Like a Broken Vessel

A little over a year ago, I was interviewed and filmed for a Mormon Message based on Elder Holland’s October 2013 General Conference talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” which focused on dealing with and recovering from severe mental illnesses. As a generally guarded and private person, it was difficult for me share my experience, knowing that it would be published online for anyone to see. However, I felt that it was important for people, both those suffering from it and those around them, to better understand what depression is and what it is not.

Depression is not sadness. Sadness is an emotion, fleeting and transitory; depression is a thick pair of goggles on the mind, shadowing every experience and clouding every thought. It is a dark lense through which one experiences the world. It isn’t cured by optimism, positive thinking or inspirational Pinterest quotes. It doesn’t need a reason to make its sufferers feel the way they do.

Depression is an illness. It is a spiritual, mental, and physical illness, and must be treated from each of those angles. Fervent prayer and diligent scripture study will not cure it any more than they would cure kidney disease. Medication and counseling may not alone be enough.

With the understanding that depression is a medical condition, it is important to realize that it has profound spiritual consequences. I have never felt so spiritually forsaken as I did during my darkest months of depression. I was sure that my creation had been a mistake and that God was deeply disappointed in and disgusted with me. Knowing that my life had no value and no purpose, I watched as everything I thought I was and everything I thought I valued was slowly consumed by the dark shadow covering my life. Soon, I felt dead inside, a shell of a person, and longed for the rest of me to die as well. Except, I didn’t want to die; I wanted to erase my entire existence. Death alone felt insufficient.

Ashamed, I prayed to the God I knew was indifferent to someone as small and weak and broken as me, apologized that I couldn’t face the challenges of life like everyone else could, and begged Him to take away the spiritual and physical pain that overwhelmed me. I read my scriptures and attended church, even though it was agonizing, hearing about faith and hope and the Atonement and knowing it didn’t work for me.

But, I felt no comfort. No divine reassurances. No heavenly aid. I continued this way for a very long time. I feel this is important because I had to keep going, keep doing the things I knew I should do even when they didn’t seem to help, keep praying and studying when I received no discernable support. It was all I knew how to do so I kept doing it, in the face of deafening silence on the part of my Heavenly Father. It was painful, it was unceasing, and it was dark, but slowly, I began to get better, and I saw that He had been there with me all along, as cliche as that may sound.

Whether you are facing depression, a crisis of faith, or another challenge that alienates you from God, you must keep going. No matter how long it lasts. No matter how many prayers you pray that seem to go no further than your ceiling. No matter how many months you study your scriptures and feel absolutely nothing. No matter how painful attending church is. No matter how hopeless and desperate your situation is. No matter how endless are the days and weeks and years. You have to keep going. I don’t understand why He is sometimes silent, but I know He will not be forever. You have to keep trying, keep hoping for hope.

In addition to doing all the spiritual things I could, it was important for me to do everything in my power to get better, and then have faith that God would fix what I could not. I saw doctors. I tried different medications. I exercised when I could and took care of my body (all of which were very difficult to do when I felt so overwhelmingly apathetic and lethargic).I treated it like the disease it is. It was a slow, agonizing process, but it worked.

I expect that bouts of serious depression will continue to affect me throughout my life as they have in the past, and that scares me. I know how it is to be unable to get out of bed for weeks at a time, be unable to eat, hardly able to move. I am terrified at the thought of having a husband or children who would rely on me, of destroying their lives along with my own. I’m afraid, but I keep going, deciding to cross those bridges when I come to them and having faith that God will help me then as He has in the past.

I hope that Mormon Message video helps people who struggle with similar things as me. But just as much, I hope it helps the people around them know what to do. What is helpful, and what is not. If I may, I’d like to offer you a few words of advice. First, recognize that depression and other mental illnesses are real, not imagined, and do not define those who are afflicted by it. They aren’t their disease, even though it sometimes feels that way. Depression alters how you think so deeply that it seems like it alters YOU, but it doesn’t. Sufferers may not seem themselves, but they are just sick, even when they appear to be well physically. Please be patient with them. Second, it’s almost never helpful to say that things aren’t as grim or scary or stressful as they seem; just because it appears that way to you does not mean it appears that way to them. Invalidating their reality makes them feel more unstable and unable to trust themselves than they already do. Just listen and love and try to understand, even if you don’t. I am eternally grateful for the precious few closest to me who loved me without condition and stayed by my side, even when I tried to push them away.

This whole experience was really hard (you know, the whole depression thing, I guess, but also the interview and the writing about it) because I was so ashamed; depression was a carefully guarded secret for me. I was scared that anyone who found out would think I was just being whiny or melodramatic. Conversely, I was scared that people might think I was crazy and mentally imbalanced and untrustworthy. As uncomfortable and exposing as this has been for me, I believe that in order to normalize mental illness and remove the stigma and the shame associated with it, people need to share their honest and real experiences. To anyone suffering from mental illness and to anyone wanting to help an affected loved one, know that there is hope. Know that there is light, even in the darkest nights. That light and hope come from our Savior Jesus Christ. I wish I could tell you it would all end soon. I can’t. But it will end. He is always there.

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McKay School of Education

I love BYU. I really do. I had wonderful experiences, met incredible people and am grateful I chose to go to school there.

The thing I don’t like so much about BYU is what I actually spent most of my time there doing – studying to be a teacher. The secondary education programs are notoriously awful. I heard rumors about the horrors of the McKay School before I started the program, but I wanted to be a teacher, so I ignored them and entered the program anyway.

I’m not sure if I regret taking the path I did because I am pretty happy now. However, my undergraduate experience would have been much better if I had chosen just about any other major than the one I did, and I’d probably be better at whatever it was that I was doing than I am at what I do now.

I’ve thought a lot about my program over the last few years and have decided that the people in charge at the McKay School must just not know how truly awful the quality of education they are giving really is. I’ve talked to many other students, both in secondary and elementary education programs at BYU, and have discovered that my experience is not unique and that the problems I faced are widespread.

I’ve been drafting a letter to the McKay School for several months, hoping to detail my experience in a way that would highlight the weaknesses I saw, but not come across as bitter or hostile, thus hopefully prompting much-needed reforms.

I’d like to send this letter within the next week or so and I’d like some perspectives on what I’ve written before I send it, especially from graduates or current students of the McKay School. Let me know how it comes across and if you would listen to what I say if you were a college dean reading this letter. Thanks in advance for your help.

 

To whom it may concern,

I graduated from Brigham Young University last spring with a degree in History Teaching. I began my program in Winter semester 2011 and completed it after a teaching internship in the 2014-2015 school year. Upon graduation, I was unable to find employment as a licensed teacher and am currently working at a junior high as an attendance tracker.

As a recent graduate of the McKay School of Education, I feel I have a current perspective of many elements of my program, perhaps a perspective unique from that of the administrators and professors of the college. I have some concerns about the way the various education programs of the college are formatted. I feel strongly about the importance of education and of the importance of good teachers and these beliefs prompt me to write this letter. I believe that the administrators, professors, and other employees of the McKay School share these convictions and strive to create meaningful, rigorous programs that will train qualified teachers. It is under these assumptions that I write this letter, and I hope that it will be thoughtfully received, as the intent behind it is well-meaning and not condemnatory.

Throughout my time as a student in the McKay School, I encountered setbacks and disappointments, several of which almost caused me to abandon my lifelong goal of becoming a professional educator. In my earliest days at BYU, I received advice from the advisement center in the McKay School which proved to be incredibly damaging while applying for jobs several years later. When I asked an advisor about the advantages and disadvantages of both the History Teaching and Social Science Composite majors, I was advised that a History Teaching major would be more marketable as it shows a depth of expertise that principals would look for and that a Social Science Composite Endorsement would lack. In the final months of my teaching internship and the summer thereafter, I applied for over sixty certified teaching jobs in five states. Every one required a Social Science Endorsement. I am currently spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars beyond my undergraduate work to take the additional eleven classes needed for me to get this endorsement, time and money that I would have preferred to spend pursuing a graduate degree. I wish I would have known as I began the education program that my declared major lacked the marketability needed for me to find employment.

Additionally, I found that the majority of my education classes did not adequately prepare me for the challenges I would face in a classroom. Many of the classes were largely theory based, lacking any useful application or purpose. Most of the assignments in these classes seemed nothing more than a series of hoops through which I was required to jump. My classmates and I failed to understand how what we were learning would have any real-life application, ironically something that we as teachers are always encouraged to demonstrate to our students. The limited time I spent in classroom observations for these classes (if any time was required at all), did not help connect the dots.

Before I began my first day as a teaching intern, I had spent no more than ten hours actually teaching a class in a public school. This includes my 276 class, practicum class, and all other secondary teaching classes. During these very rare teaching experiences, I was never observed by a BYU teacher or professor and received only limited feedback from the teachers in whose classes I taught. I believe the vast majority of my teaching experience and expertise came from teaching experiences outside of my formal education at BYU.

When I actually began teaching in my own classroom as an intern, the support I received was no more plentiful. I met my BYU mentor on only two occasions, once briefly in August and again in March. On neither occasion did he watch me teach or give feedback. In the time between these two meetings, I received either brief and unhelpful, or no responses to the emails I sent him. From what I understand, this was an unusual and alarming situation for the McKay School. However, when the college was made aware of the neglect on the part of this man, I still received no help, support, or information. Thankfully, my mentor teacher in the school where I taught was supportive and provided me with the guidance that I failed to receive from the university where I paid tuition.

A doctor would not be permitted to perform an open heart surgery after only having observed such an operation. A pilot would not fly a plane after only having watched another do so. Common sense would dictate that a teacher should not enter the profession with similarly limited experience.

Throughout my time as a student, I was often frustrated by the lack of information available to me. When I had questions about classes or licensing or graduation, I was bounced between the College of Education and the College of Home, Family and Social Sciences, under both of which my major technically fell. Neither advisement center seemed to be able to help, but suggested that I visit the other. In dividing secondary education majors between two schools, there is a danger in neither school taking responsibility for providing students with the help they need to be successful both before and after graduation.

There were some elements of my program that I found to be effective. My 276 class was enlightening and its professor inspiring and helpful. Additionally, Dr. [name has been changed], from whom I never took a class, was always willing to help and guide me when I asked for it. Studying backward design and creating entire unit lesson plans in my method class were some of the most useful things I did in helping me prepare to enter a classroom. But overall, I feel that there were alarming gaps in what I was taught in the education program as an undergraduate student.

I do not expect that the College of Education should reform its programs based on the experiences of one graduate. However, I would hope that these concerns would be carefully considered and that the validity of such concerns be investigated. I have spoken with many other McKay school alumni who share my opinions and together we hope that changes can be made that will help better prepare future graduates and make us proud to have earned our degrees from an institution that constantly strives to improve the quality of its instruction.

Again, the purpose of this letter is not to complain about perceived injustices, but rather to ensure that administrators within the college are made aware of certain shortcomings and weaknesses in its programs. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Respectfully,

Jesslyn Ann Poulson

Class of 2015

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Lessons Learned

I’ve likely thought more about my childhood teachers than most people have, being a teacher myself. There are many I will be forever grateful to and strive to emulate: Mrs. Slinger, the 2nd grade teacher who taught each of the Poulson children and always treated her students with patience and genuine tenderness; Mrs. Nigon, an eccentric and ancient 4th grade teacher who introduced me to some of my now-favorite children’s literature, but whose memory in my mind always conjures up images of dry, cracked, Birkenstock-clad feet, and the scent of endless bags of extra-butter popcorn; Mr. Belanger, my awkward yet sincere 6th grade English teacher who always made me feel smart and boundlessly capable. However, the teacher I remember most is one whose memory is accompanied by feelings of injustice, frustration, regret, and pity; Mr. Diamond.

Mr. Diamond began teaching orchestra in my hometown while my older sisters were just beginning to play. He taught at all four elementary schools, the middle school, and the high school. There was no escaping him. My sisters grumbled about him occasionally, as most students do at one time or another with all of their teachers. However, when I entered the 5th grade and time came for me to “choose” which instrument I would play (as if there was an option; of course, I would learn viola, just like Maren and Kelly. We already owned two, and the three of us could share for a year until Kelly graduated high school), I began orchestra eager to become a real musician, despite Mr. Diamond’s reputation.

And I instantly enjoyed it. My meager musical background in piano put me leagues ahead of the other students, and I naturally had a good ear that made it easy to play in tune and pick out the viola harmonies. My elementary school orchestra class (all seven of us) only met once a week and all I wanted to do was play when we got there. But time had to be spent practicing rhythms and learning to sight read. In hindsight, I realize I was likely an obnoxious know-it-all.

“Yeah, the fourth note gets one beat. Can’t we just play now?”

“It’s called a quarter note, Jesslyn.”

“But a quarter is the same as a fourth, Mr. Diamond.” I thought I had a valid point, but also part of me was glad to see that it bothered him.

In all fairness, however, the two of us got on decently well that year. I was the class clown and he laughed at my jokes; we had a fun rapport. But that all changed in 6th grade when I started middle school. Suddenly, in a class of 27 rather than seven, my jokes were unappreciated, unwelcomed, and elicited harsh responses. After leaving the class in tears multiple times in the first weeks of school, I quickly learned to sit down, keep my mouth shut, and just play.

But this didn’t seem to stay his wrath towards me. One day, he let the whole class know just how he felt about me.

“Did you know I’ve taught Jesslyn and both of her sisters? Kelly, the oldest, she was alright, I guess. Maren, she is a snot and I don’t particularly like her. And then there’s Jesslyn, and you know how awful she is. She’s the worst of them all.”

Another time, he announced, “My favorite of the Poulson children is the brother. He’s the only one I haven’t had to teach. In fact, my favorite member of Jesslyn’s family is her dad: I’ve never met him.”

He seemed to take pleasure in exacting punitive measures against us all, especially me. One day, the hairs on my worn-out bow broke and needed to be repaired. Another girl in the class volunteered to let me use her extra one. Mr. Diamond refused to let her, saying that it was my fault that my bow had broken and, as punishment, I would have to pluck my strings in rehearsal until I got my bow back, two weeks later.

Soon, my daily tears changed into an iron resolve to never do or say anything that could fuel his fire against me, and a determination to not let him upset me by anything he said. But even this was cause for harassment. He openly gloated that he’d forced me into submission, but that at my core, he knew I was still a brat.

So I changed my approach. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” my mom always said. I went out of my way to be kind and pleasant. I complimented his ties. I thanked him at the end of every class. I was the first to volunteer any time he needed help. I always said how much I enjoyed the songs we played. When two of the three cellists quit (he was a notoriously mean teacher and no one liked his class), I convinced my parents to let me switch temporarily to cello to help the orchestra. No matter that I really was trying to be genuine, I think it was in his mind phony and insincere. By 7th grade, I’d accepted that he’d never like me and I gave up trying and focused on enjoying the music.

It was this year that my second sister, Maren, was a senior in high school. Unable to endure Mr. Diamond any longer, she decided to quit orchestra at the end of the first semester. This meant that I could finally upgrade to using her slightly larger viola, as I’d outgrown my beginner one. She gave it to me one day and said it was mine. I asked her if she’d need it during finals week but she told me that the final exam was a written one, so she was completely finished with the instrument.

I went to class next day, excited to try out my new viola. As I tuned it at the beginning of class, Mr. Diamond walked by and asked, “Isn’t that your sister’s?”

“Yes, but she doesn’t need it anymore so she gave it to me.”

“Well, that means she’ll be failing her final today if she doesn’t have it. She’s going to be so mad and it’s going to be your fault.”

“Could you take it to her when you go to the high school today?,” I asked in a panic.

“It’s not MY job to chauffeur around YOUR instrument because YOU did something stupid.”

I fought off tears of worry the rest of class. Maren was going to fail orchestra because of me. I could have sworn she’d said she hadn’t needed it, but I had to find a way to get it back to her. I bolted out of class as soon as the bell rang and sprinted to the office. I called my mom again and again but with no answer. I remembered that my German teacher also taught at the high school in the afternoons. I ran to her classroom, hoping she hadn’t left yet. Sobbing, I pleaded with her to please take the viola and make sure Maren got it before her final that day. She gave me a Kleenex, hugged me, and assured me she’d get it to my sister in time.

After school, I was anxious for Maren to get home. When she arrived, however, she was confused.

“Jess, why did you have Frau bring me the viola today? I told you I was finished with it already.”

“Mr. Diamond said you needed it and you’d get and F if you didn’t have it.”

“No. I was a written final, just like I said. No one had their instruments.”

I was confused. He’d told me she was going to fail without it. I was sure of it. When I asked him about it the next day, he just laughed.

“Yeah, she didn’t need it. But it was pretty funny that you were so worried about it.”

And that was the last straw. As much as I loved music and playing, I couldn’t endure his maliciousness towards me. I was already too emotionally fragile trying to get through middle school without having to deal with a hateful teacher. I finished off the school year but didn’t sign up for orchestra the next.

Even after I quit, just the thought of him infuriated me. I enjoyed hating him. I loved relating all the awful stories about the injustices I’d suffered to anyone who would listen. I liked passing him in the school hallways and knowing I’d escaped him.

I clung to the resentment for a long time. I’d just been an 11 year old kid. Why had he treated me that way? Didn’t he know he was wrong? Couldn’t he see that all my other teachers had loved me? Didn’t he recognize that he had been unfair?

Maybe it was because he thought I was an obnoxious kid who needed to be put in her place. Maybe it was because he was gay and he knew that my family was Mormon, and thus perceived some prejudice. Likely, it wasn’t either of those reasons, but was something that I wouldn’t ever know.

Eventually, I began to realize that it didn’t matter why. I had no reason to hate him like I did. I had no reason to feel resentful for, in hindsight, small wrongdoings. Even if he was at fault then, it had no bearing on my current life. My feelings toward him began to soften. I felt badly that I had judged him so harshly and felt so spiteful toward him.

In the end, the whole experience was one of many that has shaped my beliefs about mankind in general. I believe that almost all people are genuinely trying their best to do what they feel is right. I believe few people are consciously malicious or mean-spirited. Everyone does and says insensitive things, some of which they realize later and many of which they’ll never know about. We can never know someone’s true intents or fully understand their perspective or situation. For that reason, I now know that it is important to be merciful, to be forgiving, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to treat them kindly. So, perhaps, Mr. Diamond taught me the most important lesson of all.

 

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Secrets

With the end of the school year approaching, taking online classes, going to New York for Spring Break, waiting for Radiohead’s new album to be released, and finding pictures of me napping to put on the Instagrams, I neglected our Girls Gone Oscar Wilde Writing Group.

A couple of days ago, when Liesl sent me one of the saddest SnapChats I’ve ever seen, imploring me come back, I decided I needed to get my Hashtag Priorities together and rededicate myself to GGOWWG. I started by re-reading some of my entries. I’ve decided to post some of them on my blog over the next several days for your reading pleasure.

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When you’re 25, unmarried, and living in Provo, a lot of people try to set you up on blind dates. I have mixed feelings about blind dates. On one hand, if you don’t like the person, you never have to see them again, which can take off a lot of pressure. You don’t need to worry about seeing them at work or school or church and feeling uncomfortable. On the other hand, you do have to worry about seeing the person that set you up and attempting to tactfully explain to them why you didn’t fall instantly in love with their cousin or friend or nephew or co-worker or cousin’s friend’s nephew’s co-worker. 

Worse than that though, is that blind dates feel unnatural and contrived, full of trite questions about majors, hometowns, and “hobbies”, like people actually have those. Several months ago, I was set up on a blind date and the guy texted me for a day or so before the date. It’s bad enough trying to talk to someone you don’t know on a date, let alone through text before you ever meet them.

He asked me about my job and my interests. I was driving in the car with my roommate, Heidi, when I got this text: “Tell me something about you that no one else knows.”

As if, of all the people in my life, the one I am most likely to tell my secrets to would be the blind date I’ve yet to meet.

Heidi and I started making a list of potential answers to that question.

“I collect fingernail clippings.”

“I can type 83 wpm with my feet.”

“There’s a meth lab in my bathtub.”

“My pillow is filled with human hair.”

“I’ve read the entire Animorphs series…twice.”

“I was born in a dog-food factory.”

“I once performed a lobotomy on myself.”

“My teeth are whittled from poached elephant tusks.”

But then I started thinking of real answers to that question, which was harder than I expected. I realized most things no one else knew about me were probably things I didn’t actually realize about myself. Many of the few I thought of, I remembered that I’d told at least one person, and thus didn’t think they counted.

I’ve been thinking about this for weeks now, and I can only come up with six (that are shareable on the inter-webs):

I generally think in complete sentences. Frequently, they sound like a conversation, like I’m talking something out with myself. I don’t know if other people’s psyches sound like this. Is this a sign of insanity, talking to yourself in your mind?

One day when I was probably around 7 or 8 years old, I wrote two sentences of a story about a panda named Julie that lived in the jungle with her two friends, a koala and a frog. I stopped, re-read the sentences I had written, and decided they were so awful that I threw away the story and started crying. I’ve always been too scared to write fiction ever since.

I always use two towels when I shower because, although I know it doesn’t make sense, I hate the thought of using the same towel on my face and hair that I use on the rest of my body.

I think I want to be a foster parent someday. Being a teacher, I’ve seen there are a lot of kids out there that just need someone solid and stable and loving in their lives. I think it’s a bit of a blessing that I love junior high aged kids as much as I do, and it’s an age where they need those things all the more, and I think I could do that for them.

The two things I dream about the most frequently are 1) waking up one morning to discover that I am either getting married or I am pregnant and having no recollection of the events that led up to that moment and everyone around me seems to know what is going on and are really excited and all I can think is how terrified I am, and 2) tornadoes. What these things say about my subconscious, I don’t know. Any insights you might have are welcome.

When I was nine years old, my sisters and I went to a movie theater in Denver on a very rainy Friday night to see the Mormon horror film, Brigham City. The only other person in the theater was a sinister looking old man, as if the universe couldn’t find anything else to have made that night more terrifying for me. I was so scared of being murdered in my bed after watching that movie that I refused to sleep on my stomach for the next decade.

So there you are, Internet. Now you know my secrets. And if we ever go on a date, we’ll have nothing to talk about.

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Lunch Detention

Ms. Poulson: Shhhh. No talking in lunch detention. This isn’t supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to be completely miserable.

Kid 1: Can we whisper?

MP: No.

Kid 1: Can we write notes?

MP: No.

Kid 2: Can we lip read?

MP: No. But you can blink messages in Morse Code.

Kid 3 (talking to Kid 4): Why are your pants hanging down so low? It’s disgusting. Pull them up.

Kid 4: I dunno. They’re too big, I guess.

Kid 3: Then get a smaller size. Maybe you need to go shop at Baby Gap.

Kid 5 starts singing “Someone Like You” by Adele

Kid 5: Ms. Poulson, I want nothing but the best for you.

MP: Thanks. I appreciate that.

Kid 5: You should. Because I am not nice to people.

Kid 2 bursts out in laughter.

 

MP: Hey. Dude. Stop laughing. You’re miserable, remember?

Kid 2 (pointing at Kid 1): He was telling me a blinking joke!

Kid 6: Ms. P, do you own a gun?

MP: Yes. A glue gun.

Kid 6: That’s lame. That doesn’t even count.

Kid 3: Have you ever burnt yourself on one of those? It’s pretty much the same as getting shot.

Kid 5: Ms. Poulson, you would look really cute with my cousin. He’s a professional photographer and he’s rich…but he’s also gay and has a boyfriend.

Kid 7: My sister’s friend is a photographer and he’s also gay!

Kid 5: Taking pictures must be a gay thing.

Kid 8: Pouls, why aren’t you married?

Kid 9: Yeah, you know how many kids in 9th grade think you’re hot?

MP: We are changing the subject and we are never, ever going to talk about that ever again.

Kid 1: Can we go yet?

MP: If you can tell me who sings this song in one guess, I will let you go early.

[MP starts playing “Lucky” by Britney Spears]

Kid 1: Ariana Grande!

Kid 4: Someone old and probably dead.

Kid 5: Justin Bieber!

Kid 1: Donald Trump.

Kid 2: Britney Spears?

MP: You can go.

Kid 3: That’s not fair. Lunch detention is the worst.

MP: Thank  you.

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Star Wars Weekend

When it comes to fandom, I only have eyes for Harry Potter. I mean, those books are literally literary perfection. The characters are complex and real and the plot is flawless and everything about it all is magical in every sense of the word.

I’m not completely ignorant about other fictional universes. I know the back stories, more or less, of all the Marvel characters; I’ve seen all the Lord of the Rings movies, fast-forwarding the battle scenes. I’ve (unfortunately) read all the Maze Runner, Hunger Games, and Twilight books.

And I always thought I pretty much knew Star Wars. I saw all the movies multiple times growing up. But with the release of the newest movie, I realized there was a lot more to it all that I didn’t ever know. When people talked about their theories for episode VII, I had almost no idea what they were talking about. I decided I needed to watch them all again as an adult, to understand the finer plot points and to stop feeling confused when people talked about midi-chlorians and Sith Lords.

So, this weekend I undertook the task of watching all six movies, starting with the prequels, determined to become a Star Wars expert before I saw The Force Awakens. I made sure I had the subtitles on so I didn’t miss anything, not even a single blip beep boop from R2D2.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I spent the first hour of this movie texting my brother questions like what’s the difference between the Republic and the Federation; who are the aliens with racist Japanese accents; why is Naboo being blockaded; where does the prophecy about Anakin come from; who dropped Jar Jar Binks on his head as a baby, and why didn’t they drop him from something a little higher. He told me to read Wookieepedia and then stopped responding.

What kind of movie needs an entire online encyclopedia to understand what’s going on?!

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

First of all, we need to sit down and have a frank conversation about Anakin and his poor hair choices. Before you tell me that all the Padawans these days are wearing rat-tails, I’m actually talking about his greasy hair plugs. It looks like a hair transplant gone terribly, terribly wrong.

But also, I’m not sure what anyone is fighting about at least 90% of the time. But I guess if you’re using light sabers, you don’t really need a reason to fight.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Why did General Grievous kidnap Palpatine? Aren’t they on the same side? I’m still not sure what anyone is fighting about. But Jar Jar has fewer lines, so I can’t complain about the movie overall.

Episode IV: A New Hope

Okay, guys. I get it. Now I remember why everyone likes these movies. The originals are a lot better. Except for Luke. That guy is literally the worst. He even beats out C3PO for whiniest character, which is saying something. In general, my favorite characters are the ones with the fewest intelligible lines, like Chewbacca and R2D2.

Speaking of C3PO, that homedroid is always wearing belly shirts. His midriff is exposed more than Britney Spears backup dancer.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The prequels do have something on the originals: Yoda is much more tolerable in the newer movies. I mean, to give him some credit, he’s been alone on a swamp planet for the last 20 years, but his sanity has clearly paid the price.

In other news, here’s a fun Star Wars drinking game: Everyone take a shot anytime a character calls another character “old friend” or Han Solo says “I have a bad feeling about this.” You’ll be plastered in 15 minutes, tops.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Watch this video: 

Now add in a couple of laser guns and you have episode VI. It’s adorable.

Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The screenplay was still full of trite one-liners and the villains’ names are still less than formidable (Snoke? Dooku?) but Luke has a beard now, and the less of his face we see, the better.

But in all honesty, I liked it. It had a respectable amount of wookie and that’s all anyone was really hoping for.

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Jobs and Stuff

A few days ago, Liesl’s email of the day was about all the jobs she’s had. It got me thinking about all of mine. Minus my full-time mission, I’ve been employed for pretty much all of the last 9  years, but the longest I’ve held one job has been a year and a half. Hopefully this does not foreshadow my future career path.

My first “job” was in fourth grade, an afternoon paper route I inherited from my elder brother. I’d come home from school and watch Oprah while I folded and bagged all the newspapers. We didn’t have cable.

Ages 12-17. Babysitting. You’d never guess I’d become a teacher because of how much I disliked babysitting. Maybe I’d’ve liked it better if there was more sitting and less baby. Once a kid bit me and drew blood because I wouldn’t let him play with a gallon of bleach.

Sophomore year of high school: a mom of two who lived down the street paid me to accompany her to her son’s weekly violin lessons and take care of the daughter so the mom could watch the lesson. The girl and I mostly sat on the stairs and ate fruit snacks. It was a good gig.

Age 17, YMCA, round one. My first real, tax-paying job. I watched people’s kids while they worked out. It was called Childwatch, but I always hesitate to call it that because it sounds like a juvenile Baywatch. This was actually a pretty good job. I disinfected toys. I colored pictures of dinosaurs. The best part was after-hours access to the yoga room that had speakers built into the floor. My friends and co-workers, Natalie and Rachel, and I would sneak in and have dance parties to Britney Spears songs (who, even then, was way past being cool) and Will Smith raps.

Later, I continued working at the YMCA but did cooler things. During the summer there were so many kids that they had to be separated into different classes. Sometimes I was with the school aged kids who wanted to play basketball the whole time. I sat in the corner with the girls and made friendship bracelets and avoided ever having to participate in any type of athletics. I prefered being in charge of the 3-5 year old class because we’d go into the padded gym and make obstacle courses and play Cheese Slam, which was another thing that Rachel, Natalie, and I liked to do after hours (we’d set up one of the wedge-shaped maps and then run into it as hard as we could). For a while, I also ran an art camp that involved a lot of paper, glitter, paint, and glue, all of which were at different times ingested by the children.

Nanny, the summers before and after my freshman year of college. There were 2 kids, a 6 year old girl and a 3 year old boy. The job involved a lot of driving. I’d take them to and pick them up from their summer camps and school programs and gymnastics classes. The girl would only listen to Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. I think I have listened to the Camp Rock soundtrack more times than any other human being alive.

BYU Freshman year, MOA Cafe. I’d always promised myself to never work in food service, but I needed a job and this one fell into my lap. I mostly worked back in the kitchen and cut up vegetables and heated up soups. My co-workers were really fun and I always ended up with a lot of leftover food during finals week so it was perfect.

Back in Colorado for the summer after my first year of college, I nannied one day a week, worked at the YMCA one day a week, and worked four, ten hour days at a preschool. Besides the fact that I was working 60+ hours a week that summer, I had a lot of fun. The kids were cute and their parents were nuts. One family had children named Tree, River, and Sun. One mom got mad at me for making a cardboard computer for the kids to play with that didn’t have an accurate and to-scale keyboard. But there was nap time every day, so it was all worth it.

After returning from living in Russia for four months, I was back at BYU and needed a job ASAP because I’d spent all of my preschool money savings on blini and matryoshka dolls. A friend of a friend referred me to the people at BYU Vending, who were desperate enough to offer me the job before they even spoke to me. It was a good job for me because I like being alone. I listened to a lot of Belle & Sebastian as I drove my refrigerator truck around campus and restocked vending machines full of pre-packaged bagels. It was a bad job for me because I loathe driving. One really bad day I ran into a police car. That’s a story for another day, but I used the trauma of the accident as an excuse to quit and, coincidentally, began working for the police…

…Which was one of my favorite jobs of all time. I was a secretary for BYU police in traffic appeals and listened to people’s excuses for behaving like idiots. Everyone complains about traffic police, but this job made me a firm supporter of parking tickets. People are dumb. You don’t get a ticket unless you are doing something you shouldn’t be. This is when I started to blog regularly because I’d always have kind of unbelievable things happen at work that needed to be shared. Besides the good stories I got out of it, the co-workers were undoubtedly my favorite of any job I’ve had, as was my boss.

Right after my mission, I moved to Cincinnati to live with my sister for a couple of months and that’s where I ended up back at the YMCA for round two. This, of course, was a YMCA six states away from my high school job, but it was essentially doing the same thing. I spent most of those post-mission months holding my newborn baby nephew and watching Netflix so it was nice to have a job and a reason to wear something besides sweatpants a couple of days a week. I mean, I’d rather have been at home with a baby and Netflix and sweatpants, but this made me sound more responsible when people asked what I’d been doing since I got home.

When I finally got back to Provo, I started teaching at the MTC. All missionaries idolize their MTC teachers and I was no exception as a missionary, so teaching there and being a true-to-goodness MTC teacher had been a mission dream of mine. In reality, it ended up being a terrible fit. I did love the missionaries I taught, but the job brought out some qualities in myself that I didn’t love. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t enjoy it, though at the time I convinced myself it was the best job I could ever have. Logically, it should have been perfect because I love teaching and I love missionary work, but when I left, I realized it was a great job that was much more suited for someone else.

By divine providence, not one, but two teaching assistant jobs landed in my lap after I left the MTC. TA-ing was a job that I’d wanted since my freshman year and it really wasn’t such a bad set-up. I got paid to go to class and listen to lectures on history, go to office hours and watch Downton Abbey, and edit poorly written students papers. Three of my favorite things (I say this unfacetiously). The best thing to come out of that job was the help I got from one of the professors. My disheartening experience at the MTC combined with the doldrums of winter semester and some challenging situations in my personal life had me ready to change my major and abandon my life-long goal of being a teacher. I believed I had no aptitude for it and wanted to graduate as soon as possible and find a job in just about any other field. This professor, who was also the faculty advisor to my small major, sensed what I was feeling and advised me to not give up on teaching until I gave it a fair chance. He arranged for me to interview for teaching internships at a couple of junior highs and encouraged me to be an intern instead of a student teacher, which he believed would give me a more authentic experience.

Thanks to this professor’s help, I wound up teaching 5 classes of 8th grade US History and 2 classes of 7th grade Utah History at a nearby school. This was the best possible thing that could have happened to me in my life at that time. Teaching was (is) HARD. I also had more fun than I thought anyone should be allowed to have at work. Probably because I’m a terrible educator, for me, teaching is like being a stand-up comedian and a drill sergeant at the same time. I loved it. There were a lot of days I got to work at 5 am and stayed for twelve hours. There were a lot of mornings I woke up without any idea what I was going to teach that day and I muddled my way through some truly dreadful lesson plans. However, I loved those little suckers more than I thought possible and they loved me much more than I deserved. They kept me going through some of the hardest months of my life and I say with complete candor that the year as a whole was a sacred experience for me.

Which leads me to my current employment. As an intern last school year, it meant that I was out of a job in June. As it turns out, there are approximately zero history teaching jobs in the state of Utah that don’t also require coaching expertise, which, despite the incredible number of inspirational sports movies I’ve seen, I’m definitely lacking. So, the short of it is that I’m working at the same school this year that I was at last year, just not exactly teaching. I sub at least a few times a week, which is the best part, but I mainly deal with tardies and detention and dress code and student council and really just about anything that needs doing. When people ask me what I do for work, I don’t really know what to tell them because no one at the school is exactly sure what my responsibilities are, myself included. It’s actually been a great experience because I work closely with administration which has helped me understand a lot better how a school functions. It’s interesting to see the non-student, non-teacher side of education and it’s been enlightening, to say the least. Even though I’d much rather be teaching, I really do enjoy my job. I’m still around my kids from last year and I feel like a celebrity every day because I am barraged with hellos and high-fives and side hugs everywhere I go.

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