Reschool Yourself

Latest Posts

A Quick Welcome

Melia-swings2-cropWelcome, new visitors!

I’m glad you’re here. You’ll notice that it’s been a long time since I posted regularly, and you can read more about why. I’m committed to writing more often and posting on social media starting now, so I hope you’ll follow along.

Here are a few quick highlights of the Reschool Yourself site:

  • About RSY gives background on the hows and whys of the project.
  • The Archives let you follow the journey from the start, or look at certain periods like Elementary School.
  • Reschooling Tools will help you go through a “reschooling” process similar to mine.
  • Remember This? will bring back your own school memories so you can process them–or just enjoy the nostalgia.

I’ll be posting on topics like overcoming resistance, finding contentment and gratitude in everyday life, and learning to value yourself. If you’d like to stay in the loop:

I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment or contact me!

Introducing the Reschool Yourself Book Cover

rsy-cover

One of my great fortunes in life is to have married an enormously talented graphic and web designer. Darren and I started dating just as I was beginning the Reschool Yourself project, and he volunteered to do the logo, website, business cards, and all manner of other design-related tasks. His latest beautiful creation is a cover for the future Reschool Yourself book.

Seeing this cover makes my stomach do a happy flip-flop because I can actually picture my book on the bookstore shelf next to my favorite memoirs of transformation, such as Eat, Pray, Love, The Happiness Project, and Wild. I can imagine running my hands over the cool, smooth covers of my hardback and seeing my own words in black and white as I flip through the pages.

Little by little, I’m getting closer to realizing the dream. There are many more steps to take before I can publish the book — more writing and editing and finding an agent and building an audience — but the cover gives me fresh motivation to keep moving forward. This image will be the centerpiece of my vision collage for the coming year, which has a pretty good track record of keeping me focused on my goals and making them a reality.

Perhaps one day soon you’ll see this cover in a bookstore near you. A girl can dream!

5 Ways to Silence Your “Thought Bullies”

A sign caught my eye the other day as I drove by a mom-and-pop paint store. It said, “THE WORST BULLIES CAN BE YOUR THOUGHTS.”

I love this kind of roadside wisdom — it pops up in the most unexpected places and sticks to you like Velcro.

This sign especially resonated with me because there has been no bigger bully in my life than my own thoughts. On the one hand, I’m fortunate that I haven’t ever been seriously bullied by other people. On the other, having my own thoughts bully me every day of my life has been just as debilitating. The Thought Bullies — otherwise known as Inner Critics — follow me around 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they know all my weak spots.

Most times the Thought Bullies come find me in the middle of the night, when I’m most vulnerable. As a kid, they would whisper in my ear that robbers and murderers could break into my house any second. They planted worries about school, too, how it would affect my future. My mom tells me that when I was in third grade, I was studying for a math test one night and suddenly broke into tears. “If I fail this test, then I won’t get into a good college,” I sobbed. “And then I won’t get a good job, and I won’t have any money, and my children will staaaarve!”

It’s kind of funny now, the thought of an eight-year-old having a major crisis over providing for her future children. But at the time, the anxiety was very real. More than two decades later, I still have these kinds of episodes and easily work myself into a panic. Nearly every night since the baby was born — and really, since I was pregnant with him — I’ve been up sometime in the wee hours, and inevitably the bullies come a tauntin’.

These days, they berate me about the past, about things I’ve done and failed to do. They rattle off a litany of sins for which I should repent. Why did you act so huffy with Darren the morning before his big presentation? Why did you post something whiny on Facebook that does not reflect your best self? Then they twist the knife the way they do night after night: Why have you let the Reschool Yourself project collect dust for so long? Why haven’t you finished your book already? Pretty soon I’m wide awake with my heart pounding, instead of getting the sleep I need so desperately. There are a lot of names for this behavior: worry, anxiety, rumination, perfectionism, catastrophizing, and generally being hard on myself.

It’s not easy to reason with the Thought Bullies, so these are 5 strategies that I use to cope with them:

1. Snap myself back into the here and now.

It’s so easy for my thoughts to drift into the past or future and go around and around endlessly. The best place to start is to snap myself back to reality by doing something that gets me out of my head. In the middle of the night I can grab my phone and read The Onion or look at photos of Evan. During waking hours, I bake — which requires me to measure and mix and taste — or play guitar and sing, which helps me breathe easier. When I lived in San Francisco, I’d lace up my running shoes and sprint up and down the hills for 15 minutes. These days I’ll do a couple of quick yoga poses or stretches. Having a child around helps, because whether they’re screaming or giggling, they are very much in the moment and require you to be, too.

2. Give myself the advice I’d give a friend.

One of my greatest challenges is to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. I would never, ever say the things to a friend that I think about myself. NEVER! When the Thought Bullies say, Why did you screw that thing up? You’re so stupid!, I tell myself, Cut yourself some slack. You did the best you could with what you had at the time. Things turn out the way they do for a reason, even if it’s not clear right away. This is what I would say to a friend who was beating herself up, yet so rarely do I think to say it to myself, especially in the middle of the night.

3. Talk it out.

Darren has encouraged me to share with him what’s on my mind, which I was hesitant to do at first for a lot of reasons. I didn’t want to burden him or sound unreasonable; I also thought I’d be feeding my fears by verbalizing them. But the opposite ended up being true. Talking out my worries gave me a pressure release valve, and often just naming them out loud took their power away.

4. Write it down.

Darren suggested that I tell him every single thing that was worrying me, and he would write it down. “Get it out of your head,” he told me. So we made a long list. Getting rid of the critters we hear in the walls sometimes (squirrels, we think). Eating more vegetables. Repainting the bathroom. And so on. It felt good to have to stretch for items to add. “Now we can start knocking them out and checking them off, one by one,” Darren said, pragmatic as always.

Journaling, too, helps immensely every time I make time for it. Even a page at the end of the day allows me to be completely honest and process some of the worries that would otherwise haunt me.

5. Channel the anxiety into positive action.

I ask myself, “What would resolve this thing you’re worried about?” and then, “What’s one step you can take to get you closer?” When I was upset about getting so many late fees, I put recurring reminders on my Google Calendar to pay the bills. When the clutter around the house was driving me crazy, I bought new fabric boxes at Target to organize it. Anxiety can be productive when harnessed and directed toward a goal.

***

Schools today generally have some kind of anti-bullying curriculum designed to increase tolerance and compassion, and to teach kids what to do if they’re being bullied. Maybe one day it will include strategies for coping with your own Thought Bullies, who can be the worst of the bunch — and the ones that can follow you around for a lifetime, if you don’t know how to silence them.

What strategies do you use to deal with your Thought Bullies? Leave a comment!

Hello, Stranger!

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Hello, dear friends. It’s been a while. Since doing the Reschool Yourself project, there have been a lot of developments in my life: I moved from California to Mississippi. I co-founded a nonprofit organization and a small business. I had a baby and started working in state government. And throughout it all, not a day has gone by when I didn’t think about the project.

From the beginning, I wanted to write a book about what was happening to me during Reschool Yourself — about what it was like to have a school “do-over” at 28 years old and get to be a kid again, about visiting with my past, looking it in the eye, and letting it go. I hoped that it would help other people go through a similar healing process and make their own fresh start.

But I got tired of talking about the project, paralyzed by the daunting task of writing a book, and just plain busy with other things. I started writing the book, then put it down, and picked it up again in fits and starts. I stopped keeping up the blog because I felt like I should use that time to work on the book. It’s been infinitely more challenging to find time to write at all since having a baby.

There’s a deep, nagging feeling in my body that this project won’t truly be finished until I finish this book. I’m working on shifting my energy from anger at myself for not doing it already to motivation to do it now. There are plenty of reasons why having distance from the experience will make for a better book: I can see the story objectively and have more perspective on how best to tell it; I can include only the most meaningful details and let the rest fall away. I trust that things happen in their own good time, and they will with the book, too.

But still, I often wake up in the middle of the night with my inner critic running wild, berating me. Why didn’t you just ride the momentum of the project and write the damn thing when you had few expenses and ample time? Now you have a full-time job, a mortgage, and a child! The Internet and social media are so cluttered now! Publishing is dead! 

With all of this crazy talk, it’s no surprise that I’ve let the resistance get the better of me — but I won’t again. I can’t keep beating myself up about not finishing what I started. I’m starting to blog again and post on social media, slowly overcoming the inertia of the period when I didn’t do these things.

The book is close to being done, and I need your help to get it out of my head and into the world. Publishing a book becomes much more possible when there are people waiting to read it. If what you’ve seen on this site has added something to your life, and if you think the book would, too, here’s what you can do:

Thank you! Hearing from you helps me put fuel in the tank again and move closer to the dream.

New Haircut, New Chapter

Although I’d had long hair for five years, one morning last week I looked in the mirror and decided that it really had to go. That’s the way it is with me and my hair. It kind of sits there for months and years at a time, and then suddenly, just like that, I can’t stand it anymore.

This time I was fed up with having long hair in the hot and humid Mississippi summer. I loved the way my hair looked when someone else styled it, but that someone was rarely me. I simply don’t have the patience to blow dry my thick hair for 20 minutes and then curl it. Instead, I pulled it into a loose ponytail and called it a day. Every day.

I was just as unadventurous when getting my hair cut every six months or so, only when it became absolutely necessary. I’d ask my stylist for the same long layers as usual and would think, “When I’m old and gray, I’ll regret not doing much with my hair when I was young.”

Given that I wasn’t doing anything useful with my hair, I had moments where I considered cutting it and donating it to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that makes hairpieces for low-income young people suffering from hair loss. Several of my friends had donated over the past couple of years, which I thought was awesome.

During the Reschool Yourself elementary school phase, I watched two kids get their hair cut for Locks of Love during an assembly, which brought tears to my eyes. One of the kids, Alex, was a 10-year-old boy who had been growing his hair long, at the risk of getting teased, so he could donate. The other donor was a younger girl, no more than seven years old, who was inspired by Alex and volunteered on the spot to cut her hair, too. The Locks of Love website says that more than 80 percent of donors are children. That blows me away.

So when I decided that my hair needed to go, it was a no-brainer for me to donate it. Here I was, cursing my hair daily for being tough to manage, and a kid with alopecia (an auto-immune disorder that shuts down hair follicles) or cancer could be making much better use of it.

I let my decision sit for a few days to make sure I meant it, and then I scheduled an appointment with my stylist, Ashley, at Smoak Salon. I arrived with a Ziploc bag for my hair and printed instructions to cut rubber-banded ponytails at least 10 inches long. The receptionist said, “You’re the one who’s cutting your hair off today! Are you nervous?” I said no, not at all; I was just excited. Ashley and her sister Suzanne, who owns the salon, were excited, too. I showed Ashley three pictures I’d printed of textured bob haircuts, and she said, “Oh, that’ll look great on you!”

On went the smock. Ashley measured my hair with a comb that doubled as a ruler and tied off seven ponytails around my head with rubber bands. “You ready?” she asked. “Yep,” I said. Snip. Ashley smiled and held up the first ponytail. I grinned back at her.

As Ashley continued cutting off the ponytails one by one, I thought about what I wanted the haircut to mean for me.

  • Breaking out of old habits that weren’t serving me.
  • Taking more risks (positive ones).
  • Letting go of old grudges and gripes that were weighing me down.
  • Snapping less and laughing more.

This year marked a major new chapter in my life: I got married and will soon be buying a house. I’m an official grown-up now. There’s nothing like a new haircut to commemorate this kind of change.

Ashley carefully evened out and layered the cut. “What do you think?” she asked, handing me a mirror so I could see the back of my head. “I love it,” I said. It was chin-length, shorter than I’d expected, but it was bouncy and summery and light.

Now, by running my fingers through my short hair or pulling it into a palm-tree half ponytail for exercising, I remind myself every day not to do the same old things I used to do.  Just because I acted a certain way last week doesn’t mean that I can’t change this week — or at least try. I just have to look in the mirror to see evidence that I’m different already, new and improved.

I Love Tongs Guest Post: School Lunches, a Decade or Two Later

My wonderful friend Heather Shellen invited me to guest post for her food blog, I Love Tongs, about the school lunches that I ate while reschooling on each campus. Here’s Heather’s very kind introduction, and an excerpt of the post. Read the complete post here.

A couple of years ago, my dear friend Melia made the amazing and brave decision to go back to school. As in start over from kindergarten. I’m sure your initial reaction is “Well that sounds easy!” but you and I both know that you would be out of the game at 3rd-grade Geometry and you are absolutely not smarter than a 5th grader. But her ambition and dedication to this project are not the only reasons I love Melia. This is a woman who never turns down a costume party or an SF Mission taco crawl. She can also school anyone in a game of early 90s trivia. I asked her to share some of her experiences with school lunch here, and she graciously obliged.

With all the national attention that healthy school lunches are getting these days, you might wonder how the lunches at your own schools have changed since you were a student. I wondered the same thing, and a couple of years ago I happened to have a chance to find out.

I committed the fall of 2008 to a “do-over” of my schooling, like Billy Madison but for real. I got permission to spend a week in each of my old school classrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area: kindergarten, first grade, and so on, all the way through college. The project was called Reschool Yourself, and its goal was for me to make peace with 17 years of school that I had found did not prepare me for life. (You can read more about the project here.)

Along the way, I dedicated myself to “method lunching,” eating cafeteria food with my fellow students. If there were options that had been on the menu when I was enrolled the first time around, I ordered those and assessed how they stacked up. Here are some highlights from my school lunch adventures.

1. Elementary School: Hot Dogs
El Verano Elementary School, Sonoma, CA

When I was a kid, the only day that I’d buy lunch instead of brown bagging it was Friday, because it was Pizza Day. Miraculously, 23 years later, Friday was still Pizza Day, so I planned to buy “hot lunch” from the school cafeteria on that day of the week.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw hot dogs instead. “We barbecue the first and last weeks of school,” said the lunch lady. “It’s a special occasion.”

At least they were chicken dogs. Here’s what I wrote about my lunch that day (read the full post):

The principal, who was graciously helping serve lunch that day, gave me an extra helping of peppered macaroni salad, a slice of watermelon, and a chocolate chip cookie. At the end of the counter there were bowls of fresh fruit, mini bags of carrots, and boxes of raisins, all for the taking; I was happy to see a broader, healthier selection than we’d had in the 80s…

I (was) surprised that the food tasted so good, the buttery cookie in particular. The hot dog wasn’t half bad, especially with relish and ketchup, and the pepper in the macaroni salad gave it an original flavor. The flailing arms of the (kindergarteners) had slid my watermelon wedge onto the table, and I left it untouched, following one of the cardinal rules in education: No matter how hungry you are, never eat anything that has touched kids’ fingers or their tabletops.

The best part of the meal was the chocolate milk, that thick, rich chocolatey goodness packed into a tiny carton. Turns out that the secret to the thickness is….corn starch. Yum. I drank half, enjoying it thoroughly, and pitched the rest.

Read the rest of the post on I Love Tongs.

Must Read: Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”

I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, and in Rubin I have found a kindred spirit. I resonated with her writing from the very opening of her book:

I’d always vaguely expected to outgrow my limitations.

One day I’d stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes all the time, and eating exactly the same food every day. I’d remember my friends’ birthdays, I’d learn Photoshop, I wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV during breakfast. I’d read Shakespeare. I’d spend more time laughing and having fun, I’d be more polite, I’d visit museums more often, I wouldn’t be scared to drive.

Doesn’t that grab you immediately and make you say, “Yes, me too!”, substituting your own particulars for “twisting my hair” and “Shakespeare”?

Over a period of twelve months, Rubin set out to become happier in the key areas of her life, including marriage, work, money, and friendship. She sought out the wisdom of ancient philosophers, the latest scientific research, and the sound advice of her friends. In The Happiness Project, she recounts her experiences, the successes and failures and ways that she changed.

As I’ve exclaimed to Darren more than once, “She is me!” (OK, I know that “She is I” is grammatically correct, but come on.) I read him excerpts like this one, in which she takes the words right out of my mouth:

Why does it often seem more tiring to go to bed than to stay up? Inertia, I suppose. Plus there’s the prebed work of taking out my contact lenses, brushing my teeth, and washing my face.

She says it more eloquently than I do. I usually wail from the couch, “I hate getting ready for bed!”

Rubin has provided the most motivation yet for me to write the Reschool Yourself memoir. Reading something that I could have written, if only I’d had the right words, makes me feel deeply understood and relieved that I’m not alone. It gives me hope that I can change in the ways I want to, just like she did, equipped with the tools to make that happen. I want to give my own readers the same gift.

Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

What have you read that makes you feel deeply understood?

Oh, the Inertia

It’s the moving boxes that have never gotten unpacked. It’s the cracked windshield that you keep meaning to replace. It’s the blog post that doesn’t get written…and gets harder to start with each passing day.

It’s inertia, “the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest.” And that physical object, oftentimes, is me.

The worst part about inertia, in my experience, is that the more time that passes without change, the guiltier I feel. The inertia gets even stronger, and I know that when I finally just do the thing that I’m putting off, the little surge of relief and pride I get for finally crossing it off my list will be overshadowed by deep self-loathing for not just doing it when I was supposed to. Now who would sign up for that?

It’s helpful when there are outside forces that push inert objects into motion. In our last apartment, Darren and I couldn’t let dirty dishes sit in the sink very long because we had a total of three spoons and three bowls to our names (you can guess that it was a bachelor pad before I moved in). If we didn’t wash them, we’d have to resort to pouring our morning milk and cereal directly into our mouths. Even worse, there are cockroaches in the South that invade even the cleanest of homes, and it’s unwise to tempt fate.

Loved ones and coworkers are also good for nudging, or shoving, you through the inertia. Reminders and deadlines help. So does the exasperation of a partner. I’ve gotten so fed up with a couple of Darren’s old boxes that I’ve just dumped their contents on the living room floor. He has to help me sort through them if he wants to rescue items like his beloved Daredevil action figure from the giveaway pile. (Darren just said to me, “We did save that, right?” Yep, you did!)

For me, the thing that builds the most inertia is this very project, Reschool Yourself. It’s been nearly six months since my last post, and it’s been two and a half years since I finished the RSY experience. The book has been knocking around the inside of my head since then. To gear up for writing it, I’ve read other project-based memoirs like Julie and Julia for inspiration; I’ve gone to creative nonfiction workshops; I’ve written a proposal and bits and pieces of narrative; I’ve made contact with a few great literary agents.

So now it’s time to stop preparing to write the thing and just do it already. I hope it’s published. But even if it’s not, it will free up a lot of bandwidth that’s currently tied up in thinking and fretting and feeling guilty about it. Best of all, once the book is done, whether the big publishing houses love it or not, I can share it with people who have said that they could really use it. One told me, “This book needs to be in the world,” which was just the kind of loving nudge that I needed.

So here’s to blowing the dust off old projects and breathing new life into them. With each breath comes another step forward.

My Other Blog: Eat, Drink and Be Married

If you’re so inclined, check out my other blog, www.eatdrinkandbemarried.com. It’s not only a wedding blog, although I do write about the planning for my wedding next month. It’s about the finer things in life: eating, drinking, and love. It’s also about the work-from-anywhere lifestyle that Darren and I are building for ourselves.

Darren writes for the blog occasionally, to give a dude’s perspective on matters of lifestyle and love. When he told me he was writing a post called “How I Knew I Was Ready,” I was touched; I thought he’d share how he knew I was The One. Instead, he wrote a few practical paragraphs about how our income and small business were finally stable enough for us to start wedding planning. How romantic! I gave him crap about this until he posted a more heartfelt addendum.

Let us know what you think of Eat, Drink and Be Married!