I’ll keep this brief, but I want to let you, my blog readers, know that I started my podcast! It’s not the education podcast I envisioned when I posted about this a few months ago, but rather a show about stories of all kinds–books, movies, and anything else with a story arc (though, as I hope I showed in this first episode, that term “story arc” is a bit slippery). I’ll keep my ruminations about online teaching and learning here on the blog, and my observations about literature on the podcast–though there may be some crossover from time to time. If you like stories, listen to Episode 1 and let me know what you think!
Today I’m writing to you about something that’s so central to my experience of being a teacher and an academic that I considered calling this The Imposter Blog. (I decided that might be confusing.) Imposter syndrome has become a widely documented phenomenon in the fields of psychology and education. It simply means feeling like everyone else in your group (whether that’s a class, a doctoral cohort, a department at work, or even a group of gaming friends) belongs there, but that you’re an unqualified, inexperienced imposter–a poser, as people my age used to say when we were teens. If you’re a teacher, have you ever though as you approached your students (whether online or in front of a classroom), “I don’t know enough about this topic to be teaching other people about it?” If so, you’ve experienced imposter system. (If not, are you lying?)
One of the strongest triggers of imposter syndrome in my life has been joining the faculty of the university where I earned my first two degrees, coming to teach alongside professors who once taught me. Besides the perpetually awkward conundrum of what to call them (there are some whose first names I’ll never be able to bring myself to use), I have a really hard time shaking the feeling that I’m just the annoying kid who tags along with the adults. Although it’s been a few years and I’ve started coming into my own as a colleague, there are still situations that send me straight back to being a shy nineteen-year-old sitting in my first British lit class. These include having to express disagreement with one of my former professors, serving on a thesis committee with them (especially if I’m the chair), and being asked to share my expertise on something (gut reaction: what expertise?).
Instead of giving you my five steps to overcoming imposter syndrome (as a matter of fact, I don’t have those), I’d like to ask you to share your expertise, or at least your stories. In what situations, if any, have you felt imposter syndrome? Is there anything you can do that helps? Is there anything your colleagues or administrators have done that helps, or that you wish they would do?
Thanks for being part of this community! Next time, I won’t make you wait so long for a new post.
As many of you know, I got married a few weeks ago! My husband, Jordan, and I decided to postpone our Hilton Head honeymoon until later in the year, but we still found ways to make the week after our wedding special, despite the fact that I had a lot of grading to do: we had a movie night, took lots of walks, and even went on a DATE (i.e. we picked up coffee and drank it in the car while waiting curbside for tacos, which we brought home and ate).
As you know if you read my interview with Jordan, he is a massive board game geek and owns more games than anyone I’ve ever met, which is not a judgment but merely an observation. (I have no room to judge; my books take up way more space than his games.) He/we had received several new games over the past few months that, for understandable reasons, we had not had time to play, so one of the special things we did during our honeymoon week was a game night…which turned into a game week-and-a-half. That’s because the game we decided to play that night–Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a Cooperative Deck-Building Game–is actually seven games, one for each year at Hogwarts, and while we breezed through the first several, it took us multiple tries to beat the higher levels.
This was my first experience playing a cooperative game and only my second playing a deck-building game. I should add that, while I’ve enjoyed board games ever since I was a small child who made my parents read the Candyland backstory to me every time we played, I tend toward games that play to my strengths (vocabulary, trivia, yelling) and not my weaknesses (strategy, backstabbing, learning complex rules). My idea of a complicated game, until I met Jordan, would have been something like The Game of Life (though my favorite part of that one has always been naming my little peg children) or Monopoly, a game that Jordan finds so embarrassing that he hides it in his closet instead of displaying it on his nerd game shelves. I say all that to say that I’m probably going to show my ignorance of games in this post, and I’m okay with that.
So if you’re like me or even less of a gamer, let me explain what a cooperative deck-building game is. Deck-building means that you start out with a few dinky cards (in this game, you start with mostly Alohomora! spells worth one coin each) and gradually use these to acquire increasingly powerful cards that eventually help you win the game. Cooperative means that instead of trying to beat each other, Jordan and I worked together to beat increasingly powerful villains, from Crabbe and Goyle (mildly annoying) to Fenrir Greyback (will bleed you dry in several different senses) to, ultimately, Lord Voldemort (when you beat him, you’ve won the game). This sounds like a good way to start off a marriage, right? I thought so too.
And I was right. 🙂 (You thought I was going to say that I was wrong, didn’t you?) The week and a half during which we played this game almost every night taught me a number of things about myself, my new husband, and how we work together. We were very predictable and played as Ron (Jordan) and Hermione (me), but in this case, Jordan was actually the highly logical one who was able to look at a complex situation and immediately understand it. I was the one who yelled, “Bloody hell!” a few times. I generally think of myself as a pretty smart, quick-thinking person, but games are Jordan’s domain, and my quick wit looks pretty slow next to his in a gaming situation. And in a cooperative gaming situation, that works to my advantage!
We had to be a team. I had to swallow my pride and let him explain things or gently correct me sometimes. He probably had to swallow his impatience when my turn took forever or his amusement (or fear?) when I got mad and threatened to throw the cards. (I never actually did.) And in the end, all of this deference and kindness helped us to defeat the forces of evil and save the wizarding world (not to be too dramatic or anything).
I highly recommend this game to anyone who loves Harry Potter or games, but especially to anyone about to get married. Go, put it on your registry now! You’ll thank me.
I’m in one of those seasons (and I mean that in the currently trendy in “inspirational” women’s writing sense, though I’m going to talk about the revolution of the earth around the sun sense later in this post)…Let me start over. I’m in one of those seasons in which I’m having a hard time coming up with wise or even coherent things to say on my blog. (You may have noticed that I didn’t post last week.) I promise I’m having smart ideas right now; I’m just wasting them all on my students. (Just kidding about the “wasting” part, students!) I’m having a ball teaching three literature classes this semester: children’s, dystopian, and my usual intro to lit with a little bit of composition thrown in. The fun part about teaching multiple back-to-back classes in a day is that a topic from an earlier class might lead to an apt illustration coming to my mind in a later class. Yesterday, the sinking of the Titanic came up in both of my classes, both times as an oddball illustration that nevertheless seemed to resonate with my students. And I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about World War One in all three of my classes. And I haven’t even seen 1917 yet!
Oh, that reminds me–I was going to say something about the Oscars. I’m mad at 1917, actually, because I picked it to win Best Picture, and it let me down. I’m not ignorant of the historical significance of Parasite‘s win, and I’m mostly pleased that it did, except that it busted my bracket, to borrow a March Madness metaphor. I believe I would have won my family’s prediction competition had I gotten this category correct; as it was, I came in third out of seven (not bad, I guess. *eye-roll*).
Unlike last year, when I very deliberately watched all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars, I had only seen one of them this year, Little Women (which I greatly enjoyed, except that I was a bit troubled by the implication that the whole Jo/Bhaer romance was a fabrication added to please the publisher. Did anyone else notice that?). So I’m going to confine myself to making two comments.
- I have to say something about my fave category, Best Original Score. Although I would have liked to see my guy Thomas Newman win, I was happy to see the award go to another young composer (and a woman at that), Hildur Gudnadottir, who composed the haunting (yes, I looked it up on Spotify and listened to it in full, along with all the other nominees) score to Joker. I say “another” because last year’s Oscar went to Ludwig Goransson, another member of what I see as the upcoming generation of composers, for his epic and experimental Black Panther score. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Mandalorian yet, Goransson’s very cool score is one reason to check it out.
- I have a crush on Adam Driver. I mention this because he was sitting in the front row and they kept showing him. But you know what? I have an even bigger crush on my fiance, Jordan Martinus. And do you know what Adam and Jordan have in common? They have both lived in Mishawaka, Indiana. True story!
Okay, now that I’ve exhausted most of your patience on preliminary stuff, here is what I actually sat down to write. I went for a walk in the park this morning, and although there was snow everywhere and I didn’t see or hear a single bird, I started to have that feeling I get this time of year when spring is juuuuuuust visible on the horizon. It’s like emerging from a tunnel. Some of my usual reliable signs of winter’s approaching end have occurred: the Super Bowl and the Oscars are over (though the Oscars were early this year–did anyone else notice that?); The Walking Dead is coming back soon; it’s still light outside when I sit down at my computer to work for an hour at 5:00 pm. In a month, my students and I will already be back from spring break, and I’ll probably start making more sense in class because I find my brain is generally clearer in the spring. Oh, and there are just over 100 days left until I marry a guy from Mishawaka. (Jordan, in case you were wondering.) Next time I write to you, we’ll be a little closer to the tunnel’s edge.
I looked back through my blog archives and realized that it’s been a while since I did one of those themeless list posts. Since people tend to enjoy those, and since I’m not sure if I can generate a coherent argument today, here is a list, in no particular order, of things I have going on right now.
- I just put my electric blanket on my bed and tucked it in at the end so that it has officially become part of my bedding for the duration of the winter. This will no doubt enhance my quality of life.
- I’m in a Peter Pan season. I went to see the strange and delightful play Peter and the Starcatcher Friday night at the South Bend Civic Theater. (By the way, did you know that the novel on which the play is loosely based is called Peter and the Starcatchers? Play–singular; novel–plural.) This week in my children’s lit class, we are reading Peter Pan, and as part of our discussion of Peter Pan as culture-text (a fancy term for the whole conversation surrounding the text–sources, adaptations, connotations, etc.), I plan to show the student clips from the 1953 Disney Peter Pan and Finding Neverland, read them part of Piers Dudgeon’s The Real Peter Pan, and show-and-tell them my Peter Pan Funko Pop. Maybe I’ll even wear my new Neverland jacket. In summary, I’m way too engrossed this week in a flying, narcissistic, magical boy.
- Jordan and I are doing the Whole30.* I am putting an asterisk next to this statement because we are aware that we cannot truly say we have done the Whole30 if we take a break in the middle, which we did last weekend for a very good reason: our wedding reception tasting, which we weren’t about to delegate to anyone else. Also, you’re not supposed to eat sugar-cured bacon or sausage on the Whole30, but it’s dang hard to find non-sugar-cured versions, and I’m not stressing out about it. So we’re doing the Whole30.* Maybe we’ll do it for real later this year. In the meantime, I’ve learned that you can make a really good barbecue sauce using dates as the sweetener. Who knew?
- I am doing Yoga With Adriene’s 30-day yoga “journey” entitled Home. (Look her up on YouTube; she’s a phenomenon.) Instead of doing my daily practice in the morning as I typically have in the past, I am waiting until 4:00 or 4:30 pm. This not only frees up my early mornings for other types of exercise but also gives me a delicious (yummy, as Adriene would say) break after the workday. It’s been fun trying to wrap everything up in order to make sure I can get started at the time I’ve written in my planner. (See last week’s post on why I’m giving non-meeting, non-appointment activities like yoga a specific time in my planner.)
- I received six goodly-sized jar candles for Christmas. That sounds like a lot, but I love having a bit of fire in my home, and since I don’t have a fireplace, this works almost as well (and smells better). I did have all six out in various places, but today, in an effort to be seasonally appropriate (something I typically don’t care about), I put away Peach Flambe and Ocean Currant for later. I’m amazed by my restraint.
And now, I must go because it’s almost 4:30 and time to do yoga. Let me know what you’re into right now!
Most people who know me well know that I enjoy routine. I like to wake up, exercise, eat my meals, drink my tea, and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. (I prefer exactly the same time, but I’ve matured at least enough to know that that isn’t always feasible.) Every so often, I have to replace a routine that is no longer serving me. And sometimes, I hang onto routines even though I am fully aware they are no longer serving me. But in general, I think my routines do more good than harm.
I was delighted to receive for Christmas from my future in-laws the 2020 weekly edition of The Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. Aside from the fact that it’s pretty and sturdy, has a large format (which means more room for writing), comes with a list of small suggestions for simplifying one’s life, and is part of a lifestyle and paper products brand with an undeniably supportive and cheery vibe, it’s a fairly standard planner. By this, I mean that there aren’t prescripted categories for what to write each day; most of the pages consist simply of dates and blank lines. I know from watching one of Ley’s supportive and cheery videos that this is intentional: She wanted to create a planner that could become what the user needs it to be. And for me, at this season of my life, I’ve discovered that I need to write down and carry around with me a hyperspecific list of what I must do every day and–this is key–what I want to do every day.
I realized that for a long time now–probably years–I’ve been spending my unstructured time wandering around my house feeling the anxiety of all the things I need to do but unsure of what I should do next. This habit has been exacerbated by my current freeform work schedule (I have to be on campus for classes, office hours, and meetings, and that’s it). So even though I believe that part of being a functioning adult is knowing how to use one’s time without having to be told what to do, I have recently felt that I might actually need someone to tell me what to do, at least for a while. And I decided that that person ought to be me.
So I’m filling out every line of my planner. And as I mentioned, these are big pages. I’m not just writing down classes and appointments; I’m also writing down specific times for things like “prayer while making tea,” “have my first coffee,” “talk to Jordan,” “blog,” and “yoga”–things that I say are important (and that I typically enjoy) but that I apparently have never considered important enough to set a time for on my schedule. (This includes those routine items that I mentioned in the first paragraph–yes, I’m writing “wake up” and “go to bed” in my planner.) The level of specificity might seem ridiculous, but judging by these first few weeks of the year, it seems like it’s helping. The true test, of course, will be once my classes really get going and I have grading to do, but I already have a plan for that: one of my to-do items this week is “Count # of students & divide by # of weekdays to schedule grading.” If it’s important, I’m writing it down.
One good thing about this system is that my to-do list is finite and specific to each day, rather than vague and unending, so I’m getting the added benefit of a major list-crossing-off endorphin rush each day. There were one or two days last week when my to-do list was too ambitious, but I was able to move the items to another day or even the following week after re-assessing their urgency.
I should also mention the weekly routine I’ve added that, so far, is incredibly helpful: taking an hour each Sunday night to plan my week. (I am grateful to life coach Cindy Sielawa for this suggestion.) I create a calm environment by lighting all the candles I got for Christmas (it’s a lot–guys, I like fire) and doing a facemask (the skincare kind, not the football kind), and then I fill out all those blanks in my planner. And my routine-loving heart is happy.
And you can make it even happier by telling me some of your favorite daily routines and planning habits! Please share in the comments!
Welcome back to my series of posts introducing you to the characters in my forthcoming zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town! Today I’d like you to meet Joe and Anna Larson, the parents of my main character, Sam. In genre fiction (as opposed to literary fiction), it’s fairly rare to see a relationship between an adult character and his or her parents, and it’s rare in all types of narratives these days to see a positive portrayal of such a relationship. And I’d argue that it’s even less rare, especially in genre fiction, to see a portrayal of a romantic relationship (especially a healthy one) between people over 40–dare I say, even over 30? Well, get ready for this: Joe and Anna are over 50–approaching 60!–and they’re unmistakably in love. Part of the reason their passion is so evident at present is that Anna has recently emerged from a decades-long period of debilitating depression that kept her housebound and unable to fully participate in the relationships that meant so much to her, primarily those with her husband, Joe, and her only child, Sam. If it doesn’t sound too sappy to say it, it’s almost as if she’s falling in love all over again. And even during the bleakest times, Joe has never stopped feeling awe that a woman like Anna would want to be with a guy like him.
Sam is a lot like both of his parents, including in ways that he might not want to admit. His relationships with each of his parents were some of my favorites to explore. They’re not perfect relationships, but they’re kind and well-intentioned and, most of all, loving–and this is something else we don’t see enough of in fiction. I think some writers are called to write about the ugliness of the world around us, including in the way humans treat one another, but I wanted to write an aspirational story. Set in the zombie apocalypse. How’s that for irony? Anyway, I think all my characters have qualities worth emulating, but as the oldest of the bunch, Joe and Anna are perhaps the greatest mentor figures in the story, flawed as they are.
Fun facts about Joe and Anna:
- Joe is a dentist who ends up as the de facto leader of the apocalypse survivors in Hibbing, Minnesota. I learned of an interesting coincidence after I had already created this storyline: A real-life dentist from Hibbing named Rudy Perpich also took an important leadership role, serving two terms as the governor of Minnesota.
- It’s said several times in my novel that Sam looks a lot like Joe but has Anna’s eyes. Does this remind you of anyone? It should remind you of Harry Potter. 🙂
- Frankie, whom you met last week, says Joe Larson is Clemenza’s best customer of all time. Before the zombie apocalypse, he ate there at least once a week.
And here’s a romantic encounter between Joe and Anna:
He turned his head to look her in the face, his eyes searching for hers in the dim light from the bathroom. “Be careful,” he said. “I can’t lose you.”
She reached over and touched his face. “You won’t.”
“I mean it,” he said, and his voice cracked.
“I mean it too,” she said with her eyes locked on his. “You won’t.”
They just looked at each other for what felt like a long time. “I love you so much,” Joe finally broke the silence, “but my neck hurts.” He turned his head back to face the ceiling.
Anna giggled quietly and whispered, “Good night.
Let me know what you think of Hibbing’s “it” couple (okay, maybe not, but they’re my “it” couple) in the comments!
Next week, I’m going to introduce you to the character who is most closely based on me. If you’ve read any of my novel, any guesses who I mean?
Welcome to the first in my series of posts introducing you to the six main characters in my zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town! Today I want you to meet Frankie Clemenza, an old friend of my main character, Sam. Frankie is a lifelong resident of Hibbing, Minnesota, where most of the story takes place, and although he’s a little self-conscious about the fact that he’s never gone to college, married, or done much traveling outside of Hibbing, he loves his life. Frankie has recently inherited the family restaurant from his aunt and uncle, and he’s opened it up (along with his upstairs apartment) as a safe house for Hibbing zombie apocalypse survivors. As the only true extrovert in my novel, Frankie loves the constant flow of people in and out of the restaurant, even if they’re sweaty and bloody. He also loves giving hugs. And he’s a bit of a klutz. Frankie can come across as “an unambitious goof-off” (his uncle Bobby’s words), but beneath his weight-lifting, pasta-cooking, classic-car-restoring surface, there’s a loyal friend and maybe even a capable leader.
Fun facts about Frankie:
- Yes, his last name (and thus the name of the restaurant) was inspired by that of Peter Clemenza, one of the capos (and one of Vito Corleone’s oldest friends) in The Godfather. My Clemenzas have no organized crime connections, but because they’re chefs and restaurant owners, I associate them with Peter Clemenza, who once took a break from planning a Mafia war to teach Michael Corleone how to make tomato sauce–and uttered the famous line, “Leave the guns; take the cannoli.”
- Frankie drives a 1960s Cadillac DeVille (I didn’t specify the year), which saves the day at a crucial point in my novel and which Sam describes as “resplendent.” I loved the idea of him in a chrome-plated “pontoon boat” of a car, but I knew that four-door cars were less common mid-century, so I had to do a little research to make sure that Cadillac came out with a DeVille in the 60s that had rear doors, which I needed for plot reasons. (That’s all I’m telling you right now!)
And now, for your reading enjoyment, here’s a snippet of the scene in which Frankie first appears. Frankie is having his arm bandaged due to an accident in which a gun went off while he was holding it. (Did I mention he’s a bit of a klutz?)
The man in the chair stood up. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, a few years older than Sam. He had the arms of someone who spent a lot of time in the gym and the abs of someone who spent a lot of time around garlic bread. “I just grazed the top of my arm. Could have been a lot worse, as klutzy as I am.”
“Frankie Clemenza!” Sam grinned.
The other man furrowed his brow. “Frankie was a dumb kid. I go by Frank now.”
“Oh, sorry…” Sam took a step backward.
Frank’s serious face split into a smile, and he stepped forward. “Just kidding, man! You can call me whatever you want!” He grabbed Sam in a fierce yet lingering hug. “I missed you, buddy. It’s been way too long. You never come home! But—” he pulled back to look Sam in the face but kept hugging him—“I read your comic every week when it comes out. Every week!”
What do you think of Frankie so far? Would you want a guy like him around during the zombie apocalypse, or is he a bit much to handle? Let me know in the comments!
Next week, we’ll meet Sam’s parents, Joe and Anna Larson, one of whom has been called Clemenza’s best customer of all time…
My zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town, is almost here! Thank you all for your patience. Soon I’ll have exciting things to share with you like the fabulous cover art and the all-important release date! I plan to throw a virtual release party, so stay tuned for information about that.
Over the weeks leading up to the novel’s release, I’ll be sharing excerpts centered on each of the novel’s six main characters. (I know–the number of characters makes this book sound like zombie Friends or zombie Saved by the Bell. Tell me in the comments which of those zombified shows you would rather watch.) In the meantime, share this post with your friends who like zombie stuff (especially George Romero’s films and The Walking Dead) or anyone who loves a good story about friendship, family, romance, pop culture, Italian food, and keeping your stuff together when the world is going crazy. I appreciate your support so much!
I’m reading Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of Martin Luther, and it’s the first time in many years I’ve studied Luther in any depth. The first time was when I was in middle school. I don’t remember exactly what I read and/or listened to (there may have been some Adventures in Odyssey episodes involved), but I do know that through this process, I developed a crush on the German monk and reformer. Huh? I know. (Google a picture of him now if you don’t know.) It’s a bit baffling, but I don’t think it was his physical appearance I was drawn to. (Years later, though, Joseph Fiennes played him in a movie, and he looked pretty hot.) It must have been his earnestness in pursuing God’s true will for the Church, his clever and sometimes shockingly bold writing style, and the undeniably romantic way in which he met his wife, a former nun (he hid her when she escaped from her convent). And it probably had a lot to do with the fact that back then I didn’t know a lot of guys–young or old, living or dead.
Surely this factored greatly into my even less explicable crush, around the same time, on Union general Ulysses S. Grant, a short man invariably pictured as scowling and chewing on a cigar. And it’s not like he had a pretty face; actually, you can barely see his face in pictures because it’s covered in one of those full-face beards popular at the time. I don’t think I can explain this one, except that he did win the Civil War. Also, I remember reading that he used to get terrible migraines, and his wife would put a “mustard plaster” (I never understood exactly what this was) on his feet to ease his suffering. I guess I appreciated this humanizing weakness, as well as the humility and gentleness expressed by both parties in the anecdote. I don’t know. The ways of love are mysterious.
The next person I would like to tell you about has the advantage of being young and admittedly cute, but the disadvantage of being completely fictional, not to mention animated. Let me preface this by saying that one of my favorite Disney movies has always been Pocahontas. It was the last animated Disney film that came out before I got arbitrarily too old for Disney movies (roughly age 11), and I still think its music and color palette are gorgeous, even if the love story is as sappy as Grandmother Willow. (That was a tree pun.) You probably think I’m about to say that I had a crush on John Smith, but I didn’t. He was too old for me, too blandly handsome and boringly heroic. Nor did I go for Pocahontas’s arranged fiancee, Kocoum, nor her dad, though as an adult I can now appreciate his stately good looks. No, I was into Thomas, the wimpy redheaded sailor voiced by Christian Bale (though I didn’t know that at the time) who accidentally shot Kocoum because he was too nervous to hold his gun straight. Even now, I have to admit he has a sweet face. (Click the link above to see a picture of him, along with my brief review of Pocahontas.) And I’ve always liked his floppy hat.
I like to think that my celebrity crushes have matured over the years, but on the other hand, what’s more impressive–starring in a few movies or starting the Protestant Reformation? I’ll let you decide. I’d also like to hear about your early celebrity crushes.