Mar 17

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips to Help You Fight Overwhelm

When the things that need to be done start to pile up, I know I need to create space to breathe.

We’re smack dab in the middle of grading season. Or, more accurately, procrastinating grading season. (Every day I manage to tell my students they shouldn’t procrastinate with a straight face. I have no business doing that.)

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips

Normal adult activities like cleaning and grocery shopping have fallen by the wayside because I feel like I don’t have time to do it. And while I may not have time to do it all when I need to get 116 papers off my plate, I know I have time.

I firmly believe that busy is a choice. But I also know that there are times when you have more to do than others. And grading season is definitely that time for me.

In the past, I’ve wasted time feeling like I needed to be cooped up and cordoned off — away from the world and working diligently to get things done. But the problem with staying inside all day and looking at a computer screen is that it very much makes Marisa a dull girl. And if I’m being honest, it makes me hate my job and my students, which isn’t really productive at all.

So, this year I’m taking a more strategic approach and making an effort to create space to breathe. I feel like I have to this semester, especially since I’m teaching 5 classes this time around. I’m also at an age where I can’t be productive when I cut corners. So, fast food isn’t an option since it doesn’t really fuel my body anymore, so much as shut down the whole production while I lay down and attempt to digest. And there are no more all-nighters for me. In fact, I’m in bed at the same time every single night.

I know some of my coworkers can stay up late to get things done and still teach the next day. Or they can fuel up with nothing but coffee and donuts. But that ain’t me.

So here’s what I’m doing to create space to breathe during this busy time.

001: Going for walks.
Through a wellness initiative at my university, full-time faculty and staff received a free Fitbit. And while it’s not he first step tracker I’ve owned (I used to be a Garmin Vivo Fit user) it has definitely made me way more competitive when it comes to getting my steps in. Not only do I see my friends and all their steps within the Fitbit app, but I also see everyone on the university’s fitness portal. Because of this, I know how much more other people are doing, and I want to do more.

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s not like there is plenty of time for me to walk all over the place. Instead, I’m using my lunch breaks during the work day and walking around campus. Thanks to global warming, it’s been so unseasonably warm, and that has definitely made it a lot easier for me to traipse around campus during the day.

Not only is the walk good for me, but it enables me to take a moment away from the computer. I truly get to use that time to decompress from grading, lectures, and emails. It’s perhaps the most relaxing thing I do all day.

002: Eating my lunch outside.
I’ve got a bad habit of holing up in my office and eating lunch in front of my computer. I know this isn’t good, but it’s so hard to make myself go elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like I want to be the irrelevant old professor who rolls up in the cafeteria and tries to strike up a conversation with students in hopes that they let me sit with them.

I’m a 100% introvert, so I need time in my day when I’m not interacting with people. That’s usually why I eat my lunch in my office with the door closed. But the other day, I walked to my favorite spot on campus after I purchased a sandwich. I was delighted to find that no one was sitting on my bench, and very few people were passing by.

Naturally, I parked right there and enjoyed my pastrami on naan sandwich with an over-sweetened iced green tea. The best part? I could hear a choir rehearsing in Carpenter Hall.

003: One-on-one talks with good people.
I’m very fortunate in that I’m surrounded by a lot of deep thinkers. We can discuss a lot of things, and I never feel like I’m stuck in very surface-level conversations, which I HATE. It may seem counterintuitive, but when I’m stressed out, it’s nice to talk through some difficult concepts. If we stuck to just the small talk, I think that would stress me out more.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve talked about writing pedagogy, race relations and the biases we carry, whether or not a Ph.D. is actually worth it, and why we buy into the systems and institutions that we do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I live for these kinds of discussions. And by taking time to have them, I feel better through the day because I’ve interacted with a human on a meaningful level, and haven’t stared a screen all day.

004: Turning my brain off by 8 PM.
I’ve found that the best way to be productive and get through a really busy time is to clearly delineate how I will use my time. By that, I mean I need to set aside time for work and time for shutting down and relaxing.

I mentioned that I’m in bed by the same time every night, But I also have to start relaxing and winding down at the same time so that I can get to sleep more easily. At around 8 PM ever night, I put away all my school stuff. I may write or blog or journal, but mostly I’ve been too fried to do that. Instead, Chris and I cuddle up on the couch with Rosie, and we’ve been watching Twin Peaks (I totally hate this series — sorry nostalgia fans) or Desus and Mero (bar none the best late night show on the air).

Oh, and yeah. I’ve had a big ol’ glass of red wine each night.


So there you have it. That’s how I like to create space to breathe when I feel overwhelmed. What do you do when you’ve got a lot to do? How do you create space to breathe?

Feb 17

American Public Education Made Me Who I Am

I went to public schools growing up, and because of this, American public education functionally made me who I am.

American public education made me who I am.

Sure, there were things my parents did that shaped my education. My mother, an avid reader, always kept books around and took us to the library whenever we wanted. My dad would read to us when he got home from work, which I consider to be one of my most important memories. My brother and I had toys, but all of them required an immense amount of imagination. There was never a moment in my early childhood when my brain wasn’t in use.

So when I got to school, I was ready. I remember feeling very inadequate on the first day of kindergarten when I didn’t know the difference between left and right, but overall, I was pretty much ready for anything. (Except the rich, blonde girls that plagued me for the entirety of my student career. No one is ever ready for them, though.)

American public education made me who I am. Click To Tweet

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about American Public Education and what it’s meant to me. Or, I guess I should say, what it’s given me.

001: A Path.
When I was eight, I decided I was going to become a writer. I had just finished Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. And for the first time, I felt that I had seen a real-life family being portrayed. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of garbage sitcoms that showed perfect families with stay-at-home moms, gigantic houses, and literally no one ever talked about money. But in the first chapter of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, it’s made clear that money is tight in the Quimby house. Later on, Ramona’s parents get in a fight. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer, and proceeded to buy several blank journals at the dollar store the next time I went to the mall.

I was in Ms. Galloway’s second grade class when I read that book. I checked out a copy of it at the school library before finally buying a copy at the school book fair. To this day, when I think of Ramona Quimby, I can smell the cherry Mr. Sketch markers I used daily in that class.

002: Perspective.
I’m constantly thankful that I was never homeschooled or sent to some elite private school for rich kids. Why? American public education gave me perspective. Because I was never cloistered away or kept from a broad cross section of my peers, I was always aware of expectations and benchmarks. My ego was never artificially inflated because I never got to the big fish in a small pond. I never got to pay my way into anything. I never got to assume my best was good enough because there were always students better than me.

I'm constantly thankful that I was never homeschooled or sent to some elite private school. Click To Tweet

Because of this, I learned quickly what my strengths were, and what I needed to work on. I can remember as early as first grade being told I was a good reader. And I can remember my junior year of high school when I worked my ass off and finally rose to the top of my Algebra II class. Without that perspective, I wouldn’t have known what to work on, or what I was good at.

003: Next-Level Emotional Intelligence.
I consider myself a communicator extraordinaire. Not only am I great at reading body language and the emotions of others, I have been known to charm my way into promotions, or coveted spots. How? Well, because I went to public school, and you absolutely have to learn that on the fly if you want to survive. And luckily for me, I had teachers who were fantastic at not only teaching the academic lessons, but who also pushed socialization.

And this didn’t end at elementary school. I can remember these lessons occurring as late as high school. Teachers didn’t hesitate to call down students and explain to them why they needed to phrase questions differently in order to achieve what they wanted, or why their body language was incorrect for their statement. At the time, it was incredibly stressful. But I am so thankful for it now, and I consider myself to be a master communicator because of it.

004: A Career.
True story: My high school freshman Spanish teacher asked me if I planned to go college. I straight up said no. I couldn’t see a need for it, and at the age of 14, I totally had everything figured out. Well, she didn’t let that comment rest, and four years later, I went to college. But I cannot stress how much the American public education system played a roll in my enrollment in college.

Without AP classes, teachers who cared way more than they had to for what they were paid, and the perspective to know that I would excel in the college environment, I wouldn’t have gone. This may not seem like that big of a revelation, but it is. Since first enrolling in college, I’ve earned a bacherlor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and now I literally teach college sophomores. ALL BECAUSE OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM.

Let me rephrase that.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the American public education system.

I’m not saying I loved every single day of school, because nobody ever does, and I’d gladly erase fourth grade all together. But I am saying that American public education has made me who I am.

I also need to state outright that my experience in the American public education system was nearly ideal. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the best districts in the state where the textbooks were never more than three years old. I debated about whether or not I should write this, just because it feels like bragging. When it comes to schools, I won the metaphorical lottery, and I know that many people can’t say that they got as lucky as I did.

But I also know this. The American public education system is flawed. And it may need an overhaul. But what it doesn’t need is a person who has never been a part of it at the helm. Betsy DeVos’s advocacy of school choice and school vouchers, I fear, will spell the end of the system that made me, a system I was hoping would make my children too.

Betsy DeVos is the end of the system that made me. Click To Tweet

I’m not ready for the American public education system to implode, nor am I ready to think about the consequences this will hold for me as a college educator.

What was I saying about nobody really being ready for the rich, blonde girls?

Dec 16

The 10 Best Ambient Mixer Atmospheres for Getting Work Done

If you haven’t experienced Ambient Mixer atmospheres yet, you’re in for a treat. You’re also about to get a lot more productive.

The 10 best Ambient Mixer Atmospheres for Getting Work Done

I wish I were the type of person who could just put my headphones on, blast music, and get work done. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’m a rather persnickety person, in fact. It’s hard for me to write or grade papers if the music I’m listening to has any lyrics. I pick up on the voices and find myself focusing on those instead of the work at hand.

While I don’t have a problem with instrumental music, sometimes it’s not the vibe I’m going for. Enter Ambient Mixer. It’s a site that let’s you choose an “atmosphere” to listen to. Ambient Mixer atmospheres are anything from fictional locations to everyday places to completely unreal soundscapes. But the best thing about Ambient Mixer atmospheres is there’s one for functionally any mood you’re in or want to capture. And the kicker? You can amplify or diminish any particular element of the atmosphere by cranking them up or turning them down. Basically, you can customize these atmospheres to your liking.

Here are the 10 best @ambientmixer atmospheres for getting work done! Click To Tweet

So, in the spirit of getting things done and setting yourself up for success in 2017 (the countdown to 2017 is upon us, after all), here are the 10 best Ambient Mixer atmospheres for getting work done.

001: Stormy Front Porch

I love the sound of rain when I’m working, especially when I’m writing. And I love the idea of having a big, covered porch that I can sit on with my laptop while I finish up a short story. This atmosphere is great if you’re trying to douse loud sounds, like music playing in another room, or if someone is talking right outside your office.

002: Hogwarts Library

Real talk: I went to library school, and I’m still pissed that Madame Pince hasn’t retired from Hogwarts because that’s the library job of my dreams. The best part of this Ambient Mixer atmosphere is the scritch-scritch-scritching of the quills on parchment. I recommend this atmosphere if you’re in a quiet space, but need a little sound so your allergy-induced tinnitus doesn’t become unbearable. (What? That’s just me. Oh. Listen to this anyway.)

003: Scottish Rain

What? I like rain. I stumbled onto this one by just clicking through to see what Ambient Mixer had to offer. I love the way the rain sounds in this one, but heed this warning. There’s a church bell in this one that really freaked my dog out. It’s set to ring every 10 minutes or so. Every time it would ring, Rosie would bark in the living room and then sprint back to my office to make sure I wasn’t being attacked. By a bell. So, if your dog is also a chucklehead, you may want to turn down the bell.

004: In Rivendell

I spent an absurd amount of my teen years imagining what it would be like to visit the last homely house east of the sea. I also spent a lot of years imagining that I was dating Tom Bombadil. (He’d be an amazing boyfriend, guys.) And, hell, I even spent a lot of time dressing like Frodo. This atmosphere is everything you could hope for when it comes to ethereal harping and the perfect bird sounds. Also that waterfall…swoon. I think this may be the perfect atmosphere for practicing yoga too. (I bet elves are hellagood at yoga — all handstands and impossible balance asanas.)

005: Victorian London

What, you want more rain? YOU GOT IT. While I think it would be absolutely terrible to live in the Victorian Era, I do like cobblestone streets. And, well, if I can hear the sound of horse-drawn carriages making their way over those cobblestones, I’m a happy camper. This is the perfect atmosphere to listen to while you’re reading, especially if you’re reading some Dickens.

006: Haunted Castle

Okay. So, lately, I’ve been way into ghost stories. I’ve spent way too much time in r/nosleep, and I’m kind of obsessed with creepy things. This Ambient Mixer atmosphere is exactly what it would sound like if you happened to find yourself inside a haunted castle. There’s a choir droning sound in this one that reminds me of the music in one of the first Tomb Raider games right when you’d turn a corner and be onto something. However, if you’re sensitive to squeaky sounds, you may want to fiddle with this one. I didn’t mind it, but Chris could only hear the squeak and nothing else when he was in the other room, and he found that pretty annoying.

007: Quiet Jazz Bar

If you’re the type that needs a little noise to get to work, you may enjoy this Ambient Mixer atmosphere. The tinkle of glasses and the quiet music balance really well with the general murmur of voices. I don’t think this one would be great for writing, but it’s definitely good for when you’re doing data entry, or formatting documents. And an added bonus is that when you listen to it, you can imagine yourself walking into a private eye’s office at the beginning of a noir film.

008: The Year 1612

This is another creepy one, and it’s ideal for writing scary stories. (Trust me on this one. I’ve been doing it a lot lately.) You definitely get the “misty woods at night” vibe from this one, so I don’t recommend listening to it while you’re home alone. This would also be a great one to play in the background at your next Halloween party.

009: Monastery at Night

I have a very elaborate fantasy where I go up into the mountains and live as a silent member of an artist’s colony for a year. This Monastery at Night Ambient Mixer atmosphere totally gives me that vibe. If you need to reset your brain a little and calm your anxieties, I think this is a great one. It’s something I like to use in the evenings when I’m transitioning from working on teacher stuff to writer stuff. I could also see this being a great atmosphere for shavasana, or just falling asleep.

010: Scottish Coffee House

I swear I don’t have a thing for Scotland. Well, okay. I do. But I wasn’t giving it preferential treatment or anything with this list. This is just the best coffee shop of all the Ambient Mixer atmospheres. It has rain against the window, a fireplace, and Autumn Leaves. Fair warning though: There’s a little not-so-seamless cut in the audio loop on this one, so it sounds like either a record scratch, or the sound of Slender Man coming near. (Did I mention that I’ve been reading a lot of r/nosleep?) If you aren’t a jumpy scaredy cat, this probably won’t bother you a lot. If you are a jumpy scaredy cat, you may have a heart attack each time it loops through.

Do you have a favorite Ambient Mixer atmosphere? Click To Tweet

So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite Ambient Mixer atmosphere? Any atmospheres I didn’t mention that you think need some attention? What do you listen to when you need to get work done?

Oct 16

Keep It 100: How Moderation is Self-Sabotage

Keep It 100

One of the things that always blows my mind about students is the lengths that some will go to NOT do the assignment. I’m settling in to that time of year where my days are filled with teaching, and my nights are filled with paper grading. And there’s always one student in every class who spends way too much time and energy looking for a work around rather than actually doing the assignment.

  • This is the student who asks if they actually have to write in complete sentences. (It’s a college-level writing course. DO NOT ASK THAT.)
  • This is the student who can’t be bothered to do all the regular assignments, but wants extra credit assignments for days. (As if I want to sit around creating new assignments to grade.)
  • This is the student who goes through their 5-page paper, and makes all the periods font size 20, so it takes up more space. (I invented that one, bucko, but I got to use it before professors graded digitally, so I got away with it.)

I could go on, but I don’t want some student stumbling onto this post while they’re on a deadline, and thinking they’ve just found all the ways they can get away with not doing the work.

I bring all this up because students have a tendency to put way too much into workarounds. They put too much into not actually doing what they need to do. They give 70% effort all around, and nothing gets fully done. And if I’m being real, I do that too.

Are you self-sabotaging with moderation? Click To Tweet

See, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to build habits. I want to stop biting my nails. I want to quit drinking diet soda. I want to work out regularly. I want to wake up at the same time every day. I want to attack my to do list with the sort of zeal exhibited by a pack of wild dogs on a 3-legged cat. I want to be the person who I know I am in my head, only my head won’t always let me be her.

The other day, I realized that I’ve put too much of my life toward moderation. I mean, how often do you hear “everything in moderation” only to practice that idiom and find that it gets you nowhere? And the definition of moderation is just avoiding extremes. Extremes are relative. The definition of too much or too little is up to your personal interpretation, and even then, let’s not even act like we don’t all operate on sliding scales when someone merely suggests we expand our definitions.

I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin last year, and I’m finally starting to believe what she says about personalities. Basically, some people have the capacity for moderation. A lot of people don’t. And when I try to live  with moderation as my guidepost, it sets me up for failure.

Keep It 100

When my students spend hours trying to find clever ways to not do their homework, it’s like me trying to live in moderation. It’s me giving my attention to too many things at once. It’s me trying to be everything to everyone. It’s me going out for beers after work even when I know I want to wake up at 5 AM the next day. It’s me going shopping when I want to see if I can go a whole month without spending money. It’s me doing cardio and then yoga all before 8 AM, only to eat 4 donuts by 2 PM.

That’s why I have to keep it 100. I have to pick a side and stick to it. I have to focus all my energy in the direction I want it to go. I can’t metaphorically change the sizes of the periods in the essay of my life and expect to get an A. (That was a terrible metaphor. And I want you to know that I keep it 100 by being nigh unreadable.)

So let me ask you this: Are you able to live in moderation? How do you keep it 100? Have you ever given something up completely so you could keep it 100?

Let me know in the comments. I live vicariously through your successes.

Aug 16

If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee...

If we were having coffee, I’d probably just order a hot, black coffee. Even though it’s roughly one billion degrees outside, I just can’t stop drinking my coffee hot. I do enjoy iced coffee, but man. There’s something about sipping a hot cup of black coffee, exhaling gently, and letting your brain settle. No, seriously, there’s something about it.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’m not ready for the school year to start. I have a brand spankin’ new office that I love, and we’re using a new textbook too. But for some reason, someone cut summer short. I could swear that it was supposed to be like 3 months long. How is it that the fall semester starts in less than 3 weeks?

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how proud I am of Chris and the business he’s built. It’s awesome to see how many stores are now selling the enamel pins he’s made. I love all the hard work he’s put into doing something that he loves. And then I’d encourage you to buy this fart pin. Seriously. You need a wearable graphic representation of a fart.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you all about LulaRoe and how it’s functionally saved my business casual wardrobe. I attended at party back in July at Mari’s house, and wound up purchasing 7 pieces. (This may sound extreme, but know that I recently got rid of like 80% of my ill-fitting, age-inappropriate work clothes.) Prior to the party, I’d only heard rave reviews of their leggings, but I don’t really have many days in my week when I can actually wear leggings. I wasn’t interested at all, until I saw the Amelia dress online. Now, every time I wear an Amelia dress (since the party, I am the owner of 3) I get a compliment. Oh, and they have pockets. SAINTS BE PRAISED. My friend Samantha and I are  having a LulaRoe party in October to celebrate our birthdays since they’re a week a part. I’m totally going to buy like 6 more Amelias, 5 Cassie skirts, and 9 Madison skirts. You may think I’m crazy, but I finally found the Garanimals for adults, so they can have all my dollars.

I finally found the Garanimals for adults, so they can have all my dollars. Click To Tweet

If we were having coffee, I’d let you know that my orchid is still alive and well, but hasn’t bloomed after all the flowers fell off. I’d also tell you that I’m taking it personally, and that I intend to write an angry letter to the head orchid, if such an entity exists. Also, I may ask you for help with my orchid. The stems are super green, and the leaves are looking good. But no blooms. How the hell is it possible that owning a dog is easier than owning an orchid?

If we were having coffee, I’d probably curse way more than your comfortable with. Know that I mean no offense by it. It’s just something I do when I feel comfortable around someone. Curse words are my love language.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how hard I’m geeking out over Tom Bombadil. Since I’ve been teaching The Fellowship of the Ring this summer, I’ve gotten to obsess over little elements of the novel. The first time I read it back in high school, I didn’t know what to think of him. And I remember in one of the commentary videos on the special edition DVD of the movie that someone basically said a character like that wouldn’t be allowed to exist in a modern novel because editors would take it right out. Luckily Tolkien didn’t deal with today’s editors, because it means I get to geek out over Bombadil. And I try to transfer some of that love of him to my students. I really need to get a pair of yellow boots too. Ol’ Tom was a pretty fashion-forward sort of guy.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that for the first time this summer, my desk in my home office is clean. I mean, it still has piles of washi tape, too many pens, Post-Its galore, and various random things on it, but it’s clean. I mean, clean for my desk. Basically, there isn’t a pile of paper work on it. It’s weird how good that makes me feel. It’s also weird that the 15-minute task of cleaning off a desk can somehow take months.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that the Bella Twins diet was a massive failure. I made it 3 days. And I was uncomfortably full the whole time. Rest assured that I’m back to consuming Diet Coke and popcorn popped on the stove top for like every meal. Oh, and Chris bought me an air popper, so I’ve basically leveled up when it comes to the popped arts.

I'm back to consuming Diet Coke and popcorn popped on the stove top for like every meal. Click To Tweet

If we were having coffee, I’d probably tell you a whole lot of things that I’m not going to publish on the blog. They aren’t bad things. They just aren’t ready to be released into the void yet. A lot of it’s really good stuff. I’m talking epiphanies. I’m talking realizing life purpose. I’m probably talking manic upswing, if I’m being real.

If we were having coffee, what would you tell me?