Lessons Learned & Random Ramblings

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Is life passing you by? A reflection & review…. June 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:24 pm

Lately I seem to be drawn to books that feature characters who are re-evaluating their lives, redefining their goals or assessing their previous “path”. I am not sure if I am choosing these intentionally or if this just happens to be a current recurring theme in popular fiction but either way it makes for interesting personal reflection and conversation.

On the recommendation of one of my very best friends I just read “Juliet, Naked” by Nick Hornby. I was pretty excited to read it because I love John Cusack. What is the connection you ask? John Cusack was in the movie version of “High Fidelity” based on an earlier novel by Hornby. Ever since Lloyd Dobbler held up the boombox playing “In Your Eyes” in “Say Anything” I have been a little bit in love with John Cusack. Off topic but the bottom line is that I had very high hopes for “Juliet, Naked” and I was not disappointed.

The story focuses on the lives of two very different people. The first is Annie from England who is nearing 40, recently single after a long, unfulfilling relationship with Duncan – an obsessed fan of retired musician Tucker Crowe, living in a town that she doesn’t feel connected to and interacting with people she doesn’t really consider true friends. The second is the aforementioned Tucker, an American musician who has left the limelight and who has a dedicated fan base that obsesses about his life and believes mostly in the fiction they create on their own about his life rather than actuality. Tucker hasn’t done much in his life since his music days except break women’s hearts and father multiple children.

Both are questioning who they really are and whether or not they have wasted their lives. Annie wonders why she wasted so much time with Duncan and is frustrated by her lack of purpose and passion and by the fact that by staying with Duncan she is childless. Tucker wonders if he was ever any good at music and, if he was, whether or not he is defined more by his accomplishments or by his absence. He is questioning his lack of relationship and parenting skills and trying to decide whether or not he is willing to put in the effort to become a better person. The two connect after Annie reviews a newly released CD that Tucker only okays because he is having money problems and he responds to her comments.

Without giving anything else away I will say that their personal journeys are both very interesting but more appealing is their ability to make each other aware of life’s questions through their email correspondence. Without necessarily trying to they are able to challenge each other to assess their lives and reevaluate their purpose and their passion. Without really specifically addressing the question they help each other to evaluate whether or not their lives have truly passed them by.

This book – and others – have gotten me thinking about whether or not we really “waste” our lives. Do our lives really pass us by? I suppose the answer depends on whether or not you view everything that happens to you as individual successes or failures OR as small pieces of what cumulatively defines who you are.

Personally, I look at each experience – good, bad and indifferent – as an opportunity for learning and I believe that cumulatively they make me, me. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes it seems like years pass before I can find something remotely positive to say about an experience. Sometimes I have to really force myself to find the silver lining or the teachable moment. I struggle to find the lessons learned but almost always I can eventually get there.

I’ve looked at failed relationships and wondered what the hell I was thinking or why I allowed myself to set the bar so incredibly low. I’ve looked at past jobs and wondered why I wasted my time. I’ve looked at friendships that didn’t stand the test of time and asked myself whether I put too much effort in or not enough and I question whether it was worth investing myself. However, I’ve learned that every past relationship – platonic and romantic – helped me to define my expectations and address my own struggles and failures. I’ve learned that – for the most part! – everyone that fits into one of those categories came into my life for a reason and taught me something about myself or the world that helped to shape who I have become. I’ve learned that for every job that made me miserable or wasn’t fulfilling I have been able to learn something about myself – my strengths and my weaknesses – that have made it easier for me to define when and how I am willing to compromise and when I am entitled to have high expectations and not lower them.

Determining our personal “path” in life is both exciting and intimidating. As I type this I am working at a part-time job and trying to put together course syllabi for the fall semester. I am 5 months pregnant and applying to PhD programs. I am 32 years old and only figured out a few years ago what I want to be when I grow up. Thankfully I have a wonderfully supportive husband, a fantastic group of encouraging friends and family, years of varied experience in different fields of academic study and employment and – at the moment! – an open-minded attitude about defining what comes next.

In “Juliet, Naked” both Annie and Tucker prove it is never too late to redefine ourselves. It is never too late to step outside (or sometimes get pushed out!) of our comfort zone. It is never too late to forgive ourselves for not having it all figured out or for mistakes in the past and take the time to determine what comes next – sometimes by taking small steps and sometimes by making giant leaps. It is never too late to become who you want to be.

All good reminders from the brilliant Nick Hornby!

Got a good book suggestion? I’d love to hear it!


The “joys” of pregnancy…..really?! May 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 10:41 am

Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be. ~ Carrie Fisher

Imagine you are in a very small and never updated dressing room at Macy’s. The lighting is bad, the carpet is pretty gross, a person wearing a size 4 would have a hard time turning around without crashing into a door, small stool or mirror. You’d be cranky. Now imagine you are doing it while 18 weeks pregnant. It was without a doubt the worst shopping trip of my life – and I didn’t even attempt to purchase a maternity bathing suit!

A few questions: (1) Why do designers of maternity clothes believe that the more patterns and frills the better? Am I not big enough already? I need crazy strips and ruffles to help enhance my look? (2) Why is it nearly impossible to find a one piece maternity bathing suit? Why do you want to show more of your pregnant body to the world? Especially when you are see through pale like me.

Everyone discusses the “joys” of pregnancy. I read about – and personally know! – women who have LOVED being pregnant. I don’t understand it. I love the idea of being a mom, I love knowing that I am bringing a child into the world. I don’t love being pregnant. I don’t even like it. Once I got past the 16-hour a day nausea I moved into exhaustion. Now I am in heartburn and dizziness. I pee a dozen times a day. My breasts which were previously just fine but not particularly spectacular are now taking over my body. I’ll be 6-8 months pregnant at the height of the summer. So on top of everything else I’ll be sweaty and cranky. Not to mention the fact that on a daily basis strangers like to discuss my pregnancy, offer unsolicited advice and touch my stomach. What is joyous about all of this? I just don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong – I am incredibly grateful to be pregnant. After a previous ectopic pregnancy and months of trying I am so blessed to be expecting a child that appears to be healthy. I am healthy. My husband is a saint. We have ordered cute nursery furniture and my family is planning what promises to be a beautiful shower. All good things. It is just the day-to-day that throws me.

Carrie Fisher’s quote is perfect. Last night as I debated what I could have for dinner that would cause the least heartburn and I sat upright so as not to increase dizziness by standing or laying down for too long I debated names with my husband and I found myself wondering what my future child will be – a professor and writer like me, an engineer like my husband, a professional athlete, a social worker, a thinker, a doctor, etc. I don’t really care what he or she does as long as they are good people and their lives make them happy. I want my son or daughter to be open-minded, loving, compassionate people who work hard and dream big.

I just need to get through the next four and half months first…..


Sticks & Stones January 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 8:13 pm

Whoever came up with the saying “sticks & stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” was either delusional, outright lying or attempting to make someone feel better.

I’ve worked with children and teens for nearly 15 years. Very rarely to they come to me to discuss a physical altercation. Hopefully this is because they don’t happen often but I also think that it is because in general when people have a fight – especially guys – they can duke it out and move on. They release their frustration, they get out the tension and then they get on with it. On the other hand, I have worked with many teens and young adults – both male and female – who come to me to discuss something that was said to them and the incredible hurt they feel at the comment(s). These comments can be an hour old, a day old, a week old or more and their impact doesn’t necessarily decrease and the hurt feelings don’t go always go away right away.

Personally, I’d rather be punched than have hateful comments hurled at me and I’d rather jump in front of a train for someone I love than allow them to be the target of hatred, bigotry or ignorance. I don’t remember any physical altercations from my past – though I am sure there were a few minor skirmishes but I do remember some of the verbal assaults I faced and ignorant comments I heard. Even things that seemed minor sometimes stick with us. When I was about 15 my great-uncle said to me “You may be the pretty one but your sister is the smart one”. I didn’t even hear the (backhanded!) compliment because I was so insulted that he seemed to think I wasn’t smart AND/OR that he (and very likely many others in society) believed that a woman couldn’t be both attractive and intelligent. Another incident I recall is that in college a dean asked me if I was sure I wanted to live in a “multicultural” dorm and reminded me that I was white. I was outraged that she seemed to believe that because I was white I might not value diversity or I might not feel comfortable in a “multicultural” setting. I have to believe that both my great-uncle and the dean were speaking without thinking and that they didn’t realize the negative ramifications of their comments because otherwise I would have to assume that they were hateful and ignorant and that makes me sad.

When I teach writing classes I stress the power of words. I encourage my students to really think about what they want to say and then how they say it. I remind them that they deserve to have a voice but that they are also responsible for what they say and the possible consequences – both good and bad. I remind them that to get respect they also have to give respect. This is particularly important in present day because of the emphasis on digital communication – facebook, text messages, emails, etc. I remind the kids that I work with that tone and intention aren’t always obvious in our social networking and that we may be trying to be funny or sarcastic and instead it may come across as mean or aggressive. I also remind them that once they put something out there, they can’t take it back and that they will very likely be judged based on what they said.

When I teach women’s studies classes I stress not only the power of words but also the impact we unintentionally have on others – esp. related to self-confidence and body image. For example, if I always deflect compliments or say that I feel fat or unattractive and I say it in front of my ten-year old niece or my younger cousins what message does it send? If they love me the way I am and they think I am beautiful yet I don’t accept their beliefs what will it make them think about themselves and what they believe? I can’t imagine something worse than having my niece look at herself differently or judge herself because of something negative I said about myself without realizing she was paying attention.

I went to a social media training about a year ago and the trainer encouraged us to imagine facebook (and any other social networking) as a cocktail party. She said that anything you say at a cocktail party – no matter how discreet you are trying to be – can be overheard, analyzed and shared with others. More importantly, she reminded us that once we have opened our mouths we can’t take back what we said OR control what happens next as our words are shared, our intentions are twisted and the game of telephone begins. This is especially true when we say something mean. If I quietly whisper to a friend at a party that I think the host looks fat and her friend overhears and shares it with someone else what happens? At best, I look petty to the few people who know what I said. At worst it gets back to the host and I hurt her feelings and look like an insecure or judgmental bitch. However, if I think carefully about what I say and the weight my words might carry I wouldn’t say the host looked fat even if it was true and instead I might talk about how she has created a great atmosphere for a gathering. In that situation at best my words get back to the host and she feels good about herself. At a minimum, I put good vibes out in the universe and the people who hear me hopefully remember me as a kind person with good things to say about people.

In all of my interaction with youth – personal relationships, mentoring programs, teaching/advising, etc. I have a pretty strict policy on word choice. In the movie Malcolm X one of the characters says: “A man curses because he doesn’t have the words to say what’s on his mind.” I believe this and I believe that when we put down others, or use negative words to describe others, it is because we are scared of something we don’t understand or that we are not smart enough or compassionate enough to come up with an alternate word choice. I tell my students that in order to create a respectful environment we have to be careful of the words we use. For example: I call my students out when they say “that’s so gay” or “that’s so retarded”. I discourage them from using the words “stupid” and “hate”. I don’t do this to restrict their freedom of speech but rather to encourage them to actually think about what they want to say and what reaction they are hoping for by saying it.

The recent shootings in Tucson have reminded us how important it is to be inclusive instead of divisive. Politics aside I do believe that our rhetoric has power and is often negative. Do sane people become violent because of one comment – not likely. However when we create a culture of hate how can we be surprised that people are affected by it? This is just one more reminder of how important it is to think before we speak. We can disagree with people about politics, religion, social issues, etc. without attacking them. We can dislike what people say without disliking the people saying it.

Today is Martin Luther King Day – an important day to remember the power of words and the impact we can have on one and other. We each have a choice – to put love and respect out there or to add to the hatred and ignorance. We can work to positively affect others or we can sit back and wait for someone else to do it. To me that seems sad and cowardly.  As Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Take a moment and reflect on the power of his words…


You Can’t Always Get What You Want…. January 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 11:21 am

It sounds less mean when you sing it like the Rolling Stones song….

I usually get what I want. I don’t expect things to be given to me, or to come easily. But typically, I can get what I want – personally, educationally, professionally. I dream big, I set realistic goals and I work REALLY hard to achieve what I want. I have a tremendous support system and personal cheerleaders that are there to help and I am always willing to return the favor. When I get whatever it might be or make whatever it is happen, I don’t take it for granted either. I appreciate it. I am grateful for it. I share it with others. Obviously there have been times when I have had to wait for something or overcome an obstacle (or many obstacles!) to achieve what I wanted. There have been times when I have wanted to give up or felt completely overwhelmed but I have almost always had within my power the ability to work things out or make things happen.

That is why I am having such a hard time with the fact that after nearly a year – and one emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy – I am not yet pregnant.

I am a smart woman, logically I know that on average it takes 6-12 months to get pregnant. Logically I understand that the surgery threw things off a bit. Logically I understand that I am capable of getting pregnant and I just have to be patient. Logically I count out my 14 days and use the silly sticks and take as most control as possible. Logically I understand that there are millions of women who have had to wait much longer, or chosen a path of medical intervention, and I remind myself that I should be grateful.

Emotionally I lament over the amount of time it is taking. Emotionally each time my period comes again I am disappointed. Emotionally I keep thinking about the what-ifs. I am a college professor – the semesters start and end the same time every year and I obsess over how I will keep my job depending on when I get pregnant and when our child might arrive. Emotionally I think of people I know who have gotten pregnant despite health risks, unhealthy lifestyles, and in spite of almost never having sex. Emotionally this feels SO unfair. Emotionally I drive myself crazy!

Sex education in high school is almost too effective — and popular culture makes it seem like pregnancy is the norm. When I was in high school I believed that if I had sex even once without protection I would be instantly pregnant. This would lead to the believe that as soon as I started trying to get pregnant it would work out. Watching TV today every reality show “celebrity” and 16-year-old is having a baby. Were they trying? Are they excited? Did they just want a reality TV show? It can be overwhelming.

I try very hard to think of the positives. If I am not pregnant I can keep trying to be healthier and lose a few pounds, I can work harder to save money, I can plan a trip to CA to see friends, I can have a couple of drinks at the weddings we have been invited to in the next two months and not feel guilty. I don’t have to worry about throwing up from morning sickness in front of my students (that would be super embarrassing!) and I don’t have to worry about buying new maternity clothes yet.

My husband’s grandmother told me that she is praying to St. Jude for me. I am not religious so I thought this sounded like a nice gesture and I thanked her for putting good thoughts out in the universe. I came home and googled St. Jude. He is the patron saint of lost and desperate causes. Are you kidding me? I am sure there is something I am missing but I couldn’t help but think: Am I the lost cause? Is the baby the lost cause? Should I be insulted? I am still not sure. Perhaps I should do some more research.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want….perhaps the next line should be : exactly when you want it. That is the part that I have to remember. Patience is a virtue, right? I’ll have to work on that too.

Any advice or tips to refocusing my energy & focusing on the positive would be much appreciated! Thanks!


GRACE: My word for 2011 January 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:55 pm

I subscribe to a great blog called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I always enjoy what she has to say but recently something in particular stuck with me. Rubin featured a “Happiness Resolution” which encouraged readers to “choose a one word theme for the new year”. I’ve been thinking about this for several weeks and I have officially selected my word for 2011: GRACE.

According to Dictionary.com – Grace is defined as the following: “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action; a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment;  favor or good will”.

When I think of grace I think about grace in motion, treating all people with kindness and respect. I think of the state of grace and of graceful simplicity. I also think about the importance of saying no gracefully and the fear of falling from grace. The word is pretty powerful and has so many different ideas and emotions attached.

When I was little my grandfather called me “Grace”. It started because I was less than graceful as a child. I was a bit of a klutz and often made people laugh with my lack of gracefulness. As I got older – and thankfully less klutzy! – the name stuck. My grandfather passed away when I was 14 but in the nearly 20 years that have passed my family continues to occasionally refer to me as Grace – thankfully almost always in a positive light!

As I started to think about how I would like to define 2011 it just came to me – it will be “The Year of grace”. I want to be graceful in the way I carry myself, I want to be graceful in the way I communicate and interact with others. I want to try to exhibit grace under pressure when things get crazy and I hope to be able to get back up gracefully if I should happen to fall down.

2011 will bring a LOT of changes – I have committed to tackling a new job in higher education, I have taken on new courses to teach and I have committed to writing more – in particular I plan to tackle the topic I previously blogged about. My husband and I want to have children, I have friends who have moved away that I hope to visit and remain connected to. I will be an aunt in a few months and have lots of family obligations to balance as well. I hope to handle all of it with grace and create a life that whenever possible exudes graceful simplicity.

What is your word for 2011? How will you define your year? Best of luck and Happy New Year!


When inspiration strikes… December 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 12:06 am

For months now I’ve been trying to send a message to the universe: Pretty please send me something inspiring to write about…

For most of my life I have wanted to be a writer — and a baseball playing princess. The reality is that in many ways I am a writer. I teach writing and women’s studies, I do freelance projects, I blog about things that interest me, I jot down random thoughts in my planner, on post-it notes, on the back of receipts. I am a writer.

However, I have a dream about publishing something significant. I picture myself being asked to do a book signing at my alma mater or at one of the colleges where I teach. I daydream about what could happen. I spend rather ridiculous amounts of time trying to decide who I would thank, what my dedication would be. I imagine walking through the library or the bookstore and seeing my book there.

In order to accomplish this I’ve been searching for inspiration. I’ve asked the universe for an idea, a sign, a really great conversation starter….so far, nothing. But today that changed. I went to lunch with my friend Shane – we were sharing funny stories and as I was laughing about a story we have retold dozens of times I said to him “How did I get here? When did it all come together? How did I become a writing & women’s studies professor? How did I get lucky enough to be & do what I love?”

Years and years ago (more than a decade!) I wrote a very brief sort of quasi-memoir. It was on a lark – a combination of thoughts and stories – some about me and some about people I knew and things I’d seen. I was going through a break-up, living on my own, going out way too often with friends and I amused myself by putting my memories – both good and bad in writing. I am pretty sure Shane is the only one who bothered to read it. He probably has the only copy (if he kept it!) because I definitely don’t have it anymore. Anyways, today as we joked he said to me: “why don’t you write about how you got here?”. He suggested I rewrite about some of the stories of the past and add things that had happened since – but with an updated view, a new perspective – that of a women’s studies professor/feminist. It was like lightning struck. Why don’t I write about that?

I am a teacher. I am a mentor. I am an educator. I am a writer. I am a wife, sister, daughter, friend.  I will soon be an aunt. I am a reader, photographer, yogi, pedicure-lover. Hopefully someday (soon!) I will be a mother. I am a democrat, an ally, an activist, a liberal. I am a feminist. I am not completely sure when I knew that this is where I wanted to be or who I wanted to be but the road to now has been pretty damn incredible. It has been funny and sad, scary and exhilarating, loud and quiet, calm and chaotic. My life has been full of contradictions, it has been entertaining, it has been an adventure. I somehow got here – to the place that I believe I am meant to be – and I am fairly certain that the journey may make other people feel something too – perhaps it will make others laugh and cry, reflect on their own lives and dream about what possibilities come next.

So, I am putting it out there. I am going to try to capture this inspiration – like lightning in a bottle.

According to the silly blog statistics on this site I have about nine readers a day – remarkable considering I don’t post everyday (sometimes I don’t even post every week or every month) and I don’t even think I have shared my link with nine people. It may seem like a small number to most people but from my perspective it means that it is very likely that nine people a day that I don’t know read my words. They hopefully like something that I say because in theory it appears that they come back more than once. Impressive, right?

I am going to make myself accountable to you nine people a day out there and tell you that I plan to write about how I got here – not on this blog, but in an actual book-like draft format. Hopefully I’ll provide blog updates for those of you who are paying attention. Hopefully I will finish a draft at some point in the future and then I’ll figure out what comes next. I am not yet sure exactly what it will look like but I imagine it as a compilation of short stories, of lessons learned, of experiences – both my own and those of the people I know. I picture it as being mostly funny but probably touching at times too. I think it may at times be a bit of an entertaining cautionary tale – a do’s and don’ts of sorts! I believe it can be both hopeful and inspiring. Perhaps I’ll title it something like this: How I Got Here – Becoming a Liberal Feminist & Loving My Life — or some variation on the theme!

Please wish me luck!

p.s. Title suggestions/random thoughts on the topic(s) are more than welcome!


Making history….UConn Women’s Basketball December 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 2:50 pm

I am pretty sure that most of the state of Connecticut was glued to their television last night. I personally could wait to watch the UConn Women’s Basketball team make history. National coverage on ESPN – bumping a previously scheduled men’s basketball game – is nothing to sneeze at!

How incredible are the UConn Huskies? 89 straight wins – an NCAA Basketball record. Pretty damn amazing. It is so frustrating to me that critics insist on diminishing their accomplishment instead of giving them the credit that they so richly deserve. I am just fine with the argument that the women’s record should speak for itself as should the UCLA record. I am ok with the argument that you shouldn’t necessarily compare the two. I am NOT ok with dismissing what the women have accomplished as part of the argument against giving them sole credit for the record.

As far as I am concerned if a group of people can win 89 croquet matches in a row – nearly half against “ranked” opponents – they deserve to be recognized for the accomplishment. Croquet, checkers (as Jim Calhoun mentioned), swim meets, tennis matches, basketball games — each of them would be remarkable.

If Greg Wooden, John Wooden’s grandson, could attend the game and talk about how much his grandfather would have loved to see what the UConn women accomplished why should anyone have the right to dismiss or diminish what they have done – the legacy they have built? In a great article on the EPSN website Greg Wooden even discusses how much his grandfather loved the UConn women’s game and their emphasis on teamwork. It is well worth checking out the link and reading the rest of Wooden’s comments.

This UConn team has not only won 89 straight games – they have won in spite of injuries, in spite of those rooting against them and in the never-ending national spotlight composed of equal parts supporters and detractors. They have won all of this season’s game with three starting freshman. They have won for three straight years without scandal. In the current college sports climate there is a new story daily on the ESPN bottom line about players taking inappropriate benefits, coaches breaking NCAA rules about recruitment, college students behaving like idiots – none of that happens to this team. Not only are they incredible basketball players but they are also talented students and most importantly good people. They are women that deserve respect, not criticism, and I hope that as they continue to make history that is what they get.