Reschool Yourself

Latest Posts

Welcome, new visitors!

I’ve introduced Reschool Yourself to a few new folks lately, in a guest blog post and a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club, so I wanted to welcome you to the blog. As you can see, it’s been a while since I’ve updated it. I’ve been working on and off for the past few years on a book about the project, and my goal is to finish it by the fall.

Here’s a quick orientation to areas of the blog that might interest you:

About RSY will give you a bit of background on the whys and hows of the project.

FAQ answers the questions that people tend to ask me.

In the right sidebar, the Best of Reschool Yourself collects my favorite posts, and Most Popular Posts are the most read. Under Categories, you can read posts about a certain time period, such as elementary school, or get a start-to-finish summary of the project in The Story of Reschool Yourself. Follow the Journey archives all posts by date.

Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me.

The Story of Reschool Yourself, Chapter 7

This is the final chapter of a story about Reschool Yourself that I submitted to a status update narrative contest. Chapter 6 described what it was like to live in the college dorms again and attend classes taught by my former professors.

The holidays came and went, a break in between the fall and spring phases. January came, and with it, a cross-country move. People say, “Why would a San Francisco girl move to Jackson, Mississippi?” I wondered the same thing at first.

I moved to Jackson both for my boyfriend, and for the southern lifestyle. I could breathe easier there, away from the fast-paced big city. As a freelancer, I could cook at home, take walks, and set my own schedule. I could find my own balance again, at my own pace. I’ve been working on my personal development every day.

The goal for the spring is, by trial and error, to figure out what kind of lifestyle suits me. I also want to learn things that interest me. I’d like to play the guitar, practice yoga, try improv acting, and volunteer with animals. I want to learn more about politics and finance. I want to answer these questions: Do I want to work from home? Part-time or full-time? Writing, educating, or researching? The blessing and curse of my generation is that we have nearly unlimited options. But we don’t know what, or how, to choose.

I’m happy that my example seems to inspire others. If I can make sense of my past and leave it behind, other people know that they can, too. One reader was inspired to read through her old school papers and journals. Another even left her job to find one that made her happier.

Where this project will lead is still a mystery. I’m still blogging, writing a book, and will be part of three education documentaries. I’m figuring out how best to use Reschool Yourself to help transform other people and the education system. I trust that the answer will come.

For now, I’m just living. I’m listening to my intuition and doing what feels right, instead of what I think I “should” do. For the first time, I’m confident that I’m on the right path. Sometimes that path is hard to see, but I keep moving forward even when I’m scared. And now that I’ve cleared out the remnants of my past by reschooling myself, I feel open to whatever opportunities come my way.

In the words of Modern English, the future is open wide.

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.

The Story of Reschool Yourself, Chapter 6

This is Chapter 6 of a story about Reschool Yourself that I submitted to a status update story contest. Chapter 5 shared my return to high school 10 years after I’d graduated.

I hoped to repeat the process of letting go of the past when I went back to college. I had loved my college, a Jesuit liberal arts school called Santa Clara University, but there were elements that had tainted my experience. I had felt uneasy with the culture of achievement and awards, and the expense of tuition that left me with some significant debt. If I’d known what I know now, I might have opted out of college to work abroad, or start a business right away. But I was expected to go.

Thanks to one of my old professors, I got permission to stay in my sophomore dorm for three nights in December. I hadn’t been back since graduation. I didn’t have to stay with a student, sleeping on the floor, like I’d expected. Instead, I got a one-bedroom “scholar-in-residence” apartment that made me feel very important.

Going up the stairs of the dorm, I ran into a student named Mimi. She helped me climb two flights with my heavy suitcase and introduced me to her friends. The students thought my project, and the fact that I had a suite, was cool. We stood out in the hall talking for an hour. Around 11 pm, I joined Mimi and another girl at The Bronco, the campus pub. We ate late-night quesadillas and fries. I could feel the freshman 15 collecting on my body.

I spent the next couple of days in the classes of my old professors. Dr. Plante, who was as short and smiley as I remembered him, introduced me and the project. Others let me be a regular student. In class, I immediately felt at home in a way that I hadn’t in elementary or middle school. What was the difference?

The difference was the culture. The professors, who loved their material, expected that we would love it, too, because we had chosen to be there. They talked to students as colleagues, and the best ones assumed that they had as much to learn from the students as they did to teach. There was no restrictive lesson plan, so professors could encourage questions and see where the discussion led. Most of the students were engaged.

I loved it. I raised my hand and made comments along with the other students; I took notes. I wished that I could have stayed longer. After a long discussion with my old Psychology advisor, Dr. Burger, I seriously began to consider grad school. I never, ever had before. I had so many questions that research might not have answered yet. How does school affect people’s identity development? What experiences happened on the schoolyard or in the classroom that still affect people today? The questions kept on coming.

By this time, toward the end of my fall reschooling, my brain was nearly at capacity and buzzing with ideas. To complete my experience, I felt compelled to do what I called a “memory walk.” For 5 hours on a Saturday, I walked to all the places that held meaning for me around campus. Somehow, it was important to me to visit the space, to remember events that had happened there, observe my emotions, and let them go. I visited my freshman dorm, the music building where I’d had lessons, the student lounges, and the library where I’d studied for many hours. When I was done releasing a flood of memories, I felt at peace with the spaces at my college. I also felt physically and emotionally weary.

As I had in elementary, middle, and high school, I felt grateful to have attended my college as I wrapped up my experience there.

After college graduation, school had left me with a bad taste in my mouth and the disappointed feeling of, “That’s IT?” The bad parts had stood out in my memory. But combing through my old experiences in their original settings reminded me of the good parts, too. I realized that even if my struggles in school had limited me, the opportunities and close relationships had helped me evolve.

In making peace with school, I thought about the expression “A weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” and I finally knew how that felt. Now that I had cleared out the clutter of my educational past, as I’d hoped to do, I felt ready to move forward and design my own future.

To be continued in Chapter 7, the conclusion of the story.

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?

The Story of Reschool Yourself, Chapter 5

At some point, I will be writing a post called “Finish What You Start.” Long ago, I began posting chapters of the Reschool Yourself story, which I’d written for a Twitter contest. I posted Chapters 1 through 4 but dropped the ball on posting 5 through 7. I’ll do that within the next couple of weeks. Better late than never!

Chapter 1 explained how the project began. Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 described returning to elementary school, and Chapter 4 told stories about returning to middle school.

It was now time for high school. I hadn’t been looking forward to it, because I knew it would bring up a lot of regrets for me. I’d gone to a small college-prep school with a lot of talented students, and I’d gotten obsessed with achievement. Grades, scores, college.

While I’d loved the community of my high school, I couldn’t stand the culture of fear. Fear of the future, and of failure. Learning had become a chore by this time, a hoop to jump through to get to college. I’d felt stressed out, anxious, and even depressed.

Observing the same thing happening to current students, but even worse, made me cringe. It made me want to save them. In class, a teacher asked me to speak to the students about what I’d learned from Reschool Yourself.

I told them, “The biggest lesson has been that achievement has not made me happy.” One student said, “Could you talk to my mom?”

In spite of the pressure to achieve, my school has a close community that I began to appreciate even more when I came back as an adult. I saw that the teachers honestly care about their students, and about their subject areas. They teach at a college level, though I had no way of knowing that the first time around. Each student has a niche, whether it’s in drama, journalism, sports, or art. There aren’t really cliques; the friend groups overlap.

Probably my favorite part about going back to high school was having long talks with my old teachers, who were fascinated by the project. They told me about their own school days and talked about why they teach the way they do today. They said it was brave of me to examine my education critically.

Just like when I was a student, I loved some classes and couldn’t stand others. I loved Literature and Spanish but barely made it through the Chemistry lecture without falling asleep. The material was way beyond me now, and I knew that these students would forget most of it. If only they could devote that time to a passion.

On my last day of high school, I wrote a post called “Gratitude Upon Graduation” that expressed the appreciation I’d developed for my high school. Even though it was part of an imperfect education system, the school had something very right with it, and that was the people. I realized that I’d been blessed with creative teachers and inspirational classmates throughout my schooling, and I was grateful for that.

I knew I still wanted to change the system that set up achievement, not personal development, as the goal of school. But I had “neutralized the emotional charge” of high school. I didn’t feel regret anymore when I thought about it. Instead, I felt a deep appreciation for the good things about it, and an understanding that it brought me to where I am today.

This story is continued in Chapter 6.

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, 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!