Reading to Learn: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

In an attempt to better educate myself on the struggles and issues that others face in our country, I’ve been reading a much more diverse selection of nonfiction since the 2016 election (and will hence title future posts "Reading to Learn"). My most recent read, Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas continues this trend. Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, writes about his experience living in the US without documentation as a gay, educated, Filipino. His candid memoir humanizes him and millions of others who so often get offensively labeled and objectified- without a doubt a must read for all.

Vargas came to the US with a man he thought was his uncle when he was twelve and didn’t find out that he was actually without proper documentation until he tried to obtain a learner’s permit at the DMV. He was told that his green card was a fake and sent off, changing Vargas’ life forever. He quickly learned of his family’s secret, that his grandparents had saved up thousands of dollars to have him brought to the US while his mother remained in the Philippines. He struggled heavily his secret for the nearly fifteen years afterwards, only letting those who were close to him know. Luckily, he went to an extremely affluent high school in Mountain View, CA and was able to acquire some very generous benefactors who created a scholarship that made it possible for him to go to college. He went on to earn several internships and positions at reputable newspapers, like the Washington Post and even win a Pulitzer for his collaboration on a story.

Eventually, though, the pressure of working so hard to keep his immigration status a secret started to take it's toll and he ended up revealing the truth in an essay he published about himself. After clearing the air, and not being instantly deported as feared, he began working hard for those like him. Vargas founded Define America, an organization that works to advocate for kids like the DREAMers (which Vargas barely missed the cutoff for). He's also been involved in documentaries, legislative efforts, and countless awareness events on the topic. 

I have taught many hardworking DREAMers as a high school teacher and am so proud to have seen so many of them go on to college. I've witnessed their determination, fear, and honesty and am so thankful that I work at a high school that even has a club for these students to find additional assistance. I saw so many of my kids in Vargas and it deepened my perspective of the emotions they have most likely felt to some degree at one time or another (or will, as they mature). 

This book also made me realize how I often I take my own citizenship for granted. It was a breeze for me to get my driver's license (well, minus the running into a curb on the first try part), I got my passport a month earlier than expected, and I've never had to hold my breath through an ICE checkpoint. The pressure of needing to do everything perfectly all the time to fly under the radar would be suffocating- I can't imagine (that's why I read books like these). 

While the subject matter is dire, especially in the current state of politics and administrative empathy, Vargas still maintains a consistent tone of realistic optimism and hope. I teared up a few times at his recollections of people who have been so overwhelmingly kind and generous to him over the years, whether with financial support or emotional. There may not be enough good people in the world, but there sure are some.

Tomorrow my students will be reading exerts of Vargas' revealing article after watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" and reflecting on their own experiences (and practicing a bunch of skills necessary for state testing, of course). I'm excited to hear what they think and hope some will opt to read his book for their outside reading requirements. 

No matter what side of the aisle you vote for, this is an important read. Let me know what you think if you've read it!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

You know the drill. If not, I bet you'll catch on- you seem smart. 

1. I just finished Undocumented: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas and it was fascinating and moving. Everyone should read it. Hopefully I can get it together to do a post soon...

2. I'm just finishing listening to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck and I'm a bit disappointed. I think at times her contradictory and seems to step over the line between tough love and being an ass a little too often for me. My biggest problem was probably that I thought it was going to be a little different.

3. These cacio e pepe beignets from Joy the Baker look amazing. I also want to make some of the Milk Bar's Bagel Bombs or pumpkin cinnamon rolls from Sally's Baking Addiction. Clearly it's gonna be a carb fest up in here.

4. There are some weeks where you just have to stop and take a minute to be so thankful for those friends you can answer honestly when they ask how you're doing. Not that the friends you just say "I'm so tired, I can't wait for Friday! How is it going with you?" to aren't bad, it's just that there are different levels of friend who can handle your word/feelings/news vomit, ya know. 

5. Our teacher's union reached a tentative bargaining agreement with our district today and I'm so happy with the settlement. I don't always agree with the tactics used, but my union allegiance runs deep. My grandpa was, well, is, a Teamster and I remember so many times that my grandparents changed grocery stores where they shopped so that they didn't cross picket lines. The rumblings of strikes and whatnot have been a tad distracting, so it will be nice that that has cleared the air. 

6. I ran a 10k last weekend and it ended up being simultaneously worse and better than I thought it was going to be. My time was really slow, but I ran the whole thing, which I didn't think was going to happen. I'll take it. 

7. I just discovered that the Great British Baking Show has cookbooks. Be still my heart. I need to bake some sponges. 

8. I have to redo all of the bulletin boards because I finally, after flying the under the radar for ten years, got nailed by the fire marshall (many of us did). If I'm being rational, I understand the theory behind it in terms of how long fabric burns compared to paper, but MY WALLS WERE PRETTY AND MADE ME HAPPY, GODDAMMIT. Now it looks like a goddamn prison because I'm waiting for the colored paper I ordered to come in. Oh, and not to mention the fact that I don't have time to actually redo everything. I know. I sound like such a teacher. 

Lessons I've Been Working to Learn

In effort to post more, and increase my writing in general, I plan on coming on here with additional non-bookish topics a little more than normal. I know that I technically don't need to explain, which actually falls into item four below, but it's who I am.

Lately, I've been feeling older than usual, which is technically true if we're looking at the simple math behind things. It's not that my bones are suddenly creaking or I feel less cool (both of those things have been happening for a decade),  but instead maybe I'm just a  little more contemplative about life in general. There's also been an uptick in audiobooks that could be labeled "self-help" this year, which I'm sure might lend itself to some sort of correlation. Nonetheless, I've been really thinking about what it takes for me to be happy,  how to run my life efficiently, and what I need to change to get where I need to be. 

There have been some lessons that have really resonated with me lately, ones that I've worked hard to understand and to use as sort of guideposts when considering decisions and how I view my everyday life. Nothing is fool-proof or works all the time, and I screw up ON THE DAILY, often multiple times. But there has to be something to be said for trying. 

One that I've really had to work to adjust my perspective on is taking the attitudes of others less personally, in all areas of life. I view myself as a pretty considerate person, despite the sarcasm and strong opinions, so I'd like to think that I'm not seen as a highly offensive person, professionally, socially, or at home. Yet if someone is short with me, responds to a lengthy text or email with one word, or is downright rude, I generally assume it's because they're "mad at me," which I struggle with. In reality, the person in question is probably having a bad day, is preoccupied with their own stress, is tired, or is just generally burnt out. It happens to all of us- we're having a rough day and we're more quiet than normal or snap easily. This doesn't mean I'm giving everyone in my life carte blanche to use me as a door mat, nor does it mean that I am assuming I don't give people reasons to be irritated with me. It just means we could all give others the benefit of the doubt. If we've made good choices about who we spend time with these people are probably deserving of a break. And, frankly, it's not all about you. Or me.  

I've  heard it so many times lately, in what I've listened to and while reviewing some philosophy-based content I've been working with for one of my classes, that our levels of happiness return to "normal" not long after something big or life-changing happens. The example that is always given is losing a limb or winning the lottery- whether good or bad the initial "OH MY GOD!!!!!" sort of extreme feelings level out and we just ease back into the status quo, with maybe a few adjustments. Obviously we'd prefer the more positive spin, but my pessimistic-self has been dwelling on some worse case scenarios- it's comforting to know that even if that were to happen, I'd be okay eventually. Our brains and our bodies do what we need to do during times of stress, but then we work on making the best of the new norm (although this isn't always straightforward; emotions, anxiety, and depression can cause additional obstacles). 

When it comes to being productive I'm sort of all over the places. I get a lot done, constantly, but I always feel like I slack on the quick tasks that I could knock of my to-do list. I've been focusing on lately on JUST DOING things that take less than five minutes. Running upstairs to put away an armload of stuff, unloading the dishwasher, folding a load of towels, grading two essays (they add up!), paying a bill, grabbing the dry cleaning, cleaning out my car, checking in with a friend I haven't spoken to, emailing a politician, making an appointment- the list of quick tasks that I tend to procrastinate on goes on and on. But if the dreaded chore takes less than five minutes, I'm really trying to push myself to just effing do it. 

Last weekend I was at a store with my friend and she predicted the saleslady was going to try to convince us to sign up for the store's mailing list. I rolled my eyes and said I'd claim to be needing to reduce my excess email and she pointed out a few podcasts she'd listened to that talked about simply saying no. It made me think- I feel the need to explain why I decline things all the time. I need to learn to just smile and say no thank you, rather than explain. That's honestly really, really hard for me, because I feel like I'm being rude. And I don't think that's always the way to go, but when I'm declining to apply for a credit card, donate to another charity, or whatever else that's not going to cause hurt feelings or confusion, I smile and say "no thank you." I don't owe strangers reasons for my decisions. 

This past weekend our pool pump finally bit the dust, a sentence our pool guy had given it well over a year ago. This sadly means $1500 in replacement costs, half of which I am responsible for, according to how my husband and I run our household finances. I have plenty of money in savings, which has money earmarked for this exact sort of thing, but I was still so irritated with having to use it for that. But, seriously, what is the point of having things if you aren't willing to use them? Sure, it's good to save money, and I do habitually, but the emergency fund is partially for house repairs. And what about the other things in life? I used to only put on my expensive perfume on special occasions, use the good glasses when people were over, and wear certain articles of my clothing when I went to certain places. Part of this was how I was brought up, but, seriously, life's too short, and I don't know about you, I don't want to die with a half-full bottle of $100 perfume. 

So, nothing profound; I'm not going to be penning my own guide or becoming a life coach. Heck, I probably only follow my own advice half the time of the time. It's taken my 34.9 years to figure this out, so I'm hoping by seventy I'll be good to go. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Wednesday, also knows as "IAmTiredandWishitWasTheEndOfTheWeek-Day." Just me?

I just started Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room and am really enjoying it so far. I know it’s nitpicky, but, as a California Central Valley girl, it slightly annoys me that her fictional prison set in that location is actually named after one in Southern California.

Speaking of being annoyed by small things, I started listening to Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I have to come the conclusion that since having Sawyer, I really have done a good job of prioritizing what I truly care and don’t care about. I don’t actually, for real, let things like the above comment bother me. I don’t freak out if someone doesn’t use their blinker, if a colleague does something differently than I would, or if someone doesn’t answer my texts for a few days. Sure, there are blips along the way, like when I get annoyed at Target for not carrying something they should or when my students don’t underline the title of a book (HOW HARD IS IT????). But as a whole, I really feel good about what I let bother me. It’s still a funny book, though, and does have some really interesting perspectives on coping with life’s obstacles.

Sawyer has speech for fifty minutes every Friday afternoon and I am actually, strangely, really enjoying it (except the cost, but that’s not something up for debate). It’s fifty minutes I can sit in one spot and read or cross stitch and not have to talk to anyone or get up and do chores or help anyone out. The fact that it’s at the end of the week, during a time slot we never have anything going on, makes it even easier to digest. He really loves going and is really receptive to the practice she’s giving us at home (so far), so I’m feeling good about the arrangement.

You should go read this post, which Cely, a blogger I’ve read for years and years, bravely wrote. I think it's really important to remember that women in all walks of life or sexually assaulted and it's hard to come forward at any point. I'm glad conversations are happening, but it's still frustrating that our own government does want to protect women. 

I have been loving the “screen time” function after writing that I was excited that it was added to the iOS last week. I have already consciously made more of an effort to not mindlessly pickup my phone have seen a decrease in usage correspond to increased productivity (I read while drinking my coffee, for example, as opposed to mindless phone scrolling).

I feel like I’ve hit sort of writer’s block when it comes to posts lately. It’s funny how ideas come in starts and stops, at least when it comes to reading and books. I think one of my biggest problems is that, even after all of these years, I don’t really consider the blog as I am reading. After I’m done with something I’ll want to write about it, but I feel discouraged by the fact I didn’t take notes while I read or tab pages. Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star is the perfect example. She did such creative things with her narrative structure, yet while I was reading I didn’t read like a blogger or student; I read like someone who was reading for fun. I also need to be better about jotting down ideas for posts and being more willing to write about non-bookish things as well.

I saw that Roxane Gay was doing a class on Skillshare about personal essay writing and I’m really thinking about doing the free trial to check it out. I have no ambition to write my own memoir or anything like that (you’re welcome, world), but I think it would be awesome to learn from her as a writer in general. There's a few Master Classes that I would love to do too, but that subscription is pretty pricy, and has to be paid all at once (but having Margaret Atwood "teach you" about writing? So tempting!).  

This weekend my brother and I are taking Sawyer to a corn maze and then Sunday I am running a 10k in Huntington Beach. I already have no expectations for this run, which is disappointing, since as of a month or two ago I was feeling good about it. Since then I have had a lingering cold that is just now resolved, needed to take a few days off for my tattoo to heal, and am having some major issues with the ankle that has an extra bone (the pain has started radiating past the bone itself and is now burning as well as aching, which is a super fun addition!!!!!). But still, at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to get some exercise on the beach and if I have to walk, I can listen to a podcast and still enjoy the time. It might rain, though, and if it does I might skip the thing all together. We’ll see.

Fingers crossing this weekend speeds up! 

Weekend Update, Fall Edition

The temperatures in Southern California have dipped into the 70s, so we're all about fall now- I actually busted out my boots yesterday. We had a super busy-semi-fallish weekend, so I thought I'd share the highlights (especially since little reading has happened in the past four or five days). 

Saturday morning Sawyer and I met up with one of my friends and we went to Irvine Regional Park for their pumpkin patch. Since it's early in the season and their supply hasn't been picked over, we were a little in awe with the variety and amount of pumpkins they had. There were free hay rides around the park and games for the kids (for a small fortune). Afterwards we hit up a Safety Fair at the shopping center near our house that we go to every year. It's actually really neat- the city brings out an impressive variety of emergency vehicles and there are tons of booths. They encourage the kids to climb all over the firetrucks motorcycles, ambulances, and patrol cars, which makes it even better.

Afterwards, I passed off the munchkin to my husband and drove to pick up another friend and we drove to LA for my long-awaited tattoo. I was admittedly really nervous about the whole thing, mostly because the tattoo artist, Daniel Winter of Winterstone Tattoos, is kind of a badass. I found him on Mandy Moore's Instagram and had to wait six months to get an appointment. I figured he'd be a bit intimidating, but he was actually incredibly professional, friendly, and confident. The tattoo (a tiny tree right under the hairline on my neck) took about ten minutes and barely hurt. It's healing nicely and isn't even red- if I ever want more ink he will most definitely be my guy. 

We headed to Eataly and the huge, amazing mall it's in, to window-shop. Eataly is a huge Italian market with a few different food counters and a restaurant. We had bellinis and custom cannolis for a snack- clearly it was a "treat yo self" kind of evening! We had dinner reservations at Tom Collichio's Craft, which was delicious with impeccable service. We then stopped at the new LA Milk Bar, in the Fairfax District, for dessert and headed home, since it was way past our "we have little kids and are tired" bedtimes. 

This morning Scott and I took Sawyer to Knott's Berry Farm for their Spooky Farm, which lets the kids dress up and go trick-or-treating in one area of the park. He has wanted to be Snoopy since August, so he was in heaven today at the park. He has warmed up to the characters, so it was so cute seeing him with all the Peanuts in his cute little costume. He was quite the hit too, especially with all of the employees, who asked him repeatedly where their paychecks were. 

I've busted out the fall decor, am burning an autumn candle, and we bought the supplies to decorate Sawyer's bedroom door with ghosts and witches (and a whole bunch of other things that he sweetly thinks I have the talent to create... ha). I even unsuccessfully attempted to nap under an actual blanket today and ate soup for dinner- we're going for broke. 

I hope everyone had a great weekend and has an awesome week.