with societal advantages that allowed my to, in many ways, glide my way through adolescence and young adulthood. Even within that sector, I found myself regularly under a microscope of peer and adult scrutiny, which always felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I couldn’t accept that as being fair. 

I’ve worked hard; I’ve been the stereotypical “good student.” And I’m not trying to downplay my efforts nor my successes. But the thing is, there’s nothing fair about the kind of privilege I was born into. There’s nothing fair about the advantages I had growing up. There’s just not. So, it is fair that I am held to higher expectations, that my teachers, bosses, parents, and friends have always required a lot from me. 

Regardless of my willingness to accept it, I will always need a regular smack in the face with a metaphorical referral to remind me that I may be strong and capable, but I do not need to be coddled or to be made to feel invincible. I need the lessons that fit me. 

Now, THAT is fair.