Home Alone 4: Stranded in Orem

Scene: a warm summer evening, Provo, UT, about 6:30 pm.

I’d just awoken from a 3 hour nap. I emerged from my bedroom and saw my roommate, Heidi, who told me she was going to our ward’s FHE.

“They are going to have food, I haven’t eaten dinner,” she told me.

Realizing that my stomach was similarly empty, I decided to break with character and actually attend FHE this week.

“Let’s drive separately,” I told her. “I’m going to go work in my classroom afterwards.”

So, I went to FHE, ate a hot dog, and after sufficient mingling, decided I could then leave. On my way to my school, I stopped at a friend’s house to return a book I’d borrowed from him and ended up staying and talking to him and his wife until 1 am.

At this point, I decided I was still going to go to my school. I’d taken a 3 hour nap, so I wasn’t too tired, and I was feeling stressed about all the things I need to so this summer at work that I haven’t done yet.

Aware that some people would think it was dangerous for me to be at work alone so late at night, I made sure to lock my classroom door, in case some deranged lunatic broke into the building and tried to kill me. Once in my room, I put on This American Life, and let Ira Glass keep me company as I waded through half-finished worksheets and piles of used Clorox wipes.

One hour and a couple of podcasts later, I noticed my plant sitting in the window and realized it hadn’t been watered since school ended three weeks ago. I got a cup and went to the hall to fill it up from the drinking fountain.

When I got back to my classroom, I found that, in my caution, I had unwittingly locked myself out. Inside were my car keys, my phone, my computer, pretty much everything that could help get me out of this situation.

I started checking other doors to see if there was one that was unlocked and had a phone I could use. I found a small office that was unlocked. I picked up the phone and dialed the only number I know by heart (thanks, cellphones), my mom’s, hoping she could then call my sister who could come pick me up.

To my chagrin, I was reminded that in order to call out of the school, a special code needed to be entered. I tried a few different codes (was it 5842? 8454?) but none of them worked.

I wandered into the copy room, which was thankfully unlocked due to some construction going on within the school. In the copy room were stored all the items from the front office that were displaced by construction. I rummaged through piles of papers and plastic plants until I found a phone that had the call code written on a sticky note. I once again tried to call my mom, but because she has a Colorado phone number, the long-distance call wouldn’t go through.

I unearthed a computer and turned it on in hopes that someone potentially helpful was on Facebook Messenger or G-Chat. As I tried to log on to Facebook, I realized that it had been months since I have had to sign in and I no longer remembered my password.

I decided to reset the password though my email, but none of my passwords were working there, either. I cycled through as many old passwords as I could remember until one finally worked and let me on.

After resetting my password, logging on the Facebook, and scrolling through my feed (#priorities), I looked for green dots next to names on the Messenger sidebar. No one. I started having a one-sided chat with Ashley, who is currently living in Spain, hoping that the time difference would mean she was awake and would see these messages soon and I’d at least have someone to talk to.

After an hour or so of internet wandering, I saw that one of the school secretaries had recently liked a photo and I hurried to message her.

Me: You’re not awake right now, by any chance, are you?

Su: Can’t sleep. What’s up with you?

Me: Nothing much. I’m definitely not at the school and locked out of my classroom at 2:30 am. That’s not what’s going on right now.

Su, eternal blessings be upon her soul, came and rescued me and I got a solid three hours of sleep.

And that’s how I beat Shaq.

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Best (And Worst) Books of 2016

Inspired by Liz, my fellow Girl Gone Oscar Wilde, I compiled a list of the best (and worst) books I read in 2016. Now that 2017 is half done, I figured I should finally finish and post this:

2016 was a good year of reading for me. I’ve always been an avid reader, but ever since I graduated from high school, I have struggled to read as much for pleasure as I would like, usually overwhelmed by mounds of compulsory school (once as a student and now as a teacher) reading. Last year I decided that I was not going to allow other demands on my time to take precedence over one of my favorite pastimes and dedicated myself to the redevelopment of my main hobby.

Best Books

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Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen

From western Philadelphia I hail,

Where in my youth I’d play upon the green

‘Til – rue the day! – I found myself assail’d

By ruffians contemptible and mean.

Although the spat was trivial and brief,

It wounded my dear mother deep within;

And so, to give her conscience sweet relief,

She sent me forth to live amongst her kin.

When to my port of call I’d been conveyed,

I came upon a coachman most unique;

And yet, I simply took the trip and paid,

Despite his cab’s decor and fresh mystique.

– I survey all the land with princely mein

– In fair Bel-Air, where I do lay my scene.

Once again, I have Liz to thank for introducing me to all the greatest things in my life. At her house one evening, she showed me this book she had gotten from the library and I read the entire book in one sitting, laughing the whole time. The title is fairly self-explanatory: Didriksen fashions favorite radio hits into classic Shakespearean poetry. I immediately ordered the book on Amazon when I got home that night and read the poems to my roommates throughout the week, making them guess the song. Hours of fun were had by all. My favorites from the book include Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot, #Selfie by The Chainsmokers, and Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.

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Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Alone in the dark, Cincinnatus smiled. I am quite willing to admit that they are a deception but right now I believe in them so much that I infect them with the truth.

Honestly, I’d never heard of Nabokov until I was looking through a bookcase at a friend’s house one night and my eye was drawn to his Russian name and the intriguing title. I started reading the first few pages and was simultaneously confused and completely engrossed. I bought the book a few days later and finished it a day or two after that. Nabokov’s prose is beautiful and disorienting and complex and lyrical and fragmented and mesmerizing all at once. The narrative style is disjointed and fantastical but captivating once I adjusted to it. Nabokov now has a firm spot on my list of favorite writers. 10/10 would recommend to anyone who can take a little existential whiplash.

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His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J Ellis

Washington found himself in the ironic position of being the indispensable man in a political world that regarded all leaders as indispensable.

I know it’s not en vogue to admire rich, white men, but after reading this biography, I have decided that George Washington deserves all of the praise and adoration he receives. He was at times obstinate and impatient, and had luck rather than military brilliance on his side, yet he was sensible, down-to-earth, and acutely aware of his own follies, which, I believe, made him the best possible kind of leader. He surrounded himself with men smarter than himself and listened to and learned from their expertise. He was guided by a strong sense of morality and integrity and was kind and generous to those around him. That he was a slave owner is the main stain on his otherwise perfect legacy. But, rather than try to defend himself with false excuses about African inferiority (such as his contemporary Thomas Jefferson), he was aware of and wrestled with the dichotomy between fighting for the right of all men to be equal and knowing that thousands of people in his new nation lived in bondage.  He then did the best he could to mitigate this contradiction in his own life. The book is shorter and more readable than most biographical tomes, plus, it provided a lot of historical insight into Hamilton, which I spent my entire summer listening to.

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East of Eden by John Steinbeck

The Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness, he still has the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win. I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.’

I didn’t read a lot of classics in high school because my teachers were too edgy for that, so I’ve been trying to catch up on everything I missed. Several of my friends told me this was their favorite book, so I decided to give it a try. The biblical allegory of the plot is thinly veiled, but provides interesting fictional context for the characters and the decisions they made. A little misogynistic (really no commiseration with Eve), but the motifs about fate, free will, and sin more than make up for that.

Honorable Mention

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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.

Completely opposite of East of Eden’s maximalist style, I finished this book in one sitting. Intriguing ideas about our own helplessness in life were especially interesting to compare with the free will commentary of East of Eden.

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Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Get beyond his eyes and his smile and the sheen of his hair — Look at what’s really there.

I want all my students to read this book to help them understand the nearly (for them) incomprehensible idea that our perspectives and judgments are sometimes wrong, and sometimes we need to employ a little empathy.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

The rumor is that he is Voldemort’s son. It’s probably rubbish. I mean… look, he’s got a nose.

I didn’t love this book when I read it but I almost cried tears of joy and laughter and grief and elation when I saw the play which redeemed it completely in my eyes.

Worst Books

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.

Allow me to paraphrase the first 200 pages of the book: “I’m going to tell you something that’s going to be important. It’s really cool and really important and it’s going to change your life and I’m going to tell you about it. I’ll tell you about it and you will be surprised at how cool and important and life-changing it is. It’s going to change your life with how cool and important it is. Just wait until I tell you about it.”

And then I stopped reading. Maybe my life would have been changed with her cool and important secret, but I didn’t have the patience to hang around and find out what it was.

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Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

in her answers in class, she often spoke of sea horses, but she did not know what a football was.

Summary: Adolescent verminophile stalker is shunned by high school society because she’s a complete lunatic. Then she’s briefly popular because teenagers like ridiculous things. Then she’s scorned again and disappears suddenly and readers are relieved that they don’t have to hear about her anymore. Boyfriend whines a lot. Extra demerits: cover design done by a second grader on Microsoft Paint.


I’m well on my way to reaching my reading goal for 2017 (a book a week! I admit, I’m a little behind) and I’m open to your recommendations!

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End of the Year Classroom Management

With the end of school approaching, my students have been worse than ever at concentrating on anything for more than 18 seconds. Seeing as I teach junior high and their normal attention span is about 27 seconds, this is not a remarkable difference, but it is a noticeable one.

Motivation is lacking, both theirs and mine. I secretly threw away their last test because I didn’t have it in me to grade. My diet, which is notoriously atrocious, has been reduced to bags of popcorn and the vestiges of my classroom candy drawer. If school doesn’t end soon, there is a good chance I will die of malnutrition.

My 9th graders, who are typically leagues ahead of my 7th graders in intelligence, common sense, and sitting still-ness, have also been losing it. Last week was five days of non-stop moaning and lethargy. Finally, when I couldn’t hear one more complaint, I decided that if I had to listen to their whining, I should at least give them a real reason to be doing it.  I told them to sit down, do their work silently, and listen to the music I was going to play. I then embarked on a quest to find the most ear-curdling videos the internet could provide.

I started off mildly,

Before getting into the truly excruciating ones.

And we finished it off with my go-to video, which they have learned to hate more than sin this school year.

They’re going to miss me.

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What I Learned

Last Friday night, Maren and I went to a storytelling event in SLC. As we sat in our seats waiting for the show to start, I complained to her that a student from two years ago had come up to me in the hall that day to ask me how my sister’s leg was. When I asked her what she was talking about, she said, “You know, that one time your sister came home from work and you were having a sleepover with one of your friends and your sister was really tired and she asked you guys to carry her down the stairs and you did but you dropped her and she hurt her leg?”

“You mean that thing that happened 15 years ago?” I asked.

“Yeah, that one.”

I assured the student that the bruise had healed in the decade and a half since it happened. Maren told me that her students constantly ask her to re-tell them the story of how she lost her boot in a blizzard as a kid. I started listing things that my students remember (that I have ten fewer teeth than the average person, how I’ve had a slew of historically named fish that have died, about when I lived in Russia for a while and took too many benadryl on a train back from Latvia and fell asleep on a luggage rack at the border) and things my students don’t remember (the difference between latitude and longitude, that globalization is not the title of a Pitbull album, to bring a pencil to class and write their names on their papers).

Eventually, the event we came for began. The last storyteller related an incident that had happened to him in the first grade. I suggest you all go read the transcript of his story because 1) it’s hilarious, and 2) I’m about to tell you the punchline of the whole thing. He closed with, “I am sorely unsure of the basic rules of primary colors. I don’t know the names of any dinosaurs. I struggle with long division. But I remember that Ms. Beckstead had a boyfriend named Harley.”

Maren and I were both heartened to know that other teachers have been similarly ineffectual in their endeavors to have any meaningful influence on the lives or minds of their students.

At the close of the semester, I always ask my students to write about a few things that they learned in the class. In light of my recent conversation with Maren, I was particularly interested to see what my kids would say. Here are some of their replies:

  1. Having a “single story” of a group gives us an incomplete and inaccurate view of the world.  
  2. Non-violence can actually work
  3. Ukraine is not called THE Ukraine.
  4. When you try your best, it’s worth it sooner or later.
  5. Ms. Poulson hates the song “Reflection” from Mulan.
  6. I’m in charge of my life and I can choose what to do with it.
  7. When you invade Russia, DO NOT invade in the winter.
  8. When Ms. Poulson says “Shhhhh,” she ends it with a hard “t” sound.
  9. Things in the world affect us, even if we never leave the US.
  10. I learned what palindromes are and that Ms. Poulson’s favorite is “Dammit, I’m  mad.”
  11. People have been fighting over the same things for thousands of years and we still haven’t figured it out.
  12. Ms. Poulson has a large collection of shirts with weird people from history on them. 
  13. Young people can be easily influenced, like in China’s Cultural Revolution. You need to take a step back and look at the situation before acting. And, also, if you are going to start a cult, that’s your target demographic.
  14. Get off your spaghetti when Ms. Poulson is talking
  15. Humans have a hard time being around people whom they disagree with.
  16. “There are lots of jerks in this world and you get to decide if you are one of them.” – Ms. P
  17. Russia keeps this dead dude on display because some people liked him and some people hated him.
  18. Ms. Poulson’s mom won’t let her listen to the Shrek soundtrack
  19. Having a port in the middle of a continent doesn’t do much good for your shipping business.
  20. Not everybody lives the same way I do and that’s okay.
  21. The Prime Meridian is not the same as the Bermuda Triangle.
  22. There are two sides to the Israel-Palestine conflict and both are valid.
  23. Millions of people in China died because Mao traded away their food for steel.
  24. You should always let an old man take you into a back room and rip out any amount of your teeth that he chooses.
  25. There have been lots of terrible leaders and genocides in history but Hitler and the Holocaust are the only ones anyone ever talks about
  26. Asia isn’t a country. Neither is Africa.
  27. Ms. Poulson is a communist that feeds off of student suffering.
  28. When I blow my nose, I need to close my mouth because if I don’t, I will get blood all over the car.
  29. Many people in the world don’t have things that I have, like clean water and education and freedom of speech, and I shouldn’t take those things for granted, but actually appreciate them and use them.
  30. It’s amazing that humans have come so far. What’s also amazing is how far we have to go still.
  31. Human trafficking and slavery are still a thing.
  32. It’s easier to pass when you study.
  33. Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.”
  34. Ms. Poulson will throw a marker at you if you don’t pay attention. But it’s okay because she can’t aim.
  35. People are much quicker to point fingers at other people and blame them than try to fix things in their own control.
  36. When Ms. Poulson starts to laugh, she can’t stop.
  37. The Pacific Ocean isn’t the Specific Ocean.
  38. Grass mixed with castor oil is not bulletproof.
  39. Ms. Poulson deserves a donut.
  40. It’s harder to move up in the world than we make it sound.
  41. Ms. Poulson probably has too much fun at her job.

Yeah, well, they were right about that one.

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[For the 2004 smash hit Ashlee Simpson album of the same title, click here.]

Recently, I’ve been inspired by such modern classics as Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, and Yes Please to write my own memoir, you know, when I reach teaching superstardom. Let’s hope people judge this book by its cover, because these are the titles I’ve brainstormed so far:

  • Jesslyn Poulson: A Cautionary Tale
  • Unwillingly Wearing Pants
  • 1001 Places to Nap Before You Die
  • 1001 Places to Die Napping
  • 26 Years of Meals with No Nutritional Value: A Cookbook
  • Confessing My Sins
  • Beyonce, Jay Leno, and Jody Foster: a Collection of People I Have Been Confused For
  • Dr. Jesslyn, Teacher Woman
  • The Communista Mani-fiesta!
  • My Chin is 90% of My Face
  • It’s a Good Thing I Don’t Drink
  • Don’t Mind Me; I’m Just Being Accidentally Creepy
  • A List of Historically Named Fish I Have Killed and Other True Stories
  • Singing Things that Should Have Been Spoken
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I am a Rock

“I am a rock. I am an island.”

I reminded myself of this every day. I didn’t need anyone else in my life and I didn’t want them. I stood alone, far away from those who were continually reaching out to me.

I’d been suffering from severe depression for several months. It was an illness that ran in my family and one I’d dealt with before, but it took me months to accept that it was coming back. In my mind, depression was just an uncomfortable phase I’d been through before but now was safely in the past, and there to stay.

But after months of mornings when I couldn’t get out of bed and nights when I sobbed myself to sleep, I had to admit there was something wrong.

But what? I had a good life. I was finishing my last semester of classes before an internship and then graduation. I had a new job that I enjoyed, roommates that I got along with, good friends. But I was miserable. Those closest to me recognized something was off. My roommate and best friend, Taylor, grew more and more concerned about me. She greeted me and tried to talk when I got home each evening, but I ignored her and locked myself in my room.

Why can’t she just leave me alone? Why does she have to bother me all the time?

I knew I was being unreasonable. I knew she loved me more than I deserved and was worried about my well-being. But I couldn’t be around her, couldn’t be around anyone. I hurt too much. Any social interactions were too draining to handle. Going to school, going to church, going to work all required me to pretend that I was fine and that I was happy. I was exhausted from pretending but I couldn’t not pretend.

The thing about depression is that it carries with it a good deal of shame. Not only did I feel miserable, but I felt miserable that I felt miserable. Everyone else can handle life, I thought. Everyone else can deal with their problems. Everyone else can be an optimist. I brought this upon myself for being a weak human being.

So, being alone was the best place to be, where I didn’t have to pretend and I didn’t have to be embarrassed. I cut myself off from everyone around me, interacting and going through the motions of my life just enough to make it look like things were okay.

But I’m human and humans get lonely. When I thought I couldn’t handle all the pain, all the unexplainable hurting, I would drive to Utah Lake, park my car on a deserted road by the shore, and cry until I couldn’t breathe. The only one there with me was Paul Simon.

“I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship.”

It was better that way. I was just a burden on my friends and family. Needing no one else was the only way I could prove to myself that I was not the weak, pathetic person I felt I was.

“I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me.”

If I never accepted help or love from anyone else, I wouldn’t have to give it. Because I couldn’t. I was falling apart and it took all my effort and energy to try to keep myself together. I knew I shouldn’t be so selfish and focused on my own problems, but it’s all I felt like I could do. Away from everyone else, I wouldn’t feel guilty that I couldn’t reach out to them and care for them like I knew I should.

“A rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”

Yes, I was a rock, I was an island. And and if I could continue like that, I would feel no pain and never cry.

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Soul Searching

[More Girls Gone Oscar Wilde]

Important things I’m discovering:

I hate it when people say something “looks so [me].” In my mind, they are saying, “That looks like something hideous that only you would wear but no self-respecting person would be caught dead in.”

I think my spirit animal is a cow. They are kind of boring, but I don’t mean that derogatorily. They just kind of want to do their own thing and they’re chill and whenever I see cows, I just feel like I really identify with them.

I resent when people comment that my name “sounds Utah,” or ask if it is a combination of my parents’ names. I like my name. It’s not that weird. It’s uncommon, to be sure, but not outlandish or cutesy. It’s from an Alfred Hitchcock movie and I personally think that’s really cool.

I dislike cooking but I really want a Kitchen Aide. Honestly, right now I think being able to register for one is my biggest motivation to get married.

One of the most frequent adjectives to be applied to me is “sassy.” I take offense with that. What is that even supposed to mean? When I hear that word, I think of someone who is opinionated and overbearing and insensitive and impolite, none of which I want to be. It’s actually kind of got me worried about what kind of vibes I give off as a person.

I’m currently reading The Trial by Franz Kafka and The Count of Monte Cristo and listening to the Serial podcast and watching “Making a Murderer” and I am now fairly convinced I am going to spend a large portion of my life in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. On the upside, I’ve been thinking about the people in my life and I feel like I would have some pretty good character witnesses, which makes me feel really good about myself. Unless they interviewed my brother and he told them about that time when I salted the slugs in my mom’s garden and he told me I was a senseless murderer.

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