Category Archives: Goals

Getting Real–Baltimore, Hon!

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how secretive I thought I needed to be in my “public” blog? In three years, I never said where I was from or where I lived or named names because I thought a confessional type of blog such as this required an element of privacy.

Then I realized that all the people I wanted to protect—my parents, my cousins, my friends—none of them read this. My followers are strangers. They found me on their own because something I said resonated with them. Over the years, I’ve shared this link with family and friends, and by doing so I’ve dared them to read it, and they didn’t. So why should I care anymore about sheltering their feelings or reputations?

The stuff I always wanted to write about was very regional and very personal. Baltimore, my adoptive city, the place where I lived through two marriages and one formative decade, can’t be compared to any other place on this earth. If I want to be real, I can’t be generic. I’m an East Coast blogger living in the Baltimore/DC Metro area and wishing I were back in the Baltimore part of that identification. I live in a safe, clean, and expensive suburb. When I drive to work and back, I cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Maryland and Virginia. I can see the Washington Monument through my passenger window.

My hiking partner, the woman I cite in many of my posts, was my downstairs neighbor back in those Baltimore days. She left her keys in the door back in 2003, the day I moved into a studio apartment in the former library of a nineteenth century brownstone. She had left her keys in the door, and I knocked. We’ve been friends ever since. And now, you can’t take the Baltimore out of us.

There’s a whole lot going on in Baltimore these days, stuff that makes the news, stuff that indicates that a white transplant from rural Pennsylvania might not make it there. But I never went to Baltimore to “make it.” “Making it” was never my plan.

GenXers and “Second Acts”

My husband and I made a joint decision to buy rental properties. We already had one, our former home, and we recently purchased another, strictly for renting out. We did a 180, going from hating being landlords (and doing it all wrong) to searching for more properties to buy and researching forms of alternative financing.

I, personally, have always been into real estate—acquiring, holding, flipping, what-have-you. My husband had always treated my obsession with following real estate trends in and around our home as, at best, a distraction that kept me from my real career, at worst, a waste of our time. However, as a former reader and big fan of the now defunct More Magazine, I believed in the “Second Act.” More’s monthly “Second Acts” featured women, all over the age of forty, who transitioned out of their lives-as-they-knew-them and became something new and different. Some women went from homemakers to corporate giants, others abruptly left the corporate world and started small businesses or nonprofits. One woman, whom I remember quite distinctly, left a high-stress, high-paying job and moved to some expansive property in a wild western state and created a rescue farm. 180s, “Second Acts”—they’re the comebacks of disgruntled GenXers. I’ve been dreaming of a 180 since I read my first copy of More Magazine.

All my husband needed to get on board with real estate investment was the right pitch from the right person. That person wasn’t me. It was, ironically, a Millennial. I will hold no grudges, though, since I got what I said I wanted.

After scraping and struggling and acquiring two Masters degrees, moving from venue to venue, I finally found a teaching environment that I truly enjoy, and recently, things started falling into place. I was offered a full-time position, albeit non-tenured. I passed it up. My big plans as the fall began last year to sample a variety of teaching positions while I held my part-time status at my current college until something big came up… well, it came up. And then it went. My choice. I finally got what I SAID I wanted, but all the while, what I really wanted was my second act.

I’m lucky. I’m lucky that my husband has a career that’s too serious to get taken over by today’s bottom line—new, young, and hungry.   You can’t bullshit your way into what my husband does, and freshly-minted graduates are not necessarily the most cost-efficient or valued prospects. My field, on the other hand, is oozing with cronyism and bullshit. It’s time for my 180.

Believe me, I don’t think that real estate investment is going to make us rich, or that it will be easy. At present, our monthly cash flow from rentals is about $100 a month—see, we rented out our former family home to my best friend and her husband with bad credit for a deep discount last year, just because we didn’t want to be landlords anymore, and we knew they’d take care of the property. Our second investment should yield us a $450 cash flow. That’s $550 a month of tax-sheltered income once we find a tenant. That’s what I make, after taxes, hustling part-time in the classroom. And with rental properties, someone else pays down the mortgage. Why not try this out?

I’ve already learned a lot from our mistakes—I know where the unplanned for expenses come from, I know the value of having a contractor’s license, I know that the city where we planned to invest is getting more expensive (taxes are rising, water bills are rising, lead abatement policies are getting much stricter). I know not to rent to friends or family. My best friend threatens to never leave our property. And why should she? She’s got the cheapest rent in town. More airtight leases, better pre-screening practices—I’m learning it all. On Monday, I am going to tackle my first handyman projects by repairing holes in the drywall and the plaster in my friend’s/tenant’s house so that it can pass a lead inspection and become a legal property again, a service that I will charge my tenants for in the future. It’s like getting another degree, but this time it’s hands-on. Lucky me.

Only time will tell if this new path is really a second act, or if it’s just another short-lived distraction. Well, I shouldn’t say “only time,” as if this venture is not an act of free will. It is. And I’m a little scared. Because life gets real when you take ownership of it, and I’ve been in the habit of NOT doing that.

Behavior Modification for the Debauched

My mornings are always filled with grand promises to myself: I’m going to start a healthy diet; I’m going to stop drinking; I’m going to get up earlier; I’m going to write and read more and watch TV less. Yup. It’s 10:04 as I write this, and I’m still processing my second of two routine cups of coffee, hours past my early morning wakeup goal.   My coffee ritual in the morning, that nothing can officially begin until I’ve processed those two cups, is about the only routine in my life that I’ve built and haven’t strayed from since I was sixteen. It only takes a few weeks to build a habit. I’ve built quite a few and even managed to make some of them healthy habits. But the scales tip more to side of unhealthy in my world, and my success rate at kicking is much lower than my success rate at starting. I think coffee is the only habit I haven’t tried to kick at some stage or another. I mean, why, you know? Why kick coffee? I do much worse things to my body in the course of a day.

And speaking of those other habits, I’m going to kick them now! The diet starts TODAY. The detox starts TODAY. The munchies after 11:00 pm end TODAY. Blah blah blah. Now I really sound like a middle-aged woman.

I remember, decades ago, listening to my mother talk about the exercise routine that she was going to start any-day-now. She was going to start walking and riding her bike. Yup. She’s 75, and I think she’s ridden a bike ten times in the past three decades. Her get-up-and-go got up and went before she even tried to start that habit. Am I gonna be like my mom and talk about what I need to do for the rest of my life? Or my mother-in-law, who has been talking about starting a diet since the eighties? I heard one time she actually did stick to a diet and lost like forty pounds. I think my husband might have been in middle school or something—it was that long ago. But it was a triumph she still talks about. She has plans to return to that svelte woman who looked so good in a red dress at her 40-something year-old son’s Bar Mitzvah. Ahhhhhh! I can’t do this to myself. I can’t become these women who I am so eerily resembling at the moment.

Well, then I guess I have to cultivate and maintain some good behaviors for at least three weeks, the minimum amount of time it takes for a behavior to become a habit. Let’s start today. Why not, right? Tomorrow’s not gonna hold any more promise than today for getting my life back. It’s April 14th. I must maintain my good behaviors until at least May 5. I can do that. I can do that, right?  Yeah, I can do that.



A little love for the teacher

I have a delicious morning routine that I have indulged to the fullest since I quit teaching in public schools. Twelve years of getting up before daylight, rushing out the door, and trying to map out the day ahead as I exited the highway with the sun’s just creeping up over the dead industrial horizon taught me how to really enjoy a slower morning.

Anyway, my morning routine goes something like this:

  1. I hit the snooze on my smartphone (the alarm is always set for a reasonable, productive hour) for an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
  2. I think about my dreams. I always have dreams.
  3. I talk to the animals that wander into the room and that finally inspire me to get up and let them out (I know I sound like lonely pet lady here, but I swear I have a husband. He just operates on an entirely different schedule.).
  4. I get up, let the dogs out, pour a cup of coffee, let the dogs in.
  5. I feed the dogs.
  6. I drink my coffee, pour another cup, and drink that while I skim headlines of various news apps on my Kindle.
  7. I choose the stories that interest me most, and I read them.
  8. I stop reading when I can no longer stand being stared at by two dogs that expect me to take them for a walk the minute I wake up, yet never do.
  9. I take the dogs for a walk.

After that, anything goes.   Often, if it’s a weekday, I spend a good chunk of that day preparing for my night classes—grading or tweaking lessons or creating ancillary materials or just generally staying ahead of the students. It’s what teaching should be. All teachers should be able to think during some point in the day and thoughtfully plan during others. Having that time allows us to connect with students and properly differentiate our instruction. It wasn’t until I had this kind of time to live my life AND teach that I realized that I’m a fairly effective instructor—student-centered, with progressive yet research-based methods that drive learning. How about that? It’s all about time.

Lack of time is the elephant in the room that American educators rarely talk about above the grassroots levels, the “trenches,” if you will. It’s one of those things that just about every other developed country on this earth (and many developing countries) including China provide for their teachers. Not every country provides the kind of time off for students and teachers that the U.S. does, but believe me, Uncle Sam and his league of state legislators have found a way to make teachers pay and pay for those extra weeks in the winter and summer. Given the average quite shitty teacher pay rates that rarely keep up with inflation or rising insurance costs, those two months in the summer, if you can afford to take them (and most younger teachers don’t because they need to make extra money), feel more like rehab than a vacation.

I will go back to public schools, I will do it all over again if I can just show up at a reasonable hour and teach a reasonable number of classes a day with a reasonable number of students in them, and attend a reasonable number of meetings and spend a reasonable amount of time planning instead of whatever bullshit the administration needs me to do to keep the school running on a skeleton crew. My last school (and this wasn’t where I spent the bulk of my career, but a place where I dipped my toes after taking a significant amount of time out of the public school arena. As soon as I saw the writing on the wall, during the first week of my tenure, I officially resigned) had teachers doing the jobs of the custodial crew.

I will do it all over again, I suppose, when pigs fly. Maybe when hell freezes over… ok, that’s enough clichés. Six and counting (Can you find the other three?!).

The sad thing is, when I left that last school, the one I mentioned above—where, incidentally, I ended up spending a month-and-a-half because my principal, literally, wouldn’t let me leave—the friends I’d made on the faculty and staff didn’t hide their envy of me or their dissatisfaction with the way things were. More than one single or widowed mother told me, “I don’t blame you. I could do it, if I would.” The way they looked at me when I said I was leaving might have resembled how a prisoner looks at her cellmate when she’s about to be released, or like a soldier might look at his fellow who is about to finish a tour. Probably shouldn’t be that way.

There are other jobs that teachers can do, depending on the subjects they teach. English teachers have the flexibility to get into writing and publishing fields or to pursue a higher degree and transition into law or project management or something.   Math and science teachers have a wider range of possibilities. I’ve seen young teachers transition out of the field rather smoothly. The older you get, though, the harder it is to make that transition into an entry-level field where you have no experience. I have all my eggs in one basket (Cliché number six, POW!), so I’m staying in this field, albeit part-time. My colleagues above who envied my escape are staying in this field, full-time. Our lives are very different from one another’s.

I could say so much more. The English teacher always can. Honestly, I don’t want every teacher to transition out of the field. Who does? We’re needed. We’re just not loved.

Repeating history

I realize that I don’t contribute much to this blog, my only blog, my only writing outlet, in fact. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because I don’t know what kind of a point I’m trying to make. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because they’re for-real-and-for-true too revealing to the few parties that occasionally read the blog.   I write a lot of entries that just trail off… my boredom revealed in the white spaces at the end.

I’ve decided that I will post this particular entry in whatever state that it becomes. It will address a topic that I believe applies to the theme of 40s are the new 40s—depression, addiction, divorce, adult ADD, children, aging parents, politics, wrinkles, you name it. Everything applies to us, doesn’t it? We’re adults, and as a consequence of our age and our growing cache of wisdom and experience, we can come up with something to say about anything. We’ve been there, done that. And the younger generations that follow us will feel the same way after they’ve stopped believing that they can figure everything out.

Speaking of the younger generations, I have no hostility, some envy, and a whole lot of curiosity about what’s going on there. I have spoken to few people my age who don’t have a fantasy “do-over.” My husband would have been a medical doctor. I would have been a lawyer. My cousin would have been a boat mechanic on a pier someplace where the sun always shines. This is normal to us, and we see the younger people around us as simply younger versions of ourselves—people on the verge of making that one bad decision that will alter their lives. But what if these younger people aren’t like that? What if they don’t have the time that we had in the eighties and nineties to enjoy relative national peace, prosperity, and opportunity?

We know that people decades younger than us have one distinct advantage, and that’s time on their sides, time to figure it out, time to make mistakes, and time to revel in their youth. We did that. But I don’t see them doing that. I don’t see little “mes” in the twenty-something women I interact with and work with. I see women in their teens and twenties moving quickly, being savvy, and getting on with it in ways that make me wonder if these generations are exquisitely different. Did my mother see that in me?

Just like my mother and I are alien to one another and yet familiar, young people today are both alien and familiar to me. I wish them well because “times they are a changin’.” They will confront the new. I’ll observe it. They’ll fight to secure their survival. I’ll fight to secure my old age.   And sure, I’ll fight injustice where I can, and sure, I’ll continue to grow and develop as a human being. Maybe I’ll even write that pilot that I’ve been talking about since 2004. But they have decades and decades of a future to navigate. They’re gonna see some shit that we never will, just like we saw some shit that they can’t imagine (life without an Internet connection? How did we do it?). I wish them well, and I hope—I really hope—that they let us in and ask questions and respect our perspective.

Isn’t there some famous aphorism about history? About how if you don’t know what happened before you knew it all, then you’ll just become a tool to someone else who does?

To Burn Out or to Fade Away–I’ll Take Fade.

For most of my life, I assumed that everyone else in the world considered suicide in varying frequencies or degrees. I didn’t know why professionals made such a big, stinking deal over the mention of it, I just learned very early NOT to mention it around certain people and to outright lie to others: Have I had any thoughts of suicide? Nope. Not a one. What do I look like? A crazy person? A weak person? Meanwhile, I would wake up in the morning wondering what it would feel like to jump off a tall building or put a bullet in my head. Quick and efficient stuff I’d think about. None of this slow bleeding in the bathtub nonsense, hoping someone might run in and save me. I always knew that if I actually did it, I’d do it right. I’d do it to get it done. For most of my life I drifted in and out of these fantasies. I could come up with a hundred reasons to hate myself in the course of a day.

It wasn’t until I met my friend Fluoxetine, at the age of 42, that I learned otherwise. Fluoxetine, and the man who prescribes it to me, taught me all kinds of things about how other people can see the world. For instance, some people NEVER think of suicide. Not just once a day or once a month, but NEVER once. These are probably the people who freak out when they hear you mention suicide as casually as if you’re talking about flossing your teeth. They probably feel sorry for people like me who see no other way to see the world. Hell, I guess I would feel sorry for me, too. But I didn’t know anything different. My doctor said freedom from that world, the only one I’d ever known, would feel like a weight being lifted. When my surroundings became more than a fluctuating shade of drab, I would wonder how I could have lived for so long the way I did.

I was skeptical, of course. I’m always skeptical of the therapy trade. But this dude was more than a therapist; he was a doctor who could make a precise diagnosis. He was a man who didn’t pity me or fear for me or for my condition because he knew it was treatable. No drama. No endless talk therapy.

I was one of the lucky ones who reacted positively to the antidepressant right from the start. I remember so clearly driving to the grocery store, exuberantly singing along to whatever came on the radio, and giggling at nothing. I remember walking through the aisles of the store, trembling a little because I just wanted to FUCKING DANCE! That first day was like a pure coke high without the bleeding nose. My doctor said it shouldn’t have happened so quickly, that my body needed time to adjust to it. But I tell you, it happened. I actually wanted to dance in a public place, and I don’t dance, anywhere. It was a sign.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s this: in all those forty-two years, during those times when bleakness would interrupt my thoughts at random and make the whole world seem absurd, I never did it, never acted on the dark fantasy. I seem to have a strong survival instinct. I found ways to adapt to whatever it was, just like I need to find ways to adapt to whatever this is that’s happening now in the world. I need to adjust my perspective, to compensate, maybe to up my dose. I’m considering going full-throttle into hippiedom and embracing peace, learning how to play the guitar, maybe go vegan, never step on a bug. I’m tired of conflict. I’m so damned good it, so good at starting fires and stoking them, but I always get burned.

“Will Never Do”s

I didn’t post much in 2016, something I vaguely attributed to being drunk much of the time, but I wasn’t drunk for the entire year. I spent some time early in the year training for the AVON 39, a 39-mile charity walk that—due to poor planning, I believe—turned into a 43-mile walk. It was gratifying, and I’d do the walk again if I didn’t have to raise the $1800 required of me to participate. I’d experienced extreme physical tests in my life, but never that extreme.

By the end of Day 1, after crossing that 26.2 mile mark, which was arguably a 29 or more mile mark, I was too exhausted to eat or shower or even move. I hunkered in my pink tent, waiting for a tentmate that never showed, and considered calling an Uber to take me home. The only thing that stopped me from walking to an Uber was the thought of the pain of walking to the Uber. So I just lay there on my unopened sleeping bag until I felt energetic enough to walk over to the “relaxation” tent with the inflatable couches and the warm lighting. After some hot tea, I could eat. After that, I could sleep. I got up in the rain the next morning, dismantled my tent, threw on a plastic poncho and trudged the last arguably 13, though more like 14 and some change, miles back to home base, and I was done with that milestone.

After walking arguably 43 miles in two days, I briefly considered training for a marathon until my father told me in so many words that I was nuts for considering it. He was tactful by never admitting that age was an obstacle. Like me, he had started distance running in his thirties; but unlike me, he had run the marathon before he developed issues with his knees, something that appears to emerge on both sides of my family.

“You can do it,” he explained, “but it’ll take a permanent toll on your knees, and then what’s the point?”

After the marathon, there would be no point, I suppose. I’d have issues with both knees, and I’d be years closer to replacement surgery than my father had been. No point to do it, I suppose, except that I hate closing doors on possibilities. I’ll never be able to stick a 26.2 sticker on my rear window. Boohm.

You know what else I’ll never be able to do? Lots. Here is the list of as many as I could remember in the thirty-eight seconds I gave myself to remember and write them down (NOT necessarily in chronological order):

  • I’ll never be a foot model.
  • I’ll never be Miss America.
  • I’ll never be the President.
  • I’ll never work in Turkey.
  • I’ll never be a high-class prostitute.
  • I’ll never be a mother.
  • I’ll never be a lawyer.
  • I’ll never run a marathon.

I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember as clearly as my conversation with my father about not running a marathon. There are just times in your life when you admit to yourself that something isn’t going to happen. I assume we all do this, and by “we all” I mean people over forty. For you I can’t explain why I considered that I’d never be a high-class prostitute, but I will put it on the list.

And, you know what? My list of dead possibilities is SHORT! I haven’t been wasting my time entirely here on this earth, and life’s adventure ISN’T over. There are so many possibilities left to us at our age, and we’re in a position to pursue any one of them.  The position isn’t financial or familial, it’s primal—We see the end. We grasp the moment. We shit, or we get off the pot. We live, or we die.

2017, Meh.

2017, Meh.

That about describes it—“meh.” It’s more than just a word. It’s how I felt ringing in a new year that I didn’t look forward to. Everyone around me was saying, “2016 just needs to be over! 2016 sucked!” I don’t feel that way. So yeah, in 2016, the historical pendulum swung into outer space and a contentious president was elected. Sure, in 2016, a few childhood icons died. Regardless, 2016 was my peak. It was one big party that I didn’t document. I welcomed it at the craziest one I ever attended—the party that made my husband and I say to each other in the wee hours of January 1, 2016, “This will be our year.”

So fast forward to now. What did we say to each other this year?

“I am going to control my road rage,” he mumbled in the wee hour of January 1, 2017. He must’ve dug deep into the pits of avoidance to come up with that one. I didn’t even bother: I couldn’t think of anything except all the ones I broke last year. My husband brought up one of our shared resolutions, and then I wondered, “Maybe I have peaked. Maybe this year that I am tossing out right now was my last good year.”

And that was that. Happy New Year! My mother-in-law gave us blue sparkly top hats and noisemakers that I tried to hide from the kids. Shortly after the ball came down (which, incidentally, only about 1/3 of us actually saw—the ball drop has cheapened since Dick Clark), we all went to bed.