New website and new election post

In light of the past twenty-four hours, I wrote a new post about the election after a day of teaching. I am officially going to transition my blog to a new blog website that I’ll use (hopefully) more often. I’d love to have you follow me at my new home, Teaching in the Midwest.

Thank you so much for following my intermittent posts here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Cheers to you all,

Amy

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Storms and Motels

Sometimes life feels like an extended stay in a bed-bugged, paint-chipped, creaky-floored Bates motel with a crooked sign in the parking lot that haphazardly blinks “Vacancy.” We check in and sit on the edge of the bed for awhile, wondering how we got here. We watch the sign blink through the stained window curtain, listen to it creak like a scratchy violin and pray there’s not a corpse under the bed or a killer hiding in the shower. 

I’m not sure why, but life puts this mandatory stipulation on us to stay for a time in bad places. Life sucks at hospitality.

I appeared as though I belonged in such a motel. Josh worked late and wasn’t home yet, and I found myself alone, half-dead on the couch, wearing the black dress shirt I wore to school, Josh’s navy flannel pajama pants, mismatched socks, and a blue fuzzy robe, eating popcorn and drinking ginger ale. All I needed were antacids and a magnifying glass for my crossword puzzles and I could’ve passed for my eighty-year-old grandma. I stared at my plants and thought about life and all the cliches people come up with to describe it. Life is what you put into it. Get busy livin, or get busy dyin. Life is like a box of chocolates. Those statements made life sound so easy, so formulaic. If only life were as simple as plugging variables into an algorithm to find out what comes next and how to deal with it. That’s what I needed. My coping mechanisms for life were praying, half-ass meditation, drinking wine and avoiding everything else. What I really wanted were equations for how to open mail when I felt anxious; how to mask my feelings of disdain and incredulity when a family member proudly revealed who they’re voting for; how to get my mind off a recent failure. Where were the simple equations for maintaining joy in the midst of despair? For dealing with rejection or worry? For scoring Hamilton tickets when they’re sold out months in advance?

So often we look for ways to circumvent our problems, big and small. I think we miss the point. Sometimes life calls us to grit our teeth, dig our toes in the sand and try to remain standing as the waves crash in. It’s not easy, I know. We all know.

As I was near-comatose on the couch, I sat in the quiet, listening to the lack of noise in our house. It was a vacuum of silence. This might’ve seemed like a sanctuary to many of you, but in our house it was a constant reminder of what we longed for but couldn’t yet have: kids. Silence was a boxcar train collision in my living room, screechy and unpreventable. I would have traded almost anything to eradicate the pangs of loneliness accompanying that deafening silence: wine, good cheese, books, sleep, several family members—perhaps even my cats. I longed for someone to drown out the noise, drag me to shore, or at least stand in the waves beside me.

I sank deeper into my couch and gave in to loneliness for a minute. I accepted the fact that I felt disconnected, unfulfilled. I breathed slowly, absently staring at my plants. I didn’t move for a few minutes. The longer I stared, the more I thought about just how baffling the world was. These indoor, leafy plants purified the air and added life, color and dimension to the room. I was surprised I hadn’t killed them yet, considering several foolproof cacti choked and withered under my care. Despite my inability to care for cacti, I loved nature and the vitality of other organisms. The world was green and alive, and it fascinated me. It exuded peace, joy and stability just by merely existing. Several places existed where I felt most at peace—sitting on the beach at Hanalei Bay; strolling the quiet side streets of Budapest at dusk; watching the tall, waving cornfields under a smoldering sunset at my in-laws’ Indiana farmhouse; perching on rocks among the whispering waters of creeks running through the Smoky Mountains. I realized something.

The times I felt most at peace were times I was alone.

The feeling of loneliness gradually transformed into gratitude for life, for the tranquility and comfort I found in moments of solitude. In its myriad forms, life was vastly beautiful, and it would continue to move forward and be beautiful and predictable and rhythmic in its own way, whether I noticed or not. Joy abounded in the steady, reliability of life.

I sighed, closed my eyes and thanked God for that revelation.

Storms, even the weak ones, make us stronger, and sometimes the only formula we’re given is time. This formula requires us to to stand chest-high in difficult waters of loneliness, heartache, uncertainty, frustration, or despair, choosing to believe that the world moves forward. Hardship builds moxie and grit, wisdom and empathy. And, no matter our situation, no matter how long we must stand before the waves subside, we do indeed belong among the beauty of life.

From time to time, we are all guests in proverbial detestable motels. Accept it for a minute; then, open the window, wait for the aroma of trash to waft, and breathe in the fresh air. Listen past the creak of the creepy sign to the trees rustling in the distance. Believe your current experience will shape and strengthen you. Be grateful. Find joy in the small yet dependable things.

When my husband came home, he found me on the couch in silence and stillness, alone with my thoughts. I’m sure he stared for a minute, questioning why I was wearing his pajama pants and a robe adorned with popcorn kernels. Instead, he quietly said, “Hey. How are you?”

I looked up at him and thought for a moment. I smiled.

“I’m good.”

Thoughts On World Refugee Day

I have numerous thoughts on refugee culture, support and education, some of which I will share later through reflective and expository writing, but for today, here are 5 reasons why I love and support refugees and why you should, too:
1. People are people everywhere (how easily we forget). Refugees are exactly the same as I, except they are burdened with an arduous, intense journey and enormous obstacles to overcome. I’m privileged to know some of the strongest, most hardworking people in the world.
2. They’re my friends. I feel more respected by, more connected to, and more comfortable around many of the refugees I’ve met compared to many people in my own country. When you build a relationship with someone, suddenly the labels seem to incongruously define that person. Seek out people who are different than you. Befriend refugees–not because they’re to be pitied, but because they’re to be known. You will learn so much about yourself, the world, and humanity.
3. They deserve it. Over half of the refugees are children. You can’t tell me they don’t deserve a chance at a life beyond bombs, pain and suffering, lack of food, or lack of safety. Think of your own children or those who are important to you. You would give anything to ensure their safety and future success. Refugees are no different (again, see #1).
4. Morally and ethically speaking–especially if you claim to be a believer of virtually any faith, especially Christianity–it’s the right thing to do.
5. We who have much are not too hard pressed to share with those who have so little. It’s not hard to help others. It’s not difficult to do our own research instead of relying on media for answers. Compared to the majority of the rest of the world, we have it ridiculously easy in the United States. Take time and money to support those around you, especially those who have been forced to leave everything behind.
Here are 3 myth-shattering facts about refugees:
1. Refugees are not the same as immigrants or migrants. To legally obtain refugee status, one must be forcibly removed from their home to escape war, persecution, or some sort of other disastrous situation.
2. To legally obtain asylum status, one must go through a lengthy, complex, intense process. Refugees do not just “cross the border.” They have to be admitted; depending on where they seek asylum, they can be put in camps for months while their claims are processed and checked for validity; they are intensely questioned, often multiple times, in order to prove their case for asylum. It’s not easy. In fact, many refugees feel demoralized as they must fight to seek asylum. It’s a sad, broken system. (For more info, see our own process: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/affirmative-asylum-process)
3. Refugees come from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds. I’ve taught and met wealthy doctors, professors, government workers, and business owners who were forced to leave everything behind and start over in a foreign country.  I don’t know if many of us in the US could do what they’ve done in order to survive.
Refugees are refugees because of international crises. It’s not their fault. Don’t blame them or judge them. Support them, love them, and provide what you can for them. If you want to help beyond humanitarian aid, petition your local and national political leaders and call them to international action to solve the refugee crisis.
We’re all in this world together.
For more info, explore http://unhcr.org.

One Thing I Never Write About

Vulnerability helps us better understand one another, the world, and ourselves.

Most of the time, feeling vulnerable sucks.

I’m an open book when I want to be, but there are a few things I don’t talk much about. One is the impact of PTSD on a person and their environment and relationships (my husband, however, writes sporadically about his experience here). I keep that tucked away under the bed in my brain, for now.

There’s something else I never talk about. However, I’m currently medicated (completely legally), and my penchant for discretion has considerably faltered. Blame it on the combination of Percocet, anesthesia, nausea, and delusion. Or the netless nerve my friends and family have created this week with food, cards, and well wishes. Either way, here we go.

Basically, my uterus hates me.

ut

It’s not that I don’t like children (God help us if that were the case; I’m a teacher).

It’s not that I prefer a quiet, spontaneous, traveler life to the responsibilities of parenthood (though I do love to travel).

It’s not that I have some secret sin in my life (although I was once asked if this could be a reason).

The choice to have children is simply out of my hands.

The story begins in 2006. Josh and I were newly engaged, and I sat him down to tell him what had been on my mind.

“Josh, I know how important having a family is to you. That’s why I need to tell you something.”

“Ok…”

I breathed in deeply.

“I don’t know if I can have kids.”

Josh stared at me, his eyebrows scrunched as if solving a puzzle.

“Did you go to the doctor recently?”

“Well, no…”

“Did something happen to you to make you discover this?”

“Not exactly…”

“I don’t understand.”

This was where I sounded crazy. “I just have this feeling that I might not be able to have kids. I can’t explain it. It’s not like the other times where I thought I’d die before graduating high school or live as a spinster. I just feel like you should know.”

Clearly I have issues.

I’m not sure what he thought about this melodrama (he’s since gotten used to it), but his reply was simple:

“Amy, I’m not marrying you for your uterus. If we can’t have kids, we can adopt or figure something out. I just want to spend life with you.”

We didn’t talk about it again.

Until 2009.

As the new year rang in, I was having regular abdominal discomfort. Being weirdly hyper-hyper-sensitive to medicine, I figured it was my birth control, so I stopped taking it. I had ultrasounds in October, which showed cysts on my ovaries. The doctor said it wasn’t PCOS. I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it.

In 2010 and 2011, all the friends started having all the babies.

In 2011, after two years of being off the pill, we started seriously trying. We only told a few people. Josh thought for sure we’d be pregnant right away. I had a sinking feeling it wasn’t going to happen. We continued to live life to the fullest.

In 2012, I attended the girliest baby shower ever. Usually I can acclimate to just about any setting, so I was surprised by how uncomfortable I felt. At first, I thought it was all the glitter. There was a lot of it. There was also a lot of tulle. I watched as the fabric swayed and the glitter danced, and I heard my friends talking and laughing about babies. As time went on, I grew insecure and completely awkward (more than usual). I’m sure I said some super weird things, if I even talked at all. It finally hit me while my friend opened gifts: I was the only one in the room who wasn’t a parent. I fought tears like a ninja and got out as fast as I could. I cried the whole way home.

Baby showers became my nemeses.

In 2013, friends stopped calling to see if I’d gotten pregnant. Others assumed I didn’t want kids. I started to hate everyone. Any time someone announced on Facebook they were expecting, I unfollowed them and deleted Facebook off my phone.

In 2014, I went to another doctor. He asked me how long I’d been trying to get pregnant. I swallowed my nervousness and said, “Three years.” I didn’t mention I’d been off the pill for over five. After various examinations and tests, the doctor called me in and wanted to refer me to a “friend” of his. I agreed and left his examining room. I walked up to the medical assistant who said, “I’m setting you up a referral for next week. You’ll need to take this in.” She handed me a piece of paper.

I stopped breathing when I read what was printed on the paper.

Patient: Amy Walker
Reason for Referral: Infertility

I felt like someone had shot me in the stomach. I turned around, crying in frustration at the insensitivity. No one ever said the word infertile to me before. I met Josh in the waiting room. I showed him the paper. While he stared at it, I called my brother and asked if we could stop by for a glass of wine.

It was three in the afternoon.

Mick had a glass of cabernet waiting for me on his dining room table when I walked in, no questions asked.

I downed it and poured myself another.

Mick threw a sideways glance at Shauna, my sister-in-law, which made me feel infertile and alcoholic.

Mick cleared his throat and said, “What’s going on?” I slid Shauna the piece of paper.

They poured themselves glasses, too.

In 2014, I saw three additional doctors, all telling me the same thing: the greatest cause of infertility was unknown. They weren’t sure what was going on. One suggested in vitro.

I was overwhelmed, so I did what I do best: I pretended like it never happened.

In September 2015, I finally agreed to see another fertility specialist.

He diagnosed me with endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

A nurse explained, “Your body is a hostile environment currently incapable of sustaining life.”

Fantastic.

Last week I underwent a four-hour operation. The doctor removed the endometriosis, an Atlanta traffic jam in my endocrine and reproductive systems. He cut into my right ovary. He performed two other procedures. The surgery went well and should minimize my pain and enhance chances for fertility. Currently I’m on a two-week recovery (I thought it’d be a faster healing process, but this. is. moving. slow). We’ll see what happens.

So. That’s my story. I’m literally the only blonde, 30-something, married female in the Midwest without children.

The infertility road is lonely, perplexing, shaming, and painful. Which is exactly why I decided to share.

If you’re infertile, you’re not alone. If you don’t want kids, you’re not alone. If you’re a parent of more kids than you dreamed of having, you’re not alone, either. None of us are. Cry when it gets hard. Allow yourself the grace to never attend another baby shower. Unfollow all your cute, pregnant friends. Unfollow your childless friends who travel to all the cool places while you have spittle running down your shirt.

But, whatever life brings you, make the most of it. Pray. Be thankful. Be vulnerable, and share your story; it keeps us connected in the dark and light places.

More than anything, embrace who you are and live your life. You’re the only one who can.

It may suck, but vulnerability is power.

New Year: Cheese, Fascists, and Telling Stories

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I’ve spent the majority of the day reflecting on 2015. It was a year of ebb and flow, quiet lagoons and turbulent waters, complicated knots in heavy nautical ropes. Most of 2015 will untangle itself over time. Giving time a chance to work, although challenging, is rewarding and often necessary.

Time has the ability to change many things, but some take longer than others. I’m approaching 2016 as the first year in my thirties (gah!), and I’m surprised by how long it has taken me to learn common social norms. For example, it has taken me an entire thirty years to appreciate cheese. Cheese is not just a superficial talking point among acquaintances; it’s a code of acceptance at any given social gathering. Even passive introverts feel entitled to speak on its behalf. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhear. You don’t like muenster?” To avoid public shame and disapproval, I always plop a few pieces of cheese on my plate and leave them long enough to gain approval from the masses. Then, pinching it between two fingers, I place the cheese in the back of my mouth–avoiding tastebuds–chew, swallow as if eating sandpaper, and chase with wine. However, thanks to my husband’s  insistence on cheese as our main dietary staple, my palette has evolved. Now I’m the person at the party who says, “Isn’t the brie divine? It pairs so well with the pinot noir.” The listener slightly nods in approval.

I’m a late bloomer.

While my tastebuds have morphed over three decades, there are things time hasn’t changed. I’m still immensely awkward in social situations. Last night I told a story to a group of friends about how I discovered a nest of baby praying mantises in our Christmas tree after I removed it from our house. I was paralyzed as the creatures crawled around like fascist militants, seeking to conquer every crevice of my living room. I shed my sanity like a snake shedding its scaly exoskeleton and groaned in disgust and agony. I announced to Josh that we had an infestation of Mussolini mantises who probably recruited other detesting insects like fleas, lice, and bed bugs to join their ranks. Josh was too nice (and wise) to tell me I was crazy and, instead, helped me take care of the problem. After I finished my story, I spent the rest of the night in a near-panicked state, thinking, Who talks about bugs at a party? What is wrong with me? Do they think we have fleas? Wait–do they think we actually have bed bugs? Did I make it clear that I’d downward spiraled and created this Jumanji case in my mind? What if they’re afraid our house is a cesspool of insects? Thank God for wine.

Time also hasn’t changed my avoidance issues. It’s comical that people walk up my front porch unannounced, knock on my door, and think I’ll answer. Or that people believe I actually listen to their voicemails. Or that anyone looks forward to running into someone they know at the grocery store. When I hear, “Hey…I haven’t seen you in–” I turn my cart and sprint down the nearest aisle. My family has caught on. Now Josh offers to do the grocery shopping. My parents let themselves in the back door of my house and call, “Amyyyyy! Hyelloooo!” After reaching my voicemail, my dad group texts the entire immediate family: “Amy, your mother and I just want to know if Josh is still in the ER. Please call us.”

This year, however, I didn’t just avoid awkward social situations. In July I began to avoid writing, mainly the daunting task of wading through the intense, polarizing emotions I experienced or observed in Budapest last summer: isolation and connection; pain and joy; suffering and surviving; staying quiet and speaking out; questioning and trusting. I watched the world turn her back on refugees. My students and their stories are sacred; they don’t deserve to be discarded by someone who refuses to listen. So, I turned and stayed inward. As a result, I found I couldn’t write about anything.

I told Josh last week, “I feel a story within my bones scratching and clawing to get out. I don’t know what it is yet, but it’s there. I’m not sure why I’m suppressing it.”

Josh replied, “So stop. Just start writing.

He’s right. It’s that easy. So, that’s what I’m doing.

As I enter 2016 in my freaking thirties, I’m not worried about cheese or bugs or even fascists. I’m not striving (as much) to fit in at social gatherings. I’m worried I might lose myself if I don’t listen and pay attention to who I am and the stories my bones urge to share. Time never stops, and I want to spend it being true to myself and to the world. I want to fulfill my responsibility and tell these stories, regardless of who’s listening.

Cheers to 2016. What stories will you tell?

Teaching Refugees: Aftermath

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This summer in Budapest was much different than last year. Last year, blogging became as much a part of my routine as teaching; I carved out time at the end of my day to recap my experience. This time around, I struggled to find words to encapsulate my time in Budapest.

I was the only American working and living among Hungarians and refugees, and being alone caused me to lack an automatic cultural comfortability that I didn’t anticipate. Last year my three fellow American teachers and I would debrief together at dinner each night, and I lived all summer with them in a hostel a 1/2 mile away from the community center. Being able to share stories and live together through the newness was a valuable part of my overall experience last year–I just didn’t realize it until now. This summer, I went alone as a contract teacher. I stayed with the director in her house, eighty minutes out of the city by public transportation. Most days she left before I was up and came home after midnight, if she didn’t sleep in the office in the city. She didn’t have Internet, so my evenings were spent in quiet solitude, reading and thinking. I tried to write, but the words felt flat, and I would resort to lying on my back across my small futon, staring at the ceiling in silent thought.

In addition to the loneliness, the current socio-political situation in Hungary posed increasing internal and external problems. The anti-refugee campaign spreading throughout the country created a vastly different social response to the refugee epidemic than what I encountered last year. This adversely affected both the local workers and the refugees, and it rendered me speechless.

I quickly developed a deep respect and intense love for my students, a group of ragtag refugees who were extraordinary human beings. I watched them encounter discrimination and overcome various obstacles, marching weaponless in an uphill battle. A few nights I cried myself to sleep, a torrential downpour of emotion, thinking of them and praying for their release from such adversity, begging for favor and protection over them. My students had enough problems trying to survive in a new culture and move forward from their pasts; to watch them struggle in every humanly possible way was demoralizing. As an insanely privileged, middle-class white American, I wanted to share my citizenship, my privilege with them. I felt weak and helpless, watching so many suffer because of ignorance, propaganda, and misunderstanding. The weight of the injustice was a boulder tied around my neck.

I feel an obligation to make these refugees–my students and friends–known for their hearts: their resolve, love, loyalty, and perseverance, not their religion or cultural background, not their tales of survival. I especially don’t want these friends to be just stories; I want them to live and breathe on paper. It may take time, but, eventually, I’ll do my best to breathe life into words, even if it’s only for myself.

Politics, Propaganda, and Problems

The more I learn about the current political state of Hungary regarding refugee policies, the more I realize how dire the situation has become.

Because of propaganda spread by the government, Hungarians are starting to recoil against the sight of any Middle Easterner or African. Hungarians refer to refugees as “pieces of shit.” When they see refugees in groups on the street they call them “fucking criminals,” “scary people who need to get out of our country,” and “terrorists” (which seems ignorant and idiotic, considering many of these refugees are forced to flee from terrorists who are literally cutting their families right in front of them.)

Refugees cannot get jobs by Hungarian-owned businesses. The government is encouraging businesses to turn them away.

Churches are refusing to support refugees.

People are starting to fear them, spurred on by political propaganda.

Universities have removed the undergraduate class “Hungarian as a Foreign Language” from its course list. Only natives are able to take Hungarian Grammar and Literature.

I was told that, because Hungary is part of the EU, pretty soon the EU should interfere and declare Hungary’s recent laws and acts unconstitutional/illegal; until that happens (if it does), conditions are worsening quickly for refugees and anyone associated with helping them. However, the Hungarian prime minister does not seem worried. Recently he has said that he’s prepared to debate the EU on their migrant and refugee quotas. He also said he’s in favor of bringing back work camps for illegal immigrants in Hungary and is making a push toward that agenda.

K., one of my refugee friends, was a government employee in his home country. He worked in an unknown secret location 2 hours from his hometown, unbeknownst to family or anyone else. He had a chauffeur who drove him every day to and from work in a government car. His family owned restaurants and businesses. He was fairly affluent and very well-liked in his area before being forced to leave in the middle of the night and work his way through seemingly impossible conditions eventually to Hungary.

He now works in a pizzeria, cooking pizzas in an 1100-degree oven, 18 hours a day, 6 days a week. His only day off is Monday. I talked to him yesterday about this, lamenting how difficult this must be. He replied, “Yes, but I am very happy to have a job. Also, what can I do about it?”

What can he do about it? Nothing.

The egregious stereotypes on refugees plague their ability to survive in their new country.

Dr. Alexander Betts, a professor at Oxford and expert on global refugee/forced migration issues, recently tweeted the following:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Global <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/refugee?src=hash”>#refugee</a&gt; crisis is not a crisis of numbers, it is crisis of politics, and a failure of international cooperation <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RefugeeWeek?src=hash”>#RefugeeWeek</a></p>&mdash; Alexander Betts (@alexander_betts) <a href=”https://twitter.com/alexander_betts/status/611457413418491904″>June 18, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Indeed.