Walking and Wondering

I’m reading a book right now (actually three books, but this one is the coolest), and it’s about the history of walking. At least, that’s what it purports to be, but I know differently; really, it is about contemplation. As is walking.

“When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

My favorite way to discover places and to discover things is by foot. The above quote is the most perfect articulation of why this is my truth: while I walk, I move. I move through the world physically, of course. I also move through my mental world. Like writing, it is my medium for wondering.

Many times, I have wondered about myself. As I explore a city, I wander the nooks and crannies of my psyche, analyzing and processing and curiously probing the dark and far off corners. Or maybe there is something in particular that rushes to the forefront of my mind and demands to be heard. Often I wonder about other people, gripped by my fascination about perspectives outside my own. As I walk through these thoughts, I walk through the world.

Sometimes I am pulled back into it, and instead I notice the squirrel crunching through the fallen yellow leaves. Sometimes there’s someone else on the road, and I feel compelled to shoot the fellow walker a friendly smile.

Often I am tracing paths on a mental map. When I explored new places, I got lost and found myself again, over and over, until I never really felt lost. After reading this part of the book, I realized that I will never again feel lost in those places that I’ve walked.

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I’ve worn a rut in my mind, and I will always recognize it. When I walk in Walla Walla again, I’ll get flashes of past walks, of the girl that walked those paths. If I somehow journey back to Paris, or even tiny Somain, the invisible crop will be waiting for me. I am inextricably linked to those cobblestones and the landmarks that line them, and they run like a map through my mind.

This is what makes me lusty, for the wander and for the familiar at once. I know that both are fruitful: one will lead me toward new corners of myself, one will lead me back to old ones. The one is risky and exciting, alluring and adventurous. The other is comforting and enlightening, reflective and revealing of forgotten truths.

I love them both and all. I walk through old and new with the same fulfillment, the same curiosity, and the same feet.

Walking and Wondering

From French Girl to Latin Girl

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In high school, college, and my minimal number of years in “the real world,” I was always that girl who knows French. People who knew this fun fact, or heard that I had lived in France, would say something in French and ask me to translate, or ask me to say something French — as a test?

Now, I am Latin girl. People ask me to say something Latin, or they give me something in Latin to translate. Speaking French is no longer the most salient Fact About Me; what comes up first is Latin teacher.

I’m loving it. There’s a whole other side of me that’s been dusted off and put on, slipped over the French and the teacher and the studied-abroad. It’s the writerly, grammarly, linguistic-y side of me…back again. It’s mixed with odd echoes of my middle school self, enthusiastically chanting the declensions with my teacher and competing with my best friend over who could finish the most homework the fastest (we definitely failed the tests).

Here’s the thing that speaks-French me and reads-Latin me have in common: we love words, we love writing, and we love teaching. We love exploring different cultures through arts and literature, learning the histories, lesson planning, and spending time with kids. We get so nerdy-excited about language. Like, I bought a book on the history of sentence diagrams. I’m reading a scholarly article on classification of words into groups other than the traditional parts of speech. I’m back at school (again and again) and absolutely thrilled about it.

I’m also planning and organizing furiously, trying to get ready for the school year, but knowing that it’s a pipe dream, and instead I should adopt a carpe diem approach – seize each day, each lesson, each teachable moment as it comes. I’m confident that I will learn as much as my students this year, and that is exciting.

So really, French girl and Latin girl aren’t very different. Both feel like me.

From French Girl to Latin Girl

What makes a truly wonderful work environment?

  1. A boss (or bosses) who listens, leads, and makes everyone feel valued. Who reminds us all of the big picture, and makes discussion more productive by asking guiding questions and providing thoughtful input.
  2. Coworkers who listen, empathize, thoughtfully disagree or express their affirmation, and support one another. Who all work toward a common mission, and respect one another’s differences.
  3. Meaningful work toward something that everyone buys into, and thinks is important.
  4. A healthy attitude: everyone is trusted to put their best effort forward, without too much pressure or stress.
  5. Positivity and a growth mindset. Everyone is optimistic, people seem inspired and energized by the work they’re doing. Rather than clinging to a rigid sense of self and system, workers are flexible and adapt to the needs of each other and an environment in flux.
  6. People are comfortable taking risks, experimenting, and offering input without fear of being judged or rejected.
  7. Work can be independent or collaborative, as needed.
  8. Coworkers are supportive and understanding, communicating freely rather than condemning, judging, or being overly critical.
  9. Leadership is transparent and includes an appropriate amount of general input in important decisions.
  10. Work makes you, the worker, feel meaningful.

It may seem impossible, but I can check every statement in my new job.When I write the list out it seems to describe a truly wonderful school, or a truly wonderful classroom. Fitting, because I think Eton School really is all those things.

What makes a truly wonderful work environment?

Optimization

That title actually made me think of something completely different than what I’m going to write about. Or is it different? One of the Roman emperors, in legitimizing his supreme authority, called himself “Optimus Augustus,” which basically means the BEST Augustus of all the Augustuses (“Augustus” being a title of a Roman emperor in the late Empire).

Why do I know this, you wonder? I’ve been taking Ancient Roman History this summer for funzies, and also for my new job as Latin teacher (which starts Monday!). I just finished up that class and another which I was teaching, and I’m officially on summer vacation….for two more days.

Anyway, the best of the best Augustuses, Optimus Augustus, relates to my post because I was going to write about this interesting tendency I’ve noticed in myself: the need to optimize.

I guess it’s both a larger societal trend and a pervasive social and cultural pressure in our nation of individualistic entrepreneurs. I mean, we are constantly under pressure to compete for the coolest “Insta”posts, the best vacations, the hottest body, the best job…you name it, we want to optimize it. I guess I knew this, but I’ve been realizing that I also do it in my head, to myself. I want to be a better person, a better teacher, set new goals and challenges for myself, succeed in new and different ways. I think this drive is super important for my future success. And yet…

Sometimes, I think there should be more said for accepting people, places, and things for what they are. The problem with wanting to improve everything is that the already-great things don’t get enough appreciation or credit for how great they are. I don’t get to enjoy the small moments of gratitude for what I have, if I’m focused on where I’m going next. I don’t get to appreciate what’s in my life for what it is, if I’m thinking of how it could be better.

Furthermore, who’s to say that there will ever be an Optima Anne, the best of the best, with the best life and the best people in it. I don’t even like to think that there’s an end to self-betterment, because that makes it a linear, rigid process. With that mentality, I guess I won’t be the best until I’m nearly dead…

So in the meantime, here’s to celebrating all of the journey – meaningful or not, pleasant or not, optimal or not. It’s all worth learning.

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Optimization

“Food Freedom” – Life on the Whole30

Hey there blogosphere, it’s been a while.

I’ve been busy with various things this summer: taking a class, teaching a class, having random adventures and doing random jobs. It hasn’t been sunny enough, not in the slightest. But already, it’s time for Fall and my favorite time of year – back to school!

One of my adventures this summer was the Whole30 challenge. Mom and I started June 11th, and now we’re approaching the final days. 30 days of NO grains, dairy, legumes (yes, even peanut butter), or processed sugar. I was mostly into it for the stomach benefits- I tend to get tummy aches all the time, with no rhyme or reason. I was also noticing that my eating was more emotional than physical. It’s easy for food to be a source of comfort instead of a source of fuel.

Here are some awesome things I learned from this month of intense restriction:

  1. Fat and protein are better sources of energy than sugar. The diet requires lots and lots of protein – 1/3 to 1/2 of every meal. That meant lots of bacon! Gone were the crashes and spikes of the sugar rush, and moments of fatigue were nothing but real, physical tiredness. More fuel please. Fat makes you feel satiated, meaning you’ll eat less, and it’s slower to digest so it hangs around a lot longer than sugar. It’s a shame that it’s been so demonized. Excesses of sugar turn into fat anyway.
  2. My willpower muscle needed exercise to get stronger. My limp, weak resolve (“maybe I’ll start that paper tomorrow,” “maybe I’ll exercise later”) has become way more proactive. I think about doing something, and I more often than not end up doing it. Even if it’s watching some Bones in bed. Hey, everything’s valuable in some way…But for real, I seem to have so much more power over my impulses through all of this exercise of my brain in resisting cravings.
  3. All my energy is clean. That’s what I feel like, like I’m running on solar power or something. It’s amazing. I’m so alert, without even having to pound caffeine or snarf a cookie. I burn it up, I get hungry, I eat some more.
  4. Meal planning is true “food freedom.” I think about food so much less now that I’m doing this. Counterintuitive, right? I think it’s because I’ve got to sit down and plan what I’m going to make for each day of the week, instead of getting take-out when I’m lazy or stopping for a treat after a long day. And once I’ve planned it, I shop accordingly and eat what I have. It makes it easy to forget about needing to eat when I have so much good stuff at home that I’ve already prepped. Prep is the key – the easier it is to grab some carrots for snack, the more likely I am to do it.
  5. Chocolate is a very big, important part of my food life. The only things I really miss are chocolate. And cheese. I’ll be reintroducing those in about six days.
  6. Even camping works out…

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So here’s to Day 24 of clean eats, may I continue all these good habits forevermore…

“Food Freedom” – Life on the Whole30

Life in Parallel

A year ago today, I was in Carbonne, France, in the Toulousain countryside, being hospitably welcomed by a friend’s friend. It was one of my favorite and most bittersweet weekends. I had just finished my TEFL course, a 4-week intensive on how to teach English which had reinvigorated my teachery enthusiasm. I soaked in the sunny Southwest — the hills, the little houses, the farms, the village landmarks — and prepared myself for the inevitable end of it all.

I didn’t really anticipate how vividly I would relive the experiences of the past year. In Fall 2015, I was busy adjusting to the new teaching job and new schedule — too busy to really think about what I’d been doing during my first few months in France the year before. But, as of December, the past was a constant presence. I will partly thank Facebook for this one, with a special mention for its handy “a year ago today” tool which automatically reminded me of where I’d been. But, even offline, I would pause and think “last year at this time, I was…”

The common misconception is that living in the past meant I wasn’t loving the present. That isn’t true — I’ve loved a lot about this year, and I feel like I’ve been living in the moment as much as I did in foreign lands.

It felt more like I was loving two moments at once, and one life was running parallel to the other. The two experiences don’t even approach each other. There is almost nothing similar between the two years. But, by remembering so vividly what past Anne had been up to, I was able to enjoy the both of them. It was a positive nostalgia, life-enriching and comforting.

It kept my friends close to me as well — friends from last year, if you’re reading this, I feel like even a year later, and even if I haven’t talked to you, we could have a Val McDo picnic and things would be just as lively and convivial and full of friendly bonding (and eating and drinking, obvi). I still feel close to you, and maybe it’s because that past was always in my mind instead of far away. I can feel the presence of new people I love, wherever they are — just like I felt the presence of old people I love while I was abroad.

This parallel life also serves as a constant reminder of all life’s possibilities. Yes, I can go away again, pursuing something new and different from what I’ve done before. Yes, there are friends to be made and communities to be found, stories to be written and reflections to be pondered, places to visit and good things to eat. There are so many different ways of eating, drinking, living, thinking, and being. Through my parallel past life, the largeness of the world was in the forefront of my brain.

I think it will always be there, just as my past will always be there. It’s both a memory and a tantalizing future possibility. I had to be introduced to it to want more of it. Right now, I will content myself with the knowledge that my life was an adventure, is an adventure, and “adventure is [still] out there!”

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Life in Parallel

Looking Forward

10 Things I learned as an assistant teacher in bilingual kindergarten

  1. Expect the unexpected. It’s a cliché that very much applies in a classroom of 5 year olds. This week, one of my students came in from recess with her shoes tied together. Another recounted the tale of the rat skeleton his family found in the attic. You never know what’s coming…
  2. In kindergarten, kids contemplate the big questions (“Anne, how long will I live?”). I’ve heard them discuss gender and sexuality, marriage, politics, religion, and the weather. They make complicated things simple in the most beautiful way.
  3. Don’t wear white to school. Clothing must be fingerpaint -, cleaning product – , and snotty hand – proof.
  4. “Sit down and raise your hand” must be rule number one. Otherwise, I am accosted by small bodies with loud voices, all with the expectation that they are my first priority. If I could have more hands and another brain, please, that would help.
  5. In my class, there are children raised by the rules of one culture, of another culture, of a mix of cultures. There is an actual difference between children raised strictly in French and children raised strictly in American. Neither makes a perfect child (but they are perfect to me).
  6. Play. The best class is full of humor, and nothing motivates or pleases children of any background like games.
  7. Read. Books are the most important thing to child-brains. When I have kids, words will be magic and stories will be magic come to life.
  8. Smile. There is no better way into a child’s heart. Except perhaps candy, or showing animated films (such as these).
  9. I have made unparalleled use of my multi-tasking abilities. I can simultaneously pour paint, help someone spell a word without giving the answer, prep snack, clean countertops, and empathize with a child who’s hurting from a bobo.
  10. People who teach kindergarten are straight-up superheroes. The creativity, the energy, the organization, the patience, the people skills…I can’t think of another job I’ll ever have which requires the same level of each all at once. I will miss it.

Why will I miss it, you ask? I have a new job for next year. It may require very similar skills. It may be just as challenging, and will hopefully be just as rewarding. It’s an almost total change of gears.

I’m going back to my second home, my alma mater, to teach upper and middle school Latin. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be following in the footsteps of one of my favorite mentors and teachers, I’ll be in charge of my own subject, I’ll still be teaching language, and we’ll have a lot of fun bringing a dead language to life.

Au revoir aux enfants, and salvete discipuli!

As the sun sets on this chapter, I’ll be climbing new mountains.

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P.S. Seattle is beautiful.

Looking Forward