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September 16, 2021

The Middle of the Beginning

No one tells you how weird the middle of the beginning feels. The beginning of something new is long. It’s that place where you’re meeting people and learning things and you’re so busy meeting people and learning things that you forget to look up. But then one day you look up at realize that you’re still at the beginning but just more toward…the middle.

Does this make sense?

I had one of these moments today when I realized that I’ve been at my “new” job for five months. Five months feels like forever, but it’s not.

At the end of my time teaching, I felt the weight of all those years, all the people I’d met, and the things I’d learned. The beginning of things is weightless. It’s lighter. I am a shiny penny in a sea of tarnished copper. All these people know each other. They can find the answers easily. I was that before in my old life. I knew where the roaches hid and the best place to get a bacon, egg, and cheese (Teixeira’s on Pulaski for anyone who’s wondering or currently in the Ironbound). I knew who to ask for help and who not to ask for help. I knew that sunset during Back to School night was magical from room 416 and that Club Spain is where you want to be during World Cup season, especially when Portugal plays Spain.

And all my people were real, flesh and blood. And they made me laugh when the ceilings were literally crumbling around us and the days were harder than hard.

Is it possible to know a place like that again? To know its veins and arteries and what it likes to drink during Happy Hour at that little bar with the great nachos and the pictures of burlesque dancers hiding divots in the maroon walls.

Does it take time to know a place like the way I knew the old place? Do I have the kind of stamina to stick around?

That’s the middle of the beginning. What a trippy place.

June 1, 2021

I Jumped

This post is going to be a little bit of a mess. I started writing it and then deleted what I wrote because my brain feels like a pile of mismatched puzzle pieces. But I knew that what I had to say couldn’t just live in the pages of my journal.

I resigned from my job today. It wasn’t easy to send the email. I’ve been there for thirteen years, my entire adult life. So much of my history and identity are wrapped up in teaching that it’s hard to walk away.

Not to mention I am made of nostalgia, so as I went to hit send, all these memories bubbled up of my first year. 2009. I was 24 years old. I had just transferred from a particularly hellish situation that I’m still dealing with the effects of all these years later. But East Side was home immediately. I loved the kids. I loved my coworkers. I loved my schedule and my classroom. I loved Independence Park and the bakeries on every street corner. The smell of barbecue from Pulaski in the summer time. Friday afternoons spent singing and playing guitar in my boss’s office. A small slice of heaven conveniently located in the Ironbound.

But recently, my heart and my head have been elsewhere. My love for this place and all the people that run its halls are as strong as they’ve ever been. But I’ve been feeling the call of this other life I’ve been cultivating for longer than I wanted to be a teacher. It was only at the beginning of quarantine that I finally had space for it. Writing. I finally had time to write a novel. I started ghost writing for other people. I got a job doing marketing and writing for an educational company. I am a writer. It’s official. But I have to admit my heart hurts a little today, even though I’m excited about what’s next.

Change is hard, even when you’re the one doing the changing. Staying is hard though, too, sometimes. Today I did the thing I never thought I’d do. I don’t know what the map looks like beyond right now. I have an idea. And a plan. I guess we’ll just have to see. I’ll let you know how it goes. : )

May 7, 2021

A Travel Blog (Sort of): Part I

Hey everyone! Sorry for the delay. I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. Ha.

Do you post every day? Every week? Are there algorithms I should be caring about? But I can’t start “shoulding” myself to death. That’s when things become a mess. And I’m already a mess. So let’s pretend like it hasn’t been a little more than a month since I last posted something here. Yes? Thanks.

Portugal has been on my mind recently. Probably because I won’t be going there this summer. I didn’t go there last summer either for obvious reasons. But she’s been calling to me for a few months now.

The first time I went to Portugal was six years ago after spending a month in Barcelona in a tiny apartment with my friend, Sparkle. I came to the country with panic attacks that I thought were some previously undiagnosed heart issue…because health anxiety. We’ll get into that in another post. But the mountains and lush greenery of Northern Portugal were so incredible that I was finally able to get out of my head long enough to catch my breath.

On the border of Spain and Portugal. E for Espana!

I fell in love with her on that first ride home from the airport as my friend, Carina, drove us past stone houses with terra cotta roofs tucked into the mountainside. Everything was green with a golden glow like we were driving down a memory. I went back for five summers in a row after that first one. And every time we’d pull into Carina’s driveway I’d think, “How am I so lucky to be here again?”

Took this picture on our ride to Peneda. Like how is this even a real place?

At night all the stars come out to shine. I’ve tried to take pictures, but I’m always disappointed by the outcome. Maybe the stars are just for me then. No sharing. No remembering from a grainy photo. Maybe they live in the moment and in my memory only. But every night after we came home from the cafe, I’d sit out on the balcony and talk to them. Watch them twinkle. Follow one rogue star as it shot across the sky. Those stars hold so many of my secret wishes.

The river in Ponte de Barca at sunset during the Celtic Festival.

I miss Ermelo. I miss buying carnations. I miss walking three times around the chapel at Sao Bento. I miss the oranges and lemons so overripe that they make the tree limbs sag. And the bats that swoop low and eat the mosquitoes. And the way the corn stalks wave in the breeze as we eat pastries and sip coffee under the kiwi tree covered green awning in Soajo. I miss afternoon naps to sleep away the heat. And driving down narrow mountain roads while listening to The Beatles on Carina’s old Ipod. We’d drive and drive and drive. Around and around and around. Looping and twisting and hugging the curves. Nothing but the occasional battered guard rail between us and the hundreds of feet below. But we were never afraid of falling. Or getting lost. We just kept following the road past vineyards and waves of hay bails and cows lounging in shade on the side of the road next to goats happily munching the grass. It was heaven. It is heaven.

Happiness is sunshine and mountains.

Some day the world will reopen, and when it does I’ll see her again. It’s amazing to think that so much has happened since last I saw her. I hope she hasn’t changed too much. I hope I haven’t changed too much. I hope we still recognize each other when we meet again. But she knows my soul, and I know hers. In the mean time, I will keep her close to my heart and keep her safe in the golden glow of my memories.

April 2, 2021

Taking the Leap

My first blog post! I guess the polite thing would be to start by saying hello and welcome. In my head I’m waving to you like the gif of Forrest Gump waving excitedly from his boat to Lieutenant Dan. That’s how excited I am that you’re here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about leaps of faith. This blog, for me, is a leap of faith. The whole website, in fact, is a leap of faith. Maybe I should back track a bit. Humor me as we go all the way back to 2002. A seventeen year old version of myself applying to college knowing two things: that I wanted to major in English, and that I wanted to be a writer.

I am from a relatively pragmatic family. My father is an old school, Jersey Italian who believes in financial independence and the importance of a job with benefits. So when I told him I was going to major in English, his response was, “English? What are you going to do with a degree in English?” And out of absolute fear, I said, “Teach.” He nodded in approval because he understood teaching. It was a good job with a pension! Benefits! A noble profession that needs no explanation and required a college degree! But secretly I had made plans with the universe. I would minor in education, all the while charting my escape route into my post college life as a writer.

But then teaching got me. Sunk her talons into my flesh and pulled me up into the sky like a hawk. My first day of observations, I sat in the back of a classroom and heard the whisper. You know the one that Oprah talks about? That one. Like a breeze passing by my ear and on the breeze was a voice that said, “You’re meant to be doing this for the rest of your life.” I was nineteen. There was a lot of life left. There’s still a lot of life left, but we’ll get to that later.

I answered the call. Not that I completely lost myself to teaching. I still wrote a lot. I still planned on being a writer, but as college graduation loomed before me like a lighthouse I realized that my Plan B, teaching, had taken a lot of work. I figured there’d be no harm in making it my plan A. Teachers have great schedules, right? Off at three. Summers and breaks. Plenty of time for writing.

Except it took all of my creativity. Every. Last. Drop. And I was happy to do it for a long time. Teaching has given me some of the best and worst moments of my life. There is nothing like the high of when a lesson goes well. When the kids are into the activity that took you eight hours on a Sunday to research, prep, and plan. Or when they get it. When they learn the thing you’re teaching. But the lows in teaching are looooow. Classroom management issues. Apathetic students. That’s part of the game, too.

I carried on for thirteen years, and every once in a while when I found a free moment not filled with exhaustion, I’d write. It was never much. A few hundred words here. A thousand words there. An abandoned novel. Then quarantine happened, and I saw my opportunity. We were a world in survival mode forced by government mandates to stay at home. And I wrote. It poured out of me. Just a bottomless well of stories and essays that flowed through my caffeinated fingers. Gone were the Sunday scaries and the manic Monday anxiety that came with the commute. It was freedom.

For the first time since I was twenty one I started to wonder, “What if?” What if I went all the way with this? What if I actually put myself out there and started to be the thing that had been living inside me since I was a kid? What if I kicked my raft away from shore without another island in sight?

Teaching has been my entire adult identity, but we humans are not made of one thing. It’s foolish to put yourself in a box when you’re seventeen and think that same box will fit you at thirty-five. I still love teaching, but I’m realizing the type of teaching I want to do is changing because I am changing. And that realization is both terrifying and exhilarating.

So, I’m putting it all out there. The truth. I’m on a journey for my next act, which includes my Plan A that became my Plan B. And I thank teaching for teaching me so much about myself. For giving me stability and opportunity and independence and thick skin. For the relationships I’ve made with incredible people. For all of the laughs with students who kept me humble.

I was a thin skinned girl from the suburbs of New Jersey who shouldn’t have succeeded in Newark. But I did. And now, it’s time to leap.

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